So I finally had the opportunity to take my motorcycle on a long road trip. I was really looking forward to stretching the kawee out and letting her run for a while. What is the old adage, your eyes are bigger than your stomach, biting off more than you can chew? I think both of these are true when I planned the 5000 some odd kilometres that I put on my butt, back and knees. Motorcycle roadtrips are an adventure. They are fun and liberating but they are also tiresome, lonely and uncomfortable. My experience was a bit of both. There were times when it was a blast and there were times when I couldn't wait to find the next rest stop. I had a bit of everything on the trip: from -5° C to +35° C; from nothing but sunshine to fog, rain and a terrential downpour. My lodging varied from camping in the desert to staying at the Mirage in Las Vegas. If nothing else, it was definitely a learning experience that I can use for any future trips (if there are any!).
You can see all the photos here:
For a map of my trip click here:
So what was the itinerary? Well it started from Vancouver to San Francisco...
Day 1-2 Vancouver to San Francisco
The bike was packed, fueled up and I was ready to go. A few hours later than planned but I was finally out the door and on my way to the border. For the first day, I was riding to Grants Pass in Oregon which is near the Oregon/California border. On Day 2, I was meeting up with Fanya in San Francisco for four days before heading out on my own. I learned my first roadtrip lesson very early on - do NOT attempt to drive through Seattle at 3pm on a Friday afternoon! I could not believe the never ending traffic. It probably took me about 3 hours to get through Seattle and Tacoma. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Rush hour in a car is bad enough but even worse on a bike. Because it took so long to get through Seattle, I had to abandon my plans to stop in Portland for a little tax free shopping as most of the stores would be closed. So on I trudged into the Oregon night. As I started to climb into the mountains, the temperature started dropping and I was forced to put on my winter gloves already. I had lost so much time going through Seattle that I thought I might have to stop early and find shelter sooner. Only my prepaid room kept me going. So finally at around 1:30 in the morning, I pulled into the Bestway Inn at Grants Pass and crawled into bed for an abbreviated night of sleep.
On Day 2, I woke up to a crisp morning, filled with sunshine. Due to the late night before, I was a little tardy getting out of the driveway. After a quick bite to eat, I was on my way around 10am. My goal today was to make it in San Fran by late afternoon. Ambitious but doable I thought. There wasn't going to be much sight seeing on the way down, strictly business and I-5 the whole time. It actually takes longer on a road trip with a motorcycle to get anywhere. Along with the need to stretch every now and then, I also needed fill up with fuel a lot more frequently. In fact, I was stopping every 2 hours or so to fill up, stretch, eat or simply find myself on the map. Every stop took at least 10 minutes or so and quickly added to the total time. I probably added a couple hours every day to the ride due to the frequent stopping. Nothing you can really do about it. You just have to factor it in when planning your ETA. So after a long day of riding through the hot northern Californian landscape, I finally ended up in Oakland around 7pm. My phone was now dead so I had no GPS, I blindly made my way over the Bay Bridge and into San Fran. What was a beautiful day, now morphed into a foggy soup as soon as I crossed the bridge. It was amazing how it went from sunny and 23° C to fog, drizzle and 8° C in a matter of a few kilometers. I had the directions written down but still managed to get lost in downtown San Fran. So I pulled over and pulled out the charger and plugged my phone in so I could phone Fanya to figure out how to get where I was going. It was now raining and cold and I was tired and hungry. Why was I doing this again? I finally made my way through San Fran and found Fanya's brothers house where I would be staying for the next 4 days. It was a long 2 days but I made it, and now I get to park the bike and someone else gets to drive :) Fanya had rented a car and the plan was to do a little sight seeing and spend some time with her brother and his family.
Days 3-6 San Francisco
One of my life long goals is to eventually visit every major league baseball stadium and watch a game. The Giants were not in town but I did manage to get tickets to see the Oakland Athletics. Fanya's nephew Curtis likes baseball so we took him to see the game with us. Ironically, the A's were playing the Mariners which I have seen many times being so close to Seattle. The Mariners are bad and the A's are a playoff team so the A's were looking to sweep the Mariners in the series. Didn't matter to me, I was just happy that I was knocking another baseball stadium off the list. Another interesting experience in a different city is using their public transit system and the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system is no exception. Nothing exciting happened but it is just adds to the travel experience.
The next day, we went out of the city to Napa Valley to visit the vineyards and do some wine and grape juice tasting. I had never been to Napa and my impression of it was mixed. It was beautiful but it kind of reminded me of Las Vegas in a way. It was like the Las Vegas Strip of wineries. There was one big long road were all the big posh famous wineries lived, just like the strip and all the big hotels. Don't get me wrong, they were beautiful but it just seemed too commerical and touristy for my taste. That didn't stop me from getting my taste on and having a few samples however. While a couple of wineries catered to non-drinkers (grape juice), it would have been nice for all of them to have a cheaper option for the drivers which should be non-drinkers anyway.
