A different ride- the eventual end

san simeon sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A different ride- part three

PismoFrankme

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the Back- The Steep Road

IMG_2759road

The Harleys snarl and eat up the road as the long line of motorcycles climb up the hills. My husband’s helmet only partially blocks my view as we pass open fields of scratchy bushes and dried out grass. The mountains on my right loom menacingly, covered with dark clouds. Would we accomplish our quest before the downpour? Various weather sites disagree but we ride anyway.

The constant roar becomes a buzzing droning sound as more miles are vanquished. A bright yellow road sign stands out in the grey meadows– Steep Grade Ahead. Our ride captain briefed us earlier about this. His battle plan- down shift, hold the back brake, and make sure to leave plenty of space between the bikes. My stomach clenched slightly as we zoomed past the sign.

Suddenly, brakes lights flash ahead of us. The road, which had been squeezed between massive boulders, instantly opened up to a series of rolling hills and valleys. We head down the roller coaster pitched road with respect. Our frontal view includes dotted hills of avocado trees, wooded glens, white fenced ranches, and immense stone mansions that ruled their acres of land. The road is so steep that my husband’s helmet no longer blocks my view. Memories of horseback riding on mountain trails flooded my mind. I had to trust the horse back then. Now it’s my husband and his trusty Road King that must carry us safely to the bottom.

At a snail’s pace, I have plenty of time to enjoy the panorama unfolding around us. The Harleys follow each other like a dog pack, growling but obedient to the alpha. After some time, somewhat longer than I could hold my breath, we reach flatter ground. The captain pulls over to wait for the bikes emerging from the hill. One by one they join him in a line at the side of the road. My husband tosses a smile back at me, the kind of grin little boys wear when they’ve made that big jump with their bicycle.

I am surprised to realize that my smile mirrors his.