Saturday, February 05, 2005

An introduction to mud

I've started doing research on cameras. I was particularly impressed by Dusty's photos, and those were taken with a Canon 500 "Sureshot".

I realized today that my home here on Sonoma Mountain provides opportunities to hone off-road riding skills. There are a number of gravel and dirt tracks that wander up the mountain, why not take advantage?

Suited up and drove slowly up the hill, first following a deeply-rutted rocky segment of road. Turned off on a dirt path that climbs another few hundred yards to our water tanks.

This path was muddy and within 100 yards, the tires were slick with impacted mud, and I could proceed no further. Trying to back down, I stuck the rear tire in a deep rut. Unbelievable. "I'm stuck a few hundred yards from my house! Without any gear on the bike. And you want to drive to Tierra del Fuego?"

Struggled to rock the bike out of its rut, stopping to catch my breath, sweat starting to run down my body. There was no choice but to turn the bike around and descend the mountain, but even this was a problem. It would require getting off and supporting the bike, while maneuvering it around. I was already fatigued. Another option was to just lay it down and rest.

I climbed off and just stood there, my body and the bike leaning into one another (and hoping no one was around to observe this scene.) At length, I was able to point the motorcycle downhill, climb aboard and carefully withdraw from the slope. I was exhausted from this silly little ordeal.

Not wishing to accept total defeat, I drove out into a squishy pasture, but kept the momentum high enough to avoid bogging down. "Okay, I'm not totally useless." Descended the rocky road again, anxiously picking a path through the obstacles. I was soon back in my driveway.

At the house, I hosed off the signs of my sad struggle, mud caked-on both bike and rider. "I'll definitely need different tires for Alaska!" (The current ones are a Dunlop dual-purpose tire.)

Decided to take a ride out to Bodega Bay for additional practice. Lots of traffic. I kept up a modest pace of 50 to 60 mph. Continued north on Highway 1 out of Bodega. "Need more practice." A stiff wind out of the northwest, but a fairly clear day. Nice riding. Crossed the Russian River and kept to the coast. North of Jenner, the road becomes more twisty, with precipitous drops to the side.

I took the curves very carefully, as I'm still learning how to handle this extremely responsive machine. It leans so easily, the balance shifting smoothly from side to side. It's almost too easy. This road is a perfect test track.

The wind turned cold and bracing, forcing me to don my electric vest. (What a luxury!) At Gualala, I pulled into a gas station to refuel. Moments later, four southbound Harley Davidsons rolled in, gleaming chrome everywhere. At first, I paid little attention to the "noisy beasts".

Three of the riders came over, intrigued by my strange-looking machine. I had to admit "I don't know my Harleys. What models are those you're driving?"

They proudly identified year, model, weight and horsepower of each. Too much information for me to grasp! They asked how many horsepower mine had. When I said "100", they were shocked. These big 1440cc bikes have about 64, they said. Back out on the road, I wondered "is it really 100?"

A little ways further, I came to the town of Pt. Arena. I was confused. I had difficulty reconciling its location. For some reason, I thought Pt. Arena was north of Mendocino. Here the wind-blasted land juts out into the Pacific. The town itself is strategically sheltered in a large ravine, stunted cypress trees lining the surrounding hilltops.

The thought of a hot coffee drew me to The Record (at the former site of the "Pt. Arena Record" newspaper.) Took a corner table, slowly sipping my coffee while soaking up every bit of ambient warmth I could. Turned out onto the road again, not far behind another rider on a BMW R1150GS.

The sky grew overcast and lowered, and I was happy to turn inland on Highway 128, seeking warmer climes. It has been years since I've driven through Anderson Valley, and I forgot what a wonderful road this is, even more so on a motorcycle. The final fifteen miles before reaching U.S. 101 are especially exciting as the road leads into a riot of great, well-engineered curves.

Back in Santa Rosa, one more coffee stop at my local hang-out, A'Roma Roasters. Finished reading Karen Larsen's Breaking the Limit. She did quite a nice job of capturing her experiences of the road.

Spoke with my brother Drew this evening. He has taken it upon himself to talk me out of traveling to Latin America. This only steels my resolve to go.

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