California; the best bits.
I know it’s been a while. Getting back to work, and dealing with the day to day stuff, and doing lots of training for Tickety Boo, has meant that writing this last holiday blog has been low on the agenda. I realise now though, that this is part of my therapy and I need to write more!
How can we top this holiday? It was just fantastic. So many people have asked what the best bit was. Quite honestly, Ed and I went with zero expectations. We were so busy before we went that Ed wasn’t able to do his usual planning. He loves maps. I bought him a cracking map, but because we had never been before, we didn’t know what to do!
We had all sorts of suggestions from people that have been to California. Thank you to you. You know who you are. Quite frankly, we only did a weeny bit of the tip of the iceberg. That’s fine though, it gives us plenty to do when we go back!
Lots of people who’ve asked me about it have said, “It must be a distant memory,” then regret it as I wax lyrical about the experience. Or do they? I guess enthusiasm is infectious.
So, where do I start? At the beginning, I guess.
Meet Indy. There was, initially, a bit of confusion with the spelling of her name. I thought it was Indi, then she corrected me. Indy is a 69 cubic inch Indian motorcycle. I think. The reason I say that is, I don’t think Eagle Rider knew what I was riding. There’s an inner dispute going on in my brain. What did I ride? Anyway, she looks red (which was a total #win), however, in the sun you can see that she is a sparkly orangey-red. Very attractive. Very cute.
The first thing that happened was the change of riding position. Feet forward. The complete opposite of my two other bikes that I have ridden for thousands of miles. If there was anything I would have changed, I would have moved the gear lever closer, or my arse closer. Size 4 feet has its issues. I guess the fact that they are connected to short legs might have something to do with it too! That meant that my left thigh had an interesting throb after a few days.
Apart from my feet not quite reaching the controls, yes, I had a sore arse. My bum took about a week to settle in. My coccyx took a hammering. At traffic lights, I would stand up. The bike was so low, I was able to have a good stretch, yes, Kenny, I am ‘stumpy’ – I got called that by my brother when I started at boarding school. Nice.
It was just as well that it had a small tank, it meant that I could have a quality rest every time we fuelled, which was quite a lot! Initially, Eagle Rider said that the tank had a range of 80 miles. Ed and I looked at each other with a ‘WTF’ expression. Even Ruby has a better range and that’s saying something. I remember the first time I went to Knockhill, to watch a track night. I was astounded that Ruby could barely get me home on the same tank. The day Indy ran out of fuel, they were spot on. 80 plus 30 miles in reserve. Fut. Splutter. So, I thought that at least we knew now what her range was.
I was obviously not riding her correctly. As the holiday unfolded, I managed on many occasions to get to over 120 miles without the reserve light coming on.
Now, here’s a bit of history. I was SO proud after passing my IAM Advanced Motorcycling Test. I went out with a couple of buddies for a run. We went up to Skye. I, very proudly, posted on Facebook, tagging Rory, the fact Smoggy and I had gone from Tyndrum to Kyle of Lochalsh and home on one tank of fuel. The reply was comical: “I don’t know whether to congratulate you or laugh.” Obviously, I wasn’t trying hard enough!
For a few days, after about a week of riding her, I had convinced myself that the reserve light was knackered. The ONLY time the reserve light came on was when I ran out of fuel! There were a couple of sweaty days where we were in the middle of nowhere and fuel was a long way away. We still made it, without the reserve light. I suppose everyone takes time to bond with a new machine. If I had bollocks, they would have been aching as much as my coccyx.
The bonding process was an interesting one. Ed had to get his bit of advice in. Thanks, Ed. After all, what the hell do I know about riding big twins, other than the years of painful experience with Ed’s Harley? He said that because of the rake of the front end that it might be a bit odd turning the bike on full lock. How correct was he. It was a strange experience. The bike seems to ‘drop’. There’s only one thing for it: positive steering and a bit of gas. A top tip which helped immensely. In all seriousness, thanks, Ed. xx
The amazing thing about Indy was the stability at slow speeds. That really impressed me. Solid, true, and I got to grips with it very quickly, thank goodness. There’s not a great lock on the steering, but that’s only to be expected. Better than Ruby though! I will never forget the chat I got from my Mentor, saying the best thing to do when you have a new bike, is to find a great big car park and just play. Thankfully, with Ed’s wee faff, getting used to the sat nav and heading back to Eagle Rider to remove the screen, was just the play time I needed. Bliss.
