Back Roads to Pioneertown

jrizzotto pioneertown

The ride captain promised roads we had never seen, and our chapter, the Inland Empire Harley Owners Group, was ready to accept that challenge. At the check-in, I was still yawning from the Daylight Savings Time clock change. My husband fiddled with settings on the stereo, twitching with nervous energy. He always awoke by 4:00 am on the days we rode. I shared hugs and greeting with the other women while my husband and the other men settled for a head nod. A few ran into the dealership for a last minute restroom stop, while others downed their last swig of coffee. Then the road captain gave the signal, and we all layered up our leather and lined up in the parking lot.

Two by two, in staggered formation, our Harley-Davidson motorcycles roared down the street, the sound echoing off the surrounding buildings. A few blocks later, we poured onto the freeway, fitting ourselves into the jigsaw puzzle of traffic. We rode in small clumps at first, eighteen bikes too many to stay together in one group. Eventually open space allowed us to line up in staggered formation as we endured the mindless repetition of merging traffic and slow trucks, road construction and oblivious drivers.

Cloud topped mountains drew closer, appearing to my bleary eyes as brownies covered with whipped crème. Frozen whipped crème. Shivering, I zipped up my heavy leather jacket and pulled the collar of my layering jacket over my chin. Promised sunshine now hid away, and the threat of icy rain loomed over us.

Hand signals rippled down the line of bikes as we approached our exit. Not for the first time, I marveled at these independent rebels, Harley riders, obediently following each other, submitted to the safety of the group. At the end of the ramp, we paused, free from the freeway’s chaotic energy. One by one the pack turned onto a narrow winding road that carved through the mountains toward the high desert valleys.

Our Ultra Limited touring bike danced to the rhythm of curves and dips as we traveled through land that scorned man’s ambitions. A sheer rock wall peered at us from the left with a lofty arrogance. These rocks stood witness to Native American tribes roaming over them on horseback, and they would still stand after our passing. The twisty roads forced us to ride slowly, slowing our pulses, slowing down time. Bike following bike, the road leading us on.

Suddenly the road spit us out into a wide flat valley and straightened itself out. The bikes stretched their legs and gained speed. Gradually I grew aware of an ominous grey wall of mountains on our left growing closer as we rode. As I looked behind and ahead of us, I could see no end to the ridge. Yet our road seemed determined to connect with it. I wondered how we would cross its summit. Would the road lift us to the top of that wall or would we discover a blasted tunnel, man’s victory over the mountain?

Miles sped by in our race to the wall, and soon I could see the end. The wall sloped down before it merged with another ridge, and into this opening the road stretched through. The bikes climbed over it without strain, and dropped down into another flat valley. The mountain peaks on our right were dusted with snow, and I knew that on the other side, snow boarders were riding rails and practicing jumps in the fresh powder. However this side held dry cracked rocks and Joshua trees reaching toward the bright blue sky. No snow or water here, except trapped behind a dam.

The bikes passed white fenced ranches that eventually led into small groups of houses and buildings, towns so small they seemed out of place in overpopulated southern California. A man in his electric wheelchair rumbled on the dirt shoulder. Where he was headed on a straight narrow road with no sidewalks I couldn’t guess, but surely he was kin to the determined men who settled this desert. The line of bikes pulled into a gas station, and we stretched our legs and gulped some water. Although it was not hot, the air was so dry it crackled.

The road called us on, and we descended into another valley, this one much hotter and dryer than the last. Pink mountain peaks lined the horizon on the left. A smudge in the distance slowly revealed to be our lunch stop. Wooden buildings, including a saloon front, saddle shop, and a jail, formed the skeleton of an old western movie set, now a tourist attraction and motorcycle destination. My husband pulled into the dirt parking lot and parked our bike at the end of the row, just like cowboys would have tied up their horses in front of the saloon.

I carefully dismounted our Harley, stiff muscles protesting. We peeled off our helmets and layers of jackets and leather chaps. Every face revealed a wide smile. Even though we had just ridden for hours over twisting roads and through dry dusty towns, I felt energized. My husband and I followed the line of riders to the restaurant. It was time for food and drink, tales and jokes, friendships forged in adventure.

