750 Miles, 13 Friends, 8 Motorcycles, 4 Days, 2 Crashes, and a Profound Respect for Riding Gear

My plane landed in Sacramento on Friday. Mike picked me up from the airport. Our necessities for a weekend of riding, a night in San Luis Obispo and possibly camping somewhere on the coast were packed into panniers and bungeed down. We suited up and headed toward Sunnyvale. Mike elected to ride his old KZ440 with questionable steering and a nearly impossible clutch lever so I could ride his 2013 BMW G650GS. His generosity would not go unpunished.

Golden Hour captured by Mike Rafter
Golden Hour next to the Sacramento River captured by Mike Rafter.

We took our time riding the gentle curves beside the Sacramento River during the golden hour, coating our helmets in mosquitoes and stopping for photos. Riding that KZ on highways at night with road quality variants, wind and cages whizzing past must have been a butt-clenching experience for Mike.

When we finally made it to Ryan’s house in Sunnyvale, we were greeted by friends from Louisville and Portland. Our buddy from Peoria was already crashed out. Ryan taught us how to turn beer cans into cups using a can opener, and I now consider him a genius. Sure, he had something to do with the creation of the newfangled Apple watch, but this trick is more useful to my life.

Morning came. More motorcycles and friends arrived from around the Bay Area. Mike’s KZ was deemed unfit for this trip, so he drove the chase car and let me have the GS. Two gals rode on the backs of motorcycles, for a total of 11 people in our 8 bike and 1 car pack. We headed off to get breakfast burritos, gas up, and made our way toward Highway 1. Four of the eight motorcycles were being piloted by folks who do not live in California, so when traffic got sticky, we were treated to the advantage American motorcyclists are only allowed enjoy in the Golden State: lane splitting! (C’mon, Oregon)

My tribute to the Fonz captured by Mike Rafter.
My tribute to the Fonz captured by Mike Rafter.

130 miles of coastal riding was gorgeous torture. Glances at the ocean were feats of derring-do. When you’re riding a motorcycle, where you look is where you’re going. Scenic stops were planned where we would watch dolphins, snap selfies at the Bixby Bridge, and gawk at elephant seals, but sometimes I had to risk going off a cliff to take in a quick eye-full.

This Kia has Soul! Photo from Mike Rafter's camera and wizardry.
This Kia has Soul! Photo from Mike Rafter’s camera and wizardry.

Two more friends from Sacramento were waiting by the pool at the Quality Inn where we had booked rooms in San Luis Obispo. We drank the hotel’s free beer, stretched, hot tubbed, changed and walked to dinner. Afterward, some folks gathered for a web meeting with a friend presently working in Hong Kong, and we all eventually took the party into the hotel’s lobby so we wouldn’t annoy other guests with our wine spilling, ice cream eating, whiskey drinking and dice throwing.

Quality parking job, friends.

 

My boots now have "personality."
My boots now have “personality.”

Sometime after breakfast, hot tub and pool dips, we got back on the bikes and headed toward the V6 Ranch Cafe. The road had some tight twists, and I remember thinking, “I’m a little hung over,” “I should take a riding clinic to get better in tight corners,” “I ride better when I’m chewing gum. I’m not chewing gum,” “Shit, those corners were tight! ANOTHER ONE! SLOW DOWN!! SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!!!” I eased up on the throttle a bit too much, didn’t look where I wanted the bike to go, my left boot touched pavement, and the bike and I were sliding sideways off the road.

I was wearing my Aerostich Roadcrafter, Sidi Discovery boots, Sidici gloves, and a Shoei Qwest full-face helmet. The inside of my left boot now has added “personality” and I only picked up a couple of knee bruises and a swollen ankle. My helmet never touched the ground and the ‘stich looks the same as it did before. The GS has some scratches on the plastics and the handlebar end and the left grip seems to be an inch or so closer to the rider than the right. Everyone pulled over. I was embarrassed and felt guilty for wiping out on my friend’s fancy bike. Once everything was upright, I opted to drive the chase car for the next 40 miles, Mike rode his GS to assess any damage, and Erin got back on the Hawk.

