Note: I am a decent photographer. I am a decent rider. I am terrible at stopping to take pictures while on a ride. As I wrote this post, I realized it was going to end up long and that pictures would definitely add something. Because I didn’t take even a single picture, I decided to use screenshots exclusively from Google Earth. Cheating, I know. Try to enjoy anyway.
A few years ago I rode the Ortega Highway from Palm Springs to San Juan Capistrano. I didn’t know it at the time, but when planning later rides I realized that I rode Highway 74 over its entire length.
The concept of riding a road from beginning to end is, I think, pretty cool. I like to know that I covered every mile available on a finite stretch of road. I wonder how many people have travelled the 10 freeway from beginning to end, or the 40, or the Northern Highway 2. I have looked and begun planning a number of rides that will start and end at the highway terminus.
Highway 78 spans about 220 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Oceanside to its end at the 10 freeway just west of Blythe, at the border of California and Arizona. The stretch between Oceanside and Escondido is a boring 4 lane freeway typical of many in Southern California. From Escondido it shrinks to two lanes and stays so for most of the remainder of the trip. It winds through the mountains to Julian and then straightens as it passes through arid Ocotillo Wells. Near the Salton Sea it briefly joins Highway 86 and picks up another lane in each direction. East of the Salton Sea 78 continues with two lanes and winds through agricultural areas, the Glamis Dunes, more rocky desert, and finally more green agriculture afforded by the close proximity to the Colorado River.
I spent four years between the ages of 13 and 17 living in Oceanside, CA. It was a great place to be during that time of my life and I seem to head that direction when I go for rides without a lot of pre-planning. It’s because of this that the ride from my house in Westminster to Oceanside was very familiar. I did make one stop to adjust the shield on the Goldwing but it consisted mainly of cruise-controlled speed at a constant rate through San Clemente, Camp Pendleton and finally Oceanside.
Just before the Oceanside/Carlsbad border, I exited the 5 freeway. The changeover has two dedicated lanes for the 78 so I transitioned onto the 78 without a stop. This part of the ride was the one I least looked forward to as the four lane section of road between Oceanside and Escondido has the potential to back up for no reason even at odd hours. Fortunately, traffic was light. I only spent a short time riding before the four lanes ended in downtown Escondido.
Highway 78 works through Escondido but only after making several 90 degree turns at sparsely marked intersections. I checked my progress against my GPS to be sure but found I was where I intended to be. A truck with garden nursery markings skidded to a stop next to me at a traffic light. I intended to be the first off the line but was concerned that he might be in such a hurry that he would drive dangerously behind me just because I was there.
I lazily pulled away from the light while the nursery truck sped away. I was right. He was driving way too fast for a company truck and even though my lazy pace was probably faster, I didn’t want to chance being rear ended by him when he overshot a corner. I stayed safely behind him.
A few miles later, we came to a red signal light with two lanes proceeding straight ahead. In the left lane was a Corvette. I chose the right lane for the same reason as before. The Corvette, though, had no intentions of going fast. When I pulled away from the intersection he held up the nursery truck and 100 yards up Highway 78 two lanes merged into one.
I had a blocker behind me and no traffic in front of me so I picked up the pace and enjoyed the curves by myself all the way to Ramona. I encountered no other traffic going in my direction and only a few coming down the hill. I never saw the Corvette or nursery truck again. I assume they both turned off somewhere.
My experience with the town of Ramona was limited to football games. The way the schedule worked, I only played one game in Ramona. The other two were played at home. El Camino played freshman games at El Camino but at the time all of the varsity games were played at Oceanside High School. The single game at Ramona is memorable because just as halftime ended I was stung by a bee in the throat. I’m not allergic to bees so it wasn’t life threatening but we started on defense and I was playing defensive tackle. On the third play from scrimmage I was involved in the tackle, felt light-headed, and then the lights just went out.
I remember falling but don’t remember hitting the ground. A coach told me later that the bee was still attached to me, stinger still in my throat just below the Adam’s apple, its lower body pulsing. My shoulder pads had trapped it so it couldn’t escape.
I woke up quickly and was carried off the field. I found out later that one of the first things they did when checking me out was loosen my pants so when I was helped off the field my pants were around my knees.
Ramona, at least at the time, did not have a strong football program. Every game El Camino played against them in the early 80s ended up in a blowout. Many games were shutouts. I always felt sorry for them. They belonged in a league with other small schools and had to endure losing seasons year after year.
