Shake, Rattle & Roll

Text: Derrel Whitemyer • Photography: Derrel Whitemyer

Parkfield, California, lies along the San Andreas Fault where trails and streams can change direction with each quake and local property lines might as well be drawn with an Etch-a-Sketch. Ride into Parkfield with a group of Monterey Bay HOG members and you may even create your own little quake, shake a few leaves loose, and maybe discourage the ground squirrels from playing roulette with your front tires.

You realize, of course, that if Huckleberry Finn had designed Harleys, they would have to be ridden on back roads and since most Harley riders are characters out of their own or someone else's folklore, our route to Parkfield would avoid freeway riding. Besides, back roads are really the only roads along which you'll get to meet and have those important talks with the Mark Twain in all of us.

An alias for River Road, Monterey's Reservation Road begins at the western boundary of Fort Ord and follows the Salinas Valley south. On one side are the old buildings that were used to house army recruits, on the other, rows of irrigated lettuce. Once turned and headed alongside the Santa Lucia Mountains, Reservation Road becomes River Road and traces an original stagecoach route down to where we'll stop for gas, just before Greenfield.

Metz Road out of Greenfield climbs into the hills past pastures turning brown and falling down barns. Farms that have been owned by local families since before the Depression border the blacktop with fences trimmed in wildflowers and every bug species that lives there has found everyone's visor. That night, cleaning my bike, I found out why Renaissance artists used bug juice as a paint-to-canvas adhesive.

Pinnacles National Monument is on your left and just a short winding ride into the Gabilan Mountains. Worth the visit when you have more time, park trails lead visitors through and around ancient volcanic lava caves and vents. For you movie trivia fans they're quite similar to the vents and caves used by actors James Mason and Arlene Dahl to descend into Iceland's extinct volcano Mount Sneffel.

Continue for about ten more miles and another left turn will present itself. Be sure to take this one. It's Lonoak Road and that will have you riding past San Lorenzo Creek within a few minutes. The creek parallels your route and is one of many feeding into and out of Hernandez Lake's watershed. Built for reclamation and recreation purposes Hernandez Lake offers great fishing and camping. It attracts many visitors each year and, in our case, appreciative passersby.

We gas up near the little town of San Miguel and while not a necessity for everyone, the Sportsters among us are thankful. Our next leg will use a series of grapevine-lined frontage roads passing the San Miguel Mission to Vineyard Canyon Road, which leads to Parkfield and there's no stop between.

Originally called Winery Way by local pioneer and wine maker Omar Khayyam, it would later be renamed Vineyard Canyon Road. Omar invented the Dyna-Wide-Glide cooler and was the first biker to discover that certain roads near old cafes and diners, when followed at twilight while listening to Doo-Wop music, cross into the Borderlands. He was able to ride over, back, and then tell the rest of us which roads, songs and wines to use.

Our pace has now become a relaxed single-file meander through the hills with enough distance between riders to allow for the unexpected deer, wayward rock or truck behind blind corners. Even recently harvested alfalfa fields are given respect after some hungry cattle looking for a freshly cut meal wander across the road in front of us.

A few more minutes of meandering and we arrive at Parkfield, a town known for its bluegrass festivals, mountain bike races and rodeos. We stop at its only café where a sign outside reads "EARTHQUAKE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD," and where residents back that claim by telling you, "We've gotten major quakes here every 22 years for more than 150 years."

If you can say eclectic fast five times you'll probably find that every bicycle and motorcycle in the world is represented outside. From Schwinn, to Ducati, to Harley, riders have come to spend the afternoon. We park in the shade under an overhanging redwood tree before heading toward the café doors.

Parkfield is worth a walk after you've eaten if for no other reason than to settle your meal and give you glimpses of the early 1900s. Turn-of-the-century equipment from the days when steam provided all the power to mine quicksilver, another name for mercury, and harvest wheat surround the town. Some of these antiques are displayed between the inn and café and others rust away in nearby fields.

Speaking of quicksilver, mining it was quite common in this area of California. In fact, there's a dirt road (Coalinga Road) leading out of town that'll take you north towards one the largest discoveries, the New Idria Mine. Once upon a time, maybe with a gut full of Omar's special Doo Wop wine, I might have taken it as a shortcut - bad idea though - Softails have a natural dislike for unpaved paths and at my age nothing heals. Besides, the group's original route home on Indian Valley Road will be just as scenic.

Indian Valley Road becomes Peach Tree Road in about 20 miles but not before it's taken you through some of the most beautiful riding scenery in California. At Peach Tree we backtrack northward until Metz Road changes into Old Stage Road. Countrified with lots of grain fields, oaks and natural grasses, this last part of the ride follows the natural curvature of hills. An old stagecoach road much like River Road, it twists its way through the landscape avoiding most natural barriers. At the end, we wave our respective goodbyes and take our favorite way home.