The singing campground Part 3

            “I love story time!” one of the faery children said. They settled down on the logs around the campfire and eagerly waited for their mother to speak.

            Lilly narrowed her eyes at her twin, but Willow sat down next to Rudy, the oldest of the faery children and probably the closest to his age. “Come on, it would be rude to leave without hearing her story,” he pleaded. She shook her head but sat down next to him anyway. If she had to admit it, she was a little curious about the faeries, too.

            Nettle and Thorn sat across from them on another log. Thorn tucked wayward strands of her curly brown hair behind her pointed ears. Then she began to speak.

“In a time past, maybe twenty or so of your human years, some campers got caught in a wildfire right here in the woods. Nettle just happened to be trimming the hedges by an old, abandoned portal when he smelled the smoke. He peeked out and saw a human family scrambling to protect themselves from approaching flames. My husband’s heart was pricked, for you can see we also have children we love.”

            “I had to do something,” Nettle said, his face grim with the memory.

            “Of course, dear,” she said, patting his hand.

            “Nettle had no idea whether the old portal still worked. It had been dormant for centuries. Faerie centuries. But he could try. He reached through the portal and grabbed one of the children. Her brother saw his sister being dragged away and held onto her. The other children tried to free her. But Nettle’s magic was too strong, so the children were all pulled into Faerie. As the last of the four children landed in our garden, the parents also fell through.”

            “That’s amazing,” Willow said. “Everyone in our world thinks they died.”

            Lilly tipped her head like she was chewing on a deep thought. “No one ever saw them again. Why?”

            Thorn and Nettle exchanged glances. “They remain in Faerie,” she said.

            That’s when Lilly remembered that faeries couldn’t lie. But they could bend the truth and leave out what didn’t serve their purpose. “But they must have had friends and other relatives that they left behind,” she said.

            “Sacrifices had to be made,” Thorn said, getting up quickly. “Does anyone want some lemonade?”

            Lilly didn’t like how the faery mother had changed the subject quickly. But she didn’t have anything to accuse her, and Nettle had saved that family.

            “So now you use the portal to come here camping?” Willow asked, taking a cup from Thorn.

            “That’s right,” Nettle said. “When I pulled the human family through the portal, its magic was changed. It now allows six faeries to travel through it. Only six. The same number as the humans that came to us. When we are in your world, no one else can use the portal. Anyone who tries it gets bounced back.”

            “That’s weird,” Willow said.

            “For sure,” Rudy said. “But it means our family can go camping in these woods. We love it here!”

            “It’s fun to go to a place where we don’t have to hide from dragons,” one of the little girl faeries said.

            “A nonmagical world is a much safer world to camp in,” Thorn said. “We’ve talked about it so much, now some of our friends wish to join us. However, the way the portal works, it would be impossible.”

            “That is too bad,” Lilly said. There was something more that the faeries weren’t telling them, but she wasn’t sure what to ask. “We should be getting back. It’s been great to meet you, but we don’t want to get in trouble with our parents.”

            “It’s okay, Lilly. We could stay a little longer,” Willow said.

            “No. We need to go now,” Lilly insisted. She stood and pulled her brother to his feet. “Thank you for the marshmallows and lemonade.”

            Thorn and Nettle stood, and their children gathered around them. “Well met, Willow and Lilly,” Nettle said with a slight bow.

            Thorn smiled and it was like a beam of sunshine. “It’s wonderful that you have parents. A family of four. Perhaps you could bring them back with you tomorrow.”

            “Sure! That sounds great!” Willow said.

            “Come on. Let’s get out of here.” Lilly dragged her brother through the woods until they reached the road where their bikes were parked. Her head felt fuzzy, and her legs were wobbly on her bike.

            As they rode, Lilly could glimpse the sun resting on the horizon between the trees. No doubt they had missed dinner and would be in trouble.

            “Why did we stay there so long?” Lilly yelled.

            “You don’t meet faeries every day,” Willow cried.

            Lilly had a sense of uneasiness that settled over her like night over the sunset. The faeries had been nothing but nice to them, and yet… Every faery tale she’d ever read warned against dealing with the fae.

Hopefully, eating a few marshmallows was safe.

            When they zoomed into their campsite, their dad was walking toward them with a lantern. “There you are,” he said. “We were getting worried. I was just getting ready to come find you.”

            “Sorry,” Willow said. “The sun set extra fast today.”

