Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Arrrrr! Spend ye a night at the Pirates Cove... In México!

Hey Mike... Want to run down to México with me?   ...Sure!

Words by Jim Foreman Photos by Jim Foreman and Mike Kurthy

Be careful and put your ID in a Baggie in your shoe...  AAA advice when traveling out of the country.  -Mike's FB friend Teri.

Destination: La Cueva del Pirata Hotel and Restaurant.  Camalú, BC, México.  
Cast: Jim Foreman (Blue BMW K 1200 RS) and Mike Kurthy (Blue H-D Deluxe)
One Way Mileage: 270 Miles  
Best time to go: Fall, Winter, Spring
What You MUST Bring: Passport or PassCard, Mexican Auto Insurance and a Great Attitude.
International Border Crossings: 2 (One Going, One Coming)  
Fun Factor: 10+ 
Passenger Fun Factor: 10+ (Estimated)
Safety Factor: 1-10 (10 is best) US - 8, México - 9.5  
Cops seen: 6 in the US, Doesn't matter in México.
Total US Dollars Spent on the Entire Trip <$120.00 ($1,500 Pesos with money left over)
Place to get good México Motorcycle Insurance: Mexican Insurance Store
Best Travel Insurance for Overland Motorcyclists: World Nomad  
Highest Speed Attained in México: 225Km/h  (You'll need to do the math.  1 mile = 1.6 kilometers)
Map Link: Google Maps

I already know what some of you are thinking...  Will I be kidnapped by a Drug Cartel, accosted by corrupt cops, or be forced to do untoward things to a burro?  Those who watch too much TV, instead of riding a motorcycle, are very prone to this thinking.  Especially avid watchers of the 24/7 news outlets, are prone to believe the worst about nearly any topic.  The reality is that México is quite safe and especially in Baja California and Baja California Sur.  These two states in particular have significantly lower crime and violent crime than California and most of the rest of the USA.
Well, this is a ride blog and not a political commentary.  Let's believe you have a streak of adventure, a passport, Insurance and a couple days to have an amazing time in México.
Let's get a couple details out of the way...
Things you need to bring….

    • Passport or Passcard
      • ID and Birth Certificate is NOT OK anymore.   They may let you in, but you’re going to get a secondary screening.  Then again, they may not let you back in.
    • Any Prescription Medications in its original bottle.
    • Mexican Auto/Motorcycle Insurance
    • Proper Full Protective Riding Gear
    • Knowledge of a couple Spanish phrases.
    • Excellent running motorcycle with fresh tires with at least 75% tread life.
    • Great Attitude!

DO NOT BRING….  Guns, large knives, pepper spray, Medical Marijuana and most importantly, DO NOT HAVE a superior attitude or a demeaning attitude.

 It’s very wise to bring….

    • Emergency Satellite Locater (Delorme InReachSE)
    • Travelers Insurance (WorldNomad.com)
    • Maps (Guia Roji is best.  AAA maps are a decent start and free for members)
    • Smart phone with a Spanish dictionary app.
    • GPS if you already have one, but you really don’t need it except for big cities.
    • Tire Repair Kit and inflation system.
    • Alka-Seltzer or Tums
    • Lightweight Cool and warm weather gear.
    • GoPro or similar camera. More than one is better.

Traveling down I-5 to Mexico
Once you're packed and ready to go, start early.  The mileage may seem fairly short, and it is.  Riding in Méxcio requires more attention and focus.  You'll need more breaks.  These are excellent times to drink some water.  

It is recommended that you do NOT ride in groups larger than 4 riders.  This way, similar riding skill levels can be grouped.  Also you are less disruptive to traffic and everyone can have a great time.  Simply arrange to meet at the first Pemex station in a particular town.  

If you have never ridden in México before, it may be wise to travel with someone who has, the first time.  The riding style is very different and can seem intimidating to some.  Also, be honest with yourself.  If you don't have good to very good riding skills, and can put a motorcycle exactly where you want it, it may be better to gain more skill in the US.

When riding into Tijuana, stay to the right.
The best places to gain skill in SoCal are Angeles Crest Hwy (CA-2) and surprisingly, Ortega Hwy (CA-74).  Both of these roads have a lot of what you'll encounter riding in Mexico.  Lots of high speed sweepers, occasional debris on the roadway and high speed straightaways.  Streetmasters taught by Walt Fulton is also a highly recommended course.

Take Heed... When entering into a town, you MUST slow down.  Towns throughout México have topes or speed bumps on the outskirts of town and in the town center.  This is also where you'll have any issue with the police about speed.

