It doesn't take much to have a good time in Northern California.Two days, a set of wheels, a crew of good friends, and few hours in any direction. During the time that passes between lunch and dinner you could find yourself on other side of the Sierras, amongst the Forrest of Mendocino, or watching the sun set in Big Sur.
As summer was coming to an end, my buddies and I had the itch for one last adventure. No one could coordinate taking the same days off so all we had was a Saturday and a Sunday. Knowing this would be one of the last trips of the season, we were really in the "go for it" mindset. A few years ago I had spent a couple days down in the Eastern Sierras and fell in love with a little spot at the Base of Mt. Whitney know as Alabama Hills.
About four hundred miles from San Francisco by road, Alabama Hills is a sprawling landscape of volcanic rocks and boulders weathered by time and bearing a striking resemblance to the surface of Mars. Just outside of Lone Pine, and with the towering Mt. Whitney as the back drop, the Hills are a truly magical place. I showed the guys a few pictures from my last trip and it was pretty solid "all in favor".
Friday night eight o'clock, we were right on time, two hours behind schedule picking up our last buddy in Berkley. As always, no one packed, the bikes took way longer to load, and we totally misjudged traffic. The clock struck ten as we left In-and-Out and by eleven we had made it to the entrance of Highway 120, the gateway to Yosemite. That's when the rain came, and it came hard. The next three hours we navigated the valley with zero visibility, pouring rain, and twenty mile an hour winds. Our two truck convoy crept along slowly as ghostly trees suspended in fog replaced the usual "postcard" views of the valley.
The clock read three by the time we got to the other side of the Sierras. Rain cleared revealing a full moon that turned the surroundings a ghostly blue. It was October and most of the camp sites had closed. As the clock neared four, we finally found our way down a road which led us to the dried up shores of June Lake. After struggling to set up camp amidst large gusts of wind, we hunkered down for a miserable night of sleep. Well no one really slept to be honest as the wind shook tents violently throughout the night. We rose groggy eyed a few hours later ready to get the hell out of June Lake.
After stopping for breakfast and gas, we started the haul down to Lone Pine under a bright blue sky. Spirits were high and the towering Sierras kept our eyes on the horizon. Driving down 395 always ignites a sense of adventure. Every small town you pass, every fire road off the highway, every opportunity to explore. While Big Sur hits you with jaw dropping beauty, the Sierras hit you with mind opening possibility. The stretch between Mono Lake and Bakersfield is truly something special. Just past noon we roll into Lone Pine, hook a right, and we are there.
Itching to get out the trucks, we unloaded the bikes as quickly as possible, kicked our Yamaha 500's over, and threw our helmets on. The Hills are connected by a web of sweeping desert roads weaving amongst rock formations and patches of vegetation. On an TT, a XT, and an SR500, we had just enough bike to give us smiles and a few scares as we slid our way up and down the dessert roads. While we did our best not to eat shit trying to impersonate the likes of Steve Mcqueen and Malcom Smith ("trying" is the key word there), the other guys set up camp. Finding a small rock formation with a little cave carved in the side, tents were pitched and coolers were filled.
As the sun began to set over the peaks of Mt. Whitney, we all met up and took turns trying to knock hand tossed clays out of the sky with a twelve gauge. The pastel pinks soon turned to deep purples, and we were stunned as a full Moon rose out of the east casting the largest grins upon our faces. Bottles were popped and steaks were cooked upon an open fire. We drank and played music deep into the night talking about how amazing the day had been and how we should do this more often. Just twenty-four hours earlier we were stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge. Now we were sitting on what felt like the surface of another planet. The magic of California.
We woke up slow the next day groggy from the lack of sleep and late night shenanigans. Packing up camp we all wished we had an extra day and promised we would be back. On our way out we discovered 120 had been closed due to the storm and we would have to take the long way home. After a hundred and sixty mile detour south to Bakersfield, we turned right and headed back to the the Bay. It was eight o'clock, a rainy Sunday night, and one the most memorable forty-eight hours of the year. All it took was an idea, some wheels, a few hours on the road, and a good group of friends. On any weekend.
Pictures and Words by Erik Askin