The Unreached Mountain

After our first Jeep trip to the Salton Sea, I thought our Wrangler was invincible. My husband, Frank, and I rode through sand, rocks, ditches, and narrow squeezes as easy as driving the freeways of Southern California. Sometimes even at the same slow speed.

The next trip we camped near Anza-Borrego State Park. The other four-wheelers with us had brand new Broncos and a 2003 tricked-out Rubicon. We were a little outclassed. Our 2004 Wrangler had 32” tires but otherwise was stock. However, we weren’t too concerned. The trails we planned were considered “easy” and “moderate.”

A few hours into the ride, Frank and I sat eating sandwiches inside our Jeep looking up with regret at our crew perched on the mountain.

Our day started out easy enough. Our group of four vehicles entered the windswept sandstone canyon and followed a creek bed. At first, we saw regular motorhomes and four-wheel drive trucks camped under the shade of the canyon walls. Other Jeep groups and single off-roaders passed by on this main part of the trail. I wouldn’t have camped there with all that billowing dust.

As the canyon walls closed in on us, we still saw a few Jeeps and trucks with popup tents on top of them. Full camping kitchens were balanced on rocks. People sat under EZ up canopies to block out the unrelenting sun. The trail became narrow with sharp rocks that poked out of the sand, waiting to pierce our tires.

We kept up with the rest of our group despite our lower stance. Jeff, our experienced leader, turned off the main trail and headed up a side wash. The rocks were a hand’s touch from the sides of our vehicles, especially the wider Broncos. We crawled over the boulders and inched past the protruding edges of the canyon walls.

The trail turned sharply to the left. A sandy trail led straight up the face of a cliff. There were many tire tracks showing the success of others before us. We all stopped and allowed each vehicle to climb the mountain alone in case they had to back down and try again.

Jeff in his Rubicon made it up there easily. Then one of the Broncos scaled it. It was our turn. Frank adjusted his gears and gave it some gas. I hung on and closed my eyes. We bounced up to the top. I turned toward our dogs in the back, and our border collie, Davey, had a wild look in his eyes. Our beagle, Harley, was buried in the seat.

Our group joined several Jeeps that were parked on a flat mesa overlooking the mountains and desert. We got out and took a break, talking about our next move. Should we go down and try another branch of the canyon? Above us was another trail that went up onto a sandstone ridge. I could see a few Jeeps parked up there. We decided that would be our lunch stop.

Jeff found the trail leading up and we followed slowly. The side of the cliff was deep soft sand with patches of rock. Frank and I got stuck a couple of times and had to drop back and try it again. One last section remained before the top.

Jeff parked and stood out on a rock with his radio so he could spot us. Our first Bronco went up and got stuck. Jeff gave him directions on the radio, and with a few adjustments he was up the hill. From our viewpoint, his wheels were all twisted different directions as he clung to the uneven surface.

It was our turn.

Starting on soft sand made it hard to get up the speed we would need. Frank threw it in low gear and we shot up. Near the lip there were several deep ditches close together. We hit the first one.

Clunk! Spin! We were stuck. Frank threw it in reverse and tried it again. Clunk! Spin! Jeff offered suggestions which we tried unsuccessfully.

We were too low to navigate the ditches.

Frank backed down and found a place out of the way of the other Jeeps coming behind us. The last Bronco in our group made it up the hill. I stepped outside to give the dogs a break, but heat radiated off the deep sand and the dogs were not interested. We decided to stay inside and eat our lunch.

After a while, Jeff radioed us that the group was coming back down. We joined them and completed the rest of the trip.

Were we disappointed? Yes. Were we embarrassed? Not really. Our friends are people we’ve ridden Harleys with for years. There was no condemnation. You ride your own ride.

Back at camp, we talked about our favorite parts of the day. Red rock sculptures and vast desert vistas unseen by regular roads. Old rusted minecart trestle covered in bright colored graffiti. Groups of people gathered to shoot their guns at a desolate mountain. A tiny bar filled with thirsty off-roaders.

