It was an ambitious ride even without factoring any type of weather hardships. My plan was to perform a summer solstice ride while covering all seven Tour of Honor memorial sites and return to Westminster – 1370 miles – totaling a little over 21 hours.
The miles ridden wouldn’t be tough. 1370 miles can be done fairly easily in less than 24 hours and with my fuel setup I would only require four fuel stops. 1370 miles on an out-and-back interstate-only route isn’t tough.
To make it interesting, my route had 11 planned stops, four for fuel and seven for the TOH memorials. It included a transit through the San Francisco Bay Area during the commute in the late afternoon or the mid-morning. It also included about 220 miles of two-lane mountain and rural roads. The math said it could be done and I was confident I could stay within 30 minutes of my plan.
Then California got hot. Really hot. Records temperatures were forecast for the Central Valley. There wasn’t a town I’d go through that showed likely temps below 105F. I considered a route change to stay closer to the coast but wouldn’t be able to visit a number of the TOH sites and deep down I wanted to see how I would perform in the extreme heat. I would pack several gallons of water and wore the proper hot weather gear – LD Comfort tights on top and bottom and my textile jacket – non-vented – and pants. I was confident the Goldwing would tolerate the heat and distance and I performed an oil change and some other basic maintenance because it was nearly due.
The ride occurred on Tuesday 6/20/17. I spent Monday relaxing and preparing for the ride. Everything was ready to go by 8pm and I showered and tried to get some sleep. My alarm was set for 0230 and I planned to be rolling north on the 405 by 0330.
I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and had just nodded off when my wife came into the room and woke me up. She thought I was asleep and began to watch something on her Ipad. The light kept me awake and after a while I asked her to turn it off. She did, but I still couldn’t sleep. At one point, I nodded off but woke up again and stirred for a while. I eventually fell asleep but the alarm woke me up and I got dressed for the ride.
I rode to the gas station and topped off both tanks, gathered my receipt and shot a picture of it and the odometer to document my start. I was on my way three minutes before 0330. There was no traffic to speak of and I made good time out of the LA Basin and into the San Fernando and then Santa Clarita Valley. Climbing the Grapevine I saw a shooting star burn up in the atmosphere in front of me. It looked close but was more likely a long way off.
The temperature increased as I descended down the other side and entered the valley. It was a little after 0430 and my temp monitor said it was 85 degrees. A short while later the sky to the east lightened. It was the summer solstice – the longest day of the year.
My first planned fuel stop was in Santa Nella – about 4 hours and a little over 300 miles into the ride. I fueled up and put on my light-weight gloves. The temperature had reached to 90F but I had hope for temporary cooler temperatures as I headed about fifty miles to the west, Gilroy, for the first of the TOH visits. I ate a protein bar while I rode up the hill at the San Luis Reservoir and ran into cool weather near the top. I could feel moisture in the coastal air and a drop of about 10-15 degrees.
The ride to Gilroy was slow. I was stuck behind a tractor-trailer in a no passing zone for a long stretch. I anticipated lower speeds here, though, and didn’t fall behind on the plan. I actually reached the first TOH site one-minute ahead of schedule. The memorial was small and it would have been easy to ride past it without knowing it was there. I took the picture of my bike with my rally flag and the monument in clear view and spent a minute reading the dedication for the memorial. The only other person in the Christmas Hill Park was a woman throwing a ball with her dog. The easy part of the ride was over. The temperature, and traffic, would increase as I headed through San Jose and into Hayward, the second site of my ride.
I expected traffic to be heavy, and it was, but the folks in the south-eastern Bay Area seem to treat motorcyclists much better than the folks in Los Angeles do. I split lanes when traffic slowed below 35 mph and many, not all, not most, but many, moved aside to widen the area for the Goldwing. I was pleasantly surprised.
I reached Hayward on schedule and was able to find a place to park the bike where I could display my flag but still have a recognizable portion of my bike and the monument in the camera frame. It went easier than I expected. The site is located on a one-way street with no parking signs on both sides and no parking spaces on the street. Fortunately, a construction zone left a small patch of asphalt open to me to use for a 90 second stop. I took my picture, grabbed part of my sandwich out of my cooler, and got back on 580 heading east. The ride would offer no more comfortable weather.
