Valley of Death Trip
April 2004, Part 1                                                              



By Paula Keezer


Jerry’s is this neat little restaurant with a Jettsons style sign out front that can’t be missed as you travel through the famed motorcycle town of Hollister on route 25.  This sunny Friday morning in early April Jerry’s was the starting point for a multi day adventure to Death Valley and beyond, planned by the Motogirlies motorcycle riding group located in the SF Bay area. 


Sarah, the rides facilitator and Craigum, the rides route planner had chosen Jerry’s as the best spot for our first meetup. There were riders arriving from San Francisco, the Pennisula and from the East bay.  Jerry’s was a convenient intersection for all who were joining the Valley of Death ride.  


Although billed as a girls trip, guys were invited to help us out and provide moral support as this was the first multiday-multinight trip planned by the Motogirlies.  Craigum, Bruce, Michael, Cesar and Grady were therefore dubbed honorary Motogirlies for the trip!


I rode down from San Francisco with two other riders, Bone and Sue, as well as Renee, our racer chick without a bike, who kindly volunteered to join us with her truck.  As we rode into Jerry’s we could find only a lone Ducati SS stacked with gear.  Micheal had arrived first at Jerry’s and his warm smile and hug took the edge off of the cool April morning. 


Soon, the roar of four more motorcycles came into the parking lot and the group started to take shape.  Craigum, Sarah, Bruce and Carla rolled in and as they pulled of their helmets, smiles could be seen all around.  It was shaping up to be a fine trip.


After a quick breakfast at Jerry’s and some equipment redistribution into the truck, we headed south on 25.  With the exception of Sue and Bruce who stayed behind to review a patched repair on an oil leak that had developed on Sue’s bike, the rest of the group raced down eighty or so miles of twisties on route 25 breaking into really fast (Craigum) fast (Carla, Michael and Paula) and sweeps (Sarah, Bone and Renee).  Oooh those new Metzler M1s felt real fine as we carved up the sweeping turns and haipins through the green and flowering country side. 


Occasionally there would come a straight section and the mini group of Ducatis I was with would open up the throttle and close some of the gap with Craigum’s Tiger.  Only to be left behind again as Craigum effortlessly glided through the turns at speeds that were just a bit hotter then the few of us chasing him felt comfortable with. 



At the end of our trip down 25 we all stopped at the intersection with 198.  Carla went on to Coalinga for a much needed rest stop while the rest of us waited for Sarah, Bone and Renee  who soon caught up with us.  As the air warmed, we shed some of our layers in anticipation of the heat as we approached the Central Valley in mid day.  Our eye shields were covered with bugs.   Thanks to an ample supply of Plexus we all had our shields clear as crystal (at least for the few minutes after we began riding again).


198 started out with steep, up hill twisties as we crossed over the last ridge before Coalinga and the Central valley.  The air began to dry and the vegetation took on a more low, scrub appearance.   Craigum was out of sight until we got onto the flats as he managed to get by most of the 16 wheelers struggleing up the hill.  A few of us managed to scoot by the trucks at the top while Renee, running sweep in the truck, played with an irate motorist trying to challenge the trucks on each switchback up the hill.  The traffic was a bit heavier on 198 as it is a main east/west route from Bakersfield to the coast.  Soon we were on long flats heading into the small urban area of Coalinga and the group managed to re-collect before catching up with Carla at a food and gas station. 





The Coalinga stop was a Chevron with an outside barbeque and a lot of locals eyeing us as we shed our armor and gassed up.  Soon, Bruce, on his Big Bird Beemer, caught up with us and gave us the bad news about Sue’s bike.  The oil leak patch didn’t hold and she had to ride back to the shop in San Francisco.  It was a disappointed, as Sue had done reservation work for the campsite at Death Valley and we had been looking forward to her on the ride as a well prepared, can do rider.


This was an extended gassup as we heard that Cesar, who had been running late, was nearly at the Chevron in Coalinga and could see the station from where he stopped.  Soon  our group was complete and we were off for the Lerdo Highway junction and the final crossing of the central valley.


198 and 33 are really flat roads.  Long straights with slight jogs and lots of farming.  Things were greening up nice in most places but there were e a few dusty spots where the early spring crop had been turned under and the plows were tilling the brown rich central valley earth. 


It was time for  Tigers and Ducks to fly!  As I needled Craigum, the speedo went past triple digits and the miles melted away in the heat of the early afternoon sun.  Fields of new vegetation, to early to identify, raced by in a repetitive, almost moiré’ pattern sort of way.


A lone, thin telephone pole marked the stop at Lerdo highway.  33 stretched south and north as far as the eye could see and Lerdo stretched east, into a dot.   The sun beating down with the temperatures pushing into the 90’s soon made our gear feel uncomfortably hot.  As we waited for the riders to arrive, it was time to drink some water and stand in the thin shade offered by the telephone pole.   


The final sprint across the Central Valley involved part of the urban center of Bakersfield.  There were lots of farm related industries and more then a few pesticide and fertilizer tanker trucks with strange odors that I care not to recall. 


The base of the Sierras and canyon land lie ahead.  The twisties were awesome with lots of opportunities to scrub away the chicken stripes on our tires, as a spirited chase ensued through the canyons toward Lake Isabella and our end of Friday destination of Kern River.  There was lots of traffic on 178 which slowed most of the group down.  A few of us managed to break away and do some serious canyon carving.  This was not a place to make mistakes as the road wound its way up toward Lake Isabella with blind curves and steep drop offs.  At the southern tip of Lake Isabella a few of us stopped and layed out a plan to find a campsite on the Kern River, which empties, into Lake Isabella at its northerly point.  Four of us took off toward and up the Kern river.  The Kern river is a park where a valley road follows the river up to nearly its source.  The road was in fine shape with lots of changing radius turns to keep you awake as the sunlight began to wain.  We finally settled on the main camp ground as the rest of the camps along the Kern River were seasonally closed.  There we met up with the rest of our group who had settled on the main site before we arrived, backtracking down the Kern River.  To all of our surprise, we met with the splinter group of Emm, Pam and Grady.  They had decided to leave a day early and meet us in Death Valley on Saturday night but it was really nice to get the entire group together for camping on the Kern River!


We had an eat out food plan, so we headed back to Kernville for a nice authentic Mexican dinner and to catch up with each others ride experiences through the 350 or so miles of diverse roads that we had just completed.  Heading back to the campsite, Renee and Sarah picked up some fire wood at a million dollars per bundle (just kidding) from a local general store.  Sarah got a lecture from the owner on how the fire wood price was fair even though it was high! 


So ended a safe and exciting day one of the DV trip!