Most improved

Me on my new Harley named Perseverance (Percy)

“Jodi, what are you doing right now?”

“I’m trying to find neutral so I can start the bike!”

Of course the training motorcycle I was assigned had a hard time shifting to neutral. I couldn’t start the bike until it was in neutral. My foot was flailing as I tried to bump the shifter up a half step. The whole class behind me was waiting.

I’m an adult. I’ve driven cars for many years, including stick shifts. Why is riding a motorcycle so complicated?

I had ridden behind my husband on our Harley for years. This was the year I was going to learn how to ride my own. I registered for the riding class at our local Harley dealership. Three days to make me a rider.

The book work wasn’t that hard. I have a Masters Degree in Teaching so I know how to study. Our first session was reviewing some of the information in the guide which included the controls, how to start and stop the bike.

There was one other woman in my class. One other adult over fifty. The remaining five students were young men with dirt bike miles. I didn’t let my inexperience freak me out as I knew all the answers in the classroom.

The next day was the range.

We met at 6:30 am at the fairgrounds parking lot. A line of small black Harleys waited in a line. Our instructors had cones placed in a mysterious pattern. For each activity, we watched one of the instructors ride it while the other explained what we had to do. Looked easy enough.

Until I tried to start the bike. Neutral eluded me many times that day, adding to my stress and frustration. During the course of five hours, I had to push all fear of failure and negative self talk out of my brain, as I only had room to focus on making my bike move.

When our instructor finally gave us the signal to park the bikes, I was soaking wet and trembling. It was time for lunch and back to the classroom.

My whole body ached when my head hit the pillow that night. The other woman in my class had already quit after the practice range. One of the young guys didn’t come back either. I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone.

I didn’t have to ride a motorcycle.

I groaned when my alarm went off the next morning. The day of our riding and written tests. Should I get up and get dressed?

When I showed up holding my helmet, my instructor raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. My mind was set. I was going to do this.

I got on my bike and fired it up. All I could think about was following directions, following the other riders, following my dream.

After some warmups, we completed a series of motorcycle skills for the riding test: swerves, slow turns, quick stops, street turns. The instructors scribbled on clipboards as we sped by. Then we got the signal and parked the training bikes for the last time.

My hands shook as I unbuckled and took off my helmet. My hair was plastered to my face and my makeup had disappeared hours ago.

“We need to retest one student. The rest of you passed. Go get lunch and meet back at the classroom for the written test.”

The name they called was not mine. I passed the riding test.

On my way back, I stopped at Starbucks for a cold drink and a cake pop. My mind buzzed like I’d just come out of my first Lord of the Rings movie. I knew I could pass the written test, but the riding course was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life.

Later that afternoon, the instructors passed out awards to our class. All of us who showed up the second day had passed both tests and were ready to apply for motorcycle licenses at the DMV. We’d still have to take another written test there, but after what we’d been through the past three days, it sounded simple.

The awards were light-hearted, including one for Speed Demon, Shortstop, and Curve Master. My award was not surprising.

Most Improved.

Ride Without Hugs

rock store

The only thing missing from our first official HOG day ride since the pandemic was hugs. Some riders gave “air hugs” and fist bumps. Most riders stood apart and greeted each other with a nod, grateful to see friends in person, not on a screen.

Many HOGs rode during the stay at home order, in small groups that we trusted. Even so, my eyes teared up when Tom passed me the ride sheet. We were back! It feel so good to place ourselves in the protective care of a road captain, with route and stops already planned.

One welcome side effect of this terrible time was the lack of traffic. We cruised over to Glendale Harley-Davidson, our first stop, in record time. The dealership was located in a series of old brick buildings. There were many bikers walking around, and if it weren’t for the face masks, it would looked like a regular day. My favorite part was the vintage motorcycle exhibit which included Harley-Davidson racing bikes and a side car motorcycle.

After another traffic-free freeway ride (on the 101!), we finally reached Mullholland Highway. Now the real ride could begin as the winding road led us up into mountains and past ranches. Horses looked up with pointed ears, envious of our freedom.

When we arrived at the Rock Store, I almost didn’t recognize it. Last time Frank and I were here, we approached from the opposite direction, and rows of parked motorcycles began long before the actual building. This time, we could park in front of the restaurant in the original motorcycle parking lot.

