The next leg ends up taking me all the way to San Miguel, a tiny town just north of Paso Robles.
I am glad of my new foamies, as the wind noise is much reduced. The entirety of this leg is windy. Every flag I pass is standing straight out and whipping away. I pass a small regional airport and glance at the windsock. Yup - gotta be at least 25 knots of wind out there. And what's worse, it's mostly a crosswind, and it's highly variable. I'd be leaning the bike into it one way, and then suddenly it would shift, and toss me in the direction of my lean. Passing semi-trailers was a bit of a pucker.
During one (short) bit of calm, I tried standing up on the pegs. Mostly to stretch my legs - or so I told myself - but I'd read on here that it was fun. It is! So this is what it feels like to be 7 feet tall and able to run at 80 miles an hour!
I got a couple of funny looks from other drivers, but that's ok. I know they're picking their noses when they think no one is looking, so we're even.
Traffic is at a standstill up ahead. Don't know why, but it winds up a big hill ahead of me, and over it. I slow to a crawl with everyone else, and stand up on the pegs again to see over the truck in front of me. This standing up thing is great! I see some flashing lights halfway up the line, so I decide not to cruise up the shoulder. I start picking my way down the centerline, mindful of the fact that I am now much wider of stance, particularly since I have hard luggage, than my little Ducati I'm used to.
I pass the cop and continue filtering through. I slide in behind a red Wee-Strommer with bags, sitting in the left lane behind an RV. The RV is next to an RV in the right lane, and the two of them take up so much road that we can't squeeze through. He sees me in the mirror, pivots in the saddle, points at the bike and gives a thumbs up. I return the favor. Cool. I'd been trying the 'wave' on other motorcyclists on the way down. On my sportbike, everyone except Harley guys would usually wave back. Even Harleys sometimes would. But on the Katie-M, I'm somehow not part of their in-club any more. Sportbikers ignore me, Harleys ignore me. It's only the dualsports or tourers that return the wave. Maybe that's why we're 'inmates?'
The RVs finally part enough to pass between, and I squeeze through, and the fellow on the Strom right behind. We crest the hill at about 15 miles an hour, and keep picking our way through. Another mile or two of that, and we pass another group of police cars on both directions of the highway. They're trying to tow an overturned car from the center ditch, and having a bit of a time of it. It went off right before a bridge, so the ditch is really deep, and tree lined. It looks like no injuries, because there's a fellow standing there looking forlornly at his upside down car, and the paramedics look bored.
But the road opens back up here, and I scoot off, and the Strom drops back or exits. I'm not sure - he just didn't stick around.
After some time passes, I filter through a second bit of stuck traffic, with no apparent reason for the slowdown. It passes uneventfully and I continue south, one eye on my trip meter as it's ticking up to 150-ish.
The low fuel light finally comes on at 165 miles, just north of Bradley - which is apparently just an oil company station. I saw no conveniences, no homes, no town. The 'F mode' is displaying on my dash now, and the mileage is ticking up. So that's what that's for! Pretty clever!
F mode, as in - F...! I'm out of gas!
So now I'm irrationally worried. I'm not sure how far it is to the next town, and I'm clearly in the middle of nowhere, and I really don't know how much reserve is available when the light illuminates - or even if it is accurate when it does. I settle down by reminding myself that even if I knew all those things, it wouldn't make a difference. I can't make the next fuel station any closer, and I don't have any more fuel, so I'm either lucky or I'm not. It's an adventure, right? All the same, I slow down to 75, figuring I'll get another mile or two if I have to run it dry. I'm not eager to push this big bike down the side of the highway.
The next fuel station I sight is in San Miguel, and I was right to relax as it wasn't far. I pull in with 177.7 miles on the tripmeter. There's only one gas station, and not really anything else at this exit. A road parallels the freeway on both sides, but I don't know where it goes. A couple cars are at the service station, as well as two motorcycles - both BMW sport tourers - and a Can-Am three wheeler.
I pop into the service station for a sugar-free Red Bull, the big can - not because I'm on a diet, but because the regular stuff is too sweet - and ask where the restroom is. Around back. I walk out and stand in line behind a short-ish, plump-ish but not obese woman with a close haircut and a weathered look. I knew girls with her build back at school, who played women's rugby. She's standing behind a family of four who look like they've been waiting a while. So I ask if that's her Can-am.
It is, of course - I'd seen the group of them getting off as I pulled in (three women, all built about like her) - but hey, we all like to talk about our motorcycles.
She's thrilled to share, of course, and so we get to talking. She likes the Can-Am, but misses two wheels. The Can-am doesn't countersteer, and it took her time to get used to. I ask why she doesn't go back to a conventional bike. Apparently she's a survivor. Got hit by a semi a couple years ago, and broke a lot of stuff and degloved pretty significant portions of her legs. I told her that I'm impressed that she's back out on the bike, which leads into a discussion of risk.
"My friends think I'm nuts for getting back out on the road on something, but I love the feeling, and besides, I'm aware of the risk. I've started asking them if they've been in a car crash, and if so, how they could ever get back in their car again."
She's got a point. If anyone should be aware of risk, it's us motorcyclists. If you're on a bike and haven't come to grips with the risk inherent, you ought not to be riding. On the other hand, if you've honestly appraised it, and are accepting of it... ride on, and ride on again if able, if an accident happens to you.
So the group of them had decided to go on a 'women's only' ride, and leave the boyfriends and husbands behind for a weekend. Apparently that didn't sit real well with them, and they decided to 'do their own ride' which happened to follow the same routes on the same days as the women.
If those involved happen to be reading this...
Don't puss out like that again! Man up and do your own ride! You're making us men all look like unimaginative whiners. It's in the man code.
And any woman who can get hit by a semi and live to ride has earned the right to call it like it is.
Eventually I get my turn for a potty break, and I head back to the bike - fuel up - give a wave to the women's rugby motorcycling club, and get back on the road.