Death Valley '07
Day 1

[Friday - March 16, 2007]

I wake up at 6:00AM to get ready for the trip.  Last night's sleep wasn't bad at all.  A good solid 5 hours is normally all I need to get things rolling.  My first order of business this morning is to get the remaining equipment onto the bike.  This means the Handycam and it's charging equipment.  Easy enough.  I plop the camera into its bag and dump the charger into the right pannier.  Next I wash up and wait for the guys to show up.  About 7:50AM, Minh appears from riding in a thick fog.  He claimed visibility was about 100 feet.  That sure won't help with the speediness of things if the fog has proliferated itself all over LA.  The winglet on Minh's windshield demonstrated the accumulation of dancing droplets from the fog's moisture.

Not too long after Minh's arrival my wife is taking the my kids to school.  The wife and kids exchange a quick "Hello" with Minh and head off for school.  Minh and I talk a bit and wait for the next person to arrive.  This could be either Russ or Kevin.  8:05AM Russ shows up.  As Russ dismounts, we're all wondering what happened to Kevin.  It's not normal for Kevin to be the last to show up for a ride.  Something must have happened.  We didn't think much of the matter and went on with other issues at hand.  Russ brought his 2-way radio but didn't have a means to mount it.  He had taken a liking to my idea of strapping the 2-way radio to his arm instead of installing it somewhere on the bike.  Next thing I knew I was scrambling upstairs to find some Velcro to fasten Russ' radio to his arm band.  Being the Velcro nut that I am, I knew that Velcro was not enough to hold the radio on his arm band for any length of time.  This is especially the case considering a motorcycle's vibration.  As a result we improvised an additional fastening measure with zip ties I had lying around my garage.  Zip... zip... zip... it's all fastened and Russ is a happy camper.  This babe isn't going anywhere.

At about 8:15AM we can hear a thumping engine noise.  It has to be Kevin.  Sure enough a BMW Dakar rounds the corner with Kevin at the helm.

Kevin parked his bike and then proceeded to mention all the bad luck he had this morning.  The electronic gate in front of his house didn't work. Attempts at opening the gate by using all remotes within his possession resulted in... Nada.  Not only was the darn thing broken because of the fog, or something like that, but fidgeting with the opener didn't yield any results.  He had to resort to strong arm tactics to get the darn thing to open.  A heave and a hoh of a 100 pound gate yielded better results than any electronic devices for this day.  If that wasn't bad enough, he also had to contend with the traffic at the high school next to his house.  Being wide in the behind this day didn't help in getting him to the meeting place at the appropriate time.  Splitting lanes was out of the question.

All in all, 15 after 8 is not such a big deal.  However, we leave for the trip right away.  Instead we started dilly dallying.  Why? because Kevin isn't ready with his radio equipment.  Once more I ended up hustling around a bit more to get more Velcro for Kevin and Minh.  The original thought in my head, "Ah man, they should have taken care of  this last night."  As a result, we ended up leaving much later than we should have. To make matters even worse, I had forgotten to get money from the ATM last night so I had to swing by the bank to grab some Dragmas.  Another notch to the tardy mark, Russ wanted to fuel up before heading out to Castaic.  Of course all this resulted in Primo waiting at the McDonald's in Castaic much longer than expected.  By the time we lifted our kickstands, it was around 8:30-8:45AM.

Things weren't going wrong for us this morning, it's just going really slow.  We got onto the 210 freeway and immediately got off of the freeway.  Friday's morning commute traffic is as expected.  Traffic being the way it is, we stand a better change of making good time by taking the side streets instead of the freeway.  We got on to the 210 at the Huntington Drive on-ramp and got off of the 210 freeway at the Santa Anita off-ramp (e.g. one exit away).  We ended up taking Santa Anita Ave to Orange Grove Ave to Michillinda Ave then to Sierra Madre Blvd.  It wasn't the speediest path but at least we were moving.  For this entire first section of the trip, I didn't record any footage on the helmet cam as I figured it's just another boring ride through the streets of LA.  In fact I wasn't planning on turning the video equipment on until we got decently close to Lake Isabella.

Lo and behold.  Our first instance of cagers going nuts around our group.  Now I'm not sure whether it's related with me only or if it's the entire group.  I think it's me only as I'm the one with the helmet cam.  I've witnessed people do strange things before when they see my helmet cam, and I'm the only bike around.  As mentioned in previous articles, some people freak out about the helmet cam where as other don't even care or notice it.

So we all stop at the intersection of New York Drv and Sierra Madre Villa Ave.  I was in front in the left lane while the rest of the pack is in the right lane behind a large truck.  When the light turned green on New York Drive, I sped up signaled right and changed lane to be in front of the truck.  My intent was to have the car that was originally behind me pass me so the guys can have an opportunity to change lane and eventually merge in behind me.  Instead of passing me, the car simply stayed on my 8 o'clock and refused to pass.  Of course this ended up boxing the pack in and slowed all traffic.  Nobody could pass.  Heck, nobody could do anything.  The speed limit is 50 MPH and I was doing 45 MPH.  As I slow down to attempt to let the car pass me, the car would slow down also.  Everybody slowed down.  What gives?  This doesn't make sense.  Nowhere on my bike is there a police emblem.  I don't even look like a Cop.  For god sakes people, I have a Rally 2 pro suit on not a motorcycle Cop uniform.  Eventually the big truck made a right turn onto Eaton Canyon Drv so the pack ended up right behind me.

