It’s February, so you know what that means: short days, cold weather, closed attractions and reduced visibility. That’s right — it’s a great time for another motorcycle tour!
Much to the relief (I assume) of my brother, Clive, and our good friend, Dale Berkbigler, this ride features new victims:
Tom Gale is my business partner at MDM. I tricked him into selling me part of his company about 15 months ago – with a “no take-backsies” clause! You’d think he’d have learned his lesson, but no – he agreed to this ride of his own volition. As you’ve already guessed, Tom’s a trusting person.
Ed Gerber is the President of the Industrial Supply Association. We tempted Ed into presenting at a conference we just produced in Las Vegas by offering to pay for a motorcycle rental so he could join us in a ride after the event. Ed declined the offer of a motorcycle and rented a Harley instead.
I invited Clive and Dale to ride with us, but in a shocking display of good judgment, they declined. Much to the surprise of the three of us with non-shocking levels of good judgment, Las Vegas was blanketed in snow this week – for the first time in 10, 13, 61 or 14 million years, depending on which resident we asked.
This was the view outside my hotel window on Thursday morning — the day before our planned trip.
This is me enjoying the thought of getting on a motorcycle in freezing cold weather and riding through the snow. Ha! Ha! So fun.
The Friday forecast was accurate – the high was 50 degrees. That lasted about two minutes.
All three of us had speaking parts at the conference along with critical business connections to make and rare opportunities to meet with important customers, experts and industry titans. We mostly blew these off so we could check the weather apps on our phones and see if there was any way out of Las Vegas that didn’t require tire chains on the bikes.
Fortunately, the sun emerged this morning in Las Vegas and the snow began to melt like the virtue of a young woman who moves there with dreams of a career in tasteful entertainment but with rent and a car payment due.
The conference ended at noon and the three of us packed up and headed out – Tom and I Ubered to the BMW dealer to rent motorcycles while Ed found his way to the Harley dealer to rent a Hog. We signed page after page of unread contract documents, packed up the bikes, and then nodded and daydreamed while one of the dealer employees gave us an “orientation” for each bike. Finally, we hopped on and headed out to find Ed, navigating Las Vegas traffic while simultaneously trying to figure out how to use the turn signals and other controls clearly explained during the retrospectively-valuable orientation.
All of this took an amazingly long time and by the time we met up with Ed at the Harley dealer and headed south – away from sin, vice and ice – it was after 3:00. With traffic, cold weather, potential slick roads and darkness ahead to consider, I instead found myself pondering our just-ended conference philosophically:
Tom and I own MDM and MDM produced the conference, which happened in Vegas but we aren’t staying Vegas. So if what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas but we are not, did the conference really happen?
We chose our route with the practiced ease of experienced motorcyclists: Earlier today, the interstate between Las Vegas and Los Angeles was closed due to snow. Los Angeles is west of Las Vegas so west = bad. North also seemed like a poor choice (north = cold), east was out, blocked by both a large reservoir and a giant canyon, so we scientifically determined that we would ride south.
Carefully conceived, professionally-developed, nearly-random trip plan.
Despite our sophisticated navigational methods, the route we chose was cold. The snow had melted off the pavement but lined the roads for many miles. Tom and I had it pretty easy – heated grips, heated seats, tall, adjustable windshields, etc., while Ed rode a “Street Glide,” which is Harley-speak for a shorty windshield and warm-them-yourself grips and seat.
Riding a cold Hog for hundreds of miles would be a test for anyone, but I was highly impressed with Ed – not only did he make the trip; he made it look easy. He didn’t complain, ask to pull over, turn into an icicle, etc., even though it was 40 degrees or so most of the time. Frankly, he really made it difficult for us to lord our superior choices in touring motorcycles over him, although we gave it a good effort.
If you have read previous tales I’ve written about motorcycles, you may recall a certain disdain in my missives concerning BMWs. However, there were no other choices besides some non-touring Moto Guzzis and Triumphs, and I’ve never ridden long distance on a BMW before. So I decided this would be a good opportunity for me to give one a fair shake.
