We come from Earth, V: California

Murphy's Law and the middle of nowhere
Published August 25, 2013
I: Yosemite II: Death Valley III: Zion & Bryce Canyon IV: Grand Canyon V: California

We woke up and rode home. That’s all I intended to write.

April 13, 2013

I dreaded the seventh day of our trip since even before finalizing a route. The elaborate path to Grand Canyon via Yosemite, Death Valley, Zion and Bryce, is the only interesting route to the South Rim. Returning to California necessitated the tiring exploit of some truly dull freeway.

Before packing up camp, Brian and I operated on his motorcycle’s sad, crunchy chain. We adjusted and lubed the mechanical links as best we could, then rolled the bike backward and the drivetrain seized. The chain was impossibly taut at one end, and hopelessly loose at the other. We brought back some slack to the tight spots and crossed our fingers, hoping that the loose parts of the chain wouldn’t jump the worn sprocket in the Middle of Nowhere, USA.

The Middle of Nowhere stretches between the South Rim and Los Angeles, an empty expanse of high desert, Joshua Trees, and asphalt with all the geometric intrigue of a yard stick, some 400 miles across. Someone thoughtfully set the speed limit at 75 mph, but against a stiff headwind, my bag-saddled 250 couldn’t keep pace. Big rigs jockeying for position on the two-lane highway slipstreamed past us. The ride west into California was joyless.

We rolled into Barstow at 5:30 on a Saturday evening. I parked in front of our hotel. Brian wasn’t behind me, though five seconds before he had been.

The chain hung from the rear axle and dragged on the ground

I tore off my helmet and ran around the street corner to find Brian pushing his bike off the road. The chain hung from the rear axle and dragged on the ground, having finally succumbed to our neglect. It could have been worse. The chain could have snapped hours earlier, in the middle of the Middle of Nowhere.

While I unpacked the bikes and shed my gear, Brian grabbed his oversized smartphone and searched for local motorcycle shops. Google returned three. Two of them didn’t answer their phones. The third shop answered but only to say they closed for the weekend, which in shop speak means, “See ya Tuesday.” Well hell.

Barstow Motorcycle Center (BMC), the lone shop to answer, was in fact more than closed. They’d shut down early on Saturday to relocate to a newer, bigger showroom. Spare parts — like unbroken chains — were boxed, cash registers disconnected, the old service shack padlocked closed for the last time. I pleaded with the guy on the other end of the phone to let me buy a chain, to which he replied, “You can try.” There was no guarantee the parts I needed weren’t buried in unmarked boxes somewhere between shops, but I was thankful for a chance. Not that I have a clue how to fit a bike chain.

Either my charm or my despair was more effective in person. I met Nathan, the general manager of BMC, and after a few minutes sussing out how they could even charge my credit card, Nathan changed objectives. Rather than just sell me a chain, he wanted to save us.

The BMC crew was on location, busy prepping the new showroom. Nathan dispatched one member to tow Brian’s bike from across town. Nathan then called back the service mechanic, who’d gone home for the weekend. The lot heroically organized to patch up Brian’s motorcycle and spare us two days marooned in Barstow. The response blew me away.

April 14 & 15, 2013

Over another two days, we meandered back to Earth. We tangled with traffic in Topanga Canyon, skirted the beaches of Malibu, camped in San Simeon, made fire with wet pine and fell asleep to the sloshing sound of the Pacific.

Through Big Sur on the final morning, I felt already home. California’s coast, every mile, is a comfort. Isolated at times, but never lonely. Warmly blue, deeply alive, and gobsmackingly gorgeous.

At a small gas station on the edge of Highway 1, at Ragged Point, another motorcyclist reveling in the morning ride introduced himself to Brian and me. “I follow your blog,” he said, him surprised to find me, me surprised to be found. Ryan rode with us over the remaining miles of Big Sur, shared company over a cup of coffee, and broke off from our sortie at Watsonville.

Brian and I finished the coastal miles to my Pacifica home.


Thanks Mariel, my wife, for allowing me the senseless freedom (or freedom from sense) to run away for a week on a motorcycle, and for giving me a reason to come home.

Thanks Scott, a Bay Area friend, for supplying the parts and, patiently, the knowledge I needed to install USB power on my bike before leaving home. The trip would have been much more stressful without it.

Thanks Nathan, and the Barstow Motorcycle Center, for helping us when you had every reason not to.

Thanks Brian, for agreeing to ride with me. For dealing with my poor planning. For never breaking, even if your bike did. I’d wanted to do this trip for years now, but not alone. I wouldn’t have ridden to the Grand Canyon without you.

Thanks Ryan, and everyone here now, for reading The Sunday Best. When I discovered the joy of motorcycling, I wanted to share it with everyone. If you’ve enjoyed these scrawlings and photos, please consider sharing with someone you know.