A Great Father’s Day Weekend


Starting Out
How’s this for a great Father’s Day weekend: Load up “MyConnie” with camera and camping gear, point the front wheel north, and GO! Just me and MyConnie getting some quality time together since the wife and youngest son are away for a few days. I plan to update this post throughout the trip, so come back often to check it out.

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Rest Stop
Thank God for Starbucks and lane splitting. Sitting still in 88 degree weather on the freeway is not my idea of a good time. Seems like everyone else in the world is escaping to Lake Tahoe. Well, at least a rider can get hydration, caffeine, a healthy snack and WiFi thanks to the Pequod’s chief mate.

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Cooling Off
Possibly the best $29 I have ever spent was on an evaporative cooling vest. After a two minute soak in the bathroom sink at Starbucks (which was immaculately clean) the vest is “charged” with water. You then blot off the inside fabric barrier that stays dry against your shirt, and put it on under your riding jacket. I was then able to ride in complete comfort in 90 degree heat. Amazing.

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Dark Territory
After stocking up on pita, avocado, bananas, water and a salad bowl at the Grass Valley Safeway, I headed north on Hwy 49 towards Downieville. This road is listed in the Destination Highways moto-map book as DH9 and carries a score of 81/100, and it deserves it. It is wonderfully scenic, twisty and empty of traffic. Downieville itself looked very cute, like a preserved gold rush era town. I decided to camp instead of finding a room, but on some future trip, I’m definitely going to stay in Downieville.

I timed my ride so that I could set up camp while it was still light, but only just. I use a great iPhone App named “Sol” that tells you times for sunset, dusk, dawn and sunrise wherever you are. This allowed me to keep riding until I found Chapman Meadows campground around 8:00 P.M.

Getting old is terrible. I remember when hotel rooms were $6.00 at Motel 6, so it makes it painful to pay $21 for one night at an unimproved campground. Well, at least it had “nice” pit toilets. The mosquitoes quickly drove me into my tent where I fell fast asleep straightaway.

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Zero Dark Thirty
The great thing about traveling alone is that you don’t need to cater to anyone else’s schedule. So, at 4:45 A.M., I rousted myself out of my down cocoon, performed my morning ablutions, and started breaking camp. I got on the road a little before six and headed over the Yuba Summit to be treated to a gorgeous sunrise over the Sierra Valley. I left Hwy 49 a little before Sattley and turned north on Hwy 89, headed towards Quincy and Lassen Volcanic National Park beyond. Although I was bundled up in layers, winter gloves, and TurtleFur neck warmer, I was freezing when I arrived at the Express Coffee Shop. Nothing that a spinach omelet and 10 cups of coffee couldn’t cure. Something tells me MyConnie is going to get a few more RPMs now that MY motor is running.

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The Pine Forests
Can you ever overdose on the beautiful conifer forests of the High Sierra? I think not, but you certainly get your fill traveling through the Tahoe and Plumas National Forests. But every once in a while, the trees are interrupted by a glorious body of water like Lake Almanor. I crossed over Canyon Dam and marveled at this man-made interruption to the Feather River. The outlet tower shown behind MyConnie sends the product of this 90 foot deep reservoir to two smaller reservoirs and others downstream to powerhouses capable of creating a total of 360 megawatts of electricity!

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Mount Lassen
I had been to Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park years ago but wanted to experience it’s burbling mudpots and sulphur-spewing springs anew. So I checked my trusty map book and found that the roads to, through, and around Lassen are included in their lists of great motorcycle roads. Without any hesitation I pointed MyConnie north along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.

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One of the troubles of blogging “live” from my AT&T iPhone is how poor their rural mobile phone service is. However, after paying my $10 park entrance fee, I noticed this sign and for a fleeting moment hoped that the U.S. Park Service had embraced modern technology by installing WiFi thorough the park. Alas, it was the icon for an amphitheater I mistook for WiFi symbol. D’Oh!

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The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center shows a great 20 minute documentary film every half hour that explains the history and formation of the park which is the only place on earth with all four types of volcanos.

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A mile north is The Sulphur Works where you can smell noxious fumes and see bubbling mud.

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After that, it seemed that every quarter mile were increasingly beautiful places that beckoned me to stop and take a photo.

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Unfortunately, the walking trails to “Bumpass Hell” which take you right next to all of the bubbling water and mudpots were closed due to safety concerns. But the ride up and over the ridge at around 8,500 feet elevation was spectacular as was the ride down and around to the north end of the park.

The Road Home
At this point, I had enough of solitude and decided to head home. I took a few more “Destination Highways” that were perfect for motorcycles on the way, but most was spent traveling 75 MPH on Hwy 5 in 90 degree heat. Once again, thank God for my evaporative cooling vest and the many rest stops and convenience marts along the way.

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Volcano Ride ‘n Photo Tour
I’m thinking of hosting a “Volcano Ride ‘n Photo Tour” for anyone who might want to join me. If interested, I’d be happy to share some tips on taking photos and “processing” them in the computer, as well. Please leave a comment if you are interested and I’ll start thinking about this for later this year.

