Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Tourists for a day

December 22, 2012

With the threat of rain looming last weekend, we shelved our plans to go to Sonoma and played tourists for a day on Sunday. Wearing brightly-colored rain jackets and carrying my DSLR camera, we lined up at Powell Station to ride the cable cars.

A woman sang operatic Christmas carols while we waited in the long line. (Google occasionally recommends the cable cars as the best route to reach Nob Hill, but they are definitely not the fastest way to travel, and we were glad to see how much public transit has progressed since the cable car days.)

We rode the Powell-Hyde line, all decked out in Christmas lights, while the conductor kept yelling at tourists to hold on to the poles and stop taking photos. Happily we got to ride for free, whereas tourists have to pay $6 per ride.

The car dropped us off at Fisherman's Wharf, where we found an In-N-Out Burger. Californians think the fast food chain is worth raving about, but our fries were barely cooked and Ben's burger was as thick as a piece of paper. We weren't impressed and won't be coming back.

We walked around Ghirardelli Square because I remembered eating sundaes there as a kid and wanted to see it again. Then, content with the fact that we can now say we've ridden the cable cars, we headed home.

We're in Boston now to celebrate Christmas with my family.

- Steph

Riding through Marin County

December 11, 2012
Northern California is a motorcyclist's paradise.

On our last trip we went south from San Francisco. This past Sunday, we rode north to Marin County. We followed the route described in this article, a 47-mile loop starting at Point Reyes Station.

Point Reyes is 33 miles out of San Francisco, around an hour and a half from home, over the Golden Gate Bridge and along route 1. We had driven there on our car trip in September, but the sharp curves on that part of route 1 are definitely most enjoyable on two wheels.

At Point Reyes we had lunch at the same place as last time, at the Station House Cafe. Judging from the bikes parked outside, it's very popular with bikers, and the food is very good.


We got a later start than originally planned, so rather than do the loop clockwise as suggested, we decided to do it counter-clockwise, giving us the option of cutting across to route 101 if it got dark too early. But it wasn't necessary; we did the loop faster than the article predicted, and made it all the way back to SF before it was too dark. It's a good thing, because the last leg along Tomales Bay was incredible.

The loop took around two hours and was full of amazing hills, curves, coastal views, cow pastures, and small lakes. (All the photos were taken by the bike's rear-mounted camera, aka Steph.)

Click on the photos for a slideshow view.

One of these days, we'll get someone to take a picture of both of us on the bike.

Back over the Golden Gate Bridge

- Ben

San Franciscan flowers

December 6, 2012

"The sun! The sun!" I yell. Ben pulls his earphones off and gives me a funny look. "Did you say something?" "The sun!" — the scene in our apartment on Sunday, the day the sun finally came out.

After gorgeous weather for our Thanksgiving road trip, the sun seemingly said goodbye to San Francisco last week. The sky seemed intent on raining endlessly. I was even jealous of the snow in Boston.

Feeling more than a little cooped up (neither public transit nor motorcycle travel is much fun in the rain), we couldn't have been happier when the sun finally peeked out. Even better, it stayed out. With a whole afternoon of daylight ahead us, we hopped on over to Golden Gate Park, the city's 1,000-acre park that we hadn't yet visited.

We walked around until we stumbled upon an attraction: the San Francisco Botanical Garden, free to SF residents (!).

south africa botanical garden
The photo directly above on the left is from the South Africa section, which we thought had some of the coolest plants (the garden is divided by countries/regions: New Zealand, Australia, Chile, temperate Asia). The photo above on the right is actually a very small plant that resembled a bonsai tree.
san francisco botanical garden mallard duck
san francisco botanical garden puya mirabilis

Puya Mirabilis from northwest Argentina; we were there! When we arrived, Ben was intrigued by the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest, where he expected to find plants that resembled clouds. Not quite. Cloud forests are vegetation zones that occur on high mountainsides with cool year-round temperatures and near constant mist and fog. Year-round fog? Sounds like outer San Francisco; and indeed, the climate here allows gardeners to cultivate plants native to cloud forests. We actually drove through a cloud forest near Tafi del Valle on our Argentina motorcycle trip.

san francisco botanical garden rose

- Steph

Driving doggie: photo of the day

December 5, 2012

Some cars in the Bay Area are driven by robots, but it's not every day you see a dog in the driver's seat. We saw this adorable guy on our way home from the botanical gardens.

(No, he wasn't actually driving. The car was parked, and we presume he was keeping the seat warm for his pet human.)

- Ben

Road trip: Pinnacles National Monument

December 2, 2012

Start from the beginning of our road trip.