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Hot Tamales, Cool Ride

Indio

 

One of the great things about a HOG ride is that although you know your final destination, but you can never be sure how you’ll get there.

It was our second time riding out to the Tamale Festival in Indio. Frank and I were eagerly anticipating the endless variety of tamales awaiting us. Our friend, Jim, was excited about leading his first HOG ride. The morning air was crisp but the sun gently smiled on us as we parked by the line of Harleys at the dealership. I waddled off the bike, bundled up in layers, knowing that it would be much warmer out in the desert past Palm Springs. Frank, as usual, wore his jacket but no leather chaps. The only time he felt cold was Death Valley, but that’s another tale.

We introduced ourselves to the new people on the ride, and I thought back to the first time we rode with the HOGs. Years later, I still can remember how my heart jumped at the sound of roaring engines as we formed a column in the parking lot. That was the beginning of many riding adventures throughout the Southern California and into nearby southwestern states.

Our ride leader called us over and outlined our route, including a rest stop in Banning, where a few more riders would join us. Then we took our group photo, and buckled on our helmets. We couldn’t avoid the long stretch of freeway necessary to deliver us to the festival, but a more roundabout road would break up the ride.

Instead of heading directly toward Indio on the freeway, Jim led us on a scenic route up Lambs Canyon toward Banning. The road wound through piles of sculptured rock that felt like traveling through an art exhibition. As the passenger, I was free to watch the show unfold around us as we snaked through the hills.

After our rest stop in Banning, it was time to hop on the freeway and head out toward the windmills. Traffic wasn’t too bad considering it was December, and we cruised past the outlet stores, casino, and dinosaurs at Cabazon. Then we charged up the pass, surrounded by churning windmills, always making me feel like we were trespassing on an alien landscape.

The freeway past the Palm Springs turnoff seems like it goes on forever, and if we didn’t stop, we’d end up in Arizona. Finally, the hand signals went up, and we exited, riding the bridge over the huge sandy wash into Indio. We found parking a few blocks away, and peeled away our leathers to enjoy the warm desert sun.

The Tamale Festival spread out around the old downtown section of Indio. Colorful dancers and lively folk music welcomed us from several stages. We lined up at various booths to buy award-winning tamales, as well as unexpected treats such as lobster macaroni and cheese. After a few tamales, I cooled down with fresh coconut sorbet, served in a coconut shell.

Some of us proved braver than others, sampling jalapeno lemonade and chocolate tamales. Frank and I had a system that we had developed from the prior year. When we first arrived, we both would each eat one whole tamale. After unwrapping it like an early Christmas gift, we devoured the soft crumbly masa filled with spicy meat. Then we would split the following varieties until we couldn’t stuff another forkful into our mouths. Walking around the festival as we ate helped us make room for more.

After completing the circle of booths around the block, it was time to head home, marking the end of another HOG adventure. We had shared the excitement of the journey, delicious homemade food, and shared laughter. If you missed this one, don’t feel bad. Join us for another ride next weekend.

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The Rock Store

Rock Store

If you’re not a motorcycle rider, you’ve probably never heard of The Rock Store. Why would a former hot springs resort and bootlegger hideout attract crowds of Harley-Davidsons, Hondas, and sport bikes every weekend? Our HOG chapter spent a warm Sunday in January finding out.

Our group included twenty bikes when we left the inland desert town of Riverside early that morning, navigating the Los Angeles area freeways in one solid block of snarling engines. We successfully threaded through the beach-bound traffic jam to stop at the Huntington Beach Harley-Davidson dealership, earning a rest and shopping break.

After sliding off our Ultra Limited touring bike, I quickly unzipped and unsnapped my leather chaps, folded them up as small as I could and stuffed them into my saddlebag. The morning was warming up fast, and my phone promised temperatures in the 70s by the coast. My husband Frank, who’s never cold, was already wearing a light jacket, tee shirt, and jeans. We shared the last swigs of our first water bottle, and headed into the dealership. I’ve learned over the years riding with a group, that a restroom break should be taken whenever we turn off the engine because it could be a long time (up to 200 miles) until the next stop.

