Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past
Standing on the edge of Ubehebe Crater was next to impossible. I thought my motorcycle was going to get blown over. Sand ripped at my flesh with each gust. I had an awful feeling about the next 60 miles of riding. What did they not understand about the forecast? When words like “damaging” and “hurricane force” are connected with wind I take note. Why didn’t this message get through?
So far we had lucked out. It was blowing hard in Lone Pine before starting the ride. Out the back way on the Narrow Gauge Road we ran into a stiff crosswind, then a herd of cattle being driven right up the road. When I got right in the middle of the pack, revving the engine and beeping the horn to get them out of my way, a cowboy on horseback came riding up, obviously upset with me. He wore a pair of goggles and fought the gusts while yelling at me to “go home and come back in a half hour.” I motioned towards the dirt shoulder and pulled off the road where a short standoff with a calf had me laughing out loud. The dust was thick; I could taste it.
A hundred years ago the city of Los Angeles began diverting water out of the Owens Valley. In doing so they dried up a huge lake, Owens Lake, a sink that had no natural outlet. This created the largest source of particulate matter pollution in the country when the wind blows. It took years and years of stalling, court orders and fines for the Department of Water and Power to finally address the issue and do something about it. Now they are at it again. While the situation has gotten better, on days like the one we rode through you would have a hard time telling.
Sand drifted over the highway as we neared Keeler, a once prosperous town that barely manages to stay alive along the old lakeshore. One of a few ghost towns that still cling to life, Keeler is in the cross hairs of the dusty winds that pummel the region, especially in the spring. Rumors of cancer clusters can be heard from locals and it’s no wonder, the town sees many days where the dust hazards are very real. New sand dunes are forming right at the edge of town.
It wasn’t long before we climbed up the Yellow Grade, up towards the old silver mining town of Cerro Gordo – that’s Spanish for “Fat Hill”. An old hotel
is still in operation, or partial operation way up at 9,000 feet on the crest of the Inyo Range. The mine was first discovered in 1865 and proved to be the biggest silver and lead producer in California. Many old buildings and equipment remain at the site, but it was cold and blustery the day we rode through, enough so that we barely made a stop.
I was riding again with my good friend Kevin. We have known each other for close to fifteen years and have shared many adventures together, mostly on two wheels but several business trips too. He also came to stay with me after both hip replacement surgeries which I am forever grateful. Trips on both sides of the Sierra Nevada, in Baja and South America, across Oregon and the North Coast of California have built up our friendship through shared adversity and joy. When we did the Oregon/Nor Cal trip last summer Kevin’s father Pat joined us and drove a support vehicle. Pat and his friend Harry hatched a plan for a Death Valley adventure and the four of us got our monies worth!
In fact the trip was originally scheduled for the previous weekend but the weather was cold and windy and at the last minute we postponed for a week. When I heard the NOAA forecast a few days before the second weekend I sent notice to Kevin who passed it on to everyone else. In his words the old guys were about to pop with excitement for getting out on a ride again and he didn’t think they would be willing to push it back another week. I felt everyone should at least understand what we were getting ourselves into and needed to express my concerns.
There was more to be concerned about than just the skies. Pat had recently purchased a new Suzuki dual sport bike but had hardly ridden it. He hadn’t been riding in a few years and when his buddy Harry saw the bike he decided to get one too. Harry hadn’t ridden in five years. Both of them are in their seventies, but they have also been riding and racing dirt bikes since the 1960’s. I had never ridden with either of them and Harry kept pushing for a ride that would take us deep into the wilderness of the desert. I was cautious but excited about seeing some new terrain.
Kevin was going to be riding his new toy, one that involved all three of them. Pat had owned a Ducati Monster, a 900cc street bike that has a reputation for being smooth and fast. Kevin had seen a company that is converting these bikes into dual sport machines and calling them Terra Mostro – dirt monster. They contacted Harry, a fabricator of note, who took the original bike and made it into a unique creation. While there was a period of testing and tweaking to get things right, this ride would be the first real adventure for the bike.
more to come...