California

California – LA to Santa Barbara

My plans for an early start faded as rapidly as my winning streak in the Vegas casinos and I eventually got my ass out of bed and into the saddle at 11:00.  I was looking forward to my next destination – California, and the Pacific Coast Highway I’d heard so much about.  I’d also heard much about the LA traffic and it didn’t disappoint! (or rather it did).  Every mile I got nearer to LA the traffic grew heavier and heavier, until it stopped.  Luckily, California is the only sensible ‘free thinking’ state (in my opinion) that allows motorcycles to ‘filter’ between slow moving or stationary vehicles, just as any motorcyclist could in the rest of the normal world.  For the life of me I do not understand why every other state in the USA think motorcyclists should sit and wait in traffic jams experiencing the same mental stress and wasted time as car drivers when they don’t have to, while also overheating in the baking sun and breathing in toxic fumes!  If car drivers don’t like it, then they should get a motorcycle too and help reduce congestion, greenhouse gases, air pollution and wastage of finite fossil fuels.  Rant over.

I must admit I quickly loved California for this (legal filtering), as I sped (sensibly) between 5 rows of stationary vehicles, cool air circulating throughout my vented Kilimanjaro.  Motorcyclists can also use the HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle) lanes in California, which again makes a lot of sense for the same reasons.  I LOVE YOU CALIFORNIA!

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Not the Interstate 5 heading into LA! Thought I’d put this photo of the Pacific Coast Highway in instead to cheer us all up.

LA was to be my first stop where I had been invited to stay by a friend, Dana, whom I used to work with at Club Med in the paradise that is San Salvador Island in The Bahamas.  I was lucky enough to be a Scuba Diving Instructor there and Dana was a chef.  As you can imagine, it was a horrible job!  My daily routine consisted of getting up & diving in some of the world’s clearest, most scenic (caves, canyons) and life teeming waters in the world, and then ‘forced’ to frequent the club bar for free drinks, mingle with the clientele and make a fool of myself in the après-dinner ‘shows’ (which I often excelled at a little too enthusiastically, due to the free drinks part).

Dana is an up-and-coming Hollywood screenwriter/actress and I’m going to take a minute to plug her new project, which is a very funny & original film about drinking to excess (something I have only heard about, obviously).  So take a minute to look at this link and maybe you’d like to be part of it:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1650667043/dead-drunk-0

I’m also going to take a minute to plug my Garman Zumo 550 Sat Nav, because without it I would probably still be riding around lost in the LA gargantuan.

I was looking forward to giving Dana the first (and best) motorcycle ride of her life, but before our planned day trip up the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara and dip into wine country, we had some business to attend to down the pub.  Or, rather, an LA comedy club.  I remember someone once telling me that everyone in LA is either an actor, screenwriter or producer, and I was pleased to experience that they appear to be correct.

Nursing a small hangover (I must be getting old) we tried for an early start in the morning, but, as usual (for me), time ran away from us and we ended stopping for a quick brunch rather than breakfast on the way to the coast, after a short detour to Paramount Studios for Dana to collect a helmet from a kindly friend.  Unfortunately once we hit the coast we were engulfed in the infamous coastal ‘sea fog’, or more accurately marine layer, caused by the cooling effect of the cold sea as it meets the often intensely heated inland air.  This made for a somewhat chilly and not quite as picturesque ride as I had anticipated, so upon reaching Santa Barbara we were pleased to head up into the hills along the beautifully scenic route 154 and thaw out in the gorgeously warm, crisp, March sun.

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Route 154 – Out of the coastal fog and into the sun!

Our mission was to tour some of the vineyards that featured in the film ‘Sideways’, and I am pleased to say we succeeded.

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Wine – it’s good for you!

Many people make a holiday (or even career) of touring California’s world famous vineyards, and it is certainly good business for the vineyards.  Over the years I have enjoyed many wine-tasting sessions all over the world, and the proprietors made their money when you purchased the wines you enjoyed on completion of the tasting.  However, it seems vineyards in California are different, and they expect you to pay for the pleasure of tasting their products.  At 10-20 USD per session this soon adds up to an expensive hobby (well, for a budget traveler it does), and I expect it’s very good business for them.

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Dana demonstrating how to mount a motorbike after a series of wine tasting sessions…

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Made it!

