Wednesday, November 6, 2013

234 Miles, 3 Tanks of Gas, and 2 Tectonic Plates

After being out of town a few weeks ago, followed by a couple of weekends of making it up to the dogs for not taking them with us,  we really should have been good little grown ups and stayed around the house cleaning things.

Instead-- we RODE BIKES!

We got some of our chores done on Saturday and the BF was standing over me early Sunday morning all squeaky like an anxious pup (the dogs have taught him well,) trying to coax me out of my cozy, warm bed and onto a motorcycle.

It worked.

We were done with the gas station and on the road before 10 a.m. (I am not an early riser, 10 a.m. is the crack of dawn for me.)

The BF had been looking at maps all week and announced that this day, we would head west!

This is the first time we've gone west. The Sierra Nevadas and their foothills are so close to us, east is a no-brainer for a day trip while the Pacific ocean-- just shy of 3 hours by car-- still represents a very long ride for me and my little TW.

But the BF had devised a plan--and a route-- that would take us through the west side of the valley, through the alfalfa fields and the dairies, into Coalinga for fuel and onto the westward bound 198 to see if the Priest Valley Station was open for lunch.

Priest Valley Station was not open for lunch. According to the sign on the window, they won't be open for lunch until sometime in spring. So we turned around and headed back toward the Parkfield Grade road.

The BF has wanted to tackle this road since back before he and I were a couple, when we both had 4WD vehicles and a small rag-tag group passing ourselves off as a 4 wheel drive club. But the Parkfield Grade is not exactly a challenging road on 4 wheels so much as it offers an opportunity for a scenic drive on a road less travelled... our 4X4 friends veto'd the trip every time it was mentioned.

I have known of the mysterious community of Parkfield since the early 80's when one of those Ripley's Believe it or Not type shows featured it for it's famed "Earthquake Capital of the World" status.

The road went Up. Just when we thought we had reached the top of the road, we would inevitably round a curve and find that there was yet another Up to be dealt with.

We finally found the last of the Up, and also the last of the pavement!

Oh yay... I get to go down the rest of the way on this beautifully graded and maintained, unpaved, lightly-scattered-with-gravel road.

This should not have presented a challenge. It should not have inspired any dread. Really, the road is maintained for passenger vehicles, it's no big deal.

Naturally-- I was terrified.

I made my way down the other side of the road into the tiny (population 18) community of Parkfield, in 2nd gear averaging a reckless speed of 13 miles per hour. While the BF coasted by me in neutral like an eagle wafting on a gentle breeze.

I am realizing that I genuinely do not really like riding on dirt. or gravel. or mud. or whatever else isn't a paved road. But, I admit, I do like the ability to travel these roads with confidence that the bike is capable of it... and so am I, even if I'm not exactly enthusiastic.

We rolled into Parkfield and walked into the Parkfield Cafe where I mentioned to the BF that it appeared the entire population of the town was enjoying a late lunch.

I had a tasty tri-tip sandwich and an iced-tea. The BF grumbled that the option was Coke instead of Pepsi and we sat back and took in the sight of the hundreds of branding irons hanging from the ceiling rafters.

When an earthquake rolls under the Parkfield Cafe, those irons must put on quite a show.

We were rolling out of town just as another couple on a bike rolled in. I'm not so great at bike make/model identification, it could have been a V-Strom. Or something else. The bike was red, the rider was wearing a hi-viz 3 quarter jacket, the passenger was wearing a jacket in bright yellow/orange and ummm... gray? silver? white?

I was a little sad we didn't get a chance to chit chat with some other riders, but I'm still riding on that permit and home was threatening to be farther away than sunset.

At this point, I am entirely at the BF's mercy as to our route home. The Garmin Rinos have the ability to program routes into them for navigation, but that's the BF's job and he hasn't embraced the use of GPS in this manner. And since we didn't exactly have a planning session while pouring over paper maps or even sitting in front of Google maps before leaving the house, he was the only one who had an idea of what route he had in mind for getting us home again.

I did know we weren't headed home the way we'd come. So I rolled out of Parkfield, across the bridge and onto the Pacific Plate and we headed... south? southeast? THATAWAY!

