I get ideas in my head which can often be summed up thusly: “It seemed like a good idea at the time:” Renting an apartment in Mission Valley; dating a 26-year-old boy when I was 45; buying an FJ-09; trying that long carom shot. You get the picture.
I loves me some camping – remote, rustic, wilderness camping. Too often, I forget that campgrounds are frequently the opposite of that, and such was the case at the El Chorro facility. My campsite had “full hookups,” an asphalt pad, and about 3 square feet of level terrain for a tent. Almost no shade. Neighbors on three sides. Bathroom 100′ away. “Rustic,” it was not. But it was camping – I was outside, the weather was good, the setting quite lovely, and it was only for a few days. Noooo problem.
When I travel, I pack for Contingencies: Just as our protective gear doesn’t do us any good in our closets, a tire plug kit, fuel siphon, et cetera, won’t be of any help if left at home. This is how I came to have over 85 pounds of luggage strapped to the GS for the Central Coast 2018 trip. Had I not been camping, and had it not been in the upper 40’s at night, my Gear Situation would’ve been halved, but these are the choices I made. I was prepped, man – all the warm clothes. Jetboil. Stove fuel. Food. Sleeping bag and pad. Trauma and tool kits. Snacks.
Difficult choices had to be made, however; the battery charger and air compressor had to be left behind. Thankfully, they (along with damn near all other contingency gear) were not required in the end.
Thursday night, thanks to other less-than-wise choices, I got about four hours of highly interrupted sleep, and 5am came a hell of a lot earlier than it normally seems to. After mainlining some coffee, throwing together some last-minute odds and ends, and getting the bike gassed up, I was on the road at 6am sharp – right on schedule. Riding up the 15 was chilly but otherwise uneventful, and I found the gas station and McDonald’s where we were to meet. A few others were already present, and soon our full contingent was ready to roll.
And roll we did.
As with any bike, the GS is a different animal with that much gear loaded on – the air currents moved us around differently, she cornered less effectively, et cetera – all things you’d expect. I do not carry passengers – ever – for a variety of reasons, and having this much Stuff was a bit like having a small human clutching to the rear of the bike. Still, Ember performed absolutely flawlessly, and I was able to keep up with Scott’s medium pace.
There was one small moment of terror at the very beginning of the trip as we were going through the first part of a twisty section. We came upon a small, steep rise past which I could not see. What I did see, however, was Gary’s helmet go up and over, and then take an immediate sharp right. Oh, fuck – I was going a bit too fast for this sort of maneuver, but over and over we went, studiously ignoring the oncoming Honda Civic to my left and the enormous tree trunk to my right. Right peg scraped as we hit the bottom of the downhill bit and entered the turn.
Someone near and dear to me recently said, “Erin, you have got to learn to trust that GS.” While where my trust lies and why is a topic for another time, the SLO trip and moments like this one did wonders for all levels of trust everywhere. Ember sailed through the turn without a wobble, despite my elevated pulse and the scraping metal. “Oh,” I said, after the non-event. “Well, alright then.” Onward.
Unaware of the amazing scenery that would be in the offing on the trip up, I did not have a GoPro running at all, much to my own great disappointment. The mountain passes, the high desert, the ranches, the everything, was stunningly beautiful. And then there was Maricopa, which I think we can all agree we wish did not exist at all. While the GoPro wasn’t loaded and running, it was attached to the front of the bike – at least it was for awhile. At some point a few hours in, I noticed it dangling at the end of its power cord. Well, shit – I picked it up and tucked it into a reasonably secure spot on the dashboard where it rode until our next gas stop.
At said stop, I went to turn into the gas station and suddenly found I could not move the handlebars at all. My first thought made no sense, but is the result of having grown up in the 70’s and 80’s with old cars that became absolutely impossible to steer if the engine died and took out the power steering: The bike must’ve died and the power steering… wait, that can’t be right. In a few fractions of a second, I managed to steer the bike with lean and come to a safe stop where I discovered the GoPro had wedged itself between handlebar and fairing. Shit, that would’ve been SUPER bad at speed – I sent a silent “thank you” to the universe and anyone out there who might be listening.
Scott did a fantastic job leading us on a perfect pace for the type and duration of the trip: It was quick, but sane. Once safely in SLO, we rolled into the hotel to get everyone situated. Rick arrived with his Diavel in tow (thanks to a brake assembly fiasco with his GSA,) and while he was basically prepared for the implications of that bike… he was going to be in a world of hurt after a day or two. His SUV did provide a large number of us with safe passage to and from dinners, though, which was much appreciated. Even though sitting in that third row with my knees up around my ears was an excellent substitute for yoga, it sure beat having to wrangle my gear and the bike all through town, and also allowed me an adult beverage at dinner.