The dealership was set up in a large warehouse building with a high, unfinished ceiling and wide open interior. Rows and rows of Harleys waited for admiration. Half of the store was dedicated to motor clothes and accessories. Some of our group picked at the apparel sales racks while others drooled over the vast selection of bikes. Eventually we all ended up in the parking lot, munching on Jay’s freshly baked friendship cake. The moist cake filled with fruit chunks was delicious and not too sweet. I licked every crumb off my fingers before putting back on my gloves.

After glancing at his phone for the time, our ride leader, Tom, herded up the group to continue on our journey. We jumped back on our bikes and filed onto the freeway, two by two. So far traffic was moving at a normal pace, and I looked up to see a huge jet airliner roaring over our heads as we rode through Los Angeles toward Santa Monica. The freeway finally ended, and we turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway bound for Malibu. Surfers bobbed in the ocean and people lounged on the beach, the cool salt air calling us with its siren song. We resisted its pull and followed our road northward. It would still be a long time before we could rest.

Although our route was not the most direct one to our destination, Tom chose a southern approach to avoid some of the gusty Santa Ana winds that pop up during Southern California’s winter season. He led our long line of bikes around the coastline, jagged cliffs to our right and shimmering navy waves to our left. The multistory buildings of Santa Monica gave way to small single story beach homes huddled together on the beach side, and the large homes perched on the mountainside. I couldn’t help wondering if the dilapidated shack covered by mud we passed was still worth millions of dollars just because of its address.

Finally, our group turned right onto Kanan Road and entered the windy canyons above Malibu. We passed ranches and vineyards, some hidden under the oak groves while others boldly crested the rolling hills. Then one more turn— Mulholland Highway.

I’m sure you’ve heard of it, or have seen the twisty mountain road on car commercials. It’s an old road, pressed into the side of a canyon wall, switching back and forth in tight turns all the way down to the bottom. A technical ride, but that wasn’t the challenging part. At the top of the hill, we encountered a large group of sport bikes parked on the edge of the road and a few riders spinning around in circles in the middle of the road, leaving concentric circles of tire marks across it. A few guys stood with video cameras filming their antics. Fortunately, they moved to the side as we passed, watching them with tight eyes.

As we twisted our way slowly down the steep mountainside, sport bikes flew up the road toward us, hugging the center of the road. As we felt their wind buffet us, Frank kept to our side of the yellow line, although not too close to the rocks strewn near the outside edge of our lane. Unlike my husband, whose eyes focused on our path, I had the freedom to watch our descent into the vast wooded canyon, one turn after the other.

Finally, the road straightened out, and hundreds of bikes parked on both sides announced that we had reached The Rock Store. Eventually, and with considerable patience, everyone in our group found a place to park, as sports bikes zipped down the road in front of the tiny diner as if there weren’t riders trying to back their bikes into place or people crossing the road.

Why The Rock Store? It must have been the location. At the bottom of the canyon, it was the perfect place for bikers and sports car drivers to stop for a cool drink. The building itself wasn’t anything to look at. An old rock walled square building with wooden additions sticking out on the sides. A terraced patio filled with bikers. Roaring laughter and revving engines made the air tingle around us.

Inside, antique bikes and photos with movie stars covered the walls. Frank and I walked up to the counter and ordered lunch, and joined the rest of our group upstairs sitting in vintage yellow vinyl booths. History was another reason for this hangout’s popularity. Many celebrities had slid into these now cracking seats over the years. Whether they came by Ferrari, Harley-Davidson, or Ducati, these canyon riders ended up here for refreshment before continuing on their journeys.

The food was good enough, typical roadhouse fare. When we finished, we stood talking to the rest of our group, about the perfect deep blue ocean, the cool wind whipping our faces, and the tree covered vistas. Natural beauty intruded on by man’s constructions. The journey made us into poets.

As I looked past our friends into the bustling crowd of smiling faces jammed into this tiny roadhouse, I realized that now we belonged to a select club, those who had ridden Mulholland and stopped here. Perhaps becoming part of its history was the lure of the Rock Store.

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The cold ride- part two

 

frozen

The next morning, Frank coaxed me away from the motel heater with promises of coffee. My phone told me it was 32 degrees. Today our ride would take us up a mountain pass that would dump us out into Bishop, and then we would stop for our second night in Lone Pine. One new couple in our group had been watching the weather, and there was a looming possibility of rain and snow. His wife was cold, and they decided to go back by themselves, through the low desert and skip today’s adventures. I was tempted, but Frank gave me his “You’re kidding me!” look and I stayed quiet.

