Long Comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was great to be back.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Chaps

LOH ride

 

A HOG overnighter was where the magic began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in a Day’s Journey- HOGs in Utah

utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding Among the Ancients

sentinel

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.

 

 

What is Ladies of Harley?

LOH ride

 

What is Ladies of Harley? I didn’t know when Frank and I joined the HOGs three years ago. I thought it only referred to women who rode their own bikes. Since then I have learned it is much more.

Our first LOH ride of this year was to Borrego Springs, a great destination in the early months of the year before high temperatures descend on the desert. When we met at the dealership, all the women, passengers as well as riders, received a special LOH garter to wear on their arm. Then we all got together for an overflowing group picture. Not just women showed up for this ride. Our men showed up as well. In our present culture of demeaning and objectification of women, our HOG chapter is a breath of fresh air.

Dan and Maria led the ride through the curvy roads toward Julian. Just as we reached the windswept hills, we turned on Highway 2 toward Anza-Borrego State Park. The grassy hills turned to desert dirt and boulders as we traveled toward the edge of the mountains.

We stopped at a wide overlook turnout for a break and some pictures. The vast expanse of flat desert spread out before us, a patchwork of desert tan and irrigated green. Eagerly we shed our heavy jackets and chaps from the early part of the ride. We exchanged cool 60-degree weather of the mountains for the 90-degree burn of the desert.

Then it was time to criss cross our way down the sheer face of the bare mountain to reach the tiny town of Borrego Springs. We passed RV parks and campgrounds along the way. Buzzing engines announced dune buggies and quads that explored the surrounding wilderness. This desert playground was alive with people escaping winter. In only a few months, they would disappear, and the desert would reclaim its peace.

We pulled into the parking lot for lunch at Red Ocotillo, a tiny restaurant with sophisticated food in the middle of nowhere. Another one of the desert’s mysteries. Maria had called ahead, and they were ready for our large group. After riding all morning, it was refreshing to sip ice tea and enjoy delicious food with friends.

Who are the Ladies of Harley? They are mothers, daughters, friends, and sisters. They appreciate the support of great men who accept them as riders and passengers. LOH is the heart of HOG, and they enrich the chapter with their quest to make each event an unforgettable adventure.

Back Roads to Pioneertown

jrizzotto pioneertown

The ride captain promised roads we had never seen, and our chapter, the Inland Empire Harley Owners Group, was ready to accept that challenge. At the check-in, I was still yawning from the Daylight Savings Time clock change. My husband fiddled with settings on the stereo, twitching with nervous energy. He always awoke by 4:00 am on the days we rode. I shared hugs and greeting with the other women while my husband and the other men settled for a head nod. A few ran into the dealership for a last minute restroom stop, while others downed their last swig of coffee. Then the road captain gave the signal, and we all layered up our leather and lined up in the parking lot.

Two by two, in staggered formation, our Harley-Davidson motorcycles roared down the street, the sound echoing off the surrounding buildings. A few blocks later, we poured onto the freeway, fitting ourselves into the jigsaw puzzle of traffic. We rode in small clumps at first, eighteen bikes too many to stay together in one group. Eventually open space allowed us to line up in staggered formation as we endured the mindless repetition of merging traffic and slow trucks, road construction and oblivious drivers.

Cloud topped mountains drew closer, appearing to my bleary eyes as brownies covered with whipped crème. Frozen whipped crème. Shivering, I zipped up my heavy leather jacket and pulled the collar of my layering jacket over my chin. Promised sunshine now hid away, and the threat of icy rain loomed over us.

Hand signals rippled down the line of bikes as we approached our exit. Not for the first time, I marveled at these independent rebels, Harley riders, obediently following each other, submitted to the safety of the group. At the end of the ramp, we paused, free from the freeway’s chaotic energy. One by one the pack turned onto a narrow winding road that carved through the mountains toward the high desert valleys.

Our Ultra Limited touring bike danced to the rhythm of curves and dips as we traveled through land that scorned man’s ambitions. A sheer rock wall peered at us from the left with a lofty arrogance. These rocks stood witness to Native American tribes roaming over them on horseback, and they would still stand after our passing. The twisty roads forced us to ride slowly, slowing our pulses, slowing down time. Bike following bike, the road leading us on.

Suddenly the road spit us out into a wide flat valley and straightened itself out. The bikes stretched their legs and gained speed. Gradually I grew aware of an ominous grey wall of mountains on our left growing closer as we rode. As I looked behind and ahead of us, I could see no end to the ridge. Yet our road seemed determined to connect with it. I wondered how we would cross its summit. Would the road lift us to the top of that wall or would we discover a blasted tunnel, man’s victory over the mountain?

