Tour of the Pacific Coast Highway

Well well well. We find ourselves living on a different continent, with new bikes, in fact with a whole new life. We moved to Seattle at the end of June 2019, and have spent the last 6 weeks working hard to set up a new life here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Part of living the American dream has meant an investment in motorcycles. We both have beautiful Harleys now, and have been exploring the regions around Seattle. This is a great location to be, with some beautiful mountains, water, views and curvy roads, and we have already done a fair few miles.

As far back as I can remember, my best friend from school has called me Mr B. At the tender young age of 10, Dave and I sat next to each in class, and bonded over many mutual interests, including a significant dislike of of our class teacher, who was a real bitch. I am not often personal about other people in my blogs, but this excuse for an educator took a negative view of me, and so the intense dislike was reciprocal.

Anyway, it ain’t about her, or even Dave (mostly), but about my own Mr B – since my son Ben was born I have called him by many names – including “Mr B”. The youngest of my progeny has come out to Washington state for a month of relaxation and escape, and we have planned a bike trip of our own, which I am looking forward to sharing with you.

I said this wasn’t about Dave – who goes by “Doctor D” in our naming convention, but he, his wonderful wife Laurie, and my god-daughter Maia live just north of San Francisco, and so Ben and I thought that a quick road-trip down the pacific coast to visit them would be a good use of our time. We have booked a few places to stay, and are planning to hug the coast most of the way south to the Bay area, returning a little more inland to give us a more varied view of the 3 Pacific states (sorry Hawaii and Alaska, I am just referring to the lower 48).

2 nights are planned on the way down to visit our friends, with 3 stops once we leave their home in the beautiful Mill Valley to head back to Seattle. Mill Valley is about 15 minutes north of the Golden Gate bridge.

The planned route and mileage is as follows – but as usual, I aim to report back each night, and keep a log of the miles and route as we go.

 DestinationPlanned miles
Day 1Newport, OR311
Day 2Eureka, CA312
Day 3Mill Valley, CA287
Day 4Mill Valley, CA0
Day 5Manchester, CA118
Day 6Happy Camp, CA307
Day 7Portland, OR314
Day 8Home179

Total Planned Miles1828

Day 1 – Seattle, WA to Newport, OR. 330 Miles

I always love planning my bike trips, and usually have spreadsheets and route maps and details coming out of my ears. This trip is a bit different, because we only knew Ben was coming to Seattle for a visit relatively recently. And after that it took a while to decide on taking this trip, and whether we would travel by car or bike. Couple this with the fact that we are just settling in after moving continents, starting new jobs, taking drivers licenses, buying vehicles and a whole bunch more, I am somewhat unprepared.

I did look at routes, and book accommodation along the way, but it was not researched to my usual standards. That said, today has been pretty spectacular – so maybe my obsessive planning approach is not necessary?

Ready to roll

Ben and I packed our stuff last night, so we were ready to load up this morning. We had an early start, getting ready, showering and such, loaded the bike, and set off about 5 to 7 in the a.m. I wanted to get out of Seattle and south of Tacoma before the worst of the traffic, as we cleared the major cities before hitting the coast. The tactic worked well, and we were through the pretty Capitol State forest, and onto the 101 Coastal Highway, and stopped for breakfast just before 09:00.

A little diner called Clarks awaited us, just north of a town called Artic. Clark provided a good breakfast, and entertaining conversation. We just earwigged, but there were 3 local couples there, plus the owners, who held a loud conversation about a trailer that someone had just bought (or maybe someone had just sold – it was hard to tell). It seemed like the biggest news to hit the area this year, and there was a lot of excitement and repetition each time a new couple walked in. They all sounded pretty happy with the event, so i am happy with it too.

After breakfast we stayed on Highway 101 pretty much the whole day. It runs close to, or on the coast for much of the Pacific boundary of the contiguous 48. states, and offers very pretty forests, rivers, coast and mountain views. It also offers, like much of the American road that I have experienced so far, a series of lovely and characterful location names. Many are beautiful Native American names which seem so strange to my inexperienced ear. Puyallup or Chinook or Nehalim, Tillamook or Clatsop. There were many fabulous examples of these. There are also many examples of the British influence on the naming of settlements here, and we had breakfast near Aberdeen, got petrol in Lincoln City, and are staying in Newport this evening.

