Dakota Clark takes FTR writer, Reagan Alexander armed with a Go Pro, on an early morning ride out north of LA and up into the San Gabriel Mountains.
Words: Reagan Alexander
Pictures: Lauryn Myers
Angeles Crest in the morning is a quiet way, a path that you travel in the hopes of not seeing anyone else other than those you are riding with if, in fact, you deign to ride with another.
Dakota Clark meets me at the base of the mountains, at a little gas station that is nestled between two highways, as all things in Los Angeles are somehow. The gas station’s lights blink diligently about a lottery draw and there is still a night-crisp bitterness to the air that tries so desperately to be warmed by the rising sun.
“You have to love it,” Dakota says. “It’s going to be chilly for a bit.”
During the momentary respite Dakota puts his leather gloves between the engine and the carburettor on one side of his motorcycle, an old biker trick to ensure warm hands, one that belies his age.
Dakota’s motorcycle journey started when he was in middle school, when he laid down 75 dollars for a ’70 Honda 50cc trail bike that he bought from a neighbour. From there it was Honda, then a bigger Honda, then a crash that led to a Saul-On-The-Road-To-Damascus moment.
“I had seen a lot of my friends riding the Bonneville and I thought the look of it was cool. It was a bike that looked old, looked vintage, but one I could take to Joshua Tree or San Diego and not worry about it breaking down.”
He’s tender around his Bonnie, a 2014 model that he has outfitted to match his riding style. Intent but restrained and relaxed. Ready for the chill in the air, the next curve in the road.
“I went into a dealer like everyone does just to look at pricing,” Dakota says with a chuckle. “Of course, I left with a Bonneville.”
Angeles Crest is where you go to cane and carve through the mountains of southern Los Angeles. It is away, it is apart, it is quiet vistas of pastoral fields, steep hills and burned-out forest that gave way to the latest sweeping fire. It is fallen rocks and majestic trees, turns tattooed by the remnants of burnt rubber that can only offer up a calligraphy line of a story. It is what Whitman would describe if he had the chance to ride. ‘Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers… The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag.
‘The delight alone or in the rush of the street, or along the fields and hill-sides.
‘The song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.’
Angeles Crest is a series of yellow street signs that beg you to go no faster than 25mph, as if they want to challenge you at each slippery curve. It is the place where a 12-point deer makes himself known to you, leaping across the road, wide-eyed, from one point of safety to another, somehow the clatter of his hooves louder than what your engine can offer up, and in 15 feet he has taken your breath as he catches his own.
It is a place where you see eye-to-eye with red-tailed hawks, where you are pushed by the same wind that ravens coast on with wings that never seem to have the desire to flap.
That freedom feeling
“It is just so free,” Dakota says of a ride that many tackle but few understand, a ride that has claimed its fair share of two-wheeled enthusiasts. “As scary as it can be, it is freeing. You can just go do what you want to do and feel like a little kid on a dirt bike all over again.
“But don’t mind me,” Dakota says. “I don’t know anything.”
It is a simple, self-effacing admission but one that speaks to anyone who has ridden long enough to know what it is to be on two wheels, alone and unfettered, if not entirely free of the surly bonds of the pavement. That is to say, beyond the next blind curve in the road, we know just enough to know that we know nothing at all.