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Lassen to Lava Beds – or – who needs a left ankle, you have two anyway

I had a fun ride to the Lava Beds today. It was mostly “normal” as one would expect in an unvisited portion northern California.

I started off with a good start — my neighbor in Lassen, Kristen (or however she spells it) offered me a hard-boiled egg for breakfast. I’m guessing this is in repayment for me giving her fire in the form of matches the night before.

It’s hard to describe most of it as anything other than fun.

Then I went the “adventurous” route (as specced on Lava Beds’ web site). This brought me next to Medicine Lake. It seemed to be a cold, overcast Monday so only a few folks were even there. The ride there was more than entertaining though. A shoddily maintained, seldom traveled, 1.5 – 2 lane road. The potholes were only occasional and even when I hit them the GS soaked them up like a sponge.

Once past Medicine Lake (which, honestly I expected a town around) the road shrunk to a real one laner with an occasional turn-off for the non-existent traffic.

Then it went to gravel. No worries… I had set things up for dirt before I got there. It was just a bit twitchy — even with the steering damper. God knows what it would be like without it.

Then it went to crap.

I later learned that there were a few stretches of “pavement.” Scare quotes since this road looked like it was bombed. Well, after that they ripped up the pavement and threw down some soft silty dirt and applied some gravel on top for good measure. I had some pucker moments, but all was well.

Until I tried to stop for the requisite photo-op of the bike with the sign.

A dabbed a tad more front brake than the surface could handle at < 5mph. I was unceremoniously dumped off the right side in the effectively 0-mph tip-over. And I have it on video! Joy! ;-) I even have the righting of the bike on the same clip. What fun.

Nothing damaged except my ego. That’s later.

I get to the visitor center to register. The ranger behind the desk, Jesse if memory serves, “you did that on a bike?!” :-)

No worries. I asked about what there was to do in the park. There’s lava caves or “you could hike the three sisters trail, it’s an easy hike with no real elevation gain.”

So I did.

Maybe going out in the desert alone wasn’t a good idea. (Full disclosure, I also brought along the Spot messenger in case something really bad happened. Ennie was tracking me so it was obviously working)

What if you twist an ankle?

Well, let me tell you from experience: you keep walking.

It was awfully pretty for the first four or five miles. So much to see. Lava tubes (more on that hopefully tomorrow), wildlife including a deer and a jackrabbit. Just the awesome desolation of the desert. And how it really is alive, though not ver hospitable to humans. Lots of pictures were taken.

Then, as the trail did a loop outside the boundaries of the park, the trail became almost non-existent. I was walking on a what looked like a Jeep trail from the 50′s — overgrown and barely able to make out the tire tracks. I got worried enough to mark the last known good point on my phone before trekking on.

I was expecting this to be a three hour walk. I was already two hours in and I wasn’t even to the half-way point. And I was half through with the water I brought with me. :-O

It turns out I was able to follow the trail back into the park. Thankfully.

Then I rolled my left ankle.

Ach.

Nothing to do but keep walking. For another five or so miles I trudged onward.

Eventually I made it back to my camp — just in time for it to start raining. I suppose some deity was smiling on me because the rain held off until I was back “home.”

Wait. I’m in the desert. Rain? Wazzat?

Remember… that which does not kill you makes you stronger.

Heh… and no bellyaching either.

Update from the next morning — the ankle is still sore, but not dreadfully painful. I also woke up to an absolutely beautiful clear blue sky with some hazy clouds in the distance. This was one of the first nights that I didn’t at all feel cold. I guess that’s what you get with lower elevations.

Today: Heading to Crater Lake — maybe further.

Endgame

Traveling north I’m starting to think of home. While moving away from my life in Seattle there’s the feeling of fear and uncertainty that kept nagging. (Why? Don’t really know.)

On the way back north I’m thinking more and more about spending time with En and sleeping in my own bed.

The plan going into this was to come home on Saturday. The way things are feeling right now I might cut that short a few days. Thinking about being only a few (four or five) hours away from my home and peeps makes it all the harder to put in all the work to set up camp, do the chores, sleep in the tent, break camp, and move on.

Yeah, I know, that’s what I’m doing… but so much internal conflict.

I know… first world problems.

Truckee to Lassen (Sunday)

Inexplicably I woke up early in the morning — before the alarm on my phone went off.