Thataway was a very long, straight road in lousy condition. Huge chunks were ripped out of the road surface, leading me to think that it had been the site of a huge Transformers battle.

I have no idea how these holes would affect my ride. Maybe they're deep enough to bring me to an abrupt, ass-over-tea-kettle halt, or maybe I'd just continue over them with nary a blink... I wasn't ready to find out. I was glad this road was utterly deserted-- like maybe the zombie apocalypse had happened while we were having lunch-- and I had all the time and room in the world to weave around and through them.

The road back to civilization was long; possibly as long as the Parkfield Grade was, only all laid out in a big, straight, flat, line.

All the way to Hwy 46.


Really? The 46? I have to get on the 46?

The BF looks at me and explains the plan: we have to make a left hand turn onto the 46, only to then immediately get in the left hand turn lane to turn onto the 41.

This is the major route from where we live in the San Joaquin Valley to the central coast. Hundreds-- thousands-- of vehicles travelling back to the valley at 75+ miles per hour after a weekend in Pismo or Morro Bay or Cambria or where ever they go and come back from. All in a hurry to get home, put away quads and dirt bikes and campers and trailers and get the chores done that they shirked to go to the coast for the weekend before they have to get started on another work week.

And I have to turn left, across a lane of traffic that has just merged from the 41 to the 46, into a lane of traffic that is stacking up to turn left onto the 41.

Is it too late to go back the way we came?

Yes. Yes, it is. For one thing, we don't have time to go back the way we came. And for another, I don't have the gas to go back the way we came. I have to get to Kettleman City.

The BF points out his observance that the best gaps in traffic come just before RVs and 18 Wheelers. We eye an RV coming toward us, we ready our faithful steeds, the gap reaches us, I roar into the path of the giant RV. I don't look in my mirrors, I know it's back there. I know I made it across the highway, I know I'm in the lane to turn onto the 41... I know the BF is not behind me.

I'm pretty sure he didn't get squished like grape-- I'm pretty sure I would have heard a lot of screeching brakes and squealing tires and knocking, thudding, crashing noises if he had.

I pulled to the shoulder and waited till he joined me and then we hopped back on the road and opened up our throttles.

Despite my best efforts to duck down to my most aerodynamic posture while thinking my fastest thoughts, it took exactly 20 seconds for traffic to stack up behind me like an angry mob of blood-thirsty wombat hunters.

I was having good luck at holding it at 57 mph, but the traffic did not appreciate the 20 mph slow down.
part of the Up on Parkfield Grade

I was grateful for the passing lane that allowed me to drop off the throttle back to 35 to let the angry hoards pass me, and for a brief time, I was the last thing on that road and able to blissfully speed along, peacefully traveling the actual speed limit (55 mph.)

But all too soon I looked in the mirror to see that another endless line of traffic had caught up to me. I would have loved to have made use of any of the turn outs I passed, but they all offered a nice, fat drop off the sleek pavement of the road onto an expanse of gravel. Not the sort of thing I want to hit sideways at 55.

There were some long stretches that allowed a lot of cars to get around me safely, but eventually I found myself in a position where I felt I really needed to pull over and get out of the way.

Fortunately, the shoulders of the highway were wide and smoothly paved like the road in many areas. I finally put on my signal and made the move to the shoulder. I let a hundred cars go by and when another long stretch of empty opened up in the flow of traffic, I got back on the road.

Before I knew it, I had a long line of traffic on my butt again. I was heading up a slight grade and realized I had the throttle pinned all the way open. I've never done that before (checking it off my bucket list) but the GPS speedometer said I was going 51.8 miles an hour.

I had an inkling at the point that there was very little fuel in the tank, and shortly afterward the engine died and left me with that eerily peaceful quiet that says, "move over and put it on reserve." Exactly 5 miles before I made it to the gas station.

Pulling into the Chevron station in Kettleman City, I was looking forward to getting out of the traffic and having a bathroom break. But the gas station was absolutely flooded with people. Vehicles lined up at every pump, people walking to a from vehicles, an entire compliment of Harley riders (complete with Harleys) standing around along the edge of the property, presumably waiting for all their ducks to get in a row before roaring out back onto the road in a din of blaring stereos. It was madness.

