I left work around the normal time (4p.m.-ish) and went home. Prepped the last of the gear and the hound (Nika) to be dropped at the dog sitter’s house.
Walked her fuzzy-pants down the block to the sitter. Then completed packing gear onto the bike. I learned that preparing for a two-up trip is much more involved than a solo trip. One side case being packed with toiletries and clothes for a second person forced some rearranging of gear onto the tops of the side cases. We packed sleeping bags and blankets into dry bags lashed to the top of the panniers. The plan was to camp through the journey. The bike ended up looking very loaded and weighed a metric shit ton!
The Plan: was loose but included Anne and myself hitting the road; staying at Aunt Janelle’s house in Burbank; touring Hearst Castle; camping near Plaskett; exploring areas around Big Sur and Monterey; camping outside of LA, then meet up with Janelle and Cousin Tristan before returning to San Diego.
On the road we went about an hour before sunset. Headed North on the I-5 toward LA. Traffic was light so we made good time. Through Camp Pendleton, nothing to see about the base, but plenty along the Pacific as the sun set to our left. The light hung preciously long on the horizon until we were well into bowels of LA traffic. Along with loosing light upon entering LA we also started to see lightning strikes on the horizon. An ominous sign not unlike Frodo approaching Mordor.
LA, ah how do thee suck-ith? As a rule for me, is a place to avoid at all costs. Rewind to 1950 and this would have been a very cool place. The golden age of film. Beach boys and girls doing beach boy and girl things. About 1/2 the sprawl and population…(?). As with most really cool places they get overrun when too many people go there. Successful places are soon ruined by their own success. What did Mr. Smith say? blah blah blah blah ‘… locusts… Neo’ – paraphrasing. The city of lost angels is dangerous for bikes, full of annoying half wit sheep – most following half baked ideas, with the smells of industry and pollution pumped into the air, hundreds of square miles of poor civil engineering, and the epicenter of all that is presently threatening American culture (we commonly call that place Hollywood). Many people do enjoy the hub-bub and history of LA. Don’t get me wrong there are some really neat things to do/see but my bathroom has many interesting design/engineering features. I’ll visit but don’t want to live there.
Darkness comes heavily as LA evening traffic backs up for a few hours. The red lights shine back on us and lane splitting options are slim but readily accepted with the loaded BMW R1150GS (Pachyderm). Ominous clouds formed on the horizon, threatening rain, after the sun set. Knowing that the clouds lie directly ahead of us weighs heavy on both our minds. Periodic flashes of lightning dance in the clouds to keep the looming thunderstorm fresh in our mind; still there. We hope there is not a lot of rain riding in our future but the adventure has launched so everything that is ahead of us will just have to be dealt with as it comes. A few spits of rain start to fall. Further adding to the delays on the freeway. The stress of gridlock is starting to take its toll and we need a break anyway….time to stop at ‘anywhere‘. A mall on the side of the freeway serves as an ‘anywhere’ stretching break and good spot to scout for food. A very short discussion, point – grunt – acceptance grunt, and we end up choosing a Japanese curry place. A little Americanized in decor but the food was legitimately Japanese and invigoratingly on point! Wish I had the presence of mind to note the name and location so I could recommend it….
Bellies full of curry and back on the freeway we watch the lightning continue its dance threateningly on the horizon. The traffic had let up a little since we took our time on our curry break. We continue to nervously watch the black sky flicker and made it to Aunt Janelle’s house. A nice tree-lined street in Burbank. Janelle and Cousin Tristan were in San Francisco so the house was offered as a place to crash. Amazing to have family! Doing our best not to look too much like burglars we went to into the backyard. Certainly we failed to do this inconspicuously. Dressed in our motorcycle gear and carrying flash lights to get into the house. Don’t look like a burglar – fail. Despite the signs….Neighborhood watch – fail (thankfully).
We made entry to the old 1940’s bungalow, dropped gear on the wooden floors, plugged in electronic things to charge, showered, then straight to bed.