I decided instead of trying to force the issue and try to get more sleep I would actually just get up out of bed. I quickly got myself presentable and headed off to get some breakfast. Some eggs and bacon a waffle was what I called breakfast.

All the while I was browsing my iPad just catching up with stuff.

Then I looked at the weather. It didn’t look concerning with a blob to the east of where I’m staying. Hitting the “play” button to animate the radar image I suddenly panicked. I’m used weather going east. Nope. Not today. Today the purple blob was just about to hit Truckee and moving northwest.

Shit.

I hurriedly gather up my stuff, loaded up my bike and drove off as the first few drops were starting to fall.

Picking up some speed I outran the storm! :-D

The drive to Lassen was an entertaining one. Not a lot of people on the road early on a Sunday morning made for a nice ride. Even as I got closer to the national park the traffic stayed light.

THe previous night I had scoped out where I was going to stay so finding a campground wasn’t hard at all. I was to stay in a non-reservable loop in the South Summit Lake campground. Since I left so early I wasn’t at all concerned with finding a spot.

And I found a perfect one.

I set up my site early and commenced chilling well before 2 PM. :-D

What got me even happier was when I said “hi” to someone walking by…

“I’m just looking to see where I can pull in my big rig…”

“This is a tent only loop.”

“Thanks.”

:-)

Yep… no fucking generators tonight! I can actually hear the sounds of nature!

My camp site already had a pile of dead wood lying by the fire ring. It was too big, so my saw came in handy to resize the logs to be fuel-sized. Nice.

I built a quick and relatively low fire to add some warmth to the quickly chilling evening. Boiling some water for the freeze-dried dinner took no time (well, five minutes). While the bag was rehydrating I fed the fire to grow it from kindling to bigger logs.

I sat there reading by the fire sipping a bit of Scotch until I started to hear peels of thunder from behind me. I took that as the signal for me to put out the fire and crawl into my sleeping bag to finish the chapter.

The next morning was warm, dry, and sunny. Another perfect morning on this trip.

Camping with all the comforts of home

This isn’t about me. It’s about many of my neighbors with whom which I’ve camped in the past couple of days.

Next to me in Yosemite was a German couple (maybe with a kid, it was hard to tell). They pulled into the camp at around 8:30. Went to the bathroom and did nothing but stay in their rented RV. Their generator was immediately fired up and was on until they weren’t allowed to by camp rules.

In the morning, as soon as they could fire up the generator… you know it… it was chugging away. They thankfully left soon after that. They wound up being my rolling chicane after I had caught up to them.

My neighbors here at Oh Ridge have their generator going as well. Not just that, but they’ve even set up a little Dish Network receiver.

If your TV shows and air conditioning from home are so important, why don’t you just stay home?!

Is to too much to ask to not camp without wearing the earplugs I wear during the ride?

Oh Ridge to Tahoe — a tale of two rides

I woke up nice and rested at Oh Ridge campground in the Inyo National Forest. (Oddly, for a forest I saw rather few trees there… go figure)

My laundry was dry and I made up a quick cup of coffee. I’m getting better at judging how much of the instant coffee I need to make an acceptable cup of joe. Two sporks for 400ml of hot water does the job. Having water that doesn’t taste like crap helps as well.

I left and headed north on the 395 for an uneventful and pleasant blast to Bridgeport where I had a tasty burrito at Burger Barn. I suppose it was some sort of brunch. It was already getting a bit hot so some time in the shade with a pop was a welcome break from the heat.

Hopping back on the 395 I teamed up with a couple on a Ducati Multistrada in passing the mobile chicanes, er, traffic until I nearly got up to Topaz Lake where I would get off to head northwest again to get to Tahoe.

The next hour or so on the southern portion of the 89 was a resplendent road that lacked traffic and had a tempo to the curves that couldn’t be beat. Winding up and down the mountain was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. It’s hard to beat a road like that. You go at the pace that you find comfortable and just admire the scenery and scrub in the tires as far as you dare.

That was the first ride.

Then I neared Tahoe.

Fuck that shit.

It started with a traffic jam from people trying to park on an already full beach. Then followed by a procession behind an RV that decided to regularly slow down to 15-20 miles per hour even though the limit was 55. When the douchbag in the RV finally turned off he was replaced by an EVEN STUPIDER old lady that couldn’t drive.

