Lemon Bars at Dante’s Peak

bad water basin

As I savored the sweet tanginess of my lemon bar, I looked over the edge of Dante’s Peak into the vast expanse of Death Valley. I shivered in the icy wind, despite the sun beating down on us. The Inland Empire HOGs were taking a much-needed break before zigzagging down the narrow road back down to Furnace Springs.

As I finished my treat, I looked around at the diverse group of travelers that had led my husband and me out of suburban Riverside and into the remnants of the Wild West. We were surrounded by businessmen, teachers, and salespeople, as well as a man who was a talented baker.  There were wives who rode behind their husbands, as well as wives who rode their own Harleys. This journey drew us together as teammates and family, cowboys and cowgals gathered together at the campfire.

Bad Water Basin spread out before us, a still white lake surrounded by a multi-colored tapestry of minerals. Death Valley in winter seemed tame, but the blasted barren ground spoke of summer’s inferno only a few months away. We took pictures, chugged water, and huddled together to talk.

At a signal, helmets were buckled, engines roared, and the bikes lined up single file to gently roll down the hill to the open road. The bikes descended like sure-footed burros and soon we left the lookout point far behind.

How could I have noticed the rugged stripes of crumbling rock walls from inside the confines of a car? How could I have welcomed the sun’s warmth on my face inside a temperature controlled vehicle? Only a Harley trip can bring you face to face with the same West that challenged forty-niners to gamble their lives to reach their dreams of gold.

Who would expect homemade baked goods on a motorcycle trip?

Planning to Ride

black-pearl

“Alright everybody! Grab some seconds and then a seat. Each table will make a group to brainstorm new ideas for rides.”

The laughing bunch of riders eventually settled down to start the Harley Owners Group (HOG) activity meeting. Held in a garage that was more finished and decorated than some people’s homes, it started with food and drink, a requirement of any HOG meeting. Tonight it was burgers and salads. One wall of cabinets was covered with chart paper listing different types of day and overnight rides. During previous meetings members had added colored dots to vote for their favorites so that priority rides could be identified. Crossed out locations indicated that the ride had already been scheduled. It was part of an intricate system that the activities director used to involve members in the planning of rides.

I sat down at a table where we were handed three index cards. Each group was tasked with coming up with a day ride, a dinner ride, and a possible overnighter. Groups were made up of veteran members as well as newcomers like me. We talked about possible destinations, dictated by scenic roads, appropriate weather, and good food destinations.

Soon our time limit was up, and I scribbled down the locations we agreed upon. The activities director now offered us playing cards and each group had to choose one. The value of the card determined the order that the groups presented their proposed trips. Each group had to choose one of their three cards to add to the schedule, depending on what was still needed. The goal of the meeting was to plan the next three months with one ride per weekend, and at least one overnighter. We needed longer day trips as well as short Greet-And-Ride trips for newer riders.

After much laughter and heated discussion, our destinations were set and ride captains were chosen (or drafted), filling up the calendar. Our amazing director had corralled twenty highly independent and spontaneous Harley riders into planning a variety of rides including a tamale festival in the desert, a ghost town, and the Getty Villa in Malibu. Our next overnighter would be a three day trip to Death Valley in February. As the rides were completed, we would meet again. Instead of a small group of officers telling us what to do (never the best strategy with bikers) we were all invested in the process and having fun at the same time. That’s another reason we ride with the HOGs.

 

The Overnighter- Part Two

eating

 

When Diane parked her Harley at the hotel, her frozen fingers stuck to her handle bars were not entirely caused by the weather. In the last two hours of their ride, an icy mist had followed them out of Needles, buffeting the riders with tiny needles of sleet. Fortunately, the warm asphalt melted the icy drops into water, leaving the road wet but not too slick. Their fearless road captain led them down forgotten portions of old Route 66, seeking less traffic and an easier place to pull off if they needed it. She glimpsed shut down motels, gas stations, and road houses as they sped by, looking even more forlorn in the grey weather. “Not a great place to break down,” she thought. Any help would not be close by.

