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Almost Fiction: Christmas Snow Camping and Bad Asphalt

By Sam Jones

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In the very recent past, logic and emotion have been engaging in a vitriolic “take no prisoners” political war, which has not been replicated since 1968. With my decision to renounce this destruction derby, irrespective of the weather or the winter season, I have deemed this the perfect time for a psychological respite. To achieve this, my camping gear is loaded into my trailer, hitched to the back of my 20-year-old Harley-Davidson Electra Glide and we head out for an extended solo road trip.

Our only destination was “North;” my only goal was to recharge my batteries by being alone. Two days ago, December 23, 2016, while stealth camping at the end of a deserted logging road at the base of the Sierra Nevadas, I was greeted with a foot of snow.

I’ve snow camped lots of times. With proper equipment, plenty of food and a good book it’s no big deal. After all, I am pulling a trailer with enough camping stuff to build a cabin, homestead this place and rent out rooms to the survivors of the Donner Party.

Yesterday, with my axe, I spent most of my time collecting and stacking firewood; with my shovel I trenched in my tent up against a rock windbreak making my camp as impervious to the elements as possible. In the evening I cooked a decent steak with chili and enjoyed a couple of blasts of Scotland’s finest. Last night, although it was really cold, I slept warm and cozy. When it comes to hiding out from a posse this is just what the doctor ordered.

However, in the morning it started to snow again and if I didn’t dig out and leave soon there would be no way to get the motorcycle and trailer out until spring. So, even though reticent about leaving, I had to haul out.

Breaking camp was no big deal but now the road was snowpack over ice and traction was, to say the least, limited. But have no fear. I have a rope in the trailer.

It took about 20 minutes to turn the hemp rope into snow chains. With the shovel I made a little furrow so that I could roll the Harley forward after I started interweaving the rope around the tires and into the mag wheels. A couple of loops around and in and then push the bike forward, make a couple more loops and finally the rope was interlacing around both motorcycle tires and mimicked good snow chains.

The front end sloshed around a bit but the rope replica snow chain on the back wheel took hold, pushed straight, did its job and we made the plowed main road in about an hour.

The idea of this winter trip was to go north until I hit snow… I’d hit snow… so now I headed South… South towards Southern California… South towards home. I pretended I was a Canadian goose migrating to warmer climes.

But there was no hurry. Pointed in my direction the snow let up and the road surfaces dried out. Highways that needed to be plowed were behind me and with no particular urgency I stayed off the main drag and kept to the winding roads that interlace the foothills of the western side of the Sierras.

Not all counties spend the same amount of Caltrans maintenance money to keep all motorways in perfect repair. They are supposed to but they don’t. As I rode, the lane went from new asphalt to pot holes and back again. Further on, one side of the road was being repaved and covered with new macadam while the other was totally neglected. Going from the higher lane to the other lower lane in the opposite direction, a rider took his life in his hands maneuvering the three-inch drop-off. If you had to dodge a squirrel or a grizzly you jumped down the three-inch cliff, rode the potholes on the wrong side and then jumped back up to the right side of the road. This is something you had better pay attention to while riding a motorcycle pulling a trailer.

It all reminded me of a trip through Wyoming where the state’s road commission decided to save tax dollars. Instead of paving one side of the road and leaving the other until they could steal more tax money, they just repaved where an automobile’s wheels tracked. So, there was new asphalt 10 inches wide for each car tire and a three-inch drop-off at the right shoulder, between the two raised channels and at the centerline. It was the same in the opposite lane. Try riding a motorcycle on that mess. Try passing a car, going from one track, dropping down into a trough, then up the other track, down again at the centerline and repeat on the opposite side in the face of traffic and then scurry back to the nightmare of your lane. Did I mention that the road was not straight?

Snow for Christmas. Most people like snow for Christmas. I had snow for Christmas but was not impressed.

Now home, the Harley and trailer needed some attention, a little maintenance and a good cleaning. Being winter, I did what people did in the 1930s. I reinstalled my sidecar. Sidecars handled better in the rain and snow than a solo bike, allow a person to ride all year around and the trailer is no problem.

With this setup some of my friends say I look like that guy in the TV commercial, the guy who is riding the red motorcycle with matching sidecar pulling a teardrop trailer. I laugh. That guy is on a Russian Ural sidecar rig with no horsepower, flat out at about 40 mph. I’ve got a big, bad Harley. I can make the speed limit of 55 mph.

Having cleansed my psyche by traveling and camping alone, my next feat will be to get over the Siskiyou Pass at the California-Oregon border on the way to see my buddy in Coos Bay, Oregon.

Well, at least that is the plan, another northern winter road trip. I might wait for a weather window or I might not. What’s the problem? I can tackle any weather with the sidecar and take anything I might need with the trailer. Who cares? Wait until spring? Nahhhhhh. Anyone can ride in the spring. It is an adventure in the winter.

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