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The story and pictures of the Queer Biker Invasion of Death Valley - October 8-10, 2005
The 12th Annual Queer Biker Invasion of Death Valley came off without a hitch once again. A good time appeared to have been had by virtually everyone who took part. Since this ride has now happened 12 times, I thought it time to recapitulate how the ride got started, the underlying philosophy of the ride, and my comments on this years ride.
It was on this year's ride that I finally "got" what people have been telling me for a number of years. The Queer Biker Invasion of Death Valley has become a BIG DEAL to many people. It is something that people talk about, look forward to and value. All of this makes me quite happy. It is in part what I had hoped for when I conceived the ride. Understanding this, I am recommitting to (dis)organize the ride for as long as I am able, and as long as there appears to be a desire for the ride to happen.
How the ride got started
In August, 1993, my husband Bob agreed to go as my passenger on a 17 day, 4,000 mile motorcycle ride from California through northern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, back through southern Utah, Nevada and finally California. While he enjoyed the ride and considers it to be one of the exciting experiences of his life, he made it clear that he did not want to go on another long motorcycle ride. Once in his lifetime was enough.
With that in mind, August, 1994, we planned a weekend in Reno, Nevada. Bob, with a lifelong interest in railroads, made reservations on the California Zephyr to Reno. I rode my motorcycle and met him at the train station. Because Amtrak moves very slowly, there was enough time for me to take Route 120, through Yosemite, over Tioga Pass, and then north to Reno on Route 395. I arrived in Reno the same time as Amtrak, picked Bob up at the station and we headed for our nearby hotel where we spent two nights relaxing and seeing Reno. When it came time to return to the Bay Area, Bob got back on the train and I headed north to the Feather River Canyon and headed west.
Now, when I said Amtrak moves slowly, I mean very, very, slowly. I had a lot of time to ride back to the Bay Area. The weather was warm, I rode slowly and shirtless through the Feather River Canyon. The scenery was beautiful. I did not want the ride to end. I kept slowing down, until I was going about 15-20 mph.
About half way through the canyon, I kept thinking, "I donít want this to be my last big ride of the season", and kept thinking of where I might go. After thinking about a number of possibilities, I started thinking about Death Valley. I had never been there and had always wanted to see it.
I also realized that it was still very hot in Death Valley in late August, and I would have to do the ride later in the season. I realized that my birthday was in mid October, and I could plan a weekend adventure as a birthday party for myself (I imagined Leslie Gore singing "Itís my party and Iíll ride if I want to"). Two days before I had gone over Tioga Pass, and I now thought about doing that again, but heading south to Death Valley, and then back over the southern Sierra to Bakersfield. From Bakersfield, there were a number of possible routes back to the Bay Area. I decided to go.
I had at first thought I would go by myself, but then thought, others might want to go with me. I came up with an idea,.
Being into motorcycles since I was a teenager. I knew motorcyclists well. I knew that motorcyclists were solitary, contrary and independent by their nature, but who also liked to ride in groups, occasionally. So in the Feather River Canyon I came up with the idea that I would print up some flyers detailing my proposal; I would outline a three day motorcycle ride to Death Valley that I would do, and anyone who wanted could join me at any point. Everyone would be responsible for their own motel (or camping) reservations, but I would print up a resource list along with phone numbers. It was made clear from the beginning that no part of the trip would be required of anyone. Riders could drop in, drop out, do whatever they wanted. The one thing they could be assured of is that I would be riding a specific route at specific times, including a group meeting at Zabriskie Point. If they wanted to ride with me, or share a meal, that would be welcomed and enjoyed.
I printed up hundreds of flyers which announced "The 1st Annual Queer Biker Invasion of Death Valley" (with a note saying that this would be the first of many annual rides to Death Valley). I put them on every motorcycle in San Francisco I could find. I also left the flyers at dealers, shops, etc. I got phone calls from a number of people saying they were interested.
Eleven riders and a couple of passengers showed up for the first ride at Castro Street. Three riders met us at Zabriskie Point, having left the day before we did. The weather was terrible that first year. It snowed going over Tioga Pass. We were all frozen by the time we got to the hot creek. But I noticed that despite the lousy weather, everyone was in a fantastic, upbeat mood. It was infectious. Having been through the hell of Tioga Pass, we were in the heaven of the hot creek. I wrote a story of the ride for City Bike, the freebie biker monthly newspaper in San Francisco.
