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Rare day to ride high

Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Travel News

BISHOP, Calif. -- In the Eastern Sierra near Bishop is a mountain route unofficially known as the highest motorable road in California.

The dirt section at the top is maintained by the University of California scientific research facility at Barcroft Station and access is open just two days a year. (Dates for 2017 have passed, and those for 2018 haven't been announced. For information, call (760) 873-4344 or go to lat.ms/opengatedays.)

Hikers can do the last piece of road on foot any time between June and October by driving within two miles of the facility. But riding up is a special treat.

To me, that was catnip. I contacted Bike-urious blogger Abhi Eswarappa, a friend who shares my taste for the offbeat, and we made a plan: Let's make a motorcycle adventure out of riding up to 12,000 feet.

We selected Independence, Calif., for our base camp for several reasons. First, it would put us within striking distance of White Mountain Road and let us attack the mountain early, before the day got too hot.

Second, it would give us the opportunity to visit with Cris Chater, a.k.a. Strider, the charming innkeeper at the Mt. Williamson Motel and Base Camp, one of the most pleasant hostelries along the entire Eastern Sierra corridor.

Third, we could knock two items off our shared bucket list: I would be able to visit the memorial to the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar, and Abhi would get to fulfill his dream of riding a motorcycle into an abandoned mine.

Manzanar came first. Despite what I knew of the history of the wartime internment of Japanese Americans, I left the national historic site impressed by the displays and depressed by this shameful act of racial prejudice.

A visit to the lonely nearby Manzanar cemetery, in 100-degree heat, did nothing to lift my mood.

We continued on to Abhi's bucket list item. We drove up a rugged, boulder-strewn dirt road, glad we were in a sturdy four-wheel-drive truck, until we reached the Reward gold mine, active from about 1900 to 1950 but now abandoned.

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