Look in the Blog Archive in the box to the right for past ride reports going back to 2006. New material posted as rides or other motorcycle news occurs. Thanks for reading. Comments always welcome, be sure to log in below. Comments will be reviewed. Please note the disclaimer below.

About Me

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Motorcycling has been a life changing experience. I hope sharing the info and pictures on the Blog gives you some idea how impressed I am with the experience, travel and the people I have met. Made new friends especially among Riders here in Orange County. Special recognition to Johney (Wrench)-helps with all the maintenance stuff+rides, plus other great riding friends: Ken Y., Luis V. & Minita, Chuck & Patty, John R., Joe, Carolyn, Gregg, Charlie & Carol, Rick, Stan P., Ed & Susan P., Barry, plus Terry, Bob B., Brian H., Glenn, William & Daveta Jo, Bob (Concho) and others. ************* DISCLAIMER: This is my personal write-up (Blog) of motorcycling news, rides and events that I am involved with in some way and not affiliated with any group, organization or club that might be mentioned herein. There should be no confusion regarding the fact these are my personal comments and not those of any other entity.

Amazing scenery, great ride, wonderful time.

Amazing scenery, great ride, wonderful time.
Monument Valley, Utah-9/2011 photo by Johney Harper!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Annual Death Valley ride-a BIG report-2012

Planning for the annual Bob Hayes group ride to Death Valley starts when the one from last year ends, and so it was for the 2012 trip which is now my 5th time visiting this amazing National Park.  Real preparation for the trip begins when we get the high sign from our friend and STAR member Joe Pilon-a 15 year DV veteran, that rooms are blocked in at Death Valley Inn in the Nevada town of Beatty, so we can go ahead and book if we are going to be there for this year’s ride-in.  I did not make a reservation but joined in with Chuck to split the cost as roommates.  Our local group of STAR friends normally includes from 6- 9 members with Johney Harper bringing along his brother, cousin and a friend.  This year it seems we have attracted a lot more interest with three brand new attendees along with those returning that have attended once in the past year or two.

One very special returning rider is Harriet (John Ruhland’s sister) who decided to make it back to remember the ride with her brother John, who passed away suddenly a few months ago, and also to take part in a tribute and memorial to be held at Dante’s View overlooking all of Death Valley.  This time she will be riding in the lap of luxury and comfort aboard the Honda Gold Wing piloted by Chuck Giambitti who acted as tail Gunner for much of the trip.  I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was with how he took such great care with Harriet and also stuck to his duties as Tail Gunner bringing up the rear on the group rides.  I am certain she had a wonderful time mixed with some sadness remembering how much fun she had riding with John the year before.

Read all the way down towards the bottom for the newly added video...
Since Johney Harper was hosting his brother Micah, along with Micah’s friend Kenny and his brother Scott-a first timer, he became the acting General for this year’s ride, including planning and making sure everyone knew how the group would work once underway, he really took it seriously even to the point of having written instructions along with helpful hints and reminders, it started out as 8 pages but we whittled it down to no more than a total of 6 pages.  As any good general would, he appointed key members to important positions such as Ride Leader, Tail Gunner and I think he even appointed someone as speed demon.  Because of his efforts to insure a great adventure for his personal group we all benefited tremendously as a result.  The group riding dynamic is going to be changed from the more formal staggered formation to a less restricted format where you can change position, pass someone if needed and generally try to make it more flexible especially for the speedier group of riders if they so choose.
My personal preparation for the ride was based on last year’s 2011 cold weather conditions in Beatty where it was around 40 degrees on the morning of our ride to Scotty’s Castle.  Using that as a guide and reading conflicting weather reports saying a high of 90 deg to a high of only 64 deg. for the same day from different weather sources, it got confusing, Naturally I brought a lot of gear including my light mesh jacket and the heavy big bomber Tourmaster Transition jacket, which I wore on the way there even when we hit Stove Pipe Wells in Death Valley, where it WAS 90 deg.  I just removed the liner back in Trona when we stopped for a quick break.  Along with the jackets and too much extra clothing, were lots of water, juice, and Gatorade to help maintain hydration while cruising around the very dry desert with 10% or less humidity.  I have gotten fairly good at packing for these trips but when you encounter wide swings in weather patterns it becomes difficult to cover all the possible contingencies while being somewhat exposed on a motorcycle.  Everything is checked, double check and loaded onto the Road Star in anticipation of nearly 900 miles of fun in the sun, if it doesn’t rain.

