“Car commercial ride”
Everyone knows that best way to sell a brand of automobile is to show young people driving down a road, surrounded by beautiful scenery. These roads are almost always set in lofty alpine mountains, starkly desolate deserts, and dramatically striking shorelines. The commercials evoke an image of freedom, power and excitement, as the landscape provides the seductive lure of the great unknown. Wow! All that in a 60 second film clip!
So, thinking this, the thought occurred to me that a great motorcycle trip would include all of these elements (but with old codgers) and would need to be part desert, mountain, and shoreline. But, where could I find all these wonderful roads? That was the easy part: Just follow David Stephens on a portion of one of his amazing rides!
Jim Stauber and I did just that, at the end of August. We not only followed our leader, but tried to absorb a small amount of the vast knowledge that David is master of: All things necessary for a successful long ride. I’m not sure just how much we absorbed, but we sure did have a great time trying.
We left from the Sycamore Chevron station at 8 am sharp, and dodged early morning traffic until we got on the Northbound 14 out of Newhall. From there, until our return on the 101 through Santa Barbara, the roads were clear, with just a few repair crews halting traffic (and giving us a much appreciated break).
I didn’t zero out my odometer until we gassed up at Mojave (total from there was 980 miles). At that gas stop, I got to try out my new “cooling” vest I had picked up from Cycle Gear. Pouring water on it and zipping it up under my mesh jacket utilized the ‘evaporation = temperature drop’ formula that worked really well, even in the 100+ degree heat of the beautiful yet deadly Mohave Desert and Owens Valley.
The Owens Valley is a land of stark contrasts, dry sand and salted dry lake bottoms, paralleled by exposed stone peaks of the tallest mountains in the lower 48 States. Along the way, the views of ancient lava flows are a dramatic reminder of the forces that created this valley and the mountains on either side of it. The views of the dry, southern section of the Valley begin to turn green as the elevation starts to rise in the North. By the time we reached Bishop, we were greeted by beautifully lush ranch land. Up the hill, through Tom’s Place, we saw our first pine forests. From then on, it was a mixture of pines and pastures, interspersed between great areas of emptiness. (‘emptiness’, by the way, is superbly beautiful), until we reached Bridgeport, and our first night’s stop.
Bridgeport is an awesome little town that is well known to anglers. Most businesses close down at the end of October, as this little town becomes very cold (and fishing becomes really difficult) during the winter months. We dined at the Sportsmen’s Bar and Grill (terrific meal at the end of quite a long day) and were served by a gentleman sporting a tattoo on his arm that I thought was cool because it looked like a formula for some new wonder drug that might make me feel young again. David instantly recognized it as Schrodinger’s Equation. (Of course we all know that Schrodinger’s Equation describes quantum mechanical behavior, right?) It seems that this math dude had left the academic life to seek a bit of harmony in this sleepy little town, and in the process, had become a terrific waiter.
Well, the meal was great (the beer cold), and I learned a little bit of math, but it had been a long day so we retired to our rooms at the Maple Inn, and slept with dreams of the coming jaunt over the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Climbing up the mountain from Topaz Lake, the view was as spectacular as any on Earth, with stunning vistas that demanded a stop from the three travelers. The windblown pass beckoned us to look over the steep edge and marvel at the magnificence of our Sierras.
Continuing on, we made for Ebbett’s Pass. I’ve copied and pasted this from Wikipedia:
Today, Ebbetts Pass is one of the least traveled passes in the Sierra Nevada. An extensive section of highway over the pass is less than two lanes with no dividing line. It has very steep sections with hairpin corners. The eastern slope is particularly difficult, as many of the hairpin corners are blind, and steepen suddenly at the apex, making it necessary to shift to first gear in most vehicles. It is rarely used by commercial traffic and is not recommended for vehicles towing long trailers.
YES!!!!!! The perfect motorcycle road over the perfect mountain pass!!!
