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C2C Day 17: The Kindness of Strangers July 18, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Morro Bay was even foggier in the morning than it was the night prior, which I should have expected.  The air was cool and damp, which I sensed I should really, really appreciate, given where I was going. 

Packing the bike as the sun was starting to clear the air, I chatted again with my Norwegian friend from the night prior, getting a recap of his intended vacation and receiving well-wishes for my trip.  I also spoke briefly with a young man in a heavy metal T-shirt whose folks are big Harley riders.  He’d like to be as well, but has neither the time nor the money with a new baby.

The ride continued south toward Santa Maria turning east on SR-166.  I was heading toward desert, and I knew from the sudden drop in temperature coming into Monterey the day prior, that I would be facing a sudden rise heading east.  I savored the clammy damp air.  Knowing I’d be passing a whole lot of nothing and uncertain what the gas situation would be, I gassed up in Nipomo at the last exit prior to SR-166.

The temperature change was pretty abrupt, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was not sweltering as I entered the Los Padres National Forest, though it was getting warmer.  The scenery was great, though very tough to match the ride the day prior.  Halfway through the forest, I was down to my new white Vallejo Harley T-shirt and copious amounts of sunscreen.  Hitting the Mojave Desert in early afternoon, it was HOT.  By Maricopa, the heat was truly excruciating.  It is hard to describe it adequately without the use of expletives or cliches.  The old saw “blast-furnace” is overused (I wonder how many of us have even experienced a blast furnace; I haven’t) but that seems to be the metaphor.  I am guessing it is what synthetic socks go through in those industrial laundromat dryers on the heavy setting while waiting for the jeans to catch up.  In Maricopa, I gassed up, drank a large bottle of Gatorade and a large bottle of water, and bought a second water for the saddle bags.  I felt sick drinking so much at once, but pressed on.

Heading up SR-99 toward Bakersfield, my failed target from the day prior, I took a right onto SR-223 to shave off some miles.  Shortly after, I pulled into Arvin.  I stopped at a McDonalds for a burger and a disgustingly blue (and large) “Powerade”.  I sat there for an hour in their poorly functioning air conditioning, and thought I felt “normal enough” to keep going. 

Leaving Arvin it got HOTTER.  I really didn’t think it was possible.  It was like sticking your head into an oven on “self clean” mode, which I happen to know a little something about having had the experience of testing solar arrays for use in orbit around Mercury where the sun is 10 times stronger than here on earth. (the MESSENGER Project, I was the lead engineer for the solar arrays — but that is another story) 

One upside to the heat is that my tires absolutely stuck to the road.  I was taking tight curves at high speed like I was on rails, so I was making really good time, or at least that’s what I thought…

On downside was that the heat was beginning to affect my judgement and attention.  I so wanted to make it to Barstow to get out of the heat as soon as possible.  So, I made use of my sticky tires and flew down the highway.  Typically… when I am speeding down the road, I maintain a keen awareness of my surroundings, including (especially) the occurrence of highway patrol.

Just north of Mojave, I was right on top of him when I saw him, parked on the shoulder in an underpass.  I know to treat all “disabled” vehicles as speed traps — but I didn’t even notice until it was too late.  What is worse is that I just finished passing a semi on a downhill run.  I tried to brake and roll along as it nothing happened… but it was too late. 

I guess I blame the heat because the exactly two times I have been pulled over on the bike correspond directly to the exactly two times I was approaching heat exhaustion.

I was mildly hopeful in our initial rapport, but no… licence, registration, insurance… no chit chat, no questions… he headed back to his car see if I was “wanted” and to write the citation leaving me standing in the sun for what seemed like 10-15 minutes.   No “Jedi Mind Trick” on this one.  While waiting, I opening saddle bag to get the bottle of water I bought in Maricopa.  I may as well have been trying to gulp coffee (minus the actual coffee beans). 

I signed my ticket, and was told to call the number on it to find out what to do next (including to find out how much I owe?)  I didn’t have my reading glasses on; so at that critical time, I didn’t know the cops handwriting was stuck at a 4th grade level and I couldn’t read the phone number  (I had to later try 3 permutations of his scrawls before reaching the courthouse line… I finally got “lucky” I guess.)

So after baking in the sun on the highway (with and without air flow) I had lost a lot of time, and stood to lose more avoiding another ticket.  I continued toward Barstow; I did not feel well.  As I rode I felt worse… dizzy, disoriented, fatigued, back ache, parched… the hot wind gusts became painful.  I just wanted it all to stop.

I knew there was no way I would make it to Barstow, but I was in the middle of the desert; I had no where to go.  I pressed on.  Seeing an exit for Boron I pulled off; it even had a blue lodging “info sign” — nothing for a restaurant or gas.  Ideally, I’d find a restaurant and sit in the air conditioning drinking a few gallons of ice water, but I figured the worst possible scenario would be to check into a motel and re-plan. 

Pulling into Boron there was nothing but a small community with houses… the one place that looked even remotely like “lodging” was an apartment rental.  There was one restaurant, but it was closed.  I turned off the main street into the housing.  I passed a school, but no restaurants, no motels, no stores…  I went to turn further into the houses heading back toward the exit, but it was pretty clear I was hosed.  I had no where to go, and no chance of making it to Barstow.  I was certain that if I stayed on the bike, I’d go down… either dropping it at low speed or flying off the road at high speed, but I was going down.