As for this trip, I racked up 671 miles from noon Friday to 6:30 P.M. Saturday, a bit over 30 hours. Not bad for my first Father’s Day weekend solo trip. It’s not often I get so much “me” time to think about life without the distractions of other people (no matter how pleasant) or social media (no matter how addictive – then again, I am writing this post!). I might just have to make this an annual pilgrimage.

Note to fellow bloggers and those thinking about blogging: I took all of the photos above and wrote all of the text during the trip itself using the WordPress App for iPhone. This made ‘capturing the moment‘ much more spontaneous and added to my enjoyment of the ride. I went back later on my computer and added the sections below.

Ride Map: Click here for Google map
( Note to riders: map waypoints M through R are how to beat backed up traffic headed to San Francisco like a boss! )

Mount Lassen Ride Map

Ride Report:
– Date: February 14 & 15, 2013
– Roads: Since this trip covered so much territory, I encountered: 20 miles of lane splitting to get around everyone headed for Tahoe, wonderfully engineered and paved roads, nicely paved but less well-engineered roads, and tight curves with limited sight lines on the roads between Shingletown and Dales.
– Scenery: What can I say, I have been living in California my whole life and I am still awestruck in seeing its majesty. If you are from some other state, COME HERE AND RIDE!
– Weather: The weather was absolutely perfect on this Father’s Day weekend, albeit a little warm at times (high 80s) at the lower elevations. The sky was a sapphire blue with those intense puffy white clouds you want to photograph because they are so perfect.
– Challenge: Intermediate throughout with the biggest challenge being not getting run over my a semi-truck on Hwy 5.
– Food: Plenty of choices along this route. I stopped at Safeway in Grass Valley and stocked up on healthy food and snacks this time – what a concept!
– Gas: There were no problems finding gas, but then again, with my 7.5 gallon tank, I could have done the whole thing on way less than three tanks.
– Rating: 5-stars (out of 5) for scenic beauty. with a few most excellent motorcycle roads thrown in along the way.

Destination Highways: 
For you aficionados of Bosworth & Sanders excellent book “Destination Highways of Northern California” this trip included these DHs & TEs:
Destination Highways:
DH9 (81.9/100 rating)
DH3 ALT
DH38 (70.7/100 rating)
Twisted Edges:
TE-A (from DH59)
TE-F (from DH9)

Note: I bought the Destination Highways of Northern California book at the last International Motorcycle Show I attended. It is pretty expensive at $60, but I have to say that it is absolutely worth it. I use it to plan all of my northern california trips to ensure I get the most out of my time on the road. Although it is pricey for a map book, they actually put in the time and effort to bring the value to the rider than exceeds your expectation. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to ride in northern california.
Destination Highways of Northern California

Additional Photos:
The following photos were taken with a d-SLR: Canon EOS Rebel XSi:   

Chapman Creek Campground near Calpine MyConnie on Canyon Dam Lake Almanor June in California Vulcans Eye on Mt Lassen Peak MyConnie at Bumpass Hell Me and MyConnie in Mt Lassen MyConnie fronts Helen Lake and Mt Lassen Peak MyConnie and Vulcans Eye Sulphur Works in Mt Lassen Debris from volcano blast MyConnie fronts Helen Lake and Mt Lassen Peak 2

A Trip to Virginia City, Nevada: Motorcycle Gold — Part One


For the third year in a row, my motorcycle buddies and I planned a trip to the High Sierras over the first weekend in October. We have found that this weekend the traffic is nonexistent, the weather is perfect, and the aspens are all turning gold over the mountain passes. This year, our destination was the old west town of Virginia City and we had something special happen. One of our group entered a raffle and won a brand new motorcycle!

Bocci winning a Triumph

Bocci wins a new bike!
Frequent readers of this blog know that my brother-in-law and frequent riding partner, “Bocci,” rides a Triumph T100 Bonneville that he bought in 2010 as his get-back-into-motorcycling ride. He and I have been all over California and Oregon on my 1,000cc Connie and his 865cc Bonnie. But a while ago, Bocci started to have a wandering eye, making true the sentiment that motorcycling has never really been about monogamy. Bocci was first thinking that a pair of KLR650s would be a nice addition to our stable, allowing us to wander farther afield down forest roads. But I knew that in his heart of hearts, he really has always wanted a Moto Guzzi.

Being a mechanical engineer by trade, Bocci was not afraid of exotic Italian iron and he has talked himself into how the Guzzi’s transverse vee-twin design would make engine maintenance a breeze. So we put the KLR idea on hold and Bocci started lusting after a dual-sport Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX.

Some months later, and without mentioning anything to me, Bocci noticed that the Pro Italia Moto Guzzi dealership in Los Angeles was holding a charity raffle to publicize the opening of their new Triumph franchise. He bought a dozen raffle tickets for $10 each in hopes of winning a brand new Triumph that was a replica of the one Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape.

