2017 Trip to Lake Sonoma

RouteMy most recent motorcycle trip was to Lake Sonoma to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday. I traveled solo on this 1,665 mile, six-day trip, spending one 24-hour cycle on a houseboat with about twenty folks, in all.

I spend more time on interstates than in the past, but I managed to find some nice twisties and scenic roads on Day 3 and beyond.

All in all, a relaxing visit and some stellar exploration on the way home made this a great ride.

Day 1

Seattle, WA to Medford, OR

Day’s distance: 446 miles
Total trip distance so far: 446 miles

The entire first day was spent on I-5. I left the house just after 8am. One stop for fuel and a latte left me traveling through Portland around lunch time. It seems almost impossible to get through Portland without experiencing traffic issues and this Friday was no different.

It was sunny and in the 80s when I stopped at a rest area north of Vancouver, WA to eat the lunch I purchased at Starbucks earlier in the day.

BBQ Chicken Protein Box
Credit: Starbucks – BBQ Chicken lunch

I’ve been combining my morning latte with picking up a box lunch to avoid longer lunch stops.

I grabbed the BBQ Chicken Protein Box. They keep for a few hours inside one of the side cases and I can stop anywhere to eat.

The skies were getting hazy from smoke. The Chetco Bar forest fire just east of Brookings was the largest contributor. I would need to keep an eye on this one on my return trip as Brookings was under evacuation advisories and I’d planned to return through the coastal town.

Still, the day was uneventful. The bike was running well and I had a tail wind part of the day. I-5 south of Portland has some scenic countryside, so it was nice for the pace it allowed. Soon enough I was in Medford and happy to find the big outdoor pool and the spa at the motel in Medford were super. I rested up after watching a movie and checking on the bike one last time. 🙂

Day 2

Medford, OR to Williams, CA

Day’s distance: 249 miles
Total trip distance so far: 695 miles

Today would be the other full day on interstates. A short day by comparison, being almost 200 miles shorter. But it would be about 20 degrees hotter, reaching 106 before I got off the bike and 108 an hour later.

My latte stop was in Yreka, CA at Zephyr Books and Coffee, a used bookstore with great savory scones and solid espresso. I met an Australian couple traveling in a camper van while sitting outside, sipping my coffee and enjoying my scone.

Funny story about the scone. As I’m pulling my helmet off in front of the shop, I asked the couple sitting outside about the coffee. They said it was great and to try the cheddar bacon scone. Pleased with the answer, I headed inside. There were two left in the case and the woman in front of me ordered both. I guess I made a sad face and some pathetic sound but the end result was she insisted I get one, saying “the other was for her husband and he would never know.” I guess I’m more emboldened when I’ve got my motorcycle gear on – LOL.

Riding past Mt. Shasta, the air quality was pretty bad. You could barely see the mountain even though it was very close. As I continued south, the air quality did get better.

I chose to overnight in Williams versus somewhere closer to Lake Sonoma because it has motels at low prices, and it was too hot to keep going. I jumped in the pool after washing out my base layer and hanging it up to dry.

Tomorrow would be a 2.5 hour ride to the marina to meet my friends. I was hoping to arrive at 10am. Time to sleep.

Day 3

Williams, CA to Lake Sonoma Marina

Day’s distance: 105 miles
Total trip distance so far: 800 miles

It was easy to find a good iced latte and fresh baked muffins in Williams at Granzella’s Restaurant. I was also able to get my camelback filled with ice. It would be nice to have cold water for the morning ride.

Day 3 route

I have traveled Hwy 20 in the past, but only the part west of Hwy 101. This part of Hwy 20 was a good surfaced two-lane with lots of sweepers through farmland first, then the rolling hills of Northern California familiar to me.

Hwy 53 and Hwy 29 were really just a way to get to a specific section of Hwy 175. I was looking forward to riding this section – it was well regarded by other motorcyclists.

Turns out this road was one of the most technical I’ve ridden. It offered vistas, often had no shoulders, tightening curves, blind and off-camber corners, and a little bit of gravel. There were three times, I think, that one lane was closed due to slides from the heavy winter rains California experienced last winter. The road was used by locals and bicyclists on this morning. I didn’t see any other motorcyclists, but it was early.