I’m renting the top-of-the-line K1600 GTL, powered by a six-cylinder engine producing about 160 horsepower. My day 1 experience so far has been extremely disappointing – meaning I am liking this bike more than I feel I should. Of course, it’s hardly had a chance to break down yet, so we shall see.
Tom normally rides a 30+ year old Kawasaki KZ550 and is renting a BMW R1200RT, which is more or less like switching from a biplane to an F-22 fighter jet. We have to keep reminding him that the reason he can’t find the kick starter is that the bike doesn’t have one, but otherwise, he seems to have adapted nicely to modern motorcycling.
About 180 miles in, we were crossing I-40 across the Mojave Desert and rode by a highway sign (courtesy of the California Department of Transportation) claiming, “Next Services: 55 miles.” Conveniently located just after this sign is an exit to “Najah’s Desert Oasis,” where you can fill up your gas tank (after walking inside and handing over your credit card and driver’s license, which you get back when you’re done) for the low, low price of just $5.499 per gallon:
According to the Dictionary of the Paiute Indian Language, “Najah” can mean either “opportunist” or “asshole,” depending on the usage. Perhaps that’s why they call the place, “Hi Sahara Oasis” on the receipt. You may recall that the Sahara is in Africa; this is not a clever ruse.
Curious as to how such an establishment handles the inevitable complaints on social media, I looked up Najah’s Desert Oasis on Facebook (I am not making this up). I found – among the one-star reviews and complaints of price-gouging – this helpful post from the proprietor:
I’ve decided to take this post at face value, so here is one of my life’s big questions: How do you reconcile the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan (selflessly helping travelers in need) or, for that matter, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” with gas priced at $5.499 per gallon? Millions of people around the world want to know the answer.
Tom’s BMW is in the foreground; mine is in the background. Between them is Ed’s Harley Davidson Freeze Glide.
Incongruously, Najah’s features a fake 1929 Mercedes Benz sports car, made from a kit by Gazelle. You’d think those gas prices might help you afford a real Mercedes.
Tom is geared up and waiting as Ed zips up his jacket, which he had to remove to give Najah’s the shirt off his back to pay for gas.
The desert sunset created a dazzling display of light that was stark, beautiful, colorful and extremely annoying once we were back on the highway.
In any case, we topped up the bikes, thawed Ed for a few minutes and then headed back on the highway. We rode into a blinding setting sun – with me leading and navigating, which offers further insight into the poor judgment exercised by Ed and Tom – and then the ride was further enhanced when the sun went down, making it even colder as well as pitch black. We left the interstate and rode along two-lane roads for the next 90 minutes or so until we reached the warm and somewhat friendly confines of the Fairfield Inn in Twentyninepalms, California – which, for the record — has countless thousands of palms.
We warmed up a bit and ended the night at The Rib Company, where we enjoyed a healthy and nutritious dinner. The people populating the restaurants and inns of Twentyninepalms, California, apparently do not understand how motorcycles work, because several of them asked us, “Was it a cold ride out there?”
“Indeed, it was,” we nodded, somberly.
Dinner at The Rib Company. The guy looking lovingly at Tom asked us if we were “the ones riding the scooters.” We confirmed that we were – and he proceeded to give Tom quite a thorough and tender shoulder massage. If Tom had suffered a heart attack at that moment, no one would know if it was the assault or the brontosaurus ribs he had for dinner.
We have no idea where we’re going tomorrow. Of course, given that I’m navigating, you can assume that to be the case most of the time.
I suspect we’ll explore Joshua Tree National Park and reflect on the ancient history of the area. It’s amazing to think of how the world has changed around this unique and special landscape while it has remained the same – except, of course, that over the last few decades, your tax dollars have been invested to gradually transform the entire National Park from black and white into color, as evidenced by U2’s 1987 The Joshua Tree album cover vs. a shot from the band’s 30-year anniversary tour of the same name:
Goodnight from Twentyninepalms, California. Watch this space for more adventures as the three Fools ride into another sunset tomorrow.
We elected Tom “Official Group Selfie-Taker” because he has the longest arms and also because he knows how to use the “diffusion” filter that makes Ed and me look younger.