Monday, July 12, 2004

Riding to the IWFL West Conference game

(Getting ready for my cross-country trip this summer, I am going on longer rides to build up my road endurance & generally see what types of riding are within my capabilities. Here's the story of my latest long ride, up to Sacramento to see a football game.)
I left Los Angeles late morning, a bit before 11:00 am, heading north. Whew, hot already, but I knew I'd be riding after dark when it was cooler, so I wore my leather jacket & kept it mostly unzipped. Wind kept me cool enough, except there was a huge traffic jam in Valencia (folks going to Six Flags Magic Mtn + construction + a fenderbender), which slowed me down to lanesplitting speeds! I was glad it wasn't REALLY hot yet, like it would be in the afternoon.

On I-5 heading over the Grapevine, I kept thinking the hills looked so very dry. Tinder dry. Explosively dry. Our hills in California are only green for a few short weeks after our spring rains, then quickly turn a golden brown -- that's how the chaparral usually looks. This summer, drought and heat are baking the hills to a toasted-dead looking color, and warning alarms go off in my head whenever I see it. "It's gonna be a bad fire year," I mused. Sure enough, I passed a burned-out area just below Pyramid Lake, where fire had been through so recently that you could still see little white ashy patches which mark the spots where bushes are instantly consumed in the hottest parts of the blaze, leaving no charcoal; the ashes are blown away in wind or washed away by even small amounts of dew, so they aren't there for long. I was amused by a big red patch on the freeway -- one of the tanker planes, dropping fire retardant, had missed the hill and dumped it right on the road, SPLAT! -- thankfully it wasn't getting kicked up as powder by car tires, so my boots & jeans didn't get covered with red chemical crap.

Coming down the north side of the Grapevine, that short steep drop into the Central Valley, I saw a fully loaded car carrier with a rear tire just BILLOWING smoke. Lovely smell of burning brakes. Whoo, danger, stay well clear of that! Dunno if his brakes were failing or if he was about to throw his tread ... other trucks were following him, riding herd on him, everyone was talking on their radios ... he was about half a mile short of the runaway truck ramp, but there was no way I was slowing down to see if he needed to use it! I mentally wished the driver luck & got the hell out of there.

Tanked up at the bottom of the hill & started the long straight stretch up I-5. This road bores me to death in the cage. Who knew it's fun on the scoot? LOL. I was running wide-open throttle, and the VLX actually can cruise over 80. Heh. What's that, hitting reserve already? I've only gone 78 miles! And thus did I learn that running at wide-open throttle absolutely KILLS my gas mileage! Next stop was Kettleman City, where I looked at the time and saw it was just about 2:00 pm ... hmm, that's 5:00 pm Eastern, the Sharks should be kicking off in a few minutes ... called Tee to wish 'em luck. By now the heat was awful, so I would get a cold bottle of water each time I gassed up, drink about 3/4 of it and dump the rest down my shirt. That really helped a lot. Also just getting off the bike kept me from getting too fatigued. I'd break for about twenty minutes after riding an hour and a half. Next stop was Santa Nella, then again in Lodi ... I was working my way up to Sacramento, making good time without being in a god-awful hurry.

Each stop featured the person wanting to talk to the chick on the bike. The guy admiring the Shadow, thinking it was a Harley. The woman who beamed with happiness, told me how she just LOVED my bike, and how wonderful it was that I was riding. The elderly gentleman eating nectarines - his wife had just bought them at a fruit stand, admonishing him to eat them OUTSIDE the car, they were so juicy - who had a friendly wave and a "you be careful, miss!" The fellow biker, whose patches announced him as first officer of a club I hadn't heard of, who engaged me in a little "where ya headed" gas-station camaraderie. The flock of children, released from back-seat imprisonment, who stopped dead in their tracks and stared as I pulled up, and who broke out in smiles and enthusiastically waved back when I waved to them. The middle girl was the bravest, and ventured to ask, "Is that YOUR bike?" "Yup," I said, pulling off my helmet. "Cool," came the chorus, before they ran off up a hill burning off their pent-up child-energy.

Covered the last bit of ground before getting into Sacramento proper. Even Northern California looked dry as dust; sometimes it's green up there well after the southern part of the state dries up for the year. Yup, it's gonna be a bad year. I can't help it, I was born and raised in the SoCal hillsides, fear & fire awareness were bred into me, and seeing those desiccated hillsides just makes me edgy. The American River looked low, too. I think this is our fourth year of drought? That's about when it starts to get pretty visible.

I got to Sacramento right before game-time, buying my ticket as they were singing the National Anthem. What timing! The game itself was pretty boring. Sacramento dominated from the opening kickoff, and Corvallis never had much of a chance. But even a boring football game has some fun moments, and one of the most crowd-pleasing thunderously big hits was Robin getting HAMMERED by an enormous girl from Corvallis, who she never saw on the lead block. The trajectory of her suddenly backwards flight was something that makes one wish for instant replay. LOL. I hung out with my Sacramento buddies for a little while at the post-game party -- they were all a bit incredulous that I had ridden up to the game on a whim -- and headed south again around 10:00 pm.

Once I worked my way past the cities, traffic was middle-of-the-night light and I passed the occasional truck & flew through the blessedly cool air at an easy 70 mph. I wanted to get a good part of the trip back to L.A. done before I stopped to sleep, because I had to get back in time to pick up my roommates at LAX before noon on Sunday. Right around where the Gilroy/Hollister/San Jose highway leads off (I think that's I-580?) I saw a strange thing, couldn't figure out what it was ... an orange zig-zaggy light thing ... what the? Getting closer, I realized it was a brushfire, the thing I'd been fearing all day. The hills were burning west of the highway (the contours of the canyon made it look zig-zagged) probably about 3-5 miles away. The smoke must have been carrying in the other direction, I never got a very strong smell of it, and not a lot of ashes were falling around me. But it was close enough to distinctly see the wall of flames, which looked hellish and eerie in the dark canyons. I kept moving. I made about 150 miles before I thought I'd probably better stop, which put me back in Santa Nella. Motel 6, an early wake-up call, five hours of sleep, and I was on the road again first thing in the morning. The rest of the ride was uneventful, getting hotter and hotter, and I was pretty tired of riding by the last bit of the trip. I felt grimy, my shoulders and legs ached, and I just wanted to be off the bike. Eight hundred miles in about 25 hours. It was fun, but it was ENOUGH. And yes, I swapped the bike for the car and made it to LAX in time to pick up my friends at the airport -- just by the skin of my teeth!


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Silver Penguin said...

I'm impressed - 800 miles in 24hrs with the common sense to take a sleep break. I'm interested to learn what you feel are the greatest challenges of such a ride.