Tioga and Sonora Passes

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After doing Ebbetts Pass last fall I decided it would be fun to knock off all the rideable passes in California. I figured I’d start with Tioga Pass — after all, you can’t go wrong with Yosemite! — and Sonora Pass. A quick out and back to my home base in the Bay Area.

Only it took longer to arrange then I expected…mostly because we had so much late season snow this year that Tioga Pass didn’t officially open until July 1st!

No matter; it was well worth the wait. Even that (fortunately brief) 26% grade on California 108.

Click on the icons in the map below to read about what I encountered along the way. You can make the map go full screen, and zoom it in and out and pan it, to make looking over the route and the notes easier.

Enjoy!

Thanx to Bugnatr over on the FJRForum for his advice on taking the Sonora Pass eastward. I was following it dutifully in making my reservations…or thought I was. Turns out I booked my lodging exactly backwards :). Oh well, the mountains aren’t going anywhere.

InReach Mini: It Could’ve Been a Contender

Because many of my motorcycle trips are solo, and take me beyond cell phone coverage (although not off road!), I’ve been interested in satellite-based text messaging devices. As a class, these basically give you the ability to send (and sometimes receive) SMS/text messages by way of orbital satellite networks. Which makes it much harder to go off grid…and more likely that, if you need help off grid, you’ll be able to let someone know.

The Garmin InReach Mini (their latest offering) seemed to be an ideal choice. Small. Can work with your cell phone via Bluetooth, making it easier to compose and read messages (i.e., you’re not limited to a handful of keys and a tiny screen). Uses the Iridium network, which seems to provide the best coverage of the alternative networks (not that I plan on being in Northern Canada anytime soon). And it offers a wide array of monthly service plans — which you have to have for the device to be of any use — that can be put on hiatus during the rainy season when you’re not on the road much anyway.

So I bought one.

And it’s turning out to be a mistake.

First and foremost, the Garmin InReach website (necessary for setting up, configuring and managing the device) is not very well designed. Activation was challenging, made more so by being offered important advisories on how you ought to configure your device…after you’re part way through the activation process. And don’t get me started on how many emails you need to set up an account, add a device and participate in the Garmin community forums (three, in fact; bizarre).

But the really bad problem was that only about 25% of my test messages ever arrived. With no indication that there was any problem sending them (i.e., the Mini reported success, but the message never got where it was going).

After some back and forth with tech support I learned that I happened to be using my new Mini during a period when AT&T was rejecting messages (perhaps as a result of mistakenly classifying them as spam). Go me.

It also turns out that this is not the first time AT&T has suddenly stopped accepting InReach Mini messages. A tech support guy I spoke to says it’s happened more than once in the last six months. But, good news! The problem always goes away after a few days. Only to re-occur, randomly, at some point in the future.

There is a workaround: send email messages rather than text messages. Fortunately, and despite the fact that this is not disclosed anywhere I could find in the Garmin documentation, emails cost the same as text messages. Judging by what they look like on the receiving end, I suspect they are just text messages, embedded into a simple email template.

Unfortunately, for me and almost everyone else I know, email lacks the immediacy of a text message. Text messages pop up on your phone. Emails you have to go read. And immediacy counts…particularly when you’re in a difficult, bad or emergency situation.

Moreover, who’s to say the emails won’t someday be spontaneously rejected? Granted, emails don’t get delivered by way of your cell phone carrier. But since Garmin doesn’t seem to know why the text messages are being rejected, despite repeated occurrences of the problem, I’m a little hesitant to embrace the workaround as solving the problem.

Besides, it really torques me that Garmin didn’t disclose its repeated problems with AT&T, which stretch back for at least 6 months, somewhere in their advertising. I spent a lot of time researching the Mini before buying one, and I never came across any mention of this problem (which is part of the reason for writing this lengthy post). They should’ve done so, if for no other reason than it might put more pressure on AT&T to define what would be required for a permanent fix 1.

So I regret to say that, while it looks good on paper, if you’re on an AT&T cell phone account I’d stay away from the Mini.

In fact, I’d require any purveyor of this technology to confirm they haven’t had problems with particular carriers suddenly and mysteriously not delivering text messages.


The Golden Chain and Mt Hamilton

Merced River Gorge along California 49

I didn’t expect to be able to squeeze another long ride in this year before the rains set in. But with Barbara heading off to Boston for a week, and a suddenly dried out forecast, the chance was too good to pass up.

Plus, I managed to complete, finally, my aborted ride past Mt Hamilton and the Lick Observatory.

Click on the motorcycle icons in the map image below for details (you can also click the Go Fullscreen button to enlarge the map).

You can download the Google Earth file from here; just ignore the warning about not being able to show you the file on the page that’ll open up. Click the download button and you’ll get the file.


Monterey Peninsula, Indian Valley & the Pinnacles

Or, rather, behind the Pinnacles. The Monterey shoreline, from the Pacific Coast Highway. And, no, I was stopped in traffic when I took this. You don’t think I’m insane enough to take a picture with my iPhone camera while I’m riding, do you?!?

