Sierra Nevada Mountain Range: Empowering Journey

It’s the last day of my ride with my friends, the DT’s which stands for Dream Trippers, though I’m sure the term is meant to have the double entendre, delirium tremens, defined as a severe type of withdrawal from alcohol.  Formed by a motley group of guys who share a passion to ride their motorcycles anywhere as long as it’s at least one thousand miles.  They have been lifelong friends and known to pick up a new rider, if they can handle the ride.  I consider myself lucky to be part of this group.  Truth is, if I met them on the street, I probably wouldn’t associate with them.  Introduced by my brother-in-law, a former motorcycle cop, they eventually grew on me, as I’m sure I eventually grew on them.  On this trip we spent the past three days taking on some of the   most difficult mountain passes; the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Dave who goes by Danger and Scott we call Slingy tried their best to convince me to ride one more day, however I have much to attend to at home and need to make it back to Las Vegas.  This morning I completely lost track of time.  Messing with this and that as Danger and Slingy hung out by their motorcycles.  I noticed them lingering around and asked if they wanted to take off early.

“Early?” they said, “It’s nine thirty!”

“I thought it was eight.”  I rush to get the rest of my gear, jump on my Harley and off we go.

Beautiful ride, beautiful day.  The Sonora pass has a reputation for being one of the more challenging roads for bikers.  Known for its steep inclines, tight technical turns, and switch backs, it’s best to approach this ride with skill, confidence and, in those tight corners, finesse.  I do my best. 

I arrive at the infamous Sonora elevation sign which declares I have successfully made the twisting uphill climb to 9,628 feet.  Danger, who was first to the top, asks “Where is Slingy?”

“I don’t know, I lost sight of him some time back.” 

We wait.  Danger suggests I go look for him and I appraise the situation: my skills at turning around on a two-lane road, the steep incline with oncoming traffic. Yeah, I wasn’t even going to attempt that maneuver.  Danger, too, had some apprehension about making that U turn, but with my help stopping oncoming traffic he did it as I knew he could.  I am convinced, he is a Motaur (half human half motorcycle).  Off he went and soon afterwards, here comes Slingy with Danger not far behind.

As we pull into the quaint mountainside village of Lee Vining the guys decide to break for lunch.  They are heading west over the Tioga Pass and I in the opposite direction towards Las Vegas, but with a six-hour ride ahead of me taking a break is a good idea and I join the guys.  Goodbyes are eventually said and off we head onto our separate adventures.

I travel via all backroads because that’s what you do on a motorcycle.  Riding down Highway 120, I look to the right and see the Tioga Mountain Peaks have disappeared in the grey, almost black, heavy thunder clouds with intermittent flashes of lightening.  I am grateful I chose not to go with them.  I look south—storm clouds in that direction too.  I’m going to take a little jag heading east hoping that I will bypass the storm.  I make my left-hand turn onto Highway 6 and there, on full display, is a sign: “Road Closed Special Event Ahead.”

Hoping they forgot to remove the sign and the event is over, I proceed onto this road as my other choice is to drive into the storm.  A mile down the two-lane road I come upon an officer standing in front of traffic barriers.  The road is indeed closed.  I ask if it’s possible for a motorcycle to ride through? … “I really didn’t want to go back and head towards the storm.”

“Negative.” replies the highway patrolwomen, “Turn down that gravel road and get at the end of the line.” She gestures towards the left and I see about forty cars lined up waiting for the road to open.  I ask how much longer until we can go through.  “Ten more minutes.” she says.

Knowing it will take me that long to navigate the road I follow the officer’s direction.  “If you don’t see me pass when the road opens, please send help. Riding this bike on gravel can be troublesome.”  I managed without a problem.  Seeing the thunder clouds up ahead, I decided it was wise to put on my rain gear.  As I passed the highway patrol she waved, gave me a thumbs up and exclaimed, “You made it!”  Now the task at hand was to pass all those cars I had to get behind.  Mission accomplished.

