Tahoe, Tales of Abalone and Tires

May 27, 2013

One objective of this trip has been to plan as little as possible so as to add to the spontaneity of the adventure. I’ve found that approach to have many advantages, including focusing on the journey not the destination, choosing to stop or divert my path when persons or places appeal, and seeing what it feels like to step away from what has seemed like an overly planned life at times.  During my 42 days on the road there have been disadvantages to this approach, as well. The trip from Yosemite to Tahoe was an example of that. By not looking at the weather or the elevation of the terrain I would be driving through I froze my butt off for over 200 miles.

Panorama view of the mountains of Tahoe from over 8,000 feet (taken with my cell phone)

Tahoe Panorama

I had no idea that Tahoe sits at over 6,000 feet (1,897 meters). Nor did I know that I had to ride through a mountain pass of over 8,000 feet. I woke up in the Stanislaus National Forest outside Yosemite to temperatures in the low 40’s. Using the NOAA wind chill chart, with an ambient temperature of 42 degrees while traveling at 55 mph, I was actually experiencing 28 degree temperatures. That’s not too bad if you’re dressed appropriately. But I was expecting I’d be riding through a 50 to 60 degree day in the sun. A few days before I had removed the liner from my jacket and stuffed my warmer gloves and the electrical chord to my plug-in vest deep in my saddlebags. My leather chaps were tucked under layers of bungeed equipment and I was wearing cotton socks.  By the time I arrived in Tahoe I could barely move my fingers, which were bent in the shape of holding my handlebars all day. I’m relieved to announce I did not suffer frostbite. To ride on a motorcycle on a trip of this magnitude across many climate zones is to experience the weather in all its glory. I stopped complaining to myself about the weather some time ago. The realization hit me that my alternative was to drive in a climate-controlled car blocked off from the world around me. Nothing beats riding a bike on the open road. It’s “take the weather as it comes”, or drive in a car. I’ll take the weather. The ride to Tahoe, however, also taught me to always remain prepared. Keep appropriate changes of clothing accessible!

Tahoe – what a disappointment!  I won’t waste my time talking much about it here. A few travelers I ran into recommended it. In fact a couple of them said, “Don’t miss it!”  My recommendation: miss it!  The mountains around the city are gorgeous. But I’ve driven through plenty of gorgeous mountains and have many more mountain ranges to come. The city itself is an over-done ski resort with row after ugly street row of ski chalets, urban sprawl at its worst and lots of establishments that look like they cater to a heavy drinking apre ski crowd. This was the off-season, so traffic was light. In the midst of ski season I can just imagine how the ants crawl throughout this area. Living in a heavy ski area in Vermont – albeit with a totally different ambience – I know what happens when it’s ski season. Hoards of tourists and second home owners arrive. An area can become mobbed with a totally different sort of vibe. I sensed that’s Tahoe. Am I being opinionated?  Yes. Take it as you will. If that is what you enjoy, Tahoe is for you. Despite my feelings about the area, it has its beauty. Here are a few pictures to help paint a “softer, gentler” portrait of the area.

The mountain pass coming into Tahoe.

Mountains over Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

The following day it was a 230 mile road to San Francisco and the first view of the Pacific Ocean on this trip. I’ve been to San Francisco at least a half a dozen times before. My most recent visits have all been for the purpose of swimming open water races in the Bay. I’ve swam both the Alcatraz (2006) and Golden Gate to Aquatic Park (2008) swims. For an open water swimmer like me, there’s nothing like the thrill of swimming in the Bay. It’s exhilarating! I had to return. San Fran is one of my top five favorite cities in the world. I also had to visit the digs of the two swim clubs that host some of the most devoted and zealous open water swimmers anywhere – the Dolphin Club and South End Rowing Club. I was hosted by my friends Sarah and Gorman, who I met in Vermont years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of Sarah, but here’s one of Gorman, his dog Riley and one of Gorman’s friends.

Gorman (left) and Riley (center)

Gorman, Riley and friend

Here are some pics from around the South End Rowing Club. They host several Bay-area races. I swam their Alcatraz race in 2006.


The day I visited the two clubs the Dolphin Club was hosting a race from Crissy Field. Here are a few swimmers entering Aquatic Park at the end of the race.

Aquatic Park


Finish Line

As the race was ending I donned my swimsuit and did some cold water laps around the buoys set up for swimmers in Aquatic Park. I hadn’t swam in over a year and a half, having been in arid, dust-filled southern Afghanistan last year. I was concerned I’d get a real shock entering the cold water. I’m pleased to announce I was able to do a lap around the buoys and return to the South End Rowing Club feeling invigorated. A hot sauna awaited me. Here’s the view of Alcatraz from Aquatic Park.  Jimmy buddy, I would have loved to swim in the Bay with you!!!