After a short time, I headed over to the campground to see what that situation was going to be like: “Disappointing” is one word I would use. I had decided to camp for two reasons: 1.) It saved me over $400, and 2.) SOMEONE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THERE CAMPING WITH ME. Oh, I’m sorry – did I yell that out loud? I did? Darn. At any rate, camping buddy Homemade Bob bailed on me, so solo camping it would be.
I could go on at some length about my amazing tent: It’s solar-powered, has LED lighting, a small fan, a small lantern, and various charging abilities. I was not by any stretch “roughing it” with this setup. It takes less than 5 minutes for 2 people to set up and just over 5 for a singular Erin to do the job. I believe it took more time to find “basically level” spot to set up than it did to actually set the thing up. I caught up on work, then headed back to the hotel for dinner.
Our member from Sonoma, CA, Mike (Marco’s friend) and I cuddled up next to each other in the back seat. While we’d never laid eyes on each other prior to that night, we are now quite well-acquainted simply by virtue of having been packed together like sardines.
Dinner was nice, and we were all fairly crispy from the long day of travel, so we adjourned for the day. I was out like a light before 21:00, and I slept like a rock somehow, warm and toasty in my favorite bag.
I woke up without an alarm shortly before 5 and realized… I have to get out of my sleeping bag. Oh, fuck this. When I get really, really cold, only hot water can truly warm me up. It was 50 degrees and 100 feet to the bathrooms where a shower awaited: I’ve got this. I gathered up my shower kit, flung myself out of bag and tent, and shivered my way the short distance only to find… coin-operated showers. Fuck me in the eye. FINE. Scurried back, found a few quarters, disrobed reluctantly, tossed the quarter into the slot, and cringed as the cold water sprayed out all around me. I did the “I’m freezing my nekkid butt off” dance for a good full minute, but there was absolutely no change in water temperature. A few minutes later, same, and the quarter ran out. Son of a whore. This is suddenly not my idea of a good time.
I glared at the showerhead, at the coin slot, at the faucet, and at my bottle of Dr. Bronner’s which was dutifully waiting to be used for all the things from shampoo to toothpaste. All of them were unintimidated, and I’m fairly sure I saw the showerhead shrug. One of my favorite movies is Kenneth Branagh’s “Henry V,” and a line from it echoed in my head: “I was not angry since I came to France until this instant!” Whose idea was this “camping” bullshit? OH, RIGHT – THE GUY WHO’S NOT HERE. Fine. FINE. Plan B. I used my camp washcloth and the sink to wash the most crucial bits, brushed my teeth, and called it good. I was shivering to the point of chattering teeth, but a down jacket, heated grips, and soon thereafter, hot coffee awaited. I rushed to get over to the coffee shop where the gang was to meet at 7. The coffee was hot, the strata tasty, and the company excellent.
Back to the hotel by way of the gas station, where everyone was getting themselves ready under the dreary overcast sky. Clouds obscured most of the mountain tops, but we were confident it would burn off. Scott and Rich led us through the mists and clouds, and, as we were going through a pass, it went from 60 degrees to 78 degrees over the course of (I kid you not) 30 seconds. I soon found myself wearing a down liner and long johns at 80 degrees and began to swelter. Welp, surely Scott would stop soon and I could shed some layers.
NOPE! At least there was enough breeze from our speed to force some air through my vents… oh, wait — now we’re going up Painted Cave Road at all of 10 – 20 miles per hour most of the time. Oh, holy heat. I began desperately sending Scott telepathic messages: “Please stop, Scott. Scott. Stop, please. Hey, hey Scott? Could we please, for the love of everything holy, stop? Scott, I am dying. Goodbye, cruel world, goodbye. Feed my remains to the sea.”
He ignored me.
But wait! He’s pulling to the side now! YAY! I began to pass the bikes ahead of me to talk to him and ask him to please give me a minute to … fuck. And we’re off again. Rivulets of sweat coursed over my entire everything. Painted Cave Road goes through a stunningly beautiful area and up a large, steep mountain. The road is just shy of 1.5 lanes, and accommodates traffic going both up and down the hill. Fortunately, uphill traffic (if convention holds here as it does elsewhere) has the right of way, so our progress was largely unimpeded. There were so many bicyclists, though, placing their very lives into the hands of utter strangers passing them. Most were polite, others took up their legally allowed full space irrespective of the danger it may cause themselves and others.
At the summit, we pulled into a woodchipped parking area, where many of us immediately leaped off our machines and began to strip down as if on fire. As the cool breeze began to work its magic, things became much more pleasant. The view, while a bit hazy, was spectacular. Dennis took a few group shots and managed not to injure himself in the process – good show! Scott briefly turned into a mountain goat. A great many of us became somewhat panicked at what we thought might be poison oak we were standing in the middle of.