As fate would have it, a week before our High Sierra trip, Bocci was washing his Bonnie and missed a phone call. When he noticed the missed call on his mobile phone, he saw that the area code was from Los Angeles. He told me that his hands started to shake a bit before he returned the call, and sure enough, he found out that he had won the replica Triumph, worth $10,000!

The only problem was that it was almost identical to the Triumph he already owned except that it was painted olive drab. Knowing that Pro Italia was also a Guzzi dealership, he asked if he could trade in the Triumph and put the full value towards the Stelvio. Pro Italia was more than accommodating and set him up with the Guzzi of his dreams for a few thousand more.

This hit Bocci like a ton of bricks because now instead of prepping the Bonnie for our annual 600 mile High Sierra tour, he was going to fly to L.A., get a motel room, arrange to be picked up by the dealership, pose for press photos with the replica Triumph, then do the paperwork to buy the Moto Guzzi. He was then going to pack up the Stelvio with his gear for the trip, swing his leg over a new and foreign bike, and head into SoCal traffic towards the back side of the Sierras where we arranged to meet him in Walker, CA the next day. What an adventure!

As for me, I hooked up with my moto-partner in crime, “Ace,” and we headed out to meet Bocci at a Walker barbecue place that we found online. Our fourth rider, Des, was coming south from Jackson and would meet us in Walker, as well.

As we expected for an October trip over the Sonora Pass, Ace and I had great pavement, no traffic, perfect weather and gorgeous scenery. But I got a little surprise when I followed Ace as he pulled off at the unmarked Donnell Lake scenic overlook to stretch. As we dismounted, two other riders joined us in the parking lot, both of whom had BMWs like Ace. So after a bit of Beemer-banter, we took a few photos at the quite spectacular overlook and started to mount up. Just then, another Kawasaki Concours rider rolled in. I stopped my gearing up to be neighborly to a fellow Connie owner when he came up to me and said, “Hello, P Radsliff.” Never having met him before, I was somewhat taken aback, and Ace was positively dumbfounded. As it turned out, the rider was a member of the Concours Owners Group (COG) and he recognized me from the many photos I posted on the COG forum and from my Me and MyConnie blog. Whereas I don’t think this was my 15 minutes of fame, I still rode out of the parking lot sitting a little bit taller in the saddle, lording my “celebrity” over my riding buddies whenever I got the chance in the following days: see video.

Donnell Lake

It was really great meeting “GF-in-CA” (his COG forum ‘handle’), whose posts I have read and whose opinion I have come to respect. I found out that he is a mechanical engineer and knows what he is doing with motorcycle maintenance. It was great seeing him roll in on his Connie and that it had a bunch of “farkles” on it — i.e. a loose acronym for owner modifications that stands for: Fancy Accessory Really Kool Likely Expensive. He was riding with his wife two-up which was also great to see. After more pleasantries and a promise to follow up via the COG forum, Ace and I headed east towards Sonora Pass.

As the road got steeper and twistier, we knew we were getting close to the pass. But before reaching the 9,624 ft. summit, we rode through a small valley with a dense copse of aspen trees that were all shimmering brilliant gold. We’ve seen this valley in its gold plumage in years past but it was no less breathtaking seeing it once again. It’s the kind of experience where you find yourself yelling “Oh my God, this is incredible” out loud inside your helmet just because you have to share it outside of your inner monologue.

Sign on Sonora Pass

In traversing up and over this formidable High Sierra pass, one can’t help but think of the first wagon train that crossed these jagged peaks in 1841. I wonder how different the roads here might have been if these mountains didn’t form a barrier between the gold and silver mines of Nevada to the east, and the international port of San Francisco to the west. All I know is that the many mountain passes that cross the High Sierras make some of the best motorcycle rides in the world, and they are all in my own back yard.

Ace and I continued down the eastern side of the Sierras into climate and country that is very different than the west side of the summit. Out here it’s all high desert scrub, not the verdant evergreen forests we just left behind. An interesting point of interest we encountered before turning north on Hwy 395 was the Marine Corps Mountain Training Warfare Center which is spread out on the left side of Hwy 108 at Pickel Meadow, CA. It’s not uncommon to see lots of military vehicles running around here, and aircraft as well.

Hwy 395 is a U.S. route that starts in Hesperia, CA about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, and crosses the Oregon border 557 miles later. It continues through Oregon and Washington all the way to the Canadian border. However, in California, state route 395 crosses through terrain that is arguably the most varied and beautiful in the state. Bocci was making the trek from the Los Angeles area up Hwy 395 so he was able to enjoy the stark but beautiful Mojave desert, followed by the spectacular Owens Valley which is just 60 miles west of famed Death Valley. The Owens Valley is framed by mountain escarpments that include Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,505 ft. The Owens Valley even features glaciers! Bocci stayed the night in Mammoth Lakes before heading north towards Walker and our rendezvous at Mountain View Barbecue.

