Geiger Grade Road is one of those strips of asphalt that makes any motorcyclist appreciate the wonders of nature. Although I’m not a geologist, I can certainly dig the topography that usually results where one natural expanse meets another. In this case, it’s the Great Basin to Reno’s west and the Sierra Nevada desert to its east.
Rising 1,500 feet from Reno to Virginia City, Nev., the road features tight corners, long sweepers and ridiculously good scenery. Best of all: There’s no traffic. Maybe there was in the 1950s when Virginia City was the site of a minor gold rush, but in 2011 those treasure hunters are long gone, and we have the highway to ourselves. As we rise higher and higher above Reno, we’re rewarded with increasingly impressive views until we pull in at the Bucket of Blood Saloon for a bite to eat.
It’s the perfect stop on what is turning out to be a great trip. We kicked it off four days earlier in our hometown of Portland, Ore. This is, for lack of a better description, an old-fashioned biker run. It is me on my Buell, and my dad and a bunch of his buds on their Harleys. There is no particular plan, just see a fair chunk of the West from the seats of our motorcycles, and maybe harass a few locals as we string together our route—well, no, not really, but we certainly enjoy putting on our best bad-boy biker persona as we point our front wheels toward the horizon and roll into joints with names like “Bucket of Blood Saloon” for lunch.
For as long as I can remember, my dad was a Harley guy. He has ridden his 1995 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide through all the lower 48 states and loves that motorcycle. It hasn’t been until now, after I’ve been out of the house for several years, that we’ve had an opportunity to plan a ride together. So that’s exactly what we do, setting our sights south to California’s Redwood forests and west to Nevada’s desert country.
It isn’t long before Dad’s old biker buddies latch on. You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to ride with. There’s John, my dad’s oldest friend and a founding member of Portland’s Lost Squadron Motorcycle Club. John rides a 2000 FLHT. Bill the carpenter worked with me on my one and only construction job. He rides a 2010 FLHX. Then there’s Ron, the newest member of our group on a 2001 Heritage Softail. Ron is the kind of guy who can make your day go bad in a hurry—a black belt in karate but very quiet and unassuming—though I’m pretty sure he’s too nice to get into much trouble.
I’m the only one who doesn’t work in the construction industry. That and the Buell make me quite the outcast, but the old guys are cool, and I even get to lead once in awhile.
So, on Aug. 12, we head out. Our plan is to return whenever the trip is over or when my dad and his buddies get tired. Much to our surprise, everyone shows up on time for our departure. We vow never to be so orderly again and ride south along the Oregon coast.
We take Route 18 out of Portland to Lincoln City. Also known as the Salmon River Highway, the road cuts through Portland suburbia, then Willamette Valley farmland. It’s scenic, but thanks to a lot of cross traffic and an endless stream of casino patrons, it’s pretty congested. But no worries. We’re not in a hurry and the coast comes into view soon enough. We reach U.S. 101 and turn our bikes south toward Newport.
There, we make our first stop for the night—yeah, a short day, but remember what I said about not being in a hurry. Plus, with the old guys’ two rules—never pass up a gas stop; never pass up a bathroom break—we somehow managed to turn a two-hour ride into a four-hour expedition. Nice start!
After settling in, we hang out in front of our hotel room making plans for the next day and good-naturedly harassing passersby. We turn in with little terrorizing accomplished and vow to do more tomorrow.
Our second day starts as it does for all bad-ass bikers: a trip to Starbucks. John and I have half-whip, extra-hot soy milk fraps. Perfect. We’re ready to ride.
From Newport, it’s south down the 101. With Cali on our minds, we make good time. We enjoy traffic-free roads most of the way down. Bill leads the way, and we keep a lively pace, with the guys on their cruisers scraping some chrome off running boards through the coast-hugging twisties.
The weather is perfect, and we experience some of the best sections offered by this stretch of one of America’s great highways in all their glory. There’s nothing like the feeling of freedom you get from hitting the open road with a group of riding buddies.
Luckily, we’re able to bank some of those good vibes because we hit major traffic as we roll into California and through some inland sections of the 101 toward Rio Dell, our stop for the night. The hotel manager is a pretty cool dude, even giving us some towels to put on our seats overnight so they won’t get wet. Something tells me we’re not the first gang of biker toughs to roll through this ’burg.
Rio Dell is a pretty small town, and there isn’t much going on—although the pizza and beverages are pretty good. I even get a tattoo that night. It might be a lick ’em and stick ’em tattoo, but whatever. I’m feeling like a real biker.
The next morning, we head back to Fortuna for breakfast. (Rio Dell wakes up late on a Sunday morning, I guess.) Luckily for Dad and his buddies, the diner has a cute waitress. They harass her and embarrass me—just what old guys are for!
