Motorcycle Journey in
Northern California, Nevada & Southeastern Oregon

  September 2012
Camping rough in Nevada
2446 miles / 3914 km. Two weeks.
Stefan & Jayne's September 2012 motorcycle trip throughout
Northern California, lots of Nevada & Southwestern Oregon.

Route OR-CA-NV-OR, Sept. 2012Every year since 1999, Stefan has taken an extended trip by motorcycle, tent camping most of the time. I started tagging along on trips in 2004 on the back of his motorcycle, starting with Southern_Norway in 2004. On the back of his motorcycle, I also saw Scotland in September 2006, France in May 2007, and much of Eastern Europe in 2008.

After we moved to the USA, I got my own motorcycle, and via my 1982 Honda Nighthawk, I joined him for lots of day trips and weekend trips, as well as extended tours of Jasper, Banff, Kooteney National Parks in Canada and Glacier National Park in the USA in 2010 and for a long journey through Idaho, Yellowstone, & More in June 2011.

In Fall of 2011, I switched to a 2008 Kawasaki KLR. And since then, I've been taking short day and weekend trips in preparation for our big 2012 journey. The famous world-traveling Lee Family had been asking us to come visit their oh-so-remote Northern California home since we moved to the USA in 2009, and they live near an area of California I've been to many times, but wanted to return to on a motorcycle, so we planned our trip around such, deciding we'd tour sites along the way to their home near Jackson, California, continue to head South-ish, then go over to Nevada, head North, and visit the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon. And we would see whatever we might see along the way.

And what did we see along the way? Well, in short, we saw:
Umpqua National Forest (Oregon)
Modoc National Forest (California)
Lava Beds National Monument (California)
Lassen National Forest (California)
Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)
Plumas National Forest (California)
Tahoe National Forest (California)
El Dorado National Forest (California) - it is absolutely gorgeous
The Highland House outside of Jackson, California (it's invitation only!)
Stanislaus National Forest (California)
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests (California)
Plumas-Eureka State Park (California)
Columbia State Historic Park (California)
Devil's Postpile National Monument (California)
Much of the Battle Mountain BLM district of Nevada
Alvord Desert (Oregon)
Malheur National Forest (Oregon)
Ochoco National Forest (Oregon)
Willamette National Forest (Oregon)
Mt. Hood National Forest (Oregon)
The photos are here.

In the last couple of years, I've done just highlight travelogues, listing most of the places we've been and saying what was interesting and what was boring about each. But I wanted to do a really proper travelogue this time, detailing the trip. I can't do this for every trip - there's just not enough time. Plus, I'm really not sure how many people really read these. But I'm getting more and more questions, from men as well as women, about what it's REALLY like to travel by motorcycle. So this may be my go-to web page to answer that question in detail.

This is a personal essay. It's an observation piece and an opinion piece. It's a detailed journal entry I'm sharing with the world, and while I'm writing from a place of sincerity and honesty, I have no expectation that you will agree with everything I've said here, and believe that another person's experience, at all the same places, doing all the same things, encountering all the same people, may be entirely different. Also, any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.
All about the trip:

We packed up as much as possible the night before we left, so we could get on our way as early as possible the next day - which is how we try to do it every time, but this time, I was super committed to make it happen. After walking Albi, and doing all the things that had to wait until the last minute (taking out the garbage, re-directing my GoogleVoice number, printing out the guidelines for the dog sitter with my last-minute edits, etc.), we left at around 11 a.m. on Saturday, September 1.

I was super nervous, as I always am at the start of a trip, and this time was no exception, with the added bonus of carrying so much weight on my bike for an extended trip for the first time (though I'd practiced on a few weekend trips before). I also am still intimidated by my motorcycle. Not that I wasn't intimidated by my previous motorcycle (I was). I'm fine while riding - the problems come with super sharp turns, having to stop on steep hills, and, as always, parking. I have dropped the KLR twice - during my disastrous attempt to ride the Portland Urban Enduro, and last month, parking the bike in front of my house. We've practiced on gravel whenever we've had the opportunity, we had taken a few short trips fully loaded down with camping gear, and I was starting the trip with 3000 miles of riding the KLR under my belt - I was as prepared as I could be.