Let's talk speed for a moment.  On highways, there are ridiculously low speed limits posted.  These are even ignored by bicyclists.  It's the Darwinian Speed Law in México.  Only travel as fast as your personal evolution will allow.  In other words, ride at your skill level, but hold some skill in reserve for an unexpected occurrence.  If you go too fast and get into a collision.  It may be some time before help will reach you. 

Topes!  The blue building on the right is a perfect place to get pesos.
It's easiest to travel I-5 South to the border at Tijuana.  For a simple overnight, this is the best way to go.  Getting into México is usually no problem.  In México, Lane Splitting is completely legal.  You can certainly split through lanes to get ahead.  Generally stay to the right when entering México.  Most cars bunch to the left leaving the right wide open with no waiting.  
When you reach the actual crossing, slowly cross the topes and follow the directions.  In most cases you'll get a green light to proceed, but if you get a red light, just wait to be told where to pull over and expect a search of your bike.  It's typically no more than 5 minutes. 
While you're here, make an immediate U-turn to the blue SAT Building on the right.  Pay no mind to the direction arrows on the ground.  Park your bike and use this as your best opportunity to get Pesos from a bank ATM (Best Exchange Rate) and use the super clean restroom.  Also it's a great opportunity to snap your first picture in México with the enormous Méxican flag in the background.  There are federal attendants.  nearby.  If you ask nicely and smile, they will keep an eye on your bike if you are riding alone.
Great place for Pesos, Baños y Fotos.
Riding in México, you'll quickly notice that being on a big bike, You will have a lot of respect.  It's true.  despite the large numbers of cheap 150cc Chinese bikes in cities, big bikes are quite rare in México.  Only those well-to-do have them.  Most people in México, from the cops to the truck drivers, wish they were you.  Wave to them.  They think you're super cool or 'Chingón!', as they put it.  When filling up, it's common for people to ask, 'How Much is it?'.  Do NOT take offense to it.  You can answer in US Dollars or better yet convert it into Pesos.  $10,000 would be $130,000 Pesos or $130mil.  You'll also be asked how many cc's is your engine.  You may even be asked if you like the Méxican women.  
Speaking of women...  If you're a woman riding your own bike in México this will be of great interest to Méxicans.  Not in a bad way.  Simply put, it's super rare for a woman to ride a big bike in México.  Smile a lot.  You'll be fine and respected.
One thing to know is what town or city you started your day and where you're headed.  This is the most common question asked by authorities.

Once cashed up, pressure relieved and photos posted on FB, turn off Cellular Data on your phone or you will have a rude awakening when you get your mobile bill.  Head toward Ensenada using the Cuota or Toll Road.  It's not a very direct way, but pay attention to the signs and you'll be on your way.  Never mind the stench as you pass near the river.  This is the only place you'll experience it.  Also, stay out of Tijuana.  TJ has always been a magnet to those who wish to liberate naive Americans of their money.  That will never change.  Avoid it and you avoid 99% of any potential unpleasantness.  
The toll for motorcycles on the Cuota is $15Pesos.  ($1.20USD).  They will give change.  If riding in a group, save time by having one person pay for the group.
Paying at the toll booth.  It's only $15 Pesos for Motos.
On the toll road, you can experienced a beautiful run toward Rosarito and Ensenada.  This high-speed run will help you get your bearings for riding in México.  As of this writing, the road was in the process of being partially closed between Puerta Nueva (South of Rosarito) and Ensenada.  It's highly recommended that your first break be taken in Rosarito.  Just follow the exit signs and stay to the right.  You'll want to go to the tourist zones.  Here, about half-way through town but a block before a tall high-rise hotel, both on the right, is the El Nido Restaurant.  Look for street parking in front of the restaurant or just take a right at the corner.  Look for the parking lot on the left for El Nido.  There is usually an attendant who will watch your bikes.  This is an amazing steakhouse that has been there for many years.  they hand make their tortillas and you can enjoy Méxican Coke.  They do offer alcohol, but please don't drink while riding in México.  It's not that you'll be pulled over, but that you need all of your skills and experience running at 100%.  Riding with even one drink can impair that.  Drink all you want when the bikes are put away for the night.

El Nido Steakhouse looking northwest toward it.

Amazing riding on the mountain pass approaching Ensenada.
At El Nido, the food and service is excellent.  The prices are quite reasonable but still more American.  It has a wonderful ambiance and it's a great place to break.