From New York Dr. we make a right turn onto Altadena Dr to continue our slow trek to bypass the stuffed up 210 and 134 freeway interchange.  Altadena Drv, Casitas Ave, Ventura St, Windsor Ave and the the 210 freeway.  Happy to leave the slow pace behind, we make the right turn onto the 210 West bound on-ramp.  As we all get up to speed to merge onto the freeway, I turned my head back to see two large 18 wheelers in the slow lane.  Crap!  We have to move to be out of danger.  I pushed the PTT button on the intercom and blurbed out, "2 Trucks!  Speed up to merge!"  Everybody gets on OK.  However, Kevin was in the rear and experienced the typical nightmare of a scenario that is unfortunately bestowed upon so many motorcyclists.  A soccer mom is tailgating so close that you swear she is able to smell the type of detergent you used to wash your underwear.  Not only that, the chick is impatient.  She treat a 1/2 ton SUV like it's a kiddie cycle on training wheels.  She thrashes the car around violently to try to pass Kevin.  She must be repulsed by Kevin's detergent and wishes to get away as fast as possible.  Any which way you look at it, whether it be the detergent or the fact that 90% of the women out that don't know how to drive their living room, it's scarier than hell.  Eventually, the mom changed lane and passed us all.

As noted so many times by myself and so many other bikers out there in the world, most of the aggression exerted by drivers are either women in SUVs, tough guys in their overly massive monster trucks, or jerk BMW/Mercedes drivers.  The one thing that is common to all these drivers, they all think they have a super powerfully massive power plant under their hood.  It's nuclear powered don't you know.  Can you also say HEMI?  As a result, they feel the invariable invincible and the need to demonstrate their prowess.  Against a small 500 LBS or less motorcycle no doubt.  To those power loving drivers, let me repeat this to you crazy folks... again.  Look at our power to weight ratio.  Look at your power to weight ratio.  In case you folks don't know what I'm referring to, here's something to consider.  Physics.  More mass means slower acceleration.  Even on my R12GS, which is not a speed demon, unless you can do 0-60MPH in less than 3.8 seconds, in that big huge monster vehicle of your, please don't try to race us.  All you're going to do is either make yourself look awfully silly or crash.  In my case, I don't care to race you insane people because I don't want to crash.  So let's leave it at that and stick to the street laws.  BTW, if a Cop sees you drag race from a light, that's an automatic moving violation.  There is a reason for you to have that large monster vehicle of yours that suck up fuel like your engine can operate on water.  What is that you ask?  It's called, you have towing capabilities.  Yes, that mean you have torque, not speed.  So stick to hauling that large mass of people or large mass of things to the next picnic as oppose to attempt a miserable race.  Either that or take your SUV to the next track day.

210 to the 5, pass Magic Mountain, and finally Castaic Lake.  In the process of getting off the Lake Hughes off ramp, the big rig next to me almost ran me over.  Several tons versus 500 pounds?  Hommie don't play that.  In reality I think the guy lost concentration and started drifting into our lane.  Fortunately he didn't move pass the lane reflector markers.  Driving by braille might be fun for a trucker but it's hell scary to be on the receiving end regardless of car or motorcycle.  I know better than to ride next to an 18 wheeler but I made the exception because we're riding in formation.  Trust me, I'm going to break formation in the future when riding next to something that can squash me like I'm a little cockroach.

Primo has been waiting for us.  He's been at the McDonald's since 8:45AM.  Now it's 9:45AM.  Yes, we're late.  No thanks to traffic and some dilly dallying.  At least we're here.  We all greeted Primo as we haven't seen him in a long time.  He use to work with us but ended being let go about a year ago.  Anyway, we head into Mcee Dees and got some breakfast.  Sausage Mc Muffin, Sausage Mc Griddle, etc. and we're all chewing away.  It's not the best of breakfast but this is all the time we have.  Half and hour later we're all suited up again to continue to Bakersfield.  Before getting onto the ground-level-flyway, Russ needed fueling up.  Plus I'm going to fuel up my red gas can just in case anybody in the group needs that extra boost to get to another gas station.  Little did I know this is going to be the theme for this trip.  $7 later, my little 2 gallon red gas can is full.