Of course we couldn’t ride directly to our destination. On our way to the mountains, we visited a ghost town. It was so remote that the road captain had to call the sheriff/owner of the town to let him know we were headed his way. As we rode through the desolate landscape, it wasn’t hard to imagine that we were a pack of outlaws headed out to our remote hideout. Few cars passed or approached us, and the dirt roads that intersected our highway seemed to lead nowhere. Towering snow-covered mountains peeked out from behind the desert hill on our left, and grew closer with every mile.

After riding for about an hour, we turned off the main highway onto a dirt road that intersected the icy ridge. As we approached, wooden buildings emerged between the hills.  I shivered, in spite of my additional layers of two long sleeve shirts and my rain gear pants over my chaps.

Sliding off our bike as soon as we arrived, I waddled over to the saloon, ready to pay a hundred dollars for a cup of coffee. Inside the entrance sat a wood burning stove, which began to heat the area around it, but did nothing for the rest of the large, open beamed room. Some of the other riders joined me, holding our hands as close as we dared to the cast iron giant. A few of the passengers had a shot of something the sheriff promised would “heat us up quick” but I passed on it, still bitter about the lack of coffee.

Frank and I walked around, looking at the restored buildings that had originally been part of a gold mining town. There was a tiny post office, bunkhouses, stables, jail and even a gallows. Apparently the “sheriff” had won money at a nearby casino and bought the town. He lived there with a few other people, but it wasn’t clear what they really did. Some things are better not to know.

The road captain called us back to our bikes. We thanked the man, and rumbled back down the dusty road out to the main highway. The road turned facing the icy peaks, and we climbed up into their shadow. Now the white crust became drifts of deep snow on the sides of the road, and I remembered the conversation one of the guys had with the sheriff at the ghost town.

“Is the road to Bishop open?” one of our leaders asked.

“I guess so,” replied the bearded man with squinty eyes. “We haven’t had any rain in a week. You know they don’t plow that road if it snows.”

The road before us continued up and up, and the snow on the sides got deeper and deeper. Finally we reached the top of the pass, and the road captain waved us over to the side of the road. Oh no, I thought. We couldn’t see the road on the downside of the pass. Was it blocked with snow? Would we have to go all the way down the mountain and take a different route?

Everyone parked and got off their bikes. Frank and I walked up to the crest of the hill, squeezing each other hands.

“Wow!” Frank echoed my thoughts as we looked out over a huge valley that unfolded before us. A carpet of snow covered the land all the way down to the base of the mountains, but the road was clear and dry. At the base of the mountains, rolling hills spread out in every direction. Was it my imagination, or could I see all the way to the sparkling coast? Nature dominated here, with a few telephone poles and roads to indicate man’s presence.

“Let’s take a picture,” my husband said, so I reluctantly unzipped my jacket to take out my phone. Suddenly one of the women passengers headed toward a huge snowbank. She scooped out a pile of snow and threw it at her husband. Frank and I moved quickly out of the way. A brief snowball fight began, which I watched skeptically, with no desire to get my gloves wet. Then one of the men fell back into a drift and began to make snow angels. I was glad I didn’t have to sit behind him on a bike.

I took a picture of my husband standing in front of the snow-laden pines, and then he took a picture of me, my teeth chattering in my helmet. The group stood around talking and eating snacks. Despite my fears, there was no problem with the road ahead. Our road captain stopped so we could play in the snow.

Many frozen hours later, I huddled up to our motel heater in Lone Pine, looking through the window at the snow-covered peak of Mount Whitney. My hands gratefully clutched a scalding cup of instant Starbucks coffee. My husband checked the weather report on his phone, which cheerfully informed us that we could expect rain on the trip back to Riverside the next day.

Curiously, there was a four-star gourmet restaurant in the tiny town of Lone Pine. Of course, our road captain knew about it, so some rode and some walked a few blocks down to it. Over steaks and salmon, we raved about the brilliant mountains and sweeping valleys that we had ridden through that day. We shared our reactions to the varying degrees of cold that we endured over the past two days. The smart riders who wore heated jackets and gloves that plugged into their bikes offered no complaints. I made a mental note that we would have to purchase these items before the next winter overnighter. But the rest of us wearing regular gear had plenty to talk about.

