WanderlustBy Sam Lepore
(see photos from this trip)
Subject: WanderBlast 1 - Big Pine, California
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 22:05:22 -0700

    Just another day in California. The sun was brilliant, the sky was a crystal blue, and the hills were that baked-all-summer mottled brown sprinkled with live oak. I'm on the road again.

    This time it is a return to my recent past because of a comment, a challenge made in jest. I am on the way back to New Mexico for the third time this year. Last May I rode to the Internet BMW lunch in Los Alamos, New Mexico and wrote about it in my WanderLunch stories. Then in my summer Wanderlust I passed through New Mexico and wrote about. Now I am headed to New Mexico specifically to write about it! Why?
    During an exchange with some readers about my writing style, I commented that Warren Harhay wrote prose, I wrote detail - hey wouldn't it be a trip (pun) if Warren and I went to the same place together and each wrote our own story.
    Warren took me up on the "challenge", not that it is a contest. We decided to meet at the entrance to the Trinity test site and travel together to the point where the first atomic bomb was detonated. We're going to stand back to back and duel with keyboards at Ground Zero.

    Trinity is located about 45 miles from Socorro, New Mexico, and it is open to the public for only a few hours each year ... the next window is 8:00 am to 2:00 pm this Saturday, October 2.
    Want to come along? We'll have a blast! (yeah, I know - booooo) Coincidentally, the Land of Enchantment 1000 endurance riding rally is also using Trinity as a bonus location with its theme "A Blast From The Past", so it's not like we'll be the only ones there.

    Ah but there is a lot of ground to cover yet ... and I'm taking my time getting there. Today was a chance to enjoy the same route I took when starting for New Mexico in May - Sonora Pass over the very center of the Sierra Nevada. I think this is my favorite of the passes. Last time around Memorial Day the snow was still piled over six feet high on the shoulders and I commented how spring comes late to the high country. Today the snow is gone but so are most of the leaves on the trees. Summer leaves the high country early! And at 9,000 feet it was cool enough to bundle up even though the temperature was 94 degrees only 50 miles ago in the valley.
    Speaking of The Valley, the Vegetable Bowl of America, it is harvest time. Of course, it is *always* harvest time of something in California, but I mean BIG harvest. (Yes, the "cash crop" is coming in too ... now is not the time for reconeering in the national forests. :) There are these huge double trailer gondola trucks hauling tomatoes in all directions. It cracks me up to see caravans of tomato trucks passing each other in different directions. But damn these are not fun to follow, especially as they lurch and settle the load for the first few miles out of the fields. Think of a road covered with ketchup ...
    Other selections of trucks-du-jour: an empty garlic hauler still VERY clearly scented, wagons of Thompson Seedless grapes bound for all those drinks with the euphemistic "contains (unspecified) fruit juice", and finally almonds almonds and more almonds. Want to be a bazillionaire? Invent a high volume use for almond hulls. The farms have mountains of husk hills and no cost effective way to get rid of them.

    How can I go on so long about something as boring as crossing the flat central valley? It is amusing that no matter how despicable that segment of the trip is, it is always engrossing on a motorcycle. I know these roads so well I have to get about 200 miles from home before I can stop predicting exactly what color house is around that next corner, or where the '52 Ford pickup will be parked in that driveway ... but on a motorcycle, these things are just so much more to see 'hands on'. It occurred to me while I was jostling with freeway traffic in Oakland that I (and probably most motorcyclists) like being "calm in chaos", which is a different view of being alone in a crowd.
    Sitting on a bike, calm and not moving but having constant commotion on all sides, is like being in a 360 degree movie. Not *watching* the movie, but being in it. Being able to negotiate through the crowd is almost like manipulating it. It's fun.

    I am riding naked this time. Electronically naked, that is. For the first time since I got my GPS, I am using oooold technology ... only paper maps. Let me tell you ... this is like flying VFR (visual flight rules, not the Honda :) at night. How do people live like this? Never knowing exactly where you are? Not knowing that the next gas (and pee) stop is precisely 23 minutes and 12 seconds away at current speed (yeah, I can hold that long ...)? How?? It has been surprising how adapted I became to the information the GPS provided even though none of it was absolutely necessary. Going back to the 'naked' analogy, from now on my GPS is classified with my underwear: you don't absolutely need it, but you are more comfortable with it, and you never *never* loan it to someone else!

    Drifting south down US395, this sure is fast country. The speed limit is 65, the trucks do 70, the faster traffic is 80, and the CHP patrols at - well I didn't try to keep with him so I don't know. But this is also the most beautiful escarpment of a mountain range I have ever seen. The east face of Yosemite, the serrated (hence, sierra) range near Bishop, and Whitney portal are just incredible. Take your time someday and watch these mountains go by!

    Big Pine is a small town, but it is near where I want to go tomorrow. After too many times of being in a hurry and passing by, finally I get to visit the oldest known lifeform on the planet - one for whom 'hurry' is measured in centuries - the bristlecone pine. Its homeland is only 25 miles from here ... and two miles straight up.

330 miles, 5:45 hours
SF I580 I205 CA120 CA108 US395 Big Pine

Today's code words:
(I was asked to list my 'thought triggers' written on the road)

day colors
calm in a crowd
electronically naked
husk hills
harvest trucks
east face
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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