Once again, our hosts John and Sue Ray, arranged for perfect weather. It was neither too hot nor too cold. Even the wind waited until the awards were presented before kicking up its heels. The Rays have adopted two new rescue dogs, Chester and Daisy, who added their furry selves to the mix.
The route was similar to past years full of twisty back roads that avoid heavy traffic. The road surfaces however… well, we could have called this the stone-lovers ride. There were no gold rings or diamonds, but perhaps too much interaction with dirt, gravel and boulders.
We all met at the Ray’s big red barn. And what a festive gathering it was. Mirek and Liam Sharp were special guests all the way from Guelph, Ontario. Mirek kindly deigned to ride Jeff Scott’s Endurance, while Liam stayed back at the house and helped set up for our return.
Jim Abbott came from Arizona. John Stanley visited from Washington. And there were a lot of people from California, but this is a big state. Gil Loe, Dana Shatts and Tom Ross represented the southern California region. Tom brought a new convert, Cameron who rode a KTM. At the beginning of the day, he laughingly asked me, “Can you imagine a bunch of Harley riders celebrating just because their bikes started?” At the end of the day he was much more impressed with the riding skills and speed of the club members.
John Ellis, George and Sachi Shoblo, Kent Bell and John Sims arrived from communities in the southern San Francisco region. John Sims also introduced his friend Manuela who rode a Sportster. Paul and Sandy Adams came from the east. Sandy was the day’s only pillion rider and she was fearless. Fred Mork, Lance Leavey, Jeff Scott & I all rode in from closer Bay Area communities.
All in all, nineteen bikes took off from the barn and eleven of them were Velos. Other people such as Jeff Ward, Frank Brennan and Charlie Taylor joined the ride later on the route and departed as their lives required.
This year’s route followed the usual course, backwards. We stopped for breakfast and then rode down Dry Creek road. Unfortunately this wonderfully twisty road had a rotten corner hiding in it. Dirt, fine, silty, slippery dirt slid down the dry embankment and on to the road. John Ellis led the pack, lost traction and went down. As I went around this corner, I felt my tires get all squirrely just as I saw John Ellis’s bike on the pavement on the wrong side of the road. My senses were obviously mixed-up as it looked like his bike was upside down. By the time I stopped (safely) others were mumbling about ice and slipperiness. Kent Bell returned to kick as much of the dirt as he could back into the hillside where it belonged while others picked the bike up and took it to the shoulder. By latest report John Ellis had a sore leg and a broken foot peg.
There was smooth riding after that across highway 29, up highway 128 past Lake Hennessey to Chiles Valley Road where Fred Mork’s bike stalled. He rolled safely to a shoulder on a straight section of road. While Lance Leavey stayed to help identify the problem, I rode on to catch Jeff Scott who is familiar with Fred’s bike. (Sometimes it feels like my role in life is to direct Jeff.) Anyway, I caught up to Jeff at Pope Valley, a scheduled stop. He went back to help Fred, but luckily didn’t have to ride far. Fred had found the problem: a high tension lead had become unseated. He fixed it enough to finish the ride and return to his home.
At this stop, Jeff Ward caught up with us. According to rumor, he’d been seen at a gas station in Napa with his bike apart and oil everywhere. Paul Zell and Julie who were driving the chase truck went to check out the scene. The problem was identified as a loose gasket. Paul had the fix – an empty pizza box. Cardboard was put into service and once more oil flowed where it should in the bike.
At the Pope Valley snack stop, we were entertained with the passage, twice, of some kind of high performance car club. Maserati, Ferrari, Porshe, etc were all represented. But this was no race track. There were plenty of reasons for keeping speeds down on these roads including bicyclists and the local enforcement agencies.
After the Pope Valley snack stop was a spirited romp on Pope Canyon road. A right turn and the road winds around Lake Berryessa. Wait! What is that? Oh no no no no… a 100 yard section of gravel followed by asphalt and another section of gravel… and these patches of gravel were present all the way around the lake. Well, this slowed me right down. It wasn’t bad – mostly it was hard-packed gravel, except where some had been churned up or spilled on the asphalt. The strange thing is that there was only one warning sign for all this work and it was a master of understatement. It said, “Bump.”
We all stopped at Moskowite Corner and here I recognized that I was hungry and tired. Not a good combination. Plus I haven’t done any riding this year and am quite out of shape for this kind of exertion. Still we were on the home stretch.
Down narrow two-laned highway 121 we went. Along the way, Jeff Scott passed me very closely and I lost my concentration. I stopped to take a breather and let other pass me. Just as I was pulling away from the turnout, I saw Lance come to a complete stop and get off his bike. Oh no! Before I found a safe place to turn around to see if Lance needed any help, I rounded a corner and there was another Velo down. Jim Abbott chose one of the few places where you can actually get off the asphalt to get close and comfortable with some boulders. Gas was pouring out of his tank while Manuela lifted the bike so Jim could get out from under it. At that moment, Manuela became my hero.
Next was a game of twister to get the bike far enough away from the boulders to stand up on its own. Somehow both rearview mirrors had snapped off Jim’s bike, but otherwise both the bike and rider were okay. (Later I learned that this was the second time Jim laid his bike down on this one ride. Wow! You may be tough Jim, but you don’t need to prove it to us this way!)
Jim Abbot was determined to ride the rest of the way. Fortunately the chase truck arrived because even though all of our bikes were now right side up and on two wheels, we all needed assistance in getting turned around and back on the road. Zell was instrumental in that.
As we continued down the mountain, I focused on returning to that wonderful relaxed and alert state, that focused meditative experience you can get while riding a motorcycle, and I had an epiphany. I’ve noticed how the moods of motorcycle riders parallel the quality of their ride. To put it most simply, when the bikes are running well, riders are happy. When the bikes are not running well, the riders take it personally. This goes beyond a value judgment of mechanic skills to the point where the bike is like an extension of persona. Once I heard a woman speak of the relationship her husband had with his bike in even more intimate terms. But as I was thinking about this, I felt something, one of those things that as soon as you put words to it, the experience dissolves. But here goes. The relationship between rider and bike is not about persona or ego, but spirit. There are times when the bike and the road and the rider are all one and the sense of motion is when the spirit soars.
Ok that’s not quite right, but that’s as close as I can put words to it.
Once we’d returned to the Napa valley the ride was a battle between memory – but I’m sure we need to go left – and map – but the map shows we turn right – and somehow we all managed to make it back to the Ray’s for a screaming bbq, tire-kicking and silly awards.
So that’s what you who did not attend missed out on. The excuses for not attending this year’s VOCNA Spring Opener ranged from the hoity-toity Quail event, a dirt-loving Funduro, and graduation ceremonies, to one 50th High School reunion (guess who that was!) We hope all these events were as magnificent as possible.
We hope to see you all at the 2015 VOCNA Rally!