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.

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The Biker Bar

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Changes and Why I Hate Them

calendar

You’ve heard people say, “I don’t like surprises” and that’s not what I mean when I say I hate changes. If you want to secretly invite all my friends and throw me a surprise birthday party, I would love it, just not held at my house when I am out having dinner (really happened to me).

In a world filled with anxiety and chaos, I cling vigorously to my structured plan. Each day as a teacher I follow my lesson plan grid, minute by minute. Every ding on my iPhone is a gentle reminder that all is going according to my schedule. Even on my busiest day, I can keep up with meetings and errands, as long as I enter them into my phone. On Sunday nights, I like to preview my week so I can plan which days I can cook and which days will be heated up leftovers.

But trusting in my own agenda doesn’t leave room for divine guidance. Slowly I become confident in my own abilities to manage my life, a house built on sand. In the back of my mind I think “Wow, if this is going to work out, everything’s got to happen as I planned it.” Then the storm blows in.

It could be a literal storm. When it rains during the school week, my schedule is shifted by the infamous “Inclement Weather Schedule.” On these days, students come to my class ten minutes earlier in the morning, and they’re in the room with me all day except for 30 minutes at lunch. Those of you who are not crazy enough to be teachers will say at this point, “So what?” Maybe you should spend all day cooped up with thirty kids who need to play outside and are distracted by the wet stuff coming out of the sky.

Or it could be a minor car accident that creates all kinds of phone calls, coordination with my husband to drop off and pick up the car, and reports to fill out. Sick family pets, rained out Harley rides, and non-functional ovens at Thanksgiving all crash my well thought out schedule. Of course, I must face these challenges as they come, but sometimes I have to swash my grumbling.

And then there are the opportunities I don’t even realize I’ve missed. Times that I should have called that friend who posted a melancholy Facebook paragraph. Times that my grown children needed to hear a word of encouragement. Times I didn’t even notice that my husband was having a bad day. I wish I could have looked up from my carefully planned day to see what really needed to be done.

So I sigh, and enter a new event on my calendar—Make time to see what’s really going on, Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Not exactly opening up my schedule, but it’s a place to start. Even for a person who hates changes, this is one change I need to make.

 

 

 

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From Culture to Chaos

getty

 

The Getty Villa in Malibu is not the usual Harley ride we experience with the Harley Owners Group (HOGs). In fact it normally would not appear on our calendar, but someone at the activity meeting raised their hand and suggested it. The Getty Villa was once the home of the Getty Art Museum before its current location near the Hollywood Bowl. The buildings in themselves are works of art, and they house a famous collection of Greek and Roman antiquities.

Early that morning, I shivered even with my layers of sweaters under my leather jacket and leather chaps over my jeans. It was a cool southern California winter day, just warm enough to ride and make Midwestern motorcyclists jealous. Grateful that our Ultra had a windshield, I hid behind my husband’s back as he rode to our meeting place.

At kickstands up time, we left Riverside to head toward the beach. The freeway ride wasn’t memorable, except for the light Sunday traffic through downtown Los Angeles. A jagged mishmash of tall buildings looked forlorn as they waited for the work week to start again. Dark clouds hung over the distant mountains, but the western view toward the beach was cool and sunny. A perfect day to ride.

After our group of fifteen bikes took turns to pay parking at the main gate, we were directed up the hill over the rough paving stones, our teeth chattering as we rode. A helpful parking attendant led us to our own section in the covered parking garage.

Our group stayed mostly together as we walked through the exhibit rooms. Rooms were filled with vases and larger than life human figures. The male statues obviously were based on an ideal form and not real men. Many of the statues were missing heads or arms, due to the lack of art appreciation from invading armies. One exhibit featured mosaic floors that had been removed from ruins, with multicolored tiny tiles forming pictures of hunting parties.

After wandering the gardens and courtyards filled with black statues, we had worked up an appetite for lunch. One of the guys suggested Neptune’s Net, a biker hangout on Pacific Coast Highway. We pulled on jackets, helmets, and gloves and lined up to exit the parking garage.