This time, though, Ramona was just a small town I passed through. A few cars going each direction were on 78. One was a County Sheriff patrol car that looked me over but must have deemed me safe, because he didn’t even follow me out of town.
The ride to Julian was similar to the Ortega Highway – fun to ride at a quick pace with an occasional peg scrape, but much slower than an actual sport bike would ride it.
The further up the hill I got, the less farming and agriculture I saw. Julian is known for its apple pies and, I supposed, locally grown apples. I saw stands and pie stores but no orchards. Highway 78 very quickly transits through Julian and in just a few minutes I was back in the forest on curvy roads.
I knew that the backside of the Palomar Mountains would very rapidly turn to desert but it actually happened even faster than I thought it would. I hadn’t descended the mountain for more than a few minutes when the color changed from green to brown and grey. I no longer rode into and out of shade created by the overhanging trees. The landscape consisted only of rock and sand formations.
Small sections of Highway 78 after the Banner Grade appeared to be carved out of rock formations. The walls are obviously cut away to allow for the road to be graded, but instead of being cut in a relatively straight line, the cutaway section curved left and right for a few miles. On the map they appear to follow a natural creek path.
Shortly after Sentenac Canyon the road becomes even less travelled, mostly straight, and the surroundings are very desolate. At one point, for several miles, I had to make almost no steering corrections. Gentle nudges on the tank sides with my knees were all that was required to keep the Goldwing on the road.
Signs designating camping and legal off-road riding areas popped up occasionally. In one of the straighter sections I passed a parked Border Patrol vehicle that was partially hidden behind a dilapidated structure. I was doing 75-80 mph at the time. He didn’t appear interested in me at all but I slowed down just in case he was to let someone know I’d be coming towards them. I made an effort to keep count of the number of vehicles I’d seen per mile and estimated that the Border Patrol vehicle saw less than 20 cars in the hour surrounding the time that I passed by him. I’d have another brief, casual encounter with the Border Patrol later.
I ran into Highway 86 at the Salton Sea and turned right onto the four lane road that was made up of the concurrently run Highways 78 and 86. Westmorland was the next town I’d run through and I decided to take a break.
When I put this ride plan together nearly a year ago, I planned to stop for fuel at the Shell Station as I entered Westmorland. My main tank was down to ¼ full, and while my auxiliary fuel tank meant I didn’t need fuel yet, I did have to pee.
The Shell Station is the first store and fuel stop that drivers encounter when they drive into Westmorland and, therefore, is very busy. The gas islands were constantly dispensing fuel and people were shuffling into and out of the store. It took a few minutes for the bathroom to empty. I exited the bathroom with plans of getting right back on the road but I was getting hungry and I feel guilty any time I use a business’ restroom without conducting some kind of business there.
The refrigerator had fresh looking apples so I grabbed one with the thought that a $1 apple was worth a one-minute pee. When I turned around to pay for the apple I saw the hot box. Most convenient stores have a hot box with hours old hot dogs or sausages rotating on the roller grille. This Shell Station had handmade burritos wrapped in foil.
A proper burrito can’t be eaten right after assembly – to do so ruins the concept of a meal wrapped in a flat, flour-based, mostly-sealed, container. The ingredients have to have a chance to flow together, mix and congeal before eating. This takes time. An hour or more in a hot box is ideal. Anything less is Taco Bell.
I proudly grabbed the one up front with “Pollo” written on the foil with a black Sharpie. I knew that freshness protocol demanded that the newest burritos would be placed to the rear. I wanted the oldest.
I had left my gloves back on the Goldwing and nearly burned the palms of my hands trying to hold the burrito, but at the same time, keep the apple cool. I paid and walked out to the bike. A gold Buick that I had passed when I turned onto the 86/78 section was parking next to my bike. A man, probably in his late 70s, exited the driver’s side while another man, probably his twin brother, got out of the right front door, walked to the trunk, pulled out a walker and walked it to the passenger in the back seat – a woman, probably 120 years old. The brother got a wheelchair and wheeled it to the walker. The woman used the walker to support herself so that she could shift her weight over and plunge into the wheelchair. The efficiency in movement was impressive. They had obviously done this before. None of the three spoke. Just before all three entered the store, the men signed something to each other. The other agreed with a head nod.
I had just finished the apple when the three came out of the store. The other brother was pushing this time but all three were still silent. I began to eat the burrito – it was still about the temperature of the sun – and caught the eye of the driver just before he closed his door. He smiled, pointed to the Goldwing and gave me a thumbs-up. I spoke to several hearing people throughout the day. My quick conversation with him was the best one.
