After week on the road and a tumble down a hillside, the Benton Hot Springs were a welcome sight. I had entered California and not seen much since when I rolled through a tiny town with a gas station/cafe on the corner that had a sign saying, “Sorry no fuel.” Well, this could be a problem for some folks who had made it this far without filling up along the way. I wasn’t too worried, my next fuel stop was about 60 miles up the road and not needed until tomorrow .
I turned at the corner and wound my way a few miles into a little abandoned village. On my right was a sign for the Benton Hot Springs Inn. Here I found a large gravel parking lot with lovely mountain views and an antique motel with a fountain and gardens out front. What an incredible place. My room was decked out with furniture and such from the mid 1800’s complete with history books of the area. Out back I found several soaking pools of varied temperatures and not another soul in sight. Perfect.
Before settling in, I headed back to the fuelless station and cafe for some much needed dinner. I was greeted by a few locals and a heavily tattooed waitress with pink hair. She was a friendly and helpful woman who may have also been the cook. The food was fantastic and the company was very friendly and informative. There was no such thing as cell service in this area but there was a payphone out back that was out of order at the moment.
I found my way back to the hot springs at dusk still no one else in sight. I soaked for a long while trying to ease the pains from my crash. By this point in my trip the entire right side of my body felt as if I had been pummeled into the ground…which I actually had. the soak and some stretching seemed to be healing me a bit. Or so I thought. I went to bed and found it impossible to sleep yet again, so many aches and pains shooting through so many parts of my body. UGH!
Well, no sense in wasting time laying in bed when there were soothing hot pools outside. It couldn’t have been much passed 4 A.M. when I wandered back outside. I sat and soaked until the sun came over the mountains. Then I went in to get ready for another day on the bike and one hell of an amazing homemade breakfast.
I sat down at the table and had a coffee while I waited for my food. Another guest appeared from who knows where and sat at my table. She was traveling California on a hot springs tour and informed me that just over the hill was an old cemetery. I’m a fan of anything old and am not afraid of ghosts so I now had a bit of an adventure for my morning.
My food arrived and was nothing short of incredible. WOW. I followed my extraordinary but way too large breakfast with a walk up the hill. I came to the gate of the Benton Cemetery and what an interesting place it was. The graves were a few hundred years old and some only a few years old. Some were made from wood, others from rocks, many had fences around them made from iron or wooden spindles. Not like any graveyard I had ever seen. What a great way to start off my day.
Next stop, Yosemite National Park. What a magnificent sight to see! The curvy mountain road opens up to an incredible valley with a spectacular postcard like view. I couldn’t wait to see what else lie up ahead and also couldn’t go more than a few feet without stopping to take pictures. It is by pure luck alone that I did not ride off a cliff or into an oncoming vehicle with all of my gawking around.
I saw the iconic waterfall, which did not have much flowage at this time of the year. However, I did get the chance to climb up it and stand in the cascading spray which was a pretty excellent experience. And then, there was El Capitan and half dome and well, everything else the park has to offer. I will definitely return to explore more thoroughly someday.
I rode out the south entrance of the park and into a little four corners community with a general store on the corner. I found some libations and decided to ask directions to the nearest campground. The clerk did me one better and pointed me towards an out of the way free camp area on top of a mountain. Jackpot!
No facilities or anything other than a parking lot and several cleared out tent sites in the pine forest. Absolutely perfect, and what a view of the nights sky. There were a few other campers off in the distance and a couple vans pulled in over night. Mostly, it was just me my tent and the stars. I spent the majority of the night staring up at them as I tossed and turned in pain. This damn shoulder was going to be the death of me and my leg still did not like to straighten. I’m sure my hike up the waterfall had helped things.
Morning came and I had my breakfast and coffee cooking as the sun was rising. The air smelled so fresh and clean up there it reminded me of Colorado mountain tops but I was nowhere near that altitude. I had the bike loaded and hit the road at a decent hour.
I was headed to see the largest tree on the planet in Sequoia National Park. Along the way I found Bass Lake and a nifty little roadside diner/gas station. Miller’s Landing had fuel, food, and a great view. I spent some time enjoying the patio and my gigantic tuna sandwich while going over my maps. The road was narrow and winding and quite a great ride with very little traffic, so little that the plants on the roadside were creeping into the lanes in some spots.
