A Trip to Virginia City, Nevada: Motorcycle Gold — Part One


For the third year in a row, my motorcycle buddies and I planned a trip to the High Sierras over the first weekend in October. We have found that this weekend the traffic is nonexistent, the weather is perfect, and the aspens are all turning gold over the mountain passes. This year, our destination was the old west town of Virginia City and we had something special happen. One of our group entered a raffle and won a brand new motorcycle!

Bocci winning a Triumph

Bocci wins a new bike!
Frequent readers of this blog know that my brother-in-law and frequent riding partner, “Bocci,” rides a Triumph T100 Bonneville that he bought in 2010 as his get-back-into-motorcycling ride. He and I have been all over California and Oregon on my 1,000cc Connie and his 865cc Bonnie. But a while ago, Bocci started to have a wandering eye, making true the sentiment that motorcycling has never really been about monogamy. Bocci was first thinking that a pair of KLR650s would be a nice addition to our stable, allowing us to wander farther afield down forest roads. But I knew that in his heart of hearts, he really has always wanted a Moto Guzzi.

Being a mechanical engineer by trade, Bocci was not afraid of exotic Italian iron and he has talked himself into how the Guzzi’s transverse vee-twin design would make engine maintenance a breeze. So we put the KLR idea on hold and Bocci started lusting after a dual-sport Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX.

Some months later, and without mentioning anything to me, Bocci noticed that the Pro Italia Moto Guzzi dealership in Los Angeles was holding a charity raffle to publicize the opening of their new Triumph franchise. He bought a dozen raffle tickets for $10 each in hopes of winning a brand new Triumph that was a replica of the one Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape.

As fate would have it, a week before our High Sierra trip, Bocci was washing his Bonnie and missed a phone call. When he noticed the missed call on his mobile phone, he saw that the area code was from Los Angeles. He told me that his hands started to shake a bit before he returned the call, and sure enough, he found out that he had won the replica Triumph, worth $10,000!

The only problem was that it was almost identical to the Triumph he already owned except that it was painted olive drab. Knowing that Pro Italia was also a Guzzi dealership, he asked if he could trade in the Triumph and put the full value towards the Stelvio. Pro Italia was more than accommodating and set him up with the Guzzi of his dreams for a few thousand more.

This hit Bocci like a ton of bricks because now instead of prepping the Bonnie for our annual 600 mile High Sierra tour, he was going to fly to L.A., get a motel room, arrange to be picked up by the dealership, pose for press photos with the replica Triumph, then do the paperwork to buy the Moto Guzzi. He was then going to pack up the Stelvio with his gear for the trip, swing his leg over a new and foreign bike, and head into SoCal traffic towards the back side of the Sierras where we arranged to meet him in Walker, CA the next day. What an adventure!

As for me, I hooked up with my moto-partner in crime, “Ace,” and we headed out to meet Bocci at a Walker barbecue place that we found online. Our fourth rider, Des, was coming south from Jackson and would meet us in Walker, as well.

As we expected for an October trip over the Sonora Pass, Ace and I had great pavement, no traffic, perfect weather and gorgeous scenery. But I got a little surprise when I followed Ace as he pulled off at the unmarked Donnell Lake scenic overlook to stretch. As we dismounted, two other riders joined us in the parking lot, both of whom had BMWs like Ace. So after a bit of Beemer-banter, we took a few photos at the quite spectacular overlook and started to mount up. Just then, another Kawasaki Concours rider rolled in. I stopped my gearing up to be neighborly to a fellow Connie owner when he came up to me and said, “Hello, P Radsliff.” Never having met him before, I was somewhat taken aback, and Ace was positively dumbfounded. As it turned out, the rider was a member of the Concours Owners Group (COG) and he recognized me from the many photos I posted on the COG forum and from my Me and MyConnie blog. Whereas I don’t think this was my 15 minutes of fame, I still rode out of the parking lot sitting a little bit taller in the saddle, lording my “celebrity” over my riding buddies whenever I got the chance in the following days: see video.

Donnell Lake

It was really great meeting “GF-in-CA” (his COG forum ‘handle’), whose posts I have read and whose opinion I have come to respect. I found out that he is a mechanical engineer and knows what he is doing with motorcycle maintenance. It was great seeing him roll in on his Connie and that it had a bunch of “farkles” on it — i.e. a loose acronym for owner modifications that stands for: Fancy Accessory Really Kool Likely Expensive. He was riding with his wife two-up which was also great to see. After more pleasantries and a promise to follow up via the COG forum, Ace and I headed east towards Sonora Pass.

