Sunday, March 1, 2009

Escape from San Francisco

On Monday, I departed DC for Atlanta, San Francisco, and then back to Atlanta for a series of very interesting planning or advisory meetings at CDC and UCSF, and a weekend conference in Buckhead, GA. The lowlight of the trip was leaving town still feverish from a nasty flu that later bloomed into the single worst sore throat in the entire recorded history of Andrew Forsyths everywhere.

But here was the trip's clear high point: After taking a number of conference calls on Thursday, I decided to take my weekend early and rented a BMW R1200GS from a local moto rental shop for a quick, nostalgic tour of the Bay Area (By the way, if said moto shop decided to donate to my ride, I'd happily add its link and list it in my donor hall of fame. I'm just saying...). Plotting a course through my old stomping grounds, I eagerly suited up and set off. Destination: Santa Cruz, about 80 miles south as the crow flies.

After several straight days of rain, the weather on Thursday afternoon was perfect: low/mid-60s and cloudless, blue sky. I followed the first waypoint to Pacifica to visit a surfing beach I used to frequent, and then followed the rugged coastline along Montara, Moss Beach, and Half Moon Bay.

From there, I turned inland on Rte 92 and climbed ~1500 feet, heading south on Rt. 35 Skyline Drive, which weaves along the western ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains from one end of the South Bay to the other. It rises and falls another 500 ft along the way. By the time I had reached the turn for Skyline Drive, the bike's onboard computer had registered a 10-degree drop in air temperature. A dense fog shrouded the deserted two-lane road. I switched on the heated grips to the low setting and began clicking through the bike's 6-speed transmission.

The rest of the trip will simply go down as the single best section of riding of my life. Although I was only 60 miles from Santa Cruz, getting there took 3 hours. The switchbacks, some of which required downshifting all the way to first gear, and the tightly twisting roads I selected led past Alice's Restaurant in Skylonda and mountain-biking mecca, Skeggs Point. After switching to Rt 9, I made my way to a rest stop among the 2000-year old, massive redwood trees in Big Basin State Park, where I found myself panting excitedly as I climbed off the bike for a rest stop. It might have been the altitude. But I doubt it.

Keeping the motor in its sweet spot of 3k – 5k RPMs, I cruised briskly through the sleepy hillside communities of Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond, the engine whirring quietly beneath me like a sewing machine (I'll never understand the appeal of Harley Davidsons, whose exhausts are engineered purposefully to loosen riders' and others' fillings). In some sections, the road narrowed so much that it dispensed with centerlines altogether. I kept a sharp eye out for the namesakes of the UC Santa Cruz mascot, which would have served as rather slippery speed bumps, had I hit one.

I arrived in Santa Cruz just as the sun was starting to set, and visited two favorite surfing spots at Steamer Lane and Cowell's. The locals were being treated to clean, 2 – 6 foot sets with nice, open faces. A sea lion surfaced near the impact zone, as if to watch the action from the front row. Predictably, the low tide conditions at Cowell's gave rise to long, right-handed, "party" waves wide enough for 20+ people to surf at the same time without the risk of bowling each other over. For once, I felt no urge to suit up, jump into the 50-degree brine, and paddle out to the lineup. I clicked the bike into gear, and headed out.

After coffee and a pit stop for the bike, I proceeded over the mountain on Rt. 17 and into Silicon Valley, where I visited our former Sunnyvale townhouse, and followed the backroads through Mountain View, Palo Alto, Hillsdale, and San Mateo. I joined Rt 101 just south of SFO for the final leg back to the city.

I closed the parking garage that night, and was nearly the first to enter the next morning. After giving up on last minute plans to meet up with my sister for breakfast, who I'd learned just arrived in Oakland to visit friends, I rode a quick, early tour of Chinatown, Russian Hill, Little Italy, Coit Tower, the Marina, Fisherman's Wharf, the Presidio, and a healthy portion of the 49 Mile Scenic Drive. I returned the moto with 300 more miles on the clock than it had the day before. Both the bike and I would have happily continued on, perhaps over the Golden Gate, up to Mt. Tam, through Mill Valley, San Rafael, and out to Point Reyes Lighthouse.

But I had a plane to catch.


Elizabeth said...

Ahhh, it brings back sweet memories of the Bay Area (although never from the front (or back!) of a motorcycle). Pretty cool trip you went on there!

Andrew Forsyth said...

I wish you'd been there. You'd have loved it, especially seeing all of the places we used to go!

Lynn said...

Okay, reading this was like a knife in the heart, I so wanted to be you! I have traveled many of these same roads, some on a bike. And yes, I was always so fond of the noise my R850R made too...I didn't think of it as a sewing machine as much as a "chortling." I'm so glad you got to take this trip!!!

Andrew said...

It was a blast, Lynn. Didn't you write about that section of road once? You should send me the link!

True, my 97' RS chortles. But the new hexagonal, dual-spark boxer engines, those puppies are a different story. Check the ZA ad I posted a week or two ago. In it, a GS cranks up and whizzes past the camera.

Not quite the silky smooth sound of new K-engines, but ... need to get your thimbles out. It's just a new boxer passing by.