Palms, Pines and Joshua Trees

September 26, 2011

Words by // Photography by Nita Breibish

At some point it all starts to blur – what was done and where. Leaving Monterey wasn’t difficult – we’d spent eight days there that had shaped our lives forever. But, the road was calling and on this part of our trip we’d have some company on the road. Over the days since the wedding we had watched the numbers of folks around us dwindle leaving us a little more time with fewer folks at a time. Nita and I were finding it difficult to mask our exhaustion and we felt a little guilty at some of our early nights and mid-conversation yawns. Still, our amazing group of friends and family always found ways to fill their time and make their own adventures out of their time on the peninsula.

The trip definitely feels like it’s had it’s phases. Phase one was focused on getting us to the vineyard on time for the wedding. Phase two was getting married and making sure that all of our friends and family had a great time. Phase three, the new phase, was about enjoying ten days on the road with two of our closest friends discovering southern California and it’s eastern border. So, on the Sunday we loaded our bikes – the two GS’s – and a new play-pal in the form of a dark blue Goldwing, plus Michael and Nuri.

Somewhere between San Francisco and Monterey, Nuri’s visor-hinge had fallen out and been replaced with a cork from drinks the night before. It looked a little Frankensteins-monster but it held just fine. We’re learning that everything is useful for something on the road. Ready after some time packing, we said goodbye to Monterey and our home for the past eight days and headed south on HWY 1 towards Los Angeles. The plan was *not* to hit LA – the idea of hours spent in idling traffic, jockeying for position just didn’t sit well with us. So instead we planned to ride south until we hit the Ojai turn-off south of Santa Barbara and HWY 33, a road I’d read about a few times.

Waking up, grabbing a coffee, jumping on a bike and being immediately greeted by the twists and turns of HWY 1 is truly a gift. The ocean ran past us mere meters away to the right and then we’d crest upwards and inland, the pressure in our hips pushing downwards as the suspension compressed into the hill only to be released and offering up a moment of weightlessness as we crested and dove down, in, around. And repeat. And repeat. All the while your heart pulls your gaze to the water for as long as your brain will let you. When you forget about politics, economic meltdowns, wars – all of mans worst inventions – the land is beautiful beyond imagining. It cares for none of the things that concern us and, in that, frees us if we’re willing to listen.

Big Sur is magic. The views of rocky bluffs with waves crashing into them make it easy to understand why writers like Steinbeck and a multitude of artists spent their lives trying to capture it’s beauty in their preferred medium. The desire to pull over and breathe it all in is overwhelming if completely impractical. The pullouts are numerous but, in this particular stretch, we found them packed with buses and RV’s. Stopping wasn’t an option since the few times we did, people were so frustrated with the congestion that it just seemed altogether to risky to stay. We’d find a spot elsewhere and almost always did.

Did I mention that I gave a fist-pump to a hippie riding a fourteen-foot tall bicycle as we passed him? Yep, that happened. And I got a huge smile and fist-pump in return. Ah, Californ-i-a. It’s a mad state of extremes.

After some miles we rounded into Hearst Castle for a glimpse into what excess and megalomania really looked like but with bus-access only we decided to give it a miss. The sight of the castle from the road was compelling but a three hour tour with a 45 minute movie about the man simply wasn’t in the cards on this particular day. Back on the road we pulled into Seal Beach to watch the elephant seals sleep in the sun. Two large males were in a full-out battle on the shoreline and it was striking to see just how large they got! How they hoist those massive bodies onto the beach I’ll never know. After some scratching, flicking of sand and steamrolling they’d seem to settle-in and just lay still, taking it all in completely unfazed by the flocks of tourists sitting ringside.

Michael had been talking about a motel in San Luis Obispo for some time. He’s talked up the kitsch-factor of the Madonna Inn so we knew it was definitely going to be a stop. After the wonder of Big Sur, and the massive Haystack along the coast just before San Luis Obispo that elicited thoughts of Rio, the flagrant mid-century-ness of the Madonna Inn was still awesome in it’s over-the-top-ness. Bight colors, themed rooms, leather, brass pins, crazy art, rock chimney’s, and neon were the design palate of choice in what seemed to be a living tribute to it’s creator Alex Madonna. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the rooms still had nickel-slot vibrating beds.