            Mom jumped up from her chair. “Lilly, I expected better from you. Your brother has no sense of time, but you are usually more sensible.”

            Lilly’s heart ached when she saw her mom upset. “I’m so sorry, Mom. We went on a hike in the woods. It was shady in there. I didn’t realize what time it was.” She hated lying to her parents, but there was no way she was going to tell them they met faeries.

            “I’m starving,” Willow said.

            “Your plates are on the kitchen counter,” Mom said. “After you’re done, you can do the dishes and take the trash down to the dumpster. You can expect extra chores tomorrow.”

            The next day, Dad decided the family should take a hike. Lilly and Willow were excited because usually Dad preferred to sit in the shade and watch sports on their big screen TV on the outside of the trailer.

            “It’s a beautiful day, and families should enjoy it together!” he said. Mom packed lunch. Lilly grabbed the trail map the ranger gave them when they checked in.

            “Maybe we should hike down to the lake,” she said, squinting at the different colored lines on the map. “It’s only 1.7 miles and it’s rated moderate. I think we could do that.”

            “Let’s go!” Willow said.

            It didn’t take them long to find the trailhead for the hike to Lake Cuyamaca. Lilly and Willow walked ahead while Mom and Dad followed. The path was paved with tiny gravel, so it was easy to walk on. Occasionally, another path would branch out from the main one.

            “Willow, don’t go down there,” Dad said. “We don’t know where it leads. I need to conserve my energy.” He was already sweating in the steamy late morning sunshine. The lake trail crossed a huge meadow without any shade. Lilly was already regretting her choice.

            “Dad, maybe we should rest under those trees,” she said, pointing to the woods on the left.

            “Good idea,” Dad said. “It’s hard for us old folks to keep up with you kids in this humidity.”

            “I brought granola bars and tangerines,” Mom said. “This would be a good time to take a break.”

            Lilly and Willow followed their parents into the woods. Dad kept going until he found a place for them to sit down. The twins realized that the clearing looked familiar.

A large unnatural brush-free area with a fire circle in the middle, surrounded by fallen logs forming benches around it.

            This was the same place they met the faeries!

            Lilly started to shiver, which made no sense for a hot day. She was pretty good at directions. The clearing she and Willow visited last night was at the other end of the campground. In fact, when she chose the lake trail, she had purposely picked a route far from where they had met the faeries.

            A rustle announced six familiar foxes as they bounced out of the bushes.

            “Look, Arnie, foxes!” Mom said, taking a step back.

            “Stay away from them, dear,” Dad said, shielding her with his arm. “They might have rabies or something.” He turned to Lilly and Willow, who were standing frozen with looks of surprise on their faces. “Kids, they won’t attack you. They’re afraid of humans.”

            “Not all are,” Nettle said, standing up on two legs. “Lilly, Willow, nice to see you again. And thank you so much for bringing your parents.”

            Mom grabbed Lilly’s arm. “You know these creatures?” she asked.

            Lily attempted a weak smile. “Of course, Mom. But they’re not really foxes. They’re faeries.”

            “You can’t see what they really look like until you eat some of their food,” Willow added. “We met them last night. They’re super cool.”

            Thorn came forward and handed two graham crackers to Lilly. “Give these to your parents. Then they will believe.”

            Lilly realized this was a lot easier than trying to argue with her parents. She handed a cracker to each parent, which they ate with a lot of doubt. As soon as they swallowed them, their eyes were opened.

            “My, my! You ARE faeries!” Dad said.

            “Arnie, are they dangerous?” Mom asked, rubbing her eyes.

            “We’d love you to join us for an early luncheon,” Thorn said. “We’ve prepared something special for you.”

            Before Lilly could protest that they were in the middle of a family hike, Nettle grabbed her around the waist and threw her over his shoulder like a bag of potatoes.

            Several things happened at once.

Thorn pulled Dad into the woods. Rudy took Willow’s arm and pulled him behind her. Mom shrieked and ran after them. What did the faeries want with them?

Did faeries eat humans?

Whoosh! Twisting around, she could see a whirlpool in the air, framed by the ancient branches of two oak trees. The portal. Next thing she knew, Nettle passed through it, making her ears pop. The rest of the faeries and her family followed.

Nettle set her gently down into a bed of soft pine needles. She couldn’t see anything because on this side of the portal, it was night. But it smelled tangy like a forest. She thought she could also smell grilled chicken and corn.

