I’m just finishing a leisurely 100-mile cruise through California’s Joshua Tree National Park on a late afternoon in April. I head north on Highway 247, and soon after entering this massive OHV area, strong wind gusts from all directions start shoving around my laden, 712-pound Honda Interstate cruiser.
My eyes widen when I see a massive tsunami wave of sand swirling up from Soggy Dry Lake in the distance. A retreating U-turn on the sandy-slick, soft-shouldered road in this strong wind will probably end in tears so I resign myself to riding out the impending sandstorm for the next 60 miles. I tuck in behind the windscreen and motor on, reflecting back to the amazing diversity of climates and strange sites I encountered on this epic ride, which had everything from snow-lined mountain roads, to poppy fields stretching for miles, to wild mules roaming the streets of a ghost town.
Day One: Fire and Ice
My launching point is Rancho Cucamonga, CA, on Route 66. It might be cliché to start a motorcycle trip on Route 66, but you can hardly ride through this area without tripping over the famed road. I had mapped out an ambitious ride west to Antelope Valley, then east to Laughlin, and back. But I decide to backtrack on the first day because there are just too many good roads to squeeze into the last day of my trip.
I want some insider tips so I head to an EagleRider™ motorcycle-rental company 25 miles west in Baldwin Park. Even though I roll up on a Honda to a facility that caters to Harley-Davidsons, a friendly staffer hands me a bottle of cold water and a stack of maps. “We are all in the same family of motorcyclists and help each other out,” he says. He tells me about a great ride to a city outside of Laughlin where mules roam the streets, which is just the sort of information I’m looking for.
From EagleRider I follow SR-60/I-10 east and am rewarded with undulating sweepers lined by rock walls and rolling green hills before the city of Mentone, the home of local-biker hangout Mill Creek Cattle Co. But I have to pass it up since daylight is burning, and I’m anxious to reach the cooler mountain air on this hot day.
I follow Highway 38 north, where it turns technical and twisty in the mountain-resort area, past Big Bear and through Running Springs, and I jump onto one of California’s best-kept secrets, Rim of the World Scenic Byway. This twisty two-laner hugs the mountain, and a stop at one of the many vistas offers dizzying views of the urban sprawl below. The phrase be careful what you wish for comes to mind when the temperature drops considerably as I get into higher altitudes in the ski-resort city of Crestline. Eventually I am tiptoeing the Interstate around patches of ice on the snow-lined road. The switchbacks ease up into sweepers as the road emerges from the mountaintops west onto Highway 138, and soon I’m back at I-15 at the Cajon Pass.