I rode the 580 to the 680 and used the 680 to get over the Carquinez Strait on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge System. The temp was in the mid-90s and it wasn’t quite 10AM. Woodland, located northwest of Sacramento, offers a memorial to the men and women of Yolo County who defended freedom in any of the past and future conflicts. It is located outside of town, about 5 minutes off the 505 freeway, in the middle of a cemetery. I rode in and was hardly noticed by the lone grounds worker. I took off my helmet, set up my flag, took my photo and dumped the first of my cold tap water over my head, torso and sleeves for the next leg of the ride. The temp was now over 105 and wouldn’t get lower than that until well after dark.
I lost track of how long the leg from Woodland to my second fuel stop was because the heat had become uncomfortable and time didn’t seem to flow linearly. Chunks of five minutes would go by in a flash, then a few minutes later, it would seem nearly an hour before the minute readout would change on the clock display.
My plan, of which up to this point I was still on time, was to stay moving until I reached Orland. Unfortunately, in anticipation of the possibility of dehydration, I drank a lot of liquids but hadn’t sweat out quite enough. I had to stop and pee at a gas station off the 5. The stop should have only taken me five minutes or less but somehow got me about fifteen minutes behind schedule.
I hit traffic south of Orland because a long stretch of the 5 was being repaved. I split traffic for the ten miles or so that the roadwork was being performed. That in itself wasn’t difficult. Some drivers opened up for me, some pinched me off. Sometimes two trucks would be sharing the two lanes and the amount of room to split was really narrow. I’d wait for my break and then move forward when it was safe. It became difficult when, and it was almost always like this, the new pavement was an inch or two higher than old pavement in each lane. It meant my splitting real estate was razor-thin. The darkside tire on the rear of the Goldwing does not like raised pavement in the middle of the lane. It likes to be on one side or another and when the edge of the tire rides against the edge of the lane pavement, the bike is thrown to the lower side – where a car or truck usually happens to be.
I crept forward, much faster than the car and truck traffic, but not fast enough to get decent airflow into my jacket to keep me reasonably cool. At higher speeds, the rush of incoming air in a sleeve turns the chamber into a swamp cooler of sorts and temporarily pushes cool air into the torso area. Travelling slowly behind the big fairing and shield minimized airflow. I got hotter and hotter. The temp had been 108F for a while and peaked a little later at 109F.
I finally reached Orland and pulled into a truck stop to fill both tanks. Shortly after I started filling my tanks the sound of a V-Twin motorcycle putted past me and the rider stopped at the pumps directly behind the ones I was using. The rider gingerly got off the side of his Honda and walked up to where I was standing. “Hot enough for you?” he asked.
He was older than me and looked like hell. I probably did, too.
“It just gets worse as you go south. You coming from Oregon?” I noticed his plate.
“There’s a bunch of construction south of here on the southbound side. Take it easy going through there.”
He nodded his helmet. We ran across each other again inside the truck stop where we were both willing to spend a little more time in the air conditioning before hitting the road.
The midday sun was stifling. I ate another section of my sandwich as I continued north. My next stop wasn’t that far, only about 70 miles, and the construction was complete. I reached the northernmost site, Shasta Lake, in less than an hour.
When I think of Shasta, I think of Shasta Lake, Mount Shasta with nearly year-round snow on its summit – all cool things. On 6/20/17 it wasn’t. The temp remained 108F.
The memorial was only a mile off the 5 freeway. It stands in the middle of a divided highway but right in front of the site, a turnaround allows for temporary, though illegal, parking. Like Hayward, I planned on a quick visit and wasn’t too concerned about the legality of my quick stop. The turnaround has a slight decline to it and I narrowly averted disaster shortly after parking. I placed the Goldwing on the sidestand rather than the centerstand and took a step to the right to get my rally flag from the top box.
As I stepped right, the bike moved to the left and downhill and was starting to retract the sidestand. Had it done that all the way, the bike would have fallen over to one direction or another and the open highway pegs would have contacted the ground first and damaged the engine cylinder head covers, likely causing an oil leak and stranding me in northern California until I could get the parts to repair it. Also, because I had packed heavy on extra water, I left my tool kit, except for my tire plug kit, at home. No parts. No tools.
Fortunately, I was able to catch the bike and lean it against my leg before I grabbed the brake lever to stop it from rolling. Then, as I should have the first time, I put the bike onto the center stand. I grabbed my flag and camera and backed into traffic to take the required photos. Because by definition this was a “corner” on my route, I should have had a receipt from a nearby business to establish I was here. I hoped the photo I took of my odometer, along with multiple receipts from places not too far away, and the math that said this is about where I had to be when the time and mileage dots were connected, would be enough when my ride packet was inspected for certification.
