Scooter Interloper in SoCal. Feb 18-25, 2015.
For once, I had a decent night’s sleep in anticipation of the road. Pete and I knew this day would come, but there were still tears. I was in high-anxiety mode for an on-time departure that was never going to happen, but I managed to depart only a couple hours later than I’d hoped. The truth is, you’re never going to be ready to leave.
I passed the west side of town and Pacifica. Each locale conjured memories, like the visit to Devil’s Teeth bakery with Pete, or more recently riding two-up back from Alice’s after lunch with Toni. The turn off for The Sea Bowl slid by, destination for my last group ride where the Vespa SF riders presented me that awesome gift box. Half Moon Bay took me back to my first group ride here. It wasn’t until Pigeon Point Lighthouse that I started breaking new ground.
My rougher emotions were soothed by the thrum of the road. I was out of my comfort zone again, and yet very much back in it. The scooter felt solid beneath me, maybe from additional weight of cold weather supplies I was carrying? It didn’t matter, I was back to being…just me.
What a paradox, to feel most at home slightly beyond myself.
Colleen had contacted me earlier, so we made plans for a coffee break in Santa Cruz. Truly badass, she’s a retired officer who teaches MSF courses now. She escorted me out of town, perched on her white BMW, parting the lanes and waving regally to cars that made space. I felt like royalty following in her wake.
Chinese New Year fell on the Western calendar date of January 19th. I spent the new year’s eve on a free pull-off along a less-traveled road to a military base near Big Sur. It was my first night camping in months, I was testing a new resource (freecampsites.net), and I was setting up after nightfall – nothing like jumping in the deep end. In the darkness of the new moon, the Milky Way revealed itself, a bright haze stretching across a dazzling chorus of stars. My urban upbringing kept thinking I could hear the soft thunder of a passing subway train, but actually it was the crash and roar of the king tide; I was camped just around the bend from the ocean. I toasted my first day back on the road with a few swigs of Four Roses and thought of Pete, fellow whiskey fan, hopefully recovering alright. I thought of my family, and what they might be doing for Chinese New Year. I thought of friends, perhaps continuing their daily grind because for many of them it’s just another day. It was only a quick turn off from the main road but not a soul was in sight.
I was also breaking in my new tent. With much buyer’s anxiety, I had shipped Tim’s borrowed tent home and purchased a refurbished Down Range Solo. Buying a solo tent made me think of that Death Cab For Cutie lyric, “You look so defeated lying there in your new twin sized bed.” Actually, this tent goes up much more quickly than the old one, packs smaller and lighter (it lives on the new scooter front rack, thanks again Vespa SF), has double doors, and I really like how the ground tarp extends under the rainfly. I keep my gear on the little triangular footprints outside my sleeping space, and it stays dry without trekking mud in. There’s already a noticeable decrease in cussing and spitting during setup and teardown.
A year ago today, I would never have guessed I’d be here alone, but I fell asleep happy.
A few people have asked about what I do to keep my cooler cool. Usually, I freeze a couple small water bottles for spare water as well as ice, but what do I do after a couple nights without a freezer? Most gas stations have soda machines, and I’ll ask for a large cup of ice. Sometimes they charge for the cup, but sometimes they share ice freely.
I’d always wondered why people enjoy camping. It’s sites like these – bug-free, uncrowded, idyllic, just cool enough to make you appreciate the warmth of a hoody – that deliver any rational explanation.
The night previous I had stopped by Solvang, that weird Disney-esque pseudo-Danish town in southern California. It was pointed out to my sister and I on a south-to-north car trip of the past, and I suppose a part of me wanted to relive those memories. It’s not the same without my sister, but for good measure I picked up some pastries – she would have.
The ride down the coast was beautiful in an unreal way. Some portions the air smelled like orange blossoms. Sometimes, the stop-and-go of trying to document an experience with photographs ruins the pace, so I gave up and just rode.
Immersed in the ride down the Pacific Coast Highway, I felt utterly alive. Now that I was sitting still, I found myself in a bit of a discordant mood for such an easygoing, pleasant city. Everyone seems to agree that Santa Barbara is a beautiful place full of beautiful people, but it felt a bit like a movie set parody of itself – paved with Nordstroms and populated with barefoot extras happily strolling around in shorty shorts. I suppose, this being the region that birthed the Hollywood movie industry, it makes sense if it feels facetious to someone who came of age in cold cities. Being surrounded by the promise of an easy life achieved the opposite effect on me; I felt uneasy and suspicious. On the heels of Pete’s accident, I couldn’t help pondering how we’re only ever a hairsbreadth away from death or life-changing traumatic injury at any point in time, and how dependent we are on the delusion of safety to function. Perhaps it’s only by accepting the valleys that it’s possible to experience the peaks. I texted Pete to ask if he remembered to feed the dogs.
For the next few days, Dave (DSM8) had reached out and offered me a place to stay and use of his garage. We wasted no time, right after dinner we made a visit to Bert’s dealership. In the place of an old Super Walmart, it housed the most bikes I’ve ever seen indoors.
