The Overnighter- Part One

steep road

 

When she roared into the parking lot, all heads turned as one toward the arriving Harley. The rider slowed to a crawl at the end of the row of bikes, switching off the engine, and settling the massive machine into its tiny kickstand. With the noise level returning to normal, the other riders resumed their conversations. As she unfastened and pulled off her full face helmet, the rider was revealed as a woman in her fifties with a long blond braid. Although her face was still pleasant on the eyes, the men in the club showed her only respect. Hopping off her touring bike, she quickly mingled with the other women waiting for the ride to begin.

Diane looked back at her bike, standing out from the rest with its bright blue color and airbrushed ghost flames on the tank and saddle bags. “Charley better look awesome after all the money I spent on him,” she thought with a smirk. Charley, her name for her bike, was her third Harley, and the most expensive. But with her children grown and gone, and her ex-husband out of state, her motorcycle was her baby. Right down to the crystal bling she had added around the edges of Charlie’s fenders. If someone didn’t see her coming down the road, they were wearing dark glasses and following a dog.

Dan and Mitch were the road captains for this overnighter—three days to Arizona and back. They huddled together over maps and notes. There was a hum of excitement in the air. Hugs and handshakes went around as the day riders and the only-overnight riders exchanged names. Everyone was leathered up for the first part of today’s ride, but half of the luggage they stowed in their tour packs was different layers of riding gear. Protective rain gear, vests, lighter gloves, hats, knit jackets would be taken out as needed.

“Hey, Diane,” a short, dark-haired woman greeted her.

“Morning, Patty,” Diane answered as she hugged the other woman. “Where’s Paul?” She looked around at the guys, trying to find Patty’s husband.

“He hasn’t been feeling good all week,” Patty replied, her face etched with concern. “He insisted that I go without him. I’m not sure if I should go or not.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Diane assured her.

“Gather round everybody,” Dan called out in his booming voice. The rest of the group reluctantly finished their conversations and wandered over to the ride captains. Paul and his wife, Donna, who rode behind him, Bill and Jessica, who rode matching Street Glides, Rod, Diane, and Patty gave their leaders their full attention.

“It’s going to be a great day today,” Mitch said with a big smile that echoed around the group. “It will be a cool and windy morning, followed by heat out in Death Valley, and rain predicted by the time we reach Arizona. We’ll stop for gas every 200 miles, and if we need to put on our rain gear. Our breakfast stop will be in Twenty Nine Palms, and we might not stop for lunch if the rain drives us. Dan’s riding sweep. Any questions?”

He looked around at their eager faces. “Let’s ride!”

“Wait!” Jessica called, throwing out her arms. “Let’s take a picture!” Rod grabbed a dealership guy who was passing by to take the group photo. “How many of these photos have I been in?” Diana thought as she gave her best non-toothy smile. But no matter how many motorcycle trips she had taken, she always loved to look back at those group shots. So many great memories.

The bikes lined up two by two in the parking lot, engines barely containing their excitement. Dan rode up on his silver Ultra to block the lane, and Mitch led the group into the street. Diane lined up near the back, as she loved to see the line of bikes trail out in front of her as they rode. Patty rode ahead on the right, her face still conflicted.

The energy of the combined roar of the Harleys flooded Diane with excitement. “These are my people,” she thought. “The rest of my life is muted grey compared to riding my bike. Especially with the club.”

As the line of Harleys dumped onto the freeway, no one noticed a white Prius that followed them. The bikes ate up the miles, stopped for gas, and rode on. And still the same car trailed behind them. It never tried to pass them, and stayed back a respectable distance. Diane couldn’t see what the driver looked like, only sunglasses. Yet something about it made her think about those creepy stories shared at campfires.

Elements of a Ride

colds

 

Riding Harleys uses alchemy—you can experience the elements of air, earth, water, and fire all in one ride.