Tomorrow we would go back to our regular lives, but for this weekend we were explorers and adventurers.

And I would have to complete a few more days of substitute teaching to pay for upgrades to our Jeep.

The dog beach

The shy March sun caressed my bare shoulders as we waded through dry sand. I held our beagle’s leash firmly even though we were on the dog beach. It was Harley’s first experience around other off-leash dogs. She stayed at my side, her brown eyes wide and her tail hooked down in the question mark position.

The shoreline was a flurry of activity. Dogs dashed past into frothing waves. Owners threw frisbees and balls. Tails wagged and rear ends were sniffed. My husband and I found a spot at the edge of the wet sand and set up our chairs. I held my breath and unhooked Harley’s leash, wondering if she would run off. She cowered behind my chair.

The sky was brilliant blue and clear of clouds, although helicopters made regular appearances as they monitored the coastline. The sand and breeze were cool, balancing out the relentless rays of the sun. Not quite swimsuit weather for me, although some of the other beach goers didn’t shy away from them.

A white Lab trotted over to check us out. His friendly face convinced us to allow him to approach Harley. Our beagle froze in place while the dog sniffed her. Whew! We made it through one encounter.

To our left, someone had left their towel and bad in the sand while they were at the water. Two dogs came up to sniff around it. One raised his leg. A woman in a bikini shouted at them and they scattered. Harley watched intently.

Another group of dogs flew past us and circled around to that same towel and bag. Barking madly, Harley jumped up and raced over there to chase them off. I called her and she returned, proud of herself.

It was a pleasant morning watching dogs enjoy themselves. Smiling and panting, soaked with sea water, they raced up and down the water line. The owners actively supervised their dog children to prevent fights. Harley didn’t join in, but she watched.

After a few hours, our pink skin convinced us we’d had enough sun for the day. As I clipped on Harley’s leash, she held me with her sad eyes. We walked toward the Jeep, half-dragging her with us.

Maybe next time she’ll be ready to join the fun.

Two Wheels to Four-Wheel Drive

When my husband was forced to sell his Harley, it seemed like the end of the world. The Harley world had been family to us. Our access to adventure and fellowship were suddenly taken away like a thief breaking into our garage. But this thief was chronic illness, cruel and relentless. Slowly over the years, my husband lost the strength and energy to safely ride a motorcycle. Our riding days were over.

How could we replace roaring down back roads viewing God’s art galleries of nature? Swapping stories with other riders in tiny diners only bikers know about?

We bought a 2004 Jeep Wrangler, bright yellow, that we named Digger.

Some of our Harley friends also had off road vehicles so we planned a weekend trip to the Salton Sea. They invited other Jeep friends and suddenly we had a new group to ride with. Following their motorhome down to the desert felt a little like the HOG rides we’d taken in the past.

The first day we set up at the campground and met the others who would ride with us the next day. In the morning, my husband let out enough air out of Digger’s tires so that we could travel the sand without getting stuck. When it was time, we lined up behind the other Jeeps. One of the experienced Jeepers rode “sweep” like on a Harley group ride. We turned off the main road and hit the dirt.

Slowly. Definitely not at the pace of a Harley.

It’s a different world when you leave the asphalt. Tire tracks in the sand were our only street signs. Instead of cars and trucks competing for highway space, we had to share the dry riverbeds with Razors and ATVs.

The incredible scenery rivaled a Harley ride.

I snapped photos of bat caves, abandoned railroad trestles, and even a palm tree oasis. I held my breath as we climbed a steep hill to reach raised railroad tracks. Our beagle in the back seat covered her eyes, unlike our border collie who watched the road eagerly. The wood and iron from the railroad tracks had been cleared away, leaving the flat gravel surface. The trail was only as wide as a train, with steep drop-offs on either side. It reminded me of a Utah highway we rode with our Harley.

