Stormy Monday, the Spring '00 Death Valley Ride


Our group is nothing, if not independent, and the one thing you can count on is that plans will change. The changes started before the trip when I mentioned an interest in an alternate route. Dave figured that since I was leading a group Friday at 6:00 AM, he could leave Thursday afternoon (and perhaps miss some of the forecast rain). Like I said: changes.

Jerry Grainger called me Thursday night to find out what my plans were in case he missed his morning wake-up – he mentioned something about a problem with early mornings and alarm clocks. Jerry Grey also called late Thursday evening. His news was not so good: he’d left Thursday afternoon. His brother-in-law, however, had a get-off on highway 25. Jerry got him back to the bay area, but was obviously going to miss the rest of the trip. Hope all is OK.

The cast of characters, as best as I can figure, were:

Carl (and family members he met there), Tom, Jerry, and John stayed at Stovepipe Wells. The rest of us stayed in Beatty.

The ride

I think the act of opening my garage door triggered the rain. I’m sure that it wasn’t raining when I woke up. Oh well, my riding gear doubles as rain gear. I was packed, it was time, the weather will just have to be ignored.

I got to Burlingame a bit before 6:00 AM. Fred was waiting, Jessica was getting gas. Paul showed up a minute later. I told Paul the route we were taking. We drove to the gas station to pick up Jessica, who in the mean while had ridden around the block to the meeting point. By the time we were all together it was 6:04. Time to move!

We take off and immediately hit a red light. I hear a beep beep and look in the rear view mirror. Nothing. Must not be our group. The light turns green and off we go. 60 or so miles later Paul rides up along side of me and signals that he’s going to go the standard route over 152 to I5 and peals off to take his exit. We continue on to highway 25 and the Cozy Cup Cafe in Hollister. Just as the coffee is being poured Rob walks in. That beep beep in Burlingame was Rob in a gas station across the street. He gave us some story about taking 15 extra minutes to put on his rain gear and thus missing the start time. Glad I e-mailed him with my route Thursday.

The rain, which had let up just as we got to Hollister, started in again as we were leaving. The trip down 25 to 198 and Coalinga was wet, but pleasurable. Except for Fred. He discovered that what they say about the Aerostitch is true: it leaks around the zipper and there is a lot of zipper in the crotch area.

We stopped for gas in Coalinga then hit highway 33 south to 46, east on 46 to 99, and south on 99 to 204/178 in Bakersfield where it was time for another gas/rest stop. The rain followed us most of the way down, finally tapering off to occasional rainbursts. There was no traffic to speak of; even the road through the Kern river canyon was clear.

Our lunch stop was in Lake Isabella. When Fred’s order arrived he claimed that there was at least enough for 2 people. When it was time to go, though, his plate was quite empty. He paid the price riding through the Panamint Valley – trying to keep his eyes open. He was still awake at Trona as he claimed he saw more than 5 people.

We stopped after making the turn onto 190. Rob finally stowed his rain gear. Fred tried woke up. Then it was on to Stovepipe Wells where I saw John’s and Jerry’s bikes (but not John nor Jerry. I found Carl, his relatives, and Tom. We’d done about 500 miles at that point and felt we deserved a Guiness (which had been sitting on ice in my top case). Carl’s family provided the finger food.

I filled the group in on Jerry Grey’s story, and found out that Jerry Grainger apparently had a tip-over leaving his garage and broke his right foot peg. I guess he used the rear peg all the way.

We made it into Beatty around 6:00 PM. About 12 hours for 525-550 miles plus a breakfast, lunch, and beer stop in addition to rest/gas stops. Not bad. The group already at Beatty had scheduled a 7:00 PM dinner. Good timing.

Fred had never been to Death Valley, so Jessica insisted that they take the Scotty’s Castle tour. Rob had never taken the tour, either. The three of them left early enough to take the first tour. I’d never been south of Badwater, so had arranged to meet Tom at Furnace Creek “noonish” for lunch and a ride. I cleaned the bike in the morning and then also headed up 95 to Scotty’s junction and over to Scotty’s Castle. My goal was to do the valley from north to south.

I met Carl and John for a few minutes while meandering around the castle grounds. Then it was off to Furnace Creek, lunch, and the ride to Shoshone. Fred joined Tom and me for the ride. We stopped in Shoshone for a soft drink, then headed up 127 towards 95. Tom split off at 190 to head back to Stovepipe Wells. Fred and I got back to Beatty around 4:30 to join the revelers around the hot tub.

