Highway goodbye and headed out on a perfect San Diego day to visit my daughter in Bakersfield. The trip is 250 miles each way, so I thought 3 days would be the perfect visit. It also gave me the perfect opportunity to try out my new Rambler Leather Jacket from Helmet City. This was my first long distance solo ride, so when the traffic came to a halt at 11am in Orange County, I felt my hopes of a smooth ride deflate.
"Damn it, I really didn't want to start lane splitting so early. . ."
For over 20 miles during mid-day, I wove my way between cars, trucks, semi's, buses and RV's northbound on Interstate 5. I'm not an aggressive lane-splitter; my personal rule is to not resort to it unless I need to put my feet on the road. So when the traffic would halt, I would split. Before I knew it I was in L.A.
Unfortunately, with all of the focus on safely lane splitting, I ended up on the 101 rolling through Hollywood.
"Oh FUCK! How in the Hell did this happen?"
This was my biggest fear. I hate L.A. traffic, even though I've grown up in Southern California and been to L.A. countless times. I know all of the freeways and I know my way around, which is how I knew I was on the wrong freeway almost immediately. Just north of the 60 Freeway there's a funky interchange where the 5 and 101 come together, then split. If you're in the left lane, you end up on the 101. And lane-splitting is always done between lanes 1 & 2. It's that simple. I was watching the cars and the freeway, not the signs.
Fortunately I knew that I could roll up into Studio City and eventually catch the 170 northbound until it connects with Interstate 5 again. So even though I was sidetracked, and very pissed at myself, I managed to just keep moving forward towards Bakersfield to visit my daughter and her new husband.
Donna Kaye's Cafe I geared up in the parking lot and kissed the kids goodbye. I felt good about getting on the road in the pristine So Cal weather most Americans envy this time of year. 75 degrees, sunny and slightly breezy, it was as if God kissed my forehead and sent me on my way, wishing me well.
The Grapevine is the mountain pass that starts at the mouth of Grapevine Canyon and ascends to the Tejon Pass in the Tehachapi Mountains. What used to be U.S. Route 99 is now named for the canyon it passes through with its wild grapes that still grow along the original road. With a legendary high accident rate and 6% incline up to the summit of 1,500 feet, most So Cal drivers worry about the pass more than they need to. The roads have long since been widened which helps with the seemingly never-ending stream of semi's hauling produce and fuel along the roadway. Clearly my V*Star Gracie is no match for a lettuce-laden semi hauling ass down the hill, so I intended to do my best to avoid them, as I had done heading northbound. I know most riders hate riding interstates for their lack of curves and challenges, but Interstate 5 will challenge even the most experienced rider, I'm sure, with it's heavy traffic, road construction, confusing interchanges and merciless drivers.
"Tina," the voice behind me said.
I turned to see Stumpy and his wife Tammy, old friends of Highway's from their Heatwave Riding Club. Thrilled to see familiar faces, I knelt down at his door and we chatted a bit.
"Where is Steve?" Tammy asked. "You're not out here alone are you?"
I smiled and explained that this was my first solo ride. Stumpy asked how many miles I've ridden since I last saw them in April.
"I've ridden 16,000 miles since then. . ."
"Oh, well, you know what you're doing then. You're fine," he responded confidently.
We said our goodbyes planning to meet up for dinner soon. Tickled pink I finished gearing up jumped on Gracie and headed out a few minutes after they had left the station. At the base of the pass I saw their car so I pulled in behind Stumpy and Tammy and followed them over the pass. For 50 miles Stumpy lead me through the traffic jammed Grapevine with most cars traveling around 75 mph avoiding semi's traveling around 25 mph. Erratic drivers jump lane to lane with little signalling in an attempt to dodge slower vehicles. It looks a bit like a high stakes game of Frogger, only getting squished isn't the least bit funny.
I pulled in and immediately realized I had parked in a puddle of oil someone had spilled, making my footing precarious. I managed fine, but was pissed that my boot was now slippery.
I dug into my bag and found my camera, hoodie, gloves, scarf and hard candy. The sunset was picture perfect; one of those moments that time stands still and the whole world seems a miraculous place. Basking in my accomplishment, I felt serene and pleased.
"Steamboat! Hey, Steamboat!!"
I heard the voice shouting in front of me and when I looked up, I realized the man was shouting at me. He was reading the T-Shirt I was wearing from Steamboat Springs, just as I was zipping up my hoodie to wear under my leather jacket.
"Hey Steamboat! Can I take your photo? You just look so beautiful. I saw you pull in on that motorcycle and you took my breath away. Is that a Harley?"
He was probably 10 - 15 years my senior and seemed rather enamored with my presence. After explaining that Gracie was a Yamaha, he took about 4 photos of me with his camera. I asked him to take one with mine, since he was having such a good time. Flattered and rather humbled by his enthusiasm, I took in the moment with all the grace I could muster. He went on complimenting me and left the parking lot waving out of his car window.
I was home with my hubs about 45 minutes later, thrilled to have seen my kids, run into Stumpy, and ridden my first solo trip with only good stories to tell.
"I'm proud of you," he beamed.
"I'm proud of me too."