Sierra IBMWR Presidents' Gerlach Gathering
A flowery descriptive rambling of rambling by motorcycle ... (more of a diary than the wander style)
We decided to take all day Friday to make a leisurely
trip through the Sierra to the Sierra Presidents' gathering. Two
hundred and fifty-ish miles is not a lot, but much of it in California
is too pretty to rush through. And with the coming change in seasons (from
warm riding to cool riding, but still riding!) we wanted to settle in before
Rebecca and I left the sparkling jewel of San Francisco in the glint of a beautiful fall morning, but again one could tell there was a change in the air. Even in the Bay Area some of the trees were beginning to show a little color - mostly yellow, for there is little sugar in the sap hereabouts. It is at this time of the year the presence of so many different forms of evergreens seem most obvious, still surprising to this transplanted other coaster that pine is not the only evergreen. Something else to be noticed, there is a feeling of tiredness in the air itself, along with clouds with shapes not seen around here in the summer ... that is when there are clouds at all around here.
We do have seasons ... sort of. I once defined them as Sun Season (no rain, September and October), Wet Season (winter, rain every 3rd or 4th day), Green Season (rare rain, March and April), and Fog Season (no rain, rare sun, May through August).
Weather patterns are changing now. The changes call to the migratory birds and perhaps to us migratory motorcyclists too. I amuse myself at the thought if we bikers slowly drawing toward a gathering in the hills appear similar to that flock of flapping travelers above, struggling to join a large V-wing angling west over the central valley, toward the coast.
As we devoured the day, her R65 "½RT" (large windscreen, no fairing) danced happily along I80 for its first speed run in several weeks, while my K75RT stretched and relaxed after seeing better than 30,000 miles of 'rock and roll' this year. Little towns along the road drifted by, traversed by many but visited by few: Cordelia, Chadbourne, Clima, Cherry Glen, Swingle. You've probably been through them but never heard of them. We pealed off at the beginning (or the end, depending which way you're facing) of US50, where the highway sign offers - Ocean City Maryland, 3075 miles. Not this trip, thanks.
First rest stop today is in a miniature town where
Rebecca is tall enough to see over the roofs of some buildings. Safetyville,
USA, just east of Sacramento, is a town laid out with intersecting streets
10 feet wide, and recognizable named business buildings no more than 10
feet high. Banks, chain stores, hospitals, services, and other companies
have paid to build small images of their corporate presence. Safetyville,
USA is used to teach road safety and traffic skills to children bicyclists
who shriek their way around an entire town cut down to their size.
Leaving the Vegetable Valley we began the slow climb into the foothills following the meander of one of the last scenic and wonderful rivers in California, the American. The western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains is deceiving for its slow gain. Then at the last few miles there is a sudden rush to the summit of 7-8,000 feet or more. And within sight from Echo Summit is the panoramic floor of the Tahoe basin, 3,000 feet directly below (in one jump if you're not careful), a stunning view of blue water vying for your attention with the blue spruce and the blue sky. This year it is very late in the season for no snow to have accumulated. There is some plow pile still in the shadows, but none visible below the high peaks. The colors along the rushing torrents of the American and the Upper Truckee River add to the sparkle of the deep pools. It is an invigorating ride on the two lane serpent that coils itself against each hillside and then strikes quickly over the massive boulders in crotched canyons.
Lake Tahoe is large enough to have its own Coast Guard station.
Emerald Bay, Valhalla, Vikingsholm, Rubicon Point
... perhaps there should be a Fjiord Guard station instead. But the ride
around the west side is still the best part of the of the lake. It is,
of course, of little interest to the masses that destine to South Lake.
There are no (or too few) T-shirt shops, precious little amusement other
than the lake itself, and of course no casinos to draw them. Ride it while
you can. It is beautiful and comparatively untrafficed.
At Incline Village, which is neither inclined nor a village, we turned up a new road for me - amazing there are any left. I was always in a hurry to get somewhere in previous crossings of the basin, so the Mount Rose Highway lost out. No, actually, I lost out. Mount Rose Summit claims to be the highest open-all-year pass in the country at 8,900 feet. That's not a claim I would dispute, but I did notice the snow poles marking the edge of the pavement were easily 20 feet high. NV431 happily hugs the hills and alternately gives you long horizontal views of Reno in the distance and short vertical views of the next switchback a few hundred feet below. Attention here is best played like poker, close to the chest. This *is* a gambling state, but this is not a road to gamble with.
As the sun reclined and we declined on opposite sides of Mt. Rose, the temperature went down faster than the road. Within 20 minutes it felt like the temp went down 30 degrees. We saw two Harleys in 'full regalia' (meaning open vests) thundering up the slope. I hope I am never man enough to ride a Harley; I like my blood circulation to reach all my extremities. We also saw two BMWs skewering the slope. These riders were also in 'full regalia' (meaning Aerostiches). Thank goodness for electrics (clothing and grips - yes, even on the R65), and thank Collins that Mick's house is right on the edge of Mt. Rose! Being the first to arrive, we broke the ice, so to speak but it did feel that cold, and ogled the GS with only 34 miles, next to the RT, next to the Nortons, next to the Huski ... this man has too big a garage, which is Sad. :) Others soon arrived to take up the continued ogling ... and it turned out those two BMWs on the slope were Scott and Jim, intending to run to the crest but also choosing comfort over cold. Being the hospitable host, Mick even started a fire in his driveway to keep up warm! (Uh ... he had this rather neat portable fire circle - like a giant open wire grill on wheels.)
