WE BOARDED THE AIRCRAFT and were outside of California in less than twenty minutes. Bound for Chicago, Midway, the bulk of the flight would prompt me to question the sanity of anyone who might cross the desolate west on foot in search of gold, fortune or that elusive better life 150 years back. Those first twenty minutes, however: I wanted to ask the flight attendant to request of the pilot a "do over," one in which we circled west and then east again so we could cross the Sierra a second time.
OUR ROUTE OUT OF SACRAMENTO took us south and east, over Folsom Lake. A week prior, I had driven the BMW GSA out the peninsula to Rattlesnake Bar. The secondary road's broken pavement coursed under canopies of blue oak. From ten to eighteen thousand feet, Rattlesnake Bar Road was visible only in the occasional clearings through which it passes. I recalled the anticipation I felt rounding each new-to-me bend, and pausing for a crystal clear view of the distant Sutter Buttes at a high point. The rarely full Folsom Lake was brimming, inviting my pause, that day, to savor the product of a wet spring. Full pool surrounded by hills of poppies and goldfield.
Eastward, Southwest flight 1148 traced the old Mormon-Emigrant Trail from about Placerville - a town that looks quite narrow from 22,000 feet - to a point along State Route 88 just west of Carson Pass. I once went 122 miles per hour on a BMW R1100R on the Mormon-Emigrant Trail, a nicely surfaced forest service road shaded on each side by deep forests, just to see what 122 felt like. After a few seconds, the thought "deer" and the word "obliteration" came to mind. I shaved off speed to a respectable 75 and have never felt the need to eclipse 100 again.
Nearby, Hope Valley was green and verdant. The Carson River begins east of the crest as mere drips of snowmelt in this high country, but generally runs year round. This year it will be particularly so. Thick, heavy cornices of snow cling to the uppermost elevations and the area trails won’t be open any time soon. State Route 89 enters from the north from the Tahoe Basin and exits to the south through Markleeville and over Monitor Pass. The automobiles there-on look like ants from the window of the Boeing jetliner. But I did spot a covey of motorcyclists. Envy welled within me. This is an annual trip that I'll have to take twice this year - once on the GS and once on the Breva.
BY THE TIME I'VE ENTERED the foregoing "data" into the iPad, we're to the right side of Nevada and Utah. The captain informs us that we're about to enter Colorado. From 37,000 feet, I look down on a much drier landscape, but one webbed with roads that, for a time, are rifle-shot straight. Then, for sections, the roads twist and weave over ancient mountain ranges or into deep canyons, the likes of which foretell the fate of the Sierra perhaps a scant 10 million years from now. Looking out the window, I watch the landscape gently fade from gold to yellow and back again. Tiny collections of rectangles dot crossroads. Wide spaces separate them. I think about my practice of stopping at one of these waysides for an apple or a sack of jerky or a Coke and a little visit with a local. From inside the corner grocery, these folks pay no mind to the big Southwest 737-700 silently whisking overhead, and no notice that a Californian might be visiting their rural section.
FLYIN’ SO HIGH with some gal in the sky is my idea of nothin’ to do. From six miles up, I wish I were on the bike. And it doesn't matter which one.
Church of the Open Road Press