We woke naturally (still early for most) and repacked the bike. Loading up was an easy
chore since we did not remove much from the bike (lesson learned from SS1000 and Mild Hogs trip!). Set coordinates for ‘Another Broken Egg‘ for some birthday grub. Through downtown Burbank, streets are strangely empty, past Cartoon Network and other televisions companies. The architecture is neat and seems to date back to the 1950s so we took our time to gawk a bit. Easy parking across the street from city hall right where I can see the bike from the patio. Corned beef hash eggs Benedict gets smashed into my ‘face hole’ so fast I cannot find a picture for my poor readers. Please forgive me. Well played Broken Egg…the travelers were fed and happy.
Time to head North, destination is Hearst Castle. ETA is early afternoon…. nothing much to report for the ride. No traffic to speak of, no special sites or stops, just the rolling golden hills of central California. Plenty of time to eat up some miles and get into the far reaches of one’s head. The more time you spend lost in you head the less important the ‘white picket fence’ and new car become. Adventures tend to anchor one in reality vice reality television. Would you be happier at your 9 – 5 and buying a new BMW ever couple of years… or living on a sailboat in the Philippines? How about motorcycling across Europe? How much money does it cost to live? How much living can you actually do when you are old and retired after giving all your good years to a company that only cares about earnings per share? Not really a good trade. All your good years traded for a livable wage while shareholders cash in and executive compensation runs away with the rest. Arrogant noncontributing executives get the lions share while skilled workers kill themselves trying to deliver for a comparable pittance. Why not change that equation and reap what you sow. I am succumbing to the fact that the equation can be simplified but equal more…
One or two very light drips from the sky along the way to keep the temperature down and air fresh. Fortified by the large bear sized portions at breakfast we did something considered sacrilegious, skipped lunch. The day had progressed to early/mid afternoon by the time we stopped at Hearst Castle. Too late to make up for the lost meal we munched snack bars in the parking lot at Hearst Castle while the crows tested our defenses. They probed for weakness at varying angles trying to get a snack. Probability of success – 0.
Hearst Castle (not really a castle but was William Randolph Hearst’s (WRH) ‘ranch house’) has a visitors center like any other tourist traps. Boo, I hate these – burn it down, and had started to think about finding something else to go see. For years though I have really wanted to see the palatial complex atop the hill near San Simeon ….so in we go with the Japanese family and Midwestern flat-landers – $25 ea. to take the next tour. We opt for the soonest tour in order to not lose time towards our destination camp spot. This tour happens to be the Great Halls/Rooms. Other options were upstairs suites, cottages & kitchen, and evening tours. All tours come with a ticket to the movie. My stomach was still talking to me; still hungry…. whatever, we decided we might have time to see most of the movie before our tour bus arrives. The movie is a succinct documentary about the life and times of William Randolph Hearst. Much of the early information I did not know… the Visitor Center was winning me over. 🙂 Very close to the end of the movie before we duck out to catch the bus up the hill to the house. ‘The bus waits for no one,’ we were told. Turns out the bus always waits. Most of the people lagging to the bus were in the movie and had stayed or the last five minutes.
As we climb up the hill a voice comes over the PA system. Alex Trebek of all people – haha(!), yammers on about the history of Hearst. I met Alex Trebek once in Yokoska, Japan while in the Navy. It went a little something like this. Walking up the stairs into the Enlisted Club. A.T. is walking out of a hallway towards me. “Wow, Mr. Trebek!?” “Move.” As he pushes past me…. I am all for being rude when needed. But when a 19 year old sailor recognizes you on a US Military base…don’t be a dick. Now I cannot see the guy without thinking what a jerk he is and sharing my experience readily. Suck it Trebek!
Ok, back on Hearst….Basically people are enamored with what Hearst accomplished but I gathered he was a turn of the century Donald Trump with more class and style. Daddy had money and WRH used family money to get into business that made him more money. (I’m envious not mad – but be careful where you place the credit. This just proves again that it takes money to make money.) The history is really cool! As a young man WRH’s Dad paid for him and his mother to travel the world. WRH caught both the culture and art bugs. As a young man he started collecting antiquities before laws prevented sale of antiquities in collections like his. Once the property was finally bequeathed to him from the family estate he had the monstrous house built to incorporate all the antiquities he had collected over the years. His family enjoyed the outdoors so he made it a point to include animals and environmental conservation into his plan. Maybe this is why I like him even though he was a rich kid. HA! The coastline is preserved to this day because of many of his orders while managing the property. The family donated the house, art, and furnishings to the State of California.