In her mirrors, she could still see a lone car following them. Surely it couldn’t be that same Prius? Then the car pulled out on the left to pass them on the two lane highway. “He’s really going to pass our whole line of bikes?” she thought. As it blew by, she tried to look into the car, but all of the windows were darkly tinted. Through the windshield she had only a glimpse of dark glasses, out of place on a rainy day. After passing their group, the car swung over into the right lane and sped away.

The road curved around a large foothill before spitting them out into another cattle speckled valley. Suddenly, brake lights lit up the road like Christmas, and the bikes slowed to a crawl. Patty looked back at Diane, who shrugged. Obediently, the line of bikes crept around another curve. The source of their caution was revealed as a white Prius stopped in the middle of the highway with its hazard lights flashing. Mitch pulled the group over as he and Dan went over to see if the driver needed help.
“What’s going on?” Diane asked Patty, pulling her bike up next to her friend.

“I don’t know,” Patty said. “Isn’t that the same Prius that’s been following us all day?”

“Doesn’t seem possible,” Diane said. “There’s a ton of those cars out there. That would be creepy, though.”

“I feel creeped out just thinking about it,” Patty agreed.

Then Mitch and Dan exchanged words, pulled their helmets back on, and returned to their bikes. The rest of the group, waiting in the misty rain, eagerly followed them down the road. Diane stuffed her curiosity into a box labeled Later, and focused on keeping her Harley up. “Come on, Charlie,” she thought. “You can do this.” The rain increased into a constant downpour that the bikes tried to outrun. It seemed like the day would never end, suspended in a grey curtain of water.

But all rides eventually come to an end, and she was relieved to get into her room and peel off her wet rain gear and boots. “Why in the movies does the biker girl’s hair look perfectly tousled when she pulls off her helmet, when in real life she looks like a drowned rat?” she thought as she regarded her limp locks in the mirror.

A short while later, the group assembled at the hotel’s restaurant, eagerly studying the menu. The tempting aroma of grilled burgers and steak made their stomachs grumble. Mitch and Dan began their usual harassment of the waitress, who took their orders and fled to the kitchen. Diane gave them both a stern look that was quickly ignored.

She couldn’t wait any longer. “What happened back there with that Prius?” she asked Dan, who was sitting across from her.

The rest of the group dropped their conversations to listen to them.

“It was the weirdest thing,” Dan said, sharing a look with Mitch at the end of the table. “When we went up there to ask the guy if he needed help, he said he was fine.”

“Yeah, he said his car was covering a sink hole that had opened up because of the rain,” Mitch added.

“So we looked under his car, and sure enough, there was a giant hole. Big enough to swallow up a Harley!”

“Was his car stuck in it?” Diane asked.

“That’s the thing,” Dan said with a smile. “The guy said he stopped his car to cover it up so that we wouldn’t ride into it.”

Another waiter had returned with their drinks, so the group helped him distribute the various microbrew beers with strange names. Diane sipped hers, called Bitter Barrel Butter.

“Why would the guy do that?” Patty asked, after all had refreshed themselves.

“I have no idea,” Mitch said before he took another long drink.

With no resolution, the conversation turned to lighter topics. Usually no one in the group wanted to dwell on potential crashes or road hazards. But Diane couldn’t get it out of her mind, even when her plate of baby back ribs was thrust in front of her.

“Was that driver really following us?” she asked Patty after a spicy mouthful of meat.  “Why did he stop to prevent us from falling into that hole?”

“It’s like he was some kind of guardian angel or something,” Patty said. She frowned at her phone. “I’ve been trying to get ahold of Paul all day, but he’s not answering his phone. We always call each other when we ride apart.”

“He’s probably sleeping or something,” Diane reassured her.  She ordered another beer, hoping that it would soothe her thoughts and prevent her from considering whether the man in the white Prius was a predator or protector.

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.

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.

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.

 

View from the Back- The Steep Road

IMG_2759road

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.

The Layers of a Ride

ride3ride5

Teeshirt, leather Harley jacket with liner, silk long underwear, jeans, boots

The sun has only risen for a half hour, and I feel the chill against my legs as we ride to the first meeting place. I peek around my husband’s head, my arms wrapped around him. Frank feels tense as my legs hug his hips. He hates being late, and a train forces us to take an alternate route. As we pull in, there are two men in leather vests waiting by their motorcycles. One is sipping coffee and the other is scraping a quarter against a lottery scratcher card. As we pull off our helmets, we are relieved to learn that we’re early, since we don’t need to be at the next meeting place for an hour.

