The Rock Store

Rock Store

If you’re not a motorcycle rider, you’ve probably never heard of The Rock Store. Why would a former hot springs resort and bootlegger hideout attract crowds of Harley-Davidsons, Hondas, and sport bikes every weekend? Our HOG chapter spent a warm Sunday in January finding out.

Our group included twenty bikes when we left the inland desert town of Riverside early that morning, navigating the Los Angeles area freeways in one solid block of snarling engines. We successfully threaded through the beach-bound traffic jam to stop at the Huntington Beach Harley-Davidson dealership, earning a rest and shopping break.

After sliding off our Ultra Limited touring bike, I quickly unzipped and unsnapped my leather chaps, folded them up as small as I could and stuffed them into my saddlebag. The morning was warming up fast, and my phone promised temperatures in the 70s by the coast. My husband Frank, who’s never cold, was already wearing a light jacket, tee shirt, and jeans. We shared the last swigs of our first water bottle, and headed into the dealership. I’ve learned over the years riding with a group, that a restroom break should be taken whenever we turn off the engine because it could be a long time (up to 200 miles) until the next stop.

The dealership was set up in a large warehouse building with a high, unfinished ceiling and wide open interior. Rows and rows of Harleys waited for admiration. Half of the store was dedicated to motor clothes and accessories. Some of our group picked at the apparel sales racks while others drooled over the vast selection of bikes. Eventually we all ended up in the parking lot, munching on Jay’s freshly baked friendship cake. The moist cake filled with fruit chunks was delicious and not too sweet. I licked every crumb off my fingers before putting back on my gloves.

After glancing at his phone for the time, our ride leader, Tom, herded up the group to continue on our journey. We jumped back on our bikes and filed onto the freeway, two by two. So far traffic was moving at a normal pace, and I looked up to see a huge jet airliner roaring over our heads as we rode through Los Angeles toward Santa Monica. The freeway finally ended, and we turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway bound for Malibu. Surfers bobbed in the ocean and people lounged on the beach, the cool salt air calling us with its siren song. We resisted its pull and followed our road northward. It would still be a long time before we could rest.

Although our route was not the most direct one to our destination, Tom chose a southern approach to avoid some of the gusty Santa Ana winds that pop up during Southern California’s winter season. He led our long line of bikes around the coastline, jagged cliffs to our right and shimmering navy waves to our left. The multistory buildings of Santa Monica gave way to small single story beach homes huddled together on the beach side, and the large homes perched on the mountainside. I couldn’t help wondering if the dilapidated shack covered by mud we passed was still worth millions of dollars just because of its address.

Finally, our group turned right onto Kanan Road and entered the windy canyons above Malibu. We passed ranches and vineyards, some hidden under the oak groves while others boldly crested the rolling hills. Then one more turn— Mulholland Highway.

I’m sure you’ve heard of it, or have seen the twisty mountain road on car commercials. It’s an old road, pressed into the side of a canyon wall, switching back and forth in tight turns all the way down to the bottom. A technical ride, but that wasn’t the challenging part. At the top of the hill, we encountered a large group of sport bikes parked on the edge of the road and a few riders spinning around in circles in the middle of the road, leaving concentric circles of tire marks across it. A few guys stood with video cameras filming their antics. Fortunately, they moved to the side as we passed, watching them with tight eyes.

As we twisted our way slowly down the steep mountainside, sport bikes flew up the road toward us, hugging the center of the road. As we felt their wind buffet us, Frank kept to our side of the yellow line, although not too close to the rocks strewn near the outside edge of our lane. Unlike my husband, whose eyes focused on our path, I had the freedom to watch our descent into the vast wooded canyon, one turn after the other.

Finally, the road straightened out, and hundreds of bikes parked on both sides announced that we had reached The Rock Store. Eventually, and with considerable patience, everyone in our group found a place to park, as sports bikes zipped down the road in front of the tiny diner as if there weren’t riders trying to back their bikes into place or people crossing the road.