Then she felt the thump of her brother and parents falling next to her. The faeries stood over them, their green eyes reflecting the pale moonlight.

“What do you want from us?” Lilly said in a half-sobbing voice.

“You’d better let us go,” Dad said. “I’ve got a knife.”

“Arnie, it’s only a pocketknife,” Mom argued.

“You weren’t supposed to tell them that. It’s iron after all. Doesn’t iron hurt them?” he said.

A few whispered words produced a flame which Thorn used to light a lantern. Her beautiful face looked haunting in its light.

“We are sorry to distress you in any way. You are very important to us. Because the four of you passed through the portal, now we can bring four of our friends out to your world for a camping trip,” Thorn said in a soothing voice.

“Our children play with theirs,” Nettle said. “They love to play in the woods. It gives us adults plenty of time to sit around the campfire.”

Lily’s mind whirred. “So, you need humans to go through this portal into your garden so that you can take faeries back to our world for a camping trip? What about our camping trip?”

Dad stood up, looking around. “Where are we? Send us back immediately!”
            Thorn sighed like a patient mother. “I’m so sorry. It’s time for you to rest now. When you awaken, luncheon will be served.” She waved her hand and a thick purple mist covered Lily and her family, sending them into dreamless sleep.

The Singing Campground: Part One

When her dad finally turned their motorhome into the campground, Lily had no reason to believe it was haunted. After all, she had just turned twelve years old, and she considered herself very grown up. She didn’t believe in nonsense like ghosts. Not like her brother, Willow, who still tied a beach towel around his neck and called himself Super Twin.

The sign at the campground entrance said William Heise County Park. It had taken them over two hours of twisty roads to get here. That seemed like a long time to drive somewhere just for the weekend, but Dad was set on eating apple pie at nearby Julian. He had towed our Jeep behind the motorhome so that we could ride top down into the historic mining town on Saturday.

“When we get to our site, everyone helps set up camp,” Dad said. “Willow, that means no taking off into the forest.”

“Come on, Dad!” her brother said. “We’ve been stuck in this RV forever!”

“No whining,” Mom said. “Camping is a team activity. Everyone works together.”

Lily gave her twin her best Mom glare. He took a deep chug of his soda and belched in her face.

“Mom, Willow’s being rude!” she said.

“Willow, settle down,” Mom said. “Be nice to your sister for once.”

Willow stuck out his tongue at Lily who had already decided to ignore him.

After he unhooked the Jeep, Dad followed the signs to their site. Mom followed behind us driving the Jeep. Lily had studied the camp map before they left. This camp had three loops for motorhomes and one just for tents. He turned right at the first loop and drove slowly.

“We’re in site 12. Keep your eyes open so we don’t miss it,” he said.

“There it is,” Lily cried. A small wooden post at the side of the paved pad had the number 12 written on it.

Dad passed the site. Mom jumped out to guide him back into the spot.

“Lily, check the level,” he said when he was in.

Lily grabbed the small plastic leveler and set it on the kitchen counter, in the middle of the small motorhome. She looked at the small bubbles inside. One bubble was for front to back level and the other was for side to side. The side to side one was inside the lines. Level. But the front to back one was not.

“Dad, it looks like we need blocks on the back tires,” she said. She was pretty good at checking levels. She was exact in everything she did.

After the motorhome was set, Lily and Willow helped their mom set up the outdoor rug, table, and chairs. Dad plugged in the electricity and hooked up the water. Then he took down their bikes from the rack on the back of the motorhome.

“Let’s go explore,” Willow said, hopping on his bike.

“Wait! Here’s your helmet,” Lily called after him. He zoomed past her, snagging his helmet out of her hand. She rubbed some sunscreen on her nose. Then she pulled on her mini backpack with drinks and snacks. She buckled on her helmet over her blonde hair swept back in a ponytail. Finally, she was ready to catch up with her brother.

“Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad!” she cried over her shoulder.

“Be back by dark,” Mom called after her.

Lily pedaled hard before she saw Willow cruising down the hill toward another loop of campsites. “Wait for me!” she said, although she didn’t have much hope that he would slow down. Suddenly, she raced past him as he stopped at the bottom of the hill.

She slowed down and turned around to join him. Willow stood with his feet down on either side of his bike, staring into a deep green thicket of forest.

“What do you see? Is it a deer?” Lily said, putting her feet down.

He turned to face her. “Wait. Do you hear that?”