Once again, I start seeing the annoying accessory plug electrical problem with my 12GS.  I'm sure nobody else has this problem since I haven't  heard/read about this electrical problem from anybody else on any forums including the ADV Rider forum.  I've been having this accessory power problem for a while now.  The symptom manifests itself in the form of the accessories power toggling on and off.  One minute it's on, the next several minutes it's off.  The bike would do this through the course of any given ride.  What's worse I had recently installed a new navigation system (e.g. BMW Navigator III), it's a cool system, but it's useless due to the power problem.  I took the bike to Brown Motor Works in Pomona for a look over.  They found the problem and said it was a bad grounding wire at the battery.  Once they fixed the grounding problem, they couldn't get the bike to reproduce the power toggle effect.  Well, this wasn't the case for me.  I was able to reproduce the power toggle problem several times after the grounding wire fix.  In fact, right after the filling of the gas can, when I started my bike, the accessories power went off.  After subsequent restarts of the bike, the accessories power exhibited the same problem.  I'm wondering if the grounding wire problem is more proliferated than the service people at Brown thinks.  I start up the bike after filling the gas can, a couple minutes later, blip.  The Nav III goes off line.  I started the bike again.  A couple of minutes later, blip.  The Nav III goes off line.  The second time it went off line, I was flying up hill on the I5 heading towards Bakersfield.  As a result, I couldn't restart the bike.  This sucks.  I will need to take the bike in once more when the trip is over.  At least the power toggle effect is less frequent than what was seen before.  I eventually figured out the pattern involved with getting the bike's accessory power to stay on.  As a result I was able to get the Nav III to work for long stretches without having problems.  Is the computer confused about whether the accessories power should be turned on or off ?  There's no use guessing as it's a far cry from knowing the truth.

I5, 99 freeway, and Bakersfield.  The freeway ride is boring as hell.  At least I can't complain as there were no cars harassing us on the way out.  There were enough open lanes and so little traffic that big rigs, trucks, and SUVs didn't really bother us.  There were a couple of monster trucks that felt the need to be manly by passing us in the slow lane.  That's fine so long as they don't tailgate us.  On the final stretch towards the south end of Bakersfield, Primo comes up next to me and signals that he needs gas.  That's surprising considering we had fueled up at Castaic Lake before heading out to Bakersfield.  I didn't question the request too much and decided the find the first convenient spot to fuel up.  We pulled off of the 99 freeway onto the White Lane exit heading East.  We pulled into a Chevron and fueled up.  My trip odometer show 110 miles so I might as well fuel up for the haul out to Lake Isabella.  While we were all fueling up, a guy in a Harley rode up to the gas station and started fueling also.  He took a look at us and asked where we were going.  Lake Isabella was our answer.  He also taking the same path.  The minute I mentioned that we will be heading to Death Valley after Lake Isabella, he quickly expressed that he's not going that far.  Interesting thing about this Harley rider, he didn't have a helmet on and was only riding with a T-shirt, genes, and a bandanna.  The bandanna is my helmet.  Uh huh.  Compared to him, we're all overly protected.

We made a U-turn on White Lane and headed back out onto the 99 freeway going North.  Not too far up, we found our destination.  The 178 highway.  We take the exit and head East on 24th street.  The amount of traffic was surprisingly dense.  It's approximately 12 noon and it's extremely warm.  Since we're in a fairly large group, we couldn't split lanes as it will break the group apart.  Red light after red light we inch towards out destination.  24th street turns into 23rd street and eventually the 178 freeway.  178 is a freeway?  Yup, it's a freeway.  Here I was thinking we'll be on highways and side streets until we get to Lake Isabella.  It was a pleasant surprise as this will improve our travel time.  178 freeway, boring.  OK, it's part of the journey.  We ride for a good 10-15 miles before the 178 freeway turns back into a highway.  I guess that freeway section is an express way for the folks in Bakersfield.  As with most city suburbs, there is not much to look at.  However, we do see mountains ahead of us.  I have never been on this road before so I didn't know what to expect.  Heck, I've never been to Lake Isabella before.

Once we get to a good stretch where we can stop, I radioed everybody to let everybody know I'm going to pull over to turn the video equipment on.  Time to start taping.

Stopped on the side of the 178 to put the video equipment online.

During this stop Russ has finally taken notice of Kevin's oil leak and is concerned about his bike's leaky situation.  I told Russ that it's a minor leak and will not effect the bike's performance.  Nonetheless I told Kevin to keep an eye on it.

As we get closer and closer to the mountains, it was becoming obvious this is definitely a canyon ride.  It's a narrow two lane highway with many sections of the highway carved out from the mountain sides.  A gorgeous road, a gorgeous ride, beautiful skies, and a river to ride next to.  What more can you ask for.  How about safer cagers.

The narrowness of the highway was going to eventually lead to vehicles crossing the double yellow.  Sure enough, it happens.  It's not Kevin's lucky day I say.  I didn't witness it myself but Kevin told me later of his run in with a big truck on one of the turns.  Seems like SUVs and trucks are taking a liking to Kevin today.  Like to run him over that is.  In this instance, the truck driver has taken upon himself to race around the corners of the highway thinking he's in a Rally.  For this one corner the truck ended up straddling both lanes driving right down the center of the highway.  I don't know how fast the thing was moving but according to Kevin, it was screaming towards him.  Fortunately, Kevin was able to slow down enough and pull towards the right shoulder to allow the 1/2 ton monster enough time to correct itself and avoid an accident.  The thought of anybody being treated like a bug in a radiator grill is just not cool.  Kevin's a bit shaken up but is perfectly fine.  After this, he's making a point to take it easy on this road.

Minh and his cool Canon EOS 1D camera.

Primo is down at the river enjoying its icy coldness.

