Woah, has it been another week? Sorry, folks! Been busy all weekend with hiking, drinking, fighting, fucking and rebuilding that stupid seat.
But no shit, there we were, pulled off the 101, ten miles past nowhere, on what Google tells me is the Cattlemen Road. We were hungry, thirsty, late, freaked out and absolutely not getting back on the freeway. Nothing to do but pull off some gear and lie out in the road for a bit and unfreak. Drink some water, eat some power bar, look at a map. Highway 25 was a bit east of us- Wayli had been in favor of riding it since we started, but it was already past 3 and we needed to get through San Jose before the light went, but now... now it looked like the way to do it.
With everyone breathing normally again, and minus a few layers in the broiling Valley heat, we headed east toward some imaginary line on the map that would take us north in peace, quiet and with reasonable alacrity.
We saddled up and rolled east to San Ardo. This place was a ghost town. Literally, I think. It has a dozen streets by generous count, and we didn't see a living soul in it, just empty store fronts, an abandoned-looking railway depot, miles and miles of barb wire and a whole hell of a lot of dust. We did 35 miles or something, but if we'd ridden nitro-belching drag bikes at 12,000 RPM with straight pipes nobody would have said peep. Weird as hell. Not even a gas station. Then north, and the wind picked back up. It was a two lane road now, and we passed four cars 7 miles or so, but still damned windy. We stuck to the center line so that no matter which way we tracked, we had almost a whole lane of free tarmac to screw around on. Not like anyone was coming.
The wind noise was terrific, and yours truly realized he'd been a chump and forgot to put his earplugs in at the last stop. Pulled over, yanked the helmet, and did that. Elizabeth looked exhausted again- we had a chat, and decided it didn't make sense to have the lightest bike hauling the camp chair, so we swapped it over to mine. First, I had to completely undo my fancy lashing job.
Then, we strapped the chair on. Elizabeth added another layer, and you can really see how it was blowing. In land that flat, nothing stops the wind, and it just keeps going and going and gathering speed until it hits something. That something was us. The haze on the horizon is dust and sand being blown at stupendous speeds.
There's the Naughty Nighthawk out front.
We got back on the road north, hit the 198, the McVeigh Memorial Highway (there's a name!) and then more east to 25.
More worrisome was the sign that said "next services, 68 miles." My odometer was at 50. That gave me... 70 miles until reserve, at yesterday's rate. Today was slower, but a lot more wind. It was cutting it close, but what'cha gonna do? We had to make tracks, and tracks we made. Straight across the California Coast Range, wide two-lane highway with nothing there but dust, wind, barbwire and tumpleweeds. We passed a number of class-A specimens bounding along like there were gunfighters in the foreground, bouncing over rocks and dead grass, and getting stuck in huge drifts up against the fences. Then down, into a lush (relatively speaking- there were some trees) valley, and blew right past the 25 turn off.
Another sign: next services, 54 miles. Odometer: 66 miles. 120 on the nose. I assumed that the "next services" were along 198, not anywhere. Apparently, that was 68 miles in any direction- now along 25. Well, fuck. Seriously pushing it, and the map indicated a twisted, coiling snake of a road. Hell.
I made my concerns known to the other two, but all they could do was look at me. It was look of pity and helplessness, mixed with just a touch of tattling. Hadn't we passed gas less than an hour ago? Hadn't I helped Jeremy fill the Yamaha, but not bothered with the thirsty Vulcan? Wasn't I the arrogant bastard on a bike twice the size of theirs? Hubris, my friends. That's exactly what got Odysseus in trouble, and Icarus, and so many others. "Well," Waylis said, "I have 200 miles to a tank, and we have tools. If you run out, we can unbolt my tank and pour some over into yours." Thanks, boyo, very thoughtful of you.
I took a deep breath, fired the engine, and eased onto 25. I had 54 miles to go, and a gallon of gas to do it. No playing in the twisties here, no goosing it up the grades, just put that engine right at 4,000 RPM and keep it there all the way into Hollister.
My god, was that a mistake. I should have gotten gas, because I missed out on one of the most glorious roads I've ever ridden. 25 is laid right down the middle of the Coast Range, following river valleys and glens in mile after mile of perfect, quiet, twisty road. We passed cattle ranches, goat farms and pastures full of horses. A school, a few homes, and miles and miles of barbwire fence. Here, in the middle of the golden hills, was a green paradise with a road roaming through it. There are no pictures because we didn't stop- partly to conserve fuel, but mostly because it was too perfect.
I really envy Wayli and Elizabeth this bit of the trip Their little bikes were uniquely suited to this road with its tight turns, short assents and quick drops, its two lanes, its flatness and its gorgeous views. I was too preoccupied with getting every last ounce of juice out of each twist of the throttle. Long downhille? I coasted. Uphill? I took it at 45 and tuckered up behind the little dudes.
