Californian Coast

Published: August 9th 2012
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Tuesday 24/07/12 – After feeding and talking with the cows next to our tent this morning, we headed onto another crazy freeway. We headed towards San Francisco and by the time we made it to the Golden Gate Bridge the clouds and fog had lifted and we could see all around the bay. The bridge was pretty cool to ride a bike across, it was kind of like big stacks of Lego. There wasn’t much traffic either as we planned the route so we would miss the morning rush hour. We rode across the bridge with the occasional glance at the bay, city and islands. We headed through the city, across downtown and onto the Bay Bridge which connects San Francisco to the Eastern suburbs. This bridge was two layers and went for over 7 kilometres, we were on the bottom layer which contained about 5 lanes of oneway traffic, it was a scary but exhilarating ride (I was glad when it was over!). We headed out to the Anthony Chabot Campground in Oakland that could have been any campsite in rural Australia, the whole park was full of eucalypts and smelt just like the bush back home.

As it was only lunch time, we scoffed down our standard peanut butter and jam sandwiches and jumped on a train to San Francisco. We went downtown and decided to grab an ice-cream and walk the piers. At pier 33 we managed to snaffle some extremely rare and sort after tickets to Alcatraz Island for Friday! Pier 39 (read: tourist pier) was definitely an experience! It was what I imagine Disney Land is like – there were adults walking around glassy eyed like they had just been beamed down from a UFO, 9 year olds were running riot, everything was plastic and the most glaring colours possible, you couldn’t hear each other talking or walk anywhere without stepping in spilt ice-cream or fairy floss. We tried to escape the over-stimulation induced insanity outside by slipping into a mirror maze which was basically totally empty except for Kenz and I, it was a welcome vacation from the onslaught of humanity and also quite strange to be surrounded by 20 reflections of yourself. After plucking up the courage we ventured outside and ran the gauntlet of imbeciles to the back area of the pier where the resident population of seals chill out on the floating rafts, they seemed to treat the masses of strangers gawking at them with indifference. If you ignored the smell, snorting, fighting and barking, they were quite cute.

After heading further along the piers like salmon against the tide of “I LOVE SF” shirted humans, we discovered a coin arcade museum which housed heaps of old working amusement games. After gazing nostalgically at the Daytona USA and Street Fighter II machines, we headed to another pier and went below deck on a decommissioned World War 2 submarine the USS Pampanito.
We ate dinner at the Hard Rock Café, the food was great but the service was terrible, by far the worst of any restaurant we have eaten at so far. They had the audacity to suggest an 18% tip. They didn’t get any. We caught the trains back to Oakland and rode the bikes back to the camp, Kenz thought she was being stalked by another biker as he followed us all the way back to the campground turn off and wouldn’t overtake us. Luckily he didn’t stop when we turned off, but I will still locked the tent door just in case.

Wednesday 25/07/12 – Today was a day where I spoiled my inner geek. We trained and bussed into Golden Gate Park to the Academy of Sciences where I spent the next 6 hours getting my mind expanded by all the exhibits they had. I have been to a few of these types of places (museums, aquariums, etc…) but this was by far the best I have been too. It was a great educational facility with the displays and exhibits not just there to distract you while they beat all the money they can get out of you, but explained a lot of broad scientific concepts and ideas in everyday language. They had a 4 level ‘living’ tropical rainforest with birds and butterflies freely flying around. It had sections dedicated to the forests of Costa Rica, Borneo, Madagascar and The Amazon. It had a fresh water aquarium including a swamp that had an albino crocodile called Claude and many different pythons; two saltwater aquariums representing the tropical reefs of the Caribbean and the Philippines (explaining how and why they are different). It had a great display on Evolution summarising Charles Darwin’s voyage (and the Academy’s later voyages) to the Galapagos Islands; it also had demonstrations looking at how evolution has led to the diverse flora and fauna seen in Madagascar, and how humans evolved and spread out of Africa. To top it all off, they had a planetarium and some 29 day old Ostriches! My brain was full after about 3 hours, but I couldn’t possibly leave until I had seen everything.

