A Beautiful Morning East of the Sierra Mountains
We rolled out of bed bright and early and discovered that our motel also featured a wonderful breakfast for us! Their dining area was lined with windows on one side and sunshine poured in to warm the room. Lots to eat, from fruit and granola to muffins, pastries, bagels and more, they also had many choices of drinks to enjoy. We were surprised and delighted by the fare and the friendly atmosphere. The western-inspired art on the walls was fun to look at as we ate, and we also enjoyed saying good morning to staff and other guests as they came and went.
Andy arrived as we were finishing our packing and we were soon waving goodbye to the easy-going and accommodating town of Bridgeport.
As we began our fourth day of our trip, I thought to myself how odd it was to be on the other side of the Sierras. I’ve spent much of my life to the west of them, in San Francisco and the Bay Area of California, and there was something very cool about exploring the other side! I was excited to see what the land was like as we traveled north!
If you don’t look around, you might just miss it… (aka, this is why we travel)
We headed down the two-lane highway of 395 and after a while we were joined by the fast-moving Walker River that paralleled the road and tumbled furiously down its rocky course. I amused myself by trying to get good pictures whenever there was a clear view and hoped there would be a successful shot in there somewhere.
As I mentioned before, having the opportunity to take pictures from the back of our motorcycle has been a total game-changer for me. There are many instances that, had I not taken the picture, I’d have totally forgotten that we’d seen the subject. Stop for a moment and think about the countless things we all drive past wherever we go. We can’t possibly take in all of that information, so having a camera REALLY helps!
We cruised past the tiny town of Walker, and slowing to make the tight curve past their general store, I noticed something odd next to the building and took a picture. Tee-shirts on a fence? I’d have to investigate later, but hopefully I’d be able to figure it out when I got home. There was always something to see and aim at with my camera, so I quickly forgot the scene. Until I got home and found it.
The Walker tragedy of 2002
Looking through my Bridgeport to Alturas pictures, I stumbled across the odd image I’d taken at Walker. Zooming in, I was totally mystified. They WERE tee-shirts! Bunches of them, all tied to a fence. I could make out the words on some of them…Fire District…Fire Fighter… What the heck? Staring intently, I recognized a memorial platform with an engraved plaque and flags. There was even a model plane carefully erected on a pole. With enough clues, I finally understood what this must be, but it seemed so out-of-place though. Next to a store? I needed to know more.
With the largest research library in the world at my fingertips, I soon I had my grim answer. In 2002, near the town of Walker, firefighters were battling the huge Cannon fire that had started two days before. An air tanker took off from a nearby airfield loaded with retardant, and just after it dropped its load, the plane experienced a catastrophic structural failure resulted in the wings breaking away from the plane, which then plummeted to the ground. The three firefighters aboard were killed instantly, and the crash caused a fire. (This is a very shocking 15-second video that shows the crash footage.)
The memorial that I took a picture of was at the crash site. I have learned that the tee-shirts are replaced as they get old, and additional shirts continue to be added as signs of respect to those who were lost that day. I am so sad that these three people died to no fault of their own, but I’m glad that I got the chance to see this and learn what happened, so I could keep their sacrifice alive. RIP Steven Ray Wass, Craig LaBare and Mike Davis.
The hills are alive, with the sound of music…
We headed up into the hills on Highway 89, to go up and over a eastern Sierra mountain pass that is always closed during the winter. This world-class touring road is very popular with motorcycle riders and features countless switch-backs, lovely curves and mind-blowing views.
The moment we turned onto 89 from 395, I started seeing cool geological features. The steeps sides of the canyon we were climbing was covered with knobby boulders and huge slabs of rocks. Scrub brush struggled for purchase in the inhospitable rocky soil and I would sometimes glimpse a bristlecone pine holding on to a fractured chunk of stone. Nerd that I am, I found myself thinking of early Star Trek episodes when Kirk and the gang would beam down to a planet. I kept an eye out for the Gorn, but they must have been feeling shy. Darn.
