Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

Riding The Crest

The Crest -- also known as Angeles Crest Highway -- also known as CA-2 -- or as my riding and writing buddy Dwight calls it, "Paradise", is a wonderful windy, twisty, exceedingly scenic and damn fun road that runs for 67 miles along the crest of the San Gabriel mountains north-east of Los Angeles, from roughly Pasadena up to the town of Wrightwood in the Angeles National Forest, just below Cajon Pass.  I've not ridden The Crest in a a few years, and to celebrate and inaugurate the entrance into the biker world of my friend Henry, who got his riding endorsement a year ago and bought his baby Ruby -- a Harley-Davidson Softtail Slim -- a short time after, I figured that Dwight and I should take Henry on his first major ride, and what a better road for three Southern Californians than Angeles Crest.

Now we'd planned to do this way back in June -- I'd even reserved a hotel room in Pasadena for the night and planned to ride down the day before, meet up with Henry and Dwight who live in the LA area, and ride back up.  I left the desert that morning, got to Wrightwood only to find that the highway was closed just west of there because of a sink hole and thus you couldn't ride the full 60 miles between Wrightwood and Pasadena.  So at the venerable Grizzly Cafe I texted both of them and canceled our ride the next day and we agreed to reschedule when the highway opened, and I consoled myself with a bowl of Meatball Soup which is one of their specialites before riding back to the desert.

The Crest is a little used (except by bikers) road -- its the kind of road you wonder why they even put it in -- it doesn't really "go" anywhere or get people from A to B, it's a maintenance nightmare carved out the mountains, and there are no towns along the way. But it's damn pretty and a hell of a lot of fun, and that's the most valid purpose of all.  But being that kind of road, it's not high on CalTrans priorities list for fixing, and it took the entire summer to get it done.  When it finally opened after I got back from my August recess in Utah, we scheduled a ride.

And this wouldn't be an overnighter for me this time, I'd just grit my teeth and ride down the freeway that morning to meet them. I got up early and headed out of the desert and into the hell that are Southern California Freeways.  It took me two hours to get to the little coffee shop at the foot of the Crest we'd arranged to meet at.  I texted both Henry and Dwight that morning to confirm things, and told them to watch for each other in case I wasn't there in time.  Henry got there first, I strolled in and after two hours and 110 miles and of course needed to use the restroom before anything else which ammused the barista as I waved to Henry and did a "gotta pee gotta pee gotta pee" chant like a Harley motor sounds like.  When I got back we hugged and chatted while we waited for Dwight who showed up shortly after.

I've known Henry for about 10 years or so now -- he moved to SoCal a few years ago, and drives a bus for Metro Transit.  He wanted to learn to ride forever, and after some pushing from me and pointing him to Harley's riding program where ex-service members like him get in for free, he took the class and caught the bug big time. Dwight, who's pen name is Foster Kinn, I met a couple of years ago after I read his book "Freedom's Rush --Tales from the Biker and the Beast" and talking to him about my still being written book of biker tales "Ghosts of the Road". We've gone riding a few times in California and when I lived in Washington. Since then Dwight has written his second book -- "Freedom's Rush II -- More Tales From The Biker and the Beast", while I still haven't finished mine. But I get to play a small role in his second book of tales which has stories from his rides in Washington, and I was honored to write one of the blurbs for the back cover as well.  Dwight is also adept at making wonderful biker "meme's" which are those little photos with captions that folks post on Facebook all the time, like this one which shows one of the roads that branches off The Crest winding its way back down to the sea.
We had a drink and plotted a bit, and after I gassed up we headed up CA-2 and into the mountains.  Dwight and The Beast took the lead dog position, Henry and Ruby were in the middle, and me and Angus brought up the rear.  This way I could keep an eye on Henry and make sure he was OK, and Dwight who knows The Crest like the back of his hand could plot the course.

Now if God had ever made a perfect day for riding and to make up for closing The Crest all summer this was it. It was warm, dry, clear -- and the prior evening's Santa Ana winds blew all the smog and smoke out of LA and you could actually see Los Angeles from above, and the road snaking back down.  And you could see the ocean.  And you could see Catalina Island way out at sea. And you could see three bikers with endless smiles on their faces because it was the perfect day for a ride and we were on the perfect road for  a perfect ride. It  is, as Dwight said at our first stop where we gazed out over the LA basin towards the west; "why I ride a motorcycle -- it's so damn fun!"

Henry was beyond words and having more fun than he could stand, and me -- well I was loving every minute of the road and the bike and my friends, on a perfect day with perfect weather.  And we'd just barely started.

