Sunday, June 15, 2014

Night of the Cows

Ride Report From March 23, 2014:

The BF was eager to get out on the bikes, but he kept telling me "it doesn't have to be an epic ride...we have things we need to get done, we can't spend all day riding." Or something to that effect.

Naturally, we spent all day riding. And part of the night.

I am not a morning person. In the way that not only do I not gleefully hop out of bed at the first hint of dawn and immediately begin singing-- like SOMEBODY I might happen to live with-- it takes an hour for me to come to terms with the fact that I am going to have to get out of bed at all. I don't want to eat immediately upon waking-- I have to wade into my day. Preferrably well after noon.

Which has consistantly foiled the BF's plot to arrive at Mountainhouse in time to prove or disprove my hypothesis that they won't be able to make eggs and toast any better than they make BLTs (not well) as they stop serving breakfast at 11 and it consistantly takes us 2 hours to get there.

Also, the BF remains in denial of the fact that we CANNOT be on the road less than an hour and a half after he has managed to drag my carcass out of bed, due to his refusal to do any of our pre-flight checks (tire pressure, chain tension/lubrication, etc) without me present. He could SO do that stuff while I'm in the shower. Instead, it is my understanding that he spends that time online, checking in with several riding forums, tweeking routes, and paying absolutely NO attention to several weather sites that he checks (hence-- the "10% chance of rain" story.)

And this day would prove no different.

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No, this map is not interactive.

So the plan was to fuel up at the Chevron station, travel up 245 to Mountain House for breakfast, then on to Whitaker Forest Road (not to be confused with Forrest Whitaker, who may or may not actually have a road named after him at all) to Hume Lake via 10 Mile Road where we would re-fuel. The BF had heard a rumor that the General's Hwy (180) was already open all the way through King's Canyon and down to the "end of the road" loop, so he factored that into our mileage with a Plan A for returning to Hume Lake to refuel again verses a Plan B to just head out of the park on Hwy 180 if the gate wasn't actually open.

I think this was where I stopped actually processing anything he was saying and started nodding and saying "uh huh" a lot while I tried to wrap my brain around the idea that I was going to have to be OUT OF BED by 6 a.m. in order to make this happen.

Riding is not second nature to me. I have to think about what I'm doing while I'm riding. While the BF was doing the mathamatic calculations to determine where and when we would need to make stops for gas, I was making mathamatic calculations to determine how much caffiene it was going to take for me to be awake enough to make this ride with my eyes open.

Luckily, the BF loves me. And he didn't force me to risk turning to dust in the morning light until 8 a.m.

Somehow he still held out hope that this would get us to Mountain House in time for breakfast.

But we didn't leave the house till at least 9:30. Which had us departing the Chevron station closer to 10. Which meant there was no way we'd be ordering breakfast so we might as well just kick back and take time to smell the citrus blossoms in the air and stop for pics of the wildflowers.

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We made it to Mountain House and parked our tiny, under-dressed bikes across the street. It was a beautitful day! And everyone in the Central Valley who owned a street-legal motorcycle knew it!

I would really like a camera that does panaramic shots for occassions such as this, I'd have loved to get all these bikes in one shot! Suffice it to say-- there were a LOT of bikes parked outside of that tiny little restaraunt. And a lot of bikes means a lot of bikers. And a lot of bikers means the meager staff at the little watering hole was going to be overwhelmed-- which they often are anyway.

So we sauntered in-- Mountain House makes a MUCH BETTER burger than that place where we ate the "worst lunch ever" but that is not to say that they are on my list of best kept secrets for a great meal. The food is edible, but it's the LOCATION, situated at the junction of 3 twisty roads, that keeps the place alive during nice weather with hoards of thirsty motorcyclists and bicyclists.

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We sat on the back patio, grabbed some menus, and waited for the waitress to come for our order.

...and waited...

...and waited...

...and... about that time, we were approached by a couple of riders who recognized us from our thread on Pashnit. WOW, like we're celebrities! Kinda cool having someone recognize us. So we chatted with Dave and Jamileh for what turned into quite awhile. They had just finished their meal and were getting ready to head out again-- but we were still waiting for the waitress to stop by our table.

It was busy, no doubt. And there were only 2 girls working the entire place. So one had to cook and one had to wait tables. It was chaos. BUT the waitress didn't have a very efficient method of working the tables to begin with, and standing pigeon-toed and cooing at the "hot" boys who were closer to her age didn't get things done any faster.

