California

California, here we come.

It was going to be an adventure. We’d been to other parts of America, but never California. The one bit of planning we did was to book a couple of motorcycles. The rest of the holiday was going to be a mystery!

We flew in to Los Angeles International Airport, after a hurried connection in London. *Note to self – leave more time between flights. If you are transferring between terminals, be aware that you have to spend about 20 minutes on a bus and then go through the grilling at the American Airlines desk, a partner with British Airways. They don’t warn you that there’s a transfer time. Much jogging, which wasn’t pretty.

We were hiring our bikes through Eagle Rider. An American wide company that I have to say, does a very good job. Everything was very slick. We made a phone call, reserved our bikes and that was all the planning we did, bar a large map of California which just delighted my husband, Ed.

Ed has a lifelong passion for Harley Davidsons. I have, due to sharing the pain, have a lifelong dislike of Harleys. I don’t think I will ever recover, having seen the amount of ‘fixing’ needed. So, one thing’s for sure, I’m not renting a Harley.

I’m renting an Indian. A 60 cubic inch Indian.

Now, I ride a BMW most of the time, and the rest of the time I ride a Ducati; as long as there’s not salt on the road, I take the opportunity to take her (Ruby) out. My heart though, is with my BMW (Smoggy). I ride about 18,000 miles a year and I walk to work.

We were on the cusp of shipping our bikes. If we had been going on holiday for 3 weeks, it would have been worth shipping them. As it was, we went for 2.5 weeks. It’s worth doing the homework to find out which way is the cheapest option.

Picking the bikes up was really easy. Hand over our documents, remove the screens that were standard on the bikes (who needs a screen?), pack the waterproof bags on and get the sat nav sorted and we were on the way. First stop at Ewan McGregor’s house for a cuppa and a run through the canyons. Yes, I know, name dropping, however, it was a GREAT way to start the holiday! We started briefly on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), fuel, and then headed onto the twisty roads. A great way to learn how your bike handles. What shocked me, was how easily I got used to the big twin. She (Indy) was really easy to handle and I was amazed that I got used to handling her at low speeds. Solid and true. Lunch with Ewan was at Neptune’s Net – a haven of seafood. If you want it fried, fine. If you want it out of the shell, that’s good too! It was all too short, but hey, he’s a busy man. We felt were honoured.

So, with about 1000cc of grunt, I spent the first part of my holiday getting used to her torque, which I have to say was amazing. She has a lovely scooped leather seat. Very quickly I realised it was scooped for a reason. So, when you crack open the throttle…… Wham! My feet left the pegs and my (ample) ass shot back on the seat. Had the seat not been scooped out, I would have landed on the back mudguard. Oh, what fun! 6th gear, open the throttle, brrrrrrap!

Riding V-twins all the time, I’m used to shifting a gear to get a bit of action, but, no, with Indy it was an instant shift of power; twist that wrist. I have a big grin on my face.

We headed up the PCH. The views were spectacular. It is on the list of the ‘things to do now, whilst you can’. We only did the stretch to San Francisco. Top tip: don’t do it the day before Thanksgiving. It was busy, however, not that busy we couldn’t have a great time. The one thing that there’s lots of are Mustangs. Lots of them, I love the burble of a big American engine. Our next stop was Carmel and the accommodation wasn’t as expensive as you would imagine. The view at the beach was worth it.

We headed south from San Francisco, after doing the tourist bit…. The uppy-downy roads, the Golden Gate Bridge, a wee taster of the big city. The next part was via Bakersfield, the home of nodding donkeys – we could smell the oil, next was Hollister. Hollister was the place that witnessed the motorcycle riot that took place in 1947 and was the base of the film, ‘The Wild One’. That was the most dreich part of the whole holiday. We did get a top tip though, from the policeman that was outside our motel room the morning we were to leave Hollister.

Be aware of the signs that advise you to ride more slowly round bends. Pay attention. Slow down. However, his top tip was: watch what you do when you leave the town, the tomato farmers leave a trail through the main street. Tomatoes + Motorcycle = chaos. I have to say though, it’s not an issue. We’re used to slippery conditions and corners. Then only concern we had was the hard compound tyres that they put on bikes in the USA. It’s probably just as well, given the big, straight roads that you encounter. We thought that we would be bored senseless, however, the views were quite spectacular, even in the desert.

Onwards, through rocky canyons which I would have appreciated more had I had a helmet cam on to re-live the experience. I saw the most amazingly HUGE boulders in the canyons. Oddly enough, Ed didn’t notice them. Strange what you see, or don’t see, when you are travelling.  From there, the weather got a bit more interesting. Given it was November, you have to pack summer and winter clothes. This can be a bit challenging, but thankfully, BA give you a baggage allowance of 2 suitcases per person, so it’s easy to pack your bike gear. Check that before you go. Bike gear takes up a lot of space.

We took a visit to Death Valley. In the summer, it’s baking hot. In November, getting to Death Valley was really cold. In Death Valley when we paid premium prices for fuel (worth it, given my small tank), we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed what must have been about 20 degrees. Up on the mountains it was in low single figures. In Furnace, we were stripping off our gear, only to put it all back on again to deal with the varying temperatures.

Everyone was friendly. It must have hacked Ed off, but most people admired the Indian before the Harley. I guess that must be down to Harley’s being so popular, wee Indy was different and pretty cute.

Now, riding in the USA, the main thing that’s different, is turning right on a red light – UNLESS it tells you that you can’t. It’s pretty much common sense.  If you’re not sure, it’s ok, the honking of horns behind you will give you the clue. The speed limits are nearly the same as home, however, the drivers and riders don’t pay the blindest bit of attention. On the highways, they overtake and undertake, so pay attention to your nearside and offside mirrors; everything happens in a blur.  Corners are interesting: if it’s a really sharp corner, the advised speed may be 30mph; it may be 50mph. It’s ok though, we’re used to corners. Americans aren’t! Watch though if it’s been raining, the traction isn’t the same there as it is on our roads. The whole makeup of the roads doesn’t promote riding the corners swiftly. Then there’s 4-way crossings. Don’t be worried, just think about ‘first come, first served’. That’s how it works. People don’t ‘stop’, it’s more a rolling approach to the stop sign, but the one thing they are anal about is the first come, first served, basis. If you break the rules, they will honk. Loudly.

Enough of the roads. Or is it? Make sure that you venture into the Forest Parks. They’re protected – like our national parks and are quite beautiful, the Forest Rangers are all lovely, especially when you tell them that one of their lovely toilets needed a pressure washer to get rid of the splatter that had been left – I know, too much detail, however, toilets are important, especially to a woman.

My favourite park was San Bernardino Forest Park which was near where we stayed in Palm Desert. There’s a shed load of mountainous roads that are just amazing; breathtakingly beautiful. Smooth surfaces, lovely curves and the double bonus is that slower cars (generally) allow you to overtake. How sociable. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, there’s the Angeles Mountain Park, which, I highly recommend in the off-season. It was just so peaceful, tranquil and again lovely, lovely twisty roads. We were in our element. What more could we wish for?

Would I recommend it? Definitely. It’s a marvellous, eye-opening experience that everyone should do. Venture off of the main highways though, buy a map and enjoy the different roads, conditions and the people, who were marvellous.

Due to the climate of ‘Brexit’, it wasn’t cheap. I will never, ever complain about prices at home, ever again. I know it was bad timing, however, it was all worth it. If you are thinking about going to California, just do it. It’s an eye-opening experience, and if you are addicted to motorcycling like I am, just do it. Save up your pennies, and make sure you visit the mountains and the desert! It’s just wonderful.

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