Hurricane Hillary dumped immense amounts of rain on Death Valley National Park. Thus, for this year’s ride the park was entirely closed. We made alternate plans this year rather than cancel.
I last did the Queer Invasion of Death Valley in 2019. I rode the bike too hard on the last day of Interstate 5. I landed some nasty tendinitis, which became a three-year adventure in and of itself I didn’t want to repeat. I cautiously approached this year’s ride, having that memory not too far off in the rearview mirror.
A buddy of mine reached out saying, “Hey Dan, are you doing Queer Invasion this year?” I gave it a lot of pause and drug my feet far too long but decided – screw it. I’m in. I’ll figure it out as I go. If my tendons flare up, Voltaren is a first line of defense in towing the motorcycle back to the Bay Area if I need to (which even I acknowledge is a very remote possibility). The day before, I texted back, “I’m in!” Then, frantic packing began.
The ride initially kicks off at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. I’ve backtracked towards the Castro Theatre in years past but ultimately decided to meet the group in Manteca. I understand the iconic start of the Clear Invasion at the Castro Theatre. However, Manteca really is the Northern California meet-up. Many of us from the East and South Bay and our friends from the north in Sacramento all descend on Manteca to meet up.
It was good to see the gang gather in Manteca. Riding a motorcycle, in many ways, is quite isolating. It’s you, the bike, and the wind working together along the road. That isolation can be empowering and freeing. Riding with others brings a vital social aspect, which I’ve not had much in the past couple of years. I enjoyed seeing old and new friends and all kinds of bikes gather in Manteca.
Due to the changes in the National Park fee structure under the Trump administration, the ride now goes over Sonora Pass, saving each rider a $30 entrance fee. This year that would’ve been 300 bucks for just our group, and we generally don’t stop and enjoy the park as this ride is about riding. Highway 120 out of Manteca is a mix of two-lane and four-lane crossing the Central Valley and heading into the foothills. Once in the foothills, the sport of group writing began to emerge as the road followed the contours of the land.
As we approached Sonora, smoke began to fill the air. Fortunately, the smoke came from an aggressive, controlled burn. We need these burns to keep the out-of-control forest fires damaging property to a minimum. Seeing the Forest Service keeping an eye on our local woods is great.
Lunch was in Twain Harte. Starting in Twain, Harte gets the hustle and bustle of Sonora in the rearview mirror and sets up a nice climb over Sonora Pass after the meal. Usually, my go-to is The Rock of Twain Harte. However, the ride lead brought us to the Sportsmen’s Coffee Shop – which was equally good. The waitress was awesome, accommodating our biker gang with a place to store gear and splitting us across two tables.
The ride up Sonora Pass truly was lovely. As we climbed, the green Aspen started to show their yellow colors the further up the pass we went. Sonora Pass is one of the most technical paved crossings in the Sierra but also offers expansive views all around. In contrast, Ebbet’s Pass, just to the south, is way more technical but doesn’t offer the same level of scenery provided by Sonora Pass.
In prior years, I always saw small signs noting the USMCMWTC and kept wondering – what is this thing? Every so often, I’d see soldiers in full military gear with jeeps and trucks dotted across the landscape. It turns out it’s the United States Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. How is that for an abbreviation?
This area has some of California’s most brutal winter conditions as supercooled air comes down from the Sierra Nevada and collects in the valley here. That’s probably why this area is a good training center spot.
After a long technical pass, the road in the landscape opens up for a bit of throttle action. 🙂
The climb along US 395 up and over Conway Summit never disappoints – especially in the fall after a long, wet winter. The Aspen showed full color over Conway Summit (more on that in tomorrow’s blog post, as I don’t have much time to linger). We rode just a few miles to our next stop at the Mono Lake overlook.
Mono Lake is a must-stop to truly understand water rights and resources within the state of California. In the middle of the 20th century, the city of Los Angeles started diverting water from Mono Lake to fund a growing city in the desert. The amount of water drop between the 1963 water level and today is truly astounding.
We took a quick rest stop at the Tioga Gas Mart, renowned for the Woah Nelli Deli, which serves some of the best food in the Eastern Sierra. Gas station food, really? Yes! Absolutely. I was nearing 300 miles on the motorcycle today, and my body felt it. I thought we would take a short jot down US 395 into Bishop. However, I was wrong on that one.
The ride headed east into the town of Benton along Highway 120. This section of Highway 120 travels the high desert with all of its ups, downs, and turns. Riding in this area always requires a deep respect of not over-riding your sight lines. Several sections of the road “drop” due to steep contours in the land.
Warning: make sure you can see the road. There are several parts of this Highway that have surprising blind sections of pavement.
Our last rest stop was in Benton Hot Springs. I have ridden through this area many times but never stayed here. In 2024, I want to fix that. I’d love to hit a number of natural hot springs around the state. If you’re going to stop here, why not hang out on Yellow Jacket Road?
The final 40 miles into Bishop truly was painful. US 6 is straight as an arrow with very little visual interest. Plus, my body began stiffening up after a fun-filled day on the motorcycle. I expected a leisurely ride down US 395 and exchange that for a sporty leg across Highway 120 in a dull leg along US 6.
What matters, however, is today I’m riding with friends, and that’s throughout they chose. We arrived into Bishop right at sunset and I was definitely looking forward to dinner with the group!