Why The Rock Store? It must have been the location. At the bottom of the canyon, it was the perfect place for bikers and sports car drivers to stop for a cool drink. The building itself wasn’t anything to look at. An old rock walled square building with wooden additions sticking out on the sides. A terraced patio filled with bikers. Roaring laughter and revving engines made the air tingle around us.

Inside, antique bikes and photos with movie stars covered the walls. Frank and I walked up to the counter and ordered lunch, and joined the rest of our group upstairs sitting in vintage yellow vinyl booths. History was another reason for this hangout’s popularity. Many celebrities had slid into these now cracking seats over the years. Whether they came by Ferrari, Harley-Davidson, or Ducati, these canyon riders ended up here for refreshment before continuing on their journeys.

The food was good enough, typical roadhouse fare. When we finished, we stood talking to the rest of our group, about the perfect deep blue ocean, the cool wind whipping our faces, and the tree covered vistas. Natural beauty intruded on by man’s constructions. The journey made us into poets.

As I looked past our friends into the bustling crowd of smiling faces jammed into this tiny roadhouse, I realized that now we belonged to a select club, those who had ridden Mulholland and stopped here. Perhaps becoming part of its history was the lure of the Rock Store.

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The cold ride- part two

 

frozen

The next morning, Frank coaxed me away from the motel heater with promises of coffee. My phone told me it was 32 degrees. Today our ride would take us up a mountain pass that would dump us out into Bishop, and then we would stop for our second night in Lone Pine. One new couple in our group had been watching the weather, and there was a looming possibility of rain and snow. His wife was cold, and they decided to go back by themselves, through the low desert and skip today’s adventures. I was tempted, but Frank gave me his “You’re kidding me!” look and I stayed quiet.

Of course we couldn’t ride directly to our destination. On our way to the mountains, we visited a ghost town. It was so remote that the road captain had to call the sheriff/owner of the town to let him know we were headed his way. As we rode through the desolate landscape, it wasn’t hard to imagine that we were a pack of outlaws headed out to our remote hideout. Few cars passed or approached us, and the dirt roads that intersected our highway seemed to lead nowhere. Towering snow-covered mountains peeked out from behind the desert hill on our left, and grew closer with every mile.

After riding for about an hour, we turned off the main highway onto a dirt road that intersected the icy ridge. As we approached, wooden buildings emerged between the hills.  I shivered, in spite of my additional layers of two long sleeve shirts and my rain gear pants over my chaps.

Sliding off our bike as soon as we arrived, I waddled over to the saloon, ready to pay a hundred dollars for a cup of coffee. Inside the entrance sat a wood burning stove, which began to heat the area around it, but did nothing for the rest of the large, open beamed room. Some of the other riders joined me, holding our hands as close as we dared to the cast iron giant. A few of the passengers had a shot of something the sheriff promised would “heat us up quick” but I passed on it, still bitter about the lack of coffee.

Frank and I walked around, looking at the restored buildings that had originally been part of a gold mining town. There was a tiny post office, bunkhouses, stables, jail and even a gallows. Apparently the “sheriff” had won money at a nearby casino and bought the town. He lived there with a few other people, but it wasn’t clear what they really did. Some things are better not to know.

The road captain called us back to our bikes. We thanked the man, and rumbled back down the dusty road out to the main highway. The road turned facing the icy peaks, and we climbed up into their shadow. 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,” replied the bearded man 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?

Everyone parked and got off their bikes. Frank and I walked up to the crest of the hill, squeezing each other hands.

“Wow!” Frank echoed my thoughts as we looked out over a huge valley that unfolded before us. A carpet of snow covered the land all the way down to the base of the mountains, but the road was clear and dry. At the base of the mountains, rolling hills spread out in every direction. Was it my imagination, or could I see all the way to the sparkling coast? Nature dominated here, with a few telephone poles and roads to indicate man’s presence.

“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. Frank and I moved quickly out of the way. A brief snowball fight began, 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 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. Despite my fears, 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 on the trip back to Riverside the next day.

