The 10,000 Mile Journey Begins
The journey begins at a cozy breakfast spot called Mia’s Country Kitchen in Hemet. Even at 7 a.m. the place is packed, and there’s a long wait for food. When the generous portions finally arrive, all is forgiven. The delicious omelets, hash browns and cups of coffee will fuel the Rau’s all the way to the day’s final destination — Las Vegas.
After loading up, it’s time to hit the road… well not quite. Fred and Cherrie graciously show off their Spyder to a few interested patrons that had been eyeballing the bike since they walked into the restaurant. With the engine finally purring, it’s time to ride all the way until dinner time in Vegas.
The view from mountain center in the San Bernadino National Forest.
Heading out of Hemet, the scenery quickly turns mountainous as the couple rides through the San Bernadino National Forest. Viewing the scenic mountain vistas so early into the ride feels like eating dessert first. The narrow, winding road goes through breathtaking mountain overpasses and requires an expert touch on the throttle and handlebars. The first stop is the aptly named Mountain Center, the census-designated center of the San Bernadino forest. On one side, the view is all jagged mountain peaks, and on the other, a valley filled with rolling hills and desert in the distance. You’ll never get bored here on this route. It only takes a bit of riding to see a dramatic shift in scenery.
Next comes the Palms to Pines Highway on the way to Palm Springs. Coming this way, the highway should be called Pines to Palms. One moment, you’re riding in the cool mountains, with towering pine trees on both sides. The next, you’re on the hot desert floor, with only a scattering of palm trees casting shade. The highway is as twisty and scenic as anything in California, with a host of switchbacks that share views of the desert floor below.
The 66-mile highway ends (or begins) in Palm Springs, one of many California towns that looks plucked from a postcard. It’s nestled beneath the mountains and is best known for its Hollywood ties. You’ll be able to tour Marilyn Monroe’s former home, as well see the city’s own version of the Walk of Stars. On this trip, however, Palm Springs is a convenient gas stop on a much longer trip.
The Rau’s backtrack a bit in order to see the Bristol Dry Lake salt flats. To get there means going back through the Coachella Valley, and one of the windiest areas in the entire country, the San Gorgonio Pass, where more than 2,500 giant turbines relentlessly spin day and night.
A windy road is another area where the Can-Am Spyder roadster excels. With its Vehicle Stability System, the roadster has improved handling over traditional two-wheeled vehicles. Even pulling the trailer behind the Spyder, Fred reports no problems. After the wind farms, all that remains in front is the iconic Mojave Desert, which sprawls out as far as the eye can see. Many consider deserts to be wastelands, while they’re quite the opposite.
“The desert is actually one of my favorite places to ride,” Fred says. “You can see for a hundred miles in any direction. There’s a lot to discover.” But first on the agenda — making a quick stop to prepare for the desert ride, where temperatures are approaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fred pulls into a scenic vista and applies sunscreen.
Fred and Cherrie apply healthy globs of sunscreen throughout the day. It’s one thing you can’t get enough of riding underneath a blistering sun. And, just like every rest break, it’s time to rehydrate. The Rau’s keep a large cooler of beverages in the front of their trailer, making for easy access at each stop.
“I can’t tell you how many riders I’ve saved out in the desert,” Fred says. “They think wearing a T-Shirt and shorts will keep them cool, but that’s actually not the case. Look at the people that have made a life in the desert, they’re covered head-to-toe. You should be too.”
It’s true — you’ll never see someone riding a camel in shorts. In high-heat, low-humidity environments, covering yourself completely will actually keep you cooler than wearing as little as possible. Protecting your skin from the sun also shades your body. Just make sure to wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes made of natural fabrics that have built-in vents that’ll let hot air escape. And it goes without saying to drink a lot of water, and keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum, as they can add to dehydration.
In Amboy, a popular destination along Old Route 66.
Rested, hydrated, covered and ready to ride, the first area of interest in the desert is Bristol Dry Lake, a lake bed near the Mojave National Reserve. It’s still actively mined, and holds 60 million tons of salt in reserve. In the winter, the lake is covered by a few inches of water, but in the hot summer, it more than lives up to its salty name. From the flats, it’s only a few miles to world-famous Old Route 66 and the town of Amboy. While Route 66 is no longer marked on maps as such, it’s well-known to travelers in the area. Famous for the Bobby Troup song that goes “Get your kicks on Old Route 66,” the road still exists as a series of highways that connect Los Angeles to Chicago. Amboy is one of the most iconic stops on the route, a ghost town that still has an operating gas station and post office. Like everywhere else, the Spyder draws a crowd, even in the desert. Despite the heat, Fred and Cherrie pose with the roadster for interested tourists.
“Everywhere we go, it’s the same thing, even in the desert,” Fred says. “What is that? What’s the mileage? How do you like it? I don’t mind answering the questions, I like to see people interested.”
A look at the old Kelso Depot in the Mojave National Preserve.
After the photo op is over and the roadster’s tank is full, the ride takes a turn into the Mojave National Preserve, with a stop at Kelso Depot, a restored railroad station. After miles and miles of nothing but flat, brown scenery, Kelso stands out like a bright green beacon in the middle of nowhere. Originally built in 1840 to give the Union Pacific a California foothold, Kelso eventually turned into a thriving community filled with restaurants and a clubhouse that included billiards and dormitories. As a fan of history, it’s one of Fred’s favorite desert stops.
A brief stop before continuing into Las Vegas.
“You come here and get a sense of the history that’s in the desert,” Fred says as a train rolls by. Cherrie and Fred take a moment to relax in the shade before continuing. There’s one more magnificent area to see before reaching Las Vegas. It’s one of the most recognizable places in the world, the unforgettable Joshua Tree Forest. The stumpy cactus-like trees are unique to the southwestern United States and leave a lasting impression on anyone that rides through. There’s nowhere else in the world you can see these sights and there’s nothing like seeing them on the back of Spyder. Flying by the area, you can almost feel the sense of calm and beauty that inspired U2 to name their seminal 1980s album “The Joshua Tree.”