DoLola’s and the 49r Rally by Steve Cantrill
This just started out as a good restaurant story, because it seems the SEAT club rides-to-eat, more than any motorcycle group in Arizona. If I made every one of the SEAT rides I would be as wide as I am tall. In addition to one terrific restaurant, the rest of my trip to the 49r Rally was pleasant as well in this cold, windy, unusual spring of 2010, so I tagged on a few more words.
From where we live here in the “immigration-law state” [to which my friend in Columbus, Ohio said: “we’re proud of Arizona—some one had to do it”], the 49r rally, at more than 800 miles, gets to be more than a 3-day weekend thing for most riders. Also, as everyone I know has always said: “You have to go across the desert somewhere: Barstow, Death Valley, Las Vegas, or fly.” So for these two reasons, lots of people around the Copper State choose to stick closer to home and watch Roadrunners or something, or at least they don’t make that ride every year.
I have relatives in central California and riding the mountain passes and foothills there is always so pretty, that I have made the time commitment most years and have done it on a variety of routes, depending on where the rally site is. In the past 10 years it has been at Auburn—the Gold County Fairgrounds. At that location, making sure you stay in Kernville and then ride along the Kern River to Sequoia National Park, its always a treat. Then walking around old town Auburn is nice. On rare occasion when the rally has been in Quincy, riding through Reno, NV seems the direction to go. Qunicy is almost always cold.
No matter where the rally is sited, going through Las Vegas and then staying in Lee Vining on U.S.395 has been a good choice. An annual problem with that though, simply surrounds one topic: the Sierra Nevada mountain passes. Once you commit to Lee Vining you have to cross one of them to get to the rally. This year, as is often the case, they were all closed with snow and frequently, Tioga Pass at Yosemite is lucky to get plowed just the day before Memorial Day weekend. A late storm made a mess of the mountains just a day before the 49r Rally started this year, but the snow skiers had a ball.
I stayed in Barstow on May 26th, never in memory being one of my garden-spot choices, but due to cold weather in Payson, I got a late start at 10AM, so Barstow seemed a good place to stop after fighting westerly head-winds all day. I got up too early for coffee at the motel and walked out to look up and down old U.S.66. Within 5 minutes I spotted Lola’s and was never more pleasantly surprised. It’s at 1200 E. Main St. in the Von’s shopping center. I wasn’t even in the mood for breakfast, but couldn’t pass it up. I’ve never seen a nicer little family-owned eatery in one suite of a strip mall. Lola’s has been in business for 16 years and if there was ever such a thing as a classy, inexpensive gourmet-Mexican restaurant, this is it. The hospitality was perfect. A bigger plate of food doesn’t exist. I had the Machaca Plate con Huevos. You’ll have to go to check it out.
When I left Barstow it was 63º. That’s about as good as riding weather is going to get for that locale, at that time of the year. After a long cool, straight, high-desert shot, the next stop was Mojave. If you’ve been out that way, you’d know that this is one of the first locations for large arrays of wind power turbines. They are impressive and I think pretty cool-looking. If you’re one of those people who say: “yeah, but not in my back yard” then the hills west of Mojave are probably just the place for them. I stopped for gas. The wind had dropped my mileage by 20%. You know you’re in wind-country when the doors of the gas station have a 48 inch plexi-glass barrier perpendicular to each opening and a semi-circular plexi-glass barrier wall in front of that. [guess those entry doors must have “got away from them” once or twice].
CA58 through Tehachapi is actually a little thrill if you’re into high-speed sweepers. It rises in elevation enough for the temp to drop any time of year and the way the Santa Fe rail line cuts through tunnels and clings to the mountain walls is incredible. It is so dramatic you’d think someone dreamed it up on a model railroad set. At one point you can see three tunnels in a row from the road. As you come off the west end of the mountain the dramatic, green, central valley and Bakersfield lay in a panorama ahead of you.
The rest of the ride to get to CA120 that goes into Yosemite, was mostly one straight shot through the incredible and always unbelievable central California agricultural and ranch heartland. It was a long, straight shot, but it was good freeway. While I’m riding it, I’m always questioning the worth of all that traffic and straight stuff, but when I get to the mountains and foothills, it seems to immediately override the butt burn. I pulled the bike in the garage at my relatives before the rain started and hung out another day to let it pass.
On Friday I woke up to sun and puffy, lingering clouds for a short 70 mile ride to Mariposa County Fairgrounds. Those who frequent the 49r Rally often, are happy to have it back there with incredibly green grounds, new showers and a more rural setting. A really good blues band played afternoons, next to the beer garden, the food vendors were good and the riders came in from all over the West.
Riding is fantastic all up and down the “49r Trail” or CA49. Curves always follow the mountain without guard rails or much engineering, so count on decreasing radius, lots of ups and downs and much variety. I think the most difficult thing about riding California foothill country is keeping your eye on the road instead of the beautiful terrain. In many ways, this riding is every bit as challenging as Deals Gap in North Carolina or the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. And while civilization seemed to leap-frog Arizona in many respects, there’s always countless old towns and sites to see in the mountains of Gold-Rush country.
In my mind, there are endless opportunities to use the 49r Rally as a starting point for many other California riding choices. Pick any pass that goes back East over the Sierra Nevada’s to U.S.395. Or take a couple of extra days and pick the whole bunch and ride them East and West over and over. Last year’s ride took me north to Mt. Lassen, then West to the Coast and back down through the redwoods and then Highway 1. Once you’ve crossed that crazy desert getting to California, you might as well take in some of the other fine riding. A few Arizona riders ought to commit to this next year. It’s possibly the biggest and oldest rally in the west. Another way to pick up these California roads is to plan them around the Bend, Oregon BMW MOA rally in July.
A word of caution: the California Highway Patrol is VERY, VERY GOOD. They have their radar technique honed to a skill. They are quick with their instant-on radar and unless they have nailed a shot at someone ahead of you, they’ll be on you in a flash. They usually travel in tandem pairs or even in a caravan of 3 sometimes, so just when you think the coast is clear another one comes along. And a couple of riders at the 49r said they are good with laser as well, so with that you have even less chance.