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West Coast Day 3: The Best Roads in Northern California



Last night, I stayed up late on Facebook at the Super 8 in Crescent City, trying to determine a route that would take me up through Oregon.  A friend of mine Kevin had mentioned,
 "Oh and you should note there are shortcuts (you've probably been looking at them) down to 96 from above the border. None are paved and the quality of those fireroads changes drastically from season to season. I would not do them alone on a bike."  which made me second guess my goal to get as far up into Oregon as I could.  So, I resolved to get up early, and cut inland when I could, "avoiding" any abandoned back roads.
Crescent City was COLD, but $45 a night include a free continental breakfast, and I was on the road  by 7:15am, sporting a new Bilt FREEZE OUT onesie beneath my riding gear.  I don't think this undergarment would withstand real winter cold, but it kept me warm underneath some wind protection in 40-50' clammy and foggy weather. 
Coming south down the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park was chilly, but I soon rose above the clouds with a scenic view of a stunning sunrise. 
I later found out there was some sort of lighthouse of note in Crescent City, and that I didn't explore the town's coastline, but I wasn't about to turn back in the cold.
There's something amazing about riding high above the clouds, as the sun crests and cuts through the cold moisture.  
I stopped off at the same place I had seen such a scenic sunset in False Klamath the night before,
and though I was regretful I wouldn't make it to Oregon this trip,  I was determined to get as far into the Northern California wilderness as I could get. South of Klamath I took the scenic  Newton B Drury Parkway route through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and was met with absolutely no traffic on a cold, damp, Monday morning.  

The roads were wet, but I raced through the forrest, dwarved by these massive pillars of wood and bark, ascending to the sky around me and my bike. 
I stopped to marvel at their size, and my comparitive newness compared to millenia of slow growth around me. 

At some point, I decided now was the time to turn westward, and make for a far-off town called Weaverville.  Somewhere around Orlick, I looked at my phone GPS to see a terrificly gnarled looking route (for non-motorcycle riders, the more mangled a mountain road looks on a map, the more fun you will probably have) called Bald Hills road.
 I took off up the mountain on this deserted incline of one switchback after another, for miles and miles, without passing a single other car.  As I ascended I was hit with this type of riding euphoria that must be akin to a runner's high, or some sort of transcendent meditation, and absolute bliss of nowness, and living solely in that very moment.
Here I was. On my own. On a bike, doing what I love: riding. One of the lucky few that could take off up a mountain road with not another person for miles around, in the presence of such beauty that it made my heart hurt with what I knew was the uniqueness of the circumstance, that would never happen again.
I pulled off and rode my bike down a little paved walkway at Redwood Creek Overlook, and caught a glimps of the clouds still meandering through the valley. 


The road quality was incredbly variable, with patch spots of asphalt giving way to freshly paved macadam, perfect for leaning into turns.  The crest of Bald Hills Road gave way to expansive views of fields and the mountains beyond on either side, until all of a sudden I was riding on a relatively rocky gravel road, in the middle of what looked like a scrubby field.
To make matters even more bizarre, as I rode on for mile after mile at about 10-15mph (about as fast as I could muster), I began to see smoke in the distance, and suddenly the right half of the road down the mountain was a charred mass of burnt scrubbrush.  
I was totally confused, but I had no cell phone reception to even locate myself, let alone Google what a controlled burn would be, and if they were doing it in this area. 
All of my trailblazing bliss and self reliance was about to desert me though, as after about 65 miles of riding, I saw the last thing I wanted to see by myself out in the wilderness without cellphone reception for the past half hour: THE FUCKING GAS LIGHT came on

I had nearly 90 seconds of absolute panic, where suddenly a pit of fear wrenched at my gut, quickly turning into anger at myself. 
How could I be so stupid to not fill up and plan this out? You don't really deserve to ride a motorcycle around... 
This fear and anger morphed into vulnerability, where I wanted to call for help, and tried to visualize the worst possible outcome, having to ditch a $12K bike, or even worse running out of water or freezing before anyone came by... all of this stream of conscioussness in less than two minutes, before I managed to get myself together again.

I stopped to see if I could locate myself on a map, and first resolved to get as far as possible before running out of gas. There was no coverage, but I guessed it couldn't be more than 30 miles before the next town, where I hopefully I could find a gas station or appeal to a kindly stranger.  After riding for about 10 minutes further, I realized that I was coasting mostly downhill and I just turned the engine off. I coasted for at least 10 miles, back and forth down a mountain, and turned on my GoPro, giving voice to an inner monologue, which I thought at the time would be one of the most epic speeches I've ever given on the reason why we ride motorcycles.
 I hit Tulley Creek Road at the bottom of the mountain, crossing the Klamath River below Martin's Ferry, picking up 169 south.

169 was actually really cool; totally blind corners and no yellow divider, but the road was like glass and filled with non-stop twisties that you could really lean into.
I began to see other cars, and my heart jumped when I saw some old gas prices and a finally a station in a podunk town called Weitchpec, which reminded me a little bit of West Virginia.
The roads after Weitchpec were absolutely amazing.  I took 96 south along the Trinity River towards Hoopa, and into Shasta Trinity National Forest.
The roads wound around and around pineforests up and down mountains, and up and down, past Willow Creek, where I picked up 299 Salyer, Burnt Ranch and Del Loma and finally passed the recent wreckage of a car crash befofe I rode onto Weaverville for lunch.  
I found a diner with seating outside, and had a relatively non-descript Ruben sandwich, as a fellow bike chatted me up about the roads I should take south.   
Credit: http://grumbler-lolo-pass.blogspot.com/ NOT MY PICTURE
Apparently, I had missed one of the coolest riding roads through a place called Forks of Salmon, but the road I was about to ride was probably the most fun ride (from technical and fun point of view) I've ever had.  I don't even have too many pictures from today, as I spent most of the day agressively riding and riding and riding. 

The following 30 miles on Route 3, especially between Douglas City to Hayfork, was probably the best road of my life.  The following video is a bit long (about 20 minutes), but I highly recommend to any interested rider.  

The roads were empty, immaculate, and absolutely perfect for diving into turns.  After the drama of the morning, this little route was especially incredible, and to make the day even more special, my sister called when I stopped for gas around Hayfork, just to let me know that she was pregnant!
I rode on picking up 36 after Peanut, California, and on through Forest Glen, Dinsville, Bridgeville and Mad River, elated by the wide open space and the consistency of the blacktop.  

The only traffic was heavy machinery and road crews, which would back up traffic every 50 miles or so, and as the afternoon wore on, I began to reflect on a perfect day.   There comes a point in every road trip, when you realize you're turning back, or heading home, and even though I was three days in (out of four and change), I still hadn't exhausted that high just yet, and still wasn't deflated in the slightest.
Endless sweeping hills and turns had me hanging off of the bike for most of the day to the point that my knees ached like they had never done before.  

Route 36 eventually dead ends into Fortuna, California, not half an hour sout of where I had started this morning.  I found a Starbucks, and then a Super 8 hotel for under $100 to rest my aching knees.  I had dinner at the Eel River Brewery,
 then stopped to see how far over I had gotten over on the bike.  I had begun the journey with new tires, and there was no virgin tread on the front tire.  And while I wouldn't call these "chicken-strips," I guess I had about an eighth of an inch to play with on either side of the tire.
Late night Ducati Hyperstrada 821.  I actually rolled the bike up onto the sidewalk, but got in a little bit of trouble with the attendant.

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© 2016 Tigh Loughhead

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