My short time in San Fran also included visits to the hippie enclave of Haight Ashbury, Bernal Heights with wide views of San Francisco, and the Golden Gate bridge.


Here’s a friend I made in the Haight. He kept wanting to sit on my feet, which made taking a picture of this love-muffin difficult.

Haight Buddy

Former residence of the Grateful Dead at 710 Ashbury Street.

The Dead

View of San Francisco from Bernal Heights park above where Sarah and Gorman live.

Bernal Heights

On my way out of town the following day I shot a few pictures from each side of the Golden Gate bridge.

Golden Gate

Golden Gate

My destination for the night: A quiet campground somewhere along scenic coastal Route 1. The road from the Bay to Timber Cove, where I camped, was one of the most scenic coastal routes I’ve ever driven. The road wound and twisted above rugged rocky shorelines, along windswept coves and over bucolic pastures. Motorcyclists take note: This is not a road to miss on your journeys west! By early evening the strong, gusty wind had subsided and fog had crept in. Here’s a view from my camp spot.

Foggy Timber Cove

I had landed in a camp of abalone fishermen. It was a small campground perched on a cliff a couple hundred feet above a rocky shoreline. I was immediately greeted by a couple of the friendliest campers I had met. Most were Korean-Americans camped in extended family encampments with several tents to a site. The first man who greeted me came to look at my bike. I was an anomaly at the camp, as everyone there had come to fish for abalone. I knew nothing about abalone fishing before arriving here. I learned that U.S. law restricts a fisherman to no more than three abalone a day and twenty-four in a season. You may not resell them. Abalone were so over-fished that the state of California banned it in 1997. Read more about it here. My first visitor was fascinated by my bike. Near the end of our conversation he asked me, “What does your mother call you?”  I wasn’t quite sure what he meant at first. Then I understood he was asking my name. I told him. He replied, “My mother calls me Frank.” He went on to say, “Most people ask, ‘What is your name?’ But I like to say ‘What does your mother call you?’ because it sounds different. He paused for a moment, looked me straight in the eye, lifted his shoulders and smiled broadly. The second group of people to visit me were my next door neighbors. They invited me for dinner. They had fresh corn-on-the-cob roasting over their fire. I sat down on a chair next to the fire. The wife, Joanne, handed me a cup of hot chocolate. The husband, Sang, sat with me as he peeled back the husk from the corn. He let it cool a moment before handing it to me. He had been fishing for abalone for over 15 years. He and his family come here several times a year from the LA area. The next day I took this picture of him after he returned from gathering his daily quota of three abalone.


Here are some pictures taken of the encampment and abalone fishermen the following day. This is the lower encampment by the small cove where the fishermen entered the water.

Lower encampment

Fishermen out in the water. A person may only free-dive for abalone – no tanks or artificial air. All of them wore and carried the same gear – thick wet suits, insulated foot and head gear, knives for prying the abalone from the rocks, and a floatation device to store the abalone.

Abalone fishermen

The mollusks were thick on the rocks.


Returning from the hunt

Here’s a short voice recording from the fisherman you see emerging from the water in the picture, above.

Early morning view from camp. Fog encroaching.

Abalone Cove

As I was packing to ride north to Eureka, where I was planning on staying with a Vermont friend who had moved west, I discovered I had been riding on a *very* bald tire – so bald it had worn down to the fiber!  With the help of the owner of the campground I located a motorcycle shop about 75 miles up the road in Fort Bragg. It being a holiday weekend, I would have to settle-in for two days until businesses opened again on Tuesday. I was nervous about reaching Fort Bragg.


I drove slowly and stopped frequently to photograph on a picture-perfect sunny day. I had never seen water like this outside the tropics. This coast was incredible. I wish I could share all my pictures with you. Here are a few samplers.

California Coast

California Coast


I’m currently waiting out a torrential rain that’s been soaking the west coast from San Francisco to Seattle and beyond for the last 24 hours. Tomorrow I hope to have a new tire, oil change and chain adjustment on my bike and be back on the road to Eureka and a visit with my friend, Lauryn, and her partner, Tom.


See the Maps Section for detailed information on my route to-date and my projected travels up the coast and back east. Near-term destinations include Eureka, California; Portland, Oregon; and Sedro Wooley, Washington. I turn back east at that point with Glacier and Whitefish, Montana, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and Black Hills as just some of my destinations.

Thanks to Sarah and Gorman for hosting me in San Fran!  It was so nice to see you!!


All content Copyrighted ©  Stephen Tavella

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