We headed back out of town and decided to eat dinner in the restaurant strip of the local neighbourhood. By restaurant strip I mean the block with a McDonalds at each end and Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, Burger King, KFC and Starbucks in-between. It also turned out to be the Black and Latino suburb, so at this time of the evening it really came alive. We were definitely fish out of water being the only white people for at least 20 miles, we got a few glances and strange looks but the people were mostly pretty friendly. We did hear what sounded like gunshots at one point, I’m kinda certain it was just a car backfiring in rapid succession but when you’re in a place like this you can never be sure. We left the restaurant, made our way past the working girls in the McDonalds carpark and headed home.

Thursday 26/07/12 – We dropped the bikes off at Fremont Kawasaki for a quick service. The guys here were awesome, not only did they managed to squeeze us in at short notice, but they even dropped us off and picked us up from the train station so we could spend the day in the city. We went on an extended cruise around the San Francisco Bay area including a loop from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge and around Alcatraz Island. The weather was so nice that we even got a little sunburnt. We ate lunch at Boudin Bakery where they serve soup in a hollowed out sourdough bread roll and then to a local handmade chocolate shop and spent way too much money on way too much chocolate.
We caught the train back out of town and picked up the bikes, Kenz needed new front brake pads as she doesn’t really know what back brakes are for. After much pleading and gnashing of teeth, the ranger at the campground ranger managed to squeeze us into a new campsite for the next two nights; we picked up the tent and walked it to the new site.

Friday 27/07012 – After an early start where we almost ran over a very casual opossum and her 6 babies that were hitching a ride on her back, we headed into town for our tour of Alcatraz. The ferry ride out was fairly uneventful however the island was covered in spooky mist which gave the island an even more sinister and foreboding appearance. The island is quite well managed by the parks department; the number of tourists allowed on the island is limited so that we are not all climbing over each other. The island has a rich history as it was the most dreaded maximum security prison in North America, as well as a military base for the United States. After the prison had shut down, a small group of Native Americans inhabited the island demanding fairness and respect for Indian peoples. We did a one hour audio tour of the cell blocks that was spoken by ex-inmates and prison wardens/guards. It was a fascinating insight into the daily lives of people on the island. They all had stories about some of the more notorious prisoners that were held here including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun Kelly”, Roy Gardner, Henri Young, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and Robert “Birdman” Stroud. There were even a few escape attempts however none were believed successful. The most famous was when 3 men made fake heads out of wax, glue and hair, dug out of their cells using metal spoons, climbed up to the top of the cell block, snuck down to the shoreline, made a raft out of glue and rain jackets, and attempted to paddle to the mainland. They were never seen again and are believed dead, however one of the men’s family members has apparently been receiving detailed letters from a man in Mexico claiming to be the relative that escaped Alcatraz!

After returning to the mainland we had a quick lunch at Subway. If you work at Subway here’s a tip for you: Don’t run into the toilets and vomit everywhere then walk back out and keep making sandwiches; it’s not a good look…

We went on a bus tour around city to see some more of the sites. Now I am no psychiatrist, but I do own a couch and know a nut when I see one, I have no doubt that our bus driver was crazy. He was an anti-establishment hippie who went to San Francisco with the movement back in the late 60’s and never left. Despite this (or maybe because of this) he was an excellent and very entertaining tour guide with lots of local knowledge. He took us to all the sights including Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Barracks, San Francisco Park and China Town. He also took us down Haight Street which is a pretty wild place. At one point he pointed out a legal marijuana store that was next to a transvestite/transgender night club that was next to a fire station, pointing out that all that was missing was the police station!

We headed back to the camp to find that the two sights next us had been taken over by a large black family. They were incredibly loud but hilarious. I spent about an hour lying in bed listening to their conversation before falling asleep: “Telisha, we is campin’!!” and “Le-Ron, come and break bread with yo’ brotha” etc…

Saturday 28/07/12 – We left San Francisco and headed towards Monterey. The MotoGP was on the following day in Monterey so the traffic was horrible. There were so many bike riders around that my hand got tired from all the waving. We went through Monterey as quick as possible and jumped on Highway 1 which follows the coast. It was an amazing ride as it winds around the coast, sometimes high up on cliff tops and sometimes right down almost on the water. Unfortunately being a Saturday and the GP being nearby we kept getting knocked back at campgrounds that were totally booked out. We eventually found a campsite which had a large communal camping area on which we could (barely) fit our tent. We were happy for the site however it was like circus in there with kids riding bikes, playing baseball, running around like lunatics…

Sunday 29/07/12 – Our peaceful morning rest was destroyed by the campground host yelling and shaking all the tents this morning. Apparently no other campers had paid their $10 fee and she was on the war path. We packed up and left before the scene got out of hand (yes, we had already paid!), and headed back onto the scenic Highway 1. We made good time until we hit Santa Barbara where the traffic became really thick. We found out that there was an accident on the road about 100 kms ahead which had caused some lanes to close. We stopped for an extended lunch whilst waiting for the traffic to clear and then rode the rest of the way to the city of Malibu, just north of Los Angeles.

