I pulled my trusty Road King out of the garage at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning to start my adventure, which would become the Big Twin Adventure (BTA) 2010. Three friends and I gather once a year on the open road for a week to ride our Harleys across this great country of ours. This was my fourth year with the boys, and as always, never a dull moment. Tim, Jeff and Jay, who was joining us for only part of the ride, had left three days earlier. HB and I would meet up with them in Las Vegas on Saturday. We started with a rough itinerary which was Las Vegas then out to Morro Bay and north along the coast then head back to Colorado when we ran out of time. This was a different twist to the ride, in previous years we had rode north and worked our way south. As always this year’s BTA ride would live up to its name.
I met HB and his white Ultra Classic at 5 a.m. in the parking lot by the Morrison exit just west of Denver. Our plan was to ride straight through to Las Vegas where we would join the rest of our troupe. The ride along I-70 west up and over the Rocky Mountains was spectacular as the sun was starting to rise above the peaks. We quickly felt the chill of 10,000 feet in altitude as we neared Copper Mountain and Vail pass. At 65 mph, 40 degrees will send a chill down a rider’s spine and numb the fingers in a hurry. Living in Colorado I have made this trip countless times and I knew once we hit the west side of the “hill” it would warm up in a hurry. As we rode through Glenwood Canyon along the Colorado River, the high canyon walls echoed the song of two V-twins motoring along. The sun was up as we exited the canyon into Glenwood Springs, and the feeling returned to my fingers. A short time later we were in Grand Junction for fuel and food. After a hearty breakfast at Village Inn we stowed our leathers, applied gobs of sunscreen, then continued west on I-70.
We rode into Green River Utah fueling up knowing the next possible fill-up is over 100 miles away. West of Green River we ascended upward into the San Rafael Valley where the flat earthy desert gives way to a sea of red sandstone. The canyon, with its tight winding corners and high walls, leads upward to views of flattops for as far as the eye can see. I-70 flattens out near Salina back to the Utah desert with its vast open spaces and earthy color pallet. As the elevation declined the temperature went up, as it would for the remainder of the day.
We made a quick gas and go stop in Richfield UT then continued our journey west to the I-15 junction where we made a left on the map and started south. Almost immediately the landscape turned from brown and rusty desert to lush green farmland. As the thermometer climbed higher the occasional irrigation sprinklers alongside the interstate, spraying water on the farm crops lent a hint of relief from the burning orb in the sky we call the sun. Just past St. George we crossed into Arizona for a few miles along the Virgin River. As the air was getting hotter I was looking forward to relief in the canyon but that would not be the case. As I peered into the canyon the river was only a trickle in some places, hardly enough to cool us from the sweltering heat, and the shaded areas cast by canyon walls were too short in duration to make a difference.
Soon we crossed into Nevada; the air over the fresh blacktop pushed the thermometer on HB’s Ultra to 120 degrees (that is as high as it goes) and not a cloud in the sky. I could see HB trying to cover his face with shirt to block the sun. At this point we made a stop in Mesquite, where at the local Walmart we picked up bandanas to hide our faces from the sun and cool our core temperatures in the air conditioned bliss. With our faces hidden we soldiered on. We made one last gas and go stop before we entered the Sin City limits. After riding 14 hours and 750 miles, we met up with the other three in our group at the hotel.
Once showered and somewhat rejuvenated from the ride we hailed a taxi and made a bee line for the Thai Room on Flamingo Ave, a small mom and pop joint with some darn good Thai food; it’s a regular stop every time we visit Las Vegas. With full bellies we taxied back to our temporary homes. HB hit the rack while we younger folk ages 37 to 50 went to the Hard Rock Café and Casino. Anyone who has ever been to Vegas knows anything can happen there. Well it did. While we were out, the room Tim, Jeff and Jay were staying in was robbed. Like ninjas in the cover of darkness the thief slipped through the bathroom window of the ground floor suite and made off with his loot. The next morning Tim and Jay found themselves at the police station to fill out reports and cover the bases for insurance claims. Then Vegas struck again. Jay’s Evo Fat Boy began to ping loudly. After limping it to the local Harley-Davidson dealer they found the source of his trouble, a cracked engine case. We had planned to head to the coast but instead changed hotels to a secure 6th floor room at the Hooters Hotel and Casino to spend a second night. Jay was able to rent a 2010 Street Glide and promptly made arrangements to ship his beaten Fat Boy back to Colorado.
