"To journey well is more important than to arrive."
California CBXers’ Death Valley Run
April 18-21, 1997 (1136 miles)
After gathering a flight of CBXs in San Jose, we drone south between the green hills of 101 to Paso Robles, then bear east into naturally drier country, passing the junction of 46 and 41 where James Dean got killed, through the precious-dirty oil fields and dusty chem-soaked agribusiness spreads, until we motor up 155 into the lofty Tehatchapi ranchlands above handsome Lake Isabella, then a stretch up along the Kern River with 178 and swiftly over the hump into the high desert which lies beyond the rain shadow of these mountains. Friday night in Ridgecrest, at the southern gate of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, where the northern and southern CBX contingents hook up for renewed camaraderie. The nearest bar has got a live band of moonlighting military entertaining a small happy crowd of pool playing soldiers, underage girls hanging around with dorks, a coeducational patch of old farts, and dancers who might be kin to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, but the joint's barely weird enough to be interesting if you’re from San Francisco. This is the boonies. People are supposed to be strange.
Blast up 395 to Olancha at Owens Lake, bled ghostly dry by the Los Angeles water project, then a fast jog east to where the former toll road now 190 opens the northwesterly path into the Death Valley region. First you must cross the Panamint mountain range and pale valley below, then rise rapidly into the switchback passes which lead to the descent into Death Valley itself, vast and raw vistas beyond the sharp, steep drops from the narrow road into the alluvial rock, crumbling for thousands of millennia from the stratified mountains. Death Valley is a rich tumult of deep mineral reds and clay browns and crystalline blacks in motionless upheaval above its own white emptiness. The nearly full moon rules the warm spring night in Stovepipe Wells, and as the Hale-Bopp comet recedes into the twilight haze near the valley’s dark western ridge a lunar halo forms in the icy stratus clouds over the California CBXers enjoying a pleasant evening of beer and bullshit.
On this Sunday morning the southern folks are on the road to Mojave at sunrise but for the northern riders it is west again on 190, until the magnificent sweeps of the Panamint range finally open upon the Owens Dry Lake, below the awesome wall of the snow capped Sierra. South on 395 to 178 and west again, this time following the strong white water Kern beyond Isabella, all the way down the pipe to Bakersfield and I-5. Some of our party must depart from here for their northern home. Now we who remain find the unknown and amazing 58 west, crossing the beautiful, undisturbed coastal high country to make our way to the Pacific Coast Highway and Morro Bay. The Keystone, second home to long time California ICOA rallygoers, welcomes us with a cool sunset on a calm sea as the volcanic hulk of Morro Rock abides homebound fishing boats and motorcycles. Three excellent bottles of wine unseal the epiphany that the California CBXers are somehow different from the rest of the club, remote in map and mind from the eastern membership, yet equally dedicated to the preservation of the CBX motorcycle.
The obligatory motorcycles and Morro Rock photo and I bid my companions good-bye (they will arc northeast through the interior to pick up the very nice 25 up to Hollister and the South Bay) to strike north on Route 1, as west a road as you can get in California, past Cambria and San Simeon into the rugged cliffs above the Pacific. Much of the southern leg of this dangerous road is falling into the ocean, but the stops for road work permit the motorcyclist to easily pass the otherwise difficult rolling obstructions that usually hinder a good passage on the Pacific Coast Highway and finally, south of Big Sur, man and motorcycle become a swift single spirit riding thru sea and sky, intermorphosis, till comes the wealthy habitat of Carmel and then the Monterey sprawl into Santa Cruz, and a last sprint through the drifting Pescadero miasma, pausing for a moment at the old San Gregorio stage stop, near great fragrant groves of Eucalyptus, then mounting my CBX for the last time on this run, not wanting journey’s end, over the hill and home.
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