(This Favorite Ride was published in the July 2012 issue of Rider magazine.)
We were twisting our way up Highway 1, tight curve after tight curve, stunning ocean views off to our right barely registering as I focused on the road ahead. The line of cars behind us grew more distant as we kept climbing. We were doing the dance—I was countersteering like crazy, trying my best to keep any hard parts from touching, while Rhonda shifted her weight and leaned behind me like an extension of my own body.
Right, hard left, right again. It doesn’t get any better than this, I thought—or maybe I yelled it. As we crested the rise and began the slow descent into Jenner, I backed off the throttle a bit, flipped up my visor and yelled “No scrape!” She responded with a big hug. I swore I could feel her smile beaming through the back of my helmet.
Unlike most of my riding buddies, I actually enjoy touring two-up. I’ll admit there is a bit of nostalgia involved. When my wife and I began dating some 30 years ago my only transportation was a tired Honda CM400T. We spent many a weekend exploring Western Oregon on the little twin, Rhonda holding on tightly as we negotiated gravel winery roads, or tried to keep up with faster highway traffic. Though Rhonda now has her own bike she much prefers to ride pillion when a lengthy trip is in the works. Something about being able to gawk at the scenery while I stay alert, letting me make life-or-death decisions for both of us while she daydreams. Whatever her reasoning, I am all too happy to oblige. It helps, of course, that she is an excellent passenger, well aware of what to do while on the back. At times I forget she is even there.
Though I do a few solo tours every year, the season is not complete without some quality two-wheeled togetherness. So when our friends Bob and Robin suggested a leisurely August ride down the Oregon and California coasts to the Russian River wine region, we jumped at the chance. Our plan was simple: short (250-300 mile) days, no camping, and an open mind when it came to accommodations, both luxurious and austere.
A week of glorious sunshine turned into chilly overcast the morning of our departure, prompting a switch from mesh to heavier riding gear. The fog we encountered as we worked our way over the Coast Range evaporated as we cruised into Reedsport and picked up Highway 101. Bob jumped into the lead and we soon discovered why. As we entered Bandon he pulled up in front of the Wheelhouse Restaurant, a favorite of his and Robin’s. Soon we were warming up with savory thick chowders and hearty fish sandwiches.
Farther south the scenery from Port Orford to Brookings was magical, sweeping along high bluffs and then dropping down to run alongside the shore. Traffic was light and the usual crush of RVs was notably absent. Skies were blue, the air was cool, and stops were frequent—to pick ripe blackberries alongside the road, to gaze at pelicans flying low between the waves, to simply stretch our legs. We pulled into Crescent City with daylight to spare and quickly found our motel. The Curly Redwood Lodge, a funky blast from the past, was built from a single Redwood tree. Completed in 1957, it is a charming and affordable alternative to chain motels.
As we left town the next morning, Bob’s Harley was acting temperamental, so we made a beeline for Eureka and Redwood Harley-Davidson. There the helpful service staff diagnosed not one but two problems and within a few hours had us back on the road.
To my disappointment, the road surface on the narrow, twisty Lost Coast Highway from Ferndale to the Pacific had deteriorated dramatically since my last visit. Within a few miles I was thankful for the V-Strom’s long travel suspension. Potholes, washouts and gravel stretches punctuated an otherwise delightful route. Even so, the scenery made up for it—tree-edged rolling hills, cattle grazing on grassy slopes that ended at the water’s edge, an empty beach festooned with driftwood. I grew accustomed to Rhonda’s whoops each time we rounded a curve and caught another exceptional view.
We wound our way back up through the small towns of Petrolia and Honeydew, reconnecting with 101 near Weott. Soon we reached Leggett and headed west on Highway 1—and the serious fun began. A few miles of twisty uphill were followed by a sinuous downhill that seemed to go on forever. Rhonda and I twisted and wiggled our way down to the ocean, arriving just as the sun set over the water.
On our third morning, we meandered down the Mendocino Coast at a leisurely pace—well, except for that enticing stretch near Jenner—and pulled into Guerneville, our southernmost destination, around noon. There Robin had booked us into a delightfully luxurious bed and breakfast, the Applewood Inn, for a two-night stay. I quickly warmed to the place when I saw a bright red Ducati ST4 tucked away near the office and noted a BMW R1100RS around back; it turned out the owners were riders. The rooms were comfy and well appointed, too, and the offerings in the restaurant superb.
Heading back to Oregon, we did our best to avoid backtracking. Highway 101 North to Garberville offered some surprisingly enjoyable freeway riding. We jumped off the big road near Phillipsville to explore the Avenue of the Giants. While the redwoods we rode through on the way down were impressive, these trees were even more amazing.
Our home that evening was the Victorian Inn in Ferndale. Built in 1890 at the height of the timber boom era, it is reputedly one of the most photographed buildings in Northern California. We could readily see why—it’s a charming, elegant building that graces a picturesque historical neighborhood. The rooms were filled with vintage furnishing, the restaurant a gourmet’s delight.
Breakfast was a bittersweet affair, knowing that two of us had to be back at work the next morning. We decided to take the quickest route home, even though it meant a few hours on the slab.
We turned inland on US 199 just north of Crescent City. This nicely surfaced highway runs along the Smith River, with lengthy stretches of well-engineered curves punctuated by just enough straight sections to safely pass slower vehicles (and there were quite a few of them). As we rode farther from the coast the air warmed up rapidly; by Cave Junction we were wishing we had our mesh jackets after all.
At Grants Pass we grabbed I-5 and settled in for some hot, noisy freeway flying. At first I was grumbling to myself about it, but after a few miles I relaxed and reconsidered. How could I possibly complain? Here I was passing through a varied landscape dotted with conifers, open pasture and small towns, the sun shining brightly, my sweetheart close behind me, feeling the rush of speed on two wheels. Quit grousing, I told myself, and appreciate the moment. It doesn’t get any better than this!