It was sometime last winter when I first started thinking about a summer ride in the California Sierras. I was pretty sure Marv would come, as he loves riding in that area. I put it on our group’s calendar, and we were both elated when Kurt, and then Chris and Dan signed on. Chris’ friend, Chris from Los Angeles, with whom we’ve ridden previously, would meet us in Redding. Finally, a week before we left, Keith adjusted his vacation days and would catch up with us in Redding as well. We were set with our group of seven.
It was good to have such a great group of capable, skilled riders, and everyone was amiable, agreeable, and enjoyable.
Day-1, Getting Out of Town-to-Roseburg, OR
The first leg of our trip included Marv, Kurt, Dan, Chris, and myself.
We decided to meet in Castle Rock at Peppers 49’er Restaurant in southwest Washington after completing the bulk of the freeway portion of the ride.
We did a meet-and-greet over breakfast, and then got underway down the freeway to Kelso, where we crossed the Columbia into Oregon. From here, we would spend the rest of the day on Oregon backroads and two-lane highways, most of which were known to everyone.
We spent the first night in Roseburg, OR at the Rose City Motel, a very decorated, but clean and friendly place to break for the night.
One thing about the motel that was odd was that the manager was very nervous about us lubricating our chains in the parking lot. The process doesn’t make a mess, and it was a good thing; she literally watched over Chris’ shoulder while he did his chain maintenance. I think she got nervous when he asked her if she had some newspapers to put under his bike while he did it. As it turned out, there was no mess, no fuss, and nothing for her to complain about. Still, it didn’t do much to make us feel welcome.
The Rose City Motel is one of those motels where each room has a theme. They went to a lot of effort on the details. Marv and I had an aviation-themed room with a large model of the Red Baron’s bi-plane suspended over my bed.
They even had aviation magazines sitting next to the commode. I think of this stuff as a lot of clutter, but I’m of two minds about it. I like that a motel makes an effort towards setting themselves apart from the big chains. Their efforts in getting the place looking good weren’t wasted on me. They had a lot of nice flower baskets around, and a comfortable outdoor seating area.
There were a couple of restaurants within walking distance of the motel, and we chose the Mexican restaurant recommended by the hotel manager.
It turned out to be good. After our meal we all turned in.
Day-2, Roseburg, OR-to-Redding, CA
I had two routes programmed for our Day-2 route to Redding. I decided that the route on the east side of I-5 in the foothills of the Cascades was the better choice. The roads were of the nice-and-curvy variety in all the right places. The lead-off was a set of small local roads east of Roseburg leading south that were just the right tempo for an early morning outing.
We took a five-mile stretch of the freeway to the small town of Canyonville where we stopped for breakfast at Marla Kay’s Cafe.
We were in the process of parking our bikes in front of the cafe when the waitress came out and asked if we could get all our bikes into a couple of parking spots so her other patrons would be able to get spots. We thought it was a very odd thing to say, and we were a bit put off by it. Kurt moved his bike across the street where he found a shady spot to park. The rest of us squeezed our bikes into two spots.
We found the food marginal, but okay. The waitress was plenty sassy. She even made fun of Kurt, which pleased us greatly. There was a mis-communication when he was ordering, and she quickly remarked “Don’t get to town much, huh?”
We took a great set of highways down to the California border.
We jumped on I-5 for a few miles, passed fruit inspection, and made a gas-stop at the most-cordial gas station in California. That’s a bit of sarcasm because, every time we pull into that station, there are people who park at the pump for a lot longer than it takes for them to get their gas. They park at the pump, go inside and do whatever other business they may have, and then return to pump their gas. In the meantime, others that understand the social contract are left to wait for them to finish. This gas station is the most convenient station in the area and, every time Marv and I have stopped there, we have experienced the same behaviour from our oblivious-to-others fellow travellers. I wonder if this sort of narcissism has become a fashion statement. The people exhibiting it seem to wear it proudly.
It was starting to get hot; not just a little hot either. One of the fasteners securing Marv’s cheap Chinese after-market fairings had come loose, and a lower cowl was flapping in the breeze. We took I-5 a few more miles south to the Highway 96 exit where Marv and Dan paused to do a little triage on Marv’s loose cowl.
