Waking up in a lake front squatter’s camp in the middle of all those mountains, I fired up the stove for a cup of yerba mate. It’s easy to see why Lake Tahoe has become a vacation paradise for the wealthy, and I was glad to be able to pilfer a little bit of the good life for my humble purposes, if only for this one night. I studied the map for the ride that lay ahead.
Today would be a day of extremes: the furthest point from home, the highest elevation of the trip so far, and the most remote section of highway. But more than any of those things, today was a mental high-point of the journey itself, an exalted realization of the joy of traveling. I began to feel a certain equilibrium, and packing up the camp was as easy as making the bed at home. There was a simple spring-in-my-step as I stuffed the bags, tightened down the straps, checked pressures and levels, jumped onto the bike and pointed her back onto Highway 89. I could get used to this life, and the only thing better than the thought of continuing on to the edge of the world would be to share it with the snowpeach, who was flying to Oakland airport to meet me in a few days.
89′s route along the western edge of the lake is surreal, twisting its way high above the rocky shore. I felt like I was riding on a ribbon that had been tossed out into a breeze. The road ran high along a ridge and there was no shoulder on either side, just a four inch white line separating the pavement from a steep and sharply descending oblivion. Running wide on a corner here would mean certain death for a traveler, and I thought about something Stormy had said, with a levity that was unusual for him:
“Remember that little boy you’ve got at home.” He reminded me that I had a couple of good reasons to ride safely and arrive home intact.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Stormy had been teaching me about The Pace. He never got preachy about technique or safety, and there’s no question that he believes in hauling ass. But he’s also a 64 year old rider who has logged over 350,000 miles and can’t remember the last time he crashed. In most of the curvy sections on our route, he rode as fast as I did but he never got out of his seat, while I was hanging off of my tank. Stormy just stayed planted and looked relaxed while his toes were dragging on the ground. It was The Pace.
Stormy paid me a respectful compliment that I’m still proud of, and it was much more than just a compliment. It was a subtle and supportive teaching, from a wise old master of the motorcycle. He said,
“I won’t ride with a lot of guys, but I’ll ride anywhere with you, anytime. Because you’re a good rider and a fast rider, but there’s a conservativeness to the way you ride the bike.” That Missouri drawl emphasized his words: “A lot of guys don’t know about that, especially guys your age. They’ll come into a corner too hot. And then they’ll get their tits in a twist.”
Coming from him, it felt pretty special.
Highway 4, also known as Ebbetts Pass Highway as it crosses the high Sierra, defies all description and I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I will say this: when supermoto riders dream, they dream of this road.