After cruising the beautiful wine valleys of Santa Barbara, we headed to the Cold Spring Tavern back on 154 for a drink, recommended to us by a couple on a Harley we had met on the way up.  And I’m glad they did!  The tavern sits in a cool, shaded spot down the twisty Stagecoach Road and is a popular gathering spot for bikers at weekends.  It also has a good selection of local beers, but if there’s one disadvantage of riding a motorcycle (with a new pillion) it’s that riding safely and multiple wine/beer tastings don’t mix very well.  Dana, however, took full advantage of both.

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Cold Spring Tavern – I need a drink!

After stretching the day out as much as we could, it was eventually time to head back to LA, which we did along the quickest route 101.  Dana’s friend had invited us to her birthday party at the other end of town, so we dropped off the Tiger, grabbed a quick ‘In and Out’ burger and turned up only a couple of hours late.  Fortunately we arrived in time to see the band fully warmed up, and they were amazing!  An interesting & fun mix of folk, country and rock, they had a dozen or so members who basically took it in turns to wonder off to the bar at will while other players took the spotlight.  The party was also cleverly held at the American Legion, which meant very cheap drinks.

At the end of the day Dana had LOVED her fist biking experience, no doubt due to her amazingly talented (and handsome to boot) chauffeur.  In fact, she couldn’t get enough of it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her next movie feature herself cruising on a Harley beneath the Geocorona.

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Pacific Coast Highway

With the LA coast forecast to be poor visibility again (due to our friend The Marine Layer), this time I rode north up a very windy Interstate 5 and cut across into the mountains to the West along Frazier Mountain Park Road.  The weather was gorgeous and the bike was calving up the corners like there was no tomorrow.  There were also plenty of opportunities for off-road excursions…

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This is what I’m talking about! – Hot, sunny and an open track!

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Plenty of opportunity for exploring and off-road excursions

The scenery changed drastically when I entered the oil towns of Maricopa and Taft, when beautiful mountains & twisty valleys were replaced by thousands of individual ‘nodding donkeys’ extracting what’s left of the oil.  The weather was so nice I decided to have another look at the coast, and so turned West onto route 58 of which a section just happened to be one of the twistiest and best motorcycle roads I have ever encountered – fun fun fun!

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The Tiger has been eating corners like a real tiger, and the Californian highways are some of the best

Reaching the coast at Morro Bay I was very happy to see the weather at the coast was also now hot & sunny with breathtaking clear visibility.  And so I started my long awaited memorable ride up Highway 1 with the Pacific Ocean on my left and Lady Luck on my right.

Anyway, I’ve been told I ramble on too much and you just want to see some photographs, so here you go:

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Beautiful, huge Morro Bay

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For all you animal lovers, I almost sacrificed myself to another cliff in order to save this poor, innocent squirrel…

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… and then he started telling me his life story, and about how there’s a nut shortage in the Morro Bay area. I told him I knew a few nuts, but they were still in Norwich

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Once you’ve riden the Pacific Coast Highway, you will never forget it

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Another photo for all the animal lovers – the Elephant Seal colony at Piedras Blancas

 

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Must be a tough life, being an Elephant Seal; almost worth putting up with a huge conk and the occasional nibble from a Great White Shark

 

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Lunch stop – spoilt for choice really!

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This is where I want to build my house…

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San Francisco

I was finally going to San Francisco, and as I have no hair to put flowers in, I thought I’d half follow the good advice of Scott McKenzie and stuck a couple of dandelions inside my helmet.  Well actually they were dried figs, because I couldn’t find any dandelions (why are they never around when you need them?), and I’d just bought some dried figs from a Mexican at a road-side stall approaching San Francisco on Highway 1.  I actually thought his catching sign meant ‘fresh figs’ (which is what it said) which I love, but I bought them anyway after feeling sorry for the guy (I think I was his only customer all day).  Yes, I am a sucker for poor Mexican dried fig sellers.

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San Francisco – View from Twin Peaks

I’d bought a sandwich earlier and stopped at Lands End, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, to eat it for lunch as I entered San Francisco.  I pulled over on the side of a quiet road with amazing views of the bridge, and there were no other parked cars along the whole stretch of empty road.  It felt great to have the whole place to myself, and in a rare moment of total peace and harmony I was at one with the world.  Then, just as I knew would happen, a car bimbled along and parked immediately next to me, ignoring the other 200 miles of empty parking spaces either side of me.  While I am not adverse to company, sometimes I do wonder what goes through some people’s heads (or are they empty?).  Anyway, and after taking a million snaps of the bridge the couple finally drove off leaving me in peace & harmony again.