Now, the seat looks really comfy; it is really, however, my ample ass struggled with it to begin with. The scooped seat had a purpose though. When I started to get used to Indy, I realised that the torque was truly amazing. 6th gear (or was it 5th?) open the throttle. Oh. My. God. Woosh! You can only imagine what it was like in lower gears! I remember, clearly, the first time I gave it beans. I then understood why it had a scooped seat. It’s to keep your bum in the seat. Otherwise, I would have been arse on top of the rear mudguard. I was thrown back, arms at full stretch with a huge grin on my face. WOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOO! FEEL THE POWER! HAWD ON! The grin would then have been wiped off…. if I was on the back mud guard, I would have lost the bars. I have short arms too.
I was also worried about venturing into twisties. What was I worrying about? The run through the canyons to Neptune’s Net with Ewan was just what was needed. Nae buther. Brilliant fun. I am still amazed at how I bonded with the ‘wee’ bike so quickly.
Now, if you are renting from Eagle Rider, they have a rule. Don’t split lanes. To you and me, that means filtering. No sooner had we got on to the freeway, it was locked solid. Question: filter / split lanes or miss time with Ewan? Yeah, it was a no-brainer. What was good, was the car drivers who were used to lane-splitters. There are lane-splitters and loonies. The loonies are like something out of YouTube. Honest to god. One lane-splitter on an ‘arse up, heed down’ bike must have been doing about 80mph weaving in and out of the traffic. We saw a good few riders who were doing NOTHING to promote safe riding. Now, in California, they have managed to make a rule. Lane splitting at 50mph and other stuff I can’t remember, however, it is legal. The issue is, if we have a clatter whilst filtering, we aren’t insured. That makes you careful! We were. Very.
And then there was the CHiP officer, with lights flashing came behind us. We were in the ‘lane sharing’ part of the highway – bikes can ride in these. There he was, in his safety shirt. Exactly as you would see in the movies! He gave us a wave as he went past. How cool was that?
So, the roads. The freeways are exactly that. Free-to-do-whatever-you-like-ways. You can overtake and undertake. The speed limit is 65mph, however, that’s pretty much ignored. Everyone bundles along at 80. At home, looking in your off-side mirror is essential. In the USA, it’s a free for all. You have to pay attention on both sides. I had one ‘moment’ that I can remember – wanting to pull into the second (of 4) lanes and the car that had wooshed past had slowed down. Oh, crap. Probably on the phone. Never mind, I am here, typing this, so I survived, but it was a reminder to be very careful. You have to be switched on at all times. It was a heart in gob, sphincter-tightening, wake-up-call moment. We all need them now and again.
So, what were the best bits?
Obviously, the run with Ewan was up there at #1. Everybody, but everybody, has asked about our fab time with him. It was the absolute highlight, I can’t deny it. What an ace way to start, what was to be, THE best holiday of our life! A close second was our time spent with Ali, Rup, Miles and Grace in the beautiful Santa Barbara. Thank you all, especially the very lovely Toby, for making us feel so welcome… on the first night… and coping with us wanting to come back and visit again, because we had SO much fun! Thank you. We had a superb time. Your house is just drop-dead gorgeous; just like you all!
I can say, we both fell in love with California, big time. The views when you get off of the main highways and freeways are just astonishing. Given we didn’t really know much about the country meant that Ed really had to study the map well. The boy did a great job. Ed never, ever, takes the straight forward route. Brace yourself for an adventure! The locals did think we were completely bonkers for riding in the conditions: blue sky, wind at about 40mph and the temperature in low single digits.
Being based in Palm Desert for 5 nights also had its advantages. How many stunningly gorgeous roads on the door step and a superb supermarket on the doorstep… Wow. Perfect! The wee Indian was just perfect too. The only drawback was the panniers. Really? When we went to Los Olivos, we got some free glasses. Not the optical type, the drinking type. (Just as a reminder, we got pissed on what seemed like fresh air. Expensive fresh air, with a whiff of wine…) I was really determined that the glasses were going to travel with us. One pannier had my heated jacket (when I didn’t need it) and the two glasses. That was it. Standard panniers are tiny. Enough space for a couple of thongs and a t-shirt. Well, some folk who are slimmer than me, might manage 4 sets…..
