Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Pacific Coast & San Francisco

By Mark

Before we parted ways with Tolga and Caglar we pulled out our maps of Sth America and showed the guys some good places to visit and roads to take when they start heading south. As we mention to most people we also told these guys: learn as much Spanish as you can. The more you can communicate with the locals the better your trip will be. Sadly having a deadline for one of the first times on the entire trip we could not hang around any longer in Death Valley. We parted ways with the boys and headed west for the Pacific Coast and San Francisco.

After leaving late in the day we found ourselves riding through some beautiful and quiet back roads of California headed due west. We had plans to stay at Miracle Hot springs and when we arrived we found all the campgrounds were closed for winter already. Being so late in the day we were not going to start riding into the night to find another place so we set up camp all the same down by the river. The following morning after another cold night's camping we went looking for the hot springs but we worked out how the place got it's name, it would be a Miracle if you could actually find the hot springs!

We wanted to hit the coast and make our way up the famous Pacific Coast Hwy 1 and spend a night camping up in Big Sur but we under-estimated the distance and hit the coast later in the afternoon than expected, we also learnt that the whole sth coast was expected to get hit with high winds and torrential rain. We opted to spend a night in a motel room as there is nothing we hate more than waking up to the sound of rain and then having to try and pack up a tent in it. That night we kept a close eye on what the weather was expected to do over the coming days and it was not looking good for our visit to San Francisco, the bay area was to be hit the hardest. Apparently this was going to be the worst storm to hit Caifornia in years. The following morning we contacted our next host Nicole and she informed us it was not looking like a good day to be on the bike so we bunkered down one more day in the motel room.

The following morning it was still raining when we got up but luckily by the time we jumped on the bikes it had stopped. We headed north up the coastline and after only being on the bikes for no more than 15 minutes we pulled up on the side of the road to check out an incredible sight of Elephant Seals all hanging out on a patch of beach by the road side and some were swimming in a fresh water hole. It was fantastic to be so up close and personal with the fascinating creatures. We have seen them before on our trip down in Argentina but we never had the opportunity to get as close as we did here. They were so curious of us which made for many great photos. We both had to drag ourselves away from them as we had a big day ahead of us and we still did not even know if we would have problems with road closures from the storm the previous day.

Another 15 minutes later we came across our first road closure; we ignored it and rode on around the barrier, to back track now would have seen us arriving at night in San Fran. We rode slowly to check out the scenario but the roads had been cleared from the previous night's land slides already, they had just not got back to move the signs so we continued on. The road was built for a bike, in places it hugs to the edge of the mountain-side twisting and turning along the rough coast line with everything of beautiful green pastures, rocky coastline and then into the tall forests of the Big Sur. By this stage the rain returned and we had to just keep motoring on through. After another road closure or two we had finally passed the best of what the Highway 1 had to offer. We made our way up to San Jose stopping briefly at the loacl BMW dealer to pick up a part for my younger brother;s next motorcycle project. They were quite surprised at how far we had come on our little Suzukis and suggested the 1200 GS, I just laughed at the guy and told him never in a  million years would I buy such a bike! He was not too impressed but I told him it is just not needed, such a large bike.

We arrived in San Francisco to a cold, grey afternoon and our host Nicole was home to welcome us. This was to be our first female ADV rider host and we were looking forward to get to know her. It turned out she was an awesome chick and we sat chatting all evening having a few drinks and eating some nice Indian food and planned what to do over the next few days. Nicole assured us that we could stay as long as we wanted but as we had that stupid deadline for shipping the bikes we really only had time to spend a few days there. Saturday morning Nicole's friend Robin came over with her car and she and Nicole were our tour guides driving us around town, starting at the local pub where they made some great local beers where we got to sample each one for free before deciding which one we wanted. Not a good way to start the day as I just had to pee constantly for the rest of the day. As we were staying in Alameda we had to cross the Oakland Bay Bridge to get to San Fran, we thought being a Saturday afternoon it would not be too busy but the traffic was absolutely heaving. It took us a long time to cross the city and head over to the Golden Gate Bridge to get the obligatory photos but it was all worth it when we saw the iconic bridge. It really is a beautiful structure and its red colour stands out like a stark contrast to the surroundings. It was late afternoon by the time we left Golden Gate and the mercury was already dropping fast, thankfully we were being chauffeured around in a car and not on our bikes!