Monday 30/07/12 – We woke up to the beautiful scenic Malibu this morning; there was beautiful sun, beaches and palm trees – everything that we had expected California to be. We caught a bus into Santa Monica (spotting dolphins along the way) and went to the famous Santa Monica Pier which is the end of Route 66. Despite the water being pretty cool the beaches are quite beautiful. I decided to lie on the beach and read whilst watching the strange people walking around; Kenz decided to get sunburnt. We walked along the shopping district and went to see the new Batman movie, the cinema’s aircon a welcome relief from the heat.

Tuesday 31/07/12 – Today we went on a LA bus tour with another crazy tour guide. He delighted in pointing out many sites, such as where Mel Gibson got pissed before he got arrested for drunk driving and his infamous rant about Jewish people. We travelled around many of LA’s western suburbs such as Malibu, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Hollywood. We saw many of the sites such as the Hollywood sign, Hollywood walk of fame, Sunset Boulevard and Rodeo Drive; however my favourite part of the day was seeing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s fence because all these idiots on the bus gasped with delight whilst eagerly snapping photos – I was absolutely speechless!! Actually the real highlight of the day was visiting the Griffith Observatory that overlooks LA. Hollywood was a touristy hole, with people trying to sell you all sorts of crap, so we were glad we were camped back in Malibu. We had a nice lunch at the local farmer’s market, where Kenz had gumbo (a chicken and shrimp stew common in the Southern states) and I had a lasagne.

Wednesday 01/08/12 – We prepared to leave Malibu campground today. They had signs up everywhere warning campers about the large population of Rattlesnakes in the area; and when I pulled on my motorbike pants (which I leave outside under the tent vestibule each night), a large lizard dropped out onto my bare foot! After changing my underwear and waiting for my heart to return to normal, we left Malibu via the outskirts of LA and started heading eastward into the California desert. Despite Kenz making many good arguments against crossing Death Valley due to the heat, I refused to listen and stubbornly declined to turn back. Maybe I should have listened to her… We spent around 5 hours riding our bikes through 47 degree heat in the desert with no trees or other vegetation for shade. It’s hard to explain what the ride was like, Kenz explains it as being fully clothed with a bike helmet on in a sauna with a fan blowing the hot air on you; it reminded me of standing as close as possible to an open fire for 5 hours straight. There was a Ranger station about halfway across the desert which was air conditioned, so we stopped there to temporarily recover. She was a nice lady but she told us to be careful as they “lose” quite a few bikers on this road each year. We aren’t really sure where they lose them… We continued on for another few hours before Kenz started to feel really sick and became dizzy; luckily we came to a hotel on the edge of the desert which had some sparse trees for shade. We stopped here for a while and drank as much water as possible until Kenz felt a little better (at one point she was contemplating riding along in just her bra!). Luckily we only had about 60 kms to go which we managed to do without incident. It was an intensely gruelling day and we were glad when it was over, although it did fill us with a sense of accomplishment that we actually did it! It was a very spectacular ride with incredible desert scenery such as vast sand dunes, sparse plains and incredible craggy mountain peaks; we also descended to an elevation of 72 metres below sea level!

We pulled into a town called Pahrump and set up camp in a dodgy looking trailer park, luckily the weather was a little more manageable here – probably only around 40 degrees! We were too exhausted to make our own dinner so we went to Denny’s and shared a bowl of strawberries, grapes and apples, it was so refreshing. The locals here seem a little different to what we have encountered before, there’s alot of mullets, UFC and wrestling shirts, ugly tattoos, and republicans here.

Kenz went to the bathroom once we returned to the camp; I heard her scream and ran into the bathroom to see a giant spider scurry away. Apparently she must have walked through its web (there are lots of webs in the grass here) and it crawled up her leg and onto her hip. I’m not sure which are scarier, the local spiders or the local people…

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9th August 2012

Nice ride
Glad you two are doing well. Sure enjoying the blog.

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