I’m riding with these guys for the first time. Technically, I’m a passenger, and the only woman riding today. They both are in full biker club garb- leather vests held in front with chains, club patches on the front and on the back. I notice their nicknames are sewn on patches on the front so I’ll have an easier time keeping their names straight. Although the shorter one with the thin handlebar mustache would be hard to forget with his name Ezee.

The other one is their president, and seems to have won that position with his quick jokes and colorful put-downs. His nickname is Slinger. All seems to be in fun, I notice with relief since they have knives strapped to their belts. My husband with his gift of gab flows easily into their conversation, which I have to believe, is toned down with a woman present.

Teeshirt, leather Harley jacket with the liner removed, silk long underwear, jeans, boots

The three of us head off to meet the rest of the group at Jack-in-the-Box one town over. Ezee takes point, we are in the middle, and Slinger has sweep. It’s a quick trip down the freeway, the sun glinting off our helmets. The snarl of the Harleys’ pipes announces us as we sail down the open freeway. Cool air pushes up under my helmet, making my eyes water, but keeping me awake. We pull into the parking lot to find we are the first to arrive. Fortunately, that means a quick breakfast and more coffee.

As we take off our helmets, Frank notices that the car parked next to us is smoking under the hood. A young woman was inside the car on her cell phone, her face drawn and pale. She gets out of her car, still on her phone. Slinger walks over to her and offers to look at her car. After a few moments under the hood, he even gets on her phone and reports his diagnosis to the woman’s grandfather on the line.

Meanwhile the rest of the guys roar in. One of them is so big his motorcycle looks like a toddler’s push bike. As he takes off his helmet, I see that his name patch says T Rex. One biker is on a bright yellow futuristic looking Victory motorcycle. Another one is on a low slung black Harley. The man named Bear has a full bushy beard and his hair pulled back with a blue bandana, which he wears under his half helmet. All of them wear leather vests with the club patch and plaid shirts. The joking starts as soon the engines turned off, and I can see that these men are as close as brothers. Their exteriors are rough, but I can see that they have tender hearts.

The ride captain, T Rex, consults his maps, and sets up the order for the ride. After a short prayer, we are headed to Julian, down the backroads beyond Temecula and into the wine country. After escaping the gathering traffic in town, we sigh in relief to be on the open road, free from traffic lights. My husband and I are third of eight bikes, a smaller group than usual. The point guy signals our lane changes and turns, while the sweep pulls over first, creating open space for the rest of us. Although it appears that we are all just riding on our own, there are rules that must be followed to ensure the safety of the group. The rumbling all around me reminds me of traveling in a wolf pack.

Teeshirt, light Harley track jacket, jeans, boots

Hours pass and we finally roar into the former gold mining town of Julian. There are already dozens of motorcycles parked on Main Street. People bustle around in groups, stopping in the craft shops or standing in line for a piece of Julian’s famous apple pie. We pull into the predetermined BBQ place and sit down at a long wooden table that features a carved bear head at one end. It is so long that all of us can sit together. The tangy smell of BBQ sauce floats on the air and promises delicious food to come. When we are served, amongst a lot of kidding around with the good spirited waitress, these shaggy men bow their heads and pray over the food. The tri tip sandwiches don’t disappointment, and the table talk is quenched as everyone chows down. After lunch, I quickly duck into the women’s restroom to get out of my long underwear. It’s plenty warm now with the cloudless sky overhead.

After a bit of shopping, in which I buy new leather fingerless gloves and Slinger finds a new leather sheath for his knife, one of the guys needs to head back. The rest are lined up to order pie, so Slinger decides to ride back with him. No one should ride back alone was another rule. We enjoy our pie and head back down the mountain.

As the rolling valleys passed by, I marvel at these bikers, men that outsiders might scorn or even fear. Just as I peeled off my layers of clothes over the course of the day, I had the opportunity to peek through the layers of these bikers. Their brotherhood is true, and yet they also have time to serve a stranded traveler or allow a child to have their photo taken on their bike. My husband and I welcome the opportunity to ride with them again.