We meandered alongside the Walker River which parallels Hwy 395 through deep canyon gorges and wide open high desert plains, eventually coming into the little town of Walker and our new rally point. We were greeted by a parking lot made from two-inch deep pea gravel which always makes for interesting maneuvers on a motorcycle. We saw two bikes parked at the restaurant, an orange Triumph Speed Triple that we knew belonged to Des, and a behemoth of a bike: the Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX: see video.

The Mountain View BBQ parking lot

Approaching the Stelvio from the rear was kind of amazing. With its aluminum panniers, it measures in at 42″ wide—that’s quite a bustle on its hustle! My first thought was that we wouldn’t be lane splitting anytime soon. As I walked around the bike, it was truly a thing of beauty—in a rough and tumble kind of way. Like a HumVee, but as if it were designed by Italians. The Guzzi had interesting angular lines with utilitarian bolt-ons, like the panniers and skid plates. As I walked around the bike, Bocci approached and greeted me by saying, “She’s a stout beast.” No doubt, I thought.

Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX: A Stout Beast

During our excellent BBQ lunch, Bocci regaled Des, Ace and myself with stories of his adventures: doing the winner’s photo shoot, packing the Stevio, and heading off into L.A. traffic. He told us about the Guzzi’s massive low-end torque and how well it handled for such a big bike. He bragged about its massive 8.5 gallon gas tank that gave him almost 350 miles range. I guess I can’t boast about the “measly” 7.5 gallon tank on MyConnie anymore.

Walker Wild Frogs

But Bocci had a few problems, too. A snap-in turn signal cover vibrated loose and fell off somewhere along his ride. And he felt a strange vibration that he couldn’t tell whether it was intermittent, and/or even normal for this bike that was new to him. He also experienced first hand a characteristic that is prevalent with transverse vee-twins: rev the engine while stopped at a light and the bike lurches sideways from the torque. Still, nothing could wipe off the ear-to-ear grin from a guy who had just won the bike of his dreams. Damn! Attaboy, Bocci.

Bocci and his new Stelvio NTX

Ride Map: Click here for Google Map

RIDE MAP: San Mateo to Walker, California

 

Ride Video: Click here for the full 51 minute ride video over Sonora Pass from Donnell Lake to U.S. Route 395

Next Installment: Part Two – Virginia City

International Motorcycle Show: Oppa San Matean Style


International Motorcycle Show sponsored by Progressive Insurance

Not many motorcycle enthusiasts are as lucky as I am in that I live five blocks away from the San Mateo Expo Center, home each November to the Progressive International Motorcycle Show. So each year, my riding buddies and I, pay homage to our favorite pastime by getting together to visit the show and see what’s new in the moto world. This year I make a point of taking a lot of photos of the show so that the readers of Me and MyConnie who weren’t able to make it to one of the shows. Hope you enjoy the photos…

Me and MyConnie: First Year, First 10,000 Miles


One Year Down, 10,000 Miles in the Mirror
This week I’ve reached the one year anniversary of my getting back into motorcycling with the purchase of a 2001 Kawasaki Concours which I named “MyConnie.” Over the past year I’ve learned many things. Not the least of which is how much enjoyment I’ve been missing in the intervening years since 1990 when I sold my Suzuki GS750LX. I thought this would be a good time to reflect back upon the last year and what I’ve learned about motorcycling…and myself.

What I’ve Ridden
I’ve only owned three bikes in my life: a 1967 Honda CL350 Scrambler, a 1979 Suzuki GS750LX Cruiser, and my current ride, the 1,000cc Kawi Concours. I’ve only ever ridden three others: a 2010 BMW R1100RS that I rented, an 80s-era GPz550 I rode at Laguna Seca during Keith Code’s California Superbike School, and my friend’s 2009 Triumph Speed Triple. But it was the advice of an ex-CHP friend of mine that steered me towards the Concours, and I’m so glad he did.

My limited experience with different motorcycles hasn’t allowed me to have much of an opinion about other bikes like v-twins, dual-sports, or the like. In fact, all I really know is Japanese iron with one luscious weekend on a German boxer. So when I reflect on the specs of the rides I have owned, it shows me the following:

What this also tells me is that in terms of power-to-weight ratio (HP/LBS), my Honda was loads o’ fun—something I already knew. But even at a more sedate PTW ratio of 0.16, MyConnie will still impress any Porsche Carrera driver off-the-line, considering their PTW ratio is 0.19. Still, comparing motorcycles to cagers is a fools game as any biker knows. What got me thinking about the past year’s travels was more what I’ve learned, where I’ve gone, and where I’m going.

What I’ve Learned
One think I learned was how healthy it is riding a motorcycle. You read that correctly…healthy! That is, of course, assuming that I keep the rubber side down and don’t get too near the surrounding traffic. What I mean is that when I’m on MyConnie, I’m not trying to make my commute productive by scheduling conference calls in the car. Nor am I stopping on the way to work at Mickey-Dees to get a coffee or whatever other concoction passes for breakfast. And whenever I’m riding, whether on my commute or on the weekend, with helmet on head I’m not likely to be stuffing my face. Plus being in a tuck in the cool morning air does wonders for my abs while burning calories to keep warm. All in all, I’ve found that riding is quite an effective weight management tool.