As we followed the railbed, I snapped pictures from our elevated position over the desert. After a while, we encountered mounds of soft dirt piled up on the tracks to prevent off road vehicles from going any further. That didn’t stop our leader. His Jeep was lifted much higher than ours, and for a moment my heart fluttered. Would we get stuck on the top of the dirt pile?

Of course that was an incentive for my husband. As we reached the top of the dirt, I heard a soft swushing under our Jeep, but we made it back down the other side. I started breathing again.

Riding off road can be jarring especially on some of well-traveled trails that have been worn down into washboard ruts. Our Jeep jerked back and forth so much I had to brace myself against the center console and the door. Riding on our Ultra Limited had been much smoother. We dipped down into ravines so deep I was positive we were going to end up planted headfirst in the bottom. But our trusty Jeep climbed in and out of them like it was a regular road.

One thing I learned—the desert is not flat.

On the way back to the campground, we traveled down a canal access road that was gravel but well maintained. That was welcome relief.

When we reached our motorhomes, my friend and I headed to the mineral springs at the resort. We soothed our tight muscles as the sun set into the desert night. My brain appreciated not being jiggled for a while.

Later by the propane campfire, we devoured steaks, potatoes, and corn roasted on the grill. We shared stories and learned more about the new Jeep people we had met. My husband was tired, but it was well worth it.

We may have lost Harley adventures, but we had gained a new world to explore off the paved road.

Rush Around and Relax

As I glance at clothes draped over the chair, bags on the kitchen table, and my long list on the counter, I consider that it takes a great deal of energy to relax.

Camping is my reset button.

My husband and I get out every month in our C-class motorhome to spend some time at the beach or in the mountains. Sometimes we set up at campgrounds that have full hookups (electricity, water, sewer) and sometimes we use state or federal campgrounds that only provide a picnic table and a campfire ring. Either works for us, as we don’t watch TV or use electronics very much when we are away.

We love to walk our dogs, Harley and Davidson, around the camp or into the woods. Other times, we kick back on our zero gravity chairs at our campsite and talk. I have outlined a novel and a few plays during those conversations. We’ve also brainstormed two names for motorcycles. No chores, no errands.

As relaxing as camping can be, it takes a lot to get there. Cleaning and prepping the motorhome. Packing it with groceries, water, clothes, dog supplies, and medications.

Every camping trip we usually forget something, so it’s my job to make sure the forgotten item is not essential. We have forgotten pillows, toothbrushes, shirts, flip flops, and bread. My all-inclusive packing list, which seems to grow longer with each excursion, attempts to prevent these mistakes.

Packing the motorhome can take up to a week, sometimes longer than the camping trip itself. Fortunately, our rig is parking in our backyard which allows us access at any time. Several times a day, I carry armfuls of essential items into the rig and find places to stash them. Surprising how much stuff we can fit into it.

The day finally arrives. The dogs are crated on the motorhome couch, we have drinks and snacks in the cab, and we pull out into the alley behind our home. We’re on the road.

When we arrive at our destination and back the motorhome into our campsite, it is all worth it. We escaped the responsibilities at home and can relax and enjoy being out in nature.

And usually at that point, I’m ready for a nap.

How I survive in the heat

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Inland Southern California has an inverse winter. In less temperate areas, like the Midwest where I grew up, you have to spend a lot of time indoors for at least four months a year due to freezing temperatures and snow. In a similar way, inland So Cal has three months in the summer where triple digit days force us into the safety of our airconditioned homes.

For Californians, who consider being outside our “family room” and “dining room,” this can seem very confining. Fortunately, we can escape to the beach or the mountains. But braving the traffic on the freeways is not always appealing.

My escape is our swimming pool. As an elementary teacher, I have summers off and can enjoy it daily. Our pool is a refuge after errands and housework. A planning room for my husband and me. A playground for our grandkids. A hangout for friends and relatives. When my kids were young, we would roll out our big screen TV outside the back door and watch movies from the pool in the evening.

When we get a string of days over 100 degrees, you’ll find me floating on my lounge chair, ice tea in the cupholder, and my waterproof Kindle in my hand. That’s how I spend my “winter.”

Long Comeback

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Tugging on my cold weather gear after a few months’ break was awkward. The last time Frank and I rode with the HOGs in the dog days of summer, we barely wore jackets. Then my husband’s autoimmune disease kicked into high gear in September, and we were on hiatus until February.

Today we were back in the saddle, joining our riding group to Barrett Junction. As we turned into the Harley-Davidson dealership, I heard a scream, “It’s Jodi and Frank.” The greeting rang sweetly in my ears, chasing away the voices telling us our Harley days were over. Frank parked next to the other motorcycles, and I hopped down to hug my friends.

You would have thought we’d won a race. After the funerals we attended this year, seeing Frank back on his bike was needed encouragement. Not that it was unusual for a motorcycle riding group to see members pass away. Every ride was inches from it. But recently, we’d also lost one to cancer. It made Frank’s victory ever sweeter.

After getting our instructions, it was time for kickstands up. Slowly I lifted my many-layered leg over the seat and hopped on our Harley. Engines growled around us and the group of fifteen bikes lined up in the parking lot. After I plugged in my heated jacket and pants, I pulled on my gloves. It was a frosty 45 degrees, but my phone promised 70s by the afternoon.

Our road captain had called ahead to the tiny restaurant. They told him there was another group of 50 coming in at noon. We had a deadline to get there first, so part of today’s trip would be freeway. My heart raced as we passed cars with our roaring line of bikes. Our backdrop was desert outlined with mountains. Some of those mountains we would see up close in a few hours.

Finally, we turned off onto a small highway that led past Indian reservations and a large modern casino. Our staggered formation was now one up as we started hugging the curves. A few ranches dotted the landscape until finally we threaded into the mountains. Spreading oaks were slowly replaced by tall pine trees.

Our progress unimpeded by traffic, I was disappointed to see signs that we would need to stop ahead. Men in orange vests brought us to a stop. What was going on? Whirring blades drew my eyes up. A large helicopter was lowering a huge metal telephone pole into place next to the narrow road. All of us were mesmerized watching the precise movements. After the pole was secured, the orange vests allowed us to pass.

In these remote mountains, I lost track of where we were, but soon there were signs announcing that the Mexican border was only 20 miles away. We passed a Border Patrol checkpoint. Barrett Junction was still in California, but at the southern edge.

Turn followed turn as we danced our way down into a small valley. Houses appeared on the sides of the road and nestled into the hills. We turned into the gravel parking lot of a small café. Various models of Corvettes filled the front lot, first arrivals of our rival group. We quickly parked and went inside.

After seating us all at a long table, our waitress brought us menus typed up on a single sheet of white paper. No restaurant name or pictures needed. They made fried fish, burgers, and a chicken salad. Their fish and chips was their specialty.

Frank and I sat and talked with our fellow riders as we waited for our food. Today felt different from the other HOG rides we’d taken over the years. Maybe we had started to take it for granted, that every weekend we’d be on the road with our fellow adventurers. After suffering a forced break, we realized how much we missed it. The back roads, the pulsing energy of riding in a group, the jokes and laughter, the fresh baked goods Jay always brought.

It was great to be back.

West Coast Thunder Weekend

 

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In the teachers’ lounge, someone asked, “What are you doing over Memorial Day Weekend?”

“Riding in a parade with 8000 other motorcycles,” I said.

Each Memorial Day, West Coast Thunder sponsors a motorcycle ride that goes through Riverside, California, past the Riverside National Cemetery, and to a concert destination (this year Lake Elsinore Storm Stadium). It is a charity event that supports the Riverside National Cemetery.

