The Palms to Pines Highway

Saturday morning I swung my leg over the 999 in search of a road to call my own and after trekking through several miles of idyllic classic California country landscape, I finally found it.

Rolling out of town I felt this amazing contradiction between the desire to find roads to replicate the familiar and the excitement of seeing them for the first time. It’s not everyday that you get to experience the wonderfully free-flowing conversation that comes from engaging an unknown path. Sometimes I think as a rider I’ve lost sight of how special that exchange can feel. Like many things in life, it’s easy to fall into a system of comfort. A continual rehashing of what you know as opposed to pushing yourself to experience what lies beyond the safe, familiar boundary of the known. Yet at the same time I’m not sure that as a motorcyclist you can ever truly feel settled in a new place until you build a repertoire of frequent riding destinations that you know you’re going to enjoy.

Obviously I’ve been dealing with a tremendous amount of change lately and now that I’m standing on the backside of this massive alteration to life as I know it, I find it somewhat surprising that no matter how many boxes you unpack or pictures you hang, you can’t feel like you’re settled until you can climb on your bike and know where the road is going to go.

I keep feeling this rich desire to transform the unknown into the known. Perhaps it’s just one of the core tenets of humanity. Maybe we all seek on some level a certain basic kind of comfort in our lives. In some respects today’s ride was the first step towards building that feeling of comfort in this brave new world away from LA.

And sometimes it’s as easy as taking a right where you took a left last time you went out.

As some of you might recall, last weekend I tried out CA-74 West, better known as The Ortega Highway, for the first time. While it was an enjoyable ride, it wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring as I had hoped. Today I went the opposite direction and discovered something far more exciting.

It’s called The Palms to Pine Highway (CA-74).

While the route felt fresh it was also remarkably familiar. It starts by ambling through a portion of the San Jacinto Valley that’s a window into California’s past, present and future. For roughly twenty-five miles you work your way through a collection of rolling hills, remote towns, empty spaces, horse farms and a plethora of new construction until you find yourself rising straight out of the triple digit temperature desert valley floor and entering the cool and lush San Bernardino National Forest. It’s no small national forest either, covering more than 800,000 acres and rising to elevations of 11,502 feet.

For a motorcyclist this rapid rise from the stark desert valley floor offers a cacophony of sweeping corners that wrap around one magnificent vantage point after another. To ride the road with passion is an absolute joy, but to stand back and watch the world change before your eyes is even more exhilarating.

In mere minutes the drastic nature of the desert grows up like an adolescent child until you’re immersed in a completely different ecosystem that seems totally disjointed and at odds with where you started.

And that’s just the beginning.

Once you reach the crest of the western side of the range, the surface plateaus and pine trees shoot up out of nowhere. The road ceases bending around itself and becomes a series of long-winded straightaways that shoot you from one end of the woods to the other. Meanwhile the iconography nature of the area speaks to something that seems far less stark and much more Big Sky Western. Imagines of John Wayne standing next to a cloth covered wagon in an open prairie float through your mind as you witness the kind of California that you thought was lost for all eternity.

But then just when you think the fantastically wicked ride has suddenly gotten soft and very linear, it all rapidly and wildly falls apart. The road, the climate and the environment disassemble themselves back into a desert as you descend towards another segment of civilization.

Amidst the dissipating landscape you find yourself thinking nothing can top the diversity of the various widescreen visuals that you’ve chased all morning, but then you come around the bend and find yourself riding above the entire Coachella Valley on a gloriously beautiful weekend morning and once again your mind blows up.

It almost doesn’t seem real. But it is.

Before you enter Palm Springs, the road snakes its way back and forth around the last vestiges of the mountain range in a near Alpish impersonation. Big sweepers, wild switchbacks, lots of visibility, and a ton of well maintained asphalt keeps flying at you. From behind your visor you get to sample big watery mouthfuls of glory. It’s an all out impressive kind of ride that begs to be tackled. The series of twists and bends never seeming to end and forcing you to apply near racetrack focus as you work your way down the mountain.

Sitting here now the only word that seems remotely applicable is ‘remarkable’. It’s just a fantastically challenging and yet charming sequence of sweeping corners that make you smile. Because whoever put this road here knew that mankind harbors a deep seeded desire to apply heavy doses of lean angle and throttle.

By the time I actually hit Palm Springs the road surface was scorching and the temps hitting near triple digits. I imagine that riding this road in a month or two when temperatures cool down a bit will be a seriously flat out feeling of fun, but right now it’s just a tad past hot.

Of course I’d rather be sweating than freezing, and discovering this wonderfully engaging ride was well worth putting up with a little bit of dehydration.

While taking a break, I grabbed some water and found myself thinking about the various rides I’ve been taking lately. Mentally and physically. Yet here, over an eighty-five mile stretch the bike and I had witnessed so many shades of California that I would have never seen if not for riding. So many divergent vistas and dramatic visuals that don’t happen in the day to day of normal society. So many bends and twists and corners that move me on an emotional level far beyond the normal ups and downs of my daily life. As fearful as I’ve been about the local riding roads and leaving the known parts of my previous life, there’s something magical about finding your ‘new’ route. Find your new ‘home’.

It’s much more than just a collection of asphalt that you admire. It’s something that speaks to your soul. Something that goes beyond mere words and enters the realm of near religious conformation. Perhaps that’s ultimately the power of the ride. It’s a two wheeled vehicle that majestically offers a whole other way to look at the world and in doing so allows you to find out what’s interesting and truly important to you. Today was not just an inspiring adventure, but something that seemed to connect with the person I am and the person I want to be. We live in a world where trying something new isn’t always considered virtuous and yet maybe it should be.

After chilling out for a bit, I fueled up and headed back home, taking CA-74 the opposite direction and headed west.

And it was in that instant that what was unfamiliar suddenly became known.

That’s not to say that I memorized each and every bend in the road, but in that moment that the desire to find comfort in my local riding suddenly happened. Obviously I still haven’t found each and every road around here, and there’s a ton more to check out, but at least now I know where one road stands that I really enjoy. There’s something absolutely magical about that…

More picts:

5 thoughts

  1. Hi Dylan,
    Thanks for another captivating narrative of your trip on CA-74. The next time you go that way you might consider taking Hwy 371 from CA-74 to Aguanga and then CA-79 to the I-15 in Temecula. This stretch is about 39 miles. Also, CA-79 south through Warner Springs into San Diego should be a good ride.
    I’m glad to hear that you are finding your new digs entertaining.

  2. CA-74 would even make R2-D2 jealous.
    Screamin pics and a soulful ride.Way to go.
    Keep it up.

  3. Great write up. Thinking of moving down that way from Topanga and thought the roads would be boring, mistake on my part.

  4. I just drove my new 911 Turbo convertible over this awesome stretch of road and it took my a while to take the smile off my face. Great turns, great slopes in the road and no time to enjoy the views.

  5. Hwy 74 has always been fun. Just did it this weekend on my ST2 for a weekend in Palm Springs. Another great road is 243 that goes out of Idyllwild down to Banning.

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