This year was arguably the best 3-day ride I’ve been on so far.
Planning for the 2015 Summer motorcycle trip started early in the year, about January or February. Since we were going to India in July, I decided to plan it out in June, and after much planning we ended up with the last weekend in June. I booked a campsite at the Mono Hot Springs Camground for the night of June 26th. June 27th was also my 11th wedding anniversary.
This year there were 4 riders: Shobhit, Bobby and me – the usual trio, plus Akshay who rides a 2007 Yamaha FZ-1. Shobhit and I had been riding with Akshay for a few months now and Shobhit liked the FZ-1 so much that he sold his CBR and bought a 2008 FZ-1 a couple of months before the trip. Akshay is an advanced rider, with solid skills both riding and wrenching.
We met at Niles Cafe on the morning of June 26th at 9AM. It’s been a tradition of sorts – starting out at Niles on Friday morning. There is a small insurance office right there on Niles Blvd and the owner pulled up in a beautiful red 1968 Ford Mustang convertible. I had a good chat with her; the car was a daily driver! Next Bobby rolled in on his GS, complaining of a clunking sound from the front end. Turns out his horn had come off loose, dangling from a single electric wire. We quickly bolted it back on and he was fine for the rest of the trip. Shobhit and Akshay rolled in next and after a couple of quick pics, we were on our way.
We took the freeway (680 and 101) till we reached the end of San Jose and exited at Bailey. We then rode around Uvas reservoir (which surprisingly had some water in it). Uvas Rd is a short fun ride with gentle turns and good views. We then got into Hollister and stopped for our first gas stop.
Akshay was having trouble with his bike. The FZ1 was cutting out intermittently and was getting hard to ride, especially on the corners. We decided to investigate. Akshay pulled out his tools and with Shobhit and me, we took off the plastic panels and the tank. Akshay initial suspected the kickstand switch, but after some googling of the error codes, he started to think that it was his mass air flow sensor (which is also a temperature sensor on the FZ1 apparently). We called around a few dealers, but none of them had the sensor in stock. So buttoned the bike up and decided to press on. We were hoping the problem would resolve itself.
We rode down Hwy 25 (always a favorite) from Hollister and turned left onto Panoche Rd. Panoche Rd is a fun motorcycle road, but there were lots of patches of gravel. The road is clean and easy initially, but gets rough, goaty, narrow and sandy as you ride further on. It was also starting to get hot (noon), and I could feel my feet and legs heat up with the engine heat and the heat coming off the asphalt.
Our lunch stop for the day was at Panoche Inn. I was actually the last in our riding group and pulled into the bar, while Shobhit, Akshay and Bobby rode past. They soon realized that I had stopped, so they turned around and came back. The temps were now close to 100F and it felt really great to step into the air conditioned bar. We each had a cold beer and sandwich. The owner of the place was friendly and told us many stories of his life & the place. His wife also chatted with us briefly. I pulled out a dollar bill, wrote “Desi Riderz 2015” on it and stuck it to the ceiling. Our little contribution to his retirement I guess. Interestingly this guy collects currency from around the world and he showed us his impressive little collection. I got a card from him and I plan to mail him some Indian and Filipino currency.
We pressed on. It was now VERY hot. From Panoche Rd. we turned left onto Little Panoche Rd, and the first couple of miles offers a straight flat road with nobody in sight. Akshay and Shobhit gassed it hard; Akshay actually hit 148mph; I probably let go at 120mph. Little Panoche Rd is actually better than Panoche Rd. As you cross over from San Benito county to Fresno County the road surface improves drastically. It was a fun ride with many nice curves and absolutely no traffic. I think we must have crossed 1 or 2 cars that whole 30 mile stretch.
As we crossed the central valley I could feel the intense heat. I was very uncomfortable, but the ZZR was OK. The temperature gauge barely made it a quarter of the way up – I just think the cooling system on the ZZR is so over designed that it is impossible to overheat that bike while riding. We stopped for gas at the outskirts of Fresno. It was now over a 100F and Bobby got some ice cream from McDonalds.
