Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! Well, it’s November already, Turkey Day is right around the corner, an’ riding season is about over for a lot of you. Here in Central California it gets cold, but basically we can ride all year round with the right gear. During the summer, my standard ridin’ outfit consists of a T-shirt, a pair of Wranglers, and boots. Yeah, I know the experts tell ya to dress for the fall, not the ride, but I’m too old to change my ways now.
One time I went for a lunch ride to Yosemite National Park with friends. It’s about two hours from the ol’ Buckshot Ranch to Yosemite Valley, and when we left, the weather was in the mid-70s, without a cloud in the sky. The ride up the hill was great, but as soon as we came out of the tunnel that overlooks the valley and Half Dome, it started to snow! Most of us were in T-shirts, and by the time we got to the Wawona Hotel for lunch, my hands were so cold I had to stop the bike in gear, stalling it, and slide my hands off the grips. Yeah, we probably shoulda turned around, but we’re old, stubborn, and we had reservations. A huge coffee urn in the foyer helped to thaw out our hands, and the coffee helped thaw out the rest of us. Needless to say, the park sold some overpriced hoodies that day!
The jackets and other foul weather gear they have now are far superior to what we had back in the ’60s and ’70s. Back then, we had the traditional leather “biker” jackets that kept some of the cold out and rain off, but were still lacking in keeping the wind and rain out on the road. I’ve always wondered, since leather is made out of cows, why cows don’t get all moldy and crumpled up from bein’ out in the rain. Just another of nature’s unanswered questions, I guess…
Back then, if you were really lucky, you might have run across an Army surplus store that still had a World War II bomber jacket in your size. Snug and warm in the coldest weather, they were a great choice, although in the rain, the wool collar was like cuddling with a freshly-baptized sheep. I always wanted one, but never found one that would fit me. They make reproductions, but they’re a poor shadow of the real thing. It took a hell of a coat to keep the bomber crews warm in the subzero temperatures at 20,000 feet and higher.
Last winter, Reggie bought us each a set of grip warmers that go inside the bars. She knows that my hands hurt like hell when they get cold. I installed them, and they get a little bit warm, but neither set will get warm enough to make a difference. I’ve been told that my bars are too thick, and my grips are too thick, but in my opinion, they were a colossal waste of a couple hundred bucks… I think I’ll try a pair of heated gloves. I have a heated vest that I seldom wear because my torso doesn’t get cold, just my hands. Reggie has a heated jacket that she loves, and wears all winter. She can’t ride in 100-degree temperatures, so most of our riding is in the cooler months, from October until July. Until a couple of years ago, I was one of the guys who said they’d never have a windshield on their bike. Unfortunately, age caught up to me, which happens to us all at some point. My eyelids are so droopy, I look like an Airedale with the air let out, and the wind makes ’em flap like a bulldog’s jowls at 70 miles an hour. It’s like looking through a strobe light, so I got a small windshield, and at least I can see where I’m going most of the time. It also helps keep me from getting pelted by rain or hail in those sudden storms we get now and then. Yeah, it does rain in California, though not often.
Many years ago, like over 30, my first trip to the legendary Calaveras County Frog Jumps was a lesson in misery. Me and my amigo, Lost Again Glenn, left early and headed up the hill to catch the infamous Highway 49 that runs through the gold rush country. It’s the third week in May, and the sky looked pretty threatening, but we were tough old birds, and could take anything nature threw at us. By the time we got to Mariposa, about 2,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the drizzle had turned to dime-sized hail. We rode into town, and a burger joint provided some shelter and a garbage bag to cover where my chaps didn’t. By the time we got to Coulterville, a few miles down the road, we were soaked to the skin, and shivering like starving Chihuahuas. We found a pizza place in a building from the gold rush days that had a pot belly stove glowing cherry red, and had pizza and beer while we dried ourselves and our leathers out. When we got to our campground, we ended up spending the weekend under tarps strung in the trees, but it’s times like those that you never forget.