This was a ride I did last week, starting out from and ending up in Santa Cruz. I was a little hesitant going the coastal route southbound, because of the possibility of rain, but I managed to avoid precipitation. Not counting riding through a cloud at one point, of course. But that wasn’t rain; it was just riding through water droplets suspended in the air.

The northbound leg, going off of US 101 at San Miguel, was stunning (so was the Monterey Peninsula, but one expects that). Hard to believe you were not that far away from one of the more heavily-traveled north/south roads in California. Definitely worth it.

The Google Earth map file is available here. Ignore the warning page you’ll land on after clicking the link — it’s just telling you there’s no previewer installed for Google Earth files — and click the download button to get the file.

Click on any of the icons below for details. You can also enlarge the map first.


 

North Coast Trip – May, 2018

I just realized that I never published anything on this blog about a great motorcycle trip I took up the north coast of California last May. Let’s rectify that right now!

Click on the icons in the image below for more information. You can also click on the Full Screen button first to enlarge the map.

You can download the Google Earth route file for this trip here. Be forewarned that you’ll first be taken to a page that complains about not being able to preview the file for you; just ignore the warning, and click on the download link that appears.


Sierra Ride (September, 2018)

I just got back from a three day motorcycle trip up into the Sierras, and exploring the California Delta to boot. It was a real blast, and I got to see and experience some really neat stuff!

Click on the icons in the images below to get the details. You can also enlarge the images first by clicking the Full Screen button.

You can download a Google Earth file of my route from the following link. Be forewarned that it will first open a page complaining about not being able to preview the file; but if you click the download button, you’ll be able to download the file itself.

Google Earth route map



Reflections on a Crash

The other day, I belatedly realized I’d never written about my motorcycle accident, which occurred Sunday morning, May 24, 2015. Given how significant an event it was (at least for me!), I’m going to rectify that omission right now.

The accident took place on Pescadero Road, between La Honda and Pescadero, along the uphill climb off of California 84. It’s a relatively wooded twisty, without much direct sky exposure, but not especially challenging (I just road it today, without any problems). Of course, I had less than six months riding experience at the time of the accident, and there had been some light rainfall the night before in the area, so there were some puddles on the road. Moreover, there were, and still are, a few road heaves — small but sharp bumps — some of which are on curves. I suspect I hit one of them that was next to a puddle, lost control, and went down. Or maybe I lost control dodging some animal crossing the road. 

Motorcycle Crash – Pescadero Road – 5/24/2015

I doubt I’ll ever know, because I have no memory of the accident. Turns out forming memories takes time, and while you’re not normally aware of that, if you get knocked unconscious, it’s not uncommon for “pending” memories to just disappear and not come back. When I asked the Stanford neurologist who had treated me if there would be any problem with me revisiting the accident scene, she said “It’s not like the movies, sir; lost memories don’t come back, because they were never formed in the first place.”

In any event, down I went…and, hitting the ground, even at no more than 25 MPH, without the benefit of seatbelts, air bags, and a nice metal shell, can cause a lot of damage (25 MPH is about 36 feet per second). So I broke every rib on my right side, some in multiple places, gave myself a minor concussion (which would’ve been far worse if I hadn’t been wearing an excellent, full-face Shoei helmet) and knocked myself out.

For a day.

Punctuated initially by a few brief snippets of consciousness, like when I briefly came to in the back of the ambulance, staring at the ceiling, thinking “this isn’t right”, all the while hearing one of the paramedics telling Barbara, on my phone, “he’s all right [really?], we’re taking him to Stanford, you can meet him there”.

Me during my first day at Stanford; taken by my wife, I think, in an attempt to convince me not to ride again - click to enlarge

But how, you may ask, was I found to be taken to Stanford? After all, Pescadero Road is lightly traveled at the best of times, and there’s even less traffic on Sundays.

Well, it turns out I was running something called CrashLight on my iPhone, which is an add-on to an app called Eat, Sleep, Ride, which allows you to log and track your motorcycle journeys. CrashLight monitors your smartphone’s sensors to determine if a crash has occurred. If it thinks one has, it sounds an alert and starts a count-down clock, which allows you to cancel false alarms. If the alert isn’t canceled, once the count-down completes, CrashLight notifies your emergency contacts, by phone, text message, email, or any combination of the three.

In my case, it notified both my son and my wife via text message. She didn’t get the message because she was outside gardening, but she heard the phone ring when my son called to say that he thought I’d had an accident. She immediately called 911…and was able to tell them where I was, because the CrashLight message contains the phone’s last known location, based on GPS monitoring.

I was a big believer in CrashLight before my accident, and I became a huge proponent of it afterwards. The CrashLight team keeps improving the product, along with the rest of the Eat, Sleep, Ride app, making it easier to use and less prone to false alarms. I particularly appreciate how quickly the programmers respond to issues that get raised; they’re really responsive.