The final full day was spent touring around town. We walked around Chinatown and then rode the famous and very busy cable car to Lombard street where we walked down the windy street and then down to Fisherman's Wharf. We spent the afternoon on Alcatraz and riding the cable car back downtown. Other than the first day, the weather turned out to be fantastic. We really only scratched the surface on what to do in San Fran so hopefully a return visit will be in order.
Day 7-9 Yosemite National Park
It was time to say goodbye to San Francisco and load up the bike again. I had camping reservations in Yosemite National Park for two nights and was looking forward to seeing this icon of a park. So after saying goodbye to Fanya and many thanks to Fanya's brother for putting us up and putting up with us, I was heading back over the Bay Bridge, through Oakland and towards the mountains of Yosemite. It was only supposed to be around a 3hr drive but again, turned out to be longer than anticipated. The second good lesson that I learned on my trip was that McDonalds is your friend. Not only can you eat there for around $3 but you can use their free wifi to surf the web, book a hotel and plan your route. Thank you, Mickey D's!
Once out of civilization, the road became very windy and climbed through the mountains. It was a beautiful day, and it was nice to finally have some curves to drive after the straight drive down the I-5. I arrived in Yosemite around 3pm and I have to say it is one big park. One could easily spend two weeks here and not see everything. Alas, I only had 3 days and the first day was waning quickly. If I was on the ball, I would have set up camp quickly and gone to do some evening exploring, but I was tired and just decided to find my campsite and set up. I was staying right in the valley in the upper campground and I am glad I got the last campsite. The valley is a great spot to see the major highlights of the park, and I would recommend staying there first to get your bearings and then branching out to see other parts of the park. There is a free shuttle system that goes around the main valley and stops at all the main points of interest. It works great and is a good way to see the park. I have to admit that my little setup paled in comparison to all the big rigs that surrounded me. So it was an uneventful evening with dehydrated beef stew and a can of beer that I picked up on the way.
The next morning, I was up early to try and catch the early morning sun. I spent most of the day riding the shuttle and walking around the park. I wanted to do some longer hikes but I just ran out of time and it's harder to do with just a motorcycle. The only bad thing about the park was the time of year. While it was very pretty, it was also very dry and most of the waterfalls were empty. I would love to come back in the spring when the water is at its fullest. Nonetheless, the scenery was still spectacular and the deer were very friendly. In the evening, I took my bike up to Glacier Point to watch the sun set over Half Dome. It was neat to witness the same scenery that Ansel Adams made famous so many years ago.
I considered staying an extra day because I really wanted to see another sunset but I decided to stick to my schedule and leave on the third day so I could squeeze in Death Valley before heading to Vegas. I compromised a little bit and spent the third day morning in the park but then had to pack up and head south towards Death Valley where I would be sleeping tonight.
Day 10-12 Death Valley
So after the cool mountains of Yosemite National Park, I headed south to spend a couple of days in Death Valley - the lowest place in North America. It was a long ride down through the California country side with not a lot to look at. By the time I found the turn off to Death Valley, it was after 6pm and I still had a couple of hours to go. I was really hoping to have camp set up before dark but it didn't look like that was going to happen. The desert was beautiful in the twilight and the temperature was perfect for riding for one of the rare times so far. It was after 8pm and quite dark by the time I arrived. I really didn't feel like camping so I checked out the resort first to see how much it would be for a room. They had one room left and it was $245/night. I guess it was going to be camping after all. So I set up the tent in the dark and crawled into bed to try and get some sleep. While checking out the resort, I did find out that I could use the resort during the day for only $5 which was a great deal and was exactly what I was going to do the next day.
I woke up early the next morning decided to ride out to the sand dunes to catch the sunrise. The sun didn't really cooperate as it turned out to be a cloudy morning but I tried to take some pictures nonetheless. The dunes were cool but would probably make a better sunset photo. The temperature started to climb and it was time to check out the resort. The resort was fantastic. I did my laundry, charged my phone, went for a swim and had my first shower in 4 days. Not bad for $5 bucks! I spent the whole afternoon there and it was great to be clean and just relax. As the afternoon turned into evening, I suited up and headed back out to take some more photos. This time, I went to the Badwater Basin or salt flats are what they are more commonly called. The sun was fading fast and I just managed to catch the sunset over the basin. This was definitely the way to do it. Get up early and take pictures, rest and relax during the day, and then go out again in the evening to take more pictures.
Another early morning and I had a great plan today. I was going to catch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point, then play a round of golf at the lowest golf course in the world, go for a swim, relax by the pool and then pack up and head out for a date with Las Vegas. It was a cool morning, but it was great to avoid the heat, and the sunrise was spectacular from Zabriskie Point. I was back at the resort by 8am and it was time to hit the golf course. It was still off season rates so I managed to get the round with a cart and rentals for $50. Not bad and I had the course to myself. I didn't play very well but did set a record for the quickest round I had ever played. I was done in just under an hour and a half. After a bite to eat, a swim and a morning by the pool, I was ready to pack up and head out. It was only a couple of hours to Vegas so I took my time and eventually found my way to Las Vegas and checked in to the Mirage by about 8pm.
