“To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
It was time for another real ride. The days had started blur together as they sometimes do, and the never ending list of life’s tasks were beginning to overwhelm. You know the feeling. On top of that, my birthday was coming up – a perfect excuse to chase the horizon for a couple days…clear the head…hit the “reset” button. I wasn’t running away from or giving up on life’s goals and responsibilities, I was purely formulating a brief strategic retreat to regroup my thoughts and refocus my perspective.
I needed a good ride. Not that I can recall ever having any really “bad” rides, even the ones that don’t go as planned or go horribly wrong still tend to have their merit in my experience – at the very least they make for good stories. This needed to be a ride of epic proportions full of soul resurrecting sights and sensations. I have ridden up to the legendary Laguna Seca race track for various events on my birthday rides in the past and it’s always been great, so that was my original plan. But then I decided to focus more on the ride. I don’t care for travel on freeways or roads that remain straight for more than a mile for that matter, so I began plotting a route that avoided such thoroughfares. Sure, this would double the travel time – and that was the intent. As I planned the route out, I began to realize that I was trying too hard to “schedule” my time around specific destinations and events. So I decided not to go to any races at `Seca this trip which seemed to completely open up a whole series of possibilities. I then realized that from Monterey I could ride up into Yosemite of which I’d never ridden through before. So I figured I’d take three or four days and take very indirect back-roads up through Southern California and the Coast – through Big Sur to Monterey for day one. Day two head up into Yosemite staying there for a day. Then East out to Mono Lake and hang a right south down across the back of the Sierras and home, possibly stopping somewhere along the way pensive on if I felt like it. I plotted it all out on Goggle Maps and it was looking epic.
I invited a few different riding companions but none were able to make it, so it was to be a solo ride. I was so excited about the ride I shared my planned route on social media. This resulted in friends along the route inviting me to come visit them – making the whole thing even better! As the weekend approached, one of those friends pointed out that the Tioga Pass through Yosemite had not yet been cleared of the season’s snow pack and thus was not open. So a little re-routing was required, and my southern return ride would be on the west side of the Sierras. Though was looking forward to riding east all the way through Yosemite, it was still going to be great ride – and gave me another ride to look forward to when it does open. I had a route that was comprised of at least 80% winding scenic back-roads and friends to visit with along the way. This was looking like it was going to be a good one.
So I awoke on the first day – my birthday – and threw my riding gear on, swung a leg over the pre-loaded and fueled bike, fired it up and headed straight to the nearest Denny’s on the route for my free birthday “Grand Slam” breakfast…and worth every penny. I’d like to say this was at the crack of dawn, and I had plenty of daylight ahead of me. The reality was I had been up late the night before and thus decided to sleep in a bit. Also, the part about the bike being pre-loaded with all my intended gear wasn’t quite true either…truth is I was still packing my bags when I got up, hadn’t printed out my maps, charged up my Bluetooth device and swamped it over into the helmet I was going to use, cleaned the visors for said helmet…and the list went on in a series of pre-coffee epiphanies. I did fuel the bike though, and even topped off and attached my reserve tank (FZ-09’s have small tanks). So by the time I left Denny’s and really got on the road, it was about 10:30am – half the day gone. I thought to myself “Hey, there’s no schedule involved here – just enjoy the ride”. That became an unintended theme as weekend progressed. I figured I could make the time up somewhere along the line and besides, what difference did it make if I ended up riding in the dark and arriving at my first nights stop a little late? I needed to try out some new LED road lights anyway. Off I went.
Now, I realize there’s all sorts of navigation devices appropriate for traveling by motorcycle – and I even own a couple. Thing is on a ride such as this I kind of like to employ a method involving a bit more random precision. When not taking the most direct or efficient route I don’t want to be told when and where to turn by some robotic voice – and when I get a bit off course because the mood strikes me to do so (which has often lead to finding awesome roads & places), I do not want to hear “rerouting” followed by more directions. Is this a flaw in my character? Perhaps it is, but on a ride such as this I prefer to look at my map, figure out where I am, see where I plan to stop and look at my map again, kind of visualize my route, and hit it. Does that result in wrong turns, getting lost, burning time?…I hope so – because that’s part of a good ride for me.
So I made my way north across the southeastern edge of the Los Padres Forrest and west over to Gorman, then out through Frazer Park on Hudson Ranch road over to the 58 and out to the Highway 1 near Cambria. This took several hours, as there were many blissful wrong turns and a few “I wonder what’s down this way” adventures – all great stuff.
The 58 is an epic bit of road.