The first element we encountered was fire when our planned destination was in doubt when we met at the dealership for a scheduled HOG chapter ride. Coldsprings Tavern was in the mountains east of Santa Barbara which would take us through a newly sprouted wildfire near Malibu. Road closures and smoke warnings forced our road captain to take a different route, one that would ride through the mountain community of Ojai. There were only four bikes and six riders, so it would be easy for us to stay together on the freeway portion of the ride, as well as the many different turns we would need to take on the back roads.

Air quickly became the strongest element of this ride. Summer heat squeezed us as we threaded through traffic, crossing the San Gabriel Valley by freeway. Even though I wore a light jacket, I could feel the sweat trickle down my back. Some of the riders had water bottles in cup holders; an accessory my husband and I agreed was a necessity for the next trip. Instead, I balanced a water bottle inside the front of my jacket, passing it forward as requested. Finally we exited and headed into the mountains, giving us some relief. The air carried to us the fragrant spice of pine trees and hot mountain dirt.

The element of earth performed for us with majestic peaks, plunging valleys, and chiseled cliffs. Every turn revealed new vistas of forested ridges and white granite boulders. Sudden L shaped bends in the road caused me to hold my breath as we slowed to a crawl. The mountain led us onward, up and down until we reached Ojai.

Slowly we crawled through the tiny village’s downtown, flocks of tourists on each side. Leaving Ojai’s Spanish style colonnades behind, we headed toward the coast. We were glad to move faster, for even the mountains weren’t cool enough on this summer day. When we reached Ventura, air and water competed for our attention. Our sweat soaked bodies shivered in the cool ocean breeze full of salty tang. The bright blue horizon stretched on forever and we could still hear the crashing breakers over the roar of our motorcycles. The highway hugged the beach for miles, giving us natural air conditioning during this part of our trip. When we arrived at Santa Barbara, it was time to go back up into the mountains once more, returning to the element of earth.

Soon we turned off onto Stagecoach Road, a small side road that connected with our highway. Although we couldn’t see the wildfire, smoke tickled our noses and made our eyes water. Elements of air and fire worked together to torment us. Suddenly around one of the bends, a small group of buildings appeared nestled in the trees. We had arrived at Coldsprings Tavern. The aroma of grilled steak cut through the smoke. It was time for lunch.

After we devoured our tri tip sandwiches and drank heavily from the local spring water, it was time to head back to the desert. Most of us decided to forgo safety and shed our jackets before jumping back on the bikes. We headed back down to Santa Barbara and took a different route home.

Our road captain had pity on us as he kept us on the coast highway as long as he could. Again the ocean air gave us strength for the furnace that we knew lie ahead. Finally the traffic slowed down, and he led us through the strawberry fields into Simi Valley.

While crossing through the fields, the element of air teased us with the sweet smell of ripening strawberries. In the summer heat, the strong smell reminded me of cotton candy at the fair. I wanted to stop and buy some berries at the farmers’ stands, but the heat forced us onward, our leader seeking to escape the force of the blazing sun.

Finally we met the freeway, and we placed ourselves in the jigsaw puzzle of traffic once more. The hot air pushed down on us, adding weight and causing floods of perspiration. In the maze of cars, two of our group got ahead of us. My husband and I followed the remaining couple back through the San Gabriel Valley. Our water bottle tasted hot enough to make tea so we suffered our thirst for the remainder of the trip.

When we arrived back home, we parked the bike, and quickly changed into swim suits. The element of water welcomed us as we jumped into our pool.

As we stood immersed in the cool water, we talked about the air, earth, water, and fire; the magical elements of a motorcycle adventure.

 

 

 

Sea Turtles

sea turtle

 

Ancient eyes watched me struggle to breathe through my snorkel. An immense shell blocked the sunlight filtering through the water and suddenly I was aware of the sea turtle floating close to me. I backed away from its penetrating gaze. Curiosity drew it closer, but I pushed away in obedience to the guide’s direction that we were not to touch the turtles. Hanging in the current, the creature was completely at ease, for it could stay under water for hours without going to the surface for air.

