Snipe hunt, California style

Canadians Brian Bosworth and Michael Sanders are the authors and publishers of a growing series of books called Destination Highways, which describe the best motorcycling roads in British Columbia, Washington state, and most recently, northern California.

title.jpgCanadians Brian Bosworth and Michael Sanders are the authors and publishers of a growing series of books called Destination Highways, which describe the best motorcycling roads in British Columbia, Washington state, and most recently, northern California.

Now, as they work on book number four — southern California — they’ve asked me to lend a hand. And who would say no to being flown down to L.A., stuck on a 2002 VFR800 Honda, and taken out in search of the best roads in southern California?

As it turned out, this endeavour wasn’t all milk and cookies. There was a lot of work involved, some discomfort, and even serious danger. And there were moments of baffling frustration — Bosworth’s nightly hunt for a gourmet dinner, for instance, was sometimes conducted with all the grace and turmoil of a cartoon sword-fight.

But it was still a hell of a way to spend 10 days in the middle of March.



Thornton gets it on the nose

In order to write about these roads, we would need to remember what they were like, so we would videotape them. Cameras were stuck to helmets, mini-VCRs were strapped to our sides, and microphones were placed here and there.

Some of these accouterments were attached by means of Velcro, which caused the only injury I experienced during that trip, when the strip of Velcro in my helmet tore bits of skin off the end of my nose — every single time I put the helmet on.

During the first couple of days, I had no sense of place. We would be on some road, riding toward some destination, Bosworth and Sanders far ahead of me, and I couldn’t have been more specific about my own location than that it was “somewhere.”

Soon, they began sending me out on my own, and if I did not get completely lost, it was only because a certain amount of luck attends any traveller, so somehow, by the end of the day, we’d meet up again.


“Where the feck is Steve?”
My tendency to misplace my riding companions grew so pronounced, however, that they developed an addendum to their regular checklist: Where are we going next? How are we going to get there? And where the feck is Steve?
Where indeed.
When done right, a DH exploration is a moving panorama and a running commentary on all things relevant to a motorcyclist on any particular road. You ride this potential DH like most motorcyclists would; however, instead of just enjoying it, you talk about it into your helmet mic and you analyze it for Destination Highway attributes: Twistiness, Pavement, Engineering, Remoteness, Scenery, and Character.
So you’re observing and babbling about the feeling of the pavement, the camber in a curve, the width of the shoulders, the kinds of scenery surrounding it, the general feeling you get while riding it, the rise or fall in temperature, the abundance of crack sealer — all these things that a normal motorcycle ride absorbs in passing.
You could not possibly remember this feast of impressions — especially after doing 20 or 30 such roads — if you didn’t have an hour’s worth of digital videotape to watch with all your comments yelled into the mike as the pavement unfolds on your TV screen, to be transferred into notes, into the next book.

SoCal roads are dreamy

But I did get a ways down some entertaining roads. The long ride out to Joshua Tree, for example, with its constantly varied scenery — the tufted joshua trees standing out there in the Mojave desert, each apart from the other, plentiful and antisocial, and the desert floor abloom with yellow and blue flowers.

This was March, and I think this must be the best time to be in southern California; the state is luke warm and blooming.

While I was off riding by myself, Bosworth and Sanders would be out exploring some new tangle of roads, sometimes getting lost in what they call “T.E. hell,” which is a bundle of small “Twisted Edge” roads that are like appetizers to the main course DH’s.

It was necessary to ride these and sort out routes worth including in the book, but hours would be spent going up one small, twisty road and down another, and it amazed me that they knew where they were, and were able to find me at the end of the day.



Trying to find dinner could end up anywhere but …

And then, of course, it was dinner time. Having ridden all day, missed lunch, and found a place to stay for the night, we would begin our search for food. Or rather, Bosworth would, and Sanders and I would follow him.

If we were lucky, we’d end up at a good restaurant, drinking some decent California wine and eating a meal that lets you forget how sore your wrists were and how hot your helmet was, but if we weren’t, we’d run 15 blocks as one restaurant after another closed almost directly in front of us, finally landing at Denny’s because there was no other choice.

One night, after Bosworth burst into my motel room and said, “We’ve got 10 minutes to get there before they close,” and then led me off on a wild chase through San Bernardino, I simply gave up.


Is there a better way to start a day?

He went one way on his bike, I went the other on mine, and eventually I found my way back to my motel room, where I opened a bottle of American whisky, phoned my girlfriend, and enjoyed a few minutes of very pleasant relaxation. Alone.

When Bosworth’s chase for the ultimate meal worked, it was fantastic. He would question the waitress nearly to death about the family history of the salmon he was about to order, while Sanders and I would look on and drink wine from glasses that were allowed to be filled no more than half an inch, so the wine would breathe, and eventually Bosworth would order the linguine.

We would talk about the road, about the absolute bliss of March in southern California, or about women we’d known and mistakes we’d made with them – and the following morning, I would look out the door of some small town California motel bungalow, and I’d feel like no day had ever had a better start.



For more information on Destination Highways, check out their
website at



  1. Like Mr. Bosworth, I spent much time on my search for fine meals. I’m fussy about my food, eating on the road can be abysmal in this “fast-food nation”. I ride intent on finding noteworthy roads and noteworthy chefs. Bosworth & I would’ve been soulmates. After all, there should be some payoff for the exhiliration, drudgery and bonewearyness of a 10-hour ride. (A properly cooked artichoke will do.) My mount was an ’07 FZ6 lightly modified for more ergonomic options. I arrived at Chez Panisse at dinner opening and was seated without a reservation! Ditto for Babbo’s et al. in Manhattan.

  2. Hey, I saw you guys in California. I was on Highway 33 from Ventucopa to Ojai and remember seeing the two red VFRs with their red helmets and black cams coming towards me. I couldn’t agree more about California being a riding paradise in March although the LA area was having an abnormal heatwave around the second to last week of March. Highway 29 out of Temecula was brilliant. For the purposes of getting to the legendary Highway 33 I found Highway 58 from Santa Margarita to McKittrich to be much more fun than Highway 166 a bit further south.

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