Winding our way up the mountain, we finally came to an overlook and pulled over to take in the stupendous view. I could not help crooning to myself, “THE HILLLLLLLLLLLLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUUUUUUUUUSIC…” It’s probably a good thing I didn’t sing out loud because Andy and Steve would surely take turns killing me. How rude! 😀 But suffice to say, it was absolutely stunning from where we stood. It didn’t hurt that the clouds in the sky looked like an artist had painted them just for us. We spent a few minutes taking pictures and marveling at everything we could see so far below, and we also appreciated the lovely flowers that were blooming in a rainbow of colors. What an awesome spot!
It was wonderful to see the number of motorcycle riders who were enjoying the route along with us. They were coming in both directions, on every make of bike you could think of. There were even folks on 3-wheel varieties, one of which was ridden by a petite lady who looked like she was having a fantastic time.
Would I ever want my own motorcycle?
It got me thinking, “Hmmm, would I ever want to have my own motorcycle? And what about these 3-wheel contraptions?” To each question, the answer is the same: “Naaaaah, I like riding with Steve.” I’ve met plenty of women who love to ride, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Of course, if we’re talking about bicycles, that’s one of my favorite activities, and I’ve ridden thousands of happy miles over the years.
As for powered two-wheelers, I used to ride a tiny motorcycle around on my parent’s property when I was about 16, and I had a scooter for a while in San Francisco which I almost crashed on a slippery, foggy night in San Francisco. But meh, I wouldn’t want to have my own motorcycle. I enjoy the closeness of being with Steve and I don’t think I’d feel comfortable riding on my own. Besides, there is a ballsy attitude that comes with owning a motorcycle that I don’t have, and I also don’t like burning up the road. That’s part of the passion for a motorcycle rider, but that’s not who I am. I can totally appreciate it in others, but it’s not for me. 🙂
To Tahoe…and beyond!
Highway 89 was an outstanding stretch of road, and from the high point near Leviathan Peak we descended the other side in a gloriously serpentine fashion, with amazing views in all directions the whole way down. All three of us remarked incredulously about the bicycle rider coming the other way who was making his way slowly up the steep grade. We wondered what sort of human being could muscle their way up a mountain with a fully-loaded bike? I’m all for a serious challenge but a steep climb of at least 25 miles would be sheer torture in my book.
At the valley floor, we headed north towards Lake Tahoe and soon found ourselves in civilization again. Alpine-style homes and vacation get-aways were nestled among the trees, and plenty of people were here to enjoy the gorgeous summer at the lake. In fact, as we approached the outskirts of Lake Tahoe, the level of traffic made us wonder if we were in Yosemite Valley again!
By the time we hit South Lake Tahoe (yes, that’s the name of the town!), we were literally crawling along. Cooking in our jackets and sweating in the increasingly warm day, tempers of the drivers around us matched the temperature and we finally pulled off to fuel up, get some caffeine in us, and cool off in the shade for a few minutes. UGH! This vacation town was not built to handle such a large volume of cars and we are all looking forward to getting out of there.
You always know when you’ve entered Nevada!
At the very edge of town we crossed the border into Nevada, which is always a really crazy thing to actually see. The reason you can “see” the border is because Nevada has legalized gambling, so the second you hit Nevada soil, there are casinos all over the place! Five feet inside California, you have normal, classy hotels. Five feet inside Nevada, you have huge gleaming monstrosities with neon signs all over and enormous glowing billboards advertising shows, great deals on meals, etc. It’s just crazy! I’ve seen plenty of Las Vegas bling, but it’s 45 miles inside the state. South Lake Tahoe ends abruptly at the border with the gambling town of Stateline butted up to the other side, and it’s almost surreal to experience!
Moving slowly past the many large hotel-casinos that tried to beckon us inside with get-rich-quick promises, the traffic finally began to ease up. That’s about the time things went a little sideways.
Take a chill-pill, lady!
