The highs and lows of riding the hills north of San Francisco (BC to Baja 6)

It was a beautiful, crisp, extremely cold morning as we left Fort Bragg. We left early, hoping to get a head start on the ride to San Francisco and arrive in time to meet up with friends for dinner.

As it turned out, today was hard going. I was emotional, tired, hungry, extremely cold, and becoming somewhat overwhelmed with what we’ve done so far. This was our seventh day on the road, riding, traveling, being away from home, it’s all so new to me. 

Leaving each morning and not knowing where we’re going to end up that day is stressful. How far will we get today? Where will we sleep tonight? Dealing with the uncertainty will take time and I’m not there yet. 

I’m still new to motorcycling and constantly refining my riding skills on the road; cornering, traffic, high speeds, knowing which parts of the road are grippy or slippery, dealing with my riding gear. I’m learning fast but learning is tiring and the combination of it all is pushing my limits today. I’m stressed.

We were not making good progress with the stresses slowing us down. Getting to San Francisco to meet our friends seems more and more unlikely as the minutes pass, and the fact we’ve given ourselves a deadline for the first time on this trip only adds to the stress levels. Oh, and to top it off, I’ve ripped my riding jacket and dropped my bike! 

It just wasn’t my day!

Pulling over the motorcycle to take a break with a view of the Pacific ocean
One of the many stops we had today. I was challenged and as a result, I was fighting what felt like a never-ending struggle
Vapour hood on California's gasoliine nozzles makes fuelling up a adventure motorcycle difficult
California’s gas nozzles have ‘vapor recovery hoods’ on them. Filling up your motorcycle tank now takes three hands, one to hold up the gasoline tube, the second to pull back the nozzle’s foreskin and yet another to pull and hold the lever. Painful

The road north of San Francisco turns into Highway 1. If you haven’t ridden it, you need to. It’s an oceanside road right on the cliffs. The coastline here is full of streams, rocks, and bluffs making an irregular shape, resulting in a road that constantly twists and turns its way along the waterfront. I don’t mean gently either, carry just a little speed and it’s actually a technical ride. You need to bank the bike fully over from left to right, at angles a shorter bike than the KTM 1090 Adventure would grind its footpegs on, to traverse hairpin bends that fall away, then climb sharply, all within the same corner. This is fun!

The concentration it took for us to complete the final 100 miles to San Francisco made the worries of earlier fade away and before we knew it we were heading down the hills north of San Francisco, and over the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Our motorcycle adventure has reached the golden gate bridge
Another 'level up' achieved, we've reached Gold (-en gate bridge)
Freshening up from a long day on the motorcycle
Brushing away the helmet hair and a quick freshen up before seeing my friend

Helmet hair is a constant battle for me, much less so for Neil. But I’m meeting my friend for dinner and I’ve got a terrible case of it, plus I’ve been crying in my helmet at times today, so you can imagine what my face looks like. 

So while Neil was taking pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge I took a minute to quickly freshen up before meeting up with my long-time friend, Lisa.

We found Lisa’s workplace right on the harbour front. We walked in and almost took each other out with the biggest hugs, tears, and smiles, it was a very happy moment. Our attention quickly turned to food as our bellies screamed out, so Lisa took us on a touristy walk along the harbor in search of dinner.

We're both so happy to finally meet our faces stuck together
We're both so happy to finally meet our faces stuck together
Bear back riding on the San Francisco waterfront
Bear back riding on the San Francisco waterfront

We selected ‘Coippinos’ somewhat arbitrarily from the dozens of amazing food choices Lisa suggested. We sat on the patio with drinks and snacked on their house sourdough waiting for Lisa’s family joining us for dinner. 

I’ve known Lisa for 7 years and this is the first time we’ve met. She and I are members of a Mom group where all the women were pregnant at the same time, and due in June of 2013. The group started with about 300 people but over the years it dwindled down to about 30 extremely close friends from all over North America.

So whenever an opportunity arises for us to meet, we will. I’m from Canada, and most of the moms are from the US, so Lisa is the first I’ve been able to meet in person. Clearly I don’t travel enough, but that’s changing. 

Greg, Lisa’s husband, and one of their five children arrived and so we all ordered some pretty amazing seafood, pizza, and pasta dishes.

Greg and Lisa treated us to dinner, an amazing surprise, and off we went to explore San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. During our walk, we came across a fudge place called ‘Fudge and Fun’. Neil says “I see the fudge, what’s the ‘fun’ part”? I assumed eating fudge was the fun part, but apparently not. We asked the young woman serving us about the ‘fun’ and she told us, with a very unenthusiastic tone, “we sing songs about fudge, and stuff” needless to say, we didn’t make her sing to us.

So cute, you almost don’t want to eat them, almost

While walking and nibbling our super sweet ‘fun’ we turned a corner on the pier into a cacophony of grunts, coughs and growls, like a thousand grumpy old men arguing and clearing their throats in the dark, we saw more than a hundred Sea Lions laying on half a dozen floating docks that clearly ‘used’ to be part of the Marina. The sea lions had completely taken over this outer part of the Marina and while half of them were sleeping, the other half were fighting and arguing over one empty wooden dock.

It seemed the sea lions just moved in one day, and it’s hard to argue with a hoard of angry water dogs that weigh more than 500 lbs each. The city couldn’t control it, and eventually relinquished this section of Pier 39 to them, rent-free. the sea lions were quite a sight to see as they slept and grunted and fought with each other of territory. It was unreal, and one of the highlights of this trip.

Our night was getting old, we were exhausted and our own tired yawns and grunts were becoming as loud as our water friends and so we said goodnight to Lisa and her family and headed for our beds.

Our twisty ride south along the number 1 highway from Fort Bragg to San Francisco was full of challenges, lessons, and wonderful moments, it’s one I’ll always cherish. 

Stage 6. Fort Bragg, California (CA) to San Francisco, California (CA). Stage total: 178 miles, ride total: 1092 miles
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  1. Carol

    Enjoyed reading this post, I could feel your anxiety Karen, and your joy at finally meeting your online friend! Great writing.

  2. Christine

    You will get used to the California gas nozzles eventually… I’m down to 2 hands 😂

    • Neil Edwards

      Christine, we’re also now down to two hands by slinging the weight of the pump over a shoulder. It’s a curious safety ‘improvement’ to protect a few special people from themselves.

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