I was glad that Ed was carrying my bag on his Harley. I can pack normally for a weekend or a few days away on Smoggy with just the top box. The panniers on Indy combined were, frankly, pathetic. My Smoggy top box is double the size of the two tiny panniers added together. Go Smoggy!
The glasses, surprisingly, survived the entire 2,500 mile journey and they were handed over, with pride, to Ali, who was just delighted at receiving two matching glasses…. Like me, Ali admitted to always breaking glasses with stems! That’s why at home I use stemless glasses – they don’t break quite so easily. Every day’s riding was based around what I could pack in the panniers to protect the precious glasses! Job done!
So, the other best bit? Bonding with Indy. As you all know, I’m vertically challenged. I have an issue getting bikes to fit. I’m not happy unless at least both toes reach the ground. Both of them. It’s a safety / confidence thing, however, Indy was a surprise. She was just amazing and was chuffed to bits that I immediately felt comfortable on her. What a wee star. I say ‘wee’, only because I was able to stand up and my ass would clear the seat. There is, after all, nowt ‘wee’ about this little bike. It was instant love.
It’s interesting meeting people that knew about our adventure and have asked about it. It’s been a joy boring people with the tales of our journey. Sorry if you are one of them, however, we can’t wait to go back to do more mountain in forest parks. Personally, I’d just be happy riding the hills out from Palm Desert. I really need to treat myself to a helmet cam. Words just don’t really cover it, however, you might just realise from reading this that we both had an amazing experience.
Other than the ‘oops’ on the highway, when I was obviously not paying 100% attention, there weren’t any other occasions that I doubted Indy’s abilities. Mind you, it’s seldom the machinery at fault, but more like the user. I was given the perfect opportunity to make a new friend. She got me at ‘hello’.
The only moment when I was going to smack Ed was when we were trying to find Paradise Cove…. Dark o’clock, twisty roads, sleet, snow. What a vision when we saw the Motel – something out of Twin Peaks. Really. The only thing that was missing was the log lady. I have never been so relieved to see a destination in my life. And it was the best steak of the holiday, cooked by someone else and the bedroom was in the top 3 of the holiday. The other steak was cooked by Ed in our apartment. That one was accompanied by a lush lobster tail. Nom nom. Oh, and a very large selection of friends (wine).
Then there was the puddle, and the gust of wind that shoved Ed about 5 metres. That was scary. At that point, I did ask myself, “WTF are we doing?” It’s amazing what an omelette and hash browns can do for your confidence. At least we knew that there were snowploughs oot ‘n’ aboot. A nice sight.
As we left the (dodgy) Motel in Hollister, there were the two Police Cruisers outside our door. I did wonder what we’d been caught doing… As it happens, we’d not been caught – they shared a top tip about the slippery tomatoes was worth the chat. For that story, you might have to read my other blogs.
If you travel beyond the fall in California, you will have to take gear that will cope with the low temperatures. Don’t think because you are going to what we think is a ‘hot country’ that it is. It isn’t. The coldest moment had bright, blue skies and sub-zero temperatures as we ventured down into what is possibly one of the hottest places on earth, Death Valley. At least we prepared for the range of temperatures – not like the pair of ‘locals’ who were at the peak in freezing cold wind-chill with jeans on. They were jealous of us! We really appreciated the fuel station that dispensed the most expensive fuel of the holiday.
All of our accommodation, other than Hollister, which looked like there had been a murder in the room, was fabulous. Generally, the beds were huge and TVs to match. It made us think / realise that our telly is just too small! The biggest bed and the hugest telly was in Shoshone – the Motel with the tumbleweed outside, just after Death Valley with the amazing hot spring pool down the road. It was also the most expensive bed. Was I worried? Nope. Quite the opposite. As we wandered back to our Motel, after our splash in the pool, I said to Ed that I would happily have paid $120 for the room. I was pretty close. No breakfast included! After at the time, Las Vegas was too far away, it was out the question that I was going to ride another 80+ miles to get there that day. Staying in Las Vegas would have been cheaper. Do I care? Not a jot. Will we visit Las Vegas? Maybe, however, in fairness, we are not a fan of big cities; more the countryside, twisty roads and the views. California give that in spades if you take the time to read a map.