After enjoying Lunch at El Nido, continue south but don't get back on the toll road.  Stay on the side road that parallels the toll road.  It's more interesting and just as fast.
Regardless of when they repair the toll road, you are wise to keep on this side road and follow old Mex-1 down into Ensenada.  It's a spectacular mountain road that will leave you with lots of smiles.  You'll run through part of México's wine growing region, smaller towns and away from all the Californians in too much of a rush to slow down and enjoy themselves.  In México, bikes typically pass slower vehicles like trucks.  Often they will flash their left turn signal to let you know the road ahead is clear.  Still use your best judgement.  If passing, pass and get back into your lane with haste.  Decide and act quickly or just back off and take it slow.  
One very important riding tip...  STAY AWAY FROM THE CENTER LINE IN BLIND CORNERS!  It is not uncommon to see drivers and trucks drift into the oncoming lane in a corner.  Slow down a tad and hug the right section of the roadway.  
There are some serious elevation changes and you may get a bit chilly.  You may want to put on something to keep you a bit warmer.   
Approaching Ensenada is awesome.  It's the biggest non-border town in Baja California.  It's a busy port town similar to smaller Long Beach, CA.  It's also a cruise ship port.  Saturdays and Tuesdays see a flood of cruise passengers experience Ensenada.  It's a great place to find a coffee shop, take a break and update your friends on FB.  If you leave early enough, a fun side-trip is to La Bufadora.  It's about 30Km south of Ensenada and worth a visit.  Huge signs on the road make finding it very easy.

Tuesdays and Saturdays bring Cruise passengers from Long Beach, CA
South of the Ensenada Tourist Zone is where 'Real México' begins.   This is where the desire to appear the way visiting Americans want to see México ends and authenticity begins.  Besides some easy Military checkpoints, it's a beautiful ride over mountains toward Camalú.  Camalú is about 100 miles south of Ensenada.  You will pass some agriculture areas and small villages along the way.   
A couple things worth mentioning.  Oxxo (Oh-So) stores are similar to 7-eleven stores here.  They're a great place to get water, snacks, beer (for later) and cash, if needed.  Also don't hesitate to fill up at Pemex stations.  They don't use ethanol in México.  Your engine will run cooler and your fuel mileage will increase.  It's recommended you run the red, premium (Roja), fuel in your bike.  It costs a little less than it does in the US, but not much.  A motorcycle fill up is between $200 and $250 Pesos.  Some accept credit cards, but most don't.  Also they will take US Dollars but at a posted exchange rate of between $12 and $12.50 Pesos per dollar.   
Mike and I at Pemex.  Look for the ones that sell Premium.
In México, the gasolinerias (stations) are full-serve.  Make sure the counter is set to zero before filling.  Most attendants will point it out to you.  They are usually experienced in filling motorbikes.  Don't be afraid to ask for 'poquito mas' (little more) if it's not filled to your liking.  Don't be shy about tipping the attendant a couple pesos difference if it comes to a difference of 5 pesos or less.  If the charge is $196, consider just giving $200 and saying 'Gracias!'.  Tips are not mandatory.  The attendants do typically take pride in their work.

Along the way south on Mex-1 you'll pass through a town called Colonet.  The next town of this size will be Camalú.
Once in Camalú you can relax.  You've made it.  In the middle of town will be a street light with a billboard with an arrow at the top indicating a 'Beach Two Miles'.  This is where you want to turn.  Just beyond the billboard is an Oxxo and Pemex Station if you need anything.
The road to La Cueva del Pirata is dirt, but it's hard packed dirt and gravel.  It will be no problem taking streetbikes on this road.  just keep it in second gear and use the rear for most of your braking.

Look for this billboard at the stop light in Camalú.
The building you're looking for is still under construction, the rooms are clean and comfortable and only $400 pesos ($30USD full price).  If you are looking for two or more rooms, ask for a special discount.

Please plan on eating at the restaurant.  It is awesome!  The lobster is brought in fresh and the cook is awesome!  He will make it exactly the way you want it.  It's also priced Méxican not American so you will feast and drink like kings but pay like a meal at Norm's.  

You can also ride or hike down to the beach, but it's a bit rocky.  There is a lot of privacy if you wish to be left alone.  

Two things that will make you cheer is that the restaurant has free high-speed wi-fi and there is cell service out there.  

The restaurant and main hotel building.

Bring enough Pesos because sometimes the credit card machine is not working.  You're in real México now and these things happen.  México is still very much a cash culture.  While some nicer restaurants, hotels and gas stations take credit cards, most don't.  Make sure you have Pesos on hand.  It's wise to generally keep no more than $400 Pesos in your wallet.  Keep the rest in a discreet pocket in your jacket or in your armor pocket in your pants.  This way you won't appear like a flashy rich American when you pay for goods.

The two of us thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and made a point to stay again when we return.  It was simple, but the food, drink and value made it stand out amongst other choices nearby.  