Miles sped by in our race to the wall, and soon I could see the end. The wall sloped down before it merged with another ridge, and into this opening the road stretched through. The bikes climbed over it without strain, and dropped down into another flat valley. The mountain peaks on our right were dusted with snow, and I knew that on the other side, snow boarders were riding rails and practicing jumps in the fresh powder. However this side held dry cracked rocks and Joshua trees reaching toward the bright blue sky. No snow or water here, except trapped behind a dam.

The bikes passed white fenced ranches that eventually led into small groups of houses and buildings, towns so small they seemed out of place in overpopulated southern California. A man in his electric wheelchair rumbled on the dirt shoulder. Where he was headed on a straight narrow road with no sidewalks I couldn’t guess, but surely he was kin to the determined men who settled this desert. The line of bikes pulled into a gas station, and we stretched our legs and gulped some water. Although it was not hot, the air was so dry it crackled.

The road called us on, and we descended into another valley, this one much hotter and dryer than the last. Pink mountain peaks lined the horizon on the left. A smudge in the distance slowly revealed to be our lunch stop. Wooden buildings, including a saloon front, saddle shop, and a jail, formed the skeleton of an old western movie set, now a tourist attraction and motorcycle destination. My husband pulled into the dirt parking lot and parked our bike at the end of the row, just like cowboys would have tied up their horses in front of the saloon.

I carefully dismounted our Harley, stiff muscles protesting. We peeled off our helmets and layers of jackets and leather chaps. Every face revealed a wide smile. Even though we had just ridden for hours over twisting roads and through dry dusty towns, I felt energized. My husband and I followed the line of riders to the restaurant. It was time for food and drink, tales and jokes, friendships forged in adventure.

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.

A different ride- part two

san simeon

 

The line of Harleys snaked over the windswept mountains, scattered ranch houses our only company. No people or animals appeared. When did these people work on their land? The lonely hills rolled off into the distance in front of us. The only sound was the roar of motorcycles echoing around us. The bikers in front pointed toward black splotches in the opposite land of the narrow road that lifted us up and down like a roller coaster.

“What are they pointing at?” Frank said over our helmet com link.

I scrunched up my eyes through the dark lens of my visor. Although it was cloudy, the light bouncing off the barren landscape remained bright. The dark spots looked like lumps of something. Animal feces? Until I realized they were moving toward our side of the road.

“I don’t know,” I finally answered. “The wind must be blowing dirt around.” It was probably a good thing I didn’t realize until later that the blobs were tarantulas crossing the road.

The road whipped us along the edge of hills until it finally dropped us down into the oil fields outside of Taft. Now the barren desert around us on both sides featured oil pipelines and dinosaur-like oil pumps. The perfectly straight road lead us into the town of Taft, our lunch stop. We rolled up to McDonalds and I hopped off. Frank waited patiently as the bikes in front of him backed into parking spots. Then it was his turn, and he turned off our bike. After hours of droning motors, it was quiet.

The group spread out over most of the restaurant. I was famished but didn’t want to eat too much before continuing the ride. Feeling too full on the back of a Harley is very uncomfortable. Frank and I enjoyed our burgers and chicken nuggets, and talked with some of the others. You could clearly tell the difference between the regular McDonalds patrons and our HOG group by the huge smiles on our faces. Even though we’d been riding for half a day, we felt energized. Plus we knew we still had a few more hours ahead before our motel at the beach.

When everyone was finished, and the hard part about stopping on a Harley trip is waiting for everyone to be finished, the road captains called us together and went over the next part. Some of us changed out heavy jackets for lighter ones as the temperature had risen to the sixties. I didn’t change anything, because sometimes the beach could be colder than inland. After my Death Valley experience, I’d decided I preferred being hot to being cold.

The group helmeted up, and we started our engines. Two by two, the group lined up in the parking lot, as other cars tried to go around us, giving us jealous stare through the windows of their cars. Then the group was off, roaring back on the road once more.

It only took a few minutes to shake ourselves loose of the town, and we continued to ride past oil fields until they turned into farmland, and then vineyards. The line of bikes headed into the hills toward the beach.

The vineyards proved their prosperity by the huge hotel sized homes that crouched inside. Endless rows of fences held up the vines that often featured shiny tinsel that shook in the wind and scared off birds. White fences surrounded huge areas of land. Signs on the outside of decorative wrought-iron gates invited people in for wine tasting, bed and breakfast stays, or wedding venues. I longed to stop and enjoy the fruits of their labor, but the group continued toward our goal.