The food, generally was good. The one thing that hit us was the exchange rate. I generally don’t complain about prices, and won’t now, given the dodgy exchange rate. The best bit was paying $27 for 6 gluten free cupcakes which were, frankly, fantastic. Thank you, Ali for my lunch treat there. That was above and beyond and quite the best quiche that I have had since I had to follow a Gluten Free diet. Ed and I look forward to returning your fabulous hospitality in the summer.
The worst bit? Getting sweaty…. Getting ready to ride out to the (cold) mountains and having to sit, with throbbing exhausts, wearing our warm gear, and the traffic lights not working. Sitting there, waiting to get a filter light, not getting it, and cooking. I had a brilliant idea. Just brilliant. Go into the supermarket car park and exit on the other side. Brilliant. Round the car park. The slight breeze was appreciated, until *whack* I got assaulted by what felt like a large flying insect in my eye. I couldn’t rub my eye, I had my contact lenses in. DON’T RUB! Some eye drops, gear back on, nod of the head to gesture to Ed:’Good to go, Map Man. Let’s find the exit!’ Not. The fucking exit was back where we started at the stuck lights. Oh, I was not popular, in the slightest. And my eye hurt.
The whole holiday was just immense. It kept on giving. There is so much to see, lots to do, I’m sure, however, for us, as ever, it was about riding. I am a true addict. Thank you to my friends who have helped me realise that the best way to see the world is on top of a throbbing machine. The motorcycle variety. It is officially the best thing I have ever done and I intend doing it for as long as I am able to. What a way to chill out and leave behind any stresses.
Would I recommend California? Yes, in a heartbeat. So much so, Ed asked what I wanted to do in October / November. Guess what slipped out my gob? The next time though, we will ship our bikes. So, will I ship Smoggy? Maybe. Will Ed ship the Harley? Probably. Ed’s bike is so different, with the most infeasible handle bars, she would attract all sorts of looks. On this holiday, it was Indy that got the looks….. GET IN! Different, of course, if I get a wee Indy and ship her across….. Watch this space. As it transpires, there’s a ‘get arse closer’ seat option and a bigger, gruntier engine. (sp?) And a louder exhaust. The only snag is, it’s not available in (Motorrad, David, speak) ‘dog-knob-red’. I did send a photo to the lovely Calum, owner of Saltire Suzuki and Alba Customs. I was ‘slightly’ enthusiastic in my text. His answer was, “What colour would you like?” Dog-knob-red please, with some sparkles. Or, Indy colour.
A thank you, or two: Thank you to Ewan for taking the time out of his hectic schedule to 1) Show us some amazing roads. 2) Getting us used to the ‘first-come-first-served’ 4-way intersections. 3) Introducing us to Neptune’s Net. I know there are many people out there who would agree that we were very, very lucky. I look forward to getting the chance to ride out with you when you are in Scotland and have the time. I am delighted to say that Ed and I loved T2. In the meantime, good luck with your next acting role and having to put on copious amount of weight. Keep eating the fish tacos. Need any hints to weight gain? Wine works.
The second thank you is to the Laslett family. We felt so welcome on our first night, we invited ourselves back. Sometimes, you have to do that. Your whole family are a joy. As for your gorgeous cat, need a cat-sitter? I’ll be there, in a heartbeat. As long as he will be comfy as I go out on a motorbike during the day. Cuddles at night. Both Miles and Grace are a credit to you both, you should be very proud. It was just great, sending the boys out on the bikes so Ali could show me Santa Barbara. Just lovely. Ed had a ‘go’ on Indy that day and was really taken by her attitude. Win. All in all, we had a great time and I can’t wait to go back. That covers that. In the meantime, it was all a bit odd and wobbly the first time I rode Smoggy after the holiday. He felt really tall! Didn’t take long though for us being ‘at one’ again though! Must blog more.