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California Sierra: The Glorious Roads of the Golden State

Text: Charles Fleming • Photography: Mike Stoner

As is usually the case with larger motorcycle groups, we were a motley crew that had come together in unlikely ways. Chris and Steve were decades-old friends and had ridden and skied together everywhere. Mike was a sports photographer they knew from Park City. Rod also had a house in Park City, where he’d skied dozens of times with Chris and Steve. Roger was Rod’s best friend from high school and he was riding with his son, Josh. Fernie was a professional mechanic who had run the service department at a dealership where Chris, Steve, and I bought parts for our BMWs. We had all ridden together before—all but Mike, anyway. Each of us apart from Fernie had also been part of a magnificent motorcycle tour of Alaska. We knew each other’s temperaments, riding styles, and bikes. Everyone was riding a BMW R 1200 GS, except Mike, who had left his vintage GS at home and rented a new one from MotoQuest. Roger simply preferred a Triumph Tiger 1050.

Leaving our meet-up spot at Santa Clarita’s Halfway House Cafe, we settled quickly into positions. Chris and Steve would lead and Rod and Fernie would chase them, while Josh and Roger took up the rear. I rode sweep, and Mike positioned himself for the most exciting photo opportunities.

We started the first day riding on roads we knew well. We zoomed up Bouquet Canyon Rd and followed a swirling route around Bouquet Reservoir, eventually reaching Elizabeth Lake Rd. On day rides, we’d often continue to Lake Hughes for lunch at the legendary The Rock Inn. Today, though, eager to make good time, we rode on and dropped into the Antelope Valley.

In April, the low hills here are festooned with California poppies, but in mid-May the ground was already scorched brown. We roared across the flatlands in the rising heat before reaching the wind turbine-dotted foothills. The temperature dropped a bit and carried us on cool breezes into the town-that-time-forgot community of Tehachapi, where we gassed up and rehydrated.

We got on the winding Woodford-Tehachapi Rd, which rolls past one of the world’s prime railroad engineering marvels. Known as the Tehachapi Loop, this length of track circles back on itself as it climbs 77 feet in only three-quarters of a mile. Trains longer than 4,000 feet end up crossing their own tails. We were lucky enough to catch such a train, seemingly doubling over on itself as it slowly went by.

Over the Mountain and into the River

We rolled past the César E. Chávez National Monument—resting place of the famous California labor leader—and through the one-cafe town of Keene, before heading north through the no-cafe town of Caliente and onto Caliente-Bodfish Rd for another climb into the mountains. At 35 miles long, this is one of the most deliciously curvy roads in Southern California.

Mike took the lead and positioned himself to get photos of the other riders negotiating tight corners, some of which we were sharing with the cattle that roam freely here. We climbed ever higher through a series of sinuous hairpins before topping the crest and descending into the scenic Walker Basin, where we found ourselves surrounded by late-season wildflowers.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2020 back issue.