Fender Fluff Files- Part One

rock store1

You’ve all seen us on the highway in front of you, dressed in black leather, holding tight to our husband or boyfriend, pressed up against our backrests, long hair streaming out the back of our helmets. It might seem like we don’t have a care in the world, dubbed “fender fluff” as if we’re merely decoration. Passengers have the best view on the ride and much less responsibility than the motorcycle rider. However, there were still a few things I needed to learn when Frank and I started riding our Harley.

The first thing Frank told me when I jumped on our Road King was that communication was key to safety. Before he took off, he always checked to see if I was ready. When we stopped, I always checked with him before dismounting the bike. After clunking helmets together a few times, I realized that I needed to plant my feet on the floorboards and brace myself against his back when we stopped suddenly, or shifted gears. Therefore, I needed to be alert and aware of what was happening on the road so I could be prepared. Also I needed to be still, sit behind Frank’s profile, and not influence the balance of the bike.

Passengers realize these basics as they get more miles on their Harley.  As we rode, I started wondering about other riding situations. Jim, our HOG chapter manager, helped me with some questions I had about passengers. Riders take riding safety courses, but passengers don’t have the opportunity. The first question I had was about curves. Many riders use body English, or lean deeply into tight curves. Jim told me that riders should not use aggressive movements like that with a passenger. Instead, they should both ride neutral with the bike, meaning your body centerline is equal to the bike’s centerline. However, the passenger should look over the rider’s inside shoulder as they go through the curves.

When they get ready to park the bike, I wanted to know whether it was better for the passenger to get down before the rider backs the bike into a parking space. Jim told me it depended on the situation. It is safer and easier to park a bike without a passenger, but if it is safe and more expedient for the passenger to remain seated, the passenger should wait. If there is a long line of bikes waiting to park, the passenger should get off.

On long rides, I had always thought that passengers got colder than the rider because they weren’t actively doing anything. Jim didn’t have any confirmation on that, but encouraged both the rider and passenger to wear heated gear as it keeps them both more comfortable and alert.

Passengers play an important part in the safety of a motorcycle ride. We need to pay attention to what is happening, and be prepared to react with the rider. When the rider and the passenger work together, their synergy makes them more relaxed and confident when challenging the open road.

 

 

 

Hot Tamales, Cool Ride

Indio

 

One of the great things about a HOG ride is that although you know your final destination, but you can never be sure how you’ll get there.

It was our second time riding out to the Tamale Festival in Indio. Frank and I were eagerly anticipating the endless variety of tamales awaiting us. Our friend, Jim, was excited about leading his first HOG ride. The morning air was crisp but the sun gently smiled on us as we parked by the line of Harleys at the dealership. I waddled off the bike, bundled up in layers, knowing that it would be much warmer out in the desert past Palm Springs. Frank, as usual, wore his jacket but no leather chaps. The only time he felt cold was Death Valley, but that’s another tale.

We introduced ourselves to the new people on the ride, and I thought back to the first time we rode with the HOGs. Years later, I still can remember how my heart jumped at the sound of roaring engines as we formed a column in the parking lot. That was the beginning of many riding adventures throughout the Southern California and into nearby southwestern states.

Our ride leader called us over and outlined our route, including a rest stop in Banning, where a few more riders would join us. Then we took our group photo, and buckled on our helmets. We couldn’t avoid the long stretch of freeway necessary to deliver us to the festival, but a more roundabout road would break up the ride.

Instead of heading directly toward Indio on the freeway, Jim led us on a scenic route up Lambs Canyon toward Banning. The road wound through piles of sculptured rock that felt like traveling through an art exhibition. As the passenger, I was free to watch the show unfold around us as we snaked through the hills.

After our rest stop in Banning, it was time to hop on the freeway and head out toward the windmills. Traffic wasn’t too bad considering it was December, and we cruised past the outlet stores, casino, and dinosaurs at Cabazon. Then we charged up the pass, surrounded by churning windmills, always making me feel like we were trespassing on an alien landscape.

The freeway past the Palm Springs turnoff seems like it goes on forever, and if we didn’t stop, we’d end up in Arizona. Finally, the hand signals went up, and we exited, riding the bridge over the huge sandy wash into Indio. We found parking a few blocks away, and peeled away our leathers to enjoy the warm desert sun.

