Visitors had deposited all manner of footwear among the tree's branches—worn-out work boots, sneakers, flip-flops, even a set of sequined stilettos were suspended among the oak's waxy leaves, gray from the summer heat. I'd traveled California's Route 36 before, but it was years prior, and I was too busy assaulting the unending ribbon of curves to notice this peculiar "shoe tree." Memories of the road's turns—the winding road sign at Route 36's eastern terminus promises 140 miles of them—and the redwood groves and coastline beyond made me long to return to the Golden State's far north.
I finally got to pay the area another visit and ride with my friend Kevin Nixon, Twisted Throttle's marketing guy and fellow vintage Honda twin fan. He just bought a CB160 off my father with the intention of building a racebike. The timing was perfect. I was already halfway up the state to attend the MotoGP at Laguna Seca; Kev was en route from a BMW rally in Oregon. We met up in Anderson, contemplated the bikes in Kev's trailer, and unloaded the Street Triple and the R1200GS.
The curves lasted all the way to the coast—mostly smooth, flowing, second-gear stuff that's as rhythmic as your favorite Santana song. We guided the bikes through every variety of bend and had the honor of baptizing a few miles of freshly laid blacktop after we were waved to the front of the construction-zone line by an empathetic road worker.
With ample time and no agenda but to roam—a rare situation for both of us—we indulged every distraction. We stopped to investigate the Shoe Tree, swapped bikes frequently, lunched deliberately, and when the heat became oppressive, we found relief in a river. Kevin left the Triumph by the road while I rode the GS down a dusty, loose trail directly to the water, ditched my clothes on the riverbank, and waded in.
The air cooled as we approached the coast and dropped another 10 degrees once we passed into the shade of the redwoods in Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. I flipped my visor up, not just to see better in the darkness under the dense canopy but to breathe deeply of the rich, pungent air that drifts among these ancient trees—a soothing mixture of pine, petrichor, and decay.
Someone could make a bundle bottling that smell and selling it to spas and stressed-out office workers.
The Pacific greeted us at McKinleyville, and a few miles farther north came the fog that nurtures the redwoods and makes this part of the state so enchanting. We passed a herd of Roosevelt elk grazing in a meadow and rode through more redwood groves, the occasional shaft of sunlight blasting through the mist to illuminate the paprika-colored trunks.
We stayed over in Crescent City in a hotel paneled and finished entirely from a single redwood felled in 1952. The morning arrived cold and wet, and we played rock-paper-scissors to determine who would ride the GS and enjoy its windscreen and heated grips. I got covered then crushed, so I steeled myself against the cold with an extra cup of coffee.
We had to turn around somewhere, so we arbitrarily decided to go as far as the Oregon state line. It was a 30-mile ride north to the border then 100 miles south again to Route 299 for our return trip to Anderson. It was in the low 50s when we left the coast, and the temperature doubled once we crested the Coast Range.
Back in Anderson, Kevin and I parted ways. It's something we motorcyclists are all very familiar with, but I still marvel at the cathartic effect of a leisurely motorcycle ride. I jammed back to the office the quickest way, and Kevin left for the East Coast and what'll surely be a busy season at Twisted Throttle. But for those couple of days, all we did was enjoy the ride.
Someone really should figure out how to package the smell of a redwood forest, but even if they do, I'd still opt to ride through one to get my dose.