This would be a slight 30-mile divergence off the freeway, down through a twisty Shasta River canyon on Highway 263. In Yreka we jumped on the freeway again for the last time, and then exited onto the Gazelle-Callahan road. It’s a road of many characters in a short distance. Marv indicated to me that he needed us to stop for a while so he could make an interim zip-tie-repair to his cowl. We went off-route for a few miles to take a break in Callahan where it was still hot. Callahan is barely a town, although they do have a store and a post office.
Underway again, we rode down Highway 3 through the Trinity Alps. We all started to wander toward Redding at our own pace. There was a turn-off to take a small diversion to avoid Weaverville which Dan and Chris missed. They went on to Weaverville, while Kurt, Marv and I turned off and followed the programmed route. Kurt and I were the only GPS-enabled riders on this trip.
We connected with Highway 299 east of Weaverville, and rode it all the way to the Thunderbird Motel in Redding. Chris and Dan met the other Chris, Chris Hemer, in Weaverville. He had come in from the coast to meet up with us in Redding.
When I pulled up to the office at the motel I nearly fainted. Kurt said it was 111°, and I felt every bit of it. Despite having kept myself hydrated, I was feeling woozy. I sat down in the motel lobby for a while while Marv and Kurt checked in.
The rest of the group soon arrived, including Keith.
Keith rides a nice-looking bright blue Kawasaki ZX-14. Chris Hemer showed up on a brand new Suzuki Hayabusa.
He had several hundred miles on it from his ride up to Redding to join us, but it was fresh off the showroom floor. It looked like it was ready for some twisty roads.
Marv borrowed a battery-powered drill from the motel clerk to drill and stitch his lower fairing together with a zip-tie. The repair would hold through the remainder of the ride.
The Thunderbird Motel is located in the middle of town with many choices for dining. We chose Maxwell’s Pub, a bar and grille across the street. The food was pretty good, but our server, Jordan, was the real pleasure. She was young, fit and beautiful, as well as being pleasant and engaging. She seemed completely unaware of how pretty she is, but how could that be? Whatever the case, she knew exactly how to work us for big tips.
Day-3, Redding-to-Sierra City
I gave myself a birthday present. I got to ride with a great group of guys on some great roads. We left Redding on Highway 299. I had a set of roads we’d take before stopping for breakfast at The Hungry Moose Diner in Burney. The food was good, but it was a long time coming. It was 11 am when we finally got back on the road.
We went South on Highway 89 through the Lassen National Forest. Marv was able to get everyone but Kurt through the gate on his Golden Age Passport, (previously identified by one entrance ranger as a ‘Senility Pass’). Kurt had his own ‘Senility Pass’. We rode through the park and, soon after leaving the entry point, the congestion cleared and we were able to enjoy the road. Each of us chose his own pace, and we reformed our group in a parking area near Lake Helen.
Dan set out ahead of the group, and we wouldn’t see him again until Chico. The rest of us rode down the mountain roads to connect with Highway 36 where we turned east for a bit, and then turned southwest onto Highway 32.
We were riding down Highway 32 and I began to worry about running out of gas. We kept going and going, and still there were no stations. Chris told me the day before that he was good for about 150 miles before going on ‘reserve’. After that, he would need to start looking for a fill-up. I watched my trip-meter as the distance from my last fill-up passed 160 miles, and then 170 miles. I was beginning to worry we would find Dan and Chris standing at the side of the road after running out of fumes. We made it to the 7-Eleven gas station in Chico with 205 miles on the trip-meter, but Dan was missing. We filled our tanks, and then checked our phones for messages from Dan. We had some concerns, since we hadn’t seen him since our stop in Lassen.
Unbeknownst to us, Dan had continued on Highway 36 to Chester to get gas, and then had back-tracked to pick up Highway 32, so he was behind us. We’ll never know if he could have made it all the way to Chico. Chris said he had never ridden so many miles on a single tank before, and neither had I. I took a mental note to not push it past 205 miles for the rest of the trip. We had lunch in the air-conditioned Great Harvest Bread while we waited for Dan to catch up with us.
