Pacific Coast Highway|Northern California Motorcycle Ride

Michael McDermott on La Gloria Road where it meets Highway 25.A damn good and affordable breakfast got us ready for the road. We leave the town of Greenfield heading north on Highway 101. Motorcycle trips are filled with opportunities to adjust plans. The landslide on Highway 1 and our inability to find the detour through Fort Hunter Liggett created such an opportunity. We had lost a bit of time and decided to ride north into San Francisco to make time for Progentra.

The map showed that the Pinnacles National Monument in the near distance. A few miles north of Soledad and about 15 miles south of Salinas, we turn off Highway 101 onto Gloria Road. The narrow paved road first winds along heavily watered and worked crop fields. Before long, the pavement ends and the dirt portion of Gloria Road climbs fast. Views of the Salinas Valley and the many fields of grapes fill the vista to the brim beyond the cliffs that butt against the road. Now called La Gloria Road, there is a pitch toward the right, into the hillside. This causes the rainfall to rush down the right side of the roads. A wide and deep ditch runs on the right to manage this water flow. To the left of the dirt roads are cliffs.

The Pinnacles National Monument is the eroded leftovers of an extinct volcano.This is a fun road, but certainly not one for breaking tires loose in power slides. The ground squirrels and lizards constantly scramble inches from the front wheel. Before dashing into burrows and grass on the other side of the road. Everything joins together for one of those special motorcycle moments.

La Gloria Road joins with State Route 25 which takes us south to the Pinnacles National Monument. The decision to ride out to the Pinnacles led us down a fantastic dirt road along the paved Highway 25 with nice sweepers to bring us to the east entrance of the park. After paying to enter the park, it only takes a couple minutes to ride to the end of the road. The Pinnacles National Monument is what remains of an eroded volcano. The area is very popular with rock climbers seeking very technical rock faces to belay and nudge their way to the top. For us on our motorcycles, the east entrance didn’t allow us to see much from the seat of our bikes. It was rather unmoving. It seems that he west entrance holds the better views of the Pinnacles Monument.

No worries, we still get to ride Highway 25 again on our route into San Francisco. Eventually we connect with US 101, which takes us through the city and across the fog-shrouded passage of the Golden Gate.

Golden Gate Bridge fades into fog.The Golden Gate Bridge is not named for its color, no sir, it is named for the water gateway below that leads to the protected water of the San Francisco Bay. The tall pillars climb into the low clouds for which the Bay area is known. Looking up at the pillars as you ride under them makes each one seem to move. We crawl along with traffic, barely faster than the other tourists walking along the bridge. As we move, each pillar stands up tall into the clouds.

When the bridge meets the land of the Marin Peninsula on the north side of the bay, we find our way onto Highway 1. Traffic immediately lightens up and we trace the mountain side to the coast.

The Pacific Coast Highway north of San Francisco is a true delight for motorcyclists. In all reality, the BMW R1200 GS motorcycles from MotoQuest are perfect for the PCH.

Keeping the boxer engine in the mid range of RPMs allows engine braking to slow for each corner. The clearance of the bikes allows steep angles at the apex of the turns. Then the intoxicating power as your roll on the throttle picks the bike up for the straightaway. There is just enough time between corners to focus on the incredible coastal views before preparing for the next tight corner. All the while the BMWs suspension soaks up the numerous imperfections of a road under constant assault from the barrage of rocks that fall from the hills. Be ready for the debris in the corners. Don’t push it too hard until a good sight line allows it.

Coastal Highway winds upon itself along Northern California coastline.We probably should have stopped more for photos along the NorCal portion of the PCH. The sheer joy of the hours of constant cornering took over and photos were shot by Monica while dad and I kept the wheels turning and the bike swaying from coast to land and back to coast. this is truly a road to mark off the bucket list.

Monica and I took an anniversary trip along this portion of the PCH several yeas ago. The rental car was fun, but didn’t do it justice. If the PCH is “too far” for you to ride to it, then rent a bike and make a memory.

The sun sets and we were too into the groove to notice. We were lucky to find an exceptional room at the Jenner Inn in the small township of Jenner, California. The room had a window that looked out over a small bay. For $145 per night we had a queen bed, a day bed and a hide-a-bed in our room. The morning breakfast and coffee included in the price of the room makes the price quite affordable.

The next day started out the same way it ended the day before. Twisty roads and the rising sun warmed up us the bikes’ tires. It was just the way that us motorcyclists like to warm the soul.

Fuel for both us and the bikes was needed as we rode into Fort Bragg. North Coast Brewing was the ticket to happy taste buds. One would be missing out on a joy in life if they passed through Fort Bragg without sampling North Coast’s fine micro brews. Of course, this being a midday stop, we sampled and then walked the town a while to let everything settle. The town has a few nice galleries and retail shops.

After leaving Fort Bragg, Highway 1 jumps over the coastal range, climbing to 4,000 feet and then connects with the much wider and less exciting Highway 101 in Leggett, California. The Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree, one of the famous tourist traps of the Redwood National Forest, is just a mile from the intersection of Highway 1 and 101. It is worth the $5 to check out the drive-thru tree as there aren’t too many trees grow large enough to put a driveway through them. The gift shop isn’t anything special.

Monica holds up giant (dead) Sequoia along Avenue of the Giants.Highway 101 takes us north 30 miles to Avenue of the Giants (State Route 254) which runs through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The scenic road winds along the Eel River and passes under incredible groves of immense trees. The vast amount of wood in each tree along Avenue of the Giants is something to see. Riding through the area and learning how little is preserved is both educational and sad. It required several groups and many attempts to save the more than 50,000 acres of these majestic trees. The Sequoia grow to nearly 300 feet height. The tallest of which is the Stratosphere Giant measuring 371 feet tall. There just isn’t anything like it that makes man feel so small under the canopy of Mother Nature’s grandeur.

After Avenue of the Giants, chimney Tree, Immortal tree and House Tree we ride into Eureka, California find a room and unpack the bikes.

The California portion of our trip is mostly complete. Tomorrow we ride into Oregon.


This article is part of a series chronicling a father, son and wife motorcycle adventure along the Pacific Coast Highway from Long Beach, California to Seattle, Washington. Sean McDermott and his father, Michael, rented BMW R1200GS motorcycles from MotoQuest Tours, which recently began offering one-way rentals. Contact them and make your dream trip happen.

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