Big Sur to the Finish Line

Its not over until the fat lady sings they say, or at least until Team Berg can hear the music – any music – this trip ain’t over! Quite to the contrary, since there was Big Sur to be conquered before riding into LA. Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the Central Coast of California where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The name “Big Sur” is derived from the original Spanish-language “el sur grande”, meaning “the big south” – or in motorcycle terms: “Heaps of Twisties”!!!

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The stunning infamous California Highway 1 did not disappoint. The long corners swept around the parched windswept coastal slopes allowing us to truly relax and enjoy the stunning blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. We stopped every so often to admire the view and pinch ourselves – we were really here, fulfilling a that motorcycling dream of riding the Big Sur! And just then a group of bright red and yellow Ferrari’s came screaming around the corner – a gentle reminder of our retirement dream!

In order to make up for some lost time we pushed on to Morro Bay – a sleepy Californian town on the Pacific coast. What the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, and the Statue of Liberty to New York, Morro Bay has some derelict smoke stacks from a retired coal power station which can be seen for miles! Needless to say there was a bit of mumbling and complaining to be heard over the intercom in anxious anticipation of what to come – but it was not so bad in the end. Our hotel room , however, must have won the first prize in some homemaker competition for grandmother themed rooms, complete with a coin operated vibrating bed. DB being DB had to give it a go…it was the worst five minutes and we ended up pulling the power-plug as another ten minutes would have been unbearble.

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The next morning we stopped for breakfast at the only decent cafe in town and to our UTTER surprise they made espresso style coffee like we have in Australia/NZ with proper creamy froth and not the weird foam we found a lot of cafes dollop. DB was so excited that she had to post her finding on TripAdvisor immediately lest she forget.

After loading and fueling up the bikes it was an easy ride to Santa Barbara. Somehow had DB caught a fancy of all towns starting with ‘Santa’ and wanted to visit as many as she could, sadly the results of some were disappointing (Santa Rosa) but there was an exception where she was spot on – Santa Barbara. Our ride from Moro Bay to Santa Barbara was quicker than we expected and our hotel room wasn’t ready. So we left one bike at the hotel, dumped the panniers at the foot of the receptionist and went 2-up into the nearby mountains along Highway 33. It was during this wee detour that our tag line to “Team Berg” came very apparent “over confident under prepared”. Firstly, we didn’t realise that we had to drive towards LA to veer on to Highway 33. Traffic was slow and heavy but California lane splitting is not only allowed it is a must because riding a bike between first gear, second gear and the brakes isn’t fun. Lane splitting however is not for the faint-hearted, DB was crouched in the back with her eyes squeezed shut and muffled screams from her helmet as we weaved in and out and in between car, SUVs and trucks.

We finally made it to Highway 33 and CB carefully listened to the instructions to head towards Santa Paula, our lunch destination. However CB being CB got a little carried away with the prospect of some canyon carving and after some spirited cornering we found ourselves in deep in the hot dry desert, the reserve light came on and we ran out of water. At one point we stopped on the side of the road to read the GPS better and lick the last drops of water from our camel-backs – a black Porsche screamed past us – but due to dehydration we were too slow to flag it down. In the end we made it to Ojai powered by gasoline fumes and sheer determination to quench our thirst. At the station we fueled up but due to a lack of food options, we purchased a petrol-station-sandwich which was probably 4 days fresh, needless to say we both regretted bitterly afterwards.

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Back in Santa Barbara, we enjoyed the rest of the eventing with a nice walk along the beach and out to the famous pier (Stearns Warf, which burnt down a number of times in the past), had some nice cocktails and a fabulous Italian dinner in one of the town’s best restaurants – Toma.

The next day was the moment of truth – riding into LA! How bad could it be? DB had horror visions of 16 lane highways and traffic jams – in the end it was a cake walk. We followed the Highway 1 all the way to Santa Monica past Malibu and the surprisingly sweet, sweet smell of vast strawberry fields, then past the famous Mulholland Drive we enjoyed so much last year, onto the Interstate and 10 minutes later were were rolling into the driveway of our hotel right in the middle of Beverly Hills and LAX. DB had nothing to fear except fear itself – Yoda says over the Bluetooth intercoms.