Yet no one regretted the trip. To see snow-draped mountains was rare for drought-stricken California. Surviving the frigid weather was the price of admission to an adventure that held a unique coolness unlike any other Harley trip.

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The Cold Ride- part one

bad water basin

“You’d better wear your thermals,” my husband warned as he came inside with the motorcycle cover bundled up in front of him. “It’s only 39 degrees out there!”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got them on,” I assured him in a muffled voice, as I bent over to zip up my stiff leather chaps. As I added layers of clothing, it became difficult to move. Currently I had on a thermal top, sweater, leather vest, thermal bottoms, jeans, chaps, and a heavy leather Harley jacket. My arms came to rest at nearly right angles from my body, and I couldn’t raise my leg higher than an inch. Getting on our Ultra Limited touring bike was going to be challenging. Too many pieces of clothing to be wearing in the fuzzy predawn hours.

“Let’s go,” Frank said. “It’s too hot standing inside with all this gear on.” He was clothed head to toe in black leather, his pale blue eyes sparkling with excitement. Riding with the Inland Empire Harley Owners Group was an adventure no matter what temperatures we faced. We had already experienced a relentless rainstorm and snow flurries on last year’s Grand Canyon trip, so we were confident that we were ready for anything.

So began the Harley trip forever known as the Cold Ride. (Here I insert my plea that if you are a permanent resident of Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, please suffer the whining of southern Californians.) It was the end of February, which for our desert region meant weather anywhere from 60 degrees to 80 degrees, and rolling the dice for either rain or blue skies. It was a bit cool when the group rolled out of the parking lot that morning, but foolishly, I believed it would warm up as the trip progressed. Everyone knows Death Valley is the warmest place in North America, right?

Hours later, as we approached the National Park entrance, I noticed a thin coating of white covering the barren desert around us. “What is that white stuff?” I asked my husband through our com system.

“It must be salt,” he answered.

Our pack of twenty motorcycles had been on the road since 7:00 a.m. with one breakfast break, and my leather gloves were not doing their job. Fortunately, I was the passenger, not the rider, so I could hide my hands behind the windbreak of my husband’s broad back. Even with a thick wooly gaiter protecting my neck and chin, my face under my helmet felt like it would crack if I smiled. As the hours passed, I progressed from chilly to freezing cold to numb to final acceptance that cold was the new normal. The sun on the back of my jacket felt less cold than the racing wind that flowed around the front windshield and fairing before exiting over the tour pack behind my seat.

As I continued to ponder the patches of white crust that continued on both sides of the road, I had the sinking sensation that it was not salt.

After entering Death Valley, our road captain led us down to Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America. We stopped for a break in a parking lot next to a dried up lakebed. The wall of rock facing us had a sign—282 feet below sea level. Further up, another sign announced sea level. The sun felt good on our faces, and I sighed in relief. Frank and I took off our heavy leather jackets.

“It looks like we’re surrounded by sculpture,” my husband said, looking around at the multicolored walls of rock that framed the lakebed. Jagged red cliffs towered over hills painted with bands of white, yellow, brown, and black. The lakebed looked like a large dried up mud puddle, with some moisture still lingering near its center.

“It’s beautiful,” I agreed. We ate some trail mix and drank water. Then we walked around, shaking out our stiff legs. I debated whether I had time to take off my leather chaps. At that moment, the chapter photographer called us together for a group picture, and it was time to saddle up.

From the bottom of Death Valley, the Harleys wound around a narrow road that led us to a higher vista. The winding road compressed into two final switchbacks before reaching Dante’s View. Icy bursts of wind replaced the mild sunshine down at Bad Water Basin. I was glad I had resisted the temptation to take off my chaps.

We stopped at the parking lot on the flat top of the sharply rising peak. From here, the entire mosaic of Death Valley spread out before us. The parking lot at Badwater Basin looked like a tiny speck from our perspective. It took my breath away, or maybe it was the icy wind buffeting me.

“Aren’t you cold?” I asked Frank. His face was red, and his hands were buried in the pockets of his lightweight windbreaker. He had taken off his chaps at our previous stop.