After a bit, we set off on the downhill side, where one absolutely insane, highly skilled bicyclist lead all but the first few bikes the whole way down on those skinny, skinny tires of his – amazing. There were skateboarders to boot, and holy shit are they ever freakin’ not right in the head. Some wore only helmets and no other gear – even if their own skills were top-notch, one asshole could really ruin their lives. <shudder>
Our first choice for lunch was beachside and absolutely slammed: No food for us there. At this point, the group became a bit splintered while decisions were made. Some ended up leaving ahead of Mr. Road Captain, and we ended up making a different choice on where to go – Cold Springs Tavern it was. Parking there was a nightmare, and I found myself wedged between a work truck and a shed in some fairly deep gravel. Fortunately, Mike parked behind me and was able to help me wrangle the bike when it came time to leave.
The smell of BBQ wafting through the air was unspeakably tantalizing as they readied a table for us. Inside, it was dim and hot, but there were pitchers of water and iced tea to be had. I’m fairly sure we drained a three-county area of all cold liquids in about 8 minutes. The food was excellent, and this was a great opportunity to get to know the people I’d either not met previously or didn’t know well. Our mealtime conversations over the weekend ranged from porn to health to family values to wine to mythology to sexual harassment to social mores to beer and beyond. Politics and handguns of course came up, but never in the same discussion – we’re not complete idiots.
As Rick said a couple of times, “Where else but a BMW club are you going to get this kind of variety?” Incidentally, Rick also said he drives better after he’s been drinking – I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case, but I think having drunk passengers might make that seem to be true.
After lunch, we headed to Solvang, which had been almost completely shut down due to a parade of one sort or another. Most of the group called it a day, but Marco, Mike, and I weren’t ready to call it just yet. Mike led us for another couple hundred miles until we ran out of ideas and daylight. Back to the hotel for dinner. A very generous club member allowed me to use his shower, which was amaaaaaaazing.
The next morning, I was mentally prepared for no hot shower, so it was less brutal getting things around. I’d somehow lost my earplugs and had run out of room on my SD cards, so I headed to the nearest 24-hour store which was about 20 minutes North. Back to town for coffee and breakfast, and we headed out for the day’s adventure, which was truly stunning in every way. I opted for the longer route, and I’d have to review the route maps to tell you where we went, but all of it was just super fun.
One rider dropped his bike at an intersection, and that was thankfully (to my knowledge) the only incident of the weekend. More lunchtime troubles resulted in eating at a mediocre Chinese buffet before heading off once again.
I’d not ridden with Jim and Suzy Freeman previously, and what an inspiration that ended up being! When we finished with Santa Rosa Creek and were getting back underway, I made sure the two-up riders were behind me – most two-up bikes are understandably not as quick as those of us who aren’t encumbered. After lunch, however, Jim popped into place right behind Scott – and proceeded to ride the pants off the rest of us like whoa. Suzy passengered like a champ, and Jim rode that bike like an F16 pilot on some tight, twisty, narrow, shitty pavement,. even managing to dodge a large snake in the middle of a curve. I was fourth in the group behind Gary, and there were times when he and I were working hard to keep up. It was a truly humbling experience which reminded me not to judge riders until I see them in action (you’d think I’d have learned this by now, especially after having ridden with this club for a minute now.)
We ended the fun romp portion of the ride in a dreary, smelly oil field, regrouped, and headed for the barn.
Sunday’s dinner was utterly fantastic at Novo, a slightly upscale place right on a verdant creek. The setting, the food, the beer, the wine, and the craft soda were all mind-bendingly good, and I came away with a new top-ten wine: Turley’s 2016 Zinfandel.
Sunday night was… rough. While two neighbors had left, a new arrival brought a very large, very barky dog they were not inclined to make stop barking. Coyotes yipped and howled through the wee hours, which made the dog bark even harder. I mentioned in a previous piece how I am rendered completely useless by anything itchy – I’ll scratch a mosquito bite to the bone to trade pain for itch any day. When I first moved to SD, Chuck H. reminded me “the desert is very alive at night,” with anything from scorpions to tarantulas that might like to hide in boots, coats, and helmets, so I’m always very careful to protect these things and to keep my tent zipped up tightly.