Lily listened carefully. Chirping birds, droning insects, faint laughter from a campsite. “What exactly should I be hearing?”

Willow’s curly blonde hair almost hung into his eyes, but she could still see that he was freaked out about something. His mouth scrunched up in annoyance. “Come on, Lily! Can’t you hear it? It’s singing! And a guitar. Some campfire song I kinda remember from summer camp.”

Lily listened again. This time she faintly heard voices singing along with a guitar. It did sound like an old song they’d heard at camp:

Mr. Moon, Mr. Moon, you’re out too soon,

The sun is still in the sky.

Go back to your bed and cover up your head,

And wait til the day is night.

            She would have expected to hear this song coming from a campsite at night. Instead, she heard it coming from the forest somewhere beyond them.

            “I want to go see who’s singing,” Willow said, pushing down the kickstand on his bike and setting it up on the side of the road. “Wanna come with me?”

            Lily looked around. Their bikes would be safely out of the way. There was still plenty of daylight left for them to explore. Besides she was curious about the song, too. “Okay,” she said. She left her bike and followed her brother into the woods.

            There was no trail, so Willow had to beat down the underbrush with his sneakers and push branches aside to make progress. Lily defended herself against the branches when they snapped back in her face.

            “Who do you think they are?” Lily asked. She had already decided the mysterious song came from some campers roughing it outside the regular campsites. There was something haunting about the way they sang though.

            “Ghosts, of course,” Willow said over his shoulder.

            “Seriously? How do you get ghosts from a group of campers singing a song?” Lily said with a chuckle. “You are so weird sometimes.”

            Willow stopped and held back a branch so he could see her face. “Did you hear Dad talking about it the other night? The reason we were able to get last minute reservations was because campers say this place is haunted.”

            “A haunted campground?” Lily said. “Dad must have been trying to scare you.”

            “I thought so, too. But then I researched it on the internet. Ten years ago, there was a huge wildfire up here. Almost took out the town of Julian. All the campgrounds were evacuated. Except there were some campers that went out into the woods to get away from other people. They didn’t realize the fire was that close. The wind blew up and none of them escaped alive.”

            “Wow! That’s terrible,” Lily said.

            Willow nodded. “Yeah, it was. The camp was closed for the rest of the summer, until they could make repairs. The next year when campers came back, they started to complain about hearing strange sounds. Singing in the woods. Some people said they were the ghosts of the campers who got caught in the wildfire.”

            “There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Lily said. “Maybe someone is playing a prank.”

            “Let’s find out,” Willow said. He pulled out his phone from his pocket. “I’m going to take pictures of the ghosts or pranksters. Whatever. When I post this on Instagram, I’ll get thousands of new followers.” He turned and continued toward the music.

            Lily followed behind him, wondering how she allowed her brother to get her involved in another one of his ridiculous schemes. The singing was getting louder, and now she could tell that there was at least one adult and more than one kid singing. It sounded like only one acoustic guitar. She suppressed a shiver. It was chilly in the shade here, compared to riding in the sun. She was glad they were both wearing jeans since it was hard to tell whether they were walking through poison ivy.

            They were surrounded by young trees growing close together, the canopy of leaves overhead not yet thick enough to block patchy sunlight from filtering through. Blackened stumps and fallen black limbs poking out through the undergrowth were the only reminders that a wildfire had destroyed this area years ago.

            The singing went on, song after song. It was getting louder. Now Lily could also hear the crackling and popping of a campfire. They kept walking toward the sounds.

            Willow pulled aside more branches, and a clearing opened before them. A large fire was burning in the middle, contained by a ring of rocks. The singing stopped.

            Lily gasped and grabbed Willow’s arm, pulling down his phone.  

The dog beach

The shy March sun caressed my bare shoulders as we waded through dry sand. I held our beagle’s leash firmly even though we were on the dog beach. It was Harley’s first experience around other off-leash dogs. She stayed at my side, her brown eyes wide and her tail hooked down in the question mark position.

The shoreline was a flurry of activity. Dogs dashed past into frothing waves. Owners threw frisbees and balls. Tails wagged and rear ends were sniffed. My husband and I found a spot at the edge of the wet sand and set up our chairs. I held my breath and unhooked Harley’s leash, wondering if she would run off. She cowered behind my chair.