The Tamale Festival spread out around the old downtown section of Indio. Colorful dancers and lively folk music welcomed us from several stages. We lined up at various booths to buy award-winning tamales, as well as unexpected treats such as lobster macaroni and cheese. After a few tamales, I cooled down with fresh coconut sorbet, served in a coconut shell.

Some of us proved braver than others, sampling jalapeno lemonade and chocolate tamales. Frank and I had a system that we had developed from the prior year. When we first arrived, we both would each eat one whole tamale. After unwrapping it like an early Christmas gift, we devoured the soft crumbly masa filled with spicy meat. Then we would split the following varieties until we couldn’t stuff another forkful into our mouths. Walking around the festival as we ate helped us make room for more.

After completing the circle of booths around the block, it was time to head home, marking the end of another HOG adventure. We had shared the excitement of the journey, delicious homemade food, and shared laughter. If you missed this one, don’t feel bad. Join us for another ride next weekend.

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?

The Frozen Ride

frozen

 

“You’d better wear your thermals,” my husband warned as he came inside with the motorcycle cover bundled up in front of him. “It’s only 39 degrees out there!”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got them on,” I assured him in a muffled voice as I bent over to zip up my stiff leather chaps. As I added layers of clothing, it had become increasing difficult to move. Currently I had on a thermal top, sweater, leather vest, and a heavy leather Harley jacket. My arms came to rest at nearly right angles from my body, and I couldn’t raise my leg higher than an inch.

So began a Harley overnighter that became known as our frozen ride. (Here I insert my disclaimer that if you are a permanent resident of Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, you will not feel one ounce of sympathy for us. Please suffer the whining of southern Californians.) Our HOG group set out from Riverside, California to Death Valley, ending up in Beatty, Nevada for the first night. It was the end of February, which for us meant weather anywhere from 60 degrees to 80 degrees, and usually clear skies. We did get the clear skies, but desert temperatures never got above a brisk 58 degrees.

As we approached Death Valley National Park, I noticed a thin coating of white on the land surrounding us. “What is that white stuff?” I asked my husband through our com system.

“It must be salt,” he answered.

Our pack of twenty motorcycles had been on the road since 7:00 a.m. with one breakfast break, and my leather gloves were not doing their job. Fortunately, I was the passenger, not the rider, so I could hide my hands behind the windbreak of my husband’s broad back. Although my neck and chin were wrapped in a thick wooly gaiter, my face under my helmet felt like it would crack if I smiled. As the hours passed, I passed from chilly to freezing cold to numb to final acceptance of the cold. The sun on the back of my jacket felt less cold than the racing wind that flowed around the front windshield and fairing before exiting over the tour pack behind my seat.

As I continued to ponder the patches of white crust that continued on both sides of the road, I began to have the sinking sensation that it was not salt. It was snow.

When we reached the tiny town of Beatty, I was ready to sit in front of our motel room heater for as long as it took to not feel cold. My husband and I both took steaming hot showers that night. We slept huddled under the blankets.

The next day, our road captain led us out in the middle of nowhere to a ghost town. It was so remote that he had to call the sheriff to let him know we were headed there. After riding under the frozen shadow of towering snow-covered peaks for about an hour, I could see wooden buildings huddled on the side of a foothill. This morning the temperature had been 32 degrees when we roared away from the motel. I was already sitting on my hands to keep them warm. In addition to the layers I wore yesterday, I had added two long sleeve shirts and my rain gear pants.

Jumping off our bike as soon as we arrived, I waddled over to the saloon, hoping for heat. However, I was greeted by a wood burning stove right inside the door, which began to heat the area around it, but did nothing for the rest of the large, open raftered room. Some of the other riders joined me, holding our hands as close as we dared to the giant cast iron stove. A few of the passengers had a shot of something the sheriff promised would “heat us up quick” but I passed on it, longing instead for coffee.

Soon it was time to move on, so we thanked the man, and headed up into the icy mountains. Our road would cross over them and dump us down to Bishop, where we would turn south to Lone Pine. Now the white crust became drifts of deep snow on the sides of the road, and I remembered the conversation one of the guys had with the sheriff at the ghost town.

“Is the road to Bishop open?” one of our leaders asked.

“I guess so,” the bearded man said with squinty eyes. “We haven’t had any rain in a week. You know they don’t plow that road if it snows.”