Saturday morning saw Mick's GS put on a hundred miles
through sparkling hills on his gotta-break-it-in chores before breakfast,
whereas I put on a few hundred calories of breakfast before a couple of
miles to Sparks. To each their own.
By 2:30 a crowd of 20 or more had gathered at Sierra BMW and all were treated to more exuberant hospitality. Lane is rightfully proud of a cheery and inviting business - even if it is nearly lost in the industrial corner of town. Considering it fits the new model of BMW corporate image showcase dealership, it still has a good comfortable feel toward welcoming bikers and browsers both. That comes from the attitude of the staff, and based on this I'd say they will do well. It is a place I will visit again. (And given the observation of while sitting there seeing a man come in, look at the Euro-cruiser R1200C on the floor, and say "I'll take it. How much?" ... I'd say Sierra is off to a good start.)
Some of the crowd began drifting off by 3 to reach Gerlach before the cows came home. More than a euphemism ... travel in open range country after dark is chancy at best. The cattle like to lay on the warm(er) pavement after sundown ... make all the jokes you want about hamburger hill or staking (steak) a curve, I'd rather avoid such thrills. Even so, as we approached Axe Handle Canyon I had one young steer decide to stall right on the double yellow. My horns were louder than his were long ... so he quickly yielded and fielded.
The 107 miles to Gerlach are in their own way quietly magical. Pyramid Lake is one of those generally nondescript terrains that nonetheless speaks to the spirit. It is simple in a stark scape, but vibrant for being defiant to the desert around it. Long straight miles, a rush of sudden curves, then longer straighter miles. A mile past the colorful small town of Nixon begins the most arid open range. Here is a sign that says Begin Scenic Route. Five miles later, End Scenic Route. I see no difference on either side of either sign. It all is ... or it all isn't, depending on what you're looking for.
I was looking for ravioli, and I was not to be disappointed.
At sundown the temperature dropped even faster than yesterday, so we rode
faster too. Bruno's highlighted (literally) palace of fine entertainment
of all forms - the best (only) casino, motel, and cafe for 100 miles (literally!)
was visible as a neon hole in the deep black night from easily 10 miles
out. Like moths we flew to its lantern.
First, register with the bartender ... no, no - for the motel! Too bad Scott was unable to get enough advance confirmation to reserve a private room. More than enough people showed up, but by then the room had been claimed, so we all crowded the already busy cafe. Everyone gathered in the saloon-casino-pool room-dance floor?-waiting area- things tend to serve multiple purposes around here.
Ravioli! They could serve multiple purposes too. Bruno's homemade peaked pillows of beef filled dough, masterpieces in a slough of sauce, are heavy enough to balance bikes that pull to the right. They were delicious enough to make me consider a second serving. But instead after a pleasant chat with our tablemates we retired to listen to ravioli fight for equilibrium. Stan and Gloria said the last time they were in Gerlach they were on their honeymoon ... and this time by chance they got the exact same room. Ok, the chances of that were small, but Gloria also had never heard of electric vests/jackets/socks ... that surprised me more for someone who would ride out here any time other than summer.
Sunday the air was cold enough to freeze the R65
neutral switch. It didn't wake up until the engine was running even though
I parked the bikes in the sun. Both started without hesitation, though,
and after a complete tour to the far edge of Gerlach - all one-quarter
mile away, warmly wrapped in Gerbing's best we rode snugly south into the
sun. Again through all 5 miles of the designated scenic route, that after
70 miles of open scenery that draws you to think about the expanse of your
After breakfast and almost-desparately needed gas in Sparks (I decided to trust the FuelPlus, and it assured me I had 20 miles left ... :), the ride over Donner Pass was relaxing for its familiarity and refreshing for its reminder of the fortitude of the high country. Only days or at most weeks from now these passes will close. Some will be fought open for short periods, but many will lie quietly under their winter weight, waiting. Rolling through the rough terrain so easily, feeling the pockets of temperature both rise and fall as we change elevation, smelling the different density of the air as well as fragrances as we pass rocks and water and fields, I am reminded by re-experiencing why any day of 'contending' with the environment on a motorcycle is better than 'contemplating' it from a car.
Even the extra road hazards we have to deal with, like split pavement or rock debris that would not concern a car (or the 6-foot tall DOT road sign blown into the middle of the passing lane that *would* concern a car) are just something more to talk about later as riding control skills to be learned and grown.
Riding is a good expression of living. If I have
to pass this way through life anyway, I may as well enjoy the ride. Motorcycling
certainly helps by making it a real ride instead of a passing ... and as
I've said before, the ride is the reason.
Sam Lepore, San Francisco
Thanks to Scott for organizing a great gathering (start planing for next year!).