Well, David led us safely over this gorgeous road with a stop for lunch at Lake Alpine Lodge (recommended if you have lots of time) and on down to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Another big WOW! This is a fantastic Must See. It’s like a little Sequoia, with giant trees and beauty at every turn. The stump that David is pictured on was cut in 1853, is 24’ in diameter, and was estimated to have lived 1,244 years. (“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone….”). Although that one’s just a stump now, there are plenty others that are being well taken care of (don’t complain when you’re charged a $10 fee per motorcycle. Someone needs to provide the care to keep these guys around for another couple of thousand years).
Well, what could top that? You’re right! Pizza and Beer! And that’s what we dined on at Mike’s Pizza, in Angel’s Camp that night. Got to meet a bunch of fire fighters who were staying at the motel. They were on their 32nd day of fighting fires all over the State. Real heroes, and a great bunch of fellows!
After dinner, we bid David adieu, as his route continued to the north, early the next day, and ours headed west. I don’t think Jim and I would have attempted the ride had we not had the benefit of David’s experience, camaraderie, and most of all, his patience with two newbie’s. Having a Mentor of David’s caliber made the trip a wonderful learning experience, an absolute success, and one hell of a great time!
Thursday morning, Jim and I struck out for Carmel, just under 200 miles across the San Joaquin Valley. Another perfect excuse to utilize my $40 yuppie vest, as we zoomed down Interstate 5. In San Juan Bautista, there is a little bakery that is run by the good folks at Mission San Juan Bautista. Well worth a stop (thanks again to David for this bit of info). The mission was used in the Hitchcock movie, Vertigo, and it’s worth seeing as well, but we had to get down through Hwy 1 to Morro Bay before nightfall, so we passed on that (but did have some great turnovers at the bakery).
We gassed up in Carmel and struck out on the one and only Hwy 1. Completing the circle of magnificent scenery, this road stands out as the world’s most photographed highway. On this perfect day, the delightfully cool breeze was flowing in from the sea, the sparkly sunlight was glistening on the choppy waters, the traffic unusually light, and the curves absolutely magnificent. Motorbike Nirvana.
We stopped and took photos at almost every other turn (it just keeps getting better and better). But we eventually realized that we needed to start concentrating on straightening out some of the twisties by switching off the “Oh, look! Pretty!” mode, and switching on the “Brake, lean, gas, repeat” mode on our bikes. So we did, and life just got even better. The wind picked up, the temperature dropped, the scenery flew past and we putted into Morro Bay around dark thirty.
For dinner, we decided to give our steeds a rest and download the Uber app. So I naturally did what any mature adult would do in this situation: called my kids to ask how to do it and they walked me through it. A word about Uber: GREAT! We rode for less than 14 bucks, and a generous gratuity ‘cause the only two Uber drivers in Morro Bay, David (who drove us to the restaurant) and Sandra (who brought us back to the motel), drive identical Ford Escapes and are both interesting to talk to.
The next morning saw us packing up for the ride home. I figured it would be uneventful, but when you ride with Jim, expect the unexpected. He wanted to pull off in Pismo Beach (I did not). He was just being polite (to allow me to remove my jacket as it was beginning to heat up as we went south). We pulled off the 101 into a Motel parking lot that overlooked the ocean. Lo and behold, we sighted whales just off the shore, so we made a beeline to the pier, where we witnessed more than 30 or so whales having a whale of a good time, eating fish, slapping tails at the birds, and leaping out of the big blue ocean and falling back into it with bigger splashes than I get with my patented belly-flop.
Now, after you’ve witnessed the all the amazing scenery a human can behold in the California deserts, mountains and shorelines…..scenery that, presented in a car commercial could make you fall in love with any metallic ‘cage’ that Detroit, Japan or nowadays even Korea has to offer…… how can you finish up the ride with something so awesome that it can cap off all this, this….. spectacularness?
Yup, you guessed it again! A single scoop of Chocolate Brownie, from 31 Flavors, in a glorious sugar cone (the others taste like cardboard). Oh, yes……