After rising up through the Capitol forest, which actually got pretty cool, the rest of the day was warm, and somewhat overcast in places. The views alternated between forest and coast, though the coast views only revealed ocean from time to time.

At the border with Oregon, we crossed the massive Columbia river. The Astoria-Megler bridge is just over 4 miles long, and takes you over this impressive mass of water. The bridge rises on either side to allow for heavy shipping to pass – we saw some massive container ships upstream of the bridge. It is an impressive piece of engineering.

About 45 minutes in to our Oregon experience, we stopped in the Oswald West state park to take in spectacular views of the coastline. The Neahkahnie viewpoint is about 180m up a sheer cliff that offers views north and south, and was well worth visiting. We took a few pics and headed on.

Lunch was at a lovely coffee shop in the town of Tillamook, which is renowned for its dairy farming and cheeses (though we had sandwiches which were mostly not cheese). More lovely windy coastal roads took us the last 70 miles to Newport, our home for the night. A motel on the dunes overlooking a lovely beach, it is clean and tidy, but the room is a lot warmer than the temperature outside.

The boy is napping while I write this, but I am going to prod him soon and we will head out for a walk and some dinner. Internet connection is poor in the room, will add some pictures at a later date.See you tomorrow

Day 2 – Newport, OR to Eureka, CA. 324 miles

After posting my journal last night, me and the boy went for a stroll through the bustling metropolis of Newport. We found a decent pub near the beach, and ordered a truckload of chicken wings, a beer (for the boy) and a cider for me. After food we walked onto the beach and observed a very pretty sunset, before heading back to our oven of a room.

We put the fan into the open window, which managed to draw in some cool air, but the room was pretty warm all night – the sun shines directly into it for most of the day, heating all the fixtures and fittings to a temperature akin to that of pre-eruption lava. I slept fitfully because of the heat.

Given the poor sleeping conditions, I didn’t wait for the alarm, and was up at 6. We showered and packed up slowly, and were on the road at about 7. We had planned a breakfast stop the night before, and rolled in tot he Little Brown Hen cafe not long after 08:00, where we had a lovely American diner breakfast, and a metric ton of coffee.

The road through this part of Oregon was often straight and boring, but punctuated with coast or mountain views and scenes which made up for the rest. The day got pretty hot, but passing through the forests provided regular cooling opportunities.

Lunch was at the Port Hole cafe (and yes, it is spelled like that), a waterfront establishment at Gold Beach. A lone seal was playing in the water just outside the restaurant. A reasonable sandwich for me, fried shrimp for young Mr B, after which we stood and gazed at the water for quite a while before re-mounting and continuing along the Oregon coastline. A stop at Battle Rock offered more great seascapes and photo opportunities.

We crossed the Winchuck River mid-afternoon, and found ourselves in California. The landscape changed almost immediately, as we started climbing up windy roads into the Redwood forests. The forests are hard to describe – the trees are so huge, and so old, you feel like you are back in pre-history. There is a very special feel to the place, and the wonderful oceans view from high-up in the forests make them even more magical. We rode for miles through the woods, and then along the coast right on the beaches.

Riding in Washington and Oregon had been parallel to, and not far from the coast, but here in lovely California we were often riding alongside the beaches. We turned into a stop area on one of the beaches for a rest and a wee, about 45 minutes before our final station.

For most of the last 2 days, we have been on 55mph roads, but the Highway 101 in California has a series of 65mph stretches, and it was nice to be able to open the bike up a bit on these Freeway sections. We hit heavy traffic for the last 4 or 5 miles of our day, before pulling in to the Hotel Clarion by Humboldt Bay, Eureka, CA.

Hooray – the hotel has air conditioning in our room, so we are cool and well chilled in every sense. We went for a walk and had dinner at a Hawaiian place about 20 minutes away from the hotel. A working class town, with a mix of retail and semi-industrial establishments either side of the 101, we past the county jail and 2 courthouses, 17 Mexican restaurants and a bunch of burger joints. There was an interesting looking BBQ shack, but they had sold out of ribs, so Hawaiian it was.

B is doing whatever young people do on the internet, while I am typing this. We have the luxury of twin queen beds tonight, after sharing a super-large king between us in last nights sauna. So, plenty of room to starfish tonight, and the aircon is humming away quietly – all is well in the land of the Levin boys tonight.