However this was my first snorkeling trip, and I still felt nervous trusting a narrow tube poking out a foot above the rocking waves to provide me with a consistent flow of oxygen. My breathing was rushed and desperate like a newly trained astronaut on their first mission. I remembered all the snorkelers we saw at the beach the day before, their faces in the water, barely moving their legs, arms at their sides. As my breathing slowed down, my body relaxed into the warm tropical water. I kicked farther away from the turtle and followed the other fins in front of me.

The underwater landscape was a peaceful change from the bumpy ride we endured on our Zodiac raft in route to the diving spot. Schools of black and yellow striped fish flowed around the coral reef with little effort. Turquoise and orange striped fish picked algae off the bottom. Tiny white fish streamed out of holes in the volcanic rock. In the distance I could see the massive shapes of other sea turtles, resting in the cradle of current. Pale grey fish, as large and as flat as dinner plates, swam right in front of my face. Streams of bubbles and chopping of swim fins provided the soundtrack to this alien world. My husband and the others in our group hung on the surface of the ocean, mesmerized by the abundance and variety of marine life.

Suddenly I sniffed up some water that had leaked into my mask and I lifted my head, choking on salt water. The waves lifted and dropped me roughly as I found it harder to breathe without the snorkel than when I had my head underwater. My stomach heaved and I got sick, unfortunately still with the snorkel in my mouth.

The guide that remained on the boat called out to me, “Are you alright?”

Not wanting to sound wimpy, I replied, “I am now!”

After rinsing out my snorkel, I replaced my mask and put my face back in the water. The churning ceased as I was back in the calm underwater world once more. This time it was easier to breathe, and I watched the show around me through the window of my mask. Time was suspended. There was no sense of the bustle of the air-breathing world above us. Fish grazed on the algae covered coral like brightly colored sheep. A grey fish with yellow fins and tail regarded me with disdain before swishing past my face. Turtles paddled to the surface for air and dropped back down into the depths.

Gradually I became aware that I didn’t see any other fins around me. Reluctantly, I lifted my head to see the rest of our group back on the raft. The guide waved at me, and I paddled toward her. It was time to return to the world of man.

The Almost Grand Canyon Trip

amboy

Our first Harley road trip to Arizona was full of storms. When the trip was planned for May, we weren’t expecting any rain. It was unfortunate we couldn’t have made arrangements to test new motorcycle gear, since we experienced every possible weather condition, short of a tornado. In spite of extreme weather, it was an adventure that built friendships and trust.

At 6:00 a.m., things are not as easy as later in the day. Frank and I were layered up with thermals, sweaters, leather chaps and jackets, with rain gear over it all. We never rode with rain gear before, which became immediately apparent when I tried to get on the bike behind Frank. My leg, which never had the range of a dancer to begin with, would not go over the bike. My husband, who has terminal anxiety about being late, looked over his shoulder to see why I was taking so much time. Finally with his help, I was seated, perhaps permanently.

We met up with the brave riders who ignored the weather reports, and Frank removed me from the bike. Feeling like a scarecrow, I peeled off the rain gear. The other riders assured us that rain would hold off so we didn’t need to worry about it until after the Mojave Desert portion of our ride. The ride captain had checked the weather reports for the towns we were passing through, and he was somewhat confident that we could make it through the day.

The first leg of our journey was a blur, not due to excessive speed but the blasting wind as we fought through to Yucca. But my head did not fall off, and we finally reached Twenty-Nine Palms and the desert.

The real kind with sand and no vegetation. Nothing but sand and asphalt.

The old Route 66 went through here, and I tried to imagine cars with no air conditioning crossing the massive emptiness. Then I thought about horses and wagons coming out to California for the gold rush. Were we as crazy as them?

After nothing for miles, we stopped at an antique gas station in Amboy. Two pumps and some restrooms. A motel from the 60s era with a huge sign that said Roy’s welcomed us, but it didn’t look like anyone stayed there. We took a break in the bright sunshine, peeling off leather jackets and chaps.