The burrito was awesome.
I thought later about what a poor choice I’d made. At the furthest point I’d be about 350 miles from home. I could have gotten home really late and have to use the excuse that I was forced to make regular breaks on the side of the 40 freeway with the Goldwing shielding my bare ass as I abandoned portions of the burrito. Fortunately, at least at the Shell Station in Westmorland, CA, food preparation hygiene is important in the Imperial Valley.
I mounted the bike and continued through Westmorland. The 78 broke away from the 86 to the left and shrunk back to two lanes. For several miles I drive through large, corporate farm fields. I regularly encountered large semi-trucks and trailers. The trailers loaded tall with hay produced a large powerful wake that pushed the Goldwing to the right shoulder every time I crossed paths with one. Some trucks appeared as large but produced almost no side wake. Weird thing, aerodynamics. Car traffic was almost non-existent. I was the only person heading east as far as I could see in front and behind me.
I had opened the auxiliary fuel tank valve to gravity-feed gasoline into the main tank but after several miles, the fuel gauge did not indicate that the fuel level in the main tank had risen at all. The level didn’t drop, either, though, so I kept heading east. I believed in my Quicktank.
The farms ended fairly abruptly with a last water canal that formed a geographic, as well as topographic, border. Once beyond, there was nothing but brown desert again. Signage increased for the Imperial Valley Dunes Recreational Area. A long stretch of razor straight road led into the actual dune areas. Some of the dunes within sight of the road were several stories tall but tiny in comparison to some I’ve seen to the south. The width of the Glamis dune area off Highway 78 is only about five miles. It took only a few minutes to cross.
The road curved and dipped east of Glamis. I approached the intersection at S34 and had a moment every rider dreads. I was coming up a slight hill at 55 mph and saw, via my GPS display, that an intersection was ahead so I released the throttle to coast. When I had almost reached the intersection I saw the top of a white truck in the left turn lane. I could see the truck but wasn’t sure if the truck saw me because I could only see the top half, not the entire cab. I worried that the driver would make his turn into my path. I started looking for escape routes. Neither the left or right was perfect but if I had to, I was going left. The driver was looking to his left, not at me. I applied brakes as hard as I could without skidding. At the last second, the driver made eye contact with me. I could see the nose of his truck dip as he braked to a stop and waited for me to go through the intersection.
I tipped my helmet and waved to him as we crossed paths. I noticed another car approaching from the right on S34 and was glad I decided to go left if I had to. He would have complicated things.
A few miles later I came upon an isolated Border Patrol Station. It is designed to only stop traffic travelling towards Blythe. I slowed and worked my way under the shade cover. Two agents and a German Shepherd dog waited for me. I stopped and waved.
I had earplugs in and hoped I would be able to hear them well enough that I would not have to remove my helmet and take the plugs out.
“Good afternoon, Sir. How are you today?”
“Good,” I yelled. Hopefully it was just loud enough that they could hear me but not so loud that I would deserve secondary inspection and get to meet Fido.
“Sir, are you citizen of the United States?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Sir, would you take off your glasses?” I was wearing a pair of dark Oakley sunglasses. I pulled them away from my face and looked at him. My pale skin and hazel eyes confirmed my non-accented English.
“Thank you, sir. Have a nice day.”
“Thank you,” I said.
I released the clutch lever, waved, and continued on. They looked disinterested. I was just some oddball out in the middle of nowhere wearing hi-viz orange on an expensive touring motorcycle.
More desert. More undulations. A few turns. The scenery began to turn green again and I could see on my GPS that I was near the Colorado River. The road went through the middle of Palo Verde and Ripley – both small towns. They must be ungodly hot in the summer. They were comfortable in mid-October. Blythe wasn’t very far away. Highway 78 would end with the overpass at the 10 freeway.
Four ninety-degree turns following agricultural canals in the farms west of Blythe marked the only real turns for miles. Each was marked at 15mph and all had signs of drivers who went in a little too hot, got on the brakes too late and ended up in a canal or field. I didn’t speed through them.
Highway 78 begins without fanfare in a neighborhood in Oceanside. It ends equally as bland at the 10 freeway a few miles west of Blythe. A simple, small sign reads “78 End.”