We are hoping to set off earlyish again tomorrow, so we can spend as much time as possible with our SanFranFam. See ya later, Crocodiles…..

Some of todays scenery

Day 3 – Eureka, CA to Mill Valley, CA. 281 Miles

It’s late, and I am tired, so will do a brief update and add more at another stage. We arrived at Dave, Laurie and Maia mid-afternoon, and have been busy catching up, cooking, drinking, shopping and even fitted in a walk at Tiburon. To busy to blog, really.

Breakfast – Miranda.

Breakfast in Miranda

Obligatory drive-through Giant Redwood for photo opportunity – Leggett.

Ridiculously hot petrol stop – Willits

Lunch – Windsor (Yes, another British town name)

Riding through forests = good. Slow traffic in ridiculous heat approaching San Francisco = bad.

In the evening once we had settled with Dave and Laurie, we went for a drive to take the dogs for a walk at a place called Tiburon, on the opposite side of Richardson Bay. It was quite foggy, and windy but not too cool, and we walked along a playing field called McKegney Green. I think that McKegney Green is the perfect name for a member of a girl band.

Day 4 – Mill Valley, CA to Mill Valley, CA via San Francisco, CA. 37 Miles

About 6 years ago we met David at a convention somewhere in the USA (I think it was Omaha, Nebraska). We subsequently met Davids better half, Dana, and they stayed with us in Halifax in about 2015 on a visit from their home in San Francisco. When Ben and Jemima toured the West Coast later that same year, they stayed with various friends and family, including a stint with Dave and Dana, and their large cat collection.

We had a chance to join Dave and Dana and a couple of their friends for a walk on Saturday morning, so we saddled up and rode across the spectacular Golden Gate bridge into San Francisco proper. The views were great as we crossed over and headed towards to SW corner of the city, where they live just off of Ocean beach.

Their friends (Eric, Amber and Brianna) were passing through SF on their way home to Oregon after a trip to Vietnam, and so we all congregated at D&D’s, leashed up 2 dogs, and headed to the beach. We stopped first . at a local general store where Mona, the matriarch of the neighbourhood, holds court and serves the slowest cup of coffee in the world – plus some excellent donuts. Honestly, it probably took half an hour to serve the 7 of us – and only 3 people had hot drinks. It was very entertaining though, and Mona was warm and personable.

Walk on Ocean Beach in San Francisco

Freed at last, we took our drinks and dogs and headed on to the beach. It was quite windy, but we ignored the flying sand, and walked one way and then the other for about 90 minutes or so. It was great to catch up with D&D, and we ended up back at theirs to collect our bike, say our farewells and then head into the Haight district to continue the day.

Dave (Dr D, not D&D) plus Laurie and Maia met us at Amoeba records, a giant vinyl and CD shop at the bottom of the famous Haight Street, where you can still find some hippies who got lost in the 60’s and are still wandering aournd trying to find their way back. Ben was in his element at Amoeba, so after a while Dave and I headed up Haight to visit the weird and wonderful shops of the district. Burning man, America’s most oddball major festival, is coming up, and so the apparel and accessory shops were packed with people and enticing merchandise.

Ben getting in the Haight mood/mode

After our shopping, we met up and had a nice Thai chicken soupy lunch. We then visited another shop for a coffee, after which we drove up into Golden Gate Park, and had a stroll around Stow lake. We finally headed back to Mill Valley late afternoon, and settled in to watch some TV and stay of Lauries way while she prepped supper. While we were watching a Youtube video, itself of poor quality, Dave decided that he needed a new TV, so he and I popped out to a nearby home goods/electronics store, and came back with a new toy.

Golden Gate Park
The whole gang

We set the TV up, with great results, and then ate a fabulous meal that Laurie had made for us – various steaks, a feta and beetroot salad, and baked sweet potato. YUM!!

A long day, a lot of sun and miles of walking, plus food and possibly a hint of red wine meant that I was pretty tired, and went to bed around 10pm. Another really good day on our tour.

Day 5 – Mill Valley, CA to Point Arena, CA. 126 Miles

Time to turn around, and start on the road back north. We had a short-ish day of riding planned, so didn’t leave until early afternoon. When we woke up, Dave and I went to visit his office in Sausalito, and then to a nearby cafe. We queued for about 45 minutes, and just got deated when Ben and Laurie arrived to join us.