Example: When passing bicyclists, the key is to find a gap in traffic and pass as quickly as possible to give the cyclists as much space as possible and minimize the time next to them. What you DON’T do is get next to them and pace them. This isn’t the Tour De France and you’re not a videographer on motorcycle. You fucking pass the cyclists and give them space.

Then you don’t brake randomly on a straight.

Then you don’t signal and don’t turn.

Then you don’t weave about in your lane.

If you can’t drive: don’t.

This was capped off by a thunderstorm when I was following yet another line of cars going 20% slower than the speed limit. (note: not slippery — I would be able to tell. The 20% slow was typically of the retards (note: the non-offensive definition: “a holding back or slowing down”) on the road.

Gaaahhhh!!!!

I eventually found a Hampton Inn just to get off the road, dry off, and calm my nerves.

Next up: Lassen National Forest. Middle of nowhere. No big towns. Finally!

Why?!

I was sitting in a brewery today blowing off some steam and on TV was the Tour de France.

I was looking at the daily struggle of the men in the race. Why do it? Sure, there is the “win” part of the race… but by and large only a few of the riders even have a legitimate shot at an overall victory.

Why do it?

I started thinking the same thing about my own ride?

Why do it?

There are easier ways of traveling. Camping on a freaking motorcycle?! Taking the road less traveled (or perhaps almost never traveled as was the case a few days back).

I guess in some ways it’s to prove to myself I can. I can’t “win” this adventure. Looking at it objectively the best that can happen is I return home unhurt (if a bit sore and achy) with a pile of pictures and an intact bike. Losing can really happen, though I strive not to think about it too much.

I oftentimes talk about “building character” in a facetious way. In the end I think this is exactly what this is.

Why?

To put the rest of life into crisper focus.

Yosemite, Bodie, Oh Ridge

Today was a simple day. A quick day.

Leaving the campground at Crane Flat I ventured up to one of the oldest fire lookouts in the country. I was tipped off by my camp neighbor the night before.

I had seen the helicopter earlier, flying over the camp site. It was carrying some basket under it; I’m guessing a bucket for water. Whatever it was you could hear the engine straining.

Looking at the chopper from afar — and the carcass of one from nearby — brought home that these guys and girls really work to keep people (like me) safe from uncontrolled wild fire.

I spoke with one of the guys for a moment. He was wearing a search and rescue shirt. I asked how much of of the SAR was from stupidity and how often they have to go on a run?

“Around 50%… the rest are people having accidents like breaking a leg or something. Sometimes we go a week between search and rescues, sometimes it’s every other day.”

Visitors are welcome to the top floor of their station showing the panoramic view that these folks have to deal with every day. While I’m sure it’s tough at times, it’s something that I don’t think could get old.

After that I headed east over Tioga Pass. I quickly ran into some traffic. Leading the pack was the RV-bound German couple from the night before. Grrr… To top it off we were in some construction.

The construction turned into a blessing.

There was some confusion over which lane we should be in — started by the car behind me. I took advantage and overtook.

The next half hour was some of the most sublime motorcycling I’ve ever had. No one in front of me except a couple of easily overtaken cars — no strings of idiots. This is what a motorcyclist dreams of: flowing, natural corners with a good pace. Almost heaven.

Eventually I stopped to take some pictures resigned that I’ll be behind more roadblocks. It was worth it though.

Lunch found in the oddly-named town of Lee Vining. A hot beef sandwich. Yummy. Heading out I decided to circumnavigate Mono Lake — for no other reason that I could.

I started off with some off-roading, but the twitchiness of the bike turned me off of that. I got on the highway and was tooling along when I noticed a sign for Bodie the ghost town. Holly and I watched a documentary about it a few weeks back and I couldn’t say no. I turned left onto the potholed road.

A sign soon appeared “expect 30 minutes of travel time.” For 6 miles?!

P’shaw.

The pavement soon disappeared and the twitchiness came back. I took the opportunity to put the bike (the suspension really) into offroad mode.

Holy shit.

Immediately the front felt planted. I’m guessing the rebound damping was eased up a bit… but that’s just a guess. I cranked in a few more clicks of steering damping and I was off. Even the craptacular washboard didn’t get in the way. (sans steering damper I’d be in a ditch) It’s almost mind-blowing how much settings like this can make a difference. You know it logically, but when you feel it for real… astonishing.