Our second night in Vegas went off without a hitch despite the sullen mood from the day’s events. Being BTA veterans we went out on the town and drowned our sorrows in cards and beer. Personally Vegas got me for a Ben Franklin and then some. Jeff had an opportunity to meet up with an old friend who lived in the area, Tim made some money in Hold’em, and HB went to bed early again. I went with Jay, Jeff and his friend to the Nine Fine Irish Men Pub inside the New York New York casino. This is where we met Bambi Pumpkin, an inebriated young British woman with an accent so thick she was almost impossible to understand, but she kept us in stitches all night. And yes, that is her real name.
It was now Monday morning, and after a hearty breakfast at the hotel restaurant it was time to get out of Las Vegas and make our way to cooler climates. We took I-15 out of Las Vegas toward California. It was still early and the heat was not unbearable yet. We rode through Primm into California through the Shadow Valley, the mountain pass which is only 4730 feet, a hill by Colorado standards. It brought a little cool air which felt good while it lasted. About 50 miles into California sits the town of Baker, whose claim to fame is the world’s largest thermometer. We stayed the course on I-15 to Barstow where we had lunch at a local fast food joint and topped off our thirsty machines.
From Barstow we caught Highway 58 through the Mojave Desert. We found vast open spaces and a strong cross wind, the kind of wind that requires leaning a 700 pound machine at an angle for hours. Once past Edwards Air Force Base we climbed up and over Tehachapi Pass. The west side of the pass is speckled with hundreds of wind turbines twirling in the wind. We followed Highway 58 into Bakersfield. At this point we were riding straight lengths of pavement through sections of orchards and other agricultural lands. As we kept on 58 we were soon rewarded after the town of McKittrick. Just outside of town, we found what can only be described as motorcycle Nirvana. What was just a straight flat highway cutting through square sections of farmland now evolved into a smooth section of road full of twists, turns, and rolling hills that forced my throat to my stomach and my stomach to my throat. This piece of highway rolled along through fields and pastures for almost 75 miles of pure two wheeling joy, with almost no traffic it was ours for the taking all the way to Santa Margarita.
From Santa Margarita we caught the 101 and then west on Highway 41 into Morro Bay with Morro Rock looking over the town like a statue. By this time we were famished and in dire need of food and beer. We found both in short order at The Galley Seafood Grill and Bar. After filling ourselves with a couple of pints and some fish and chips we found a hotel for the night and visited some local pubs for more malted refreshment and a little shuffle board until closing time.
Tuesday morning came quickly and it was time to hit the road again. After breakfast and multiple cups of coffee, we checked our tire pressure, donned our leathers and headed north on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. The cool morning air coming off the Pacific was welcomed after the days of riding through the desert. Riding north along the PCH is one awe-inspiring scene after another. The smell of the salt water tickles the olfactory senses; the views delight the eyes. The two-lane highway winds around the contours carved by the Pacific. It is not a fast highway by any means, the tight turns and other travelers prohibit any land speed records. We were able to catch a glimpse of the Hurst Castle way atop the mountainside. They have tours and if you want a closer look, we opted to keep riding to Ragged Point for some refreshment.
Ragged Point Inn is a worthwhile stop for lunch or just a little drink. The patio is surrounded by well-manicured gardens with a view of the Pacific. A very short walk through the garden to peer over the edge of the cliff will explain the name Ragged Point. From several hundred feet above you watch the waves crash violently into the rocky shore line. With clear skies that day it was a truly spectacular vision.
After our brief stop we continued north toward Big Sur. We stopped at Nepenthe’ for a late lunch, a restaurant that sits high on a hill top overlooking the ocean. Sitting outside overlooking the Pacific, while dining on some incredible food, is just good for the soul. Just watch out for the resident birds; they are quite crafty at liberating your meal from your plate. They took HB for a whole burrito while he wasn’t looking. There is a second restaurant that sits below Nepenthe’ called the Kiva Café’, same incredible food and atmosphere and they serve breakfast.
