California Ride – Part the first

David’s 2015 California Ride – Part I

I’m just back from an almost 3,000 mile ride to the Bay Area and back.  I am going to break up my thoughts into three parts, since the ride had three segments.

Part I details adventures on the way to Los Gatos to visit my daughter, son-in-law, and 22 month old grandson. Susan flew there the same day I left, and flew back the day after I started the ride home. Part II will go over my rides and adventures in Los Gatos, and of course the last segment will cover the ride home.

Day I began at the conclusion of our little Friday morning breakfast group. I was fortunate to be accompanied for this day by Bill Hucks, who as many of you know was once a student of mine – 44 years ago. He does not remember anything about my class and I do not have any recall of him as a student, but we met up again three years ago and have become good friends.

It’s very important on a long ride with one or more other people that everyone has the same or similar tastes in the details of a ride. How often to stop? When to leave? When to call it a day? How much time do you spend at rest stops and scenic attractions?  Of course, Bill and I had discussed utterly none of this before the ride, but we’ve ridden together on several day rides so I was not too concerned.  Fortunately, we mesh very well in all of these areas, so it was a great boon to have him along.  The evening conversations outside our motel room were fascinating and fun, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The route for the day was a copy of one I used back when leading groups on three day weekends to Bend, Oregon. It involves a backroads route to Enumclaw, down around the east side of Mount Rainier and then over 401 to Yakima.  Although I’ve enjoyed this many times in the past, this time the first two hours were rather monotonous. The weather was blah, although not raining, and we seemed to run into a lot of people in big and small trucks lollygagging along.

Once on 401 things improved rapidly. We climbed through a fog bank that made the several hairpins a bit tense, but once at altitude the sky cleared and it was clear sailing. 401 to Yakima is a great ride, and all of the traffic seemed to be elsewhere. From Yakima it was south to Goldendale, and then into Oregon and down Oregon 97.

The groups I led often complained that 97 is boring, but I’ve always enjoyed it. You roll along at a goodly pace surveying high desert, rolling hills, and enormous vistas, broken up by small towns every once in a while.

Bill suggested a wonderful long cut I had not ridden, and that was the best part of the day. A side highway leads from Shannicott down to the almost non-existent town of Antelope, which once housed the cult leader who was fond of Roll Royces – remember him?  Bagwhan whatshisname?

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh – that’s it.  A little Googling reveals that his followers gave him 93 Rolls Royce motorcars, and that just seems silly.  He was later deported for various and sundry crimes.  (surprise!) 

The road to Antelope is all downhill and sharp corners, while the route back to the main road opens up to a long series of delightful sweepers. Back on track, we rolled past Redmond and Bend and reached LaPine, our intended destination “the Highlander” motel.

Bill and I are both fond of what I call 3rd tier motels and what Bill terms “fleabags.”  He’d researched a likely candidate, and I had made a reservation the day before, which was a good thing as they only had one room left. The Highlander was much too nice to be described as a “fleabag.” It was just the sort of older small motel we both enjoy. Clean and simple and…$76 for two! We dined at a Mexican place across the street, and Bill reported his meal was terrific. Mine was horrid. Oh well.

Into the late evening we lolled in chairs in front of our rooms, surveying our fantastic motorcycles. I pumped Bill with questions about his life since 9th grade.  He had many a fascinating tale, and it all ends happily.  I never realized that my hosting a call-in radio show for three years would give me questioning skills that would come in handy years later. Since I tend to talk far too much, it’s a great pleasure to sit back and let someone else tell the stories – especially such great stories!

We both like to get up early and were ready to ride well before 7am. Bill was sorely tempted to continue for one more day, but he really had to be at work on Monday, and ending a 2nd day in Grass Valley would leave him a soul-destroying ride back up I-5 to get home. As he rides a Honda 250 CBR, with a single cylinder and horsepower that would not daunt a pony, the prospect of this was too horrible to countenance. Instead, he would go back and take two days to “scout” some of the roads we will use on this summer’s second adventure in September.

I chose to ride to Klamath Falls before breakfast. As it was early, I was wary of “deer strikes,” one of the disadvantages of an early start.  But the weather was perfect, and there was no traffic.   I rolled along at 80mph or a tad more, and every once in a while I would say the word “deer!” out loud in my helmet to renew my vigilance.

Despite that, I suddenly had the thought of “Why would someone leave a statue of a deer on the shoulder of the road?”  It was a large male with a full set of antlers, standing so still that he really did look like a statue.  As I closed the gap he turned his head and looked directly at me and I realized I was in serious peril.  Actually, I was going fast enough I don’t think he would have got me, but fortunately he decided not to try and turned tail and romped into the woods.

Now I was really alert!  I felt really stupid about this incident for about 4 hours. That afternoon at a gas stop I struck up a conversation with two guys on Harleys. I related my story and the one fellow laughed and admitted he had experienced exactly the same thing!