We took a short ride south from Chico on Highway 99 to where we exited the freeway onto the Durham Pentz Highway, the first part of which is a freeway frontage road. We whizzed by a black ‘n white sitting on the freeway with his radar active, waiting for a victim to come over the hill on the freeway. Since he was on the other side of the fence, he was of no concern to us.
After a surprise tour past the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, the County Juvenile Detention Facility, and the Coroner’s Office, we decided we wouldn’t be lost any more, and picked our way across the Feather River. We had a little light traffic around the reservoir and one spot where a deer was playing ‘chicken’ with the motorcycles. We let the deer win, and gave him all the road he needed while we tip-toed past. We were back on the good roads, and heading up in elevation on the Oroville–Quincy Highway. I was looking forward to the lower temperatures we’d find as we climbed back into the Sierras.
The group spread out as the road got twisty, but we all reconnected at the Meadow Valley Country Store a little east of Buck’s Lake.
Most of us were starting to feel the weight of the day and talking about our next motel. I gave the motel in Sierra City a call to let them know we were a little behind schedule, but we would be there.
We turned south on Highway 89 in Quincy, and went south through the golfing community of Graeagle, and then turned southwest onto the Gold Lake Highway. This turned out to be a real gem of a road. The views of the Sierra Buttes were stunning.
As the sun began to hang low in the sky, we rode into Sierra City for our night’s stay at the Herrington’s Sierra Pines Resort.
The motel is a collection of rustic cabin-style buildings. It was clean, quiet and comfortable. They treated us well, and kept the kitchen open late so we could have dinner. I was grateful for that, as I didn’t feel like getting back on my motorcycle. The dinner was very good. I’ll certainly stay there again if looking for an overnight spot in that area.
Day 4, Sierra City-to-Angels Camp
“Oh, what a beautiful morning.”
The crew gathered 12 miles down the road from our motel. I was the last one to get it together to start the day, and Kurt stuck around to wait for me. We rode southwest on Highway 49 to Downieville where some of the guys stopped to get gas. Kurt and I were enjoying the road. Later, Kurt would tell me that he had a short stretch of road where a Bald Eagle descended and flew in tandem with him; that must have been quite an experience. He grabbed a photo of the bird.
We rode another hour before stopping for breakfast. I had looked ahead the night before, and had chosen Nevada City as a good stop for breakfast. The first place I went to was too cramped for the seven of us and our gear, so I quickly found us another place for breakfast. The Broad Street Bistro and Galley was a hippy-type cafe with a lot of organic fare; exactly the kind of place I like to eat, so it’s on my list of great places to stop for brunch. They had very good food, we were able to sit outside in a shaded side-yard, and the locals around us were sociable and friendly. Nevada City struck me as a pretty cool town. I wouldn’t mind exploring there sometime.
We made our way south from Nevada City and crossed I-80 where we made our first excursion onto a less-than-premium road. Iowa Hill Road had pretty good reviews in some of the online research I had done while planning the trip. I thought it was a good road, and Keith must have really liked it. He was flying around the corners like a man-possessed.
When we stopped at the crest of a hill, I received a set of reviews from the rest of the group. Not everyone liked it as much as Keith and I.
Our next leg went west on Forest Hill Road. After stopping for gas in Forest Hill, we turned northeast out of town and had a great time on Mosquito Ridge Road. Everyone was feeling pretty good by the end of that road. I think Dan and Chris Hemer burned off a lot of steam in the process.
When we got to the dam at the French Meadows Reservoir, the road turned south on us – both literally and figuratively. By the time we got to the next turn at Wentworth Springs Road, Chris, Chris, and Dan were worn out, so they opted for a more-direct route to Angels Camp. For better or worse, Keith, Kurt, Marv, and I decided we were going to finish off the route, and enjoyed the next few sections of smooth twisty roads. We took another less-than-premium road called Omo Ranch Road.
It was in good shape, but had a series of noticeable lumps every twenty feet. It was a rhythmic annoyance that detracted from the otherwise beautiful scenery. We hit one more very nice road before we got to Angels Camp, Highway 126. That road stood out as the best road I had been on all day. It was smooth, twisty, scenic, hilly, and mostly empty.
