WanderingBackRoads.com Home

SW COG: Bark at the Moon Ride with extended adventure

August 19-23, 2016

(If you hate reading, skip to Day 4 first -- Hopefully at least one person will read through my adventure - the report mentions many awesome riding roads)

Was riding out to Las Vegas for the Bark at the Moon ride on Aug 21st, so I decided to go a couple days early, take a couple of days to get back and enjoy some scenery and roads. The entire trip was amazing, but the biggest adventure was on Day 4. But we'll start with the days that were only great.

Day 1 Got a real late start, 4PM, and decided I could get halfway to Vegas, to about Bishop or Big Pine, by nightfall.

Kind of an auspicious start when 20 miles up Hwy 108 heading for the Sonora Pass over the Sierra Nevada's I ran into a 15 mile traffic creep on a two lane road with no real side road options. So I (and other motorcyclists) spent the next hour splitting in the few places it was possible, passing 30 "parked" cars at a time when we reached a dotted line section to squeeze in at the other end of the passing section. The cagers were pretty mundane about it all, no yelling, cussing or birds and often made room for motorcycles. Thanks to them. Took me 45 minutes to go the 15 miles - can't imagine how long it took vehicles on all fours.

This lead straight to the days' sweetest treat - Sonora Pass. As fun, twisty, beautiful and empty as ever. Pure riding pleasure. (I've tried to keep the videos short so they aren't to boring) Map Link: Sonora Pass - Sonora CA to Hwy 395

On completion of Sonora Pass, on past the US Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, I headed south on scenic 395. Because of the earlier delays it was already getting dark when passing Bridgeport CA, full night by Lee Vining (so I couldn't even see Mono Lake and its spires). Mammoth Lakes was nothing but a sign. As I rolled into Bishop CA, checked hotels/motels and mostly either full or REALLY summer expensive. Hungry, but continued on to Big Pines.

Big Pines Motel in Big Pine CA had one room left and she let me have it at a discount as she wanted to go home and once I was in, she was done in the office for the night. Win. Every restaurant in Big Pine (2 of them) was closed by then. Lose. Walked down to 1 of the 2 open gas/markets. Got a 1.99 gas station hoagie, small bag of "Full Dressed" Ruffles (if you haven't tried them, do), an orange crush - and for dessert, bought a 6.5oz plastic bottle of Jack.

Sat in the nicely tended courtyard of the Big Pines Motel on a swinging bench in the moonlight and soft park lights in the quiet eating a simple meal reflecting on what was and what was to come.

Day 2 started early with a protein bar. Headed east on a new road for me, CA Hwy 168, that on the map promised some sweeps and twists before reaching flat straight desert in Nevada. Map Link: Hwy 168 - Big Pine CA to Oasis CA

Yaahooo. LOTS of twists and sweeps running through whoopdee dos!! Like riding a rollercoaster. Other than the one RV that believed he should be able to drive in any lane that was convenient, Hwy 168 was flat out amazing and recommended.

Hwy 168 lead me to NV Hwy 266 and eventually Hwy 95 in Nevada where I headed south. Stopped in Beatty NV for some fuel and photos. But it was hot so I headed on the Vegas before it got REALLY hot. (Hwy 95 is kind of a bore by the way).

When I hit Las Vegas from the north, it was the first time in 8 or more years from this direction. Holy Cowabunga Batman - such growth - and all of it standard boring western US style metropolis filled with chains. Freewayed it through to my destination Best Western actually in Henderson. This would be my napping HQ prior to Bark at the Moon.

Got there at 1PM - asked the nice young clerk if she could store some of my luggage until it was check in time. Instead she gave me the room early. I moved in. Searched out some passable food. Then relaxed / napped until it was time for the Barking to start.

Bark at the Moon - A midnight ride at through Lake Mead Rec Area and Valley of Fire State Park. Fun and adventure. Read a couple of reports and see a few pics and videos here

After OMC and I wrapped it up the Bark at the Moon, I went back to the BW for a couple of hours of shuteye.