The early morning of Saturday November 3 arrives and time to head over to the Imperial Ave. Parking lot to meet with the ride crew consisting of Johney, Carolyn-a first timer, Harriet riding with Chuck, Gary-a first-timer, Wayne-meeting us in Stove Pipe, Luis & Minita, Brian plus Micah-Johney’s brother, Kenny & Scott-a first timer, all three part of Johney’s group, and me for a total of 11 motorcycles and 13 riders.  The Johney party fly in from Louisiana just for the trip, rent Harleys from Eagle Rider, ride up with us on Saturday then back on Monday, turn in the motorcycles and it’s off to the real world for them on Tuesday.  This might give you some idea of how popular this ride is when you have people flying in from across the country just to tour Death Valley.  We also usually meet travelers from far off countries often in Europe, taking in the sights of the valley as there is nothing comparable in their part of the world. 
Wayne had to really work to get to Death Valley this year, first riding out on Thursday to Las Vegas to meet with family then the plan was to ride over to Stove Pipe Wells from there.  Turns out his Suzuki C-90 had other plans, dying somewhere past Stateline requiring to be hauled all the way back home on his son’s truck to swap it for his V-Star 1300 which we have been telling him is probably the better motorcycle anyway-nice to have a spare motorcycle around.  After arriving at Stove Pipe about the same time as the lightning fast (or Plaid speed) group did, from there everything worked as planned with no problems with any motorcycle.

If you are going to Death Valley with this group you first stop at Molly Brown’s Café in Victorville for breakfast, it is a requirement and long time favorite.

 We are making good time, first Kramer Junction for fuel then the tiny town of Trona for a rest stop and some unbundling of jackets and removal of layers as it is getting warm.

Our group consisting of 10 motorcycles proceeded with clockwork precision or at least no problems and everyone made it to Stove Pipe Wells as planned with Wayne riding in as the 11th member.  Wayne and I decided to just head straight for Beatty, about 38 miles from Stove Pipe Wells in Nevada, while the rest went to Scotty’s Castle and Ubehebe Crater some 44 miles north so that the new comers had a chance to see those two interesting sights on day one.  Reports indicate everyone found it a worthwhile trip at the very least.
 Our first stop in Death Valley National Park at Stove Pipe Wells and gas, there is no posted price, but it is around $4.60 a Gal.  If you have to ask you don't need it.

  Arriving in Beatty, both Wayne and I checked in and I also checked Johney in for the two rooms he  booked just to make sure the reservations were secure, not like last year when on arriving found that his rooms had been canceled for some strange and never explained reason.  There are stains and burn marks on the marble floors and a wall from where his screaming tirade scorched everything within 20 feet or so I am told when he learned he had been canceled out.

Saturday night dinner was at a newly discovered sandwich place on Hwy 95 about 3-4 blocks from Death Valley Inn so we walked, or most of us did.  The sandwiches were good with great French bread rolls but the potato salad left a lot to be desired, even so it was a nice treat sitting out on the patio overlooking the 3 block long main street watching Sheriff’s cruising up and down doing 25 MPH posted limit in hopes of catching someone doing more than that as they hit town outskirts.  This is the first year I can ever recall police presence in such concentration or even at all, so we are on our toes as we ride in and out for sure.  We did have one member of the group that walked over with us, walk back, return to the gas station across the street from the sandwich place on motorcycle, gas up and then proceed to get lost in those three blocks trying to find a way back to the hotel.  Chuck gets a desperate call for help, and as Tail Gunner rides out carrying his trusty flare gun to round up and corral the lost member of the flock, with all returning safely and no organized search and rescue was needed.
We met up with Joe Pilon at Stove Pipe Wells earlier and learned of his newly purchased BMW 650 Scooter which he rode on for his 15th or 16th visit to the Bob Hayes fun trip and there he was after dinner sitting out in front of his room with several other members of the annual visit.  Always enjoy visiting with Joe and hearing about the latest purchase of a new toy or gadget he has with him.
Everyone is tired and most turn in early in anticipation of the Sunday ride in the Park, a repeat of last year’s ride which I did not do, opting instead for a tour of Scotty’s Castle along with John and his sister plus Doug and Cindy Reeves and one other couple.  The scheduled ride for Sunday has everyone of our group on it so it will be 11 motorcycles and 13 riders/passengers.  It will cover old and new territory for me including Artists Drive,  a stop at Bad Water for a look at the lowest point in the U.S. then continue on Bad Water Road for 55 never before traveled by me, miles, further south to Shoshone, the Amargosa Opera House, lunch at the café at Death Valley Junction, along with a ride up to Dante’s View, a short memorial service and then back to Beatty.  That’s the plan.

