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Free Range: California dreamin’

By Felicia Morgan

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It’s cold out. So damned cold, as a matter of fact, that even though I’m sitting on a cushy couch with covers up to my chin, I’m wearing a heated, battery-powered riding jacket. And it’s on high. I’m supposed to be writing a review on said jacket and though I have worn it a couple of times while riding and determined it lacking in a couple of areas, I’m finding it particularly handy right now. As a houseguest, it’s not exactly kosher to announce that I’m freezing my keester off and I’d really appreciate it if they set the thermostat to something above the arctic zone. I’ve discovered my digits don’t function well without heated grips.

Though the topic for today’s assignment is a bike show, it’s difficult to focus and find myself lamenting over warm rides and sunshine. I conjure up memories of twisty roads and mountain passes that serve to build a fire within and I’d much rather be windbound than staring at this keyboard. I remind myself that by tomorrow this time, if I can just get my homework done, I’ll be zipping along the white line and halfway to Arizona, thawing out a bit more with each mile. While I do love the heat of the desert this time of year, I have to admit to a soft spot for California riding. NorCal, if pressed to choose, is my favorite but there are still sections of SoCal that don’t include stagnant traffic for as far as the eye can see and smog that hovers even further. Tossing around snippets of memorable rides, I recall two that stand out as favorites and realize both were in California and both were SoCal experiences. One was with a pack of 14 riders and included slicing traffic through rush-hour congestion at an insane speed as the Santa Ana winds fuelled an out-of-control fire in the hills above Burbank. Yes, I realize those ingredients don’t paint much of a great adventure scenario but it isn’t always about where you ride as much as it is about who you ride with. Conditions were pretty shitty during this trip, but the guys I was with and the camaraderie we shared more than made up for the bullshit traffic, miserable summer heat and poor air quality. To this day the memory of a manic weekend in Hollywood with 13 men can still give me a giggle but I actually brag about a ride that I was not invited to share but goes down as one of my favorites.

Cruising along Highway 101, traffic was light and the Beast and I were enjoying our roomy spot in the fast lane when a pack of riders came up an onramp in an aggressive takeover that consumed all of the four-lane highway. The display caused an immediate ass-puckering reaction and I involuntarily let off the throttle. They formed up in the diamond lane and I started looking for other options as I realized the eight-bike pack that settled in ahead of the Beast were all California Highway Patrol officers. Suddenly my beautiful ride along the California coast was shot to hell.

I set about the task of placing myself a good distance behind the pack and managed to put an eight car-length space between me and the legal beagles. Monitoring the throttle and watching the speedo, I let them set a 75–80 mph pace, which was still well above the posted 55 mph limit as we fell into a rhythm for the next 20 miles, which were surprisingly comfortable. It was kind of cool to let them determine the rules and not have to stress over figuring out where the cops might be lurking on the pullouts and whether some blinkies might be sneaking up on me from behind. And then we hit road construction.

One of the coolest things about California riding, besides the coastal views and beautiful vistas, is the fact that riders can split lanes. The technical term is actually “lane sharing” and it’s a hot topic that’s continually battled every year during the voting season. It was an absolute miracle as I watched eight officers fall into single file and position themselves over the double yellow stripe of the centerline. Cops have fought to abolish the law that allows this very thing and I giggled out loud as I fell in line and played follow-the-leader as I became part of the cop pack. How could I possibly get hit by cagers trying to change lanes? How could I get pulled over for not following the specific guidelines of the law? When does a regular rider ever get to experience this kind of bliss? How about you? What was your favorite ride?

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