My plan was to stop for lunch in Cambria and have a bowl clam chowder at one of my favorite places on the beach, but I arrived there late in the afternoon and decided to fuel up and just have a snack bar then be on my way. The bike had been handing strangely and I was checking it out as I sat on Moonstone Beach munching my food bar. Then I discovered the issue – my rear tire had disintegrated and was losing air.
Quick stop on Moonstone Beach for a snack and to check the Road Piranha…found the rear tire was done.
It felt like I’d been riding on a near flat tire because I had! The closest new tire was 100 miles north in Monterey, so I bought a can of flat-fix, a patch kit, aired the tire up, and headed up PCH into the sunset.
Normally, this is the best part of the ride – the 100 miles scenic ocean cliffs through San Simeon, Big Sur, Carmel, and up into Monterey. However if it’s cold, windy, wet, foggy, and dark then it’s rather intense on a motorcycle. If that motorcycle has a bad rear tire…well, let’s say I was extremely focused on successfully getting to Monterey. I don’t typically experience arm-pump cramping on street rides, but any time the bike would lose a little traction from the damp road I’d tense up and worry that the tire had blown. The best part was the new road lights really helped a lot, lighting up the road sides and surface nicely without blinding the occasional oncoming motorist. Riding at night through big dense forests like that of Big Sur is eerie and the constant thought of a deer or something springing out in front of you is unnerving to say the least. I can honestly say it seemed like one of the longest 100 miles I’d ever ridden, but arrive at Monterey I did and only a little after 10:30pm – just in time for supper. I checked into my palatial accommodations for the night, had a hot meal and a nightcap, and after a full 12 hours in the saddle I was out like a light.
The next morning I awoke to a very flat rear tire, and my friend Troy knocking on the door. He’d ridden down from Santa Cruz to meet me for breakfast and then possibly ride along with me for a ways as I continued my adventure. As it turned out, we spent the morning getting the expired tire to hold air long enough to get into town so I could procure a replacement. I found one at the local dealership – Monterey Peninsula Power Sports – but apparently walking in on a Saturday morning to get a tire replaced was “unrealistic” to this Ducati franchise – as the service writer merely chuckled and said “you may leave it with us and come back on Tuesday when it’s done”. My buddy Troy was already on the horn tracking down another local shop that could help me out. That turned out to be “Bill’s Custom Monterey” Motorcycles just a few blocks up the street. The multi-European brand stealership staff where we were at advised us that Bill’s was an “American V-Twin” oriented shop, and thus may not prove very helpful. Bill answered the phone himself and said “Come on over and I’ll take care of you!”
After my buddy Troy attempted to get air into the Piranha’s rear tire for a while, I emptied a can of flat-fix into it and we went in search of a tire.
It’s a rarity these days, but every now and then you come across a special place – a REAL motorcycle shop. This is what Bill’s Custom’ is, a good old fashion motorcycle shop. Sure there was the cliché sign or two proclaiming “American Motorcycles Only” but that’s not what Bill’s was about – it was about the soul of motorcycles and those who ride them. Our intent was to drop the bike and the new tire off, go have breakfast, then come back and settle up. As we rode up, me on my Yamaha FZ-09 and Troy on his Suzuki DL1000, Bill met us at the door asking “So you want me to change a tire on…what the Hell is that?” I attempted to inquire about what he’d charge me and how long it would take, but I quickly realized this wasn’t that type of shop and Bill wasn’t that kind of guy. Bill wanted to get to know us. I explained that Troy and I were motorcycle suspension engineers – I for Progressive Suspension, Troy for Fox – to which Bill replied “Ah, see we may be able to help each other out…I’ve got these 440 shocks that need replacing…”. As I walked into his shop I realized both he and his shop were special. Bill’s showroom was filled with all kinds of bikes ranging from a pristine VFR1000 to a fire breathing turbo-Dyna to a beautiful 71 BSA, and there was something interesting to look at in every nook and cranny floor to ceiling – pictures, surfboards, musical instruments, and memorabilia of every sort everywhere you look. The coolest part was it ALL had a story; all you had to do was ask Bill. He gave us the grand tour of the whole shop which was nothing short of awesome. When we finally got around to asking him where we should go eat, he said “You’re about done” so I asked what I owed to which he replied “Just tip my tire guy – and have a great trip!” When I got back to my shop, I made sure a set of the latest greatest shocks were sent to Bill no charge. As I left I thanked Bill again and reached out shake his hand he grabbed it and said “Bring it in brother” and gave me a quick man-hug & pat on the back. I will stop by this shop every time I roll through Monterey from now on because it’s got real motorcycle soul – and that soul is called Bill.