I’ve also learned that the old saying that “you’ll never see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office” is really true. Spending a minimum of 1.5 hours a day riding to the office and back has given me the ability to shed tension like no other activity. Seeing the beautiful sights and smells when I take the back roads to the office has put me in the best frame of mind of my entire working career. I can’t even believe I’ve missed out on this for the past twenty years.

And I’ve learned—no…remembered—how great it is to take up an activity that has a huge learning curve with resulting stellar rewards, and also serious penalties. There is no greater learning than putting yourself in a situation where you will be tested. I think it is that, more than all the rest, that I enjoy the most. To challenge myself and see whether I will rise to the occasion, or fall down trying…only to get up, and try all over again. Call it my own “hero’s journey” of sorts. But one where there is no brilliant flash of heroism, only the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from mastering a complex endeavor.

Where I’ve Gone
I’ve spend the last year exploring the wonders of Northern California including the golden passes of the High Sierra, the windswept bluffs of the North Coast, and the twisty backroads of San Francisco Bay. The sheer magnificence of our natural surroundings is something that you take for granted when driving inside a cage of steel. Air conditioning masks the smell of eucalyptus, tinted glass dulls the glow of aspen groves, and soft suspension separates us from the hand-hewn roads originally carved by rough men across our great land. More than just a vehicle, my motorcycle has been the vehicle through which my five senses have been reignited.

How I Learned
I’ve approached re-learning the craft of riding through friends, through practice and by reading and watching the experts in print and onscreen. If I had the time and money, I would have preferred to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course…and may still. I would also like to repeat the course I took at Laguna Seca with Keith Code. But with the realities of budget and workload, I’ve settled for a do-it-yourself course of learning which has taken some discipline.

There has been an incredible amount of information that has helped me from an unlikely source, the Concours Owners Group. Besides being the quintessential knowledge bank for the Kawasaki Concours motorcycle, the group also represents hundreds of years of riding experience through its members who share their wisdom freely, with good humor and camaraderie. Their motto: “Join for the bike, stay for the people” couldn’t be more true. And besides the colloquial wisdom of serious amateurs, there is also a potent community of motorcycle professionals within the ranks of COG, both vendor companies like Murph’s Kits and regular people like Shoodabeen Engineering who have raised the level of home wrenching to an art form, and a business that Kawasaki could learn a few things from.

The Path Ahead
I have found in life that it is never good to drink your own bathwater. Meaning, all of the skill I have regained in the past year has really only served to make me more dangerous by potentially becoming too cocky. Now that a year has passed, it’s time to take stock and plan for the next year of learning, and trying to get rid of that last inch of chicken strip that defines my contact patch like bookends. A few predictions…

I predict that I…
– will watch Keith Code’s A Twist of the Wrist II DVD another 4 times…at least.
– will re-read David Hough’s book, Proficient Motorcycling to bone up on what I missed the first time.
– will continue to take my secret commute to Silicon Valley to work…every once in a while,  taking the long way.
– will start doing overnighter rides where I camp instead of staying in a motel.
– will do a dozen farkles to MyConnie.
– and I predict I will only increase my love for riding and hopefully my skill level, as well.

Until then, I’ll be the one flashing two fingers to you as we pass each other by…but only if you are on two wheels.

That’s Me on MyConnie

Let’s ride.

Ride Map: A Great Day to California’s North Coast


There is definitely something to be said for spontaneity. Last Sunday morning, I received this text message from my friend Dan whom I worked with back in the early 1980s:

I had been following Dan’s journey of getting back into motorcycling on Facebook with some interest, especially when he built his own café racer from a sweet ’77 BMW R100/7 which was featured in Iron and Air Magazine [ link to article ].

So when I received his text message, all I could think about was how fast I could install the new Motion Pro speedometer cable I got from Murph’s Kits and get on the road. I checked in with my boss (the wife) and responded to the text that I would meet him at a local watering hole parking lot in Novato in a couple of hours.

The previous Monday I had noticed that the cable had come loose from the speedometer gearbox on the front fork and apparently the inner rotating cable had fallen out somewhere along the road. So I temporarily reconnected the dangling cable but was left with no working speedometer. I read my Kawasaki and Clymer manuals and found no reference to the speedo cable, so I resorted to searching the Concours Owners Group Forum pages, where I should have gone in the first place. There I found a treasure trove of information that told me what to buy, where to buy it, how often it breaks, and exactly how to replace it. I have easily gotten more utility out of my $30 annual COG forum membership than what it cost for the manuals.

Having no indication of miles per hour made for an interesting commute that week. I found that needing to know my precise speed was largely unnecessary and interestingly…freeing. I could estimate my speed closely enough by reading my tachometer, following the flow of traffic, or just using the ol’ Mark I Eyeballs. But I also found that I was more relaxed and instead of fixating on maintaining a precise speed, I just kept my concentration on the traffic around me being sure to go neither too fast, nor too slow. It could be that I had been so intent on not getting a ticket that I had lost the feel for the road. That’s funny since I’m the guy who is always in the 3rd lane watching the other bikers fly by at 80 miles an hour in the fast lane.