Despite my precautions, however, some kind of spider managed to find its way into my sleeping bag and bit the absolute shit out of my feet, ankles, and legs during the approximately 15 minutes during which I managed to be asleep. Once the itching set in, it was all over but the crying. All told Sunday night, I got about 45 minutes of sleep in 5-minute chunks. At dawn, I was a train wreck – a miserable, itchy, bleeding, exhausted, shivering train wreck. I knew the day’s route would be a bit challenging and that if I were to go along, I’d be putting myself and the whole group at greater risk due to my mental and physical condition. Weighing out pros and cons, I opted to head for home. I broke camp, packed up, and met the gang at the coffee shop to say goodbye.
Everyone was very kind, and several people offered the use of their room to rest up, but I was all set to get going home. If I needed to stop and catch a few minutes of sleep on the bike at a rest area, so be it. The IronButt Association taught me that sleeping on a parked bike is not only possible but extremely easy if I’m tired enough. On the Butt Lite II back in… 99?… I slept under a bank drive-through in a torrential downpour in Tupelo, at several different rest areas, and, at one desperate point, pulled off to the side of a country two-lane road in the middle of nowhere. The IBA also taught me that, when sleeping in those conditions, it is wise to have an empty .45 holster lying on one’s person as a warning; I’ve never been disturbed by anyone.
Rick kindly schlepped my giant, heavy duffel bag back home for me so I wouldn’t have to contend with that extra weight, and I am extremely grateful for his help.
As I was getting ready to head out, Mike and Marco said they were also leaving, and Marco offered to ride with me. I wasn’t in much of a condition to argue with that kind of offer, so we agreed to head home together. This worked out far better than me riding alone because I would’ve probably just hit the 101 for the duration, which would’ve sucked pretty badly. Instead, Marco treated me to more amazing views and roads. It was a fanTAStic ride home with good company.
We stopped to pee at Pine Mountain in what was not quite The Worst Toilet in Scotland, but came pretty frickin’ close. He asked if I’d be ok stopping for a bit to visit his cousin who was in the hospital. I couldn’t say no to that, so off we headed. I neglected to ask where the hospital was, mind you, and as we began heading into Los Angeles, my heart sank. I hate LA more than is rational – it gives me the equivalent of City and Traffic Claustrophobia. We got to the hospital easily enough (after lane-splitting for a good while,) and had a really nice visit with Kate, his cousin. She is a fascinating woman, and I’m happy to have met her.
After the visit, we were ravenous and went to find some lunch. It was almost 1400 and traffic was picking up. The first parking lot turned us away, as did the second. Getting around town was ponderous and miserable, and after being denied the second time, I pleaded with Marco to just get us out of town. Thankfully, he was just as happy to do that and off we went – lane-splitting for quite some time through heavy assholes.
We ended up in Laguna Beach for lunch at a beautiful Mexican spot right on the water. I learned a lot about Marco’s late wife and his family on both sides – really wonderful, unique stories. Traffic wasn’t pleasant for the remainder of the trip home, but I could smell the barn and knew it would all be over soon. My whole body was vibrating and a bit hyper-reflexive from exhaustion and I was more than ready to take a shower and hit the sack. Marco split off to head toward the Poway area while I continued on to Mission Valley.
On Tuesday, while the main group was riding home, I took the GS up to Escondido for her 12k servicing and to meet Rick to pick up my duffel. Jeff tried to kill me with a broken loaner bike (kidding, kidding – he didn’t know it was on the fritz,) and now that she’s had her valves adjusted, Ember is running even more smoothly than before – man, but I love this bike so much (yes, yes – “thank you, Phil.”)
Wednesday brought a quick group ride with The Mexico Contingent down to Ensenada for ceviche lunch at our favorite MX lunch spot, Sabina’s. I loaned the FJ09 to Kelly, whose bike was unexpectedly out of commission, and we all had a grand time, stuffed ourselves stupidly full of fresh seafood, and enjoyed a leisurely trek back home again. As we neared Mission Valley, the whole area was under a heavy smoke cloud and traffic was utterly fucked. There was a small brush fire right at my exit, so we had to get clever to get home.
After seeing Kelly off, I headed over to BMW of SD to pick up a special order I’d been waiting on for 6 weeks and ran into Edward. “You went to Baja today? Didn’t you get enough riding in this weekend?” What is this, “enough riding” concept of which you speak? Is that something like, “enough cheesecake” or “enough money?”
Every day in San Diego, I am grateful to be here in Motorcycle Paradise. I’m grateful Chuck H. introduced me to this club, and I am grateful you seem not to mind having me around too much. I am truly fortunate – thank you, everyone.
Thank you most especially to Scott and to Rich for this SLO trip; wonderfully planned and executed! I’ll be back.
Heck, I’ll be going back there quite soon to take the missed Monday route – anyone up for a long weekend trip in the coming month? 😀
Videos are here:
Photo album here:
I’ll have photos up later on – right now, there’s a snooker table calling my name and I can’t ignore it any longer.