The road before us continued up and up, and the snow on the sides got deeper and deeper. Finally we reached the top of the pass, and the road captain waved us over to the side of the road. Oh no, I thought. We couldn’t see the road on the downside of the pass. Was it blocked with snow? Would we have to go all the way down the mountain and take a different route?

“Let’s take a picture,” my husband said, so I reluctantly unzipped my jacket to take out my phone. Suddenly one of the women passengers headed toward a huge snowbank. She scooped out a pile of snow and threw it at her husband. This began a brief snowball fight which I watched skeptically, with no desire to get my gloves wet. Then one of the men fell back into a drift and began to make snow angels. I was glad I didn’t have to sit behind him on a bike.

I reluctantly took a picture of my husband standing in front of the snow laden pines, and then he took a picture of me, my teeth chattering in my helmet. The group stood around talking and eating snacks. What about the road? Apparently there was no problem with the road ahead. Our road captain stopped so we could play in the snow.

Many frozen hours later, I huddled up to our motel heater in Lone Pine, looking through the window at the snow-covered peak of Mount Whitney. My hands gratefully clutched a scalding cup of instant Starbucks coffee. My husband checked the weather report on his phone, which cheerfully informed us that we could expect rain the following day back in Riverside.

At dinner that night, we talked about the brilliant mountains and sweeping valleys that we had ridden through that day. And of course we talked about the varying degrees of cold that we had endured. The riders who wore heated jackets and gloves that plugged into their bikes offered no complaints. But the rest of us wearing regular gear had plenty to talk about. Yet no one regretted the trip. For us to see that much snow on the mountains was rare for drought-stricken California. Surviving the frigid weather was the price of admission to an adventure that held a unique coolness unlike any other Harley trip.

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.

Why We Ride- Part Two

wwr 2

Completely exposed. That is your situation when you ride motorcycles, and you must accept it.

Safety is another reason my friends consider my husband and I crazy to spend half our weekends riding our Harley. There are many features built into our bike that contribute to our safety- LED lights, anti-lock brakes, and so many more that if I ever get a chance to read the Bible sized owner’s manual I could list them. Motorcycles built now are much safer than the ones your father rode. However when it actually comes down to it, there’s nothing between you and the pavement (or the other cars).

Everyone has to decide in their own heart where their comfort level is with safety. The decision to ride is accepting the fact that no matter how great a motorcycle rider you are, something might happen to you. Fear can be a deciding factor. You can spend your life striving to make everything in your life safe, never taking any chances. Afraid to drive your car because you might get in an accident, you could barricade yourself in your child-proofed home to watch sports on TV (going to a sports event is dangerous as well as actually playing sports yourself). However you could walk outside to take down your trash cans and a car might careen down your street, jump the curb and kill you. Nothing in life is totally safe, and there is a 100% chance that you will die someday. Motorcycle riders look at life as time to be fully experienced, not packed away to somehow save it.

In addition to your own risk, riding with a group takes on a deeper meaning when danger rides along. The ride captain plans the route in advance and is the first one to scout the road as we ride. In the rear, the sweep makes sure no one gets left behind. The group enters into an unspoken agreement that if the unspeakable happens, the rest will be there to lift both you and your bike (if possible) back up. Your riding group becomes your family, your squad, your protection.

So why do we ride? Hard to explain, as the answer is different for everyone. It could be the thrill, the adventure, the fellowship, the technical achievement, even romance. Riders come in all sizes and ages- young and reckless to old enough to know better. One thing is certain; it separates us from the ones who must be safe. Those who ride in air bag covered cages will never understand the huge smiles after a long twisty mountain road. They will never almost get tagged by a hawk or be blasted with sand on a lonely desert road. And they will never ride through pummeling wind and pouring rain to reach a tiny motel at the end of the day, eternally grateful for hot water.

In fact the more I talk about it, the more ridiculous it appears to non-riders. Yet since the passion of the open road burns in me, I will try to explain it so that they might have a glimpse of the excitement that waits outside their locked door.

The Layers of a Ride

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Teeshirt, leather Harley jacket with liner, silk long underwear, jeans, boots

The sun has only risen for a half hour, and I feel the chill against my legs as we ride to the first meeting place. I peek around my husband’s head, my arms wrapped around him. Frank feels tense as my legs hug his hips. He hates being late, and a train forces us to take an alternate route. As we pull in, there are two men in leather vests waiting by their motorcycles. One is sipping coffee and the other is scraping a quarter against a lottery scratcher card. As we pull off our helmets, we are relieved to learn that we’re early, since we don’t need to be at the next meeting place for an hour.