Unbeknownst to me, Steve had been watching a driver behind us who was behaving erratically. A red convertible was zipping past cars behind us in the two lanes and pulled up close enough to make Steve nervous. At that point we were riding at the speed limit, but apparently it wasn’t fast enough for the convertible. Without warning, the car whipped out and tore around us in the right-hand lane, the woman driver glaring at us as she sped by. Then, seeing a turn-out across the road, she swung out in front of us and careened across the opposite two lanes, just BARELY missing the two cars coming the other way. Bouncing violently into the turn-out, the car sprayed gravel and dust in the air as it spun half-way around and skidded to a stop, the driver’s head slamming forward and nearly hitting the steering wheel. WOW… We were all very happy to leave the crazy lady in our rear-view mirrors.
Beautiful Lake Tahoe
I’ve only been here once when I was about 10 years old, and I remember it was cold and windy and the water was too cold. But today, it was gorgeous, warm, and the deep blue water twinkled with little waves lapping on the shore. Speed boats criss-crossed the water and we rode past many marinas with boats rocking back and forth in their slips, hoping to get out for some fun too.
As we buzzed along, I took pictures of the lake whenever I found a gap in the pine trees, and marveled at how big it was. In fact, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America! No wonder the water was so cold!
There were pretty little groupings of very expensive houses set back in the trees or placed perfectly on rock-encrusted hillsides. Like the other luxury homes we’d seen, they were built in a chateau style, and I could only imagine how beautiful this place was when it was covered in snow. This was definitely where the rich came to play!
Over the hills to Reno we go!
Eventually we came to the northern edge of Lake Tahoe, and we peeled away from the lovely shoreline onto Hwy 431 and climbed up into the hills overlooking the blue water. The road turned out to be a lot of fun to ride, full of twists and turns and even a couple of very tight switchbacks. We had a great time riding through the conifer forests and scrub, and even though there were more cars on the road here, it was a top-notch route.
We soon found ourselves travelling on a proper interstate freeway, and just like that, we were in Reno. This city is very spread out and takes up a jaw-dropping 105 square miles. This explains why it never seemed to end! (In comparison, the city we live closest to, Medford, Oregon, is 26 square miles. San Francisco, where I grew up, is 47 square miles) Reno is a behemoth!!
As we approached the heart of the city, the freeway gained lanes and soon there were four lanes in each direction. There were a lot of cars on the road but no slow-downs, so we moved along at a good clip.
I always feel very squirrely when we ride on huge freeways like this because of the potential of problems that could arise, but even though I felt nervous, Andy and Steve were fine with it and there were no questionable drivers, so I just tried to relax and enjoy the city views.
I kept my eyes out for casinos. However, being the middle of the day, the neon bling wasn’t prominent and I was surprised to see they were concentrated in only a very small area on each side of 395. I did enjoy seeing the gleaming high-rise office buildings though, and didn’t remember seeing them when I was last through here 30 years ago.
I was relieved when we left the city in our rear-view mirrors and the volume of cars went down. Even though I know that freeways are safe, I feel a lot more comfortable on roads with fewer lanes in each direction. Soon we were crossing the California border and heading through dry but pretty country due north towards our destination of Alturas.
A long ride through rugged country
We had a several hours to ride from Reno to Alturas and from what I remembered on the map, there wasn’t going to be a lot to see on the way. However, it turned out to be lovely! Picturesque skies accompanied wide-open cattle pastures and miles of scrub land. We passed the huge Honey Lake and I felt a bit forlorn as I would have liked to stop and visit this bird sanctuary. That being said, I didn’t even know if there would be many birds to see, as they are often very seasonal. The glimpses I saw through the trees and brush were pretty though.
We stopped once to fuel up and get coffee drinks, and later we took a short detour to stop at Susanville for a quick lunch. While Steve and I were enjoying our short break, Andy called his wife to wish her a happy birthday.