If you are traveling to Mexico with your partner, this is a great destination.  Just be mindful that it is NOT a 5-star resort.  It's a clean comfortable room on a clifftop overlooking the beach with an amazing restaurant and view. 

Sunset at La Cueva del Pirata.  Camalú, BC, México.
This place draws in many locals who want to impress their loved ones.  This is important.  Though you just rode in from SoCal, this is considered a nice place and it's good manners to act appropriately.  Don't be loud and obnoxious.  Have fun, but be respectful and you will have a great and memorable time.  It's probably a good idea to have a flashlight if you want to head down to the beach after sunset.  México is a country with overreaching rules and too many signs.  They expect you to have common sense and to take responsibility for your actions.  If you get hurt doing something unwise, don't plan on suing someone else.  It won't work.  That said, if you want to go to the beach at night, no problem.  Just be aware that if you get hurt, it may be a while before help comes.     Mike chose to nurse some Johnnie Walker he picked up in Ensenada.  This led to the only concern about safety in the entire trip.  Mike said he was sitting on the chair contemplating life.  All of a sudden he noticed a series of ten or so headlights heading toward him.  Fearing a scene playing out from the movie, "Traffic", Mike began to worry. A short time later he realized it was just some cars traveling on the main highway.  With little ambient light to mess with ones depth perception, objects did appear closer than they actually were.

The beach in the morning at La Cueva del Pirata, Camalú.
We both laughed over lobster omlettes for breakfast the following morning.  Both of our bikes were completely safe that night. 
Well rested and refreshed, we decided to hit the road and have lunch in Ensenada.  
A quick stop at the Pemex station to top off our tanks and we were off.  
In Ensenada, there is this spectacular cafe that's only a few blocks from the tourist zone, but it's really a locals restaurant.  
Cenaduria El Parian in Ensenada.

Mike Kurthy enjoying riding in México.
Military checkpoints are common in México.

The Author enjoying some sport riding in México.
Jim's GoPRO Camera Mounting System for riding in México.

Wave to truckers, cops, kids, pickups, etc.  They think you are cool!

Dining room of La Cueva del Pirata.  Complete with Pepe Aguilar playing on the projector.
Oxxo is like 7Eleven in the US.  Good place to get water, Pesos, snacks, beer.
Big Motorcycles are special in México.  You can make someones day by letting them sit on your bike for a photo.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead

The World Is So Beautiful.  This Is Why I Do It... To Share The World's Beauty With Everyone.  This Is WHY I Ride For Peace.
-Jeffrey Polnaja (Ride For Peace)

Words and Photos by Jim Foreman
Ride Details

Destinations: Big Bear Lake, Rim of the World Highway, Lake Arrowhead, Crestline.
Total Miles: 242
Best time to go: Weekdays, Spring, Summer and Fall.

Temperature: It's much cooler up here.
Highest Elevation: 8800 feet (2680Km)
Participants: Jeffrey Polnaja and Jim Foreman 

Bikes: Jeffrey's 2004 R 1150 GSA "Silver Line" and 2013  R 1200 GS "Irv Seaver Demo"
Fun Factor: Great Times!
Passenger Fun Factor: Same as Above
Lunch Enjoyed at: Woody's Boathouse Restaurant
Number of Cops Seen All Day: A Lot - Even on a weekday.
Map of the Route: GoogleMaps

In 2006, Jeffrey Polnaja embarked on his journey to embrace, promote and educate everyone he comes in contact with about the beauty of the world and the need for world peace.  World Peace is a huge topic.  'World Peace' is often used as a cliché for every beauty pageant contestant and 70's pacifist 'hippie', but what is it?  
Perhaps it's best to start at the beginning.  Along with the rest of the world, Jeffrey and his family sat glued to the television as the twin towers were struck on September 11th, 2001.  As the horror of watching the second plane hit the tower was realized, Jeffrey's ten year old son began to ask his father some life changing questions.  "Dad, we're taught to love each other, why are these people killing each other?"  Next came the profound moment in Jeffrey's life.  His son turned to him and in all seriousness said, "Dad, you have to do something about this!"  Jeffrey thought to himself, "What can I do?" "I'm just a businessman in Indonesia."  His son then pointed out that he's also a rider, to which Jeffrey nodded and agreed.  Jeffrey's son reiterated, "You're a good rider, Dad...  You need to Ride For Peace!"  Thinking his son's comments were that of a simple 10 year old, Jeffrey quickly got back into his routine, but about 6 months later, his son came to him and told him, sternly, "Well Dad, are you going to do it?  Are you going to Ride for Peace?"
Jeffrey knew that his life had changed and put forward actions that would enable him to begin his 'Ride For Peace'.