We stayed in Angels Camp at the Gold Country Inn. I’ll not go back there. The manager was a jerk, the internet connection wasn’t working, and the fare at the adjacent Rodz Grille, the only place within walking distance, was poor. Kurt ordered breakfast for dinner, and I think his logic made sense – order what you think they can’t mess up.
Day 5, Angels Camp-to-Bridgeport
I had planned a nice set of roads to get us from Angels Camp to Bridgeport. Part of the day would be spent doing a figure-8 loop southwest of Yosemite National Park, and then through the park and over Tioga Pass to US 395 and Bridgeport. After the ribbing I took the night before about the two goat-trails I lead us over on Day-4, I was determined to make up for it. It didn’t go quite as planned.
We headed south out of Angels Camp on Highway 49. It was pleasant, but the traffic was heavy. We never really seemed to break free where we could enjoy the road. I wasn’t worried though, knowing we’d soon be on some less-travelled roads.
We turned off onto Rawhide Road just west of Sonora. As the name suggests, this was where things started to get rough. If I had known then what I know now, I would have stayed in the traffic parade on the main roads. Rawhide Road turned to Algerine Road and, man, they were rough. That was nothing though, because soon we were going to be on Wards Ferry Road which would combine all the potholes and roughness of the previous roads, with a cliffside goat-path that the Navajo would consider too steep and high. I remember at one point looking over the edge of the cliff to see a well-paved bridge over a river but, by the time I got to it, I realized that, on the other side of the bridge was another goat-trail I had to ascend to get out of the river gorge.
When I finally got back up to a decent road, I didn’t want to stop, because I knew when the group caught up to me I would have to let them vent about eating up 90 minutes of our morning for a horrible road. When we finally did take a break in Groveland, I didn’t hear too much complaining, and that was actually worse than if they had all held forth about the sorry state of the road we’d just ridden.
Well, I was sure the bad pavement was behind us. On the other had, we were going to be passing through Yosemite National Park at the height of tourist season. We entered the park but, after a few miles down Big Oak Flat Road, we decided to bag the rest of the route in that area. The traffic was heavy, and we were all getting hot in our full riding gear. We took a few pictures at a pullout overlooking the entrance to the Yosemite Valley, and then turned-tail and headed over Tioga Pass.
As we gained elevation I found it was getting cooler. The traffic thinned, and the ride was nice again. The group spread out, with Marv, Keith and I riding together; I think the others stayed in a group of four.
We stopped and took a lot of photos on our way over, and got to Bridgeport early enough for me to throw my stinky suit into a washing machine at the nearby laundromat. We all gathered in the Silver Maple Inn’s yard and visited for a while. It was nice to have a shorter day.
Bridgeport is an interesting small town. The courthouse looks like it was built during the gold rush days. Its facade is dotted with swallow nests and there’s a large clock in the bell tower. The carillon with real bells chimes on the quarter-hour, and plays melodies and strikes the time on the hour.
We ate dinner at the Sportsman’s Inn Restaurant. It was the usual tavern fare, but the service was extremely slow. Our waitress was a recent immigrant from Russia, and her accent was strong. Her English was functional but, as often happens, nuance is lost in translation. After sitting for a half-hour without even getting any water, Marv finally got up, went to the waitress station, and got us glasses and a pitcher of water. Once they saw him do that, the service became a bit more attentive.
After a good night’s rest, we would begin our route north the next day.
Day 6, Bridgeport-to-South Lake Tahoe
We left Bridgeport on Highway 395 and, about 11 miles north of town, turned west onto the incomparable Highway 108. This is one of the sweetest roads you’ll ever ride. It twists and winds through the alpine Sierras, decending into beautiful sweeping curves at the lower elevations. The group spread out, and I had stopped to take a few photos, so was bringing up the rear.
I came upon Marv in the road waiting up for me, and followed him the rest of the way down through the hills to Strawberry. We found our friends waiting near a good place to break for breakfast.
The food at the Strawberry Inn was good. We were in some sort of strange, Eastern Bloc time warp, because today we had a waitress who spoke Czech. There was no language barrier for Dan, who was able to banter with the waitress and bartender in their native tongue.
We took an unusual set of side roads connecting Highway 108 to Highway 4, and then rode east on Highway 4 to the intersection with Highway 89.