We had decided we'd use I-5 to get as far South as possible, then switch to US highways, state highways and county roads the next day, and for the rest of the trip, if possible. We pulled out onto I-5 near Aurora, and it was a parking lot. Ugh. We were on for around 45 minutes, and we decided to get off the road at Woodburn - until we realized that the backup was because everyone and their cousin was going to shop at the Woodburn outlets for the Labor Day weekend. Once we were finally past that, the road opened up and we made fantastic time. For once, I-5 in Oregon it wasn't too hot, there wasn't tons of traffic, and it wasn't horribly windy. An added bonus was seeing all of the many dirt devils swirling in fields we passed. I hadn't remembered how actually pleasant I-5 is past Eugene when you're heading South, with its hills and curves.

at the Threehorn campground, Umpqua National ForestWe left I-5 at Canyonville, south of Roseburg, and headed East into Umpqua National Forest‪, where we camped at Treehorn campground - for you new dirt and gravel riders, the entrance road is TRICKY. There's only five or six sites in the entire campground, and it wasn't until Stefan rode away to get beer and ice at the nearby tiny town (where, in the town's only store, Stefan found a German woman running the place) that I realized the campground had no water - I knew it only had pit toilets (that's how most national forest campgrounds are), but I hadn't realized it didn't have water at all. I started thinking about the water we carry, and realized we were actually fine: we had filled up our water bottle just a few hours before, and had around four liters of drinking water. That would also be enough to brush our teeth. Plus, Stefan would be bringing back a full bag of ice, and melted, and heated up on our stove, I could use it to wash dishes in the morning and wash my face. Little did I know then: we would be relying on our own water supply for 5 of the 14 days we were out. But that was okay - if I can wash my face, brush my teeth, wash my hands, and put on clean underwear each day while camping, I feel good to go.

It was a cold night -- I needed my extra inner bag in my sleeping bag -- and a full moon. My body wasn't happy about the first night of camping - it never is. Next morning, we loaded up and continued South, deciding to stop for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Klamath Falls. I'm not sure if the city has some scenic side we missed, because the parts we saw were not at all pretty. It was a filling but not memorable meal, and a customer there reminded me yet again that, whether you are fat or thin, pretty/handsome or ugly, showing butt crack makes you look stupid (please wear underwear with your hip hugger jeans!).

We crossed over into California at Merrill, Oregon - which is kind of a cute little town, a shame we had no reason to stop - and proceeded on to Tulelake (we now know what a tule is). We were surprised that there was no fruit and vegetable check point at the Oregon-California border. There was a Civilian Conservation Corps worksite at Tulelake once upon a time - and if you know me, you know how I love the CCC! Sadly, there were also two World War II internment camps in the area, one for Italian and German prisoners-of-war, and the other which housed nearly 18,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese alien residents, including a young George Takei and his family, and was in operation from May 1942 to March 1946 (one of 10 Japanese internment camps in the USA). There is a memorial to these sites, at the local fairgrounds.

Arriving at Lava Beds National MonumentWe headed on to Lava Beds National Monument via backroads - on the road along the dikes/canals, I don't know what the smell was of the crops, but it was wonderful - kind of like basil, but it didn't look like basil. We got to Lava Beds National Monument, and as we set up the trusty Aldi tent, we decided to stay for two nights, so we could spend a day sans luggage as we toured around the park - since a national park entrance fee pays for seven days entrance, we had in-out privileges, so we could eat lunch in Tulelake. No shower facilities, but there was running water and flush toilets. I had been there about 17 years before, and I don't remember the facilities being as nice as they are now. That first night was the last ranger presentation of the year at the amphitheater in the camp site - it was on the Modoc Indian War, and though I already knew a lot about it, it still provided some jarring details. I'm so glad Stefan got to hear it. There were about 30 people at the presentation - a good turn out!

The camp site wasn't half full the first night, and had far less people the next night. It was also VERY hot during the day - almost miserably so. We never put the rain fly on the tent, in order to try to stay cool at night - it cooled off nicely each night. The night sky was lovely, but the full moon dominated the sky, which meant few stars. In the day, while riding in the park, we weren't ATGATT - we didn't wear our jackets. Naughty, naughty. The sky was hazy from nearby fires, which also affected the temperature and visibility.