Time that day was measured by gas station stops, the next one in Needles. The clouds that were threatening all day stretched above us like water balloons. The road captain consulted his phone for weather updates. We traveled a little while longer until we stopped underneath a freeway overpass. Leather and rain gear came back out, for we were headed up in altitude, towards Williams, Arizona.

Instead of taking the freeway, we continued to follow old Route 66 through wind-swept Native American reservations. Miles of scraggly bushes and cows stretched out in all directions. The mountains ahead were obscured by clouds. Bitter cold cross winds came up under our helmets and made our eyes water. Then the rain arrived as mist on our windshield.

As the line of bikes snaked its way across the rolling hills, rain caressed us gently, often mistaken as wind. Cold air pressed down on us as we rode directly through a low pressure cell. In the distance, I could see slivers of blue sky, but I couldn’t tell if our capricious road would loop away or toward the hanging clouds.

Onward we traveled down an endless road littered with the ruins of motels, gas stations, restaurants, and car repair shops that had closed up after the freeway had been built. Route 66 was a road through ghost towns, everything frozen in time.

Finally our road connected with the freeway which had killed it, and we stretched out on the wide, separated interstate that would lead us to our hotel in Williams. The mist continued to fall, but our rain gear did its job, and we stayed dry. The road captain threw up his arm to turn off, and we headed for the hotel. The rain had stopped when we arrived, and we went inside to check in.

Again Frank and I proved to be newbees as we tried to check in, and found our credit card cancelled. After a phone call, we found out that our frequent small purchases at gas stations along the way had created a fraud alert, which blocked our card. After we got that straightened out, we went outside to unload our luggage when it began to hail.

Huge gumball size ice balls pelted us as we grabbed our bags and headed for our room. However, by the time we were ready to walk down the street for dinner, the storm had stopped.

Our range of weather continued the next day as we rode to Flagstaff for breakfast. Instead of the relentless pelting of rain, we could barely feel the gentle caress of flakes. Our warm breath clouded the visors of our helmets and our fingers felt stiff. When we reached the restaurant, I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time, praying that no one would skid out on the slippery road. But we made it to Cracker Barrel safely, and our troubles were forgotten with the help of coffee and pancakes.

During breakfast, the ride captain studied maps and conferred with his phone, weather again a concern. The Grand Canyon was at a higher elevation that included snow in the forecast.

After much deliberation and a vote from the group, we decided to take a scenic loop outside of Flagstaff that would head back toward Williams instead of proceeding to the Grand Canyon. As much as it was a disappointment, I was relieved that we were going to stay lower where we would face rain but not snow.

Our group rode into Flagstaff past the university and back out to the wilderness. The narrow two-lane road led us through woods and meadows, past ranches and houses that seemed like freckles on the huge expanse of land. Rarely did a vehicle pass us, and when it did, it was a Jeep or a four-wheel drive truck.

But the clouds had not forgotten us. A massive black one loomed to our right, a grey curtain of rain extended from its bottom. Would we make back to Williams before getting hit by a deluge?

On we rode and the road took us where it wanted us to go. The sky became more dramatic as sunshine hit us on our left. and the cold storm front pushed us from the other side. I felt like we were storm chasers, only without the protection of a van. Even if we stopped, there was nowhere to find shelter in the barren rolling land.

Suddenly, I felt a bucket of water dumped over my head. The storm had caught us! The ride captain slowed down as we were lost in a wall of rain. Only the yellow center line reassured us that we still followed the road. I shut my eyes for there was nothing to see. Surely we would stop somewhere and wait for the storm to pass.

But the road saved us as it turned to the left, away from the storm’s fury. We kept following it until it led us back to the freeway. Two short exits and we were back at the hotel, taking hot showers, and getting ready for dinner.

We all shared our stories that night. Some of us knew each other before the trip, but others, including us, were new. Some of it was more personal than the lunch conversations of a day trip. But riding through wind, heat, rain, sleet, and snow had changed our group. After surviving the storms together, we were ready to share the other storms of our lives as well.

