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The Old Testament is jam-packed with extraordinary tales. Among them, the story of Methuselah (Matusalem in Spanish) is particularly interesting. According to the Bible, Methuselah was the oldest person to ever live reaching the whopping age of 969 years. Methuselah’s dad, Enoch, died relatively young at the age of 365 years (although he could have never died since all the Bible says is that “God took him”). Methuselah’s grandson, Noah, lived to be 950 years old. Cleary a family with good genes! Luckily, Methuselah died seven days before the beginning of the Great Flood. I say luckily because Methuselah’s timely death saved his grandson Noah from the embarrassment of having to watch his own grandpa drown under the inexorable waters of the Great Flood and do nothing to save him because his Ark was full to the brim with animals (but not plants). People who favor a literal interpretation of the Bible have come up with several naturalistic explanations for the remarkable longevity of many Old Testament men (as far as I know the only woman whose age is mentioned in the Bible is Sarah, who apparently lived to be 127 years old), especially in comparison to the modest lifespan of post-biblical humans. One such theory was explained to me at a party by a born again Christian man—as I was describing my own scientific research on animal aging and the peculiar lifespan of the hydra. According to this literalist fellow, before the Great Flood all the water on Earth came from dew rather than rain. Dew, being a far superior beverage than rain water, is the sole reason behind the unusually long, pre-flood lifespans described in the Bible.

Pinus longaeva is the scientific name of the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine which grows in the White Mountains of Eastern California (Inyo County) at 9,800 to 11,000 feet (3,000–3,400 meters) above sea level. Bristlecone pines can grow to be extremely old, much more than any other tree species. At the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains near Big Pine, CA, there is a tree, known as The Methuselah, that is 4,845 years old (it germinated in 2,832 BC!) For many years The Methuselah was considered the oldest living tree but recently another tree in the Ancient Forest was dated to be 5,062 years old.

I visited the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the late summer of 2012 and loved it. To reach the forest from Big Pine, CA, one takes route CA 168, a beautiful undulating and twisty road that climbs up the White Mountains through a lovely ravine, first through sagebrush and later, at higher altitude, through a pine forest. I wanted to go back to the Ancient Forest but on a motorcycle so I invited my friend and colleague Bill Swartz to come with me. Bill currently rides a very stylish 2006 Harley-Davidson Road King Custom, all black with a lot of chrome. The trip was short but a lot of fun. We left on a Wednesday and were back in Claremont by Friday (early enough in the morning to arrange a nice lunch with a friend). We made Lone Pine, CA—located approximately 200 miles from Claremont and only 66 from the Ancient Forest—our center of operations. In the way up to Lone Pine we took a longer route to visit the mining town of Trona at the western edge of the dry bed of Searles Lake—rich in the evaporite mineral “trona”, the primary source of sodium carbonate in the US.  We reached Trona by noon and stopped to stretch our legs and take a break from the heat under the shade of a steel gazebo at a rest area overlooking the white, dry surface of Searles Lake. Plants have a hard time growing on the highly saline soil of Trona so the place is rather gray and desolate (not to mention very hot).  From Trona we rode to Panamint Springs at the western edge of Death Valley. The road was a bit rough but good; the air was hot. We stopped for a soda at the Panamint Springs Resort, a rustic lodge and restaurant with a great view of the Panamint Valley. From Panamint Springs we headed west towards the Owens Valley on CA 190. Route 190 runs through the Inyo Mountains offering breathtaking views of the Panamint Valley on its ascend from Panamint Springs and of the Sierra Nevada on its descend into Owens Valley. Once at the valley we took route CA 136 north to reach Lone Pine. The town spreads for a few miles along US 395 at the foot of the Alabama Hills, a range of hills that runs parallel to the Sierra Nevada and is rich in arches and potato-shape boulders. The view of Lone Pine from route CA 136 is quite spectacular:  the green trees of the town on the foreground, the reddish Alabama Hills behind them, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in the background. The Alabama Hills became a popular filming location for movies and TV shows, mainly Westerns portraying cowboys like Hopalong Cassidy and The Long Ranger.  More recently Quentin Tarantino filmed scenes of Django Unchained in the Alabama Hills and the nearby town of Independence, CA. A self guided tour of the hills offers the opportunity to visit “real movie locations”.  A visit to the Lone Pine Film History Museum is likely to enhance the tour of the hills.

We arrived at Lone Pine at around 4:30 pm on Wednesday. After resting for a bit at the hotel (Best Western) we rode our bikes to town for a nice, early dinner at the Seasons Restaurant. Bill had the rack of lamb served with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables, sitting on a rosemary sauce.  I had lamb chops on a mushroom sauce. The food was good but pricey; I mean big city pricey.

On Thursday we rode to the Ancient Forest after a great breakfast at the Alabama Hills Café & Bakery (I had the Iron Man Scrambled Eggs which were very tasty). The ride from Lone Pine through Independence to Big Pine on US 395 was beautiful. The air was crisp and the view of the Sierras was spectacular. We stopped at Independence to get gas and then moved onto Big Pine where we turned east on CA 168. As the route climbed up the air got colder. At approximately 7,400 feet (2,200 meters), less than a mile before Westgard Pass, we turned onto White Mountain Road and continued to climb through a beautiful pine forest.  We rode for 10 miles on White Mountain Road to reach the brand new visitor center at the Schulman Grove (elevation 10,100 feet / 3,078 meters) of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.  We were quite cold by the time we got there. The last portion of the road offers an amazing view of the Owens Valley below and the Sierra Nevada beyond the valley. We took a nice walk through the grove following a one mile loop known as the Discovery Trail. The ride back to Lone Pine was also quite enjoyable but dinner that night was not. We ate half of a large, disgusting pizza from Pizza Factory. The only good thing about that dinner was that as we were riding to town to get the pizza (no delivery) we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset. In a few minutes clouds turned from white to yellow to red and pink. The pizza was crap though! Fortunately Sierra Nevada Pale Ale provided an excellent lubricant that help us gulp down the terrible pizza.

The ride back to Claremont on Friday morning was uneventful. We left early in the morning as the rising sun was painting warm yellow tones on the east-facing, rugged walls of the Sierras.  We rode south on an almost empty US 395. The air was cool and the sun felt nice through my helmet visor. It was quite windy and gusty through the Mohave Desert so we had to ride carefully. We stopped for a wind break and gas at Kramer Junction (US 395 & CA 58). At El Cajón Pass we slowly descended into the clouds that covered the Los Angeles Valley. Clouds of rain I am afraid; I wish we had access to the good old Biblical dew these days. If I could take a few sips of that rejuvenating potion, maybe my butt would not be so sore after riding my motorcycle more than 500 miles in three days.

Itinerary: Claremont CA,  I-210 E, I-15 N, US 395 N, Trona Rd. N, Trona-Wildrose Rd. N, Panamint Valley Rd. N, Panamint Springs CA, CA 190 W, CA 136 N, Lone Pine CA, US 395 N, Independence CA, Big Pine CA, CA168 E, White Mountain Rd., Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.