Back at the bottom of the hill we scarfed a deli sandwich in the parking lot to contrast the richness we only can tour atop the hill. The crows continued to plot their taste of our sandwich without success. The shadows told me that the day was getting long; back on the road. North to Plaskett to look for a place to camp. The plan: head up Plaskett Ridge Road and find some free camping. We wind up along the cliffs into South Big Sur.
I call that whole section of coast Big Sur. . . the town of Big Sur is insignificant against the backdrop of this 50 mile section of mountain shadowed coastline. No one comes to see the town. The ride along the coast from San Simeon to Monterey is the one of the best motorcycle roads in California (possibly the world). Not because of turns and hills but the vistas down the coast at every corner, waves pounding the cliffs, mountains and trees lining the road. Expansive open space to explore…fantastic!
Sunset is the best time to be on the road. Weekdays are nearly a requirement in order to avoid traffic. Though it is hard to stop at each vista and still make it to your destination…. it is worth every stop. Be a tourist damn it… the pictures are incredible and justify the occasional pause.
Turning the fat bike up Plaskett Ridge road, 2up, loaded with gear, 80/20 tires we are riding heavy. The washed out dirt road was much steeper than I had expected or wanted to attempt. We fishtailed up the washed out dirt and rock road throwing rocks up behind us as we go. Progress is decent but the road is much worse than I expected or would like with the loaded bike. I was already regretting this decision because I knew I’d have to turn around somewhere to come down. About 3/4 of a mile up the road there is a sign, ‘Rough Road Ahead’. Seriously?! I would not have taken a Jeep up that last section.
Ok, time to turn around. Slowly descending the mountain… about 1000 feet to go, nearly down… there is a section of road where the bedrock is exposed with loose gravel on top. Too much front brake – BOOM, down we go. No warning just washed out the front. Both of us fly off the bike, and into the uphill wall of the mountain. The bike slides about 5 feet on its side. Shake it off… Ok, that happened. Time to assess the damage. I run over to turn off the bike, riders – ok; gear -ok; bike -eh… it is not too bad. Broken windscreen and fairing, broken left front turn signal, couple scratches on the valve cover. All-in-all were very lucky.
Older and smarter about my decisions I laugh at how infrequently I have road rash these days. It occurs to me that the frequency of scabs is inversely proportionate to age. I add a new data point to my theory with some road rash on my knee but amazingly we come out of this one in good shape. I remount the bike alone to risk the remaining part of the road. Anne is fine with walking given the way that could have ended.
I check all systems, the rear brakes feel soft. Grrrr…. put that on the list of items to fix.
We settled on figuring out something with the campground. After a longer discussion with the Campground Hosts they eventually let us have a vacated spot that had ‘just opened up‘. Only no trees that would allow us to sleep in the hammocks. Ground bivy it is! Taking the two rain-flies from the hammocks we placed one on the ground and other over a topline to form a tent.
We rehydrate dinner on the camp stove then take a short walk out to the cliffs to see the moon. A long the trail we dodge spiders that hang in the tree. Let’s put ‘walking into a spider web at night‘ as one of the worst feelings you could have while camping. HA! These were meaty spiders with large dense webs. I am not afraid of spiders but remember thinking there was still web on my head for about thirty minutes afterward.
Finally, off to bed. Typical campground maladies: idiots with music, drinking, loud people hollering, motorhomes with generators….seriously people? Why even go to the outdoors if you are only going to bring all the annoyances of home with you? Can’t we just quietly enjoy nature? The forest finally quieted down, after a light sprinkle, enough for my ear plugs to be effective. We slept well in our makeshift tent. A light rain tapped on the tarp/tent as silence took hold of the cliff side camp spot.
