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.

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.

 

 

How to Buy Your First Harley

This is another exercise from my Short Story class at UCLA. The assignment was to write a “how to” story in the second person POV. This is a work of fiction, and is not intended to be read as marital advice, and the persons depicted at the dealership are not real, except for that one guy:

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When you married a motorcyclist, you knew this day would come. He didn’t own a bike when you were dating since most his possessions were sold after his divorce. He didn’t even mention motorcycles during the first two years. Now you realize that all those trips to Chaparral Motorsports were not casual, especially when you remember that men don’t window-shop. Instead he lets you draw the conclusion, after he shows you hundreds of pictures on his phone, that he wants a Harley. It’s Christmas Eve, and he says, “Why don’t we go down to the Harley dealership and look around?”

You get there, and your husband has to find a spot to park between all the motorcycles. The huge brick building is swarming with bikes, inside and out, like a Harley anthill. All the workers wear bright orange long sleeve shirts, their arms and necks covered in tattoos. They’re scary but friendly, offering you coffee, and asking you what you’re looking for.

You say, “We’re just looking,” but somehow when you notice the gleam in your husband’s eye you know you’re not. He looks like a four-year old standing in the middle of Toys R Us. You feel a wave of panic, but it quickly passes. Your husband and you always talk first about major purchases. Up to this point.

Of course, there are no prices listed on the motorcycles so you have to find the guy with the long beard who nods to you with a predatory smile. At first, he’s excited that you’re looking at the newest models. Then when your husband gives him a price range, he sighs and quickly leads to their selection of used ones. Rows and row of shiny chrome, bright colors, and black leather. Some of these look even better than the new ones, with extra chrome and custom seats.

Your husband wants to sit on each one, to see how he feels on it. You play along with him, sitting behind him on the bike. Everyone at the dealership seems so excited about the bikes that you start to catch a little of it. Women walk by dressed in leather jackets and chaps, and you think you’d look pretty sexy in one of those outfits. Those women appear secure and confident, the way you’d like to feel. Curiously, your husband doesn’t even look at them. His eyes are only on the bikes. You feel like you made a good decision marrying him.

Then comes the test drive. There’s no way to avoid it because just revving the engine and sitting on the bike doesn’t tell you much about the way it moves. Your husband settles on two different bikes he likes best. One has a windshield and comfortable passenger seat with a backrest. One has ape-hanger handlebars and loud pipes and a seat that looks comfy enough for a trip to the grocery store. You tell your husband that, but he ignores you. You get mad for a moment, but then you remember that he didn’t look at the biker women.

This is the first time you ride on a motorcycle, so you don’t have the right shoes. You climb up on the back of the tall Road King, carefully placing your sandaled feet on the passenger floorboards. The backrest seems a mile behind you, so you cling to your husband with all your strength. You wish you had a jacket and gloves. The beard guy is riding a small loud Sportster, and his smile tells you he enjoys the opportunity to ride during work hours. Or maybe he’s already thinking about how he’s going to spend his commission on new grips and floorboards.

No one tells a passenger what to do, so when your husband goes through his gears to get the bike up to speed, you clunk your borrowed helmet, which doesn’t really fit you and smells like greasy sweat, into the back of your husband’s helmet. After several times, you realize you can brace your feet on the floorboards to prevent this.

As you and your husband follow the dealer guy down the road, you realize that there is nothing between you and the surrounding cars. Your unprotected leg is right next to their passenger door. You can look into cars and see drivers texting and talking on their phones, eating and drinking, and basically not paying attention to you at all. You’re holding your breath, and every muscle in your body stiffens. But no one rams your bike, and after a few blocks, you begin to relax.

The wind wiggles in through the bottom of your helmet, and you finally stop holding your breath. Orange blossoms, coffee shops, and restaurants create a bouquet of fragrance, interrupted occasionally by car exhaust and moldy leaves. As your husband leads you down a tree-lined street, you have an undiminished 360-degree view of everything around you. You remember the dealer guy called cars “cages” and now you understand why.

After you take the first bike back, you take out the second one. Climbing off the bike is awkward, and you almost fall on your bottom in front of all the bikers coming into the dealership. The next bike is customed out with ghost flames on the tank and skull embellished grips and floorboards. The guy who owned it didn’t like his wife, as the passenger only has skinny pegs for her feet. You feel a little jealous when your husband approaches it with the look he usually reserves for you. On the test ride, your husband finds that the ape-hanger handle bars hurt his neck like you suspected they would. It’s always best to let your husband find these things out for himself, preferably before you buy the bike.

You arrive back at the dealership too soon. You and your husband have to give back your helmets. There is an awkward silence as the dealer guy waits for you to cave in. Your husband looks at you, and you’re surprised when you say, “Let’s get the first one!”

The dealer guy nods like he’s known this all along, and you go to his office to sign the paperwork. That’s how you end up buying your first Harley.

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.

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.

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.

Skiing Palomar on a Harley

Palomar

 

Although Mt. Palomar enjoys an occasional dusting of snow and ice, there’s not enough for a ski resort. The only way to ski its winding road is on a Harley. One simmering day in August, the HOGs answered the challenge of thirty-five miles of twisty roads that loop up to the observatory and back down to Lake Henshaw.

The main road dropped us off like a ski lift, and the ride began. Our front wheel cut through the curves like a set of skis navigating a mogul field. I couldn’t see Frank’s face but if I could, I know I’d see his huge smile. And it’s even more fun from the passenger’s seat, where I was free to look out over the spreading valleys with their guardian mountains while our bike swooshed back and forth on the relentless road. To keep my seat, I had to keep some attention forward as Frank moved his body into turns. The rhythm of leaning left and right turned into a dance accompanied by rock music in my helmet headphones.

