Tuesday, July 5, 2016

~ Ride Free ~

The BLM Laguna Mountain, Upper Sweetwater is a great camping spot on my way to the Hollister motorcycle rally over this fourth of July weekend.  It is just north/west of Coalinga and sits on a lonely country road called Los Gatos Creek Road, and later simply Coalinga Road. 

You may see a bobcat or wild pigs in the area.  Today, there is a nice buck looking at me from the shadows of a big blue oak as I pass by.  Once near dark, a herd of wild pigs startled me around a corner, as they ran wildly passed my motorcycle.  Today, there is ample sun to get me safely to my first night camp.  In front of me, there is a potential new camp called Condon Peak.  It sits high on the mountain and the cool breeze will be a relief to the hot sun.  It is run by BLM, has a table, roof shelter, and fire pit.  There is basic restroom nearby.  This looks like a good spot, and I gather some firewood and settle into this camp.  Tomorrow, I ride by Pinnacles National Park and then onto Hollister for the rally.

There are many motorcycles that pass by and that seems odd as this is normally a pretty lonely road.  There seem to be more vehicles coming by on the Coalinga Road as well.  Must all be going to the rally I tell myself.  There is no cell reception and Denise knows by now not to worry unless she doesn't hear from me in two days, sometimes three depending upon the area.  My transistor radio picks up a nice country western station from San Jose while I rig my hammock between the two metal posts at the simple yet comfortable BLM shelter.

It is not a big fire but it is perfect to heat up my can of beef stew for dinner.  My brother Gilbert suggested that we always pack a can of stew in our saddle bags just in case.  Denise gave me some gourmet beef jerky that is very good.  I'll save most of it for later.  The three liters of water will keep me hydrated and what is left over in the morning will be used to put out my morning cooking fire.

This is a perfect time to think about my new relationship with RoadRUNNER Magazine.  They are publishing some of my stories in a chronicle called, In Pursuit of Wildness, featuring our National Parks.  My decision to move forward with RoadRUNNER was easy.  They produce a quality, professional motorcycle magazine with awesome stories.  They print a paper magazine, as well as a digital on-line version.  I am impressed with the quality of their articles, and their mantra "Read, Discover, Ride" agrees with me.  Since my adult life has revolved around the National Parks and I love to ride motorcycles, this a good fit for me.  My first article, which appears in their July/August edition, focuses on the National Park Service's 100th anniversary which is on August 25, 2016.  I am proud to be a part of these celebrations along with them.  I feel that the past 100 years of the National Park is important but the next 100 years will be most important, teaching our children the value of preserving and protecting nature, keeping our National Park alive and well, and for me, all in the pursuit of wildness

It was very hot when I arrived and the cool breeze felt good but now that the sun is down, there is a colder bite to the air.  Later in the night, it gets plain cold as I crawl deeper into my sleeping bag.  In the morning, my plan is to stop briefly at Pinnacles National Park and get a campsite, before riding past Paicines, Tres Pinos, and then San Benito Street for the annual Hollister Rally.

Bikers on Highway 25 heading towards Pinnacles National Park and Hollister, CA
The ranger at the Pinnacles National Park tells me that all the campsites are full.  There is smoke in the air and she tells me that Highway 25 and 198 are closed due to a large, uncontained fire.  That is my usual route which explains why I saw so many motorcycles and cars taking the slow short cut road called the Los Gatos Creek/Coalinga Road.  I was planning to return home that way but that will change.

The peaceful road from Pinnacles National Park to Hollister is so enjoyable.  There are horses and cows grazing in the fields and wave from a rancher tending cattle on his ATV tells me that I'm home.  There must be a small airport near Tres Pinos because directly above me is a hang-glider making big turns in the sky.  There are now many bikers in the area.  Tres Pinos which is a dot on the map has bikers at every establishment, and there aren't many.  The number of bikers increases as I approach Hollister.  Off to my right is Hazel Hawkins Hospital where our son, Keith was born; now that brings back a flood of memories.

San Benito Street is closed to cars and lined with thousands of motorcycles packed tightly like sardines.  There is every type of motorcycle here and finding a spot to park is a challenge.  I make a few turns off the main drag, find a side street, park my bike, and walk to the center of town.

There is music, barbecues, and all sorts of vendors.  This year I buy a simple t-shirt that catches my attention.  The GEICO booth is handing out free stuff, so I get a pair of sunglasses, chap stick, and a handkerchief.   All useful items when riding a motorcycle.  It is fun to people watch and I suspect that most of the bikers are on a day ride as I do not see any camping gear strapped on their bikes.

Everyone seems to be in good spirits and there is an ample presence of security.

Johnny's is a central point and on the outside wall is a large mural with Marlon Brando and two easy riders from the past.  It is a popular spot and many are getting their picture taken.  

I do the same and then a group of bikers stands in front of the wall for their picture.  They are members of a motorcycle club called the Buffalo MC Soldiers.  The Buffalo Soldiers played an important role in the care of Sequoia National Park in its early years.  These riders proudly display their vests and I like that they chose this way to honor these early American heroes.

Some cool looking bikers in front of Johnny's ~ Buffalo MC Soldiers

There is an Indian dealership on the north end of town that I want to visit.  I did not know it earlier but they are offering free test rides on any of their Indian and Victory motorcycles.  "How is this done," I ask.  "Just provide your driver's license, sign a waiver, and place your helmet on the bike you want to ride."  He continues, "There will be a lead rider in the front and a chaser rider in the back that will take you and four or five others on a five-mile ride."  They are organized and made this a highlight of my trip.  I chose to ride the 2016 Indian Springfield and we rode in a safe, staggered formation.  Half joking, I tell one of the organizers as I pull up, "Sure would be nice to ride this home, thanks, that was fun."  He nods, likely having heard the comment before.  There was absolutely no sales pitch, they offered free water, and the opportunity to ride any other motorcycle as many times as we wanted.  Impressive.

Test riding a 2016 Indian Springfield
In the excitement of riding the Indian motorcycle, I forgot about lunch and it is almost dinner time.  On one of those side streets, I remember seeing a Mexican restaurant so I return and have some Chile Verde and tasty posole. 

It is much cooler now and my decision is to head back to Three Rivers via Highway 152.  There is a large highway marquee ahead - "severe winds over Pacheco Pass."  The wind will be blowing against my back and that will be a relief.  Any biker knows riding into a strong wind is work and a drain on fuel economy.  Even with the wind at my back, I brace myself around turns taking nothing for granted.  Almost as soon as I reach the bottom of the pass, the coolness is replaced by the valley heat.  I stop for some water to cool me down.  There are many bikers on this road as well.  At times, I'm riding alone and then a group of bikers catches up to me and I tag along.  American flags are waving wildly on many of the motorcycles as they pass by.

Again on this fourth of July, my American flag waves on my motorcycle too.  

This ride, for me, is special.  It was only 399.7 miles but I get some quality time, returning to Pinnacles National Park and Hollister to celebrate our Nation's Independence. 

Happy 4th of July America