This past weekend, I participated in what came to be known as the Superior Dairy Ride to Eat. From all accounts, it was a huge success. More than 30 riders showed up, we had yummy home-made gumbo and the Best Ice Cream Ever, and it only cost us one FJR subframe failure.
My friend Jerry has been chosen to ride in the Iron Butt Rally
this year. This rally covers roughly 11,000 miles in 11 days, as riders strive to build points by riding to various bonus locations and taking pictures or gathering certain pieces of information. Think of it like a huge scavenger hunt, covering the entire US and Canada. It's billed as the World's Toughest Motorcycle Rally for a reason.
As part of Jerry's preparations to help break in him and his new FJR, he decided to do several practice runs this past winter and spring. But you gotta have some goal or focus, so the SJC10K
was born. Basically, Jerry decided to ride to and photograph every County Courthouse in California. Yep, all 58 of them, in all corners of this grand state.
By May, Jerry had gotten to 55 of the courthouses and only had Alpine, Inyo, and Kings Counties to complete. The Superior RTE was born out of a desire to do something special as he grabbed his last few courthouse pics.
So here's my ride report, pulled from the LDRider's list:
It all started sometime last year when Jerry and I were talking about previous IBR bonus locations. We talked about maybe doing a mini west-coast IBR ride, just for the practice. Or focusing on some of the more extreme locations, like the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
. Or maybe even Jungo road in Nevada. So when Jerry was notified that he was chosen to be in the '09 IBR, he contacted me and said "Well, it looks like we're doing that ride after all."
Eventually we settled on a date, and decided to forgo Jungo road (this time, anyway). Then there was this discussion on the LDRider list about the best milkshakes in the country, and the Superior Dairy in Hanford came out with high marks. And as Jerry was nearing the end of his SJC10K (California Courthouse Tour), he decided to invite some friends along for the final courthouse picture. After that it all just fell into place . . .
My RTE started Thursday with a trip to San Bernardino to pick up 8 liters of Gumbo. George was going to deliver it himself, but other commitments meant that he just couldn't get away that weekend. I'll take almost any excuse to ride, so I offered to ferry the stuff up for him. It's amazing what you can fit into a large BMW top case, with lots of room left over for ice. Then Friday was riding up to Hanford to deliver said gumbo and get a few hours' sleep before my 4:30 a.m. departure.
Since I had the time, I decided to ride 155 west out of Delano rather than dropping down to the more traditional 178 through Lake Isabella or the longer-but-larger-highway 58 through Tehachapi. I made decent time up and over the mountain, but decided that this "shortcut" wouldn't do if you were pushing the clock. Unless there was a huge rally bonus somewhere at the top of it.
I dropped down into Lake Isabella, and took 178 the rest of the way over to 395 and headed north. There was a bit of construction and closed lanes, but little traffic at this hour so I set the cruise control and enjoyed the crisp mountain scenery. By Lone Pine I was way ahead of schedule, so I stopped for a quick breakfast. I (rightly) figured this might be my last chance to stop for "real" food, so a couple of Egg McMuffins later I was back on the road.
I met Jerry at the 395/168 intersection at the pre-arranged time of 10 a.m. He had left his house in the bay Area that morning and gotten the Alpine County courthouse in Markleeville on his way east.
Actually, I was there at 9:15 which allowed me a short nap before Jerry rolled in about 15 minutes late. Who knew the roads through Bishop would be closed on a holiday weekend? Jerry mentioned that he had been ahead of schedule so he stopped for a decent breakfast, then the unexpected road closures and subsequent detours threw him off schedule again.
Rule #1: Build a time cushion, and don't fritter it away on trivialities.
Soon enough we were headed east on 168 and away from the valley heat. We came across a couple of Harleys just as the twisty section started. The first guy pulled to the right and waved us past. His buddy saw us in the mirrors, and accelerated his straight pipes in a vain attempt to pull ahead. Then he hit the next corner, braked way too hard, and wallowed through it badly only to punch it again at the next small straight. Jerry I and watched this for a few corners in bemusement, before deciding that he was probably gonna hurt himself. So as he skittered around the next set of corners, we took an inside line and showed him what inline-fours and modern suspension are capable of.