So with our arrival into LA, we had a couple of days spare to mothball our bikes and fly home – well not quite! It wouldn’t be a Team Berg adventure without one last ridiculous blowout! We could have gone to Disneyland or Universal Studio but we thought “nah” and booked two nights in Vegas including an appropriately matching mode of transportation (see next blog).

The 2-wheeled part of the journey was sadly over. 5,000km in about a month covering two Provinces and three States and countless small towns and big cities which means that Team Berg has now closed the Big Loop. We have ridden ALL AROUND the USA. Now that is one epically awesome story for the grandkids!

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San Francisco – More than just a Golden Gate

Mildly hung-over and dehydrated, we jumped back on our (hydrocarbon fired) bikes, which felt so much more comfortable and safer than the self-propelled alternative. There was a direct motorway to San Fran via the Interstate, but we decided to take the alternative route along the coast, Highway 1. The ride started out well, the day was hot and sunny but as we approached the water, we could feel the temperature dropping and then suddenly after a few corners – bam – we found ourselves winding along a mist covered road! DB had to stop and put on the layers along with a hanky tucked between the handlebars and hand-guards to wipe the fine beads off her visor. The mist was thick and road tightly hugged the corners of the cliffs… hairy for DB, but zen for CB. A few more corners later we found ourselves in suburbia and then suddenly we were heading straight out onto the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a glorious reward to cross that marvel of a bridge after so many miles of riding.

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Crossing the mist shrouded Golden Gate Bridge on our bikes have always been a dream of ours. The first time we rode the Sydney Harbour Bridge, there was a few tears in our eyes and some fist pumping. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was no different – it was a tick off our bucket list!

The strangest thing about riding into San Francisco is that it happens really fast. Unlike our experiences riding into Houston, TX or Seattle, WA, San Fran was over before we knew it. We found ourselves at our hotel only to be told that we were way too early. We decided to find a place for breakfast and walked into a diner next door. The waitress who served us was just a delight. She ended up giving us maps of the city and highlighted all the places that we should visit and all the places things we must do.

Brunch over, we securely cable-tied and dumped our panniers in the hotel room and set on foot to explore the city. At the time of booking our accommodation we failed to read the reviews that reported burglaries and prostitutes working double shifts, hence the cable-tying of the panniers. In the end it turned out much better than expected. The front desk staff kindly blocked off a parking spot for our bikes right in front of their security cameras.

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So it is well known that San Francisco is famous for a number of things including STEEP roads. Feeling Olympic we decided to climb a few…but soon realised that our fitness level was nil after sitting on the bike for so long. DB used the opportunity to catch up with her old school friend Nishika and, of course, to do more serious shopping… Nishika and Jake kindly took us out to dinner two nights in a row and the meals and drinks we had were possibly the finest we’ve had throughout our travels across the USA. It was a glorious mix of gastronomic delights and fantastic company – thanks guys!  It also happened to be that our friends from Sydney, Ayesha and Kay, were in town at the same time – and it seemed it was almost easier to organise a meet-up in the San Francisco than back in Sydney. We swapped stories of epic adventures over a yummy Thai meal and Singapore Slings!

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Exploring the city was great fun: everything is walkable, the cable-cars add a level of quirkiness to the city, the whole place reminded us of a massive version of Wellington. Mind you the place was also full of Kiwis, Aussies and Germans – just like Wellington.

While we were there doing our usual exploring, by complete accident, we stumbled upon the Americas Cup – the Louis Vuitton Cup races! We sat through a couple of races not sure what to expect and were completely blown away to find out Team New Zealand beating Prada’s Luna Rossa out of the water! Best part was we had the privilege to witness Black Magic cross the finish line right in front of us! We completed a wonderful day by taking an amazing afternoon harbour cruise to just under the Golden Gate Bridge and dinner at a Forrest Gump themed restaurant – Buba Gump Shrimp – hello Alabama Slammer (DB’s current favourite cocktail).