By this time, I was tiring of the music selections on my iPhone, and my hips were starting to ache. I was envious of Frank, with his legs stretched out on his highway pegs although I could tell he was getting sore, too, as he often fidgeted on his seat. By this time, we had already been riding for about eight hours. Still the bikes rode on, through the hills, occasionally passing a car, but mostly by ourselves until we ended up in town.

The group dumped onto the 101 freeway, getting up some speed until we got off a few exits later. Then we turned back into the wooded farmlands, continuing our dance toward the coast highway. These fields were lush and green, and we saw our first coastal pine trees. With my visor up, I could smell the fresh tang of salt and pine, a welcome change from the dusty inland.

“Are you ready to stop for the day?” Frank asked.

“I can’t wait to get off this bike,” I said. “I can’t feel my butt anymore.”

We followed the line of bikes onto the coast highway, and I caught my first glimpse of crashing breakers on the shore, rimmed with tall pine trees. The highway passed through pockets of tall trees before opening up to marshland. The ocean glistened in the afternoon sun. The breeze was cool but not freezing against my face.

Finally, we turned onto the frontage road that passed our motel. Our group filled up the parking lot of the small motel. Frank parked the bike, and I stumbled off, walking like a cowboy after a long day’s ride. I grabbed a cup of coffee in the motel lobby and waited in line to check in.

With key cards in hand, I directed Frank over to park in front of our room, gratefully a first floor one. He unfastened our luggage, and I grabbed snacks and drinks out of our saddlebags and we headed into our room. We both peeled off our layers of leather and collapsed on our bed. It felt good to be still for a few moments.

Even though today’s ride was over, the weekend had barely begun.

A different ride- part one

san simeon2

 

Every November, the Inland Empire Harley Owners Group rides to San Simeon, a tiny seaside town on the central coast of California. The group spends the weekend there, riding to various destinations along the coast and into the rolling hills of the surrounding wine country. This year was the second time my husband, Frank, and I had gone, but the first time on our Harley.

Last year, on the day before the trip, our ignition switch broke on our nearly new Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited touring bike. Fortunately, it was a warranty repair, but we would have to wait three weeks because the part was VIN specific from the manufacturer in Milwaukee.

We screamed, we cried, we stamped our feet, and then we pouted. After that, we decided we should go anyway, and chase the group with our car. The scenery was beautiful, friends were a blast, and we even drove up to Monterey and enjoyed clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fun, but not the same as riding in a roaring pack of motorcycles.

Fast forward to this year. Our bike was working perfectly. Frank and I met the group at a donut shop at 5:30 a.m., shivering in our leathers. As I signed the ride sheet, I couldn’t believe that we were finally going. Frank joked with the guys as we waited for our KSU (kick stands up time) at 6:00 a.m. On an overnighter, the schedule must be followed to ensure we arrive at our destination before dark. A few more riders signed in, and then we zipped up our jackets, buckled on our helmets, and started up the bikes. We headed toward another meeting place farther up the freeway where the other half of our group of twenty-five bikes planned to meet us.

When the whole group finally got together at McDonalds off the 15 freeway at Highway 138, it was time for one more cup of coffee, bathroom stop, and a group photo. Hugs and smiles were evidence of the excitement that everyone shared. Frank and I shared a small cup of coffee, sleepy but not willing to drink too much before riding 200 miles to the next bathroom stop. It was foggy and cold up in the pass, and we added soft fuzzy neck gaiters under our helmets.

The ride captain called us together and outlined our route. Most of our day would be spent on backroads, well away from the clogged freeways headed out of Southern California. Instead we would cross the high desert and head into the mountains near Gorman, crossing over the infamous 5 freeway. Then we would cross through the mountains at Frazier Park, and dump into the oil fields near Taft. Then we would cut through wine country toward the coast, and follow the Coast Highway up toward our motel in San Simeon.

After he finished, we scattered toward our various motorcycles. There were touring bikes like ours, with windshields, comfortable back seats, and hard tour packs topped with luggage bags. Others rode more traditional Harley-Davidsons, low-slung with leather saddlebags and backpacks attached to the backrests. Some of the women, like me, rode behind their husband or boyfriend. Other women rode their own bikes. One couple each rode their own bikes and their twenty-five year old daughter rode her own Sportster. There was even a Harley trike.