We headed back to check out the city and the centre was overrun with Uni students dressed up as Santa for the yearly "Santa Con". They must have started early as it was only just after six and there were already a few who could not keep the pace and had emptied their stomachs onto the sidewalks to keep on going. We also came across an old homeless woman taking a sh*t on the street which was something I could have done without seeing. With all the drunk santas out in the street, most places were super crowded so the girls took us to China Town for a look around, stopping at a couple of bars before heading back over the bay to Alameda for one more stop at another pub, Lucky 13. This was my kind of bar; good beer and good music all spent in great company with Nicole and Robin who were keeping us entertained with their hilarious banter like were they a comic duo..

We were in two minds if we should have left the following day as it was sunny and dry and would have made for a great ride back down the coast. But since we had not really had a chance to see much of the city we decided to stay and headed into the city again, this time by ourselves. We took the ferry across the bay into town and then proceeded to see as much of the city as we could. We jumped on the first tram we could and headed up the hill from where there are many spots to take in the sights over the entire city before walking on down to the old hippy area of Haight Ashbury, a real hippy scene back in the sixties, it is now home to all sorts of people and has a pretty laid back feel and relaxed laws as there was many a person smoking up and openly selling weed on the street. This is also the first place we came across where you can get your Medical Marijuana card, the laws on the possession of weed in America are changing rapidly and is very different from state to state so I will not go into details here, although I will say that it seemed to be very tolerated in this little part of California, although at the moment it is only marijuana for medical use that is legal. In other states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon marijuana has been fully legalized to include recreational use and people say that California will probably follow in the next few years.

After spending a little time here we took off to Alamo Square, one of the most photographed areas in all of San Fran and admired the view over the city. Again not having enough time up our sleeve we were on a mission to get over to the other side of the city to check out other places. Having a deadline to get on the ferry back to Alameda we power-walked our way around the city, visiting windy Lombard Street which was indeed very windy but also very touristy and when we got there after walking for miles it was a bit like: OK, it's windy. Now let's go. We finishing the day on one of the traditional trams. While we are queuing up to board a tram, an older Asian man blatantly jumps the queue and board the already full tram together with his wife and child. Surprisingly nobody in the line says a thing so not being one to stand for it I pipe up! Hey hey hey, what do you think you are doing?! This guy actually thought he could just jump the line. I said What do you think we are all doing here in line? Man, just get off and get back to the end of the line! He was not too impressed and pretended not to get the whole idea of a queue, he was like I don't understand?! but he got off all the same. I was met with a few thank you's from the surrounding people who were all too polite to stand up to the queue jumper. Well, not me!

After our tram ride through the city we ran for the last ferry where Nicole picked us up. For her very warm welcome into her home and for hospitality I cooked up a big feed of Mexican to say thanks. We sat up late chatting before retiring to bed. We awoke the following day to rain once again, another wet day and another wet ride for us, on our second last day of the trip. Awesome! San Francisco is definitely a place with a very cool vibe that we would both like to go back the summer.

Miracle Hot Springs...apparently

Newspaper stands

The article about the storm that was hitting the coast named The Pineapple Express

Driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway

The group of Elephant Seals lounging in the sun

Think this big guy was the leader of the harem, just compare him to the size of the other seals around him

There were a few biffs happening too

Curious little seal with big eyes

Hanging out in San Francisco with Nicole and her friend Robin

Golden Gate Bridge

Santa Con taking over the streets of SF

China Town

On the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco

The Oakland Bay Bridge

Had to get a photo in of the silly little postie vans they use to deliver the mail here in the US, look just like Postman Pat's car

Haight Ashbury, hippie mecca of the sixties

Something we started seeing a lot

Very colourful houses in this area of SF

Alamo Square, the famous row of terraced houses with the SF skyline in the background

Retro tram still running

The streets here are very steep!

