Saturday, November 21, 2015

Warning For Drivers on Historic Route 6 in California: A Big Mess on Vasquez Canyon Rd. Impacts Travel

KTLA reporter Mark Mester stands next to Vasquez Canyon Road, which continued to buckle on Nov. 20, 2015. (Credit: KTLA)
Vasquez Canyon Road is popular with cyclists, and provides additional access for drivers living in northern Santa Clarita areas -- such as Saugus -- and connects Bouquet Canyon Road to the 14 Freeway and Sierra Highway. Traffic was expected to be impacted in the area, including both Bouquet and the Sierra Highway.
The Sierra Highway is a portion of the
Historic U.S. Route 6 alignment.

Monday, November 9, 2015

US Route 6 for Motorcyclists by Ray Fowler

For those interested in riding a motorcycle across the country from California to Cape Cod MA on Route 6, here's a great read from a biker who did it: 

US Route 6 Road Trip by Ray Fowler (all photos also by Ray Fowler)

 For the past several summers, I have ridden my motorcycle cross country.  This past summer, I decided to ride US Route 6 from Long Beach, CA, to Cape Cod, MA.  As my road trip actually started in Redwood City, CA, the entire eastern portion of my trek totaled more than 4,050 miles.  When I left Long Beach on August 9, 2015, it was dismally overcast; when I arrived at the US Route 6 eastern terminus in Cape Cod on August 19, 2015, it was spectacularly sunny and warm.  The end to a truly epic ride.   

  My 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 has been my loyal companion on several solo long distance motorcycle rides.  I usually select two-lane highway systems for my trips because the scenery is always breathtaking and you get a chance to meet some unique and interesting people in small town America.  My trips include rides from San Francisco Bay to Chesapeake Bay, and from Mexico to Canada.  In July 2010, I completed an Iron Butt ride that covered 1,076 miles in one day.  Those trips were great tests of stamina, but they did not prepare me for the challenging task of solo navigation while traveling US Route 6 on a motorcycle.  I’m really old school, but riding cross country on the Grand Army of the Republic Highway requires more than just a sharp eye and a good road map.  Thank God for GPS and smartphones!   

I know a Route 6 road trip from Bishop to Cape Cod would be considered a legit ride, but some purists feel you need to start in Long Beach to make the ride truly authentic.  I’m OK with that, but where do you start in Long Beach?  The Los Alamitos traffic circle?  Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Atlantic Avenue?  I visited four different locations on PCH before deciding to start at the Grand Army of the Republic Highway plaque.  From there, I rode north on Long Beach Boulevard to PCH then northbound on I-110 (known locally as the Harbor Freeway).  Figueroa Street parallels I-110 as you travel north toward downtown LA, and Figueroa Street may be a closer match to the original US Route 6 in some parts of South Los Angeles.  The same can be said for San Fernando Road after transitioning to Interstate 5 and passing through Burbank.  Eventually, the route will cut toward Palmdale and the Mojave Desert on SR-14.  

            This is where the fun starts.  The Sierra Highway breaks toward the desert at the I-5 and SR-14 split.  You can stay on SR-14 or follow roughly the same path toward Palmdale on the Sierra Highway.  This is where a good map, some GPS, and pre-trip research will really help.  Be careful, if you follow the Sierra Highway, don’t miss the turn back toward Palmdale.  Things get simpler after you pass through Mojave.  Stay on SR-14 until it joins US Hwy 395, and eventually you will wend your way north to Bishop and the western terminus of US Route 6 since 1964.

            The ride up US Hwy 395 is awesome.  You will see a part of eastern California that most Californians never take the opportunity to enjoy.  It is a beautiful stark contrast to the beaches and valleys in the western and central parts of the state.  The eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range drops sharply to the high desert floor.  It is here you will find an important part of our nation’s history.  Not quite 50 miles south of Bishop is the Manzanar War Relocation Center where thousands of Japanese-Americans were interned during WWII.  Stop and visit the interpretive center; it is an experience you are not likely to forget. 