Leaving from Indonesia in 2006, Jeffrey traveled up through Asia, Africa and Europe. Returning to Indonesia in 2009 Jeffrey began work on his book, "Wind Rider".  It's not available on Amazon or your local bookseller as it's written in Jeffrey's native language.  Plans are in place to have it translated.  
Upon the publication of his book, Jeffrey took up the second leg of his journey.  Riding across Siberia, through Japan, and South Korea, the bike was shipped to Vancouver, and his North American journey began.  
Jeffrey traveled through Canada, Alaska and 38 states when our paths crossed at Irv Seaver BMW in Orange, CA.  I had known about Jeffrey and 'Ride For Peace' from the many friends who had met him throughout his journey.  
Thus began a solid friendship that transcends motorcycling.  

On to the ride....
Meeting Jeffrey at the Coffee Bean at Wilshire and Mariposa.
Jeffrey is staying with good friends in 'Koreatown' in Los Angeles.  Rather than have him meet at the dealership, it was decided to meet on Wilshire, just one block away from the former Ambassador Hotel where RFK was shot.  I pointed this out to Jeffrey at the start of our ride.  He had no idea.  He told me he would visit the site the following day.  
We talked about the route and then mounted up our respective bikes. 
We headed a couple block east on Wilshire, South on Vermont and then East on Interstate 10.  We left after 9am which meant the majority of rush-hour traffic was behind us.   As is becoming custom, we elected to get the bulk of the freeway travel out of the way first.
As we traversed I-10 it became evident that Jeffrey's riding style and mine were quite compatible.  He'd recognize my head turns and my intentions to change lanes.  He'd "run cover" for me and I'd run cover for him making the trip quick and safe.
We exited the 10 in Redlands at University Street.  If you're hungry or need some coffee, there are many good choices if you exit on Orange St, just prior to University St.  We were doing good, so we made a Left at University Street and followed it up to a right on E Lugonia Ave (Hwy 38).  This is a good time to gas up as options are fewer and more expensive on the mountain.  Hwy 38 becomes Metone Blvd and then Mill Creek Road before finally settling in as just Hwy 38 going up the mountain.
It became quickly evident that we both loved some good corners.  Highway 38 provided some stellar examples.  
Highway 38 twists and turns its way for many miles of scenic beauty, campgrounds and small villages.  Of note, it's in one of these small villages that Ex-LAPD Cop Christopher Dorner holed up in a cabin and was ultimately killed.  At this point, Highway 38 is also called Greenspot Blvd.   We arrived at Big Bear Lake.  We made a Left at E Big Bear Lake Blvd (Highway 18), but not before temporarily losing Jeffrey.  I turned back to find him.  He had been photographing a street sign at "Malabar Way."  Malabar is a town on the Indonesian island of Java.  It's nestled at the base of Mount Malabar, a volcano that makes up the center of the island.  Jeffrey told me some of it's history as a tea growing region and noted that Malabar was even spelled the same way.
Now with Jeffrey and I together again we made our way west toward the lake.  The road "Ys" off at Division Road allowing you to run the northern shore of the lake or stay on the southern and more developed part.  We opted for the southern and more developed part.  It doesn't matter which you choose as both roads meet up again at the dam.
At the far west shore of the lake, near the dam, we pulled over and took some pictures of Big Bear Lake.  Looking away from the dam, the lake is pristine with lush forest capped by deep blue skies.  While taking these pictures, we both reflected on the fact that this beauty was only just over an hour away from all of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.  If one is looking for a weekend escape without wasting the weekend getting there, then it would be wise to strongly consider Big Bear Lake.
It was during this time of photography and reflection that my imagination was directed upward.  At the top of the granite outcropping stood a shell of an abandoned structure.  I've always been a sucker for such ruins.  The pathway up to it was easily found, so I suggested to Jeffrey that we go check it out.  That's the best part of this trip.  We weren't in any rush.  We stopped when something looked interesting and didn't really bother with the time.
We made the short ride up the unlabeled road to discover a multi-room structure in grave disrepair.  Initial research could not tell me what or whom this belonged to, but some things were evident.  It had been in use up until the 80's or 90's as the frame that supported the roof was not terribly weathered.  There didn't appear to be any electrical circuits in the walls, and the windows were barred up.  There was old tile in an area that would probably make the kitchen but no drains or locations of sewer or septic lines.  The structure did have a fireplace and seemed well built.  I'd love to learn more about this structure's history.  Across the roadway was the weather sensing equipment for Big Bear Lake.
We continued on along the 'Rim of the World Highway' headed toward Lake Arrowhead.  This is one of the most beautiful roadways in SoCal.  It would be a shame not to take advantage of some of the turnouts to take pictures and reflect on life. 
This stretch is a motorcyclists paradise.  Especially on the weekdays where traffic is light.  A rider must remain vigilant for road debris.  On a previous trip, several medium sized boulders dislodged from the cliff side above and landed on the roadway.  Being on a motorbike made navigating these obstacles a cinch.  On this trip, an old dry tree gave way and fell onto the roadway.  A maintenance worker was cutting it up for removal and trying to direct traffic so please keep your eyes up and aware.
Jeffrey getting some great lean angles on the Rim of the World
We ultimately made it up to Lake Arrowhead and the turnoff to Lake Arrowhead Village.  By this time, we were rather hungry.  Unfortunately, I lost Jeffrey a second time, so I back tracked and found him waiting for me.  He noticed my rear-facing GoPRO camera fell off my bike, so he went to retrieve it.  Once the GoPro was retrieved, Jeffrey didn't know which way I turned.  I was very grateful for the recovery and was reminded how great it is to ride with good friends.  
We parked our bikes and tried to figure out what to eat.  Given that it was a weekday, and after 2pm in the afternoon, our choices were limited.  We never considered Mc Donald's or Subway, but looked toward village favorites Papgayos and Woody's.  Jeffrey was about to spend a year in Mexico, Central and South America, so we opted to skip Papagayos (Mexican) and go with Woody's Boathouse.  Woody's was a typical tourist restaurant.  The food was decent but nothing noteworthy.  The meal served it's purpose and allowed Jeffrey and me some time to talk about our different upbringings and travels.
Jeffrey snapping an iconic 'Money' shot.
After finishing lunch, we went for a coffee.  I went next door to buy a long-sleeve undershirt as I was a wee bit underdressed.  
We mounted our bikes and continued on Highway 18 headed west.
It should be noted that Hwy 330 and Hwy 18 to and from the valley floor also offer some high speed sweepers that can be a thrill for motorcyclists.  In some parts of both routes though, the road is heavily patched.  When warm these patches become rather soupy and slippery.
We elected to head north onto highway 138 through Crestline.  The intention was to take the 138 to Interstate 15.  Then we would ride Angeles Crest Highway back into town.  Despite our intention, the day was fast approaching dusk and running a mountain road at night is unwise.  Jeffrey and I decided it would be best to head home and run Highway 2 on a separate day. 
On the ride back, I often reflected how fortunate I was to have friends such as Jeffrey and how much at peace I felt upon reaching my place again.
Caught by the GoPRO

