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May 15, 2012

Day 1: San Francisco to Carmel-By-The-Sea

I am alive and well and resting peacefully on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the quaint little "central coast" town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, California.

Start: 29,658.0
End: 29,788.7
Distance traveled: 130.7 miles

My good friend Doug has been brow-beating me to no end to join him on another one of his little mad-cap romps across the continent.  I tried to explain to him that some people work for a living, but he couldn't be put off.

At lunch, I go down to my bike and I've got another $114 ticket for not having plates on the bike.  I don't know what's wrong with me.  Why I can't just put plates on the bike like a normal person.  But I can't.  

At work, I try to sit and figure out if it makes sense for me to work on my own bike.  I'm not really smart enough to figure it out, so I just push start the bike, ride it back to North Beach, and then start tearing it apart.

I am not a mechanic.  Never claimed to be one.  But when you spend your days behind a computer screen, something deep inside wants to shoot a gun.  Wants to get some grease under the nails.

I decide to go for a desperate 11th hour attempt to get the bike working.  I do a few tests to convince myself that the starter is definitely the problem.  

Pull the carb.  Pull the starter.  Stick in the new starter.  The new cables.  Somehow I get it all put back together with no parts left over.  The entire job takes me about 2 hours.

I begged some time off from work.  Threw some things in a bag and headed south along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Now my friend Doug drives a BMW GS1200R, which is the right thing to drive, if you have a little money and half a brain.

But not me.  I'm driving a 1994 Honda XR650L.  This bike is affectionately referred to as the "Big Red Pig".

So I climb into the saddle of the Big Red Pig and hit the coast at Pacifica, where I start following the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) south along the route designated the Cabrillo Highway.

I dunno why, but immediately the coast reminds me of the coast just north of Ensenada, Mexico.  I'm basically having flashbacks to my ride through Baja California Del Norte.  And I try to remember the last time I was down here.  Was it a year ago?  Has it been that long.  Time slips by us so quickly that I feel like I own the California coast, but somehow it's been a year since I was down here last and, if we talk about the last time I made it south of Carmel, well now we're going way back.

I was first in Carmel with Michelle and that was 20 years ago.  It's hard to belive, but we stayed here in 1993, I'm pretty sure.  Which was 19 years ago..we'll call it 20.

It's so hard to even remember where we stayed and these years are slipping past so quickly.

I'm trying to make good time, so I don't stop to shoot much.  Hardly at all.  Only when I see something insanely nice do I really force myself to stop and squeeze off a few frames.  Mostly, I just shoot from the saddle as I'm rolling down the road and try not to drift across that center line.

I'm rolling south along the Cabrillo highway and I love to recognize the little spots I pass.  Big gaps in between, of course.  But the trip is punctuated by the places that I remember and it's like a dream rolling down this twisting asphalt ribbon as it traces the coast heading south, in our case.

California scrolls past.  Sunlit cliffs.  Birds stalking fishes in marshes.  Irrigated farmland.  Perfect linear rows of avacado plants.  Hills.  Monterey Cypress trees.  Mustard fields.  Grassy knolls.

Collapsing depression-era farm houses.  

Oops.  I just passed a cop.  How fast am I going?  65 in a 55?  He keeps on going. Doesn't slow and doesn't turn around.  I continue on in my trance-like dream-state.  Driving.  Shooting.  Dreaming.

The road gives you time to think.  To study the bike and really get to know it.

Now, if you're parting out a motorcycle, a smarter person might choose to part out the older bike.  Not me.  I'm parting out a 2007 bike and putting the parts on a 1994 bike.  So, a reasonable person might question my intelligence.

But the funny thing about this bike is that it runs like the wind.  It's been "uncorked", meaning all of the smog shit has been removed, so it runs like a mad demon.  Very hard to keep the front tire on the ground.  This bike could easily come over backwards on  you if you didn't know what you were doing.

The bike has almost zero vibration, unlike the bike I drove to Alaska last year.  That bike almost shook me to death.  But this bike is smooth.  Why?  I dunno.  Probably the engine is balanced better?  I dunno.

The valves make a little noise.  But other than that, it runs like ascalded dog.

So I just open it up and let it breath.  Now I'm going 75.  Sun is setting.  It will be dark soon.

By the time I get to 6 mile beach at Santa Cruz, I'm so cold I have to pull over and start putting on layers.

What's funny is that, I've been riding motorcycles for so long that I start to feel like I know what I'm doing.  It's an illusion, of course.  And a dangerous one at that.

I put on pretty much everything I've got in the Givi case and the Filson tank bag.  And I start rolling south again.  Now, I'm warm again.  

California is 100% humidity at the coast and when the fog rolls in, you may as well be riding in a light rain but I've been here before.  I'm used to this weather.  Nothing would turn me back now.  I'm going to punch through to Carmel if it kills me.

At Monterrey, the odometer says I've gone 80 miles.  So I stop to fill up.  But I can only put in 2 gallons of gas.  

By the time I get to Monterrey, it's full-on dark.  THere's a few places here that you could stay.  Some Motel 6's and generic boiler-plate hotels, but I've decided that I'm going to stay in Carmel.  Why?  Because Carmel is cool as shit and I'm tired of living in the shadows.  I want to stay in Carmel and I don't give a tinker's damn how much it costs.

I roll into Carmel and find the coast.  As I head south along the coast, I can make out the fires on the beach.  Carmel is so cool.  You can have open fires on the beach so long as you're south of some street...I forget which one.

Immaculately preened flower beds of Calle Lillies and Pride of Madiera.  The city laid out on grid like Manhattan.  No street addresses, if you can believe it.  Only you get the address of the nearest intersection.

Trees wrapped in small white Christmas-tree lights demarcate the downtown grid.  A lone police car pulls up and motions for me to go in front of him.  I refuse to.  I'm not giving this idiot a reason to pull me over.

He goes a block and parks and waits for me to roll by.  I decide to go a different direction.  I find a place to stay with my iPhone.  Park and walk 2 blocks to where the Hogg's Breath in is supposed to be.  But it's closed.  So I stumble into a place called Brophy's for dinner and a couple of Stellas.

I'm so tired I feel like I could lay down and die.  And it's not like I drove that far today.  Probably I drove about 130 miles tops.  I'm just wiped out.  I worked all day, I guess.  That didn't help any of course.

Posted by Rob Kiser on May 15, 2012 at 2:53 AM


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