The sky was brilliant blue and clear of clouds, although helicopters made regular appearances as they monitored the coastline. The sand and breeze were cool, balancing out the relentless rays of the sun. Not quite swimsuit weather for me, although some of the other beach goers didn’t shy away from them.

A white Lab trotted over to check us out. His friendly face convinced us to allow him to approach Harley. Our beagle froze in place while the dog sniffed her. Whew! We made it through one encounter.

To our left, someone had left their towel and bad in the sand while they were at the water. Two dogs came up to sniff around it. One raised his leg. A woman in a bikini shouted at them and they scattered. Harley watched intently.

Another group of dogs flew past us and circled around to that same towel and bag. Barking madly, Harley jumped up and raced over there to chase them off. I called her and she returned, proud of herself.

It was a pleasant morning watching dogs enjoy themselves. Smiling and panting, soaked with sea water, they raced up and down the water line. The owners actively supervised their dog children to prevent fights. Harley didn’t join in, but she watched.

After a few hours, our pink skin convinced us we’d had enough sun for the day. As I clipped on Harley’s leash, she held me with her sad eyes. We walked toward the Jeep, half-dragging her with us.

Maybe next time she’ll be ready to join the fun.

Two Wheels to Four-Wheel Drive

When my husband was forced to sell his Harley, it seemed like the end of the world. The Harley world had been family to us. Our access to adventure and fellowship were suddenly taken away like a thief breaking into our garage. But this thief was chronic illness, cruel and relentless. Slowly over the years, my husband lost the strength and energy to safely ride a motorcycle. Our riding days were over.

How could we replace roaring down back roads viewing God’s art galleries of nature? Swapping stories with other riders in tiny diners only bikers know about?

We bought a 2004 Jeep Wrangler, bright yellow, that we named Digger.

Some of our Harley friends also had off road vehicles so we planned a weekend trip to the Salton Sea. They invited other Jeep friends and suddenly we had a new group to ride with. Following their motorhome down to the desert felt a little like the HOG rides we’d taken in the past.

The first day we set up at the campground and met the others who would ride with us the next day. In the morning, my husband let out enough air out of Digger’s tires so that we could travel the sand without getting stuck. When it was time, we lined up behind the other Jeeps. One of the experienced Jeepers rode “sweep” like on a Harley group ride. We turned off the main road and hit the dirt.

Slowly. Definitely not at the pace of a Harley.

It’s a different world when you leave the asphalt. Tire tracks in the sand were our only street signs. Instead of cars and trucks competing for highway space, we had to share the dry riverbeds with Razors and ATVs.

The incredible scenery rivaled a Harley ride.

I snapped photos of bat caves, abandoned railroad trestles, and even a palm tree oasis. I held my breath as we climbed a steep hill to reach raised railroad tracks. Our beagle in the back seat covered her eyes, unlike our border collie who watched the road eagerly. The wood and iron from the railroad tracks had been cleared away, leaving the flat gravel surface. The trail was only as wide as a train, with steep drop-offs on either side. It reminded me of a Utah highway we rode with our Harley.

As we followed the railbed, I snapped pictures from our elevated position over the desert. After a while, we encountered mounds of soft dirt piled up on the tracks to prevent off road vehicles from going any further. That didn’t stop our leader. His Jeep was lifted much higher than ours, and for a moment my heart fluttered. Would we get stuck on the top of the dirt pile?

Of course that was an incentive for my husband. As we reached the top of the dirt, I heard a soft swushing under our Jeep, but we made it back down the other side. I started breathing again.

Riding off road can be jarring especially on some of well-traveled trails that have been worn down into washboard ruts. Our Jeep jerked back and forth so much I had to brace myself against the center console and the door. Riding on our Ultra Limited had been much smoother. We dipped down into ravines so deep I was positive we were going to end up planted headfirst in the bottom. But our trusty Jeep climbed in and out of them like it was a regular road.

One thing I learned—the desert is not flat.

On the way back to the campground, we traveled down a canal access road that was gravel but well maintained. That was welcome relief.

When we reached our motorhomes, my friend and I headed to the mineral springs at the resort. We soothed our tight muscles as the sun set into the desert night. My brain appreciated not being jiggled for a while.

Later by the propane campfire, we devoured steaks, potatoes, and corn roasted on the grill. We shared stories and learned more about the new Jeep people we had met. My husband was tired, but it was well worth it.

We may have lost Harley adventures, but we had gained a new world to explore off the paved road.

