1999 Spring ride to Death Valley

Marc Hyman: Getting There

As I type this the folks who went on the ride are probably frolicking in the pool at Stove Pipe Wells (or at the motel in Beatty). They can tell their story when they get back. My story is about the ride there. At least the beginning of the ride there.

My intentions were to join the group leaving at 6:00 AM, ride with them as far as Coalinga, then return via 198 -> 25 -> 101 -> 152 -> 1 -> 9 -> 35 -> 92 -> home. That’s not quite what happened. The group – Dave, Jill, Rob, Paul, Jerry, Ted, and me – left the donut shop at 6:02. First stop was Casa de Fruta for breakfast where Helmut joined us. So did a couple of other sometimes members who were going to follow along for the ride. Coffee, breakfast, and arguments as to the proper route to Death Valley followed. After Breakfast as the group was getting ready to leave someone (Paul?) noticed some oil by Jerry’s Kawasaki.

Jerry's Concours

Jerry’s Concours

Jerry’s Concours

Jerry’s bike had been in the shop recently due to some problems shifting a few Sundays back. Perhaps they looked at the rear end. Perhaps they didn’t torque the filler/access plug down. In any case it was missing.

The filler plug on the Kawasaki is large; the opening is approx 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Also, it’s located in the side of the case. See the first picture. You can lose a lot of oil fast through an opening that large. Dave came up with a rag about the size of half a washcloth. When rolled up it fit in the hole. That’s the white blob sticking out of the rear end in the second picture.

The group split up. Paul, Ted, and I stayed with Jerry and the rest went on their way. We followed Jerry to the gas station next to Casa de Fruta. No gear oil. But they did have some 30 wt – better than nothing. Jerry got on the phone and started calling Kawasaki dealers. The one in Merced had a part. That was 70 miles away and 80 miles (from I5 to there there and back to I5) out of the way. Oh well.

Jerry takes off and we follow. At Los Banos Ted spots a Kawasaki place. We stop and ask. No they don’t sell motorcycles, mainly jet skis. There is a custom Harley place a miles or so back, though. Jerry calls the Harley place and someone there says he has a bunch of parts for Japanese bikes at home, perhaps one will fit. Home is real close to the Harley place. It’s worth a try. We go there.

Nice try, but no fit. We’ve lost another hour waiting. On to Merced. We get about 3 feet.

When the rag was replaced it was pushed in too far. It got pulled in to the rear end by the ring gear and then (I guess) wrapped itself around the pinion gear. Jerry goes down, almost taking out one of the custom Harleys. No man or bike is hurt, though.

We put the bike in gear and push it back, trying to free the rag. Once the wheel starts moving the bike is placed on the center stand. Many rotations of the rear wheel result in the removal of maybe 30 % of the rag. This bike is not safe to ride.

Jerry's Concours

Jerry’s Concours

Jerry’s Concours

Jerry gets back on the phone. The Gilroy dealer will pick him and the bike up and work on the bike as soon as it gets to the shop. It’s about a 3 hour job to pull the rear end apart. He’ll try and catch up with the group in Death Valley, Saturday. Ted and Paul (in the picture, by Jerry’s bike) get back on the road. They’ve probably 400 miles to go and it’s already 11:30 AM. I head home, not quite the route I had planned. I wind up going 152 -> 156 -> 101 -> 129 -> 1 -> 84 -> 35 -> 92 -> home.

I hope Jerry isn’t still stuck in Los Banos.

Jerry’s Tale

From Los Banos, Ted and Paul continued to DV, while Gilroy Honda/Kaw came for me and the Concours. Very friendly folks, and I was well impressed with the service mgr., Clark Winn, as well as with owner Steve, with whom I rode back to Gilroy in a pickup with small trailer. Clark had the differential disassembled and cleaned out with a minimum of delay, and I was on the road again very shortly after 5pm., after some careful time and distance calculations, including variations.

Nonstop to Fresno for fuel (236 elapsed distance before going onto reserve, 261 ed to add 6.33 gallons - still over a gallon left; Concours is a long-legged steed), then another 80 miles down #99 to Delano. By now its well past 9pm, with no appealing motel options there.

Navigating this area as a novice, I started east up #155, but it was very dark and very desolate looking, with no certain prospects for a room within a reasonable range. Also getting colder, with much higher elevation ahead and clothing still damp from hot riding conditions, along with persisting transmission difficulties, so after 15 miles, I backtracked 5 of them to #65 south, to spend the night in Bakersfield. Land of enchantment. Not.

