Friday, April 26, 2013

Through the desert among the Harley folk

This has been an exasperating day for me as a Blogger client. Google, Master of All Things in the computer universe has updated its blog templates. That's a good thing, unless you've been using the same template for four years and would be quite happy to use it four four more -- happier still not to have to repair the damage with a slow WiFi connection on the road.

Anyway, High-Speed Wobble looks different now -- not too jarringly different, I hope. I'll have to make a few more changes, but not until I can have a broadband connection.

Wednesday, April 24, I awoke in my room at South Point Casino in Las Vegas and began sorting things out. There was gear I left stored on the bike and gear I brought with me. Too much gear.

The first task was to pack a duffel bag with things I could do without. Daniel, who'd been vacationing in Las Vegas with his wife, came by with his van and help me schlep the duffel to a Mailboxes store and ship it to my sister's in Maine.

I set up Old Blue in my room at the Casino and sprayed it with Scotch Guard. I hope this will repel the rain I expect in the east.

With that done, it was time for some fun and a trial run to make sure the bike was running well. So, after lunch Dan and I rode out to Red Rock Canyon, about 12 miles west of the city. Besides impressive rock formations, the canyon has interesting desert wildlife: burros and tortoises.

Red Rock Canyon visitor center reserved some prime parking spots just for Dan and me.
Captain Slow and his caution sign.

Dan admires a herd of Harley Davidson precursors.

The canyon attracts plenty of hikers and bicyclists, so the speed limit makes it a leisurely ride. Still, there's plenty to look at and it was worth the trip.

Before riding back to town, we stopped at Bonnie Springs Ranch, which is a somewhat run down tourist attraction, but has a colorful, funky bar and restaurant. We each had a beer, called our wives, admired the peacocks, watched the ducks race each other through the turtle pond and used the men's room, which features a claw-foot bathtub urinal.


The bar at Bonnie Springs Ranch, near Red Rock Canyon, has a few hundred dollar bills hanging from the beams.

Watching the local TV news Wednesday night, I'd seen a story about a big motorcycle rally in Laughlin, Nev., about 80 miles south of Las Vegas. It was underway and ran through the weekend. I told Dan and he decided to ride with me to Laughlin. Then, he'd turn around and I'd keep going to Joshua Tree.

We gassed up, got on the road by 9:30 and hit almost every red light in Henderson. At about 11, we stopped at a combined casino/convenience store/gas station/Subway in Searchlight, Nev., which Dan said was Sen. Harry Reid's hometown.

Dan's home away from home -- his freshly painted camper van -- and the trailer home of the Buell and Vespa he keeps on the mainland. South Point Spa and Casino is in the background.

The place was hopping as packs of motorcycles wheeled in for fuel and supplies. There was plenty of black leather, long hair, tattoos, bare skin, loud pipes, wallets on chains, club patches, chrome and women in tight pants.

"I can see where this is going," Dan said. The Laughlin River Run was going to be strictly a Harley cruiser crowd event. "I think I'll head back," he said. "See you back in Honolulu -- ride safe."

Bikers gather in Laughlin, Nev. for the annual River Run rally.

They say "loud pipes save lives" but just in case, you can add some
mega-speakers to your bagger -- only 85 horsepower but 135 decibels.

The latest from Sons of Anarchy Jewelers.

There are lots of bad-boy patches to sew on your leather club vest.
In case you're hankering for a label...

Clothes for clubbing come with a handy place to carry your piece.
The high-end clubbing vests have shoulder holsters sewn in.
The Indian motorcycle is back, made in Minnesota and Iowa by Polaris Industries. In many ways, it's more "Harley" than a Harley.

The new Indian show bikes are gorgeously detailed.

Eat your heart out Louis Vuitton.

Can't be seen off the reservation without leather-wrapped grips and crash bars.
The Indian style was set long before the company went broke in 1953. A restored bike from that era was on hand -- yes that knob is the shift lever.
Custom wheels are a popular after-market upgrade.

If all your friends have custom chrome spokes, you can go with white, set off by candy-colored spoke nipples.

Or, select a set of these hand-engraved rims. They go for $1,000 apiece. Add spokes, hubs and tires and the price tag climbs to $2,500.
This guy still has that thousand-yard stare that says "Drop and give me 20."
From Laughlin, I headed southwest toward Twentynine Palms as riders flowed in across the desert, one or two at a time or in packs.

U.S. Route 66 no longer connects Chicago with Los Angeles. It was dropped From the U.S. highway system in 1985 after Interstate highways bypassed it, including this section near Amboy, Calif.

I camped for the night in the desert at Joshua Tree National Park, pitching my tent next to the campsite I had last June. There were many more people in the campground on this April night, when it was still cool.