I’m riding with these guys for the first time. Technically, I’m a passenger, and the only woman riding today. They both are in full biker club garb- leather vests held in front with chains, club patches on the front and on the back. I notice their nicknames are sewn on patches on the front so I’ll have an easier time keeping their names straight. Although the shorter one with the thin handlebar mustache would be hard to forget with his name Ezee.

The other one is their president, and seems to have won that position with his quick jokes and colorful put-downs. His nickname is Slinger. All seems to be in fun, I notice with relief since they have knives strapped to their belts. My husband with his gift of gab flows easily into their conversation, which I have to believe, is toned down with a woman present.

Teeshirt, leather Harley jacket with the liner removed, silk long underwear, jeans, boots

The three of us head off to meet the rest of the group at Jack-in-the-Box one town over. Ezee takes point, we are in the middle, and Slinger has sweep. It’s a quick trip down the freeway, the sun glinting off our helmets. The snarl of the Harleys’ pipes announces us as we sail down the open freeway. Cool air pushes up under my helmet, making my eyes water, but keeping me awake. We pull into the parking lot to find we are the first to arrive. Fortunately, that means a quick breakfast and more coffee.

As we take off our helmets, Frank notices that the car parked next to us is smoking under the hood. A young woman was inside the car on her cell phone, her face drawn and pale. She gets out of her car, still on her phone. Slinger walks over to her and offers to look at her car. After a few moments under the hood, he even gets on her phone and reports his diagnosis to the woman’s grandfather on the line.

Meanwhile the rest of the guys roar in. One of them is so big his motorcycle looks like a toddler’s push bike. As he takes off his helmet, I see that his name patch says T Rex. One biker is on a bright yellow futuristic looking Victory motorcycle. Another one is on a low slung black Harley. The man named Bear has a full bushy beard and his hair pulled back with a blue bandana, which he wears under his half helmet. All of them wear leather vests with the club patch and plaid shirts. The joking starts as soon the engines turned off, and I can see that these men are as close as brothers. Their exteriors are rough, but I can see that they have tender hearts.

The ride captain, T Rex, consults his maps, and sets up the order for the ride. After a short prayer, we are headed to Julian, down the backroads beyond Temecula and into the wine country. After escaping the gathering traffic in town, we sigh in relief to be on the open road, free from traffic lights. My husband and I are third of eight bikes, a smaller group than usual. The point guy signals our lane changes and turns, while the sweep pulls over first, creating open space for the rest of us. Although it appears that we are all just riding on our own, there are rules that must be followed to ensure the safety of the group. The rumbling all around me reminds me of traveling in a wolf pack.

Teeshirt, light Harley track jacket, jeans, boots

Hours pass and we finally roar into the former gold mining town of Julian. There are already dozens of motorcycles parked on Main Street. People bustle around in groups, stopping in the craft shops or standing in line for a piece of Julian’s famous apple pie. We pull into the predetermined BBQ place and sit down at a long wooden table that features a carved bear head at one end. It is so long that all of us can sit together. The tangy smell of BBQ sauce floats on the air and promises delicious food to come. When we are served, amongst a lot of kidding around with the good spirited waitress, these shaggy men bow their heads and pray over the food. The tri tip sandwiches don’t disappointment, and the table talk is quenched as everyone chows down. After lunch, I quickly duck into the women’s restroom to get out of my long underwear. It’s plenty warm now with the cloudless sky overhead.

After a bit of shopping, in which I buy new leather fingerless gloves and Slinger finds a new leather sheath for his knife, one of the guys needs to head back. The rest are lined up to order pie, so Slinger decides to ride back with him. No one should ride back alone was another rule. We enjoy our pie and head back down the mountain.

As the rolling valleys passed by, I marvel at these bikers, men that outsiders might scorn or even fear. Just as I peeled off my layers of clothes over the course of the day, I had the opportunity to peek through the layers of these bikers. Their brotherhood is true, and yet they also have time to serve a stranded traveler or allow a child to have their photo taken on their bike. My husband and I welcome the opportunity to ride with them again.