Late last year, Mark and Jeff found themselves together in California with a few days to spare, so they loaded up a couple of bikes and headed out to the desert. This is the story of that memorable road trip. Click here for Part 2.
The two Indian motorcycles were waiting for us last December in the Costa Mesa parking lot. It had been raining, and was fixing to rain some more. This wasn’t in the plan. It never rains in Southern California, does it?
Jeff and I signed them out and we let the Indian rep get home before the rain resumed. He was also riding a bike, but said he didn’t own a rain suit. “Hey” – he said, “this is Southern California!”
We waited out the rain in a taco joint one block over. It was depressing to think the shiny chrome of my $42,000 Chieftain Elite was about to get filthy, but Jeff didn’t seem so bothered about his FTR1200 S. He was bothered about his deeply-tinted visor though, since it was getting later into the Sunday afternoon as we dawdled over the Mexican food. He hadn’t brought along a clear visor, and made some excuse about why not, but whatever. He’d just have to follow me through the sprawl, north to our hotel in Santa Monica.
The plan was that we had no plan. We weren’t sure where we wanted to go on our three-day adventure, but we did know that we didn’t want to ride in any stupid rain. Outside, the cloudy sky seemed as dry as it was going to be, so we pushed aside the remains of the refried beans, went outside and saddled up. Might as well get going.
When we picked up the bikes, they were soaked. I know this because after wiping down his Chieftain, Mark gave me a sopping wet towel to wipe down the FTR and I began the ride with a wet ass.
I kind of wished I had brought my rain suit.
First impressions of the two Indians were very favourable. The Chieftain looked great, a motorized, mid-century work of art, and the FTR proved to be a surprisingly adept commuter thanks to its great throttle response and nimble carving through traffic.
The ride from Costa Mesa to the hotel in Santa Monica was less than 50 miles on the map. We agreed that taking the Pacific Coast Highway was better than sitting on the traffic-choked I-405, but after nearly two hours of puttering stoplight-to-stoplight on wet pavement, a stop at two different banks and Mark’s shopping trip to Best Buy, the light was starting to leave the sky and I also kind of wished I had brought a clear visor for my helmet.
The next morning, well-rested and full of caffeine, we set out for points east having planned only as far as heading toward Palm Springs. The sun was shining and the temperature pleasant, and the previous day’s rainy start was all but erased from memory.
Even the traffic on I-10 was moving freely and I noticed Mark looking relaxed and content at super legal highway speeds, coddled behind several hundred pounds of fairing, while the wind pummeled me on the smaller, naked Indian. Within an hour, the FTR’s gas gauge was already showing close to empty and I wasn’t disappointed to pull off the freeway in Riverside for a fuel-up.
At this first stop, Mark broke the cardinal rule of our trip – to avoid chain restaurants – and demanded we break for a coffee at the adjacent Starbucks.
There was only time for one bottomless cup of coffee over breakfast before leaving in the morning. Jeff and I checked the weather and decided to head out on the most direct route to the dry, parched desert. So much for the coast, where there would be rain, and so much for the Angeles Crest Highway, where there might be snow. Palm Springs seemed like a safe bet.
First, we had to find gas. Jeff’s FTR had a tiny tank, which means it had all kinds of quick-hit performance but no long-term endurance. I wondered if that might reflect on Jeff over the next couple of days, but not to worry, a quick stop for fuel and it was straight onto boring I-10 away from the Pacific. I locked the cruise control at the speed of the road’s fastest traffic and settled in on the fat-ass seat behind the adjustable windscreen. The big Chieftain barely noticed the interstate’s crappy corrugated concrete.
Another quick stop for coffee and gas, just to keep all our tanks filled, and we were in Palm Springs within a couple of hours. The temperature was in the high 20s and we ate lunch outside, wondering where to go next. The map on my phone showed Hwy. 74 nearby, the Pines-to-Palms Highway, and it looked really squiggly. About time.
I kindly offered to Jeff that we switch bikes for the next leg, since he’d been moaning about his discomfort on the road here. I thought this was a generous suggestion but he refused my thoughtful gesture and kept a tight grip on the FTR’s keys. So, fed and watered, we cruised out past the high-end designer stores and cafes to find this twisting squiggle.
It wasn’t difficult to locate, after yet another stop for gas, heading south from Palm Desert and up into the mountains. I had a GoPro on my helmet, bought at a quick stop to Best Buy the day before, so Jeff rode in front to be captured on camera. I figured I’d try to keep up as best I could.
The road itself was smooth and wide and well-maintained, but it quickly started tracking toward the south-west and we found ourselves heading directly into the sun. Maybe that’s why Jeff rode like an old woman, barely tilting the bike on the tight curves, although (as he’d mentioned a thousand times the day before) he had a tinted visor. I stayed close behind until we reached several thousand feet above the desert and he started to complain about the cold.
It was no hardship to turn around and ride back on the same stretch with the sun lowering behind our shoulders. It would soon be time to find a couple of rooms for the night, and I knew exactly the sort of place I was looking for.
During our patio lunch in Palm Springs, we watched as passersby admired our two bikes parked curbside. Despite being half the cost, the unique FTR grabbed the most attention and I was struck by how well the two machines reflected their riders. One, more youthful and energetic, the other, notably heavier and designed for a more sedate pace, and yet both seemed appropriate in the affluent desert town.
In a pitiful moment of fake generosity, Mark began by offering up the Chieftain, before pleading to swap keys for our post-meal ride. Knowing our route was taking us south of Palm Desert onto the mountainous Highway 74, I didn’t want him to be out of his comfort zone, and suggested it would be best if we stuck with our assigned rides.
Highway 74 was the stuff of motorcycling dreams. Smooth and lightly travelled, it felt good to get the FTR1200 S out of the highway doldrums and take some corners. Getting a proper feel for the bike, I took the first few corners with a healthy amount of respect owed to riding a challenging road for the first time. The smaller Indian was happy to change directions, and the big V-twin put its considerable torque to great effect, pulling strongly from corner to corner.
Considerate of the fact that my friend was following on a much heavier bike, I limited my enthusiasm through the corners to try to keep Mark in my mirrors. Plus, he had his new GoPro running, and it was important to make sure he got good footage. A credit to the big Chieftain, Mark had little trouble keeping a tidy distance behind me up the mountain and back down again, as we headed into Indio to find our accommodations.
We agreed our No Chains rule should apply as much to our lodgings as our meals, and I was looking forward to a quaint desert hideaway or inn. Ending a day of riding with a great home-style meal and maybe a soak in a spa would be just the ticket.
Mark, however, had something else in mind and no matter how strong the bleach smell in my room, I couldn’t get comfortable enough to crawl beneath the stained sheets of my motel bed.