I took a few draws off my hydration tube and realized that my cooler was getting low on ice and water. Riding back to the freeway to start the track to the south-east, I stopped at a Circle K to refill ice and water and use the bathroom. I walked into the store and filled the cooler with ice and purchased a drink in exchange for the ice. I could have gotten a receipt, but forgot to ask for it. I’m usually obtaining receipts from gas pumps and so, with the heat making me not as sharp as I’d like to be, I had an opportunity to grab the receipt I needed and forgot until I was several miles down the 5 freeway.
I didn’t remove my helmet in the store. I flipped up the face plate and didn’t notice that the tinted shield was still in the down position. Based on my appearance, and probably smell, other customers gave me a wide berth. I reached the counter and the owner or manager of the store said to me, “Sir, you can’t come in here with your face covered like that.” Her words mere muffled through my earplugs.
I motioned that my face plate was up and asked if it was okay if I just retracted the tinted shield. She got closer to me and gave me a lengthy, Larry David-like, once-over.
“Oh, you’re okay. You’ve got kind eyes.”
I turned to the clerk with my purchased drink and offered to pay extra for the ice I used to fill my cooler. He said I was fine just paying for the drink.
I put things back together on the bike, doused myself with more cool water, and headed out again. I’d be on the 5 south for a while before heading to the southeast on the 36 briefly, then the 99 through Chico.
I’d wished I’d bought a five-pound bag of ice to carry in my jacket. The heat was causing me to get drowsy and I as much as I wanted to open my face shield, I knew it would actually dry me out faster even if it felt better for a little while. My eyes had also started drying and both caused me to want to close my eyes temporarily but I was afraid that if I did, I’d fall asleep. I stopped using my cruise control after visualizing driving off the road at a steady speed until I hit something.
By the time I reached Chico, I needed some kind of cool down break. I considered stopping at the side of the 99 and finding a tree to lay under in the shade but nothing seemed appropriate. I saw a sign for McDonalds and, despite being almost an hour behind schedule by this point, decided to stop for a break. I needed to cool down, slow down and drink some more fluids.
The young man behind the counter in McDonalds looked incredulously at me as I approached the counter. I placed my order and waddled over to a booth. I planned on setting my alarm and putting my head down for fifteen minutes but knew that liquids were more important. One customer came up and talked to me. He said he’d been out for a ride this morning but put his bike away early. He asked about my gear, about whether it actually made it worse, and asked about the tights I wore under my jacket. “Aren’t they hot? They look pretty heavy, and they’re black.”
I explained the science behind the wicking fabrics and how having sweat on your skin underneath your jacket was actually better for a rider than letting the sweat evaporate to the atmosphere. The conversation with him and the time indoors revived me as well as a nap would and after about 30 minutes I was ready to get back on the road.
On schedule, I would complete the last TOH site just before sundown. I was now far enough behind that I was fearful that the last two sites would be photo’d in darkness. I knew it would be unsafe to try to continue on to Westminster event though there might be just enough time to complete the 1370 miles in 24 hours. I was just too tired, too drained. I texted Lisa and told her I was beat and that I would be completing the last three sites, get comfortably over 1000 miles, then find a hotel to get a few hours’ sleep before heading home early in the morning.
I got off the 99 near Oroville and began the twisty, mountain road portion of the ride. While it was still hot, having something to do other than steer straight ahead and let the cruise control handle the speed, the ride became fun again. The Sierras bordering the eastern edge of the Central Valley are amazing. Pretty, good roads, low population density. Ideal on a motorcycle.
I motored through Oroville, Bangor and Marysville and Dobbins before picking up the 49 which would take me to Downieville. The ride continued to be enjoyable as I had absolutely no traffic slowing me down. The Goldwing boogied like a big girl shouldn’t and handled the sweeping turns like a much smaller bike. I eventually reached the site. It was late afternoon and all of the businesses had closed for the day. I turned the Goldwing around, set up my flag and snapped the pictures. I had two sites to go.
The sun was getting low in the sky but wasn’t close to setting yet. I rode the same path out enjoying it as much as I did the first time. About twenty miles from intersecting highway 20, I ran into traffic and my pace slowed. A few spots had ongoing road work and temporary traffic lights were emplaced to control flow.
I refueled in Auburn, used the restroom, and ate a little more of my sandwich from the bike as I came down the hill into the Roseville area. The sun was close to setting and I made it to the sixth site with some light in the sky but it was necessary to use the flash to get a decent picture.
