WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Wanderlust 2000.21 - Porterville, California
Date: Sun, 30 Apr 2000 21:13:11 -0700

    First, let me answer the question from a few days ago about the wreath on Billy The Kid's grave. I waited because I guessed that location (and possibly the wreath) might really be a bonus on the Waltz Across Texas Rally, which ran this weekend. (For those not on the LDRider list, the Waltz is a 24-hour riding event where you cover a minimum of 1,000 miles by motorcycle getting your picture taken in front of obscure locations like the grave.)
    The wreath is made of double strand, triple twist spur, barbed wire. Did you know there are several hundred types of barbed wire? Only two people tried to answer the question, although both admittedly were guesses, and both were correct. Mike Hankinson, of Michigan, and Robert Hedrick, of New Mexico (but claims he's never been to the grave), get their honorable mention.

    Usually about this time in a long trip, I get the urge to just aim for home ... but this time I want to sniff around and see if there are any roses to smell along the way. With perseverance, I will try to turn the 400 miles direct route into about 600 miles of direct fun. After all, this *is* a 'wander'. So I set out to play tourist in my own state.

    First up is a stop at the Kramer Junction Solar Generating station. Alas, because it is a privately owned power plant (!) there are no visits allowed. All I got from the guard was a brochure. It is a neat and crazy idea at the same time. Reflected sun heats a fluid that heats water to steam that turns a turbine that runs a generator. Simple, no? But the process needs a lot of water. In the middle of a desert.
    Next I take the exit for the 20 Mule Team Museum in Boron. I think they spelled the town name wrong, it is Boring. That is, unless you always wondered where that grainy powder came from that mechanics used to wash their hands, oh, back about 1954? Whatever, the tourist trundles on.
    There are obviously more motorcycles on the roads now, even for a weekend as compared to a month ago when I started out. It appears the 'season' has opened for the average rider. The same set of badass Harleyistas passed me at warp speed three times in an hour. The first stop is for gas and shivering. The second is for a smoke. The third is for what must be a prayer meeting, with the men reverentially kneeling beside one of the bikes.
    55 mph is such a ridiculous speed limit for a modern road. California sets the limit at 70 except for trucks and towed trailers which are expected to do 55. I would hate to have to drive 55 again. After much observation, I believe my BMW's design is optimized for 72 mph. The engine speed (and gas consumption shown by the FuelPlus) changes little between 60 and 70. But from 70 (5,000 rpm) to 75 (5,500) there is a noticeable change in resistance and efficiency.

    Continuing the tour, where do airplanes go when their airline goes bankrupt? They go to Mojave. The Mojave Air Park is a resting place in the high, dry, desert air for planes waiting to be repurchased and repainted for a new carrier. I count 34 planes of different models, all with their airline markings removed. Mojave is right near Edwards Air Force Base, where many experimental planes are tested and where the Space Shuttle does its west coast landings. (Saw one once, fantastic!)
    So far the tourist has seen mules, planes ... and now trains. There is a historical marker for one of the "wonders of the railroad world", the Tehachapi Loop, where a large circle was devised to get the railroad line up the steepest portion of the pass. This was designed and built in 1876 and is still used by about 36 trains a day. When a train completes the loop, the engine is 77 feet higher than the cars it crosses over. Two grizzled train spotters sat on separate rocks waiting to watch the next freight. By the time it chugged through the tunnel, several carloads of shorts-and-sunglasses tourists had appeared and were oooh-ing and aaah-ing, but they left before the train completed the loop. The spotters said nothing.

    Finally I get around the toes of the Sierra foothills, and I can get off the four lane freeway to practice the fine art of California canyon carving, clipping corners and creasing curves through Kern County on the crinkled Caliente Creek Road. On to Bodfish and Lake Isabella, the road is laid like the frozen image of a snake on the back of a bucking bronco. This is a great alternative to CA178 when the summer crowds of RVs make congestion of the Kern River Canyon.
    Crossing and then following the Kern River upstream, I am reminded of the most haunting melody of Merle Haggard. Even if you don't care for country music, you owe it to yourself to listen to the heart-stoppingly slow beat of "I'll Never Swim Kern River Again". Seeing it like this rings his words so true, 'It's not deep nor wide but it's a mean piece of water, my friend.'
    The Kern angles up and the 'foot'hills are so far below I must be up to 'mid-thigh' by now. At 7,000 feet it is only half way up the mountain to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous US, a few miles away. The mountains look young here, and their skin does not fit. There are many bare granite outcroppings, too young in geologic time to have been covered by vegetation and stark in their yet-unweathered angularity. These mountains are still growing. Every time L.A. endures a wrinkle in the San Andreas Fault, the underlying plates push up a notch. Young mountains, mere teenagers in millions of years ... but they really 'rock'!

    Can a road be too curvy? Yes, for me. CA190 drops 6,000 feet down the Tule River valley in what would measure about 10 miles in a straight line. That makes for almost 35 miles of road, with constant hairpin turns. Not curves, turns. With sand in the corners, this made slow going and a very tiring ride. So my last night on the road isn't as close as I expected after a short day ... but on the bright side, that leaves all of the Gold Country for me enjoy on the way home.

272 miles
Barstow CA58, Caliente-Bodfish Rd. (Caliente Creek - Walker Basin Loop),
CA155, Burlando Rd. (Kernville), county road 521, Johnsondale Rd.,
Great Western Divide Hwy., CA190, CA65 Porterville
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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