So Troy and I went to the Breakfast Club and finally ate (really, that was the name of the place and I highly recommend it). By then it was around noon. My intent was to be half way to Yosemite by then, but hey – there’s no schedule involved here, just enjoy the ride (sound familiar?). So Troy headed back home to Santa Cruz and I headed east towards North Fork near Bass Lake where my Buddy Larry and his bride Sue had invited me to dinner and to stay the night. There were only a few notable things along the way. I rolled through Hollister and made a quick stop at local Clampers (ECV!) hang out Johnny’s Bar & Grill for a quick draft. Johnny’s and the town of Hollister for that matter lay claim to being the “Birthplace of the American Biker” referencing an event (or incident depending upon who you talk to) that occurred in July of 1947. You can Google it or watch Brando’s classic “The Wild One” and get the general idea.
The other impressive sight was rolling over the hills on the 152 and coming upon the San Luis Reservoir – it’s HUGE! Beyond that, this part of the ride went through mostly rural farmland and ranches with livestock, groves, and planted fields and all the fertilizer smells and bugs that go with them.
As I headed up into the mountains towards my buddy’s home, the ride got far more interesting and scenic. I started seeing deer just hanging out alongside the road. At first I thought how cool that was, then all the YouTube videos of deer leaping out in front of motorcyclists ran through my head – and they no longer seemed that cool. It was late afternoon by the time I got to Bass Lake at which point I realized I didn’t actually know where I was going – I’d not been to “Rancho Relaxo” as Larry calls his home. So I stopped and called him, only to find out I’d taken the longest scenic route I could’ve taken to get to his house. He then informed me how to get to his property and that we had dinner reservations in 15 minutes and to “HURRY UP”. What he failed to tell me was I was 30 minutes away. Oh well, didn’t hit any deer and made it there safely. I had a great dinner and pleasant evening. Once again, slept like a rock.
The Man…the Myth…the Legend – my buddy Larry Langley
The next morning Larry made us a big breakfast and I was given a tour of the property which was beautiful. Larry and I go way back and had a lot of catching up to do, so though I intended to leave early I didn’t attempt to negotiate Rancho Relaxo’s treacherous steep loose gravel strewn driveway until about noon. Three or four hours behind schedule again, oh well why change the pattern? So off I went to ride up and through Yosemite Valley taking in all it had to offer, then turn around (Tioga Pass snowed in, remember?) and head back south, stopping for a quick visit and bite to eat with my friend Joseph near Fresno, then continue down turning in and heading out to my friends Ed & Rene’s home near Lake Isabella. As I rolled out of Larry’s driveway I knew I wouldn’t be at Ed & Rene’s until after dark, but I was too excited to care – I was only about 20 miles from one of the most scenic places on earth, and twisting the throttle that direction.
I got the gate of Yosemite Park, paid my fee and pulled off to the side check my map. The weather had turned from sunny to dark and as I got my GoPro out to record my ride into the Valley a rather menacing loud and long crack & boom of rolling thunder prognosticated how this part of the ride was going to be – wet. I didn’t care in the least, I had a rain suit and new rear tire, and I was in Yosemite. As I headed up the road I noticed several bear warning signs and a new bad interaction with nature entered my mind as a motorcyclist – what if I were to come across a bear? Would the bear chase me like an angry dog? Bears have been known to ride motorcycles, would they try to steal my bike? Even if this was not likely (and I had no idea one way or another as I’ve seen very few bears) what if I came around a corner and hit one? Sure, similar to hitting a deer it would really hurt and cause damage – but there would be little chance of a dear getting angry and EATING ME afterward. So as I rode and these likely irrational wildlife thoughts rambled through my head, it started raining. Not too bad yet, but I stopped to put the rain suit on before I got too wet. The GoPro was running the whole time, and though I’ve not seen it yet I’m betting the video is entertaining (though a strong language warning may be required at the beginning). Right as I went to remount the bike I noticed a snowflake on my glove…this was not what I envisioned my ride into Yosemite would be like.
As I headed up the road, it started to rain pretty good. This slowed the pace a bit, which was fine. The rain suit was doing it’s job and the only drawback was the water running across the road required more focus than a dry road would, thus the ability to sight-see was limited. At the same time, the rain added several positive dimensions to the ride – the smell of the wet forest is beyond words. As I wound my way up Wawona Road towards Yosemite Valley the rain would let up and try to turn to snow. I then came to the Wawona Tunnel, a relatively long hole bored through the mountain coming out into the valley and one of the most spectacular views one could even hope to see in their lifetime. If you’ve seen it you know what I’m talking about, if not you should add it to your bucket list.
