26. May until 01. June 2019 – 7 days with 2 motorbikes – 1027 miles (1652 km) – From San Francisco to Los Angeles via the Eastern Sierras
Sunday, 26th May 2019 – San Francisco to Oakdale. Weather was sunny, cloudy, very windy and later rainy.
We had breakfast around the corner from our hotel (Hotel Vertigo, San Francisco) after we had a major re-pack the night before. Then we left 4 suitcases and several bags with the hotel reception (we would return in one week). We then took an Über to MotoQuest on Treasure Island. The guys there were very relaxed and Geoff could make all the mods on the bikes. Then we set off.
Through Oakland was an experience. Hundreds of traffic lights, stop and go, very seedy place, terrible really. Had a funny banter with a guy in a convertible who thought we had ridden all the way from Alaska because of our number plates. Our bikes (2 Suzuki V-Stroms 650) were very good – brand-new – we were very pleased with them. We finally got our of Oakland and arrived in the total opposite, the very upmarket area in Pleasanton. We stopped in a nice sushi restaurant (Sozo Sushi) and sat in the window to watch our bikes. Then we rode through some golden fields and farmlands and lots of fruit orchards. We had very strong wind, which was really unpleasant when it came from the side. Finally the sky got so black, that we decided to put our wet weather gear on. Just in time ! We had to ride the last 15 minutes to Oakdale in heavy rain and got soaked. Our hotel for the night was Best Western Plus, Rama Inn & Suites. Room was OK. We went to the Mexican (Javi’s) round the corner for dinner – very average – despite the elaborate description all dishes looked the same.
Monday, 27th May 2019 – Oakdale to South Lake Tahoe. Weather was first of all OK and only cloudy, but then it got very foggy, rainy and freezing cold.
Breakfast at the hotel was a non-event, like in many other American hotels. Geoff had to set a lot of things up on the bikes (cameras, etc.), so we didn’t set off until 11:30 o’clock. We finally found a lunch place in a pizzeria in Copperopolis – some nice lady from a library in a shopping plaza told us about it. We would have never found this place without her. Then we set off towards Carsons Pass. At this stage I would like to mention, that our original plan was, to ride via Yosemite (Tioga Pass), but due to very late snowfalls all the passes from West to East through Yosemite were closed and the only remaining option was Carsons Pass via South Lake Tahoe, which added an extra 400km to our original route.
Carsons Pass 8652 feet high (2637m)
Luther Pass 7740 feet high (2359m)
South Lake Tahoe 6237 feet high (1901m)
Back to Carsons Pass – very soon we were in the clouds and got wet and freezing cold. The temperature dropped to 27F (2.6C) and we worried that the fog might freeze to the road. The fog was so heavy in places, we couldn’t even see the road. Just the yellow line in the middle of the road was still visible. It went on for ages! As soon as we popped out of the fog, we stopped and took a few photos. I reckon we were about 40 minutes in the fog and rain and cold. We were shivering and I can honestly say I don’t care much for riding in fog and freezing cold. Then we still had quite a long ride to South Lake Tahoe and our hotel. We were extremely pleased when we got to our hotel (Beach retreat & Lodge at Tahoe). The name sounds better than the hotel actually is (it’s a bit run down), but we could park our bikes outside and our room was on the first floor. It was OK and it had a hot shower! Yeah! We then rewarded ourselves with a slap-up dinner in a very nice restaurant called ‘Cafe Fiore’ – 1169 Ski Run Boulevard. Approx. 20 mins walking from our hotel. Very small place, but very lovely. I had lobster with pasta and Geoff had Scaloppine Vitello. We had two glasses of wine each and pudding and they even had Earl Grey tea – bliss !