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Miles of empty space…. and great views of the Golden Gate Bridge!

I spent most of the day riding around as many ‘must-see’ sights as I could, including Twin Peaks (great view of the city & bay area), Golden Gate Park, Marin Headland (best bridge views) and Baker Beach before I checked into my luxurious accommodation – the San Francisco YHA.

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View from Baker Beach

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View from Marin Headland – best bridge views

The night before I had also stayed in a Youth Hostel, which was funny because not one person in there (including me) was youthful.  I’m approaching ‘middle age’ (although I only look 21) and I must have been the 2nd youngest traveler there out of a dozen or so guests.  It was only 20 miles south of San Francisco at Montara Point Lighthouse, but I was pretty tired after riding all day along the windy coastal Highway 1 and just wanted to crash on a real bed in a quiet, out-of-town area.  I first looked for a place to stay in lovely Carmel or Monterey, but in the end decided not to remortgage my house to pay for a room and drive on further up the coast instead.

As it turned out that YHA hostel I found wasn’t the quiet night I had hoped for after all because I shared a dormitory with the World Champion Snorer from Holland and one really weird guy who went to bed at 1am and then decided to get up at 5am making the loudest noise possible as he did so, including some weird bag rustling routine for an hour or so.  I felt like putting the bag over his head and suffocating him, but restrained myself.  Just.

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My Youth Hostel the previous night 20 miles south of San Francisco – Montara Point Lighthouse

The Dutch snorer was cycling down Highway 1 and his daily routine consisted of getting up at 5am, cycling 100 miles and then collapsing exhausted & snoring all night, ready for a repeat the next day.  Sounds great fun!

That restless night reminded me how much I HATE sharing rooms in hostels as I always seem to meet crazy people who keep me up half the night.  I remember staying in the New York YMCA years ago and meeting a cocaine junkie from Manchester (UK) who had spent all his money on cocaine on the first day of his 2 week holiday.  I couldn’t get rid of him and ended up giving him all the food & money I had left before I flew home, which wasn’t much as I was a skint student at the time.  Sometimes I still wonder if he managed to survive…

 

Yet somehow I find myself sitting here in another Youth Hostel in San Francisco, yet to meet my 3 new dorm-mates.  The main factor determining this reluctant decision is the extortionate price of every hotel room I could find at my usual short-notice investigation, rather like in Carmel & Monterey.  I hope I don’t end up strangling one or all of my new ‘roomies’, as I am in no mood for crazy nighttime shenanigans.

Keen not to waste any time faffing around in the hostel, as soon as I’d checked in I showered and headed straight out on foot to explore this famous city, and have a pint of course.  I already liked San Fran because the main city is actually quite concentrated allowing an energetic walker such as myself to walk all over, which I did.  As my hostel was conveniently located at Fort Mason in North Beach, I headed first to Fisherman’s Wharf, a short walk east.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many delicious looking crab in one place, but somehow ended up having a ‘famous fishwich’ instead (fish sandwich) at a dodgy looking shack nearby.  Whatever it was ‘famous’ for, I’m sure it wasn’t for being cheap and tasty, but it filled a hole (with grease).

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Famous Pier 39, although not famous for ‘Fishwiches’

Then it started to rain, so I walked across the road into one of the million Walgreens in San Fran (there really are!) to purchase an umbrella (as I didn’t want to get my hair wet) before moving onto Chinatown, the oldest one in North American (but not China).  By now it was dark and still raining, so after a quick Chinatown tour on my iTouch (courtesy of TripAdvisor City Guides) I lowered my mizzen sail (aka umbrella) and altered course for the nearest watering hole, which happened to be an Irish Pub, which is usually the case.  Of one thing I’m sure, and that is drinking local beer in a local (albeit Irish) pub is a pretty darn good end to any night out.  And it was.

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Escape from San Francisco via the North Bank

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Napa Valley

Waking up at 8am the next morning I was pleasantly surprised to find only one of the other 3 beds in my dorm had been taken, and in the resulting reduced risk of insomnia I had won the jackpot with an unbroken night’s sleep. Yippee! Perhaps hostels weren’t so bad after all….