 Breakfast this first morning is at the Denny’s in the casino at the edge of town for Johney, Micah, Kenny, Scott and me instead of waiting for the diner across the street to open at 7:00 AM this Sunday. We line up at 9:00 AM all gassed, fed, ready to go, with our first stop at the Artist’s Drive parking lot.   It was at this parking lot about 3 years ago that John Ruhland first shared some of the sausage purchased from Tip Top Restaurant in Carlsbad and we learned of the breakfast deal offered there as well, making it a must visit on some future ride at that time.  I explained to Carolyn since it was her first visit to the multi colored vistas in the rocks and sand of Artist’s Drive, how the park maintenance staff come out once a year and spray the hillsides with special tinted paint to keep the colorful mineral displays looking fresh; I don’t think she bought it.

From Artist Drive it’s on to Bad Water, always a favorite stop and often the hottest as well.  Met a couple from Spain traveling on a major visit to the United States starting out in San Francisco by car to Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon and beyond, wow, what a trip.  The road continues past Bad Water to a small spot on the map called Shoshone, but I had never taken that road and off we go. 

 A group of the lightning speed riders took off with Wayne in that bunch, while I stayed back waiting for Carolyn, Luis and Minita and Chuck & Harriet.  It’s a fast road zipping around and through miles of desolation, dry sand and rocks, where not much grows out here.  The 55 miles pass rather quickly and my handling skills seem to be improving especially with left curves and turns as I had some problems earlier.  We catch up to the fast group after they waited at most 10 minutes for us near the tiny one gas station town where we pay the highest price $5.82 for gas anywhere on the entire trip, even more than at Furnace Creek which was $5.53 a gal. for regular.  Our refueling and refreshing stop takes several minutes, then back on our Iron Ponies heading toward Death Valley Junction.

Our next destination lies just 26 miles ahead, the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel at Death Valley Junction.  The Opera house has a great deal of history and story behind it as written in Wikipedia: Amargosa Opera House and Hotel is a historic building and cultural center located in Death Valley Junction, in eastern Inyo County, California near Death Valley National Park. Resident artist Marta Becket staged dance and mime shows there from the late 1960s until her final show in February 2012. The Death Valley Junction Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The theater was part of a company town designed by architect Alexander Hamilton McCulloch and constructed in 1923–25 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The U-shaped complex of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture style adobe buildings included company offices, employees' headquarters, a dormitory and a 23-room hotel with a dining room, lobby and store. At the northeast end of the complex was a recreation hall used as a community center for dances, church services, movies, funerals and town meetings-which became the now famous Opera House.