Russ in one with nature.

The 178 road condition is excellent.  It looks like the road has recently been repaved.  Much of the remaining ride on the narrow highway was uneventful.  That is until we encounter an 18 wheeler on the 178.  An 18 wheeler on this small little highway?  The guy nearly flattened me if it hadn't been for my immediate braking and a swerve towards the right shoulder.  I don't know if he's aware of it or if he even cares but he shouldn't be on this road.  It was hard enough already to deal with SUVs and trucks let a lone a big rig.  Dude's insane.  Not too long after this incident the 178 opened up to four lanes.  Minh, Russ, and Primo seized the opportunity and disappeared into the distance.  I sped up half heartedly to chase them down but knew that I can't catch them.  What the heck, I was enjoying the scenery and the road, and really didn't care to catch up to them.  Poor Kevin was eating everybody's dust.  He was a good couple of minutes behind me.  At certain stretches I was up to as high as 80.  Having panniers on and trying to go any faster than that is a little insane.  Plus I didn't feel the urge to speed.

Once I got close to the 178/155 interchange, I can spot the guys in front of me on the shoulder of the off-ramp.  I decided to park myself several 100 feet before the off-ramp in the hopes of catching Kevin in time to signal to him to exit the 178.  Sure enough Kev appeared several minutes later.  Here he comes and there he goes.  I waved to him to take the off-ramp but wasn't sure if he got the message.  I was reassured he saw the signal when he changed two lanes right and headed up the exit ramp.

From there the group gathered up and headed North on the 155 towards lake Isabella.  It's about 1 PM so everybody was hungry.  The maps I've been staring at the previous day makes the route to Kernville to be a lot longer than it really is.  About 1/2 hour off the 178/155 exit we were at the corner of Burlando Rd and Sierra Way in Kernville.  Here's the ticket.  I hadn't alerted the guys as to what the plan is when we reached Kernville.  All they know is that we're going to stop here for lunch and maybe have excellent fish fillets.  The reality of the matter is, Minh had read about a lodge called Fairview Lodge several miles north of Kernville.  They were suppose to have spectacular fish fillets.  When I asked Minh the night before where this lodge is and what its name was, all I got from Minh was "Fairview Lodge".  Any address or directional information Minh ever received was, "About 4-5 miles north of Kernville".  Piss poor if you asked me.  Regardless Minh and I resolved to find this place by doing a bit of "Zen driving".  The bad thing about "Zen driving" is that you're not guaranteed success.  In most cases, you end up wasting a lot of time before reaching your destination, if you reach your destination at all.  Is "Zen driving" equivalent to being macho and not wanting to stop and ask for directions?  Not necessarily.  "Zen driving" is more akin to knowing where your final destination might be and head in the general direction in the hopes of getting there.  The big word here is HOPE.

We passed up Pine Cone Inn Motel-Restaurant, McCambridge Lodge Motel, Whispering Pines Lodge B&B, Sequoia Lodge, etc. but no Fairview Lodge to be seen anywhere.  We went in further and further and even saw a sign that said there is no route reversal for the next 23 miles.  About 5 miles in, the guys are getting hot, hungry and bothered.  As a last ditch effort, Minh and I left Kev, Russ, and Primo behind to venture in a little deeper to find the lodge.  No luck.  About 1 mile later Minh and I decided to give up and head back.  We resolved to go back into Kernville to get some lunch.  Much later, several weeks after the trip, I looked for Fairview in the MapSource program for my BMW Navigator III and found Fairview the town.  It's no 4-5 miles.  It's at least 15 to 20 miles North of Kernville.  This would have really sent us off course that day if we insisted on finding Fairview Lodge.  We have to go visit this lodge one of these days.

Out in the middle of nowhere looking for Fairview Lodge.

It didn't take us long to head back into town.  One restaurant after another, they're all closed.  Wow!  What the heck is this?  This place is like a ghost town.  All the restaurants are either open at night or on the weekends.  What is up with that?  We circle around Kernville trying to find a place to eat.  It felt like I was riding in Downtown LA a month or two before, we were making U-turns like it's going out of fashion.  This time around it wasn't just Minh and I, it was 5 bikes going around in circles.  We eventually got back on Burlando Rd in the hopes of finding a restaurant that is open.  Place after place, we find nothing.  I spotted a sports bar (The Hut) that appears to be open on the south end of the road and motioned the guys to head in that direction.  I made the U-turn and stopped in front of the bar but nobody followed me.  What's going on here.  I looked back to see several bikes slowly disappearing behind a building.  I made another U-turn and went to see if the bikes got sucked up by a black hole.  No black hole but everybody was trying to park their bikes.  Guess what, they found a restaurant that is open.  The place is called El Jacalito Mexican Grill.  Mexican food, what the heck.  I'm not going to complain now that I can stuff my belly.  We all settled down and some of us even took off our boots, literally.  I was walking around the deck on the outside of the restaurant with my socks on.  It was so nice to dry off my feet.  Since there weren't a lot of patrons aside from us, we all had a table to ourselves.  A beautiful sky, warn winds, and large umbrellas to shade each one of us.  What more can you ask for.  Drinks and food.  We all downed the lunch like we were wolves that hadn't seen a caribou for a week.  Part of the reason for this is El Jacalito has excellent food.  I never knew Mexican food can hit the spot so well.  My plate was practically clean.  I could have gone for more but opted to watch my consumption.  Suffice to say we tipped the waiter very well.  They were even so nice as to allow us to have some of their ice for our Camelbaks.  Water bladder and stomachs filled, we suited up to continue our ride.

