Monday, July 13, 2009

notes from motorcycling

"Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest: 'Land of Many Uses'" should actually be called "Humboldt-Toiyabe National Barren Wasteland: 'Nothing but Scrub Brush for 300 Miles'". I dare you to find a single naturally occurring tree within its borders.

300 miles is a little much to tolerate riding west with gale force gusty south winds. Probably it was not the smartest thing to continue on across a desert with no gas station or shade for 170 miles after sitting in a gas station when a gust of wind came up so powerful that all the plastic numbers flew off the price sign, smashed into the backs of parked cars, and one into my leg (which is now blue-striped.)

And now a list of a few of my favorite rides in the country (rather limited experience, but 16,000 miles in 21 states produces at least a few definite favorites.)

1. Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Highway - The Blue Ridge Highway is a 600 mile stretch along the ridge of the Appalachians, starting in Shenandoah and ending in the Smoky Mountains, with a maximum speed limit, if I recall correctly, of 45 mph (and usually slower.) In other words, this stretch will take a few days. But it's just the right curvature to be really fun, well designed and well banked, and GORGEOUS, especially in the far north, looking into Shenandoah Valley.

2. Highway 1 between San Francisco and Fort Bragg (to the north). This is where highway 1 terrifyingly follows every tight curve of the coast, dropping in a sheer cliff into the Pacific. Quite an adrenaline rush of a ride, and the most beautiful coastline (which faces west so you can see sunset over the water) I've ever seen.

3. The Florida Keys. There's something about having transparent blue ocean on either side of you and island hopping for almost a hundred miles (and then hopping on a ferry to go to Dry Tortugas National Park for snorkeling and blindingly colorful tropicalesque scenery). And the wind off the ocean, random torrential rainfall, and snaking roads and narrow bridges, make it not just a great drive but a great motorcycle ride.

4. Highway 550 in Colorado between Ridgway and Durango. Specifically, between Silverton and Ouray. This is a mindblowingly stunning mountain drive through the San Juan mountains, zigzagging along ridiculously tight 15-mph curves, with a sheer cliff upwards on one side and a sheer cliff down into a rushing white river on the other side, no guardrails, and then into a narrow rocky box canyon into Ouray. As a bonus, there are a few hot springs along the route to stop at and soak, which is probably the most relaxing and bone-warming way to end a ride ever.

5. Highway 6 to Highway 120 from Tonopah, NV to the west edge of Yosemite National Park. First comes (what I consider to be) gorgeous barren Nevada desert. And as soon as you get into California, you enter a crazy beautiful landscape where somehow gorgeous red wood evergreen trees are growing out of what appears to be nothing but white sand. And of course Yosemite pass/valley is stunning. The fun thing is that the road is like a rollercoaster. The landscape is naturally very bumpy and absolutely no pains were taken to adjust that landscape to the road rather than vice versa. Up and down, suddenly, over and over, and only occasionally can you see what's happening on the other side.

6. I can't pinpoint a single spot, but my favorite places to ride are empty back highways through farmland and tiny towns where the crowds and commercialism of interstates haven't reached. A few favorite spots would include highway 1 north of LA before it heads back to the coast, highway 90 between Houston and San Antonio, and highway 301 through Maryland east of Chesapeake Bay. This is of course great in a car too, as compared to the interstate, but you miss all the smells of farmland, fruit stands, etc, that way.