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.

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.