My route had factored in a trip over to Topaz Lake and back on the twisty highway 89. Chris Harnish and Marv had no interest in running out and back on that road, so they proceeded to Markleeville to wait for us. The rest of us made a trip out and back on this great road.
I stopped about three miles from the end of the road where we were to turn around and head back to Markleeville, setting up at a hairpin curve to catch video of the guys as they came rocketing around it. As I waited, I smelled rain in the air, and heard a couple of rumbles of thunder that weren’t too far off.
After the riders came screaming past where I had parked, I got on my bike and set out to bring up the rear and get to Markleeville before the storm; I didn’t quite make it. There were some pretty interesting lightning strikes along the way.
Arriving back in Markleeville, I found everyone there except for Keith. Kurt said he saw Keith pulled off the road and under cover a few miles back. I grew impatient to get to Tahoe so I could dry out. Kurt and I went back to find Keith, and found him waiting out the worst of the rain. Kurt stayed with him while I went back to Markleeville to get the rest of the group, and go on to South Lake Tahoe. We had all agreed to cut the end of the ride short, since there was ‘a hard rain a-falling’. I was surprised that no one else wanted to ride on with me; they all chose to stay dry on the general store’s covered porch. I was already soaked and wanted to get to the next stop. I set out on my own for the thirty-mile ride to the Alpenrose Inn in South Lake Tahoe.
I had stayed at the Alpenrose last September when Marv, Randy, and I were through here. I liked it then, and I liked it again. I was unpacked, showered, and dry by the time the rest of the group arrived. After everyone was ready, we went to Harrah’s Forest Buffet located on the 18th floor of Harrah’s Casino on the Nevada State Line. I ate way too much, but I figured the more I ate, the cheaper would be my meal.
Day 7, South Lake Tahoe-to-Susanville
Chris Hemer would depart the group this morning to head south on Highway 395 and back home to Los Angeles. The rest of us would continue zig-zagging across the Sierra passes and stop Friday night in Susanville.
It had been good to ride with Chris Hemer again. After the variety of roads we covered in the past week, he must have been feeling very comfortable on his new Hayabusa. He had been on good roads, fast roads, rough roads, and bad roads. He even got a chance to ride in the rain. It’s a nice bike, and seemed to be a good fit for him.
We left Lake Tahoe on Highway 89, taking it all the way north to Quincy.
We all piled into the Subway shop in Quincy for a quick lunch. Everyone, that is, but Keith. I never asked him where he went for lunch. I hope it was air-conditioned, because it was pretty hot at that point in the day.
None of us had been on the very curvy Quincy-Laporte Road.
We took turns stopping for photos, and finally parked near Woodleaf, a ‘Young Life’ Christian youth camp settlement.
We reconoitered and everyone wanted to push on to a store where we could get something cold to drink. Everyone except Marv and I went on ahead; we wanted to recharge our evaporative cooling vests before moving on. The folk at the camp were nice enough to let us have access to their water tap to do that. We caught up with the others at the Forbestown General Store store a few miles farther along the route.
We worked our way around Lake Oroville and took a short-cut on Cherokee Road to connect with our next highly-anticipated Sierra pass. We hit the junction with Highway 70, turned east and, before we knew it, we were back on another swinging, curling, mountain pass.
There was a construction site where the road was down to one lane with a moderating traffic light. I took advantage of the right to lane-split, and moved to the front of the line, allowing me to get a good jump on staying out in front of the RVs sitting at the light. I didn’t see any of my fellow riders for a while after that. Then I noticed Keith behind me. We had a pretty good time looping around the curves on that road. We hit the turn-off for Highway 89 and, since we were all getting concerned about filling our tanks before we went much farther, we went into Greenville and filled our tanks.
Chris, Dan, and Keith decided to head straight into Susanville from there, while Kurt, Marv, and I went on a little longer ride, covering the some very nice roads in the ranch country south of Susanville. We circumnavigated Antelope Lake, and paced our way through a section of burned-out forest land that was on the mend. There were few places where we skirted along a cliff with some very large boulders perched precariously above the road. We ended up on the Janesville Grade Road and followed it down to our junction with US 395, and then made a short hop into Susanville.
