A few times in your life a person connects with someone at a very deep level. Jim was one of those persons for me. We connected through the Golden State Riders cycle club and more deeply at The Fresno Rotary club. Twenty-Three years my senior Jim was both a father figure, as my own father lived 1500 miles away, and an endearing friend.
Half Dome Jim
At eighty-eight, Jim is alive today, but not with us. He suffers from the terrible, lonely road into the loss of self-hood known as Alzheimer disease. He is in an advanced stage and is in a protected place.
The two stories that follow are but a small sampling of the hundreds of motorcycle adventures we shared together and dozens of special projects we worked on. We have been separated by time and distance these past seven years. I have returned to Fresno to spend the winter with my children and grandchildren only to find that I cannot find him. Now we are separated by the chasm in his mind.
Larry, Lacy & Jim
Not long before Jim’s minor cycle crash at 80 years young, thus ending his riding years, Jim and I scratched some notes on a napkin to see if we could find our togetherness. We surmised that we had ridden nearly 30,000 miles together. Since he is retired and I am a pastor who takes a day off during everyone else’s work week, Jim and I would travel somewhere almost weekly—–in addition to the Golden State Club rides and Rotary Club rides. Together we planned and executed several California State Rotary rides, such as this one to Death Valley.
Yosemite in Winter
One would think two men of mature age would know better. Wisdom comes from several places: experience, education, advice, and just plain common sense. To take two motorbikes into Yosemite Park just two days after a late-winter snow with an accumulation of over two feet—that’s crazy!
Sometimes rides are for the ride of it. Sometimes, they have a purpose. This ride, although not well thought through, was purposeful. I have just finished writing a series of devotionals for publication. I used Yosemite as the backdrop for the seven-lesson series, and proposed I needed a photograph to help illustrate the material. I called Jim, one of my favorite ridding partners. He eagerly agreed to a Friday outing and we were off. Off our rocker is more likely.
In point of fact, the roads were more dried off, with less sand and fewer hazards than I had imagined. We enjoyed a grand, 100 mile ride into the Yosemite Valley by taking the lowest elevation and addressing Yosemite from the Merced River Road. The 6 a.m. news informed me that it was snowing lightly in Yosemite Valley but this was just a stray shower. We could expect high overcast with broken sunshine and 69 degrees by the time one could actually drive into the park. We arrived a bit early for the melting which made the roads inside the valley itself a slushy mess. I finished my photo-op and we retreated to the visitor’s center, primarily to ask of road conditions back to Fresno via “over the top.” The top is not really high, being 6,000 feet. However, there is a ski area right there which has announced it will likely stay open until late April.
By inquiring of possible snow and ice over the top, the gift store manager put me in touch with 1-800 California Roads. That was not very helpful. A traffic officer ranger in the parking lot was snippy with “we’ve lifted the chain requirements, which means motorcycles are legal.” Dude! That didn’t answer my question. We pressed onward to the tunnel overlook for some more pictures, hoping to meet some tourist just sliding in from the summit. Our benefactor ended up being a park employee and one who lives in Yosemite West, a housing community at the summit. He was glad to tell us that although there was some risk to manage, we could exit the park via the mountain road.
We had a great time. Our winter riding gear kept us comfortable in the 45 degree sunshine. My BMW heated hand grips added warmth to the experience. At any rate, as we rolled through Fish Camp at temperatures bordering on freezing, I couldn’t resist taking this photo of us, and a closed gas station. The exact caption should be: “Are You Crazy!?”
Yes, I’m certain of it.
The best day on two wheels is when you can stretch the limit and enjoy it.
Snow Cycling Jim
December 28, 2006
It’s winter most everywhere. Have you checked Denver lately? It’s even winter here in California. The ski slopes are open. The Central Valley is finally enjoying a cold rain after 9 long months of nothing but blue sky.
Wednesday afternoon Jim called. “Would you like to go to Pismo Beach tomorrow to see if the ocean has frozen over?” he inquired. “Are you suggesting we ride?” I countered. “Is there any other way?” he came back. “It’s going to be cold.” says I. “Then dress warmly.” And he hung up.
Now Jim and I aren’t the smartest minds on the left coast, but we are both bright enough to know it never gets cold enough in these parts to freeze up the ocean! What he really wanted was to perform a quick check-up on his travel trailer in storage at that location.
So, being confident the storm we had endured for two days was moving east to pester Denver, we rose early, dressed warmly, and were off. Leaving my driveway at 7:40 a.m. the thermometer indicated an exact 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes folks, that was three-zero! We typically quit riding somewhere in the 50 degree neighborhood. On the way to the main street I encountered David Creighten, a neighbor and fellow cycle enthusiast. He honked and made some hand gesture like “are you nuts!!” He’ll get no argument from either Burgess or me on that accusation.
An hour later Jim and I stopped at Kettlemen City for gas and coffee. A nasty wind had developed, coming at us from the northwest, or over our right shoulder. We were thankful we weren’t moving against it. Inside the convenience store I inquired of the temperature. “Hovering on 29.” We were cold.
I would much rather be too cold than too hot. When it’s hot there’s not much you can do about it. One feels temporarily better by shedding as much clothing as possible. However, the science of the matter says that is exactly the wrong thing to do. The breeze created by a moving motorcycle, while feeling good, wicks the moisture off your skin. The result is that you heat up faster, burn faster, dehydrate faster, and can end up really damaged. I always wear protective clothing in the heat. If it’s too hot to do so, I stop. By being too cold you could get hypothermia and frostbite. However, it’s more common just to deal with really sore muscles. In the cold you can layer up, add electrically heated clothing and hardware, and use chemical heat packs, etc and etc. On this day Jim and I employed all of these strategies and were dressed for Alaska. While cold, we weren’t in a dangerous predicament. I’ve ridden several times well into the low 20’s, being assured there was little or no possibility of ice present on the roadway.
As the day wore on and we arrived at the coast we enjoyed a delightful mid-day of high 50 something, bright blue sky and boiling ocean waves crashing against the rocks. In the summer the ocean breezes cool the land for several miles inland. In the winter, they heat it. We gave Jim’s trailer a grade A check-up and enjoyed fish and chips at a local beach-side eatery.
On a motorcycle, if one can help it, one should never return home via the same route. We zoomed 75 miles north on 101 to catch route 198 to Coalinga. Going straight into the wind both our bikes protect us pretty well. Legs, knees and feet are tucked in behind the fairings and body work. Hands are mostly protected behind the mirror housings. I could fiddle with my electrically adjustable windshield until I created a calm bubble of air to ride in. I also had heated hand grips which I set on high, enjoying warm digits.
Turning east on 198 we were in for a surprise. The wind was still howling from the north so the bike fairing no longer protected us. A bone-chilling cold found its way into our jackets through the seams, zippers and closed air vents. The sun was low on the horizon and had quit heating anything. Route 198 crosses two mountain passes before dropping into the Central Valley. The highest is nearly 2500 feet and once again we were riding in the 20’s! Some hot chocolate at Coalinga warmed our insides as the sky turned to night and the winter winds continued. It was a long hour back into Fresno, riding in the dark.
Home and a hot bath felt wonderful after an 11 hour trip, 400 miles, frigid temps, wonderful scenery and better company. Remember: The best day on two wheels is any day you can ride, so don’t let a little cold stop you.