They’ll Never Understand Why We Ride

riders

Even though my back was stiff, I smiled at my co-workers in the lounge. One of my teacher friends squinted 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 said, overwhelming her stupor with my residual energy.

Sipping from her jumbo cup of coffee, she waited for my wave of enthusiasm to roll over her. “Wow, isn’t that really dangerous? Just last week, I passed by a motorcycle accident on the freeway. I’m sure they didn’t make it.” She shook her head, and then saw that the copier was open, so she ran for it with her stack of papers.

So I glimpsed the great divide between those who love to ride Harleys and those who think we are crazy.

When Frank and I first married, he told me about his years of riding different types of motorcycles, starting with his early dirt bike days. He would ride all day with his friend until the impending night forced them back to the house. Later, riding became his release, a way to work out his negative energy. But hard times forced him to sell his bike before we met. As we began to share 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.) So we started with a scooter– fun but not very fast. Frank was a confident rider who inspired my confidence in him. Then we moved up to a small motorcycle, which gave us access to mountain roads. Wind rushing in my face and the rhythm of twisty roads reminded me of my skiing days. We enjoyed the ride, but looked hungrily at the full dresser motorcycles that rumbled by, their riders sitting comfortably behind a wind shield, sitting on full seats.

Finally, we had to do 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 worldwide club. Every Harley you pass on the street greets you with a secret gesture I’d never noticed before as a car driver. Now we had social permission 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 our bike, became our club house, complete with donuts and coffee, bike shows and other events.

As we rode, we saw groups pass us with their patches on their jackets and their sense of purpose. Riding was fun, but riding with a bunch of bikes sounded more fun. We sought out other responsible riders who wanted to have fun and live to get there. So we joined the HOGs, the Harley Owners Group. Experienced road captains plan the rides, from the route to the restaurant. Members help out with community charities, and participate in overnighter trips as well as day rides.

But the HOGs are more than that. We have discovered friends that we would never have encountered in our regular lives, comrades who brave heat, cold, wind, and loose gravel to explore forgotten roads. Roads through avocado groves, vineyards, and boulder strewn sculptures. Roads that lead to famous road house diners and more of our kind. People who love their adventure on two wheels.

And their co-workers in their break rooms shake their heads and don’t understand why we ride.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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