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.

The Frozen Ride

frozen

 

“You’d better wear your thermals,” my husband warned as he came inside with the motorcycle cover bundled up in front of him. “It’s only 39 degrees out there!”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got them on,” I assured him in a muffled voice as I bent over to zip up my stiff leather chaps. As I added layers of clothing, it had become increasing difficult to move. Currently I had on a thermal top, sweater, leather vest, and a heavy leather Harley jacket. My arms came to rest at nearly right angles from my body, and I couldn’t raise my leg higher than an inch.

So began a Harley overnighter that became known as our frozen ride. (Here I insert my disclaimer that if you are a permanent resident of Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, you will not feel one ounce of sympathy for us. Please suffer the whining of southern Californians.) Our HOG group set out from Riverside, California to Death Valley, ending up in Beatty, Nevada for the first night. It was the end of February, which for us meant weather anywhere from 60 degrees to 80 degrees, and usually clear skies. We did get the clear skies, but desert temperatures never got above a brisk 58 degrees.

As we approached Death Valley National Park, I noticed a thin coating of white on the land surrounding us. “What is that white stuff?” I asked my husband through our com system.

“It must be salt,” he answered.

Our pack of twenty motorcycles had been on the road since 7:00 a.m. with one breakfast break, and my leather gloves were not doing their job. Fortunately, I was the passenger, not the rider, so I could hide my hands behind the windbreak of my husband’s broad back. Although my neck and chin were wrapped in a thick wooly gaiter, my face under my helmet felt like it would crack if I smiled. As the hours passed, I passed from chilly to freezing cold to numb to final acceptance of the cold. The sun on the back of my jacket felt less cold than the racing wind that flowed around the front windshield and fairing before exiting over the tour pack behind my seat.

As I continued to ponder the patches of white crust that continued on both sides of the road, I began to have the sinking sensation that it was not salt. It was snow.

When we reached the tiny town of Beatty, I was ready to sit in front of our motel room heater for as long as it took to not feel cold. My husband and I both took steaming hot showers that night. We slept huddled under the blankets.

The next day, our road captain led us out in the middle of nowhere to a ghost town. It was so remote that he had to call the sheriff to let him know we were headed there. After riding under the frozen shadow of towering snow-covered peaks for about an hour, I could see wooden buildings huddled on the side of a foothill. This morning the temperature had been 32 degrees when we roared away from the motel. I was already sitting on my hands to keep them warm. In addition to the layers I wore yesterday, I had added two long sleeve shirts and my rain gear pants.

Jumping off our bike as soon as we arrived, I waddled over to the saloon, hoping for heat. However, I was greeted by a wood burning stove right inside the door, which began to heat the area around it, but did nothing for the rest of the large, open raftered room. Some of the other riders joined me, holding our hands as close as we dared to the giant cast iron stove. A few of the passengers had a shot of something the sheriff promised would “heat us up quick” but I passed on it, longing instead for coffee.

Soon it was time to move on, so we thanked the man, and headed up into the icy mountains. Our road would cross over them and dump us down to Bishop, where we would turn south to Lone Pine. Now the white crust became drifts of deep snow on the sides of the road, and I remembered the conversation one of the guys had with the sheriff at the ghost town.

“Is the road to Bishop open?” one of our leaders asked.

“I guess so,” the bearded man said with squinty eyes. “We haven’t had any rain in a week. You know they don’t plow that road if it snows.”

The road before us continued up and up, and the snow on the sides got deeper and deeper. Finally we reached the top of the pass, and the road captain waved us over to the side of the road. Oh no, I thought. We couldn’t see the road on the downside of the pass. Was it blocked with snow? Would we have to go all the way down the mountain and take a different route?

“Let’s take a picture,” my husband said, so I reluctantly unzipped my jacket to take out my phone. Suddenly one of the women passengers headed toward a huge snowbank. She scooped out a pile of snow and threw it at her husband. This began a brief snowball fight which I watched skeptically, with no desire to get my gloves wet. Then one of the men fell back into a drift and began to make snow angels. I was glad I didn’t have to sit behind him on a bike.

I reluctantly took a picture of my husband standing in front of the snow laden pines, and then he took a picture of me, my teeth chattering in my helmet. The group stood around talking and eating snacks. What about the road? Apparently there was no problem with the road ahead. Our road captain stopped so we could play in the snow.

Many frozen hours later, I huddled up to our motel heater in Lone Pine, looking through the window at the snow-covered peak of Mount Whitney. My hands gratefully clutched a scalding cup of instant Starbucks coffee. My husband checked the weather report on his phone, which cheerfully informed us that we could expect rain the following day back in Riverside.

At dinner that night, we talked about the brilliant mountains and sweeping valleys that we had ridden through that day. And of course we talked about the varying degrees of cold that we had endured. The riders who wore heated jackets and gloves that plugged into their bikes offered no complaints. But the rest of us wearing regular gear had plenty to talk about. Yet no one regretted the trip. For us to see that much snow on the mountains was rare for drought-stricken California. Surviving the frigid weather was the price of admission to an adventure that held a unique coolness unlike any other Harley trip.