“A little,” he admitted, as he reached into his saddlebag to put on his leather jacket.

Our group walked around, taking pictures from different places. One rider shared his famous lemon bars from a Tupperware container in his tourpak. He brings them on every overnighter. I licked powder sugar off my frozen fingers before replacing my gloves. Most of us still had our helmets on because of the cold, but with modular helmets, the front piece raises up so that you can still eat and drink.

Having mercy on us standing there shivering, the road captain called out, “Let’s ride,” and we cautiously crawled back down the hairpin turns and out on the level, straight road through Death Valley.

“I bet there’s tons of other places we could go around here,” Frank said on the com.

I looked around at the dirt paths that spread out into the wilderness on both sides. “I don’t know if those roads would be good for Harleys,” I said.

“Come on, dear,” he said with a chuckle. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

My sense of adventure included traveling on asphalt roads that actually appeared on maps and led us eventually to our warm motel.

Our next stop was a tiny gas station in the middle of nowhere. The gas price was double what we would have paid back in Riverside, so not all of the riders filled up. As I looked around to the barren wasteland, I insisted that Frank get gas. Who knew when we would see a gas station again.

After a quick break, we rode on and on through the desert, with no civilization in sight. I was glad that the road captain had already pre-rode this trip, so he knew our turns. If you got lost out here, it might take you all day to reach the next town before you discovered you were going the wrong way.

As we rode, I noticed that we were gradually going higher and the temperatures were getting colder. The sun hid behind clouds near the western ridge, and I had to sit on my hands to keep them less cold. We finally turned right onto a road that led up a large hill. I noticed that the group had slowed down considerably. It took forever for us to reach its crest, but when we did our destination of Beatty, Nevada was in sight. Not until we stopped that night did I realize that the road captain had been one of the riders who didn’t fill up at that lonely station, and his low fuel warning had come on. Some things are best not known until the ride’s over for the day.

When we reached that tiny mining town, I was ready for a hot shower. Most of the day had not been warmer than 50 degrees. Even with sunshine, it had been the coldest day of riding I had ever experienced. But my desire for warmth would have to wait.

As we roared down the main street, I thought I noticed eyes peeking out of curtained windows. Other than a few semi-trucks, there wasn’t any traffic. The gas station was at the far end, five minutes from the beginning of town. We stopped there first before heading to our motel.

Some of us had dinner that night at a saloon on the main street, the same building where I had seen people in the windows. Done with riding for the day, we walked a few freezing blocks to get there. Despite being exhausted, I wanted to run to get out of the cold. The watchers must have put another kettle of chili on just for us because other than a few cowboys, we were the only patrons. The inside of the saloon was wood paneled and smaller than my living room. We sat on the back patio huddled next to the heaters. The waitress remembered our road captain from previous trips and took care of us quickly. No one wants to mess with a thirsty and hungry biker group.

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A different ride- the eventual end

san simeon sunset

The final night of a weekend Harley trip is smooth going down but leaves a bitter after taste.

Our HOG chapter president offered to have dinner delivered for the whole group of thirty riders, and we gladly accepted. After riding all day Friday and Saturday, we were ready to kick off our boots, slip on our flip-flops, and hang out at the motel. There was an indoor pool with a large patio area, perfect for us to congregate.

Frank and I drank wine out of the motel’s tiny plastic cups talking to riders from different rides that day. They laughed at our antics in the Pismo Beach toy store, and we sighed over their tales of hidden mountain roads. We shared stories around five circular tables pushed together near the pool. With nightfall, it was getting cool outside, but it was warm and muggy inside. The patio doors were open, and some of the conversation spilled out into the parking lot.

A young man carrying stacks of pizza boxes found us and it was suddenly quiet while everyone chowed down. Not the best pizza ever eaten, but the most appreciated since we didn’t have to walk or ride our bikes to get it. After we inhaled the first pieces, conversation was restored.

“What time are we leaving tomorrow?” I asked my husband.

“Not sure. Depends on whether we have breakfast first or wait until we get to Solvang,” Frank answered. “Let me ask Tom what they’re doing.” He got up to find our ride captain for the Pismo Beach portion of the trip.