When I removed my helmet, I was struck by the silence. No roar of laughter and conversation from the patio, no live music. We lined up with the rest of our group and ordered our food. When we got it, Frank and I sat on the steps leading up to the main entrance, normally where there would be lots of traffic. Others ate at their bikes, using their tourpak as a table.

As we talked and ate, groups of motorcycles passed by on their way to their own adventures. Even in the midst of a pandemic, riders found peace in roaring engines and wind under their helmets.

When we were finished, our group split up to go home. Frank and I chose to follow Tom, who took the long way on the Coast Highway from Malibu to Santa Monica before jumping on the freeway. Riding next to the ocean never disappoints, although I was sad to see all the closed parking lots. Usually I don’t envy those who live at the beach because of the encroaching crowds, but when access is restricted, it seems like a reasonable sacrifice to wiggle your toes in the sand. After a glimpse of the waves, we headed inland where we found our first real traffic, caused by road construction. Even with the slowdown, we got back to Riverside sooner than normal.

Relaxing in our pool, Frank and I discussed our favorite parts of the day. Great scenery, great food, great weather. Another awesome ride with awesome friends, even without hugs.

Long Comeback

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Tugging on my cold weather gear after a few months’ break was awkward. The last time Frank and I rode with the HOGs in the dog days of summer, we barely wore jackets. Then my husband’s autoimmune disease kicked into high gear in September, and we were on hiatus until February.

Today we were back in the saddle, joining our riding group to Barrett Junction. As we turned into the Harley-Davidson dealership, I heard a scream, “It’s Jodi and Frank.” The greeting rang sweetly in my ears, chasing away the voices telling us our Harley days were over. Frank parked next to the other motorcycles, and I hopped down to hug my friends.

You would have thought we’d won a race. After the funerals we attended this year, seeing Frank back on his bike was needed encouragement. Not that it was unusual for a motorcycle riding group to see members pass away. Every ride was inches from it. But recently, we’d also lost one to cancer. It made Frank’s victory ever sweeter.

After getting our instructions, it was time for kickstands up. Slowly I lifted my many-layered leg over the seat and hopped on our Harley. Engines growled around us and the group of fifteen bikes lined up in the parking lot. After I plugged in my heated jacket and pants, I pulled on my gloves. It was a frosty 45 degrees, but my phone promised 70s by the afternoon.

Our road captain had called ahead to the tiny restaurant. They told him there was another group of 50 coming in at noon. We had a deadline to get there first, so part of today’s trip would be freeway. My heart raced as we passed cars with our roaring line of bikes. Our backdrop was desert outlined with mountains. Some of those mountains we would see up close in a few hours.

Finally, we turned off onto a small highway that led past Indian reservations and a large modern casino. Our staggered formation was now one up as we started hugging the curves. A few ranches dotted the landscape until finally we threaded into the mountains. Spreading oaks were slowly replaced by tall pine trees.

Our progress unimpeded by traffic, I was disappointed to see signs that we would need to stop ahead. Men in orange vests brought us to a stop. What was going on? Whirring blades drew my eyes up. A large helicopter was lowering a huge metal telephone pole into place next to the narrow road. All of us were mesmerized watching the precise movements. After the pole was secured, the orange vests allowed us to pass.

In these remote mountains, I lost track of where we were, but soon there were signs announcing that the Mexican border was only 20 miles away. We passed a Border Patrol checkpoint. Barrett Junction was still in California, but at the southern edge.

Turn followed turn as we danced our way down into a small valley. Houses appeared on the sides of the road and nestled into the hills. We turned into the gravel parking lot of a small café. Various models of Corvettes filled the front lot, first arrivals of our rival group. We quickly parked and went inside.

After seating us all at a long table, our waitress brought us menus typed up on a single sheet of white paper. No restaurant name or pictures needed. They made fried fish, burgers, and a chicken salad. Their fish and chips was their specialty.

Frank and I sat and talked with our fellow riders as we waited for our food. Today felt different from the other HOG rides we’d taken over the years. Maybe we had started to take it for granted, that every weekend we’d be on the road with our fellow adventurers. After suffering a forced break, we realized how much we missed it. The back roads, the pulsing energy of riding in a group, the jokes and laughter, the fresh baked goods Jay always brought.

It was great to be back.