Riding Shadow on Highway 138

From the doorway of the ruin.

SoCal is rich with these roads.

Highway 330 is a fun run too!

Friends riding together.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

SoCal's Motorcycling Triple Play

Rise up this mornin',
Smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', "This is my message to you-ou-ou:"
Singin': "Don't worry about a thing, worry about a thing,
oh! Every little thing gonna be all right.

-Bob Marley

Words and Pictures by Jim Foreman

Ride Details

Destinations: Idyllwild via CA 243, Borrego Springs and Palomar Mountain.
Total Miles: 353
Best time to go: Year Round (Except for Snow or Ice)
Difference in Temperatures: 40ºF (92º in Beaumont 62º at Palomar Mountain)
Participants: Pan Huang, Hanson Xie and Jim Foreman
Fun Factor: Off The Hook!
Passenger Fun Factor: Same as Above
Lunch Enjoyed at: Gastrognome
Miles Visable from the Top of Palomar Mountain: 75+
Number of Cops Seen All Day: 2
Map of the Route: GoogleMaps

Every day one hears 'Epic' this and 'Epic' that and each time it's heard it becomes evident that it's not 'Epic' at all.  At best when the word 'Epic' is used it really means, mildly interesting. 
That was not the case for the SoCal Triple Play that even included a bonus run.

Last week, a message was received from Hanson suggesting He, Pan and I go out for a ride over the weekend.  Last time around we went all the way through Angeles Crest Highway and had a great time.  

It was agreed to all meet at Pan's home in Tustin near the old Marine Corps Air Station.  We donned our gear, mounted up and headed out for a day of fun.  As is often the case, the weather in SoCal was spectacular.  Truly, one couldn't wish for better weather.  Clear, sunny, not too hot, just perfect weather.