Curiously, there was a four-star gourmet restaurant in the tiny town of Lone Pine. Of course, our road captain knew about it, so some rode and some walked a few blocks down to it. Over steaks and salmon, we raved about the brilliant mountains and sweeping valleys that we had ridden through that day. We shared our reactions to the varying degrees of cold that we endured over the past two days. The smart riders who wore heated jackets and gloves that plugged into their bikes offered no complaints. I made a mental note that we would have to purchase these items before the next winter overnighter. But the rest of us wearing regular gear had plenty to talk about.

Yet no one regretted the trip. To see snow-draped 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 Cold Ride- part one

bad water basin

“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 became difficult to move. Currently I had on a thermal top, sweater, leather vest, thermal bottoms, jeans, chaps, 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. Getting on our Ultra Limited touring bike was going to be challenging. Too many pieces of clothing to be wearing in the fuzzy predawn hours.

“Let’s go,” Frank said. “It’s too hot standing inside with all this gear on.” He was clothed head to toe in black leather, his pale blue eyes sparkling with excitement. Riding with the Inland Empire Harley Owners Group was an adventure no matter what temperatures we faced. We had already experienced a relentless rainstorm and snow flurries on last year’s Grand Canyon trip, so we were confident that we were ready for anything.

So began the Harley trip forever known as the Cold Ride. (Here I insert my plea that if you are a permanent resident of Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, please suffer the whining of southern Californians.) It was the end of February, which for our desert region meant weather anywhere from 60 degrees to 80 degrees, and rolling the dice for either rain or blue skies. It was a bit cool when the group rolled out of the parking lot that morning, but foolishly, I believed it would warm up as the trip progressed. Everyone knows Death Valley is the warmest place in North America, right?

Hours later, as we approached the National Park entrance, I noticed a thin coating of white covering the barren desert around 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. Even with a thick wooly gaiter protecting my neck and chin, my face under my helmet felt like it would crack if I smiled. As the hours passed, I progressed from chilly to freezing cold to numb to final acceptance that cold was the new normal. 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 had the sinking sensation that it was not salt.

After entering Death Valley, our road captain led us down to Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America. We stopped for a break in a parking lot next to a dried up lakebed. The wall of rock facing us had a sign—282 feet below sea level. Further up, another sign announced sea level. The sun felt good on our faces, and I sighed in relief. Frank and I took off our heavy leather jackets.

“It looks like we’re surrounded by sculpture,” my husband said, looking around at the multicolored walls of rock that framed the lakebed. Jagged red cliffs towered over hills painted with bands of white, yellow, brown, and black. The lakebed looked like a large dried up mud puddle, with some moisture still lingering near its center.

“It’s beautiful,” I agreed. We ate some trail mix and drank water. Then we walked around, shaking out our stiff legs. I debated whether I had time to take off my leather chaps. At that moment, the chapter photographer called us together for a group picture, and it was time to saddle up.

From the bottom of Death Valley, the Harleys wound around a narrow road that led us to a higher vista. The winding road compressed into two final switchbacks before reaching Dante’s View. Icy bursts of wind replaced the mild sunshine down at Bad Water Basin. I was glad I had resisted the temptation to take off my chaps.

We stopped at the parking lot on the flat top of the sharply rising peak. From here, the entire mosaic of Death Valley spread out before us. The parking lot at Badwater Basin looked like a tiny speck from our perspective. It took my breath away, or maybe it was the icy wind buffeting me.

“Aren’t you cold?” I asked Frank. His face was red, and his hands were buried in the pockets of his lightweight windbreaker. He had taken off his chaps at our previous stop.

“A little,” he admitted, as he reached into his saddlebag to put on his leather jacket.

Our group walked around, taking pictures from different places. One rider shared his famous lemon bars from a Tupperware container in his tourpak. He brings them on every overnighter. I licked powder sugar off my frozen fingers before replacing my gloves. Most of us still had our helmets on because of the cold, but with modular helmets, the front piece raises up so that you can still eat and drink.

Having mercy on us standing there shivering, the road captain called out, “Let’s ride,” and we cautiously crawled back down the hairpin turns and out on the level, straight road through Death Valley.

