Motorcycle Diaries

Two casual bikers get a thrill ride when they head out on the Pacific Coast Highway

January 13, 2008|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,special to the sun

A wise traveler once said, half the fun is getting there.

That's an understatement when it comes to motoring along the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Seattle.

For my wife, Cathy, and me, the road -- unquestionably one of the most scenic byways in America -- wasn't just a means of getting from point A to point B. The road was our destination.

I previously had made a similar journey in a '69 Cougar, and the scenic images have stuck in my mind for 35 years.

I looked forward to sharing the ride with my wife; only this time, for part of our drive we would be using a different mode of transportation: motorcycles.

The Pacific Coast Highway (designated Route 1 in most of California) is a virtual mecca for motorcycles, and, as bikers, we couldn't resist joining the crowd. My wife and I are both 60-something retirees who live in Harford County and have our own bikes, but because this was our first venture into long-distance riding, we rented bikes and limited the two-wheeler portion of the trip to a little more than 200 miles.

It was the most fun part.

It was a chilly morning in late September when Cathy settled into the vinyl seat of the cream-colored Low Rider. She hit the starter button with her right thumb and the bike sprang to life with the distinctive rumbling roar that bikers around the world recognize as a Harley-Davidson.

Using her left foot, she pushed the shifter lever down one click to first gear and went motoring off in the direction of where the sun sets on the Pacific Ocean.

I followed close behind on a deep-blue Harley Softtail Deluxe.

Most Harley-Davidson stores rent motorcycles. Unfortunately, for us, no store was located on the ocean drive. So we went inland about 60 miles to Eugene, Ore., to pick up our rides before heading back to the San Francisco Bay area.

It was a minor detour.

Soon we were back on the Pacific Coast Highway. The road was the show so we stopped only briefly to eat, to stretch our legs and to take in the views.

The views were spectacular.

We followed the ocean-hugging road as it passed through quaint little coastal towns, forests of towering redwoods in northern California and along sprawling sand dunes in Oregon.

We navigated winding sections where our bikes repeatedly leaned hard to the left and then the right before standing tall again as the road straightened.

There were hairpin turns where signs warned that the safe speed was only 15 miles per hour.

Along the way, we were treated to fantastic views of rugged, rocky shorelines being pounded relentlessly by frothy white waves.

There were long, sandy beaches, including one near Trinidad in northern California, that were laden with masses of tangled driftwood that resembled abstract works of art.

The West Coast shoreline is not packed with the high-rise hotels, apartment houses and condominiums that we are accustomed to seeing back east. There are many beaches that spread out nearly as far as the eye can see. It was not unusual to see only three or four people fishing or walking in the sand, with the nearest house some quarter of a mile away.

During a leg-stretching walk along a vacant beach at Ocean City, Wash., we saw spots where other beachcombers had built campfires to toast their hot dogs and chase the chill.

The road took us past ports housing fleets of fishing boats and pastures where dairy cows grazed along the ocean shore.

There was the smell of seaweed in our nostrils, and we could feel the salty ocean breezes on our face.

At times, only patches of tall grass separated the road and our bikes from the cliffs that loomed 100 feet, or more, above the Pacific.

We rode past spectacular lighthouses. Most of them we viewed from a distance while on the move.

Not so when we rounded a curve in the road and got our first glimpse of Heceta Head lighthouse, a few miles north of Florence, Ore. It was too good to zip by. Perched on a 200-foot cliff, the 1894 structure offered great views of the ocean and beach below.

It was a good spot for a picnic lunch.

Wildlife was plentiful along the way. We stopped to photograph elk roaming through the woods outside of Orick, Calif. Seals -- big, fat ones -- clustered on a muddy island just north of Bodega Bay, Calif., where Alfred Hitchcock's thriller The Birds was filmed.

We saw eagles soar overhead and pelicans diving for fish.

During an afternoon pit stop at Java John's Espresso shop on the shore of Port Orford, Ore., we were lured into doing some whale watching.

"They were just a couple hundred feet off shore a few hours ago," John, the pleasant shop owner, told us as he fixed two cups of mocha coffee.

We were excited to catch a glimpse of a migrating whale, but came back down to earth when we realized it was nothing more than a rock sticking out of the water.

The panoramic ocean views from San Francisco north to Rockport, Calif., were fantastic. Each curve seemed to offer a better view than the last.

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