On Thursday, I left work early and headed home to toss some stuff in my saddlebags and head southeast. I think it was the first (and, probably, last) time in my life that I was excited to go to Merced. To say my route was uninspired is probably a compliment — I just hopped on the freeways and got to the Super 8 motel as fast as possible.
I’m not sure what it says about Peter and I that we have a “usual table” at the Wendy’s just off of Hwy 205 in Tracy, but we do, and I sat there. I emailed Stephanie from the Wendy’s and asked her to please bring an extra long-sleeved shirt for me; I was already freezing, and the trip hadn’t really even started yet. Uhoh.
I don’t know why I always fret that I won’t find my party once I get to the hotel. By the time I pulled into the Super 8 parking lot, there were already a bunch of bikes parked out front, with riders milling about. The only person I’d already met was Carl (“cws” onÂ ST.N), and I was glad to see a familiar face. I was quickly introduced to Bill (“B12_Bill”), Sean (“spurber”), Rick (“GTS_Rider” — our ride instigator), and Rick’s LA friends Donny and Steve.
Our motley crew hopped back on our bikes for a short ride to Carrows — a fine staple of biker gatherings everywhere. Carl and Sean braved the neighboring liquor store; the only liquor store I’ve come aross whose windows you could tell were heavily barred even from across the street. I swear we saw a drug deal going on in the parking lot as we walked into Carrows.
While enjoying our greasy, fatty, dinners, we were joined by more LA folks: Lutz (“lutzifer”), Dave, Frank, and Steven. Shortly thereafter, Ryan (“Ghost_Rider”) appeared, but without his girlfriend Kim, who’d chosen to stay back in the hotel and sleep off the long ride they had from Seattle.
I’m sure that our dinner was full of witty banter and scintillating conversation, but it was so fascinating that I can’t remember a damn thing we all talked about. I do remember kicking tires and trading lies back in the Super 8 parking lot post-dinner. I talked to Dave a lot about his awesome Superhawk — it’s custom painted a really pretty metallic green, and has an aftermarket Harris tank. He says that his range is close to 200 miles with the Harris tank, but that he probably wouldn’t do it again if he had the choice. The Harris tank was a replacement for the stocker after the latter was damaged in an accident, and Dave said it was expensive and a pain in the ass to hook up the Harris and get everything working properly. Still…..200 miles.
October 14, 2003
I woke up at 7am, which is actually my usual time, so life didn’t seem all too terribly bad. I hauled my saddlebags and tailbag back down to the bike, bumping into most of my riding buddies on my way to the parking lot. Ryan was teetering back from the neighboring gas station as I reached my bike, an utterly distraught look on his face. In one hand, he held a cup of the gas station coffee; in the other, a small tube of Starbucks espresso. He hoisted the cup of coffee and whimpered “noooooooo”. Poor Ryan. Perhaps the gas stations have decent coffee in Seattle? At any rate, the hotel’s continental breakfast wasn’t too bad (not-as-bad-as-gas-station-coffee coffee and muffins), so I fueled myself up, rode the bike next door to fuel it up, and I was ready to go.
While finishing up last minute preparations, I noticed that Mark (“Sprintrider”) and Steve (“DogBoy”) had arrived, bringing our Friday total to 13 bikes. I’d met Mark and Steve on ourÂ trip to Lake Berryessa last March, so it was great to see those guys again.
So, we got on the road. Due to the large numbers, we’d decided to make this a “mutual destination” ride — everyone had a map or copy of the route, everyone would take his or her own pace, and we’d naturally fall into clumps and all meet up at lunch/gas stations/the hotel. Along the first section of Highway 140 to Hornitos Road, we all pretty much stayed together, but the faster riders took off once we got to the twistier sections of Hornitos and Bear Valley Road.
Our first group stop was at a vista point at the intersection of Bear Valley Road and Hwy 49. It was a really pretty area overlooking Lake McClure and the twisties of the western Sierra Nevadas.
Shortly thereafter, we hopped on Highway 120, also known as Tioga Road, for our entrance intoÂ Yosemite National Park. Tioga was originally built as a mining road in the late 1800s, and now boasts California’s highest automobile pass as it crosses the Sierra Nevadas at 9945′. The thing that I find pretty amazing about Yosemite is how huge it is given that there’s all of one road that bisects it. According to the NPS website, 93% of the park is wilderness, most of it glacier-carved canyon. It seems like there’s just so much that you’d never see, unless you were a really hardcore hiker or camper, and even then, there are sections of the park which are labeled as “too dangerous” for hiking.
Despite living in the Bay Area for four years now, I’d never been to Yosemite before, so I had no idea what to expect. I still didn’t see very much of it — supposedly, all the famous attractions are south of Tioga Pass in the Yosemite Valley. I got one of those National Parks newspapers that they always hand out at the entrance gate (I wish I’d kept mine from the parks this spring), and all of the attractions seem pretty focused in the Valley. Guess I’ll just have to go back.
Anyway, back to our ride. We all stopped for gas about 10 miles inside of Yosemite, then sat around and chatted for a little bit afterwards. The ride through Yosemite was nice; very little traffic, nice roads, pretty scenery. We stopped again at the Olmsted Point for pictures of all of the bikes…oh, yeah, and of the park scenery, too.