 

 

Dancing with Mountains

Ortega

As our HOG chapter roared down the narrow road that paralleled Lake Matthews, the sky was bright with promises of cool spring weather. After previous days of thunderstorms, this blue sky only held wispy feather clouds, incapable of interfering with our ride. My husband and I were riding almost in the middle of the pack, with eight riders ahead of us and nine behind. Before we had left the dealership, the road captain had called for two sweeps, one that rode directly behind us and one at the back of the group, in case we were separated by traffic lights. He also reminded us that if we had difficulty and had to pull off, the sweep would stay with us until help arrived.

Such dire thoughts vanished from our minds as we followed the back roads down to Ortega Highway. As we turned onto the road, Lake Elsinore at our back, I looked up at the imposing ridge before us. I could see tiny cars moving in layers of road that switch backed on the desert side of the mountain. The pack spread out from its staggered formation to single, causing the group to stretch out past my line of vision.

That’s where the dance began. Through the twisted turns, our Harley obediently leaned to the left, straightened out, and then leaned to the right. The pattern had a rhythm that mesmerized me. The mountain had accepted our request for a dance, and he was leading us through the steps. On and on he led us to the beat of unheard music, over the top of the rugged mountains and into the shade of a small mountain community. We rode straight through a canopy of trees for a short time until we started down the other side of the pass.

Here the dancers dangled from the edge of a canyon, the road clinging to its side. Sometimes we were interrupted by an impatient sport bike that rushed past us, unwilling to join our dance down the mountain. Still we danced– riding the left turn, straightening out, and then riding the right turn. As the dance continued, I readjusted my position slightly, feeling like a human caught up in an endless faery reel.

Suddenly, the road shot out straight, and neighborhoods replaced rocky cliffs. We roared to a stop at the traffic light, shaking out shoulders, taking a deep breath. The group bunched back up into two across, sharing about the ride with smiles that peeked out under their helmets. I turned around and snapped a picture of the glistening white canyon behind us. Even though I felt like I had held my breath for the past forty minutes, I couldn’t help smiling with the rest. Good bye for now, and thank you for the dance.

Back Roads to Pioneertown

Pioneertown

(Photo by Kevin Austin)

When we rolled out of the Riverside dealership that morning, most of the HOGs were still yawning. Daylight Savings Time had just arrived, and we regretted that lost hour of sleep. The sky was gradually brightening with the promise of a sunny day. Two by two the Harleys lined up at the traffic light, their snarling engines ready to run. When the light turned, 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 between cars. Eventually open space allowed us to line up in staggered formation as we endured the mindless repetition of on ramps and off ramps, merging traffic and slow trucks, road construction and reckless drivers. Cloud topped mountains drew closer, looking like 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 threaded through traffic toward our exit. At the end of the ramp we paused, free from the chaotic energy of the freeway. One by one the pack turned onto a narrow winding road that carved through the mountains toward the high desert valleys. The road hugged the sides of rippling hills like the zigzag stitch on a blanket. The long procession of bikes spread over the hills into the distance. To the north I could see layers of mountains like bookshelves, the next shelf up holding a slow moving freight train, and the top shelf the frantic vehicles on the freeway beyond our exit.

Our journey changed drastically. We fell into the rhythm of curves and dips as we traveled through land that was unconcerned about man’s ambitions. Water carved red rock hills covered with bristly bushes chased each other into the distance. A sheer rock wall watched us from the left with a lofty arrogance. These rocks existed when the Native American tribes roamed 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 Harleys gladly stretched their legs and gained speed. Gradually I grew aware that the ominous grey wall of mountains on our left was growing closer as we rode. As I looked behind and ahead of us, I could see no end to it. Yet our road seemed determined to connect with it. How would we get over it? Would the road lift us to the top of that wall or would man’s determination have tunneled through it?

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. Water in this valley had to be trapped by high dams like the one we just passed.

