Once Upon A Time in California
I knew Monterey was going to be expensive. It's a charming town, jutting out into the Pacific on a scenic peninsula. Too expensive for me, so I stayed outside town and rode in to get the bike serviced. On the way, I parked at the imaginatively named Seaside Beach to get a shot of the bike with the ocean in the background. That's it: the primary objective for this leg of the trip reached, riding from coast-to-coast across the USA. Less than a month ago, I was taking a similar picture on Jacksonville Beach in Florida with the Atlantic in the background.
The bike had its big service at Monterey Peninsula Powersports - great guys who did a good job. I'd had to remove the luggage for them to work on the bike so, before refitting it, begged a bucket of soapy water and some cleaning rags to give the poor Kawasaki Z1000SX some love: its first wash since coming to America. It really needed it. I didn't do a perfect job, but it was so much better than it had been.
That had taken most of the day, so I headed out of town to my overnight stop in Hollister – scene of the Hollister Riot in 1947, when the town's motorcycle rally descended into the violence and anarchy that inspired the film The Wild One. It was there that I learnt why Monterey was so expensive and I was having to stay so far out of town: it was Monterey Car Week, with classic and sports car fans flocking into the area, This had pushed the prices up: if you want to visit, check you're not going in Car Week and you can probably stay in town...
I thought I'd have a look anyway, swinging by Laguna Seca, the circuit in the hills outside Monterey. It's an awesome race track - with one of the racing calendar's most spectacular corners, the Corkscrew. I remember seeing so many great races from here, with so much drama at this tight, twisting downhill bend… but I've only seen it on the telly. I rolled up while the circuit was preparing for the week's classic racing and just rode, in with the confidence of someone who was supposed to be there. Nobody gave me a second look until I stopped to take a few pictures, before sneaking round to the Corkscrew... at which point I was quickly rumbled and politely invited to continue my journey...
I was quite keen to do this, anyway. I was heading down to do a road I've ridden before - Highway One, the Pacific Coast Highway. Last time I rode south to north, so I'm looking forward to experiencing it in the other direction. It's fairly busy, though. There's due to be a parade of cars coming down the road, so I try to make discretely good time – though I do stop to ask a pair of the photographers waiting for the four-wheeled exotica if they'd be kind enough to take a pic of me riding past. I also have to stop at Bixby Bridge, simply because it's one of the most iconic locations on the entire coast... even if it is crawling with tourists today.
I don't linger, heading south before the car parade can arrive, though I do have to stop to fill up – which feels like being mugged and given a lollipop to soften the blow. Yes, I get a tankful of petrol, but it's more than $6 a gallon for super (I've been paying $3.1 - $3.5 most of the way across the States so far). I pass the marked turn-around point for the cars and heave a sigh of relief.
A few miles later, I pull in to Nepenthe, to a cafe recommended by correspondent Rick Janes: I get a great double espresso, giant breakfast burrito, and a road-tip from Yamaha Tracer 900GT rider Alan. A few miles later, I peeled off onto the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road - a narrow, steep and slightly bumpy road spiralling up above Highway One with spectacular views. I rode it for 10 glorious miles, until it began descending into the heat of the Central Valley - then I turned and rode back to rejoin Highway One.
As I carry on south, I run into roadworks. I'm not sure how much of the road I'm on now is the road I travelled six years ago. So much of it appears to be freshly laid, where the land has slipped and the old road must have vanished. That's not the only thing that's changed: the weather is slipping. Above the sea, a thick layer of mist. Which looks atmospheric until it starts to spread over the road, a chill layer that reduces my view and sets me shivering. I stop at Ragged Point – a quaint/expensive tourist spot with another pricy petrol pump – and put on an extra layer. I'm glad of that a few miles later, as visibility falls to perhaps 100m and the temperature dips down to 12°C.
I opt to turn inland, for a bit of proper tourism. Hearst Castle - built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst - towers over the coast at San Simeon, basking in sunshine above the clouds. You park at the base, then take a bus up to the castle. It's a magnificent, slightly mad structure (exterior like a Spanish cathedral, interior like a Cambridge college dining hall) with beautiful, cool gardens and a spectacular pool: well worth the $25 dollars admission fee.
The fog gets worse as I head further south to my overnight stop in San Luis Obispo. I'm not staying in the famous Madonna Inn (outside my budget). Next morning I head south to meet Rick – to shake his hand and thank him for all the quality suggestions for roads to ride and places to visit. We meet at 8575 Perfetto Cafe just off Highway 101, in Grover Beach - where owner Genaro presents me with the best double espresso I've had in America. It should be the law that every motorcycle trip up the coast stops here for coffee. It's that good... Rick and I have a great chat but eventually I have to move on.
This final run into LA is the least exciting, rewarding bit of PCH. Especially with the persistent mist still blanketing the coast. Again, Rick saves me - suggesting the run down Foxen Canyon Road, inland and in the sunshine. It's sunny when I cut through the cutesy Danish-themed village of Solvang out over the San Marco Pass (Highway 154) to the coast at Santa Barbara, riding out onto the pier at Stearns Wharf for an ice cream. I head back inland, over Casitas Pass, then up through Wheeler Springs and into the semi-desert of Lockwood Valley, before finally picking up I-5 towards the city.