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One of the must do things in San Fran is visiting the notorious former federal prison on Alcatraz. The day of our trip coincided with the final Louis Vuitton race. On the way to Alcatraz our ferry found itself almost in the middle of the race course with the result of Team New Zealand flying past us just a stone throw away! Those cats are just amazing, they really are flying on the water! Gives you goosebumps just seeing them scream past you!

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The Alcatraz tour was interesting, the history of the island was dark and cruel but then again the prisoners held here were the worst of the worst. Nevertheless it was quite an eerie feeling wandering through the cell blocks where gangsters like Al Capone did some time. One interesting fact we discovered was that the waters around Alcatraz island are so cold and inhospitable that escape to the mainland (just over 2kms) was virtually impossible – although attempts of escape were made. The walking audio tour we did was fantastic, but after nearly four days of non stop walking – we were over it and looking forward to sitting back on the bikes.

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Our time in San Francisco drew to an end the realisation that our trip is now coming to an end was becoming more intense – so packing our bikes felt harder than usual (or is it because DB bought so much clothes???). But there was a lot more to look forward to, traveling to all the “Santa” named towns into LA, the Big Sur and of course a quick and dirty trip to Las Vegas in a Mustang Convertible!

Sonoma Valley – I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Leaving the majestic giants of northern California behind us, we were heading to more scientific ventures of our trip – yes, wine sampling was next on our itinerary. While Napa is probably the most famous wine growing region in the USA, it is also said to be a little pretentious and a little overpriced compared to Sonoma.

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We moved away from the coastal route, Highway 101 and 1, that we had been riding for the last few days and ventured inland. Most noticeable was the sudden temperature change and the sudden emergence of the sun! Traveling the interesting windy Highway 125 into Sonoma was definitely a highlight!

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We stayed at a hotel a few blocks away from the city center of Sonoma, which was highly recommended on TripAdviser. Considering the room rate, we were expecting a hint of luxury, but when we entered the room we had a sobering experience. It seemed the price is rather reflecting the location that the quality of the room. Anyway, Team Berg was not holding back on the sampling mission, so off we went to the wine bar across the road. We were surprised how packed the place was just to find out that the local gay community was hosting their monthly GayDar event. Needless to say, it didn’t take long until we met a lot of new people, were invited for cake and wine sampling. It was just a wonderful way to enjoy our first day in Sonoma!

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The next day we booked ourselves into self guided bicycle tour of a few tasting rooms close to the Sonoma town center. It was so strange riding a bicycle after riding motorbikes. First the stability of a bike on shoddy roads was next to none, the braking power was shocking, and the lack of signalling and mirrors was just dangerous. But we continued on in typical Team Berg fashion – over confident and under prepared. With no sunscreen or water on a hot humid day, we didn’t get very fair after each tasting but at least it made the down hill ride down from one vineyard eventful.

Leaving Sonoma was hard, the warm weather (35 degrees in the shade), the gorgeous town centre, the wonderful community and the delicious wine but we were very excited about our next destination – San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge!

Northern California – Home of the Giant Redwood Trees

Leaving the Oregon Coast behind, Team Berg is heading inland for a minor detour to ride the entire length of the Redwood Highway 199 into Northern California towards Crescent City where we were staying for a couple of days to explore the forests around here. We learned that only 5% of the redwoods are left (which are now mostly protected), and that they thrive in foggy conditions since they have an ability of absorb moisture from the air.

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What we saw exceeded our wildest expectations. Those trees are just massive! Nothing like we’ve ever seen before.

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But before going on about more detail, we have you to tell you about Supervisor Gattlin, who sits on the Board of Supervisors – the governing body for the County of Del Norte. He highly recommended visiting the Mystery of the Trees – apparently THE NUMBER ONE tourist attraction in the County. So we went – 15 dollars p.p. later we had a chance to look at a number of big trees and a cable car ride, which turned out to be a little disappointing, since you can just take one of many roads through a forest and look at tons of trees for free anyway. We ended up leaving quickly and to find a little detour on a dirt track – CB felt like star  trooper on one of those space bikes. And I swear, I am 100% sure I saw an Ewok lurking in the bushes.

