Well, I thought I was done riding for 2017. I certainly had nothing to complain about – it’s been a fantastic season, where I got to ride thousands of miles on amazing roads and racetracks, from February all the way to November. One of the best seasons ever for sure.
However, after trying for years to coordinate schedules with my awesome friend Etienne, from Quebec, so that he could come out west and do some sport-touring with me in the Pacific Northwest, we were finally able to figure out a time when we could make it happen. Only problem? It would be the second week in December! Not exactly prime riding season in Idaho, Oregon or Washington. Too cold, too wet, too unpredictable.
So, where would we go? As I learned last February, the closest location with great motorcycle roads and halfway decent weather this time of year, would be Northern California. Etienne would fly into Sacramento, I’d drive down from Idaho with a couple of bikes, and we’d set up a base camp from where we could ride a few different routes over three days. We set it all up very quickly, over the course of just a few days. As the date grew closer, the forecast got better and better. Afternoon temps would be near 70 – 15 degrees above normal! The nights and early mornings would be pretty chilly, but we could handle it for the opportunity to ride nearly 800 miles of California’s best.
On Saturday morning I picked up Etienne at the airport, and we drove a few hours to the little town of Boonville, where we’d rented a small house on vrbo.com. It turned out to be a really good spot for our base camp, comfortable and convenient, in the middle of all sorts of vineyards, with nice little restaurants and a market nearby.
On day one (Sunday), we’d head north toward the redwoods, and then circle back down to the west on Hwy 1 from Leggett to Rockport, which is a legendary stretch of road. We’d then hit a few other amazing roads and enjoy the scenery on the way back to Boonville.
The first road we did every single day of the trip was Hwy 253, between Boonville and Ukiah. An absolutely outstanding road! Super twisty and hilly. We had to wait until around 10 AM to get started every day, because it was cold! It was in the low 30’s when we woke up, and just barely was getting to around 40 by 10. Oddly, it seemed that everywhere we went, as we climbed hills and mountains, the temperature would get warmer, and as we descended, get really cold! Totally backwards from what we would normally expect. And many of the corners on the twisty roads we encountered stayed in the shade all day this time of year, meaning they were sometimes quite frosty and slippery! So, we’d go from blasting through corners at a high rate of speed up on top of the hill where it was warm, to needing to tiptoe through similar corners toward the bottom of the hill. A few scary moments, but we managed just fine.
It was so cold as we went north on Hwy 101 on Monday, that we stopped in Willits for coffee and an early lunch. We continued north through some beautiful redwood country to Garberville. On the Butler motorcycle map, it showed a highly rated road between there and Alderville. We only made it a few miles up that road, because although fun and scenic, the surface of the road was incredibly bumpy. We stopped toward the top for a couple of pics of the view, and enjoyed the warmth of the higher elevation (?).
We turned around and headed toward the road we were most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. Leggett to Rockport on Hwy 1. HOLY CRAP!!! UNBELIEVABLE!!! Definitely one of the best I’ve ever experienced, ever! So beautiful, so challenging, so diverse, with fantastic flow start to finish. And when you get to the end, an absolutely spectacular view of the ocean! So completely awesome. Etienne and I were fist-bumping each other after that one. Incredible!
We wished we had hours and hours to play on that road, but daylight wouldn’t last that much longer, so we had to head south. We did take a little detour east on the road to Branscomb, which was also very fun – remote and tight through the forest.
We continued south through Fort Bragg and ultimately turned east toward Boonville on 128. This would have been a really fun road through the forest too, but by now it was getting pretty cold and dark, which made it quite an adventure! We even came across a car on its side, being moved out of the way by the CHP. We blazed back to Boonville as quick as we could, and found a nice pizza place for dinner.
Monday we decided to go inland, on a route that would take us around Clear Lake, and south toward Lake Berryessa.
We traded off on the bikes throughout the three days. Because Etienne is more of a track rider than street, I’ve got electric heated gear I can plug into the bikes, and his is not and therefore not quite as warm. So, in the mornings he’d ride the Multistrada, with its tall windscreen and heated grips, and I’d plug my gear into the Aprilia, which offers a bracing blast of fresh, cool air. 🙂
I’ve said before that I can’t imagine two better bikes for the type of riding I do, and with each trip I feel that way even more. The Multistrada with its luggage and comfort for multi-day trips, and the Tuono Factory for shorter, hooligan blasts on great routes.
Etienne really enjoyed both bikes, particularly the Aprilia. We both agreed that it’s completely SICK! It does whatever you want, whenever you want (except heat your fingers), it’s ridiculously fast with instant power, and the sound is completely euphoric.
Lots of fun roads this day, but the best was Hwy 175 between Hopland and Lakeport. On the east side of the lake, we stopped for a photo near Lucerne.
When we returned to Hwy 175 westbound in the late afternoon, we stopped to take in the views over the vineyards. Beautiful!
Probably the best part of day was heading back to our home base in Boonville, over the hill on Hwy 253. It was nice and warm, and we were just ripping it up! Just fantastic, so much fun.
On Tuesday morning, when we once again ascended Hwy 253 for the final time, I had to stop for a photo.
On Tuesday, our final day of the trip, our route would once again go north to Willits, then over to the coast on Hwy 20 to Fort Bragg. It was really cold up there near Willits, but as we descended toward the ocean, it got progressively warmer. The road was pretty slippery early on, and we were being quite careful, but as the temperature rose, so did our speed – and we had a blast! This road was very similar to the one we rode Sunday between Leggett and Rockport, absolutely gorgeous and incredibly fun to ride hard. Just awesome!
We had lunch in Fort Bragg, then headed south on Hwy 1 along the ocean. The road was unbelievably empty. We’re just rolling along at a very brisk rate of speed :), I’m looking at the beautiful Pacific Ocean, and thinking “Holy crap, it’s December! This is nuts!” And it was. But so great!
We turned east at Stewarts Creek, and headed toward Cloverdale. This road was completely insane. I’d done it back in February, so I knew that it started out bumpy, hilly, dark and crazy – but gradually got smoother and faster, ultimately becoming the closest thing to a racetrack you can imagine! In the early part, I was imagining that Etienne was behind me thinking, “What the deuce? This can’t possibly be the right road.” But by the end I knew he was loving tearing it up with me.
We stopped in Cloverdale for fuel before riding the final 30 miles or so back to Boonville. We happened to look at the rear tire on the Multistrada, and saw that it was long past done! Oops! I knew when we started the trip that it was a little worn, but figured it’d be more than enough to make it the 800 miles or so that we might do. Er, apparently not the way we were riding. Yikes! Thankfully, it made it back to Boonville without incident, and we loaded up the truck and began the journey home.
Just before I dropped off Etienne at his hotel at the Sacramento Airport, we had to stop so he could sample another California institution – and he quite enjoyed it! 🙂
I drove to Reno Tuesday night, and then the rest of the way home on Wednesday. I arrived back home to a reminder of how great I had it the last few days with my pal Etienne. Snow!
What an amazing time we had. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity, and especially glad I could experience all that greatness with my incredible friend. Can’t wait to do it again!