The road passed through 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 I admired his perseverance. 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.

After a brief rest, we roared on our way toward our goal. After passing through miles and miles of caked dirt dotted with brush and more spiky joshua trees, the land surrounding us smoothed out into a huge flat area with no vegetation, a dry lake bed. I wondered what happened to the water—was it diverted for other purposes, or did it simply dry up over time? It felt like a lunar landscape had fallen into our path.

The road called us on, and we descended into another valley, this one much hotter and dryer than the last. Pink desert mountains lined the horizon on the left. A line of buildings in the distance slowly grew into 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. We pulled into the dirt parking lot and parked the bikes in a row, just like cowboys would have tied up their horses in front of the saloon. I carefully dismounted our Harley, stiff muscles protesting. We all took off our helmets and layers of jackets and leather chaps. Even though we had just ridden over twisting roads and through dry dusty towns, we were excited to share our journey together. It was time for food and drink, tales and jokes, friendships forged in adventure.

Why We Ride- Part Two

wwr 2

Completely exposed. That is your situation when you ride motorcycles, and you must accept it.

Safety is another reason my friends consider my husband and I crazy to spend half our weekends riding our Harley. There are many features built into our bike that contribute to our safety- LED lights, anti-lock brakes, and so many more that if I ever get a chance to read the Bible sized owner’s manual I could list them. Motorcycles built now are much safer than the ones your father rode. However when it actually comes down to it, there’s nothing between you and the pavement (or the other cars).

Everyone has to decide in their own heart where their comfort level is with safety. The decision to ride is accepting the fact that no matter how great a motorcycle rider you are, something might happen to you. Fear can be a deciding factor. You can spend your life striving to make everything in your life safe, never taking any chances. Afraid to drive your car because you might get in an accident, you could barricade yourself in your child-proofed home to watch sports on TV (going to a sports event is dangerous as well as actually playing sports yourself). However you could walk outside to take down your trash cans and a car might careen down your street, jump the curb and kill you. Nothing in life is totally safe, and there is a 100% chance that you will die someday. Motorcycle riders look at life as time to be fully experienced, not packed away to somehow save it.

In addition to your own risk, riding with a group takes on a deeper meaning when danger rides along. The ride captain plans the route in advance and is the first one to scout the road as we ride. In the rear, the sweep makes sure no one gets left behind. The group enters into an unspoken agreement that if the unspeakable happens, the rest will be there to lift both you and your bike (if possible) back up. Your riding group becomes your family, your squad, your protection.

So why do we ride? Hard to explain, as the answer is different for everyone. It could be the thrill, the adventure, the fellowship, the technical achievement, even romance. Riders come in all sizes and ages- young and reckless to old enough to know better. One thing is certain; it separates us from the ones who must be safe. Those who ride in air bag covered cages will never understand the huge smiles after a long twisty mountain road. They will never almost get tagged by a hawk or be blasted with sand on a lonely desert road. And they will never ride through pummeling wind and pouring rain to reach a tiny motel at the end of the day, eternally grateful for hot water.

In fact the more I talk about it, the more ridiculous it appears to non-riders. Yet since the passion of the open road burns in me, I will try to explain it so that they might have a glimpse of the excitement that waits outside their locked door.

Why We Ride- Part One

black pearl

When I got back to work on Monday, my eyes sparkled with the residual excitement from the weekend. Even though my neck and back protested, I smiled at my co-workers in the teacher’s lounge. One of my teacher friends squinted suspiciously at me and asked, “How was your weekend?”

“Frank and I rode with the HOGs through the mountains to Borrego Springs, around the edge of the Salton Sea, and back over the badlands. 300 miles! It was awesome!” I gushed, overwhelming her sleepiness with my pent up energy.

After taking another sip from her tall cup of coffee, she waited for my wave of conversation to pass. “Wow, isn’t that really dangerous? Just last week, I heard about a deadly motorcycle accident on the freeway.” She shook her head, and then saw that the copier was open, so she ran over to it with her stack of papers.