Our campsite neighbors included a couple from Germany traveling through the Western USA via RV - a very typical German thing to do - and a guy from Florida that had driven all the way to Washington state to buy a vintage trailer shell he was going to restore. He had a rack on the front of his truck to carry his Honda XR650. We all became fast friends. I really like meeting fellow campers; I want to know where everyone is from and where everyone is going. And more often than not, many, even most, of our fellow campers in National Parks in the USA and Canada aren't from North America - I love that people from abroad love our countries' natural beauty, but I'm also disappointed that so many of our own citizens don't enjoy such themselves. Why don't they? The number one reason, obviously, is lack of vacation time. We are *so* far behind other countries in this regard (and health care insurance, of course). We've become a culture that prides itself on NOT taking vacation. That's stupid.

Stefan at Captain Jack's StrongholdThe next day, we got up early to head first to Captain Jack's Stronghold, where a Modoc Indian brave and a small band of other fighters, as well as women and children, held off hundreds of US Army troops that wanted to kick them off of their land. It looks like a well made ancient fort, but it's created mostly by nature, with massive lava rocks and caved-in lava tubes for miles around, which created an almost impenetrable fortress for the Modoc Indians. We wanted to tour it early, before the strongest heat of the day, and save the lava tubes for the afternoon.

Then we rode over to Petroglyph Point, reached by a short gravel road. Nothing gets Stefan and Jayne excited like old petroglyphs or pictographs - except maybe ancient stone circles and cairns. The petroglyphs are interesting, as all petroglyphs are, but so are the features carved into the soft rock by the wind. Petroglyph Point was once an island, surrounded by the waters of Tule Lake. With over 5,000 individual carvings, the site is one of the most extensive representations of American Indian rock art in California—dozens or even hundreds of generations of artists paddled out in canoes to leave their mark here in the soft volcanic rock. It is possible that some of these images were made more that 6,000 years ago. Excellent to visit the site in the morning, when the carvings - and you - are in the shade. This is part of Lava Beds National Monument, and is reached by a short gravel road. One of the of petroglyphs looks like an alien driving a car, in my opinion.

Then we started touring the volcanic vents and lava tubes, riding a bit with the Florida Honda guy for a while. Some lava tubes are relatively easy to walk in, but most are quite difficult, requiring you at some point to crawl or duck walk, and the floor is often not at all smooth. We're glad we had our own headlamps, but additional flashlights would have been helpful. One ranger recommended we wear our motorcycle helmets inside, and after touring, we understand why! We skipped the moderate or difficult lava tubes, because of my oh-so-weak knees and our unprotected heads. Be warned: some of the tubes marked as "least challenging" are NOT,  like Sentinel, Heppe and Big Painted Cave - all three are moderately challenging, if not really challenging, requiring you to duck walk or even crawl at some points. Our favorite lava tube? Yes, we have one: Valentine, for it's many different passages and easy floor (would be a great location for that faithful film version of Journey to the Center of the Earth Stefan and I are still waiting for).

We left Lava Beds Tuesday morning, as early as we could manage. We left via the South entrance, and passed numerous dirt roads that, with more time and cooler weather, would have been fantastic to practice on! The road was a bit challenging for me - some rather massive pot holes and large pieces of broken asphalt. We continued on state road 139, and finally came to the California fruit and vegetable checkpoint we had expected in Tulelake. I misinterpreted the guy's hand signal there, thinking he meant we had to stop - he meant to wave us through. But I'm glad we did, as I caught sight of a California State Park brochure/map/guide, and it proved a very valuable publication to have on our trip!

There was a LOT of smoke in the sky - we still don't know where the forest fires were causing this, but it was really bad.

Riding from Lava Beds National Monument to Lassen National Forest, we were feeling peckish before noon, and the sign for Adin Grocery store was just too enticing. Great biscuits and gravy! We pressed on, stopping at a ranger station in some town that I've forgotten the name of, for information about camping in Lassen Volcanic National Park. We learned that the first camp site in the park, the main one next to the Northern entrance, had showers, and we were badly needing showers. Just before the park entrance, we stopped to hydrate at a convenience store and gas station (perhaps Hat Creek?), where the owner's dog will only respond to you if you talk in a deep voice - he ignores high pitched doggy talk.

