A Bittersweet Journey

DSC_0001Late last year, my twin brother and my father passed away; both passing within 2 ½ months of each other. Today my older brother (and only surviving sibling) and I embarked on a bittersweet journey. We are taking my twin’s and father’s ashes back to Indiana to be scattered at the family cemetery. My twin was never on a motorcycle either as a passenger or a rider. To the best of my knowledge, my father was also never on a motorcycle. Since my brother and I both ride, we decided to give my twin and father the trip of their (after) life on the way to their final resting place. We are riding motorcycles from Santa Monica, CA to Chicago, IL along what remains of Historic US Route 66. Twin and dad are securely nestled in my saddlebags, just the place to be to enjoy such a trip: their tray tables stowed and locked. Actually the timing of the trip worked out well. My nephew-in-law, a gifted and talented artist, is having a show at a gallery this weekend in Hollywood, CA. My brother, sister-in-law and I will be in attendance at the opening gala and will then my brother and I will head East on our journey.

This morning I met up with my brother at a petrol station in Hollister, CA and we headed out of town on State Route 25. Route 25 winds its way south through the rolling hills and valleys of the coastal range: Valleys lush with garlic plants and hillsides mossy with vineyards in regimented straight rows. The landscape reminded me of the countryside in Tuscany sans the villages serving amazing salumi, gelato and cappuccino. It was a Chamber of Commerce day with clear skies and warm sunshine. The local wildlife was taking full advantage of the spring day; darting back and forth across the road. I spied several rabbits, a fox as well as hundreds of chipmunks making a dash for it as we roared over hill and dale. Odd creatures those chipmunks: When they heard us coming, they would scurry to the center of the road, wait until we were almost upon them and then make a run for it, barely missing being hit by the front tire of our motorcycles. Those poor devils that didn’t quite make it across the road quickly became lunch for the vultures perched atop the telephone poles lining the road, beaks drooling in anticipation. The cycle of life in the wilds.

At State route 198, we turned left (east). Route 198 is the perfect motorcycle route: Wide tarmac with sweeping curves through California’s iconic landscape. The last few weeks of warm weather has turned the spring grasses from green to a golden brown. California Live Oak trees dot the hillsides. The green canopies of the trees offset and contrasted by the golden grasses below. We reached the intersection of Route 198 and Parkfield Grade Road and it was decision time (aka time to stop and stretch one’s legs). We could either continue heading east on Route 198 which would eventually lead us to Interstate 5, the north/south interstate stretching from the Mexican boarder to the Canadian boarder, or take Parkfield Grade Road south and wind our way to State Highway 101 through Paso Robles and along the coast to Los Angeles.

DSC_0005 We chose Parkfield Grade Road. Parkfield Grade Road is one of those roads that you kind of wonder why it was ever constructed. It runs from Point A Nowhere to Point B Nowhere, barely 1-½ lanes wide passing through remote ranch lands. We passed numerous gatherings of cattle who momentarily stopped their grazing to look at us in wonder, all the time slowing chewing their mouthful of sweet spring grass. I’m sure they were thinking, “What the … ?!? What are these people doing out here? They must be lost. Oh look, more grass …” Do cows have such thoughts?

I do seem to have a penchant for finding dirt and gravel roads in my travels and today was no exception. About 8 miles into our journey, the road turned from tarmac to dirt and gravel. We both stopped. The bro looked at me and queried if we wanted to continue on. I’ve been on worse so we pressed on. Five or so miles of really pretty good road, considering it was dirt. DSC_0011

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Dirt changed back to tarmac and we arrived in the town of Parkfield, CA, population 18. The local hotel and café is now closed. I’m guessing they don’t get a lot of travelers nor conventions in Parkfield. It is, however, the location of seismic monitoring of the San Andres fault by the USGS. There isn’t much to look at, but it is good to know someone is monitoring the ever-shifting tectonic plates lying below the earth’s surface.

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One of the joys and guilty pleasures of traveling along State Highway 101 in this area is stopping for either breakfast or lunch at Hoover’s Beef Place in Templeton, just a few miles south of Paso Robles. It’s not gourmet. It’s not even retro-gourmet. It’s beef and it was what was for lunch. I will admit that it is a bit disturbing and just a little off-putting to be tucking into a big plate of beef whilst cows are just outside the window, looking in to see if you are dining on one of their cousins. I guess that’s why it is considered a guilty pleasure.

After lunch we continued south on Highway 101 through Pismo Beach, a brief stop to gas-up in Santa Maria and then on to Santa Barbara for a hydration stop and stretching of legs. It was there that we were informed that the Pacific Coast Highway was closed in Malibu due to fires raging in the surrounding hills. The GPS had us routed on a different highway anyway so we figured it really wouldn’t affect us. Heavy traffic and other fires greeted us in Thousand Oaks and we crept along; Burbank being our final destination for the evening. The sister-in-law was waiting for us at the hotel and just a bit worried by the time we rolled in 3 hours later than she was expecting. She hadn’t planned on delays due to our traversing dirt roads, stopping for a bovine lunch nor the traffic and fires we encountered. We were tired, hot, sweaty and smelling of smoke and exhaust fumes. However, we had arrived, happy and satisfied of a great day of riding.

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