Kevin is getting ready for his two item combo.

Back on Sierra Way but heading south this time.  As we got to Lake Isabella again, it was apparent the water level is lower than normal.  Bands of sand and rock that should have been under water is showing its face to the sun.  Once again I'm reminded that this winter is outside of the norm.  By this time of year, we would have received a lot more rain.  The weather pattern is definitely changing.  We all stopped on the side of the road to take pictures of Isabella sprawled out in front of us.  She might be a little low this year but she is still beautiful with the blue skies and mountains.

Disco anybody?

The remainder of the 155 was curvy and fun.  There were even a couple of whooptidos thrown in for kicks.  Once we got to the three way stop for the 155 and 178, Primo again reminds me of the need for gas.  Definitely the theme for this trip.  From here out I keep an eye out for any gas stations.  Not knowing this route at all has me a bit concerned that Primo or Russ might run out of gas.  However, I do have the wonderfully red 2 gallon gas can being my pillion.  The worry subsides.  This entire stretch of the 178 has me wondering, "Where in the world do these people get gas if it's so unavailable?  It must be a pain to fill up their vehicles out here."  Town after small town.  We pass them by without a sign of a gas station.  Not until we reached Onyx do we see a Chevron.  We pull in and fill up.  I only used 2 gallons so far and could stand to go another 100 miles without the need to fuel, but since we're here, I might as well top it off.  With our bikes' bellies full, we can concentrate on the ride.

I don't know if you've been in this situation before, but just about several miles after the gas station it finally hits me.  I'm on the road (Isabella Walker Pass Rd), riding along and enjoying every minute and every second of the tarmac rolling underneath me.  Man, machine, and music all connected to form the most beautiful of synergy.   As Terri Nunn whispers You Don't Know in my ears and the road is winding back and forth in front of me I can't help but feel every ounce of life coursing through my veins.  I have achieved zendom.  What is ahead of me or what is behind me doesn't matter.  What is to come or what has pass doesn't matter.  All I know is the here and now.  The perfect moment.  I have no material needs and I'm completely care free while I scream in concert with Terri.

Terri Nunn, one of the most talented singer around.

Good o' Russ sees me bouncing up and down on my bike and is reminded that he also has a music player at hand.  The scenery changes on the 178 enhances the experience even more.  Deciduous trees give way to a Joshua forest.  Grassy lands give way to rolling planes of bushes.  The brown of granite and sandstone turns into a desert tan.  Unfortunately it is a fleeting moment and has to end.

We connect to the 14 and ride it for a short 3 or so miles to continue on the 178 to Ridgecrest.  The China Lake bedroom community.  As we get to the outskirts of Ridgecrest I can't help but be struck with two things.  1) my wrist is killing me regardless of the fact that I have been using the throttle lock, and 2) my ass is sore like a mutha.  My buns were burning.  I swear it's an alcohol fire because you can't see the flames.  Anyway, if I'm feeling like this, the guys must be dying.  So I search for the most convenient parking spot to stop.  This lot.  That lot.  I don't know where the heck I should stop.  Finally I just pull into a parking lot to give us all a break.  It just so happens that we pulled into a medical clinic's parking lot.  Oops!  I hope they don't kick us out of here.  Fortunately it's about 4:30 - 5:00 PM and the people of the clinic are going home.  Slowly the parking lot empties.  Of all places to stop, a medical clinic.  Perhaps I should go in and ask for my annual physical.  Turn you head and cough please.  At first all the guys asked me why we stopped.  I said "I figured we all need a good break".  Soon, they all thanked me for stopping.  We were all sprawled out on the medical clinic's lawn.  The sight is funnier than hell.  Primo is lying there talking on the phone.  Russ is sitting not too far back relaxing.  The rest of us are lounging around in one form or another.  The security guard walks by looks at us and enters the building without even a word.  Apparently us loitering like this is perfectly fine.

Finally, the question is asked, "How much further do we have until we reach our destination?"  I said, " I can't tell as the nav system doesn't give me the overall distance and will only give me the distance to the next way point."  The reality is, I don't know how to use the Nav system to its full potential yet.  The approximation is 180 or so miles.  That's about 2 1/2 hours of riding.  What is our next destination?  Trona.