I have the open road to myself, just me, the scenery, and serenity.  All I need to do is ride and enjoy the view.  Road construction ahead.  All traffic is stopped.  Down to one lane.  Looks like it will be a long wait.   Some riders will pull up to the front of the line but me, I’m not that removepushy. However, upon stopping I spot another solo biker at the beginning of the line, think “What the heck” and up to the front I go.  The sun is shining, blue skies in all directions, time to take off the rain gear.  The worst is behind me.

The fellow biker is looking at his haggard map, it has seen a few too many road trips.  He asks me some directional questions and, as anyone who rides with me knows, I’m not the best source.

I ask him “Where are you headed?”

“East, eventually to South Dakota.  I’m running low on gas, is there a gas station around here?”

“Head towards Tonopah, it’s east and there will be gas.”

Noticing his bike, beat up, an older model, tires appear to be original, no side mirrors, no windshield, and no baggage.  He’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans with sneakers held together with duct tape.  Motorcycle enthusiasts are an eclectic group of characters, I’m left wondering what is his story.  Road construction is clear and off we go in our separate directions, he heading towards Tonopah, I continuing Route 6 until I come upon State Route 264.

As I make my turn onto the State Route 264, I try to remember if I have ever been on this road before, as it was familiar but not quite.  Yes, I was a bit lost, but as usual heading in the right direction.  It’s a desolate road.  I haven’t seen anyone in over fifty miles and the stretch ahead of me is void of traffic.  Once again it is me, my thoughts and I am at peace, at least for a moment.

I see that thunder cloud has decided to place itself in my path again.  It is getting closer to me and I need to find a spot to pull over and put on rain gear. “Why did I take it off?”  This is going to be a downpour and I still have over 200 miles to go.  The urgency is now; pull over and gear up.  Confident in my ability to ride anywhere after a successful weekend of managing hairpin turns, rain and cliffs guaranteed to leave you breathless, I decide the side of the gravelly road is easy breezy.  I pull over and as I go to put my foot down, I am on an incline and well . . . we know this story, the bike goes down.  “UGH! When will I learn.” 

I was able to pick up my previous bike, a Harley Davidson Softail weighing in at 650 pounds, on my own.  There is a technique which has proven effective; however, I’ve never practiced picking up the Street Glide, my current bike, which weighs 800 pounds.  There is absolutely no one in sight, no cell service either.  I am on the side of an empty road in the beginning of a rainstorm; bike on its side.  I position the front wheel, get down on the gravel, grab the highway bars and attempt to walk into it.  Theoretically, it should become upright . . . but with my feet slipping in gravel on a slope, gravity is working against me.  “Nope, I am not going to get this upright alone.”

There it is, far down the road, a vehicle heading in my direction.  As it gets closer, I start waving and, to my astonishment, it begins to move into the left lane and continues down the road.  They are not going to stop!  My hands clasp each other in prayer formation as the car is passing me by.  And then it happens: I see the brake lights, the white Hyundai is backing up! 

The window rolls down and I ask the man, “Would you help me with my bike?”

He sizes me up, looks at the bike, glances around to make sure no one else is lurking in the background.

“I’ll give it a try.”  He says with caution.

He’s a small guy and a bit older than me.  I’m not sure if we will be able to lift it, but I am confident he is my only chance and we’ve got to make this work.  

It took two attempts to get it upright, but we did it!  I thank him, he goes on his way and I proceed to put on my rain gear, realizing we never exchanged names.

To outrun the storm, I pick up the pace and catch up to my new friend who, though hesitantly, saved my day.  He pulls into a parking lot; I figure that’s his destination and wave goodbye.  A bit later there is a car coming from behind at a high rate of speed.  I assume the car is going to pass me, but then it slows down and pulls alongside of me at 80 mph.  Realizing this is my new friend, I slow down a bit and he lowers his window, “Do you have enough gas?  It is another 100 miles before there is another gas station.” 

“I’m good.”  I say and off he goes ahead of me.  How thoughtful.

