7 o’clock in the morning, the sun hasn’t even risen and while a fresh breeze from the Pacific Ozean is sweeping the low lying fog from the fields around me, I am cruising down Highway 1 from San Simeon towards Big Sur with 2 cylinders of Milwaukee steel hammering away like a steady heartbeat underneath the seat of my Harley Davidson……is this for real?…….
It all started 3 weeks earlier while I was still working in Sweden……
When an unexpected change of shifts on a Monday morning meant that I had a whole day off, I made use of the spare time by exploring more of Sundsvall. While driving down the road pass the local aluminium smelter, I came across a Harley Davidson store and an idea started to take shape.
A couple of days earlier I had found out that the next stop on the Blue Vet’s travel itinerary would be Northern California and with that came the opportunity not only to drive along the epic Pacific Highway 1, but to do so in style on probably the most iconic brand of American motorbikes.
A small draw back though was, that I don’t own a bike, that I had never ridden a Harley Davidson and that the last time I sat on a motorbike was more than 10 years ago when in a similar act of mild madness I rented an enduro bike to drive for a day along the Panamericana in Peru (and lived to tell the tale…..just…..).
Following a brief stop in Munich and in Belgium, I was on a plane again and the only equipment I had for this undertaking were a pair of leather gloves (not the proper motorcycle ones….), my trusted hiking boots (they had to be good enough for this job as well….) and my mobile phone.
The latter was rather important because it turned out that renting a motorbike from a private owner is in fact not too difficult by using dedicated websites like “Riders Share” or “Twisted Road”. A few identity checks and proof of a valid motorbike license later, you can choose between a humble Vespa and a 1800 cc Honda Goldwing (or even larger bikes…..).
Utilizing the wonders of the internet, I not only succeeded in securing the set of wheels I was looking for in the South of San Jose, I also struck lucky at a local Goodwill store with an absolutely brilliant Bomber jacket and a solid pair of trousers for a grant total of $16 (not including the bike….) !
As Lewis – the owner of the bike – was kind enough to throw into the bargain his helmet for the ride, I was now all set for the next adventure!
The following day, having signed my will and taken out all sorts of insurance cover I was standing in front of a Harley Davidson Sportster Iron 883.
A few You Tube videos had informed me that this was a fairly basic and easy rideable member of the HD family, with more than 60 years of model history and with the unmistakable deep thudding engine sound. The downsides of this beast – as I soon found out – were the small tank, the poor suspension, the limited race-ability and the very spartan seat.
As one of the many gas station owners I later met told me : ” Riding a Harley is not so much about the ride but about the attitude!….”
Enhancing these shortcomings (and not mentioned in the You Tube clips….) was the terrible road surface of the American Freeways which made me seriously question my sanity on the journey down South pass Santa Cruz to Monterey. While feeling every bump in the road, I had to hang on to the handlebars for dear life while not exceeding much more than 50 miles an hour.
A well deserved coffee break in the sunshine of peaceful and laid back Carmel restored me to some extend and now the whole trip seemed to change at an instant: as Highway 1 turned from double to single lanes and the road became more twisted, the whole traffic slowed down and miraculously even the surface became much more even and well maintained.
This truly was what I had come for and while one dramatic piece of coastline followed the next, the movement and the sound of the bike came into their own and at last I started to enjoy the ride.
Leaving the well maintained properties of Carmel Highlands behind me, I soon crossed iconic Rocky Creek Bridge
and headed along an empty road towards the lush forest of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Here I was smart enough to refill the tank, as the coast became now even more deserted and dramatic with only a few houses at Lucia and at the Whale Watching Point at Gorda.
Finally – putting the acceleration and the breaks of the bike to good use – I scaled Ragged Point and finally cruised down the long straight road, stopping just briefly to see for the first time in my life an elephant seal,
before arriving in San Simeon for a warm shower and a hot meal after 190 at times draining, but all together thoroughly enjoyable miles.
The next day was then far more manageable with a very relaxed ride, with bright sunshine and a blue sky to “The Rock” and to the tranquil setting of Morro Bay.
By now the Sportster and I had started to understand each other and while having decided to leave Santa Barbara and the deeper South for another day, the journey back North along smaller country lanes pass the never-ending fields of Salinas, the Sea Otter Colony at Moss Landing and finally the crossing of Hecker Pass with it’s vineyards South of San Jose finished a great American road trip, which had started at a motorbike dealership on the shores of the Baltic Sea.
That is a beautiful area, and it has been a long time since I have been down that way. The Pacific Coast is a beautiful drive, all the way up through Oregon to the Columbia River. From there, east along the Columbia River Gorge is a good scenic trip.
If you get back here again, and like drives through the forest, there is the Avenue of the Giants in northern California you might want to visit. The Mount Shasta area is also very beautiful.
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