Central California

Central California
Back in the States after escaping the heat wave in Europe, the Neuhauser family  -  Christa, Manuel, Florian, and I  -  are still on the run. This time it isn't the heat; it's some unbearable NC humidity. Thankfully, our next big adventure calls us to Central California, and the butterflies begin when we finally take our seats in the cool dry air of the jet to San Jose.

I'm still nervous when we leave Ducati's new headquarters in Cupertino, California, as it's our first extended trip on bikes with our sons Manuel and Florian. In the past, we've taken longer day rides with them, but now we're slated to be together on the road for six days. I lead the gang out of the parking lot on a 749 and think we look a rather imposing crew taking the first corner, with Manuel on the Monster S4R, Florian on the 1000 DS, and Christa riding herd on Ducati's brand new Multistrada.

With the detailed Mad Maps™ series covering the Bay Area, the Sierra Nevada, and Central California at the ready, finding quick, safe ways out of traffic jumbles became simple. In Antioch, I find I can breathe more deeply; we survived the afternoon rush hour. Now on Scenic Route 160, our Italian purebreds roar smoothly through the first sweepers - the only challenges being the open-grid surfaces of drawbridges over the Sacramento River. Three times we crossed and re-crossed the slow-flowing river.

The road casually weaves through small towns and orchards, the right kind of route for a warm up on new bikes. After logging 160 miles, we arrive in Sacramento and I'm feeling incredibly tired, but not from the ride. Not too surprisingly, the boys seem unfazed, racing past me to romp about in the pool.

In the morning, I admonish our young men (Florian 18, Manuel 20) to pay close attention as we mingle in Sacramento's morning commute. They know it all but need to hear it again, things like using the turn signals, the mirrors, and of course remaining to the rear of the tour guide at all times. We leave town on Highway 16, the nicest connection around to the Gold Digger Highway 49.

When traveling with somewhat inexperienced riders it is important to plan for more rests - so we made our first stop early, in Sutter Creek. Short walks, something to drink, and fresh fruit keep the energy levels high, and after swinging back in our seats, we soon spy the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Our excitement builds turning on 26 - the map promises a lot of curves. Can we trust it?

One mile after the intersection in Mokelumne Hill, I open the throttle and increase the speed slowly. I closely watch our boys' reactions in my mirror. Smoothly, looking good, they lean their bikes in the curves, adjusting easily to the quicker tempo. The road snakes through woods and meadows up a hill and, without traffic, it's treating us to a carefree ride. At Hams Station on 88 we enter the Eldorado National Forest. Somewhere beside this winding mountain boulevard, we turn in on a Kodak vista of blue sky and deep-green pines overlooking the Bear River Reservoir. We've just passed the 8000-ft. elevation sign, and though it's August it's still breezy at this height. Chugging from their water bottles, the boys welcome the rest and then they disappear behind some bushes and trees to explore on foot. Perhaps there's an open vein of gold just beyond them. Leaning back-to-back, Christa and I sit on a little stonewall soaking up the breathtaking vista. I sink into assorted musings about the past when the first adventurers, settlers, and gamblers came over these mountains. How tough it had to be with one horsepower without paved roads or a trustworthy map. I try to imagine their strength, camaraderie, and faith. Today, it's different: Out of my way - every man for himself!