We checked out of the motel in Bakersfield California in search of a good breakfast. After a few wrong turns, an alleyway and some creative parking we found the 24th Street Cafe. There’s something about a vibrant breakfast joint that makes my morning. A line on the sidewalk looked promising. Inside was a a bustle of people, scrambling servers in diner garb and booth seating in a bright and sunny room.
We waited patiently in line until the women behind us tried to cut in. There is always a moral battle for me in these instances. Trying to find myself between being a pushover and disgusted by my own passivity and an obnoxious prick who fights for his rightful place in front of nice ladies. I went with obnoxious prick, what the hell I was hungry.
We had a great breakfast, things like sundried tomatoes and goat cheese found their way into my omelette. Fully caffeinated on bad coffee and good food we braved the busy streets of Bakersfield one last time. We had been studying our maps, gps and google earth for two days now and had a plan to ride dirt roads most of the way to Las Vegas. We longed to get away from the pandemonium on the highway.
As we headed west the town changed in the way many towns do. Upscale malls and cafes faded into industrial yards, salvage yards, body shops, used car dealers and finally the town just gave up. We were off the beaten path again. Then the road closed. A very serious looking sign informed us of such. But all our mapping and planning wasn’t going to be derailed by a sign with so much room on either side. Once beyond the road closed sign there is a certain rush, of being somewhere you are not supposed to be, of doing something you are not supposed to be doing. Each mile forward heightens the sense of being alive.
Then we came to the reason the road was closed. A bridge was out, there were machines digging and pushing dirt around and the supervisors big truck parked directly across the road. We detoured up onto the parallel rail road tracks and surveyed the scene. I was hoping to continue on the side of the tracks but the loose, steep gravel looked unridable. As I looked down towards the operator of a particularly ominous earth mover he waved at me. Waved us through in fact. We descended back down, threaded our way around the machines, gave a big wave back, rode the soft earth through the dry creek bed and were off again.
This time we were completely alone on the sweetest stretch of pavement I have ever had the pleasure of riding. This road was all ours and it felt absurdly wonderful. This road was not just heavenly because it was closed on both ends to everyone but us. This road was wonderful because it had turns, lots and lots of turns, really tight turns and it clung to the rolling, grassy hills, weaving through the topography. It’s difficult to describe the sensation of rolling along in the wide open, perched atop a cheerfully roaring motorcycle and dipping into turn after turn to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, for those who have there is no need. They are already feeling the grips in their palms.
We reached the end of our private road, turned left and headed deeper and deeper into the mountains. Mountains that were visible last night from anywhere in Bakersfield were now all around us. We followed a beautiful river, hemmed by cool stone banks and random cows. We were feeling really good today and twisting our way upwards. We passed little towns, very little towns and finally came to dirt. It had been a long time since we were on a dirt road and it was nice to be back in the wilds. We felt at home and so did the bikes. This was, after all, our natural habitat.
We continued upwards. A hand painted sign on a beaten cattle fence warned us that this was private property. We stopped and pondered the sign. This felt like the kind of place where someone just might shoot you for trespassing. The homes had collections of rusty, broke down old cars, scraggled dogs and worn out dirt yards. If the sociologists are right and inequality breeds violence, than we could run into some seriously grumpy folks up here.
After a brief discussion we creatively interperted the sign thusly. What it meant to say was that the land was private, absolutely, but the road was public. After all the road was clearly marked on our maps and even on our GPS. I undid the usual barbed wire latch and let us through. The road pitched immediately upward and disintegrated into boulders and gravel. It was great fun. There were stream crossings and sandy stretches and all the time we climbed. Then we came to another gate with another hand painted sign. The sign had a certain splashing of paint and emphasis of lettering that suggested the artist was seriously pissed off. It was also impossible to creatively interpret its meaning. In no uncertain terms it meant for us to turn around or enjoy all manner of suffering. Adding to our sense of forboding was a dog that had been stealthily tracking us from a distance and now was coming at us rather intently, no doubt to inforce the sign. We spun around and headed back down, the dog tracking us on a parallel path up in the scrub. I realized for the first time that on a rough dirt trail it actually wasn’t possible to out run a dog. We let ourselves out the second gate expecting an old pickup truck to charge up to us in a cloud of dust, the back packed with shotgun waving, bearded madmen but they never showed up.
I have long believed the only real danger in trespassing, which is hardly avoidable in this increasingly owned and fenced off world, is to stumble upon a healthy field of Cannabis for example, or a gleaming orange plot of poppies. And the only time I have been threatened at gun point for trespassing was in the lush meadows just below Mount Washington known for growing some seriously dank marijuana. Steeling corn is silly and impractical but a good size bud is small, easily carried and worth a small fortune.
Heading back down the mountain I felt disappointed and a little wronged. Either our GPS had lied to us or some mountain man with a paint brush and a rusty fence had hijacked the road. I suspected that with a judge and a court order we could reclaim this public right of way, ah well.
We backtracked for miles until we finally fell back out onto the highway with big rigs and speeding sports cars. We were trying to hook up with the famous highway 66.
We pulled off on a clover leaf. This massive engineering marvel seemed out of place in the empty desert. We had to plan our next move. Samantha worked the phone for locations and lodging while I studied the abandoned cloverleaf. It was certainly overbuilt for this lonely spot in the desert. I couldn’t see who why anyone would use it.
As a child, our sense of play fully intact, we engage in all kinds of silliness with complete abandon. Perhaps these childhood play times are all we really need to keep our spirit alive. I remember family road trips and the cloverleafs we would pass. I fantasized about riding a motorcycle on them from before I was old enough to ride a bicycle. Their steep sides just seemed suited for it. I found myself suddenly possessed of the idea. I dropped down the side of the onramp and into a field of desert scrub. Weaving my way through sandy single track and tossing the bike around bermed turns. I pointed the bike directly up the side of the onramp, past Samantha, across the ramp and down the other side. I had always wanted to ride the contours of onramps and offramps and now I was finally doing it. It was great fun and probably highly frowned upon by those who concern themselves with such things but I was finally living a child hood daydream, it would take more than a vague threat to stop me. Plus I felt I was performing an important public duty, finally using this abandoned testament to government waste and largess for something.
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold,” goes the opening line of Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and in fact we had found ourselves just outside of Barstow. The sun was setting slowly turning the desert a thousand shades of pink. We rolled in on highway 66. It was the old America, the perfect American dream, it could have been 1955 as we rolled passed neon signs, diners and motels. We checked in and collapsed on our round bed. As my eyes shut Samantha asked, “Where in the world can you still find sheets for a round bed?” Where in the world indeed I thought as we drifted off to the sounds of traffic on the famous highway just beyond our bathroom wall.