Saturday, November 7, 2009

California 09 - Day five

I woke up on Wednesday early, even though we'd been out pretty late the night before. There's just something about a day on two wheels that makes getting out of bed so much easier. It's not that I was in a hurry, I was just up and ready. I loaded my rented pony as Ed collected a few things he'd need for an overnight. Milling around his garage, it would have been easy for me to drift into tinkering...I'd really wanted to have a closer look at the Ruckus and there are a couple of older dirt bikes and...
I knew I just needed to look away. Motorcycles have a way of distracting me and I was here to ride.
After a quick errand to free up Ed's schedule we headed north out of Los Angeles. Without much discussion, the plan seemed set, Death Valley, then north, grab a room, ride a bit of Yosemite and go our separate ways. I needed to be back in San Francisco by 6pm Thursday and Ed had to return to his day to day in LA.

It took very little time for the pleasant temps and gentle breezes to become strong winds and 45 degrees.

It is a funny thing, this desire not to hold up the other guy on a ride. Independently, we were freezing our asses off but neither wanted to slow the train down. Finally, not knowing Ed was uncomfortable, I decided I needed to put the liner in my jacket...and I mean NEEDED. Turns out, he was in the same boat. Motorcyclists need some sort of universal "I am cold, pull over before I get hypothermia" hand signal.
As I pulled the Gerbings liner from my bags, I wondered why I'd resisted just stripping the plug off and running a wire right to the battery, you know, while I was standing in Ed's garage. I try very hard to resist the urge to fiddle with things while on a ride, but this was a simple deal. Ah well, perhaps with the bike at full chat, the computer will permit the couple of amps needed to preserve me from freezing. Once the Canbus shuts the outlet down, the only way to get power back is to restart the bike. I still wanted power for my GPS so if I was not going to get heat, I'd need to power cycle the bike. Once again, not wanting to hold up the train, I figured I'd just do it in traffic.
I let Ed know that I intended to experiment so if he saw me shut the bike off while we were on the freeway, not to worry. Yeah, I know, genius move. The bad news, still no heat. The good news, I did not crash while restarting the bike on the move.

A minor mechanical delay is one of those things you can count on experiencing if you spend enough time on riding. I know there is no "perfect" spot for thing to go wrong but you just have to laugh at the time and place these things seem to strike.

Uphill, in traffic and the sidestand switch decided to flake out. Since the switch controls the ignition, it was a bit more than an annoying light flickering on the dash. Right here, I could easily insert a "ha, how 'bout those unreliable Italian bikes" comment but, this Aprilia has big miles on it, miles accumulated by riding all manner of conditions. (edit: that would be 70,000 miles! ) Funny, I don't really mind this sort of thing, it just comes with the territory. Pack a few simple tools, some zip ties and tape and you can usually work things out.
A few minutes effort had Ed's bike off under it's own power, and we were enjoying the high winds buffeting us as we made our way north on the slab. Nothing like riding sideways for a few hours to keep life exciting.
At long last, we reached the exit for Baker, CA and the end of our interstate route. Lunch, fuel and a quick look at the California highway dept website and we were ready to do a little moto-sight seeing.

Behold, the giant thermometer. This was the warmest we'd be for most of the day.

No, we did not stay here. Someone needs to track down the story on this one.

Route 127, while not the best road I'd ridden in California, was a welcome change of pace from the monotony of the interstate. A quick 60 miles had us in position to make a choice of routes through Death Valley.

I'd grabbed one of those goofy travel books for California....and here I am reading it in earnest for the first time. 178 seemed to be the way to go so away we went.
We found the sign so clearly this was the way to go :D

I'd explain this pose, if I could....

As we entered the park, I could not help but smile. Riding here was 80 percent whim on my part, something I'd wanted to see as an adult and here we were, two guys on motorcycles fighting wind gusts and sands just so I could take a look around. This picture does little to illustrate the winds and blowing sands we were riding in.

It was alternately, a beautiful, sunny day and a total PIA windy, chilly day as we wove our way in and out of the mountains that served to protect us from the wall of winds and sand. Death Valley is a lunar landscape with a narrow strip of asphalt running through it. On hot days, I can imagine the stifling nature of the high rock walls but on this day they provided a welcome respite from mother nature.

At one point, as the winds blew hard and I literally felt sand pushing past the seal on my faceshield, Ed pulled over, wondering aloud if we should reconsider our plans. A few quick words later, we were back on our way. We'd never actually said, "oh hell no, let's keep going" but somehow we both knew. Later, when Ed would ask me if I'd have kept going were I alone, I had to smile. Clearly, he was concerned about me and my desire to ride in those conditions. Laughing, I told him I never turn back. Kindred spirits we are, no question about it.

Leading the train for a bit, I chose to stop at one of the "tourist" locations. This part of my trip was a sightseeing sort of thing, so why not?

Welcome to Badwater Basin, 280 feet below sea level

George approves....

What was so remarkable about this spot was how serene and quiet it was here. Warm, sunny, gentle breeze.... like we'd stepped into another place and time.
Riding out of the parking area, it took no time at all to return to the windy, chilly day we'd left just a few miles ago. From here, it was a long ride to the top of Death Valley and ultimately the road to a room for the night. Knowing we were running short on daylight, we pushed on, making decent time given the conditions. After fueling up, we motored on to Stovepipe Wells. I have no preset list of things I buy on a trip but I do like to find a little something to bring back for my daughter and as my friend Rachel is quick to point out, post cards are always the best pictures you can get. A cream soda, trinkets and a Death Valley sticker procured, we spent a minute laughing about the day and the trip ahead. We were at least 80 miles from a clean room and a bed, the sun was setting, my heated liner was inop and the winds were far from dying down. My reaction? I think I giggled.

That ain't fog in the background.

Spurred on our way by a shop employee shooing us off the sidewalk of the general store, we rode north into the twilight. It was a beautiful ride and had I been more settled on the bike, it would have been perfect. After a day of buffeting winds, it was hard to relax and enjoy the twisting roads out of the park. Still, it was awesome.

From here, it was a twisting ride in the dark to Rt 395 and the promise of dinner and a bed.
As an aside, if you stop and ask my opinion about going left or right, understand you should likely select the opposite of what I pick. After a minor detour and an extra 20 miles of cold, blowing ride, we arrived in Lone Pines, CA. A room secured at the Dow Villa Motel, Ed kindly bought me dinner and a glass of wine.
Back at the motel, we spent a few minutes looking at the day's pictures and routes for the next day. It took no time for sleep to find us both.
450 miles of wacky fun behind us, we drifted off, me dreaming of my last day riding California.

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