It doesn't take much to fill up the bikes.
The BF offered to go inside an pay for gas while I waited with the bikes at the pump. A little while later, he returned and asked if I'd just rather use my plastic at the pump (The BF is a cash kinda guy, I'm a pay at the pump kinda gal) seeing as how the inside of the gas station/mini market was even crazier than the outside.

We topped up tanks and the BF suggested that we move out of the way to the backside of the property and have a bottle of water. I figured this was a good idea and while he was finishing the water, I would have a chance to find the restroom.

Instead, he moto'd around the back of the station, past the bathrooms, off the property, around a back road and into a construction site.

Not only did it seem like parking off the road in the midst of the construction equipment seem like hooliganism-- without a bathroom-- but it also seemed like a great way to get something sharp stuck in a tire.

Then he proceeds to give me the--rather redundant-- advice that I should not pull out on the shoulder of the road.

Since we began riding, he has repeatedly lectured me on my tendency to pull over to let faster traffic by.

Suffice it to say: we have differing philosophies on this.

I know how it feels to be stuck behind slow moving traffic that refuses to pull over. I do not want even one vehicle riding behind me that is that angry and frustrated with me. It also make me exceptionally nervous and stressed out.

I can not imagine that the combination of an angry, stressed out driver of any vehicle driving behind a stressed out, nervous motorcyclist makes for a good combination in any situation. It seems so obvious to me that the right thing to do is GTFO of the way.

The BF cites that a vehicle is at its most vulnerable while pulling on or off a road. He feels that I'm safer to just continue on my way. Usually, he applies this lecture while we are in the mountains, where he suggests that I not pull over until I have 5 or more cars behind me.
View from Parkfield Grade
No. Strangely enough, I DIDN'T take pictures while I was on the 41!

While we sat in the construction site drinking water, he modified this lecture to include that the shoulder of the road is neither designed, nor maintained, for vehicular traffic and that the law only requires me to pull over once 5 or more vehicles are behind me IF I can find a turn out or passing lane.

Mind you, he told me this 48 hours after I had taken both my written motorcycle test and drivers test in order to extend my permit another year... which is a different story... but the point is, the California vehicle codes are still pretty fresh in my brain.

I was not amused by the lecture. I am extremely cautious of when and where I pull over to let traffic pass, but I still think it's best to let it pass.

And did I mention that I had to pee?

And I don't think we're going to make it home before dark... maybe, there's hope, but not much.

So I ask him where we are headed next. He says, "home."

No, really? Duh! I mean "where are we headed" as in "which way are we going?"

So we pull back onto the 41 and head north. He told me that we were going to turn on the first street that went east. But we didn't. Granted, the eastward bound streets didn't look like they really went far, but they did go east.

So I followed the BF as the 41 gave way to 55 mile and hour speed limits and 75 mile an hour speeding traffic again. I had just spotted the sign for Stratford in 16 miles and thought, "Well, 16 miles is a long way, but I've already done this much, I can make that" when the BF's left hand turn signal lit up.

Left hand? Really? A left hand turn takes us west, toward the coast, away from home. Maybe something broke? flew off his bike? got a bug in his eye? So I followed him.

He continued west for awhile and stopped beside a small, concrete-lined irrigation canal. When I arrived next to him he looked up from his GPS and said, "I don't think we should take this road."

Gloves on the lens-- I'll have to practice my technique
for taking photos on the fly!
By now, I had largely lost my sense of humor. And I still had to pee. I wanted to go home.

I looked around us. I looked at the canal-- no. I don't think we should take that "road." But there was a dirt road running along the side of the canal. It was unmarked, ungated, and unsigned.

The BF said the GPS said it was a county road. But he felt it would be a good idea to not take it.

"So where do we go?" I asked.

"Home." He says.

I put my face shield back down so he couldn't see me glower at him, as he points WEST and announces that we will be following that road until it turns back around.

The road eventually did curve northward. The shadows were getting longer. Tiny bugs can get inside my helmet with relative ease. It was getting cold. I still had to pee.

