Jacques Klopper » Motorcycle travel story

Motorcycle travel story by Jacques Kopper

Fellow Knights of the Blacktop

It all started approximately three years ago when Ray Gray, an ex-Fighter Pilot and President of the Sacramento Road Cruisers, came up with the idea to arrange a ride that would cross all of the major passes through the Sierras Nevada between Lake Tahoe to Lake Elizabeth (close to Bakersfield) that he became so used to during his many "sorties" over the region. An experienced rider and well versed in the roads crossing the Sierra, Ray volunteered to arrange and lead the ride.

There were to be a few extra rules on these rides as most of the High Sierra passes are very demanding on a rider and the distances are such that it had to be done at a certain skill level and speed. We could not take too many bikes, it would be just about impossible to control a large group on the twisty-turnies. The riders had to be well skilled and have confidence to climb the mountains through a series of 180 degrees uphill climbs and downhill descends. Summary: This would be a long distance (+- 1500 miles), requiring good handling skills, fast pace ride over three days.

The event started in Sacramento, crossing the Sierra to Ridgecrest, through the Panamint Valley, around the back of Mono Lake, across the Sierra at Yosemite and various other points back to Sacramento. I met the group in Ridgecrest on Friday night after their first leg of the tour from Sacramento (Although I still belong to the SRC I now live in Palmdale) for an early "stands up" on Saturday. We have not seen another for almost a year and had to celebrate. The group ended up in a little bar next to the hotel where a local band was screeching out high pitch vocals on 80's rock. Me being the odd one out (not living in Sacramento) had to drink a "special" ordered by Sparky. I thought it was just scotch and club soda but it kicked me in the backside big time. No I did not dance on the table, but one more and I would not have been able to ride the next day!

In Trona we encountered flash floods with water streaming over the highway. My first thought was hydroplaning of that little footprint on the front wheel. The thought brought danger signals to the brain with resulting "fist full of stopping power". We made it through without major mishaps but the bikes looked like it was exposed to a mud slinging competition. The Panamint Valley was pretty cool at +- 75 degrees F at 8:30 am. Colors in this area always inspire my thoughts about the possibility to paint - pastels in orange, blue, burgundy, green and olive. Well I know I have no painting talent but one can wish! Lightning welcomed us to Yosemite and big tears from heaven soaked my denim jacket. In my infinite wisdom I refused to change into something dryer than denim at the first sign of a drizzle. Temperatures dropped dramatically and I nearly froze my butt off in drenched denim. The second night was spent in Sonora and celebrated with a big steak.

The third day had us riding the Sierra crossing back and forth on highway 10 (Sonora Pass), highway 4 (Ebbetts and Monitor Passes), highway 88 (Carson and Luther Passes) and finally highway 50 (Echo Summit, Johnson Pass) into Sacramento. The scenery on these roads is phenomenal. Those long sweeping >70 mph turns is a real treat and the low speed 180 degrees, up and down, tests your abilities to the highest degree. These combined with wet weather and even hail towards Lake Tahoe, made for a fantastic ride. On Luther Pass close to Lake Tahoe we encountered a downed sport bike. The roads were wet and the rider probably just slid off into the gravel. Unfortunately he skidded into snow moving equipment and seemed to be injured. He was well tended though and we continued our ride.

When God created California He must have had real mood swings. Just think about the diversity from Death Valley to a place like Yosemite! OK, the mood swing thing - just bad JK humor.

Temperature in Sacramento reached 87 degrees at 7:40 pm on Sunday and I decided to alter my route for Monday somewhat to escape the San Joaquin Valley heat. The rest of the group is all Sacramentens and I had to return to Southern California by myself. The "new" route took me from Sacramento down highway 49 through the Mother Load to highway 4. I passed over Ebbitts and Monitor Passes from the western side, a total different experience. This time there were no clouds at all and the sun played havoc with wooded shading of the road. Some of the turns I entered almost "blind" as the shade altered my depth perception. Calaveras Big Tree Park has always been a favorite of mine and I had to stop for a Kodak. When you witness a living thing this big and old you feel very "small" as a forty- something human! Lake Alpine is always pristine and worth the few lost minutes riding time. The plateaus of route 89 have some of the most awesome scenery of the High Sierra peaks. USD 395 from just south of Topaz Lake is interesting, a road that can be ridden at high pace with great views of the Eastern Sierra. "Recent" volcanic action around the Mono Lake/Mammoth region is very obvious with many craters and lots of lava evedence. This area must have been a nightmare around 2000 years ago. Temperatures were fine at altitudes above 6000 feet but heat fried the body and chapped the lips from 3000 feet down. I survived this stretch by lying back on my T-bag, feet on highway pegs and doing traffic laws a real injustice. The song goes; "I can't drive 55", my tolerance limit dictated a little higher speed than 55 mph on the road back to Palmdale. Around 20 miles south of the Ridgecrest turnoff I detected the bike slightly "shaking its head" and brought the speed right down. I could not find any problems except for a slight cross wind (slight in Tehachapi terms) and still don't know if that was the reason.

On this tour we experienced flash floods, lightning, rain, searing heat, freezing cold in a soaked jacket in Yosemite and great riding through some of the best scenery in the USA. Another great experience through "God's Country", can't wait for the next one!

See you on the Blacktop. JK