“I bet there’s tons of other places we could go around here,” Frank said on the com.

I looked around at the dirt paths that spread out into the wilderness on both sides. “I don’t know if those roads would be good for Harleys,” I said.

“Come on, dear,” he said with a chuckle. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

My sense of adventure included traveling on asphalt roads that actually appeared on maps and led us eventually to our warm motel.

Our next stop was a tiny gas station in the middle of nowhere. The gas price was double what we would have paid back in Riverside, so not all of the riders filled up. As I looked around to the barren wasteland, I insisted that Frank get gas. Who knew when we would see a gas station again.

After a quick break, we rode on and on through the desert, with no civilization in sight. I was glad that the road captain had already pre-rode this trip, so he knew our turns. If you got lost out here, it might take you all day to reach the next town before you discovered you were going the wrong way.

As we rode, I noticed that we were gradually going higher and the temperatures were getting colder. The sun hid behind clouds near the western ridge, and I had to sit on my hands to keep them less cold. We finally turned right onto a road that led up a large hill. I noticed that the group had slowed down considerably. It took forever for us to reach its crest, but when we did our destination of Beatty, Nevada was in sight. Not until we stopped that night did I realize that the road captain had been one of the riders who didn’t fill up at that lonely station, and his low fuel warning had come on. Some things are best not known until the ride’s over for the day.

When we reached that tiny mining town, I was ready for a hot shower. Most of the day had not been warmer than 50 degrees. Even with sunshine, it had been the coldest day of riding I had ever experienced. But my desire for warmth would have to wait.

As we roared down the main street, I thought I noticed eyes peeking out of curtained windows. Other than a few semi-trucks, there wasn’t any traffic. The gas station was at the far end, five minutes from the beginning of town. We stopped there first before heading to our motel.

Some of us had dinner that night at a saloon on the main street, the same building where I had seen people in the windows. Done with riding for the day, we walked a few freezing blocks to get there. Despite being exhausted, I wanted to run to get out of the cold. The watchers must have put another kettle of chili on just for us because other than a few cowboys, we were the only patrons. The inside of the saloon was wood paneled and smaller than my living room. We sat on the back patio huddled next to the heaters. The waitress remembered our road captain from previous trips and took care of us quickly. No one wants to mess with a thirsty and hungry biker group.

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A different ride- the eventual end

san simeon sunset

The final night of a weekend Harley trip is smooth going down but leaves a bitter after taste.

Our HOG chapter president offered to have dinner delivered for the whole group of thirty riders, and we gladly accepted. After riding all day Friday and Saturday, we were ready to kick off our boots, slip on our flip-flops, and hang out at the motel. There was an indoor pool with a large patio area, perfect for us to congregate.

Frank and I drank wine out of the motel’s tiny plastic cups talking to riders from different rides that day. They laughed at our antics in the Pismo Beach toy store, and we sighed over their tales of hidden mountain roads. We shared stories around five circular tables pushed together near the pool. With nightfall, it was getting cool outside, but it was warm and muggy inside. The patio doors were open, and some of the conversation spilled out into the parking lot.

A young man carrying stacks of pizza boxes found us and it was suddenly quiet while everyone chowed down. Not the best pizza ever eaten, but the most appreciated since we didn’t have to walk or ride our bikes to get it. After we inhaled the first pieces, conversation was restored.

“What time are we leaving tomorrow?” I asked my husband.

“Not sure. Depends on whether we have breakfast first or wait until we get to Solvang,” Frank answered. “Let me ask Tom what they’re doing.” He got up to find our ride captain for the Pismo Beach portion of the trip.

I leaned back in my crisscrossed woven plastic chair, and listened to the threads of conversation around me. Some were talking about how beautiful the beach had been that day. Others raved about the remote twisty roads they rode through the Central Valley wine country. The voices around me mixed into a buzz and suddenly I was tired. The rush of excitement we had experienced over the weekend was slowing down into sore muscles and pizza comas. My heart beat with a dull ache when I realized that our coastal adventure was nearing its end. All the planning, packing, shared stories, frozen fingers, delicious food, and dramatic scenery were almost over. Tomorrow we would go home.