By 1995, the Internet and web had exploded onto the scene, and I put up all the ride information, including the route, motels, and other info on the web. I continued to put flyers around town. The weather for the second ride was beautiful and it was followed by another City Bike story. In the third yea (1996), the weather turned foul again (this was the last time there was bad weather for the ride), but everyone was in a good mood. I knew then I had hit on something special, but it was not until now that I realized how special the ride has become.
Philosophy of the ride - Organized Chaos
I have spent my personal and professional life as a helper and healer. At a young age, I noticed how eager our society was to point how to people how they are deficient they were when compared to some mythical normalcy. I came to believe that diversity was and is part of the intended plan. What we see in a person, particularly regarding how they interact with others, is the the only way they can relate to others on a deep spiritual level.
I wanted the Queer Biker Invasion of Death Valley to reflect that. I wanted everyone to feel free to ride how they wished. Those who wanted to ride as a group should be fully comfortable riding as a group. Those who wanted to ride alone, or with a small group, but who also wanted to share a meal, etc. to be fully comfortable doing that.
From the beginning the ride I have stressed that. I generally lead a group of willing riders, but there were always a few who leave early, later, or take a different route. They are always welcomed at points of interaction. From the first flyer I encouraged those who might want to attend to ride the ride they wanted to ride. Nothing was or is required of anyone. There would be no registration, no tee shirts, no pins, no official anything. Just a bunch of riders who wanted to spend a weekend riding, and interacting to some degree over 1,000 miles of the finest roads and scenery in California. If there was and is an unsaid mantra for the ride, it is "Iím so glad you are here".
The 2005 Ride
What I am going to write about the 2005 ride is some of my experiences, impressions and observations. Most of what follows is rambling thoughts about the ride.
I had a sense in the weeks before the ride that people were excited. There was some buzz about the ride.
People always ask me how many riders went on the ride and I never know the total amount. I do know that 47 bikes left Castro Street, about 60 left the gas stop at Mantecca, 60 people are in the group shot at Zabriskie Point, and 60 people went to dinner together on Saturday night. A resident of Bishop who meets up with us each year said he counted 83 bikes leaving Bishop as a group on Sunday morning. All these numbers are larger than any previous ride. Given how many people I know skipped the group picture at Zabriskie Point, I would estimate that there were 100+ bikes taking part in the ride.
The majority were riders who have gone on the ride once, twice or many times before. Many riders skip years, or appear years late. Some were on their first ride. Many riders appear to group together into "pods", while others remain loners year after year, observing from the perimeter.
The ride got off to an unusual start. As soon as the group got on the Central Freeway, I noticed the ramp to the Bay Bridge was closed. We had to head south on 101 and turn around at the next exit. Two riders got speeding tickets almost immediately, on I205 just east of the Altamont Pass. They had been going speeds up to 120 but were written up for 80 in a 65 zone.
As usual, a group split off and went over Sonora Pass while the rest of us went over Tioga Pass.
Dinner the first night was at La Casita, a Mexican Restaurant in Bishop. Once again, La Castia became the hottest queer biker bar for 200 mile in any direction (and the only one). Sunday morning out of Bishop was not as cold as usual, which was appreciated by all. This also meant the temperature on Death Valley stayed on the cool side (mid 90's).
On Sunday, we made it back to Zabriskie Point. Last year, the point was closed. Summer storms had washed out Route 190, leaving it a mass of broken pavement and boulders east of Furness Creek. The same was true for the Zabriskie Point parking lot. The road and the parking lot had to be completely rebuilt.
But this year all was repaired and a new parking lot. There are 60 riders in the group picture, plus a few more that were at Zabriskie Point hanging around, but who didn't get into the picture. This was the largest gathering at Zabriskie Point that I can remember. The Desert Brotherhood from Las Vegas joined us there, again. So did some bikers who came up from Arizona and Southern California. The entire gathering at Zabriskie lasts perhaps 30 minutes. Most of that time is getting some tourists (this year they were Dutch) to take a group shot of us with each of our individual cameras.
