Ryan’s Movement Journey – Pacific Coast by Motorcycle

Earlier this summer, during my bachelor party, a buddy of mine casually said, “I’m thinking about selling my Harley… you wanna buy it?”

 
1993 Harley Davidson Sportster

1993 Harley Davidson Sportster

 

I could think of a million reasons to not buy a motorcycle; I’m trying to save for a wedding, I should replace my ‘88 Wrangler for a daily-driver that’s more “reliable” and “has a roof”, the streets are red with the blood of motorcyclists etc…etc…

So I figured I’d run the idea by my lovely wife-to-be, thinking she’d make the smart decision for me. But for some sweet reason she said, “That sounds awesome!”

Sweeeeeeeeet.

I told my buddy I was somewhat interested, but needed to work out some major details before committing to the purchase. Such as, how do I get a motorcycle from Oakland to Denver? 1,500 miles across the deserts of Nevada and Utah, during summer.

I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle cross-country, but don’t mistake it for a cushy road-trip with your girl-friends. White-knuckling the same, gusty roads as long-haul truckers rolling 85mph for 25+ hours can be miserable.

….. But I figured I could probably get as far as Las Vegas. I mapped out a trip from Oakland, through Tahoe, down the spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. I could swing by Yosemite, then down to the bottom of Death Valley and on to Vegas. That would be a nice, easy ride through beautiful, winding highways, full of fellow sightseers leisurely touring the back-roads. A MUCH more pleasant ride.

I’d still have to get the bike from Vegas to Denver somehow. Turns out, another friend of mine was relocating from San Diego to St. Louis. And, he had a truck that could transport a motorcycle to Denver without ever going out of his way. Convenient.

But what about work? How can I convince my bosses to let me take several days off work for a nonsense ride through California just ‘cause I wanna waste my money on an old motorcycle? And speaking of money, how am I gonna afford the flight out west, gas, food, hotels and a one-way trailer? Tough costs to justify during a wedding year.

Enter: The Movement Journey

The Movement Strategy offers a program that provides $1500 to its employees to put towards “an adventure”. Only a few caveats: it’s gotta be something you’ve never done and it can’t be applied to a trip you already had planned.

I must admit, I had ridden a motorcycle before and I had been to California…. but I’d never seen 800+ miles of gorgeous golden-state highways through the handlebars of a Harley-Davidson. It took a littleconvincing, but finally my boss agreed it was an amazing opportunity. I should mention he also owns a Harley.

I chose my route very carefully. I painstakingly avoided all freeways, always opting for the scenic route, even if it was fifty miles out-of-the-way. I could finally plan a trip around those touristy frontier-towns and State Parks I’d always wanted to see.

I had no idea what to expect from the ride itself. I hadn’t ridden a motorcycle for almost ten years, and even then, it was just a few afternoon joyrides around town for on someone else’s bike. Oh well… I was about to buy a Harley. I needed to become a badass, quickly.

Somehow everything came together and I was on a one-way flight to California. After a few days in SF, I headed to Oakland to meet my new, favorite toy.

Honestly, I wasn’t real impressed with the bike at first glance. It was dusty and weathered, the rear tire was deathly bald and the grips were disintegrating. I could tell it’d been parked for some time. But once I got the keys, and it fired up (first try), I was in love. Dat rumble. Who cares about a little dust? All I wanted to do was ride.

Reality check: Day 1 of my trip, a freak summer-storm forms along the eastern border of California. Oddly enough, it’s first precipitation of the year — three days of heavy snow along most of my planned route. Some good advice convinced me to alter my course to avoid certain death.

I decided to go coastal. Back across the Bay Bridge, through SF and down every inch of coastline I could possibly find. I’ve never had a full dose of the Pacific Coast Highway. Although it’s possible to drive from the Bay Area to SoCal in ~6 hours along the massive I-5 freeway, I chose to weave along the western edge and stretch the trip by four days.

Nervous about the bike’s condition and the inconsistent weather on the coast, I packed a big backpack full of various clothing, footwear, tools and safety gear. Since the bike had no saddlebags, every pound of cargo was strapped directly to my body. My abs still hurt.

The adventure began with a bang, directly into AM rush-hour traffic. Not incredibly exhilarating, but it allowed time to get a feel for the bike at low speeds. Soon enough I was blasting across a very windy Bay Bridge into cold and cloudy San Francisco. After a quick lap around Treasure Island, I parked near the Embarcadero to asses reality. After an hour of riding, the bike was running great, and I was still alive. My confidence was renewed and I was in a hurry to find some sunshine.

 
The “New” Bay Bridge – Crossing from Oakland into San Francisco

The “New” Bay Bridge – Crossing from Oakland into San Francisco

 

The “New” Bay Bridge – Crossing from Oakland into San Francisco

I took a beautiful route through The City, around the marina, into the Presidio and out through Golden Gate Park. I raced down The Great Highway where I met the Pacific Ocean as the sun finally broke through the clouds. I could hardly contain my excitement for the rest of the trip. So I pulled over to pee.