Note that the preceding paragraph has nothing
to do with HD riders in general. I know that some of the folks on this list that own HD's could easily outride most of the general biking population. But there are those bikers out there who carry more chrome than sense. And I don't mind that, as long as they're behind me.
Then followed a fun section of twisties and whoop-de-doos before the turn off towards the Schulman Grove Visitor Center. So far, so good, as we turned up a well-paved if skinny forest service road. We stopped at an overlook so that we could look down
on the snow-covered mountains to our west. Where I discovered that my camera battery was dead.
Rule #2: Keep everything charged up, and carry extra batteries.
Ready to resume our climb, we had a small hassle backing the bikes out of the sloped parking area. We managed, albeit a bit ungracefully.
Rule #3: Always
park with the bike facing back out.
We resumed our climb and after a brief stop at Schulman Grove, we headed up the 12-mile gravel road towards Patriarch Grove and our goal for the morning, the famous Patriarch Tree.
The road had been recently graded and it was cold, but dry. I let Jerry lead so that he could set a pace that he was comfortable with. When the temps dropped to 49 degrees I stopped briefly to put on my heated jacket liner, figuring I could catch up to Jerry in a bit. I had stripped down to my mesh jacket in the heat of Big Pine, even though I knew we were about to climb right the way up a very large mountain.
Rule #4: Dress for what's up ahead, not what you're in now.
Jerry noticed that I had fallen back and turned around to make sure I was OK.
Rule #5: A true friend always has your back, just as you always have his.
Very few ruts and no real soft-spots meant we made good time, averaging maybe 20 mph up. Not bad for myself with fair dirt/gravel experience and Jerry with less than that, on 700-lb rally-ready street bikes. On the way up I noticed a "shortcut" leading directly to Bishop and thus skipping 168 altogether. I wondered about the condition of that road, but we were on a mission with little time to take side trips.
Just after the final turnoff to Patriarch Grove, the road was blocked due to "snow on the road". Looking past the barriers saw that most of the road was in fact clear, except for a few very large drifts laying right across the dirt road. We briefly considered hiking the rest of the mile or so to the main attraction but at 11,400 feet, that extra hike up (and back) didn't seem too appealing.
I rationalized that a Rally Master would have accepted a pic of the Road Closed signage (especially since we had ridden that far up already), and Jerry rationalized that we had done the hardest part of the ride which was what we had set out to do. So we settled for a pic of the nearest scrubby Pine. There may have also been some snowballs thrown, but I'll not admit to anything without legal counsel present.
In the meantime, some more intelligent riders on proper dirt bikes had arrived, and they gave us a couple of funny looks. I asked if they had come up the Bishop shortcut road and if it was in better or worse shape than the road we were currently on. They replied that it was rather tight and hairy and that they wouldn't recommend it on our street bikes, but we've all heard that before . . .
So we geared up and headed back down, choosing to stay on the route we knew. The unknown road was probably dirt all the way down and besides, Bishop was back in the wrong direction and there were still the local detours to contend with. And I wanted another crack at the twisty-humpy bits of 168.
Rule #6: Local knowledge can be invaluable, but it's up to you to decide what you're capable of and what you're not.
Now I prefer going uphill on loose, questionable roads because you can power yourself out of a lot of tricky situations (if you remember to turn off the traction control), and downhill always plays havoc with my ABS (which you can't disable on the GT - I need to look into that).
But Jerry (with his non-ASC, non-ABS FJR) had learned that washboard roads are much easier at speed so he sprinted off downhill and I fell in behind him once again. We were both getting better at reading the road so we made better time on the return, getting down to the paved portion much quicker. We even passed a few 4x4 pickups along the way, who were polite enough to pull over and wave at the crazy bikers as they rolled by in two skinny clouds of dust.