There it was. The great divide between those who love to ride Harleys and those who think we are crazy.

When Frank and I first married, he had ridden many different types of motorcycles over the course of his life. Not always safely. It was his release from all responsibility, and therefore in the stage of life in which we met, he didn’t own a bike. But as we grew to know each other’s dreams, I realized that one of his was to own a Harley.

At first he just wanted to find out whether or not I would enjoy riding behind him. My only experience on a motorcycle was as an eleven year old, hanging on behind my father on a vacation in the Bahama Islands. (More like an amusement park ride than a real motorcycle ride.) Therefore, we started with a scooter- fun but not very fast. Frank had grown into a responsible rider, and he made it easy for me to trust him. My skiing experience had already given me an appreciation for the wind rushing in my face, and I adapted well. Then we moved up to a small motorcycle, even more fun, but my bottom didn’t appreciate the skinny pad they called a seat. The full dresser motorcycles that rumbled by with their full seats and passenger backrest looked so comfortable.

Finally, we did it. We bought a Harley, and even my husband, with all his experience, wasn’t prepared for how our lives changed. For you see, buying a Harley doesn’t just gain you a mode of transportation. It initiates you into a club whose members live all over the world. Every Harley you pass on the street greets you with a solemn wave. With the purchase of our Road King, we were allowed to wear Harley Davidson jackets, hats, and tee shirts. The orange and black emblem started conversations with the most unlikely people we met. The dealership, not merely a place where we purchased and serviced our bike, became our club house, complete with donuts and coffee on the weekends and bike shows and other events.

As we rode, we saw groups of Harleys pass us with their patches on their jackets and their determined sense of purpose. Riding was fun, but riding with a bunch of snarling bikes sounded more fun. But we were cautious, as not all motorcycle groups were the same. We wanted to ride with other responsible people who wanted to have fun and live to get there. So we joined the HOGs, the Harley Owners Group. It’s a national as well as local riding group, with meetings and planned rides.

But the HOGs are more than that. We have found friends that share our love of braving the heat, cold, wind, and loose gravel to ride on forgotten roads. Roads that take us through avocado groves, vineyards, and boulder strewn sculptures. Roads that lead to famous road house diners and more of our kind. You know, the crazy people who love adventure and desire to face it on two wheels, just like us.

 

Cook’s Corner

Cooks corner

First there was the gathering. One by one the Harleys roared into the parking lot, and riders popped off their helmets. They joined the circle standing nearby, which grew minute by minute until the magical KSU time. Old friends met some new friends; names were exchanged, as well as handshakes and hugs.

Suddenly, the appointed time arrived, and riders scattered to their motorcycles, adding layers of leather, earphones, and helmets. The dog pack obediently emptied into the street, patiently holding back the thunderous power that its riders sat astride. The bikes passed through the gauntlet of traffic lights and stop signs, growling with anticipation.

At the appearance of an open road, each bike roared as it took off, eager to stretch its legs in the desert. In the backyard of the city, each twist and turn brought cobbled together mobile homes or spreading mansions into view. Both poor and rich shared the dream of the pioneer—build on the land and claim it for your own. Brick and wrought iron fences did not prevent us from viewing the piles of toys inside, apartment sized travel trailers, boats, vintage cars, and off road vehicles. The next turn revealed boarded up and crumbling shacks that told the story of dreams cast aside.

The road climbed up the side of the desert mountain, and I peered cautiously over the edge. The lake below us was wreathed in mist, deep navy blue. As I looked up, I was dazzled by the snowcapped mountains in the distance. Yesterday, my boots crunched in the January snow up in those mountains, but today I rode behind my husband on our Harley in 60 degree sunshine. Again I was reminded why Californians find it difficult to be transplanted in other states. We take our climatic diversity for granted.

With the top of the mountain reached, the snarling pack of Harleys threaded themselves through the narrow pass between the peaks. The tree covered mountains stretched before us, looking like a fleece blanket thrown over unknown items. Their mystery remained unrevealed to us as we sped past them, concentrating on the curves of the road. The wind rushed in our faces as impatient sport bikes passed through our line, determined to push the boundary between the capability of their motorcycles and eminent death.