Another successful American diner breakfast passed by pleasantly, and we then headed back via the scenic route to pack up, shower, load the bike and head slowly back towards home.

Sausalito
Moresalito

The end of Dave’s road, about 80 meters from his house, is California Highway 1. This California coast road follows the coastline all the way down the entire coast, and this was the route we followed today. It is uncompromisingly curvy and scenic in equal measure, and we rode many hairpins and steep climbs accompanied by views of the Pacific that are the stuff of postcards and paintings.

The riding was not always easy as the twists and bends were unrelenting in parts, so often I couldn’t do much more than sneak a look at the views, but it was a lot of fun to ride. We passed out 1000th mile of this trip just as w passed through Point Reyes. The sun glittered on the sea for the first 2 or 3 hours, and every town looked like a tourist advert. We also saw pretty deer crossing the roads at least twice.

We stoppped for a hot drink in Jenner, and ate a cookie each (oatmeal for Dad, chocolate/coconut for the boy). By the late afternoon it got quite overcast and cool, and the last hour we rode was almost cold. We arrived at our hotel in a pretty little harbour called Point Arena. The next town along is called Manchester, and I tried to find us accomodation there (just because of the English Manchester connection), but this was the nearest we could find.

The hotel is quite dated, but the room is lovely, the views great, and the little pizza shop at the bottom of the drive was rather good too. After supper we each had a soak in the hot jacuzzi, and I am trying to stay awake now as I catch up on the blog. Tomorrow is a full day, so we will go back to our routine of an early start, and breakfast an hour or so from the set-off. Night night all…..

Point Arena
Point Arena
View from our hotel room

Day 6 – Point Arena, CA to Happy Camp, CA. 323 miles

There are many written and unwritten rules of touring. However, rule or not, when one finds a town called Happy Camp whil researching routes, one simply HAS to stay there. Thus, we find ourselves in a little house in this sleepy little town in the middle of the Klamath National forest.

Point Arena was cool and misty this morning when we got up and did our usual routine. The road was pretty twisty, and the mist stayed with us so visibility was not great. A few miles on the road, and we stopped at Manchester (pop. 462) for a photo opportunity

We followed California Highway 1 along the coast, and stopped at Fort Bragg after an hour for the standard diner breakfast. Another hour of misty morning fog before the 1 turned inland, and we climbed up into the forests towards Leggett.

We passed the Giant Redwood that we had driven through a few days earlier, and shortly afterwards turned onto Highway 101, the road we had faithfully followed most of the way from Seattle to San Fran. A quick stop and a chat with some fellow bikers (this lot from New Zealand), and then a pleasant whiz through the Redwood forests on the 4-lane highway, as far as Arcata.

We turned off the 101, and stayed on route 299 for about an hour. We stopped at Willow Creek, and the boy had some lunch ( I was not hungry, but at a bit of the biltong Dave and I had made). We then joined route 96 for a fabulous final couple of hours riding through the Klamath forests.

By now it was pretty hot, but the road was reasonable and there was almost no traffic (I bet we saw 15 cars in 2 hours of riding this road), and we climbed and dropped through spectacular mountains and valleys, running alongside the Klamath river for much of the way. The forest was endless – we rode about 80 miles through one small bit of the forest – and it runs off in every direction you can see. The National Park is over 2,700 square miles.

We arrived at Happy Camp around 1730, tired and hot. We settled in to our little house, and decided that we did not want to eat out so we walked to the local supermarket and bought some supplies for a quick meal at home.

Welcome to Happy Camp. Population 1,190 (1,192 for just one night)

Tomorrow is a big day, so we are going to have an early night and head out at our usual time of about 07:00.See ya tomorrow, Crocodile.

Day 7 – Happy Camp, CA to Portland, OR. 430 miles

What a day. All kinds of things to note, hopefully I will capture some of them before I give in to fatigue. 12 hours door to door, 430 miles, a lot of twisty challenging miles, a lot of long straight boring miles, a ton of heat and sun, and the best lake views EVER.

Up at our usual time this morning, we wrapped and left Happy Camp efficiently – we are pretty practised at this by now. The first hour took us north over a big, forested mountain through some very windy roads to Cave Junction, where we had another good diner breakfast.