Whether or not I would continue to monitor my speedo as closely as I once had, I followed the advice of my fellow Connie owners which made the new speedo cable installation a snap. After snugging up the new cable ends, I buttoned up the fairing, packed the saddlebags with various and sundry items for a day ride, and headed north.

One thing that must amaze visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area are its micro climates. I left my home in San Mateo where it was overcast and between 55 and 60 degrees. As I headed into San Francisco, it was positively wet from heavy drizzle…actually, very heavy fog. There were large drops of water dangling from the upper lip of my face shield and I had to use my forefinger as a wiper blade. Luckily, the MyConnie’s more than ample fairing kept my legs and torso dry as a bone. When going across the Golden Gate Bridge the weather could be best described as 50 degree sideways-blowing pea soup fog. And it wasn’t until Novato that it cleared back up to 60 degree overcast without any undue wetness. Soon enough, it would become sunny on the way to the coast, followed by a foggy coastline, and then 85 degrees and sunny heading through the redwoods back to Highway 101. Vacationers not use to these wild swings in temperature and wind chill have funded an entire industry of novelty sweatshirt manufacturers and vendors on Fisherman’s Wharf. But when on a motorcycle trip to Northern California, suffice it to say that a vented jacket with thermal liner plus extra layers in your saddlebag are an absolute must.

After an hour’s trip north through San Francisco and then through Marin, I arrived at Moylan’s Brewery in Novato, about 23 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I filled up with gas across the street and then Dan rolled in and did the same. After admiring the touring bike he decided to choose from his stable, a ’70s-era BMW R100RS, we headed north on Hwy 101 towards Russian River Road. Or at least that’s what we thought.

Upon entering the freeway, we immediately ran into traffic that was completely stopped for as far as the eye could see. We later found out that there was a fatal accident from someone who ran off the road about five miles ahead, and the CHP were taking measurements and cleaning up the mess while holding back the traffic to a crawl. All I knew was that Dan made a snap decision, which was really the only one for us to make, which was to split lanes and head up the road. What he didn’t know is that I don’t really split lanes. MyConnie is pretty wide with her saddlebags, and I believe it just infuriates motorists to see motorcyclists make progress when they can’t. So I don’t like to create even more pissed-off drivers bent on killing me, therefore, I don’t split lanes.

However, in this case, I really had no choice. If I decided to not split lanes I would have lost Dan, left him waiting for an hour up the road, and been branded a moto-wimp worthy only of a Vespa. And, MyConnie would surely have overheated and then I would have been stuck on the side of the road in the midst of a five mile long bumper-to-bumper nightmare. So, I screwed up my courage and headed forward between the stopped cars.

A view of what lane splitting looks like to the motorcyclist

What lane splitting looks like from another rider’s viewpoint.

What surprised me is that it was easier than I thought. I just had to keep a loose grip on the bars and stay incredibly focused on the obstacles ahead which included pickup trucks with dualie rear wheels, a bus, a truck, and innumerable SUVs with extremely wide mirrors. I found that the trick was to not move too fast in relation to the surrounding traffic. Also, to keep a keen sense of what the people in front of me are doing, like which ones will move left to see around the car ahead or the ones on their cell phones. This is what I usually do while riding on the freeway, but in this case it was even more important since I was less than a foot away from the traffic on both sides.

I made it through the entire five-mile jam without any problems and moved into a lane when I approached the CHPs at the front. Although lane splitting is not illegal in California, it is also not expressly legal, either. So, not being one to push my luck, I became a full member of the traffic jam for the last 50 yards. Once past the horrendous skid marks and crumpled guard rail, I saw Dan waiting on the roadside and we both continued on to Russian River Road.

River Road has a number of small towns that dot its length which are reminiscent of ’50s-era beach resorts. These are the resorts that San Franciscans visited to beat the summer chill (yes, you read that correctly) and many had second homes along the flood-prone Russian River. It was an idyllic ride with long sweeping curves, quaint and picturesque towns and sunny temperate weather. It took us about 45 minutes to travel the 29 miles from Hwy 101 to Jenner where the Russian River empties into the Pacific ocean.

Photo of downtown Guerneville, California by Dennis Goedegebuure

Downtown Guerneville – photo: © Dennis Goedegebuure

Once at the coast, we took Highway 1 north along the Sonoma coast. This is a truly breathtaking road that will challenge your cornering skills while providing incredible views of the Pacific ocean far below the bluffs. On the day we made this trip, riding was made a bit more challenging with the addition of fog.

Highway 1 on the Sonoma Coast – photo: © Herb Lingl

However it wasn’t too soupy, and without any problems, we made our way to the Timber Cove Inn for a sumptuous lunch. After the requisite photo standing next to our bikes taken by a kind stranger in the parking lot, we decided to head much further north and cut back over to Highway 101 via Highway 128 through the redwood forests along the Navarro river.

