I’ve heard it said that the best two weeks of owning a Porsche are the two before taking delivery. I’m writing this post two days before buying my first Connie knowing what the Porsche owner feels. Now at 54, I’ve been away from motorcycling for 20 years and the anticipation of rekindling a passion that what was such a huge part of my younger life is palpable.
I re-dipped my toe in the water last year when two close friends bought bikes after not having ridden for decades. They invited me along on a ride through California’s High Sierras. I looked around and then finally rented a BMW R1100RS from Dubbelju in San Francisco (highly recommended).
Driving the Bimmer away from their shop all I could think was, “Don’t dump it in front of the shop!” which was quickly replaced with, “Oh God, I’m in traffic!!” But that was quickly replaced by me thinking, “I’M GOING 65 MILES AN HOUR ON THE FREEWAY WITH NO METAL AROUND ME!!!” I think it was accurate to say that I was freaking out – at least a little. I had to remind myself that I am the same guy – albeit 20 years ago – who raced at Laguna Seca and hung with The Sunday Morning Ride crazies. Still, I had to will myself to keep going.
I arrived at my riding buddy’s house ready to kiss the ground, only to hear, “Okay, let’s get going!” I guess it helped to have to choose between fear and shame. I chose fear, and we were on our way. My buddy Des owns a new Triumph Speed Triple. A beautiful bike in all its nakedness (he refuses to disgrace its muscular lines with saddlebags). My other riding buddy Jim has a Bimmer boxer similar to my rental, but with a full fairing. We set off towards Yosemite from San Francisco and all I could think of was Samuel Jackson’s most famous line from Jurassic Park, “Hold on to your butts.”
I have to say that the first short segment on the world’s most beautiful freeway, the Junipero Serra (I–280, wasn’t too bad. Wide lanes, rolling hills, beautiful scenery and sparse traffic lend themselves to a nice freeway ride. Even the jaunt over Highway 92 towards the San Francisco Bay was okay. But then Hwy 92 turns into the San Mateo/Hayward bridge, and this took some getting used-to. It has a 300 ft. high “hump” near the San Mateo side and when you are new to, or re-familiarizing yourself with, motorcycling the high winds on top can be a pretty scary. We quickly transitioned from the bridge and into busy mid-morning traffic…at freeway speeds.
The ride east on Interstate 580 through the Livermove Valley, over the Altamont Pass and towards the central valley was congested with big, noisy trucks. I had forgotten how scary they are when you are right next to them. After an hour more riding, we transitioned through Manteca towards the Sierra Foothills which are winding, beautiful and rural. Now THIS was the riding I remembered 20 years ago!
We continued onto Highway 120 through California’s Gold Country and into Yosemite National Park. We then turned east before reaching the world famous Yosemite Valley and headed over Tioga Pass towards Nevada. A word to any motorcyclist reading this, put this ride on your bucket list. Transitioning from the stately pines of the Yosemite highlands, to Tuolumne Meadows which is the highest elevation sub-alpine meadow in the world, and then over the pass to the barren hills that lead down to Lee Vining and Mono Lake in Nevada is one of the most spectacular rides in all of motorcycling. And, the road is in excellent shape, with brand new blacktop from the 5,000 summit, all the way to Highway 395 on the valley floor in Nevada. Awesome.
After spending the night in Bridgeport – a quaint, if cell and WiFi-challenged, town a few miles north on Hwy 395 – the faster two buddies went to get their ya-yas out on long, straight roads in the Nevada desert while I took a more leisurely pace alongside a meandering river and then up and over Monitor Pass and Ebbetts Pass back towards my sister and brother in law’s cabin in Arnold, California on Highway 4. This is where I learned how nice it is not not feel pressured to keep up with riders who are faster than me, rather, to enjoy my own pace and the scenery around me. I also was finding out that getting my confidence and skill back after 20 years was going to take more than this one trip on a rented Bimmer. After two days of rest and frivolity at the cabin, we returned home, enjoying the Sierra foothills, but not the freeway ride back to the San Francisco Bay Area so much.
But one thing was clear to me, this “test run” of whether or not I wanted to get back into motorcycling had a definitive answer: “YES!” In fact, I can’t imagine why I had such a long hiatus. On this trip, I regained my understanding of how motorcycling allowed me to better understand myself. The intense and immersive experience allows me to see the rest of the world, and life, in a difference perspective. So, with that, I’m off to buy my first Connie the day after tomorrow, rekindling a life passion in the process.