Sunday, January 23, 2011

Joy and Tragedy

It had been a balmy week for us folks here in SoCal, and today was no exception. For our Sunday ride, Mark and I chose to start out with the BMW of Escondido ride group for a "cruising" tour to Borrego Springs. We were planning on diverging from the group at some point when the time was right. There was a mixture of road BMWs and a couple of GSs like ours, a few two-up. It left later than our normal "zero dark thirty", about 9am, on a pretty conventional track through Escondido and Valley Center through the Rincon Indian reservation to link up the Hwy 76. From there, we moved out smartly past Lake Henshaw and past Scout Camp Mataguay, turning on S-2 then to Montezuma Grade through Ranchita.

The pace had been leisurely as advertised and both Mark and I were looking for mile marker 6 "Old Wilson Road" in Ranchita. We motioned the group by and waved as they rode into the distance towards Borrego while we stopped and chatted briefly before turning off ABS and heading on to the dirt road.

Our maps showed that Old Wilson would connect up to a road called "Grapevine" that would lead us down the mountains and through Grapevine Canyon to exit near Yacqui Pass on Hwy 78. There was a bit more sand than I would have liked, but the new Scott's Steering Damper gave me some confidence (that I quickly used up!). I think that when I aired up my tires getting ready for the ride I made them *less useful* for this kind of sand riding!

We were motoring pretty steadily downhill and there were jeep tracks that had created sand berms around sharp corners. Luckily it had rained a week ago and the sand was a little hard packed. We passed a few remote ranches and I found myself wondering if that life was simple in its "basic-ness," or difficult.


We were making pretty good time and finally came to dead-end turn-around that was actually a trail head for "Angelina Spring." We met some South Africans there who confirmed that we needed to take a left at the last fork rather than the right turn we did. Heading out, the very next [blind] turn had us climbing through a fairly technical bit of hard pack, replete with boulders, smaller rocks and ruts caused by the recent rains. Mark had already plowed through this, but I wasn't ready for it at all. Fortunately I was in 2nd gear and hit the gas for a low-torque roll-through the rocks. Sheesh - I better start paying attention!

As usual, the more I stood up on the pegs, the better control I had in the sand and jeep tracks. There were a few times the bike got a little squirrely and I did stall it once trying to keep it upright. I found myself riding in one jeep track or the other, but that also subjected me to the whips of creosote bushes and other nefarious branches!

Mark had the foresight to make a couple of ham sandwiches, one of which I joyfully macked on as we relaxed in the middle of *nowhere.* Man, life was great: sweet street curves, challenging dirt trails, and homemade food for energy! He needed some gas, so Julian, CA and a coffee were our next stop. After a bit of rest and "manly talk" we climbed back on the iron horses. Hwy 78 and an unfortunate tragedy lay just ahead.

After waiting for a some motor homes and pick-ups & trailers returning from Ocotillo Wells, we entered the highway about 2 miles south of the twisty part that winds through the rocky pass just south and east of Scissor Crossing. Moving swiftly through the curves all was right with the world until we passed over San Felipe Bridge to find all traffic stopped.  We immediately hugged the center line and rode slowly past the vehicles.  I asked a couple of people what was going on and the answer was "motorcycle accident."  Uh-oh.

As we neared the accident scene, predictably it was a mess.  A cyclist was on his back by a crashed Moto Guzzi with onlookers uncomfortably looking on; one woman was leaning over his head. A side-car that used to be attached to the Guzzi was off the road against the cliff.  But without a doubt, the thing that captivated attention like a laser beam was the motorcycle crushed underneath a large trailer, fluids leaking out and free-flowing across the road.  Being on bikes, we picked our way through the wreckage.  There was no way the 4-wheel cages were going to do that anytime soon.  I stopped briefly to ask one of the people that looked like they had their wits about them whether we could cruise ahead to get help, or if there was anything we could do, but the emergency teams had already been contacted.  One guy on his mobile phone was reading the GPS coordinates of the accident into his receiver.


It was a corner Mark and I knew well - a blind corner that dove in tighter than one expected.  I could easily imagine a long truck/trailer combo cutting the corner and the bikes running wide and close to the double-yellow.  Trouble.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/jan/16/fatal-accident-snarls-highway-78/

It was a sobering scene to be sure, but there was nothing we could do that wouldn't otherwise have gotten in the way. We drifted off at a sobering pace to Julian on a pre-planned gas and coffee stop, the latter at the Julian Coffee Shop. On the way home, we cranked it up a little bit and took the side route of Old Julian Highway off of the 78.  The good news is that they'd paved a bit of it and it was a LOT nicer road heading into Ramona.  Highly recommended, esp. if the smell of chicken crap doesn't phase you.  ;-)

At one of the stoplights in Ramona, Mark suggested taking Highland Valley east-to-west on the way home and I'm really glad he did.  This road has it all, from high-speed straights to the tightest of corners; smells of orchards and dust and the sights of "gentlemen" farms dotting the landscape.  We separated when the road "T-bones" into Pomerado, me going right towards the 15 and Mark heading Southward towards home.  It was a fast, uneventful commute for me after the drama of the day, but oh so sweet as I rolled back into Buckwheat Manor.  Next door neighbor Julie Hunter and Emily were selling lemonade outside the house - and doing a land-office business!  A cold glass of lemonade poured at home never tasted so good.

Gas, Coffee and tortilla soup, Old Julian Hwy, home to the girls selling lemonade.

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