We climbed back on our rides and pulled out onto the highway -- headed up, and up, and up.  Twisting and turning and curving the entire way. I don't think there is a single spot along the entire length that there is a straight enough section for a passing lane.  And we had the road to ourselves for the most part -- I was stunned at how few cars, and even fellow riders there were.
We had planned on taking the side road up to the Mt. Wilson Observatory but when we got there CalFire had closed the road because of a fire the previous week and I'm guessing there were still some hot-spots and they didn't want to risk re-igniting it with people and vehicles passing by. That's too bad because with the lack of smog today the view back down into the LA basin would have been incredible. But no matter, we were still out in the sunshine and riding The Crest so who cares. Once past Mt. Wilson and the turn off down Tujunga Canyon, there is really nothing except a couple of small ski hills (too small to be "resorts") and forest service campgrounds, and a great biker bar called Newcomb's Ranch the rest of the way to Wrightwood.

This old road really is indescribable in many aspects -- it's just about one of the most perfect motorcycle roads I've ever been on, and the views down into the LA Basin to the south or Antelope Valley and the Mojave desert to the north are amazing.  We pulled into Newcomb's Ranch, but it too was closed, with no explanation. One other biker was resting on a picnic table, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves. I was dissappointed as I had hoped to pick up a CA-2 sticker for Angus's windshield. But it didn't matter as we were out riding The Crest on the most perfect day ever.
We rested a bit in the shade, Dwight and I swapping stories, and Henry just soaking it all in -- stoking the fever he was feeling to get out and explore the road like Dwight and I had already done. All of us just enjoying the sollitude of the road, wind in his face, the mountain air and the roar of the bikes.  Dwight has ridden in all 50 states -- me just the lower 48, but with the countless miles under our feet and the biker adventures we'd had, we kept Henry entertained. Newcomb's is about half-way to Wrightwood, so we saddled back up and kept on riding and climbing, eventually topping out at 7901 feet (that's a nice precise measurement), at Dawson Saddle, where we posed Henry and Ruby for their first High-Point picture.

The rest of the ride was downhill -- but only in a geographic sense. The road and the views were as breathtakingly gorgeous as they had been all the way up, the air fresh and clean with a hint of pine needles as we worked out way west and down into the small town of Wrightwood which pretty much marks the end of the road, as CA-2 ends a few miles past where it meets CA-138 just below Cajon Pass. There's just about nothing sadder than coming to the end of a great ride, but we were looking forward to a late lunch at the Grizzly Cafe -- the first place I'd met Dwight and ridden The Crest two years ago and probably the best place to eat in Wrightwood.  Like Bikers everywhere we "Live To Ride, and we Ride To Eat."  We'd worked up an appetite the past 67 miles of twisty turny jaw dropping pretty road, and we wandered into the Grizzly and sat down.
So over burgers, fries, soup, and apple pie we relived our ride, plotted new rides, told tales of rides, and jobs, and writing and riding, and toasted Henry's first anniversary as a rider, as he'd passed the test for his license exactly a year ago. Dwight chided me for not having finished the book yet -- to which I replied, "well I just lost a year uprooting my life and moving it to California so you'll forgive me." He laughed, but I do need to get back to it and I will, most likely after the first of the year. The muse is a fickle thing we both agreed -- sometimes you can write, and sometimes you can't.  So even with time, the muse might be busy taking her own ride somewhere or sunning herself by my pool, and not want to sit with me in front of a keyboard. But it's still all in my head and it will get put down on paper eventually. But until I do, in the mean time do yourself a favor and get Dwight's, aka Foster Kinn's books --  published by Hugo House and available there or on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.

It was still early enough in the afternoon and light enough that Henry and Dwight could head back down The Crest from whence we came to get home before dark. I was jealous as I had to head back to the desert which is the opposite direction, and I would have to ride only a few more miles on CA-2 before I'd have to turn down Cajon Pass and get on the dreaded I-15.  Dwight gave Henry his two books to inspire him more, and we made plans for a spring ride in the desert and the two of them headed back west on The Crest, and I turned east towards  home.

It was a bit strange being back alone after a day of riding with friends. I kept looking for Henry and Dwight ahead of me and seeing only the empty road. But me and Angus are used to riding alone and its not bad.  I turned down CA-138 and dropped into Cajon Pass, decided to skip I-15 and take a segment of Old US-66 -- The Mother Road -- as it winds up the canyon, stopping to watch a few trains before turning and heading back up the pass and into the desert the back way through Apple Valley and down another favorite road -- if not for the desert scenery then just for the name: "Old Woman Springs Road".  Dwight and Henry beat me back, and Henry had already texted "home safe -- like a pro! LOL" before I made it to my house.  I told him he road like "an old timer and Ruby suits him". He agreed, and Dwight texted and said "He doesn't ride like a newbie at all".  So Henry's earned his leather vest for sure.

And me and Angus, well here we are back in the desert, chomping at the bit to head out again. I've only done a two big rides this year -- and it makes me sad. But there's always next year, and there's always The Crest when I need a quick get away.

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