“Let’s ride,” the road captain called out. My husband and I threw on our helmets, and jumped on our Harley Ultra touring bike. When the HOG moved, you’d better move quickly or get left behind. I held on tight as Frank upshifted through his gears to keep up with the other riders.
“You’re okay?” he asked through our intercom.
“I’m fine,” I said, holding on with my knees as I tried to pull on my last glove. The motorcycles zipped through the gauntlet of traffic lights and stop signs, growling with anticipation, until our leader threw up the hand signal to turn onto a back road.
This little-used two-lane strip of asphalt led us through our city’s backyard, each turn contrasting cobbled-together mobile homes with spreading mansions. Wrought iron fences allowed glimpses of apartment-sized travel trailers, boats, vintage cars, and off-road vehicles. The next turn revealed boarded-up shacks, broken-down cars, and other artifacts left behind when dreams failed.
The line of Harleys ahead of us began to climb a steep mountain, and I peered nervously over the edge. Not for the first time, I was glad my husband was an experienced rider so that I could enjoy the ride without the responsibility. Beyond the unguarded edge, the lake lay shrouded in blue mist. Quickly I looked up, the snowcapped mountains to the north making me squint through my shaded visor. Yesterday, my boots crunched in January snow up in those mountains, but today I rode behind Frank enjoying 60-degree sunshine. Again I was reminded why Californians find it difficult to be transplanted to other states.
When we gained the top, the Harley pack threaded through the narrow pass between peaks. Tree-covered mountains tumbled before us like the folds of an enormous quilt. The forest kept its secrets as we sped past, riders focusing on their turns.
“Coming up on our left,” Frank warned me. A gust of wind buffeted our bike as two impatient sport bikes squeezed by us in our lane, determined to push the boundary between the capability of their motorcycles and imminent death.
Curve after curve cradled our descent, and finally the mountains spit us out at the bottom. I shook out my stiff shoulders and relaxed my grip on Frank’s waist. The road would not remain straight for long, and after a few traffic lights, we plunged into an even narrower canyon.
Crowded groups of large houses gave way to ranches nestled under towering oak trees. Bicycle riders in full racing gear shared our mud-streaked road. I planted my boots on my footrests so that I wouldn’t bump into my husband’s helmet on the hairpin turns to the bottom. A flash of chrome through the trees signaled the end of our journey, Cook’s Corner.
“Better get down now,” Frank said. I slid off the bike and watched him wait for his turn to park next to custom choppers, full-dresser cruisers, and lean sportsters. Live music called to us from the patio, the aroma of hamburgers and fries making my stomach rumble. Instead of the small biker bar I was expecting, we found an open-air flea market of leather motorcycle clothes, accessories, and parts.
After lingering over items we still didn’t have, we finally made it to the restaurant. Inside, bearded men crowded at the bar, cheering at the football game. An older gentleman in a wheelchair and bikers wearing patches from various motorcycle clubs waited in a long line that led to the counter. The buzz of conversation created its own energy, making the tiny restaurant into an event more than a barbecue joint.
After picking up our food, Frank and I joined our group seated at a redwood table outside. The band cranked out classic rock on the patio a few steps above us, but we were far enough away to hear each other.
“Great ride,” the new guy, Dave, said.
“The road with the oak trees hanging over it makes it feel like you’re traveling through a tunnel,” Dan, our road captain, agreed.
“It’s not just bikers here,” I whispered to Frank, as I looked around. He nodded his head, his mouth full of a juicy burger. When he was able, he added, “We’re all adventurers here.”
A table of motorcycle club members sat near a table of bicycle riders. Young sport bike riders in neon green gear drank matching energy drinks with their barbecue sandwiches. Grey bearded riders huddled over their beers at a high counter. Our long table filled with leathered up riders who during the week were teachers, office workers, and contractors.
In another setting, these different groups would not be comfortable sharing space. Judgments about lifestyles and generations had no place here. Not all who journeyed here were motorcyclists, yet all shared the love of a sunny winter afternoon journey. For this moment, it was enough.
Jodi Rizzotto and her husband ride with the Harley Owners Group, and many of our adventures create stories. “Cook’s Corner is about how my first visit to a well-known biker bar challenged my stereotypes about the biker culture.” Some more of her Harley stories have appeared in Coldnoon Travel Diaries and Courtship of Winds. She also writes young adult fantasy, and her work-in-progress, The College of the Crones, received an Honorable Mention Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is the editor of The Handlebar Star, a publication of the Inland Empire Chapter of the Harley Owners Group. She is also the vice president and membership chair of the Inland Empire branch of the California Writers Club. When not roaring down the road with the HOG or camping at the beach, she teaches 4th grade in Riverside, California.
Photography by Roger Camp.