The only thing limiting our rides is the range of the bikes. With stock fuel tanks, there is no way to go 100 miles. But one destination within our reach is the well-known Racetrack Playa, a dry lakebed with formations of dolomite towering above its rim. Chunks of the rock occasionally break off and tumble onto the dry lake, where they're actually pushed around by the wind when the surface is slick with rainfall. The tracks look like ski-boat wakes frozen in the mud. Unfortunately, thieves have bagged many of the rocks. After a long day, we head back to the motel.
Bikes loaded in the back of the Chevy, at nightfall we tap into its bountiful torque to hightail it out of the valley into the high desert. Our target: the meandering Owens River, which connects a series of high-desert towns including the stoically named Lone Pine and Big Pine. What the drive lacks in drama the scenery makes up for in bucolic bliss. Lined with cottonwoods and cattails, the Owens River is a lazy scene right out of "The Wind in the Willows." The next day, while two of us inflate rafts, the third takes the Silverado far downstream, parks it next to a swinging horseshoe bend, and hightails it back on his bike. The anticipation of some 20 years is palpable as we slide off a grassy bank into the river. Indeed, the first half-hour is great, floating along slowly with the current and watching the magpies, herons, and occasional jumping fish. However, the mosquitoes-and the penetrating desert sun and cramped confines of the rafts-conspire to make three hours seem like days. Finally, the truck appears on the hairpin turn, and we gratefully scramble for the bank.
An afternoon squeezed into a raft makes the steep mountains west of nearby Bishop especially inviting. The next morning, we choose a long trail that stretches far into the craggy mountains across a sparkling snow-fed stream and up to icy Coyote Lake, situated at 10,000 feet in the shadow of the Sierras. After an hour of Frisbee golf utilizing boulders and stumps for holes (sport is where you find it), we notice a funny thing: The little lake basin is gradually filling with smoke from a sizeable forest fire burning somewhere nearby and fanned by the afternoon winds. There's only one way out that we know of, so under a thickening smoke cloud, we chase down the mountain and load the bikes into the Silverado for the last time. We've milked about all we can out of the trip anyway, and the jobs and wives we blew off last week are starting to call us back.