After a great meal it was time to mount our bikes again and find our home for the night. It would not be the comfort of a hotel bed but instead we opted to pitch our tents and sleep outside. Just a few miles up the PCH sits the Fernwood Resort and Campground. A steep drive down to the Big Sur River lies several campsites complete with a shower house. This is a well-maintained campground; some sites have electrical outlets for campers or just to charge your cell phone. We pitched our tents within feet of the river and enjoyed a quiet night with Mother Nature herself.
The next morning we broke camp and we rode back to the Kiva Café’ for breakfast. This is where we saw Jay off as he left the group. After filling ourselves with fresh orange juice, coffee, and crab benedicts we were back on the road. We stayed the course on the PCH as it twisted and turned through small towns and open landscapes. We pulled off in Monterey to take a quick tour of the town and ride down Cannery Row with all its little shops and bistros, then back on the PCH to Santa Cruz where we would stay for two nights at the Ocean View Hotel right on the beach.
After settling into our rooms we headed for the Ideal Bar and Grill for some cold beer and a lobster dinner on the wharf. The rest of the evening was spent talking about the events of the ride up to this point, watching beach volleyball and just relaxing by the ocean. The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel lobby and walked along the beach. A day out of the saddle was a nice change of pace. We had lunch at Aldo’s on the marina, where I discovered the best calamari I have ever eaten. It was tender and juicy, nothing like the rubber bands I was accustomed to in Colorado. The boardwalk was bustling with activity as children and adults moved about from carnival rides to games.
That evening Jeff and I made our way to the end of the wharf and upstairs to the Vino Prima, a wine bar. They specialize in California wines and ports. We sampled several flights as we waited for Tim and HB to join us for one last round. From there we walked toward downtown to the Poet & Patriot Irish Pub, it sits nestled back in an alleyway, but worth finding. If you are in the mood for a pint of Guinness, they have two taps of it on hand. The regular and the slow pour room temperature tap if you prefer.
After a second night in Santa Cruz it was time to pack up our bikes and hit the road again. With a quick stop at the local UPS Store to ship home our soiled clothing and camping gear we headed up Highway 17 into San Jose. HB had ridden ahead to the local Harley-Davidson dealer for a quick fluid change. It was on this little jaunt I got to experience lane-splitting for the first time, an accident had traffic on the highway backed up and in California bikes can drive between the cars to the front of the line. Sure beats sitting in traffic!
From San Jose we quickly got onto Interstate 680 then west on Interstate 205 to Tracy where we stopped for fuel and lunch at In n’ Out Burger. After lunch we caught Interstate 5 and continued northbound to Sacramento where we connected to Highway 50 toward Lake Tahoe. The weather was breezy but warm until we reached the base of the Sierra Nevadas and started to climb in elevation. A stop in Camino for fuel and additional layers, then we carved our way through the twisties and mountain passes into Lake Tahoe. Once in Tahoe we dined at The Brewery at Lake Tahoe for some hand-crafted beer and some of the best gourmet pizza in the land.
With full bellies it was a short hop to the 7 Seas Inn just on the California side of State Line Ave. We found great hospitality in this cozy little hotel for a very reasonable price. We cleaned the road grime from our faces, put on some fresh clothes and headed to the Nevada side casinos for our nightly entertainment. After depositing a Ben Franklin, consuming a few beverages, it was time to call it a night.
Saturday morning, HB and Tim decided to head home early leaving Jeff and I to wait for our spouses scheduled to arrive that evening. With a whole day to kill we slept late and took in a movie at the local theatre. As the time to pick up the girls came, we rode down the hill through Carson City and out to the Reno Airport where we retrieved our ladies and returned to Tahoe for the night.
We started early Sunday morning with breakfast, at the Driftwood Café. With our ladies in tow we took a quick ride along the west side of Lake Tahoe, riding through the forested area to where it opened up to a view of the lake all the way to Emerald Bay. If you don’t have time to ride the whole lake I recommend at least stopping here. The high mountain peaks in the background and a pristine view of the famous bay with the island in the middle is a sight worth seeing at least once.