Our group of seven bikes turned into a ride of one as bikes spread out into the mountain’s shadows. We rode together, yet the ride was ours alone. The series of curves seemed endless like the ocean, and Frank was constantly setting up our next turn, over and over for miles. He and I didn’t talk much on our coms during the twisties. Time to communicate with the road.

When the group reassembled at the stop sign, it seemed like we’d been on a journey even through it had only been about 15 miles. Every rider was tested through Palomar’s gauntlet. Our bike stopped, but my heart was still racing.

After collecting up our riders, we took off again, headed for the observatory at the top, an elevation of 6142 feet. I noticed campgrounds as we zoomed by, but seriously wondered how large RVs would make it up that road. Pine trees mingled with oaks on both sides, creating a spicy refreshing breeze, making us aware of our damp clothing. Upon arrival at the picnic grounds and observatory parking lot, we parked The Black Pearl in a row with the other bikes and hopped off. Definitely time for cold water.

After a break, what comes up must go down, and we headed down the East Grade road toward Lake Henshaw. This road seemed easier than the road up, the curves a little more relaxed. But maybe not. Maybe we were warmed up from the first batch. Halfway down the hill I caught glimpses of the lake, surrounded by brown fields dotted with cattle. The pine scent was replaced by a burnt desert smell marking our descent to the highway.

As we rode back on the 76, long sweeping curves swirled us back down to Pala. These turns held us longer than the short choppy ones on the road to Palomar. They pulled us in like a storm drain, a whirlpool headed for the ocean. When we reached Pala Casino and parked our bike, I still felt the sway of the road for a while.

Much later, back at home and sitting in our pool, Frank and I compared our experiences on the mountain. We both loved the ride, although my impression included fear and relief that the ride was completed. However, Frank was ready to go back and challenge the mountain again another day. Not many rides can compare with skiing with your Harley on Mt. Palomar.

Lemon Bars at Dante’s Peak

bad water basin

As I savored the sweet tanginess of my lemon bar, I looked over the edge of Dante’s Peak into the vast expanse of Death Valley. I shivered in the icy wind, despite the sun beating down on us. The Inland Empire HOGs were taking a much-needed break before zigzagging down the narrow road back down to Furnace Springs.

As I finished my treat, I looked around at the diverse group of travelers that had led my husband and me out of suburban Riverside and into the remnants of the Wild West. We were surrounded by businessmen, teachers, and salespeople, as well as a man who was a talented baker.  There were wives who rode behind their husbands, as well as wives who rode their own Harleys. This journey drew us together as teammates and family, cowboys and cowgals gathered together at the campfire.

Bad Water Basin spread out before us, a still white lake surrounded by a multi-colored tapestry of minerals. Death Valley in winter seemed tame, but the blasted barren ground spoke of summer’s inferno only a few months away. We took pictures, chugged water, and huddled together to talk.

At a signal, helmets were buckled, engines roared, and the bikes lined up single file to gently roll down the hill to the open road. The bikes descended like sure-footed burros and soon we left the lookout point far behind.

How could I have noticed the rugged stripes of crumbling rock walls from inside the confines of a car? How could I have welcomed the sun’s warmth on my face inside a temperature controlled vehicle? Only a Harley trip can bring you face to face with the same West that challenged forty-niners to gamble their lives to reach their dreams of gold.

Who would expect homemade baked goods on a motorcycle trip?

They’ll Never Understand Why We Ride

riders

Even though my back was stiff, I smiled at my co-workers in the lounge. One of my teacher friends squinted at me and asked, “How was your weekend?”

“Frank and I rode with the HOGs through the mountains to Borrego Springs, around the edge of the Salton Sea, and back over the badlands. 300 miles! It was awesome!” I said, overwhelming her stupor with my residual energy.

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

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

When Frank and I first married, he told me about his years of riding different types of motorcycles, starting with his early dirt bike days. He would ride all day with his friend until the impending night forced them back to the house. Later, riding became his release, a way to work out his negative energy. But hard times forced him to sell his bike before we met. As we began to share each other’s dreams, I realized that one of his was to own a Harley.

At first he just wanted to find out whether or not I would enjoy riding behind him. My only experience on a motorcycle was as an eleven year old, hanging on behind my father on a vacation in the Bahama Islands. (More like an amusement park ride than a real motorcycle ride.) So we started with a scooter– fun but not very fast. Frank was a confident rider who inspired my confidence in him. Then we moved up to a small motorcycle, which gave us access to mountain roads. Wind rushing in my face and the rhythm of twisty roads reminded me of my skiing days. We enjoyed the ride, but looked hungrily at the full dresser motorcycles that rumbled by, their riders sitting comfortably behind a wind shield, sitting on full seats.

Finally, we had to do it. We bought a Harley, and even my husband, with all his experience, wasn’t prepared for how our lives changed.

For you see, buying a Harley doesn’t just gain you a mode of transportation. It initiates you into a worldwide club. Every Harley you pass on the street greets you with a secret gesture I’d never noticed before as a car driver. Now we had social permission to wear Harley Davidson jackets, hats, and tee shirts. The orange and black emblem started conversations with the most unlikely people we met. The dealership, not merely a place where we purchased our bike, became our club house, complete with donuts and coffee, bike shows and other events.

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

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

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

 

 

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.