Driving the motorhome and the meaning of life

The strangest part of driving a 30-foot Class C motorhome is you can’t see anything in the rear-view mirror. In fact, the rear-view mirror is a backup camera that only comes on when you’re in reverse gear.

As I took my turn driving down Highway 395 toward Mammoth Lakes, I readjusted the huge side mirrors and the driver’s seat. This was only my fourth time driving the rig. Including the mirrors, our rig was over eight feet wide which can make you feel squished into your lane. But the road we currently traveled was wide with a shoulder, so I smiled at my husband as he headed to the bedroom for a nap.

It was just me and the highway.

Just like he taught me, I shifted my eyes from side mirror to ahead to other side mirror to check my lane position. My hands were a little damp on the steering wheel. This thing was so big! Not as big as a bus-sized motorhome that cost as much as our house, but much larger than my Tundra pickup.

As I rolled down the highway, two challenges emerged. First was keeping my big butt in the lane, even as the wind bumped me from time to time. Second were the hills.

When you’re in a car, you don’t notice the hills as much. Our Corolla zipped up and down the mountains on the way to San Diego like it was motocross. But for a thirty-foot monstrosity, hills take a little planning.

As I spotted an incline in the distance, I reluctantly pushed the speedometer up to 70 mph. At this speed, our rig started to feel like a small boat in choppy waters, so I gripped the steering wheel. When I reached the hill, my speed would start to drop, and the tachometer would start flipping numbers quickly. I divided my attention between the tach and the road, trying to keep the rig within reasonable stress on the motor. Finally, I reached the peak of the hill and could shake out my shoulders.

Until the next hill. Which came soon, as we were steadily climbing into the Sierra mountains.

Hours flew by. As I settled into the routine, I realized that driving the rig could be a metaphor for life. Instead of being able to look at my past directly while I was looking ahead, I had to give side glances at it instead. I had to pay more attention to where I was in my own lane, or life, than looking at others. Looking at the road in front of me and ahead was more important than what was behind. Focus on what I could do now and not past failures.

Lessons learned while driving a motorhome.

San Simeon from a Cage

 

snajodi3

A black line of Harleys wrapped around the mountain, hidden in curves and revealed in straightaways. What was I doing, following in my Corolla, when I longed to feel the ocean wind bite while dancing the twisties?

Most of the time being a teacher is rewarding. Third grade enthusiasm recharges me daily. However, when my school schedule interferes with our riding schedule, grrr. Instead of sitting behind Frank on the HOG overnighter to San Simeon, my fate was to ride up in a cage, joining the others later.

Saturday morning, I followed Frank’s bike up to Monterey where we planned to meet our group for lunch bayside. We sipped coffee and watched sea lions play among bobbing sailboats at the marina. Gentle November sunshine kept us warm in spite of the brisk breeze.

I checked my watch. Almost noon. When were the HOGs going to arrive? I heard a low rumble from up the coast, building to a roar, culminating in the line of Harleys parading onto the wharf in search of parking spots. Every head turned, forks paused at mouths as people took in the sight of chrome and snarling thunder.

We joined our friends for fish and chips and listened to stories about the morning’s ride through misty wine country. They peeled off layers of leather in the bright sunshine, grateful to be warm at last. Everyone rested and refueled for the challenging road back to the motel on the famous Highway One through Big Sur. Then it was time to ride.

That’s how I found myself following them through massive forest, skirting bare edges of cliffs, crashing surf on my right. There was a steady stream of traffic, and no one seemed in a hurry to rush past the dramatic scenery. At every overlook point, some cars would pull off while others rejoined us.

This influx of vehicles separated me from the Harleys, as well as bicycles hugging the blacktop’s edge. Scanning the cliffs ahead, I couldn’t catch a glimpse of the HOGs. Knowing that the road would bring me back to the motel eventually, I continued on.

Finally, I came out from around a curve and sighted our group stopped in a large pull out area. I parked in front of them and got out. Jagged rocks rose behind us, waves foaming on the rocks below. No craft dared navigate the churning ocean here. It was a desolate place, defiant of man’s attempts to tame it. Gulls screamed in circles above us as the sun sunk down toward the horizon.

Frank gave me a hug, and a friend took a picture of us with the ocean gleaming in the background. Out of my car, I felt connected to the HOGs again. Even though I had missed the thrill of riding Highway One on our Harley, I wouldn’t have missed this moment for anything.

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.

Burnt Bushes

wrightwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

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