Friday, May 16, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 9: Los Angeles, CA - San Francisco, CA. Friday, May 16, 2014

     Traffic, Traffic, Traffic. I thought even though it was about 9 or 10 am before I hit the road that I would avoid rush hour traffic. But in LA, rush hour traffic lasts all day, and LA is the most congested city in the United States. My GPS told me I would reach the other side of LA to Route 1 in 3 hours. My time is precious, and this was unacceptable if I wanted to get to San Francisco 500 miles away. I started riding more aggressively; changing lanes often and weaving through traffic. However, traffic was still at a crawl. Then I saw another motorcyclist lane sharing, and it was at that moment that I realized I was in California, where lane sharing is legal.

     For those who are unfamiliar with lane sharing, lane sharing is the dangerous act of passing cars between two lanes of traffic. In any other place in America, I wouldn’t have done this, but I cannot describe just how bad the traffic was. I was passing between stopped cars at 40 mph with just inches of clearance on either side. If a car was pulled out too far for me to lane share, I would pull up behind him and pass from the other side. I wouldn’t lane share if there was any doubt as to whether I could pass. A good combination of lane sharing and traffic weaving got me to the other side of LA in heavy traffic in about 30 minutes.

     I made it to the southern end of Route 1 and parked my bike at a park that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. It was here that I saw the west coast for the first time.

My first view of the west coast

     Route 1 was supposed to be one of the most beautiful roads in the country. No. It was the most beautiful road in the country. Lots of small shops ran along the road until it was just the coast and fresh air. Hugging the very edge of the country, this road went on for hundreds of miles. I pulled off to the side of the road just after reaching Malibu to get to a coastal access point. I walked down the steep steps by the side of the road until I reached the beach floor which was nothing but large pebbles.

     It took me twenty feet to reach the water. I didn’t just touch the water. I let it soak me up to my knees as the waves pushed in. I knew my boots would still be soaked by the end of the day, but I didn’t care. I went up the steep cliff again, got back on my bike, and followed Route 1 for another hundred miles

     Unfortunately, I had to leave the Pacific Coast Highway for a more direct route on 101 because it was starting to get late. I would see the rest of the road on my way back from San Francisco. 101 took me through wine country, and it turned out to be a nice passage to San Francisco. Even though I wasn’t on Route 1, the view was still fantastic. I stopped halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco at a rest stop and talked to some Mexican bikers. Only one of them spoke English, and they were trying to figure out if they should head north or south to get on the Pacific Coast Highway to get to San Francisco. I told them that if they went north, they would almost be in San Francisco by the time they reached the highway, so they should head south for 30 miles before taking a back road to Route 1. I had a short Gatorade break and carried on.

     I pulled into a gas station about 175 miles from San Francisco. It was here that I met two members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. Like everyone else, I struck up a conversation with them. They were riding from Utah on a scenic route to Phoenix. It seemed kind of strange that they were this far west, even with the snow in the Rockies. One of the Angels was interested in my bike. He said a friend of his had an old CB750 “four-banger” like mine. We didn’t talk for too long and wished each other good luck before heading in opposite directions.

     I was about 50 miles outside of San Francisco when I made my last stop for gas at a Chevron station. I saw a beggar just outside the front door selling flower pens for a dollar, but he looked strangely clean. After filling my tank, I parked my bike to let it cool. I asked him about his story. He said he was from Idaho and did roofing for a living. A friend hooked him up with a guy who had a big project in California. Unfortunately, when it came time to receive pay, the guy ditched him and left him in the middle of California with no money. It sounded like a story straight out of Casablanca. I was feeling really good at that point, as I was about to complete the largest feat of my life. With very little thought whatsoever, I offered to fill up his tank.

     His eyes lit up, and he asked if I was being serious. I said I was, and to pull his car over to a pump. As I was filling his car up with gas, he introduced himself. "Phil". Sure enough, his beat up old green Dodge Neon had Idaho plates. He asked me if I wanted any marijuana. I told him I couldn't risk taking drugs on a bike. We then told each other good luck and he sped off north on 101. Maybe he was telling the truth, maybe he wasn't, but I didn't care at that point. I felt good, and that was all that mattered.

     It was dark by the time I reached San Francisco’s city limits, even though I took 101. I was on the highway, and I got a moment’s glimpse of the city from above before I passed into it. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Thousands of lights illuminated the streets and buildings below, and it covered the land as far as the eye could see. I was so overcome with joy that I started crying. My tears made it hard to see, but I wiped my eyes as I went downhill. When I got just outside the hotel, I called my family: my sister, father, and mother. It was the biggest accomplishment of my life. Most people I called didn’t answer, since it was 1 am Ohio time. I hugged my motorcycle, and checked into the hotel. They only had a room for one night, so I would have to find another hotel tomorrow. Worked for me.

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