So, I found myself in Blythe in the mid-afternoon of a mid-month Monday. Trucks were travelling on the 10 freeway in both directions. The decision I had to make was to either head west on the 10 and run into rush hour traffic once I reached the Riverside/San Bernardino area or go east for a few miles and exit at Intake Boulevard and use the 95 north to pick up the 40 west at Needles. The 10 freeway was the shorter route but I figured I would crawl through the Inland Empire. I estimated I’d make it home about 8pm, maybe a little earlier if traffic was lighter than usual. The long way, to the north, would give me a chance to ride another 100 miles of two lane, then almost 300 miles of Interstate and would put me home before 10pm. The choice was easy.
I exited Intake Boulevard, fueled up, and took a pit stop at the Mobil station near the freeway exit. My Quicktank still had 2 to 3 gallons remaining. I refilled both tanks, drank a bottle of water, emptied my bladder and got back on the road.
Highway 95 is another road I’d like to ride from beginning to end at some point in the future. Its entire length – from the US border town of San Luis, AZ to the British Columbia, Canada, city of Golden – is over 1700 miles and consists of primarily two lane roads. Today I’d only be covering about 6% of the total length.
Highway 95 provided a very quick escape out of Blythe. Within a few minutes I went from small town to farm fields to desert landscape. Several times the 95 comes close to the Colorado River and when it does, all plant life is greener. Several signs advertised vacation spots on the river. In many cases it appeared that construction had begun and then was abandoned or completed, used for a while, and then left to rot.
The road condition was good and I was able to make good time, near Interstate speed. I passed a number of cars and trucks when the lane stripes indicated it okay to do so. I was passed by a few. I recognized the intersection at Highway 62. I had crossed the 95 while going east on 62 a few years ago on a trip to the Phoenix area. A ride report can be seen here: http://advrider.com/index.php?threads/trading-selling-buying-running-scud-to-phoenix.315844/
The 95/62 intersection has little commerce – remnants of a long closed gas station, a sign for a café that is completely gone, an Agricultural Inspection Station for the State of California, a still open gas station, and a more recently closed restaurant with a For Sale sign in the window. 100 yards further, the desert takes over again.
Long, straight sections of the 95 vary from small hills to huge open washes that the road surface bisects. To mark the ending of one long straight, stretch of highway, the blacktop curves to the right and then back to the left to go through and around a section of rock formations. They seem to mark the end of the previous wash and the beginning of a different type of topography. For several miles the road ripples along, allowing the trip to feel like an early wooden rollercoaster. Small foothills pop up everywhere. They are a sharp contrast to the low flat area only a few miles away.
Highway 95 was the highlight of the trip. I didn’t see a single Highway Patrol vehicle on the road the entire 100 miles. I was able to maintain a speed, while above the suggested limit, that did not exceed good sense. The amount of curves, waves, straight sections and changing sceneries kept the ride interesting. Very little traffic meant very little turbulence to ride through making the ride smooth, quiet and relaxing.
I was reminded that I was in the middle of nowhere by having to dodge two coyote carcasses that both had been hit shortly before I got there. Both were in the middle of my lane and both forced me to divert to the right or left to avoid them. Both times I was glad they didn’t have the opportunity to dart in front of me while still alive.
I saw glimpses of the Colorado River again as I approached the town of Needles. I also saw the 40 freeway to the east even though I had several miles to go before I would transition onto its surface.
Needles Airport is smaller than I anticipated. The prevailing winds justify two runways set 90 degrees apart. The runway surface is paved. The terminal building, ramp and hangers are small but appear modern.
Needles is one of the lucky towns. When Interstate 40 was built and cut off many smaller towns from receiving east-west desert traffic, Needles kept traffic from both the 40 and Route 66. For a short time before entering the town proper, Highway 95 is part of Historic Route 66. My kicks on Route 66 ended after ½ mile when I exited Highway 95 and started west on Interstate 40.
Halfway between Blythe and Needles I opened the valve on my auxiliary tank when ¾ of capacity was left in the main tank. I had put some thought into my experience earlier when I waited until the fuel level in my main tank was very low before switching over. I thought if I opened the valve earlier in the process, while the fuel pickup was still covered by several inches of fuel, I would be able to allow the fuel pump to pull fuel from the Quicktank until it was dry. If gravity was stronger than the pressure in the tank and began raising the fuel level too high, I could always turn off the valve and wait for the fuel level to get lower before opening the valve again.
The fuel level in the main tank remained exactly at ¾ full all the way to Needles and remained there until just before reaching Barstow.