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Hwy 175
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Hwy 175

All told, this section of Hwy 175 was a great ride!

I found the marina a short time later with the help of a local guy getting ready for a jog in the heat (I had a wrong address), and I arrived at 9:57am.

I was, of course, the first to arrive, but that gave me time to change into clothes appropriate for the next 24 hours. I packed the gear I was taking to the houseboat and loaded it onto the ski boat. All this while catching up with my almost 50 year old friend Craig and his best mate (for 40 years), Dan, who I’ve known for almost as long as I’ve know Craig.

I’d be off the bike for the next 24 hours. My mission was to help celebrate Craig’s entry into the second half of his life. There were maybe two dozen people who arrived to help celebrate. During the day and into the evening, there were boat rides, kayaks and paddleboards, even an inflatable couch that I floated on for at least an hour 😉 Good thing, it was another day above 100.

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The Birthday Boy, Craig
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Dan

Of course there was cake and desserts, drinks and merryment – it was a relaxing evening. About 10 folks stayed on the boat overnight. I slept on the upstairs deck under the stars. It was a gorgeous evening and quiet night.

Day 4

Lake Sonoma, CA to Fort Bragg, CA

Day’s distance: 120 miles
Total trip distance so far: 920 miles

I was back on the road about noon after a relaxing morning coffee and some hanging out on the boat time. Today would be hot, incredibly hot. But I also wanted to take a bit of a longer route than necessary as I headed to the coastal city of Fort Bragg, CA, my day’s destination.

I grabbed a BBQ brisket sandwich for lunch at the Hamburger Ranch and BBQ. I met the man in charge of CalFire while waiting for my sandwich. CalFire is California’s firefighting arm of the government. I would not want his job. We talked about the local fires and the Chetco Bar fire near Brookings, OR. His outlook for September wasn’t encouraging with the expected continuation of exceptionally hot and dry weather.Day 4 route

Jumping back on the bike, I headed west on Hwy 128. There was construction that closed one lane not too far into my after-lunch ride, but after that, it was clear sailing.

I’ve traveled Hwy 128 before, as mentioned, between Hwy 101 and the PCH. As well, I’ve ridden Hwy 20 to the north. This time, I would take Orr Springs Road, in between these two highways. But first I would take Hwy 253 east to Ukiah and back into the extreme heat.

Hwy 253 was great. Wide, good vistas and road surfaces, and little traffic. It was maybe 30 minutes before I stopped for fuel and cold water in Ukiah, where it was 106 and climbing. During my break, I doused my LD Comfort shirt with water to stay cool and filled my camelback with the rest of 2 liters of cold water I couldn’t drink. Time to head to Orr Springs Road.

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Heading west along Orr Springs Road

The temperature on Orr Springs Rd reached 111 degrees. I was so glad to be well hydrated and have some evaporative cooling over my upper body keeping my core from overheating. All I needed to do was continue west and the temperatures would cool off as I reached the coast.

While 253 was great, Orr Springs road mostly sucked. It was in bad shape, narrow, and the surface was not being maintained. I was going to a place as hot as hell to ride this? Ugh, I thought. I’m not sure if this was in better shape in the past, but I don’t recommend it over Hwy 128 as a way to travel to the coast.

The road improved significantly once it changed to Comptche Road. That almost made it worthwhile as I love taking twisty roads through the redwoods of the Jackson State Forest. When I reached Hwy 101 in Mendocino, it was 61 degrees.

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View from Hwy 101 near Mendocino

That was a 50 degree temperature drop in two hours. Amazing, and welcome.

I stayed in the same Travelodge as I did on my last visit to Fort Bragg and ate at Cucina Verona again, having the Rib Eye steak with mashed potatoes (again). I love good comfort food when the weather turns foggy and windy. 🙂

There was a guitarist playing during dinner and when I stepped into the coffee shop next door for a hot chocolate, there was a three piece jazz band playing there. Queen Jane and Her Sidekicks Swing Jazz Standards to be specific. Here is a video of the band recorded in 2012.

Turns out the Headlands Coffeehouse has a packed schedule of events.

I love this little town for the dinner hour live music scene.

