Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Law in Ridgecrest

Dai Baron
So where was I on that cold rainwashed morning in Death Valley? Again, I find myself conflicted. As I've pointed out, I took this trip over thirty five years ago, and memory is tricky. And I seem to have this odd imperative not to let this story waver from the events as they actually occurred, and not to compress, combine, or exaggerate stuff for the sake of telling a 'cooler' tale. On the other hand, writing about all this does till the ground of memory, and stuff sprouts up here and there. Like Rhyolite. Or does it? Sometimes it's hard to tell.


The storm had passed. The bike was running OK. I had slept some, and I was dry. The campground was full of screwbean mesquite bushes (I remember the sign). They produced a brown corkscrew shaped bean that rattled when it was dry. I brought a few home with me, and kept them on the shelf for many years, along with one other piece of memorabilia from the trip. That much is so.

Now. Here's where the memory gets strange again. I seem to remember that the other two bikers who were camping there were riding a Honda 350, or 450, and a BMW similar to my own. Why is that odd? Well, earlier on in this narrative I made quite a few references to Easy Rider- the story of two buddies on a cross country bike trip. But there's another, in some way more famous story of two buddies on a cross country bike trip: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The main character in Pirsig's novel rides a middle weight Honda. His pal has a BMW.

I do recall that Death Valley was cold, clear, and probably as beautiful and hospitable as Death Valley gets. And I remember thinking that only I had the luck to get rained on in Death Valley. The road was still wet, and muddy in a lot of places. I kept the speed down, crossed the valley and made the hard climb up to the junction of 395. From there I headed south, and stopped in Ridgecrest for breakfast, and gas.

I had slept some, and I was dry, but that was about it. I was dirty, sore, and beat. And my usually immaculate BMW was a mud spattered mess by the time I stopped for breakfast. I sat at the counter, glad to be warm, and to sit in a seat that didn't move. I was drinking coffee, waiting for my food, when I heard the unmistakable rumble of a big Harley pulling up outside. A moment later the rider came through the door. He was an old guy, and one look told you he was a grizzled old hard ass from way back. No one to mess with. Being the town cop added to the vibe. He sat down at the counter, "Is that your BMW out there?"

His name was Phil Spooner, and he was indeed a hard core biker from way back. He asked about my trip, and I told him the story so far, sleeping in the restroom and all. He figured it was all good experience, and told me some of his own road stories. We talked for quite a while. He got up to leave, took out his wallet, and handed me his card. It had a small silhouette of a Harley on it, a listing of motorcycle clubs, his phone number, and large text that read, "Phil Spooner-Biker".

"If you ever get stuck up here, and need someplace to put up for the night, " he said, "Give me a call." That was the other piece of memorabilia that I kept for many years.

Getting hot food in me took the edge off the fatigue, and talking to Phil Spooner lifted my spirits. I was beginning to feel like one of the real guys, I guess. I took off from the cafe, and got back on the street that led up to 395. Or so I thought. I was probably running about forty- forty five miles an hour, expecting to see the turn for 395 at any minute. But instead of an on-ramp, the street abruptly ran out of pavement, and plunged down a breakneck steep dirt hill. Recall that it had rained all night.

Here's where I used up almost all the dumb luck that I had left.

Well, not entirely. More than any other machine I ever owned, the BMW gave you that 'extension of self' feeling. It wasn't like operating a machine; it was very organic- you go, accelerate, brake, turn, stop. And I used to just practice keeping the bike upright at very slow speeds, just to better know the feel of the machine. That stuff suddenly turned into a skill that saved my ass where pure luck couldn't. I instinctively stood up on the pegs, and leaned my weight way back, and off the front wheel. That strange front end refused to be thrown off course, and took all the slamming punishment that dirt road had to dish out. Back off the gas slowly. Do not touch front brake. Featherweight tiptoe on the rear binder as it jumps around under your foot...

Somehow, I got the machine to a safe stop, got it turned around, and made the treacherous climb back up to pavement without dumping the bike. When I say, "Got me home in one piece", I mean it.

I found 395, OK, rolled out of Ridgecrest, and headed south for Victorville where I could pick up Interstate 15, which would take me over the mountains, down into the Los Angeles Basin, and home. But by the time I reached Victorville I either caught up with the storm, or the storm caught up with me. I was already soaked to the skin, when I stood under the poor shelter of a gas station bay where I fueled up the Beemer for the last leg of the trip. Outside the bay was howling wind, spitting rain, and the deadly charge through Cajon Pass.


julie said...

I think Ricky's comment yesterpost has it right, regarding the truth vs. Truth. And I'm picturing cycling down the Cajon pass, in the rain - not for the faint of heart!

mushroom said...

Motorcycle trips are always an adventure -- especially when one is young.

When I'm hacking something on a piece of machinery, a scene from ZATAOMM often comes to mind. The BMW needs a shim and the narrator is going to cut one out of a piece of aluminum beer can. The BMW guy can't handle it and wants to go buy a BMW shim.

jwm said...

Mushroom: Funny. That episode is one that sticks with me. And it actually gets me from both sides of the fence. On the one hand, I'm a good enough Mickey Mouser to appreciate the simplicity of cutting an aluminum can to shim the handlebars. On the other hand I'm the kind of purist that I would have replaced the bars, and the risers. When I had the Beemer I was not too fussy about putting aftermarket parts on it. I had aftermarket mufflers that let you hear a little more of the exhaust note without being loud, and a friend I used to ride with who was an automotive electrician wired up a set of turn signals that came off of a Suzuki. And the saddle on mine was a Harley police style, with an aftermarket mounting bracket. What made the aftermarket seat mount cool is thst it dropped the saddle way down into the frame. If I stood up while straddling the bike that saddle was just above knee high. It sat lowwwww. If I could get another R/69S today, I'd be a total NOS fiend, and not have a single aftermarket piece on the bike insofar as it was practical or possible.

John M