I'd just gotten this bike running last year when the Camp Fire swept through the place, sending me running for safe ground with two BMWs in tow, one of them this one. This past weekend, the SoCal Airheads held a Rendezvous at the Salton Sea, and I couldn't think of a better way of commemorating the 1st anniversary of the Camp Fire than to hit the road with this fellow evacuee. First night's destination was Cambria, and after slabbing down to Carmel, the reward was an almost deserted Highway 1. We ate it up, the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the dirty spots and the sweepers, and even a late lunch overlooking the ocean from a cliff side perch at Lucia. Dinner at the Black Cat Bistro was a tasty chipotle sauce served over lingune and shrimp, just a few steps down the street from the Bluebird Motel, 450 miles for the day.
The Mecca Beach Campground was about that much farther, and the day was to start in a fog. Actually, the day started with pleasant conversation as I readyed the bike that morning in the motel parking lot, a gal named Bell brightening an otherwise gray and foggy morning. Good vibes are the best way to start a day. Then it was on to a breakfast burrito, one big enough to last all day. Twenty minutes later I'd worked my way far enough inland to rise above the gloom into brilliant sunshine, and more twists and turns along CA46. Crossing the valley on CA58 is always a thrill, but staying on it all the way to Kramer Junction was a new experience. Coming up over the Tehachapis taught me a new lesson about over taking livestock trailers, even when they're empty they can be good for a brown wash. A while after that, I learned that the long section of US395 into Adelanto is double yellow all the way with three foot high stakes every few feet to prevent passing by all but the most determined. Our highway tax dollars at waste.
That was followed by a long string I'll call the Trailer Trash Valleys: Apple, Lucerne, Johnson, and Yucca, a popular culture that made me happy to just be passing through. Desert Hot Springs is aptly named, I think the temperature jumped 15F in the decent from Yucca Valley. A crazy helter skelter round of lane splitting and elbow banging got me down to Indio and calmer two laners south from there to Mecca and the campground. But not before a stop in Mecca for beer and a sandwich, and to see the long line of field hands cashing checks and wiring money back home.
It was only a minute or two after I'd shut the engine off at the camp before one of the 'Heads pointed down to a spark plug wire hanging below the left cylinder, prompting a WTF? from me, and a quick decision to get the tent planted and a cold beer fired up to watch the sunset. Troubleshooting could wait 'till morning.
Before I even had a ghost of a chance to enjoy a Mexican pastry and a drink of water the next morning, Sargent Colt reported for duty and I was soon following orders trying to diagnose last evening's WTF. Turns out that the little aluminum cap on one of the spark plugs had stripped its threads, allowing the plug lead to swing in the breeze. In the process it put the coil and solid state ignition system in peril, as all those thousands of volts had no where to go and went looking for trouble. That threw some shade on the bike's health, leaving me to wonder about what the rest of the day would bring. The new oil leak from the timing chest was deemed messy but harmless, but would claim hours of work on the lift at home to rectify. All this mechanical activity attracted 'Heads like a fresh cow pie attracts flies, and with all the kibitzing and "helpful" comments, it's amazing we ever finished. Especially since we had to pull the front cover off again when "spare" parts were found, and I had to redo the speedo cable pickup on the top of the transmission while we waited for breakfast to get the cable to seat properly. Some help...
Breakfast in Niland was delicious, even with burnt fingers, and the mud pots just south of there were good for a gander and a short hike. That was when Ernie's clutch cable decided to give up the ghost, but not before Greg found a shady spot in which to work. Now it was my turn in the peanut gallery, but with a new cable in hand and mostly constructive suggestions, the work went smoothly and we were soon headed south again, to local attractions of Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and East Jesus. If you've never been, you should go, if only to witness the strange turns a person's life might take.
Immensely long trains run along that side of the Salton Sea, and as we returned to the highway we found one of them across the road, and it seemed to be slowing down. After we'd watched for about five minutes, our suspicions were confirmed as the bang bang bang from a hundred collapsing freight car couplings brought things to a stop. Looking at the GPS I could see a way around to the north, but I couldn't encourage anyone to come along. In ten minutes I was at the Niland gas station, and in another ten I was shopping for beer and munchies when I ran across Dave, one of the train strandees, at the local market. They'd baked for another fifteen minutes waiting for the train to clear, so I think I got the better deal on that one.
Back in camp, Gary Jackson, chief cook and bottle washer and host of the Rendezvous, had organized a taco feed for the evening. He even had a large Help Wanted sign, and who am I to say NO to a damsel in distress? A few other Airheads joined me in a chop fest, where mountains of cilantro, serano peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes were properly diced, sliced, and minced to make a very, very good salsa. Having forgotten the salt, our call for help was answered by no less than pink Himalyan salt, a testamony to the resourcefulness and unusual perclivities of your typical Airhead. Gary then fired up his monster cooker, and with the cast iron griddle smoking like a steam locomotive, we were soon chopping carne asada and even chorizo sausage, which hungry heads soon had wrapped with steaming hot toasted tortillos and loaded up with shredded veggies. Conversation stopped and all that was to be heard were smacking lips, lots of mmmmmms, and an occasional burp. If you went to your tent hungry that night, it must've been your own fault!
All good things must come to an end, and the next morning saw me headed north as the sun rose, a full tank of gas between my knees and a long way to go in front of me. Originally I'd wanted to bag both Walker and Sherman passes on the way home, but yesterdays dangling plug cable left me in enough doubt to avoid deserted mountain passes for the time being. So I angled north and west to pick up US395 and once again enjoy the Adelanto Line, all the while scouting for another breakfast burrito. Three hundred miles later I was still scouting, and had to settle for lunch in Lone Pine; perhaps I'd been too picky. But not stopping has it's rewards as well, and having reached the intended evening's resting place at Topaz Lake by 3PM, the thought dawned that I could be in my own bed that night instead of some strange casino's. Spuring on that idea was the weather forecast for 28F temps the next morning, something I wasn't looking forward to on an unfaired motorcycle. So I pressed on, reaching Reno by 4:30, and making the top of Donner Summit just as the sun went below the horizon. That left me descending I80 in the dark, and while the LED bulb in the headlight helped, trailing the car in front of me to use their headlights ultimately got me down the hill in one piece. I got lots of practice doing that during my days on Nortons! Made it home at about 7:30, 12:20 and 735 miles later, and all I was ready for was a soft couch, a couple fingers of Bourbon, and off to bed.
If you're looking for something to do next year on Veteran's Day Weekend, especially if you ride an airhead motorcycle, I highly recommend the Salton Sea Rendezvous. Especially if Gary's cookin' tacos!