 

Photo by Mike Rafter.
Photo by Mike Rafter.

As we made our way down the road, I decompressed by observing the group and protecting them from cagers. Lunch was eaten. Erin drove the car. I suited up and was back on the GS. Mike took the Hawk. We were off to some scenic place, which involved a long, uphill, twisting gravel road. At this moment, I was so glad I had taken a dirt bike class in January at Coach2Ride. I only fishtailed once after target fixating on a rock the size of a baseball.

At the top of the hill, we found a beautiful view somewhere in Fresno County. More pictures! And from there, the Erin and one moto-passenger in the car as well as another moto with passenger parted ways as they all needed to get back to San Francisco to catch flights and such. Ryan asked if we wanted to haul ass back to Sunnyvale on the direct highways or take the adventure route. My ankle and knees kind of hurt, so a beer in a cup-can sounded great. Seth piped in with logic which I can only paraphrase, “We’re here doing the fun thing now! Beer can happen any day. Adventure!” Gimme some Advil. I’m sold.

Dance of Joy and a couple T.I.T.T.S. captured by Mike Rafter’s magical camera.

Seven motorcycles and riders took off to adventure through 45 miles of curvy, patchwork heavy, country roads of Coalinga. I was the slowest rider. No more keeping up with the boys. I wanted to work on my technique and not dump the bike again. I was so far behind that I started to question if I was even on the same path as the other guys. I caught up to them about 21 miles in. Snacks. Water. Bullshit. Back on the bikes. The fellas zipped off. I figured I’d catch up in another half hour or so. Maybe 10 minutes later, I see them all pulled over, Seth is on the ground. He wiped out going somewhere between 25-40mph.

Seth wore a Vanson leather jacket, MSR VX1 boots, a Shoei Qwest full-face helmet, proper riding gloves and jeans. JEANS. His left knee looked like you could see bone. ATGATT, friends! His helmet had scrapes on the left side on the chin protector and visor. Full face or no face, people!

A little gore to remind you all to wear your safety gear! Photo by Mike Rafter.
A little gore to remind everyone to wear your safety gear! Photo by Mike Rafter.

Mike was once a pro-skateboarder and EMT, so he was able to handle the gore and knew what to do. We tried to think of how to get Seth to a hospital, remember the last residence we may have seen.. any way to get help. There was no cellular service out here. We only had another hour or so of daylight. As I was about to ride onward to search, a woman in a Ford Ranger was coming down the road toward us.

Leza, our hero!
Leza, our hero!

Leza, a geologist and former first responder, took pity on our situation, and even though it was the opposite direction of her destination, she let us load Seth’s DR350 into her truck and drove him to Mee Memorial Hospital in King City. Evidently if you say “Motorcycle Accident” you get high priority at the ER, so Seth was in a room immediately. We decided to leave his bike there and pick it up later.

The remaining six of us rode just under 2 hours up to Sunnyvale, said goodbye to friends who needed to be back in San Francisco, and Ryan drove back to retrieve Seth and his bike with his minivan. Mike and I crashed out at Ryan’s. Seth’s girlfriend drove from SF to Ryan’s house to scoop up her man with his 10 stitches and new crutches.

In the morning, Mike and I prepared the GS and KZ for our trip back to Sacramento. Highways. No drama. Just get there so we can relax and I can fly home. We made our way to the airport with my gear packed in suitcases, tummies full of salad and hearts full of love. We said goodbye, and after he drove off, I walked up to the Southwest baggage check area and realized I left my wallet and keys at Mike’s. A half hour later, he was back with the important items I left on his coffee table, and home I went.

Thank you, Mike Rafter for being born, for letting me ride and slide your motorcycle, for being ready to help a fallen friend, and for letting me post your beautiful photos!

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2 thoughts on “750 Miles, 13 Friends, 8 Motorcycles, 4 Days, 2 Crashes, and a Profound Respect for Riding Gear

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