The throttle on this Honda Shadow 650 doesn’t do much when you twist it. But it doesn’t have to. The northern part of the Pacific Coast Highway winds between cliffs on both sides. And the speed limit, paired with how unstable this bike feels, turns my knuckles white.
The cliff to my left falls straight into the ocean and the cliff on the other side rushes straight up to sky. Age and dampness have turned these cliffs black and large, bright green patches of moss droop from the outcroppings. This place glows in a dreary sort of way.
We’ve reached Oregon and I feel pretty lucky about that. On every sharp turn I feel the bike wanting to slide out from under me, across the road, and into the ocean hundreds of feet below.
Yesterday morning my brother and I woke up in mid California in a small gold rush town called Grass Valley. We had planned this trip for a few months now, but in our normal fashion, we awoke the morning of the trip unpacked and unprepared. In a matter of minutes we had eaten breakfast, jammed everything for the trip into our bags and, tied the bags to the bikes.
“We got everything?” he asked, looking up from his bike.
“I think so.” I said without forethought. “If we forgot anything I guess we’ll just have to pick it up on the road.” Such was the theme of our motorcycle trip to Seattle.
For the first part of the day we cruised down desolate country roads, in no rush to get anywhere, when we reached this valley. One hundred and six brain rotting degrees quickly wore me down. Sweat filled my leather jacket and ran down my body. I felt as if I had showered in my clothes. I lost fluid faster than I could drink and didn’t realize that I was dehydrated. I also didn’t notice that my peripheral vision disappeared until we stopped on the side of the road.
“Hey man, you doing ok?” My brother asked. “You’re taking those turns really slow.”
I peeled the helmet off of my head and was instantly thrown back by just how narrowed my vision had become. I guess tunnel vision is a real thing.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I replied. “Just thirsty and ridiculously hot.” The words fell out of my dry mouth with no assistance from my sapless tongue.
“Drink this water dude” he said, standing beside his bike taking his own helmet off. He tossed me the bottle from his pack. “Look at this place. It’s amazing.” He said, tying his bags back down. “There’s nothing here for miles.”
We stopped in the valley just before the Coastal Range mountains pulled the earth up into the clouds. There really was nothing for miles, nothing but hills, scattered small trees, and a massive expanse of tall brown grass, fried in the sun. The sound of the hot, dry wind blowing through the grass was serene, like a thousand snakes in conversation with one another. We were next to a small stream that was trying its hardest to stay wet under the beating sun. The fact that we found water here at all amazed me. This place does not forgive the weary traveler. It’s nothing like the desert, but it’s still not a place I’d want to be stuck in without a ride.
“Alright” I said while putting my helmet back on. “Let’s do this.” And we took off down the road. I looked in the rearview and saw two clouds of dust hanging lazily in the air from our tires spinning on the dry dirt. It was the only indication that we were ever there.
Later that evening we were crawling our way through the mountains toward to the Pacific Coast Highway. The temperature had dropped to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit and the fog was so thick we struggled see the yellow line to which we were desperately clinging. On mountain switchback roads, this is a problem.
I learned to look ahead when riding a motorcycle. “Look in the direction you want to go” motorcycle course instructors will tell you. “Don’t look at the line.” But straight ahead was nowhere, fog, nothing. We had to cling to the line or we would have driven off a cliff we couldn’t see coming.
We were already drenched with sweat and now even more so from the fog. Forty-five degrees, wet clothing, wind, and the darkness of the night will chill you to the bones on a motorcycle. But uncontrollable teeth chattering aside, this trip was turning out to be a story to tell.
We descended other side of the Coastal Mountain Range into the Redwood National Forest. The Avenue of the Giants they call it. The forest was deep, dark, foggy, and timeless. Out of the thick fog and darkness emerged these wooden behemoths: unmovable and sacred. Next to these ancient trees we were just insignificant blips of time mashed in with all the other insignificant blips that ever drove by gawking at them. This was a powerful place. Humans made the road where the trees allowed them to make it. We didn’t rule this area.
Around eleven pm we finally reached civilization. It was some ramshackle town that may as well slip, unnoticed, into the Pacific Ocean. Please. And take the sickly inhabitants of this town with you on your plunge into non-existence. Fortuna. What a place.
Everything but a gas station and a block of hotels was closed. The only people still awake were those that had run out of meth for the night and couldn’t find their dealers. So they dragged their heels around in circles in front of this one gas station. If there was a zombie apocalypse, it started right here.
We were starving in line at the gas station waiting to pay for our essentials. Pringles and beer. We could see these people – strike that, we could hear these people and smell these people dying right in front of us. Never did more than three seconds of silence elapse between some heaving cough, ass-clearing fart, or drug induced verbal tic. This may have been the most miserable place I’ve ever seen. I loved this trip so far!
I love seeing places no one goes. I love being places no one has on their bucket lists. Fortuna. “Well, before I die I need to get to Fortuna, California.” No one says that. Ever.
So we took our Pringles and our beer and rolled up to the fanciest hotel we wanted to afford. We paid up and got our keys to the Super 8 double queen room.
I opened the door and the smell of bleach and something god awful whacked me in the face. It literally pushed me backwards. The bleach was hiding something heinous I’m sure. I’m glad I didn’t know what it was. We made it through our first night of this trip in a cheap hotel with chips, beer, and an impossibly hard mattress. All part of a proper motorcycle trip.
To be continued