Sunday, July 11, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 28

Home is such a difficult word to define. It doesn't really describe a place, but rather a feeling. You could live in a place where you just don't feel like you belong, and then visit another place where the folks welcome you in, buy you a beer, invite you into a game of pool, and then put their arm around you and tell you jokes.

And so I left Las Vegas at 10:30am this morning and headed for home.

In a way, Las Vegas is like a home-away-from-home for me in that I've visited this town countless times. In years past, I've ridden my motorcycle through all the popular roads, Mt Charleston, Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam, and the 95 down to Laughlin.

This time I had it in my mind to take Hwy 161 from Jean to Goodsprings and on to Sandy Valley. This road actually loops back to the I-15 inside California at the Cima Road crossing. I had ridden the 161 about 5 years ago, but only as far as Goodsprings. I never took it all the way to Cima Road.

This sign is all that remains of Nevada Landing Casino, Jean, NV

But the heat, even at 10:30am, was already breaking above 100 degrees F. By the time I rode the I-15 to Jean, I thought about following through with my plan to Goodsprings and Sandy Valley, but the heat has an uncanny way of changing your mind.

So I stuck with the I-15.

The town of Jean, NV is not really a town, but an intersection where the I-15 and Hwy 161 cross. There used to be two casinos here, but the Nevada Landing closed up due to lack of business. The Gold Strike casino is still operating, but hardly anyone goes there. When Southern Californians visit Las Vegas they want to see The Strip, and Jean doesn't have it. So the Gold Strike casino lowered their prices way, way down on rooms and food to better compete. But as a result, it only attracted the dregs of Las Vegas which only shooed away everyone.

What would Las Vegas be without the I-15? It's the only road that connects it to Southern California, and Southern Californians flock to Las Vegas in droves. Today was a Sunday, and the day when they all go back to California. Except today the temperatures running through the Mojave Desert reached as high as 111 degrees just south of Baker, according to the gauge on my Honda ST.

I saw dozens of cars, vans, and buses pulled over to the shoulder with their hoods raised and blinkers on. There's actually a company that runs assistance trucks up and down the I-15 providing on-the-spot minor repairs, extra gas and coolant, and plenty of drinking water. I saw them out there working in full force.

The Welcome-Water-Tower at Baker, CA

And Baker, CA is another town completely dependent on the I-15. Probably only a few hundred people live there, but on blistering hot weekends like this, the addition of travelers swells the population to a few thousand. Baker sits about half-way between the metropolitan Southern California and Las Vegas. It offers restaurants and shops with copious amounts of ice cold air.

Baker, CA is also known for the "World's Tallest Thermometer". In the old days, it was associated with the Bun Boy, a family restaurant. Since then, Bun Boy closed up, and Bob's Big Boy moved in. Ask any Southern Californian about the World's Tallest Thermometer, and they'll say, "Oh yeah, the Bun Boy." "Bun Boy", "Big Boy", I guess it's about the same.

You'll also want to check out the Alien Fresh Jerky store. It's built around a concept that any intelligent beings smart enough to travel across the Universe must also be talented enough to make the best beef jerky. The whole store is filled with outer space alien exhibits, and some funny flavors of beef jerky. They also have a large collection of hot sauces with some of the most hilarious brand names.

The World's Tallest Thermometer, Baker, CA

I only took the I-15 as far south as Barstow, CA. From there I hopped on Hwy 247 and headed south for Big Bear Mountain.

The 247 connects Barstow in the north to Yucca Valley in the south. From Barstow it runs through Stoddard Valley, takes you up and over Ord Mountain Pass, and then drops you down into Johnson Valley on the other side. Both valleys are popular places for off-road recreation. I had ridden the 247 through Johnson Valley dozens of times, but never through Stoddard Valley, so this was new riding for me.

I rode past Slash X Ranch Cafe, which apparently is a popular biker hangout considering the number of bikes I saw parked outside. I normally like to investigate these places, but I already had it my mind I would escape the heat by heading up Big Bear Mountain. So I pressed on.

Highway 247, looking down at Stoddard Valley

From this angle, you go up Big Bear via Hwy 18, which offers some tight turns and switchbacks, though many of them in very bumpy pavement. But it definitely cooled down as I headed up, mainly because of the storm clouds overhead. It started raining on me.

Temperatures went from 100+ degrees to the mid-60s pretty quickly. It felt good.

Once in the town of Big Bear Lake, I stopped at Big Bear Mountain Brewing. I called up a guy named Jeff, who lives up here and recently launched a beef jerky company. We had e-mailed each other but never met. He came over and we talked jerky for a couple of hours. If you don't know already, I publish a blog on beef jerky and assembled a sizeable list of readers all of whom buy lots of jerky online.

Jeff introduced me to a new recipe he's working on, and brought several bags of jerky for me to try out. But as he laid out the bags of jerky on the bar counter, the proprietor of Big Bear Mountain Brewing was curious and asked about it. It seems he's been wanting to sell some beef jerky from his bar. So, Jeff and the proprietor hooked up. I guess it was a productive visit for Jeff, and so he paid for my burger and beers.

Big Bear Mountain Brewery, Big Bear Lake, CA

And then I just rode home from there.

Looking at my town, it's almost like I had never left. I can't quite believe I had been to Fairbanks, Alaska and back over 28 days. When I was up in Fairbanks I had thought of home, and how far away I was.

My Honda ST took me there and didn't give me any trouble, no strange noises, no flat tires. The entire time I never lost sight on how dependent I was on this machine for getting me back home. And yet it was absolutely reliable.

Arriving home, my wife grabs hold of me and hugs my body tightly and she's so happy to see me. Her voice cracks with emotion, but it's a familiar sound to me that I can't ignore, like a mother hearing its child cry. I know I'm back home again.

And now I'm back at my desk in my home office, feeling like I had never left home. The only difference is that I have these pictures in my head. I can still envision Kluane Lake in the Yukon Territory with the Alaska Highway running along its banks. I can still see the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, the Icefields Parkway, the Beartooth Highway.

I wonder what Meriwether Lewis did when he returned home from his historic expedition. Did he chop up some firewood, milk the cows, and repair another section of damaged fence? Did he slip back into his usual routine with all those pictures in his head?

Each morning I awoke expecting to spend the day riding and exploring, and after 28 days of that stuff my brain adjusted itself to that way of living. And now each day's destination is my home office typing on this computer.

Back home again

Feels good to be back in the land of fruits and nuts.

Alien Fresh Jerky store in Baker, CA

I've had this jerky, it's EXTREMELY hot, not good if you're a trucker.

Check out the collection of hot sauces at Alien Fresh Jerky, Baker, CA

If there was an alphabetical list of roads, Zzyzx Rd would be the last entry.

Cloudscapes over Pisgah Crater

Hwy 18 heading up Big Bear Mountain

Grizzly Bear Doppel Bock, Big Bear Mountain Brewery

Didn't know Harley-Davidson used to sell their own brand of wine coolers.


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About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)