Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! Well, it’s “the merry month of May,” an’ “April showers bring may flowers,” an’ you know what Mayflowers bring… Pilgrims! Anyway, May also brings the first really great ridin’ weather for lots of folks, me included. Here in Central California, we can ride most of the year, but you can’t count on the weather when you plan a run in advance until May.
One of the first, an’ in my opinion the best, is the “Frog Jumps.” It started long before motorcycles or cars were invented; in fact, Mark Twain wrote about it in his famous story, The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County, back in the mid-1800s, but now the streets that were once lined with miners are lined with motorcycles and bikers. It’s a huge party that stretches county-wide, and beyond. Nearly every bar an’ roadside tavern has a band, but the twisting two-lane roads are too inviting to sit in a bar all day. If you’re lucky, you can find a seat an’ a cold one where my amigo, Charlie Brechtel, an’ his band are playin’, an’ it just doesn’t get any better for true biker entertainment than that after a few hours of scrapin’ pegs on the back roads. I’ve been a regular at the Jumps for nearly 40 years, an’ even though I’ve been rained on, hailed on, shot at an’ missed, an’ shit at an’ hit (not really… Unless ya count “shooters” of Patron), I’ve never failed to have a great time! I see friends there that I don’t get to see often enough, an’ when Reggie an’ I roll into Murphy’s, it’s like a homecoming.
The old stone wall in front of the Murphy’s Hotel has been around since the Gold Rush, an’ not only serves as a meeting place and a spot to sit while you watch the bikes roll up an’ down the main drag, but as a final resting place for a tiny bit of a special few who made The Jumps a tradition for so many years. My brother, Jack “Da Hat” Luna, is one, with a tiny silver cylinder of ashes epoxied into a hidden flaw in the stones. Every year, we have a shot of Patron for Jack (or maybe a lot more than one), because we know he’s there with us as always.
If you’re into wine, there are wineries all over, an’ one of the best, Ironstone Vineyards, is located just five minutes from downtown Murphy’s. They have tasting, beautiful gardens, an’ a café where ya can hobnob with other wine lovers. Personally, wine always makes my head feel like I’m bein’ nibbled to death by a duck.
Up the road a ways is the Calaveras grove of big trees, with some of California’s world-famous giant redwoods. There was one redwood tree that you could ride through, but the torrential rains caused it to topple over. I guess that one will make about 10,000 picnic tables!
Over the years, everything changes, an’ the Jumps has gotten more civilized than it was in the early years. When I first started going, the only way to get any sleep from Thursday till Sunday was to find a couple of cigarette butts an’ stuff ’em in your ears. There was music blastin’ 24 hours a day, engines revvin’, burnouts down Main Street, an’ everything was one chaotic, drunken free-for-all, but not so much anymore. Now, things start to quiet down around two or three in the morning, since we’ve all grown older an’ hopefully wiser…
These days, the “outlaws” are not as threatening as they used to be years ago, when a group invaded the Red Barn in Tuttletown where I used to camp out, an’ chased us all out. Things are pretty peaceful for the most part, even without Charlie Brown to keep us in line. Charlie was the constable of Murphy’s, an’ we all liked the guy. He used to have a photo album of “boobie shots” that girls would give him, and he really treated us with respect, which was unusual for law enforcement at that time.
Yeah, I miss “the good old days,” when Sherrie Lockhart had the Avery Hotel open, an’ all the good times we had there. Arlen Ness and friends stayed there, and I want to thank my good friend Arnie Araujo for introducing me to Sherrie, and getting me a room there that I kept for many years, and introducing me to Arlen, and so many people who have become good friends, so many years ago. There were only five or six rooms, an’ she kept the place decorated for Christmas all year ’round. She had a place set up behind the hotel that she called “A-Town,” with chairs, tables, porch swings, an’ shade trees, where we used to relax when we weren’t out terrorizin’ the back roads. It was like a bike show every day. Even though I was ridin’ a raggedy ol’ Shovelhead, I was made welcome, and although A-Town no longer exists, getting together with the A-Town crew is still the highlight of my year.
If you’re anywhere within a week’s ride of Calaveras County, you should give the Frog Jumps a try. It’s always the third weekend in May, but you’d better go online an’ make reservations, because things can get a bit crowded. There’s no better riding, no friendlier people, and no bigger party anywhere, hopefully, Reggie and I will see ya there; we’ll be in Murphy’s, holdin’ down the wall!