Soon, I was in a concrete jungle for a while before finding my turn up to the Kings canyon entrance. I followed the road to the entrance and discovered my first giant standing just off the road. Oh. My. God. I have been to the Redwood forest and the Avatar forest but these things seemed to be on a whole other level of huge. Of course, pictures do them no justice, but I took several anyway.
Note to self, most campgrounds are closed by the end of September, it is ok to camp off the grid in the national forest but not the national park. It was getting late in the day and I hadn’t made it very far into the park with all of my exploring so it was time to find a home. After riding a while and looking at my map I came to the conclusion I better turn around find the last gas station I had passed. The clerk was not exactly helpful with camping info but I left with a fresh tank of fuel and a half assed idea of where I might park a tent for the night.
I rolled up the hill I had come down earlier and found a campground that was open but very full and I no idea where I might get a pass for the night. There didn’t seem to be an office or check in station anywhere so I kept rolling and eventually the pavement ended and I saw a sign saying, “Dispersed Camping Beyond this point.” Bingo! I was right where I needed to be.
I rode slowly taking in the views of the enormous mountains around me and soon came to a little bridge and a curve in the road. I just happened to look off to my right and saw my home. There, next to a mountain stream was a leveled off cleared out spot for a tent and a little gravel parking area at the end of a dirt trail. If I thought last nights mountain camp had been heaven than this was whatever is better than that.
About ten minutes later my tent was up and bags unloaded. Now, I needed some water and a bath. The stream was quite cold and it took me a minute to gather up the nerve to dip in but eventually I managed to get the job done. Next, I filtered enough water to refill all of my bottles and camelback before setting up the stove for dinner and taking a hike to the mountaintop. Man, I was living the life out here and the cold shower had been just what the doctor ordered for my throbbing aches and pains.
The sound of the stream sang me to sleep that night but unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay that way. It was yet another night of moaning and groaning with my battered and bruised self. Then, morning arrived with a not so welcoming sky and a bit of wind. Just as I was finishing my coffee and starting to cook my breakfast, the raindrops began to fall.
At this point I had spent enough time in the mountains to know that the storm was probably not going to last long and it would most likely be sunny in an hour. So, with my confidence and knowledge, I packed up my kitchen and went to the tent to wait out this little mountain rain. And, I continued to wait. Then, proceeded to wait longer. Well, damn. After a good hour and a half I decided I may be in for something more than a bit of morning drizzle. Cell phone reception did not exist out here and I hadn’t checked the weather in a few days.
Around 9 a.m. I made an executive decision to pack up and roll out thinking I may ride out of this on the other side of the hill. My thoughts were very wrong. I made it all of half a mile from camp when a torrential downpour found me. Oh for fucks sake this was not starting out to be a great day. I was now soaked and the temperatures dropped as I made my way out to the main road. My gear was waterproof so I wasn’t actually wet but my riding suit certainly was and I could now see my breath outside.
Well, I was in the middle of enormous ancient trees and in the mountains so technically life couldn’t be any better, physically it had a lot of room for improvement. I spent my day riding through some intense fog and freezing my ass off hiking around huge trees. Then, just as I had decided to stop and get one more photo of the sequoias, a car rolled up and stopped abruptly. I wasn’t sure what was happening until this couple jumped out and took off running across the road with their camera and waving me to follow. There, on the side of the road, inside the massive gap of a tree trunk, was a full grown deer milling around like the hollow tree was his living room. Not something you see everyday or maybe ever again in life. WOW. It’s all about timing.
I was convinced at this point that I couldn’t have possibly planned my day any better, and mother nature had officially apologized for her wrath earlier. Now, it was time to roll on and down a most incredible curve filled mountain road. I narrowly escaped a rock falling off a cliffside into the lane next to me. Followed by a bike almost hitting me head on coming up hilat me around a curve. Then topped off by a semi trying to pass me and another car but changing his mind halfway through and running me off the road at 60 MPH. Welcome to California.
It was an hour before sunset when I made it to Pismo Beach Hilton. Thank you Travis and your hotel points! This was a very lovely way to end my long wet cold achy and death defying day. I decided after two days of mostly camp food that a nice dinner and some wine was going to be on my dinner menu. I found my way to The Spoon Trade down the road and had the best chunk of bacon I have ever tasted in my life on top of a giant bowl of pasta. Delicious.
I had made it from Wisconsin to the west coast and was more than ready to start my adventure up the Pacific Coast Highway in the morning. “What a long strange trip it’s been.” More to come in the next segment, stay tuned!