Angeles Crest

My throttle hand was itching from the moment I woke on Saturday morning (August 25th, 2012). I needed to get on the motorcycle and get into the wind. I thought about possible destinations and routes for a ride.

On the previous Sunday three of us had ridden the Angeles Crest Highway and the weather, in contrast to the Inland Valleys where we live, had been close to perfect. The temperatures at home had been hovering above 110 F for a couple weeks, but in the Angeles Mountains they were in the 70s, which was a welcome relief from the heat in the flatlands and just right for riding in short-sleeve t-shirts.

I phoned Mike Harmon to see if he wanted to ride Angeles Crest Highway. Mike is usually up for a ride, and unlike the other riders in our group, it rarely takes extensive deliberation and long-term planning to get going. In addition, we ride at similar paces and we’re both constantly seeing photographs and abruptly pulling off the road to extract our cameras from the saddlebags.

We decided to meet at Quaid Harley Davidson in San Bernardino in 45 minutes and head up the Cajon Pass where we’d pick up Route 138 into Wrightwood, then Route 2, the Angeles Crest Highway, which winds through 54 miles of mountains to the city of La Canada in Los Angeles County. The previous ride had been so pleasant that I wanted to do it again and the road, built in the early 1970s, is particularly good for motorcycling. The curves are generally long and sweeping, and there are no blind decreasing-radius turns to trick the rider.

Packing the saddlebags, I had a long internal argument about which camera(s) to take; digital, analog, or both? In the end I decided to take the Nikon N90s and rolls of both black and white and color film. I’d decide what to load in the camera when I wanted to shoot.

I arrived at Quaid a few minutes earlier than we agreed on and wandered inside to use the rest room (never pass up an opportunity, because one never knows when the next one will arise) and look at the the new bike stock. I always like to look at the Harley Davidson Deluxes, the only HD model that really grabs my attention. The Deluxe is very similar to my current Road Star, though the Harleys now have a six-speed transmission, but a shorter wheel base. Mike was a few minutes late, so I walked around the used bikes displayed in the first quarter of the parking lot. There wasn’t a lot that caught my eye because the Deluxe models were somewhat  thin on the ground. A couple of used Road Kings looked good, but were about all that I found interesting.

After Mike arrived we rode to I-15 and started up the long grade of the Cajon Pass. Traffic through the pass is typically moving a bit too fast and it pays to watch the automobile traffic closely since it seems that most of the drivers are in a big hurry to get to Victorville in the High Desert or Las Vegas farther north across the Nevada border. Turning onto Route 138 at Cajon Junction we passed by the turnoff to Lone Pine Road and stayed on 138 turning on Route 2 toward Wrightwood.

We stopped at the Grizzly Cafe in Wrightwood for breakfast, and to catch up on recent events, then rode toward La Canada (For the correct pronunciation put a tilde over the “n” in Canada. It is a Spanish name. It has no relationship to the country to the north of the United States). For a description of the Cafe and the food served that morning see Grizzly Cafe.  

On this particular route, I’m always looking for a good view of the Upper (Mojave) Desert from the mountain road. The mountain views are typically hazy due to a combination of smog, haze, and distance, but they were a little clearer than usual that day. At our first stop at a pullout with a reasonable view of the Mojave to the north, I loaded the N90s with a roll of color film. I had debated about using black and white since thinking about going on the ride, but the clear blue sky and the greens of the forest canopy had convinced me that color was the way to go. In addition, the colors of the motorcycles we would see parked at Newcomb’s Ranch closer to La Canada would almost demand the use of color film.

I had told Mike about a the great deal of rockfall I encountered on the ride a few days before. The road could have used a two-way pass through by a road sweeper to clear the random rock splatter. The rock had varied from ping pong to baseball to softball size hunks. It was a definite road hazard, though more of a hazard for sport bikes than cruisers, since the sport bikes have generally thinner tires, lower torque, and faster rates of travel. Still, I’d prefer to avoid riding over a softball size chunk of granite on the Road Star, particularly in a corner. We talked about the rockfall and agreed not to signal about the rock every time we saw it, since we were both expecting it.

It was as good a ride as the previous week with the same cool temperatures, but clearer-than-usual skies, and less automobile traffic. We stopped at multiple pullouts for photographs and gradually made our way to Newcomb’s Ranch. There were fewer motorcycles in the parking lot than I expected, perhaps sixty. During the non-winter months two hundred bikes sitting on asphalt seems to be the average. After looking at and shooting images of the more interesting bikes in the lot, we made our way into the bar for a beer. There were empty stools waiting for us, which is not always the case.

On the return leg of the ride we continued stopping at pullouts that seemed to have good long views, including one with a roadside memorial for a fallen motorcyclist, which Mike wrote about in his Grizzly Cafe post.

It was a good ride, though I only put 164 miles on my trip meter. My throttle hand no longer itched when I rolled back onto my driveway, but I did find myself wishing that particular stretch of Route 2 was 200 miles longer. 

Gearhead Data: Nikon N90s, Nikon 28mm f/2.8 manual focus lens, Kodak Gold 100 film.