Updated: Aug 18, 2019
There’s something quite soul-crushing about being overtaken by a pushbike. But I’d neglected my fuel stops and the Kawasaki Z1000SX had started flashing its low-fuel blinker just after I turned onto the Del Puerto Canyon Road… almost 40 miles earlier. The Garmin told me the nearest fuel was still 18 miles away.
Reaching the summit of Mount Hamilton, white-domed observatories rising above the scrubby trees, I resorted to desperate measures: leaving the bike in third gear and coasting down the insanely twisty road. On these steep gradients, the bigger wheels and lesser rolling resistance of the push bikes meant not one but three Lycra-clad heroes overtook me. I got my own back when the road climbed again, cursing silently as I burnt even the minimal amount of fuel needed to creep uphill at 25mph.
I turned off Highway 130 as the Kawasaki’s remaining-range readout gave up and showed me three dashes – once you get below what it thinks is ten miles to dry, it basically waves its hands in the air and says “you’re on your own, mate…” But I made it into San Jose without the engine sputtering and dying – so it was all fine. Ahem.
San Jose’s quite a large city, just south of San Fransisco. I cut round it on the orbital freeways, where the driving was positively European – Italian, in fact. If you’ve ever ridden in an Italian city, you’ll know that’s not a compliment… Drivers were either road-rage fast, cutting each other up as they swapped lanes furiously; or inexplicably, dangerously slow – pottering along in lanes chosen apparently at random, but never the inside lane.
It was a relief to get off the freeway and head into the hills on Highway 9. I stopped in Saratoga, getting lunch and a haircut – though in retrospect both were ill-advised – before carrying on along one of the best-surfaced roads of the entire trip. Highway 9 spiralled up beneath an arching canopy of trees, splashed here and there with bright pools of sunlight. As I was poking at the sat nav, a rider on a Ducati Hypermotard nipped past me. Cyclists was bad enough… I wasn’t having this, so I gave chase…
Well, for a few miles: he clearly knew what he was about and I found my eyes struggling each time I transitioned from deep shade into bright sunlight, or vice versa. Old git… I rolled off and, when his mate caught up, waved him past. I found the pair of them waiting at a crossroads a few miles up. I rolled up alongside them, flipped up the visor and asked them for the directions I hadn’t managed to drag out of the Garmin while riding: “Just down there,” they said. “You can’t miss it…”
My impromptu detour was to Alice’s Restaurant – immortalised by folk singer Arlo Gurthie. It’s still there, still a popular hangout for local bikers and other artsy types and tourists like me, who want to say they’ve been. I parked beside a Harley that apparently had a fridge on the back. Now that’s what I call packing… Going into Alice’s, I realised lunch in Saratoga was a mistake: the food here looked amazing. I just had a lemonade then got going again.
I retraced my steps along Skyline Boulevard to the crossroads where I'd left the supermoto boys and turned right on the Highway 9 again. It was a fabulously twisty ride between the shady trees, but after a few miles I peeled off on the 236 and the scale increased. The trees got even taller, thicker and closer together. I was heading into the Big Basin Redwood State Park. It’s not actually where the forest scenes in Return of the Jedi were shot (that’s further north) but it’s the same kind of forest and I wouldn’t have been surprised to get mugged by ewoks when I stopped.
I paused by the park office (it’s a state park, not a national one, so I’d have had to pay to go deeper into it). I got a picture of one gigantic tree with its core hollowed out by fire. It was so massive that, when I stood inside the cavity, I couldn’t touch the two edges with both arms outstretched. I headed further south, to the equally impressive Henry Cowell Redwood park, emerging from the woods on the edge of Santa Cruz.
Sadly, there wasn't time to explore this seaside town, even though the thought of me washing up on the set of the film The Lost Boys had a definite ironic appeal: am I lost, or just wandering? Answers on a postcard. Howeer, by this point time was getting on and I still had a way to go to reach my overnight stop – through rush-hour traffic. I thanked the stars that California allows filtering, slicing through the traffic as I headed towards Monterey. This morning, I dropped the bike off for its much-overdue service at Monterey Peninsula Powersports and now I’m in a Starbucks while it gets fettled. It’s all glamour…