sheila sobchik

The large blue road sign read: “NEXT SERVICES 82 MILES,” a warning to most motorists to avoid the barren road for fear of no gas; instead we welcomed the heavenly message with a full tank of fuel and an ear-to-ear grin inside our helmets.

The road swept left and then broke right like a giant “s.” Chasing one another, we rounded the first turn in preparation for the second curve; flicked left, flicked right, the horizon in my mirrors went almost vertical as I leaned through the corner before rolling the throttle open to quickly consume the next straight.

I looked over at Chris, another motorcycle aficionado, crouched behind his fairing and realized he too felt the frozen fingers of winter encroaching on the intermittent days we had left to ride.

It was November, a time of packed shopping malls, holiday festivities and fewer days to ride due to the inclement weather. Unlike summer in California, where time has no bearing on your decision to ride because the weather is always good, fall requires riders to squeeze in the precious trips between storms. And however challenging it might be to plan worthwhile rides during Mother Nature’s storm interludes, beautiful trips can still be had in California during the “off season.”

Marked by flowing curves, near endless straights and some of the most serpentine roads in the area, the beautiful ride along U.S. Highway 58 from San Luis Obispo to Taft is a perfect trip for the unpredictable fall months. It can be completed round-trip in one day, yet is long enough to fulfill the fervor for time in the saddle.

After getting off Highway 101 North, we headed through the small town of Santa Margarita (last town for gas in 90 miles), hit Highway 58 and headed east. The road quickly became curvy as we climbed toward Calf Canyon and passed Highway 225 (another motorcyclist’s haven) on our way toward the small town of McKittrick.

The road unwinds and slowly flows like the rolling hills typical of the Central Coast, marked by long sweepers and a smooth tarmac, we clipped along at a spirited pace well above the posted 55 mph speed limit.

Up and over the LaPanza range, we chased one another through the flowing road as the corners tightened through the pass. We exchanged the lead with one another while maneuvering through the golden terrain, gradually dropping down into the valley.

We bent around the last corner and behind us, the undulating road lined by hills looked like a slide, dumping us down into the infinite valley that’s home to the sleepy town of Prairie Flats, a speck of population that would be missed if you blinked at the right moment.

Exiting town, we were greeted by miles of open fields that disappeared off into the distance. Reminiscent of the terrain in the Midwest, it was hard to believe unadulterated nature like that still existed in California.

The path untangled itself into some of the straightest roads I had ever seen. Chasing our shadows along the valley floor, our speeds increased well into the triple digits. For as far as I could see in any direction, the road was straight and the terrain flat.

At that moment, consuming road at more than twice the speed limit, I was stricken with fear that a police officer was sure to catch us. And at that moment, I had yet another epiphany, that in the hour we had been riding, we hadn’t seen one car on the road; let alone a police officer.

Lost in thought, I returned to reality only to realize we were quickly overcoming a huge yellow road sign that signified a 15 mph left turn. Baffled at the thought of an endlessly straight road abruptly disrupted by a sharp turn, I braked, but not nearly enough as the 90 degree turn nearly had my heart stop when I barely made the turn.

With the small town of Prairie Flats and its zig-zagging geography at our back, the road once again opened into long straights, but now mimicked a roller coaster with its steep inclines and abrupt drops.

This time it was Chris that had his dance with fate. As he crested the first hill at break-neck speeds, the ground beneath his tires quickly disappeared as he sailed nearly a foot high through the air.

Our pace slowed as we climbed out of the valley, and the road once again began to bend and turn. We still hadn’t seen another car; just tumbleweeds, open fields and high desert. No billboards or neon signs here, just wooden street signs and an old barbed wire fence separating the road from the acres of land the oil companies own.

Just past Soda Lake Road that takes you southeast across the valley, we crested the last hill and were greeted by a faded road sign that read: “TRUCKS USE LOWER GEARS NEXT SEVEN 7 MILES, WINDING ROAD.” No more than 100 feet past the sign, the pavement became fresh and dark.

Lost in thought as to why a road in the middle of nowhere was freshly paved, I was again rudely awakened by another large yellow sign. Not wanting to scare myself as I did earlier, I slowed. This road had some unexpected tricks up its sleeve and I wasn’t going to underestimate it again.

We rounded the first corner and encountered what can best be described has a pure godsend; easily the best stretch of road I had ever seen. Winding in on itself, hairpin after hairpin, we barreled our way down the grade slicing and dicing like a scene out of a Moto GP event. The fresh tarmac beneath our tires was tacky like fly paper, and its endless grip rivaled that of a racetrack.

Out of breath and laughing with joy when we reached the bottom, we instantaneously turned around and proceeded to ride that stretch another five times.

Exuberant yet tired, we continued down the hill overlooking the oil fields of the Central Valley. Ten miles later, we arrived at the small town of McKittrick; a one-store, one-bar and single restaurant town minus a gas station.

We picked up Highway 33 West just outside town and limped our thirsty bikes into the oil field-laden town of Taft. A large town with many amenities, we fueled up, grabbed an ice cream and headed home.

From Taft one can take Highway 33 West to Santa Maria and then pick up Highway 101 North back down to San Luis Obispo. Or one can retrace their steps back up Highway 58 to Santa Margarita and then onto Highway 101 South back into San Luis Obispo.

A motorcyclist’s Atlantis, Highway 58 offers beautiful mountain passes, dessert flats, valley lows and a variety of terrain. From speed inducing arrow straights and horizon tilting corners to glass like pavement without any traffic, Highway 58 truly is one of California’s best kept day trips.

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