I had 73 miles to go to reach the last TOH site in Manteca – about one hour away. Traffic was light on the 99 south-bound and while I was sleepy, I didn’t run into any problems. I exited and rode to the last memorial. It was necessary to use all of my forward-facing lights to illuminate the site and then use a flashlight on my towel to make sure that everything was in the frame, clear, and in focus. The last site was done.
I was still about an hour short of the 1000-mile mark – I really wanted about 1030 GPS miles before looking for a hotel, just to be safe. I was bummed that I was unable to go further. With the darkness, some of my energy had come back, although the outside temperature was still over 100F.
I cruised down the 99 until I reached Merced. I didn’t really fight sleep, but the urge to close my eyes was heavy from dry eyes. My GPS ticked over 1030 miles and a big, well-lit Motel 6 was located east of the freeway. To the right was an old, run down, America’s Best Value Inn. I exited the freeway and decided to use a gas station for my check-off receipt.
The first station I found was closed – it was after 2300 – but it appeared that the pumps were still on. I pulled up to one and it accepted my credit card and instructed me to select a grade and remove the pump handle. It allowed me to put $.07 in before shutting off automatically. I didn’t care. I could get gas in the morning. I requested a receipt to be printed and the ribbon of folded paper that exited the pump printer was completely illegible. It wouldn’t work for my exit receipt.
I rode down to the next major intersection where I tried another station. This one, too, appeared closed but the pumps appeared to be on. The pump accepted my credit card and when I went to remove the pump handle, I found it was locked to the pump tower. My frustration level was climbing.
I found another station and tried there. The station also appeared closed but it had signage stating 24-hour gas access. The pump here accepted my card. The pump handle here was not locked to the pump tower. It dispensed gas and I was able to fill both of my tanks. It asked if I wanted a receipt and I pushed the ‘yes’ button. A receipt printed. It was legible. It contained an accurate date and time. It contained no address or business information. My frustration level was really high at this point.
I stopped at a Carl’s Jr. They closed at 2300.
I decided that the hotel receipt might be good so I rode to the Motel 6. The parking lot was really full and I parked in the only remaining spot. The woman at the night window nicely explained to me that they had no rooms available.
I got back on the bike and rode around the corner and onto a street with several old motel signs either lit or unlit. The first motel I came to was an older, u-shaped building with about twenty units. It looked clean and decent and I decided I would stay there. I needed to ride down the street to perform a u-turn, though, and when I did I noticed the motel next door, and the one after that, and the one after that. They were all dingy, beat-up crackhouse-looking places with junkies wandering around the parking lot or into or out of open doors. The open doors indicated that the air conditioning didn’t work and there was no way I was going to park the Goldwing less than 100 yards away from that mess.
America’s Best Value Inn was my last hope. I rode under the freeway and was able to find a parking spot close to the office. When I walked in I noticed a sign that explained that they were refurbishing rooms, to please pardon their dust, and that some rooms undergoing work were unavailable. I also overhead – in Spanish – the clerk arguing with a man who wanted a room but had no credit card.
I waited behind him, helmet in hand. After a few minutes of having the same argument with the man, the female clerk turned to me asked if she could help me.
“I could really use a room.”
“Hmmm,” she said. “We’re really booked and with the construction I’m not sure if I have anything.”
She typed on her keyboard.
“It looks like I’ve got one room, but it’s a smoking room.”
“I don’t care. I just want a shower and a few hours of sleep.”
“Do you smoke?”
“I’ll take it up if it makes a difference.”
“No, it’s just people who don’t smoke don’t usually want a smoking room.”
“I don’t care. I just want a shower and a few hours’ sleep.”
She took my credit card and had me fill out a registration card. The way things were going I expected my credit card to get declined because of all the recent, weird transactions. It didn’t. She gave me a key card and pointed me in the direction of the room I was in.
I unloaded all of the really valuable things off the Goldwing then locked and covered it. I told myself that if it were to be stolen, I’d rent a car, get home, and start over. I walked back through the lobby, thanked the clerk, who was once again arguing with the man who didn’t have a credit card, walked around the pool, stepped on a few large cockroaches, and headed up the steps to my room.
The key card lit the green indicator, but the room didn’t open. The deadbolt was locked. I tried a second time and pushed hard against the door. I heard – in Spanish, “Estamos aquí. Esta es nuestra habitación (We’re in here. This is our room).”