 The long lost Lawrence of Laguna
We were told the hamburgers were pretty good and although the entire building looked ready for demolition, or certainly near condemnation, the café is actually open so in we troop.  The hotel portion is open as well although I doubt anyone stays there. We sit down and start ordering with most going for the hamburgers but a couple ordered salad and Harriet ordered Chicken Cordon Bleu which really was on the menu.  Drinks with ice for this thirsty and hot bunch are pouring in and we learn the cook quit about an hour ago.  We then hear not only did the cook quit, but the maintenance man has been given a battlefield promotion to cook and he is making our food…holy mackerel.  Hamburgers actually start appearing along with side dishes and we are told our one half empty bottle of ketchup is it as they are running out of that along with other provisions.  It took a while but the salads and Carolyn’s tuna fish sandwich show up, but no Cordon Bleu for Harriet.  We asked a couple of times and after everyone is either totally finished eating or about to, the maintenance man now chief cook comes out asks “who ordered the Cordon Bleu and how do you make it”?  After someone told him it included chicken, ham and cheese he said not only did he not know how to make it but they were out of ham anyway.  At that point, after the laughter subsided, it was all over and no food for Harriet, why they waited until the very last minute to tell her is beyond crazy, but she was a trooper and carried on as if no big deal.
If you know anything about help and employees in and around Death Valley you soon learn that a job is what they do while waiting for something else to come along.  It happens over and over that employees will quit for just about any reason, it is difficult to get and keep competent help in the whole area.  The other interesting observation is that as abandoned, isolated or decrepit some homes or buildings might seem there is very often someone living there and possibly working around there as well, some people just like to get away from the rest of us and enjoy doing it.
Now that we had food and drink to sustain us across the hot barren desert expanse ahead of us, the ride onward to Dante’s View will be a breeze.  We even pass a herd of wild horses off to the side of the road.  I looked over and saw a multi-colored group of them just standing there near the road with no fence between us, and hoping none planned to get to the other side while we were passing by.  At the turn off to the mountain top we proceed the 13 or so miles to the last hill climb of a 15% grade to arrive at the parking lot some 5,400 feet above the valley floor below.  I am not a fan of that road as I always fall behind, negotiating the tight turns climbing up to the summit.
Rolling to a stop at the flat top parking lot we set about taking photos and then Luis led by Minita head for a hiking trail leading to a higher peak with Brian and Carolyn not far behind.  We decide to wait for them before our short service and memorial for our fallen brother John Ruhland.  All of us gather around and after comments by Luis, me and a prayer by Johney, Chuck reads a very sincere and touching eulogy that has a lot of people dealing with something in their eyes for a minute or two; after that Harriet empties a small vial of John’s remaining ashes and we watch as they float away to be forever part of Death Valley and Dante’s View, both favorites of John’s.  Finally after all is said Chuck breaks out the mighty flare gun and pops off a bright red burning flare high into the sky in tribute to a friend, fellow rider and totally well liked member of our group.  This is the first time I have been part of something like this and I think it meant more than the regular funeral service we originally attended.  We all then head for our Steely Steeds to begin the 50 plus mile trip back to Beatty and our home for the night as the sun sinks slowly behind the darkening mountains to the west guarding our Death Valley landscape.  Once we leave Furnace Creek behind on Hwy. 190 and start up the Bad Water Cutoff to Beatty everything goes to darkness, there are no street lights.  The evening will bring some new ventures into learning about a few of our fellow riders.

While riding in to Beatty instead of turning right to the hotel, I keep going straight and stop at the casino gas station for fuel which is only $3.89 pre gal. here in town and this saves me an extra trip back to top off the tank prior to tomorrow’s departure ride.  Arriving back at the hotel it’s time to relax a bit, change my boots to the Nikes and then a short walk back to our sandwich place, seems they earned a second visit in spite of the potato salad. At this point the weather is really noticeable and worth mentioning, it’s not cold but just a slight chill in the air this evening Sunday, a totally different experience from last year.  It was also very pleasant in the Park during our all day ride, with temps in the mid to high 80’s but not blistering hot, clear skies, slight breeze and now mildly cool, what a welcome change.  Tomorrow Monday, will continue the mild weather trend with a very cool morning but by 9:00 AM departure definitely warming up and requiring some rethinking of what riding gear to wear.  Luckily the trip to Stove Pipe is not far and changes will be made there.
I look for Chuck around 9:00 PM and on hearing Carolyn laughing follow the sound to the pool area where she is sitting at a table with Chuck and Brian just reminiscing about all kinds of topics.  Brian brings out his phone and plays a country-Western song about “Sheila” and I am surprised to find that Chuck actually knows the words, then Chuck responds with his phone playing another Country song and again Chuck really knows all the words.  Johney stops by to visit and before long it’s getting late for me so off I go.

 Actually there is one other stop the ghost town of Rhyolite

Monday dawns bright and early so Chuck and I get up and start all the preparation needed to make the trip out of here back to our homes in Orange County. We get up, dressed and all is going well with the weather a real change compared to last year as mentioned.  Our first stop will be Mel’s Diner across the street which used to be open all day but now is just open for breakfast and lunch.  Breakfast is quite good especially compared to Denny’s which I refer to as the corporate machine made breakfast, compared to what you often get in places like this.  The ride crew is split into two groups with Group one consisting of Johney, Micah, Kenny, Scott and Gary, they plan an early start at 7:45 AM, riding at a fairly exuberant pace, with a stop at Golden Corral Buffet in Victorville then on to Orange to return the rented Harley’s avoiding an extra day charge. Our group will take the remaining 6 with Brian, Luis & Minita, Me, Wayne, Carolyn and Chuck & Harriet as Tail Gunner in that order.  Our expected pace will be a bit more leisurely, but with speeds up to 80-85 MPH where safely available.  This is not to imply that 85 MPH is ever really safe, but with a straight road stretching out miles in front of you, with nothing or nobody around as witnesses and a willingness to turn that right grip just a little more than normal, you can start to see things blur a bit as you fly by, this too is part of the Death Valley ride experience and certainly can be a hoot to say the least. In checking my trip log on the GPS after returning, somewhere in there I did hit 90 MPH, but exactly at what point I can’t say for sure.  Except for a couple U-turns all goes well and I even take the lead spot from Stove Pipe Wells to the Trona rest stop about 65 miles.  The mineral mining town of Trona is soon behind us and we hit the stretch of road taking us to Hwy 395 where Brian really opens it up with Luis right behind him and I’m doing fairly well in keep up also.  Once on the busier Hwy 395 heading south we hit Kramer Junction as our final refueling stop (or so we thought).  THIS IS THE NEWLY ADDED VIDEO PRODUCED BY MICAH HARPER, IT'S VERY IMPRESSIVE:

It is here we get THE PHONE CALL OF DISASTER, the I-15 freeway ahead at about Highway 138 is closed due to a big fire and no one is getting through-no one.  Johney called Chuck warning of the serious issue and lucky for us he did.  It now becomes a matter of trying to re-route our way out of this mess.  Options appear limited after reviewing a couple maps of the paper variety, as cell phones are not working and GPS doesn’t offer any real help and with 15 closed there are lots of unknown issues to consider.   We can get on Hwy 58 heading west over to Tehachapi or continue south on 395 to Highway 18-Palmdale Road, over to the 14 freeway and then south.  We get reports that now highway 18 is a traffic mess due to all the vehicles cramming their way in that direction.  We motor on south to Adelanto anyway near the 18 but after hearing the bad news decide to take a route past the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed area over to the 14 Freeway in Lancaster and then home.  Off we go not really quite realizing that it will add around 130 more miles and several hours to our previously scheduled normal trip of 275 miles!  Everyone is a real trooper and step up to meet this new unexpected time and mileage consuming challenge.  We did have a couple U-turns along the way and one missed street due to the map not providing clear info but the die was cast, onward rode the brave 6, onward to unknown roads and conditions as the sun ever made its way across the dimming sky above, at last we arrive in Lancaster and the 14 freeway along with a well placed Mobil station to provide the necessary ingredients needed to keep the motors in motion for the remaining ride home.
As we roll onto the busy Antelope Freeway AKA the 14, light is really beginning to disappear overhead insuring that before long it will be night and darkness will descend, engulfing us in taillights, black roads and headlights as we doggedly make our way home, and soon we are all winding our way toward the I-5 and 14 interchange, a very busy mess of vehicles even on a bright sunny day.  It had been decided that Chuck, Carolyn and I would veer off onto the 210 east toward Pasadena and then the 57 freeway south, while Wayne, Brian and Luis head for the 405 or where ever.  I see the 210 overpass exit on the right, wave bye to Wayne as he goes to the left and move over easily soon speeding on my way towards Pasadena but there is no other motorcycle behind me, whoops, but what can I do other than crank the hand grip sending some of that precious Mobil gas into the fuel injection system and let Yamaha take over, figuring Chuck and Carolyn will figure it out.   Once I got on the 210 in Pasadena, I took the Diamond lane and zipped through to the 57 and never went slower than maybe 30 MPH, the 57 south has it slow spots but all went well and I arrived home tired, glad it was over and after calming down overnight started to get my positive outlook about the whole experience back again.
As usual all make it home safe and sound if not tired or wrung out after a grueling 400+ mile return ride.  What a trip!  If you lack a sense of adventure in your life you obviously do not ride a motorcycle, if you do ride a motorcycle and find it a bit boring you are definitely not doing it right.
Some wrap up notes about the re-route. We learn that Johney and Group 1 made their way to Highway 138 and took the mountain roads over to San Bernardino only costing them about 70 minutes or so, while it took us several hours, arriving home at 6:30 PM.  From our point on the map that did not appear to be an available option although we could have made our way to Lucerne Valley and gone past Silverwood Lake.  The important consideration is that all made it home safe, all did really great, we did not upset Carolyn from what I can tell, and you do not want to upset Carolyn is all I will say, Harriet is a real trooper used to riding with no frills John in the past, Chuck stuck to his duty as Tail Gunner by staying with Carolyn as she moved over to stay on the I-5 instead of going on the 210, Wayne made it home on the V-Star, Luis and Minita and Brian are going to get through no matter what, and everyone can hold their head high as a member of the Re-Route group…hooray for us!  
This is not a ride report it is an epic story-my longest write up ever, hope you enjoy reading through it all; I definitely welcome comments or e-mail feedback

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