Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Kalispell to California

From Kalispell we skirted the edge of Glacier Park and then south towards Yellowstone National Park.  We were travelling across high plains and Indian Reservations and there was some snow lying on the ground. The landscapes are vast here – the mountains (the Rockys in this instance) separate the miles of valley floor from the huge blue skies.  We’ve heard skies be described as ‘huge’ before and thought ‘of course they’re huge, they’re skies!’  but it wasn’t really until we saw these skies that we could appreciate the description. Montana is described as ‘big sky country’ and they’re not wrong!

We arrived at Yellowstone and were pleased to find out that all the roads were still open (we’d been advised that we might be too late for Yellowstone with a motorcycle because of snowfall) and that a couple of campsites were still open too. We spent the day riding and stopping, riding and stopping. It’s like another world in places with all the thermal activity. The acidic and mineral properties in the waters leave a colourful mark on the land.

There are signs everywhere saying not to throw anything into the water or to go into the water as you will be inured. I understand fully why they have these signs as the waters and colourful pools are strangely alluring and you do want to dip a finger in to see how hot it is. I believe many people have and paid the price. Some of the ground, while looking very stable, can be only a thin crust between you and a pool of harmful water. For this reason there are walking boards laid so you can appreciate the wonders of the area fully. 

Hot! Hot! Hot!

 We finished our first day in Yellowstone by watching the famous geyser Old Faithful do its thing. 

Old Faithful

We decided to camp in Yellowstone and upon arrival at the camp were given a big list of do’s and don’ts regarding the local wildlife. We were advised that we were in bear land and specifically, this camp was in grizzly territory.  Iain asked the attendant if they had many issues with the grizzlies to which the attendant replied ‘hell yeah’ – not my desired response to be honest! We set up camp, cooked our tea and followed the given instructions meticulously.

I did ask if humans could sleep in the storage boxes!
Bears work on smell so we washed up straight away, all foods and cooking gear in the bear proof storage boxes, no toiletries or smellies in the tent – just us and our sleeping gear. Oh and a tin of bear spray, an axe and a knife - it’s been a bit of a standing joke throughout the trip that Iain would be ok if we came across a bear because he can run faster than me so the spray and axe was actually to disable him rather than fighting with the bear!  On going to sleep I told Iain I loved him, just in case I didn’t have another chance, I pulled my sleeping bag up over my head (if I can’t see the bear, it can’t see me, right?) and I faced the middle of the tent all night, never the canvas.  Now, looking back on this, it all sounds, and was, pretty silly but I really was quite scared. I had never felt that vulnerable before in the trip. Obviously nothing happened and we’ve spent several more nights in bear country since without any episodes and I’m actually quite brave now, even venturing to the toilet in the dark by myself but always with the bear spray tucked safely in my pocket.
From Yellowstone and Grand National Park we decided to head for Yosemite National Park. On the way we found some superb gravel roads to ride. Some of these took us up past goldmines and some ghost towns, which would have been bustling throughout the gold rush but are now just a visual memory of those times.

 Crossing the top part of Nevada we rode some really long, straight roads. The highway that took us from Nevada into California was one of the longest at over 18 miles without a bend! Luckily we had the Sierra Nevada mountains ahead to keep our attention focused. We broke our altitude record on the Tioga Pass, which takes you into Yosemite Park – 9943 feet!  Yosemite is beautiful and a climbers paradise. They have one of the biggest granite rock formations in the world there. The roads too are perfectly cambered for motorcycle riding. We decided the engineer that designed them must have been a biker.  Again we met so many fabulous people in the park, from all over the world - Germany, Canada, Russia (Khaborovsk to be exact, the 2 lads were really astonished and pleased to see a sticker from their city on our bike) Wales, Scotland, England and even a few from within 10 miles of where we lived and worked in the North East of England.