We stayed at the Apple Inn in Susanville, a nice, clean, comfortable motel. The owners were very friendly, and were even so helpful as to offer us a ride into the center of town so we could eat at the Lassen Ale Works. We didn’t take him up on that offer and, instead, rode our motorcycles there.
We were sitting in the noisy, vibrant tavern when a woman walked in and asked who was riding the BMW. Kurt volunteered it was he. She took out a key and dangled it. Apparently Kurt was distracted when he pulled up and parked, and had left his key in his bike with the ignition switched on. It turned out she was the owner of the establishment and rode a Beemer herself. She related that she had been in Oregon for a BMW rally the previous week. She and her husband chatted motorcycles with us for a while, and then were on their way.
Day 8, Susanville, CA-to-John Day, OR
On Saturday morning we awakened to a day of riding a single highway for nearly 350 miles. US 395 has some stretches between Susanville and John day that are as desolate as can be. I had a text message from Keith that he would meet up with us in John Day. The message from him came in around 7 am, and I figured he wanted to get an early start. I didn’t find out until that evening that he got a late start, and was behind us.
We all took turns leap-frogging past each other, occasionally turning the volume up to 11. We took a break for breakfast at the Bear Creek Cafe in Alturas. Again, we found the slowest service in the world, and were there for nearly 90 minutes for breakfast.
In Burns, Oregon we took an extended break at the Dairy Queen where we took a while to regroup. Marv asked if we could take one of the roads we’d been on a couple of months ago before getting to John Day. We were ahead of schedule due to the extended periods of time we had kept the volume turned all the way up to 11. I plugged in the route off 395 to take us over Fields Creek Road.
Although Fields Creek Road wasn’t another goat-trail, it was dangerously close to being a cow-path. In fact, there were cows in the road at one spot. It soon smoothed out though, and was a nice alternative to the too-smooth, freshly-paved section of twisty highway through Canyon City to John Day.
We stayed at the Budget 8 Motel in John Day, a clean, comfortable, no-frills motel. We walked a few blocks up to the Outpost for dinner where I ate nearly a whole Pesto Pizza. I was miserable afterwards, but it was pretty good.
Day 9 – Sunday John Day, OR-to-Home
At dinner the night before, we discussed the best way for us to get home. We were all well-versed on the routes, and the up and down-sides to all the alternatives. One factor that put a crimp right into the middle of our choices was that a section of US 97 was closed between Goldendale and Toppenish in Washington due to fires in the area. With that caveat, and given the long distance that any routes with great roads was going to be, we decided to enjoy the great part of US 395 between John Day and Pendleton, and then suffer the next four hours on the Interstate to get home early Sunday afternoon.
Kurt and I had a high-speed morning, whizzing through the twisty sections of US 395. We saw a few deer, but there were no close calls. When we pulled off for breakfast at Roosters in Pendleton, Dan caught up and told us he had a deer count around (I think he said) 23. I hadn’t counted, but he was probably accurate.
From Pendleton, we rode freeways I-84 and I-82 into Washington. We were soon reminded of how well-protected we are on our highways by the heavy traffic enforcement in Washington. We stopped one last time at the turn-off to Yakima Canyon Road for gas, and to take our parting shots. Dan sped off up the Yakima Canyon Road. The rest of us figured it would be too clogged up with boats and RVs on a Sunday afternoon, so we hit I-90 for home. There were some stop-and-go stretches on I-90 around Cle Elum, but it was not bad. Most of us have experienced really bad traffic while traversing the passes in Washington on a Sunday afternoon, so I think we got off pretty lucky this time.
I dropped by Marv and MaryLou’s house to pick up the work clothes I’d left there, and then I was off for my last 60 miles. I rolled into my garage around 5 pm. I really enjoyed the ride as well as the people. It was nice to see Chris Harnish and Chris Hemer again; they’re fantastic people to have on a ride. Dan Hytry is quite a character, and always great to ride with. It was a first-time ride with Keith McCammon; I hope to be riding with him again sometime soon, as he’s an amiable, rock-steady rider. When you add my usual riding companions, Kurt and Marv, it comprised a great group. Some of the roads were challenging, but I had a really good time. I’d do it again in a minute…well, most of it. There is one road I don’t think any of us will ever ride again.