Peter and Dan at the Timber Cove Inn

Highway 1 along the North Coast is a combination of challenging curves mere inches from 100 foot cliffs and meandering roads through windswept ranch land. It’s hard to explain its rough-hewn beauty. On the few days that are without overcast, it is a wonder to see and a great place to gain further skill in cornering on a motorcycle. Recently, I purchased Keith Code’s “A Twist of the Wrist II” instructional DVD. It is nicknamed “the cornering bible” for good reason. Watching it before, and after, this trip helped me better my cornering technique and made me realize some things I had been doing wrong. Practicing and improving my cornering skills is one of the reasons I love riding the North Coast.

The other, is for the sheer beauty of the ride. I had never ridden north of Salt Point State Park, my favorite abalone hunting ground, so I looked forward to the next jaunt up past Point Arena to the Navarro River. What I didn’t expect was to be in the middle of a redwood forest on an idyllic motorcycle road. As this GoPro Hero2 photo of Dan on his R100 shows, the stately redwoods filter the light coming through the canopy and produce a surreal landscape.

Dan in the Redwoods

As we continued on our journey back towards Highway 101, the temperature started to heat up the further we got from the coast. We passed through the cute little burg of Boonville and ultimately passed by Cloverdale on the way to Healdsburg to gas up our trusty steeds. Although Dan’s Verizon smartphone had enough service along the route to post and tag trip photos to Facebook, my AT&T iPhone did not. It wasn’t until I reached our gas stop that I checked in on my phone and found that a dear friend of mine saw the photo above of Dan and I at Timber Cove and he left me a message to come visit him in Sebastopol, a mere 30 minutes away. Dan and I parted company after topping off our tanks and I headed toward my friend’s ranch.

It’s funny the tricks that fate can play on a person. I woke up that morning without having a clue what the day held for me. Then a text message arrived and I found myself at the start of what would become a 369 mile ride. I also found myself enjoying the company of a dear friend I had not seen in many a year that by happenstance was going into the hospital to receive another course of chemotherapy the next day. The five hours I spent with him that night were very special to me and served as an important reconnection with a person who has been my advisor, mentor, dive buddy and friend. A person who has played a significant role in shaping the arc of my career. And to think I would not have enjoyed that reconnection without a text message, a photo tagged with my name, and a return Facebook message. This is the value of social media…along with the company of great friends, good roads and our two-wheeled thunderbeasts beneath us.

Ride Map: Click here for Google map

 Ride Report:
– Date: July 1, 2012
– Roads: Well-paved throughout with a few moments of interest thrown in for good measure such as expansion grates on the Golden Gate Bridge plus cattle grates and periodic handfuls of gravel mid-apex on the numerous180° turns throughout the North Coast section of Hwy 1.
– Scenery: Rustic towns along the Russian River, breathtaking views from the winding cliff roads along Highway 1, and sunlight-dappled redwood forests along the Navarro river. An amazing variety of scenery in one day.
– Weather: Highly variable between 55° with dripping fog and 85° heat–and everywhere in between.
– Ride: Nice sweeping curves along the Russian and Navarro rivers. Numerous and sometimes tight twisties above precipitous road’s edge cliffs along Highway 1. Be careful and ride within your limits!
– Challenge: Intermediate to advanced (doable for beginners but in parts you need to take it S-L-O-W)
– Food: Various towns make bringing your own food unnecessary, but a picnic on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific ocean can be a real treat.
– Gas: There is plenty of gas available in the small towns that dot this route. However, don’t push it—some stretches are 30 to 50 miles between gas stations, so don’t get caught waiting too long to fill up.
– Rating: 5-stars (out of 5) for overall enjoyment and variety. The ride is challenging but not overwhelming while being incredibly beautiful.
– Additional Fun: Points of interest along the way include the Russian River resort towns of Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Rio Nido–great spots for a dip in the river. On the coast, stop for a tour at Ft. Ross, have lunch at the Timber Cove Inn, or bring your snorkeling gear to stalk the elusive abalone at Salt Point State Park.

Connie Fever?


I don’t know if I meant my blog to have this effect on people, but I received an email from an old friend of mine who said “he was looking to get back into motorcycling.” He was looking at a used Kawasaki Vulcan at a dealership because he wanted to not invest too much until he proved to himself that this was something he wanted to get deeply into.

I told him all about my adventures with MyConnie, including buying it without taking a proper test ride (see previous post), and the consequences thereof. About a week later, he told me that the Vulcan was sold out from under him, and that he found a Connie on CraigsList. A few days later, I received this photo of the red Kawasaki Concours with him saying, “In taking a lesson from you, I have purchased the bike sight unseen.”

Mike's Connie on the left, that's me on the right

Oh Lord, have I started a wave of “Buy first, ask questions later?” I certainly hope not. But I welcome my friend Mike to the ranks of Connie ownership and look forward to seeing his journey back into riding alongside my own.

