I made it back. From Death Valley. It was a three day motorcycle trip. Well three and a bit days, I took off midday on Thursday and got home a little before 6pm on Sunday. It was meant to be a camping trip, with Marty Kast and John Dailey. Well it was ether too cold or too windy for to do any camping except for the last night along the Kearn River. John kept getting his departure delayed one day at a time until there were no more days left. He had a project the kept extending. He of the three of us, at least has a job.
That first afternoon was spent just getting out of the Bay Area and into the mountains. Our first stop was Farmington and you guessed it, a pit stop. It is not so much a town, it is nothing more that a cross roads and it only rates a stop sign. There is a store, a bar and a grill. And, through the farm land, the quintessential Mexican restaurant. Which may sound simple enough, but try to find one on the other side of the Sierra Mountains in the deserts. Da Nada! A sign in the window said Restroom for Customers Only. So Leak and Lunch it was. Traveling up highway 4 through a bit of the gold country we toured a couple of the old towns such as Angles Camp and Murphy.
There were several first time in a long time things for me on this trip after spending the last six months sailing. Like driving a motorcycle, traveling over a thousand feet in altitude, sleeping any place other that the bunk on my boat and seeing snow.
Marty and I drove into Bear Valley about five oclock in the afternoon. Eight thousand feet high and there is snow on the ground. Two first in a row. There is no way I am going to sleep on the ground here! I havent seen a winter in almost two years and thought I was going to freeze to dearth when the temperature dropped to 58° in Mexico!
Yep, it was the Bear Valley Lodge or nothing. Well, for a place to stay, there WAS only the Bear Valley Lodge. And we were the only ones renting a room. It was between seasons and the whole place was closed down. Since I was new at spending a lot of time on my bike, all I could do was lay on my bed. It took about two hours for my hands and feet to stop buzzing. By then it was early evening and because of the Mexican Feast I had late in the afternoon, I didnt even come close to being hungry. Since the place came fully equipped, telephone and television, Marty exposed me to an other one of my firsts. A TV Sitcom, some cop/ lawyer show. That should cover my TV fix for sometime.
I was awake at first light and we were out of there by 7am. Small problem, nothing opened until 9am. Including the front desk. Well, I hadnt given a credit card to the guy behind the bar, the only person working there, and only a partial mailing address. There was a phone number on a sign at the front desk, which I called. The person on the phone, said just drop the key in the Key Drop box. I did, we split. So much for the system.
Here is one that you can score for high tech and human nature. Marty got one of those LED break lights for his bike, you know, that have a two million hour life. Well, in this picture it is on. Just before I plough in to his back end. As a running light, it look as if the sun was shinning off of it and when he was breaking, well, it looked like the running light was on. There was many times during the three day trip that I had to catch myself with the breaks.
At the top of Ebberts Pass, no doubt named after the poor soul that decided to climb it from the East, there is a small lake called Mosquito Lake.
Fortunately for us, it was covered with ice, but very beautiful. The West side of the Sierra Nevadas has a gentle slope down to the central valley. But the back side, drops straight down to the desert. In the distance of a little more than a mile highway 4 loses three thousand feet. For a motorcycle, this road is a blast, in the fall. Now, it is covered with rocks, sand and has snow banks on its sides. Very pretty, but you have to be very careful.
I think Bear Valley was still asleep by the time we got to Markleeville. The bar had a big sign that boosted of breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you were a drunk, it was still true. But if you wanted to eat, we were SOL, out of luck. But there was one of those little trendy, high priced, mountain coffee shops right next door! Marty had a Ten Buck Breakfast Bagel and I had the Five Buck Hot Chocolate Muffin combo. Some how I think the Bloody Mary breakfast next door would have been much more rewarding. I could do a lot more drinking when I had my Harley, it was gutless and I couldnt go very fast. With my BMW, I have to pay attention, these roads are just too much fun.
After our fun little break in Markleeville, we backed tracked a little to go South on highway 89, a fun road with a sudden view from the top, Monitor Pass.
A beautiful slow sweep turning road drops down from the pass with views of two valleys far below and mountains far into Nevada. Basically another three to four thousand foot drop to where we caught highway 395, almost a hundred miles to go to Mono Lake.
We made a couple stops, one at the highway over look to the lake itself and on the lake shore to see the Tufa.
The main goal was to get to The Main Place in Lee Vinning. Or just South of the town, as the case may be. John Dailey was suppose to meet us here. The Mobil gas station.
Yea, right you say. This place has the best food for hundreds of miles. If your talking East of the Sierra Nevadas you had better double it. The best part was that it was still there. I always talk the place up to the people that I am traveling with and wonder has the place folded. This is basically your one meal a day stop. The servings are huge and the food is very good! It is on highway 120 which goes over the Sierra Nevadas into Yosemite, just off of highway 395.