We lined up on the frontage road in a two by two formation, waiting for everyone to join in. The roar of the engines was deafening, and caused many heads to turn from the parking lot. It wasn’t often that people saw this many motorcycles traveling together. Then the ride captain took off, and Frank followed as the bikes in front of him moved, leaving us in the middle of the pack.

My adrenaline kept me warm for the first hour, at least until we emerged out of the fog and into a sunny desert morning. The desert sprawled out to our right, and a ridge of mountains guarded our left. A few houses and barns sprinkled here and there assured us that we hadn’t completely left civilization. The group droned on toward the coast, owning the road in front of us and as far back as we could see. Some of the cars we overtook were courteous enough to pull over and let us pass. I noticed a man taking video of us on his phone from the side of the road. Traveling with a group of bikes often feels like being in a parade.

Our first bathroom stop was in Gorman, off the 5 freeway in the area known as the Grapevine. My legs were stiff, and I was glad to get off the bike for a little while. All the bikes topped off on their fuel, since it would be a long time until we crossed the mountains and ended up down in Taft for lunch. Of course, the gas station only had two restrooms, so it took a while before we were ready to go.

One of the women riders tried to start her bike after getting gas, and it wouldn’t turn over. A few of the guys went over to look at it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get it started, so Jim, our HD Chapter manager, called the nearest dealership and arranged to have her bike towed back to Riverside. I gave her a hug, realizing what a disappointment it was to cut off a trip on the first day. But she assured us that she would go back to Riverside, and return in her truck the next day. Jim, his wife and another guy stayed back to wait with her while the rest of the group got ready to take off.  They would catch up with us at the motel.

The group headed up into the mountains. As the sun warmed my face through my helmet visor, I finally stopped shivering and relaxed. Up to this point, this trip had seemed unreal. After last year’s disappointment, I was almost afraid to get excited about it. But this was really happening. Frank and I were riding with the HOGs on our way to a weekend full of backroads and hanging out with friends.

Skiing Palomar on a Harley

Palomar

 

Although Mt. Palomar enjoys an occasional dusting of snow and ice, there’s not enough for a ski resort. The only way to ski its winding road is on a Harley. One simmering day in August, the HOGs answered the challenge of thirty-five miles of twisty roads that loop up to the observatory and back down to Lake Henshaw.

The main road dropped us off like a ski lift, and the ride began. Our front wheel cut through the curves like a set of skis navigating a mogul field. I couldn’t see Frank’s face but if I could, I know I’d see his huge smile. And it’s even more fun from the passenger’s seat, where I was free to look out over the spreading valleys with their guardian mountains while our bike swooshed back and forth on the relentless road. To keep my seat, I had to keep some attention forward as Frank moved his body into turns. The rhythm of leaning left and right turned into a dance accompanied by rock music in my helmet headphones.

Our group of seven bikes turned into a ride of one as bikes spread out into the mountain’s shadows. We rode together, yet the ride was ours alone. The series of curves seemed endless like the ocean, and Frank was constantly setting up our next turn, over and over for miles. He and I didn’t talk much on our coms during the twisties. Time to communicate with the road.

When the group reassembled at the stop sign, it seemed like we’d been on a journey even through it had only been about 15 miles. Every rider was tested through Palomar’s gauntlet. Our bike stopped, but my heart was still racing.

After collecting up our riders, we took off again, headed for the observatory at the top, an elevation of 6142 feet. I noticed campgrounds as we zoomed by, but seriously wondered how large RVs would make it up that road. Pine trees mingled with oaks on both sides, creating a spicy refreshing breeze, making us aware of our damp clothing. Upon arrival at the picnic grounds and observatory parking lot, we parked The Black Pearl in a row with the other bikes and hopped off. Definitely time for cold water.

After a break, what comes up must go down, and we headed down the East Grade road toward Lake Henshaw. This road seemed easier than the road up, the curves a little more relaxed. But maybe not. Maybe we were warmed up from the first batch. Halfway down the hill I caught glimpses of the lake, surrounded by brown fields dotted with cattle. The pine scent was replaced by a burnt desert smell marking our descent to the highway.

As we rode back on the 76, long sweeping curves swirled us back down to Pala. These turns held us longer than the short choppy ones on the road to Palomar. They pulled us in like a storm drain, a whirlpool headed for the ocean. When we reached Pala Casino and parked our bike, I still felt the sway of the road for a while.

Much later, back at home and sitting in our pool, Frank and I compared our experiences on the mountain. We both loved the ride, although my impression included fear and relief that the ride was completed. However, Frank was ready to go back and challenge the mountain again another day. Not many rides can compare with skiing with your Harley on Mt. Palomar.