Found #178 east late Saturday morning, with clear sailing and fair winds to lunch and fuel at InyoKern (the first little Mex. place on the left very hospitable and decent food). Later, the group spotted me cruising the parking lot by the pool at Stovepipe, so I joined them. Perhaps an hour later, we all zoomed up to Beatty, where Ted and I were sharing a room. The cigarette smoke in the restaurant tells us we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. By now its 5pm.

Have to say my first views of DV were certainly breathtaking. Tho’ a native, I’d never been here; I can now appreciate the attractiveness of the ride and the surroundings.

Congenial tall tales by the pool - we commandeered the gazebo, but Rob’s and others’ best efforts were not equal to the stubborness of the balky, cold hot tub. Pleasant dinner together (Jill, Paul, Dave, Ted, Jerry [me], Helmut and Rob) in the dining room, after a wait and assorted efforts to break the bank. Plans to return to Stovepipe by ten am for brunch with Carl, Tom and Carl’s sis & bro-in-law (I believe), but plans aft gang a’glay, as the Scotsman put it.

Mass confusion in the morning, with a few frayed dispositions along the way. Plans subject to numerous changes all day. We were all checked out and westbound on #190 before 10 am; Dave in need of a replacement battery. Battery finally located in Ridgecrest, but layover was about 2-1/2 hours, including food, multiple shopping stops, slow service on Dave’s new battery prep., and a fuel load of diesel for a non-diesel bike, whose owner shall remain nameless, but whose initials are Ted Newby. Not quite boot material, perhaps, but probably good for a few guffaws. (But remember, there are two kinds of pilots: those who have landed with the gear up, and those who haven’t yet.)

From Ridgecrest, there were two routes between seven riders, with a reconnoitering point at Wasco, along #46, about 7 west of #99. But exactly where in Wasco (no, you can’t see from one end of Wasco to the other from ground level) somewhat problematic. The four of us opting for the roller coaster ride up #155, out of Lake Isabella, eventually rejoined Paul and Jill, and later Rob, in Wasco. Along the way, my Concours transmission started seriously acting up again, which, of course, is the only reason Ted and Dave and Helmut had time for a nap at Woody before I caught up with them at the summit at this point. Great road for a great ride, with snow on the roadside at 6,000’, tho’ quite a bit of patchy dirt en route, due to recent melt.

If routes and destinations were confused earlier, they were worse at Wasco. Rob and Paul and Jill and I opted to continue west on #46, to spend the night at Paso Robles, then hit the coast for the 100 miles up #1 along Big Sur to Monterey in the morning. Dave and Helmut headed up #5 for Coalinga or Harris Ranch, and I presume Ted caught up with them, tho’ I never saw a seventh headlight in my mirror after Wasco.

Very comfortable lodgings at Best Western at Paso, with reasonable dining on site, and a Kawasaki dealer next door, as luck would have it. Concours transmission going from bad to worse. No service tech on duty Monday morning, however, and I don’t believe they could’ve cured what ailed the bike today in any case. Opted to get into high gear on #101 northbound and stay that way to home, with Paul riding shotgun, and Rob and Jill taking that great coast ride.

By San Jose, however, whatever was wrong with my tranny got fatal by Los Altos, with about 15 miles of shoulder cruising with hazard lights before it really crapped out, but not, fortunately, until I was able to coax it into the Chevron Station at Foothill, off #280. Glad I chose #85 instead of staying on #101, where traffic probably would’ve been worse, and a safe haven harder to reach.

Although I’d overpacked, Paul and I managed to get everything into or onto his Concours, reasonable strapped down and balanced, and the two of us made it to my San Mateo home by about 2:45, I believe. Whether my Concours is going to run again anytime soon remains to be seen.

So that’s my report, to pick up where you left off. Hope to see you soon, but I’m afraid it may not be from atop a black Concours for awhile.

Keep the rubber side down.

Dave’s Version

Day 1

At Casa De Fruta because of Jerry’s problem (was not a break down yet) with drain plug, we split up into two groups. Dave, Jill, Helmut, Rob, Jim and Garland went down 5. Jerry, Marc, Ted and Paul headed towards Los Banos. Gassed up at Harris Ranch exit and turned East at Highway 46 and on to Highway 99 and then Highway 178 towards Lake Isabella. We got gas and a quick snack at a Chevron Station just before entering Kern River Canyon. The next stop was Ridgecrest, where we filled up.

