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”…

Canada, oh Canada – Alberta

Finally, after a year of withdrawal Team Berg is back on the road to finish what we started last year, aka closing the loop. The plan is to travel from Alberta to California via the West Coast.

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Our flight took us via LAX to Edmonton, where our friend Cata kindly lent us her car for the weekend but not before putting us onto a ‘special agent mission’ including a secret email with a photo of a parking ticket and instructions on where to find the key! The car attendants looked at us suspiciously as drove off onto the wrong side of the road! Absolutely brilliant start! But before we started on our journey we stopped-by an old primary school friend of DB from Zambia, Ammara and Clint, for a catch up and have the best and BIGGEST T-bone steaks we’ve ever eaten. Canadian beef eh!

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Thanks to Cata and Jeff, our bikes were well looked after and stored in a heated garage in Clive during the past year. We couldn’t believe it that both bikes jumped back into life at the first touch of the starter button after sitting in a corner for such a long time. You gotta love the mighty GS.

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The trip started with a little detour, since CB wanted to ride the Ice Fields Parkway from Jasper to Banff, which ended up to be a pretty long ride but well worth the effort with plenty of waterfalls, steep mountains towering in front of us and plenty of glaciers, some of them coming all the way down to the road. The ride however towards the end was challenging as the cold and rain set in…needless to say the nice hotel room, hot shower and fluffy towels were most welcome (that and the $6 cocktails for DB!).photo(2) photo

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Our last day in Lake Louise and Alberta was crazy. We were so exhausted from the night before and slept in till 30 minutes before check out. We rushed out of the hotel to a glorious day. After some quick maintenance on the bikes we decided to check out Lake Louise. Trying to find parking near Lake Louise was a mission and we were starting to question whether it was worth it but once we walked down to the lake we realised why this place was so popular with honeymooning couples – DB was finally lost for words at the sight before us…

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