The prospect of a long return ride sent most of us back to our rooms early that night. Or maybe we couldn’t face the dissolution of our riding fellowship. It was hard saying good night, but we knew this would be the last time all of us would be together, at least for this trip.

The next morning, Frank and I joined the group that decided breakfast was a priority. We sipped coffee with sad faces, savoring the cool sea breeze for the last time. Everyone was uncharacteristically quiet. After covering our reluctance with pancakes, bacon, and eggs, it was time to leave.

Our group today was smaller than the previous days, only eight bikes. On the last day of an overnighter, our group splinters as everyone faces different responsibilities at home. The retired riders can take their time getting back to real life. The teachers and sales reps have Monday morning commutes ahead of them. Eventually we would all have to leave our beach haven.

Frank and I joined the end of our line of bikes, following them down the coast highway on the shortest route back to our desert town. No scenic roads or historic roadhouse cafes today. It was time to go home. Everyone seemed subdued, sobered by reality’s intrusion.

As I watched miles of farmland pass by, I marveled that the weekend passed so quickly. I knew that in less than twenty-four hours, I would be back in my classroom with twenty eyes following my every move. Frank would be sitting at his desk, taking orders and fielding problems. We would become normal people again. But my sinking heart clung to hope, as the calendar on my phone held future Harley trips. We would ride the backroads again. I only had to hold it together until then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A different ride- part three

PismoFrankme

 

One of the differences between a HOG day ride and an overnighter is how you feel the next day. On a day ride, you roll out of bed the next morning, headed back to work, adventure over. However, on an overnighter, when you get up in the morning, the adventure’s just begun.

After gulping down Starbucks instant coffee, which I always include in our gear, Frank and I got ready to meet up with the group for our second day’s ride. Last night’s hot shower had loosened kinks in my back, and I felt the hum of adrenaline warming me. I pulled my hair back with my headband first and then braided it. Wearing a helmet made hair styling impossible. Outside our motel window, I could see Frank wiping down our Harley, the seats soaked by the moist ocean air overnight. I unplugged our helmets with their com links charged for the day. Then I grabbed some tangerines, trail mix, and water bottles, and carried them out to pack into our saddlebags. I joined Frank, who stood talking with one of our friends who was going to lead the ride today.

We were all going different places. After the initial ride up to San Simeon, our HOG group split up on the second day for various types of rides. Part of our group had already left early in the morning for Monterey through wine country. Another group was going later to Hearst Castle. Frank and I decided to ride with a group headed down the coast highway to Pismo Beach. All of us would meet back for a pizza party by the pool when the sun went down.

Slowly our group stumbled out of their motel rooms and prepared their bikes. A few decided we needed more than granola bars for breakfast so we walked to the restaurant next door. Another group was eating there, wearing their HOG colors. We introduced ourselves to them, a HOG chapter from Ventura. This happens frequently on our rides. Belonging to HOG includes you in large family of Harley lovers all over the world.

After we all had stuffed ourselves with pancakes and eggs, it was time to ride. Even though the sun felt warm, I stayed in my leather chaps and heavy jacket. I knew that when we got up to cruising speed, it would stay cool enough. It was a bright morning with a blinding blue sky and a crisp gentle breeze. Perfect riding weather. The road captain started his bike, and it was time to go.

Our line of sixteen Harleys roared down the highway, crashing waves challenging us on the right and tall pines whispering on the left. The pounding surf raised a spray of mist that hugged the shore. These were not the crowded public beaches of Southern California. This jagged coastline was desolate and untamed.

A giant volcanic boulder, known as Morro Rock, grew larger on the horizon, marking the entrance to Morro Bay. Before reaching it, we took a slight detour into Cayucos, a tiny beachside community. As we passed an RV park, I told Frank on the com link that I would give up our three-bedroom house for that view every day. He laughed. As we passed shops and small motels, I longed to stop and explore, but the captain pulled us further down the road. Maybe another trip.