Pan was riding his 2013 Honda Goldwing, Hanson was riding Pan's 2013 CVO Street Glide and Jim was riding his 2002 BMW K 1200 RS.  Amongst the Goldwing and the StreetGlide, the full-size BMW K 1200 RS seemed tiny, like a Ninja 300. 
When the destinations tend to lead far away from home, getting the Interstate travel out of the way early on has proved an efficient strategy.  Just like with Ojai, we decided to burn the interstate to CA 243 (Palms to Pines Scenic Byway).  That way, we would be heading, gradually, back toward home, on a day trip.  This course also allows us to warm up our bikes and ourselves before hitting the awesomeness.

Heading up CA 243 Palms to Pines Scenic Byway
Riding into Idyllwild
Upon reaching the CA 243 exit off of I-10, we rolled up to the base of the mountain.  This is the point we mounted the GoPRO Cameras and really started our journey.

If one has traveled CA-243, then the next few sentences will be old news.  If you haven't had a chance, to make the run to Idyllwild, why the heck not?  

This road must have been designed by motorcyclists.  It's really that amazing!  The corners will cause your cheeks to hurt from smiling in your helmet too much.   The scenery and sights will be a visual feast for your eyes.  Going up the first part, it's impossible not to notice and smell the remnants of the recent fire.  After the first summit, all the fire damage is in the past.  What's left is mile after mile of shady, cool, pine-scented roadway that simply beckons you to open the throttle just a little bit more.  

Along the glorious 24 miles between the base of the mountain and Idyllwild, there is just one area where the speed limit drops.  It's only a brief slowdown and then normal speed to Idyllwild.  Idyllwild is a great stopping point.  This rustic village is known for being exceptionally motorcycle friendly.  There are three gas stations in town.  None of them are exorbitantly priced.  

The Three Amigos in front of Gastrognome Restaurant.
Dining options are aplenty in Idyllwild.  Many riders simply pull into Jo'anns Restaurant and Bar.  The unfortunate live rendition of Ella Fitzgerald's 'At Last' coming from their performance stage would upset even the most robust appetites.  I recommend trying a new place each time.  There are many European ex-pats living in the area.  Many offer some terrific culinary options.  We decided to enjoy 'Gastrognome Restaurant'.  After a delicious meal and attentive service, Hanson and Pan took a stroll around part of the town.  It was my job to setup the cameras again for the next leg of our journey.

A brief fill up at one of the gas stations, and we were off.  We continued south on Hwy 243.  It's a nice wind-down as the amazing twisties, elevation changes and scenery continue.  Upon reaching the 2000' level, a choice to continue on 243 south or head south/west on Hwy 74 is presented.  We continued south on the 243.  
At Kenworthy Bautista Road (CA 371), we made a right and headed to Aguanga.  CA 371 dead-ends into Hwy 79, so a left turn was made onto Hwy 79 and the journey continued.

Coming down CA 243 south of Idyllwild
Up until this point the option of going to Borrego Springs was uncertain.  Given the relative early time in the afternoon, the decision was made to go for it.  A quick left turn was made on San Felipe Road (S2).  A Couple miles later, there's a 'Y' in the road.  San Felipe continues on the right,  but you will want to veer left onto Montezuma Valley Road (S22).  This is what leads into Borrego Springs. 

Montezuma Valley Road (S22) is the second part of the three road triple play that made up this journey.  

This road is a must for all serious motorcyclists.  The well cambered roadway matches perfectly with the speed and degree of the corner to bring about excitement and joy!  

That's a great sign!
This time of year is butterfly season and the roadway was covered, in places, with butterflies.  As we would ride through, the road would seem to disintegrate and rise above the expected surface.  Think of a cool slo-mo scene in the Matrix to get the idea.  Though our bikes got a little peppered with butterfly guts it was surprisingly minimal give the tens of thousands we actually rode through.  

At the bottom of the hill, Borrego Springs was a virtual ghost town.  Two thirds of the businesses were closed or vacant.  We couldn't even find a coffee shop to rest for a quick break.  A small market remained open.  We settled on some bottled Mocha Frappucinos for the three of us.  Given all the fun we've had, so far, one might think we were ready to call it a day.  No Way!  Pan and Hanson were ready for more!  I was too!  Off we went to ride Montezuma Valley Road, AGAIN!  It was even better going back since the recent run of the corners going down were still fresh in our memory.


Hanson (L) and Pan (R) overlooking Lake Henshaw.
We backtracked to the 79 and made a left.  A short way down the road is CA 76.  Turn right toward Lake Henshaw and made another quick right onto East Grade Road.  Be careful.  East Grade Road comes fast.  Look to the right because it's easy to miss.  After making the right, head up the hill toward Palomar Mountain and part three of the SoCal Trifecta.