So, 40 minutes up from Schulman Grove, a few minutes getting substitute pics and chatting with those much wiser than us, and 30 minutes back down to pavement.
Now I've been following several 'Round the World riders (besides
Ewan and Charlie) for a few years now, and one of the things that keeps getting mentioned is that while the unpaved sections can be fun and challenging and often a highlight of the trip, you're always glad to hit the pavement again. Even after our little 24-mile round-trip, I know what they mean.
So down from the mountain to 168, and west back through the twisty whoop-dees towards 395 and (relative) civilization. It was at this point I noticed that Jerry's Pelican-case trunk seemed to be jumping about more than perhaps it should, and I made a note to ask him about it. But there was no traffic (two-wheeled or four) and I wanted to play so I pulled ahead and opened her up. I will make no comment as to whether any of my wheels actually left the pavement on this section.
(Where is that damn lawyer at anyway?)
With Jerry's HID's in my mirrors reminding me of a previous White Stag Rally
(where he chased me all across Death Valley at 5 a.m.), we headed west at a "comfortable" pace. (That's it, I'm firing my counselor.) All too soon we reached 395, and I decided to pull over to ask Jerry about his trunk. So, 2 1/2 hours round-trip from the 395 to the ABPF instead of the 2 hours we had estimated, must make a note of that for future planning. Also note that this was on a good day with cooperative weather, and in the daylight. Far from "normal" rally conditions to be sure.
Rule #7: It always
takes longer than you had planned for.
When Jerry came dawdling up some minutes later
we looked at his trunk only to find that the rear subframe had broken through and the only thing holding his trunk rack on was plastic bodywork. Most of which was also broken about 80% of the way through . . .
So we headed to the nearest gas station/garage to see what we could do about it. Jerry's bike was in full rally mode, so he started pulling out straps, socket sets, and a full roll of duct tape. We decided that it wasn't an easy parking lot fix and the best option was to get rid of as much weight as possible (did I mention he had lots of tools available?).
Rule #8: Things break, so you'd better be prepared.
Jerry was initially bummed about this little mishap, but I explained that this was exactly the point of the trip. Much better to find these sorts of problems now and get them solved properly than to find them during the Big Show.
So we removed the trunk and used a bungee-net to attach it to my rear seat (fortunately, I had my fuel cell off for this trip). That left just the metal rack itself and the tail light assembly hanging off broken bodywork, which we were able to support sufficiently by strapping it to his rather sturdy fuel cell rack. After a quick fill up we were back on the road, no duct tape needed.
That little delay, plus the extra time going up/down to Patriarch Grove meant that we were still in Big Pine at 1:30 p.m., a full 280 miles from our destination with a planned arrival time of 5:00 sharp. Hmm, that's not going to work. If
we could maintain a 70 mph average all the way back we could get to Hanford by 5:30 p.m., but there was construction on 395 and several LEOs earning their keep, not to mention getting through Lake Isabella on a holiday weekend.
So off we went south, making good time but watching the construction areas and the myriad of small towns along the way (and their 35 or even 25 mph limits). After a brief stop in Independence to grab the Inyo County courthouse picture, we got past most of the delays and managed to pick up the pace some, but not quite fast enough to warrant undue attention.
Soon enough we were crossing 178 with little traffic, and I thought maybe we could make it back by a decent time. Then we got back into civilization which included small-town speed limits, RVs, sedans, trucks & boats, and other leisure bikers. We passed a few when prudent, but pretty much had to settle into the normal flow of holiday traffic.
Rule #9: When you're behind schedule, there will be endless traffic and construction on the one route that you need to go on.
This continued all the way through Lake Isabella, and pretty much down to the valley floor. I knew at that point that we'd be lucky to get to Hanford by 6:00 p.m. and since I didn't have my fuel cell, I needed one more gas stop. So we stayed on the main road through Bakersfield rather than looping north to avoid most of it. And hit more construction.