I leaned back in my crisscrossed woven plastic chair, and listened to the threads of conversation around me. Some were talking about how beautiful the beach had been that day. Others raved about the remote twisty roads they rode through the Central Valley wine country. The voices around me mixed into a buzz and suddenly I was tired. The rush of excitement we had experienced over the weekend was slowing down into sore muscles and pizza comas. My heart beat with a dull ache when I realized that our coastal adventure was nearing its end. All the planning, packing, shared stories, frozen fingers, delicious food, and dramatic scenery were almost over. Tomorrow we would go home.

The prospect of a long return ride sent most of us back to our rooms early that night. Or maybe we couldn’t face the dissolution of our riding fellowship. It was hard saying good night, but we knew this would be the last time all of us would be together, at least for this trip.

The next morning, Frank and I joined the group that decided breakfast was a priority. We sipped coffee with sad faces, savoring the cool sea breeze for the last time. Everyone was uncharacteristically quiet. After covering our reluctance with pancakes, bacon, and eggs, it was time to leave.

Our group today was smaller than the previous days, only eight bikes. On the last day of an overnighter, our group splinters as everyone faces different responsibilities at home. The retired riders can take their time getting back to real life. The teachers and sales reps have Monday morning commutes ahead of them. Eventually we would all have to leave our beach haven.

Frank and I joined the end of our line of bikes, following them down the coast highway on the shortest route back to our desert town. No scenic roads or historic roadhouse cafes today. It was time to go home. Everyone seemed subdued, sobered by reality’s intrusion.

As I watched miles of farmland pass by, I marveled that the weekend passed so quickly. I knew that in less than twenty-four hours, I would be back in my classroom with twenty eyes following my every move. Frank would be sitting at his desk, taking orders and fielding problems. We would become normal people again. But my sinking heart clung to hope, as the calendar on my phone held future Harley trips. We would ride the backroads again. I only had to hold it together until then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A different ride- part three

PismoFrankme

 

One of the differences between a HOG day ride and an overnighter is how you feel the next day. On a day ride, you roll out of bed the next morning, headed back to work, adventure over. However, on an overnighter, when you get up in the morning, the adventure’s just begun.

After gulping down Starbucks instant coffee, which I always include in our gear, Frank and I got ready to meet up with the group for our second day’s ride. Last night’s hot shower had loosened kinks in my back, and I felt the hum of adrenaline warming me. I pulled my hair back with my headband first and then braided it. Wearing a helmet made hair styling impossible. Outside our motel window, I could see Frank wiping down our Harley, the seats soaked by the moist ocean air overnight. I unplugged our helmets with their com links charged for the day. Then I grabbed some tangerines, trail mix, and water bottles, and carried them out to pack into our saddlebags. I joined Frank, who stood talking with one of our friends who was going to lead the ride today.

We were all going different places. After the initial ride up to San Simeon, our HOG group split up on the second day for various types of rides. Part of our group had already left early in the morning for Monterey through wine country. Another group was going later to Hearst Castle. Frank and I decided to ride with a group headed down the coast highway to Pismo Beach. All of us would meet back for a pizza party by the pool when the sun went down.

Slowly our group stumbled out of their motel rooms and prepared their bikes. A few decided we needed more than granola bars for breakfast so we walked to the restaurant next door. Another group was eating there, wearing their HOG colors. We introduced ourselves to them, a HOG chapter from Ventura. This happens frequently on our rides. Belonging to HOG includes you in large family of Harley lovers all over the world.

After we all had stuffed ourselves with pancakes and eggs, it was time to ride. Even though the sun felt warm, I stayed in my leather chaps and heavy jacket. I knew that when we got up to cruising speed, it would stay cool enough. It was a bright morning with a blinding blue sky and a crisp gentle breeze. Perfect riding weather. The road captain started his bike, and it was time to go.

Our line of sixteen Harleys roared down the highway, crashing waves challenging us on the right and tall pines whispering on the left. The pounding surf raised a spray of mist that hugged the shore. These were not the crowded public beaches of Southern California. This jagged coastline was desolate and untamed.