The moon was full. I rode down the hill to the town to get dinner and coming back the GPS went dark, signaling sunset. The road wound up through the park, an other-worldly landscape of strange rock formations and spiky cacti reaching their twisted arms skyward, silhouetted by a huge lunar disc.

This is a special place. My neighbor, an old guy about my age from San Diego, warmed a can of beef stew on a propane burner propped on the tailgate of his pickup and said, "I come up here every chance I get."

A group around the next big rock were drinking beer. My neighbor said he thought they might mean trouble -- meaning noise -- but I heard mostly kids running and climbing on the boulders with flashlights.

The moon set near dawn at my campsite in Joshua Tree National Park.

I dozed off about 9:30 and woke at 1:30 a.m. There was someone outside my tent. In fact, there were two young men who chose that hour to make camp, start a fire, drink some beer and have a jovial, but not quiet, good time. They were just 10 yards away.

Not wanting a confrontation, I tried to wait them out. By 2:15, with no sign that they were going to quiet down, I decided to clear my throat as loudly as I could -- just let them know I was there and awake.

It worked -- sort of. They quieted down a bit, but kept talking for another 20 minutes until I cleared my throat again -- even louder this time -- and they packed it in.

The two noisy campers had invaded the campsite of my neighbor from San Diego, who had slept in his truck. I woke up at 5 a.m. when he started that truck and noisily left the campground. It was early, but I figured I might as well get moving. I didn't really want to meet the jerks who'd disrupted the neighborhood at 1:30. I made no effort to be quiet breaking camp.

The rising sun painted the eerie landscape with color.

I had ridden east toward the rising moon coming home from dinner and rode into the setting moon at sunrise on my way to a breakfast burrito at McDonald's in Yucca Valley, where I met two seasoned bikers on immaculate Harleys who were on their way to join the gang at Laughlin. We got to talking and I mentioned my rude awakening at Joshua Tree.

"I'm not a fan of guns," I said, "but after seeing those concealed-carry vests at the Laughlin rally, the thought crossed my mind."

"Yeah, that happened to me once, too," the smaller dude said. "It was about two in the morning and these guys showed up and set up these big speakers and started blasting their music. I pulled out my .38 and launched a round -- but it didn't make any difference. I don't think they even heard it.

"I don't carry anymore though."

I asked them if they knew the area and could suggest a good motorcycle ride to San Diego.

"Sure, I-10," the big one one said.

I said I was avoiding "the slab" and was looking for an interesting two-lane route over the mountains. I got out my iPad, launched Google Maps and asked about California Highway 371.

"Yeah, that road has good scenery, but it's curvy as a bitch," he said.

The road snakes its way into the mountains from Palm Desert.

From Yucca Valley, I rode through the huge wind farm outside Palm Springs, where the roads have names like Dinah Shore Avenue and Frank Sinatra Drive, to Palm Desert, where I got some gas and struck up a conversation with a dapper old guy who came up and said, "Nice bike."

He told me he rode motorcycles, too -- in fact, he still had a four-cylinder 1978 Honda 550, a real classic, and a dirt bike. "I don't take them out anymore, though. I'm 94 and I know if I drop it I won't be able to get it up."

I took the twisty road up over the mountains past Mount Palomar, down through some pretty valleys where desert turned into green farmland and stopped at the Lake Henshaw Resort for lunch.

Lake Henshaw isn't the prettiest body of water, but after two days crossing the desert, it was a nice change.

The fresh cream of mushroom soup and soft taco special at the Henshaw Resort was a treat.

From Lake Henshaw I travelled through Escondido. Traffic got heavier and red lights started cropping up every half mile. Just as I got fed up with the stop and go, a freeway on-ramp appeared, I hit the slab and droned on into San Diego and Chula Vista, where I checked into Motel 6.

It's not plush, but at $49 a night and with no tax tacked on, Motel 6 was cheaper than the San Diego KOA campground, had an en suite bath and shower, air conditioning and electricity. There's even a push-button telephone.

I spent the afternoon running errands and editing photos and walked to dinner at the Black Angus next to the motel, which lists total calories next to every menu item. Steak has a ridiculous number of calories and even a Cobb salad has 1,200. So, I ordered a house salad, grilled chicken and broccoli.

The chicken was mealy and dry, but I was hungry and managed to finish it. The waiter asked if he could remove my dish and I said yes, "but you know, that was really terrible."

The waiter left and in a minute a man in a dress shirt and necktie appeared and asked about my meal. I said, "I'm not much of a cook, but I can grill chicken better than that."

He said they'd comp the dinner, but I'd have to pay for my glass of wine. I said I appreciated the gesture.

On my way back to the motel, I passed this sign in front of the Denny's restaurant, which had a full parking lot and busy dining room:

I'm glad I didn't eat at Denny's.


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