Saturday, November 16, 2013


After four novels back-to-back with little pause, I needed a road or sail break. Since the engine on my sloop had broken and my main sail is torn, I decided to visit my brother in Kernville by motorcycle.

I left Seal Beach early Monday morning aboard my reliable 1988 Kawasaki KLR single cylinder 650 Dual Purpose trail/road machine that after eight years with me aboard had an odometer approaching 50,000 miles. I’d written a memoir with it on the cover: ROAR AND THUNDER, MOTORCYCLE JOURNEYS that covered the twenty-odd motorcycles and 250,000 ridden miles in my lifetime. Like the rider, the machine was old and looked beat-up.

I intended to ride a loop instead of going back and forth along the same highways. Overcast and foggy gloom welcomed me along the 605 to the 210 and when I reached the 15 curving up Cajon Pass, I found pouring rain as I ran out of gas. I had 103 miles on a tank fill a week before but there wasn’t enough money for a complete fill. Now on Reserve (supposedly about 20 more miles), I slowed and stayed wet to the Summit where I filled with almost a full gallon still in reserve.

Rain stopped at the 395 turn-off. I had heavy buffeting winds along the long straight two-lane highway. The KLR is light (325 lbs) so getting knocked around with wind had me stopping at Inyokern for tea and a walk-around before I rolled onto the 178 West toward Lake Isabella. Weather was sunny and cool for November. I had always thought the best months for travel were April and October. Weather is generally pleasant, teachers and kids are in school, and tourists are home doing whatever tourists do at home. Except for an occasional big rig, traffic didn’t exist. Cars passed going the other way but only four 80mph cars swept past going my way. I stayed at 70 out of respect for my old engine.


(Rolling on 178 West out of Inyokern toward Lake Isabella, odd cactus along the road)

Highway 178 was curvy and pleasant with odd cactus growing along it. At Lake Isabella, I took Sierra Way up to Kernville and a reunion with my brother, Don and the cool wonder dog, Zeke. Don rents a mobile home in a small park surrounded by elderly women he thinks are after his body. And maybe they are. The three I met sure were friendly. How he found the place was interesting. Since his split with his wife in Palm Springs and was now living on Social Security, he went on Google and asked for the cheapest place in the country to live. He drew three: a small hamlet in Texas, a trailer park in Spokane, and Kernville. I’m thinking of doing that for marina slips.


(Downtown Kernville, the Kernville Saloon)

Kernville is a pleasant metropolis of 1,200. But Don misses many offerings of city life: multi-screen theaters, a decent library, a Chinese restaurant, a sports bar for football. He didn’t miss the city mob and their rudeness. We did find an excellent spaghetti place and an outstanding breakfast cafĂ© where we both ate too much. Mostly we talked, and talked, we hadn’t been alone one-on-one for any real time since we were kids. Either he had a wife or I had a wife or we were surrounded by family, or we were each off alone someplace. None of that existed now and we spent our time talking and walking Zeke along the Kern River and into deep forest where Zeke liked to chase squirrels. I didn’t have room on the KLR for my gold pan or shovels or buckets but next visit I intended to bring them in the Explorer. The Kern River was down which made fishing at the dam good and maybe meant gold hidden under now-dry boulders.


(The KLR and me, Don’s coach and F-150 in the background, Kernville.)

Don and I are Irish twins, in that we are three days shy of being one year apart. So for a couple days we are the same age, and that’s what we were celebrating. I slept on a fold-out bed in the living room of his rented coach. When I asked if he intended to buy the coach (it was offered), Don told me that at his age, he was through owning stuff, a philosophy I sort of share. He believes things own you, be it house, car, a closet full of clothes or mechanical toys that restrict your personal freedom. He’s done with all of it. I own my boat, the Explorer and the KLR. Too much, except my boat is my home, and where I live requires private transportation of some kind. A thousand dollar car would work fine. I live on Social Security, a small retirement from Boeing, and my paltry book royalties.

Since Kernville has no chain grocery market and the one small store charges ridiculous prices, Don has to drive his F-150 fifteen miles down to the city of Lake Isabella for serious food shopping. The road is twisty and the drive bothers him. Sometimes he thinks about moving to Bakersfield where we both grew through high school, and where I couldn’t wait to leave, and did, to serve my machinist apprenticeship in Houston before going in the Navy. He says he’ll probably stay in Kernville but he doesn’t like that drive. I was to take that road going home.

Despite our marathon conversations and walking Zeke the wonder dog, I did figure mileage for the trip up. I had ridden 286 miles and at mostly 70mph. the KLR gave me 48.8 mpg. The ride home would be shorter through Bakersfield.

(Don and the quiet, obedient wonder dog, Zeke, DNA shown to be one-third Poodle, one-third Wire Terrier, one-third Whippet, well trained (poops on command), does not bark except when parted from his greatest companion,)

Don and I parted sadly Wednesday morning, with promises to do it again. I had my backpack bungeed on the seat behind me, not as soft to lean back on as a woman but we make do. I rode out of Kernville and down the wicked road Don dislikes to Lake Isabella where I reconnected to Highway 178 West, forty-nine miles from Bakersfield. I didn’t look forward to the twisty Kern Canyon Road with its 15 to 30 mph switchbacks and a long drop to the Kern River. Two or three are lost on that road every year. But I took it easy. The machine loves those tight curves and in my youth I did too. But we were both too old to lean at speed coming down the mountain.


(Approaching Lake Isabella to connect with 178 West, Kern Canyon Road, Bakersfield, and home.)

In Bakersfield I caught the 99 freeway and rode the long straight to the I-5 connection and up the steep Grapevine, buffeted by heavy winds that rocked me and the machine so hard we were often pushed out of our lane. At the top, construction had the highway down to one lane with a long line of big rigs. Cars were going nowhere, sometimes stopped for minutes. I stayed with them for a short time then took the asphalt shoulder to ride past the whole bunch and away to free open road. The only rest stop of the trip was at the top, where I walked around and drank water from a public fountain. Somewhere along the canyon or Grapevine I had lost my water bottle.

The worst, most tiring part of the trip was riding into the Los Angeles basin, where traffic was heavy and heat oppressive. To avoid the LAX mess along the 405, I took the 210 East that still had impressive traffic, and rode to the 605 South to Long Beach then Seal Beach and my sailing home.

The homeward leg of the trip covered 205 miles and the KLR gave me 50.2 mpg. Not bad for an elderly machine and rider. I returned rejuvenated and ready to work again, back to my kick-ass gal private eye, Makayla “Mac” Tuff and her first novel, PILLOW SHOT.

Future sojourns include gold prospecting in Alaska and Australia, and a six month back-pack trip across Europe. Life is one endless bucket list.

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