Me and MyConnie: Abalone or Bust! – Part Two


[ Continued from Part One ]

The author back in the dayBigRed back in his ab diving prime — circa 1982

It had been 25 years since I last dove for abs at Salt Point. Back then, it wasn’t a casual pastime, it was a major passion. Tom and I both worked for the same dive store and we took all of our classes to Salt Point for their first ocean dive. I had been ab diving at least a hundred times over the years and had achieved the ultimate badge of ab-diving honor: being an “Ace.” Becoming an “Ace” means that you could get your limit of abalone—it was four back then—on one dive. And in Northern California, than means on one breath because no SCUBA is allowed for Ab diving north of Point Conception. In truth, I was in much better shape back then, and last time I remember “Ace-ing” it was flat calm with great visibility and bright sunshine…in other words, perfect.

This trip was just about the exact opposite. Oh, the water was pretty calm. But the visibility was the worse I had ever seen. You literally could not see your fins if you looked down. There was a strange kind of particulate in the water that made Ab diving almost impossible. So much so, that I remembered the hard way to keep my arms in front of my face when diving into low visibility water.

“Haliotis rufescens” the elusive red abalone

Yup, I found the rocky bottom with my head first. But the worst part was how dark it was just ten feet below the surface. It was pitch black, like a night dive. Due to the heavy particulate, no doubt. So even if you successfully made it to the bottom where the Abs were, you had to stay there for a good 30 seconds to let your pupils dilate enough to see anything. I wish I had a flashlight with me, it would have helped a lot. Suffice it to say that even though I have “Aced” this day I was “skunked.” But I didn’t care. I wanted to know if I could still Ab dive, and everything went just fine (except for finding any of the elusive critters on this particularly low visibility day).

After a scrumptious abalone lunch (my best friend Tom wasn’t skunked!) we lounged on the bluffs until it was time to head home. We repacked the dive gear in MyConnie’s saddlebags, traversed the harrowing dirt and gravel road, and headed back down Highway One.

On sand, it’s fine. On a curve…trouble!

Not a mile outside of the park, we came across one of those incredibly deep turns that are common on the Sonoma Coast where the road makes a big hairpin curve inland ringing a deep cove inlet. At the apex of the first hairpin south of Salt Point, there was a long blade of slippery kelp right in the middle of the road! If you’ve never tried to walk across a rocky Northern California “beach” then you don’t know what slippery means. And slipperiest of all are rocks that have kelp (seaweed) on them. I swear it is slipperier than ice, and when placed in the apex of a hairpin turn, it can be quite exciting indeed. Luckily, MyConnie and Bonnie avoided the first instance of this banana-peel-o’-the-sea but we came across a few more. It wasn’t long before we found the culprit: a pickup with a kayak on top that was shedding kelp. We passed the offender and decided to eschew River Road and continue down the coast when presented the opportunity.

Abs and Bikes…mmm, mmm good!

We took the Bodega Bay road inland towards Highway 101 and were subjected to almost uncomfortable heat which enjoying the rolling west Marin countryside. The heat was made more tolerable once we reached Highway 101 and were traveling at freeway speeds. But it turned out that the heat, and speed, would be short-lived. Once we started climbing Waldo Grade on our approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, we were once more “treated” to 50-degree blowing fog, but this time it was more like light rain accompanied by bumper-to-bumper traffic. The San Francisco Bay Area is famous for its micro-climates and today was a perfect example of that. To go from a full sweat to bone chilling cold with only 30 miles and minutes in between is definitely an experience.

One parting shot before the end of our Abalone adventure was initiated with Rich pointing wildly at MyConnie and trying to tell me something. At the next light he said, “Your fins are gone!” I was momentarily crestfallen. I’ve owned my treasured duckfeet since the 1970’s and there are irreplaceable. At the next stop light Rich flipped up his helmet and told me he saw them fall of a few blocks back. I can only imagine what was going on in the minds of the drivers who saw a man in a blue Icon motorcycling jacket walking into traffic with hands raised in a gesture for them to stop—helmet in hand—to pick up his odd-looking, brown swim fins that were laying in the roadway. Yet in the context of all other oddities available for view in San Francisco, this was just another one added to the mix.

What started out as a lively jaunt to combine two passions—motorcycling and ab diving—ended up being a significant test of endurance. Most importantly, this attempt to recapture some favorite activities of my youth proved to me that I still have the endurance and skill to pursue these passions, and more importantly, that they were every bit as much fun as I remember. This day left me energized for my next motorcycling adventure and looking forward to the next time I could stalk the wily abalone.

Epilogue: Interestingly, the terrible visibility I encountered turned out to be an ecological anomaly called a “red tide.” This explosive bloom of toxic algae ended up killing hundreds of abalone and resulted in the state of California closing down abalone season for the rest of the year. So much for retrying my luck later this fall. I’ll just have to plan a trip next Spring when the season opens up again. Maybe this time I’ll invite all of my motorcycle buddies to come along for the ride.  

Map: