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

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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.

San Simeon from a Cage

 

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A black line of Harleys wrapped around the mountain, hidden in curves and revealed in straightaways. What was I doing, following in my Corolla, when I longed to feel the ocean wind bite while dancing the twisties?

Most of the time being a teacher is rewarding. Third grade enthusiasm recharges me daily. However, when my school schedule interferes with our riding schedule, grrr. Instead of sitting behind Frank on the HOG overnighter to San Simeon, my fate was to ride up in a cage, joining the others later.

Saturday morning, I followed Frank’s bike up to Monterey where we planned to meet our group for lunch bayside. We sipped coffee and watched sea lions play among bobbing sailboats at the marina. Gentle November sunshine kept us warm in spite of the brisk breeze.

I checked my watch. Almost noon. When were the HOGs going to arrive? I heard a low rumble from up the coast, building to a roar, culminating in the line of Harleys parading onto the wharf in search of parking spots. Every head turned, forks paused at mouths as people took in the sight of chrome and snarling thunder.

We joined our friends for fish and chips and listened to stories about the morning’s ride through misty wine country. They peeled off layers of leather in the bright sunshine, grateful to be warm at last. Everyone rested and refueled for the challenging road back to the motel on the famous Highway One through Big Sur. Then it was time to ride.

That’s how I found myself following them through massive forest, skirting bare edges of cliffs, crashing surf on my right. There was a steady stream of traffic, and no one seemed in a hurry to rush past the dramatic scenery. At every overlook point, some cars would pull off while others rejoined us.

This influx of vehicles separated me from the Harleys, as well as bicycles hugging the blacktop’s edge. Scanning the cliffs ahead, I couldn’t catch a glimpse of the HOGs. Knowing that the road would bring me back to the motel eventually, I continued on.

Finally, I came out from around a curve and sighted our group stopped in a large pull out area. I parked in front of them and got out. Jagged rocks rose behind us, waves foaming on the rocks below. No craft dared navigate the churning ocean here. It was a desolate place, defiant of man’s attempts to tame it. Gulls screamed in circles above us as the sun sunk down toward the horizon.

Frank gave me a hug, and a friend took a picture of us with the ocean gleaming in the background. Out of my car, I felt connected to the HOGs again. Even though I had missed the thrill of riding Highway One on our Harley, I wouldn’t have missed this moment for anything.

Riding Among the Ancients

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Wrinkled trunks, witnesses of centuries, watch us ride through their domain. Sentinels perched on rocky battlements sigh, “Safe passage,” to the line of Harleys slithering up the narrow mountain road. Our HOG overnighter group pulls into the museum parking lot in the Sequoia National Park, and rests under the shelter of giants.

It feels good to stretch out after the slow procession through hairpins and switchbacks all the way up General Sherman Highway. Taking pictures next to the sequoias makes me feel like the tiny humans we are in this immense universe. These rugged trees have seen it all for thousands of years—bears, rabbits, Native Americans, European explorers, early settlers, awestruck tourists.

For a moment, time stops. Voices muffle here. We have ventured into a cathedral with vaulted ceilings of whispering green, a monument to a mighty Creator. As we pass between the reddish-brown pillars, I tilt back my head to glimpse tiny sparkles of sunlight that filter through the branches. Peace is a heady pine fragrance.

In the museum, I learn about sequoias through a slice of trunk. Dark rings record forest fires, but the trees are nearly indestructible. After a fire, they heal themselves, taking years to cover burned bark. The sequoia’s patience is a lesson we humans should learn. Disasters pass through, but the forest is constantly renewed.

Frank and I munch our sandwiches back in the parking lot, watching the steady flow of visitors. What draws us here, to the forest’s hush? A deep breath of crisp pine-scented air, the crunch of dry needles beneath our feet?

Perhaps we long for permanence in the midst of whirlwind change and relentless entropy in our modern world. These trees care nothing about politics or fashion. We are the blindfolded children swinging wildly at the piñata, while the forest, our great-grandfather, smiles fondly at our struggle.

Soon it is time to move on, to roar through the tunnels of trees and return to the cultivated farms of our world. With regret, we leave the retreat of wood and rock. We swish our way back down the mountain, our silent vows to return accepted by ancient giants.

 

 

Teachers in Faerie: Part Four- The Secret of the Blight

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A high-pitched yowl ended the light show, and a few moments later, two faerie guards emerged from the trees. As usual, their uniforms were spotless, although their faces looked worn. Meghan was glad that she couldn’t see the remains of the dire wolves. She gave Captain Granite a spontaneous hug. He gently pulled her away from him with his usual brisk manner.

“Come now, Lady Meghan, it’s all over now,” he said, looking uncomfortable. “Let’s get some  sleep.”

“As if we could sleep now,” Debbie said, holding onto Mary.

At dawn’s light, Meghan and her friends headed back to Hollystone. Both guards kept their eyes roaming in all directions. They passed a few farmers headed to market, their wagons heavy with fragrant peaches and plums. In the Summer Court, the weather was always warm and the harvest was continual.

When they reached the castle, the teachers gratefully accepted hot baths and fresh gowns before presenting themselves to the Queen in the North Garden. She was sitting on an elaborately carved wooden bench, painting a colorful scene of the lilies next to a pond.

“Your Majesty, the teachers have returned,” her lady-in-waiting said as she held the Queen’s palette. Queen Amber handed the tiny faerie her brush, accepted a linen cloth for her fingers, and turned to Meghan and her friends. They curtsied low before her.

“You may rise,” Queen Amber said eagerly. “Did your travel prove fruitful?” Her lady-in-waiting offered her a silver cup filled with her favorite peach wine. She took a tiny sip and waited for their news.

On the way out to see her, the teachers had agreed that Meghan should speak for the group. “Queen Amber, the blight is horrible to view in person. We brought back some samples. With your permission, we’d like to do some tests.”

“Of course,” the Queen said. “Go directly to Chamberlain Chalk, and he’ll take you to my son’s laboratory. His resources are at your disposal.”

Chamberlain Chalk was an ancient wrinkled faerie with sparkling grey eyes and white hair that stood straight up. He was in the middle of discussing the evening’s guest list with the servants. Upon hearing their request, he led them to the northwest tower that had been nicknamed Mica’s Lair.

“With all their magic, you’d think they’d come up with an elevator,” Debbie grumbled as they climbed the steep stone stairs.

“It would hurt us to get a little exercise,” Mary said. “Those evening feasts are killing my diet.”

“Come on, girls, we’re in a castle, in Faerie,” Meghan said. “It’s part of the charm.” She was in the lead and called to their guide. “Pardon me, Chamberlain Chalk, but we’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Queen Amber’s son. What is he like?”

The faerie paused on the stair, as if considering what to reply. After a moment, he said, “Prince Mica is a bit eccentric, not doubt due to the time he spent in your world going to university. He was quite indulged as a child.” The chamberlain shook his head. “Prince Mica believes that the most powerful magic combines both high magic and your world’s science. In his laboratory, he has several scientific instruments he brought back with him. They’re quite disturbing, really, all those blinking lights and whirring sounds.” He turned and continued climbing.

Meghan marveled at his words. A faerie wizard that used machines! She looked at the jars she carried in a basket. Surely they would be able to find out some answers.

Finally, they arrived at the top of the stairs. Chamberlain Chalk, not winded at all, knocked at the heavy door.

“Who is there?” a deep voice boomed.

“Chamberlain Chalk, Your Highness. You have visitors from the Queen. Is it safe to enter?”

The door opened without a sound, and the teachers walked in. The chamberlain bowed and quickly descended the stairs.

“Welcome to my lab, ladies,” a pleasant voice, different from the one that guarded the door, invited them. The voice’s owner was a tall, thin faerie dressed in a white lab coat, latex gloves, and safety goggles, his long red hair pulled back in a braid. He was in the middle of adding drops to a boiling glass container with no flame under it.

“Who was at the door?” Debbie wondered aloud.

The faerie finished his mixture, waved his hand over it and chanted a few words. The liquid in the container turned black and stopped bubbling. “That was my door spell. Often I’m in the middle of an experiment, and it would be too dangerous for me to stop and answer the door.”

The teachers looked around the circular room in wonder. There were computers, control boards, and machines of every size. Meghan saw a large aluminum refrigerator, cages containing strange creatures, and even a treadmill. “How do you power all this?” she said, forgetting to address him as the prince. “Prince Mica,” she added quickly.

“Solar power,” he said proudly. “I made my own panels. Part of my grad studies project at Cal Tech.” He smiled. “Good times. Oh, and don’t worry about formality here in the lab. You can call me Mica.”

His smile was mesmerizing. Meghan shook her head. “I’m Meghan, and this is Mary and Debbie, my friends. Queen Amber brought us here to Hollystone to help with the blight.”

“Your lab is impressive,” Mary said. “I never thought I’d see machines in Faerie.”

“Still no elevators,” Debbie commented. “Why don’t we see any technology anywhere else?”

Prince Mica shook his head. “My mother won’t allow it. She follows the old ways. But at least here, in my lab, I can do what I want. Did you bring me something?” He looked at the basket Meghan carried. “Those are the containment jars I designed.”

She handed the basket to him, his hands brushing against hers. Even with gloves on, she felt a shiver from his touch. “These are samples we collected from one of the affected areas. Can you test them to see what they are?”

He picked one up and looked at it, frowning. “I’ll have to run some spectral analysis on it, and maybe even some DNA tests. It could be organic.”

“Do you need some help?” Mary asked.

Prince Mica smiled. “No thank you, ladies. I work better on my own. If there’s a containment issue, I can usually deal with it using my magic. I wouldn’t want you to get in the way of a spell.”

Meghan couldn’t help noticing that his bright green eyes keeping coming back to rest on her. Was he interested in her? Probably nothing more than scientific curiosity. Here in the Summer Court, humans were regarded as fireflies that shone for a brief moment, delightful as friends but nothing deeper. However, in the Winter Court, faeries saw humans as disposable entertainment.

Her cheeks reddened and she turned away to look at one of the machines. “We’d like to stay and help. We’ll be careful.”

“Well, then, if you can’t be frightened off, I’ll put you to work,” he said with a shrug. “There are more lab coats and gloves by the door.”

The rest of the day, they spent extracting contained samples and submitting them to the various machines in the lab. Prince Mica tested for viruses, bacteria, shape-shifting microorganisms, curses, poisons, and genetically altered insects. When they finally cleaned the last test tube and made sure the samples were stored in sealed containers, he offered them some rose tea from an electric kettle.

“That’s all the tests I have,” he said and crunched on his tea biscuit thoughtfully. “We now know what the blight isn’t—not an organism or poison. That leaves us with a purely magical cause.” He looked at his notebook where he had carefully recorded their results. “That leaves the Winter Court.”

“But haven’t you been at peace for the past three centuries?” Mary asked. She took another sip of the sweet scented tea.

“There’s a new faerie on their throne now,” he answered. “He calls himself The Frost King. He wants to go all traditional, magic only, no human ways. There’s quite a following for that these days.”

His voice was melodic even when he was serious. Meghan tried to resist staring at him. She couldn’t help noticing that his pointed ears were pierced down their length and covered in emeralds and diamonds. She had an irresistible urge to reach over and touch them.

“What do we do now?” Debbie asked, pinching Meghan on the arm to break her trance. To her friend she whispered, “Snap out of it. He’s a faerie.”

“There’s one more test I can do,” he said. “I can talk to it.”

“Talk to it?” Mary echoed.

“Yes, I can conjure up the spirit of the blight, and ask it what drives it. There has to be a trigger on this kind of magic. If we can find out what it’s linked to, we can develop something to counteract it.”

Meghan couldn’t believe she was acting so foolishly. After Debbie pinched her, she took a deep breath and tried to focus on the problem they were working on. Tonight her friends were going to give her a hard time. She thought she was past all that faery crush stuff after their first visit.

The prince took one of the specimen jars and placed it in the middle of a chalk circle in the middle of the room. He lit candles and placed them around the circle.

“Step back,” he warned as he added a plastic face shield to his outfit. “This could get messy.”

Meghan and her friends backed away from the center of the room. The prince began to walk around the outside of the circle, singing softly.

“Magic made, spell well woven,

Come reveal your purpose given,

Power ancient power hidden,

Open magic, spell well spoken.”

A cloud of white smoke poured out of the top of the sealed jar. It filled up the circle all the way up to the high ceiling, staying within the circle, a cylinder of smoke. Prince Mica clapped his hands in success, and addressed the cloud.

“Mighty magic, why have you come to our land?”

A rumble like thunder preceded the reply. “Master bids me eat, eat all the color. So I eat.”

Meghan looked at the others. Eat color?

“Mighty magic, noble spell, how do you eat color?”

Another rumble. “Stories fade, voices silent. Suck color out of silence.” The rumbling got louder and louder as the cloud turned red and then black. Lightning shot out of it and struck the nearest machine, short-circuiting it.  Torrents of rain burst from the cloud and soaked everything in the room. Prince Mica shouted at it, and suddenly the cloud disappeared and it was silent.

“Well, that was informative,” he said, taking off his drenched lab coat and replacing it with a dry one. “Is everyone unharmed?”

Meghan came out from under the table. “That was crazy! I can’t believe you stopped it.”

“What does it mean?” Mary said, stepping out from behind the computer.

“Eating color? How can something eat color?” Debbie said as she jumped out of a cabinet.

“One moment.” Prince Mica pulled a book from a shelf covered with plastic, a lesson perhaps learned from another incident. He turned to the back of the book, found what he was looking for, and turned to another section. He looked up with a worried expression. “It’s worse than we could ever imagine. This is definitely the work of the Frost King. How diabolical! He’s using ancient magic. A spell no one dares use anymore.”

“What kind of magic?” Meghan asked. The teachers pulled out the stools from under the table and pulled them up close to the prince. He turned the book toward them, revealing an engraving of a lizard creature with a large mouth eating the leaves of a tree.

“The spell is called Prismatic Draining, and it will destroy our entire queendom.” He slammed close the book and quickly replaced it. “Come with me. Mother needs to know right away.”

 

 

Fender Fluff Files- Part One

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You’ve all seen us on the highway in front of you, dressed in black leather, holding tight to our husband or boyfriend, pressed up against our backrests, long hair streaming out the back of our helmets. It might seem like we don’t have a care in the world, dubbed “fender fluff” as if we’re merely decoration. Passengers have the best view on the ride and much less responsibility than the motorcycle rider. However, there were still a few things I needed to learn when Frank and I started riding our Harley.

The first thing Frank told me when I jumped on our Road King was that communication was key to safety. Before he took off, he always checked to see if I was ready. When we stopped, I always checked with him before dismounting the bike. After clunking helmets together a few times, I realized that I needed to plant my feet on the floorboards and brace myself against his back when we stopped suddenly, or shifted gears. Therefore, I needed to be alert and aware of what was happening on the road so I could be prepared. Also I needed to be still, sit behind Frank’s profile, and not influence the balance of the bike.

Passengers realize these basics as they get more miles on their Harley.  As we rode, I started wondering about other riding situations. Jim, our HOG chapter manager, helped me with some questions I had about passengers. Riders take riding safety courses, but passengers don’t have the opportunity. The first question I had was about curves. Many riders use body English, or lean deeply into tight curves. Jim told me that riders should not use aggressive movements like that with a passenger. Instead, they should both ride neutral with the bike, meaning your body centerline is equal to the bike’s centerline. However, the passenger should look over the rider’s inside shoulder as they go through the curves.

When they get ready to park the bike, I wanted to know whether it was better for the passenger to get down before the rider backs the bike into a parking space. Jim told me it depended on the situation. It is safer and easier to park a bike without a passenger, but if it is safe and more expedient for the passenger to remain seated, the passenger should wait. If there is a long line of bikes waiting to park, the passenger should get off.

On long rides, I had always thought that passengers got colder than the rider because they weren’t actively doing anything. Jim didn’t have any confirmation on that, but encouraged both the rider and passenger to wear heated gear as it keeps them both more comfortable and alert.

Passengers play an important part in the safety of a motorcycle ride. We need to pay attention to what is happening, and be prepared to react with the rider. When the rider and the passenger work together, their synergy makes them more relaxed and confident when challenging the open road.

 

 

 

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.

The cold ride- part two

 

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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.

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.

Dragon Rider Part Seven- Stranded

white_dragon_by_sandara-d6ha2cv

After a long day watching the tops of clouds, Silverpointe looked like a mountain paradise. Steep pitched roofs covered in snow, smells of wood smoke, roasting venison, and pine trees contrasted with the crisp cold air. The inn, stables, blacksmith, mercantile, and homes formed a circle on a flat ledge hanging over the mountain range. There was barely room for the dragons in the center of town. Locals gawked as the huge beasts huffed smoke and stomped the hard ground to get comfortable. Stable boys brought out buckets of dead mice and squirrels and dumped them in front of the dragons. Other boys dragged out huge wooden troughs of water.

Emeri helped Worley carry his tack into the stable, adding it to the pile stacked in the corner. She looked around for a place where she could speak to her friend privately. Even though she had sworn that she would tell no one what she had done, the bond-curse changed things.

“Come on,” she gestured to the boy, who continued to watch her with puzzled eyes. They walked behind the stable to a fenced in lookout point on the mountain’s edge. As she looked down into the deepening shadows of snow-softened boulders, her head started to spin. Her decision to let Petal go had seemed so simple, and yet it had become as jumbled as the pile of rocks below her.

“What’s up?” Worley took her arm, turning her back to him. “I’m sorry I scared you by falling off Mist. It’s not your fault I fell asleep. You’re going through enough right now.”

Emeri hesitated, still not certain she was doing the right thing. “It wasn’t your fault. There’s something else going on.” How would she begin? “I told you that First Mistress ordered me to sell Petal when I return from this ride.”

“Of course, but you were going to find a way to change her mind,” Worley said, his eyes narrowed with curiosity, watching her intently.

“First Mistress never changes her mind,” the princess said, “unless she decides to do so, and even then it would be a completely new idea. So I had to take action. I know it sounds looney, but Petal wouldn’t survive another owner. She chose me when she was a tiny whelp. She’s grown up with me.” Her stomach threatened to betray her again, but she took a deep breath. “I severed the bond between us. It had to be done.”

“What?” Worley shouted to the mountains. “Emeri, you’ve taught me everything I know about dragons, especially since my brother was too busy riding to be bothered. When a dragon chooses you, it is a sacred bond! Humans can’t do anything to force it. And Petal, a Crystal Dragon! You’ll never have a dragon like her again!” He turned away from her and started pacing back and forth, holding his head. Then he stopped as a new thought struck him. “First Mistress will be furious!”

Emeri took his hands. “You trust me, don’t you?”

“Of course,” he said, his face betraying the opposite. He shifted his feet, perhaps remembering how the First Mistress’ anger had come down on the estate workers the year of the bad harvest.

“Petal needed to be free.”

“I know,” he agreed. “But she’ll be suspicious. It’s a little convenient that you lost your dragon on your last ride before you had to sell her. That dragon was a gold mine, and she’ll make us all pay.”

“Buck up, my friend. You can’t go on living in fear of her. I know I can’t. Even though I want to do what’s best for the queendom, I still need to consider others, even Petal.”

“Still, severing your bond?” Worley said, shaking his head. “You didn’t have to actually chop off…”

“I did, but that’s not the worst of it. I didn’t know about the bond-curse.”

“That’s dragon dung, Emeri! Twinkle was joking, trying to get you to spill the truth,” Worley said. “Avery’s never said anything about a bond-curse.”

“That’s because no dragon rider would ever break the bond with their dragon,” Emeri said. “Seriously, Worley, I’ve seen you ride long days before, and you never have nodded off. It’s got to be the curse.”

“I think you’re over-reacting,” Worley said, giving her hug. “You’re just distraught over losing Petal. Let’s get back to the others so I can taste some of that famous Silverpointe venison stew. The smell has been making my mouth water since we landed.” He started to walk back to the inn.

Emeri followed him, feeling a bit foolish. Of course she was jumping to conclusions. She just had a bad case of air-sickness and Worley was just tired, that was all.

The inn’s small common room was packed with the addition of the dragon riders. Emeri and Worley joined the others at their long table, pleasantly surprised to see steaming bowls of stew and tankards of ale waiting for them.

Emeri actually had a small appetite and was able to swallow a little stew, although she passed her ale over to Avery. After dinner, they relaxed in the hot springs, drinking brandy and sharing stories. Every once in a while, the princess was certain she caught Twinkle staring at her, her face grim.

Morning came too early, as Emeri fought nightmares most of the night, ending up tangled up in her cloak on the floor. After they ate thick soft bread smothered in blackberry jam and strong hot tea, the dragon riders got ready to leave. Twinkle decided that Emeri should ride with her. The princess wasn’t sure if their leader felt that she was a distraction for Worley, or if she was still suspicious about the bond-curse.

Twinkle’s dragon, Sparkle, was a grey Crystal Dragon, similar in size to Petal. His large violet eyes regarded his additional cargo with curiosity, perhaps wondering why Emeri wasn’t riding her own dragon. After climbing up, Emeri made sure she fastened the belt her teacher had attached to the saddle. No one was taking chances about another fall.

As they rode through the day, Emeri enjoyed the view from the lead. The bright blue sky stretched out forever in all directions and the clouds below appeared as a solid puffy white surface. Behind them the dragon riders spread out in a long line, flying together in unity.

The princess finally felt relaxed after the morning ride had passed without incident. She was just scaring herself for no reason. There was no bond-curse.

That’s when she heard the loud crack.

Sparkle’s right wing flew straight, useless, and the dragon tried to keep flying with one wing, roaring in pain. Twinkle yelled commands and tried to keep them in the air, but they began to spiral downward. Emeri could hear the shouts of the other riders as they tried to rally around them.

“What should we do?” the princess shouted in the ride captain’s ear.

“Hang on,” Twinkle called back. “We’re going to land.”

“Not too quickly, I hope!” Emeri replied and ducked her head down behind Twinkle’s back. They dropped through the sky, covered in dragon smoke.

And then suddenly there was a huge jolt and scratchy flashes of green as they fell through the arms of a pine tree, finally resting in thick pile of dry needles. Sparkle roared once more and then collapsed into unconsciousness.

“Are you hurt?” Emeri asked, as she unbuckled herself and rolled down the ladder.

“I think I’m good,” Twinkle said. She crawled down stiffly, stroked her dragon’s neck, and started to walk around to inspect her dragon’s wing. “Sparkle’s not so good, though. Her wing is broken, that’s for sure. Let me get out my med kit.” She unfastened a leather bag and took out a pot and a roll of linen.

“Where are the others?” Emeri said, peering through the heavy canopy of branches above them. “Will they be able to find us?”

“The dragons should be able to smell Sparkle,” Twinkle replied. With practiced ease, she gently applied a thick coating of salve and wound linen around the wing, leaving it closed up on itself. Sparkle didn’t wake, but he rumbled in protest and sent out billowing smoke. “When dragons are hurt, they send out different smoke that alerts other dragons in the area that they need help.”

“Nowhere to land around here,” the princess observed. The densely forested ridge was steep and there was no open area that she would see.

“Don’t worry, they’ll find us,” Twinkle said as she put back her medicines. “Do you want some water?” she offered Emeri her canteen.

“Thanks,” Emeri said, as she took a small swig. There wasn’t much water left.

Suddenly, Sparkle’s head shot up, and the injured dragon struggled to his feet. He growled deep in his throat, staring at the trees.

“Quick, Emeri, jump up on her,” Twinkle said. The riders scurried up to the saddle and waited. They had barely caught their breath when a large tawny creature emerged soundlessly. It was a mountain cat, larger than any Emeri had ever seen, and it looked hungry.