Riverside Harley-Davidson sponsors the starting point, and our HOG chapter is there to help. Some will flip burgers at the dealership Saturday and Sunday, while others will man the stops for the Annual Poker Run.

But Monday is the main event. My husband and I plan to meet other HOG members at 3:30 a.m. to secure our place in the bike lineup. There are so many different kinds of motorcycles, not just Harleys, that show up for the parade. Walking down the rows of bikes staged between k-rails helps pass the time until the 9:11 a.m. KSU (kick stands up).

So don’t call me Sunday night. My phone will be on “Do Not Disturb.” And maybe I’ll wave to you as you sit with your beach chairs and flags along the route.

 

 

 

 

Snorkeling on a Harley

Joshua TreeYou don’t expect to ride under water with a Harley touring bike, but thanks to a wet winter, water crossings have been featured in two of our recent HOG rides.

Not wet pavement, not trickling water, but rushing, CHURNING flash flood creeks (pronounced cricks for you Californians). Frothy muddy brown water through which you can’t see the bottom.

Our first water ride was on Temescal Canyon Road near Glen Ivy. Instead of a bridge over a normally dry creek bed, the road dipped down to meet it. As the bikes in front of us slowed down, I saw fast-moving water covering the entire road in front of us. Slowly, one by one the bikes plowed through the churning muddy mess, water covering the bottom third of their tires.

All I remembered thinking was “If we go over, I’m getting a mud bath treatment right outside Glen Ivy Spa.” Most of us went slow. One particular member decided to goose it and created a huge fan of water that completely covered him. He was still dripping when we reached Tom’s Farm. Everyone made it through without a problem, and we all laughed about it during lunch.

Our second whitewater experience was on the ride to Joshua Tree Saloon. Our road captain took us the long way behind the mountains in the high desert. The tiny two lane road took us through rugged desert hills and across more creek beds (When will they ever build California roads OVER water, not under it?). This time, I felt more prepared as Frank and I waited our turn to cross the rushing water. Until we hit the unseen pothole at the low point in the road.

We wiggled, we wobbled, but then we settled down and made it out like we knew what we were doing. I released my held breath and my death-grip on Frank. As we continued down the road, I kept waiting for the road captain to pull over because someone had gone down in the water, but it was smooth sailing all the way to Joshua Tree. Everyone made it through with minimal mud dripped from our pipes. Something more to talk about when we reached the end of the ride.

Some people think Harley rides are a short ride down the road and lunch at a diner.

They have no idea about the water adventure that may be included.

 

Sisterhood of the Traveling Chaps

LOH ride

 

A HOG overnighter was where the magic began.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on our first overnighter years ago. The Grand Canyon was our destination, which we actually never visited due to snow (in May!). That trip was our learning curve—finding out that our bank would block our credit card if we used it at gas stations. Finding out we could ride in rain, wind, sleet, hail, and light snow. Finding out that we really needed to spend money on heavy gloves. We didn’t spend much time hanging out with the group due to the inclement weather, but it was still fun.

Our next trip was Utah. Since it was in June, the weather was hot in the desert and cool on the plateaus. Our first night of the four-day trip we spent in St. George. It was over 100 degrees, and as soon as we could change out of our sweaty riding clothes, we hopped into the swimming pool. Everyone was tired from the long day’s ride, so the girls decided to order pizza to eat poolside. Suddenly it became a HOG party, as more of our group joined us. Hanging out with each other was as fun as riding.

That trip I got to know the chapter ladies. We sat together at lunch. When we stopped each night, we texted each other to coordinate dinner as a group. The passengers shared photos we had shot along the way. We laughed about the wind that buffeted us each time we turned a different direction. Away from our usual responsibilities, we sat and talked for hours about our kids, homes, dogs, and dreams. We became family through our travels.