My ‘roomie’ was a German student, but despite that he was OK (ha ha) and even laughed at one of my jokes; although he could have been pretending as normally no one laughs at them. After a romantic breakfast together of cereal and eggs we said our farewells and I handed him over my umbrella, which I’m sure he was pleased about because it was p*sisng it down all day.

Of course it’s not very pleasant riding a motorcycle in the rain, particularly when your waterproof trousers aren’t very waterproof, and it wasn’t long before I pulled into the nearest café (which happened to be a Chinese restaurant) to dry off. I changed plan again and decided to head inland to Napa Valley in the hope the rain wouldn’t be so heavy there. Luckily I was right, and as soon as I crossed the mountains the rain stopped, the sun came out and I installed myself into a local motel ready for an intensive evening of wine tasting.

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Welcome sunshine in Napa Valley

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Wine anyone?

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As far as the eye can see…

As it turned out, I ended up on an intensive evening beer tasting instead at the only brewery in Napa. It was that intensive I’ve forgotten its name, but the barman is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and the only one that ploughed me (and fellow Swedish bar-drinker) with free beers, whilst also helping himself to copious amounts (that could have had something to do with his highly generous demeanor).

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Pacific Highway #2

I imagined my time spent travelling would be a leisurely, relaxing time, where I had all the time in the world to explore strange, new lands, lollygag at will and write detailed accounts of it all daily in a blog. However, in reality, I have found myself busy packing, unpacking, loading the motorbike, unloading the motorbike, putting up the tent, taking down the tent, finding places to sleep, finding places to eat, maintaining & servicing the motorbike, trying to work out routes, exciting places to go, things I can’t miss, and then, of course all the actual riding & visiting part. It really is a hard life! Yes, I bet you all feel really sorry for me… And on the odd occasion I do have some time on my hands after a long, hard ride, rather than sit and update my blog, I usually seek out the nearest local pub for a relaxing drink and dinner, and more often than not some ‘inside information’ from the usually hospitable locals. After all, travelling is just as much about the people you meet than the scenery. So you can see why I have very easily become several weeks behind in this blog! So I have decided to make this miserable rainy day a catch up day…

The next day the sun was back out in glorious form, so I headed back to the coast to ride further north up the Pacific Highway in company with the monster hangover that the night before had been a highly amusing, amiable companion – darn you shape-shifting doppelganger!

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Beautiful Bolinas Bay

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Stinson Beach – beautiful beach and inviting water; but beware…. Great White Sharks are often seen swimming into the shallows….

I took my time as the weather and views were spectacular – probably the best stretch of highway since Big Sur south of San Francisco. The weather was so good I thought it was time to break open the tent again and justify me carting it all over the World. When I hit Bodega Bay, and I couldn’t resist stopping early and throwing the tent up on the beautiful natural spit, which also happens to be directly over the San Andreas Fault.

I was starving and rather than mess around with my dirty multi-fuel burner, I built a fire and plonked on a whole tray of chicken drumsticks, which were the only meat left in the local shop. They did the trick though and tasted delicious! (must had been the chef!)

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A well-balanced, single man’s meal 🙂

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Camping in Bodega Bay, Doran Beach

I was lucky to find the next day also bathed in beautiful sunshine, so I had another great day riding further north along the heavenly twisty coastal roads up to Salt Point State Park, stopping on plenty of occasions to admire the beautiful, rocky coastline.

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The wild, rocky Pacific Coast – strangely and thankfully underpopulated

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Bodega Bay

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All I need is the open road, wind in my hair, and a new back

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I love American Parks that let you camp directly on the beach! Unfortunately, my back needed a decent bed for the night, and I had no food, and I was starving again

As so often happens when one’s enjoying themselves, the day whizzed by and soon the sun was getting low and it was time to think about heading inland to my next destination – Yosemite National Park. I was going to be sad to leave this beautiful coastline and amazing biking roads, but also excited to see Yosemite after hearing so much about it. However, before I did that I needed a beer and a proper bed for the night. I don’t know if it’s an ‘age thing’, but after 1 night camping my back feels like it’s been run several times over by a passing herd of rhinoceros… and I didn’t even know you got them on the Californian coast.

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Time for a decent bed, dinner and a pint. The best thing about traveling off-season is there’s plenty of cheap, available accomodation everywhere

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That’s better!