There were a number of riders who got as far as Furness Creek and decided to stay there and have lunch and not go to Zabriskie Point. There are others who do an abbreviated ride on Sunday and from Bishop, went south on 395, to 178 west to Bakersfield. This changes Sunday from a 400 mile day to a 200 mile day. For some of those riders, this appears to be the appropriate way for them to do the day and the ride. One I know was feeling moody and depressed, and just wanted some alone time in Bakersfield. Two others told me they like to ride, but not "that" much, and a 200 mile day is better for them than a 400 mile day. From what I could see, each of those riders were much better off doing it their way. They were in a good mood at dinner, which might not have been the same had they done the entire ride that day.
And of course there is the rest of us who can't seem to get enough miles into the day.
Sunday night dinner in Bakersfield was magnificent. We took over the banquet room in a French/Basque restaurant in Bakersfield and 60 of us were seated in long, family style tables as we consumed a (so, so) dinner. The food may not have been great, but the ambience and company were. Thank you, David, for making this possible.
As far as I know, there were no serious accidents on this year's ride. One biker dropped his bike at a very low speed, but a rock pierced his crankcase, ending the ride for him and his passenger.
The two riders who had serious accidents last year are both doing fine. Both have new bikes and one of them came on the ride this year. Fellow riders noted that he rode slower and more cautiously this year.
Kids on the ride
Many years there are one or two kids on the ride; usually the teenage son of one of the riders. One year a boy rode with his mother. In 2004, Andrew, who has been coming on the ride most years since the 2nd ride, brought his 13 year old son. The boy had grown up hearing about this ride. Andrew has a problem next year. His second son will be 13 and both want to go on the ride. He is jokingly saying he needs a side car.
I believe the kids on the ride get to have an incredible experience. For one thing, they get to spend three days with their father or mother. That is quite a bonding experience. They get to see magnificent scenery. And they get to meet a lot of interesting adults.
There were two kids on this yearís ride. Both were the teenage sons of riders. One of the kids is growing up in a non-mainstream family with a number of adults in the parental role. This kid is intelligent, precocious, knowledgeable and sophisticated. He is also developmentally and emotionally still just a 13 year old, and was treated as such by all the other riders.
This was his first big motorcycle ride. He had ridden on the back of his fatherís motorcycle many times, including going up Market Street at the back of the Womenís Motorcycle Contingent (aka Dykes on Bikes) in the 2005 Gay Pride Parade. But this was the first time he had ever taken a long overnight road trip on the back of a motorcycle with is father (or anyone).
His father rides a sport bike, which can be a bit uncomfortable for passenger. He asked another rider with a more comfortable bike if he could ride on back. This other rider is short, shaved headed, bearded and extensively tattooed guy. This other rider is also an oncologist. What an experience for the kid! He gets to see that one can be a responsible adult, and also be true to yourself.
Many riders were unhappy with the conditions of the Motel 6 in Bakersfield, noting that it had become a bit shabby. I was told by the receptionist that starting in January the entire motel will undergo a renovation and there will be all new carpets, beds, covers, etc. next year.
I had a great time on the ride. For the first time in the last 6 rides, I did not have a passenger along. My friend Ron, who lives and works in Scotland, could not make it this year. Being without a passenger made for an easier ride for me. I tend to have a limited amount of energy and this make the ride easier for me, though I missed having Ron along. I was exhausted every night, but managed to still have a great time.
I do get a major kick out of leading a group of 50 bikers each morning on the ride. Leaving San Francisco, or leaving Bishop are major occasions. I feel like a railroad engineer who is pulling a train and has to be conscious and aware of all that is going on around him. It is one of the things I look forward to each year and this year was great.
I have also done all twelve rides on the same motorcycle, my 1992 Harley Davidson FXR which now has 75,000 miles on it. 12,000 of those miles were done on the various Queer Biker Invasion of Death Valley. When I first got the bike, I nicknamed it the "Roc", after the mythical bird of great size and strength. It has proven to be an appropriate nickname. This past summer I did a 3,000 trip to and from South Dakota. In a few weeks, I'll ride the Roc to Palm Springs and back.
Pictures of the 2005 Ride on the web.
Lots of pictures of the ride are being posted on the web. Here are the oneís I know about as of right now.
Iíll add more links as I get them. The picture at the beginning of this page, the group shot at Zabriskie Point is a low resolution version this picture. If you want the high resolution version for printing the picture, let me know. The file is about 1.5 mb, so it would be best if you have a high speed broadband connection.
Cya next year.
Last updated: October 26, 2005
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