This story is dedicated to the memory of K.P. Ward, who died unexpectedly and tragically on December 22, 2010.
Finally, here it is: the start of my summer vacation of 1987, and I just finished another year of teaching algebra at Santana High School.
Ever since I was a little kid riding a bicycle, I’d wanted to ride a motorcycle. Now I’ve been riding for almost 15 years. In fact, I just purchased a brand-new 1981 Yamaha XS650 Special — the kind patterned after the old BSAs and Triumphs, where both pistons go up and down at the same time. No, it didn’t make for a very smooth ride, but at $1800, it sure was a good price for a brand-new 650.
Let me explain about the brand-new 1981 purchased in 1987. I guess the U.S.A. imposed an embargo (whatever that is) on vehicles imported from Japan sometime in the early ’80s, and companies here bought and stockpiled many of these ’81 Yamahas. So for $1800 I got a brand-new ’81 in ’87.
When the 1986-87 school year was done, I again refused to teach summer school. After all, I became a teacher so that I didn’t have to work during the summer. Plus, I had worked my way through school, working nights and attending college during the day. When I was going to college, there were no summer vacations or winter and spring breaks when I didn’t have to continue working.
I usually rest and sleep late for a week or so after school gets out and just enjoy not getting up early and going to school. It’s nice to hear others going to work knowing that I won’t have to do so for a couple of months. So I take out a road atlas and look at the western United States and try to decide where I want to go.
From San Diego, it’s mainly north and west. I’m not comfortable with going down into Mexico on my motorcycle – too many things to worry about. I do have one place in mind: Pine Flats campground up in Lowman, Idaho.
I had gotten a tattoo from a guy named Kinsey, who ran a tattoo parlor on lower Broadway when there used to be many tattoo and massage parlors located all along Broadway in downtown San Diego.
While Kinsey was doing a tattoo of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen on both of my shoulders, along with a Tecate tattoo, he was telling me about a place called Pine Flats where he camped. He told me it had hot springs with a waterfall that was geothermal – i.e., none of that sulphur smell. So Pine Flats Campground in Lowman, Idaho, would be included in my final destination along with Glacier National Park in Montana.
All of my summer vacations had a first stop in Morro Bay where I have friends who treat me as family. Morro Bay is a long ride in itself, especially if you don’t want to ride through Smell-A.
I usually ride around the eastern edges of L.A., going up 15 to 215 to 138 and through Palmdale and Lancaster, which is now one big city, and onto I-5 very shortly up by Gorman, just to get through Frazier Park and onto 166 through the Sierra Madre Mountains, all the way west to the Pacific Coast Highway (Rt. 1) at Guadalupe and up to San Luis Obispo and finally to Morro Bay.
Okay, I don’t just avoid riding through Smell-A because of the ever-present traffic, but if you’ve ever ridden through Frazer Park and taken Rt. 166 through the Sierra Madre Mountains all the way to Guadalupe, you’ll understand why I take the long way to Morro Bay. The road curves through the forest just enough to make you want to go slower than 60 mph and really enjoy the smell and sights of the sun filtering through the trees.
After hanging out in Morro Bay for a few days, I headed east and then north up through the scenic, peaceful gold country and up to one of the most beautiful, hardly known national parks in California: Lassen Volcanic National Park.
If you’ve never been there, it has all the natural-beauty attractions that the more popular parks have. It has an inactive volcano, a glacier, bubbling mud and sulphur hot springs, pristine lakes that rival Lake Tahoe, and one special attraction that I really enjoy – fewer people than in most national parks. Riding solo on my motorcycle and after another school year of classroom after classroom full of boisterous teenagers, that’s one of my goals…the fewer people, the better!
I rode into Lassen Park late at night, when all the entrance stations were already closed, so I figured I could camp wherever I wanted. I found a nice deserted spot down in a ravine and decided to pitch my tent there. I had an old pup tent that I purchased from Montgomery Ward and I was able to put it up within a few minutes. When the sun has been down for a couple of hours, it sure is dark without any artificial light. I had some sandwiches made, so I ate one and crawled into my sleeping bag.
Late at night (actually very early morning), I woke up soaking wet. Turns out I was sleeping in a low-lying marshy area. I did get a little sleep, but needless to say, I did not and could not sleep any more, cold and wet. I hadn’t taken a shower or bath in awhile, so I just slapped on a little deodorant and figured I was good for a few more days. After all, I heard that riding in the rain on a motorcycle counts as showering – so I figured this was like lying in a warm bath tub, except without the warmth.
Heading north from Lassen, I rode up to Central Oregon (La Pine and Bend where I have many biker friends…another story) and onto Rt. 20 east to Vale, Oregon, to say hi to Dave and Lori and comment that their town has a total population less than Santana High School.