Whoa Nellie Deli – Another Day In Lee Vining

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I’ve seen Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and a bevy of other questionable food for sale at gas stations on the road. But this Mobil station just a 1/4 mile west of 395 on route 120 toward Tioga Pass and Yosemite National Park had the most unusual food selection and highest prices I’d ever seen for a roadside gas and convenience store. From lobster taquitos, wild buffalo meatloaf, St. Louis style bbq ribs, burgers, fish tacos, grilled pork tenderloin and $25 pizzas, the Whoa Nellie Deli even had elk on special. The breakfast menu was equally enticing. And just like you’d expect, you order at the counter, grab your own silverwhere and wait for your number to be called. The hot food met our expectations. Sitting in a sterile, laminate booth in a Mobil Station eating prime cuts of meat, Jeremiah and I realized that while the status of our bikes was in question, we wouldn’t go hungry in Lee Vining.

During the summer the Whoa Nellie Deli offers live music on Thursday and Sunday nights and is very clear, with signage and on its menu:

Warning To All Customers!

We do not allow excessive drinking,
smoking, foul language, womanizing, gambling,
fighting, lying, tree hugging, bear wrestling,
trout taunting, spraying, bird watching,
or just plain screwing around…unless you work here.

— The Whoa Nellie Deli, Lee Vining, CA

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The sunrise over Lake Mono was stunning. We rode two-up south on 395 as the bright orange orb slowly appeared from behind distant desert mountains, casting long shadows and looking east, silhouetting the tufa formations rising out of Mono Lake. To the west, the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains reflected in the still waters. For better photographs, we should have arrived 30 minutes or more earlier.

It took nearly 30 minutes to get to the lake. After returning to our campsite I realized that riding Jeremiah on the back of my bike with a shock in questionable condition wasn’t a good idea. With each mile my bike bounced three or four times before settling. I was losing dampening.

The thermostat on a BMW F650GS Dakar sits in a cylindrical housing that fits vertically in a tubular channel at one end of the radiator. Held in by a hidden u-shaped brass spring clip, it’s not evident how to release the clip. With a screw driver, as Jeremiah tried to lever the clip he cracked part of the plastic channel which secures the clip in place and holds the thermostat housing. The plans was simple: remove the thermostat and run the bike without it until we had a new part to replace it. We figured this would get us into Yosemite and then the California coast.

Replacing the housing was the toughest part. The clip just wouldn’t give and we couldn’t slide it back in until we applied intense upward pressure on the bottom of the housing while shimmying the clip into place. Took more than an hour. I packed up camp as Jeremiah put the pieces of his back together. Fired up and eager to continue our journey, we blasted out of Mono Vista RV Park about 2:30 pm, stopping to fill our tanks and stomach at the Mobil Station and the Whoa Nellie Deli.

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Just above the hose is the bottom of the radiator.
Through the narrow opening you can spot a copper colored clip,
this is what must be levered in order to release the thermostat housing stuffed vertically up that friggin’ hole!

With my visor open and the cool wind whipping through my helmet, the pine trees towered above and the tarmac zoomed beneath my boots. I leaned into the first set of turns and I fell into a great groove as the rhythm of riding again quickly set. I rolled the throttle to feel the torque and passed the slow moving motorhome. Riding a motorcycle in such surroundings ignites the senses, pumps the heart and can’t help but make me smile. I’m alive.

I look in my rear view. All I see in the distance is that motorhome. No sign of Jeremiah. Forced to break my rhythm, I make a u-turn and find him on the side of the road. Ugly green coolant drips from his pant leg. The fix didn’t work. We limp back to Lee Vining and the Mono Vista RV Park.

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Lee Vining Mobil Station at 395 and 120 (Tioga Road) home of the Whoa Nellie Deli.

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