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Yosemite

I remember the days when I used to call Yosemite ‘Yose-Mite’ (a few days ago, ha ha), and ever since then I wondered where it was and what was there.  Well, now I know.  It’s in mid California, 200 miles east of San Francisco and it takes 6 hours to drive there from Salt Point State Park, where I was.  I had booked a cabin at a mountain lodge in Oakhurst, a small village just outside Yosemite National Park, as it was much cheaper than staying in the park itself.

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The ride into Yosemite National Park

The ride into the park in the morning took longer than I expected, especially because once inside the park boundary it takes another hour to get to Yosemite Valley, which is the view I had been told was not to be missed.

And they were right – when I finally exited the tunnel leading into the valley, the picture-perfect ‘Tunnel View’ appeared before me like a fairytale.  And here it is:

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Tunnel View – the first look you get at Yosemite Valley as you exit the tunnel – amazing!

From there I walked to Mirror Lake to get a good view of ‘Half Dome’, the famous granite monolith at the end of the valley, and then onto the 3,000 ft high shear granite rock face of El Capitan, the famous rock-climbing wall a bit further down the valley.

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A nice walk to Mirror Lake to get a good view of ‘Half Dome’ – the famous huge granite monolith (not mirror like today unfortunately)

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The 3,000 ft high shear granite rock face of El Capitan – I’ll climb it next time!

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Yosemite Falls – bring your umbrella!

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Walk to Mirror Lake

Also not to be missed is Mariposa Grove where Giant Sequoias have stood majestically for thousands of years.  In fact the largest of them called the ‘Grizzly Giant’ is up to 2,400 years old and so was around when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, and later saw the birth of Jesus – amazing!

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Giant Sequoias are the World’s largest trees by volume with an average height of 50–85 m (160–279 ft) and 6–8 m (20–26 ft) in diameter – they’re HUGE and AWESOME!

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Tunnel Tree

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I could have sworn the trees were starting to close in on me… Perhaps it was my new aftershave?

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Sequoia bark is fibrous and can be almost 1 meter (3.0 ft) thick, providing significant fire protection. In fact, forest fires are vital for their survival by creating openings in the forest, allowing young giant sequoias to establish themselves

Many of the higher trails were covered in snow and closed for the winter, including the trail to Glacier Point, so I found a couple days were enough to satisfy my curiosity as to ‘what was there’.  Job done I started my trip back south to my final stop in San Diego, and to drop my bike off at the shippers in LA ready for its long passage to Australia.

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Yosemite is also a thriving ski resort in the winter

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San Diego

Anyone that’s ever been to San Diego will know it’s a beautiful, relaxed city which always seems to be bathed in sunshine.  Home of the beach bum, surfer and new-craze paddle-boarder, it would have been very easy to remain there for several more weeks.  Seeing as I’d come to the end of my North American chapter, I thought I’d ‘splash out’ a bit and booked a lovely room in Bahia Beach Resort, complete with pool, hot tub and iced margaritas – lovely!

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Almost Paradise…

It’s always good to have locals show you around a new place and I was lucky to have friends in San Diego that happened to live on a luxury yacht berthed in the centre of town.  A quick visit in the morning to look around the 50m super-yacht turned into a liquid lunch, then liquid dinner, and then me waking up onboard the yacht in one of the guest cabins with a monster hangover, surprise, surprise.

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I could have quite easily spent a long, long time here

Later back in my hotel I arranged to drop of my bike at the shippers in LA in a couple of days.  My Tiger was going to take 3 weeks to ship in a container from LA to Melbourne, and a week to clear customs, which gave me 1 month to top up my travel/beer funds selling my soul/body to the highest bidder, which happened to be my favourite company of all time in Sri Lanka (but there was some tough competition, as you can imagine…)

This left me only 2 days in San Diego, which I spent with my favourite Alaska Air Girl, Ms Jessica, who had happened to be re-posted to San Diego from Seattle.  However, after 2 days she was fed up with me and kicked me onto the plane and out of the country (ha ha!).

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View of San Diego from Mount Soledad

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Signature exotic ‘Dragon Tree’ from the Canary Islands – must be on holiday!

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My Flaming Sambuca trick went a little wrong…

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Then Jessie showed me her Flaming Pint trick, which beat the pants off mine

So, so long USA – It’s been emotional at times (at the bottom of cliffs), but I have LOVED every second!  And I dare say our paths will cross again, one of these sunny days…

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