A stunning view from Tioga Pass

Half Dome in Yosemite

Us and the roots of 'The Fallen Monarch'

On our way to our next planned destination, the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Cambria, we had a rear tyre blow out. We use a wheel adapter along with a car tyre on the back as we get far more mileage out of a car tyre than a bike tyre. When it went, we were all over the road but lain skilfully kept the bike under control (mostly) and brought us safely to a stop at the side of a cotton field. He jumped off the bike, threw his arms in the air and yelled ‘we didn’t crash!’ which we were both very glad of.  One guy stopped after a while to help us get the bike up onto the centre stand and then Iain set about inspecting the damage. It had smashed our rear mudguard, taking with it our tail lights, number plate and our pannier rails. We hoped it hadn’t twisted the rear sub frame or damaged the swinging arm. Iain replaced the wheel with the bike wheel and tyre that we carry spare and at least we were able to move. A Harley rider in his jeep stopped and showed us the way to the local bike shop where they didn’t have anything in stock that we needed but phoned around and found us a few things. 

The next day we were on our way to the HU meeting as planned. It was a slow ride, mainly due to the clutch slipping but we made it. We rode down Highway One which takes you down the Californian coast, which is quite beautiful. On arriving at HU we met up with Craig and Sharon from Oz, who we’d last seen in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and also Will, who we’d left the UK with but not seen since Georgia, nearly 5 months ago.  We had a great weekend, meeting a lot of interesting people and listening to their adventures and also quite a few folk on their ‘big trip’ like us. At night you could hear the seals barking on the shore and California even rustled up a little earthquake for us on the Saturday night!  On leaving the meeting we travelled with Craig and Sharon, about 30 miles to Paso Robles where Ray and Marguerite live. We were camped beside them and they had invited us to stay over that night. The next day we travelled up to Vallejo where we were going to see Pete Nesbitt, who we’d also met at the HU meeting. On seeing our issues with the bike after the blow out, he kindly offered Iain the use of his fabrication workshop (Bulldog Machine Inc), where we could repair everything. He had everything Iain needed to do his repairs. Iain and Craig were like kids in a sweet shop, with all the machinery and tools around.

Debz, Iain, Pete, Scott, Craig and Sharon
From Vallejo, we headed down to San Francisco for a couple of days where we took a touristy bus tour and visited Alcatraz. We didn’t want to do the bus tour but it was the only way we could get tickets for Alcatraz at such short notice. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, which the folks of San Francisco are very proud of. Personally, it left us a little underwhelmed – we thought the Bay Bridge was better. Alcatraz was soon beckoning and we were all looking forward to going there and this did not disappoint.  Those of you who know me from my younger years will know I liked to read a lot of crime stuff so it was interesting to be walking up the same paths and corridors as Al Calpone, Robert Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz – although he didn’t actually keep any birds while in Alcatraz) and the likes.  The audio tour was very informative and the narration was by a former prison officer on the island along with former inmates.  
Alcatraz Island
From San Francisco, we headed south, down the coast for one last night camping with Craig and Sharon before parting and going our separate ways the next day.  A few hours into our days ride, we were happily travelling down the road when we lost all power! We coasted into the side and luckily managed to roll down the ‘on’ ramp and came to a halt in the underpass, where we had shade, as it was very hot. Iain set about fault diagnosis and eventually discovered that a tiny screw had come loose and then ripped off the pick up for the ignition trigger, which had caused the loss of power. It was not something we could fix at the side of the road quickly or easily. A couple pulled over in their jeep to ask if we needed any help. Doug and Veva are bikers themselves and wanted to make sure we were ok. We borrowed Dougs phone and called Ray and Marguerite (who we’d stayed with the previous Sunday) and asked if they could help us out. They lived about 50 miles away and kindly drove up with a trailer to collect us and took us back down to their house, where we are now.  Iain phoned John Rayski at Euro Motoelectrics (www.euromotoelectrics.com), to order a replacement part and he kindly said he’d send one out that day, free of charge – now that’s what we call great customer service – thanks John! So, the part should be us tomorrow and then hopefully we’ll be back on the road in a couple of days.   
Doug and Veva came to our rescue

The wonderful Ray and Marguerite
We cannot thank the folks that have helped us over the last couple of week enough, it has been a pleasure to meet and spend time with you all. 


  1. Thank you for the kind mention...we were pleased to help in any small way. The scope of your trip diminishes our cross-USA trip by far! We admire so much your bravery and adventursome spirit. We wish you safe travels for the remainder of your trip!
    Doug and Veva

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