The Best Laid Plans… (thanks Nina Simone)

Our intent was to depart in late February/early March for Death Valley.  There’s nothing quite like the desert in the winter.  The “Mitigating March” weather events preempted our tour of the Upper Mojave and other points in the Great Basin. The Versys, loaded and ready to roll waited impatiently, garaged.

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Spring had sprung and though unsettled weather in our neck of the valley was wet and wild, almonds were in full bloom but the desert was beginning to heat-up and wind-up.  Finally on April 8th we departed for an adventure of a different sort.  This would be a five day coastal, hill, plains, mountain, high desert trip making our way through verdant landscapes filled with springtime flora on mostly isolated backroads.

Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh
And I’m feelin’ good

Day 1: At last!

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Admittedly drunk on riding (far different than riding drunk), not many pictures were taken enroute from our homes in Merced to the San Simeon State Park just north of Cambria on the Central California coast.  The twisting one and two lane roads through isolated ranchlands demanded our attention.  Besides, our pent up desire to ride kept us on the saddle stopping only to refuel and rehydrate.

A relatively quick traverse of the Valley on Hwys 59 and 152 exiting to Dos Palos continuing south on N Russell Ave and west on W Shields Ave, we crossed I-5 reaching Old Panoche Rd.  The first several miles to Mercey Hot Springs (complete with Airstream casitas, a yoga tent, and clothing optional bathing) were on silky smooth new pavement.

Mercey Hot Springs
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From the Hot Springs, however, the road turned rough for the next thirty-five miles.  The percentage of pothole patches to original pavement was on the order of 85% patched.  But that didn’t matter.  The landscape was more than worthy of the jarring.  Besides, we have an acquired taste for potholed roads (ne plus ultra the Old Highway 140), Old Panoche Rd. was a piece of cake on a moto.

Once on Hwy 25 intending to head south after a quick stop at the Paicines General Store a decision was made to take a quicker trip up to Tres Pinos for fuel for the T-120.  The Versys holds nearly twice the fuel as the Triumph so I was willing to trust Japanese fuel efficiency.  Leaving Hwy 25 we headed ESE on Peach Tree Rd that follows San Lorenzo Creek for a few miles then on to Indian Valley Rd, Hare Canyon Rd, Bradley Rd through Bradley, onto Nacimiento Lake Dr to the Oak Hill Market for fuel (I made it with fuel to spare) and a V-8.

Peach Tree Rd 1

After a brief respite, we headed S on Godfrey Rd, W on Chimney Rock Rd, S on Adelaida Rd, and S on Vineyard Dr passing several, yep, vineyards and tasting rooms, until reaching Hwy 46 also known as Green Valley Rd. to Highway 1.

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Reaching our destination in late afternoon we set up camp and found great fish tacos at the West End Cafe in Cambria.  A trip to the beach post dinner was in order.

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Falling asleep to the rhythmic surf we awakened bright and early for a coffee, a quick bite, and fuel as we were heading east on…

Day Two: Jack rabbits and pump jacks.

Day 2

The winds were gusting on Green Valley Rd making for an interesting morning commute. Unsignaled lane changes from buffeting wind surprised my fellow commuters as much as me…

Continuing on beautifully vacant backroads out of Paso Robles, we wound around and up and down through several more small vineyards along Creston, Cripple Creek, and La Panza Rds.   Connecting with Hwy 58 (in what turned out was the wrong direction) and leaving spring behind, we headed east through increasingly arid hills into McKittrick and Derby Acres and onto Taft where Gerald Haslam chronicled his youth growing up in nearby Oildale, the son of a Oakie oilfield Roughneck.

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Pete of Basque heritage and myself the progeny of Dust Bowl migrants, we weren’t entirely uncomfortable in the bleakness of the Great Oil Hwy and the bobbing pump jacks.  Of course we had petro fueled machines that would soon take us speeding ever eastward in search of more moderate climes.  We avoided James Dean’s fate in Chalome pressing on south of Bakersfield to Arvin.  From there it was the Caliente Bodfish Rd which was much easier than pedalling up and over Breckenridge as with my only two previous experiences on the road.  I seem to recall that the pavement was much worse on a 700x25c bicycle tire than the Kawasesexie’s front 120/70×17/rear tire, 160/60×17.  Maybe like Khalid I was, “young dumb, young, young dumb and broke,” and knew no bettah than to ride a bicycle over the hump up to Windy Point and down to Bodfish.

Breckenridge into Bodfish

Arriving in Kernville, setting up camp, hosing off, and enjoying mangia and bevi at the Kernville River Brewing Co, the spring flow of the Kern was to sleep inducement what the Pacific’s waves were the night before.