Somewhat ironically, the best scenery that I saw along Hwy 120 came immediately after leaving Yosemite. The views were spectacular both looking northwest towards Mono Lake and back towards the park. Bill and I both stopped for a ton of photos, which started the downward spiral of lateness-due-to-photographing that would haunt us for the rest of the weekend. 🙂
We knew that the group was going to be headed for Highway 108 (aka Sonora Pass), but weÂ didn’t know that they were going to stay on Highway 395 for lunch first. The short story is that Bill and I ended up going up and down Sonora Pass instead of eating lunch — we realized our mistake at the summit, but decided to shrug it off, eat some snacks, and take a bazillion pictures on the way back down. Which we did. I don’t know what kind of trees were lining the road, but when the breeze hit them, the golden leaves would flitter back and forth, causing an amazing shimmering effect. The road was practically empty, mostly clean (some gravel in the corners), twisty enough to be challenging but not pucker-worthy, and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. It was enough to make me forget that I’d missed lunch. 😉 We finally encountered the group ascending the road as we were nearly at the bottom — we waited for a little while, but then decided to press on and get fuel and more snacks in nearby Walker. Most of the other guys ended up stopping for gas there, too, so we regrouped for a few minutes.
The rest of the gang took off again while Bill and I were still snacking, so our mini-caravan was back to just the two of us. We hopped back on Hwy 395 until it intersected with Highway 89, which we then took towards Lake Tahoe. I’ve been on Hwy 89 west of Highway 88 a million times while snowboarding with Peter — we tend to stay in South Lake Tahoe and take 89 back and forth to Kirkwood Ski Resort — but I can’t remember if I’d been on the eastern portion. It was starting to get pretty chilly as we reached the intersection of Hwys 88 and 89; it was almost hard to photograph more trees due to cold fingers. Fortunately, we prevailed, and the trees have been duly artfully captured.
We took the familiar Hwy 89 into South Lake Tahoe route, which was fun for me since, as I mentioned, I drive this road a lot in the winter. “Oh, look,” I’d think, “that’s where my car broke down that one time. And there’s where we waited for the tow truck. And there’s the mechanic that IÂ still need to bring the old alternator to…” On second thought, perhaps I was better off repressing some of the South Lake Tahoe memories.
As we waited at a familiar red light at Hwys 50 and 89 (about a block away from where my car died…), we heard a “beep beep!” and a BMW R1150RT pulled up behind us: Ryan and Kim! Despite passing us at the Walker gas stop, they had somehow gotten behind us and were now catching up. We shared a special bonding moment as we got stuck behind the World’s Most Annoying Traffic continuing up Hwy 89 along the western edge of Lake Tahoe. It was an enormous boat on a trailer, and it was going approximately -50mph. I swear, a half hour later, we had actually moved backwards in time.
We reached Truckee about fifteen years later. It was getting pretty cold by now, and starting to get dark, and it was occuring to my body that I hadn’t eaten lunch. The last 40 miles or so were pretty brutal. At 42 miles to Grass Valley, I started singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” (an old favorite of mine when I need to count down miles — this is why Peter and my Chatterboxes are push-to-talk instead of voice-activated…). It started out as a robust rendition, and ended up closer to “fi’….bottle….beer. wall. Bottle….pass. Fo’ bottle. Beer.” It did, however, kill almost 20 miles.
By the sheer grace of god, I survived those last 20 miles without falling asleep, spacing out at a tree, or ingesting my internal organs as a food source. We pulled into the Holiday Lodge parking lot, last of course, and my cheerful greeting to Stephanie was to growl and hiss and shoot green venom at the world in general. Fortunately, Steph knows me and immediately handed me trail mix and aimed me for the hotel room shower. Ten minutes later, I was still completely exhausted, but at least a marginally functional human being.
Given that I still couldn’t think straight or formulate a complete sentence, I decided to ride pillion with Carl to the restaurant instead of getting back on the SVS. I think I accidentally had An Intimate Moment with him as I reached around to brace myself on the tank. Erm, sorry, Carl. I’ve never been a passenger on anyone’s bike other than Peter’s before. It was sort of odd. That CBR pillion seat is not natural. No one should be subjected to it for more than the few blocks to Maria’s Mexican Restaurant.
Naturally, since all I wanted was a warm place to sit, the only space they had for 12 (Ryan and Kim backed out of dinner) was outside on the patio. Yay! We all sat around the plastic tables all bundled up in our riding gear. Fortunately, life looked better — and warmed up slightly — with food and drink. Steven from LA told us a funny joke about a puppy and a nearsighted gynocologist. I retold it to Andrea today only to find out that it’s actually much funnier after a 400-mile day and a Negra Modelo. The “small world” event of the evening happened when it turned out that Steven had seen Stephanie before — he’d been at one of the southern California BMW dealerships that she’d stopped at along theÂ Pony Express Ride.
Post-dinner, everyone was pretty eager to hit their respective sacks. I stayed awake just long enough to mutter at Steph and download the pictures from the day.