20160417_110031In early 2015 I was too good for motorcycles. They were scary, dangerous and unsophisticated. Made for people who wear leather.

Then, a polar shift occurred; and not just because I look good in leather.

My boyfriend Gary was browsing Craig’s List. One mouse click led to another and, voila, a black 1994 Honda Goldwing … soon, we owned it.

Fast forward to November 2015. Planning a trip to San Diego to visit Gary’s kids and grandkids, we had a YOLO epiphany:  Rent a motorcycle and tour northeast, southeast and the coast.

Renting was harder than buying a bike.  First, we couldn’t find bikes. Then, those we found would set us back $700 to $1,000 for a week. Then, Gary read an advertised special – less than $500 for a week.

Game on. And, it was a game.

Saturday before Thanksgiving we drove through an “odd” neighborhood. An unnamed shop rented cars with matte-finished primer. Surrounded by scratch-and-dent crotch rockets, a shiny red 2014 Honda CRX 1300 with 400 miles on the odometer, shone like Christmas.

How bad could it be?! Ha.

In a smoky office, we jostled by tattooed men, women in belly-baring tops slouching in black vinyl massage chairs, a laser-eyed dark-skinned man type and a tiny pale woman with an uber-tiny two-month-old girl over her shoulder. A man with red-brown-black hair started our paperwork … at nearly double the advertised price.

Gary turned to walk. Before following, I figured we had nothing to lose by negotiating. I looked backward and modestly chirped, “$450.” I thought acting naive with a low-ball offer was a good way to start.

Rainbow Hair tapped a keyboard, pursed his lips, tapped some more. And, said, OK. BUT, we’d have to pay taxes and insurance.

That was too easy.

Negotiating began in earnest. Gary said his Ohio insurance covered rental in California. Rainbow Hair disagreed. The pissing match ended with phone call to Allstate. After a phone-transfer dance, Rainbow tapped silent his iPhone. He pronounced a $15 daily charge for collision insurance.

Gary called the insurance company from his mobile phone. Chatter, chatter, chatter. Gary handed Rainbow the Samsung Galaxy. Soon, the young man was apologizing profusely, though insincerely, for the misunderstanding. 20160418_181919

Finally, after checking the bike for damage, we snugged helmets we’d brought from Ohio, fired up our blue-tooth transmitters and buzzed busy boulevards back to the middle-class suburb of La Mesa.

And, that’s why you, dear reader, must find your own rental place. I just can’t recommend
our experience.

Riders should be aware of three norms on California roads: 1) the law requires a helmet. 2) U-turns are legal, and sometimes essential. 3) Riding between cars (lane splitting) as if playing a Star Wars video game, is common. And, lane splitting is a convenient way to cover ground when other vehicles are stopped in traffic.

Riding a motorcycle through the Southern California desert is sensual, something the auto-centric can’t understand. Instead of observing the environment, we were one with it. Like the windy mountain roads, temperatures rise and fall with the elevation and the hide-and-seek sun. Dry heat chapped my lips, then the cold scrunched shoulders so tight it hurt. Piney aroma is dense from tall, scruffy trees.

Our first day – a Sunday — we lit up the GPS and traced the Mexican border on Highway 94. We almost missed the sign and had to backtrack to Dulzura Vineyard & Winery, 17323 Highway 94, Dulzura, Ca., (619) 468-3769.

Who knew? Wineries in the desert just north of Mexico and east of San Diego? I began a new chapter in my wine education. It’s a small region, just five wineries on Highway 94. Only two were open on a dusty November Sunday. So, it’s best to call ahead.

20151122_134001Dulzura and its neighbors beat the water challenge with irrigation wells. The long, hot season ripens both red and white grapes to intense sugar levels and the winemakers coax balance from the berries.

Farmers at Dulzura grow eight varietals on a gently sloped hillside above the winery including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and Malbec. They sell ALL of it onsite.

The long driveway to the tasting room at Granite Lion Cellars, 2824 Jamul Highlands Road, Jamul, Ca., (619)433-9896, cut through vineyards still holding fall foliage in late November. Prices ranged from $20 for an award-winning blend known as Melody Lane to $40 for a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

Like Dulzura, the small winery was staffed by an owner who gets her hands dirty in production. Those folks are great repositories of information about grapes, vines and the area in general.

Two wineries were enough when riding a motorcycle. And, even then we shared our samples, which came with a $14 price tag. It’s easier on the wallet and kept us fully aware.

20151122_141159Day two we rode windy, winding backroads more than 85 miles northeast to Temecula Valley Wine Country. Freeways take less time and only about 60 miles. But, the sights, sounds and scents are more interesting on backroads. And, it’s easy to stop on a whim.

I expected an emerging industry, but found vibrant tourism powered by 30-plus wineries. Unlike the countryside scattering of wineries in our Grand River Valley appellation, Temecula Valley wineries line up along Rancho California Road and flow directly from an urban sprawl.

The linear organization makes it too easy to bounce from one to the next for the standard $14 tasting.  We smelled, swirled and sipped at two – motorcycle precaution — but stopped at more for the architecture and views.

In Old Town Temecula, just minutes away, we made like tourists among restaurants and retail. The heady day of riding loosened my purse strings and I walked away from The Wool Lady, 28690 Old Town Front Street, Suite 310-320, Temecula, (951)699-2900 with $90 worth of hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn. It made a great souvenir as it fit handily in the bike’s saddle bags

Our third and final day of riding, we motored north through towns – La Jolla, Del Mar, Encinitas — that hug the inland roadway, stopping at ocean views, tourist areas and consignment stores. People-watching is serious and the shopping is coastal, SoCal. Motorcycles are easy to park, but lack room to carry anything home. And, shopping isn’t really the point.

If I were to do it again, I’d skip the city ride in favor of a desert excursion with small-town surprises. While much remained to explore in Southern California, my Ohio plane ticket was calling. Gary and I will return with our helmets and bike reservations to hug more of the California coast.