We gassed up and left, riding through Fresno on Hwy 168. I found Hwy 168 to be a very special road. Right out of Fresno it becomes two-lane and winding with a super smooth surface. The highway then slowly climbs the mountains while still being this super fast 4 lane road with wide sweepers. I was leading the pack up the mountain and enjoying myself taking these curves at 80-90mph. It was a fun ride and it was probably the first time I pushed the ZZR to such an extreme.
Our last gas stop for the day was at Shaver Lake at a gas station & convenience store run by Indians. We chatted with them in Hindi and were on our way. The next stretch of Hwy 168 is a sport bikers dream. It’s almost a race track for the next 20-30 miles. Perfectly banked curves, super smooth surface and not a whole lot of traffic – made for some excellent spirited riding. This was definitely a road I would come back to again. We stopped briefly at the intersection of Kaiser Pass Rd and Hwy 168 and then started our climb towards Kaiser Pass. Kaiser Pass Rd is also a nice fun road. Initially it is smooth and curvy, good for high speeds. But after a few miles in, the road breaks apart, literally. The pavement becomes rough, the road narrows to a single lane and the turns get really tight. We probably ran that last 20 mile section at an average speed of 15mph. Crossing oncoming vehicles was challenging on that road. There is a little sign at the top of Kaiser Pass, but we did not stop. A little further down the road is a ranger station and then the road descends into this thick forest. All along the views were simply … breathtaking.
Right before Mono Hot Springs is a green metal bridge across the South Fork of the San Joaquin river. We stopped for a few pictures and then rolled into our campsite at the Mono Hot Springs Campground.
We quickly pitched our tents and went for a dip in the river. The waters were cool, clear and rejuvenating after a long day of riding. Across the shallow river are a few natural hot springs. We took a short dip in the “Old Pedro” spring which was really at the perfect warm temperature. Dinner was a pretty good buffalo burger at the resort restaurant. We lit a campfire, chatted a little over some scotch and then turned in for the night.
We packed up our campsite and left Mono Hot Springs at about 9AM. Akshay had an unexpected guest sitting on his bike. A small frog climbed up his bike, probably hoping to catch a ride out of there.
I always feel the sierras are especially beautiful in the mornings. We enjoyed the slow but scenic ride back across Kaiser pass and hit Hwy 168 (the racetrack) down to Shaver Lake. We stopped briefly on Hwy 168 to get pictures of Huntington Lake. There was some sort of optical illusion there. When looking at the lake stretching to the horizon, it appears as it the lake is curving up or gaining altitude.
We got gas at Shaver Lake and while we were pulling out Bobby dropped his giant GS. The packing lot had a gentle slope and Bobby was trying to back out. He lost control and down went the big GS. I caught it on my action-cam. Luckily both Bobby and the bike were OK. Nothing major and we were on our way.
We peeled off Hwy 168 and took Auberry Rd towards the small town Auberry. Auberry Rd was such a treat! The curves were perfectly banked (downhill even), the tarmac was very smooth and the views were amazing. The traffic was very light and we all had some high speed fun. As we came down to Auberry the temps were rising and we started feeling the heat. Next we took a few backroads in the area – Power House Rd, which runs to the PG&E A.G. Wishon Power plant, built in 1927 (seen in the pic below) – North Fork Rd – Crane Valley Rd and Teaford Saddle Rd, which got us to into Oakhurst. These were fun rural backroads with little traffic (compared to the Bay Area).
We then pulled into the South Gate Brewing Co in Oakhurst. They had a decent selection of beer and the andouille sausage sandwich was pretty good. We were all very hungry and tired from the 100+ temps outside. Akshay’s bike was still not running well and cutting out every now and then. He was clearly frustrated, but we decided to press on.
We rode Hwy 49 from Oakhurst to Mariposa and decided to stop for gas. It was easily over 105F. Akshay was even more frustrated with his poorly running bike, so he decided to take one more shot at troubleshooting the bike. We stripped the bike off it’s plastics, but not before stripping off all our gear. And there at that strange Mariposa gas station, with all of us standing in our riding underwear, Akshay discovered the problem – a loose connection to the mass air flow sensor. Apparently he had not taped it back up 100% when he last worked on it.
