Common Tread

Return to Los Angeles: Five years gone

Oct 29, 2015

I sat on the side of the road looking east, the setting sun on my back. Five years have passed since I last rode a motorcycle through these mountains. 

Remember the scene in "Almost Famous" where William discovers his sister’s record collection under his bed and sees his future? That’s how I feel about this place. The winding roads through the San Gabriel Mountains are my equivalent to William’s forbidden record collection. It just took leaving town for five years to realize it. 

There is an opening line in an old Reckless Kelly song where Willy Braun sings of his first love being a “wicked twisted road.” While I am pretty sure Willy is singing about enjoying the life of a traveling musician, it wouldn’t be a far leap to imagine him digging rubber into his favorite stretch of blacktop.

Lemmy beat me to the S1000XR and left me holding the keys for the Street Glide. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

For me that road was California Route 2, otherwise known as the Angeles Crest Highway. Most riders out there are readily aware that this road is a hotspot for motorcyclists and automotive enthusiasts, alike. There was a time, however, when I had no idea Route 2 existed. Blasphemy. Discovering this road is the equivalent of a guitarist playing Epiphone guitars his whole life until one day someone hands him a Gibson. Mind. Blown.

I moved to L.A. on Jan. 2, 2007, on a whim. I packed up and headed west with my buddy Stephen Doherty, who was being transferred from Philadelphia for work. Unlike Steve, I had no job, no car, and minimal savings, but I did have my 2005 Triumph Bonneville T-100. Together, my Bonnie and I explored our new home.

I have been pointing finger guns long before I came to RevZilla. Photo by Kristin Bjorge.
I would wake up and map out routes that usually coincided with the city's many bike shops. I would window shop, sit on the bikes while making “vroom vroom” sounds, and analyze specs on new and used models alike. Salesmen stopped pestering me once they realized that the only choices in my price range fell between a set of chromed valve stem caps and a roll of rim tape.

On one of these trips to Honda BMW Yamaha of Hollywood, I was busy kicking tires and trying on helmets I couldn’t afford when I struck up a conversation with an actual paying customer. This guy was dropping off his Super Hawk for service and, while he waited, he regaled me with tall tales of great roads. A look of genuine concern for my well-being crossed his face when I casually commented that I had never heard of California Route 2.

His excitement for this route was contagious, but he recommended I wait for the weather to warm up before checking it out. It was 73 degrees outside. He clearly didn’t hail from the east coast. 

Piloting a motorcycle through the snowcapped peaks of the Angeles Crest Forest, I discovered a whole new face of Southern California. Tall pines of nature’s architecture replaced the crowded buildings and skyscrapers of the city. I was introduced to twists and curves I had only ever seen in magazines. I fell in love and that love didn’t stop with Route 2. The twisted roads of the Santa Monica, San Rafael, and San Gabriel mountains became my personal playground, offering me an escape from being a broke 23-year-old kid in a new, expensive city.

The mountains provide escape from the city below. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

I eventually took a position teaching Social Studies at Dorsey High School off of Rodeo Road. Not to be confused with Rodeo Drive, Rodeo Road is the kind of place Julia Roberts would have frequented prior to meeting Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman, not after.

While writing lesson plans and working with inner-city students monopolized most of my time, teaching simultaneously offered me prolonged chunks of paid time off in the form of holiday breaks and summer vacations. I used this time off to explore beyond southern California. Week-long treks up the coast, weekends in the desert, and month-long journeys across the country. Young and adventurous, I was quick to learn that motorcycles offered me the freedom I had been longing for. Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end.

After the economic downturn of 2008, teaching positions became increasingly harder to secure and a lot of us bounced around from one layoff to the next. In the spring of 2010, while making my way down the Pacific Coast Highway from a motorcycle trip to San Francisco, I received my final lay-off notice. I agreed to finish the school year before packing my bags and heading east in search of work and new adventures.

I forgot how much I love riding in California. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Fast forward five years and I was back in California, sitting atop a 2014 Harley Davidson Street Glide, looking out on the city below. Having just wrapped on RevZilla’s video review of the BMW S 1000 XR, I had a few hours of daylight left with nothing to do. Lemmy had called dibs on the Beemer (lucky bastard), leaving me with our camera bike. While the Street Glide wasn’t my first pick for tackling the twisties, at the end of the day, any motorcycle is better than no motorcycle. 

These days, work is intense and challenging, but also hugely exciting and rewarding in a completely different way than teaching was. Put me and Lemmy in a house together, three motorcycles in the garage, throw in a production team consisting of some of our closest friends, and even 16-hour days of shooting and a lack of sleep become bearable. When we aren’t trying to kill each other, we are actually having a damn good time.

I consider myself very lucky that I get to call this work and execute it with some of my closest friends. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

California called to me in my youth, like a Siren singing, luring me from over 3,000 miles away. After a tumultuous affair, she left me with nothing, like a shipwrecked sailor off the coast of Greece. Returning on this trip was different, more calculated. If you had told me in 2010 that losing my job and having to search out an entirely new career path would eventually land me back on top of this mountain, I would have never believed you. Sometimes life has a different plan for us than we have for ourselves.

As the sun set on this trip to Los Angeles, I clicked the Street Glide into gear and headed off down the mountain to the City of Angels below.

My love is this wicked twisted road.