California and Nevada: Riding the Highs and Lows of the Old West

Text: Denis Rouse • Photography: Denis Rouse

“So we beat on, boats against the current, 
borne back ceaselessly 
into the past.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scott’s famous metaphor, the last line of The Great Gatsby, applies to motorcycle touring, for much of what we seek aside from the joyful highs of the road and the wind is an appreciation of the history we ride.

With such in mind I phoned my riding bud Duane to urge him to hop on his ‘89 Honda Hawk and meet me in the abbreviated Eastern Sierra burg of Big Pine, CA, so we could partake in a 400-mile loop to Death Valley and back. Big Pine is situated halfway between our respective domiciles, his in Southern California, mine on the remote northeastern high plains of the state. Memories of riding this region 30 years ago remain fresh like those from a good book that begs to be read again.

Big Pine, Big Happy

We begin in this lonely niche of a town on the Owens Valley floor squeezed between the vertical walls of the Sierra and the prehistoric humps of the White Mountains, where at 11,000 feet grow trees that were ancient when Rome fell. The retro Big Pine Motel is a nice beginning because it’s my kind of place to spend the night, where the sweet ladies who run the motel treat me like family, where my motorcycle is parked three feet from my room, where the evening stroll to my favorite steak and spaghetti house is a short one, and where I’m relaxed and as anonymous as I was before I was born. 

Sadly, said restaurant, a much loved institution run since the ‘30s by the Rossis, a pioneer Big Pine ranch family, has been put up for sale. Thankfully, brother Mike is keeping the lights on and tradition alive a few doors away from the old building his mother bought when he was still in diapers, where he and I bantered across the bar all those years ago. After I inhale my plate of spaghetti and meatballs I say, “Hey Mike, great to see you again. Glad to see you’re beating the rap. Your meatballs are still scare-me good.”

Flying High 

Ernest K. Gann, who wrote of aviation, said the most beautiful thing about an airplane is the sky. We who are stuck to the surly bonds of earth on two measly patches of rubber say it’s the road that’s the thing. 

(End of preview text.)

For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2017 back issue.