We hung around the medical center for about 20+ minutes.  It was getting late so it's time to leave.  As we're all getting ready, Russ approached me and reminded me about Kevin's oil leak.  I promised Russ we'll stop at the next most convenient place to to get some oil.  It's about 5:00pm when we rolled out of the medical center's parking lot.  As we got closer and closer to the Trona route, I didn't notice any place that might sell motorcycle motor oil.  As we were sitting at a red turn signal light, Russell rode up next to me and said that we just passed up a place where Kevin can get some motor oil.  "OK.  Lead on as I don't know where it is and you do."  We all made a U-turn and turned left into a Honda Motorcycle dealership.  How did I miss this?  We all parked it.  Kevin and I rushed in to see if we can get some motor oil.  It was clear the dealer is about to close shop.  I asked the guy at the counter if they had any SG oil.  With a puzzled look on his face, "I don't know, but the oil is all over there," gesturing towards a rack full of motor oil.  I checked this, that, and the other thing.  No, no, no ... yes!  A very clear bold print on the back of the bottle saying API, SG.  That's it.  When I told the guy at the counter they have SG oil, he was surprised.  Go figure.  Kevin paid for two quarts and we all headed out to have a look at the Dakar.  Russ was determined to put oil in Kevin's bike, but I insisted that we take a look at the oil level before doing anything.  On the center stand it goes.  This sounds a lot easier than it looks.  Due to the weight of Kevin's panniers (with its contents), the height of the bike, etc. it took three of us (Kevin, Russ, and myself) to wrestle the Dakar onto its center stand.  At one point we ended up lifted the rear wheel off of the ground.  Eventually, the Dakar gave in and sat on its center stand.  I opened the oil cover and checked the oil level.  It's perfectly fine.  In fact, it was at maximum.  Whatever oil Kevin was loosing, it was very very minimal.  Not only is the oil level good, the oil itself was clear and clean.  Now that Russell's mind is at ease, we can all get back to stripping away that tarmac ribbon.  For the first time ever, I finally see Minh being concerned about something.  Not knowing what the riding condition is like for Death Valley at night, Minh was pushing us all to get moving.  I know there is an element of danger for riding at night on the 190 so I can understand Minh's concern.  However, I'm hoping the PIAA Xtreme White Plus bulb for the low beam and the Philips Vision Plus bulb for the high beam will get us through safely.

Once again, we're off.  We continue on the 178 to Trona.  The road changes from China Lake Rd to Ridgecrest Blvd to Trona Rd.  As we reach the town of Westend, we see white mountains next to the highway.  It's a salt processing plant.  Pretty cool.  The stuff looks whiter than snow and just sits out in the middle of nowhere.  I hope they do some cleanup work before packaging it for consumption.  As expected, the rest of Trona is nothing exciting.  The streets are fairly straight and slow.  As we near Paramint Valley the road once again gets renamed from Trona Rd to Trona Wildrose Rd.  This is looking better and better all the time.  I know Wildrose Rd, it's the road to take if we want to go to Telescope Peak in Death Valley.  From the end of Trona (the town), Russ , Primo, and Minh are all gone.  They made Kevin and myself look like we're riding 50cc Vespas.

Right before we start our descent down to Panamint Valley, the guys stopped (at a pretty bad location) to take pictures.  The spot has a nice view but there is hardly a shoulder to pull all of the bikes off the road.  Several cars passing us had to cross the double yellow to avoid us.  Not good but the spot was visible enough beyond the turn that we didn't cause an accident.

Tight quarters.

Minh's trying to do that middle of the road thing again.

Down to Panamint Valley we go.  The sun was going down but the temperature was still quite warm.  Warm enough that it would have been nice to ride without all the gear.  Fortunately, most of us had enough gray matter on our shoulder not to pull everything off and ride in our fruit of the loom.  There's only so much of "Let it all hang out" you can do on a motorcycle.  Unfortunately, Primo had other ideas.  He decided to ride without helmet and gloves.  Something like "WHAT!" came out of my mouth when he mentioned it to me.  Just because there are no visible Cops out here, that doesn't necessarily means you should break the law just because you can.  Even if we rode at 30 MPH I'm praying that he doesn't crash because that means we're all going to be hovering over him trying to tend to his condition until the medical vehicle arrives instead of continuing on the ride.  That would be a major imposition to the rest of us not to mention ruining all of our vacation.  Trust me, we didn't ride at 30 MPH.  I've seen brain before and I don't like the looks of it.  I'm sure I will like it even less when it's on the tarmac.  I don't know if Primo realizes it or given it a whole lot of thought, but we're in the middle of F'in nowhere and it will be near impossible to get medical support out here.  All I have is a medi-kit but I'm no licensed nurse.  You think I can do surgery out here?  No, playing one on the TV doesn't count either.  Fortunately, everything worked out and there are no problems.  Still, running all possible scenarios through my head is not a nice thing to force upon me.  This is especially true when I'm responsible for everybody.  Ending my vacation two days early because of a disaster due to idiocy is not in my books.

By the time we get to the Panamint Valley Rd and Death Valley Scenic Byway junction, it was dark.  Instead of turning right to continue to Death Valley, we turn left to head to Panamint Springs for gas.  This sets us back a little but it's a needed stop.  The surprise this time, for me, is there is a real gas station.  The previous year the shop was boarded up and only the pumps were functioning.  This year, we had a full fledge mini-mart.  Cool!  At least now I know for sure it's not a questionable establishment.  We all fueled up and bought some snacks to chew on.  "How much further?" was the question, again.  The approximation is anywhere between 70-80 miles to Beatty, Nevada.  If we were to lodge in Death Valley, that would have been better but the rooms are either too expensive or there weren't enough rooms.

