Gypsy Run: the After-Action Report

I’m back: 9 days, 2,700 miles, and one sore butt later, it’s time to say a few words about my motorcycle trip.

Rolling into San Francisco, Saturday, October 9th

When you ride a motorcycle, everyone wants to know what you do when it rains.  The answer is: you keep riding.

Rain was a factor the first three days.  I hit a bad thunderstorm cell in Wikiup, Arizona, en route from Phoenix to Kingman.  I spent the first ten minutes of it huddled with a bunch of Harley riders under a gas station overhang, but eventually I put on my rain gear and braved the downpour.  Last I saw, the Harley guys were still hunkered down by the pumps.  As I rolled into Laughlin, Nevada an hour and a half later, I heard an emergency storm warning announcement on the radio . . . they were reporting it as still hovering over Bullhead City, Arizona, when if fact by then it was a distant memory, at least 150 miles to the east . . . so much for our emergency broadcast notification system.

That wasn’t all: I got drenched again the next day as I rode into Los Angeles, then again the following morning as I tried to find my way out of the maze of freeways that is LA.  After that, though, blue skies and pleasant temperatures were the rule.

In my pre-trip report, I mentioned my original plan to take a more northerly route, crossing from Nevada to California between Beatty and Bishop, then riding up to South Lake Tahoe on Highway 395.  After thinking about it, I decided the plan was too risky this late in the year.  Rain is one thing; snow is another.  Turns out I made the right decision (for once): it was indeed snowing at Lake Tahoe.  If I’d tried to ride that route, I’d have had no choice but to turn back, riding all the way south to I-15.

Los Angeles traffic.  I’m sure locals will think nothing of this, but it took me two and a half hours to find my way out of LA on Wednesday, October 6th.  Part of the problem was wandering onto the wrong freeway in heavy rain; most of the problem was morning rush hour traffic.  Carpool lanes, legal for motorcyclists, were of little help, and I was too chicken to split lanes, a California innovation that would shock motorists if you tried it anywhere else.  I saw motorcycle riders buzzing between lanes of stopped and slow-moving cars and trucks, mere inches from tightly-packed vehicles on either side, moving 20-30 MPH faster than the lanes they were squeezing through.  On my wide Goldwing, lane-splitting was too frightening to contemplate, so I had to grit my teeth and bear it.

On Sunday (Sunday!), October 10th, as I rode south on 101 back toward LA, I started hitting traffic jams as early as Ventura, jams which lasted, off and on, all the way to the 101/I-5 interchange.  This time I was courageous enough to do some lane-splitting, but my heart was in my mouth the whole time.  Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks, but he doesn’t have to like it!

The longest legs of the trip were Tucson to Las Vegas, Los Angeles to Folsom (about 20 miles north of Sacramento), San Jose down 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles, and the final leg from Las Vegas to Tucson.  These were all 9- to 10-hour rides.  On a motorcycle, there’s only so much moving about you can do.  You can shift your feet from the footpegs to the highway pegs, you can stretch your legs if you’re careful not to drag your boots on the road, you can stand up a little and flex your butt muscles, you can stretch your arms . . . one at a time or both at once if the bike is going straight.  One of the reasons I undertook this venture was to find out if I still had the stamina for a long motorcycle trip.  I’ve still got it, but “it” is somewhat stiff and sore.

On Saturday, October 9th, I took a side trip from Novato up the PCH to Marshall on Tomales Bay, then up to Bodega Bay and Jenner on the coast.  I had lunch at Nick’s Cafe in Marshall on the way back, and along the way took a few photos.  This was the best riding of the entire trip . . . no traffic, heart-stopping scenery, pleasant temperatures, blue skies, and the wonderful smell of eucalyptus and salt water:

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At Nick's Cafe

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Oceanside near Jenner

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Oceanside near Jenner


Finally, a shout-out to my many hosts, family and friends, all of whom are invited to hop on their motorcycles and ride out to visit me in southern Arizona (okay, okay, they can come some other way if they can’t hack the long ride):

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Kids & grandkids: Las Vegas

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Dick & Sheila: Folsom


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Burt & Donna Marie: Novato

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Trish, Natasha, Natale: San Jose

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Terry & Judy: Lake Forest


It was great, rain and traffic and all. The motorcycle, thanks to my maintenance guru Ed, ran perfectly. It was wonderful to see family and friends again. California, as always, is the golden paradise of the United States. But I missed my little doggie, and it was good to point the Wing back toward Tucson.

Homeward bound near Nothing, Arizona: Tuesday, October 12

© 2010, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “Gypsy Run: the After-Action Report

  • Please come back, all is forgiven! Seriously, it was great seeing you again and we hope you and Donna will come our way again. I must admit, I had a twinge of nostalgia when you stepped to your machine to leave. It brought back memories; running a preflight, stowing gear, setting switches, climbing on board, pulling on a skull cap, donning your helmet, pulling on gloves. I half expected you to shout “Clear” or “Starting One” when you cranked the beast to life. Ah, the resolute look and the crooked grin as you set out. Life at our age is limited to small adventures, and, WOW! you had one.

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