Motorcycle Diaries

Photos & Words: Andre Pinces

Southern California Megatransect

transect: noun: tran·sect \ˈtran(t)-ˌsekt\

When I arrived in Los Angeles last winter I had no real plans but to spend the season on my vintage German motorcycle. The 1976 BMW R90/6 had been in the shop for months. Rescued, resurrected from a thirteen year bid in a Vancouver parking garage. After waiting for parts from Europe for months, both bike and I were damn ready and able to hit the road, but February in Canada is not really the ideal opportunity to put time in the saddle. With nothing on my calendar until the spring, rolling down to spend the winter riding in Los Angeles was the only option. After locking down a place to stay, I found a nice old tattered version of the AAA Los Angeles County map, a perfect companion to my patented BMW. I studied the map for days, eventually becoming more familiar and confident with the territory. Warming up on rides to the Griffith Observatory, Mulholland Drive and down the Pacific Coast Highway were no-brainers for a tourist like me, and soon it didn't take much deliberation to dive in and hit the road further afield.

Departing from home in Los Feliz, it was a quick scoot to reach the western terminus of the Angeles Crest Highway. The scenic route through Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest runs 66 miles (106 km) from La Cañada-Flintridge to the Mountain Top junction at SR138. "The most scenic and picturesque mountain road in the state" ascends up and winds its way through the Angeles National Forest, through chaparral, and mountain forest habitats, along the highest and most scenic ridges of the San Gabriel mountain range. If SoCal is a mecca for motorsport, the Crest is the yellow brick road leading there. Normally riding the Crest Highway is a nice long day trip from Los Angeles and back, but I continued east towards Big Bear Lake and the San Bernadino National Forest along California State Route 18, 'The Rim of the World Highway', with Joshua Tree National Forest eventually in my sights.

Camping in Canada can be done year round if one has military training experience, but sane folk tend to go between May and September when the ambient temperatures are pleasant at night and warm during the day. With this forecast happening in California late February, I didn't think twice about sleeping wild, but was surprised to find all the campsites closed until May. No bother for me and bike though. One of the many glories of the classic BMW motorcycle is their development in the Bavarian mountains, where all types of terrain and riding conditions are presented to the rider, making for a machine as nimble on a fire road as it is snaking through the canyons. With a little off-road zigzag here and there, we circumvented the campsite gates, having the entire area as a private camp. This ended up being the case for the rest of the trip and made for moments of both serene isolation as well as some creepy scares where my imagination got the better of me. A squirrel taking a pee in the middle of the night when you’re the only one around for miles can trigger images of bears, cougars and even wooded weirdo’s.

Continuing towards Joshua Tree, the second day had me ride up towards the Lucerne Valley along SR 18 and back down the 247 to end up in Pioneertown, located just outside the northwest gate of Joshua Tree National Forest. That night I camped in the horse paddock behind Pappy and Harriet's, a honky-tonk, barbecue restaurant and music venue four miles northeast of Yucca Valley. The sold out paddock camp was packed with both locals and music fans there that night to see band Goat, a Swedish alternative and experimental fusion music group. The show was amazing but the parking lot party was just as good. With a genuine hangover and the sun already up for hours, I arose and ate brunch at Pappy's, some of the best chili I've ever had. Packed and back on the road, I toured through Joshua Tree long enough to boil my hangover out of my helmet and swung back up to Highway 74 towards Lake Elsinore, then down through Idylwild to stay with friends in Murrieta. After basting in the desert all day, it was nice to cool off poolside and sleep in a real bed before the final leg home the next day.

West from Murrieta continuing along Route 74 to San Juan Capistrano, then Highway 1 at Dana Point and up the coast back to Pacific Palisades where Sunset Boulevard meets the Ocean. The perfect way to end the trip and enter the City of Angels, I wound my way along Sunset through Brentwood and Beverly Hills, Hollywood and the Strip, onto Los Feliz Boulevard and up to the Griffith Observatory to make a sunset survey of the ground I had covered. The counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange and San Diego were transected along 500 miles (800 Km) over four days of travel. Too many twists and turns to describe here with any fair treatment, any one of the segments traversed would have been enough to fill my soul with memories of the warm California sun and its people. Since then I've twice taken the BMW to San Francisco and back through Big Sur, along the Pacific Coast Highway, as well as some great desert romps on my '81 Kawasaki KLR, but those are other stories...