Early to rise is the best cure for a stiff back when sleeping on the ground in a makeshift tent. Best to get moving quick before our camp neighbors wake up. I also like the ideal of getting ready while they sleep off booze induced head trauma. We stretch, break down camp to warm up. Fog hung high at the tree tops and everything had mostly dried from the overnight sprinkle. The plan: get out of this campground before it turned into a party again, hit a few sites up the coast, maybe camp again possibly on to Monterey. We quickly fired up the camp stove for some black coffee and oatmeal. Loaded up the bike, which took a little more time as we used more gear, then straight onto the empty road. The coastline sky had cleared off so we discuss a couple stops to get pictures and enjoy sights before others wake.
What a view!! It must have been amazing to live perched up on the cliff looking at this waterfall that dropped directly into the Pacific (at the time). The house is long gone but the foundation remains, along with some of the retaining walls. Another sign describes how the beach at the bottom of the falls came into existence. Seems that a few decades ago, about a mile to the North, a large landslide let go into the sea. An enormous amount of the mountain fell into the ocean. Over the next few years that material was washed by the ocean and currents carried it South where it was deposited as a beach we see today. Many pictures later we wander back to the bike.
My whole life I have had a tendency to go West or North. Either to return to the homelands in Alaska or chase the sunset… my life compass might be completely spun off its pin but I always know the direction of West and North. This trip is no exception… we turn onto the famous Highway 1 again.
Only about midday but we decide and discuss where to stay that night. Considering that it might be nice to strike camp with some time to explore the vicinity. We pop up a couple small side roads and campgrounds that are deep in the trees. We stop at each potential camp site as we head North and don’t find anything we like, or alternatively, things that do look nice are occupied… defeating the purpose of escaping to the outdoors; escaping herds of people. Eventually, Anne and I roll into Monterey with thoughts going towards AirBnB. If we found an empty beach house it could be a fantastic base to explore from for the next 24 hours. First, some lunch in the park outside the Aquarium.
Bears eat when they are hungry. They do not give much mind to anything but the present focus. If foraging for berries then they go head down into the berry bush. If salmon they have laser-like focus into the water. We dove into the food pouch for tuna packets and tortillas. The bike was parked next to a couple of bicycle bums who are sitting on the curb fixing a flat. They are real nice to engage us as we walk past and tell us to be careful leaving the bike with gear on it but they, ‘will watch it for us‘. Hmmmm, not sure I trusted that either. We don’t go far and find a sunny spot in the grass where I could nearly see the bike and have a good line of sight on the bicycle guys. Some seasoned tuna packs, mayo packets, and whole grain tortilla wraps while sitting in the grass looking at the boats. Perfect lunch to hit the spot and do some people watching. We watched people and they watched us (the bears) forage in the grass. I used my link to real life, the phone, and due to periodic data drops/outages painfully work my way through a booking through AirBnB… after about an hour sunning, rubbing our bellies, and watching people, we load up. The bike bums are still there and now are pushing religion on passers by. We received our blessing and wave good bye as we pull away.
I am an amateur theologian and history buff so know we have to do for our selves… so focus on the address of the AirBnB rental. Ten minutes ride up the coast to a small bedroom community… .not quite as coastal as the advert implied. Dang. Seems to be more than a little misrepresented. Crap part of town. Not near the city center or the coast like we wanted. I call AirBnB while sitting in front of the place, tell them the situation, and attempt to get a refund. What a fiasco! Ultimately, it took about a week, I lost $20 on the deal, but I finally did get most of a refunded. I have two AirBnB experiences now… they are batting .500.
