Saturday, October 28, 2017

~ MMT hits a Milestone ~

Hello to all my readers of My Motorcycle Tales.  Today, my blog surpassed 18,000 views, something that I did not think possible when I started sharing my travels two year ago -- thank you for following me along on my adventures.

My Motorcycle Tales reaches 18,808 views on 10/28/2017

I am fortunate to write and publish articles for Road RUNNER Motorcycle Touring and Travel.  They are a professional motorcycle magazine with outstanding stories in the United States and around the world.  I encourage 'My Motorcycle Tales' readers here in the US and around the world to subscribe to RoadRUNNER Magazine.  The November/December 2017 edition has two awesome articles and photographs by fellow writers, Jon Beck and John M. Flores.  Jon Beck's story is called 'The Azores, Little Island Big Adventure.'  John Flores' article is called 'In the Tire Tracks of a Pioneer, Part 2: Across the Great Basin Desert.'

These seasoned photojournalist are well worth following in this and future RoadRUNNER publications.

Cover by John M. Flores

And of course, read my articles that are found in the RoadRUNNER Chronicle ~ In Pursuit of Wildness.  Here are a few, with more to be published soon:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

~ Courageously They Died - By Inspiration They Lived ~

~ LAFD Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony ~

Riding a motorcycle on the LA freeways can be a challenge, but for me, it was terrifying.  I am on the Hollywood freeway desperately trying to find the Los Angeles Fire Department Museum & Memorial at 1355 North Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, California.  I need divine help as cars are flying by me like Indy Car racers at 80 miles an hour.

The invitation in my pocket read: “The men and women of the Los Angeles Fire Department cordially invite you to join civic and community leaders, as well as friends and family of the LAFD, as our community gathers to honor the 268 members of our Department who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to the City.”  I had never received such a format invitation before and to think it was all because of a story a had written called “Mile Marker 88.”

The welcome register at the Museum asked me for my name and where are you coming from.  I wrote down my name easily enough, Robert Griego, but where are you coming from stopped me cold.  All I could manage to write was “MileMarker 88.” 

Three weeks earlier I was riding my motorcycle near Kingman, Arizona on a very peaceful road called Route 66.  The contrast between the Hollywood freeway and Route 66 is too difficult for me to put down in a few words.  Worlds apart.  I was at Mile Marker 88 to honor a LA Firefighter who died in a motorcycle accident.

The Los Angeles Fire Department has an annual Memorial Ceremony to honor the memory of all Los Angeles firefighters who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of their duty.  It is held at Old Fire Station 27 which, when built in 1930, was the largest station west of the Mississippi River. Today, it is a museum.

The Memorial Wall consists of five bronze statues, each one carefully representing an LA firefighter during a fire incident in the city.  The wall, directly behind the bronze statues, lists the names of every known active duty department member who died while responding to or at an incident.  I am impressed with the LA Fire Department leadership who annually remember those fallen firefighters.  In fact, while the sounds of a bagpipe play in the distance, the names of every fallen firefighter is read – one by one. Some names of firefighters go back over 100 years.  Impressive.  Honorable.  Never Forgetting.  The keynote speaker, pauses in his talk, he turns around to read the words inscribed on the memorial directly behind him:


Those seven words are really what this story is about. I shared in their celebration, had lunch with them, and thanked them for their service.  I did not take many pictures but the ones I did take, speaks volumes about this Ceremony to remember and honor fallen firefighters within their family.  I could not be more proud. I’m so glad that I came here despite the nerve-racking freeway traffic. Oh, I must say a few words about the man and lady who sang songs during the ceremony.  They sang from their hearts and the songs perfectly matched the words spoken.  Music lifts spirits even during our most somber times. Thanks.

Family and friends are allowed to come forward and place a rose at the base of the Memorial as the name of a loved one whose name inscribed on the wall is read. 

Leaving, I ask a firefighter “What is the best way to get out and hit Highway 101 going north, I’m not from around here.”  I follow his instructions precisely.  The traffic is wild.  I can only hope that I make it out of Hollywood alive.  Seriously, those are my thoughts.