Windy Lombard Street on a 27 degree angle with 8 hairpin turns

On the tram!

Oncoming tram seen from aboard our tram

Hanging on for dear life

What happens in Vegas...we blog about!

By Sanne

I never thought I would say this, but here we go: I LOVE Vegas, man!
I have never understood the fascination of throwing my money at pokie machines or roulette tables etc. Hence why I was never really that excited about going to what ought to be Mecca for ludomaniacs worldwide - the City of Sin. But I figured that you can't go to the US and NOT go to Vegas so here we were, riding into this dessert dustbowl.

First though we made a stop at world famous Hoover Dam, about 50 km's south of Vegas. Completed in 1936 on the Arizona-Nevada border on the Colorado River it provides power for Nevada, Arizona and California. It is a major tourist attraction - nearly 1 million people visit the dam every year. The highway used to go over the road on the dam until 2010 when a bridge was built to make a bypass.
As with most dams, the construction of the Hoover Dam has had a large impact on the ecosystem of the Colorado River with many species now considered endangered.
Seen from an engineering perspective the dam is impressive. Lucky for us it was free to visit and ride and walk over the dam. The water level was pretty low and we understood that it has been declining every year.

We rode the last 50 kms into Vegas and on to ADV Rider Matt's house. Matt is an airplane mechanic for the army and had not long ago returned home from the Middle East. He turned out to be an awesome guy, super helpful and fun. We had ordered new rear tyres to be sent to his house but they still hadn't arrived so instead we took out Mark's rear shock which had had it's seal blown and lost its oil and replaced it with a new one which we found through one of Matt's contacts. Matt was indeed The Man. Any little thing we needed, he always seemed to know someone who could fix it. Like my jacket which hadn't had a functional zipper in it for about a month and which could only be closed with the 5 or 6 safety pins I had pinned though the textile - total povo style. I tried to get it fixed in Austin, Texas but they either asked for a ridiculous amount of money or a ridiculous amount of time - 1 week to do a 15 minute job, come on. But enter Matt, he takes us to a guy he knows who does upholstering on old cars and he sew a new zip in for me on the spot for $10. Sweet! I felt like a had a new jacket!

Matt took us downtown to see Vegas. He showed us the main strip but instead of going out there we went to the more local part of Vegas called "Freemont Street". Here he took us to a very em... interesting bar called Hogs and Heifers. Now, if you've seen the movie Coyote Ugly, this is the bar the movie is based on. The girls in there are super rude to the not surprising dominantly male clientele. They would regularly grab the megaphone and proceed to humiliate any given man for no particular reason. As marginally fun as it was to see the girls swear and carry on in between downing multiple shots, what let the place down was it's choice of music. It was country time indeed. And if there is a genre I just really can't stand - it's country. Most of the people in the bar did seem to like the music however, not surprising really as they were cowboys. Turns out we had timed our visit to Sin City to coincide with an event someone described to me as "the olympics of rodeo". The streets were full of cowboys, and these looked like they just stepped off the prairie, minus the six-shooter. They were wearing Wrangler jeans tucked into cowboy boots and big, wide-brimmed hats and that silly little string they tie around their necks. It was textbook cowboy-style. Yee-haa indeed.
They seemed to all have a jolly good time, so when the bar girls at Hogs and Heifers were pulling up girls to dance on the bar (just like in the movie!) I wisely declined as I wasn't nearly drunk enough for that kinda stuff. Luckily one of the older cowboys' middle-aged wife was drunk enough and up she got on the bar and the next second she had her fairly massive bosoms out in the open as she took off her bra and swung it over above the bar to where all the other bras were hanging (that's a thing here, they have hundreds if not thousands of bras hanging above the bar). As I said - I wasn't nearly drunk enough.