And the seat. Oh, that god damned seat! The yoga mat that had been so comfortable the first half hour had completely compressed, and the hump in the middle of the seat was punching up straight into the middle of my ass. It was like riding on an apple. Even with the fuel situation, I was still spending a good 20% of my attention to make sure I was scooting around on that tiny thing as much as I could. Left cheeck, right cheek, I even sat on the back edge of it with my feed on the passenger pegs, stood on the passenger pegs, whatever I could to get off it. It was becoming pure torture.
Then my fuel gave out. It was a quick sputter on a downhill, then nothing, and then sputter, sputter, sputter, dead. Deep breath, flip that switch, and it came back to life. OK, ride as gently as possible. I glanced down- 115 miles. We should be hitting services in about 5 miles... and then a sign!
Hollister: 21 miles.
I don't think I've ever felt so betrayed in my life. Either the signs were lying to me or my odometer was, but this wasn't right. Middle of nowhere, light fading fast, and running on reserve. I racked my brains to remember what my reserve was... one gallon? 0.4 gallons? It was one of those two... 0.4 would get me exactly 20 miles at this rate... 1 gallon or so would be no problem. I kept riding, feathering on the throttle as lightly as I dared.
6 miles later, we passed some houses, and some sort of business- a bar or something. Gas, gas, gas, somewhere... I didn't see anything, and Hollister was still 15 miles away!
The Elizabeth pulled out in a dirt lot. Wayli kept riding, but started to pull over. I killed my engine, and coasted the last 100 yards into the lot.
My fuel situation had me wanting to continue, but my exceedingly tender ass belied that. Once the bike was off, the damage was done, so I got off and walked my bow-legged self over to Elizabeth. She was exhausted, needed a break, and had seen Mexican food. I did not want to hear this- my engine was hot, and I knew that would help aerosolize what little fuel I had, so I was determined to keep going until I found the Holy Spiritus or my engine coughed its last and left me stranded on Highway 25.
Then Wayli walked up, and informed us that he'd parked at the gas station, 50 yards up the road. Thank you, all angels in heaven, I'd made it! Elizabeth ran back to check on the Mexican food, but it was closed. We fired up, and trundled off to the gas station.
Ancient gas stations in the middle of nowhere are amazing things. This was the sort of thing that would never last in a city, next to the Citgos and Chevrons and Arcos and Shells, but here, it was perfect. 68 miles to the next gas, or since the last gas, and they knew it. 4 pumps that held one fuel each (88, 91, 93, diesel), a tiny store that sold everything from cold sodas to first-aid supplies, canned beans to fishing tackle, and a very chatty middle-aged woman who was just to happy to help out and give her opinions on anything we could want.
-Pinnacles National Park was excellent and everyone should go there;
-She'd never been there, but people came from all over to see it, all the way from San Jose, so we should definitely go there.
-The 19th Hole, the bar we just passed, was the best place to get food around here. Everyone loved it.
-The best food, hands down, was Panda Bear down the street a bit and then over and across the parking lot by the stoplight (for those not from around here- Panda Express is an abysmal excuse for fast-food Chinese)
-Everyone was so worried about bikers these days, but she loved that we were out on an adventure.
-Would Wayli please help her turn off the coke machine, they were about to close and the switch is on top and it's such a pain to get a chair to reach it and he's tall
-It doesn't matter what side of the pump you pull up on, they all work from both sides (old-school pumps- the hose was on the side, not the front).
-Really, go to the Panda Bear, it's the best food around here. We really shouldn't continue through town without stopping there.
-and on and on and on and on. This woman would have been a spectacular auctioneer.
After gas, we were ready to move on to food, but my ass was convinced that if I sat back down on that seat it would give up the ghost and go necrotic and that would be that. I had a long-standin vendetta against my sleeping mat for not being long enough (my feet hung off and got cold), so I decided to kill two frogs with one stone and see if a miserable mat and a miserable seat would be at all comfortable. So I went back inside to look for tape, but couldn't find any. I asked the chatty lady, but all they had was some one-inch paper painter's tape, and I absolutely didn't trust that to hold my seat together, so I asked if there was any place to buy duct tape to fix my bike? I swear, Mrs. Chatterbox damn near got the vapors that I'd just ridden Highway 25 on a broken bike, and it was really too bad that there weren't any mechanics open and, and, and! I explained I just needed to fix some padding on my seat, and she tut-tutted and gave me a roll of some of the thinnest, crappiest duct tape I'd ever seen that she kept behind the cash register.
5 minutes with a pocket knife and some tape, and my seat was much improved.
With my ass no longer necrotizing, we gave fire and rode into the setting sun to find food. The Panda Bear didn't sound appetizing in the least, but we reasoned that the natural habitat for shit take out food is chopping centers, so that was probably worth finding. Sure enough, we tracked down a grocery store and raided their deli section for edibles.
We found some grass in the parking lot, stretched out and chilled a bit. It was already getting dark, so what the hell, traffic wasn't going to get worse.
The temperature dropped like a rock, and we bundled up in all the clothes we had. Freshly gassed, fed, hydrated and wrapped in every shred of warm, we pointed the bikes toward Hollister, San Jose, and Oakland. We weren't home yet, but we'd survived the wind and the gasoline desert. The last bit would suck, but it was immanently doable.