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The Queer Invasion of Death Valley is a ride that attracts riders from all over California Columbus Day weekend in October. It started out as a birthday ride for the “dis–organizer” but has become known as the colloquial season closer for the year. Most of us ride year-round in California, but in October the weather turns noticeably cooler, rain is looming, and the Sierras will be closing soon due to snow. In other words, it’s our last big hurrah.
Every year brings about its own challenges with regards to ride logistics. Most years the weather is usually a factor and this year was no exception. We had snow in the Sierras earlier this week so all of the passes were closed we wanted to take. Adding insult to injury, the government shutdown turned the national parks into big unknowns as we didn’t know what would be open. Good news was in store for us though. In many of the national parks the roads are actually state entities. Yosemite and Death Valley were fully open from a motorcycling perspective. The only thing we couldn’t do was use the restroom inside of the park. As usual, the snow melted right on time. The passes opened on Friday.
Leaving San Francisco
This is my third year on the ride and the first year actually being in San Francisco for the start. The ride always leaves from the Castro Theater in San Francisco. The first year I met the group in Manteca as I was coming from the South Bay. The second year I had tire trouble and wasn’t able to leave on time. I was expecting to see more riders in San Francisco however. The uncertainty around the trip really put a damper on the number of riders attending. Homoto was there in good numbers which was great to see us out in the community on a big ride.
I’ll be the first to say I don’t do well in lines. We rode from San Francisco to Manteca in formation where two riders utilize both sides of the lane in a staggered formation. Since I took photos of the group leaving San Francisco, I was in the back a good portion of that ride. My riding gear was tight. I didn’t have much room to get layers in underneath it. Armed with my Aerostich and a longsleeved T-shirt, I set out. Being in the back sucks; the exhaust from 20 bikes ahead of you isn’t exactly fun to breathe in. 🙂 It was also extremely cold. The foggy morning in San Francisco and the lack of sun on the way to Manteca made it really cold for all of us. We arrived in Manteca right about 9:15 in the morning.
We met more riders who came from the East Bay, South Bay, and even some from the North Bay in Manteca. Usually this gas station is swarms with bikes. It was comfortably full this year, but you could tell the uncertainty around the ride had a toll on the attendees. The ride in to Yosemite National Park was awesome. It was one of those days I felt fully on my game, traffic was light, and the sun had come out and warmed up the area. One of the guys told me, “What happened to you? Usually you are at the back of the back!” I guess long commutes on the bike to work had an affect on my ride throughput. We had lunch at the Priest Station Café which never disappoints. The ride up the Old Priest Grade was epic. Crowds were non-existent. After parking I ran to the deck to capture the rest of the group coming up the grade.
Right as we arrived at Yosemite, the park ranger gave us a lecture saying all we could do was stay on the road and that all park facilities were closed. Just over the hill we saw a car being pulled over by park police. It wasn’t clear if they were “recreating in the park” or speeding. Highway 120 was empty. For the whole 100 miles we were on the road I probably only had to pass four or five cars. I just couldn’t get the creepy feeling out of me that the park was closed. Yosemite is a place of fun, excitement, and wonder. This time around though it almost felt like a prison. The police presence was visible ensuring that we did not stop and enjoy the resources we pay for in taxes.
I just got a 70 – 200 lens and I wanted to take some photos of the group as they went by. I was looking for a spot for a didn’t have to shoot into the sun and I could capture the bikes in some corners. I found the turn off that wasn’t roped off and got ready to shoot!
I have to say, I do enjoy this lens. It just drops you right into the scene. I had to do bit of editing to mitigate the shadows in Adobe Lightroom.
By the time we got out of the park it was getting late in the day and time to start making it to Bishop. I stopped again on the way down to the Tioga Gas Mart, the Eastern Sierra’s most famous gas station. I like this spot better as the turns were a bit more pronounced and the sun wasn’t in my way.
Jeff and I met up at the gas stop and the two of us wandered down to Bishop. For some reason the changing of the leaves came really earlier this year. June Lake is usually just starting to show touches of color this time of year. This year, a good portion of the color had come and went.
We also stopped at Convict Lake but there was a wedding on the shores so we didn’t stay all that long. I met a couple from Los Angeles that was bummed about the government shutdown and the park closure. Armed with my story that at least the road is open they decided they were going to do a full Yosemite vacation.
We pulled into Bishop about 4:30 PM which I think is the earliest I’ve ever gotten there. I wanted to not get stuck in the High Sierras when it was cold and sometimes it’s nice to not just ride hard on every outing. Maybe I’m just getting old. 🙂