An empty road again, and then the spattering of rain drops appear on my face shield.  A droplet here and there at first, then that thundercloud lets loose.  A waterfall is running down the front of my helmet.  The road is getting slick.  My back tire slips as I take a forty-five-degree curve in the road.  I catch up to traffic (only three or four cars) and one of them is pulled over.  The weather and road conditions have become precarious.  I place my hazard lights on as visibility is limited and I don’t need anyone crashing into me.  Cars are pulling off the road—a good idea, but there is nowhere safe for me to pull over.  I know I just need to ride through this.  That’s the thing about being a biker: No one likes to ride in inclement weather, but, when faced with it you just deal with it. Sometimes there is shelter available and you stop, sometimes you ride through because there really isn’t any other choice.  The analogy of motorcycle travel and life is not lost on me.  One day at a time, one curve at a time, one foot in front of the other.

As I maneuver the slick curves, the torrential downpour impairing my vison, an oncoming car begins to flash his lights at me. “Is he letting me know there’s a cop ahead?”  That makes little sense as this road seems traveled by only a few, so it’s not a likely place for a speed trap.  Then, as I take the corner, I see it: straight ahead.  There is the reason that car was flashing its lights.

The road has rocks, mud and a miniature river running across it.  I slow down and as I look past the obstacle, I see my friend.  His car is pulled over on the other side of the river and he’s standing in front of it with his flashers and lights on, waving me through.  I focus on my destination—the other side—knowing he is right there should I need him.  I hit some rocks, but instinctively keeping a strong yet flexible hold on the handlebars.  I lose contact with the seat of my bike and land upright on the other side of this hazard.  I smiled at my friend and shout, “Thank you! You are my guardian angel sent by God!”

I know if I hadn’t seen him to encourage me onward, I would not have made it through.  Or at least, that is what I believe.

The clouds have passed, the sun is shining bright in the blue sky, and the road is dry.  My friend has once again gained speed and passed me along the way.  Right before my turn onto Highway 95 southbound, I see him pulled over on the side of the road.  I stay on the asphalt road, not up for attempting a ride on gravel, but I stop to thank him graciously and again announce he is an angel and I will forever remember him.  I wish my friend good tidings and off I go.

At my next stop, filling up with gas I could see the unabashed stares.  I’ve attracted stares before, usually accompanied with the remark, “Oh, such a little thing on such a big bike.” These looks were different.  I paused, my eyes scanning the formerly pristine Harley now mud-encrusted. Pebbles blocking the air vents, the neon pink of my rain gear smothered in brown clay. Even my white Shoei helmet had polka dots of brown mud.  I was a mess; a grateful mess, thankful as I had been helped during a very difficult ride.  I had been sent someone to assist and encourage me along my travels.  Just because we have help and make it through doesn’t mean we go through unscathed.

Back on the road and I should be home in less than two hours.  I pulled into the garage. My husband, who prefers the rough terrain of four wheeling in the woods to the two wheeled asphalt ride, waits patiently.  He observes my mud-covered bike and of course I must tell him my story.  When I finish, my husband was quiet, pensive, looking at me.

I asked “What are you thinking?

“I’m just wishing you weren’t alone.”

“I was never alone.  God was always near and when I needed an earthly person, he sent one.”  Until my next adventure.

The (not so) Solo Traveling Gal

Journal Sept 2022 Motorcycle travel

Trip route :
Sept 6. Las Vegas NV to Visalia, Ca 368 miles 95 s 15s 58 west towards Bakersfeild-99n 198 east arrive Visalia CA.
Sept 7. Visalia CA to Sequoia National Park Wusachi Lodge 58 miles (2 routes available avoiding the one that looks like human intestines) 63 n-180 turns into general Hwy. Sharp turn onto Wuksachi unless you travel though park first. Staying on the 180 and riding through canyon down to the best (only) ice cream shop in the area.
Sept 8. Sequoia National Park – Bridgeport, CA 200 or more or less mile via Yosemite ( Tioga pass) 395 to Bridgeport CA.
Sept 9. Bridgeport, CA – Sonora CA via Monitor Pass – Kit Carson Pass Lost track of mileage & route map just following my friend Danger
Sept 10. Sonora CA – Las Vegas NV about 450 miles Via Sonora Pass (108) 395 S 120 – 6 264 – 266- 95 s