I sat on a few different models of interest. Dave and I probably talked bikes all night, hopefully not boring his fiance, Lin, too much at dinner. She’s also a rider, but struggles with the same issue I do: short legs.
I’ve passed through LA before, so I didn’t have much on my schedule beyond rest and meeting a couple ADVers. It just so turned out that Pete had a lead on a 1980 BMW R65 for sale not far from me. Dave invited me to hop on the back of his bike to check it out. I’ve been pretty eager to throw my leg over an old airhead, and this one turned out to be super clean.
Soooo there might be an old BMW sitting in the Vespa SF garages soon, waiting for attention. Perhaps when Pete heals up, or next time I’m in town.
On our Angeles Crest ride, Dave noticed that the plastic of my Pelican was flexing and bouncing quite a bit. That night, his industrious nature set out to create a sturdier base for the case with some scrap aluminum.
The new base is much stiffer and more lightweight. Thanks so much, Dave, for your time, patience, garage, expertise, and undying enthusiasm!
The next day, Dave’s friend, Sandy, came by to give me a tour of her custom converted Sprinter van. The best part: a built-in remote controlled winch to pull her motorcycle. I had starry eyes.
Although I’m slowly coming to peace with tent camping, I must admit I’m envious of those monstrous rolling homes that seem to dominate the campgrounds around here. My interest is mostly as a means to keep a mobile studio nearby while I wander by two wheels, because my as-yet-untested onboard workplace is pretty pared down. I would probably hate driving such a beast (and hate the gas mileage more), but I can entertain fantasies. It was great talking to Sandy and her girlfriend about living in her motorcycle-hauling sprinter-camper.
John (jdgretz) had reached out from ADV, and I was more happy to meet up with him for some local riding. If I’ve come to learn anything about LA, it’s that knowing a local is the key to your experience of the sprawl. John is a native, and a charm.
It was excellent hanging out with John and the LA Bikers. I loved hearing stories about their own road trips, and their current garages. Also nice to be among people who don’t immediately dismiss a 250cc bike as too small, heh.
Inspired by the Route 66 guidebook John picked up in Santa Monica, we made plans to ride along some of the historic road on my way to Las Vegas. John could follow me as far as Barstow, CA. Woohoo, a riding buddy!
I’d researched some BLM for camping, but picked a defunct Historic 66 rest stop that’s known for boondocking for my overnight destination. However, Google Maps had worryingly grayed out the road. Based on the miles of sandy hills and low bridges that made up the landscape, my guess was that rainwater had washed out one of the bridges on this seldom traveled road.
Low and behold, I came to the road closure that confirmed my suspicions.
I knew, I knew my rest stop in time was only a few miles beyond the road closure sign, just past the summit of that range. Nobody was around. The sun was low and I didn’t feel like driving the 15 or so miles back to the Amboy Crater land.
Yeah, I steered around the cones and kept going.
I must admit, I was feeling pretty isolated and was glad to have (intermittent) cell signal. I texted a couple people my location, and asked them to make sure I texted them in the morning to let them know I wasn’t bitten by something poisonous or eaten by a coyote.
I was kidding of course… though the coyotes kept me up at night. I was woken by their howls, and precisely three cars. In the emptiness of the desert, I could hear them approaching for what seemed like minutes. They sounded like airplane jets, the noise steadily tearing apart the fabric of the atmosphere before fading away just as slowly in the other direction. One of those cars was actually a tractor, and in that place it still sounded like a missile.
I didn’t go all the way through to see what caused the road closure, though many of the sandy washaways would have been shallow enough for a more off-road capable vehicle. My overloaded beast had street tires though, and perhaps not quite enough gas should I need to turn around.
As was the case I backtracked, and my fuel light came on just as I rolled into a gas station I’d passed the day before. They charged me the desert rate, $4.99/gallon.
Oatman, AZ is a historic mining town, but now big tour buses pass through. Wild mules road the streets, and you can feed them burro chow between shopping at any number of jackass-themed establishments (I’m not being a smartass, they really embrace the assery!). I tried petting a burro, but they must have sensed I had no tourist dime to spend and they went for the dude in shorts.
The road out of Oatman to Las Vegas is winding, narrow, and twisty. I wonder how the tour buses navigate them, but perhaps they don’t go that far. It was a refreshing change for me, after long desert straightaways.
In the next installment: Las Vegas, for the High Rollers Scooter Rally!
What a great summary of the CA (mostly) part of your trip. I like the photos of the desert and isolated campgrounds.
Thanks for sharing!
The fuel bottles make it look like your Vespa has a jetpack or is equipped with nitrous or some other Spy Hunter-like capability… Cool.
It's a unique reading experience to first see your drawings of the adventures that you later cover in a report with photos: interpretation followed by source and inspiration.
I thoroughly enjoyed that Stephanie. I sometimes wonder how you'll ever be a able to return to a 'normal' way of life after this experience. I think you never will, because you have remarkable gifts that will allow you the incredible luxury of living life on your terms without being tied down to an employer's nine to five drudgery.
I wonder how I'll adjust back too. I don't think of this trip as an escape in the way many motorcycle trips are, but I'd go crazy trying to predict the future anyway.