Finally, Bishop and the “official” beginning of US Route 6.  The good news is that you will be on US Route 6 all the way from Bishop to Cape Cod.  Riding east, you’ll soon cross the state line into Nevada.  Although US Hwy 50 has been nicked-named the “Loneliest Road in America,” there are portions of US Route 6 in Nevada that could certainly compete for that moniker.  In Ely, Nevada, US Route 6 and US Hwy 50 come together and head east toward Utah.  They split temporarily but come together again in the southern Utah desert.  US Route 6 through Nevada and Utah may be some of the best roads for motorcycle touring in the country.  Long stretches of roadway where the high desert landscape extends to the horizon unbroken by crossroads or roadside business.  I have ridden through this area no less than a half dozen times and it never disappoints.

US Route 6 and US Hwy 50 split for good in Grand Junction, Colorado.  The ride across Grand Junction is more like a business loop, but Route 6 will eventually join I-70 just east of Palisade.  Stay alert because Route 6 will depart and parallel I-70 as it makes its way through towns like Rifle and New Castle.  This part of the trip was a real treat for me.  I have ridden across Colorado many times, but it was always a route across the southern part of the state.  Now, I was taking in the mountains and enjoying a close-up look at Vail.  East of Vail, US Route 6 turns south and makes a huge loop through Loveland Pass before rejoining I-70.  This is part of Colorado most travelers pass by as they head either east or west on I-70.  However, the payback will be Clear Creek Canyon Road.  US Route 6 leaves I-70 and follows Clear Creek Canyon Road east about 14 miles to Golden.  It was a hot and dusty roadway clobbered with trucks.  Stop-and-go riding in heavy truck traffic is very fatiguing.  I was glad to finally be on my way to Denver, which is the first large metropolitan area on US Route 6 after leaving SoCal.  The route circles north then east around Denver before stretching out to eastern Colorado.

            I really enjoyed riding through Nebraska.  Much of route was two-lane roads through Nebraska’s rich countryside.  You don’t need a GPS in Nebraska; US Route 6 is very well marked.  Here is America’s Heartland at its best.  The people I met were so genuine, and locals were eager to strike up a conversation when they noticed the California license plate on my bike.  It’s a shame that left and right coasters look down from 35,000 feet sipping champagne as they deride “flyover” America.  The people I met in restaurants, shops, and wherever I stopped were friendly and much more interesting than coasters too busy to slow down and smell the roses.  I enjoyed heartland hospitality across the Midwest and all the way east into Pennsylvania.  One other note about riding through Nebraska… I decided to avoid chain restaurants and fast food on my trip.  I have to say that I enjoyed one of the best burgers on the planet in a small southeastern Nebraska town.  It was so good that I expected to see Guy Fieri at the same diner. 

            I saw tons and tons (literally) of corn in Iowa.  In fact, I saw summer corn in all states spanning my route from the Midwest all the way to Massachusetts.  I enjoyed riding through several all American small towns in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana.  While there is a lot less open country in northern Illinois, Route 6 stays well south of metropolitan Chicago.  I have been lucky to dodge severe weather on my trips, but my luck ran out one early evening in northern Indiana.  I later learned from locals that June had been a particularly bad month for thunderstorms and torrential rains.  Now, in August, the storms were enjoying their last hurrah.  I stopped in Westville just after sunset to put on my rain gear after a few drops started hitting my windscreen.  It was only about 12 miles to Kingsbury.  Horizontal rain hit me almost as soon as I got back on the road.  No worries; I have ridden in rain and I should reach Kingsbury in about 20 minutes.  How bad could it get?  I was about to find out.  The sky turned pitch black as rain hammered my left side.  I slowed down to about 30 mph and heeled my bike into the gusting wind.  There were no visual references except the fog line on the right hand edge of the road.  With no streetlights or even a farmhouse porch light to help orientate me, it appeared as if everything outside my headlight pattern had turned into a solid black mass.  Then, an earsplitting streak of lightning would eerily illuminate the countryside momentarily before the blackness returned.  I could make out trees and fields on the side of the road just before a thunderous boom would resonate overhead.  The water was now a couple of inches deep on the roadway and splashing back on my boots like the wake behind a motor boat.  There were no other vehicles on the road.  The darkness and heavy rain continued to be punctuated by lightning flashes and thunderclaps.  There was nowhere to stop.  I thought about what would happen if I ran over a pothole or unseen railroad tracks.  I would probably go down, but I should not get hurt too badly at such a slow speed.  I missed the turn toward Kingsbury but backtracked almost immediately and got back on course.  It was the longest 12 miles of roadway I have ever ridden, but I made it. 

