There are two rides I’m really proud to have contributed to Homoto’s riding culture: The Mid-Winter’s Tour down the Central Coast and the Memorial Day Mingle through the Sierras. The Memorial Day Mingle celebrates togetherness between riders and the opening of the Sierra passes for the summer. Riding the passes on opening weekend for me is a thrill and a yearly rite of passage that summer in the Sierras is here.
I kept racking my brain to understand when the last time I was in the Sierras on my bike. Part of me knows it’s been a long time but I couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly when it was. I knew my last ride with the club was the Napa Valley tour back in November. For many miles I couldn’t figure out what happened between Memorial Day 2014 and that ride in November. Then it hit me: I hadn’t been back. The last time I was in the Sierras on my motorcycle was May 2014. My heart sank. How could a year pass without going into the country I love on my bike? Don’t get me wrong, 2014 was an exciting year full of travel, exciting destinations, and great adventures. It just didn’t have that restorative component for me that I find in the Sierras on my bike.
The ride usually runs from Saturday to Monday, but responsibilities tied me to the Bay Area on Saturday. Looking back, maybe it was for the best. The riders who left on Saturday dealt with a lot of rain, snow, and cold temperatures on the open road. Part of me wanted to be there, but part of me was happy to miss it. Three of us left Oakland late Sunday morning with a final destination of South Lake Tahoe.
The last couple of rides I was noticing the mirrors going slightly out of adjustment. I wrote it off as an artifact of city riding. When parked on the street, those passing by will sometimes screw with your bike. A little adjustment here and there, no big deal.
Quick Aside: When I first got the V-Strom 100,000 miles ago, I thought I made a terrible mistake as riding the bike brought on intense neck pain after 50 or so miles. On this ride, I was feeling that same stiff neck again. For the life of me I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. Maybe I was just sore from sleeping in a funny position. Maybe the desk I was using wasn’t ergonomically correct. Looking down on my handlebars, I saw one of the screws were slowly backing out. Oh no! That didn’t look good.
When we pulled over, it was clear the handlebars were rotating backwards. My adventure bike V-Strom had the handlebar positions of a café racer! When we readjusted the handlebars the mirrors were pointed way up to the sky. A series of micro adjustments on the mirrors masked the real problem over time with the handebars! I remember noting on the first Memorial Day Mingle we had 25 bikes: six of them had mechanical malfunctions. It’s the first hard ride of the season and tends to suss out all of your mechanical issues if you don’t stay on top of regular maintenance over the winter. This year, I got caught.
Each year I try to take a trip (usually by motorcycle) alone to focus on life, clear my head, and restore balance in my world. My first trip back in 2006 was up this very same highway. There’s a special spot for me on highway 88 overlooking Caples Lake. A snowstorm came through the weekend before that trip and left a beautiful coating of white across the tips of the mountains. I loved that photograph so much, I took three additional photographs to have the same scene in every season to create a nice set.
I had a fair amount of anxiety headed into this ride. It’d been a loooong time since I had a full overnight with two long days on the motorcycle. I wasn’t riding consistently and wondered how I’d react to the long days again in the saddle. Since we left later in the day, the focus really was getting there. Off in the distance, clouds were building at altitude and the wind picked up reminding us of the impending rain. It was a matter of us chasing the weather before we got soaked.
Right after we got to the hotel, the skies began to open up and give us a tease of the much-needed rain. In any other year, I’d be complaining about rain on Memorial Day weekend. But this year, we’ll take everything we can get!
We actually got in fairly early which was nice for a change. Normally I’m one chasing daylight but with the rain forcing an early arrival it was nice to have time to just be at the destination. We went walking around. We went windowshopping. We had a leisurely dinner. Sometimes I forget those simple pleasures of traveling. It’s not always about seat time and photographs.
The next morning was cold and gray. I was hoping for sun in the morning like the weather predicted, but the clouds hung on much later than expected. The traffic out of South Lake Tahoe wasn’t unbearable. It was a quick ride up Echo Summit where the sun began to peek through the cloud cover. Usually, after two hard days of riding the group wants to sprint for home skipping the planned route for day three. This year, we were all in!
Icehouse Road and Wentworth Springs Road are some of my favorites in California. Icehouse Road leads up to Loon Lake, one of Sacramento’s many reservoirs. Seeing the lake so far down was sobering. The difference between the current lake level and normal was outstanding. Beachfront property had moved hundreds of feet into the lake. Loon Lake the first time I saw it seems like a huge reservoir. It paled in comparison this year.
California has five good “gentlemen roads”: good pavement, predictable turns, and a great time! Wentworth Springs Road is one of those roads. When everyone in the group says: “Wow! That was a great ride!”,You can’t help but feel good. After lunch in Georgetown, the group began to head its own separate ways. Some opted for a more scenic return and others decided to take the freeway. The irony is each group got home about the same time! The freeway traffic was a bear!
I needed this weekend. I needed the moment to be restored and to feel the Sierras again. Life is always busy. I’m always going places. I’m truly glad I was reminded how much I connect with this area. Now, when’s the next trip back?