We then turned eastwards, and rode via a variety of routes through Grants Pass and Gold Hill to Crater Lake. Miles and miles of straight roads and forest was a pleasant change from the challenging twisty roads of the previous few days.

Arriving at the visitor centre for Crater Lake gave us a chance to learn a bit about it before we actually saw the lake for the first time. ABout 7700 years ago, Mount Mazama, an active volcano erupted spectacularly, pretty much emptying the whole mountain of lava and volcanic matter. Emptied, the mountain – which was about 12,000 feet high – collapsed in a dramatic fashion in a 24 hour period, hollowing out the crater which now forms the lake. The collapse dropped the mountain peak by a whole mile, and subsequent smaller eruptions sealed the floor.

The lake is an amazing blue colour- photos don’t do it justice. The deepest lake in the US, the water is almost 600 meters deep. Incredibly, there is no flow of water into or out of the caldera – the only water comes from rain and snow. Evaporation empties the lake at the same rate as it fills from rainfall/snow, and it takes about 250 years to replace all the water through this cycle.

Anyway, we toured the western rim of the lake, and stopped often to explore and take pictures. The rim is approximately 5 miles in diameter, but the colours and rock make it hard to really comprehend the scale of it. It reminded me a bit of the Grand Canyon – the brain just does not make sense of what you are seeing. The pictures look like we have been photoshopped on to them, so unreal is the scenery.

If you are reading this and have not seen this amazing natural phenomenon, make sure you add it to your bucket list. And if you have seen it before, I am very glad to be a member of the same club.

Oregon is known for lots of things, and one of those that I discovered today was very straight roads. I think the civil engineers who planned this state only had a ruler and a pencil, because the roads we took today were ridiculously long and straight. I could almost have left the bikes cruise control on, and gone to sleep for half an hour at a time.

It was a very long day, and we got to Portland about 19:15 this evening. We are staying in a very trendy hotel – the Radisson Red. Lena and I stayed in one in Cape Town over New Year – and this one is similarly cool. I am, of course, 30 years too old to be in this place, but am enjoying it nonetheless.

Last day tomorrow, with a 3 hour run back to Seattle. I will have my laptop, and I should be able to get my pictures into the blog. Time to sleep……

Day 8 – Portland, OR to Seattle, WA. 186 miles

Last day on the road. Sorry to see the trip come to an end, but it has been full of sights, experiences and wonderful people. Particularly happy to have had a week on the road with Ben – now that I live in Seattle, and he is in Manchester, not too sure when the next time is that I will see him.

We had a lie in this morning, given that we only had a short ride home to complete. We allowed ourselves the luxury of sleeping in until 07:00. we pottered around for a bit, then walked to a nearby diner for our final meal on the road. We had both had enough of full American breakfasts, so I had a bagel and Ben had Avocado on toast. Back at the hotel Ben had a shower before we did our last packing, then checked out and saddled up to ride.

This morning was rather overcast. We had about 3 hours of motorway to cover today, and were on the main road within a few minutes of leaving. Portland is not far from the State border, and we crossed in to Washington not long after leaving the city. We hit our first rain of the trip about an hour and a half out of Portland, and we needed fuel so I stopped and filled up. Unfortunately, the tactic to keep us dry didn’t work, because once we set off again it rained pretty hard for an hour or so.

a half out of Portland, and we needed fuel so I stopped and filled up. Unfortunately, the tactic to keep us dry didn’t work, because once we set off again it rained pretty hard for an hour or so.

About 45 minutes before home the rain stopped, and we had pretty much dried off by the time we got home. We unpacked and greeted 2 happy cats, and then got on with the post-trip chores.

Someone is glad we are home

We rode 2037 miles this week – and over 20% of that yesterday. In all, a great week seeing some new parts of this huge and beautiful country. Loved it.

 DestinationPlanned milesActual milesRank% of total miles
Day 1Newport, OR311330216%
Day 2Eureka, CA312324316%
Day 3Mill Valley, CA287281514%
Day 4Mill Valley, CA03782%
Day 5Manchester, CA11812676%
Day 6Happy Camp, CA307323416%
Day 7Portland, OR314430121%
Day 8Home17918669%
Total18282037