Day 2 – The San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest Towards the mountains
I was packed and ready to move. I headed through the spectacular San Gabriel mountains on the advice of James “The Gremlin” Tucker. I headed through Crestline – Big Pines – Newcombs Ranch and finally Chilao Campground at 5,000 feet. The view was breathtaking. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
Preparing to Leave
I slept well on the air-mattress. It was hot. My phone battery was low. I clambered out in only my jocks and stumbled into the shower. The tap handles were confusing. You had to turn it past cold for it to get warm. Things were different in the US. There was a kettle and microwave near the fridge. I pulled one out and plugged in my phone. I shifted my items and wondered what I would do with my large empty suitcase. I put my clothes out and into the warm sun.
Tucker was outside polishing a bike. I said hello and he reciprocated.
“Checkout the ash!”, he told me.
I looked at the bike and found grey spots all over it. I touched one and it disintegrated. Fires, just like back home. It must be bad if it falls from the sky.
“Would you like some coffee?”, Tucker asked with a smile.
I planned to pack my side-panniers and noticed they were draped over the bike and not attached to the racks. There were a four or five clips with various lengths and positions on the bags. It was confusing. I looked inside for instructions. Tucker bought me a large mug of black coffee.
“Here you go”, he placed it on the table beside the bike.
“Thanks. Hey, do you know how these go on?”.
He recommended them to me and I assumed he had experience with them. He didn’t. He grumbled and pointed out the straps should wrap around the metal rack he installed. I rebutted that the straps were different length and were oddly placed. They were. We messed around with it for 20 minutes.
“You should wrap it around that”, he’d commanded.
“I can’t it won’t reach”, I replied.
“There must be another strap”.
There were smaller straps inside the bags. We messed around until we were satisfied the bags would not move.
I took a sip of black coffee. Tucker explained the night before that you only carry what’s necessary. Milk, even condensed, was not one of them. I’d never had black coffee before. It was bitter and strong. It wasn’t bad. I grabbed the 90 liter dry-bag I bought and packed the night before and placed it on the back of the seat as Tucker suggested. It fit perfectly. I grabbed the Rok Straps he also suggested I buy.
“Would you like some breakfast?”, Colleen, Tucker’s wife asked kindly.
“I have oatmeal, it’s okay”, I replied, they’d been too kind.
“I’m making eggs, it’s okay”, she eyed James and he nodded.
I felt rude to refuse and I was hungry. I didn’t have dinner the night before. James saw me with the Straps and looked over the bike.
“You can strap them there”, he pointed at two identical points on the bike, “and here”.
I agreed and tied them on. I pulled the straps tight over the bag. It was perfect. James looked over it.
“Gee, that’s a great bike. That is a nice bike”, he stood back and reflected before going back to polishing another one.
I finished packing the bike. I eyed off the large empty suitcase. I looked up ways to dispose or give it to charity. Things were named differently in the US. It was impossible to do by the afternoon. I’d have to ask Tucker. He’d already done so much. I felt horrible leaving him a suitcase. I tried asking a family friend if they had storage in California. They didn’t reply.
“Hey James, where can I dispose of the suitcase”, I asked apprehensively.
“I’ll take care of it”, he exhaled.
“I should’ve bought a duffel bag”, I explained.
“I thought you would’ve”, he rebutted.
“I didn’t mean to leave it with you, I’ll use one next time”.
“It’s fine, I have a bunch of them”.
Colleen came out and told us breakfast was ready. I jumped up and to the kitchen. I complimented the house. It was huge. Colleen was lovely with James made a great couple. We chatted over breakfast about their travels and their business of helping Adventure Riders find motorbikes.
“We’re sick of it”, Colleen confided, “We help everyone else with their adventure, when do we go on ours?!”.
I was a great point. They had people coming and going for the next two weeks. I suddenly felt I was intruding. We chatted more as we shared breakfast. I enjoyed their company. Tucker pulled out a road-book and suggested where to go and camp that day. It was old. He told me I could keep it. The route was short, close and a hot-spot for riders. It was perfect.
“Alright, I gotta go”, I told them.
“See ya”, said Colleen like she didn’t care.
“Oh”, I laughed.
“We say good-bye to so many people”
Tucker took my leave as a cue to keep talking. Colleen stopped him by saying, “We need to go buy those tires, remember?”
I put my gear on and prepared to leave. I filled my Camebak with water from the bathroom. I returned to the bike and adjusted the handle-bars. I heard a faint noise. Ting-ting. I moved the bars again. Ting-ting. I moved my head around the bike to find the source of the noise. Ting-ting. A small bell was attached to the bike underneath the headlights. Tucker was back polishing.
“Hey Tucker, what’s with the bell?”
“Oh, I didn’t think you’d notice. It’s for the gremlins. Harley riders will know it”.
He explained the bell keeps mechanical gremlins away. I’d never heard of it. I liked it. I didn’t want any gremlins in my bike. I finished up with my gear as James took some photos.
“I almost forgot!”, he said as he ran into the garage.
He came back with an ‘ADV Australia’ sticker. He stepped around the bike and peeled off the protective tape an stuck it to the front mud guard.
“Now you’re all set”, he gave a thumbs up, “I’ll walk you out”.
He took a few more photos as I slowly rolled out the gate.
“I can’t thank you enough mate, you’re a legend!”, I yelled over the engine through my helmet. He’d probably heard it a hundred times.
