Friday, March 10, 2017

The 1973 California 1000. Epic Ride Number One.

All loaded up and ready to go! On my way to adventure.

I mentioned in an earlier post, that this was the first long motorcycle trip that I ever took, and I did it solo. It wasn't just a ride, it was a rally. For me of course, it was more than a run or rally it was an adventure. There were checkpoints, route maps, and a time limit, fourty five hours. There was that distance- one thousand miles! Hey, this was the equivalent of the Mille Miglia, and I finished it successfully. The very definition of epic.

The Rally started out at Harley Davidson of Los Angeles on Figueroa St. at midnight. The bikes were going to line up in a parking lot across the street from the shop. I got to LA so early I was the only bike in the parking lot. I felt kind of silly sitting there by myself so after an hour or so, I rode off and found a little Mexican restaurant to have dinner at. When I returned there were now two bikes waiting in line. I wasn't about to lose my place and remained there, and was now one of the first three bikes in line. The riders all chatted and many were surprised that I was only 18 yrs. old and had cut school to make the run. There was also a lot of speculation about my bike, since it was a two stroke. Among touring riders a two stroke motorcycle was considered as being inferior to a large displacement four stroke motorcycle. Well things were changing, and my Kawasaki could run with any of the 750cc and larger bikes. There was some doubts expressed as to it's suitability for this run, especially since this model had been marketed as a drag racing Superbike and not a mellow tourer. I actually took a lot of good natured ribbing from the other riders along the way. I must have heard the words "buzz bomb", "lawn mower" and "gas guzzler" numerous times that night. There were  inquires as to whether I was going to have enough fuel range in the tank to make it through the check points. I answered that last question by showing them the spare gallon can I was carrying in one of my saddlebags. It did come in handy, but not in the way they thought.

There was a photographer from Motorcyclist magazine there and he took a picture of the group and of me as I stood by my bike that evening. I had wrapped a towel around my face and neck and I had my genuine imitation leather vinyl motorcycle jacket on. This was  a great jacket, it had the crossed lapel zipper just like Johnny from the Wild One. This was a pretty good jacket. It had a quilted lining, it was waterproof, and it was windproof. I wouldn't be able to afford a real leather jacket for years.

This picture appeared a few months later in the magazine in one of the front column articles covering the event. I used to have a copy of the Magazine squirrelled away but lost track of it over the years. I was quite the budding motorcycle celebrity, with pictures in two Nationally distributed magazines within the last two years!

Harley saddlebags and a luggage rack, what more does a touring bike need?

My mount for this adventure was my trusty 1970 Kawasaki Mach III 500cc two stroke triple. This bike had been very reliable for me and I had outfitted it with turnsignals, dual rear view mirrors, and a luggage rack. The best addition was provided by my Mom. My parents used to go to the swap meet at the old Alameda drive in. One day, a couple of months before the trip, she showed up with a pair of old Harley plastic saddlebags. I think they came from a Panhead Duo Glide. I cleaned them up, painted them white after patching up some cracks and holes with some tape and silicon sealant. They came with the stock mounting hardware and I was able to modify them to fit securely on the back of my bike. Now it looked like a real touring bike! Thanks Mom!

I remember heading east on two lane back roads once we cleared the metropolitan LA area. This was quite a memorable night, hundreds of motorcycles roaring off into the night, a long trail of red tail lights leading off into the distance. This was a totally new experience for me- I was along way from home and I had never ridden down these roads before. One of the names that stands out in my memory was Redlands. I had never taken off on a ride of this magnitude and it was real rite of passage. Somewhere east of Hemet, up in some hilly territory I remember that the roadsides were covered with snow, and it was foggy and damp. I came upon a group of stopped bikes gathered around a scraped up Honda 750. The driver was standing around, looking a little embarrassed, luckily the only thing injured was his pride, and his new Honda. The bike had gone down and slid on the left side, grinding a small hole in the left casing that housed the alternator. It was weeping a small steady stream of oil, and of course we were miles away from a bike shop and it was still the middle of the night. I told the rider to lay the bike on it's right side and I washed off the cover with a gas soaked rag, then dried it off. I was carrying a tube of silicon seal and applied a thick coating over the metallic wound. I was pretty certain that this would dry and form a rubbery scab that would stop the seepage. The repair would take a least a half hour to set up, so I took off after wishing the rider good luck. I never found out if the repair had been successful or if the rider finished the rally.

I remember as dawn approached I was feeling very cold, hungry and tired. I stopped  at a diner for some coffee and food. I was feeling a bit depressed and when another rider asked how I was doing I must have sounded pretty glum. He tried to cheer me up by pointing out the obvious; that daylight was approaching and it was bound to warm up and if we just kept at it, things were likely to improve. His little pep talk made me feel that I was a part of something, a grand shared adventure. After this conversation I did feel better, I became totally invested in this rally. After eating I went outside and lay down on my motorcycle, my back on the seat, my legs on the tank, and my feet sticking out past he handlebars. I managed to sleep for almost an hour than I felt energized enough to hit the road.