Kern River Brewing
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Day Three: Onward to the Eastern Side for a history lesson.

Up and at ’em early, the East Side of the Sierra beckoned.  Fuel for the bodies and machines in Kernville and an intel gathering session at the Kernville U.S. Forest Service Office provided caution about crossing the Sierra over Sherman Pass.  Again, two bicycle rides over the pass welcomed 650 cc’s of assistance, however Walker Pass or CSR 178, the more conventional route, was selected.  Since the desert figured into our original trip calculus, we were anxious to enter the big sky country of the Eastern Slope of the Sierra and the high desert environs saving the Sherman Pass/9 Mile Canyon descent experience for another trip.

Day 3

A short milage day that included a stop at Manzanar to contemplate how fear turned into loathing some sixty years ago.  It was haunting to see how the forces manipulating perception in the past are alive and present today.  Could history be repeating?

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Manzanar 1
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Later that afternoon camp was set up at Ft. Independence where a cool beverage and changing weather conditions were the highlights.  No small irony was lost on us as we camped on the Reservation of the  Piute and Western Shoshone tribes’ land following our tour of Manzanar.

Independence Camp
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Weather Building on the East Side

As night fell, winds whipped up to 40+ mph rattling our tents.  Sleep was not induced by the persistent Eastern Sierra winds throughout the night.  The soothing shoreline and river sounds of the past two nights were annulled by the blustery whipping winds.  Understanding the seasonal orographic and atmospheric effects of the Eastern Sierra spring, an early start to day four was imperative.

Day Four: Go west young men.

Day 4


It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me, ooh
And I’m feeling good

Sunrise Independence
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Saying and early goodby to the Ft. Independence campground to take advantage of calmer conditions we headed back to to Independence.   Mounting our machines we slabbed South past Manzanar to Lone Pine on Hwy 395 where corned beef hash and eggs at the venerable Mt. Whitney Restaurant broke the previous evening’s fast.  Right across the street was the Merry Go Round Restaurant that rewarded a crew of hungry backpackers who had completed a Kearsarge to Whitney trek a couple of decades prior.  It was a steakhouse back then as I recall.  Looked Chinese now.  Had to snap a couple of memories from the Portal before heading to the Potwisha Campground in the Sequoia National Park.

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feelin’ good

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Mt. Whitney from Lone Pine
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Whitney Portal Road
Portal Pano

Backtracking our route from the previous day we left Hwy 395 for a short passage on Hwy 14 then Hwy 158 as we topped Walker Pass and made our way to Wofford Heights just west of Lake Isabella.  Yes the Onyx Store is still open, unless it’s closed.  The sign is deceptive.  There is no longer gas.

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We continued on Evans Rd through Alta Sierra into Glenville.  The road was a dream except for my tires slipping in and out of turns.  There were a few as you can see from this Google Map rendering.

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Pete who trailed said that there was a fine sand, remnant from the winter road maintenance, kicked up as I would break and accelerate into and out of the many twisties descending into Glennville.  I was thinking the whole time that I needed to replace my not-so-worn tires clueless about the sand.  Continuing on Jack Ranch and White River Rds we rolled into East Porterville unsure of the road to Springville.  Actually attributable to a navigation fail in not connecting on Hwy 190 and Yokohl Drive despite tips from a couple of sport bike riders (Ducati and Yamaha) who merely confused us even more.  Fragrant citrus groves however, ameliorated our disappointment.

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River running free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel

Heading North on Hwy 65 through Lindsay we skirted Exeter to the east and hopping on to Hwy 198 through Lemon Cove and Citro with blossoms and harvests occurring simultaneously.  Making our way past Lake Kaweah, with the Kaweah River on our left, we stopped for bit in Three Rivers before deciding if our weather apps were accurate in predicting rain for late at night.  Would we camp or find a motel?  Local knowledge is always good, so we inquired.  We met a longtime resident who shared her history of motorcycles as is usually the case.  You would not believe how many times Pete is approached by a curious admirrer of the Triumph Bonneville T-120 (2017).  Invariably, given our ages and that of the sentimental longing for one’s early moto-days, the admirrers would harken back to the Bonneville they once owned in the sixties with that far away look in their eyes…  Since the local forecaster said there were no funky dive motels in town that were reasonably priced and that the chance for rain was nil, we were encouraged to go into the park and camp for the night.  So, we continued on to set up camp, Pete providing discourse on the value of Walmart and Big-5 over R.E.I..  Little did I know of the truth about which he spoke.

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Redbuds in Potwisha

Camp set we ventured back into Three Rivers for a delightful meal of a hearty Tuscan soup and sammie at the Totem Market Gift Shop and Wine Tasting store.

