Almost Heaven; California!



This post is a continuation of the ride: Trekking for Givi Luggage

Here I am sitting at the corner of US 395 and US 50 in Carson City, Nevada. I had a decision to make: do I head south and feed my motorcycling soul or do I head north and fill the heart with good people. Usually, the decision would be easy: head North. North meant another trip down Interstate 80, which just doesn’t fill my motorcycling soul. South meant Highway 50 over Spooner Summit and Highway 88 over Carson Pass, near and dear to my heart. Letting out the clutch, I prioritized me and headed south.

Highway 88 is always a trip down memory lane. It was my first foray on the motorcycle through the Sierras experiencing fall color. As a year-round Sierra pass, I’ve come to know this road in all seasons. I know each and every turn. Riding Highway 88 is always like seeing an old friend looking out for you. While I love going east to get the assistance of gravity climbing the mountains, a westward trip down the Sierras is equally fun.

My new bike has cruise control. Cruise control is a bit of a mystery to me as I’ve been taught every turn requires “low, look, lean, roll,” which is orthogonal to all things cruise control. I loved putting on cruise control for long freeway drives. I can stretch my right arm and give the extensors in my forearm a well-deserved break. I’m significantly less comfortable going into a turn with constant speed.

Highway 50 climbing from Carson City, Nevada to South Lake Tahoe, California was the perfect pavement stretch to experiment with cruise controlled turns. The curves are generally gentle and predictable. It was a little nerve-wracking in the beginning, handing over throttle control to the motorcycle. About halfway up the mountain, I became more at ease both in the inside and outside lanes making the corners. Heading down the mountain was equally comfortable. Lake Tahoe was equally beautiful!

Given that 2020 is all things unexpected – one of the blessings was a high temperature of 70° in early November. I had my Aerostich and a long-sleeved T-shirt on. I was well below the clothing I thought I needed. I also was not expecting any fall foliage, and I couldn’t have been more wrong rounding one of the last turns into South Lake Tahoe! The aspens couldn’t have been more beautiful!

Early on in my riding career, I found a soft spot for Taco Bell. I don’t know if it came from being a broke college grad. Maybe Taco Bell was new as I didn’t eat much of it on the east coast. It could’ve been that three chicken tacos appeared healthy and reproducible from an insulin management perspective. In all likelihood, it was probably a little of all three. Since today was memory lane, today meant Taco Bell.

The pandemic makes most normal things feel awkward. The bathrooms were walled off. Nobody could eat inside the restaurant. Ordering lunch required touching the screen that has God knows how many fingerprints all over it. My three chicken tacos, however, were fabulous out in the parking lot, LOL. It was likely for the best as late-season rides always require a bit more haste as daylight is not your friend.

It was time to hop on the bike and start heading home. There’s nothing better than being on your bike in the Sierras on a weekday afternoon. Today was no exception. The climb out of the Lake Tahoe basin on Highway 89 was just fantastic. There was nobody on the roads, and it was a beautiful jaunt over Luther Pass. The descent into the Hope Valley highlighted that fall color was a very fickle being. All the leaves in this most beautiful valley were past their peak awaiting winter’s arrival. I was likely 7 to 10 days too late.

Climbing out of the Hope Valley to the west sits Red Lake. I remember climbing this pass in August in the pouring rain (it never rains in August), swearing under my tongue. Maybe that experience colored me, but I’ve never really spent much time at Red Lake as there are numerous other, prettier options throughout the Sierras. I’ve seen some use it as a fishing lake, but that’s about it for recreation.

Crossing Carson pass, however, Highway 88 reveals that Caples Lake is an absolute beauty! On one of my first trips with Anel, we stumbled upon this tree stump that both of us fell in love with. I’ve got a picture of it in every season, and it hangs in my foyer. I’ve always appreciated the austereness of the tree stump with water and mountains in the background. Caples Lake freezes in the winter, and it’s fun to walk out and see numerous people ice fishing on the lake.

A turnout sits about 10 miles down the road on the right-hand side, heading west. Each of the Sierra passes has that view that really encompasses the mountains. In my opinion, this turnout takes that moniker for Highway 88. I love stopping here and looking out into the distance seeing the mountains. In the spring, mainly because the mountains are snowcapped while the rest of the landscape has melted. It’s a beautiful sight!

Fall also came to Cook’s Station further down the road at about 5000 feet. Cook’s Station is another regular stop for me to grab a Coke and a bite to eat. When walking in, I saw a rather noticeable Trump/Pence sticker. It gave me more than a bit of pause. With the recent efforts by Republicans around stacking the courts to revisit Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas, I really had to think if it was a place I wanted to spend my time and energy. I’m a gay man. I don’t apologize for it. I advocate for those who treat me fairly.

However, we need to become one America again. I enjoy the fact that Cook’s Station exists. They make my motorcycle rides better. I can’t expect us to become one America again if I’m not willing to do my part. I remember taking the extra time to ensure that the refrigerator was securely closed. The cashier remarked, “I wished everyone did that.” In my mind, I thought, “that’s just what you do. Close the refrigerator so that you’re not wasting energy and costing the store owner money.” I guess most people apparently aren’t that thoughtful!

My phone reminded me it was 3:45 PM. Daylight was running out. I wasn’t going to make it home before dark. The focus of the ride had shifted. Now was about taking time and distance get home before the cold started setting in. Google Maps highlighted a new way to get from Highway 88 over to the East Bay through a relatively un-traveled network of farm roads. The sunset as I was traveling through this network.

As I crossed Interstate 5. The joy of civil twilight filled the sky. The sun was under the horizon, and the sky was filling with unabashed color. I love my new place because there is a clear moniker in the sky that marks home. That mountain in the distance is the place I hang my hat. From just about every direction, that mountain both sits quietly and dominates the landscape marking the place I call home. It always makes me smile. Home.

Right as I was closing in on Antioch, it was dark. Traffic was moving at a pretty good clip, and climbing the Antioch Bridge in the dark felt like a roller coaster. Hearing the clunk, clunk, clunk from the tires climbing higher into the sky was a surreal experience with the Delta all around me. I still kept my eye on that mountain as we circled around its northern flank. Upon reaching its western face – I was home. Two great days in the mountains, and my forearms did okay. Here’s to continued health and healing.



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