Day 5

Fort Bragg, CA to Coos Bay, OR

Day’s distance: 350 miles
Total trip distance so far: 1,270 miles

When I started the day, I wasn’t sure if I’d be staying in Grants Pass on I-5 or in Coos Bay, still along the coast. It depended on the road conditions in Brookings impacted by the Chetco Bar fire. I would wait until arriving in Crescent City to find out if I can continue north into Oregon along Hwy 101.

It was overcast and chilly, so I added my liner to my coat before getting on the bike. I was looking forward to the first part of the ride this morning. The last 40 miles or so of Hwy 1, some of the best if you ask me. It travels along a much less developed part of the coast and then through the forest along a twisty and very pleasing section of roadway.

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Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1)
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Hwy 1 just before heading east to Leggett
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Hwy 1 just west of Leggett, CA

Except for a fuel and latte stop, I was pretty focused on making some time along Hwy 101. It was about 1pm when I made it to Crescent City. One of my first stops was the local CalFire Station, where I confirmed that Hwy 101 is open for tourist travel through Brookings. Yay! I would not have to head to Grants Pass through the smokey Rouge Valley.

I also asked for a lunch recommendation and discovered the Vita Cucina Bakery. Great sandwiches and baked goods – highly recommended if you’re in Crescent City. I had the Bahn Mi sandwich and ended up saving the dessert for later in the evening. 🙂

I arrived in Coos Bay at sunset, staying at the Red Lion. It had a great outdoor pool and hot tub that I used once I was unpacked and had cleaned up my stuff for the next day.

While it remained in the 60’s most of the day, the pool and hot tub were both super relaxing and enjoyable. I am living the charmed life, I have to say.

Day 6

Coos Bay, OR to Seattle, WA

Day’s distance: 395 miles
Total trip distance (final): 1,665 miles

Weather forecasts for the Washington coast looked cold and cloudy so I decided to head home from Coos Bay, taking the coast up to Florence, OR and then take Hwy 128 east.

In Gardiner, I stopped to take a photo of the local boat launch – the light at this time of the morning was nice.

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Day 6I road Hwy 128 west to Florence from Eugene in 1982 as part of bicycle trip I took along the Pacific Coast Highway while in college. That was fun to think about, though the terrain didn’t look familiar (it was 35 years ago!).

Part way down Hwy 128, I decided on the fly to take Hwy 36 as it was supposed to be worthy and a bit less traveled.

Well, taking Hwy 36 was a treat. The scenery was coastal Oregon forest and farmland nestled in rolling hills that open to wonderful pastures. Hwy 36 was a great way to finish with the less-traveled roads sections of this trip. Generous speed limits and some good twists – highly recommended road.

Once in Corvalis, I filled up with fuel and headed for I-5. To my surprise, I traveled through Portland without much delay and only hit a bit of a slow down in Tacoma and downtown Seattle. Pretty easy breezy.

Reflections

Six days total, the trip was relatively short. With two half-days on the bike and a full 24 hours off right in the middle of the trip provided time to relax. I have to say I never felt rushed and maintained a positive attitude for most of the trip.

It was critical on two day to take steps to mitigate the heat. Staying hydrated with cold liquids, wetting down my base layer (the shirt anyway), taking frequent breaks under shade and filling my camelback with ice all help.

I had great luck with pools being available in the evenings at many of my stops, and found a few worthy places to eat. I try to call them out in the blog so I can re-visit them if I have the opportunity.

It was / is fire season here in the Western US. If you’re traveling in the area, always check your route! I can’t believe how many large fires are burning right now between British Columbia and Northern California.

The motorcycle’s next service is coming up soon. With almost 60,000 miles on the odometer, it was time to do a more thorough cleaning. It took me about 30 minutes to remove the ‘tupperware’, or the motorcycle’s plastic panels that cover the mechanicals.

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She is back together now. All clean, in great shape and running sweet!

4 thoughts

    1. I missed the bad parts of the smoke on the way down, only seeing and smelling the haze, which was bad near the Oregon / California border. On the way home, I missed it all, staying upwind the whole way.

  1. Loved your cheddar bacon scone story. And it’s great to see the Pacific Coast Highway again – did some car camping up near Yreka in 1982 and had a king salmon on the grill out in the gorgeous redwoods. Hele on, Keith (Hawaiian for keep on truckin)
    April

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