The Biker Bar

cooksnew2

Suddenly, the appointed time arrived, and we scattered to our motorcycles, zipping up jackets and securing helmets. My husband nodded, and I slid in behind him on our Harley. The noise was deafening as the group lined up. Two by two 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 eagerly stretched its legs as riders spread out. As we rode through the backyard of the city, each turn contrasted cobbled together mobile homes with spreading mansions. Both poor and rich shared the pioneer’s dream. Wrought iron fences allowed me glimpses of apartment sized travel trailers, boats, vintage cars, and off road vehicles. The next turn revealed boarded up shacks, artifacts left behind when the dream failed.

The road began to climb up the side of the dusty mountain, and I peered cautiously over the edge. The lake below us was wreathed in deep blue mist. As I looked up, I was dazzled by the brilliant snowcapped mountains to the north. 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 to other states.

When we gained the top, the Harley pack threaded through the narrow pass between the peaks. The tree covered mountains stretched before us, looking like a green blanket thrown over the ground. The mystery of their depths remained as we sped past, concentrating on the curves of the road. The wind buffeted our faces as impatient sport bikes rushed past our line, determined to push the boundary between the capability of their motorcycles and eminent death.

Finally the mountains spit us out into the hills near the beach. The pack turned, and we were greeted by rolling shrub-dotted hills. 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 for busy moms on their way home and headed for soccer practice.

A few turns later, we left the red tiled roofs and stretching 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. I firmly planted my boots on my floor pedals so that I wouldn’t bump into my husband’s helmet on the steep crawl following the hair pin turns 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 flash of dazzling chrome 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 making my stomach 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. Instead of the small biker bar I was expecting, I was greeted with an open air flea market of leather motorcycle clothes, accessories, and garage decor.

After pondering over the motorcycle items we still didn’t have, we finally made it to the restaurant. Inside, bearded men were crowded at the bar, cheering at the football game. Spandex wrapped bicycle riders, an older gentleman in a wheelchair, and bikers wearing leather jackets with patches from various motorcycle clubs all patiently waited in a long line that eventually led to the ordering counter. The buzz of talking created its own energy, making the tiny restaurant more than a barbeque joint. We all enjoyed adventures getting here.

After picking up our tray of food, we joined our group seated at a redwood 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 surrounding us.

A table of motorcycle club members sat near a table of bicycle riders. An older couple helped their grandchildren with burgers at an umbrella table. Young sport bike riders in their bright neon green gear drank matching energy drinks with their barbeque sandwiches. Grey bearded riders huddled over their beers at a high counter that covered the outside wall. Our long table was filled with leathered up riders that during the week were teachers, office workers, and contractors.

Not all who journeyed here were motorcyclists, yet all shared the love of spending time outdoors on a sunny winter afternoon. For this moment, it was enough to connect us.

Burnt Bushes

wrightwood

The snarling Harley group poured off the freeway and onto the back road that led toward the mountains. Eighteen bikes made it tough to stay together, so the ride captain split us into two groups, each with a captain and a sweep. As we started down the two-lane highway, both groups spread out so that our numbers stretched along the dips and rises of the road all the way to the horizon.

Seated behind my husband, I snapped pictures of the desolate high desert wilderness that surrounded us. A few months previously, a vicious wildfire had ravaged the area, and charred Joshua trees stuck up like stubble on a man’s chin. Dirt roads led off from the highway to lonely chimneys poking out of blackened debris. Trailers sat tethered to the remains of ranch homes. Here and there a house stood on a hill, pristine and untouched. I wondered if firefighters had spent precious water to save the structures, or if God’s judgment had passed them by.

Miles and miles of burnt bushes and trees filled my camera lens, boasting of the fire’s destructive power. I zipped my phone back into my pocket and turned up the Crowder album I had playing in my earbuds. Anywhere I looked my eyes couldn’t escape the chaos. All the overwhelming stress of my life seemed to chase me through the desert –Common Core Standards, screaming parents, bulging school schedule, the new house cleaner that scrubbed the paint off my stove and broke my fairy statue. Even our Harley couldn’t outrun these demons.

But then the music chanted “We Shall Overcome,” and I saw something strange. There were fresh prickly shoots coming out of the black Joshua tree trunks. The wildfire had not killed the trees at all.

The road captain gestured to the left which was repeated down the line of riders. We turned onto the road that would lead us further into the back side of the mountains. Now the road began to twist its way through pine trees. Evidence of the fire diminished until we were immersed in a sea of green. Singed air gave way to a fresh pine aroma, and I took a deep breath.

Finally A-frame cabins and two story homes with railed porches popped out of the forest. We had arrived in Wrightwood, a small ski town north of Los Angeles. Since the November weather was still pre-snow, the town was comfortably uncrowded. Our lunch destination appeared on the left and we turned in, patiently finding places to park our pack of bikes.

The waitress frowned at the size of our group, but barked orders to the bus boys to quickly push a bunch of tables together for us. Then we peeled off jackets, gloves, and outer layers to sit down for a bite. I looked around the table at our riding group. Some of us were married, some remarried, some single through death or divorce. If I looked carefully, I might see the black scars of life’s fires beneath the smiles. But it was covered with life—new and vibrant, full with promise. The roar of a Harley, wind in our faces, and we pressed on toward new adventures on the twisty road we traveled.

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.

 

 

 

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 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.

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