Monday, May 18, 2009


I had enough dumb luck left to get me home. No more. Perhaps the ride over Cajon Pass was payback for the freebie I'd had going over Donner, and the last minute storm dodging the day before. But, like I said earlier on: the trip was a masterpiece of poor planning and reckless decisions. Or maybe it was poor decisions, and reckless planning that put me on the on-ramp in Victorville in a late spring storm, with Interstate 15, ahead, and Cajon Pass between me and home. Did I mention that I didn't have any rain gear?

I want to take a step back, and re-post the link to the picture of a 1960's BMW R/69S. The one in the picture is a '63, but they didn't change from year to year. I picked this shot because this bike is set up the way I had mine: solo saddle, rear fender rack, no windshield, or saddle bags. This is just like the machine that had carried me from La Habra to the Bay, to Reno, Death Valley, and now almost all the way home. What's hard to tell from the picture, is that the Beemer is actually not a very big bike. The six hundred cc motor put out between thirty, and forty horsepower. Most family cars were faster. Consider that most modern touring bikes have engines over three times the size and horsepower. They'll seat two people plus luggage comfortably, and cruise all day at at 100 mph. And they come with stereos, and heaters. The Beemer was pretty much a seat, two wheels and a motor. And that little motor had faithfully carried me a very long ways on this trip. Over a thousand miles. I was about to call on it for the toughest hundred or so miles of the trip.

I like road travel. I've crossed the continent, and with it, the continental divide over 20 times. I've ridden, or driven over a lot of mountain passes, including Monarch Pass in Colorado at over 12000 feet elevation. Cajon Pass coming into LA is hands down the worst. And I don't say that just because I live here. It blows chunks. At 4100 feet and change it isn't a particularly high pass. But the road is like some nightmare mutation of a six lane freeway fused with a broken roller coaster. The grade is scary. The freeway plunges down out of the mountain in massive sweeping curves. It's a huge challenge just to stay in the lane, and keep your speed under control. But the road is more than fast and treacherous. In order to appreciate the full experience of Cajon Pass, you have to add weather, and traffic. Any wind that comes over the mountains funnels through Cajon Pass. Trucks flip over. I15 is the road to Vegas. It's also the tie in from I40. So you get to do that wild ride down the the pass with thousands of other cars, and countless big trucks each just barely hanging on, and everyone just one fuck up away from the unthinkable. There's nothing like bumper to bumper traffic at eighty miles an hour. And that's on a good day.

This was not a good day to pull on to Interstate 15 in Victorville. It was like riding into a firehose. Trucks were throwing spray you could surf on, and waves of it were breaking in my face. The Beemer was straining for all it was worth to keep up with traffic, while I dodged cars, said rude things to God, and cursed for all I was worth because I was flying blind and scared as hell. I couldn't have been more soaked If I'd jumped in the lake. Cold, too. But I made it through the pass, through the inbound freeway traffic in the rain until I reached the 10, and then the 60 freeway west, off at Fullerton road, over the hills, and into La Habra.

I made it home OK. Actually, I should say that the Beemer got me home OK. That funky, underpowered little bike beat everything that nature, and my recklessness could dish out, and came though it purring like a long black cat. The Beemer is the hero of this little epic.

My brother had been staying at my apartment while I was gone. I pulled in late in the afternoon, and shut the motor off. That was it. I was done. Home. My ears were blocked flat. It would take weeks to get my hearing back. Of course, the place was a mess, and there was no food in the house. There was beer, though. I remember there was beer. I gave my brother a few bucks, and sent him out for Colonel Chicken.



will said...

Great road writing, John.

If there's one thing my dilapidated physical condition compels me to miss in a sentimental way, it's being part of the song of the open road, the adventure and poetry of it.

But! Reading stuff like this is the next best thing.


robinstarfish said...

That pass isn't named Cajon for nothing. Takes big ones to run that gauntlet like you did. Beautiful bike too.

jwm said...

Thanks, Will, and Robin.

John M