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It’s a good thing that we had a hearty dinner for after our customary apre dinner beverages and further discussion about gear substance and value over style, the nil forecast was nullified as large raindrops began to fall.  Tossing our folding chairs into our respective tents we hustled in after them.  Needing to first rearrange the gear I did not want to get wet, I settled into a restful sleep this time induced by the pitter-patter of raindrops on the rainfly.  Little did I worry that my 30 year old Sierra Designs Sphinx tent would repel water keeping me dry, until…  I first awakened around 12:30 am to note some seepage around the tent floor seams that hadn’t been sealed since the tent was purchased.  By 2:30 am I was awakened by cold wet shoulders and feet as my tent was now flooded.  The coating on the fly and floor had long since lost it’s repellant mojo to the cosmos.  Fortunately my new DrySpec dry bags protected the gear that had been hastily enclosed earlier, however, there was plenty of non-stowed gear to soak up the intruding moisture.  Headphones plugged in, I was in for a marathon night of listening to ITunes until daybreak as sleep was not to be had.  The sort of spastic drumming my wife abhors at home kept my body heat up, just above the 95 degree hypothermic threshold.

Next morning, after a sleepless night, Jetboil coffee warming from the inside out, Pete traipses out of his tent dry and rested. Needless to say we got underway very early the next morning to a foggy drizzle with the snow line just a few hundred feet above us.  Since the our new friends sharing our campsite didn’t seem to mind the rain, what the heck…

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Day Five:  Homeward bound.

Dragonfly out in the sun, you know what I mean, don’t you know?
Butterflies all havin’ fun, you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done, that’s what I mean
And this old world is a new world
And a bold world, for me

Day 5

By the time we reached Three Rivers we could see that our friendly local forecaster was correct for that elevation.  There was little evidence of the previous night’s rainfall.  In search of food we pressed on, and on, and on…

Dropping down from Sequoia on Hwy 198 to Citro, we pressed west missing our junction with Hwy 145.  It’s a good thing because on the map, there didn’t appear to be many eateries or gas stations.  Not really lost, we made our way through more citrus groves through Yetterm, catching Hwy 63 in Calgro, then North through Cutler, and Orosi to Orange Cove where huevos rancheros at El Bukanas was just the thing to fuel up from a restless night’s slumber.  By the way, chips and salsa isn’t bad with coffee.  If every you should happen to be in Orange Cove, we highly recommend El Bukanas.

After a leisurely breakfast, we headed East back into the Sierra on Hwy 180 to Elwood Rd where we changed to more northerly bearings.  Through beautiful ranch land carpeted in wildflowers and intensely green grasses we rolled up and down and all around on perfectly paved two lane roads.  Aside from Old Panoche Rd in Merced/San Benito Counties, the road surfaces we traveled on in most of San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Inyo, and Fresno Counties were remarkably well maintained, free of the sort of wear and tear we’re accustomed to closer to home in Mariposa and Merced Counties.  Crossing the Kings River at Winton Park we continued North on East Trimmer Springs Rd with Pine Flat Reservoir on our right.

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From there Maxon, Watts Valley, Sample Rds to Tollhouse Rd up on Hwy 168 under cool and cloudy skies to Cressman’s for some coffee and respite from throttle twisting and shifting fatigue.

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Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Oh, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me

From there through Alder Springs and Meadow Lakes on Auberry Rd to Auberry where we turned North on Powerhouse Rd. past the Powerhouse at Kerckhoff Lake crossing the San Joaquin River onto Rd 222 into North Fork where for the past five years we’ve gotten our silver tip Christmas tree from Silver Tip Tree Farm (silvertiptreefarm.com).  Good folks who sustainably farm their trees above Fish Camp on ancestral lands.  Views below are to the East and the Sierra Crest where you can see the ravages of drought induced beetle bark infestation and subsequent tree mortality in the foreground and to the west background, the San Joaquin drainage.

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It was getting on into the afternoon as skies continued to threaten with raindrops when we decided to plow forth on Northfork Rd to Rd 221 with a quick stop at the Crane Valley Dam at Bass Lake.

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From here we headed into Bass Lake and Hwy 41 to Oakhurst.  From Oakhurst to Mariposa on Hwy 49 and Hwy 140 back to Merced where I unloaded rain soaked gear in the garage that five days earlier had been dry as a bone.

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It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me

And I’m feelin’ good

Nina Simone, It’s a New Day

Thanks to Pete Etcheqaray for a his continued mentoring and friendship.  I look forward to our next adventure.  Until then, feel good!