I walked back down to the lobby and interrupted the arguing again.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Somebody’s in the room you gave me.”
“Oh, no. 240, right?”
“No, you gave me 242.”
“Shoot. My fault. I meant to send you to 240. Let me get you another key.”
I walked past the previous cockroach carnage and found a few new victims. I was worried about what the room was going to look like, but didn’t care. At the very least, I’d shower and just close my eyes for a while. If I slept, and the room wasn’t infested, it was a bonus.
I walked past room 242 and opened 240. It was empty, smelled like an ashtray, and the a/c hadn’t been run for a while. The interior temperature of the room was hotter than it was outside – still around 100F. I fumbled with the thermostat and was eventually able to get a small current of cool air coming from the wall mounted unit. I didn’t see any sign of cockroaches, spiders, or other bugs.
I undressed and got into the shower still wearing my LDC tights. I soaked under cold water for a while and then washed myself and my tights. I hung them up to dry and then lay down naked in the bed in front of the a/c unit. The room was now cooler than the air outside. I figured I’d fall asleep quickly but as good as it felt to close my eyes and have reasonably cool air blowing on me, I was wired, fully awake.
I was disappointed in my ride. 1370 miles isn’t tough. I prepared for the heat. I didn’t allow myself to get dehydrated. On what should have been the toughest part of the ride, the Bay Area, I was right on schedule. It wasn’t until later that I began falling behind. I have a bad left knee, though, old injuries that have gotten worse recently – a torn meniscus and torn patellar tendon – that is scheduled for surgery in mid-July, and it has caused me to get really out of shape over the past few months – no walking the dog, limited walking around at work, limited garage time, no heavy lifting. Being out of shape was the biggest reason for my let-down.
Eventually, I fell asleep. A little while later, it couldn’t have been much later because the room was still really warm, I woke up with cramps in every muscle in both legs. I got out of bed and tried to walk them out and eventually did but it took a while to fall back to sleep again, because every time I moved, a cramp threatened.
A few hours later I woke up again and decided to get back on the road. It was still dark outside, but I felt refreshed enough that I knew I could make it home without a problem. I put on my tights and the rest of my riding gear and walked down the steps to the office. The same clerk was at the counter but she had some help with her this time. I thanked her for her help and handed her my key.
I walked out of the office and the Goldwing was still there. It didn’t appear that the cover had been disturbed and everything was in place. I reinstalled the GPS and my other things and noticed that the clerk was walking up to the vehicle next to me. I had lucked out and parked near the office and right next to her Expedition. She smiled and said, “See, I’m still getting to leave before you.”
“Have a good day. Thanks again,” I said.
A few minutes later I was rolling southbound on the 99 again. The sun was coming up behind the mountains to the east and I made good time even though I was running a slower pace than the day before. I got to witness a turboprop crop duster making passes on a field. He ran a crisscross pattern that made it look like his spray would be heavy in the middle of the field but light on the outside. Who am I to question his method? I’m just an aging Service Manager on a Goldwing with a bum knee. He’s in the air every day.
I hit no significant traffic until after I got onto the 405 and into the San Fernando valley. Near the 101, traffic backed up several miles. I began to split traffic, crept forward at a slow speed, and got out of the way of other riders going faster than me. The Los Angeles traffic was much more combative than the Bay Area traffic the day before. Some people moved out of the way, but not very many. Some people intentionally pinched me as I approached. Some were oblivious that I was even there. Some texted on their phones.
When I started splitting the row of vehicles I turned my high beams on to make me more noticeable to the vehicles I approached. When that didn’t seem to work as well as I’d hoped, I turned on my Clearwater Lights. I don’t use the auto-dimming feature with them. When they are on, they are on full power. This should make me stand out to anybody I’m approaching, hopefully they’ll just react to them and move over, as if I was a police bike. It helped, but just a little.
Near LAX the traffic broke up again and was relatively clear to Westminster. I covered the 330 miles travelled in just under five hours. Even though it was over 100F in the Central Valley shortly before I left it, I was comfortable. It was in the 90s through LA but at LAX the temperature dropped about twenty degrees. It felt incredible. I opened my visor and jacket and just soaked in the cool air.
When I got home, Alex was on the couch watching TV. He greeted me as if I’d just gone down to the store to pick up a few things. It was good, and bad. He’s got his motorcycle license and I’m waiting for the day for him to ask to come with me. It hasn’t happened yet, but I hope it’ll happen soon.