Riding a spectacular road, we got into the park, picked a camp site at the Manzanita campground, put up the tent, and decided there was enough daylight to try to visit Bumpus Hell, on the other side of the park, and get back. Once we got over the pass, however, we realized that wasn't at all possible before nightfall, and turned back. Warning to motorcyclists: LOTS of deer in Lassen! Be careful.

drying our ExOfficio quick-dry underwear while campingBack at the camp site, the showers turned out to need massive amounts of quarters for just a few minutes, and I was just over it - there was nothing on the camp information board about the showers needing quarters, which would have saved me about 10 minutes of a useless schlep. I decided I would wait one more day, maybe even wait until we got to the Lee Family compound, before I showered. We did, however, wash our underwear. This was the first test of our ExOfficio quick-dry underwear. - they advertise that you need only one pair for all your travels, but we used three pair each on this trip. We used a collapsible bucket we bought at REI, and shampoo, to wash it all, then hung it up to dry. Indeed, it seems to be a system that works well, so we're adopting it for all future trips of more than 3 days - with or without motorcycle! 

We noticed the cabins behind us were full, while the camp site wasn't. The Lassen cabins looked oh-so-enticing... but it was so early in the trip, and I wanted to camp. It turned out that that night of camping, we got our best night of sleep up to that point. It was heavenly. It always takes us a night or two to get used to sleeping on the ground again, but this trip, we were having even more trouble that usual, waking up frequently throughout the night. Not that night! It was cold again, much colder than Lava Beds, and I needed my extra sleep sack in my 20 year old sleeping bag, to stay warm - and toasty warm I did stay, all night. (My advice for Women Motorcycle Travelers Re: Packing)

I think it was this point that I realized I had forgotten my field glasses. That's what I get for not reading my packing list before we left.
The next day, we were up, packed and ready to go by 10 - which is how we like it. We visited the park museum, then headed out again over the pass and, this time, all the way to Bumpus Hell. On the way, we again went through a recently-burned part of Lassen - the fire was so recent that there were still warning signs on the road way regarding smoke and visibility, and the smell of smoke in the air was still strong. Some camp sites were also still closed.

Bumpus Hell, hydrothermal valley in Lassen Volcanic National Park in CaliforniaBumpus Hell is a hydrothermal valley, with fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), mud pots, boiling pools, and steaming ground. It's like Yellowstone in miniature. After we parked and enjoyed the incredible views from the parking lot, it took us 45 minutes to hike in (I visited about 17 years ago, and do NOT remember that long of a hike - did the entrance change?). The last part of the hike in (and the first part of the hike out) is really intense, because of the incline and heat that is trapped in the valley. It's hike you should do in the morning, not the afternoon. I did it in biker pants - which was fine except for the first part of the hike out, when I thought I was going to never make it out because of the heat and the incline, but as soon as we were out of the actual hydrothermal valley, the temperature dropped significantly and I was fine. Once back in the parking lot, we had a lunch of apples and protein meal bars, then headed on to As Sulphur Works, another hydrothermally active area. From 17 years ago, and I remember the sides of the roads steaming, but I don't remember any built walkways or vents at that point in the road. Imagine my surprise to find a large parking lot, a walkway, and a very large vent on the east side of the road. (It was a bad time in my life way back then - I think it affected my memory.).

We pressed on and had a very late lunch in Chester, our only opportunity for food in the area, and saw a massive firefighter camp site for the many men and women fighting fires in the area. We went further south, heading to Plumas-Eureka State Park, because I knew it had showers (thanks to the brochure we'd picked up days before). We thought we'd never get there - the entrance to the park is far from the turnoff for the park from the main road, and once inside, it's almost five miles to the camp site! It was expensive, compared to state forest campgrounds - all state parks all - and it was impossible to hammer in our tent pegs (camp site designers never think about tent campers! They either put down sharp gravel, which rips up tents, or make the ground so hard you can't use tent pegs!). But the upside: SHOWERS. No need for quarters - the water is included in your camping price. Heavenly. The area is surrounded by luxury homes and rental condos - I'm not sure why.

After packing up, we went to the entrance of the park to tour some of the historic buildings onsite, then we headed further south, to go around Lake Tahoe. That's a beautiful place - if you are rich enough to be allowed near the shore. Lake Tahoe represents what people like Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and their ilk want to do with our nation: sell all beautiful places and views to the highest bidders. At Lake Tahoe, you have to be rich in order to enjoy even a view of the lake, let alone access to it. In short: I hated it. If you want to visit Lake Tahoe don't do it on a weekend, nor on a Thursday before a holiday weekend or the Monday of a holiday weekend. Otherwise, expect to sit in traffic for HOURS.