Towards the San Gabriels
I was on the road to Walmart. The data on my phone worked and the GPS route was clear. The 15 minute travel took longer than I thought. It included a moment on the Interstate. It was scary. I wasn’t sure how fast the bike would go, how fast I was expected to go or which lane to travel in. I got off thankfully fast. This will be a tough trip if this is what it’ll be like. I arrived at the giant department store. I parked the bike. I wasn’t sure how safe it was. I took my helmet in and was excited to go in for the first time.
- A Padlock for the Pelican case on the back of the bike – $5
- Butane Gas for my stove – $10
- A fork – $2
Pleased with my purchases I planned a route to the San Gabriels. First I needed fuel. I pulled into a station on my way. I pulled off the cap and grabbed the nozzle and squeezed it. Nothing. I squeezed it some more. Was it broken? I thought. I pressed the buttons for an octane level. There were three options. 91, 89 and 87. Still nothing worked. I looked at the other drivers to see what they were doing. I couldn’t tell. I tried using my card and followed the prompts. It prompted me for a ‘zip code’. I didn’t have one. I looked up the one James had used to register my insurance on my phone. I plugged in ‘91711’ and pressed ‘enter’. The words ‘see cashier’ showed. I walked into the store frustrated and a little embarrassed. I wanted to ride. I waited 4th in the queue. The heat annoyed me. It was busy. The cashier smiled.
“Hey, are these pumps pre-paid?”, I asked the lady at the counter.
“Sorry?”, she looked at me confused.
She had a heavy Spanish accent and I wasn’t sure if my accent was heavy or I’d used the right word ‘pre-paid’.
“Do I have to pay first?”, I reworded.
“I’ll take 10 dollars thanks”, I handed her the bill.
I asked her if all petrol stations were like this in the USA. She told me they were. I filled up the bike, returned for my change and left the station.
I began heading up the mountains. It was a double-lane highway. A great surface. There was little traffic. It was tight and steep. More than any highway of its kind I’d been on. I accelerated the bike. It wasn’t powerful up the hill but it was enough to gain speed and enjoy the ride. I had a smile on my face. This is awesome. The road became tighter as I got to the top. I missed a turnoff and I rode into a pullout. I took in the view. There was a stone chair under a tree nearby. There was a gallon of water on the chair with a memoir to a woman who passed away. It was hot here and desert like. She must have dehydrated.
I continued up my route and found a lookout by a lake. It wowed me. I couldn’t believe I’d only gone an hour out of downtown Los Angeles and I was on great roads and scenery. A man by a car nearby waved to me as I took a photo. I continued to Crestline and saw the Lake Gregory. I checked my fuel. I was okay. There was little on the way to Wrightwood.
I arrived in the town and stopped at the grocer. I needed water and I checked the shelves. Everything was either too big, too small or overpriced. I settled for the sparkling water. I grabbed some tuna and fruit. I asked the girl at the counter to help my with my change. I expected her to be surprised at my accent or outfit now I was out of the city. She didn’t care. I walked outside and filled my camelbak under the shade of an umbrella and picnic tables. A couple of people ate ice-cream nearby. I walked passed them as I put the empty bottle in the bin. They stared at me.
I got on the bike and considered if it was safe to put sparkling water in a camelbak. I Googled it and people said the carbonated water would cause pressure and the water could shoot out. I better not do this again. I rode off and nothing happened.
The road became windy again. It wasn’t as steep. The bike handled it well. I was having a great time. It reminded me of the best roads in Australia. Tucker made a great choice. I noticed the digital display on my USB Charger would read ‘—‘ instead of ‘1.30v’ when I revved the bike hard. Was it doing that before? I thought to myself. I revved the bike more and noticed the phone would stop charging when it did. It only happened at high-speed. It’ll be fine. I continued up the windy road until I was hungry. I found the only building for 30 miles. It was Newcombs Ranch.
It had picnic tables and a large carpark. James Tucker told me it was a famous motorbike riding spot. I understand why. It was a restaurant on one of the best, windiest roads close to Los Angeles. It was closed on a weekday. I tried to imagine all the riders on the weekend. It’d be a great spot. I grabbed a museli-bar and walked around. The entrance was filled with stickers from motorcyclists, companies and others. There was a small statue of a rider on a payphone and a notice board for people selling bikes. A car pulled up. A girl called out to ask the nearest petrol station. I had no reception.
“I’m not from here. There’s one about..”, I converted kilometers to miles in my head, “30 miles that way”.
She asked if I was sure and I noticed a road sign behind her. I pointed to it. She drove off and I continued.
I found Chilao Campground. It was 4pm and I knew there was another campground further up. I decided to keep going 40 minutes up the road and got to an intersection. I didn’t find the other campground so I doubled-back and into the ground. I followed the semi-dirt road following the signs. I didn’t know what to look for. I rode around and found a large sign. It contained all the information regarding the campground plus the fee – $10. I thought camping was free. I followed the instructions to find a campsite, fill in the details, put the money in the envelope and place it in the safe. I rode up the ground. It had a nice road. Each site had a carpark, picnic table and fire-ring. I passed other campers and waved. I found an excellent spot overlooking a valley with no one around me. I couldn’t believe it.
I unpacked my gear and setup camp. I heard other campers nearby and put my bike lock and alarm on the bike. I tried to diagnose the broken USB charger by checking the wires. I removed the headlight and inspected the loom. It looked fine. I put it back together and it was getting dark. I put together my camp stove and was going to test it when I realised I had no lighter. The guys camping near me had a drone flying. I approached them and explained the situation. They had 100s of packets of matches. They told me to take one. I thanked them. They were nice.
I got my stove working. I played music, cooked noodles and watched the sun go down over the valley. It was an amazing feeling of freedom and excitement. I couldn’t believe it.
Was every day going to be like this, I wondered.