By Ryan McNerney
“What’s that they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men?” I thought to myself as I listened to the patter of the rain on the roof of my tent. I was supposed to be camping in Death Valley at that point; I found myself instead at a KOA campground near Lake Isabella off SR 178 with a winter storm bearing down on me. I munched on a piece of beef jerky as I scrolled through the weather forecast for the coming day on my phone. Things weren’t looking too hot – in fact, things looked downright freezing. I poked my head out of the tent to check on my Nighthawk, which was a few feet away getting a free wash at the moment. Eventually I shut the phone off, got comfortable in my sleeping bag, and drifted off to sleep. In the morning, I awoke to a bright, clear sky and a Nighthawk 750 that was still upright thanks to a Tupperware lid I had repurposed to keep the kickstand from sinking into the soggy earth.
I had left Oakland earlier Saturday morning on a trip I had been planning for a few weeks. It was Presidents Day weekend 2019, which meant I had Monday off from work and a semi-rare opportunity to take a longer road trip. The plan was straightforward enough: leave Oakland at the crack of dawn, take 101 south to get away from the Bay Area as fast as possible, 58 to 178 to 395 to Death Valley. Set up my tent, grab a burger and a beer (the campground had its own restaurant, I’m not quite that adventurous). Sight-see on Sunday, ride back on Monday, and go to work tired but happy on Tuesday.
But that’s not quite how things went. On Saturday morning after hitting the snooze button a few too many times, I still had to load my luggage and camping equipment onto my bike, and only ended up leaving around 7:30. Early, but not early enough considering I had a 10 hour day of riding ahead of me and limited daylight hours in which to ride. My two big travel days, Saturday and Monday, were planned to be the longest I’d ever ridden in one shot, about 500 miles apiece according to Google Maps.
I was slabbing it down 101 on the first leg of the trip, and by the time I stopped for a sandwich in Santa Margarita I already knew I wouldn’t make it to my campsite before dark. I pondered my situation as I rode East on 58, meandering my way along some pleasant twisties through the rolling hills. I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of moto road tripping in the dark, especially on fairly remote roads like the ones leading to Death Valley. Arriving in McKittrick, an oil field town with a post office, a convenience store, and little else, I resigned myself to splurging for a motel room and booked one at a Motel 6 Ridgecrest for a mere $40. Score!
With my mind freed from the burden of having to ride for so long in the middle of nowhere after dark, I continued on my merry way. The next leg of the journey took me on 178, a gorgeous road which carved its way up the Kern Canyon following the eponymous river up to Lake Isabella. The lush green of the hills and blocky looking rock formations reminded me of photos I’ve seen of Scottish Highlands. In a good state of mind and enjoying the ride, this stretch of twisties turned out to be my favorite segment of the trip! Finally, I found myself at Lake Isabella, the last gas stop of the day. That’s when things started heading south.
Continued in Part 2.