Our newly discovered treasure: El Dorado National ForestAfter we left the Lake Tahoe area, we traveled through on state road 88, through El Dorado National Forest. I fell in love with it. The vistas are the most beautiful of any national forests in the area that we visited. I loved it so much that I want to return just to camp and hike in it. The best part about the ride through El Dorado was there that, as we approached a pass and were starting up it, I passed a hay truck that was slowing as it went up the mountain, and all the other traffic got stuck behind it, meaning I could go over the pass at my own pace, with no pressure from traffic behind me. I am Little Miss Speed Limit, particularly in curves - and other drivers, particularly motorcyclists, hate this. I would go faster if I thought my skills were up to it - in fact, I really should call myself
Little Miss 10-Miles-Over-The-Speed-Limit-Except-Around-Turns-Where-The-Recommended-Speed-Limit-Is 25 MPH-or-less.

After I got to the other side of the pass and down the hill, I finally found a place to pull over - the entrance to one of the national forest campgrounds - where Stefan could see me when he came by. 15 minutes later, when the hay truck went by, I was starting to get worried - still no Stefan. I was so relieved when he finally showed up. He was afraid he had past me somewhere stopped on the pass, so he had pulled over earlier to smoke a cigarette and wait for me. It's the only time we've ever lost track of each other on a trip.

People ask us often why we don't have helmet-to-helmet communicators. We have tried them in the past, and the microphones break as soon as it rains. The more expensive and reliable systems are voice activated, and that would be hugely annoying, given how often I curse and sing while riding. So we have some rules for riding:
Continuing on 88, we turned off on California state road 26, a very popular road for motorcyclists. It was just before 7, and sunset was starting. Of course, my Tracfone got no signal in the area. After a few deer sightings, we found the turnoff for the Lee Family's Highland Home (we initially passed it). If you know me, you know how special the Lee Family is to me, so I won't rehash that here. The Highland House is their second home, built from a kit by themselves and a few friends. They have rarely used a contractor - they've done work almost entirely by themselves, over eight years. We were arriving later than we planned, and their driveway turned out to be the second-most challenging unpaved road I have ever been on - no kidding. I have dubbed it the Highland House Off-Road Adventure™.

It's worth noting that the town where they live, Glencoe, was once known as Mosquito Gulch.

The invitation-only "Highland House"After unpacking, we played a geek-based Trivial Pursuit-type game, which the Jayne-Stefan team won (wahoo! I'm a certified geek!). The next day, the Lees loaned us their car, so I wouldn't have to navigate that driveway again, so soon, on my motorcycle and so we wouldn't have to wear our bike clothes in the hot weather. We dipped our feet in the Mokelumne River at Big Bar, then headed on to Jackson for lunch in the historic downtown (which is a major motorcycle ride day trip destination) and then to the grocery to buy food for the weekend and to replenish our camping supplies.

While in the parking lot, we saw several passes by vintage planes rehearsing for an air show later. After we got back to the house, Stefan took a nap, and I dared to review, but not respond, to email (to make sure there were no immediate, pressing issues), and check my personal Twitter feed (but not Facebook) - and even send a few travel tweets.

Me bartending at the American LegionThen we headed out to the Glencoe American Legion Hall for Friday Burger night - small town America that I was thrilled Stefan got to experience. Gail and Russell are celebrities there - "you're that couple that's building their own house!" They were greeted and hugged by most of the people there. Russell decided we needed a photo of Stefan behind the bar, and the bar tender (pictured at left) decided he REALLY needed to be wearing a cowboy hat as well. 

We ended the night with something very, very special to me, something I hadn't done for probably 15 years, maybe more: we watched the original, un-messed-with, Han-Solo-Shoots-First version of Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope). Russell has the laser discs of the movie from the early 1990s, and converted them to DVD. I had forbidden Stefan from ever seeing it unless we could see this specific version of it. This version of the movie is available in the special edition DVDs, but the reviews all say those prints are horrific - and by design, because George Lucas doesn't want anyone to like the originals more than his screwed up versions. Russell's versions are crisp, clean, and perfect. I cried all through the opening credits. So, what was Stefan's verdict: "It was better than I thought it would be" and "I wouldn't mind seeing the second movie." HURRAH!! Then we went outside and watched the stars - and saw several meteors!