As the road got steeper and twistier, we knew we were getting close to the pass. But before reaching the 9,624 ft. summit, we rode through a small valley with a dense copse of aspen trees that were all shimmering brilliant gold. We’ve seen this valley in its gold plumage in years past but it was no less breathtaking seeing it once again. It’s the kind of experience where you find yourself yelling “Oh my God, this is incredible” out loud inside your helmet just because you have to share it outside of your inner monologue.

Sign on Sonora Pass

In traversing up and over this formidable High Sierra pass, one can’t help but think of the first wagon train that crossed these jagged peaks in 1841. I wonder how different the roads here might have been if these mountains didn’t form a barrier between the gold and silver mines of Nevada to the east, and the international port of San Francisco to the west. All I know is that the many mountain passes that cross the High Sierras make some of the best motorcycle rides in the world, and they are all in my own back yard.

Ace and I continued down the eastern side of the Sierras into climate and country that is very different than the west side of the summit. Out here it’s all high desert scrub, not the verdant evergreen forests we just left behind. An interesting point of interest we encountered before turning north on Hwy 395 was the Marine Corps Mountain Training Warfare Center which is spread out on the left side of Hwy 108 at Pickel Meadow, CA. It’s not uncommon to see lots of military vehicles running around here, and aircraft as well.

Hwy 395 is a U.S. route that starts in Hesperia, CA about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, and crosses the Oregon border 557 miles later. It continues through Oregon and Washington all the way to the Canadian border. However, in California, state route 395 crosses through terrain that is arguably the most varied and beautiful in the state. Bocci was making the trek from the Los Angeles area up Hwy 395 so he was able to enjoy the stark but beautiful Mojave desert, followed by the spectacular Owens Valley which is just 60 miles west of famed Death Valley. The Owens Valley is framed by mountain escarpments that include Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,505 ft. The Owens Valley even features glaciers! Bocci stayed the night in Mammoth Lakes before heading north towards Walker and our rendezvous at Mountain View Barbecue.

We meandered alongside the Walker River which parallels Hwy 395 through deep canyon gorges and wide open high desert plains, eventually coming into the little town of Walker and our new rally point. We were greeted by a parking lot made from two-inch deep pea gravel which always makes for interesting maneuvers on a motorcycle. We saw two bikes parked at the restaurant, an orange Triumph Speed Triple that we knew belonged to Des, and a behemoth of a bike: the Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX: see video.

The Mountain View BBQ parking lot

Approaching the Stelvio from the rear was kind of amazing. With its aluminum panniers, it measures in at 42″ wide—that’s quite a bustle on its hustle! My first thought was that we wouldn’t be lane splitting anytime soon. As I walked around the bike, it was truly a thing of beauty—in a rough and tumble kind of way. Like a HumVee, but as if it were designed by Italians. The Guzzi had interesting angular lines with utilitarian bolt-ons, like the panniers and skid plates. As I walked around the bike, Bocci approached and greeted me by saying, “She’s a stout beast.” No doubt, I thought.

Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX: A Stout Beast

During our excellent BBQ lunch, Bocci regaled Des, Ace and myself with stories of his adventures: doing the winner’s photo shoot, packing the Stevio, and heading off into L.A. traffic. He told us about the Guzzi’s massive low-end torque and how well it handled for such a big bike. He bragged about its massive 8.5 gallon gas tank that gave him almost 350 miles range. I guess I can’t boast about the “measly” 7.5 gallon tank on MyConnie anymore.

Walker Wild Frogs

But Bocci had a few problems, too. A snap-in turn signal cover vibrated loose and fell off somewhere along his ride. And he felt a strange vibration that he couldn’t tell whether it was intermittent, and/or even normal for this bike that was new to him. He also experienced first hand a characteristic that is prevalent with transverse vee-twins: rev the engine while stopped at a light and the bike lurches sideways from the torque. Still, nothing could wipe off the ear-to-ear grin from a guy who had just won the bike of his dreams. Damn! Attaboy, Bocci.

Bocci and his new Stelvio NTX

Ride Map: Click here for Google Map

RIDE MAP: San Mateo to Walker, California

 

Ride Video: Click here for the full 51 minute ride video over Sonora Pass from Donnell Lake to U.S. Route 395

Next Installment: Part Two – Virginia City

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