I cursed this man I share my life with as we wandered through the back roads of part of the valley that I'd never explored before. I knew I'd lost my sense of humor. I tried to take a picture of the empty fields and lengthening shadows, but the camera announced a "card read error" that I didn't have time to stop and deal with. I considered that I could just pull over and duck behind one of those pistachio trees to deal with the bladder issue... but I have on, let's see, how many layers of pants? I have on my leggings underneath my Airglide mesh armored pants which now have the waterproof liner in them, which would mean having to take off the jacket to get to the pants to undo the first layer of pants to get to the second layer of pants to get to the third layer of pants, by which point I will most likely have lost my balance and tumbled over backward into the mud and stickers...

the sort of thing you see in the Valley

No. I can wait. I wish I were enjoying this ride more, the area is so quiet and still and the time of day is beautiful. But I want to go home.

I arrive at a stop sign where the BF is waiting for me. I recognize the road, I know where it will take us. He motions for me to go ahead, so I ask him, "where are we going?"

He says, "home."

This time I have had it. I know there are many differences in the way men and women communicate. It is one of the most frustrating things about communicating with a member of the opposite sex and one of the most interesting. I know it has been a source of material for comedians through out the ages. But this man has been living with me for nigh onto EIGHT years and has been a close friend for twice that long-- he should have a little bit better understanding of what information I'm requesting when I say, "where are we going now" at each major juncture of the journey!!!

So in terms much less articulate than that I explained to him that I KNOW we're going HOME, but HE'S the only one who has plotted this route on a map, so when I say "Where are going now" I need to know what our next turn is-- what am I looking for?! Especially if I'm going to be in the lead!

The BF is like living with Mr. Spock from Star Trek. He just looks at me calmly and says in his non-plussed monotone, "I have no problem being in the lead."


Kings River at Jackson Ave
Last time we were here this was all under water-- and under our canoe.

We didn't have too much farther to go, but it had become dark enough to appreciate the headlights. I like my high beam. It is very useful. With the high beam on, I can see well ahead of me and to both sides of me. I was a ways behind the BF, but wasn't sure if the high beam bothered him. I asked at the next stop sign. He hadn't really noticed, so I kept the high beam on.

At the next stop sign, he said, "How about this? Low beam, but stay closer."

Did I mention that I'd lost my sense of humor? What the heck does he think? That I'm just lallygagging back here? Like I'm stopping to look for fire flies or something? (We don't have fireflies in California.) NO! For one thing, it's kinda dark but still kinda twilighty-- so I have to watch out for critters that might run out in front of me like vampires or werewolves or, more likely, small bunnies, cats, foxes or opossums. Not that opossums really run, per se.

And the wombat is enjoying the 35-40 mph speed on the these back roads.

Then we got stuck at a train crossing while they did some coupling and uncoupling of cars. Soon we were back on our way and it took almost no time at all for the BF to get out ahead of me again.


Nevertheless, it was pretty dark out there when I decided I couldn't take another 20 miles without putting on a jacket under my jacket (this ATTGATT thing is so awesome for keeping your skin on and you joints in tact, so lousy for freedom of movement and layering and unlayering) so I put on my blinker thinking he would certainly notice the change in lighting behind him.

Instead, he continued, on out of site.

He eventually figured out that I wasn't behind him anymore and circled back to where I was just getting back on the bike.

We finished our ride and rolled into the garage. I'm excited to see the odometer over 2500 miles now.

Ok, I actually took this photo at the gas station in Kettleman City
so it's not over 2500 yet-- but it was when I got home!
The BF unmounted, took off his helmet and immediately began pronouncing what an awesome ride we'd had-- our longest yet at 230 miles.

I think I grunted. He wanted to know if I had had a good ride too. I told him that I was having a great ride until he told me I was doing everything wrong.


Yes. I had a great ride. I went to the bathroom and petted my dogs and we had another long conversation about pulling over for faster traffic.

I read a lot of ride reports on the motorcycle forums, but of all the ride reports I read, I have yet to find one that offers sound advice on couples learning to ride together. This is an interesting process for two people who are very much individuals.

At least I have a job that allows me to tell the tales to a sympathetic audience. Most of my clients tell me they would never be able to ride with their mates.

And that's the perspective I need to kiss him on the cheek and agree to go out again the next time.

It really was a pretty good ride and he really is a pretty good boyfriend.