The idea for every trip usually comes from something buzzing around in my head, either a song, a movie or a story. This year it was a podcast. Anushka and I had become obsessed with Crime Junkie a podcast on true crime, narrated in a very engaging and inviting way. One particular episode was especially thrilling: “MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF: The Yuba County Five“. We listened to this episode several times in the car and we both became genuinely curious about the fate of Gary Mathias, the only person of the Yuba County Five that has never been found.
With this in mind, Anushka and I searched through maps of the area where this occurred and that’s how the idea for this trip was born.
Shobhit flew in from Seattle the day before. Akshay and I went to get him at the Oakland airport. Notice the color of the sky in this picture. The Northern California wildfires were raging and the skies were dark (and deep orange for a few days). This was also at the height of the covid pandemic, where everything, including airline travellers, were to be sprayed down with disinfecting lysol.
Day 1 (September 11, 2020):
Early in the morning on Day-1 I got a call from Bobby saying that his bike is not starting. Yes, the adventure had begun. We gave him a few tips on WhatsApp and eventually I went over to his house in the morning with my Deltran trickle charger. It was obvious that the battery was discharged, so we decided to jump start the bike from his car. The jumper cables he had were unusual – probably just bad – as they started heating up and sending out some smoke. Nearly burning his fingers, Bobby was able to pull off the jumper cables and then we decided to push start the bike. Luckily it started on the first try, and we were back in the game.
The group then met at the usual place in Niles, where Bobby and I picked up coffee from Devout Coffee. This time year were 5 riders, from left to right: Bobby (BMW R9T), Ayon (BMW R1200GS), Shobhit (Honda VFR1200), Akshay (Ducati Multistrada) and me (KTM SuperDuke).
I decided to take the SuperDuke over the 990 Adventure because this was primarily going to be a twisty street ride with no chance of dirt riding. So while the Superduke has much lesser storage & luggage capabilities, it’s an amazingly entertaining street bike.
We left the Bay Area on Hwy 84, taking Tesla and Corral Hollow via Carnegie. We crossed into the Central Valley and stopped for our first gas at the Keyes Chevron gas station. This was the same place we usually stop when we ride the Sierra foothills. At this point we were step 2 into our adventure.
The fender eliminator on my bike was coming loose and breaking apart – so we took it off and I rode the rest of the 3-day ride without a license plate at the back. So much for the R&G fender eliminator – it failed in the middle of a ride.
Bobby also noticed that his front tire was low on air, so after a bit of struggle with the portable air pump, he was able to get it pumped up sufficiently. It was only about 10AM on the day-1, but amazingly there would be more mechanical failures and breakdowns in this trip.
We continued through the Sierra foothills, riding through Hornitos, Bear Valley and the Little Dragon. We didn’t take many pictures because the visibility was very poor and only short range pics were possible, not wide panoramas.
We braked for lunch at Coulter Cafe in Coulterville. The impossible burger was nice with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
We then took Priest Coulterville Road to Hwy 120 and then took Wards Ferry Road down to the bridge. We stopped for a long time here, took lots of pictures and Shobhit flew his drone here taking this nice video:
From there the ride was relatively simple (but still a long one). We rode past the Archie Stevenot bridge across the New Malones Lake. Once we got to Mokelumne Hill, we turned right on to Hwy 26 and rode those nice twisties for the 3rd or 4th time this year. We stopped for a quick dip in the South Fork Mokelume River. The waters were cool and relaxing to dip our toes.
From there on it was a straight (but long) shot to our hotel in Grass Valley. I discovered a few nice roads along the way: Ridge Road off Hwy 88 was nice, so was Latrobe Road off Hwy 16. We rode around Folsom Lake through a heavy blanket of smoke. I has no idea there is a dam there, it was clearly visible from the side of the road.