John had joined the group for a while before heading back to Stovepipe Wells. I think he’ll stay in Beatty the next time. After much talk, jokes, beer, crackers, beef jerky, smoked oysters, cookies, and hot water we decided to meet at 7:00 PM for dinner. Ted asked for a wake-up call. Perhaps Fred should have done the same.

One of the talk topics was the weather, both the relative coolness of Death Valley (only mid 80’s at Badwater) and the storm threatening to dump large amounts of rain upon California. It seems that the evidence of the hot tub notwithstanding, several of our members are related to the Wicked Witch of the East and will melt if touched by a rain drop. The plan of the majority was to head to Paso Robles. I had originally planned upon going to Hoover Damn, Sunday, then returning to Beatty. I 99% decided to change plans and join the others once I realized I was the only one who would be staying in Beatty.

To Paso Robles

My 99% turned into 100% Sunday morning. I just don’t like Beatty well enough to stay there by myself. We left Beatty at 8:00 AM with the first stop 2 hours later at Ridgecrest. After gassing up it was on to Buttonwillow via Tehachapi. Uneventful, except for the CHP that got on our tail leaving Ridgecrest. His RADAR was very active so I put the bike on cruise control at about 65 MPH. Dave and Ted were in front of me. Dave figured out what was going on when he noticed both Ted and me holding back and also stayed at the limit, albeit quite a ways in front of the rest of the group. The CHP eventually passed us, followed by Jill who just couldn’t do 65-70 any more. We stopped for gas and lunch at 58 and I5.

After lunch the subject of rain came up again and the group of 11 that left Beatty split into two camps: the wise who would continue on to Paso Robles and the hydrophobics who decided to go up I5 as far as they could get before it started raining. Ted’s original plan had been to go up to Coalinga, but even he voiced his intent to make it all the way home. We said our good-byes and the wise group of Richard, Jenny, Jessica, Fred, Rob, and I continued on 58 toward Paso Robles.

Jessica took the lead on 58 for about 20 miles. Just upon entering the town of McKittrick she started looking at both sides of her front tire. No one saw the pothole she hit, but she sure felt it. We pulled off to the side of the road and found a large bulge in the right side of the front wheel rim.

A half block away was a house with many years of “projects” in the back yard and a gentleman working on one of them. We’re in luck. He has a steel hammer, a brass hammer, and some two-by-fours. Just the right tools for the job.

Fred wasn’t making much progress with the brass hammer and two-by-four, so I put the camera down and held the brass hammer against the rim as Fred smacked it with the steel hammer. The others were talking with the homeowner and his wife as this was going on – almost a party atmosphere. The wife mentioned she’d lived in McKittrick since 1937.

It didn’t take too long to get the rim more-or-less back where it belonged. We said our thanks, exchanged hugs, and took off down 58 toward Paso Robles. No problems with the rim. The tire never lost pressure.

After getting almost lost in Paso Robles we finally found the Travel Lodge were Jessica had reservations. Why the Travel Lodge? Because that’s where Jerry Grainger said the group stayed last year. Great place with a pool, hot tub, attached restaurant, etc. Only it wasn’t the Travel Lodge. We passed the Best Western with all the named amenities on our way to the Travel Lodge where we had our reservations. Five of us took the three rooms Jessica had reserved. Rob decided that he had to have the hot tub so went to Best Western. We didn’t see him for the rest of the trip.

It was almost drizzling by this time. Not enough to stop us from walking to dinner. Not enough to stop Jessica from trying to wash her bike. I broke out the beer/snacks that were left over from Beatty. Jenny and Jessica added to the stash and we snacked and talked, amazed how the group had dwindled to 5, and wondered how far and/or how wet the group heading north got.

At dinner we decided to leave at 8:00 AM and head for Salinas, stopping there for brunch. That would get us home sometime between 12:00 and 1:00 PM, missing the bay area peak traffic times.

Stormy Monday

Monday morning we woke to light rain. Not heavy… not even medium… just light rain. This was the dreaded storm that drove half of our group north the day before. We took the covers off the bike, packed up, put on our rain gear and headed north toward Salinas. An amazing thing happened along the way – the rain stopped. The rain lasted for 75-80 miles, varying from light to medium, then stopped before we hit Salinas.

This picture was taken after breakfast in Salinas. Notice the blue sky in the background. It was that way all the way up 101 towards home. Richard and Jenny split off at 85, Fred at 880, and I waved good-bye to Jessica at 92.

Breaking the trip home into two days was great. I think I’ll plan it that way should I go on the spring ride again next year. Only I’ll stay at the Best Western next time. With luck the weather will be nice and highway 1 open for a scenic route home.

Pictures from Carl Tyler