Ride or Fly?

On the Cholame Valley Road with the Explorer.

Most of the journalists attending Kawasaki’s press launch of the Ninja 300 in Healdsburg, California, came by air, sashaying through the Charles M. Schultz airport in Sonoma and whisked to the event hotel in an air-conditioned minivan. Probably there were refreshments. Kawasaki's press-relations people are good like that.

I wasn't among them.

Instead, I spent the day atop a Triumph Tiger Explorer, jumping into SoCal traffic at 6:45 in the morning and wending my way up through the coastal spine of the state, avoiding as much of the highway as I could and still make the start of the press event at six that night. When I told Kawasaki's people that I'd ride instead of fly, there was a moment of silence. As in:_ Okay...if you insist._

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Together, the Triumph and I jetted over the Tejon Pass along I-5 in early morning sun. I enjoyed watching the commuters sip coffee, bleary eyed, while I surged ahead, wide awake and loving life—the Explorer's cruise control set on some unmentionable velocity. Heading northwest from the central valley, I picked up Cholame Road toward Parkfield and then jumped up and over Curry Mountain on an unpaved secondary road that gave the Explorer and its Metzeler Tourances a good workout. A quick shot across Highway 198 to the 25 deposited me in the sweet smelling Gilroy in time for lunch. While the other writers were getting their TSA grope, I was having fried chicken free of molestation.

Busting the Kawasaki party. The Kawi techs were intrigued by the big Brit.

To keep on schedule, the rest of the northbound trip was highway, but the Explorer consumed the miles with ease. Wind protection, reasonable range (200-plus miles), and that surprisingly handy cruise control are wonderful things. By 3:45, I arrived in Healdsburg none the worse for wear.

A day after flogging the little Ninja, the return trip was much of the same, retracing my steps along Highway 25 but taking Peach Tree Road/Indian Valley Road southbound. This narrow strip cuts through genuinely bucolic farmland and meets Highway 101 near San Miguel. No centerline, no corner-speed markings, not much more runoff than a patch of warm, brown grass before the barb-wire fence. Heaven, in other words.

A short segment on the one-oh-one to pick up Highway 58 eastbound was the first part of the ride I started feeling any kind of fatigue; the Explorer, extremely smooth engine and roomy riding position, is that kind and capable. I could have stayed on the 101 the rest of the way, of course, but 58 is one of my favorite roads in California, followed by Cerro Noroeste and the back way into Frazier Park. It's a familiar ride, yet I never tire of it. The Quiznos sandwich at the last fuel stop before home tasted unusually good. Is that why they call it road food?

I rolled into my driveway by 8:45 that night, almost 1100 miles more experienced with the big Triumph and contentedly tired. It turns out that Sport Rider's Kent Kunitsugu got home about the same time. By air.

I bet I had more fun.