Leaving Tahoe we traveled Highway 50 down the mountain and into Carson City for fuel. Heading west we made a quick little side trip up Highway 341 to go and check out Virginia City. On a Sunday afternoon the historic mining town was bustling with activity. The wood plank sidewalks were filled to capacity with tourists and cowboys in period costumes. The town is home to several historic sites including the Bucket of Blood Saloon, The Suicide Table, and a small prostitution museum in the basement of the Mandarin Garden restaurant that can be toured for only a buck.
Leaving Virginia City we stopped to view a small herd of wild mustangs grazing alongside the road. At Fallon we fueled up as it is the last chance for about 107 miles. Highway 50 is aptly named the Loneliest Highway for good reason. Once the city limits of Fallon is in the rear view mirror there is only desert and lonely highway.
In between Fallon and Austin there is a rather curious landmark of sorts. On the west side of the road sits a tree. One of the only trees along this stretch of pavement, what makes it interesting is it is covered with thousand of shoes. The only unconfirmed explanation is that upon graduation from a local boys ranch, the graduates toss their shoes into the tree.
Traveling Highway 50 is one of the my favorite rides on the western United States, with nothing but open road and very little traffic, it is easy to maintain a pace of 90 mph or more. That is not the posted speed limit, so I cannot condone riding at such a pace. While riding this piece of asphalt that loosely follows the old Pony Express route, visions of the late David Mann’s “Ghost Rider” came to mind, the bearded biker riding through the desert with the ghost of the Pony Express rider alongside him. The scene fits this highway well.
Our next stop was Austin where we filled our bikes with fuel and climbed up the twisting switchbacks out of town into the high desert. We rode more of the same open space with few other cars all the way to Eureka where we again topped off our tanks. From here we headed for Ely where we would find lodging at the Historic Hotel Nevada.
If you ever find yourself in Ely the Hotel Nevada is a must. Before the invention of super highways this is where travelers stayed while making their way west. Imbedded in the sidewalk are the stars of several luminaries that spent a night’s slumber in the historic hotel. From rock stars to presidents, this hotel quartered them all. Built in 1929 there is a large collection of art and other memorabilia inside along with gambling and a full service restaurant that serves an incredible country fried steak; come hungry. The rooms are updated complete with warnings about the ancient plumbing. Beware the showers; they can turn from warm to scalding hot or freezing cold without notice!
Monday morning with the wives and bikes loaded, we fueled, and headed back onto the Loneliest Highway. At this point the speed sensor on my Road King had gone out leaving me with no way to measure my speed. We stopped in the border town of Baker which is really a gas station situated on the Nevada-Utah border. One half of the building is in Utah the other in Nevada where they keep the last slot machines or first depending on which way you are traveling.
Continuing west into Utah across the open desert we came upon a large salt flat. It had rained the day prior and the mountains cast a perfect reflection off the wet salt, something I had never seen before. We rode across the desert making good time, having no speedometer I can assume that at full throttle the Road King was only going the posted speed limit. Once in the town of Delta we fueled again and followed Highway 50 to Interstate 15 for a short leg then exited back onto Highway 50. Here the view changes to green pastures and rolling hills as it makes its way into Salina.
We stopped for a late lunch at the famous Mom’s Diner. The diner is something left behind from the 1950s. It was featured in National Geographic at one time; it is a good place for some home-style cooking and a chance to relax for a few minutes.
From Salina it was a short hop to I-70 toward Green River, one of the most scenic desert stretches on Interstate 70. With a quick fuel stop in Green River we made our way back into Colorado to Grand Junction for a night of luxury lodging at the Wine County Inn nestled within the vineyards of Colorado wine country. They serve an incredible dinner complete with wines from the area. This stop was greatly appreciated by the ladies who are not accustomed to the long days in the wind.
Tuesday morning we had a delicious breakfast in the hotel and headed toward home back through Glenwood Canyon and over the Rocky Mountains. As we saw the Denver skyline and waved off from our riding partners it became apparent that the journey was coming to an end. People who don’t ride wonder why we do it, the long days in the saddle, the heat, the rain if it falls, the mishaps and misfortunes along the way. All I can say is you have to live the adventure to understand what drives our souls to the open road.
By Stan Purdy