I had to shift mental gears. My brief solo travel adventure was over and it was time to re-embrace travel with my dear man. It isn’t better or worse, just different. We managed our on-the-road meetup fairly seamlessly, given the circumstances. Now we’re back to doing what we do best—traveling together. We woke up in one of our favorite getaways to the possibilities and unknowns of the travel that lay ahead.
Route: US 6, US 395, CA 14, CA 178, Sierra Way
Breakfast is served at 8 am at Benton Hot Springs. With chow time earlier than my usual rhythm, there was no lounging about in bed on the morning of Day 4. But the benefit of emerging at a reasonable hour is swapping travel stories with the other guests over a lovely meal prepared by someone else in a cozy historic bed and breakfast. And although our host was probably unprepared for the amount of coffee I guzzle in the morning, he kept the java flowing without a glitch.
We lingered over coffee with our fellow travelers before heading out. And of course, it was time to figure out where we were going. Certainly south on US 395. Weather dictated crossing the Sierra to get to the western side. But which pass to use for the crossing? We eyed Sherman Pass closely, having ridden west to east before and knowing how spectacular it is. The problem with tackling it on Day 4? Time. With a late exit from Benton, we were in for a long day to complete the pass and at higher elevations. If we got tired, camping would be a very chilly prospect. There aren’t a lot of services along the way and fewer open for business this time of year.
So we took a chance on unfamiliar roads, pushing fairly far south on US 395 in heavy winds to cross the mountains on CA 178 through Kernville. We hoped to scope out campsites along the way and see if we could get back to camping. No such luck. The sites along Lake Isabella were exposed to the winds and without adequate opportunities to hang our hammocks. We knew we could find lodging in Kernville so we pressed on.
Neither of us had ever been there before and it was a fabulous little surprise. It’s like a little mountain hideaway. Clearly we aren’t the first to discover this. It’s a summer resort town, with room prices to match. After finding a more budget-friendly option, we wandered to dinner at Kern River Brewing Company followed by cocktails at the Kernville Saloon prepared by an excellent bartender. I’m not sure if the locals visit in the high season but we got to chat a bit with them during our visit. It’s always enlightening to share time with local folks.
- Spainhower Park, Lone Pine. This is my favorite little place to take a rest stop when I don’t have any needs in Lone Pine other than stretching my legs and taking a loo break.
- Lake Isabella, Kernville. Clearly a summer playground for Southern Californians. I understand the attraction; it’s gorgeous.
- Kern River Brewing Company, Kernville. Nice little place to grab a bite and a local brew. Great fried pickles and pulled pork. It’s a reasonable walking distance from the town center.
- Kernville Saloon, Kernville. Fun, friendly place for cocktails.
Route: Sierra Hwy/M-99, M-50, CA 107/M-90, CA 190, CA 65, CA 198
You’ve probably noticed by now that I rarely get an early start on these trips. Day 5 was no different. After a leisurely breakfast, I was in dire need of my yoga and physical therapy routine to maintain strength and combat motorcycling stiffness.
As we finally departed, we set our sights on a campsite on Lake Kaweah. Being motorcyclists, we know the most direct route is often the least interesting. So we whipped out our Butler map and plotted a curvy trajectory toward the campground.
The route north out of Kernville was not marked on the map as being a good riding road but it was the best way to get to the other good roads ahead. Plus, we knew there were many Forest Service campsites along the way so going that direction served as a scouting opportunity for future trips.
Turns out the road is gorgeous. The pavement is shitty but the scenery is well worth the ride, even if the Butler folks don’t agree.
Somewhere along that section we met Ninja Squirrel. Ninja Squirrel is not your run-of-the-mill indecisive rodent. No, Ninja Squirrel will jet across the road at full speed without hesitation. You see him coming and know you have to maintain your line, not only because that’s good practice but also because any variation in your chosen path will put your wheels in a pothole. I pressed on waiting for the inevitable thump based upon my assessment of his speed and trajectory as well as mine. It never came. No, Ninja Squirrel bolted right between my front and rear wheels, underneath my feet. That’s some serious skill. And I will forever wish I had a camera mounted on my dear man’s bike to see it for myself. Given my vantage point, I had to rely on his report from behind me of how epic that squirrel’s performance was.
Ninja Squirrel was the source of much admiration the rest of the day as we moved through Sequoia National Forest. We eventually got to familiar roads. The area has seen large wildfires since our previous visits. The vegetation in many areas has been destroyed. The roads were sloppy with gravel and debris from the now-unstable road cuts. That makes for more challenges in maintaining traction on the bike.
Plus, full disclosure, I was riding like shit. I don’t know why. I just didn’t have my groove. I chose poor lines through the curves. I was hesitant. That mental state is a nasty negative feedback loop. I try to pay close attention to my needs for rest breaks and water. Technical riding requires more of those breaks and this was very technical riding. We’d been in the saddle for a long time non-stop, without so much as a quick opportunity to put our feet on the ground. I knew I was fatigued and needed a rest stop. The problem was that I couldn’t find a reasonable place to take one. The small turnouts along the way either came up too quickly around a corner to make them, or were a gravel and sand mess, or both. Fuck. It took quite a while to find a place to pull off safely. Once we did, I was able to reset a good bit. My dear man took the lead from that point and we eased out of the mountains towards camp. Of course, there was a much-needed taco stop along the way to help us finish off the day of tough riding.
The camping attempt:
We slid into Horsecreek Campground at Lake Kaweah, optimistic we were in for a treat. Imagine our dismay at finding much of the campground flooded and no suitable spot remaining for us hammock campers. We gave it the college try, examining all the sites to find one that seemed like it might be just comfortable enough to be able to enjoy a night there. It was a no go.
Remember that late start I mentioned? With that timing, there was not enough time to get to another campground that would work for us. Certainly not in our fatigued states after a challenging day of twisties. Our mileage wasn’t much really but the intensity was and I needed to stop for the day as soon as possible. We made a few soft inquiries to lodging options nearish the campground, all a little too pricey B&B-style for us. We’re familiar with Visalia, though, so into town we rode to regroup for the night.
We fell into our usual but tried and true routine. Rest, showers, dinner, cocktails, and an evening stroll to enjoy the town. Admittedly I was pretty tired from the day and feeling quite punchy but in the course of our post-cocktail stroll we came across Rasta-banana-monkey. My dear man didn’t even notice it until I pointed to the shop window and exclaimed “What IS that thing?”
On a day when you’ve met Rasta Banana Monkey and Ninja Squirrel, you have to laugh at the oddities of travel.
- Cheryl’s Diner, Kernville. Absolute must-do. Unbelievably friendly folks serving good food.
- Sequoia National Forest: Ok, the forest covers a lot of area but it’s gorgeous. Go do something, somewhere in this magical place.
- Primo’s Tacos, Lindsay. If you like to include a taco safari vibe in your travels, this place makes the grade.
- Brewbakers Brewing Company, Visalia. I crave large amounts of fat and salt after hard days in the saddle so their potato skins are my go-to when I’m in Visalia. Plus, good beer and sausages.
- Fugazzi’s Bistro, Visalia. Our post-dinner cocktail stop this time. We finally found a winner in Visalia! On past visits here, we’ve had less than stellar cocktails at other places. Go straight to Fugazzi’s for good drinks.
Thanks for following along. What’s coming up? Will we ever camp again?
Until next time, adventure on, friends!
The full ride map
(PS – the map is interactive if you want to take a closer look. I’ve dropped pins on points of interest. Zoom in to see those.)