            The next day was gorgeous.  I finished up northern Indiana and entered Ohio.  Speed trap alert!  Beautiful Saturday morning heading east on Route 6 about a mile west of Ligonier, Indiana… one of Ligonier’s finest is working radar well outside the city limits line.  Then, a second officer is working radar about a half mile down the roadway.  C’mon, guys.  Route 6 skirts the extreme southern edge of Ligonier, and vehicles on the Grand Army of the Republic Highway do not materially affect traffic safety in your town.  However, I’m sure radar tags on Route 6 are a great revenue generator for the town of Ligonier.  I continued riding through beautiful unbroken countryside as I crossed into Ohio.  I have not spent any time near the Great Lakes, so I really enjoyed the view as I drove east along the Lake Erie shoreline.  I finally reached Cleveland, which is only the second large metropolitan area along my route.  There was a lot to see as I traversed Cleveland, but before I reached the historic Millionaire’s Row district east of the city, I turned toward Pennsylvania and back into rural America. 

            As I drove across northern Pennsylvania, I felt like I was nearing my goal.  In the west, it can take all day to ride across a single state.  Now, I would be crossing through Pennsylvania and New York on my way to Connecticut.  The farther east you ride, the more time you will spend on navigation.  While Route 6 is always heading an easterly direction, it can split away from an expressway or turn away and join a road less traveled with little or no signage.  You can easily avoid business loops and alternates that are properly marked, but you will see “US Highway 6,” “Old US Hwy 6,” and “Historic 6” signage that may tempt you away from US Route 6 as it appears officially on the map.  I reached Providence, Rhode Island, after riding through more scenic New England small towns than I could count.  Finally, Massachusetts and the Atlantic coastline!  There is so much history and local flavor as you near the Cape; you will want to stop in each small town along the way. 

            I rolled through Bourne, Massachusetts, then crossed the Cape Cod Canal just west of Sandwich on a Wednesday morning.  I thought it would be a breeze to get up to Provincetown for some lunch.  I thought wrong.  Although it was a Wednesday, it looked like everyone in southeastern Massachusetts was headed to the Cape for one last beach trip before the start of the school year.  It was hot.  It was stop-and-go for miles.  Here is one thing all California motorcycle riders learn when they ride outside the Golden State:  California is one of the few states that permits lane sharing or “white-lining.”  Local yokels will not only just nudge their car over to narrow the lane between cars; they will actually cut off motorcycles getting ready to pass them.  I have been tempted to whack a side view mirror on occasion, but a deep breath and a little Zen always moved me to a better place on my journey. 

The last 60 miles from Sandwich to Provincetown required about two hours to complete.  I finally arrived at the “3,652” sign, and as I reached for my camera, a small sedan pulled ahead of the sign in a perfect position to photobomb the last shot of my Route 6 mega ride.  I got the pictures I wanted and rode to the beach before meandering over to Provincetown.  Like I said earlier, it was a glorious day.  Reflecting on my ride, I would have to say that it gave me a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  I have now joined a loosely formed but proud group of bikers who have met the challenge of riding cross country on US Route 6.  My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to spend on the Cape.