While in the mini-mart, the clerk told us to be careful traveling on the 190 as there are rock slides all the time through the mountain pass.  I'm familiar enough with the roads that I'm also concerned about the whooptidos.  These aren't simple little whooptidos, they'll launching you at speeds over 70 in a car let alone a motorcycles.  When I mention whooptidoos the clerk said, "What did you call them?"  I said, "Whooptidoos."  He said, "I still can't get over that phrase.  Where in the heck did you get that from?  Back in Wisconsin we call them moguls."  I can see the correlation with moguls, but for me that is a ski term.  Whooptidoos it remains.  Plus it's more fun to say, "WHOOPTIDOOS!".  Obviously California people are silly and like to have fun.  We exchange friendly goodbyes with the clerk and headed out to consume our snacks.  I briefed the guys about the whooptidoos and to be careful riding up the mountain.  There is a high probability of rocks sitting in the road.  Proceed with caution is in order for the first section of this ride.  Not too much later, we put our gear on and got out of Dodge.

The first thought as we ride out, wow the GS headlights are pretty good in the dead of night.  However, I'm casting a shadow over parts of my head light from another set of lights behind me.  Who is it?  It's Russell.  His R1's high beams are super bright.  I had to divert my rear view mirror to prevent myself from going blind.  Wow, nice lights, but dude you're killing me.  With my rear view mirrors point into deep space, I'm now able to lead the pack through the thick of night.  I'm sure having all this SOLAS tape also helps the guys to know which way the road is winding.  I'm still laughing in my helmet that the R1 is causing me to cast a shadow.  From this I wish BMW would take Yamaha's example regarding headlight technology.  We continue on through the mountain pass without too much concern.  There were some rocks on the road but it wasn't anything major.  All the better I say.  The whooptidoos were there but we slowed down enough that it wasn't a problem.  However, I definitely feel my stomach flying around.  This would have been great if it was in daylight.  Once we got out of the mountain pass, I increased the speed to 65 MPH.  We almost had a rabbit for dinner if I hadn't slam on the breaks and missed the rabbit when it doubled back to get off the road.  Because of the altitude, we also hit pockets of really cold air.  We went from wanting to be naked on the bike to wanting to wear animal furs to stay warm.  I push us through as fast as we can go, but still be safe, beyond the mountain pass in the hopes that it will warm back up again.  Surely enough, when we got back down to lower elevations, it is warm again.

I almost hit a bat.

Since my mirrors are trying to optically communicate with satellites in low Earth orbit, I hadn't notice how far behind some of the guys are.  In particular, Kevin was on the slow side when it came to the mountain pass.  The person directly behind me was Primo and not Minh.  I thought it was Minh the entire time.  When we got pass Stovepipe Wells I finally looked in my rear view mirrors to see there was nobody behind us.  "Oh shit" is running through my mind.  Primo and I slowed to a crawl in the hopes that everybody will catch up.  Crawling for a while I was planning on pulling over or turning around to go find the rest of the guys.  I gestured to Primo, "where was everybody else?"  To which he replied with a shrug of the shoulders and a wave of the hand.  When I verbalized it, he must have spotted somebody and told me it was OK to continue going.  I myself did a quick check and saw some headlights and thought I saw everybody.  Ah, this is the beginning of things going all to hell.  The road (North Highway) that connects up to the 190 (Death Valley Scenic Bypass) was near impossible to find in the dead of night even with the Nav system guiding me.  I had to make a visual verification before taking that left turn.  I don't want to turn the bike into some sand dunes and get stuck.  I made it a point to signal a good 1/2 mile before the actual turn to make sure everybody knows we're about to alter our course.  Later, Russ said that he can see my signal lights from far away and it looks like I'm about to turn off road to do the GS thing.  The stretch of the North Highway we're going to be on is very short.  The entire time I'm looking for this connecting road my rear view mirrors are still trying to send signals to the rovers on Mars.  I stopped after the initial left turn for a really short amount of time because I thought I saw all bikes in my rear view mirrors.  Perhaps the car that was parking on the side of the road after the initial left turn confused me into thinking Kevin is with us.  I don't know.  Mind you I'm always checking 6 to make sure I see additional headlights.  What I should have done was to stop, get of the bike and perform a thorough checking.  I can attribute this behavior to trying to get to Beatty in time for dinner and get out from the darkness.  I know we're all hungry.

The road to get to Beatty is called Daylight Pass Rd.  Well, we're riding Daylight Pass Rd in the dark.  We all made the right turn, doing a bit of off-roading in the process, to get onto Daylight Pass Rd.  We couldn't tell where the tarmac started and ended in the dark.  In my head I counted 4 but in reality it was only three.  Kevin saw us make the left turn but didn't see us make the right turn.  To make matters worse, it is hard to make a complete count because the road winds back and forth a lot.  Yes, Primo and I are still casting shadows from Russ' high beam.  The road keeps on going and going and going.  What's ridiculous, the speed limit posting was 35 MPH.  You've got to be kidding.  There's nothing out here.  The road is in excellent condition and you want us to go 35?  Suffice to say, we didn't stick to 35.