A few facts about Lake Tahoe: Lake Tahoe has been called a ‘700 year lake’ because it is so large and deep that it would take 700 years to fill it with water. Ringed by numerous mountain peaks, the Tahoe basin was formed between two and three million years ago by the same vast geological forces that created the Sierra Nevada and Carson mountain ranges. With a maximum depth of 1,645 feet (501m), Lake Tahoe is the second deepest in the United States and the tenth deepest in the world. Tahoe is unique in that it is one of North America’s few terminal lakes. While it is generally true that all rivers run to the sea, the Truckee River (which is Lake Tahoe’s only outlet) empties into Pyramid Lake in Nevada, making it a terminal lake. Lake Tahoe is 22 miles (35km) long and 12 miles (19km) wide. It has 72miles (116km) of shoreline and a surface area of 191 square miles (307 square km). With an average surface elevation of 6226 feet (1897m) above sea level Tahoe is the highest lake of its size in the United States.
Tuesday, 28th May 2019 – South Lake Tahoe to Lee Vining. Weather was at first cloudy, but then sunny (yeah!)
Woke up to a chilly start and took a few photos at the lake. Then we had breakfast at ‘Heidi’s Pancake House’. As the sizes of all meals in the US are massive, we decided to share an omelette. I bought a few postcards at the local store and the lady was jokingly telling me that there are a lot of bears around and yes, they do come into town and especially now they are grumpy, because they have just woken up from their hibernation. Needless to say I was scanning the surrounding forest areas whilst riding – really didn’t fancy meeting a grumpy bear!
We set off towards Lee Vining. We made a stop at Topaz Lake Casino & Coffee Bar/Restaurant for coffee and hot chocolate. Weather looked a bit dull, but it didn’t rain. Then we branched off Highway 395 onto US108 (Sonora Pass Road) and rode until we got to the sign saying ‘Road closed’. Then we continued on US395 to Bridgeport, where we stopped for fuel and at the ‘Sportsmens Bar & Grill’ for a ‘healthy’ lunch of Club Sandwich, fries and Coke. Our motorbikes were parked outside, so we could see them. We met a guy in the car park who told us about a gold rush ghost town, called Bodie and we decided to visit (see separate blog on Bodie)
After our visit to Bodie we finally arrived at Lee Vining and our hotel for the night – the Yosemite Gateway Motel. We had a smashing room – almost like a little house on the top floor with a balcony and a view of Mono Lake. We were a bit tired from all day on the bikes and went quickly to get some food. The unpretentious ‘Bodie Mike’s’ with standard fare was just across the road. We ate ribs and jacket potato and salad.
Lee Vining has only a population of 300. It sits on the base of Tioga Pass, the only eastern entrance to Yosemite. Lee Vining was named for Leroy Vining, who built a sawmill on the creek that now bears his name. Built in the 1960s.
We could have stayed here for 2 days, but as Tioga Pass was closed and we we had to go via route 88 (Carsons Pass), we lost one night.
Wednesday, 29th May 2019 – Lee Vining to Lone Pine. Finally sunny !
The seeds of the cottonwood blew all over the road, when we crossed over for breakfast – it almost looked like it was snowing ! We decided to ride as far on the Tioga Pass road until we hit another ‘Road closed’ sign, which was in fact only 4 miles (6km). Tioga Pass is the highest driveable pass in California. Construction began in 1882 as a wagon road. And it wasn’t until 1961 when the paved highway was completed. After we turned around at the ‘closed’ sign, we found a road in between the redwoods leading to a campsite. It was a very nice road along a river and we took lots of photos and videos. The closest we could get to our Yosemite feel.
Our second stop was Mono Lake at South Tufa. See separate blog on Mono Lake.
Then we continued on US395, but made a detour loop around Grand Lake, Silver Lake and June Lake, which was very nice. Then we rode the Mammoth Scenic Loop – very nice bendy road through pine forest. We had a nice lunch at the ‘Burgers Restaurant’ on Minaret Road in Mammoth Lake. We continued on US395 and stopped in Big Pine for a coffee and hot chocolate in a street-side cafe. The lady told us about the Alabama Hills and the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine – so, we decided to visit there as well. We got to our hotel around 5.30pm and were very hot from the long straight ride on US395. The receptionist at the Comfort Inn told us that there are no taxis in Lone Pine and it would be too far too walk into town. So we had a shower and then hopped back on our bikes to ride to the ‘Seasons’ restaurant to enjoy an elk steak.
