Overlooking a valley of the Angeles National Forest from Chilao Campground, Los Angeles, California, USA
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They I took off. I was completely unprepared. The wifi on my phone hadn’t started working and I still had to pack my stuff and get rid of my $10 suitcase. I cooked oatmeal using the kettle provided in the bungalow.
I stepped out. James was cleaning the motorbikes outside. We said our good mornings and he offered me black coffee. I’d never had any and he insisted I try. It would be what I was to drink along the trip. He was right.
He brought paperwork along with the coffee. We went through the invoice. He flipped the through the papers and explained each one. Registration, reciepts, a pink slip and his own invoice for his work.
“Did you get insurance?”, he asked me. “No. I asked you to”, I replied.
He moaned and groaned. I pulled out the email where I asked him. He reluctantly walked to to the house and into the office.
“That will be another $80”, he told me.
A bit steep for 10 minutes work. All he had to do was go to the website, click some buttons and print the result using my credit card. I wasn’t in a position to complain. He knocked off $700 USD on the cost of sourcing the motorbike. Plus he did a lot of mechanical work for a low labour fee. Plus a place to stay. I accepted kindly.
I’d finished packing my bags when Colleen asked if I’d like breakfast. She insisted. I sat down with the couple on the warm Summer day. Ash lightly covered everything from the wildfires the night before. We talked about the business of hosting travellers and where I was going next.
They didn’t want to keep doing it. They had 7 travellers coming in over the next two weeks. It was a retirement job for ‘petrol money’. The helped everyone else with their adventures and neglected their own.
James told me to go up to a place called ‘Chilao Campground’. There was a lady who lived there who liked motorbike riders. He told me I could fuck her if I liked. I never found such woman and I did wonder how he knew that. He gave me a map and showed me the way. I said thank you and didn’t tell him I’d be using Google Maps.
There was an air of frustration. Like parents looking after a child they didn’t really want. It was welcoming but not not really. I didn’t like the facade so I put my hands on the table. “Well, I’m off”, I said with a smile. “See ya”, Colleen dismissed with a wave of her hand. “That wasn’t the response I was expecting”, I replied. “I’m sorry, we have so many people come through, you get over it”, she said frankly.
James took this as a que to keep talking and hindered my escape which we all wanted. “Remember those tires we have to collect, James?”, Colleen asked politely. “What tires?” “The ones you said we had to get today” “Oh” Colleen saved the day.
I put my gear on and jumped on the bike. The internet miraculously began working on my phone. I needed camp stove gas and something else. I plugged in the nearest Walmart. James grabbed his phone and took a few snaps of me leaving the property. I went out the driveway. Free
I’d never been to Walmart. I found a carpark in the hot sun. I contemplated whether someone would steal the stuff off my bike. I didn’t know if the USA was safe. I thought about what I’d do in Australia. I’d have parked by the door. It didn’t matter. I took my helmet with me just in case.
I incredibly found the gas bottles and an assorted spice shaker (would prove handy later on). I searched for a currency exchange with no luck. I plotted a course through the San Gabriel mountains and tried to maximise the twisties. First I would need some gas.
I knew driving on the right-hand side of the road would be difficult. I didn’t think of how gas stations work in the USA compared to Australia. Here we pump the gas before you pay. It turns out this is a bit different.
I tried pumping the gas. Nothing. I flipped the latch a few times. In Australia the attendant needs to switch the pump on for you. Nothing. I looked around to see what others were doing. Everyone elses worked. I tried a different octane. Nothing. There was a card-reader on the pump so I tried it - Declined. I walked into the store and waited in line.
A Spanish lady looked at me. “Do I have to pay before or after I pump”, I asked. She stared at me blankly before she realised what I was asking. “Before” I didn’t know how much it would cost to fill the tank. The currency was different, the measurement and the pricing. “Uhh, can I get $8?”, I guessed. She realised I was a foreigner. She also had a line forming behind me. “You just go pump and I give you the change of what’s left” I think I gave her a $10 note. I got my change. “Do I have to pre-pay at every petrol station or just this one”, I asked. She looked at me blankly again. I didn’t know if it was the word ‘pre-pay’ or she actually wasn’t sure. She murmered something that suggested it was just this one. It wasn’t.
