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California: End of one trail, start of a new one

Mile 0 to 930

Things got real on Thursday May 25th. The official start to the "prelude" stage my journey from Alaska to Patagonia. Here is the first post in a series tracking the journey that I will be taking across the globe on two wheels.

To shorten the story: I lived the life of the average corporate employee. But in 2016 I decided to part with a great job, wonderful friends, and all else that makes the Monday-Sunday comfortable. I gave away my clothes, the sofa, the bed...pretty much everything that filled the old apartment. Right down to handing the keys to the old Ford Explorer to a family who could use it more than I could. America has a way of incentivizing every one of us to load up on material possessions. To the point where some families have not one, but two storage lockers down the street for the extras which (if lucky) are touched once a year. As I started down this path to travel full-time I made a firm decision - no storage locker. If it was something I could survive without, I let go.

There were no prompts for this change from the normal path of society. I worked hard to complete my education. I scrimped and saved to pay off the student loans. I enjoyed 13 years of dedicated work in companies with great purpose-filled missions. Yet there remained that urge inside. To build and create. To learn and experience. One quote that sums up those thoughts within comes from the book "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer:

Nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

May 26, 2016 was the day picked to set out from Santa Monica. I love spontaneity, but I had this itch to trace Route 66 as far as I could before turning North to Alaska. That meant starting at the end of the trail, the sign-post at the end of the mother road at the Santa Monica Pier. 

Santa Monica Pier - May 26

As far are routing plans went, I did have a rough sketch with needed to be solidified. That same week I pulled the trigger on plans for when to wrap up in Alaska - June 22 (which would provide time to fly back to Michigan for family weddings and such). I also planned to work in a side trek to Dawson in the upper Yukon Territory around June 16-17 to attend an intriguing adventure motorcyclist gathering called Dust 2 Dawson. Lastly, I made a reservation to take a ferry on June 13th along the Inner Passage of Alaska, from Washington to Haines, AK. Something which provided three benefits: 1) very scenic, 2) saves 1500 miles of riding on the motorcycle North, and 3) provides a nice 3-day voyage to meet other motorcyclists heading to the far North.

Those routing parameters provided the rough skeleton to this trip, but the rest was all up in the air. I have traveled up, down, and sideways across every section of California in the past decade. It is a wonderful state for road trips. I always tell friends that I have probably driven to more places in California than 99% of the people born in the state. Among the most scenic for me (besides the Pacific coast) has always been the Sierras. Specifically Rt 395 up the Eastern side of the Sierras. Hence, my initial route mapped me headed East to Barstow along Route 66 and then North along the 395.

Besides a lot of city miles, Route 66 through Los Angeles is not a truly eventful ride. Most of the old-school route has been paved and re-developed to make it unrecognizable from modern Los Angeles. You really have to start making it to the outer reaches of the metropolis to experience any details of the old Mother Road. I finally made it out to the Barstow Route 66 Museum and met up with Bill who filled me in on his years of meeting visitors from every walk of life and country, exploring Route 66. He reflected that they may be frowning when they come in, but they are always smiling when they leave his museum. He fells at home in the place, getting to meet the nicest people in the world.

With Bill at the Route 66 Museum, Barstow, CA - May 26

Turning North after a night in Barstow, I only tackled the road as far as Ridgecrest. A short 80 mile hop on the bike but it left time for a lot of catch up on logistics, research, and email traffic. Plus it allowed me to fit in both a trip to Casey's Steaks and Barbecue (I love good BBQ) and a live band night across the street (I also love live music). It left me with some extra riding to do on Saturday. First stop was the Mojave Forest to the west of Ridgecrest. A vast expanse of those odd-looking mojave trees which pops up seemingly in the middle of no-where (well west of the larger National Park).

Mojave forest - West of Ridgecrest, CA - May 28

Mormon pioneers came across this yucca tree during their arduous journeys across the Southwest and named it after Joshua. Since it conjured images of the biblical hero raising his outstretched arms to the heavens. And by that point in their travel they probably desired a positive reason to look up. Back on the road north, the 395 takes one through Lone Pine past Mt Whitney, which provided me an enjoyable climb back in 2004. Heading further, my plan was to camp in Bishop for the night. That resulted in the first diversion of the trek. I had racked up 170 miles by that point in the day. However, it was Memorial Day weekend and a huge Mule Days Celebration was underway in the town filling every room and campsite for miles around. I considered camping behind the local gas station but with heightened police that would only result in a late night eviction. So, I made the snap call to extend the day to around 220 miles of riding which landed me at chill Mammoth Lakes for the night.

Since I more or less gained an extra 50 miles, I looked ahead to my next way-point at Lake Tahoe and figured now I could squeeze in a side-trip through Yosemite. I had been eyeing the highway signs as I traveled 395, noting that CA-120 was now free of snow and open. One gap in my years of California road trips has always been the northern Yosemite passage crossing Toulumne Meadows (which is snowed in many years). So, I filled the bike with gas and started to meander westward across Yosemite and into Gold Country (CA-49). For perspective, the direct trip to Lake Tahoe from Mammoth is 140 miles, and this route West turned it into a 275 mile trip. But it certainly was the more scenic route, and when in doubt, take the scenic one.

Olmstead Point, overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite NP - May 29

After very scenic Memorial Day weekend motorcycle riding along the Gold Country CA-49, I finally reconnected with the former route and completed the slow western loop around Lake Tahoe. Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the US with a spectacular cobalt blue hue. Another week I might have stayed a little longer and enjoyed the area, but Memorial Day is not conducive to availability. Hence, I tacked on another 90 miles of riding to get into the more open national forests of Northern California for the night.

Lake Tahoe, north of Emerald Bay - May 30

Further North the motorcycle is quickly immersed by quiet, forested pine roads traveled by the occasional bike or logging truck. The one thing I have always loved about California is the quality of some of these far reaches of roads. Obviously winter weather places a role in the frequent potholes back in the Midwest. But still, the State built some of these distant surfaces quite well and you get to these vacant roads in Northern California finding that you can travel mile upon mile of clean, well-kept highway all to yourself. There was one stretch on this day (as I migrated towards Lassen Volcanic National Park) that I did not pass another vehicle for 40+ miles.

I made a wide 60 mile detour over to the Lassen NP, mainly since I had camped there twice in the past and very much enjoyed it. A tranquil wooded groove where one can lay down a tent and still light a campfire in the park (which is rare these days in the west). Unfortunately my familiar site was still closed so I went as far as the Devastated Area in park center and headed back onto the road.

For that night, it seemed best to soldier on forward to McCloud, California in the shade of Mount Shasta. McCloud RV Resort had tent campsites for $28 along with free showers and Wi-Fi, so a great little location to settle in and meet other local travelers. Campsite picture below. The road from Northern California head carried on into Oregon the next day.

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