We separated from Garland and Jim and continued on through Trona and at Panamint Springs intersection, I told Rob not to stop for gas at Stovepipe Wells and follow us to Carl’s room at Stovepipe Wells. We got ahead of Rob, and when we turned off at Stovepipe Wells, he didn’t see us and went on by. I saw what had happened and gave chase and caught up to him and honked and then he proceeded to go faster, so I turned around and went back to Stovepipe Wells. After a couple of cold beers, some snacks and a dip in the pool we got back on the bikes and headed to Beatty. Rob was waiting for us there and told us some crazy guy on a bike had chased him through the Park! The hot tub there wasn’t hot so we went to the bar and then had the $9.95 Prime Rib, back to the bar and then to bed.

Day 2

After breakfast we met Tom who rode up from Stovepipe Wells. He volunteered to take us on a short tour of the valley. Every one but Jill (wanted to sleep in) went. First stop was to Furnace Creek where we got cold drinks and watched other riders pulling into the parking lot. There was a large group of Harley riders from Reno who were real friendly and a couple of Goldwing riders from the East Coast who we chatted with and exchanged business cards with. We then took a ride to Artist Drive where my battery decided to quit. Getting a jump-start from Tom, we all went back to Furnace Creek to try to see if anything could be done. Adding water did not seem to help, so the conclusion was that there was a shorted cell.

Working out a jump-start system with Helmut, we took off. Along the way Jill met up with us and we all went to Stovepipe Wells. We charged the battery, but it would only read 10 volts. We proceeded to have some cold beer and snacks that Carl’s sister and brother-in-law provided us and had one of Carl’s cigars. Jill, Tom and Carl’s sister went swimming while most of us stayed in the shade. We were discussing where Jerry might be and a moment later he was in the parking lot. He joined us for some refreshments and gave us the details of the repairs to the bike and his stay in downtown Bakersfield.

We all left with Jerry who wanted to get to his room in Beatty.

Day 3

At the intersection of Highway 5 and 46, Helmut, Ted and I headed north towards Harris Ranch to stay at Motel 6. At least that was Helmut’s and my plan. Ted who was bringing up the rear turned off at the first exit to Coalinga. We waited at the Harris Ranch exit and finally checked into the Motel. After a nice shower (no hot tub) we went to the Red Robin and we were waited on by a charming waitress by the name of Sue. She had waited on us three weeks previous when we had also gone to Death Valley. We had some good food, good drinks and topped the meal off with a Hot Fudge Sundae (me) and a Strawberry Sunday (Helmut).

Day 4

We woke up early and since we weren’t very hungry we packed and headed to Coalinga to see if we could find Ted. We circled around town checking out the motels but didn’t find him. (Comparing times later on the phone Ted was downtown having breakfast.) We proceeded on 198 and turned on to highway 25. We then turned off to go to King City for breakfast. We then got on G-13 and went back to Highway 25 and towards Hollister. We arrived home about 12:30 PM.

Rob’s note

Paul and the limping, no not lisping Jerry headed up 101 at Paso Robles and Jill and I had a nice ride over to the coast and up north stopping frequently to check out the scenery while construction sites littered the highway. There are about 5-6 areas along the coast south of Big Sir where the going is slow due to road repair but I didn’t mind as it offered great views of the California Coast.

Stopped in Big Sir where the gas was $2.49 per gallon. Ouch. Proceeded up through Monterey and up to Castroville where we had a good bowl of you guessed it, Artichoke soup, at the Giant Artichoke. This is a good stop for those planning your next trip to that area. Proceeded north where I had to gas up in Menlo Park before splitting up with Jill and her Yamaha as we got close to San Francisco.

Overall coments on the trip. I had an absolute blast. Thanks to all who made it a very enjoyable journey. I put on 1283 miles in 4 days on my Honda 750 Magna and the bike performed better than I had expected and yes Carl, I did lube the chain.

Thanks Dave for being the leader of the group. Did you ever rejoin your buddies Jim and Garland on their Hondas? Too bad my dad and brother ( Bern and Marc) couldn’t join us for the entire ride. Death Valley is definately a place for some good motorcycle riding.