When I was a kid, my dad owned a Honda 360t – it wasn’t a big motorcycle, even for the day. But it had a fairing and saddlebags, and he commuted to work in Los Angeles with it in the summer. On weekends, he and I would ride out to Chino.
I loved those rides. Neither of us wore a helmet; it was too beautiful of a drive. We wanted to experience it fully, not watch it go by like a movie through the glass. How he withstood my long, blonde hair whipping his bald head over the miles is beyond me, but at the time, I didn’t think about it. I was feeling the rumble of the engine under my butt, taking in the smell of grassy fields in my nostrils, and keeping a keen eye out for the horses I knew we’d pass. I had my dad in front of me, patting my knee to point out things he saw first.
We’d pull out of the neighborhood and wave to my friends. I was so proud to be seen on Dad’s gleaming red bike. Soon, we were motoring through the lovely groves behind the dam and smelling blossoms or ripe oranges, depending what was adorning the lush green trees lining both sides of the road. We turned right onto the road filled with trucks pulling trailers full of debris and junk, heading to the dump. When they turned off onto the side road while we continued curving right, that was when our fun really began. We were headed into the beautiful country, and there was no more talk.
First there was the busy stable on the left, across from Carbon Canyon Regional Park. There was always something going on there, so I was always looking left while Dad loved looking right at the children playing frisbee or tag in the creek-lined park. He loved this side of the dam, looming above the trees and wondering why this pretty little creek needed such a big dam. We never did figure that out. They didn’t call this area Carbon Canyon for nothing: there was an ever-present threat of fire, and the entire area turned black every couple years from this road to my back fence. But never did it flood, to my knowledge.
After that was just openness; some areas with trees close around the road, where we would slow down and enjoy the shade, and others wide open with grass on either side. Then the landscape got a little rougher and the road was cut a few feet into the hills. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the road dropped back on itself, down and to the left for about 50 feet, then again, to the right. The road was really narrow at that point, and if we ever passed a car in that S-turn, we were sharing paint – it was that tight. This was the highlight – everybody loved that little chicane.
But then the road was straight again into the actual town of Carbon Canyon. The sign still said “Sleepy Hollow”, and it was such a drive to anywhere that only a few eclectics lived out there. But there were beautiful new homes being built in lovely tracts interspersed with the older farmhouses. Funny; looking back, I don’t remember any shops or offices, not even a gas pump through that town. It was a surreal and amazingly desirable little enclave. But I remember thinking then how incredibly dangerous it would be when those fires whipped across the hillsides. All that separated us from home at this point was about five miles of Shell Oil fields: easy, rolling hills – about four lines of them – with a couple oil pumps here and there, a shepherd and his flock, some cattle, and more wildlife than you could identify. We’d sneak in there on occasion, my brothers or friends and I, and swim in the pond, hunt mushrooms under the cow pies, watch red tailed hawks overhead, spot the occasional mule deer, and dodge the seemingly omniscient airplane patrols. I think we spent more time under bushes dodging sightseeing pilots than ever an actual official. But Skip had been marched out of there once (he claimed) after being spotted by an eye in the sky and then chased down by a patrolman in his pickup truck, so we weren’t taking any chances. My brother actually hiked all the way to seeing Carbon Canyon Road once – I’d never made it but halfway on horseback, by myself. But that’s another story….
Through town, which was probably a mile from first house to last, and then we were nearing the end of the road. Shortly up ahead, lay the Chino prison. We always drove in through the gates. The employees’ housing was so quaint, and out of another era. It seemed unreal to me, but to Dad, it probably felt like his childhood. Sweet little houses, mostly in shades of olive and white, but with neatly manicured yards and the occasional happy children playing around them. We would turn around at the guard shack and head back.
The ride was just as wonderful in reverse, but it seemed to fly by too fast this direction. We were home all too soon. Mom always had lemonade or sun tea waiting for us, and there were cars to wash in the fading sunlight after dinner. That was its own joy, of course, and was a perfect end of a perfect Saturday.