The next day, it was Stefan's birthday! I cooked breakfast burritos: scrambled eggs, salsa, avocado, turkey bacon and tortillas. It was so nice to have a big, hearty breakfast, cooked on a burner that wasn't a camping stove (it was, in fact, the electric burner the Lees schleped around the world!). Then the Lees again generously donated their car for our use, and while they continued to work on their staircase, we went to Columbia State Historic Park sans motorcycles (and motorcycle gear). Columbia is a working city - there are shops, restaurants, a theatre, even a hotel, all from the Old West days of California. We enjoyed the visit and the sites - especially the bowling - but still think Bodie ghost town, which is also a California state park, is more fun. At Columbia, I couldn't believe there were so many volunteers and re-enactors in full costume - it was sooo hot! We appreciated their efforts very much. On the day we visited, there was a short parade in honor of California being accepted into the USA as a state.

I'm not sure which day, but we took a short hike around the property. I would love to return and ride around the place on a dirt bike - though I wouldn't attempt the Highland House Off-Road Adventure™ until I had a LOT more practice. Two of the nights, Stefan and I sat out on a bench swing to watch the sunset, and the first time, we heard coyotes yapping and howling in the distance. We also heard a sound like a baby or cat howling, and Gail said it was probably The Mountain Lion. Um... yikes?

You can follow the wacky adventures of the Lee Family on Twitter at @worldtrippers1, though Gail isn't tweeting much yet (why not tweet her and tell her how awesome she is for building her own house!!).

Getting ready to leave the LeesSunday morning, September 9, we were done with the first week of our motorcycle adventure. It was time to pack up, make last-minute decisions, and it was time to say goodbye to the Lee Family... and for me to again attempt the Highland House Off-Road Adventure™ on my way out. And I made it, and felt triumphant, until the very end: the gravel driveway is a few feet lower than the paved road, so the incline to get up on the road from the gravel driveway is quite sharp. I could have made it over that little hill onto the road, no problem, except that I had to stop at the bottom of it in order to make sure there was no traffic coming, and the road is in a curve, meaning you can't see any cars coming in either direction until a few seconds before such is right on top of you, and that means there's no way to ease out onto the road - you have to go quickly. Combine a sharp incline, where I have trouble putting my foot down, with the need to make an immediate, sharp turn as soon as I get up on the road, and you have the formula for a big fat fail - I was guaranteed to fall over if I tried that turn. I had to back up the bike, and Stefan had to take it down the road a few feet and off onto a large gravel shoulder for me to walk to, where I could more easily get the motorcycle onto the road. I had been so happy about conquering the Lee's driveway without falling, and traveling at a decent speed, but that big fail at the end had me in tears. My big moment of accomplishment had turned into a big reminder of just how inept of a rider I am.  

I have conquered Ebbetts Pass!We road out to Mokelumne Hill, took state road 49 through San Andreas, and at Angels Camp, took a left onto State Road 4. The day before, we had studied our maps and had much discussion about where to go next, and ultimately decided to go over Ebbetts Pass (State Route 4), rather than Sonora Pass (State Route 108) or Tioga Pass (State Route 120). The latter two are higher, and I've been over both in cars; Stefan has been over Sonora Pass by motorcycle as well. But a couple of people had recommended Ebbetts to us, so we decided to give it a try. We were not disappointed with our choice! The pass is "very steep, narrow, winding road", just like the sign promises. It's also single lane at several points, with super-steep drop offs. It's exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time!  

Once again, I lucked out: an RV from Utah, slower than even me, let me pass, and somehow, I ended up in a pocket where there were no cars or motorcycles behind me for the entire ride over Ebbetts Pass. It was wonderful: it meant that, just like on Thursday over that other pass, I could go at my own pace and not feel any pressure from anyone behind me. I could focus on the road ahead of me, not the traffic behind me. It made for a wonderful, much-more-fun ride. Once I was on two lanes and a normal-sized road again, I stopped on the side of a road - the parking lot for a campground, actually, and after probably one full minute, Stefan came riding up - he had stopped often to take photos, but would still have overtaken me had I gone just a quarter of a mile more. We got off our bikes and took photos, while I waved at all of the many, many motorcycles heading in the opposite direction to go over the pass.

