Make Every Ride An Adventure

[ Watch your line and don’t be distracted by the scenery, because these mountain roads don’t have any guardrails. We stopped to admire this waterfall alongside Mountain Highway 99 above Kernville.

Whenever there’s an event to attend—the Laguna Seca MotoGP, a press launch outside San Diego, or any other happening within a day’s ride—I get excited. California has incredible landscapes, and there’s no better way to enjoy them than from the saddle of a motorcycle. Every ride holds the potential for adventure.

This week’s assignment was in Auberry, CA, just east of Fresno in the Sierra foothills, where former AMA Superbike and 250 Grand Prix champion Rich Oliver hosts his legendary “Mystery School.”

My friend Jeremy joined me for the trip, eager to learn the flat tracking skills that Oliver promised to teach. I was saddled up on my long-term testbike, Triumph’s brutish Speed Triple R, while Jeremy rode a Kawasaki Versys. You wouldn’t consider either bike ideal for a 400-mile day, unless those 400 miles are comprised almost entirely of tight, mountainous two-lane.

[ Road delay: Summit Helicopter’s 1963 H-19 “Chickasaw” lifts a telephone pole into position beside Yokohl Valley Road. A helpful Summit employee braces the Triumph against the H-19’s powerful rotor wash as I snap the pic.

Ask Google to plot the route and it’ll connect LA to Auberry via approximately 250 miles of freeway. Great if expediency is your goal, total crap if adventure is what you’re after. Instead, I spent an hour plotting a route made up of obscure two-lane country roads with names like Caliente Bodfish Rd., Dry Creek Rd., and Trimmer Spring Rd. Some familiar, some unknown, all promising twists and turns, beautiful scenery, and something the freeway could never offer—excitement.

We left LA before the morning rush hour, spending a few miles on the freeway before veering off into the wilderness above Castaic Lake. We blasted across the Mojave Desert, under the slow-spinning blades of the Tehachapi wind farm, and past the historic Tehachapi Loop before veering north onto Caliente Bodfish. That’s about the time I looked down and saw the map pocket on my Aerostich suit hanging open and empty; the registration and insurance info for the Speed Triple lost somewhere back in the desert. Well, I wanted adventure, and nothing spices a ride up like the risk of arrest!

[ The route back to LA could have involved as few as three turns, but what fun would that have been? These convoluted directions aren’t even complete; that’s just half the ride south!

We stopped for a quick lunch in Kernville before continuing north into the Sequoia National Forest. As we gained elevation the trees thinned out and the stony mountain slopes and shady parts of the road began showing patches of snow. Thirty miles in, our path was blocked by “Road Closed” barricades. Google wouldn’t have even given us the option to experience this kind of inconvenience.

Back tracking into town, we took Highway 55 east over the Greenhorn Pass. The 55 is a deliciously twisty stretch of road that winds beneath an evergreen canopy, but recent wintry weather meant the road surface wore a thick coat of sand that made it nerve-wracking to ride. I’d hoped to explore the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the remaining 200 or so miles, but every time we gained elevation we encountered dirty roads. We rode along the lower, warmer foothills instead, connecting quaint country roads that passed through picturesque rolling hills, fallow farm fields, and citrus orchards laden with fruit. We arrived in Auberry after sunset, exhausted in that satisfying kind of way that comes from knowing you made a proper adventure out of what could have easily been a very boring ride.