Waking up with an unexpected rush of excitement – I’m just outside L.A. I haven’t much time but I feel like a kid in a sweetshop. I should say that before I left I put together a little USA themed soundtrack for the trip. It kicks off with Razorlight’s America which I have been singing all the way down here “all my life watching America, all my life there’s panic in America…”
. And now I’m bombarded by these deeply familiar places that I have no idea what they are actually like. And there they all are on the map in front of me. Tom Petty – Free fallin. “All the Vampires… move west down Ventura Boulevard…”
Sheryl Crow – “All I want to do is have some fun. Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard”
. There is Mulholland Drive, there is Hollywood. Too much too much. I jump on the bike and race off with the beach on my left and the Malibu hills on my right. Malibu… the less said about that association the better (but I’ve never liked coconut since).All of a sudden this vast sprawling megacity is upon me, Route 1 turns right onto Santa Monica Boulevard. I stop to take pictures at Venice Beach with that iconic funfair. Then breakfast at the brilliantly pretentious Deus Ex Machina on Venice Boulevard. (Ticklist ticked)
I head up Santa Monica Boulevard up into west Hollywood, down Sunset Boulevard with all those stars. I take a wrong turn and there are Prada and Gucci shops everywhere – what the heck I’m on Rodeo Drive Baby! And there is the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel. (Those are Pretty Woman references in case you missed them).
I catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign up on the hills in the distance. So I head for that. It is really hard to get close to, loads of crazy switchback roads that go nowhere. And all these damn tourists trying to get the picture must annoy the hell out of the residents. The roads have no-stopping signs, but that doesn’t really count for bikes. I got my picture at 6255 Mulholland Highway – grinning like a cheshire cat. There is an official lookout spot 1/4 mile down the road – but everyone gets that picture. Then feeling like a total tourist I decide to get out of here and do some real riding.
So that was it for L.A. One crazy morning. I wouldn’t have missed it, and maybe I will go back for a proper visit. But then again maybe that is enough.It is 270 miles to Bishop, California the next thing on my tick list and I intend to be there by nightfall.
I jump onto Highway 5 north and it is pure L.A. nightmare. Carmageddon. Ten lanes of traffic in gridlock. It gives me palpitations just thinking about it. It was like that scene from ‘Everybody Hurts’ video. Except nobody was getting out of their cars. I fight my way through, riding up the sides, dodging oversized 16 wheel trucks. Where are they all going? Clearly nowhere fast. Finally I see the the turn off for route 14 North towards Lancaster.
Now the road is almost empty, no-one is going this way. And the landscape is like nothing I have seen. I am heading for the high desert. it is flat and dry, sand and scrub with occasional rocky outcrops. The Mojave is breathtaking (quite literally – it is high and cold). Over to the east is the Edwards Airports Base on the pan flat dry lakebed of Lake Muroc where the pioneers of of jet flight first broke the sound barrier (and themselves in the process). I read up on this when I got home and I would highly recommend ‘The Last Pilot’ by Benjamin Johncock.
The road goes on, vast stretches of empty tarmac, long, long dead straight sections with nothing to get in the way. I’m wearing all the layers I have with me. The mojave is the place on earth with the greatest range of temperatures – it can hit 49 degrees celsius in the summer and -20C in the winter. I’m going dead straight with no traffic to worry about so I do two things. One is to take selfies. It is the archetypal America road trip picture. Ruler straight road, desert and in the distance the mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
The other thing I get to do is push the limits on the bike. Lets not incriminate ourselves here, but the GSWC is fast. It just keeps on accelerating. I manage to properly scare myself. I went faster than I have ever gone, and I don’t think that the bike had topped out. It is a long drive to Bishop, and I got pretty cold, but it flew by and was frankly unforgettable. Route 14 becomes Route 395, and though the Pacific Coast Highway was amazing, I love route 395 more.
Bishop CA is a proper mountain town and a mecca for climbers. The Sierra Nevada are just beautiful mountains. I’ve spent some time in the Rockies, and they are fine, but lack that brutal cragginess of the Alps. But the Nevada are real mountains. The other two things that Bishop has are these bonkers boulders scattered all over the desert – climbers come from all over the world to climb them. And hot springs. More of that later.
I pulled into Brown’s Town Campgrounds on the outskirts of town and put up my tent. And as I did it started to rain. Man, I don’t really need this. I wandered into town not wanting to get too wet, and feeling a bit fragile and hungry. I stumble upon the brilliant Holy Smoke Texas BBQ and I am warmly welcomed and very well fed. If you have’t had Texas BBQ you are in for a treat. It is basically a big plate of meat. But it is good meat, and it comes in lots of different types. Have the brisket. I don’t know what it is but it is good. And I eat salad too – it is too long since I have had vegetables and they feel like health on a plate.
The rain has stopped now, and I should really go for an early night, but even after a 350 mile day I haven’t had enough. I think – I’ll just go for a little explore. Back on the bike I turn west towards the mountains on East Bishop Creek Road, the last flecks of daylight fade behind the Sierra Nevada. So beautiful. I ride on up the mountain and try to spot some of the classic boulders in the dusk. Higher and higher – I see a sign to say I am at 7000 feet, then another for 8000 feet. And then it is snowing. I need to stop now – if I came off the road I don’t think anyone would find me until morning (if I was lucky). Back down the road, back to the campground and I crawl into my sleeping bag wearing all my clothes.