I’m always excited to go on a motorcycle trip. When my wife Robin can get the time off of work to join me as a passenger, I’m over the moon. She’s great company, and the best pillion rider I’ve ever met. A ride with Robin is the best.
We’re starting out from home this time, which is great. While I enjoy exploring the country on a bike, eliminating the travel days to and from a remote starting point gives us more time actually riding, and less time in airports.
I have picked up a 2012 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited from the H-D press fleet. The bike is a beauty with just 700 miles on the clock. It has a striking two-tone Midnight Pearl over Brilliant Silver Pearl paint job, black and chrome 28-spoke cast aluminum wheels, a 103 cubic inch Twin Cam engine, anti-lock Brembo brakes and heated handgrips, among other great features. I’m in love with this bike. It’s absolutely beautiful, and it rides like a dream.
Robin and I pack carefully. We’ve got it down to a science now, and I’m constantly honing my travel gear down for lighter weight and less bulk. We’re going to be going through some extreme terrain on this trip, so we need to be prepared. I’ve equipped Robin with some new overpants for the ride, high denier Cordura with removable impact pads. Matched with her jacket, she will be better protected from wind, rain and (heaven forbid) crashes than ever before. Robin’s safety and comfort are very important to me. I’m sporting my well-worn Harley-Davidson FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket and FXRG Leather & Textile Overpants, along with my FXRG Boots. The great thing about this rig is that I’ll be safe and comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and conditions, and I won’t have to carry a bulky set of rain gear.
We pull out of our garage early in the morning. The first stretch of our ride will be on Los Angeles’ freeway system, never a fun run. That’s okay, because we have a pretty long distance to cover today. We’re going to cross the border and dip our toes into Arizona before slipping back into our home state and settling in for the night in Needles, California. We’ll be covering about 350 miles before night falls.
We use the first stretch of the ride as a shakedown, making sure that our gear is secure, our seating positions are comfortable and our systems are working. We’re using a Bluetooth helmet-to-helmet communications system on this trip, Cardo’s Scala Rider G4 PowerSet, and we’re discovering its strengths and quirks while we ride. It’s nice to be able to talk a little bit during the ride, and it’s a luxury to be able to pipe music into our helmets for the boring freeway parts of the ride.
It’s incredible how quickly the megalopolis of Los Angeles trails off into the desert. Even traveling on major freeways, the enormous expanses of desert are awe-inspiring. Not for the last time on this trip I am filled with admiration for the pioneers who first crossed these deserts. Even as recently as 100 years ago, the idea of a pleasure trip across this terrain would have been unthinkable. We have come a long way in a very short time.
We decide to blast right past one of our favorite desert cities, Palm Springs, which is approximately 100 miles away from our home. The beautiful BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Brisas Hotel is a great place to stay in Palm Springs, but we’re pushing along today. We don’t even stop at Hadley Fruit Orchards (http://www.hadleyfruitorchards.com/home.aspx) in Cabazon, home of the world famous date shakes. That’s a trip for another day.
Instead, we jump on California 62, and head toward the city of Twentynine Palms. It’s time for a meal, so we stop at the Carousel Cafe. The sunbaked diner turns out to be our favorite kind of place: a little funky and very friendly with delicious food and generous portions.
Refreshed and full, we jump back on the bike for a short ride to the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center to learn a little more about the area. Open year round, the park has over 550,000 acres of wilderness, with fantastic hiking, birding and wildflower viewing areas. If you like it hot, this is the place for you. Temperatures regularly peak at over 100 degrees in June, July and August. On a winter day like today, the temperature at the Visitor Center is a very comfortable 65 degrees. The Visitor Center is a great place to start exploring Joshua Tree. The Park Rangers are helpful, informative and experienced. We take a few minutes to look through a spectrograph that they’re demonstrating outside the building, looking directly at the sun, which is in the midst of an enormous season of solar flares.
Back on the bike, we face the vast expanse of the Mojave Desert. California 62 cuts through the heart of one of the most sparsely populated sections of the High Desert, so we top off the gas tank and pack a few liter bottles of water in the TourPak. There are high wind warnings for this part of the ride, and even in Joshua Tree, the breezes have kicked up. By the time we’re beyond the park, gales of wind are blowing across the roadway from the northwest. We later learn that gusts of up to 90 miles per hour were reported along the route that we traveled. The Electra Glide takes the conditions right in stride. In fact, the faster I ride, the more composed the ride. The biggest challenge isn’t keeping the bike upright, it’s keeping our helmets from blowing sideways. Both Robin and I notice that our necks are strained from the experience.
It’s worth it, though. The ride through the desert is exhilarating and beautiful. The road is dead straight through the valleys, traversing big open expanses. At times, I was able to see all the way to the horizon in all four directions without any evidence of another human being (other than Robin) beyond the road. It was a remarkable experience.
We finally reached the Arizona state line. We cross the Colorado River and are welcomed into the Grand Canyon State at the small town of Parker. We’ll be tracing the route of the Colorado for the next few hours as we turn north toward Lake Havasu City. The Colorado River cuts a swath through the American Southwest, from its headwaters in Colorado, through Utah, into Arizona and through the Grand Canyon and then defining the border between Arizona and the neighboring states of Nevada and California. The subject of political, economic and social debate, the Colorado is also a great source of recreation. Boating, fishing, swimming and powersports abound along the Colorado and the lakes that have formed along its length.
We reach one of those lakes, Lake Havasu and follow the signs to the most unique attraction in Lake Havasu City: The London Bridge. Back in 1968, Lake Havasu City’s founder Robert P. McCulloch bought the actual London Bridge from the Common Council of the City of London, and had it transported and reconstructed in Arizona. The bridge was rededicated in 1971, and has become Arizona’s second-largest touring attraction in the decades since. Several restaurants and gift shops have sprung up in the shadow of the bridge. The cognitive dissonance of seeing an iconic European bridge in the American West is worth the trip.
Back on the bike again, we cross the Colorado River again, this time toward the west. We make a quick freeway blast along Interstate 40 to Needles, California, and locate the BEST WESTERN Colorado River Inn. The cozy lobby of the hotel proudly displays memorabilia of Route 66 — turns out that the BEST WESTERN Colorado River Inn sits on a section of the great road. We check in to our room, then mosey across the parking lot to Juicy’s River Cafe for dinner. We’re mighty tired from our long day’s ride, but we manage to scarf down some delicious chow. For some reason, I’ve been craving Chicken Fried Steak all day, and Juicy’s provides a very good example for my consumption. Yum.
We retire for the evening in our comfortable, clean room. Tomorrow is a shorter day, but still a healthy distance. We’ll be back in Arizona, and we’re looking forward to the ride.
Distance ridden: 385 miles
NEXT: Desert Adventure, Day Two: Needles, CA to Phoenix, AZ