Before the Thunder

WCT7

West Coast Thunder is a motorcycle event sponsored by Riverside Harley-Davidson held each Memorial Day to assist The Riverside National Cemetery. Around 6,000 motorcycles parade through Riverside, CA, past the National Cemetery, and end up at a venue for a concert. 

It’s actually colder at dawn than in the waning night hours. And your Harley can get soaking wet sitting outside without rain falling on it. Two things I learned at this year’s West Coast Thunder.

Frank and I joined crazy HOG members that met at 3:30 a.m. the morning of the parade. After setting up behind the barricades (already at least 50 bikes ahead of us), some hiked over to Denny’s a few blocks away. Monika, Jeff, Frank, and I opted for the pancake breakfast at the dealership. (The bacon was surprisingly perfect.)

All was quiet, except the golf carts rushing around. (Watch out for Mitch!) As the sky grew light, the rain-threatening clouds pulled back, and it got colder that when we first arrived. Monika and I shivered in our leather jackets, chaps, and gloves. Frank, as usual, was barely cold. After what seemed a very long time, riders started to walk up to the dealership.

Sitting at the First Aid booth inside Riverside Harley-Davidson’s parking lot gave me a front row seat to observe the variety of riders that participate in West Coast Thunder. Ladies dressed alike in white and purple. Grey-haired men in patch-covered vests. Grandfathers with their excited granddaughters. Young men sucking down their cans of Monster. Couples dressed in leather, holding hands.

Riders stopped by to visit. I met the director of the Pomona HOG chapter. One of my relatives rides with them. He reminded me that they came to one of our activity meetings to see how our chapter got so many rides on the calendar. So many things about IE HOG I take for granted, and yet other groups aspire to our success. Which wouldn’t even happen if not for our great members who love to ride and hang out.

And just in case you wondered, Monika and Steve (the only member of our team who was qualified) gave out two band aids, so we earned our positions. Frank and I passed out small water bottles.

Hours passed, and I grew drowsy at the edge of the crowd’s hum. Then the speakers came on, and it was time for the opening speeches and flag ceremony. The people surrounding the color guard were ten deep so I knew I would not catch a glimpse from our booth. Last year, Frank and I had staked ourselves a spot watching it. The solemn pageantry was unforgettable.

To wake myself up, I walked out to our bike to grab snacks. Imagine my surprise when I discovered our bike soaking wet from the morning dew. Some more intelligent riders had covers, but I stood there looking at yesterday’s wash and polish literally drip away. Oh well, two hours of my life I’ll never get back. (Add it to that one time I had to go into the DMV.)

Finally, finally, it was time for Kick Stands Up. Our fellow HOGs and I strapped on our helmets and got ready to go. The beginning of the line, with the color guard, leaves at 9:11 a.m. We sat on our bikes and waited, looking for movement in the line ahead of us. Then suddenly, we were off and riding under the huge flag that swung over the middle of the street. West Coast Thunder was on.

 

 

 

 

West Coast Thunder Weekend

 

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In the teachers’ lounge, someone asked, “What are you doing over Memorial Day Weekend?”

“Riding in a parade with 8000 other motorcycles,” I said.

Each Memorial Day, West Coast Thunder sponsors a motorcycle ride that goes through Riverside, California, past the Riverside National Cemetery, and to a concert destination (this year Lake Elsinore Storm Stadium). It is a charity event that supports the Riverside National Cemetery.

Riverside Harley-Davidson sponsors the starting point, and our HOG chapter is there to help. Some will flip burgers at the dealership Saturday and Sunday, while others will man the stops for the Annual Poker Run.

But Monday is the main event. My husband and I plan to meet other HOG members at 3:30 a.m. to secure our place in the bike lineup. There are so many different kinds of motorcycles, not just Harleys, that show up for the parade. Walking down the rows of bikes staged between k-rails helps pass the time until the 9:11 a.m. KSU (kick stands up).

So don’t call me Sunday night. My phone will be on “Do Not Disturb.” And maybe I’ll wave to you as you sit with your beach chairs and flags along the route.

 

 

 

 

Snorkeling on a Harley

Joshua TreeYou don’t expect to ride under water with a Harley touring bike, but thanks to a wet winter, water crossings have been featured in two of our recent HOG rides.

Not wet pavement, not trickling water, but rushing, CHURNING flash flood creeks (pronounced cricks for you Californians). Frothy muddy brown water through which you can’t see the bottom.