The stretch of Hwy 49 between Mariposa and Coulterville is called the “Little Dragon”, named after the famous “Tail of the Dragon” in North Carolina. Yes, this is a great motorcycling road, but no, we did not really enjoy it. With the 110F heat, the tar snakes were really soft and all of us felt the bikes sliding the front when riding through the turns. Akshay’s bike was now running perfectly, but we all slowed down and rode through the hot dragon at a gentle pace. The heat was really overbearing. From Coulterville we rode on to Sonora sticking to Hwy 49. Our original plan was to take some back roads like Priest Grade and Wards Ferry, but we skipped those because we were all quite tired.
After Sonora, we turned right off Hwy 49 on Parrots Ferry Rd towards a small village called Columbia. Parrots Ferry turned out to be another one of those gems. A fun short road that connects Sonora on Hwy 49 to Hwy 4. There is a nice bridge on Parrots Ferry that offers excellent views while approaching it and riding on it.
We then road up Hwy 4 to Dorrington and made it Bobby’s friends cabin where we stayed the night. We had dinner at Arnold Pantry a kitchen, grocery store and restaurant all rolled up into one. Their locally sourced organic veggie burger (made from beets) was pretty good and we enjoyed a short Jazz/Bluegrass concert on the grass behind the restaurant while we ate.
We were contemplating where to ride on Day 3. Ebbetts pass was closed due to a forest fire around Markleeville. So no going up Hwy 4. After playing around with Google maps we decided to ride out to Hwy 26 and then head home. We started off with a short detour to the Sourgrass Day Use Picnic Area on the North Fork Stanislaus River. A nice peaceful place for a picnic. There we met this guy (from the Bay Area) that had ridden his Triumph Scrambler off-road up on Rattlesnake Creek Rd. He had just come down the 3-5 mile stretch and parked next to our bikes. As we started chatting with him, we saw oil pouring out of his oil pan. He had probably hit a rock on his way down and now his oil filter and oil pan were leaking. He was bummed about having to truck his bike back to the Bay Area.
We rode south on Hwy 4 till the town of Avery and turned right onto Avery- Sheep Ranch Rd. This turned out to be an excellent choice. Sheep Ranch is a small town hidden deep in the Sierra foothills. The road was curvy, smooth and a lot of fun. We then took Railroad Flat Rd (to the small town of Railroad Flat!) which finally lead us to Hwy 26. I loved these rural county backroads. It’s hard to describe that feeling …riding along a meandering road, with very little traffic to deal with, great scenery all along, in no particular hurry, but still keeping it spirited. I’m happy that we stayed off the main highways and explored some off beat routes like Auberry, Parrots Ferry and Sheep Ranch. That made this trip all the more special.
After a short break, we turned left onto Hwy 26 and started to make our way home. Hwy 26 is a great motorcycling road too. The fun parts (between Hwy 88 and Hwy 49) are not too long, but the pavement is freshly laid and the curves are plentiful. The only downside was the moderate traffic; We passed a lot of cars, campers and Harley riders. We rode Hwy 26 all the way to Stockton. We passed through the farming towns of Valley Springs, Oak Grove and Linden. It was a Sunday and nobody was in town. We tried a couple of Mexican restaurants on the way but they were all closed. We finally ended up eating a late lunch at this awesome Mexican place in Stockton – Mariscos Nuevo Altata. The tacos there were honestly the best tacos I’ve ever eaten. We were the only non-Latino people at that restaurant and with all our biking gear, we got a lot of stares. Nonetheless, it was the best meal of the entire trip, something I will never forget.
We made it home from there, fighting the customary traffic on 580. We lost sight of Bobby while lane splitting, but he texted me when he reached home safely. We made it home in the early evening, exhausted after three days and 800 miles of riding, but it was an awesome experience.
The ZZR did really well. It has the power and the comfort one needs for long trips. It had no problems with aggressive riding for three days and 800 miles in 100F+ temps. I love this bike.
Padded cycling shorts are great for such trips. They work much better than cotton briefs in keeping comfortable and dry.
I look forward to another ride next summer!