Since my book FORKS was published this summer I have been on a whirlwind promotional tour. Crisscrossing the county several times in a van wrapped in photos and graphics from the book and toting a pallet of books and my trusty F650GS Dakar motorcycle. Even so, the bike saw the lenses of more cameras and felt the butts of many people other than me.
When in the first week of December I finally settled down in my cottage in Leucadia and found time to rest my head on a familiar pillow, I had that settling feeling for a brief moment. Soon the rush of responsibilities combined with the imposing visual of months of mail stacked in my office—and my inbox.
No rest for this WorldRider. Back to work.
When Brad Barker, of The Ride Of My Life video series, called and asked if I’d like to join him, and my friend Neale Bayly and others on a post-Christmas motorcycle ride, I hesitated. My feet were planted and the mail and responsibilities, despite my desire to ignore them, were not going away.
After a few minutes, Brad barked some sense into me. Besides, I thought, if Bayly is going, I’d better go.
On Friday, the day after Christmas I met Brad and his posse of adventure riders at BMW Motorcycles of Riverside, where I was happy to learn that its owner, Dan Schoo, after months of recovery would be joining us for his first ride since his unfortunate accident earlier that spring.
Brad’s plans was simple. Get a group of like-minded adventurers and wanderers together and blindly lead them around some of the windiest roads, most bizarre locales and stunning scenery found in the southern California desert near Palm Springs.
As we climbed from about sea level to nearly 6,000 feet, the production team from Barker’s Epic Nomad filmed and documented our ascent. We then descended upon the cozy alpine village of Idyllwild where we stopped for a dose, oddly enough, of Texas Toothpicks at the infamous Lumber Mill Bar and Grill, before winding our way through the perfectly cambered turns of California Highway 74, twisting our way down the long sweeping switchbacks before rolling into Palm Desert and then our home base for the next few days at the Emerald Desert RV Resort.
As Barker’s producer and seasoned chef Ken prepared dinner for the posse, Brad was tight-lipped as to the itinerary and schedule for the next few days. “I want to capture each of your reactions as raw, real and fresh,” he explained, telling us the goal of this ride, for him, was to capture great footage, interviews and reactions for the next episode of his TheRideofMyLife.net YouTube video series.
Fair enough, I thought after confessing with Neale and the others. I’m up for it.
For the next several days, Barker let us on an incredible ride around the Salton Sea, a depressed toxic wasteland complete with wandering rebar and ruins from its glorious early 20th century past. Created accidentally by bad engineering resulting from efforts to route much-needed water from the Colorado River to the booming Imperial Valley, one visitor curious about my camera and the group of motorcycles explained that at one time the Salton Sea attracted more tourists than Yosemite National Park. The stench from dead fish and lost dreams attracts curious gazers from all over the country.
Barker had hoped to get the posse of adventure riders entrance into the International Banana Museum but apparently the owner and proprietor must have been on a binge the night before as the museum was locked and nobody but us waiting in the admission line. Boasting a Guiness Book of World Records claim of the world’s largest collection of “things” devoted to a single fruit, I guess we’ll have to explore this oddity on the next adventure ride.
With the film crew covering nearly every conceivable angle, the adventure motorcycle posse ride was documented fully to the next destination: Salvation Mountain.
I thought I was up and current with not only California oddities as well as California “must see” locales, Barker caught me by surprise. I had seen Sean Penn’s film based on Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book “Into The Wild” but had forgotten both the visuals and the appearance of the site and its creator, Leonard Night, both of which appear in the 2007 film. Yet as I bounced my BMW R1200ST over a slightly washboarded entrance road and through shallow silty sand, I couldn’t wait to dismount my steed and wander around the curious complex.
“Love Jesus and keep it simple,” Knight said, his mountain built of hay bales and adobe is reported to been created by hundreds of ton of paint, largely financed by donations from migrating snow birds, people escaping the harsh winters of the great white north of North America. These snow birds would make up the eclectic population of Slab City, an odd trailer-park community dotting the area around the shadow of Salvation Mountain.
With hunger pangs afflicting the adventure rider posse, Barker led us to the Buckshot Deli & Diner in Niland, California where I met Cuervo, a sturdy man of some sixty years who sported a permanent tattoo like eye-black grease under baseball or football players’ eyes and his companion, Rock n’ Roll, a feisty mule he called Rocky. Cuervo has spent a life in the southwestern deserts, including a stint in Mexico after he “had to make a run or spent time in prison.” Cuervo skirted the prison issue, but explained “I don’t like cars,” as rationale for traveling by burro. “Motorcycles,” he theorized, “I think I like going much slower.”
Filled up on patty-melts, burgers and tortilla chips, our posse rode into Slab City where the musicians of the group prepared to take the stage at The Range, an outdoor theater complete with pro-level lighting and sound equipment. I was fortunate to have Chef Ken carry my guitar in the chase truck along with instruments for Evan Firstman, vocalist and guitarist and Owen B, an incredible electric violin player (with a wah-wah pedal) and rapper. Barker, an accomplished drummer who left a recording career with a former band to pursue a life of counter-terrorism and adventure motorcycle riding (go figure) still itches for the stage and screaming fans.
The four of us took the stage and performed a five song set that had the odd crowd move, from the warmth of towering infernos of desert brush burning in rusty 55-gallon drums and the odd collection of furniture that probably sourced by a roving truck looking for “Free If You Take It” garbage in the nearby neighborhoods of the Inland Empire, to front of stage. The crowd, many in dreadlocks, baggy clothing and a unique vibe reminiscent of audiences from Phish or Grateful Dead concerts. They danced, raised smart phones and recorded videos and cheered us on. I hadn’t felt this dose of rock stardom since my brush with such in Manado Indonesia some 20 years earlier.
The Ride of My Life film crew captured it all.
While the heat of the stage compounded by the high-energy audience made for a hot performance, the ride back to Emerald RV Resort was a chilling experience for most of Barker’s adventure riding posse. Dare I say that some quipped for wanton of heated garments. Though my ride a tad chilly, I was happy to have an automatic adjustable windscreen and both grips and seat heated by the built-in thermal wonderland of the BMW R1200ST. True, I did have the forethought to pack my heated vest into the bike’s panniers. As for the others, except Bayly who also was riding a luxury BMW K1600RT, equipped with much the same.
We closed the weekend with a glorious ride through Joshua Tree National Park which we capped with a closing-night dinner of local Mexican food and conversation before bidding farewell to the posse the next morning.
I couldn’t have asked for a better group or experience to close down an amazing 2014 year. I look forward to seeing and sharing what Brad Barker and his team at Epic Nomad put together for the next episode of The Ride of My Life. Stay tuned, we’ll be sure to share it with you here on WorldRider.com.
RIDE OF MY LIFE – Post Christmas Desert Ride Photo Gallery
Check out more photos here.