Day 3 (kinda) started with a pleasant ride up to Mt. Charleston. Who knew there was skiing 30 minutes out of Vegas. Tons of people and traffic that late Sunday morning heading up for some hiking and outdoorsing. After peaking (on a road anyway) I headed back out and then south to the road to Pahrump. Road to Mount Charleston

Stopped for pizza in Pahrump. Nice older lady took my order. Looked at me funny when I ordered and walked off slowly looking confused. I can then hear her in the back saying "half and half, can we do that/ DO we charge for 4 toppings or 2? Have you ever heard of that?" the pizza cooks says, "what half and half, what, that's what he ordered? well it's still only two toppings per half, so..." They talked for 5 minutes about it. The whole time me thinking, what kind of pizza place has never heard of a half and half pizza. What kind a pizza am I gonna get? Turns out an awesome and tasty pizza for one. Nice job Nicco's Pizza in Pahrump.

Spent the night at a Best Western in Pahrump. Got to bed early to catch up from the Bark at the Moon. (so no losing, gambling, for me) Day 4 started with the Best Western free breakfast. Checked Death Valley weather the night before - said 100 by Noon. Figured get up early and get through the desert National Park before then, plus I had a long ride in mind for the day. Full Day 4 Map Link

Got to the Furnace Creek visitor center by 9:30 AM. 101 degrees already. Somebody got it wrong. So bought a magnet and hit the road to get out of DV quick.

The Death Valley section of State Route 190 west of Panamint can be a lot of fun to ride. This day there was almost no traffic and turned out to be a dream.

I hit Coso Junction on 395 by about Noon. Got some fuel along with water and snacks for later as the next hundred plus miles would be remote and take a while.

I've never ridden through Kennedy Meadows or on Mt. Sherman Road that crosses over Mt. Sherman Pass in the Southern Sierras. It's closed 5 to 6 months out of the ears - but August is no issue.

This southern pass starts out with an eastbound turn off 395 on to 9 Mile Canyon Road. 9 Mile Canyon leads up through high desert mountains, beautiful and sparse. Gotta watch for sand and rocks on the road during the enjoyable ride and gain in altitude. It eventually connects the Kennedy Meadows road that then cruises through, you guessed it, Kennedy Meadows. All lovely and scenic. Map Link: 9 Mile Canyon

On the west side of Kennedy Meadows the road changes to Mt Sherman Rd for the trip farther west and eventually over Mt. Sherman Pass to arrive at the Kern Plateau featuring the Kern River itself. The road is fun grouping of twists and sweeps that gains altitude at an aggressive rate - at least according to maps.

The trip has been fun and enjoyable not to mention well worth it up till now. But this is where it becomes an adventure.

Mt Sherman Road was in pretty good shape for a stretch of asphalt that is closed 5 months of the year with snow on it. Twists and sweeps gliding through the tall pines with the scent of forest and unfortunately fires in the air I'd been watching the haze of fire smoke grow and get closer as I moved westward. Map Link: Mt Sherman Road - Kennedy Meadows to Mt Sherman Pass

At about 3/4 the way up to Sherman Pass at 9200 ft I found out the hard way that not all of that haze was from the fires. It started to rain sparsely. Rain giant drops. Then pour, drench, cascade those same giant drops. I was drenched within a minute - the mesh jacket and boots that 3 hours ago were in the 101 degree Death Valley desert didn't provide much protection. The temp was now 52 degrees and falling. I continued on as I was soaked so why stop.

The rain starts at about 50 seconds

The rain switched to falling slush; wet, goopy, clingy slush. But that didn't last long, cause it turned to thumbnail sized hail - just frickin' ouch. What the ...

It quickly morphed into a mix of rain, slush, hail and snow pouring from the sky. But the part that concerned me the most, were the sheets of water, slush and mud sliding down and across the road. I could feel the bike losing traction.

And right at that point, I reach the top of the pass where there was a small gravelish parking vista spot with a tiny cement one shitter outhouse with a tiny little vestibule. So I pulled in an hopped off and camped out in the vestibule.

Waiting for a reduction in all forms of H20, I stood there eating the three Chips-Ahoy cookies I bought in Coso Junction, soaking wet, shivering in the 42 degree storm, watching the lightning strikes slowly creep up the hill towards me, wondering if these stupid cookies I'm eating while standing under a toilet roof, waiting to be electrocuted were going to be my last meal.