The view coming out of Wawona Tunnel…EPIC.
I toured around the valley a bit, even stopped and hiked around the base of the iconic Bridal Veil Fall. There was this rider I’d been crossing paths with for the past couple hours, and we’d been exchanging nods and hand signals during our ride up into the Valley. He too had stopped to get a closer look at the iconic waterfall and parked next to me. As we removed our helmets and exchanged verbal salutations, I discovered he had limited English skills as he was not from the United States. This wasn’t an issue though, we just continued to use hand signals and facial expressions like those that we did while riding – pretty much a universal language as it turns out. As we got back from our little hike and prepared to ride further into the valley, there was a park Ranger there informing the tourist that a snow storm was rolling in and anyone who wasn’t prepared to stay or drive in the snow should head back down the hill – and then looked at us two motorcyclist and said “you two should get out while you can”. So I reluctantly started to make my way out of the Valley, taking the most indirect route and stopping for last minute photos here and there. The foreign rider I’d met appeared to be doing the same. The weather was getting cold and wet again and the sky was undeniably saying it was time to go, but it was so hard to ride away from all of it. There was clearly so much more I hadn’t experienced there, and it is certain that I will have to return. My only regret was I didn’t take more pictures, but then again I’m not sure the pictures could’ve done any of it justice.
As awesome as the ride up the 41 was I didn’t wasn’t to backtrack my route, so I headed out of the Valley on the 140 skirting the Merced River, down into Mariposa, then zig-zagged my way out to the 99 South. On my way I saw some river rafters shooting the rapids and the weather warmed up, but as I got down into the flatlands there was a HUGE thunderstorm seemingly trying to intersect my route. So I kept re-routing and trying to get ahead and around it, as it looked like a bad one – lots of lighting and thick black trails drooping down to the horizon. At one point, I found myself actually cutting through an orchard from one rural 2 lane to another. I know this was trespassing, but the storm looked that bad.
I decided to get out to the highway, top the tank off, and just make a flat burn south to make up some time. I also wanted to stay ahead of the storm that seemed to be chasing me down. It still caught me as I hit the 99, but not too bad. By this time I figured I wouldn’t be in Fresno until about dinnertime – where I was supposed to be for lunch with a friend. I considered stopping and calling him to see if he wanted to meet up for dinner, but that’s about when the storm caught up with me so I just stayed on the gas and continued south all the way down to Bakersfield where I made a left on the 178 back up into the Sierras toward Lake Isabella.
I didn’t get to the Kern Canyon road until well after dark, which skirts the Kern River of which it was too dark to see. This was a very dark twisty canyon ride, full of bugs and I even hit a bat at one point – signaling I was riding into “Bat Country”. There was hardly anybody on the road late on a Sunday night; I think I may have passed five or six cars going the other way. It was both eerie and cool at the same time. As my elevation increased the temperature dropped. I considered stopping and adding a layer to warm up a bit but I was running so late and kept thinking “I’m almost there and they’re waiting up for me” so I pressed on. When I arrived at Ed & Rene’s, they welcomed me with hugs and a hot meal. It was late, so we limited our catching up for the evening and thus ended day three of my trek.
Morning Java overlooking the Sierras near Lake Isabella…ZEN
The following morning consisted of coffee, epic views, and some great company. We all went down to the local Café and I had a big meal in preparation for my ride home. Before leaving, Rene presented me with a dozen-n-a-half of fresh eggs from their chicken coop. The bike was already relatively “full” with my other necessities, but both Ed and Rene are motorcycle folk and I took it as a challenge as to how I was going to safely transport them home – so I sorted out a way. I said my goodbyes and headed over the hills and down into the desert for the last blast home. The first part of this ride, prior to the flat burn through the desert, was pretty nice – scenic and plenty of altitude changes and switchbacks. Once down into Inyokern though, the ride was mostly straight, hot, and windy. Sure the high desert is scenic as well and this route has its visual highpoints, but it’s relatively familiar to me as I live in it and it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate it. By this time I was just interested in getting home.
I made the hop across the desert in a non-stop drone, rolling up into my driveway early in the afternoon. I unloaded the bike – including the unbroken eggs, all 18 of them – and put the Road Piranha away. I poured myself a cocktail and fired up the whirlpool. As I relaxed and reflected on the past few days, the expected and unexpected, seeing good friends, meeting new ones, and all the epic scenery I’d been able to experience, I concluded that this ride had truly been a “good one”.
You know, over the years of riding I’ve done I’ve learned that the best rides have less to do with the destination and ultimately tend to be more about the journey – it’s not so much about standing on the summit as it is about the climb.