I was hooked on overnighters. As we became part of each other’s story, an overnighter became a reunion of kindred spirits. We couldn’t wait to hit the road and share each other’s’ company for a few days. There was always time to talk with friends while waiting in line for the only restroom at the gas station or munching snacks on the side of the road. Before dinner, we would hang out in each other’s motel rooms while we waited for everyone else to join us.

That’s when we began the HOG tradition of the Ladies of Harley group photo on each overnighter. Whether we rode our own bikes or sat behind our guys, we shared our love of adventure on the open road. A love that many of our non-riding friends could never understand.

The saddest part of any trip was the last day after lunch. It was time to head home, and on the final leg of the journey, everyone would split off to their own destination. After exchanging hugs and smiles, thanking each one for the fellowship, we pulled on our helmets and rode away. When we got home, the same text string we used for dinner plans would let everyone know we arrived home safely.

As I hung up my jackets and chaps, I was already calculating how many weeks it would be until the next overnighter. I couldn’t wait to head out on the road again with my dear friends and our sisterhood of the traveling chaps.

All in a Day’s Journey- HOGs in Utah

utah

The second day of a four-day overnighter Harley trip is not weighed down by expectations. On our Utah trip, we were not scheduled to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion until the third day, so my husband, Frank, and I emerged from our motel room ready for a mostly highway ride up to Torrey. On a June day in St. George, we reluctantly pulled on our jackets, not believing that we could find cool enough weather in this desert. But our road captain, Jim, assured us that the temps would fall as we gained altitude so we wore our jackets, unzipped for now.

Frank and I had never been to Utah before on a motorcycle, and couldn’t help looking around at the sweeping red rock horizon surrounding us. Every mountain was a sculpted into unique shapes that reminded us of clay animals we had crudely fashioned in school. I could see dogs and even one that certainly was a camel. As we followed our Harley Owners Group chapter (HOG) out of the parking lot, the pink dawn held promise of wonders yet to see.

The first part of our day was just getting there—following red highways toward the northern horizon. It felt like driving to LA on a holiday, almost no cars on the road, only the familiar big rigs faithfully carrying their loads cross-country. Mountains watched us from the distance on both sides of the road. I relaxed into my backrest, listening to music on my com set. Frank followed the group, his stereo blasting out classic rock.

Just as my bottom was starting to get sore, we turned off the main highway and headed up into the mountains. Our destination was a road on the backside of a ski resort closed due to snow when the ride captain prerode the trip at Easter. His curiosity whether the road would now be open had driven us all up there. We followed the group as they wound around the mountain, giving us glimpses of meadows and grassy patterns that in the winter would be ski slopes.

We passed a clear blue lake on our left and then the group pulled over. Jim and a few of the guys walked up the road farther where there was a metal gate blocking our further travel, with a big sign, Road Closed. He joked about riding around the gate, but several of the more reasonable members of our group heartily disagreed. Instead of exploring the road, which appeared to be dirt mixed with large gravel, we took a break by the lake.

No one was there except us, another unusual situation for people from Southern California. We ate our snacks, drank our water, and took pictures. It was getting later in the afternoon, and we hadn’t eaten anything except the motel’s meager free breakfast. Hungry bikers are crabby bikers, so Jim rounded up the group to head back down toward civilization.

Of course, the tiny village at the foot of the mountain didn’t have any fast food, or any restaurants at all. We rode up to a campground that boasted a Mexican restaurant and pulled in to check it out. Unfortunately, the tiny restaurant was not scheduled to open until 4:30 pm. It was around 2:30. I sought out the bathrooms, never wasting an opportunity when the next rest stop was uncertain.

I emerged to find that Jim’s charm and the presence of twenty hungry Harley riders had convinced the owners to open up just for us. When we all got inside and sat down, we filled almost all the tables. Servers appeared from nowhere, and soon plates of steaming hot enchiladas, tacos, and carne asada were set before us. The room was completely quiet except the clinking of forks on stoneware.