Just South of Lee Vinning is the June Lake Loop, which no matter which time of year I drive it, I am always struck by the shapes and the colors.
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This next part of 395 is just long, very beautiful, but long. The West is Big, there is no doubt about it. We are doing seventy and eighty miles and hour on the bikes, and those poor people, Our Fore Fathers, were wandering around on horse back and cover wagon. We made a stop at Toms Place.
I had seen a picture taken sometime in the forties or fifties that shower this road stop. It was still there, some of the people behind the counter looked it too. It was a one root beer kind of stop. It is one of those, maybe you have to stop, kind of places.
From here there is an eight mile hill that drops four thousand feet, but more dramatically, drops you in to the desert. At least a fifteen degree rise in temperature. It was cold before, now it is hot. From almost everything, to a T shirt. Bishop is a good place for a gas station. That is about all I can say. Fifteen miles South is Big Pine where we ask the woman behind the gas station counter whether the Death Valley Road from the North was paved. She said she thought it was dirt, but wasnt sure. A big guy in the store, as it turned out was a customer and a truck driver, said it was paved because he never takes his Harley on dirt roads. More like, because the damn thing would fall apart. We went to take a look at the Death Valley road off of highway 168 for ourselves.
A sign at the junction soon answered our questions. Only the first twenty miles were paved. That meant that the remaining fifty plus was a little dusty. There wasnt much of the day left and there was a lot of wind out of the North. To the South where a lake moved to Los Angeles, was a giant cloud of dust that went into the sky ten or twenty thousand feet. We jumped back onto highway 395 and went South for an other fifty miles to Lone Pine which sits on the North end of Owens remove the Lake.
On the trip down the East side of Owens Lake we were doing sixty, give or take a little, just a little faster that the speed of the flying sand. It was a very strange sensation following behind Martys bike. There were trails of sand on the road laying out like the vapor trails you might see in the sky behind a jet. Except , this was in slow motion as if in a dream. It was hot and I had to keep the shield closed on my helmet in an attempt to keep the dust out. Maybe I was asleep. This went on for almost an hour until we climb out of the valley and into the Panamint Range which defines the West side of Death Valley. East of Owens Lake this becomes highway 190 and goes to Death Valley Junction which is East of the Amargosa Range which defines the East side of Death Valley.
At the top the temperature was about seventy eight degrees, five thousand feet down, it was in the high nineties and the wind was blowing a good twenty five to thirty five knots. This is Stovepipe Wells, the park entrance. There is a small store, restaurant, bar and a motel. Where we decide to spend the night, the price was right, seventy bucks. I could just envision my tent blowing across the desert like a tumble weed, with me in it. It was time for a Tall Cold Beer. May be two. How about three! The bar tender said that it was going to blow seventy miles per hour during the night and then preceded to tell us how the employees dorm just had the roof ripped off by winds on such a night as was being predicted. We felt, pretty lucky that we had been able to get a room, and had a good buzz. It was time to eat. The food, as it turned out, was surprisingly good and the price wasnt that bad.
We were up at first light to see the colors of the sunrise and to enjoy the cool. By now the wind had died down pretty much. During the night, it had not really lived up to the stories. Though the bikes were completely covered with dust.
John Dailey was suppose to meet us here. So left out gear here, we had until noon before checkout. Marty was low on gas so we headed to Furnace Creek. Things were still closed when we got there and Zabriskie Point wasnt far. A good place to see the rock formations and see the rising sun change the colors. Here we had a Kodak moment.
I wanted to do go to Bad Water before the valley floor got hot.
It was close enough and within Martys gas budget.
It turned out to be a great time to go to the lowest and hottest place in North America. Bad water is on the East side of the valley right up against a pretty sheer six thousand foot mountain. Which kept it shaded until mid morning. There was a big puddle of water still there. The surprising thing was that the water was quite cold. Maybe if we had gone back at the end of the day, it would have been hot.
From here it was back to Furnace Creek for gas and up, six thousand feet to the top of the Eastern range to Dantes View. It was warm, on the edge of hot on the valley floor, up there, it was Cold! With a biting wind. The view was of course was huge! The ride up and down, was great fun. I managed to get a cell signal on top, from Nevada, and gave John Dailey a call to find out that he still had been unable to get away and that he would catch us at the next place. We had an hour to get from the top, at Dantes View and back to our motel at Stovepipe Wells before the noon checkout time.
This place is VERY large, you dont realize it until you have to go somewhere. We got back at eleven fifty five, didnt even get a chance to go for a swim. Cruised over to the General Store, picked up a couple of things and talked to a couple of people. Then, got ready to go West Young Man.
