Motorcycles and Mindspace

Surprisingly it was very hard to get a room in Bishop two months out. I wound up at the Trees Motel which just wasn’t a good fit. It was a long walk to the restaurants in town in motorcycle boots. I always walk as I don’t drink and ride and dammit – I wanted a glass of wine that night. The hotel didn’t appear to be in a great section of town which didn’t help in my quest for a great night’s sleep.

I didn’t sleep well, having bouts of insomnia all through the night.  Come morning, I had one decision to make.  Day two of the Death Valley ride always divides the attendees up into various subgroups:

  • some return to the bay area as they don’t have Monday off
  • some get up early to do the “long” route through Beatty. It’s a lovely ride, but can be cold as well… you know.
  • some do the ride as published which is less cold than the longer route but is still both cold and early
  • some sleep in and skip the photograph at Zabriskie Point
  • or just do my own thing and figure it out as I go….

I needed to be at Zabriskie Point by noon. The photograph at Zabriskie Point is the one thing you do on this ride. Having done other routes in prior years missing the photograph at Zabriskie Point, there’s a part that goes missing and the camaraderie of the ride. I had three hours to go 168 miles averaging over 60mph. I convinced myself that was easily doable with the gas stop in Lone Pine – about 70 miles down the highway.

Lone Pine was an easy stretch. Rolling out of Bishop was chilly but the sun was clearly warming up the world around me. At first it was nice to be alone. I appreciated being able to set my own pace and interact with the cars around me in the pavement underneath me on my own terms. I didn’t have time to stop, but that was okay. I had three hours to get to Zabriskie Point. 

Into the Valley of Death

I checked into Lone Pine right on schedule. I’d made good progress on 395 passing most cars and getting passed by a few as we all rolled down the highway. Just south of town, there’s a left-hand turn that leaves the relative busyness of the freeway into a fairly isolated part of our populous state.

I’d ridden the road from Bishop to Death Valley at least ten times before. It was 102 miles to Furnace Creek on the very easy pavement. The only real “challenging“ part was crossing Towne Pass. Even that was fairly simple compared to other passes in the Sierras. This section of Highway was desolate with only two stops in the hundred miles of distance between Furnace Creek and me.

As soon as I started down this section, I began to doubt myself. It started with “did I have enough water?” I didn’t – but I also knew Panamint Springs was only 50 miles away should I need additional water. The fact that I had skipped breakfast and didn’t sleep well wasn’t helping either. The further down the road I got, the more aggressive the thought pattern became. I asked myself, “what if something bad happened? You don’t have enough water to survive out here.” And that was true. There is no shade out here should the motorcycle have broken down.

I took a few minutes to stop at the park welcome sign. With the new motorcycle, I wanted to make some new memories, which means taking many of the same pictures with the third bike that I had with bikes one and two. I decided to get a kickstand extension plate so that the motorcycle wouldn’t sink as deeply into the soft dirt as my last bike. That turned out to be $70 well spent for this short-legged guy. The motorcycle doesn’t lean over as much, which makes it a touch harder to dismount and it’s way easier to lift the bike off the side stand where the ground is a touch soft.

I have to realize that adventure is just that. Adventure is found on the transitions between highs and lows throughout your journey.

The further down the road, the worse the thought pattern got. My mind began tearing myself down with things like, “you’re not going to make it.” A mild headache started to ensue. The two things that were rolling in my favor was that I was on time and still upright. My mind couldn’t have been any more detracting from where I needed to be. I kept repeating “Panamint Springs in 30 miles, Panamint Springs in 20 miles….”

By the time I got to the Father Crowley Overlook, I had needed to stop and reset. I was just not in a place for good riding anymore. Fortunately, there were a couple of riders in that parking lot, which included Michael – the founder of this ride. I heard him and some of his riding buddies talking they both mentioned “yeah, I don’t want to go to Furnace Creek this year. It’s too much of an out-of-the-way stop for us.”

Seeing some friendly faces certainly helped me reset. I still had a long 55 miles ahead of me. For the moment, I felt better. Panamint Springs was just down the road from Father Crowley Overlook, and after seeing some fellow riders a twist in the throttle kept me moving on to Stovepipe Wells.

I was now halfway there. Stovepipe Wells was half the distance of the remaining mileage through this vast land of empty space. Maybe that was it? I didn’t have any music to distract me. The scenery was beautiful for what it was but felt relatively consistent to me. There wasn’t much weather. Nor were there any aggressive curves on the road aside from climbing a small pass or two.

That empty space allowed my mind to wander into several different places: my work, my family, my relationship, my own self-image. Maybe that empty space was pushing me to realize some things the noise of the everyday world obscured. It was painful for sure, and even now, weeks later, I’m still processing those hundred miles. Motorcycling for me has typically been my own safe space where the world was always right. These hundred miles clearly were challenging that.

We were the seven at Zabriskie Point.

When I got to Furnace Creek, I realized I wasn’t exactly going to Furnace Creek. I had to get to Zabriskie Point, another five or so miles down the road. Ugh! Once I realize there is no time pressure and civilization returned again my mind space normalized. It was just a 5 mile ride down the pavement.

My first Queer Biker Invasion of Death Valley, there must’ve been 100 riders in that parking lot. Today we had seven. It was apparent to me a lot has changed since my first QBIDV in 2011. The park service cracked down (and later relented) on large groups gathering in the park. Attendance never recovered. Gay life is now much more mainstream. My first QBIDV found me recently out and unsure of my next steps as my life felt like a rolling tornado. These days I am much more secure in my boots. Many riders I remember in prior years have sold motorcycles, found other hobbies, or moved away. Maybe there needs to be a more concerted effort to market QBIDV to newer riders.

Today we had seven. The seven who left home, crossed the Central Valley, climbed over the Sierras, rode along the eastern slope of the Sierras, and finished with 110 miles of desert. We were the seven at Zabriskie Point.

The entire resort at Furnace Creek Ranch had wholly changed since I’d last been down here. Everything went from country to posh and prices followed suit. I must’ve had a gallon of water as it was clear I was dehydrated at lunch. Once with my people and food in my stomach, my mood improved considerably.

As typical for QBIDV, the seven of us went into a couple of groups. I really wanted to purchase another T-shirt from Panamint Springs Resort. I’d grown attached to the T-shirt I bought there 10 years ago. It wasn’t fancy by any stretch. It was a weird green color with a very stark black graphics. It represented though my first really long motorcycle trip of 500 miles in a single day. We also met by total happenstance John and Andreas, who skipped the Zabriskie Point photograph to spend the day in the dirt.

I was in a good place now. There were four of us heading to Kernville for the night with just over half the ride remaining. October always sneaks up on me as the days get shorter. The long riding days of summer are no longer an option. Trona is a natural stop for gas – especially for those with smaller tanks. Trona has always sparked my curiosity as a town. It’s next to the Searles Valley and appears to be a small outpost for a mining operation. Every time I’ve ridden through the town looks deserted with abandoned houses and no people in sight.

We made one last stop at Walker Pass which is the southernmost pass in the Sierra Nevada. The Joshua Trees always makes me smile as it’s yet another reminder of how different and varied that geography is in our state. I’m focused less on the story of Joshua as a religious icon these days but appreciate his tree’s reach into the skies.

We arrived in Kernville just a few minutes before dark. To say that I was glad to have my kickstand down was a bit of an understatement. I enjoyed the day. At the same token, I have to realize that adventure is just that. Adventure is found on the transitions between highs and lows throughout your journey.

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