I had noticed that I had been waking up a little bit later each morning. Maybe it had something to do with the time zones, or maybe I was just tired. Probably both, judging from the way I felt after silencing my phone’s alarm. I showered, dressed, and loaded the bike. I had my key turned into the lodging office and was on the road before 8am, a time that felt incredibly early.
Early in my planning for this trip, I had said that I wanted to “head west until my wheels touch the ocean.” There are a few places on the west coast that allow you to drive onto the beaches, but Pismo Beach had seemed the most accessible. But the events of the past couple of days had knocked some sense into me. Even if it went flawlessly, I feared the corrosion the salt water would leave behind. But it wouldn’t go flawlessly. I didn’t have tires that could handle the beach, and I couldn’t waste time today picking up the bike when it fell. Instead I stayed on CA-1, bypassing the beachfront, and followed the Pacific Coast Highway north towards San Francisco.
Since I hadn’t gotten my sunset photos the night before, and because I wasn’t going to have a shot “wheels wet”, I still needed to find a place to get a picture of the next to the ocean. I saw several turnoffs but none of them seemed good enough, either too crowded or unscenic. A few miles past San Simeon, I found a spot that looked worthwhile and pulled into the parking lot, coasting to a stop next to the wire fence. Hanging my helmet on my mirror, I jumped off the bike and took a couple of photos, first of the bike, and then of myself.
While I was shooting, I started hearing strange honking sounds coming from the water. Turning to look, I spotted elephant seals. Dozens of elephant seals. Some swam in the ocean while others sun bathed on the shore. I watched one swim towards the beach, using the waves to carry him onto the land. After a few minutes, I got back onto the bike and set off, once more following the coastline north.
On paper, the PCH is the perfect road: lots of turns and hills, fantastic scenery, and a 55mph speed limit. In reality, it has many flaws. If it’s really the perfect road, it’s something that a lot of people want to drive on, and many of those people end up in vehicles too big to take the twists at 55. That leaves you stuck at 25mph, staring at the back of an RV, a boat, or a Jeep instead of the ocean views. Or maybe that’s just my experience. Either way, eventually you have to stop for gas, and because of how isolated it is, the gas stations feel free to hike up their prices even more. For me, I paid $5.99 a gallon, and once again I was thankful I was on a bike instead of my F-150. I didn’t want to think about how much it’d cost to fill up the truck’s 26-gallon tank.
In Santa Cruz, after a few hours of following behind a vehicle waiting for them to let me pass only to get stuck behind another vehicle a couple of miles later, I chose to leave the PCH. Back on the 101, I soon found myself passing the San Francisco airport, and recognizing hotels and restaurants I’d been at before on previous trips to the city.
There’s something about coastal cities that make people flock to them, whether its New York, DC, or now San Francisco. And wherever people flock, there’s traffic. It’s legal to lane split in California, and while I inched my way forward I was passed by several motorcyclists doing just that. But my bike was fat, and I didn’t feel like learning how to lane split with a machine that was over 3’ wide. So, after a small handful of minutes I took the first exit I came across, choosing surface roads instead of the highway. Maybe it was the bike’s dark green color or maybe it was the Steve McQueen panel on its side, but as I rode down the first couple of hills in South San Francisco I felt like I was in the movie Bullet, expecting to see a cream VW Beetle or a loose hubcap come rolling by.
I cruised through the Embarcadero District, again seeing things I’d already played tourist at before, and eventually found a garage where I could park the bike and do a little shopping. San Francisco would be the furthest point west I’d travel, and I wanted something memorable to bring back home.
After roughly an hour and half later, my wallet was lightened and I was making my way to the Golden Gate when I spotted something I hadn’t seen yet on the trip: another rider on a Scrambler. I had crossed the entire width of the country, and this was the first time I had seen my bike in the wild. “Scrambler!” I shouted in shock, and chased after him. I was weighed down and weaving through traffic like I was in DC, while he was riding a bare bike in his home town. Unable to keep up, I rolled off the throttle and focused on enjoying the late afternoon ride across the iconic bridge.
The road started turning east. As I drove across Travis AFB, making my way to the Inn, more familiarity hit me. This too was a place I had been at many times. Perhaps it was all the recognized sights, but while a part of me was glad that I was finally making my way back home, another part was sad. My trip was coming to an end.