Every November, the Inland Empire Harley Owners Group rides to San Simeon, a tiny seaside town on the central coast of California. The group spends the weekend there, riding to various destinations along the coast and into the rolling hills of the surrounding wine country. This year was the second time my husband, Frank, and I had gone, but the first time on our Harley.
Last year, on the day before the trip, our ignition switch broke on our nearly new Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited touring bike. Fortunately, it was a warranty repair, but we would have to wait three weeks because the part was VIN specific from the manufacturer in Milwaukee.
We screamed, we cried, we stamped our feet, and then we pouted. After that, we decided we should go anyway, and chase the group with our car. The scenery was beautiful, friends were a blast, and we even drove up to Monterey and enjoyed clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fun, but not the same as riding in a roaring pack of motorcycles.
Fast forward to this year. Our bike was working perfectly. Frank and I met the group at a donut shop at 5:30 a.m., shivering in our leathers. As I signed the ride sheet, I couldn’t believe that we were finally going. Frank joked with the guys as we waited for our KSU (kick stands up time) at 6:00 a.m. On an overnighter, the schedule must be followed to ensure we arrive at our destination before dark. A few more riders signed in, and then we zipped up our jackets, buckled on our helmets, and started up the bikes. We headed toward another meeting place farther up the freeway where the other half of our group of twenty-five bikes planned to meet us.
When the whole group finally got together at McDonalds off the 15 freeway at Highway 138, it was time for one more cup of coffee, bathroom stop, and a group photo. Hugs and smiles were evidence of the excitement that everyone shared. Frank and I shared a small cup of coffee, sleepy but not willing to drink too much before riding 200 miles to the next bathroom stop. It was foggy and cold up in the pass, and we added soft fuzzy neck gaiters under our helmets.
The ride captain called us together and outlined our route. Most of our day would be spent on backroads, well away from the clogged freeways headed out of Southern California. Instead we would cross the high desert and head into the mountains near Gorman, crossing over the infamous 5 freeway. Then we would cross through the mountains at Frazier Park, and dump into the oil fields near Taft. Then we would cut through wine country toward the coast, and follow the Coast Highway up toward our motel in San Simeon.
After he finished, we scattered toward our various motorcycles. There were touring bikes like ours, with windshields, comfortable back seats, and hard tour packs topped with luggage bags. Others rode more traditional Harley-Davidsons, low-slung with leather saddlebags and backpacks attached to the backrests. Some of the women, like me, rode behind their husband or boyfriend. Other women rode their own bikes. One couple each rode their own bikes and their twenty-five year old daughter rode her own Sportster. There was even a Harley trike.
We lined up on the frontage road in a two by two formation, waiting for everyone to join in. The roar of the engines was deafening, and caused many heads to turn from the parking lot. It wasn’t often that people saw this many motorcycles traveling together. Then the ride captain took off, and Frank followed as the bikes in front of him moved, leaving us in the middle of the pack.
My adrenaline kept me warm for the first hour, at least until we emerged out of the fog and into a sunny desert morning. The desert sprawled out to our right, and a ridge of mountains guarded our left. A few houses and barns sprinkled here and there assured us that we hadn’t completely left civilization. The group droned on toward the coast, owning the road in front of us and as far back as we could see. Some of the cars we overtook were courteous enough to pull over and let us pass. I noticed a man taking video of us on his phone from the side of the road. Traveling with a group of bikes often feels like being in a parade.
Our first bathroom stop was in Gorman, off the 5 freeway in the area known as the Grapevine. My legs were stiff, and I was glad to get off the bike for a little while. All the bikes topped off on their fuel, since it would be a long time until we crossed the mountains and ended up down in Taft for lunch. Of course, the gas station only had two restrooms, so it took a while before we were ready to go.
One of the women riders tried to start her bike after getting gas, and it wouldn’t turn over. A few of the guys went over to look at it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get it started, so Jim, our HD Chapter manager, called the nearest dealership and arranged to have her bike towed back to Riverside. I gave her a hug, realizing what a disappointment it was to cut off a trip on the first day. But she assured us that she would go back to Riverside, and return in her truck the next day. Jim, his wife and another guy stayed back to wait with her while the rest of the group got ready to take off. They would catch up with us at the motel.
The group headed up into the mountains. As the sun warmed my face through my helmet visor, I finally stopped shivering and relaxed. Up to this point, this trip had seemed unreal. After last year’s disappointment, I was almost afraid to get excited about it. But this was really happening. Frank and I were riding with the HOGs on our way to a weekend full of backroads and hanging out with friends.