We had seen a couple bakeries and coffee shops in city center so decided to find one with Wi-Fi (avoid the data problems from earlier) and figure out where to stay without spending a pile of money. Alternatively we could stay with the bike bums. HA! We want to be a part of Monterey which in my mind means, ‘not stay in a Hilton‘. I creep past the bakeries and shops and they are all closed…but….wait! There is a little Greek place that looks somewhat open. That hesitancy is because no one was in the restaurant but the door was open. We decided to try. At this point we are both getting tired and frustrated. That is exactly when you stop, have coffee, and think with a clear head. *life lesson here* The middle-aged, bald, stout proprietor turns out to be a super nice guy. They are not really open but he makes us some coffee and fries which we take on the patio. He listens to our adventure story and offers that the night waitress’s husband is the GM at the Ponderosa Hotel up the road. He can get us family pricing. WOW! He makes a call while I look up the number on the phone. $89 for a King Suite ground floor (so we can park the bike just outside our door). Awesome! He tips us off about their evening specials (one of my favorites, lamb shank). Snack, hotel and dinner reservations made….we were back on track! Thank you universe! Check in goes very smoothly, free continental breakfast, hot tub, etc… score! time to hit that hot tub, rinse the gravel out of my leg wound from the mountain, finally, rest…. sneak in a bit more exploring around Monterey before dinner.
The hot tub was fantastic on all fronts. Neck, back, body cleaned, leg scab removed (apologies here for who ever found that floating in the hot tub) and fresh leg meat exposed…. We lounged a few minutes to cool down before loading back onto the bike. The marine layer (light fog) had started to enclose the town. I love cruising under cloud cover and marine layer. The air is fresh and cool. You can smell the sea. It was nearly sunset but hard to tell exactly since the clouds obfuscated the sky. We headed towards the edge of town towards pebble beach. The beach to our right and occasional interesting old beach houses along the left. Periodically we saw remodeled homes done in a very modern styles. The mix of old and new really tells the story of and phases of economy where money has ebbed and flowed into this historic old town. Steinbeck’s books and the artists that followed have ensured that Monterey will always be a sought out location for those with ideals or money; not necessarily the same parties. Like so many places, Monterey’s success is also its downfall.
Disappointed in Cannery Row I stuff that memory in the trash preferring to remember the book….. no pictures required. Read the book. I turned the bike towards the Greek place knowing there are real and good people who will take care of us. Possibly one of the only real, local, and honest things we enjoyed
while in Monterey. Parking was tough and a bold statement to the reputation of our little Greek discovery. With the bike advantage; I parked the bike between cars. All the clientele were locals (but us). The squat proprietor saw us sit on the patio and waved at us hurriedly to convey the message it was ok for us to sit on the patio; he would greet us in a few. His assistant greeted us first. A hurried local gal who’s husband was the GM at Ponderosa (hotel). We told her our story and she had already heard of us…” oh, you are the couple!” We chatted for a few and received some fresh baked bread with local olive oil. The lamb shank special never stopped sounding amazing so we order two. Our waitress explains that there are 3 shanks with a pile of rice and vegetables served family style… we reconsider our choices. 1) Do we get one order each and pounce onto the pile of bones, scaring the locals? . 2) Do we settle on sharing an order so we can also get appetizers? As we sip (chug) beers, recap the day, people watch, and relax. The day really starts to come into focus. It had been a great day! We laugh and drink. Chat up the waitress about local goings on. We watch an old lady nearly get creamed by a passing car as she bolted into the road between cars because she thought she was getting towed. We did talk to her on her return trip into the restaurant… I made the point that it would not matter if her car was towed…. if she had been smeared onto the road for the next block. She agreed and the near death experience might have focused her mind, or not, who knows. At this point dinner slams into the bottom of our bellies like the bike did up on the mountain the day before. The day finally caught up with us. Check please!
Waking up in the Ponderosa Hotel rather than lying on the ground after a rainstorm was fantastic in its own way. Room coffee. Shower. A bit of pushing and prodding to motivate ourselves into packing rather than relaxing all day. Having the bike parked right outside the door of the room made for easy re-pack. A short stroll to the lobby for the C.A.B. (Cheap Ass Breakfast). Prepackaged Danish, quick waffles, carton of milk, two yogurts, three more black coffees and an apple for the road. We head north along the coast towards the farm lands in Castroville where they grow the delicious spiked flower buds we love with butter and garlic. A mile long field of the spiky bushes tended by migrant workers lines both sides of the road. Perfectly manicured rows devoid of weeds or trees.