Thursday, 30th May 2019 – Lone Pine to Bakersfield. Hot and sunny.
After breakfast we decided to visit the Museum of Western Film History and ride up to Whitney Portal (see separate blog on this ride)
As it was by now 1pm, we rode back to Lone Pine and had an excellent toasted ham and cheese sandwich and two Snapple ice teas (US$10.00) at the Chevron filling station, which we ate sitting on the side of the road. It was hot already and then we finally set off along US395. Many miles along a very straight road. The high peaks of Mount Whitney on the right receded to lower peaks of Sequoia National Park. On our left was desert-like landscape and it got hotter and hotter – 95F (34C). We were parched and stopped in a road-side shack for ice cream and water. Then we finally turned onto US178 towards Isabella Lake. The scenery changed and suddenly there were lots of Joshua trees (cacti) – of course we had to stop and take photos. Isabella Lake itself wasn’t that exciting, so we carried on and finally came into Kern River Canyon. Really beautiful scenery and a spectacular ride along the river and through the canyon. Still wanted to stop for a drink, but in the end we couldn’t find anywhere and carried on to the Springhill Suites at Marriott in Bakersfield. Although the temperature had dropped, I was overly hot and fed up with riding by then. We checked in and after a shower and two bottles of ice cold water I felt more normal and we walked over to the ‘Black Angus Steakhouse’ for dinner. There was a beautiful sunset and the restaurant was very good. I had a nice steak with prawns and a few glasses of wine and felt much better! The Marriott was US$30.00 cheaper than the Comfort Inn at Lone Pine!
Friday, 31st May 2019 – Bakersfield to Ventura. Hot and sunny.
Breakfast at the Marriott was a typical American affair – thank God for oatmeal and bananas and our own Earl Grey teabags. We rode out of Bakersfield and along a lot of fruit trees and fields (very agricultural) until we go to the hills and to Maricopa on Route US33. We stopped at a place called ‘The Place’ where we had a coke and shared a burger with fries. It was in the middle of nowhere and very cheap – US$1.00 for a soft drink. We me a fellow motorbike rider from Germany called Wolfgang, who was very chatty. Wolfgang told us that the road to Ojai through the Los Padres National Forest is a very good motorbike road and he was right – a lovely ride up to Pine Mountain Summit at 5160 feet (1573m) with lots of bends and twists. We stopped at Ojai for some drinks and then rode into Ventura to our hotel – La Quinta Inn. We took an Über into town and went for a nice meal at the ‘Cafe Fiore’ on 66S California Street. Nice atmosphere and very good italian food.
Saturday, 1st June 2019 – Ventura to Los Angeles. Rainy.
Another non-event breakfast at the hotel. Then we put our rain gear on and headed out. As the weather was miserable we decided to give Mulholland Drive a miss and go straight to Malibu. From our cabrio tour two weeks earlier we knew there were not a lot of places to eat after Malibu, so we decided to stop at the beach at ‘The Sunset’ restaurant for brunch. Food was quite good, the service was a bit slap-dash (chipped glass, forgotten orange juice, no avocado on my eggs benedict and the waiter pretended to speak French – ha !) But we felt refreshed afterwards. We took a funny picture on the beach in the rain (luckily it was only a drizzle). Valet parking for our motorbikes was US$6.00. We then rode to Los Angeles via the airport. We stopped in a service station to fill both bikes up. By then it had stopped raining, so we took our rain gear off again. Then we rode to MotoQuest on Sepulveda Road – quite a long way. Motoquest always seems to be in an industrial area. Anyway, all good. We got there in one piece.
The total of our trip was 1027 miles (1652km) – I was very proud of myself for doing it ! All in all we had a great adventure and made some long lasting memories.
Author: Liz Tompkinson