I really like travelling on Interstate 40. Although it runs just to the south of Interstate 15, it is a completely different experience. The drivers racing to and from Las Vegas on the 15 are non-existent on the 40. I haven’t ever travelled on the 40 during a holiday weekend rush when people are coming from and going to Laughlin and the Colorado River and I would guess that those days can be difficult. In my experience, the 40 presents more truck traffic that is moving at the same speed. For the most part, truck drivers are professionals who know that maintaining their Commercial Driver’s License is necessary to maintain a livelihood.
I was able to set the cruise control at 75 mph in Needles and didn’t turn it off until I reached Barstow. The desert between the Arizona border and the Interstate 40 terminus at the 15 is beautiful. The elevation varies along with the terrain. The tones of desert brown vary from light tan to an almost-black chocolate brown. Some areas are heavy with vegetation while other are filled with consistent, smooth, wind-blown sand.
I rode into the sun and fought glare for the hour before the sun set, but as I neared Barstow and the sun was setting, everything cleared. Traffic was light and I maintained a good speed. The fuel gauge, which had been frozen since the halfway point between Blythe and Needles, began to settle downward. When I stopped in Barstow for some dinner I had just over ½ tank full.
My ear plugs had dulled the sounds around me for the past three hours so when I arrived at Chipotle and removed them, it felt like waking from a dream. Behind me two young women were exiting a filthy compact SUV with North Dakota plates and talking to each other about a third woman who was not there. A truck driver exiting the 15 freeway used his engine brake to slow down before turning. Another couple, this time a man and woman, appeared to be arguing. I heard only the last few words before the driver’s door of their BMW closed and the loud conversation became muffled.
My legs were stiff. My back ached. I bent over and stretched my legs, back and neck before entering the restaurant. While I hadn’t noticed much bug activity to my face shield, the entire nose of my bike was covered in dead bugs. The Goldwing was clean when I had left a little after 9 o’clock in the morning.
I was really hungry and didn’t consciously choose Mexican food a second time. A Chipotle bowl just sounded good and I figured it was a slightly healthier choice than a burger. I was stared at by a number of patrons in the restaurant. A 6’3” man wearing armored gear stands out. I had two distinct ribs running the length of my head from my helmet. No amount of rubbing removed them from the top of my head.
I ate dinner quickly and got back on the road. I reused my ear plugs but one refused to seal. I dealt with quiet in the right ear and extreme wind noise in the left for a few miles before deciding to stop and refit my ear plugs. I pulled off the 15 freeway at Hodge Road. There were no street lights and the moon hadn’t risen yet. The only ambient light I had was the reflected light produced from my headlamp off of a street sign. Ahead, less than 100 feet away, a pair of eyes glowed. I turned on my high beams and saw a young fox. It was feeding on something and when my lights illuminated him more brightly, he ran into the darkness. I removed both plugs and allowed them to expand before rolling them and placing them back into my ears. I waited for them to completely seal before putting my helmet back on.
The young fox returned to its meal. It must have decided that I wasn’t enough of a threat to turn off its drive to feed. I turned back to the onramp and sped back into traffic but travelled at a conservative pace. I calculated about 120 miles to home and with my Quicktank empty and main tank at about ½ full, I decided to see if I could make it home on my remaining fuel.
Every few miles I would mentally calculate my remaining range and fuel and it wasn’t until I was down the Cajon Pass that I really thought I could make it home. I’d driven and ridden the route from the high desert to home dozens of times. Traffic was light and I didn’t have to take the Goldwing off of cruise control at all down the pass, and onto the 210 and 57 freeways. The slower speed improved my mileage just enough that I began to think I could make it. I decided that as long as the fuel light did not come on before I reached the 91 freeway, I would be good.
The light remained off, and the cruise control on, until I exited the 22 freeway at Beach Boulevard. Almost simultaneous with the brake application that turned off the cruise control for the first time since entering the freeway at Hodge Road, the low fuel light blinked once and then stayed on. I rolled into my driveway just after 9pm. The ride total was 665 miles in about 12 hours’ time – not a Bun Burner Gold pace, but not bad for a relaxed-pace tune-up ride. The ride from Blythe to home, after the second fill-up, was almost 400 miles. The Quicktank nearly doubled my fuel range and worked flawlessly.
It was a good ride. I finished with minimal soreness and was fresh for work the following morning. The Goldwing ran without a hiccup and averaged 40 miles per gallon over the length of the trip even though for most of the ride I didn’t attempt to get good mileage. The newly installed Windbender shield proved to be a great addition and the Quicktank has turned out to be everything I’d hoped. All in all, a great Monday.