On the way out, we went the road less traveled, South along the Western range through Wild Rose, then down the mountain to catch the road to Trona. Once down on the bottom, the road just goes straight and flat. At the Southern turn was a sign that talked about a ghost town, in THAT direction, three and a half miles. It is a long dirt road, and we couldnt see a thing. Well off we go to Ballarat. Well it was a ghost town alright, even the ghost had taken off.
The sign on the highway is the high light of the whole town.
From the nineteenth century ghost town of Ballarat, to the twentieth century ghost town Trona. Or the ghost town in the making. I wonder if these long gone towns saw theirs in the death throws like Trona. Everything look like everyone, just left. Some homes were still trying to be sold, others were boarded up and others had broken windows. The place is just deserted, as if everyone had just taken off last month. As Marty said, a town of crack houses.
This next area is just white people and military, no one else would be dumb enough to live in Ridgecrest and China Lake. The Mexicans wont even come here. No Mexican restaurants any where, only fast food and chain restaurants. Very grim. We had to settle for a chicken burger at a Carl Jr gas station place in some town that is not even on the map that I am looking at. Here it is, it is on this map, its Pearsonville. This was the last change gas and burp. From here we took to the hills.
Through the Eight Mile Canyon, a very nice road took us up to about seven thousand feet. Unfortunately, it continued up another couple more thousand feet to a pass that was still closed due to snow. But wait, there is this other line on the map going South to Lake Isabella. There just happened to be a couple people jogging up the road and we asked about road conditions. Martys bike might pass as off road bike, but mine would not. This guy spent a couple long minutes looking at my bald front tire and kept saying how bad the road was and that he wouldnt take our type of bike down this road.
So off we went!
The first part had a lot of grave which work pretty good for me, for Marty, he said it wasnt so good. Of course there were bad washboards on all of the turns and hills. The second half, there was about twenty five miles altogether of road, was drifting sand. This was a real pain for me. I would just have to get into a grove, follow it and hope there was a hard bit when I needed to make a turn. So far, so good. I got all the way down out of the hills and was on the straight away just before the paved highway. I am busy watching every grain of sand under my front tire and look up for a moment and see a big cloud of dust with a figure walking out, like a apparition out of a dream.
The figure became darker as the dust settled and I got closer.
By the time I get a little closer I see that it is Marty, I dont see his bike, but there is a this dark thing in a ditch by the side of the road.
I get stopped and together we pull and push his bike around then get it up. The soft sand did little or nothing to the bike. A few minutes we are down the road again and shortly on the pavement, highway 178 going West.
We turn North again and take the road on the East side of Lake Isabella to Kernville. There is a lot of wind coming up the Kearn River Valley from Bakersfield on it way to the desert. I am thinking, though the lake is very pretty, it will not be a very good place to camp. Also there are a bunch of camp grounds North of Kernville along the Kern River. Bound to be something good. Besides, it is time for dinner. We make a stop at a small grocery store to ask if the small road to the North is open and of course, where is the best Mexican restaurant in town. We get good answers on both. With big plates of food and a beer in front of us, all is right in our world as we watch the sun set behind the mountain.
With about a hour of light remaining, we jump on the bikes and take off out of town to the North along the Kern River to find a place to pitch our tents. We pass one camp site and it is closed, then another and another. Preseason has its problem. After a while I see a couple of possibilities by the road and double back and pick the best. By now it is almost completely dark. We get the bikes unloaded and tents pitched. Lights out, its time for bed.
It isnt until morning that we really find out what a great place we picked. Right on the water in the trees, it was great. I did have a frog that took up with me during the night that I had to listen to, well the times that I woke up any how. It did get cold toward the morning. Being in the bottom of the river valley, the cold air flowed down with the water in the night. But when the sun came out, it warmed up real fast. I got a chance to sleep in, it was such a nice place just to hang out. We finally got away by mid morning for a drive up the valley on a very pretty fun twisty road. Perfect bike road.
After driving through several small, hard to even call them towns, we finally found a place serving breakfast. Well brunch, Mothers Day Brunch. I didnt even know it was Sunday, let along Mothers Day. Back to all those things I am suppose to keep track of now. Time, day and date! Next thing I will have to remember is my name! When will it stop! The rest of the way North was through beautiful back country. At the higher elevations, there were big pines and as we worked our way North and down the mountains, the vegitation became lighter and dyer, and of course, hotter on our way to Visalia.
This is where Marty and I parted company. By now, I had little or no front tire. There was a little tread in the middle, but none on the sides form all of the very fun twisty roads that we had been doing. I thought I would have enough to allow me to do the whole trip. This was the second time I have missed judge tire ware. Im just not a good judge of house flesh! I jump on the freeway, turn my mind off, and four hours later I was home in Sausalito.
And Marty got to continue North on the Western side of the Sierras!
It was a great trip! It never got too hot (94°) and it never got too cold (30°). I did 1250 miles all together in the three and a half days.
Neither one of us got any tickets!