Soon we were on our way again. I relaxed into the enjoyable rhythm of the ride, taking lots of pictures as the miles flew by. Andy and Steve had fun passing each other on the long straight stretches so they could take pictures and video footage. They were always extremely careful whenever they did this, but I still felt very nervous and was relieved when they resumed their normal riding. Yeah, yeah, I’m a scaredy cat in this regard, but can you blame me?! 🙂
Will your camera strap every come off during a ride? Yes, it’s Likely!
Zooming along, we were approaching a town with a great name, and I was really looking forward to taking pictures of the pair of businesses there. The town of Likely has a population of just over 60 people, but with a name like that, it’s gotten a lot of attention by anyone passing by. Likely got its name circa 1885 when the U.S. Post Office stated that towns could only have one-word names. A resident of South Fork offered the name of Likely with the opinion that, “It’s likely that nobody will ever agree on a new name!” Soon after, South Fork was changed to Likely.
I was clicking away at the sights around me when I suddenly felt a looseness around my neck. Feeling each side of my camera, I found that one of the metal bolt snaps had twisted and allowed the strap to slip off. I told Steve that I had a slight camera emergency and we pulled over to fix the strap. It was clear what happened once we took a closer look. The metal used for the snap was so cheap that it had gradually pulled open after many hours of hanging around my neck. Steve thought it was very lucky that I noticed, but I explained that this tension was how I kept track of my camera and that’s why I immediately detected something was wrong.
After a quick fix, we looked up and Andy pulled around with a satisfied expression on his face. He had used the time very happily cruising up and down the road, taking pictures of “The Most Likely Cafe,” “The Likely General Store”, and a couple of other fun photographic subjects. It’s hard to be bored when you have a camera in hand, and it’s awesome when you have time to take the pictures you’d been hoping for! Yay, Andy!
Relaxing in Alturas
It was only another 20 miles before we rolled into Alturas which was fine by us. We were all feeling road-weary and ready to relax at the end of our last full day of riding. Although we hadn’t made room reservations, Andy’s wife found a great place online and when we were very happy with the relaxed atmosphere at the Rim Rock Motel. The grounds were spacious with nice landscaping and relaxing on their bench swing afforded a lovely view of the area. On top of that, there were a bunch of BMW motorcycle riders there who were overnighting after going to a nearby BMW rally, and it was fun to see their bikes and chat.
We’d arrived at about 4pm so we chilled out for a while before dinner. I wandered around, took a few pictures and enjoyed having no agenda for the rest of the day. Steve and Andy got to know one of the BMW riders and we all ended up going out to dinner at a Basque restaurant called the Brass Rail.
I’d never eaten at one before, so it was fun to try something new. A family-style restaurant, you choose the type of meat you like (lamb—a Basque specialty but I don’t care for it—chicken, beef ribeye), and they bring out a cordial of red wine and a variety of selections including bread, soup, dinner salad, rice and lasagna, and finally, ice cream for dessert. This 1-price-for-all-courses restaurant was good but nothing special, except for the price, which was way too high for the buffet-quality food.
We had a wonderful time chatting with our dinner guest. He told us what it was like to run a cattle ranch for most of his life until he finally retired a few years back. I loved his beautifully engraved belt buckle, the type you see rodeo cowboys wearing. I was interesting to get a different perspective on life, from that of a person who’s never lived in a big city and inherited his livelihood from his hard-working parents. He was very interested in Steve’s trailer and they got into a very fascinating conversation about what he knew about—livestock trailers—and how one would set about building a trailer that would work safely on the back of a motorcycle.
After dinner, we all wandered back to our rooms and thanked our BMW friend for his company. It would be a full moon tonight, so we set the cameras up on tripods and got some really beautiful sunset pictures, complete with the moon! The rest of the evening we sat outside our rooms, which were right next to each other, and chatted about our trip and told stories from each of our pasts. It was so nice spending time together off the bikes, and we were surprised at the late hour when we finally said goodnight and dove into bed.