The next day our tyres arrived and once they were fitted we embarked on yet another visit downtown with Matt in his huge truck - the motto in the US when it comes to cars definitely seems to be "Bigger is Better"! This time we went to the main strip where all the big casinos such as Caesar's Palace, MGM Grand and The Bellagio are. I felt a bit like a stunned deer in the headlights. There are sooo many lights. I don't know if it's true that the lights from the strip can be seen from space but I am sure that the electricity bill would have to be huuuge here. Not that I think money would be an issue as there were plenty of people out and about. We first went to The Venetian which is probably my favourite. It is decorated like Venice with canals and gondolas and even has a copy of the Rialto Bridge.

We left The Venetian and walked further down the strip while admiring a fake volcano spurting out lava and fire, The Eiffel Tower, a giant roller coaster running on the outside of a casino and of course the famous Fountains of Bellagio. Then we headed to the casino The Cosmopolitan to do what Vegas is all about - to gamble baby! Matt's housemate had given us some vouchers so we didn't have to spend any of our own money to gamble with which was good as we didn't have any! We sat down at the pokie machines and started pushing the button over and over again, and who would've thought - I actually won something! OK, it was just $71 but for someone who NEVER wins anything I was delighted with my win and bought us all dinner. Mark didn't win a dime but at least we got a couple of free drinks out of it as the thing in Vegas is that you get free drinks while you play, so I had the world's smallest Cosmopolitan and the boys had some other fancy cocktail...when in Vegas...

The other thing I observed on the Vegas strip was the amount of...freaks. You have the people who get dressed up as Playboy Bunnies or Transformers and that sort of thing and you can a photo taken with them and you pay them which is how they make their money. But then you have the weirdo's who look like they should be locked up in a mental institution instead of flaunting their stuff on the streets of Vegas. Among others we saw an old man wearing nothing but his underpants, an overweight dude in a Playboy Bunny costume and then there was the young, fat girl being topless and wearing a tutu skirt dancing around like a ballerina. Not pretty.

Vegas was exactly what I imagined Vegas to be: WAY over the top and party 24//7. But I loved that it was so unashamedly...Vegas. I definitely want to come back. This would be a great place to come with a bunch of your friends and just party it up! And no, we didn't get married :)

After leaving Vegas and bidding farewell to Matt who we hope comes to see us in Oz, we rode to Death Valley, California. Here we had arranged to meet up with Tolga and Caglar, two Turkish bikers.. We had met Tolga back in 2012 when we couchsurfed at his place in Istanbul. Back then he was dreaming of going on a big bike trip and now he was actually doing it which was great to see. He has been sponsored by pretty much every company you can think of and even got a free bike from KTM Turkey.
Mark and I arrived in Death Valley in the afternoon and found a small track where we set up camp. We had already had dinner and gone to bed when the two others arrived after dark. They had ridden 600 km's that day, half of it in the dark, just to get to us.

The next day we were interviewed for the Turkish television show that Tolga and Caglar were shooting for. It has been a while since we were last interviewed, I think last time was in Bolivia, but as most people tend to ask all the same things we usually have the answers on autopilot. After our 15 mins of fame the four of us rode to Titus Canyon and on to Panamint Springs where we set up camp. Here we met a group of dirtbikers who invited us for some drinks in their camp and we spent the night chatting and drinking rum and coke which I usually don't like, but hey when you're in good company anything tastes good!

Entering Nevada!

Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam Bypass

Matt and Mark changing the suspension on his bike

Nice and bald tyre in desperate need for a change!

Mark on Matt's Bagger...

The famous Las Vegas sign

The Vegas Strip

Paris, Nevada

The Arc de Triomphe

The giant Harley store in Vegas

The Venetian

This is inside The Venetian

Some of the more interesting "shows" in Vegas are out on the streets

And then of course you have the god-botherers...someone should tell them they're fighting a lost cause in Vegas

The Fountains of Bellagio

Stoked with my win!

This one is just drunk

Aww..someone didn't win???

Creepy Asian dude at the craps table

Another casino that is decorated like NYC streets

And a fairytale castle...

Statue of Liberty

The Thunder from Downunder!

Outside Vegas on the way to Death Valley

Death Valley, California

Tolga and Caglar

Looking out over Death Valley from Dante's view

All of us

Titus Canyon

Mark and Tolga riding together

Camping at Panamint Springs