My mind wanders, a lot….I envisioned turning the bike off into the field like the cars do with corn fields in the movies. Nah, I am all grow’d up now…better not. I carefully pull the bike, heavy with gear and riders, into the dirt lot at Pezzini Farms where everything is artichoke. It is a bit overwhelming, touristy, and prices are disappointingly high.
Bummer. As we walk around the store looking for something that fits the desire and storage constraints of purchase the two gals hawk-eye us. One can only assume they see frequent looting by white couples on BMW motorcycles… Ha! We settle on magnets because they are small enough to fit on the bike and cheap enough to fit our wallets. I had wanted to find a place that would fry, bake, boil, fricassee, BBQ, ferment, marinate, macerate, or pickle some kind of artichoke snack for us. The places that were referred to us were closed. The effort quickly outweighed the return so we hit the road sans artichoke snack and started the long slog South towards Angeles National Forrest.
We have reached that halfway point where the adventure reality hits… this is now progressing back towards real life. The more progress we make the sooner it ends… damn. Uneventful but beautiful ride down the 101 South through many farms. Organic farms, traditional farms, variety of vegetables and many crews busy keeping the perfectly maintained fields. Seeing the daily effort that goes into ‘producing produce’ I find new appreciation for the prices we see at the store. It is hard work and amazing quality that we receive for the price.
Air temperature got a little cold and damp for a bit and a rest stop provides a nice short bathroom break with a hot coffee warm-up. I had filled my vacuum stainless bottle with coffee at the hotel…. still hot hours later. Love that bottle! Rest stops are always full of the most interesting sampling of people to observe. I find myself hoping this is not a representative sample. Rather that this unique collection of Muppets on meth is a few deviations from mean. We don’t hang around too long and are back onto highway 166 for a short bit before hitting the turn east with the intent of taking highway 33 South into the mountains. Passing small ranch towns every 30 miles or so.
We turned into highway 33 for only about 33 feet to discover construction barricades across the road informing us in blazingly conspicuous orange signs; ROAD CLOSED. We pulled off the road into a dirt and into a muddy pullout to contemplate our next move. Decisions: Do we go around and risk a future impossibility? Do we go back to the 101 or onward East to the I-5 and just crush miles to LA for the night? It was only midday and we did have time. I notice bees swarming. They are starting to swarm on us and it becomes clear we should not make any decision at this place! The bees have closed the road; got it. Gear on, get out now! As they were getting really bad we fired up the bike. I carefully made the turn from dirt back onto the road with bees bouncing off my helmet. We are clear of them only seconds after punching out but it felt like we just missed a big swarm. Potential day changer avoided but the bees had told us not to try the road.
We aim for a small town park, which was along the road a few miles back, and pull into the park next to a picnic table. Fire up the stove to make a quick lunch. Locals are swarming the park. Better than bees! They look at us funny but did not seem dangerous. From what I can gather it was a celebration for a group of kids that had sold their sheep at market. (I could be way off) Mountain House stroganoff is familiar and unnaturally delicious in the park on a sunny day when you were previously chilled to the bone. Don’t get me wrong, food is always good when you have earned it… The sun had popped out and the day turned really nice. I actually got warm while we scooped noodles into our ‘face holes’. Teamwork makes cooking, serving, and clean up easy. Enjoyable even.
While reloading cook kit and food pouch onto the bike I spot a weathered old man who has made us clearly his focus. He was vectoring our direction. Dirty old jeans, country style button up shirt, and a WWII Veteran ball cap. I should get along with this guy just fine; him being a future reflection of myself. “Howdy!” I volunteer first. “Biscuits, Milk, and Water” (or something silly like that) he responds. “What?” He repeats the three words then explained, “that is what BMW means.” He explained, I laughed. He asked about our trip and tells me about his grandson who is about my age and still in the service. I love to banter with old people so I keep it going knowing that certainly I will learn something. It took a minute but struck me that there is something I actually need more than stories. I asked about 33 south, why was it closed, and how could we get through that direction without going to the 101 or I-5. He starts on about the traffic that the closure caused the day before. Closure was due to a storm that had washed out the road. Good thing we did not try to go through. If the road was washed completely out! All the LA traffic that normally transits the 33 ended up on the small highway we were on. Guess it was bumper to bumper (not normal ’round these parts!) just a day ago. He follows up his traffic story with directions to where we might camp up in the mountains like we planned. “Oh, yea, I used to camp up there years ago… head back down the road till you see the county line. About a mile later you will see two new houses on the right. Make the next right. If you see the service station you went too far.” I love old people knowledge(!) and sincerely thank him. We get back on the road to solve the old man’s riddle.
