WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: WanderSouth 1 - Death Valley, California
Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2002 12:52:54 -0800

Life is a series of contrasts:
You are born, then you die.

In between ... you ride.

    Since life goes on, this ride is a contrast to the last one I took. After WanderNorth in the Summer, it is only appropriate to do WanderSouth in the Winter. The BMW Airheads gathering in Death Valley gives me the excuse to get started ... after all, it puts me nearly 1/12 of the way cross country and back. I'm sure I've got 11/12 laying around here somewhere, so why not also go to the Iron Butt / LDRiders "pizza party" in Florida - by way of who-knows-where? Oh, yeah, there's also this little gathering of 200,000 in Daytona called Bike Week. May as well.
    So it is that I sit in the shade of a date palm tree loaded with fruit (the tree, not me) on a balmy, dry afternoon at Furnace Creek. With luck, the one day sprint from San Francisco will be the longest segment of this trip. I always seem to end up with more time than roads to consume it, so this trip I'll just ride slower. At least that's the plan.
    Day 1 was a straight shot I've done too many times before. It is nice to repeat nice roads, but when there are few choices of routes available, taking the same road seems longer. The northern Sierras are closed. No Tioga (Yosemite), no Sonora, no Monitor. Only the southern Walker Pass is open. Leaving SF at 8 am thrust me into one of those convoluted contrasts of California days. All the traffic was inbound while I was outbound. It was warm and clear in the city but became chilly with ground fog in the central valley. A crisp what-passes-for-winter day was brilliant but the hills and barren rocks appeared reticent and mottled as though resting. Travel noises seemed louder, brasher, then the desert was quiet, undisturbed. Seeing, smelling, and feeling these contrasts made abundantly apparent again why I like to travel by motorcycle. Even on a ride you've done "too many times", the ride is the reason.

    The Kern River Canyon was as sweet as ever. Traffic was fairly light for a Friday afternoon. After droning down the flat center of the state, I was eager for some toe scuffing. Maybe it is the way I ride a canyon, but it seemed car drivers were quick to get out of my way this day. I do not have extra lights or a modulator, but when riding alone I will "play the road" such that I may look like an aggressive (or crazy) rider to the car. Knowing a particular stretch of curves is coming up, I will lag a half mile or more behind the traffic. Then I rip through the curves at a "comfortable" speed. Not excessive, but certainly faster than Ma and Pa Oldsmobile. Often by the second time I suddenly pop out of nowhere to rub my headlight in their rear view mirror, they get the idea that they are holding up progress - and kindly move over. Wave thank you and disappear.
    Hot hog leather is not a pleasant experience. No, I'm not sniffing someone's riding clothes. Somewhere near Onyx I was following two Harleys loaded to the rafters with camping gear. I've noticed Harley riders tend to pile more stuff on their saddlebags than BMW riders - probably because of the way the bags open, but these guys had overdone it. One of them had neglected to notice how much his bag sagged under the weight. The leather was rubbing against the tire. It smelled like someone's nightmare in a leather sadist bar. And it was a toss up whether the bag would catch fire before the tire failed. So I tried to draw their attention to it. On a straight stretch I rode along side them and pointed to my sidebag and then to his. No response. They didn't even look at me. I made a "thumb down" sign, then pointed to both bags again. They still didn't acknowledge my presence. Sadly, I've met this type before. There is the "right brand" and everything else is to be ignored. So I left them behind. Just can't help some people.

    The eastern Sierra region is an amazingly different area from the rest of California. The east face of the mountains is much steeper than the west. Forty-five miles of climbing drops down in seven miles, yet the hillsides are surprisingly soft slopes. Whether it is because they are more weathered by exposure, or just not broken by trees and vegetation, they appear more resigned to their place than their western cousins who bear the brunt of waterflow. Even having visited here often, I am impressed with how incredibly straight the roads can run for miles through igneous volcanic remains of obviously explosive formation. Rough red and umber landscapes are framed by halos of white alkaline salt drifted from the Owens dry lakebed, all devoid of vegetation except for the randomly scattered fuzzy creosote bushes. As one friend described it: acre after acre of toilet brushes buried to the hilt.

    On one of the motorcycle mailing lists there has been a discussion of whether riders are made (by experiences with others) or born (by finding it themselves). I saw a quick snippet scene that says: yes. As I was rolling through Stovepipe Wells, I saw two riders in a parking area getting their gear on and mounting up. They were progressing in a well practiced pattern, their pre-ride mantra. A few spaces away, a family was packing the back of their station wagon, and the little boy was holding his father's hand. But the boy was watching the motorcycles, straining at the end of his stretched arm. The draw was visible. A nascent rider waits within.

526 miles
San Francisco I580 CA132 CA99 CA178 CA14 US395 CA190 CA178 Furnace Creek

Addendum, Saturday night.

    Having missed the opportunity last time, I was determined to attend the opera. America has a way of engendering truly unique expressions of personal passion. Some call them crazy, but the effort put into fulfillment of these private dreams can not be denied. There is the inscrutability of up-ended half buried icons at Cadillac Ranch, there is the questionable collection of Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Museum, and there is the crowd of none that fills the Amargosa Opera House.
    Thirty-five years ago, in 1967, a successful New York ballerina on vacation stopped to peer inside the abandoned meeting hall / stage theatre. She saw the ghosts of audiences future and decided to make it her life. She never went back. After much repair, the House opened a year later to its first show of 12 locals. Since then every Friday, Saturday, and Monday night the show went on. With or without an audience. Despite the sometimes empty seats, the ballerina played to a full audience she saw in her passion for performance. To bring them into vision, she hand painted the walls with a double balcony full of all manner of revelers. Then the stage sides in scenes from classic ballets. Then the ceiling in grand detail, a Cistene of The Desert. The House is always full. And Marta Becket still performs at an age when many have only memories.
    The World Premiere of "The Goodtime Cabaret" opened last week on February 10. I was honored to see the second curtain, which, by the way, was also hand made by Marta Becket.
    Scenario: Marta Becket
    Scenery and Costumes: Marta Becket
    Staring: Marta Becket, with her able assistant Wilget
    9 acts of "A performance based on the display of human emotions
        through the art of dance, pantomime, and singing."

    Who says Vaudeville is dead? This is the real thing.
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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