 
Two minutes later, when I attempted to start the bike, disaster struck:

Two minutes later, when I attempted to start the bike, disaster struck:

 

Somehow, my ignition key twisted apart leaving the business-end of the key lodged deeply in the lock tumblers. Not good. I had no extra key and 500 failed attempts to coax the bike into running. Luckily I was still close to SF and had a fully charged phone, so I could find dozens of mobile locksmiths. But only a few actually answered their phones. And none of them had the proper key-blank for my particular Harley-Davidson. I bounced around from locksmith to locksmith for two hours. Finally, after a string of recommendations, I located a guy that could help. Ninety minutes later, he fished out the broken key and manually cut me two new copies in exchange for $200. At least I have a copy now…

Other than the few hours of daylight I lost that afternoon, the following days along the Pacific Coast Highway were completely trouble-free. The weather was perfect, fluctuating between bright, warm sun to mild, low cloud cover painting the coast in a hundred different shades of light. On most motorcycles, the unprotected nature of the machine leaves you victim to a number of invisible hazards like gusty-coastal winds or rocks and bees to the face. But the un-hindered view of 100 miles of coastline totally makes up for the missing windshield.

 
 

I spent the next three straight days weaving in and out of beach towns, sniffing out food-trucks, micro-breweries and wineries. My route was pretty simple; head south and try to keep the coastline in sight. I avoided all freeways and the expense of small-town traffic jams and tourist traps. No matter, the frequent slows and stops were a perfect way take in the scenery.

The pace of the ride was perfectly manageable, but pretty early in the trip my left arm somehow became sore AND numb from the heavy clutch. And, my shoulders and neck were angry with the weight and drag from my backpack. I played it cool, but my core strength was pushed far beyond its comfort zone. California is a massive state. Even in the areas where I could haul-ass for long stretches of highway, covering ground required the bulk of the day. Pit stops along the way were generally kept short and I tried to limit night-riding ‘cause I was afraid of missing something beautiful.

I didn’t hit any more trouble ‘til the final day of the ride. It was a weekday so I wanted to avoid Los Angeles traffic like the plague. I’d neither seen nor heard much about the San Gabriel Mountain range. I knew there were some tiny ski-resorts and tons of mountain trails several thousand feet above greater L.A., but I couldn’t get ahold of anyone who knew the area well. I decided to wing-it and just see where the road takes me. But the weather report was showing a 70% chance of precipitation with weather in the high 30ºs at the top of the pass. Oh well… anything to ditch SoCal traffic.

The morning was beautiful as I left Ojai and rode through the Santa Clarita Valley. By the time I was east of The Grapevine, the ominous clouds arrived and parked themselves directly ahead of me. As I started to climb the steep pass, the temperature dropped like 30 degrees. Luckily it only rained for less than a mile… but I rode directly into a thick blanket of wet fog. I added several layers of clothing and continued on. It didn’t make sense to turn back.

 

You know you’re at a legit burrito spot when you’re in line with this guy

The road is carved through sheer cliffs of milky-white quartz which looked surreal in the dense fog. I had less than twenty-five feet of visibility and my visor was useless due to the condensation. Not exactly comfortable. I was pretty pissed that I couldn’t get a good look at my surroundings. But my slower-than-normal speed allowed ample time to get a close look at the strange combination of Pine and Joshua Trees among the salt and pepper granite boulders.

Visibility = Low

Visibility = Low

Luckily, the highway was pretty much deserted. Save for a small handful of raced-out Honda Civics and Beemers, it was eerily empty and motionless. It was, by far, the most isolated part of the trip. Almost 3 hours was spent crossing the small mountain range and I saw less than 20 cars in either direction.

By the time I’d crested the summit, the clouds we’re finally breaking. The sun finally lit up the cliffs and valley below. The warmth and the visibility was a welcome change. I had a much needed beer at a small brewery in Wrightwood. I took a moment to reflect on miles covered and bucket-list items achieved. The trip was somehow both easier and harder than I’d imagined, but every mile produced a memory of some sort. Above all, the excitement that the bike was coming home with me equaled my sense of accomplishment.

With less than fifty miles of road between me and the finish line, I merged onto the only Interstate leg of the trip. I screamed down the I-15 to a predetermined U-Haul lot where my buddy was standing-by with a trailer hitched up and ready to go.

After a Double-Double (animal style), we high-tailed it straight to Vegas for the weekend… Another story for another time.

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Several weeks later, between commuting to the office and long weekend rides along the front range, I’ve put over 1000 Colorado miles on the bike. Although it’s still dusty and rusty, it runs like a dream and starts every time. Not a single regret. Thanks Movement Strategy.