In the first chapter of Dave’s journey, he sets off from San Francisco a few hours later than intended, hits record-breaking temperatures and hideous coastal traffic and has to escape inland to recover before continuing on to LA for some full-on sightseeing and then the majesty of Yosemite National Park.
Leaving Yosemite took us on a wonderful road out of the park and over the High Sierras and at one point we reached the snow line at about 10,000 feet. As we dropped down over the mountains, the views were spectacular. As we passed through the valley Lake Mono opened up before us as far as the eye could see from left to right.
We pulled into Reno at about 5pm and took the only rooms available in a huge casino complex. After the peace of Yosemite, the constant noise of fruit machines and every other kind of gambling machine was exhausting. I was amazed when I came down at 8am that people were still at the machines, poker and blackjack tables. Many of them had been there all night! Early in the morning there was a mass balloon take off from the centre of the city, it created a startling picture as they floated past the skyscrapers.
We escaped Reno as early as we could and headed straight into the High Sierra mountains. The scenery was stunning. Our road followed gorges, mountain rivers and went through high passes. Pine forest covers the mountains and the roads are wonderful for motorcycles with 90 miles of smooth twisting bends and virtually no traffic.
We arrived at the pretty western town of Graeagle (yes I have spelt it right!) with traditional clapperboard houses and steps up to covered porches stretching across the whole width of the house. These houses are painted in pale blues, greens or greys and interspersed with false-fronted stores and other businesses. Luckily, we managed to get the last available cabin at the River Pines Resort which was hidden in the pines next to the pool and jacuzzi. We spent the late afternoon reading, swimming and drinking margaritas.
In the evening we went to eat next door at the Coyote Bar and Grill. Next to our table was a large group celebrating the 84th birthday of the family patriarch, John Roen. I got chatting to him and it turned out he was one of the biggest ranchers in the area with a 30,000-acre spread further along the valley running 3000 head of cattle. He owned a further 20,000 acres of winter pasture down below the Sierras!
It turned out he was an old friend of Monty Roberts, a famous American horse trainer and they had competed against each other many times as young rising stars in the national quarter horse championships. He invited us to join him at a roundup on his ranch the next morning.
After picking us up in his truck and driving us out to his ranch we arrived about 9am. The cowboys had been working since 6am but were still happy to show us a display of mind-boggling lasso skills. They were all wearing rodeo champion buckles for a variety of competitions and were both proud of, and dedicated to, the western traditions. After a tough morning of watching them work John took us to lunch in a hotel he also owns in a neighbouring town. Fantastic hospitality and courtesy has been displayed towards us everywhere we have been.
Tomorrow we have a 300 mile ride out of the Sierras and across to the Northern Californian coast and the Redwood National Park.