She did eventually take our drink order and we actually got our soft drinks.  (We just can't bring ourselves to grab a beer on a ride yet.) It would have made sense for her to have asked if we were ready to order WHEN SHE TOOK OUR DRINK ORDER, since we'd already been sitting there for about 45 minutes. But she didn't. She didn't really give us time to offer it either. And she didn't really talk to us at all when she finally brought the drinks. Just sort of set 'em down on the far edge of the table and ran off to deliver another round of beers to the cute boys.

We finally gave up. We'd been there for an hour (seriously, not an exaggeration) and hadn't even been asked for our order. And from watching other tables, it seemed that if we DID place an order, it was likely going to keep us waiting there for another hour before we'd see food. We opted to pay for our beverages and be on our way with plans for lunch at Hume Lake. Of course, paying for our beverages took another 20 minutes and ended with Matt telling the lady doing the cooking that he was just putting a 5 dollar bill on the counter.

I so desperately wanted to help those girls. They need a much better sytem for working the dining area...and a bigger grill.

But we had a ride to ride.

We were also really hungry.

This was our first trip up Whitaker Forest road for this season and it was not to my liking. The Wombat had a fine time with it, but I do not like the feeling of my rear tire losing traction-- and I REALLY don't like it when my FRONT tire goes wonky! So, like any self-respecting 4-year-old, I started singing to myself. Which turned into a full blown rendition of Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik"with lyrics along the line of "Oh my God, I really don't like riding on the dirt, it's scary and I don't like my tires slipping out from under me, I wish I could stay at home and watch TV like normal people on my weekends but the boyfriend likes to ride the motorcycles and I don't really hate it but I wish we had gotten cruisers and could just stay on the road..." and then I'd hit another slippery patch or run over a rock or a root and be all "It's so scary and all I have to do is stay upright and keep riding and not hit anything..."



It was quite a work by the time I reached the pavement at the end of the road.
This is why we don't have a voice activated comm system.

But I did keep the rubber side down and made it to the top and we took a leisurely ride down 10 Mile Road to Hume Lake. All smooth, paved, and lacking in snow.

This was the first trip to Hume that left us hungry and cold. The only thing open was the little gas station/market. So our bikes ate better than we did. We shared a soda, a bag of chips, and some beef jerky. What a sad little lunch compared to the bacon cheeseburger we'd been expecting. But it did the trick and we headed off to discover that the rumors were false-- the gate was still closed and we would not be heading into the canyon that day.

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I was pretty relieved when I realized that the BF's ride plan meant NOT HAVING TO GO BACK DOWN WHITAKER FOREST ROAD! Whew!

So down Hwy 180 we sailed-- even on the little TW, my skills have really come a long way since last year! I may be slow, but I can ride that road fast enough that when cars want past me it's because they're going too fast, not because I'm going too slow.

But our day still involved taking the "berry patch road" down to the Kings River. Remember the last time we did this? (The "Epic" Ride) Last August, it resulted in my first after dark riding and a frustrated BF broken down in Sanger.

And here we were, starting the road an hour later on a day when the sunset was an hour earlier than the last time we undertook this foolishness.

Mostly the ride down Davis Flat road went smoothly-- well, not "smoothly," it's a pretty bumpy road. I got caught up on a couple of sections. At one point I came up a hill and was not impressed with what awaited me immediately downhill. Deep ruts that just didn't quite present a decent line. I got pretty frustrated with myself for getting hung up on it. If I'd just hit it running I'd have gotten through it without a problem. But since I had a chance to see it, stop and ponder-- it gave me time to freak myself out over nothing.

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But soon enough, we were back on our way. Enjoying the wildflowers...and the cows.

I grew up in these parts and as soon as I had a vehicle of my own I used it to get to as many places as I could within a day's drive. I drove that '85 Nissan Sentra on a lot of roads a lot like this one. My vehicles steadily progressed through a series of high clearance 4 wheel drives and the roads I've traveled have included many that weren't exactly roads at all.

I've seen a lot of cows.

That's my point.

Lots and lots of free range cattle. Grazing peacefully along the back roads. Or just standing on the road. And when a vehicle approaches, they freak out. And run. In front of you. Down the road. Where you are driving. But the cows just keep running along the road, exactly where you need to be.

They're like a girl in a horror movie (specifically the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre)-- run, run, run, then stop and look back at what's chasing them. Wait. Let it get closer to you-- OH NO! It's still chasing me!-- run run run...

Thus making me feel far less guilty for enjoying eating them.