Closest lightning strike turned out to be 50 to 60 yards and the thunder boomed around me at the very same moment it flashed. So loud. Sacred the crap out of me and I was only three feet from a plastic seat over a hole in the ground. From then on the strikes were farther away, to the east of me. The cascading water slowly started to dissipate.

Grabbed a towel from the saddle bags, dried myself a little and then the C14 seat and grips. Mounted back up and headed down the west side towards Kern River in a now slight drizzle.

The weather dried up as I continued on the down the west side twists and sweeps. You would think that would be enough adventure for one day. But nope.

I reached the Kern River and Mountain Hwy 99 where I turned north west. As I passed the tiny hamlet of Johnsonsdale there was a temporary sign on the side of the road, "Road Closed Ahead". Whaaaaa? Map Link: Pass to Road Closure + start of dirt road

Three corners later, road block with "Road Closed" signs. Stupid fires.

6 stinking miles short of the intersection of Mountain Hwy 99 and Great Western Divide Hwy they've closed the road. Great Western Divide is open from where it connects to Mtn Hwy 99, but I can't go the last 6 miles of Mtn Hwy 99 to get there. The fire is still 15 miles to the south and west of me - I just need 6 more miles.

I talked to "officials" going past the road block. I went back to the fire staging area in Johnsondale and begged fire people, forestry people, CHP people and anyone I could find to let me sneak through. Lead me through, Just look the other damn way while I raced that last six miles. No luck and no bites.

I was told about a small road (they thought it was gravel and dirt) that was up another dead end road that headed north east. It was only four miles long and cut between the two roads I need. Went to look. Yep, there's a road and it's sparse loose gravel on dirt - that is currently a slippery clay mud. That is out for me and my 700 pound bike. The dirt road I skipped

So the only choice left is south down to Kernville.

I head the opposite way, south on Mountain Hwy 99. This is great road by BTW, smooth and in good shape with the requisite sweeps and twists. Best of all there is no traffic. Zero. Not one car, truck, motorcycle or fire vehicle in 43 miles. And I rode it like that :-) The first cars I see about a mile out of Kernville are 2 Kern County Sheriff patrol cars. Good thing the welcome to Kernville came about 1/2 mile before the turn they were sitting at. Map Link: Mountain Hwy 99 - Johsondale to Kernville section

Because the storm and the fire now have me way behind schedule (I am supposed to have dinner with relatives this evening), I blow on through Kernville skipping chow and a break. I head out 155 from the west side of Lake Isabella.

5 miles up 155 (Map Link: 155 which is a fabulous road by the way) guess what I run into... yep a CHP blocking the road. As I pull up he says "Sorry, just closed it 10 minutes ago. The fire is coming back this way again. 15 miles up it's literally on highway 155. Even if I let you pass you couldn't get there." I kind of looked at him and asked, "Where? How do you know where I'm going?". He says, "You are the guy that was just up at the closure at the top of Mountain Hwy 99 right?" I nod. He says, "The guys up there called down when we closed the road a few minutes ago and asked me to tell the guy on the green motorcycle they were sorry but 155 was open when then sent you down." He assured me that Hwy 178 going west from the south side of Lake Isabella was open and would stay that way.

I'm picturing myself getting home by way of San Diego and the coast roads at this point.

He was right. Hwy 178 west was open and to my great surprise, once again, completely empty. Another amazing road with sweeps, twists and vistas that is normally packed and slowed by traffic was like a road reserved for me. I made the absolute most of it and enjoyed a brisk ride out of the Sierras. Hwy 178 has never been this exciting before. Map Link: Hwy 178 - Lake Isabella to Bakersfield

Once to Bakersfield I slabbed it up to relatives for a tasty Mexican dinner with some excellent Margaritas and great company.

Day 5, slabbed it home.

Hopefully someone made it all the way to this point of my report. Most of the roads mentioned are worth riding if you make it out west.

Thanks for reading.

© Copyright 2016 Keith E WIlliams
All Rights Reserved