Soon, the traffic begins to slow, I’m approaching Santa Barbara.  My plan is to continue my ride north along Highway 1 towards Lompoc, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Guadalupe.  These places are important to regain my balance.  Balance in life is important, and on a motorcycle is critical. 

Near Guadalupe, I see migrant farm workers in the fields.  It is Sunday, yet they work.  I once as a young kid worked in the fields near Bakersfield picking peaches.  It was hard work and the peach fuss was a pain for a ten-year-old boy. I remember towards the end of the day, we jumped into the canal and swam.  It was not your YMCA pool but it cooled us off and the peach fuss went downstream.  I loved it.  Our dad, however, was trying to make a few extra dollars for our family.  I must admit, being color blind, did not help selecting the right peaches.  I think that working in the fields might have been the jumping point for me into the wild.  As a kid, the wild was there, if only jumping into a canal to cool off.

I’m distracted by the past as I pass the endless rows of crops as I leave Guadalupe towards Pismo Beach.  Such beauty, split by perfect rows full of green crops.

Riding a motorcycle along Highway 1 is a dream come true.  The wind is in your face and the warm sun encourages me to continue.  Pulling off my helmet, the sound of the waves crashing on the beach replaces the ‘hum of my motorcycle.’  The sound of nature is good.  It puts me in my place with each crashing wave.  Time slows down.  I’m so thankful that I am here.  And to think, the insane Hollywood freeway brought me here.

After a short walk to stretch my legs at Pismo Beach, I continue my ride to Morro Bay. The weather is warm and it is hard not to get a good picture.  I continue up Highway 1 towards Cambria and San Simeon.  I’ll camp at the San Simeon Campground – Washburn, site #224.  There is plenty of firewood around and my campfire is relaxing.  As I turn on my transistor radio, I pick up an LA station that is broadcasting the baseball game – Dodgers versus the Cubs.  I listen to the entire game on my transistor radio, something I have not done for many years.  I remember listening to Vince Scully with my good friend Warnell when we were 12 years old in Barstow pretending that we were Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, and Maury Wills.  I’ve camped on this very site before; I like it. 

Tomorrow, I head home.

I have time on my hands so I make a big change.  On a moment’s impulse, I decided to look up an old friend.  His name is Jim Langford and we worked together at Pinnacles National Monument.  He was the Chief Park Ranger and my mentor on the Search and Mountain Rescue Team.  I had never climbed before and Jim taught me everything I know today about climbing rock faces.  He, in my opinion, is one of the premier rock climbers in the world.  I call his son, Jody, who tells me where his dad lives and arranges our meeting after some forty-four years.  Jim is eighty-five years young.  A bit nervous, non the less, I'm looking forward to this connection to the past.

As we reminisce about our days at Pinnacles, talk flows easily about our rock climbing days.  As he describes a particular rock climb that we made, I listen.  I listen intently.  His words sound identical to the ones he spoke just before a serious climb above the reservoir.   “Do you remember the Hatchet?” he asks.  I nod.  “Once you got into the notch, your next move took you into thin air, and you had to make your move upwards at that precise moment.”  Honestly, those were the same words he spoke fourty-six years ago as I got ready to lead the hairy pitch before me known as the Hatchet.  When I reached the summit, I could not believe that I climbed this route.  Jim knew I would and he followed me to the top as easily as a walk in the park.

Robert Griego and Jim Lnagford

It was so good to see him again and to get acquainted with his son, Jody who was 7 or 8 during our Pinnacles days.  We frequently used Jody in our rock climbing training, strapping him into a rescue litter and taking turns lowering him off a sheer rock face.  He never complained.  Today, Jody spends his time taking pictures as a professional photographer; visit him at his Sierra Mountain Photography.  His love for nature is evident in his amazing pictures, especially in the Sierra Nevada.  I’ll be doing a story soon for RoadRUNNER Magazine called “The Carrizo Plain National Monument.”   The flowers this year were brilliant and I felt that I got a few good pictures.  That was until I saw the absolutely magnificent flower pictures that Jody took in the Carrizo Plain.  Look over his shots and you’ll agree.  I never did any serious rock climbing with Jody, but his photography would take me to the top of any mountain.