Now, admittedly, one of the biggest limitations of CrashLight has nothing to do with the app. It’s just that if you’re out of cell phone coverage when you go down, the emergency messages can’t get out. So I still make it a point to share my itineraries with my family before I hit the road.

But I’m hopeful that even this limitation will be removed, by linking CrashLight to a satellite-based text messaging device like the Garmin InReach, the BriarTek CerberLink, or the soon-to-be-released SomeWear Labs’ SomeWear device. These all use the Iridium satellite network to enable two-way text messaging from any place on Earth where you have a view of the sky.

They’re not cheap (hundreds of dollars for the devices, and an Iridium SMS account is required). But, to me, that’s still cheap insurance to carry when I’m off exploring the backroads.

Because you see, my wife was unsuccessful with those ICU pictures. I still love to ride, mended ribs and all. In fact, I just recently upgraded my steed to a Yamaha FJR-1300ES.

See you out on the highways and by-ways. Ride safe!

Road Trip #1: The Map

Here’s the route I pretty much followed, although it doesn’t show the side excursion to where the road was closed on the way to Mount Hamilton, and some of the details on the exact path I followed from Coalinga to Los Banos may be off.

Total distance, about 450 miles.

Road Trip #1: Day 3

There are interesting patches of California which are near major urban areas, but totally divorced from them. Consider this Google Earth view of the area to the southeast of the Bay Area:

San Antonio Valley

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It’s surrounded to the north, east and west by heavily populated and/or developed areas. Yet there’s almost nothing there. Granted, it is up in what passes for “the mountains” to Bay Area residents. But while they occasionally get snow, they’re not all that high. I always thought it would be fun to explore them.

My last day of this road trip was supposed to involve crossing this area, starting from the San Joaquin Valley and ending up in San Jose, by way of Mount Hamilton. Things didn’t quite work out that way, after I ran into “road closed” signs on highway 130 in the middle of the area, several miles short of Mount Hamilton.

Fortunately, one of the great things about riding a bike for pleasure is that detours are mainly an excuse to ride more. So after stopping for a quick bite to eat at The Junction (the only eatery for miles, but the food was quite tasty), I headed north towards Livermore, and then came west over the Dumbarton Bridge and back into San Carlos. 

The stretches of road up in the mountains were quite a workout, and a lot of fun. I kicked my turning abilities up a few notches, by learning to lean further into turns while avoiding the feeling that you’re on some kind of amusement park ride. The trick seems to be to shift your center of mass down into the turn, while twisting your torso so that your head stays centered above the center of mass of you and the bike, minimizing rotational forces (which play havoc with the inner ears of those of us who aren’t Olympic ice skaters). Sounds easy, and it actually isn’t all that hard, but you end up working yourself and the bike quite a bit. Which may explain why I was both tired and hungry when I finished riding those great twisties.

One interesting road hazard I encountered was…cattle. Wandering around the side of the road, and sometimes on the road. I’m not sure who is more surprised by these encounters, me or the cattle.

The highlighted area on the map is the San Antonio Valley. Which is absolutely gorgeous (and apparently a favorite of birders, at least at certain times of the year). Sadly, it doesn’t offer any lodging (the woman working The Junction told me people kept trying to start lodges, but they kept going out of business). Granted, you can’t ski or swim in the Valley…but it would be a great place to kick back and get away from it all, without having to travel for hours to get there.

Road Trip#1: Day 2

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Picture 1 of 2

Today I road from Hollister to Los Banos, by way of Coalinga. The ride down Ca 25 was as spectacular as I remembered from when a Barbara and I drove it north to avoid traffic on US 101. Except this time it was a lot more green, courtesy of our winter rains. 

The last leg into Coalinga I did on Coalinga Road, which is a not terribly well maintained, fairly narrow bit of pavement. Which runs thru some beautiful, off the beaten track scenery. 

I was accompanied on that segment by Houston, a rider a bit older than me who lives in the Central Valley and was out exploring. We met at the Coalinga Road jump off, because the turn off isn’t labeled and his GPS had stopped working, so he wanted confirmation he was on the right route, which I was able to supply. It was nice having company, because there’s no cell coverage there, so if I’d had an accident, my iPhone-based crash detector would’ve been kinda useless. 

I also got to meet his rubber chicken squeak toy, Nasa. Because if he runs into difficulties, “Houston, we have a problem” 😀. I need to get a mascot of my own. 

From Coalinga to Los Banos I stayed off I-5, because I wanted to see a part of California most coastal denizens zoom by. It was both rewarding, to see one after another long established community exercising its creativity, and poignant, because many of them are struggling, or at least feel passed by. 

They all showed quite a bit of bustle, though. We’d all be better off, I think, if we figured out a way to link all that energy to the big pillars of the modern economy. Just think what it would be like to have a dozen Silicon Valleys and Biotech Gulches, all in California. Starting with the fact that mere mortals might be able to aspire to owning a home near where they work.