Day 13-16 Las Vegas and Salt Lake City
There isn't a lot to say about my stay in Las Vegas. I don't think I took any photos and it was pretty uneventful for sin city. I was just happy to have a nice room, comfy bed and a hot shower! By day 3, I had lost enough money to bade good riddance and be on my way. I was going to head up to Salt Lake City for a night before deciding on whether I wanted to head to Yellowstone Park or not. It was going to a very long traveling day so I tried to get on the road fairly early. It was a hot day and I was on the road by 9am and had around 700 kilometres to cover to get to Salt Lake City. I spent the whole day on the road with frequent stops for gas and free McDonalds wifi. I finally pulled into the Royal Garden Inn in downtown Salt Lake around 11pm at night, and I was quite tired but still needed to figure out the last leg of my trip. I checked the weather, and it looked like it was going to be clear and cold in Yellowstone. Ideally, I would have liked for it to be a little warmer, but I had come all this way and who knows when the next time I would be able to get back.
The next morning I walked around downtown Salt Lake and wandered down to the Temple area. I have to say that I would love to come back to Salt Lake because of what little I saw, I really liked. It was a beautiful city and easy to navigate but I had to get going though as I didn't want to arrive in Yellowstone too late.
Day 17-19 Yellowstone National Park
After much deliberation, I plowed on, heading north to Yellowstone National Park. It was going to be another long day of riding, and I was hoping to get there before dark. The theme of my trip was everything takes a little longer and this was no different. The weather was clear but the temperature was dropping and soon I was wearing all of my winter gear to stay warm. I entered Yellowstone through West Yellowstone, found my campsite and settled in for the night. When I woke up, it was -5º C and I was cold. It didn't matter that I had heated grips, fur lined gloves and lots of insulation, I was freezing despite the sun. At least the scenery was beautiful and I made my way to the visitor centre to catch Old Faithful. Old Faithful erupts fairly regularly and I only had to wait about 30 minutes according to the rangers predictions. Right on queue, Old Faithful displayed its wares and it definitely was a sight to see. Now it was starting to warm up and I had to start peeling off layers. The rest of the day was spent touring the various geysers and points of interest. Yellowstone was a lot smaller than Yosemite but no less spectacular. From the bison and elk to the geysers and thermal pools, Yellowstone had something for everybody. If you can brave the cold, I think Yellowstone would be spectacular in the winter. I had decided that I had had enough of the cold and I wanted a warm bed for the night. So I booked into the Best Western just outside of the park in West Yellowstone.
My last morning was spent at the Grizzly and Wolf Discover Centre in West Yellowstone which is really well done. I had never seen a grizzly or wolf up close and this was a great opportunity even though it was through an enclosure. The staff there were also great and very knowledgeable. Alas though, it was time to hit the road and start making the trek back home.
Day 20-21 Home and Conclusion
So after nearly 3 weeks and over 5000 kilometres, it was time to bid adieu to Yellowstone and head home. I headed across Idaho and into Washington state. A little known treasure that I found was Leavenworth, Washington. A small, Bavarian town that could easily pass for somewhere in Germany. It also happened to be Oktoberfest, which was why I was wondering how come this little town was so busy. As I was passing through the mountains after Leavenworth, the weather turned dramatically for the worse and I experienced the first real rain of my trip. I guess it was making up for all the previous sunny days as it just poured and the fog rolled in to make it quite treacherous through the mountain pass. The rain continued on through Seattle and I was finally able to test out my waterproof gear. My duffel bag worked quite well, but I still ended up getting soaked. Nothing short of a rubber suit was going to keep me dry. Luckily, I was on my way home and didn't really need dry gear for the next day.
So was the trip a success? I would definitely say yes. I came home in one piece and I think I got some great photos. Would I do it again? Well, that depends. With the right equipment and schedule, I would probably try it again. I think my bike was just a bit too small for such a long trip and it really needed a sixth gear. It wasn't my back or butt that got sore but it was my knees because I didn't have quite enough seat height to stretch my legs out and I couldn't really lean on the tank either. I would also make shorter travel days as the hours on the bike take their toll.
On the positive side, Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks are icons and cliches and for good reason. They are absolutely stunning and I think everyone should try and see them at least once. They are easily accessible and there are things to do for the whole family. You could probably see everything in Yellowstone in a couple days but you could spend weeks in Yosemite and not see everything. Honorable mentions definitely go to Death Valley and San Francisco. So all in all it was a memorable trip that I am glad I did and hopefully one day will try again.