I was riding the VFR1200 as we were riding to Grass Valley. Somewhere along Hwy 49 a few miles from Grass Valley the brakes on the bike locked up. I was trying to start riding from a traffic light and the bike simply would not move. I revved the engine and pumped the brakes a few times and then it got going. Anyway I ended up exchanging the bike back and rode the rest of the way to the hotel on the Superduke.
We stayed the night at the Gold Miners Inn in Grass Valley. It was full of firefighters from all over California battling the Bear Fire and other fires nearby. We had dinner at the Grass Valley Brewing Company, which had a nice selection of beers and food. We turned in for the night around 11PM, exhausted from the long ride in the smoky weather.
Day 2 (September 12, 2020):
The original plan for Day-2 was to ride Quincy-LaPorte Road and Bucks Lake Road, but both were closed due to the Bear Fire of 2020.
The skies looked like this at 9 in the morning:
So we planned a route change and decided to ride to Lassen National Park. The first road of the day was Hwy 49, by far my favorite road of the trip. Hwy 49 offers excellent wide sweepers, a few tight turns, great scenery and freshly laid perfect pavement. A couple of the turns were perfectly banked wide sweepers that last over 180 degrees. I was able to lean over the Superduke to the max and relax and have fun at the same time. A very free flowing road, excellent for sport bike riding. We passed through the quaint town of Downieville, it looked nice and cozy – a perfect place to visit for some outdoor action like mountain biking or skiing. Bobby wanted to move to Downieville, and start making whisky with the water of the Downie River! I wish we had more time to spend there, but it looked like an awesome place – surely on my list of places to revisit.
From Hwy 49 we took Hwy 89 up north through Graeagle, and then Hwy 70 on to Quincy. The smoke was getting very heavy as we rode through Quincy. We rode further on Hwy 89 towards Lake Almanor and stopped for lunch at Tantardino’s Pizza And Pasta. The pizza was pretty good and so was the beer.
We then rode on Mooney Road and Hwy 44 to reach the northern entrance of Lassen Volcanic National Park. These roads were only mildly interesting. Wide open vistas and good pavement, but mostly straight for long distances.
As we rode through Lassen Park, Akshay crashed the VFR he was riding. He was trying to come to a stop on the side of the road, the shoulder was dirt, not paved and he lost the front end coming to a stop. He went down at about 5 mph and scratched up the fairings on his VFR. The shift lever also broke off, but there was sufficient left behind to continue the ride.
Thankfully he was not hurt, everything was ok, and after a sip of water we were on our way. The rest of the ride through Lassen was boring, slowly following the traffic through the park.
The last road of the day was Hwy 32, also a lot of fun. We were a bit tired at this point so were not pushing the bikes too much, but the twisty road was a lot of fun. Hwy 32 follows the Deer Creek for a long time, so we stopped by the side of the road and dipped in the creek. The water was freezing cold, maybe about 40F, so it was an interesting experience. I submerged my whole body in the water about 5-6 times and every time it felt thrilling.
My SNK803 turned out to be fully waterproof.
Hwy 32 runs to Chico and we stayed the night at the Rodeway Inn, a basic budget motel run by a Gujarati family. We walked to downtown Chico from our hotel and had dinner at Burgers and Brew – they had a decent burger and some good beer!
Day 3 (September 13, 2020):
The last day of this trip was the least exciting. We were all pretty tired from 2 back to back days of 350 mile riding, so we decided to head home, with a little bit of twisty stuff along the way.
We took Hwy 45 and Hwy 20 to Clearlake. It was a mellow pretty and straightforward. As we took a short break on Hwy 53, Shobhit noticed that the oil cap (Chinese one off AliExpress) on the VFR1200 flew off while riding, so his right boot was getting soaked with oil.
After jerry rigging a solution, we rode to the Auto Zone in Clearlake where we found a replacement oil cap (turns out an oil pan drain bolt is the same size).
We had lunch at Russian River Brewing, where they had Pliny for President on sale. Double dry-hopped Double IPA, good stuff and a great way to end this ride!