Well, there’s absolutely nothing funny about the latest set of fires consuming California. Closest to home is the Woolsey fire, which is currently burning up our finest riding roads in Malibu, all the famed “canyons” I read about in the bike mags when I was a kid. Not to mention a few friends’ houses who live up in there – at least one of whom managed to secure for himself a quite palatial estate right in the middle of the burn zone complete with an impressive chicken coop. I hope his five-car garage makes it. I knew this was a serious fire when I saw a beautiful ’69 Camaro SS driving past the roadside reporter when the news first broke last week: Oh damn, that’s another downside to being wealthy I never thought of: Which of your collectible automobiles do you flee in? Your motorcycles, since they can’t carry much stuff, probably aren’t going to make it unless you’re good at loading your trailer pronto.
How ironic I was here knocking out a Best Rain Gear listicle for MO when the latest big fires broke out. I don’t get a chance to ride in the rain much for the simple fact that I’m usually standing in the yard with my tongue out saying thank you God whenever there’s precipitation. Right about now is when the rainy season usually kicks off in SoCal, but the last few of them haven’t been all that rainy. But rather than worry about fires, pestilence and drought, what can you do? Be glad you didn’t get shot in that nightclub in Thousand Oaks the night before the fire started. Embrace the dryness, warmth and freedom, and remember the good times. During the el Nino floods of ’97, I remember riding home on the freeway through Long Beach up to my axles in a couple places on a ZX-7, hoping my bow wave wasn’t deep enough to go in the ram air nostrils. Those were the days…
Warm, dry winters definitely have their up side. A few weekends ago the winter motorcycle season kicked off with the Moto Beach Classic, on the sand in Huntington Beach. This event combined an impressive array of punk screamer bands (your Rancid, your Voodoo Glow Skulls, etc.) with the final round of Super Hooligan racing. Super Hooligan started off as kind of a joke at the Costa Mesa Speedway a few years ago, Harley Night, where guys on Sportsters and vintage choppers would race for, well, because they were allowed to, on Costa Mesa’s tiny dirt oval. Now it’s probably the fastest-growing form of two-wheeled racing after MotoGP. Who knows? Hey, if it sells motorcycles, why not? Harley was the main sponsor a year or two ago, now Indian seems to have taken over.
Anyway, Moto Beach Classic appeared to be a pretty savvy way to get motorcycles in front of the semi-upwardly mobile or at least holding-station middle-aged paunchy punk rockers who really should be buying them. The main entrance was placed such that everybody going to hear Social Distortion and The Offspring had to walk past the motorcycle display and short track to get to the main stage, on a temporary boardwalk on the sand.
The biggest crowd was definitely not drawn by the Super Hooligans, but it’s a start. The big stage was far away enough downwind that the music didn’t drown out the sonorous melodies of the various open-piped “racebikes” and Super Hooligans’ own angry soundtrack. Where’s the love? Maybe a little Carpenters now and then? Some BeeGees?
Less than 80 but feeling about a million miles away from Huntington Beach, last weekend was the 50th Anniversary of the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix, including the 50th running of the Harvey Mushman Classic. HM, of course, was the name Steve McQueen entered under in an attempt to maintain a low profile. Though it was on fire about this time last year (and I think also the year before), Lake Elsinore had been extinguished in time for this year’s racing, which really was a groovy trip back in time.
Lake Elsinore’s always had a reputation for being a little hardscrabble trashy, with massive carp die-offs and meth lab explosions making the news more than anything else. On the other hand, it’s always had a great MX park and a freeway-accessible Del Taco, and as the affluenza spills over the mountains from Orange County, things are definitely looking up. This year being the 50th, the organizers were able to start from Main Street, like in the old days, and loop back through the start finish line, which was right next to a really beautiful little park full of big palm trees and vendors on a nice lawn, and a decent crowd but not so thick of one you couldn’t swing a cat if you’d thought to pack one.
The LE GP actually consisted of two or three days of racing with classes for every conceivable rider, headlined by the big Saturday afternoon Mushman Enduro, scheduled for 100 miles, a $5000 purse, and drawing some big-name riders.
A hundred miles of that loop would’ve been the end of me, or possibly one lap, so I’m glad we went just to spectate. In fact I’m glad Ryan Adams is hogging up our new CRF450L test unit so I wasn’t tempted to enter 450 Beginner on it. Ryan did race a support class on it earlier in the day, but all our cronies were back home on the couch by the time the Mushman started well after its 2 pm scheduled start time. Hanging out in the park under the palm trees amongst a happy and not-too-big crowd really did feel like old-time California, very pleasant, a nice breeze stirring off the lake to waft the two-stroke smoke away.
Do I have a point? I do. Motorcycles are a blast because of the places they take us and the proximity in which they place us with exotic humans. If we lose all the places, or if they become lunar landscapes, motorcycles aren’t going to be that great anymore. I realize my 30 years in California is a small sample, but the last four or five, with smoke constantly in the air, and more and more drought, feels distinctly different. With all the dead trees from the bark beetles (which kill thirsty trees more easily), our forests even look way different than they did just ten years ago. Heck, my own street has lost four big trees to disease since I moved here in 2015.
Added in with the 100-year hurricanes and floods that seem to occur two or three times a year now at the other end of the country… well, I don’t know anything about climate change, but it all seems to be adhering pretty closely to the pattern the global warming scientists predicted decades ago. The counterargument usually revolves around the idea that alternative energy sources would be just too expensive for us to adopt. But as Malibu continues to burn, I read yesterday morning that, “The Woolsey Fire is putting 15,858 homes worth $26.6 billion at risk, according to an estimate by real estate tracker Trulia.” And God knows how many classic Camaros and motorcycles. Not sure how much more of that we’ll be able to absorb, after Napa Valley and Santa Barbara burned up and/or mudslid halfway into the sea last year? I’m amazed the insurance companies haven’t already thrown up their hands. The death toll from the Camp Fire, further north, stands at 50 as of this morning, with 200 people missing. The worst ever.
Maybe all these biblical conflagrations and floods are just a bunch of coincidences, maybe there really is just nothing we can do, it’s God’s will. I really don’t buy either of those conclusions. I hope my kid will get to ride with his kid to the 100th Harvey Mushman Classic, but I’m not holding my breath. I am holding out my tongue, though. Pray for rain. And for our friends up in Malibu. And everywhere.