This trip taught me that life is full of moments, even if they span forty-six years.  They were there in Hollywood to remember fallen firefighters and with my good friend Jim Langford, one of the premier rock climbers in the world.  

My balance restored.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

~ Only the Brave ~

Last night my wife took me out to dinner and a movie.  Not just any movie.  I didn’t think I could see it; yet I knew I had to see.  It is called ‘Only the Brave.’

It is an honest, vivid, and compassionate story about elite Granite Mountain Hotshots.

On June 3, 2013, I had breakfast at a little café in Arizona with the crew.  At the time, I thought I was at the right place at the wrong time.  Today, I know I was at the right place and the right time.

On June 30, 2013, they fought the raging the Yarnell Hill Fire, some 30 miles from Prescott, Arizona.  19 of the 20 firefighters died in that fire.

On July 1, 2013, I wrote this 'Open Letter' to the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.  You should see the movie, remember these brave men, and take time to honor them.  This film certainly did.

July 1, 2013

This is an Open Letter to the families of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew.....all twenty members.

I am a biker, and on June 3, 2013, I was camping on some USFS land near Happy Jack, Arizona.  I had forgotten my therma-rest in La Joya, New Mexico so my camp was especially hard.  The pine needles I gathered helped to soften the ground, but only by the smallest margin.  I did not mind too much as I love camping under the stars.  However, I did move slowly the next morning.  There is a small cafe nearby and I'm looking forward to a hardy breakfast, the next day.  I think it is called the Long Valley Cafe, but I've always called it Happy Jack.

The fire trucks parked out front do not register in my mind....I am only thinking of coffee, and hot food.  As I walk into the small cafe, I quickly see a whole bunch of fire fighters.  "This is a big mistake I whisper to myself."  I see one waitress moving quickly and I can only image how long it will take for my breakfast.  The waitress is very fast and coffee and water is on my table.  Time is on my side so I relax.  I begin to look at the young men next to me.  They appear to be very well fit, happy, and so enjoying their breakfast with such enthusiasm.  Secretly, I hope there are a few eggs left over for me.  They all look like they could be movie actors in this period of time.  They remind me of my son.

When the waitress hears my order -- eggs over easy, hash browns, with corn beef hash, she writes down my order quickly and pours more coffee.  The young firefighter next to me says "that's what I ordered; it was very good."  I see this as an opportunity to make small talk, so I ask...."what fires are you coming from?"  Many quickly begin to talk at once....what, where, and how they left the last fire.  I am impressed.  "Where are you going now?"  "We are going to fires in New Mexico" they say almost at the same time.  I tell them that I just came from New Mexico and that two days ago there was severe lighting and rain.  I tell them that I like their shirts, and the words Granite Mountain Prescott Fire sticks in my mind.  I wished them well and say lastly, "be safe."

Quickly the fighter fighters move towards their trucks and are gone, or so I thought.  A young man comes back into the cafe and simply says, "thank you sir."  At the time, I thought he must be a bit homesick but I appreciate his comment immensely. 

On July 1, 2013, the headlines immediately caught my attention.  Nineteen firefighters die in Yarnell, Arizona.  They are the elite hotshot crew from Prescott, Arizona.  I read slowly knowing that the guys I met earlier were part of the Granite Mountain crew.  Maybe this tragedy involved another crew.  The words became harder to read but I continued and at the end "....the elite firefighters are known as the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew..."  They are the same guys I had breakfast with at the cafe; tears fill my wife comforts me but does not really know why I am upset.  I begin to explain the news and my connection to these young men.

Even now, days later, I can not stop seeing those young firefighters in my mind having breakfast at that small cafe.  To their family, my tears do not stop and I send at you my most heartfelt condolences.

To the survivor of the twenty-man Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew, "thank you, I am so proud of you and your service."

  /s/ Robert Griego

Robert Griego