With evening approaching we continued down the coast, inland for stretches but always back to the ocean. Finally, Santa Barbara revealed itself and it’s sleepy center. We found a place to sleep, and watched the sun dip into the Pacific as we finished a wonderful meal at Emilio’s. Tomorrow would bring the last day along this wonderful coast before heading inland towards high-mountain passes and the vastness of the southern Californian deserts.

We woke early so that we could take a walk along the beach in Santa Barbara which we had missed as the sun set the night before. The first person I saw was a kid skateboarding along the waterfront. “I like this place” I thought. We walked to the end of the pier and stood looking out at the ocean. In the distance there were four oil rigs faintly visible on the horizon. It wasn’t the first time we’d been met with such clashing images of overwhelming beauty marred by industry. At a number of spots along the California coast you’ll see smokestacks framing a natural wonder. It’s a pity, but in some way it reminds us of a different time when “environmental sensitivity” was non-existent – when industry was king and the hard men who put profit first were to admired. It’s a reminder that nothing stays the same and that’s somehow a beautiful and comforting thought.

Back on HWY 1 for the last time this trip. We looked at the low sun on the water, the golden light bouncing off of it’s waves and we said goodbye. The turn-off to Ojai was closed and the GPS recalculated a route eliminating the first part of HWY 33. I was leading today – Michael and I have been trading off – and I felt disappointed that this route missed a beautiful part of road. By time I’d noticed the change we had added an hour to an already long day. Still, we made the connector and found our way back to the last two-thirds of the road. It was a wonderfully twisty mountain road and well worth the diversion. The palm trees had been replaced with evergreens, and it felt more like home. Over the pass and through the Los Padres National Forest, the landscape resembled nothing of the coast we’d been on for the past few weeks.

As we left the road and headed east, we hit Pine Canyon which was an old scenic highway that was no longer be maintained. The Old Ridge Road was *slightly* wider than a single lane road but supported two-way traffic – not that it was a problem since we had the road completely to ourselves. It lacked a centerline which revealed how much we depended on that to judge corners but we quickly adjusted. Despite it’s (many) unsettling features the road was an absolute joy – it felt like we’d discovered something that no-one else knew about.

In all honesty the rest of the roads were far less interesting, the heat was beginning to rise rapidly and, as we passed through Palmdale, the long straight roads led us to the nightmare that was the Victorville-Apple Valley strip of outlet malls that literally continued for nine long miles. In an effort to funnel potential buyers in, every traffic light seems set to turn just as the previous turned green. And the temperature continued to rise. Still, we had the roads from earlier in the day to keep us smiling wide in our helmets.

Soon we were truly in the desert. Joshua Trees were the only feature on the sandy landscape and stretched until the rocky hills rose in the distance. The road undulated like roller-coaster with a five foot rise followed by a five foot drop in a straight line for forty miles at a time. Then, right turn. It was the first time on the trip we felt completely alone, and a mild fear came to mind, then left. The barren landscape eventually led us in to Yucca and Morongo where we stopped to cool off in some rare shade and give our butts a break. We’d been riding for seven hours and still had a little ways to go before meeting up with Sarah and Javier in Palm Springs. The light was dwindling.

As the sun soon disappeared over the San Jacinto Park and we rode the last hour in twilight, hoping that we’d not clip a coyote as they darted across the road. Past the hundreds of windmills that lined HWY 111 we slipped into Palm Springs and onto historic Thunderbird where we’d spend the next couple of days in the amazing home of our friends Sarah and Javier. The house and backyard were heaven and a perfect stop before our push north through Death Valley and Yosemite. Michael, who had disappeared soon reappeared in his swimsuit and, with a grin usually reserved for young boys who’ve knowingly done something wrong, dove into the pool. Javier poured some drinks and we spent the night laughing. A lot.

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I’m a Canadian writer, adventure motorcyclist and world traveller of British and Libyan descent. I’ve spent the past two and a half years travelling the globe by motorcycle as one-half of We Love Motogeo, following a route that makes little sense to anyone else, while supporting our non-profit organization, the Lost for Good Project. I’ve been chased by all manner of animal, detained as a spy in North Africa and waited out a hurricane in the bowels of a ferry. While I’m no spy (honestly), I am a lover of decent coffee and great yarns sewn around a campfire.

1 comment

  1. Comment by Larry

    Larry October 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Love the Cork!

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