That’s when we became celebrities. As the line of roaring motorcycles (amplified by the covered parking garage) filed out, a group of at least fifty Asian tourists mobbed us with cries of “Harley, Harley!” and “Handsome man!” The woman, none younger than 60 years old, stood next to the front bike as their husbands took photos. Then they allowed one bike to pass, and they did it again for the next one, all the way through entire group. When we finally escaped without harming any people or bikes, we headed up PCH with the wind in our faces and the roar of the surf to our left.

We wound through the tiny communities that hug the beach until we reached the restaurant. It was a small building with mostly outdoor searing with the entire front covered with motorcycles. Not just Harleys but hundreds of sport bikes of every brand. I saw a Ducati parked next to a Yamaha that was next to a BMW. Across the street, on the beach side, hundreds of bikers stood on sand dune, talking and looking out at the ocean.

It took a while to find a spot at the end of the long line of motorcycles parked on the edge of the highway. As we walked up to the line to order lunch, I noticed that in addition to the traditional leather clad bearded biker guys, there were hipsters sporting handlebar moustaches, multiple piercings, and vintage store clothes. There also were families with young children that apparently had arrived by car and sports bike riders in full off road motorcycle outfits.

Thankfully the restaurant owners knew that bikers with full stomachs are happier than hungry ones, and we got our food quickly. My fish and chips were delicious, and the seafood platter I saw down the table looked substantial even for the hungriest rider.

Seating was cramped so some of the groups merged at the picnic tables. We shared stories with a biker up from Venice. After I told him about our rock star experience at the Getty Villa, he chuckled like he was there. He told us about their chapter ride that brought the entire state’s members together that day. Even though our riding clubs were very different, sharing food together at this moment, at the beach, on a brilliant sunny day united us as a community of adventurers.

Finally we gathered up our group and formed a plan to meet up at a gas station a few miles down the road. It would be too dangerous to line up our bikes on the side of the highway. However this did not stop the sport bike club from lining up in the middle turn lane and roaring off together without looking back toward traffic. My husband pulled out onto the road, only to have a huge swarm of roaring motorcycles fly by us. The noise was so loud I wanted to cover my ears but I already was wearing my helmet.

As we allowed the bikes to pass and followed them at a distance, I relaxed against my backrest and tapped my com button to listen to music. I thought about the hushed rooms at the Villa compared to the roar of the crowds at Neptune’s Net. We were heading home from another amazing adventure, one that had taken us from culture to chaos.

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The Problem with Rain

rain

I know that someone who lives in a state that continually suffers drought should not complain about rain. But there’s something you should know about the effect of precipitation on southern California.

First of all, our cities have not been planned for actual water to flow through our streets. Any drainage system that exists is mainly ornamental, and when the gutter rivers begin to rise, the sewers are quickly clogged. This results in instant lakes blocking the intersections of major roads.

Added to that, and perhaps because of that, drivers in southern California don’t know how to operate their vehicles in the rain. Possibly it hasn’t rained since they passed their drivers test. But I believe that these drivers are so accustomed to bright sunny days and clear nights that they tend to throw tantrums if the weather doesn’t cooperate. So they speed through flooded streets, creating tall rooster tails of water on both sides of their cars. Or they panic and stop in the middle of the street, unable to proceed due to the drops of water on their windshields. And their windshield wipers have rotted away in the sun long ago, and the screeching sound of the wiper arms adds to their menace.

Another effect of long-awaited rain is mudslides and falling trees. We never do anything half way in California, so when it rains, it rains solid for three days straight. Those ash-strewn hills trying to recover from wildfires become chocolate pudding that rushes to join the rest of the water blocking the drains at the bottom of the hills. Huge trees come tumbling down on houses and cars. Even houses groan and shift down the hill. The effects of rain can be more devastating than the drought.

Children stay home from school as parents don’t want to battle the rain to drive them, or don’t want their kids to stand soaked at the bus stop. One rural school district even called a “Rain Day” and closed their schools, as buses got stuck in the mud on back roads. Teachers wish they would have stayed home when they are stuck with kids in the classroom all day, California kids that are used to playing outside.

But I hope you understand. I’m not complaining. There’s snow on the ski slopes and water in our lakes. The hills surrounding me are bright green, bringing back memories of Ireland. But our gift of water always comes with a cost. So I guess we just have to be ready to pay it.

 

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Planning to Ride

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“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.

 

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