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From here we continued the famous Highway 101 south towards Sonoma where some serious wine sampling was waiting for us, but not without riding though the giant Chandelier Tree, something that Team Berg wanted to do since childhood.

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Oregon – Land of the ‘Treehuggers’

As we missed out on the spectacular views of Mt Rainier and Mt St Helens on our way down from Seattle due to low hanging clouds, we were determined to backtrack to have another shot at it. So we took the Old Historic Highway 30 along the Columbia River (which is also dubbed as the King of Roads), and then up into the mountains.

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Not only was this a fantastic motorcycle road with corners galore, but the views were equally amazing and worth the trip. The best part about the ride was for most of it, it was just fir trees after fir trees then suddenly between the trees loomed a giant volcano… we almost slammed on the brakes… the sight was mesmerising! We quickly rode on looking for a view point and when we found one and there were tears in DB’s eyes. In front of us, quietly sleeping away was Mt St Helens…she was breathtaking. The two of us being closet Geography geeks, so as kids we read up on all the cool and interesting facts about the last mighty eruption (which occurred in May 1980, five months before DB was born). As you probably already know, the eruption blew the northern face of the volcano off, the lahar destroyed hundreds of square kilometres of surrounding landscape, deposited ash in over 10 states and according to our mate Rob who was living in Canada at the time, the eruption was felt as far as Vancouver Canada!

The land prior to the eruption used to be owned privately but now it is preserved as a national monument – thank goodness too! The landscape around these amazing mountains – Mt Hood, Mt St Helens and Mt Rainier is breathtaking, as is Olympic National Park which we only caught glimpses off. We will surely return one day to re-visit this amazing part of the USA.

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Back in Portland, we set on foot to explore the town which is known for its high quality of life, artistic flare, bridges, book stores and other oddities such as an infamous strictly vegan strip-bar close to our hotel (what the!?!?). The wonderful thing about Portland is that it is very walkable. According to a number of taxi drivers we met, Portland is famous for its micro-brew beers, great books stores and close proximity to amazing national parks. We had already visited a number of amazing parks so next on the list was beer and food! On our first night, our taxi driver took us to the best restaurant in town (as rated on Tripadviser), Andina which served Peruvian meals. We not only dined on scrumptious dishes we also relived CB’s South American adventure through a number of potent pisco-sours! The walk home was an interesting one with a lovely chap walking his dog  stopping to chat to us and giving DB a wishing stone for good luck (he turned out to be a millionaire after selling his wine business to Fosters in Australia).

Next on our list was finding a good micro-brewery…sadly the place CB picked wasn’t the most inspiring (there was some strange talk/debate going on about junk in the trunk and DNA – too strange for DB). We ended up chilling out over some tasty cocktails and delicious Vietnamese food at a neighbourhood eatery under the warm afternoon sun – a perfect end to our day.

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Oh, and since Oregon has no Sale Tax DB did some serious shopping too, pushing our bike’s storage capacity to the limit (DB comment: err I only bought a wallet, necklace and a beater attachment for my mixer, he bought MORE clothes!).

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We also took the opportunity to catch up with John Goff, the worlds leading Flexit historian. (for those who don’t know, a Flexit is a leaning sidecar which can be attached to almost any motorcycle, necessary for future travel adventures when we have some baby-Bergs). John and his wife Char invited us over for dinner and we brought up to speed on many of Oregon’s hidden secrets, such as passing this strange aviation-water-park-museum (they had water slides coming out of a Boeing 747) and Mo’s famous for their clam chowder, which we tried on our way along the coastline on the famous Highway 101. After a good 15 minute wait we got to taste this interesting dish and to our surprise this soup is traditionally eaten with cracker biscuits and not bread! We learn something new every day.