I did notice differences on this trip in the other motorcyclists.  First of all, most of the groups were mixed.  Harleys and BMWs and Hondas were seen traveling together, whereas in my previous experience tour groups tended to be more segregated by brand. I think this is a good sign. I also noticed higher levels of riding skills.  Other motorcyclists would see my coming up behind and move over to let me slide by in the left half of the lane. They also seemed to be traveling at a higher rate of speed, and sometimes I would just roll along and follow two or three of them for miles and be impressed with their lines.  None of these things has ever happened in my previous experience. Is this the effect of near universal rider education?  That would be my guess, but in any case – huzzah!

I’m rarely passed by anyone on these sorts of rides, but that is because most large touring bikes are not ridden at the same speed as a Triumph Speed Triple, which is not really a touring bike unless you are really odd.  The guy on the KTM Super Motard (later) was a different story.

I can tell you the radar cop just outside of Klamath Falls begins to set up shop at 8:30am. I rolled by as he was parking his car, not quite open for business. As I had covered well over 100 miles in far less than 90 minutes, it was probably a good thing he was not “on.”

One of the expected joys of the trip was to ride Lassen Park again. I did this about 20 years ago and it was fantastic. As usual, my memories are better than the reality. Lassen Park is fabulous, but in retrospect the recollections are probably of the wonderful winding roads to and from Lassen.  I also did not remember that the road through Lassen Park summits at 8300 feet – plenty enough altitude to get me pretty chilly.  After a stop for the obligatory picture of the motorcycle next to the large mound of snow at the side of the parking lot, I rode on to pause at some geophysical activity in the form of fumaroles, with sulphurous steam rising out of vents on a hillside.

From there it was on to Quincy, and the roads leading to and from Quincy are magic. This is what I remembered so fondly for two decades. The whole area is reminiscent of an HO railroad buff’s layout blown up to full size. Railroad tracks from the area’s gold rush days slash across the hills, and even the trees and the pavement look more like fake models scaled up to full size than the real thing.

By now the afternoon was lengthening, and I realized I’d made a mistake. The last 100 miles to Grass Valley are a winding paradise, but I’d not taken care of my food and hydration needs, and now I was hungry, tired, and thirsty. Serious error.

I screwed up my concentration as far as I could and rode very carefully. Since the ride to Los Gatos the next day would be easy, I kept an eye peeled for a motel, as I could stop any time. No such luck. I sort of wasted some great roads, but they were still enjoyable.

Once in Grass Valley I could not seem to find the motel row area. I stopped for fuel and was directed to what I thought he said were “motels,” but perhaps he only used the singular.   By the time I found it I was done – I just needed to stop.

The “Coach and 4.” Now THIS is a fleabag.  The worst motel ever. The room was dismal, and then it got worse. Grateful to have a room, I sat outside smoking my pipe. Two others sat outside their room smoking, and then one of them came over to sit with me.  He was quite conversational, and really into motorcycles, but…   Have you ever been chatting with someone when you realize that something is not quite right?  The person does not seem to take in anything you say, and their own words indicate someone who is massively drunk, not quite all there, or not very smart. In this case I’d hit the jackpot – all three.  I eventually retreated to my room.

In a few minutes he was knocking on my door!  With him was a child of about two.  My friend related that the child had been crawling around on the pavement under my bike and he really wanted to hear it run. I did not want to, but perhaps this would make him go away, so I grabbed the key. Outside my room, the evident mother told me this would be really exciting for her son.  Well, we motorcyclists never pass up a chance to bring a new convert into the fold, so we put the kid on the bike and I started it. Not really sure the child was really into it, but whatever. I shut the bike off and went back to my room.

In a few minutes he knocked on the door again!  This time he and the child both had grease and oil smears on their faces, and he reported they had found an oil leak. On a Triumph?  Irony.   Actually, he’d just been playing with the child and wiping chain lube on their faces. Outside again, and the mother sat smoking a cigarette. The whack job began talking to her and I realized he did not know her at all.  Then he said “You’re beautiful, by the way.”  She replied “I’m also married, but thanks,” and scooped up her son and went to her room. Wise woman.

At this point I went for a walk just to get away from the crazy guy, and found myself down the street at the little mini-mart where I had earlier purchased my dinner (of sorts).   The woman running the place was sitting outside and as I walked up I said “Don’t get up. I don’t need anything else. I’m just getting away from a crazy guy at the motel.”

She responded, “Bald guy?  White jeans and t-shirt?”

“You KNOW him?”

“He’s my sister’s ex-husband.”  She related her ex-in-law’s many issues, including a drinking problem, and I was astounded.

Back in my room I noticed crazy guy back outside the room where I’d first seen him. I don’t think he was even a customer of the motel – just a drunk guy talking to anyone who would listen.

Now what?  My bike was smack dab in the middle of the small parking lot.  Would he get progressively more drunk and then try to get on it?  Would he knock it over?  Should I leave? That would mean riding in the dark in deer valley.

Instead, I just sort of slept on and off all night, waking periodically to check on the bike. Last I knew it was 2am, and he had found someone new to chat with. Fortunately, the bike was untouched in the morning and I escaped.

The third day was short and easy.  Breakfast in Auburn with my older brother and his wife, who live there, and then freeway jousting all the way to Los Gatos.  Fortunately I have driven this route several times so I was not confused by the freeway system, which can be daunting.

Early in the afternoon I pulled in to my daughter’s apartment complex.  Part I was done.


Copyright 2015                David Preston






About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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