I got to the entrance of the park and asked which road was better, the one I took or the one I turned on? The other was “better.” I parked and I realized that the camera had been off. :-/

Bodie was cool. Seeing in real life the stuff you saw in TV is pretty cool.

(pics later)

On the way back I was sure to turn on the camera and I ran the “bad” road the other direction. This time I started off with the right setting and had no issues.

Heading to the campground I stopped to top off my mostly-full tank. I ran into a fellow ADV riding a Yamaha Super Tenere. He was on the last bits of his trip. We chatted a bit and traded contact info.

The campgrounds are spectacular. Oh Ridge sits on June Lake, a pretty and damn cold lake. I took the opportunity to take a dip and wash off the hot. Back at camp I did laundry, ate, and caught up with Ennie since I had a signal here.

Once 10PM rolled around it finally quieted down…

Perfectly Clear Night

As a city-dweller I see the Milky Way so infrequently.

I’m sitting by the fire. Looking up and seeing the backbone of our galaxy.

Life really is rather good.

Angels Camp to Yosemite

Today has to be the easiest of the trip so far.

I had a good night’s rest in a real bed. Even with that I woke up sore and achy. Go figure. I suppose that the overall trip is wearing on me.

The highpoint of the day was riding on Wards Ferry Road. This is a twisty, windy, one lane road descends steeply into a valley, over a bridge, then just as abruptly goes back up the other side.

Oh, and most of the corners are blind.

And there’s almost always a cliff on one side or your or other.

This road is not one to fuck up on; there are no guardrails on this bendy bit of asphalt.

I had a brief text with Ennie while waiting for breakfast. I described it like “Beartooth pass, only steeper, more windy, narrower, and more cliffy.”

If you’ve been on Beartooth you know what I mean.

As I was driving around the national forest (I forgot which one, I have pictures though) I stopped at one of the roadside vistas. Power lines were buzzing and crackling above us. The view was that of a forest in the early phases of regeneration from a fire a decade ago. This reminded me of Yellowstone when Ennie and I went there — swaths of tress reduced to black toothpicks standing upright from the ground.

A work release crew was mostly busy picking up trash. “I would’ve expected you to be working,” said the supervisor to a girl in the driver’s seat, “this is a work release program after all.” Excuses we made… she didn’t seem to budge

When I arrived at Yosemite, I had to take the obligatory sign shot. This photo-op is pretty interesting. They have a stand set up and roughly the right distance for you to compose, set the camera’s self timer, and rush to the sign to get yourself into the shot. I didn’t need to use it because I traded taking pics with someone else.

“The barter system is what this country was built on…” as they headed back to their car.

Yosemite is spectacular. Would be doubly so without the plague that is RVs that clog up the roads. Just like Yellowstone. /sigh/

I drove to see El Capitan and Half Dome. Totally worth it. Even with the pesky RVs.

As I drove around the Yosemite Valley I was happy with the camp site I’d booked. It was around 1000-2000 feet higher than the stuffy valley floor. As nice as it would be to wake up to that sight, I’ll take cool and laid back just as much — maybe more.

Camp was set up by 2:30 and I resumed reading a book on my Kindle: “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road” by Neal Peart. It was recommended eons ago by a friend. I now know why. The first couple chapters are so familiar from when Ennie and I did our own trip to Alaska.

Next year we do it again when she has more vacation time. :-)

My camp site had the previous occupant’s firewood sitting there… Karma from Redwoods maybe? I don’t have to run out to get some myself.

I had a can of beer from last night that went un-drank. I rigged up a little swamp cooler with one of my new towels dampened with water. Now it’s chilling on the table waiting for dinner.

Chill is what I needed right now. Almost feel like a nap even.

Love of machines

(written on Wed Jul-16)

I know I’ve been harping on the Usal Road thing… I don’t think I can be blamed for it though.

I’ve noticed myself forming an even stronger bond with my bike lately.

I know it’s just a thing. I know that.

But I’m still going outside and more-or-less thanking it for getting it through the whole thing. It’s silly to think that the machine — the collection of parts — got me through. It’s the same parts in the same configuration as any other. Sure, I’ve added a couple parts myself (like the steering damper and Öhlins suspension) that I know helped, but it’s still just stuff.

I’m looking down it from my hotel room knowing that he’s my buddy. We’re a team. :-)

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