For simple navigation it would be easy to connect both cities via Highway 1 along the coast, but the inland route, including an occasional coastal intermezzo, promises much more diversity.
Wow! This is steeper than it looks on television—and much better. We don’t know what to do first. Enjoy this view over San Francisco Bay with Alcatraz Island in the distance? Watch the famous tram coming up? Take photos of the scene? No, no photos right now. There is no way to park a bike on this steep hill. We have to turn around and do it one more time. Riding up Hyde Street and coming over the hill must be the most spectacular moment of a visit to San Francisco. Wrong—there is another one when we leave town northbound. The ride across the Golden Gate Bridge is equally memorable and impressive. From the Marin Headlands (the first turnoff after the bridge) we get the last, but fascinating, views of the Golden Gate and the city. Seattle is waiting.
Goodbye Coast, Hello Wine Country
Despite our target to drive inland, we have to do some coastal riding. It would be inexcusable to miss that sensational road to Stinson Beach, and this quaint beach town is a perfect spot for lunch. A few miles away we are amazed by a fairytale-like eucalyptus forest. Then, we really leave the coast behind. It just takes a few minutes and we are surrounded by golden-yellow meadows, dotted with windmills. This beautiful farmland looks like a set up for a movie scene. In the distance the coastal fog is still visible, but here the temperature is rising dramatically—by at least 20 degrees—up into the 80s. Once we leave Santa Rosa it starts to get cooler. The tight St. Helena Road takes us into the shade of thick forest until we get a stunning glimpse into Napa Valley. We head north, passing plenty of vineyards. At the northern end of the valley, the pretty little community of Calistoga turns out to be a superb stop for the night. A cozy B&B, a dozen restaurants, and a very relaxed atmosphere are the ingredients for a wonderful first night of the trip.
The morning couldn’t start any better. Silverado Trail follows the Napa River on the eastern side. The main traffic goes west. We cruise along the narrow road through the famous wine region until we hit Highway 128. Soon the green wineries give way to yellow grassland. Temperatures rise, even as we climb a bit higher over Rocky Ridge—the hot Central Valley is already very close. It might sound funny, but at the bottom of the valley is a town called Winters, the heat becomes almost unbearable. Farther down in Sacramento even the skyscrapers are sweating at 100 degrees—we can’t wait to get into the mountains.
Motorcycle & Gear
Cooling Off and Riding High
At the mountain’s edge is the small gold mining town of Jackson where we fill up, first the bikes, then ourselves. Jackson is a nice surprise. After all the barren landscapes for the last hour, the eyes can rest on the historic buildings on Main Street. Rosebud’s Café is a perfect oasis for thirsty and hungry bikers. Not so much because it is green inside, the café scores with its excellent food, and we really need some energy. Behind Jackson, the Sierra Nevada rise into the sky. Our spirits rise with it. We hardly notice that we climb from 100 to 10,000 feet in altitude. The surrounding scenery is captivating—white granite rocks, fir forest, and a perfect road that circles a mountain ridge—spectacular views included. Last, but not least, the air becomes breathable again. Even our trusty bikes seem to run with more enthusiasm.
After the pure nature we just experienced, South Lake Tahoe, our layover for the night, is a bit of a shock with its five miles of hotels and shopping malls. At least our hotel is situated close to a sandy beach, and the water temperature is very pleasant. While swimming into the sunset, I really start to find inner peace with Lake Tahoe.