A giant volcanic boulder, known as Morro Rock, grew larger on the horizon, marking the entrance to Morro Bay. Before reaching it, we took a slight detour into Cayucos, a tiny beachside community. As we passed an RV park, I told Frank on the com link that I would give up our three-bedroom house for that view every day. He laughed. As we passed shops and small motels, I longed to stop and explore, but the captain pulled us further down the road. Maybe another trip.

Upon reaching Morro Bay, we turned inland, and rolling hills carpeted in fresh pine scented green, replaced the sweeping vista of the beach. As the bikes swooped up and down the hills, I caught glimpses of ranch homes and barns, hidden under the trees. On and one we rode, dancing with the mountains, disappearing around curves, and emerging on the side of a distant cliff.

Although I could have ridden like that for an entire day, eventually we reached San Luis Obispo, home to one of California’s missions, and more recently a college town. The downtown area bustled with restaurants and bars. The Harleys crawled through the downtown traffic, our engines echoing off the sides of tall buildings, making a little girl shriek as she stood at the stoplight with her family. I smiled and waved. She waved back.

After our parade through town, we jumped on the 101 freeway that carried us back out to the coast. Time slowed as the bikes roared down the road. From our viewpoint toward the back, it seemed like the line of bikes went on forever in front of us, pulling us toward adventure.

We stretched out along the road, and didn’t feel the press of traffic again until we reached the beach town of Pismo Beach. The streets were jammed with people eager to hit the beach. We stalked the narrow streets like predators, seeking parking spots for all our bikes. Finally, we found a public lot, and we were able to squeeze four bikes into each parking spot. Then we peeled off the outer layers of jackets, vests, and chaps in the warm sunshine.

Walking down the streets in our biker gear, our group looked fierce and more than a little rowdy. But we were husbands, wives, daughter, boyfriends, and girlfriends, no different than the other tourists that crowded the streets. We ducked into shops along the way, buying salt-water taffy and tee shirts. Eventually we ended up at the pier.  It was Veteran’s Day weekend, and we had just missed a flag ceremony. Elderly gentlemen in military uniforms packed away flags. A white-haired woman carrying a huge tray offered us some cookies.

We spent a few minutes looking out over the pier at the crazy people swimming in the frigid November water. This was classic California winter weather. One day it can be stormy and flooding, and the next day a perfect beach day. After posing for a group picture, we decided it was time to munch more than cookies.

Our destination was Splash, a famous clam chowder shop. It was a few blocks up from the Pismo pier. We got in the line that snaked out of the entrance of the small restaurant and all the way around the side of the building. Although I first despaired, the line kept moving, and soon Frank and I were cradling bowls of savory white soup, with huge chunks of potatoes and clams poking out. It was so fresh and delicious it ruined my appetite for any other clam chowder after that day. I kept licking my bowl until Frank gave me the stink eye.

After lunch, we wandered our way back to the parking lot. I was ready for a nap, but it was time to ride. We zipped up our lighter jackets and strapped on our helmets. One by one, we growled out of the parking lot and back onto the highway.

Our leader decided to take us a different way home, through the inland small town of Edna.  At once we became time travelers, visiting another California, one with town squares and picket fences. Our loud bikes caused many heads to turn. We were outlaws riding through town on our horses, disturbing the peace.

As we passed back through San Luis Obispo on the way back, it felt familiar, like we were friends now. As we poured out of the hills, Morro Rock called us home. I took a deep breath of the ocean air and squinted my eyes against the shimmering foam rimming the coast. Now my hips ached, and my knees were tight. However, Frank looked like he could ride forever, his face frozen in a huge smile.

One more rest stop awaited us along the road. Our leader took us off the coast highway at Harmony. Harmony is a quaint roadside dairy farm that features glass blowing, ceramic art, and gourmet ice cream. I peeked through a window into an old chapel and hall available for weddings. Everything about it was romantically rustic. Frank and I ate our delicious and very expensive ice cream while the group took a break. Everyone was tired from riding all day.

Finally, it was time to load up and head out. As I adjusted my helmet and put on my gloves, I reflected on how different this was from the usual day ride with the HOGs. Everyone was more relaxed. No one was racing off to take care of other errands or responsibilities. We rode a lot, but we also had time to sit around eating and talking. Plenty of time to hear everyone’s stories.

Maybe that was part of the difference. Ride for the day and we become friends. Ride for the weekend, and we become family.

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