Santa Maria Weekend Romp

Santa Maria Weekend Romp
If this was a 360-degree image, you’d see we’re surrounded by burnt trees. Some 85% of all giant sequoia acreage across the Sierra Nevada burned in wildfires between 2015 and 2021.

In the summer of 2011, my then-girlfriend Maria and I took the then-new BMW K1600GTL for an evaluation ride to Yosemite National Park. It was her maiden voyage aboard a two-wheel tourer, as well as her first visit to the Sierra Nevada. The next year, my now-wife and I were honeymooning in Tahiti—two firsts rolled into one for us both. She made me promise we’d return in 10 years' time. Maria was referring to Tahiti, but there’s not much motorcycling there, so I kept Yosemite in my pocket as a non-island alternative. Last July, we were back in the Polynesian archipelago celebrating our first decade together. But, as fate would have it, soon after returning stateside, we were northbound aboard a BMW K1600GA.

The BMW had been sitting in my garage for a few months at this point and I was willing to let it reside there longer in an effort to avoid traveling during August heat. When an email arrived, asking for the motorcycle to be returned, I began mentally preparing Maria for some uncomfortably warm riding temperatures. I could have rerouted our travel plans, but I was stuck on the notion of revisiting some roads, places, and friends that have been difficult to reach since our daughter’s arrival in 2016.

Escaping LA

In an effort to avoid the worst of southern California’s commuter gridlock, we left our home in Long Beach on Friday morning at 6 a.m. The planned start time was earlier but pairing Bluetooth devices between helmets, phones, and the motorcycle proved difficult, even though I preemptively went through the process the night before to avoid this time-consuming scenario. The later start meant some lane-splitting on the east side of Los Angeles on I-5, but it wasn’t long before we made the switch to SR 110. After passing through Pasadena, by the Rose Bowl Stadium, we connected with SR 210 for only a few miles before exiting on Hwy 2.

The Crest, in local vernacular, extends 60 miles from La Cañada Flintridge in the west to Wrightwood in the east. It’s an A-list celebrity two-laner known to all southern California motorcyclists. The elevation increased as we snaked our way up the Crest, putting heat into the tires as I familiarized myself with the handling characteristics of an 800-pound tourer riding two-up with luggage. At the Clear Creek Visitor Information Center, we turned left onto Angeles Forest Highway and began our descent into the high desert of Palmdale.

Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Santa Maria

Situated along Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County, this well appointed hotel is surrounded by  picturesque hills and mountains, and of course the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find over 20 unique wineries and breweries and a variety of local restaurants and bars all within easy reach, including the famous Santa Maria Style BBQ. Find it at 2190 Preisker Ln, Santa Maria, CA. Book your room here.

On weekends, these two roads are abuzz with motorcyclists navigating their twists and turns, some enjoying the scenery, while others use the terrain for testing their mettle. On weekday mornings, desert dwellers traverse the mountain pass in their four-wheelers, headed west to their jobs in the Greater LA area. On weekday evenings, it’s the same in reverse.

From Palmdale, we droned north on the straight flatness of Hwy 14, stopping in Mojave for liquid refreshments for both us and the bike. Continuing north, we passed through Red Rock Canyon State Park, named for the rich coloring of its sandstone formations. It was 10 a.m. and the sun blared down as it climbed the desert sky, foreshadowing future events. Before the desert really woke up, though, we exited off 14 and onto Hwy 178 which lifted us out of the desert and into the mountains, off the straight and wide and onto the twisty and narrow.

In wetter times, Maria and the BMW would be under about 25 feet of water. Notice the boat mooring to the right of the BMW’s front wheel.

Water, Trees, And Climate Change

As we climbed from the desert floor toward the peaks of the southernmost part of the Sequoia National Forest, the desert and mountain terrain melded, with Joshua trees sharing space with deciduous and coniferous ones. The ambient temperature remained mild and the air crisp. Hints of green appeared near what used to be the shoreline of Lake Isabella.