Friday, March 19, 2010

You meet the nicest people on a ...

Back in the 60s, a fledgling Japanese motorcycle manufacturer concocted the slogan: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” The concept still holds true. Having completed nearly 600 miles in two days riding the California coast from Marin to Fort Bragg, here are some conversations with people I met along the way.

AT A 76 STATION JUST OUTSIDE OF SONOMA: “You from Georgia or South Carolina?” I asked the young black man riding what appeared to be a vintage Harley Davidson. From a distance, the tiny license plate looked like it had a peach on it. The young man wore a beautiful Dianese leather jacket and matching pants. Definitely not Harley attire.

He carefully monitored the nozzle pouring 92 octane into the tank. “The UK.”


“Ah’m from the UK. Staying in the city.” That would be San Francisco. “I con’t believe ah’m in the US riding the Sonoma vineyards on a Harley!”

“You picked a great day.”

“Mate, every day’s a great day in California, as I see it.” He’d completed his fill, fastened his helmet and rode off with a jaunty wave and the words “See ya!”

I knew I wouldn’t, but I wished I’d asked him several questions. The lingering one – a stupid question in retrospect - would be: “What do you ride when you ride over there?”

AT THE HARBOR LITE MOTEL IN FORT BRAGG: “I feel so sorry for you guys riding motorcycles up here most days. So cold and wet.” The young lady at the desk might have been out of college and was certainly amiable.

Today hadn’t been wet, but it wasn’t warm. “Today was perfect,” I said.

“You know, I don’t ride. Dad says it’s too dangerous.” She smiled. “So I surf.”

My teeth chattered. (Damn!) “And you think riding a bike is cold?”

“I don’t know. You guys always look frozen when you come in.”

“No. Today was perfect.” I finished checking in and immediately went to my room and thawed out with a hot shower. “Ahhhh…”

AT A CHEVRON STATION IN GUALALA: “I never rode me one of those.” The old man had exited a blue Jetta and was pointing to my BMW. “Well, I did ride when I was younger, but only in the dirt fields.”

“You gotta be careful,” I said.

“I was going to tell you to be careful,” the old man said. “Where are you headed?”

“Home. Sacramento area. Just came down from Fort Bragg.”

Wistfully: “I wish I’da spent some time on the road when I had the chance.”

The old man’s daughter (perhaps granddaughter) approached from the convenience store. “C’mon, Papa. It’s time to get back in the car.” She directed him into the passenger seat and helped him fasten the shoulder harness.

We made eye contact and he lifted a crippled pair of fingers to the window as they departed.

AT A NO-NAME GAS STATION IN HEALDSBURG: “I’m wanting to take the Skaggs Springs Road. You guys know if there’s gas on the coast?” The young man had his Suzuki pulled up to the pumps, but wandered over to see Sam and me as we parked in a restaurant lot.

“We just did Skaggs Springs,” Sam said. “Great ride.”

“Yep, there’s gas at Stewart’s Point. 47 miles,” I said. “Great ride.”

“I was just wonderin’ if I should fill up now or wait until I get there.”

Sam and I looked at each other, then to the young man who’s Suzuki was parked at the pump. “Fill up now. Then you can enjoy the ride without worrying about gas,” I said.

Sam added: “And watch out for the decreasing radius turns.”

The young man thanked us and went to fill up, but I wasn’t convinced he knew what a decreasing radius turn was and hoped we wouldn’t read about him in the paper tomorrow.

AT THE LAUNCH RAMP FOR THE CITY OF NAPA WATER RESERVOIR ON 128 EAST OF NAPA: “You like that bike?” The kid in the fancied-out red Jeep looked too young to appreciate such things as fine as my GSA. He was maybe 20.

“It’s better than I deserve. You ride?”

“I’ve got the F-800 GS.” Score one demerit for my preconceived notions about kids in fancy Jeeps. “My dad’s got the 1200 GS, but not the Adventure. We go everywhere on ‘em. Where you been?”

I explained then added: “Wanted to do the Lost Coast.” (Humboldt County from Highway 1 to Ferndale.)

“I’ve done that! Mattole Road. Nasty but really neat. Had me a street tire on the back and a knobby on the front.” He pointed at the bike. “That’d be great for it.” The he added: “Maybe dad ‘n’ me’ll see you up there.”

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