Just another day-ride in California, 31 Dec. 2011

2011 having been a good second year of motorcycle touring, seeing us on two wheels in Spain, France, Yorkshire, Devon, Belgium and South Africa, we thought we ought to see it off in a fitting way.

During our 2010 tour of California we had met up with our friend’s dad Walt, ex-motorcross enthousiast who, after some years off the saddle was contemplating going back to motorcycling. Walt had been thinking of buying a touring bike and I think that seeing us on the Harley Electra Glide we had nicknamed Eileen contributed to him taking the jump. In the 18 months since we had last seen him Walt had become a serious tourer, undertaking solo long distance trips from L.A. to Montana on his VTX 1300. Walt also knew all the great riding spots in the area north of the city of angels.

Louise and I were in California for a few days at the end of the year and of course motorcycles would have to be involved… we found what we were looking for at Eagle Rider in Hawthorne. Louise now had her license so we were looking forward to riding on two bikes. I booked myself a silver Electra Glide and Louise a black Honda Shadow for a ride Walt had kindly suggested to organize on 31 December. We were very excited about the prospect of spending the last day of the year on bikes under the glorious So Cal sun. Back home our compatriots were most probably thinking about the insoluble logistical problem of every 31st December; party shoes and sleet.

8am saw Louise and I fully suited and booted in our friend’s apartment in Santa Monica. We had opened the window to hear the rumbling of the “Walt and Cindy Gang” who were picking us up for the day’s ride. After a quick introduction to Steve and Miriam who were joining us on a superb Street Glide we saddled up only to discover that Louise’s Shadow wouldn’t start… Bummer! We tried everything but to no avail. I felt really bad for her, I don’t know how I would have reacted in her situation; she’d only had her license for 6 months and was now already going to ride on her own bike in beautiful California… but the Honda had other plans. Anyway, she jumped on the back of the Electra Glide and we were off.

Walt had planned a 150 miles day trip taking in all the splendor of the region. Our first stop was Paradise Cove, Malibu, where we had a full breakfast at the Beach Café (passengers also had bloody marys…). The road between Santa Monica and Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway had been a mixture of fog and great views of the ocean. At our first destination, as we parked the bikes the sun decided to finally impose itself and the temperature rose. We filled up on food and coffee, took a little walk on the beach for some pictures then headed into the mountains towards Mulholland Highway.

The road climbed steeply through the valleys, giving us fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean in the rearview mirrors. We found ourselves on some pretty technical roads and I soon realized that I was man-handling a 400Kg bike with two adults on the infamous “Snake”! Those of you who spend some time watching bike videos on Youtube will be familiar with this road. It’s famous with sports bike riders who try to beat their fastest lap but often “lowside” their bikes and end up with a mouthful of gravel. We parked the bikes and took in the views of the valley and witnessed one such incident. The guy was fine thanks to good protection but it was quite spectacular.

Next we looped back west through the canyons until we reached the PCH again. We headed toward Carpinteria, passing through Oxnard. The long road gave us the opportunity to ride side by side and take some good pictures of Walt and Cindy and enjoy the vastness of this state while blasting road-trip-appropriate music through the Harley’s sound system. Pure bliss. Before turning inland before Oxnard we followed the magnificent coastline for miles upon miles, past hundreds of parked RVs. Another symbol of freedom and wanderlust, the American Recreational Vehicle is quite a sight for us Europeans. Without exaggerating too much I’d say that half of the RV’s we saw had the same square footage as our apartment in London! One day I would really like to rent one for a few weeks, although I dread to think about the fuel consumption of those behemoths.

After Ventura we headed back into the hills direction Ojai where we were meeting up with another couple; Mark and Vivian who were joining us on their nicely personalized Heritage Classic. We stopped at the Deer Lodge, a popular spot for local bikers and had a well deserved lunch of barbecued burgers and ribs. This bikers’ pit stop is really friendly and to us Europeans looks like the real deal. Lots of bikes in the front, barbecue smoke, guys with tattoos, girls wearing, lets say, inappropriate riding clothing and a very laid-back atmosphere. I spoke to a guy who had dropped his Goldwing but couldn’t afford the exorbitant price for the replacement of his front fairing. He found the solution to his problem in what must have been about 3 rolls of gaffer tape.

By now it was mid afternoon and we had some miles ahead of us to get back to Santa Monica. We rode through Santa Paula on the E Telegraph Road, losing Steve, Miriam, Mark and Vivian as we made our way to Stevenson Ranch where Walt and Cindy live. We made our goodbyes, thanked them for a memorable ride, promised each other we’d ride together again and made our way back to Santa Monica through the huge L.A. freeway system.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the last day of the year and was unsurprisingly envious of Californians who have such an amazing playground at their doorstep.

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