In the middle of the Mojave Desert there is a place that lives in my memory. In dreams, this motorcycle riding terrain keeps returning at night and during the day, when I need medicine to replace the day’s gibberish, it can be drawn up as welcome entertainment. This place is and has always been called The Playground.
It is a secret place. Few people have ever known where it was or how to get there. To guarantee that it was kept private, precautionary steps were taken to keep out the undeserving. Only riders who were vouched for by one of the knowing elite, who signed a blood oath that the location would never be revealed, were allowed to follow us. In public we denied its existence and created fairy stories claiming it was an urban legend. Within the membership of the cult it was only spoken of in hushed, reverent whispers. We guarded its location. We were selfish.
Back when geology first created The Playground, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, a 650 Triumph TR-6 was the most powerful desert bike in the history of motorcycles. If you placed five of them in strategic spots in the desert, firing them at the same time would change the rotation of the earth.
Today, on my way for one last ride, my truck hauls a perfectly restored 650 Triumph TR-6. It is exactly the same as my original, right down to the Q air filter and the thick Bates seat. My original TR-6 desert sled had taken me on my first ride to The Playground and today this restored one would again return me to that exact same site.
I am the last person alive that remembers the location of The Playground. When I am gone, like the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, its location will also vanish because the only map is in my head.
Revealing only general directions… off Highway 395, past Mojave, past Jawbone Canyon Store, past Red Rock, in the most inhospitable part of the desert, there is a never-used dirt road that filters through an ancient volcanic blast field filled with razor sharp, tire-shredding knife blades. In the worst riding area within 400 miles, this dirt road appears to go nowhere. Today I turn onto it and check for signs of past travel. It looks as though no one has used it since I did 40 years ago. Good! The Playground is still secret.
Putting the truck in four wheel drive I hump it for more than an hour, the lava field far behind me, nearly to the edge of the mountains, to the place I used to camp. Today I stop there again and unload the Triumph.
Filling her with gas she seems to smile. Checking the oil the engine is perfect. The tires need to be aired down to 18 pounds.
I fire her up. We are ready for one last ride to The Playground.
The Playground is in a strange invisible box canyon on the side of a foothill, at the base of a hidden alluvial fan that starts at the edge of the mountains. It is two square miles of perfectly decomposed granite where the traction is so good that you can slide and turn and do figure eights for hours and never fall down. No one could fall. It is impossible.
From the truck it is a half hour ride up a slow rocky trail, over a mile of deep whoops, up the sand wash of death, across a traverse of a 500-foot cliff, over a steep hogback, the handle bars have to be kinked to get through a tiny slit between two huge rocks and there she is.
Recent rain has covered her with a tiny film of rye grass. It looks like green velvet. The traction is perfect.
For the better part of an hour I lay the bike over sliding in top gear like riding the Springfield mile. Then it is rights and lefts as though practicing for the Peoria TT. New knobby, new engine, perfect green traction. As I nail the throttle a huge rooster tail spins up from the rear tire flying 30 feet in the air. Every granule of dirt flies up and comes down in exactly the same trough. I have the twist grip pegged and the handlebars cranked to the steering lock watching my own rooster tail. It is magnificent. It is magic.
Finally tiring I stop and lay the TR-6 on its side in the middle of The Playground. I sit next to her. An unusual sensation in my chest feels like heartburn. “Damned chicken-fried steak,” I think. I try to burp. A little dizzy, I close my eyes to rest and nod off to sleep for a few minutes. When next I open my eyes it is getting dark.
“Nice bike; don’t see many perfectly restored Triumph desert sleds out here anymore.” I look up and see a man dressed in black standing next to another perfectly restored TR-6. No, wait; it isn’t restored—it is new, brand new.
“Not many riders know about this place,” I respond.
“No, they don’t.”
“Well, I guess we are the last of the breed.”
“That is exactly who you are!”
I stood up and righted the Triumph. “I was about to go.”
“No, you will be staying. There is time for another ride. I’ll take a few laps with you.”
“OK.” I kick her and she fires on the first kick.
“From now on she will always fire first kick,” he said.
“What do you mean, always? Who are you?”
“You know who I am. You came up here for one last ride with me. I’ve been waiting for you. Don’t bother with your helmet. You can’t get hurt anymore. You have crashed for the last time. From now on the bike will start on the first kick and the riding will be perfect.”
“What… What?” I stammered.
“Like I said, you won’t ever get hurt again. You will never fall again. Now let’s take a few laps before dark.”
Impossible to resist, I follow him. He rides very well and so do I. In fact I ride better than ever. I ride like I am in heaven and it is my last ride. It is.
The location of The Playground dies with me.