I kept an eye out for a convenient gas station with an easy in/out approach, but didn't see anything I liked. When I'm in rally mode, if I can't see the gas station from the highway and know that it's got a clear and easy in/out and isn't clogged with cars and trucks, I'll skip it and find the next one that does fit my criteria. When you're crossing states on a tight schedule, every minute counts and time stopped just hurts your overall average speed.
So we went through Bakersfield and got onto 99, where I knew there would be an easy on/off gas station up ahead. When we stopped it was just 5:00 p.m., so I called Rosie to let her know that we were still at least an hour out. Being the efficient hostess she is, she had just started serving the gumbo, right on schedule. I couldn't argue with a house full of hungry riders, and promised that we would get there as soon as we could.
Fueled up and ready, we got back onto 99 for the home stretch. For some reason, cars on 99 like to travel in clumps. Across all the lanes. Whether they're doing 72 or 81 or 63 mph, there's always a pack of them dawdling along right next to each other. So you work your way through when prudent, then set your own pace until you come across the next clump of cars.
Eventually we turned onto 198 and negotiated the remaining farm traffic as we headed toward the sunset. Skirting Hanford proper on 43 got us to our destination right as my bike clock clicked over to 6 p.m. There were bikes parked all up and down the street, and we were instantly greeted by a score of other riders.
After a few handshakes and brief road stories, and some gentle ribbing about the BMW having to carry home parts that had fallen off the FJR
we made our way inside. Jerry went to change clothes while I said hello to some old and new friends.
I grabbed a quick snack from the remnants of the fabulous spread that Tom and Rosie had provided, and we then headed out to beautiful downtown Hanford. Tom and Rosie led, with dozens of bikes following. I'm sure it made quite the sight, especially when we actually got downtown and tried to park everyone . . .
We managed to find the Kings County courthouse and line everybody up for the final picture. Only Jerry couldn't find his camera, so we borrowed cameras from some other riders to get the shot. One SJC10K California Courthouse Tour complete, check. Later, Jerry did locate his camera. It seems that when he changed earlier, he put the camera in his pants pocket instead of his riding jacket pocket.
Rule #10: Set a routine that works for you, and always
stick to it.
Then it was a short walk across the street to the Superior Dairy where we overwhelmed their take-out counter for quite some time. And Jerry insisted on paying the entire tab, much to our surprise and appreciation.
Rule #11: Good friends are well worth thanking.
After enjoying our dairy delights in the park adjoining the courthouse, individual riders said their goodbyes and headed off. Several of us headed back to Tom & Rosie's to relax and digest. Jerry snagged the last bowl of gumbo, and I figured he had earned it.
I had the option of staying in Hanford again but it was only a 3 1/2 hour ride home. I was tired, but still quite alert so I decided to head out, and I vowed to stop if I got too tired or fuzzy to continue on safely. After saying my goodbyes, I once again headed out 43/198/99 south. Somewhere around Bakersfield my '07 GT ticked over 87K miles, so I got the obligatory odo pic.
Traffic flowed well with the usual 99 car-clumps and Grapevine I'm-doing-61-in-the-fast-lane-because-it's-a-big-hill-and-I'm-afraid-of-the-trucks cages easily dispatched. Gotta love that inline-four.
I rolled back into Ventura county and was home by 1:30 a.m. to find that my lovely wife was waiting up for me. After a quick soak in the hot tub it was off to a well-deserved rest.
Rule #12: It's always easier to push that little bit extra when you have something worth making it home for. And to be able to stop if you have to, precisely because
you have something worth making it home for.
So that makes 1,052 miles in 34 hours, not counting the 250-mile round-trip to pick up the gumbo (which I heard was excellent). And covers sea level to 11,400 feet, and from 43 degrees to 94 degrees ambient temp. With a good three-dozen friends thrown in for good measure. Not bad for a local ride.
Thanks again to Tom & Rosie for hosting (Rosie was especially busy being Hostess Extraordinaire), to George for supplying 8 liters of Gumbo (which I somehow managed to miss entirely), and to Jerry for suggesting it (and buying us each an ice cream of our choice!). And thanks to all the riders who came from three different states just to be in a silly picture. Ya shoulda been there.