As motorcyclists, generally speaking, we tend to be a bit more whimsical and spontaneous than your average Joe, preferring to cling to the youthful endeavor of chasing desires — however pointless, however ridiculous. I say this without apology. A motorcycle will do that to you. Adult responsibilities are constantly conspiring to wrench the remaining youthful aspects from us and spoil our fun, whereas motorcycles seem to help stave off the trying circumstances of life, allowing us to swim in the joys of sheer whimsy.
Let’s face it, whether we’re talking track days, Sunday rides, or a cross-country trip, a lot of what we do on two wheels can be chalked up to sheer frivolity. This is exemplified by many of the two-wheel sojourns we embark on each year. Fueled by some vague excuse we head off for places unknown. It’s rarely about the destination. The magic is in the going, in being gone.
Coming off three weeks in Stillwater, Oklahoma, I was yearning for the 74 serpentine miles of Highway 1 that skirt the Pacific Ocean between Hearst Castle and Carmel in California. This is the stretch of coastline poet Robinson Jeffers called “The greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.” Slow-moving motorhomes notwithstanding, it is perhaps the finest combination of riding and beauty I’ve ever experienced.
Thinking about the ride I started craving the Café Africano they serve at the Monterey Crepe Company on Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey. I stumbled upon this coffee creation in 2008 while attending the Red Bull USGP. Every year since I have stopped in for my morning fix before heading out to the circuit. Unfortunately this was late April. No USGP for another two months.
Herein lies the definition of whimsy. As a motorcyclist I figured the Café Africano was reason enough to justify the trip. That’s right, I was prepared to travel almost 800 miles round trip — for a coffee. You tell an ordinary civilian that and they’ll think you’re crazy. Tell a motorcyclist and they will probably just smile. Because what the non-riding populace doesn’t understand is that there are 786 miles of road on either side of that Café Africano.
My accomplice for this exercise in frivolity was a Honda VFR1200F. This was my first interaction with Honda’s latest technological wanderings into an automatic transmission. When I picked the bike up I thought I had made a mistake. The first few miles didn’t exactly assuage my concerns. No clutch lever. No changing gears. Just steady, un-dramatic, seamless shifts.
Let’s face it, whether we’re talking track days, Sunday rides, or a cross-country trip, a lot of what we do on two wheels can be chalked up to sheer frivolity "
A month prior to my outing Mother Nature had orchestrated a torrential downpour that had crumbled some cliffs near Carmel. The hillside, bloated by rain, fell away, taking a small piece of the southbound lane of Highway 1 with it. A few weeks later, south of Gorda, a similar situation closed the road indefinitely. I refused to allow nature to deter me.
In order to get to the coast road, I crossed over from Highway 101 via Fort Hunter Liggett and picked up Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. The U.S. Army Garrison stationed at Liggett was on high alert, being that terrorist Osama bin Laden had just been killed the night before. I motored through a moving collage of our tax dollars at work in the form of heavy tanks rumbling around the grounds and live-firing at the rifle ranges. Regardless of what your particular political stance might be, as an American, we can’t help but feel pretty secure.
Descending Nacimiento Road into Big Sur is tantamount to a gateway into motorcycle paradise; the coast road bordered by the majestic Pacific Ocean. By the time the smooth asphalt of Highway 1 carpeted out in front of me I had become somewhat proficient with the F1-style push-button shifting of the VFR. Unlike my first impression the day before when I first rode the VFR auto, I had started to make peace with the march of technology as the Honda’s throttle-by-wire V4 consumed the twists and turns with impressive aplomb. The finger shifting turned the ride into one big video game that made short work of the tail end of the venture leading to that Café Africano.
I considered the various inventions that have come along over the years that were met with skepticism. Remember Smith-Corona? The typewriter company chose not to expand into the computer business at the tail end of the ‘80s, believing that typewriters would never become obsolete. I suppose automatics might well become the norm in motorcycles some day, relegating clutches and gear shifters to novelties of a bygone era. I’ve learned never, to say never.
After seven hours of riding I was rewarded with arrival in Monterey and made a beeline for the Monterey Crepe Company. The owner, Moe, prepared one of the coveted Café Africanos as we chatted. It was savored as I relaxed from the ride. I got to thinking, motorcyclists don’t have a monopoly on frivolity. I know of several women who, upon hearing that Imelda Marcos had 3000 pairs of shoes, responded somewhat flippantly with, “Yeah, so?” In other words we all have our own perspective of what constitutes extravagance. I’ve found mine. I suppose a psychologist could have a field day with this.
The following morning broke bright and sunny, without the soupy fog that can descend on Carmel under cover of night. After another visit to the Crepe Company for a morning Café Africano, I headed south down Highway 1. On the return trip I found myself chasing another Honda-mounted rider who was setting a good, safe pace along the winding coast road. The speed was enough to induce some adrenaline while still allowing plenty of time to appreciate the spectacular beauty.
When we stopped to clean our visors we introduced ourselves. His name was Marc. He was from Canada, making one of his three annual pilgrimages south to get some riding in. He garages his bike in San Francisco and makes the coast run as often as work allows. Made me appreciate California all the more.
We got to speculating about who the first person was to ride a motorcycle down the coast road after the completion of Bixby Bridge in 1937, which connected Carmel with Big Sur. We figured most likely it was an innocent passage, a motorcyclist unknowingly entering the record books anonymously. (I tried to find out but only managed to stump the Big Sur Historical Society).
Marc and I parted ways outside Taft. On my way back home I passed through Ojai and made an impromptu stop at my friend Michael Taggart’s garage. Michael has an exquisite collection of vintage bikes culled from 20 years of passion and sweat. I sat on a vintage Triton, feeling the heritage and age of its steel. Then I pulled the clutch lever in. Having spent the last couple hundred miles on an automatic I was reminded how much muscle the old straight-pull cable clutches require — somewhere in there is an argument for the parade of technological advancement. I suppose we need to embrace technology while paying homage to tradition. Perhaps like most indulgences, moderation is the key.
The last thirty miles of my sojourn for a Café Africano was shared with Los Angeles’ nightly ritual of bumper-to-bumper commuting traffic. I got to thinking about time, about life, and the things we choose to do with them. Two days, just a tad under 800 miles round trip, for a coffee. That’s time well spent in my book. Carte blanche to irrepressible euphoria. I’m determined to not let my grown-up, 53-year-old mind talk me out of these whimsical indulgences, these halcyon days aboard a motorcycle. The lesson here is about as subtle as a prostitute’s wink.
Total gas receipts .............................................. $104.43
Two Café Africanos at the Monterey Crepe Company .......... $5.00
Perpetuating unbridled impulsiveness ............................... priceless
Many thanks to the Carmel Country Inn (a MotoGP friendly hotel) for accommodating my whim.