Part I: California, Nevada, and Utah via Route 50
While the Interstate Highway system may be the quickest way to wheel from sea to shining sea, it certainly lacks the personality that most motorcycle travelers seek. On the other hand, the process of discovering small towns, local color, and scenic stretches can eat into those precious vacation days. Well, just because our bicoastal escapade is tempered with an expeditious reality doesn’t mean we can’t map out the best of both worlds.
Less than an hour after touching down at Ontario International Airport just outside of Los Angeles, we’re sitting astride a brand new Cross Country touring rig, compliments of our friends at Victory Motorcycles. Having ridden this machine and its sister model, the Cross Roads, on an earlier tour and press event in Texas, I know it’s the right mount for our impending coast to coast trek. The plush seat, relaxed ergonomics, and surprisingly nimble handling, perfectly compliment the bike’s smooth and soulful V-twin. Kathy, on the other hand, is a bit more skeptical. It’s mid-May, and her normally cycle-seasoned rear side is still a bit tender from a long, cold winter away from the saddle. Barely an hour in, she declares the copilot accommodations “really comfortable.” And with a discernable sense of relief on both our parts, we settle in for the northward ride to the Golden State’s capitol city and our rendezvous with a single stretch of asphalt that will carry us from the Governator’s backyard to the sandy Atlantic beach just a couple hours east of the West Wing.
Into the Morning Sun
US Route 50 is an old road, a really old road. Its present alignment through east-central California runs along the trail once used by the 49er gold prospectors and the Pony Express. Upon reaching Sacramento, we quickly realize that the dangers facing today’s riders have changed drastically. The pissed off Indians and hungry grizzlies of the wild-west days have been usurped by texting commuters and speeding eighteen-wheelers. At the junction of Interstate 80 and Highway 50, there is alleged to be a sign proclaiming that Ocean City, Maryland is 3,073-miles on down the road. I’m guessing that the tandem tractor trailer that attempted to muscle us over into the westbound lane prevented us from seeing that iconic marker. And no, we weren’t about to loop back and try again. For now, we eschew sightseeing in favor of personal wellbeing.
Motorcycle & Gear
2010 Victory Cross Country
Helmets: Nolan N-Com
Jacket: Tour Master Epic
Pants: Diamond Gusset Defender Jeans
Boots: Shift Fuel Street Shoe
Gloves: REV’ IT! R-59
East of Placerville, the highway is still divided as it begins a slow climb into the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. The tall conifers being lightly massaged by cool, dry breezes supplant diesel and industry with an earthy, piney goodness. As the route’s lanes drop to two, the tarmac syncs up with the winding path of the roiling American River. The white water dashing around and between the rugged boulders reminds us that our torquey steed is more than capable of dispatching lumbering SUVs, while achieving angles that would even make a splash with the sportbike crowd. Exorcizing urbanity is a feeling all touring riders know well.
As the blacktop snakes ever higher, ground vegetation becomes more sporadic and tall pines dominate. Upon reaching 7,382-foot Echo Summit, we’re treated to breathtaking views of the distant Lake Tahoe along with sporadic blasts of cold, crisp mountain air. Honestly, we figured the snow would have succumbed to global warming by now. But with several feet still covering the mountainside and piled atop the roadside chalets, it’s apparent that this slice of the Sierra Nevadas didn’t get the memo. As we begin our winding descent of the range’s eastern face, the brilliant afternoon sun quickly gives way to deep shadows and the nippy temperatures follow us nearly to the valley floor. Of course, the creeping weekend traffic bound for South Lake Tahoe and just ‘cross the border state line, Nevada’s casinos and other tourist attractions assures that wind chill will not be an issue. Once through the hullabaloo of the tourist center, we’re completely enthralled by the resplendence of the crystalline lake from which the city gets its name. Ringed by snowcapped peaks, its slightly wind-rippled surface provides the waning, reddish-gold rays a perfect ballroom on which to celebrate their evening’s last, glittering dance.