Every once in a while the stars align and wonderful things happen. Such was the case when I received an invite to join Harley-Davidson and an amazing group of people on a ride through the scenic San Gabriel Mountains. This wasn’t just any ride, though. In fact, this would be a first of sorts: a group of young influential men were being removed from the rigors and the comforts of their daily lives to grab life by the bars and ride Harley-Davidsons for three days.
Our ride would be the third of four gatherings to help usher in some new two-wheeled converts in an experiment called the Taste of Freedom Tour. The experience began for five unique young men with very diverse backgrounds: Cole Rise, photographer extraordinaire; Ray Frenden, an amazing digital illustrator; Andy Bothwell aka Astronautalis, a prolific freestyle rapper and hip-hop performer; Greg Lutzka, a professional skateboarder; and Mike Chiesa, a mixed martial arts practitioner in the UFC and winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Live.
Their first meeting was in Montreal, Canada, where these five guys attended boot camp and were introduced to the idea of tasting freedom on a Harley-Davidson. The next time the guys got together was in SoCal, where they took a two-day Rider’s Edge course to get some valuable seat time and just enough experience to get their motorcycle licenses. A month or so later the group was to reconvene for a third time to put their new skills to the test. Unfortunately, Mike Chiesa was training for an upcoming fight and couldn’t make it, but in his absence Heath Pinter, BMX dirt master, joined the crew.
The trip started out with all of the talents and personalities arriving from their respective corners of the world to make the crawl through rush-hour L.A. traffic to the iconic Safari Inn, made famous by the stomach-turning beating the late, great James Gandolfini gave Patricia Arquette in Quentin Tarantino’s film True Romance.
Once everyone arrived we discussed the route and some of the nuances that apply to riding in a group. It’s more difficult to travel as a group than it is going it alone, especially with a wide range of riding abilities and the added challenge of navigating through the urban jungle of L.A. We wrapped up our trip overview as the sun set, silhouetting the palm trees, and the Safari Inn’s sign glowed hypnotically.
I barely slept a wink, wired with anticipation. Gear packed, checked out, kick stands up, GoPro on and we were ready to rock at eight A.M. Riding positions were assigned and it was time to roll. As excited as everyone was, it was clear there was some self-doubt looming, but there was no turning back. It was a short ride to Frank’s Restaurant; we overtook the parking lot, heralded by a choir of thundering exhausts. Black coffee, fluffy scrambled eggs and giant slabs of bacon big enough to choke a bear filled our bellies for the ride.
We spent a few minutes on surface streets before the road began to climb the mountains that rise abruptly from the Los Angeles Basin. With tight switchbacks, oncoming traffic, rocks in the road and sheer drops, this route is not for the timid but rewards those who endure. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the heat, you experience it all in such an intimate way on a bike. We looped back around to Angeles Crest Highway and started heading east. A quick stop at Newcomb’s Ranch to wet our whistles and we were back into the twists. We dropped down the 215 into San Bernardino just long enough to jump on the 18 and head up the Rim of the World Highway. This road offers the most breathtaking views of the sprawling Los Angeles area that I’ve ever seen. Then more twists, more turns and plenty of blind corners before we finally rested our bikes and our bones in the resort town of Lake Arrowhead.