I rolled the 2011 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide out of the garage, and out onto the street in front of our house. The two-tone Root Beer paint sparkled in the morning sun. I loaded our jam-packed liners in the hard saddlebags on each side of the bike, and carefully placed a third liner in the Tour Pak at the back of the motorcycle. We were packed, and ready to begin our six-day ride through the heart of the Golden State.
My wife, Robin, took some time off work to join me on this ride. I planned a counter-clockwise loop up the eastern side of California, from Los Angeles up to Mammoth Lakes, to South Lake Tahoe, to Sonora, across to Monterey, down the coast to Morro Bay, and then back to Los Angeles. Though we have lived in California for ten years, we have never explored this part of the state. We’re very excited. We’ll be staying in BEST WESTERN Hotels all along the way, and making as many interesting stops as time will allow.
We saddled up at about 8 am, a little later than we had planned. Our friend Sabra will stay at our house, caring for the dogs, cats and plants. We haven’t yet figured out a way to bring a Standard Poodle and a Chow mix along on a motorcycle trip — the one bummer of motorcycle travel. But the dogs love Sabra, so they’ll be fine. And we’ll have a great reunion next week when we return.
I thumbed the starter button, gave the bike some throttle, and we were off.
The first leg of our journey took us through the Mojave Desert. It’s amazing how quickly the urban sprawl of Los Angeles gives way to wide-open space. Traveling along Highway 14 through the Antelope Valley, houses thin out and are replaced by the sparse vegetation of the desert. Spindly Joshua trees dot the landscape, defying the elements and providing stark beauty and inspiration.
We used the Ultra Classic’s intercom system on this trip, with in-helmet speakers and microphones. I prepared some special motorcycle music mixes for the ride. I connected my iPod to the bike’s sound system via the convenient AUX input on the face of the radio head unit. After some fiddling, we discovered that turning off the VOX voice-activated system and using the PTT (Push To Talk) buttons instead, we were able to listen to music and talk to each other when we wanted to. Being able to communicate during the ride makes a huge difference, and it’s a lot of fun, too. The fact that the system is built into the bike is a great convenience, as in the past I’ve had to worry about an aftermarket alternative. I love the Harley-Davidson communication system.
We stopped for breakfast in Mojave at Café 58, a new spot right on Highway 14. We were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was, stuck out there in the middle of a dusty desert town. Our waitress, Amber, was extremely pleasant, lovely, and excellent at her job. Not what we expected when we ducked in for a quick bite. We left wondering what Amber’s life was like in such a remote desert town.
We sped on up the highway, heading north as Highway 14 turned into US 395. The temperature had risen from the 60s into the upper 90s, but as long as we were moving, we were comfortable. My Harley-Davidson FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket and FXRG Leather and Textile Overpants did their job, reflecting the sun’s rays and allowing a cooling breeze to pass over my body.
Just north of the town of Lone Pine, we stopped to visit the Manzanar National Historic Site. Manzanar is one of the places that the US Government interned Japanese American citizens during World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The site houses a museum, and replicas of the original barracks are under construction. Visiting the remote, windblown site brought home the horrible injustice that our government perpetrated on its own citizens. The frenzy of fear that overtook our country in the wake of the Japanese attack on Hawaii led to terrible consequences for American-born and Japanese-born citizens and residents of the US, wrongs that were not addressed until the 1980s when President Reagan signed a bill authorizing reparations for those who were relocated to the desolate camps. We left Manzanar with a deeper appreciation for the experience that our fellow citizens were forced to endure.
We continued our ride north on US 395, through the town of Bishop. We expected another dusty desert town, but were pleasantly surprised to discover a bustling little village with a rich cultural life. Definitely worth a return visit when we’re not just passing through. We’d probably stay at the BEST WESTERN Bishop Holiday Spa Lodge or the BEST WESTERN Creekside Inn, both located in the town of Bishop.
The road began to rise as we gained elevation, leaving the desert for the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range. The day was hazy, but we could still see Mount Whitney off in the distance. The highest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney rises to 14,505 above sea level. It is an awesome sight, and a great challenge to climbers. The topography changed from desert to mountain, with pine trees replacing Joshua trees. A beautiful cruise through some 5, 6 and 7,000 foot passes, and we were headed toward Mammoth Lakes, our stopping point for the night.
We pulled in to the parking lot at the BEST WESTERN High Sierra Hotel, unloaded the Electra Glide and checked in. The hotel has an indoor pool and hot tub, so we immediately changed into our bathing suits and went for a soak. There’s nothing like a good hot whirlpool to relieve the tensions of the road, and the BEST WESTERN High Sierra Hotel has a really good one. Cynthia at the front desk recommended Slocum’s Grill for dinner, right across the street from the hotel, and we happily took her suggestion. Also across the street was a luxury outlet center, with several high-end shops. One of the best things about motorcycle travel is that shopping is not really on the agenda. There’s nowhere to store the goods, which is a good thing, in my view. Robin doesn’t entirely agree, but it’s a moot point. So, we went to Slocum’s, had a delicious meal, and then returned to our room.
I went outside to smoke a cigar — all California hotels are non-smoking — and I struck up a conversation with another motorcyclist who was staying at the hotel. Gary Hernandez had ridden up from San Diego, enroute to Lake Tahoe and beyond with his girlfriend aboard a 2003 Electra Glide. We had a great conversation about the ride up, plans for the ride tomorrow, and bikes that we have owned. Turns out that Gary is a member of BW Ride Rewards, and was collecting points for his stay at the BEST WESTERN High Sierra Hotel. He even admitted to having read this travel blog on occasion — thanks, Gary! Gary is also a vintage guitar dealer, at his business Guitars West, and I had just seen his ad in Vintage Guitar Magazine the day before. Small world. I will check out his collection online when I get home — I’m a bit of a guitar collector myself.
Off to bed now. Tomorrow will bring a beautiful ride, I’m sure, and we can’t wait to see Lake Tahoe.
311 miles ridden
Next: Day Two: Mammoth Lakes to South Lake Tahoe, CA