I saw a rare patch of shade from a tree on the corner and sloppily turned the bike to park illegally right on the corner (in the turning area, not the parking area) I pulled myself off the bike staggering toward the curb and trying to get my helmet off.  Just then the owner of that corner house came out.  I was fumbling trying to get my earplugs out without losing them.  He said something I couldn’t understand, and repeated himself “You looking for a place to cool down?”  My mind raced with all the paranoia of a teenage driver being asked by a cop “you trying to sober up?”  The flurry of thoughts ranged from being accused of trespassing, to being polite and saying “no I’m fine”, to hoping I was saved.  Fortunately, it was the latter.  I collapsed onto the curb and he was immediately there with ice water, a wet towel, and an ice pack.  I thanked him profusely as his wife came out to see what was going on. 

The couple, Dale and Donna, stood there with me as I gulped glasses of water and clutched the ice pack.  I felt bad, sitting there pathetically trying to feel normal quickly, but they were kind, understanding, and patient.  They knew from living in the desert how the heat can sneak up on you, and how badly it can affect a person.  My back was aching, and Dale brought me a blanket to lie on.  They sincerely encouraged me to take all the time I needed.  We talked for quite a while; I was most likely rambling, but slowly I began to feel better. 

The sky to the east grew dark, and the clouds there were throwing lightning about a mile and a half away.  The wind was coming out of the east and picking up steam.  Dale’s weather radio announced 62 mph gusts and heavy rains in eastern Kern County (our location).  Dale offered space in his garage for the bike.  Getting up, I knew I was not 100% yet, but safely got the bike into the garage amidst Dale’s antique car restorations.  We sat in the shade of the garage to wait our the coming storm. 

garage-tempDale’s friend Gary showed up for a visit.  I was feeling really intrusive, but Dale, Donna, and Gary empathetically made me feel at ease with great hospitality.  We sat talking for quite sometime… about the heat, the town, Dale’s car passion, the my ride, Donna’s father (who worked with NASA in the Apollo era).  As I felt better, I was actually having a lot of fun.  The garage was a chilly102 degrees, but felt so much cooler.  The music on the radio was playing classic rock, and we were talking like we’d known each other for ages.

It turns out that I was in only a part of Boron, a smaller sub-community that lives closer to the Borax mine.  Boron-proper was actually three miles further up the road and was equipped with restaurants, stores, and motels… everything but a gas station.  Of course when Dale and Donna rescued me, I was going to head back on the exit I came in on, rather than risk wasting time up an unknown county road. 

Despite the fact that I now “felt” ok and Barstow was “only” 40 miles away, I decided I’d stay at a motel in Boron, and get up very very early to try to ride to Vegas before the heat set it.  It would only take me about 4 hours to get to Vegas from there, and it was expected to be rideable until 8 or 10am.  I thanked them profusely for their kindness, help, and hospitality and repeatedly offered to buy them dinner in downtown Boron.  They sincerely appreciated my offer, but declined asking only that I pass the favor on to others in need. 

Thank you Dale & Donna!

Thank you Dale & Donna!

After getting directions to the motel, I thanked them again and rode off down the road the three miles to the town I didn’t know was there.  I got a room on the cool side of the motel and unpacked the bike.  I was still not feeling well and didn’t really know how well food would sit with me.  But given that I hadn’t eaten anything since the night prior, I figured it was a good idea to try.

In an interesting coincidence, Domingo’s, a Boron restaurant, is where the shuttle astronauts come for a celebratory dinner as a tradition every time the shuttle makes a west coast landing in nearby Edwards Air Force Base – so they have a lot of pictures and memorabilia hanging on the walls there.  My former boss at NASA, Carl Walz, had flown four shuttle missions.  I didn’t know if any of them landed at Edwards, but when Dale told me of the restaurant, I sensed a faint memory that I had heard of it before.  I decided that would be my dinner destination.

I got to Domingo’s and had a seat.  I didn’t see any pictures of Carl in the vicinity, but thought it would be rude for me to graze the walls while folks are trying to eat.  I was still in a bit of a haze.  I ate part of a combination platter that was quite good, but I just couldn’t eat much.  With my head feeling better, and my stomach feeling worse, I left. 

Outside the restaurant, I met of with a small group of men looking at my Harley.  After entertaining questions about it and briefly discussing rides and rentals, one of the gentlemen asked me how I knew to come to Domingo’s so I mentioned the story of Dale and Donna, and the idea that I thought my NASA HQ boss may have gone there.  It turns out that the man to whom I was speaking was the recently retired vice-commander of Edwards AFB, and he knows Carl.  (Remember I was talking with Koz & Mamma Koz in Arco about coincidences… well here was another one)

After the parking lot conversation, I sought a gas station to top off the tank so I wouldn’t need to worry about to at 4 am.  I was told that there was a gas station 6 miles up the road, and like an idiot I headed out for it.  I neglected to do the math: that it was a sixth of the way to Barstow that I would be backtracking twice. Of course I figured this out five miles down the road.

I filled up and bought more water and a coke for the next morning (faster than brewing coffee). I rolled back to the motel, set my cell phone alarm for o’dark-thirty and collapsed on the bed.