The county line was clearly marked. Check. No buildings were visible anywhere along this road so we figured two ‘new houses‘ should stand out but how do you know what new is? How new is new? Should we be considering that 1970 might be new to this guy? We do see two ranch houses that do look like they were built in the last 10 years. We didn’t want to make assumptions so decided to explore ahead a few miles thinking we have the contingency of spotting the service station. I nearly missed it. The service station looks like it was abandoned in the 1960s. We guess at this being ‘The Service Station‘ and turn around to follow the road we had passed.
The sun is still out, clouds are on the horizon , the roads are dry, and riding on the small California roads is just completely enjoyable. The name of the road ends up being Hudson Ranch Road. It rolls through gentle rolling grass hills. I made a gentle swerve, twice, to avoid hitting and to get a better look at tarantulas crossing the road. The rain in the past few days probably set them off on a journey not unlike the adventure we were on. I do not need the karma of snuffing ‘a fellow traveler‘.
The sun began to periodically slip behind thick clouds as we leave the rolling golden grass hills to wind up the mountain. Rolling up and down hills but climbed steadily up the mountain. Off to the left I saw grand vistas looking across the expanse of grassland finally giving way to canyons which made me slow just enough to gawk. The temperature had dropped steadily as we climbed hills into mountains. The flora transitioned from grasslands, to scrub, to thick old growth ponderosa pines. The road was just too much fun to ride (I will be back 1-up sometime!). After what seems like about 50 miles on this road we had only passed two cars and three BMW R1200GSA going the opposite direction who were obviously tuned into the road I was only just discovering. I laughed about the prospect of them having a similar conversation with my same old man.
The sun, which had become completely masked by thick cloud cover, was low on the mountains. I thought it must be getting close to setting. Definitely was time to be thinking about camp locations, water for the night, and gas. The little community of Pine Mountain Club, which really does ring true as a golf community in the mountains, offers gas and we discover a hose bib where we liberate enough water to fill bottles for the night. Not being sure about camping spots but remembering we passed a ranger station we backtracked a few miles to ask. As we slowed down to make the turn, Luck! This station has a map with camp locations and fire usage right out front. Noting two, but targeting one site, only a few miles away which should allow us to have a fire. The fire would be nice since the temperature dropped fast. We were in for a long cold night.
As we wound through the mountains towards Mount Pinos Campground it started to sprinkle. The rain picked up as we climbed ‘up and up and up‘ into the clouds necessitating a convenient stop on the road under a large pine tree which overhung the road creating a
dry patch. We do not want to get soaked then camp at elevation on a freezing night like tonight. Best to try to stay dry. No traffic yet so I killed the bike and we just sat there in the middle of the road listening to the rain falling in the quiet forest. Not a single sound but my breathing, tinnitus, and the light patter of rain. After 20 minutes the rain lightened up to the point where we ventured out of our little dry spot. Only 5 more minutes up the road we pulled into a mostly deserted campground. We decided to chance just putting the NFS Adventure Pass on the windscreen and not paying even though I know the pass is not good at this campground. I was a willing to gamble on no one checking us this late in the season in a virtually empty campground.
First order of business was to get the hammocks up so we would have some shelter if it started raining again. Second, unpack enough gear to make dinner, and try to get a fire started. Camp hammocks went up with ease. I tried to keep them low to the ground so wind would not blow up underneath… and freeze us during the night. There is a fine line between hung low and hung so low that your butt touches when you get into the hammock. Using new straps for one hammock … I did not get it tight enough and there was a gravity induced failure which resulted in a ‘whooomp‘ followed by a “HEEEEYYY!!!?” then lots of laughing from both of us. I corrected my mistake and Anne was cleared to retest. This test was approached with some skepticism and caution but went much better.