At this point in our trip, we've traveled for three days out of five, and are happily camped at a state park in the middle of Big Sur. We knew that this would be our farthest point south and it was time to start heading home. When we had asked Google how to get back, it recommended just retracing our route. How boring, we thought. Ben found Pinnacles National Monument online, about 40 miles northwest as the crow flies and boasting "massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages."

We booked a night of camping at Pinnacles and didn't think much more about it until the night before we left, when I started collecting the maps we would need. We knew we had to cross the Santa Lucia Mountains to get from Big Sur to Pinnacles, but our Rand McNally California Road Atlas didn't include any roads across the mountains (it's not a very good road atlas, and we wouldn't recommend it). Ironic, since the atlas claims on the cover: "Streets Mapquest and Google don't have. More accurate than Internet directions."

I double-checked Google, which once again told us the road existed. Wikipedia confirmed it. The road even has its own entry:
Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is the only road across the Santa Lucia Range in the Central Coast of California, connecting California State Route 1 and the Big Sur coast to U.S. Route 101 and the Salinas Valley. ... The road is well-paved and maintained over its length, but is winding and has precipitous drops at almost every turn. ... Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is widely regarded as one of the best motorcycling roads in central California due to the premier ocean views and forest setting.
Awesome. By chance we had planned to take one of the best motorcycling roads in California.

The turns in the first 10 miles were indeed precipitous as we climbed the mountains, gaining gorgeous views of Route 1 behind us. The water was unfortunately misty, obscuring the beauty of the photo on the left (our eyes were better at cutting through the fog, and for views of Route 1, this was one of the best we got). Coming into this trip, I had expected Route 1 to present a scarier drive. Our guidebook goes so far as to recommend driving from south to north if you're afraid of heights. But there are guard rails everywhere and in most cases, several feet of ground at least between road and ocean.

Nacimiento-Fergusson Road was closer to what I had envisioned of Route 1 — sharper turns and less room for error. But we took it slow for the first 10-15 miles as we climbed the forested slope. We saw only a few other travelers and were happy to leave the crowds behind. After we reached the apex, we passed a sign that said "Icy" and as if on cue, the temperature dropped at least 15 degrees. We were out of the reach of the sun as we descended, though luckily there was no ice on the road.

Eventually the road flattened out and we reached my favorite part of the drive: Hunter Liggett Military Reservation. The base is primarily used as a training facility, and most of the time, civilians are allowed to pass through (neither of the two checkpoints we passed was manned). The road curves through rolling hills, a kind of mountainous prairie, with no posted speed limits.

We stopped in King City for gas and food. While Ben ate, I scouted out a nearby coffee shop, which claimed to serve espresso but was closed. When I reported back, lamenting the dearth of good coffee, a woman overheard me: "You're in the middle of nowhere. You have to go an hour in either direction if you want coffee." Oh well.

Route 25 to Pinnacles was similarly beautiful, with wonderful winding curves you can lean into on a motorcycle (the turns on the first part of our drive were too sharp to take with any speed and there were two many cars on Route 1 to get a real feel for the curves). I was enjoying the ride too much to even take out my camera.

At Pinnacles (a national monument run by the National Park service, which is asking to become a national park), we embarked on our final day hike to see the Bear Gulch Cave, created by huge boulders that formed a roof over a narrow canyon.

The park apparently attracts a lot of rock climbers. According to our brochure: "The rock at Pinnacles, mostly volcanic breccia and tuff, is weak compared to the granite and basalt of many climbing areas.  ... Pinnacles rock can be so unstable that even new bolts may fail."

We shared our campsite with some wild turkeys (Ben was surprised when there were no roosters crowing the next morning, having confused turkeys and chickens) and packed up the next morning for a boring drive home. Whereas Route 25 had twisted and turned leading to Pinnacles, to the north it straightened out into a windy stretch of boring. That led us to 101, again not exactly a scenic roadway, where we located a Denny's (I had never been to one). We picked up 280 in San Jose but even that was too windy for our taste (in a car, it would be a beautiful highway), so we cut across the peninsula back to Route 1, our old stalwart. 

By 4 p.m., we were home, exhausted but happy. Our gear had held up (finding a motorcycle jacket for me was a multi-week affair), our new bike seemed perfect for cruising (though it had a few wiring problems that are hopefully now solved), and we couldn't wait to get back on the road. We want to head to Napa and Sonoma soon (hopefully before Christmas, if it ever stops raining), and explore Mount Tamalpais and Marin right over the bridge.

Our next big trip? Destination TBD.

- Steph