Our first water ride was on Temescal Canyon Road near Glen Ivy. Instead of a bridge over a normally dry creek bed, the road dipped down to meet it. As the bikes in front of us slowed down, I saw fast-moving water covering the entire road in front of us. Slowly, one by one the bikes plowed through the churning muddy mess, water covering the bottom third of their tires.

All I remembered thinking was “If we go over, I’m getting a mud bath treatment right outside Glen Ivy Spa.” Most of us went slow. One particular member decided to goose it and created a huge fan of water that completely covered him. He was still dripping when we reached Tom’s Farm. Everyone made it through without a problem, and we all laughed about it during lunch.

Our second whitewater experience was on the ride to Joshua Tree Saloon. Our road captain took us the long way behind the mountains in the high desert. The tiny two lane road took us through rugged desert hills and across more creek beds (When will they ever build California roads OVER water, not under it?). This time, I felt more prepared as Frank and I waited our turn to cross the rushing water. Until we hit the unseen pothole at the low point in the road.

We wiggled, we wobbled, but then we settled down and made it out like we knew what we were doing. I released my held breath and my death-grip on Frank. As we continued down the road, I kept waiting for the road captain to pull over because someone had gone down in the water, but it was smooth sailing all the way to Joshua Tree. Everyone made it through with minimal mud dripped from our pipes. Something more to talk about when we reached the end of the ride.

Some people think Harley rides are a short ride down the road and lunch at a diner.

They have no idea about the water adventure that may be included.

 

Sisterhood of the Traveling Chaps

LOH ride

 

A HOG overnighter was where the magic began.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on our first overnighter years ago. The Grand Canyon was our destination, which we actually never visited due to snow (in May!). That trip was our learning curve—finding out that our bank would block our credit card if we used it at gas stations. Finding out we could ride in rain, wind, sleet, hail, and light snow. Finding out that we really needed to spend money on heavy gloves. We didn’t spend much time hanging out with the group due to the inclement weather, but it was still fun.

Our next trip was Utah. Since it was in June, the weather was hot in the desert and cool on the plateaus. Our first night of the four-day trip we spent in St. George. It was over 100 degrees, and as soon as we could change out of our sweaty riding clothes, we hopped into the swimming pool. Everyone was tired from the long day’s ride, so the girls decided to order pizza to eat poolside. Suddenly it became a HOG party, as more of our group joined us. Hanging out with each other was as fun as riding.

That trip I got to know the chapter ladies. We sat together at lunch. When we stopped each night, we texted each other to coordinate dinner as a group. The passengers shared photos we had shot along the way. We laughed about the wind that buffeted us each time we turned a different direction. Away from our usual responsibilities, we sat and talked for hours about our kids, homes, dogs, and dreams. We became family through our travels.

I was hooked on overnighters. As we became part of each other’s story, an overnighter became a reunion of kindred spirits. We couldn’t wait to hit the road and share each other’s’ company for a few days. There was always time to talk with friends while waiting in line for the only restroom at the gas station or munching snacks on the side of the road. Before dinner, we would hang out in each other’s motel rooms while we waited for everyone else to join us.

That’s when we began the HOG tradition of the Ladies of Harley group photo on each overnighter. Whether we rode our own bikes or sat behind our guys, we shared our love of adventure on the open road. A love that many of our non-riding friends could never understand.

The saddest part of any trip was the last day after lunch. It was time to head home, and on the final leg of the journey, everyone would split off to their own destination. After exchanging hugs and smiles, thanking each one for the fellowship, we pulled on our helmets and rode away. When we got home, the same text string we used for dinner plans would let everyone know we arrived home safely.

As I hung up my jackets and chaps, I was already calculating how many weeks it would be until the next overnighter. I couldn’t wait to head out on the road again with my dear friends and our sisterhood of the traveling chaps.

All in a Day’s Journey- HOGs in Utah

utah

The second day of a four-day overnighter Harley trip is not weighed down by expectations. On our Utah trip, we were not scheduled to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion until the third day, so my husband, Frank, and I emerged from our motel room ready for a mostly highway ride up to Torrey. On a June day in St. George, we reluctantly pulled on our jackets, not believing that we could find cool enough weather in this desert. But our road captain, Jim, assured us that the temps would fall as we gained altitude so we wore our jackets, unzipped for now.