Riding with two Honda 750s and a BMW. Rest stop in the desert.

Desert near Lucerne Valley.

 As is usual in most events of this type, as a solo rider  you will eventually form into small groups with compatible riders. I remember that I formed a group with a couple of older fellows riding a Honda 750 and a BMW big twin. I thought of the BMW rider as Mr. Fox, (Skunk?) because his riding vest had an embroidered fox patch on the back, I never asked what that meant.  These two were probably in their early thirties, but actually pretty much everyone was quite a bit older than me!  My Kawasaki was plenty fast and easily able to keep up with this pair, and our riding styles must have been quite compatible. I had been riding for a couple of years by this time and I felt pretty confident in my ability.

Near Lida Summit, Nevada. Elevation approx. 7,000ft.

Just out of Searchlight Nevada

I remember passing through the Twenty Nine Palms/ Joshua Tree Monument area. We came across a Honda 500 four rider who had run out of gas, funny. That bike was supposed to be much more fuel efficient than my two stroke. I gave the grateful rider the extra gallon I was carrying, since I now had confidence that I had enough range without the spare fuel.

Near Crescent Peak, Nevada.

Of course since this event occurred almost forty five years ago my memory of the exact sequence of events is kind of sketchy. Luckily I recorded some of the scenes with my Instamatic.

As it turned out, I had done a little journaling  when I put the scrapbook together. The following  narrative was included:

My first real tour- 1973 California 1000 April 14th.
1,000 miles in 45 hours or less. Successfully completed!

This was quite the ride. Rode down to LA. At midnight I was the third in line to leave. Up into the San Bernandino Mountains to Big Bear Lake. Cold extreme fog, rain,snow and frost on the road! Down to Lucerne Valley to Twenty nine Palms. Through Amboy and Goffs to Searchlight Nevada. Over Crescent Peak to Baker Ca. Into Death Valley. Shoshone, Death Valley Junction, Furnace Creek to Scotty's Castle. High Speed run with Honda 750s and 500s, Sportster  and Suzuki 500. Rode across Lida Summit (elevation 7,000 ft.) into Oasis Ca. and down to Big Pine. At Lone Pine, lots of bikes,rows and rows! Wow! Down from Lone Pine into the Panamint Valley. Trona, Red Mountain, and ended up in Adelanto. Lost my wallet on the last leg of the run. Had enough money hidden in boot. Spent night in Plamdale, rode home that Monday.

This was a ride to remember! I even got my picture in Motorcyclist magazine. Only one problem with bike, carb vent. one thousand mile range on oil tank. And I did it all by myself!

Checkpoint at Amboy.

They laughed at my "Ricegrinder", Until I gave a gallon of gas to a Honda Rider!

Most of the run occurred in the Southwestern desert of California, there had been rumors that we would end up somewhere in Nevada, but that didn't happen. We definitely didn't end the run in LA. I recall that I finished the run at around 5:30 or 6:00 in the afternoon. I must have left my wallet on top of the pump at my last gas stop, but luckily there wasn't anything of value inside except my driver's license and maybe ten bucks. I had stashed another hundred bucks in my boot, so I had plenty of money for gas, and dinner, though I decided that I had better get a place to get some sleep.

This was quite an undertaking. Riding from my home to LA was about 350 miles. Add another thousand to that for the rally, and then another 350 miles home. A total of 1,700 miles. I had left home at around 6:00 in the morning, arrived at the starting point around noon, then didn't get any sleep until I grabbed that hour nap before dawn, lying on the bike. After spending the night in a motel. I completed the ride home.

Back home! Safe and all in one piece! 

The bike? The bike ran flawlessly. Because I was touring, not racing, fuel economy was in the high twenties. With a four gallon tank, range was probably around 120 miles. This was before the first Arab oil embargo and there were plenty of gas stations open twenty four hours a day in most towns. It was pretty comfortable, and of course being a young buck of eighteen years didn't hurt a bit. Looking back at it all, it must have been a leap of faith for my folks to have permitted me to make this trip. If my Parents had objected I wouldn't have gone, at least this year.

As it turns out I revisited this rally twice more. A couple of years later my Buddy Rick and I had planned on taking the rally, but it was cancelled at the last minute. We hadn't checked to confirm and arrived in LA to find that it had been cancelled. So Rick and I did our own version of the 1,000 mile ride. We decided to ride up State Route 395, the spine of the State, through Big Pine and past Mt. Shasta.

I did participate one more time in an official California 1,000. I don't remember the exact year, but it was on my '77 Sportster 1,000. It was fun, and a bit of adventure. But like many things in life, the first time is the most memorable.

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