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Next we head south along the coast on the 101 into California, the world famous redwood forests and wine country Sonoma where we realise that our motto should really be Team Berg – over confident and under prepared!

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Washington – the State, not D.C.

After an hour long interrogation Team Berg finally managed to cross the border, and in all honesty, it was harder than any border crossing CB experienced in South America (maybe apart from that situation where CB got stuck in no mans land between Chile and Argentina because he refused to pay a bribe to pass or enter, but that is another story).

In front of us was rural countryside – nothing like what you expect from the greatest country in the world, but the roads were nice and cornery, enough to have some fun all the way to our next stop – Seattle: The city of grunge – Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. There was no way in hell we would miss the ‘unofficial’ memorial of Kurt Cobain at Viretta Park, Seattle. But finding it was a different story! Google provided enough clues to feed into the GPS, then half an hour later we ended up in one of the richest suburbs in town. And there it was – small, unpretentious, unmarked memorial to Kurt Cobain…some old park bench with heart-broken commentary.

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We had a good couple of days in Seattle. We went to the Pike Markets, the Space Needle and all – DB fell in love with Seattle.

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And the photos are the proof that it does not rain all the time in Seattle.

Next we headed south, the plan was to go to Mt Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, unfortunately we jinxed our luck of god weather and the clouds came rolling in. There was no chance in the world to see the mountains. So we headed south towards Portland, Oregon.

British Columbia – or how bad could a border crossing be?

The ride from Lake Louise towards Vancouver offered very little – choices for alternative roads: there was the Trans-Canada Highway, the Trans-Canada Highway, oh, yes, you guessed right – you could also pick the Trans-Canada Highway! But not without peril – pretty much anything that needs to go east to west is being transported on that road – including live stock. Unfortunately a truck full of cows, probably suffering severe case of diarrhoea from all those fast downhill corners, just happened to be in front of us and just before DB overtook them the cows released another smelly load splattering all over DB. Sadly the pictures don’t do justice but suffice to say she was not particularly happy:

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Our destination was Kamloops, BC, a sleepy little town with a big river running beside it half way from Lake Louise and the USA border. After a yummy Mexican  salad dinner we decided to explore the town by foot. The weather was just phenomenal, considering we were in the middle of the Rocky Mountains! So we had a nice stroll around town and enjoyed the summer evening watching the sunset by the river.

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And of course, there was no way we would leave our beloved Canada without another stop at Tim Hortens – the coffee chain of choice when it come to free wi-fi, great bagels and good brew of coffee.

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In order to get a head start on our crossing into the US of A, we picked our pit stop at Abbotford, just a few clicks from the border. The hotel was sort of in the middle of nowhere and next to the highway, but the mini-put course, baseball range and happy hour cocktails made up for it.

The next day we headed towards the USA border. The wait was 20 minutes, not fun moving at a snails pace on bike in full gear. It was finally our turn when the customs officer put up a sign saying “closed”!!! We sat there in the hot sun for another ten minutes, CB slowly turning a lighter shade of burnt lobster, when finally the gates where opened. The customs guy was the rudest officer we had met, and they said LAX customs officers were bad! The guy signalled DB to approach first. DB obediently gave him all our paperwork, passports and flashed the biggest of smiles…he wasn’t impressed, instead proceeded to give her the third degree:

Customs guy: “why do you have two passports?”

DB: “my husband and I are travelling together so we keep all our paperwork together”.

Customs guy: “but what if you spilt up?”

DB “we don’t”.

Customs guy rubs his greasy moustache and licks his fat lips unconvinced: “you are from New Zealand, why do you have a Californian registered bike but crossing the border from British Columbia?”

DB: “I bought the bike from California”

Customs guy: “but why did you register the bike in California?”

DB: “because I bought it in California (duh)”

Customs guy: “ok let me get this right, you are from New Zealand but departed from Australia, landed in LA and now driving from Canada on a Californian registered bike?”

DB: “yes”

Customs officer: “okay, take this orange sticker, dismount immediately, step away from the bike, we need to investigate this further”…