Northern California is a land of superlatives. There seems to be more of the “biggest,” “tallest,” and “most” here than any one state has a right to. Of particular interest to motorcyclists are NorCal’s roads, which more than warrant a bit of hyperbole. These supremely twisty and technical thoroughfares require a motorcycle that’s up to the challenge, and what could be better on a tight mountain pass than a 2015 Ducati Monster 1200 S?
A City and a Valley
The continental breakfast at the Staybridge Suites in San Francisco has held our attention for much too long. Our group, 17 riders strong, finally starts picking its way through Bay Area traffic. I’ve joined the Westchester Beemers club on their annual summer tour, and this one promises to be one for the books. The club has enlisted the services of Cat and Nancy MacLeod of Leod Motorcycle Escapes to put together the ultimate journey through Northern California, with a heavy emphasis on finding the curviest roads in this dynamic region.
We cross the Bay Bridge on our way out of the city, gradually replacing the hustle and bustle with serene Northern California farm country. The further we get from the cool waters of the Pacific, the warmer it gets. At our first stop near Stockton, CA, the thermal liners get packed away—not to be seen again until our return to the coast.
After a quick lunch in the quaint town of Groveland, the real fun begins. Before long we encounter a long series of high-speed sweepers along SR 120. The Monster practically begs me to let it smash the 55 mph speed limit to bits; it’s not easy to hold back a thoroughbred. Soon I begin to catch glimpses of today’s real goal through the trees on the right. Yosemite Valley. The views get more and more stunning as the road winds its way down toward the valley floor. At the bottom, traffic backs up to a crawl, but I don’t care one bit. Vertical walls of granite tower to impossible heights. With my helmet on I can barely twist my head back far enough to see the top.
Yosemite has been on my short list of national parks to see since I studied the work of master photographer Ansel Adams in college. With all due respect to Mr. Adams, however, not even his greatest works can do justice to Yosemite’s grandeur. The park is roughly the size of Rhode Island and boasts some of the most striking scenery on earth. As I traverse the valley, Half Dome stands stoically in the distance bathed in afternoon light. The gigantic granite dome reaches 4,737 feet above my current location—truly an incredible sight.
Slicing the newly familiar roads back to Groveland, where a bed and a sumptuous meal at Hotel Charlotte await, my thoughts remain in Yosemite. It’s not often that reality exceeds the imagination. To quote Mr. Adams, “Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”