L.A. to Bakersfield
Halfway Finished, But Lots More to See
I reconnect with an old friend from newspaper days.
Ojai and Los Padres National Forest challenge my questionable skills.
I didn’t get up until around eight. I took another shower just because it was such a fancy bathroom – no crappy home depot bathtub with a plastic curtain at this place. The Best Western Plus in Santa Monica cost more than I wanted to pay but is tres cool. And they give you a discount coupon for the IHOP next door.
I rode down Santa Monica Blvd. to the Pacific Coast Highway. I planned to take a selfie or have someone take my picture in front of the Santa Monica Pier. But where the hell was it? I had forgotten to look at the map. I hung a right on the PCH, which turned out to be wrong. Half a block later I spied an empty parking space with the ocean in the background. Screw it. Good enough. I banged a mid-block U-turn and glided right into it.
A skinny, sixtyish guy and his wife emerged from the parked car in front of me just as I got off. I buttonholed the husband, gave him the short version of my journey and asked him to take my picture. He was enthusiastic, even venturing into the middle of the road to get a wide shot.
He said something then that I think other people on my trip felt, but no one ever put into words: “Thanks for letting me be part of your story.” I thought that was pretty cool.
Then he told me his motorcycle story.
A Thwarted Life
He had taken the MSF course and gotten his license, but his wife wouldn’t let him have a motorcycle. I hear this repeatedly and it’s sad because it halts a man’s quest for fun, excitement and freedom, if only on the weekends of his life. Worst of all, it’s his life partner, the very person who should support his quest, who grinds it under her heel. God knows the average nine-to-five job offers little fun, fulfillment or excitement; we should be free to pursue those goals in our off time. Never mind that off time is criminally small here in the US.
I’m very lucky to have a wife who understands. Not long ago someone at our daughter’s school asked her what she thought of me having a motorcycle and going on these trips, and she said “It’s fine. It obviously makes him happy, and I want him to be happy, so if he wants to go, he can go.” Yep, she’s a keeper.
I lingered near the bike walk in Santa Monica, enjoying the breeze and remembering the brief time I lived in Mar Vista, not too far from Venice Beach, circa 1989. Fleeing the blast furnace of a Texas summer and the smoldering ruins of my academic career, Los Angeles was for me, like many people, a place to start over. Thanks for that, Los Angeles. And San Francisco. And Tokyo. Long story.
Just Like Old Times
Continuing on the PCH I motored briskly through Malibu and points north, enjoying the view and the breeze, and thanking my 1989 self for moving out here. So many good things had happened since then that would never have materialized had I stayed in Dallas. For one thing, I never would have met my old buddy Joe, whom I planned to meet in Santa Barbara for lunch today. Joe and I met and worked together at a newspaper in Westchester County, New York, but our common history went farther back. Both of us had lived in Japan (he in the Navy, I a civilian), and at different times we both worked with author and longtime Tokyo resident Mark Bossingham. Joe and Mark worked in Navy journalism together, and Mark and I both worked at the Asahi Shimbun’s English-language daily, the now-defunct Asahi Evening News. Joe now works the news desk at the Santa Barbara paper. He took a long lunch so we could catch each other up on the last few years. It’s always great to see Joe because we are able to pick up the thread and talk like we had just seen each other yesterday. However, he had to get back to work and I wanted to get on the road so he gave me some tips for nice roads towards the interior and sent me on my way.
According to Aaron, the newspaper’s security officer, the best road to get me over the mountains towards Death Valley would be to take 101 back south to 150, and pick up 33 near Ojai.
Finally, It's Legal
On my way back south on 101, I got stuck sitting in traffic. Then a motorcycle came up behind me and went on by, splitting the lanes. That’s right, I thought, it’s legal here! I had completely forgotten. I checked my mirror and pulled out, putting slowly along that sweet, sweet spot between the lanes, so tempting and so illegal back home. The nice part was that no one cared. Do this in Philadelphia and you will send more than a few drivers into a frothing rage. Why they get so angry over something that hurts them not at all I have no idea. Maybe it’s because as a motorcyclist I’m already enjoying myself, which annoys them.
Bypassing a traffic snarl that they can’t avoid is just too much for them to take. They should chill out and get a bike.
State Highway 150 also goes by the name of Rincon Rd. where it crosses US 101. I passed through some built-up areas before I made it to the fun parts. The map showed an interesting route -- Chismahoo Road, which is also Forest Road 4N05, goes through some real back country. I figured the road was too rough for my bike.
Thirty-three is an absolutely beautiful ride, and traffic (April, mid-week) was a non-issue. The road curves and undulates, with enough surprises that you shouldn’t do too much gawking.
I putted slowly along in that sweet, sweet spot between the lanes, so tempting and so illegal back home. Do this in Philadelphia and you will send drivers into a frothing rage.
On the PCH, near Santa Monica Boulevard. Woo Hoo! I made it! Now all I have to do is make it back.
Old Fart Newspaper Editors Club, Bearded Division. Joe and I hadn't seen each other in 15 years. We had a great lunch in Santa Barbara.
33 and 150 run concurrently for awhile, but split in Ojai. I got gas at the corner where they diverge, and I was glad I did as I don’t remember seeing any other places for gas for quite a ways after the mountains, toward Bakersfield.Riding into Los Padres National Forest on 33, you see the familiar signs warning large trucks of the upcoming difficult curves and hills. I felt an involuntary grin materialize as I translated the sign to Motorcyclese:
Awesome Road Ahead
The road did not disappoint. Fantastic views, challenging curves, and more fantastic views. I was caught out a few times and came near crossing the line, either from gawking or trying to dodge phantom gravel patches. I saw maybe four cars the entire ride, all moving the other direction. I fought myself constantly on this road – part of me wanted to smoke all the corners and gun it up the hills, but doing that I would have missed some truly beautiful and humbling vistas.
The End is Near, Not
Once across the mountains, the party’s over -- 33 becomes just another mildly interesting country road. With the sun at my back I took mind-numbing, laser-straight 166 east across endless farmland toward Bakersfield. For the first time all day I had time to think about how I had taken off from Tucson. Neither of my sisters had called me, but whether that meant anything I had no idea. I couldn’t see any point in going back, and thinking about it was only going to ruin the days ahead. I tried to set it aside but it kept coming back. Finally I compromised, giving it a small, uncomfortable chair at the edge of my thoughts, hoping it would give up and go away. It didn’t.
Later that night I had dinner at Carl’s Jr., which had to be one of the worst fast food meals I have ever eaten. I greased up the pages of the atlas, flipping them back and forth, setting up the next day’s journey to Death Valley. I felt a little down, calculating my remaining traveling days and knowing those signs marked “East” meant I was on the back end of the trip. See what I mean about how I ruin my own vacations? I forgot it at the time, but I still had lots of great days ahead.