We always show you the great pictures
and tell the real story, but what happens
behind the scenes is not all wine and roses.
Searching through the Sport Rider archives for this year’s 20th anniversary section brought back a lot of memories for me. What struck me most as I flipped through each issue was that for almost every road test, comparison or feature that I’ve written for the magazine over the past 14 years, there is a whole other story that goes along with it. A lot of work goes into every article in the magazine, but sometimes it turns into what can only be described as a full-fledged adventure.
I should have known that would be the case right from the day I started, as one of the very first assignments I had remains the craziest adventure of them all. Shortly after I began working at the magazine, Kent tasked me with attending Jason Pridmore’s Star Motorcycle School and writing a review (“Star Pupil,” Oct. ‘99). The one-day school was at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, NV, which at the time had recently opened. “It’s just over the border in Nevada, a couple of hours away,” Kent said. “You should be able to ride there, do the school and ride back all in the same day.” Fresh off the plane from Canada, I really had no idea how far away Nevada was, but it looked on the map more like a few hours rather than “a couple.” I timidly asked if it would be okay to leave the night before, but still return directly after the school. “Okay,” was the begrudging answer.
Beginning my trip a few days later, I soon found how cold it can get in the desert in wintertime when I crested the Cajon pass. Not anticipating anything other than the moderate temperatures and rain showers I’d experienced thus far, I had grabbed a generic pair of leathers from the SR locker (vented, of course) and all I had brought for additional clothing was a sweatshirt and a rainsuit. Stopping by the side of the road, I donned every stitch of clothing I had with me, but was still freezing cold the rest of the way. And yes, Pahrump is a lot further than a couple of hours from the office — it is almost 300 miles, in fact.
The school actually went well the next day, although it was still cold. I did learn that photographer Kevin Wing likes to shoot until the last photon of light has disappeared, and I was at the track until well past nightfall. The temperature was dipping below freezing as I rode away. There is a long stretch of deserted two-lane highway between Pahrump and Baker, in California, and there was snow at the side of the road. When I reached Barstow and filled up with fuel, it was actually snowing. And as I passed Victorville on I-15 and headed over the Cajon pass, it got worse. I was riding a Kawasaki ZX-7R, with tires that didn’t have much tread to begin with and had even less after a day at the track. After a couple of big front-end slides on the freeway’s long sweepers in the pass, I determined to pull over at the next exit and stop, preferably for the night.
The trouble with that plan was that, once you pass Victorville and head into the pass, there is not much of anything until you are down into San Bernardino and civilization. I soon realized that, and simply stopped at the side of the road to ponder my predicament. The freeway was too slippery for me to ride at the speed of traffic, but at the side of the road was a good half inch — and getting deeper by the minute — of snow. I forged ahead at a snail’s pace on the shoulder, in the snow, as traffic rushed by.
An hour later, I was through the pass and in the city, where the snow had turned to a driving rain. The entire trip from Pahrump took more than six hours, putting me home well into the early hours of the morning. At the time, I was renting a room in an apartment from a kind-hearted but absent-minded young girl; although I had stressed that I would be home that night but very late, she had put the chain on the door and it took 15 minutes of pounding and yelling before I was able to wake her (and half the building) to let me in.
Cold, wet, and tired, I went straight to my room and thought I would just lie down on my air mattress for a few minutes before actually undressing. I wondered just what I had gotten myself into. My family and friends were all 3000 miles away, and I was living out of a suitcase. I thought it wasn’t supposed to rain in California — let alone snow — but thanks to El Niño I had not been warm nor dry since getting off the plane two months previously. And to top it all off, my new boss had just sent me on an absolute wild goose chase. “Oh well,” I thought. “I will get some sleep and think about it in the morning.” But when I went to get up off the mattress, I was so tired and stiff that I couldn’t move — I was stuck there, still in my leathers and rainsuit.
The trip itself was absolutely miserable, but I learned a lot from it and my situation improved steadily from that low point of being stuck on my air mattress. To this day Kent and I joke about Pahrump being “just a couple of hours away,” and thinking of that day — or happening across the story in the magazine — always makes me chuckle.