After some time had passed, the mountains spit us out into the hills near the beach. The pack turned, and we enjoyed the tame shrub dotted hills after the rugged pass. The wide, multi-lane road, bordered with elaborate landscaping, spoke of the area’s affluence. The major intersections boasted stores on all four corners, including upscale fast food restaurants. After all, after Mommy’s busy day at the office, or shopping, she doesn’t have time to cook.

A few turns later, we left the red tile roofs and bird of paradise behind and dropped down into a narrow canyon. The crowded big box houses gave way to sprawling ranches nestled under towering oak trees. Elegant horses lounged in white fenced corrals. Bicycle riders in full racing gear shared our mud streaked road. Our Harleys obediently slowed on hairpin turns as we crawled to the bottom. I realized how close we were to the beach when I saw the hull of a large boat under construction in someone’s front yard.

A long line of parked motorcycles signaled the end of our journey, Cook’s Corner. We pulled up next to custom choppers, full dresser cruisers, and lean sportsters. Live music called to us from the patio, smells of hamburgers and fries caused my stomach to rumble. After I peeled off my chaps and stashed my gloves and helmet, I followed my husband and our fellow riders across the wooden bridge. A carnival atmosphere assailed us with booths selling motorcycle clothes.

Inside, men, many bearded and wearing hats, were crowded at the bar, cheering at the flat screen displaying a football game. Spandex coated bicycle riders, an older gentleman in a wheelchair, and bikers with leather jackets announcing various motorcycle clubs all patiently waited in line to order food. A man at the bar turned back to tell my husband, “You see those guys in line? They’re part of this riding club. The dealership sponsors them.” With a laugh, my husband shows the man his patch, and they exchange a few more words.

After picking up our tray of food, we joined the rest of our group seated at a long table outside. The band was cranking out classic rock on the patio a few steps above us, but we were far enough away to enjoy conversation. Looking around, I was again amazed at the variety of people gathered at this place. Not all motorcyclists, yet sharing the love of spending time outdoors on a sunny winter afternoon. For this moment, it was enough to connect us.

 

 

 

 

View from the Back- The Steep Road

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The Harleys snarl and eat up the road as the long line of motorcycles climb up the hills. My husband’s helmet only partially blocks my view as we pass open fields of scratchy bushes and dried out grass. The mountains on my right loom menacingly, covered with dark clouds. Would we accomplish our quest before the downpour? Various weather sites disagree but we ride anyway.

The constant roar becomes a buzzing droning sound as more miles are vanquished. A bright yellow road sign stands out in the grey meadows– Steep Grade Ahead. Our ride captain briefed us earlier about this. His battle plan- down shift, hold the back brake, and make sure to leave plenty of space between the bikes. My stomach clenched slightly as we zoomed past the sign.

Suddenly, brakes lights flash ahead of us. The road, which had been squeezed between massive boulders, instantly opened up to a series of rolling hills and valleys. We head down the roller coaster pitched road with respect. Our frontal view includes dotted hills of avocado trees, wooded glens, white fenced ranches, and immense stone mansions that ruled their acres of land. The road is so steep that my husband’s helmet no longer blocks my view. Memories of horseback riding on mountain trails flooded my mind. I had to trust the horse back then. Now it’s my husband and his trusty Road King that must carry us safely to the bottom.

At a snail’s pace, I have plenty of time to enjoy the panorama unfolding around us. The Harleys follow each other like a dog pack, growling but obedient to the alpha. After some time, somewhat longer than I could hold my breath, we reach flatter ground. The captain pulls over to wait for the bikes emerging from the hill. One by one they join him in a line at the side of the road. My husband tosses a smile back at me, the kind of grin little boys wear when they’ve made that big jump with their bicycle.

I am surprised to realize that my smile mirrors his.