For those who believe the descent from the peaks of Lake Tahoe and Donner Pass (CA) to Sacramento is a smooth one, think again. One hundred miles is a short ride, yes, but dropping nearly 8,000 feet is not.
It was in the low 40s when I departed Lake Tahoe, bitterly windy, and bits of snow still clung in the shadows under the pines and the peaks in the distance. The road, littered with sand and other debris as winter approached, required intense concentration. In the high altitude, my poor carbureted bike – I call her Molinara – had a painfully-low idle devoid of horespower. I lean on the throttle, and she barely responds. I looked forward to the increasing temperatures, but I did not adequately anticipate their abrupt arrival.
I began that one hundred mile downhill ride fully bundled, miserably cold, and with every bit of exposed skin covered with some form of protective gear.
Half an hour later, steering with one hand, I was flipping open visors, unzipping vents, loosening cold weather gear, and sweating. The only one enjoying the ride was Molinara, who saw a quick restoration of her torque and a robust roar in her pipes. She was happy, but I was not.
Baking in the now-70s temperatures, I pulled over outside of Sacramento to start peeling off layers and switching to lighter weight motorcycle gloves. There, parked conspicuously on the shoulder of a highway entrance ramp, I made a number of wardrobe adjustments.
As I stowed my gear, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) car tore past me, tires smoking, engine protesting, and disappeared onto the highway. Whomever he was chasing was going to be disappointed when he quickly overtook them. Another good reason to abide by the law. But strangely, another CHP patrol car pulled up behind me not five minutes later. Scrambling out of his car, the officer strode towards me severely.
“Have you seen anybody driving crazy here recently. Spinning their tires or something?” he demanded.
Yes I had, I told him, but it was another patrol car – no doubt responding to a call. Hearing my response, he started giggling.
“Yeah, that was me; I was bored. You gotta practice that stuff, you know?”
Over the next ten minutes, he tried to recruit me to CHP, talked about his time in the Marines (he and I were both infantry), and insisted that I use his name if I apply. If I make it, he gets a week’s vacation as a reward. I told him I’d consider it.
As we both readied to leave, he told me to be safe, watch my speed, and if I wanted, I could tail behind him for a bit. It sounded like a license to exceed the speed limit, so I quickly agreed.
He did at least fifteen over, and I followed directly behind him. Getting bored of it, I guess, he turned on his lights and pulled over somebody doing merely ten over. Popping an ugly, left-handed salute towards me, he grinned, and I kept going – fifteen over. Later that day, having arrived in the Bay area, I climbed off of Molinara, thanked her for safely carrying me more than 5,500 miles from one side of the continent to the other, and gave her a kiss. The other, I told her, I would save for when she got me back home.