Just a short jaunt south, we catch the Avenue of the Giants. Also known as California Route 254, it runs adjacent to the 101 from Pepperwood to Phillipsville, following the winding Eel River along the way. We’re here, of course, to appreciate the massive Coast Redwoods that tower over us. It’s an eye-opening spectacle made all the more awesome by the fact that we get to view it from the seats of our motorcycles.
Several photo-ops later, we hook back up to the 101 and roll south to Legget, then continue to Ukiah and the finest Motel 6 in the area, where we take our rest for the night—but not before more waitress harassing. Gotta love these guys.
From Ukiah, we roll west on California Route 20 to Auburn so Ron can visit his daughter. The rest of us continue on I-80 to Lake Tahoe.
The road to Tahoe is pretty uneventful, too crowded and too much construction. We stay on the Nevada side at the Biltmore. My dad and I split a double room for $40. It’s the first time I’ve stayed in the same place overnight with my dad since I was a teenager, and it helps me realize that somewhere along the way he’s become more like a buddy than my dad.
The next morning, we decide to visit the Carson City Harley-Davidson dealer and a coffee joint in Reno. It’s Reno for the Java Jungle and Carson City for a gunfight! Well, not really, but by this point we are really getting into the whole western motif.
We roll into Carson City and manage to get lost about 65 times trying to find where they moved the Harley dealership. We’re finally victorious and celebrate by loitering around and talking about the bikes we wish we could ride. I look around for some Buells, but have no luck. Next up is the Java Jungle—John’s idea. We’re both coffee aficionados and that’s all the excuse we needed for a side trip. The verdict? Good coffee, but they don’t roast their own beans. Yes, I am a Portland coffee snob.
This is where we pick up Geiger Grade Road and snake up to Virginia City and the Bucket of Blood Saloon. It’s a nice place with some more waitresses to keep my dad and his buddies preoccupied. I’m not hungry, so I split to take some photos and check out the area.
It’s definitely a neat place with a lot of history. In addition to the gold mining boom days, Virginia City has made a name for itself as a classic old western town. It’s even cropped up in popular culture as a backdrop in television and movies, and was even the town where Samuel Clemens first coined the pen name Mark Twain (as a newspaper reporter). After my dad and crew finish lunch (or get kicked out of the Bucket of Blood, I don’t know which), they catch up to me and we wander around a bit more. We get antsy pretty quickly, though, and need to get back on the bikes. After a run ride back down to U.S. 395, we head south to Lake Tahoe and kick back for the evening.
The next morning, Ron meets us at the hotel and we head back toward Oregon, taking Highway 267 to Highway 89, then over toward Susanville. Highway 89 isn’t the most exciting ride of the trip, but it’s still a nice mix of two lane, sweeping corners and big country sightseeing, passing through the Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen National forests.
After lunch in the metropolis of Susanville, we ride north on Highway 139. This is a great road in spots, and we start to lose ourselves a bit in the curvier sections. As I’m enjoying the twisties, I hear something behind me then notice the dreaded red and blue lights. While I’m not technically speeding, I’m open to the possibility that maybe someone might have the opinion that we’re going faster than we should be. I pull over, but the police officer keeps going. John pulls over, but he passes John, too. We figure there must be something more important than us terrorizing the countryside. Unfortunately, there is. We come to a car accident not far ahead. We make our way through the accident scene and inch toward Klamath Falls.
We hit another five-star Motel 6 and load up on calories at a local diner. There are some other biker types in the hotel riding BMW GSs, so we all show K-Falls no mercy.
When we gear up for a very early (for us) 7 a.m. ride time the next morning, I realize this is the longest trip I’ve taken on my Buell. The bike has performed great. With Buell’s comfort kit to reduce heat on the legs and a throttle lock for the straight stretches, it’s easy to ride on long slabs. The hard luggage is a useful addition, for sure, and overall the bike is an awesome blend for spirited sport touring. (That said, I would like to add a gel seat for those 400-mile days!)
From Klamath Falls, we take U.S. 97 north to Highway 58. Although we’re focused on making it back to Portland at a decent hour, we’re still able to enjoy 58—another easy flowing two-lane stretching through miles of western wilderness. We ride past Crescent Lake, Odell Lake, through the Umpqua National Forest and into Eugene where we stop for fuel. As we get closer to Portland, we’ll start splitting off for our respective homes, so we also take a couple minutes to say our goodbyes.
I started the week knowing only one of these guys (my dad), but end it with four new friends. These are the type of guys who will give you the shirt off of their backs. I’m fortunate to have ridden with them.
I also got to know my dad in a new way. No question, this ride strengthened our relationship as we realized just how much we both enjoy our common passion of riding our motorcycles. It is not often that a father and son can enjoy a hobby together. Even though motorcycling is inherently mechanical, the bonds it builds are deeply emotional. It’s an interesting mix that I dwell on as we roll into town just after 2 p.m.
We logged a leisurely 1,600 miles in seven days with perfect weather, no breakdowns, no injuries, no speeding tickets and heads full of memories. A perfect ride!