While I was doing the ‘man stuff‘ (collecting toilet paper from the dumper, using gas to light the fire, and loosing hand hair) Anne cut an onion and started the camp stove to make red beans and rice. We added sausage and lots of seasonings collected on the road. Hot sauce packets, Parmesan cheese, beef jerky…. etc. The camp stove was taking a long time to soften the beans. The fire had caught and was now ripping along so we finished dinner on the fire like good campers should. As we started cleaning up the cook kit two mini bikes when tear-assing down the road. They returned five minutes later to address our lack of a camp stamp; the Campground Host. We talked to them for a little while and discovered this was literally the last day of camping on the mountain before the roads closed for the season. We made our previous wrong into a right and they were really nice about it. No free lunches. We sat and watched the fire till it burned down and nearly out. Then I ceremoniously completed a long standing family tradition for snuffing the fire before bed…. resulting in a billowing, stinky, cloud of angry steam followed by an “ew!” HAHA!
It was a chilly night and the wind came up for a few hours in the middle of the night. The trees swayed as the wind surged across the mountain. If it were not so cold you could easily forget you were on the mountain and mistake the wind through the trees for waves crashing on the beach. After about an hour of wind the night went still again. An owl hooted from a low branch a short distance away.
Morning always comes too soon when you sleep in a hammock. I could sleep for days in the little cocoon. The graying light reflected on the rain-fly giving warning that the sun is about to end the cozy sleepy time of hibernating bears. Eventually I made the decision not to fight the day. Waking also shortened the time standing between me and coffee. No one will bring you a hot cup in bed when out in the forest. It had rained some over night and the forest is wet again. Even though I did still have the hair on my other hand; we opted not to have a morning fire. Camp stove was fired up immediately to make some coffee. While the tiny jet engine quietly roared against the bottom of a small pot of water, we shake off the rain-flys and packed up the sleeping kits. Like the hunters we are; we kill a pot of coffee and some Kind bars.
Down the mountain I thought about a real breakfast with my aunt and cousin in Burbank then how the adventure was speeding towards an end. The last day of vacation is always bitter sweet. No good can come from heading that direction (home). The longer are you headed towards something else the better. Home only holds structure and routine which is meant to contain us; kills our spirit. Each painful step back to that reality is clear – less trees as we drop off the mountain, more civilization, I-5 South, Los Angeles…the belly of the beast. As we scramble off ‘The Grapevine‘ and into the city it is impossible to ignore the 100’s and possibly 1000’s of motorcycles streaming North up the I-5. While using gas as an excuse to dodge a few rain drops we were asked if we were with the Love Ride, an annual motorcycle gather in that is hosted by Jay Leno. Turns out this was expected to be the last one. Although we were not officially a part of that mass gathering of motorcycles we did get to see them and feel like a part of them. It was quite a spectacle.
We roll into Bea Bea’s parking lot and are about 30 minutes early. The line of young hipster urbanites in their yoga pants, man buns, and cargo shorts are milling about in queue out front. Anne puts our party of four on the list and we requested the hostess to move people past our party if my aunt is running late or the restaurant is moving faster. Anne has a way with people in the restaurant industry after a short stint serving wings in orange booty shorts for a well know company. By the time my aunt and cousin showed up we are a well known entity to the wait staff and hipsters alike. As far as people watching goes the small cast of ‘the young and the hung over’ was fairly entertaining in a maddeningly stupid reality TV kind of way. We were quickly seated, service was good, food was great(!), and catching up with family is always fun. As the designated black sheep of the family I do not get a lot quality time with family. It usually becomes uncomfortable after a time, even. I love family, they love me, we established our next visit, bacon was done, time to go.
Freeway, LA traffic, splitting lanes, long trudge home…. we all know how trips end. Anticlimactic, invigorated by the fun but sad to be back to routine. Body humming. The knowledge that all your gear needs to be cleaned and put away over the next week or so. For months after — day dreaming in your office about the next trip while you sort pictures and try to revive memories of what a real life felt like.
This was only a short four day trip but these little trips serve as a reminder that living is different than life.