A question I heard frequently on this trip from other bikers we met was this: So, how do you like the KLR for traveling?, said with a skeptical look on the asker's face. And I don't get it. Yes, the KLR is a thumper. But my bike doesn't vibrate to any kind of extreme - I was hoping for the kind of foot massage I used to get via Stefan's Honda Dominator, but it doesn't happen. I'm not sure if it's the seat we have on the bike (which lowers it for me) or what, but the KLR is super comfy for long-distance travel.

We continued on, heading over Monitor Pass to reach US Highway 395. Gorgeous views, but it became super windy - and I've noticed that intense wind is not at all a pleasant on a KLR. We turned South on 395, fighting the wind the whole way, and stopped for lunch at Walker Burger in Coleville. It was super hot, but the tree-covered patio at Walker Burger was oh-so-cool. They even provide blankets to use on the grounds if you want a picnic! By the time we left, we felt refreshed and happy.

I know this area pretty well - I had visited it a few times back in the 1990s, and when Stefan made his first trip to the USA, I brought him here, by car, from San Francisco. But in all the times I'd been here, I had never been to the Devil's Postpile National Monument, and we decided we would check it out on this trip instead of Bodie, which I've been to twice and Stefan's been to before. Stefan was convinced we could see it that day, but I said no way - it was time to find a campground after the intense day of riding we had, our first after a three day break. We stopped for gas in Bridgeport, and met two very friendly guys on dirt bikes who were doing a long trip from San Diego by dirt roads. I asked if they knew of any campgrounds in the immediate area, and they suggested we ask at a nearby hotel - which Stefan did, and got a recommendation for campgrounds in Twin Lakes area - there is a small sign for this area on 395 as you enter Bridgeport from the North, but nothing about a campground. It's about 10 miles until you reach the first campground, but we drove on and chose the second on, Lower Honeymoon Flat Campground (the upper campground was closed).

We set up our tent at the farthest end of the campground, near the stream - which is actually a group camping site, but since the camp host was long gone, and we seriously doubted a group was going to show up, and it was SUCH a nice spot, we snagged it. The campground was more than half full - in fact, I was convinced that it would fill by nightfall (it didn't), and we both said we would be happy to share the site with someone who wasn't too scary lookin' (like, you know, a biker) should the campground fill up, but it didn't. A few steps from our campsite was a gorgeous view and a stream. As we set up camp, two fishermen came walking by to their car parked up on the road, and they were so decked out in the very best fishermen clothes and gear we dubbed them Fishermen Gear Queers.

For supper, we had... we had... brownies and beer. Wow, that's awful. But that is, indeed, what we had. I just didn't feel like cooking, we were tired, night was falling, and it was super duper windy.

mini-100_4378In the early morning, we got some visitors - I'm always happy to see deer anywhere but on the roadway. They weren't tame - they didn't like when we moved - but if we moved very slowly when they weren't looking, and made no noise, they would come near as they foraged. We did not make any attempt to feed them, and I'll chastise any other camper who attempts such, because to feed wild animals is to kill them: they lose their fear of humans and will walk right up to hunters, cars, people who like hurting animals, etc., and they will become aggressive in their search for food, destroying your tent and maybe even harming you.

We did our usual morning ritual: heat up water for instant coffee, made breakfast, washed dishes, packed up and headed out, back down the road that had brought us to the campground - passing the Hunewill Guest Ranch, which I'd love to stay at someday! - and then right onto US Hwy 395 and South through Bridgeport. We skipped the amazing ghost town of Bodie this trip. It was a hard choice, but I've been there twice, Stefan once, and there is so much in the area we haven't seen. Next time!

We stopped at the overlook for Mono Lake and enjoyed both the view and the bumper stickers covering the railing. We headed down the very intense drop down into the valley, and stopped at the Mono Lake Visitor's Center for a bathroom break and to talk to a ranger - because I love telling a ranger what my plans are for a day or a weekend, to find out if they have any advice, which they almost always do. She strongly suggested we ride the June Lakes loop off 395, then continuing down 395 and take the Mammoth Lakes loop to the Devils Postpile National Monument.

It felt good to be in this part of the world. I felt like I reclaimed it as my own when I brought Stefan here in 2004, and now it really feels like "ours." It's popular with motorcyclists, but not nearly as popular as it could/should be.

