Arriving at John Wayne Orange County Airport, the "Neuhauser Motorcycle Gang" is excited to begin their explorations in yet another area of Central California. In the next few days we'll roam over four loops in the Bakersfield area and our base, the Four Points Sheraton, is in the perfect place strategically, with all major routes out of the city easily accessible.
Why Bakersfield? The city isn't very appealing to Californians even. To the north and the west in the Kern County metropolis one is surrounded by oil rigs and to the south and east huge expanses of land are consumed by agribusiness in the form of vegetable plantations and fruit orchards. Endless tracts of uniform farmland and grimy industry - where's the attraction?
Well, for one, from the many impressions we gathered, the inhabitants of Bakersfield (pop. 267,000) are very friendly. No one seems to be in a hurry and the folks we met showed a genuine interest in us and our touring. We found a good variety of excellent restaurants close by and, undoubtedly, we could have frequented a number of good bars and clubs had time allowed. Frankly, we were too exhausted by our incredible tours to explore any of the Bakersfield nightlife. Ah, but none of us were complaining about any of that after the days we had in the surrounding area. That's where you'll find the overwhelming attraction of spending your nights in the San Joaquin Valley.
Poring over the maps before our adventures, I could see that the altitude of Bakersfield is only 408 feet, but in short order, in three directions, the mountains reach elevations ranging from the 2,635 feet of the Pozo Summit in the west to Pine Mountain, at 7,510 feet in the south, and Sherman Peak, soaring 9,909 feet in the east. If true to form, twisty roads normally accompany such altitude changes, and the Neuhausers had arrived to keep the mapmakers honest.
The morning starts out great. I guide my crew out of the city and as soon as we pass the city limits I wave them by. Christa takes the lead, followed by our sons Florian and Manuel. I follow like a wary sheepdog and admire the play of colors, the vivid contrast of their colorful helmets skimming across a screen of bright blue sky. Christa smoothly circles her yellow Honda 599 through the wide sweepers along the Kern River. Florian, also on a four-cylinder, the FZ6 from Yamaha, and Manuel on the Triumph Speed Four chase their mother towards Lake Isabella. I ride my Suzuki SV 650. Along the way, Hwy 178 treats us to 30 miles of outrageous asphalt and grand vistas encompassing the crystal clear water of the Kern River, apple orchards, and the Greenhorn Mountains.
The hot sun stings our necks when we turn into a gas station to fill the tanks. We need a little refreshment too. Coffee, water and the candy bars are welcome. The boys, obviously enjoying the bikes and this type of riding, are beaming and babbling about their leaning experiences and ground clearance so much I have to interrupt to calm them some and warn them about the mountain road that's coming up.
After this short rest, we take Hwy 155 toward Glennville, winding nine miles beside Lake Isabella before a sharp left turn in Wofford Heights sends us snaking along the asphalt in the Sequoia National Forest. The bikes feel good on the sometimes bumpy surface and in the tight corners. Slowing down to a complete stop in Glennville is recommended; otherwise you'd miss the Crazy Horse Saloon & Restaurant, an old-fashioned establishment that served us some mouthwatering burgers and sandwiches. The gang appreciates the chance to rest and charge the batteries. This is the longest family tour of the year and the last 19 miles require a lot of concentration.
The afternoon ride is very special. The surface has the quality of a racetrack, the curves are smooth, and the landscape breathtaking. The road runs through golden hills and green meadows and sometimes by clusters of trees that cool us with a bit of shade.
The appearance of oil pumps lets us know we're closing in on Bakersfield and even this last part of our first stage through the oil fields is a nice ride. All in all, it's a most exceptional 178-mile tour. And soon enough we're jumping into the pool and paddling about contentedly.
A totally different day presents itself in the window. Gray with light drizzle isn't an open invitation to begin our longest ride. If you've planned to cover 330 miles, you expect nice weather when that time arrives. But I'm optimistic and maybe the skies are clear behind the San Emigdio Mountains down south. We take I-5 toward Frazier Park. The only highlights are some high-speed moments on the first 40 miles before we leave the Interstate. As we near Frazier Park, the sun starts burning holes in the gray curtain. We take a left onto a familiar route, Lookwood Valley Road, used during a number of our test rides in 2004. Our four 600cc bikes are just the right rockets to launch over the next few miles.