I wonder if that's how horror movie supervillains feel too? "She's SOOOOOO stupid! I don't even feel bad for her anymore, I'm just going to mutilate her."

Playing the cow chasing game on a motorcycle is weird.

First off-- they're COWS. They're HUGE. And they are right there next to you. Where they could kick you. Or shove you. Or lick you. It's a little intimidating.

And when you disturb a nest of cows in the middle of the road, you never know how close to them you have to get to make them disperse. And you never know which direction they will run when they start running.

Riding in cows might be scarier than riding in traffic.

So there we are, riding down Davis Flat road. I'm a ways behind the BF and I come around a bend and see him up ahead with several cows shuffling up the road in front of him.

Usually, cows will eventually get tired of running along the road and turn off and scamper into the hills, valleys, brush on the side. But not these cows. These cows just kept running along the road directly in front of the BF. There was no getting around the cows. And the cows weren't getting off the road. They just kept running. Then stopping and looking back, then running.

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It was quite the sight. I started concocting the ride report in my head, I was going to call it the "cattle drive ride."

Eventually the cows took a detour and cleared the road. We found a spot to stop for a snack break. Then we made it down to the river and began the journey around Pine Flat Lake.

It was a beautiful day. The hills were green, the wildflowers were starting to bloom, and I wasn't paranoid about running out of gas. This time I really enjoyed riding the curves around the lake. Life was good.

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Do you know the road around that lake is 35 miles long? Seriously. I was having a great ride, but I was watching the odo and that road just keeps going and going and going.

But by the time we were back on paved road, I had hit my stride. I was in the zone and having a great time riding around the lake. And you'd have probably thought I hit the lottery when I caught up to the Jeep. OMG! SOMEONE IS IN MY WAY! MY way! I'm not in someone else's way! THEY had to move over FOR ME! Wow.

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Naturally, when I finally encounter someone slower than me, it's a Jeep...I miss my Jeep

The sun kept sinking and sinking and sinking. This would definitely be another ride in the dark.

The problem was that our next gas stop was planned for Squaw Valley, which meant going up Elwood road-- through Wonder Valley (which is a small housing development that has a creepy Stepfordian feel to it-- and cows,) across several cattle guards, past the house with the peacocks, and up a very steep road with several hairpin turns... in the dark. (gulp!)

So that's what we did. In the dark. On the watch for deer, oppossums, skunks, racoons, bob cats, coyotes, cows, and free range peacocks.

Once it got dark, it was DARK. The kind of dark that you only know if you've spent time in true rural areas. Just our headlights and the stars. Which would have made for a nice ride if we weren't on a very twisty road, which meant that our headlights didn't really show us where we were going, and if we weren't in an area where any number of critters might jump out or run in front of us at any moment... or just happen to be standing in the middle of the road when we come around a corner.

Peacock Place met us with a couple of mules in an unexpected location, but otherwise was uneventful. We made it through that obstacle course and started the steep, twisty climb out of the little canyon up to Hwy 180.

And there they were. In the pitch blackness, at least 50 of 'em all standing in the road, all facing downhill toward us, all staring at our approaching headlights. Standing there like some sort of inpenetrable picket line, they eyes reflecting our headlights, their breath billowing smoke puffs in the cool night air.

Not making a sound.

Not moving a muscle.

Just looking back at me looking at them.

Seriously one of the creepiest moments I've ever experienced-- and I went Billiwack Monster hunting once!

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Not actual picture of actual cows: Artistic rendering of encounter-- except I also remember fangs and drooling

I'm so used to cows just scampering off when I approach them. But these guys just stood there. All lined up and facing us. I felt like a Balrog facing a herd of Gandalfs.

We were stopped in the middle of the road, on an incline, in the pitch black night, on a road made of blind curves, caught in a standoff with 50 head of cattle.

I revved the Wombat...no response. I nudged a little closer...nothing. I beeped the cute little horn...nothing. These cows were not backing down!

So... I gingerly set about the task of carefully weaving between the beasts. Terrified that at any moment one would spook and take off in any number of random directions-- quite possibly directly into me. Or the BF. Or one would spook which would start a chain reaction of spooked cows-- a virtual nuclear meltdown of cow.

This could go seriously wrong.

Somewhere in the back of my head, it occurred to me that the cows were exacting revenge for our cattle drive earlier.

Cows might have a mean sense of retribution-- but their concept of what constitutes being wronged might leave something to be desired.

So we made it through the cows, to the gas station, and home without further incident.

But that would not be our last incident with those cows....

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