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.
Making it to Boise and getting onto Rt. 21 north to head on up to Lowman and Pine Flats campground, I’m in one of the most beautiful states I’ve been in: Idaho. I’ve been through 48 states and because California is so immense, I do think California is the most magnificent. For its size, Idaho is a close second.
On Saturday, July 11, around 4:00, I made it to Pine Flats campground and got a tent site. There were quite a few people at the campground, but I stayed to myself. However, a guy who saw my California license plate stopped by to talk with me and I found out that he used to live by me in Clairemont. What a small world, I thought. He said he was leaving in the morning and he brought over four beers (wonderfully small world)!
I found the hot waterfall that Kinsey talked about. Magnificent! Most all the people at Pine Flats cleared out on Sunday except for the campground host – a guy trying for the D.A. job in Boise – and me. During the days I stayed there, everybody kept to themselves during the day and we all got together at night at the campground host’s campfire and played Trivial Pursuit while consuming many beers and glasses of wine.
Paul, the campground host, warned me that on Friday and Saturday, the campground usually fills up, so I packed up and headed north to Montana’s Glacier National Park. For guys traveling through Missoula, stop in at Fred’s Lounge and thank me later.
And for any Californians traveling up to Idaho by vehicle – nowadays, be warned! People from Idaho have been “Californicated” enough. When driving with California license plates, you’ll be followed, stopped and questioned by the law.
By late Thursday, July 16, I made it up to Glacier National Park. I’d been here a couple times before and it always seemed to be nasty weather, even in July and August. And guess what? It’s raining. A guy on a BMW motorcycle pulls in and I ask him if he wants to split a campsite to save a few bucks. He welcomes the opportunity to save some money, as he’s been riding from upstate New York, up by Canada and Vermont. His name is Kevin (K.P. Ward), and he hikes during the day while I ride up to Logan Pass, where it’s snowing, and into Alberta, Canada, where the weather is not much different.
In the evenings, Kevin and I would sit under the hand blow-dryers in the restroom, drying wet clothes and swapping stories about the day’s adventures. Kevin noticed a Tecate Beer Club shirt that I was wearing and he asked me about it. He pronounced it without any accent, as in "te-kate" (only two syllables). I explained about the small, quiet Mexican border town where the beer is made. I told him it reminded me of a town out of the 1950s – a Leave It to Beaver setting.
After three days of riding and sleeping in the rain and sitting under the hand blow-dryers in the restrooms trying to dry up and get warm, I decided that I had had enough. Kevin agreed and decided to split also. He asked me where I was going and I told him about a place I saw on the way up, called Bearmouth Lodge. I told him there was a sign that said $12/night for a room.
It didn’t take him very long to figure that we were paying $7 a night to sleep in the cold and rain at Glacier National Park and that for a few bucks extra, he could have a hot shower and a dry, warm bed. He said that sounded great and asked if he could ride along with me.
Late Saturday, July 18, after riding in the rain, rain, rain and more rain and cold, we made it to Bearmouth where all the $12 rooms were occupied. We settled on a double room with four beds for $22. That was the last room available in the lodge.
While waiting, another biker on a GoldWing Honda pulled in and needed a place to stay. We offered him (Bill) one of our beds and the cost went up to $24. Because I’m a math teacher, I figured that’s only $8 per person and the campground up in Glacier was $7. But now we have a dry place to sleep. My stinky socks on the radiator kept everybody out of my room!
There was a family reunion going on at the lodge, and we kept getting beers to drink all night long. We even got invited to the family reunion breakfast. We all got up late, around 10:30, missed the breakfast, and headed in different directions. Bill was going home to Spokane, Washington, Kevin was headed to Kalispell, Montana, and I was headed south and west, toward Lowman for a few days and then eventually back home to sunny, warm San Diego.
Fast-forward to Saturday, August 15. I’m back home in San Diego and I’ve decided to take a trip to one of my favorite places, Tecate, Mexico. So, I go out to my bike and take freeways 52 east to 805 south to 94 east just past the Dulzura Café and then the Barrett Café and a few curvy miles to Jct. 188 south to Tecate.
There, I dropped into my favorite place, the Bar Diana. When I go there in the winter, even before I take off my leather jacket, the bartender has a Tecate beer with a glass full of cut limes waiting for me. But this is summer and no leather jacket (and no helmets required in ’87) and within a minute after entering, the same service is bestowed upon me. I have one Tecate, two Tecates, three Tecates, and so on, until at one point, I say, okay, “Solamente una mas.”
Well, after I had “just one more,” I needed to stand up and go outside to get some air. Across the street from the Bar Diana is the town square where locals congregate and whatnot. Well, who do I happen to see walking down the street with a motorcycle helmet in his hand? That’s right, no other than K.P. Ward.
I yelled out, “Hey motorcycle man!” He put his head down and made believe he didn’t hear me. Later he told me that he thought some bikers were harassing him. So, I yelled out again, “Hey motorcycle man!” Kevin looked up and said, “Al Stanko!”
Almost one month ago, we’d hung out in Montana, never exchanged personal information such as addresses or phone numbers, and now, down in Tecate, Mexico, we meet again. Had I just had “one more” after my “one more,” this remarkable coincidence would never have happened.
Well, we did hang out and ride for awhile and because of this strange coincidence, we exchanged phone numbers. I keep a journal with me whenever I travel, so all this information is in my “Summer ‘87” journal. Because I recently got to retire from teaching, I was going to compile my journals and start writing a book about my adventures.
It was in the summer of 2010 that I found Kevin’s phone number and gave him a call after all these years, and asked him if it would be okay with him if I used his name in my book. He said he did not mind at all because he used my name in place of his when he met some young (less than legal age) girls.
We talked for hours exchanging stories about our different adventures. He told me about more of his motorcycle trips and also how he got into sailing and how he sailed all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. I told him I’d contact him again when I finished my story about our adventure from Montana to Tecate.
I called him just a few days into the new year, 2011. The woman who answered the phone was shocked and bewildered that somebody was asking for Kevin. I told her I was not the law looking for Kevin (just in case he was in some sort of trouble) and that I was a friend who met him when we were on motorcycles up in Montana and then again down in Tecate, Mexico, and I just finished writing this story. There was a long pause and silence from her end of the phone, and she said Kevin died on December 22. He was only 50.
It only took me a few days to write this story, and I do believe that K.P. Ward had some kind of influence on me to get this written. So, thanks, K.P., and I remember what you used to say, so I’ll pass it along to readers of this story: ”Whistle, and spit through your teeth.”
And when I write “R.I.P. K.P. Ward,” I mean “Ride in Peace.”