Frank and I had never been to Utah before on a motorcycle, and couldn’t help looking around at the sweeping red rock horizon surrounding us. Every mountain was a sculpted into unique shapes that reminded us of clay animals we had crudely fashioned in school. I could see dogs and even one that certainly was a camel. As we followed our Harley Owners Group chapter (HOG) out of the parking lot, the pink dawn held promise of wonders yet to see.

The first part of our day was just getting there—following red highways toward the northern horizon. It felt like driving to LA on a holiday, almost no cars on the road, only the familiar big rigs faithfully carrying their loads cross-country. Mountains watched us from the distance on both sides of the road. I relaxed into my backrest, listening to music on my com set. Frank followed the group, his stereo blasting out classic rock.

Just as my bottom was starting to get sore, we turned off the main highway and headed up into the mountains. Our destination was a road on the backside of a ski resort closed due to snow when the ride captain prerode the trip at Easter. His curiosity whether the road would now be open had driven us all up there. We followed the group as they wound around the mountain, giving us glimpses of meadows and grassy patterns that in the winter would be ski slopes.

We passed a clear blue lake on our left and then the group pulled over. Jim and a few of the guys walked up the road farther where there was a metal gate blocking our further travel, with a big sign, Road Closed. He joked about riding around the gate, but several of the more reasonable members of our group heartily disagreed. Instead of exploring the road, which appeared to be dirt mixed with large gravel, we took a break by the lake.

No one was there except us, another unusual situation for people from Southern California. We ate our snacks, drank our water, and took pictures. It was getting later in the afternoon, and we hadn’t eaten anything except the motel’s meager free breakfast. Hungry bikers are crabby bikers, so Jim rounded up the group to head back down toward civilization.

Of course, the tiny village at the foot of the mountain didn’t have any fast food, or any restaurants at all. We rode up to a campground that boasted a Mexican restaurant and pulled in to check it out. Unfortunately, the tiny restaurant was not scheduled to open until 4:30 pm. It was around 2:30. I sought out the bathrooms, never wasting an opportunity when the next rest stop was uncertain.

I emerged to find that Jim’s charm and the presence of twenty hungry Harley riders had convinced the owners to open up just for us. When we all got inside and sat down, we filled almost all the tables. Servers appeared from nowhere, and soon plates of steaming hot enchiladas, tacos, and carne asada were set before us. The room was completely quiet except the clinking of forks on stoneware.

San Simeon from a Cage

 

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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.

Riding Among the Ancients

sentinel

Wrinkled trunks, witnesses of centuries, watch us ride through their domain. Sentinels perched on rocky battlements sigh, “Safe passage,” to the line of Harleys slithering up the narrow mountain road. Our HOG overnighter group pulls into the museum parking lot in the Sequoia National Park, and rests under the shelter of giants.

It feels good to stretch out after the slow procession through hairpins and switchbacks all the way up General Sherman Highway. Taking pictures next to the sequoias makes me feel like the tiny humans we are in this immense universe. These rugged trees have seen it all for thousands of years—bears, rabbits, Native Americans, European explorers, early settlers, awestruck tourists.

For a moment, time stops. Voices muffle here. We have ventured into a cathedral with vaulted ceilings of whispering green, a monument to a mighty Creator. As we pass between the reddish-brown pillars, I tilt back my head to glimpse tiny sparkles of sunlight that filter through the branches. Peace is a heady pine fragrance.

In the museum, I learn about sequoias through a slice of trunk. Dark rings record forest fires, but the trees are nearly indestructible. After a fire, they heal themselves, taking years to cover burned bark. The sequoia’s patience is a lesson we humans should learn. Disasters pass through, but the forest is constantly renewed.

Frank and I munch our sandwiches back in the parking lot, watching the steady flow of visitors. What draws us here, to the forest’s hush? A deep breath of crisp pine-scented air, the crunch of dry needles beneath our feet?

Perhaps we long for permanence in the midst of whirlwind change and relentless entropy in our modern world. These trees care nothing about politics or fashion. We are the blindfolded children swinging wildly at the piñata, while the forest, our great-grandfather, smiles fondly at our struggle.

Soon it is time to move on, to roar through the tunnels of trees and return to the cultivated farms of our world. With regret, we leave the retreat of wood and rock. We swish our way back down the mountain, our silent vows to return accepted by ancient giants.