East Grade Road and Palomar Mountain Road are a motorcyclists paradise.  Sadly most riders will follow the darned GPS Master and just roll along Hwy 76 without even a clue to the amazingness that they are missing just a few miles away.  If you don't have one already, get a Butler Motorcycle Map and study it.  Also turn off the GPS once in a while.  Remember, you ride to get away from being told what to do.

A short way up East Grade Road, there is an overlook with an impressive view of Henshaw Lake.  This is a great spot to get some 'Glamor' shots of your bike.

Hanson chasing Jim up East Grade Road

Continuing on along East Grade Road will bring cooler temperatures again and certainly challenge the lean angles of your bike.  The visuals are amazing and perfect for GoPRO footage.  As we reached the end of East Grade Road, several vistas became evident and should be stopped at for more glamor shots with you and your bike.

At the intersection of East Grade Road, Palomar Mountain Road and State Park Road is Mother's Kitchen.  Mother's Kitchen is very  motorcycle friendly.  It's also a great place to eat.

Jim and Hanson playing around.
We stopped at a vista point overlooking San Diego County and Catalina Island in the distance.  

From there we completed the "Pièce de Résistance".  Palomar Mountain Road is well known amongst serious sport riders.  Often you'll see them gathered at the base or the top of the hill making their runs.  Even at the late hour, there were still supersport riders readying for another run.  It's incredible going both uphill and downhill.  Conveniently, there is a fire station at the top of the run for the inevitable novice who tries to outride him or herself.  On weekends, it's quite common to hear sirens responding to incidents.  Please ride within your limits.

Any one of these roads is a great destination in itself.  All of us were fine doing a good distance and we really wanted to do a lot of riding.  While these roads are relatively close to each other there is no reason to rush it.  Especially with a passenger, it would be worthwhile to spend half a day in Idyllwild or explore Borrego Springs.  Palomar Mountain has a lot of side roads and a world-class observatory. 

It was now 5:30pm and we had an hour of daylight left and a rather long way to go.  A right at the base of Palomar Mountain road brought us back onto Hwy 76.  This stretch is quite fun.   Expect to ride a fair distance, until the road split near the Pala Casino.  We stayed right onto Pala Mission Road.  A subsequent right onto Pala-Temecula Road came shortly.

Now it's not uncommon for some drivers, typically in hybrid powered cars, to go slow and not use the proper turnouts to let others pass.  These self-entitled, self-righteous, narcissistic drivers may not even realize that there is anyone else even on the road.  An even worse situation was encountered on this road.  The offending driver had a full-size late 90's Ford F-150 with a H-D Sticker, a License plate frame that says, "I'd rather be riding my Harley-Davidson" and a H-D logo trailer hitch cover.  One would think they might have a sense of others on the road.  Perhaps it's not too much to ask to drive the speed limit, not 10 MPH under.  We were clearly seen in his side and rear-view mirrors, yet turnout after turnout was passed without the slightest courtesy to pull-over.  We wound up aggressively passing the driver and while doing so I looked at him shaking my head. 
All three of us later commented on what a jerk this guy was. 

Pala-Temecula Road drops us off at CA 79.  There is a gas station there as well as an In-N-Out Burger and Starbucks along with other places to eat.  Once refreshed, we headed west on 79 and immediately jumped on Interstate 15 going north.  This was a bit frustrating as traffic was backing up and splitting lanes, approaching dusk, for 30 or so miles was not appealing.  A proverbial lightbulb flashed bright in my head.  We exited a few miles later at Clinton Keith Road and made a Left.

We continued west on Clinton Keith Road until we hit Grand Avenue.  At Grand, we made a right.  A few miles up was......  Wait for it......  Wait for it.....

Yes!  The Mighty Ortega Highway (CA 74).

We weren't planning on hitting Ortega, but the traffic on the 15 and likely traffic on the 91 made this choice very appealing.  We made the left onto Ortega and never looked back.

As we reached the lookout, the opening salvos of dusk were fast approaching.  Fortunately traffic was quite light.  We were able to keep a hastened pace.  

Only a short 15 minutes of night riding was required up Interstate 5 to Tustin and to return to Pan's residence.

From there we all thanked each other, talked about how much we loved today's ride and when we would plan another one.

A sudden rush of gratitude was upon me as I realized how many good friends I have to share these motorcycle adventures.

Jim on East Grade Road

One of the lookouts from Palomar Mountain

Pan was killing it on the big behemoth

Hanson and I stopping for a moment.

The BMW K 1200 RS looks tiny at the Lake Henshaw Lookout

Pan may not speak a lot of English, but it was evident all day how much he enjoyed riding today.

Getting ready to head out from Idyllwild

Getting ready to tackle CA 243
And...  Cut!