The park ranger was right (they usually are): The first loop, around June Lake and other lakes, was gorgeous, and we discovered an interesting local legend during a stop. There's a lot of development in one part of the loop - lots of very nice houses, condos, shops and what not - but not anything overwhelming. The camp sites in the area or any of the rentals would be a wonderful place to base yourself for a month or a season - there's sooooooooo much to see in the area.

Then we headed on to the Devils Postpile National Monument, and I was stunned at the full-fledged ski and snow board resort just before you get to the park. It's HUGE. Sadly, we couldn't take a gondola ride up to the top of the mountain - not enough time. We drove on through to the monument entrance, and I was blown away by the road down to the valley: it was one lane most of the way, with NO shoulder, very sharp turns, and very few places for two vehicles to pass each other. My heart was pounding by the time we got to the bottom - and I was dreading the ride back up. Normally, there are mandatory shuttles that take people down and up the road, but they were finished for the season.

Reds Meadow Valley, where you drop down into for all hikes and camping, is beautiful. The parking area is tiny - the road is not the only reason park officials don't want people to take their own cars down. The park is one of the most visited in the USA, so I'm betting that, in season, the valley and trail to the postpile are crowded. On this day, while the parking lot was full, the trails weren't. We enjoyed the short hike, and a visit with the park rangers (who thought I was a ranger because of how I talked), and given how beautiful the valley is,  I would very much like to camp down there and hike a bit into the back country. The postpile was interesting, but not particularly unique - "columnar basalt" formations can be seen in various parts of the world, though it's rare you can find them with such beautiful scenery all around. 

Added bonus was the Pee chart in the women's bathroom; national parks and national monument have a huge problem with visitors not carrying and drinking enough water, and having to have medical attention because of dehydration. If more park visitors would show appropriate personal responsibility, it would reduce the number of rescues that had to be made - and, therefore, reduce the amount of money that had to be spent on such.

We went back up the road, my heart pounding the entire time. The worst part was when I met a long line of cars coming down, including a truck pulling a horse trailer. There was NO WHERE for me to pull over, and never mind that descending traffic was supposed to yield to traffic coming up (that's what all the signs say). So I stopped as far over to the right of the road - and the sheer drop - as I felt comfortable, and tried not to fall as I stopped - remember, I don't stand flat footed on my bike, and a hill makes my foot reach even worse. The first car passed okay, but the horse trailer missed me by millimeters - in fact, I braced myself for the hit on my mirror. It was harrowing, to say the least.

mini-100_4428There's a really nice lookout next to the entrance, and we stopped for a rest and to take in the gorgeous view. Then we headed to the Town of Mammoth Lakes and had lunch at the Pita Pit, which was so freakin' delicious I had to tweet about it. I want one in Canby! I've never eaten at one before. My pita had spiced hummus, spinach leaves, onion, jalapeno peppers, cucumber, extra artichokes, tzatziki sauce. If going vegetarian was this tasty and hearty all the time. My favorite fast food restaurant EVER. It was also the last place that my cell phone worked for several days

A word about Tracfone: it's my cell phone provider. It has been since I moved back to the USA. And until I get a full-time, regular job that pays well, that's all I can afford. It works well in a big city, but it works only sporadically in small towns. There were a lot of towns where it didn't work at all - and it was really annoying to be standing there, wanting to tweet, and not being able to, while there were people all around me talking on their cell phones. So if you are a traveler that wants to tweet and blog from the road - Tracfone ain't a good choice.

I've camped in California more than any other state. It was nice to return to some of the places I'd seen before back in the 1990s, and see a lot of new places, but it dawned on me that I've never camped in my home state of Kentucky (excluding tents and tree houses in various back yards as a kid). Other than during the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, I've also never ridden a motorcycle in Kentucky. I sure would love to do a week of motorcycle travel and camping just in Kentucky - but I'm so very far away from there, and have so many other places higher on the priority list (more of Canada, Alaska, Utah, Chilé...).

Anyway... that's the details for most of our trip in California. In part 2, we'll head into Nevada, and encounter a really bad desert storm, a whore house, a poker game, a man with an eye patch, desert lobsters, and so much more...

If you subscribed to my Twitter feed or liked me on Facebook (different from friending), you already got short updates from the road for this trip - and will get such for future trips.

We didn't buy a National Park access pass (explains why - and explains when you SHOULD buy such).

Read about our other trips in 2012, and upcoming trips, here.

Also see: Return to the broads abroad home page

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