Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Up at 5:30 AM to prepare for an early morning conference call, it was an earlier day than usual. But by shortly after 8 AM we were off in pursuit of some of the best twisty rides the Northern California could offer a few Canadian motorcycle enthusiasts. We were not sure how we could beat yesterday's ride down the Feather River Highway 70, but we were determined to try. Swooping along the shore of Lake Oroville we had to concentrate on the road rather than gawk at the proliferation of summer houseboats with their occupants getting ready for a day of water sports. But that was just introduction to the day of peg-grinding rides. We were headed towards Grizzly Summit at the top of Highway 119. But after 45 minutes riding around some of the tightest curves roads so far, we were again blocked by snow before we hit the summit. With temperatures reaching 100 today a few miles away, it was hard to believe that the California mountains still had snow blocking a number of passes normally traveled by tourists this time of year.
One challenge literally led to another. Backtracking off the snowbound summit, and then being detoured along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, we anticipated getting over the pass on Highway 120. But smarter this time, we asked a local old-timer from Forbestown whether the road was clear of snow. He advised us that many of the passes were never cleared by snowplows. It is just allowed to melt at its own pace, presumably because it cost the economically strapped California government less. But our mountain "guide" was certain that the pass on Highway 49 was clear, having just gone that way recently himself. Listening carefully to his instructions, a short distance up the road we passed through the town of Challenge, which seemed at the time both fitting for the struggling village, as well as for a few bikers searching for the snow-free way across the mountains.
The newly chosen route proved to be almost perfect. Apart from a few miles where some sadistic civil servant who hated motorcyclists had spread loose sand along the road surface to cover tar strips, the trip was heart pounding. Even the split-second glimpses of awesome sheer cliffs, cascading waterfalls and distant snowcapped mountains pointing into blue skies could not draw us away from the exhilaration of bearing down on each corner as it came. It felt as if we were cutting into the asphalt as we thrust ourselves and our machines into each curve, "driving our bikes, not just riding them", as one of our number stated. We were like the river beside us, arching and twisting around rock faces and boulders, digging into the riverbed and leaving its mark as it plunged down from the 6700-foot-high pinnacle to its destination. Exciting is too limited a word to describe this part of the journey. At the end of the 70-mile slalom course along the North Yuba River Highway 49, Jim remarked that it was probably the best riding he had ever experienced.
And like that river, we too found our destination and place of rest at Lake Tahoe. Although we only traveled 250 miles (400 km), we were exhausted from the physically and mentally challenging day, but the Knights of the Open Road all wore telltale grins on their windburn faces. It had been the best day so far, a day when my Parkinson's disease was but a faint irritation, a mere inconvenience.

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