Once we passed the California/Nevada border and the road straightens I finally got a real count of all behind me.  Again "Shit! Only three!"  I pulled over to the side of the road and walked back towards Russ and Minh.  "Where's Kevin?"  Russ also ask the same question.  I asked, "How did we loose him?  When did we loose him?"  Thoughts of Kevin lying on the side of the road bleeding profusely entered Russ' mind.  As for me I was thinking, "Crap, we have to ride back through all that.  I hope he didn't continue on the 190 to Furnace Creek. That would really suck."  Russ and I were frantic.  "Should we split up or should be stay together?  Maybe Primo and Minh can go on ahead to the hotel."  To which Russ replied, "Let's stay together.  We don't want to create any more problems by splitting up."  Just about the time when Russ and I are ready to jump back on our bikes to go search for Kevin, Russ sees a small light in the distance.  Russ, "That looks like a single light."  Me, "I don't know, it's hard to tell because of the distance.  It might be a car."  "No it looks like a single light.  Let's wait and see.  It might be Kevin."  Just about then the light hits a dip and disappears.  Russ, "It disappeared!"  Me, "No it's still there.  it's just hitting the hills.  See."  "It's a single light!  It has to be Kevin."  "Yeah, you're right, it's a single light.  It must be Kevin.  Hey turn your bike lights on otherwise he might go pass us or run into us."  Sure enough the single light came up and pulled in right behind us.  Kevin was pissed, "Man you guys ditched me!  I made the left turn and you guys disappeared!  You should have pulled over and waited instead of taking off like that!  I was sitting there waiting hoping you guy would come back and nothing!"  Kevin went on a little longer until he started calming down.  I apologized and said, "Well, despite the fact, it all worked out fine."  Russ, "We were about ready to turn around to go searching for you.  I was afraid you has fallen off lying on the side of the road bleeding."  Me, "I was just concerned that you might have taken the wrong road and headed toward Furnace Creek."  Kevin, "I didn't know where to go but I figured I might as well head to Beatty because the sign said Nevada.  If I get there and I don't see you guys, I was going to Vegas the next day and head home."  Me, "Well, we don't have to worry about that now."  Since everything has worked out in the positive direction, Russ and I started commenting about the beauty of the night sky due to the lack of artificial lighting.  To that, I pointed in the south east direction and told everybody that glow in the distant horizon is Las Vegas.  To which they were all astonished.  Yep, Vegas in all of it's power sucking glory.

We got back to it and headed towards Beatty.  I told the guys we only have 10 miles left.  I think everybody was relieved that we're close to our final destination for the day.  We pull into Beatty at a whopping 25 MPH.  As insult to injury and as the last event of the day, my low beam headlight burned out at one of the two stop signs in Beatty.  Shit!  At least we're in Beatty and don't have to go that much further.  I rode the remaining mile or so with just the high beam light on.  We pull into the Hotel/Casino parking lot and try to find parking.  By the time we get to Beatty it is a little after 9:00 PM.  We have been on the road for 13 hours and did 400+ miles.  We check in, take our things to our rooms,  and went to eat dinner.

Dinner.  Even this was not uneventful.  Now admittedly the waitress wasn't the most friendly of person but I could hardly blame her.  Who want to work as a waitress in a 24 hour restaurant serving people at 10:00pm.  Anyway, Minh, Russ, Kevin, and myself were down first and got a table.  The first thing we noticed was the cutlery has a thin film on it.  From the looks of it it's not a case of the silverware hasn't been washed, but It's a case of calcium depositing on the silverware from the drying off process.  It's a no bother to me as I just wipe it with my napkin.  We all looked at the menu and order our food.  A couple of us decided they need a beer to unwind.  Since the establishment being the way it is, I figured I should get a beer anyway just in case the food is questionable.  Alcohol and food makes for no food poisoning.  Russ gave an "Oh!" after my comment.  "Good idea," he says.  We all got carded even though we know we don't look that young.  I'm sure it's just hotel/casino policy.  At last Primo arrives.  As he sat down what was the first thing he did?  He handed the waitress his fork because it has food on it.  She wasn't too happy with that.  We knew it wasn't food but just the effect of the hard water they have.  I had the seafood soup with my meal and thought it pretty good.  So I told Primo to get the soup.  It wasn't spicy to me but to Primo it was spicy so he can't eat it.  I had forgotten about Primo's ulcer.  Oh well.  We all got our food and pretty much downed it.  Poor Kevin got the French Dip and was complaining about it being completely tasteless.  My dish wasn't the greatest meal in the world but it was fine.  After this meal I don't think anybody was planning on eating at the hotel again the next couple of days.  I'm fine with it but that's just me.

Before we all headed to our rooms to turn in, Kevin apologized to me for blowing up.  I didn't mind it and understood why he blew up.  It's all good because everything turn out to be fine.  Now we all hit the sack and prepare for tomorrow, which is suppose to be an easy day.

Pre-Trip [March 13-15]
Day 2 [March 17]
Day 3 [March 18]

Written on: March 19, 2007
Last modified: April 23, 2007