Upon reaching Morro Bay, we turned inland, and rolling hills carpeted in fresh pine scented green, replaced the sweeping vista of the beach. As the bikes swooped up and down the hills, I caught glimpses of ranch homes and barns, hidden under the trees. On and one we rode, dancing with the mountains, disappearing around curves, and emerging on the side of a distant cliff.

Although I could have ridden like that for an entire day, eventually we reached San Luis Obispo, home to one of California’s missions, and more recently a college town. The downtown area bustled with restaurants and bars. The Harleys crawled through the downtown traffic, our engines echoing off the sides of tall buildings, making a little girl shriek as she stood at the stoplight with her family. I smiled and waved. She waved back.

After our parade through town, we jumped on the 101 freeway that carried us back out to the coast. Time slowed as the bikes roared down the road. From our viewpoint toward the back, it seemed like the line of bikes went on forever in front of us, pulling us toward adventure.

We stretched out along the road, and didn’t feel the press of traffic again until we reached the beach town of Pismo Beach. The streets were jammed with people eager to hit the beach. We stalked the narrow streets like predators, seeking parking spots for all our bikes. Finally, we found a public lot, and we were able to squeeze four bikes into each parking spot. Then we peeled off the outer layers of jackets, vests, and chaps in the warm sunshine.

Walking down the streets in our biker gear, our group looked fierce and more than a little rowdy. But we were husbands, wives, daughter, boyfriends, and girlfriends, no different than the other tourists that crowded the streets. We ducked into shops along the way, buying salt-water taffy and tee shirts. Eventually we ended up at the pier.  It was Veteran’s Day weekend, and we had just missed a flag ceremony. Elderly gentlemen in military uniforms packed away flags. A white-haired woman carrying a huge tray offered us some cookies.

We spent a few minutes looking out over the pier at the crazy people swimming in the frigid November water. This was classic California winter weather. One day it can be stormy and flooding, and the next day a perfect beach day. After posing for a group picture, we decided it was time to munch more than cookies.

Our destination was Splash, a famous clam chowder shop. It was a few blocks up from the Pismo pier. We got in the line that snaked out of the entrance of the small restaurant and all the way around the side of the building. Although I first despaired, the line kept moving, and soon Frank and I were cradling bowls of savory white soup, with huge chunks of potatoes and clams poking out. It was so fresh and delicious it ruined my appetite for any other clam chowder after that day. I kept licking my bowl until Frank gave me the stink eye.

After lunch, we wandered our way back to the parking lot. I was ready for a nap, but it was time to ride. We zipped up our lighter jackets and strapped on our helmets. One by one, we growled out of the parking lot and back onto the highway.

Our leader decided to take us a different way home, through the inland small town of Edna.  At once we became time travelers, visiting another California, one with town squares and picket fences. Our loud bikes caused many heads to turn. We were outlaws riding through town on our horses, disturbing the peace.

As we passed back through San Luis Obispo on the way back, it felt familiar, like we were friends now. As we poured out of the hills, Morro Rock called us home. I took a deep breath of the ocean air and squinted my eyes against the shimmering foam rimming the coast. Now my hips ached, and my knees were tight. However, Frank looked like he could ride forever, his face frozen in a huge smile.

One more rest stop awaited us along the road. Our leader took us off the coast highway at Harmony. Harmony is a quaint roadside dairy farm that features glass blowing, ceramic art, and gourmet ice cream. I peeked through a window into an old chapel and hall available for weddings. Everything about it was romantically rustic. Frank and I ate our delicious and very expensive ice cream while the group took a break. Everyone was tired from riding all day.

Finally, it was time to load up and head out. As I adjusted my helmet and put on my gloves, I reflected on how different this was from the usual day ride with the HOGs. Everyone was more relaxed. No one was racing off to take care of other errands or responsibilities. We rode a lot, but we also had time to sit around eating and talking. Plenty of time to hear everyone’s stories.

Maybe that was part of the difference. Ride for the day and we become friends. Ride for the weekend, and we become family.

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A different ride- part two

san simeon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A different ride- part one

san simeon2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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