I continued on the path to the mountains. I had a brief stint on the Interstate and wasn’t sure of the etiquitte. Does everyone keep right? Do they travel at the speed limit? Does my speedo show the right speed? It was an educational experience and I was glad to get off. The bike vibrated as I cruised at 70mph.
I got off the Interstate and ended up on a backroad. I must’ve taken a wrong turn and found myself at a stop sign. ‘3-way’ it read. “What the fuck do I do here?”, I asked myself. There was no one around so I went through the intersection. It wasn’t long before I found another one. This time there were cars. “Shit, what do I do?”. I tried a left turn. I waited for the car in-front. I waited. “Just go”. The other driver waved me and I went.
The 4-way intersections would become a huge pain for me. Despite reading the rules. People tend to favour motorcyclists. Which is confusing if you’re not the first one at the intersection. It’s basically a congested free-for-all. Roundabouts are the solution. I was told they’re too hard for Americans to understand 🤷♂️
I made my way up the mountains. The highway was smooth and wide. It was fun. The bike didn’t have heaps of power but it was enough. I was finally getting to the roads I wanted to be. I did a few lefts and rights before missing an exit. I found a turnpike with a tree and seats. It was hot. A gallon of water sat on the bench. The words “RIP” and a name written on the side with a sharpie. I looked around the scorching mountain. It was mostly desert. You can die out here without water.
I turned around and headed up the road. I don’t remember much of the road. I hit a lake with people on vacation and a resovior overlook. A man waved at me from his car. I stopped at Jensons Finest Foods, Wrightwood. I ran out of water and picked up some extra food for camping. There was no 2 litre water bottles. Everything was either more then I needed of too expensive. I ended up buying sparkling water. The cashier asked for change and I didn’t know what coins where which. I let her pick them out of my hand.
I walked outside and a couple of older locals sat on a bench. I looked at them to say hello. They just starred. Seems people aren’t friendly out here. So I thought. I filled my camelbak with the sparkling water and put it in the bin. It would get expensive to buy water bottles for 90-days. I would have to heed James Tucker’s expert advice.
“Gas stations are your friend. You can get water for free from the soda machine”
I continued up to through Big Pines and up the Angeles Crest Highway. It was an incredibly fun road. Tucker told me all the motorbike riders from Los Angeles went there and stopped at a place called Newcombs ranch. I would get there and have lunch and chat with the bikers.
The output on my USB charger began to error. When the bike revved to high it stopped my phone charging. I wondered if it was doing it before and I had just noticed. It progressively got worse. When I arrived at Newcombs it was dead.
There was no one at the ranch and it was closed. I took out some museli bars and wondered what to do with the USB charger. Google Maps will drain my batteries fast without it. I wasn’t far from Chilao. I had my powerbank. I will need a new USB charger immediately. I could fix it at Tim’s house in San Jose. Hopefully I make it.
A car drove into the empty carpark. A girl stuck her head out the window. “Do you know how far to the next town?”, she asked. “I do but I don’t know in miles?! Maybe 30?”, I responded. “I’m running out of gas”, she yelled. I pointed to a sign in-front of her that read ‘36’. She thanked me and I wished her good-luck
Chilao is an excellent place to stay if you can secure a spot overlooking the valley. It’s not far from Los Angeles. It’s $25 and includes drop toilets, running water and bins.
I continued up the road and found Chilao nearby. I entered the campground and scoped it out. There weren’t many people there. It was a weekday and kids were at school. I found an information board with the ‘iron ranger’. It read about Bears, Snakes and a whopping $25 USD camp fee! I couldn’t afford to pay that much. 90 x $25 = $2,250. Here I was expecting to stay for free.
I signed the form an trundled around the site for a place to camp. I was lucky to position myself overlooking the valley. I rode down and put the $25 on the iron ranger and went back up to setup camp.
I put some music on and setup the tent. I practiced it at home the week before. There was a group of boys flying a drone at the site near me. I tried to fix the USB charger by checking the wires. Everything was connected. It was busted. The sky began to fall and I had dinner on that balmy night. It was a beautiful summer evening and I had an amazing view.
I wondered if every day would be like this.
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Day 3 - Packed and ready to move. On James “Gremlin” Tucker’s advice I headed through the spectacular San Gabriel mountains heading through Crestline - Big Pines - Newcombs (motorbike) Ranch and finally Chilao Campground at 5,000 feet with a breathtaking view from my tent.