Brief Intermission with Young, Wild, and Riding Free
Rolling on a Dream Part V will continue next week...
AKA the blogger is very sick and can't think of anything interesting to type, as well as completely lacking the ability to sit up and type for very long. So I leave you with the first of my stories to be published in print. It's about my first solo ride down to my alma mater UC Irvine. To find this and even better stories by more experienced writers and rider, check out Motorcycle Messengers at www.oscillatorpress.com
You might say it was a little allegorical that my first solo adventure on a motorcycle would be heading six-hundred or so miles down the “One” to pick up my college diploma. I was too cheap to pay the sixty dollars for it to be mailed and I needed my first real ride, alone. So closing one chapter of my life and riding straight into the next, I heaved myself and a bunch of gear onto the back of my beautiful GS and hit the road for Southern California. I know it’s not around the world or anything, but after three hours of mingling with commuters headed to the bay area on the I-680, bending against the ocean breeze and squinting into the glare of the sun off the iridescent waters felt like a magical world all it's own. The wind tries to topple you on that section of the 101, just when you can see the ocean but haven’t hit Monterrey yet. I wanted to go faster than 70 mph because the road just sits there open and clear, and the sun smiles down, but the wind wants nothing more than to throw you off your bike. And all my “23 year-old-on-her-first-adventure-ride” gear was strapped on so poorly that it acted in concert with the wind, trying to knock me over every chance it got. It was in that moment, when all the muscles in my tiny body were tightened together to keep up the bike – occasionally punching the bags behind me to straighten them out – that I started crying. But the tears that came were not from some “girly” frustration and weakness, but from the pure happiness and thrill of being alive that only motorcyclists can understand. Of course the foggy eyes business was beginning to impair my vision, so I opened my visor to dry them off and laughed aloud at the whole scenario as I blew past a VW van loaded with surfboards.
I stopped in Monterrey for a late lunch at this lovely American dinner just off Cannery Road. There were Naugahyde red booths to through your gear and your ass across as well as a menu so fatty and burger-filled it was guaranteed to stop your heart in under 5 seconds flat. Ironically, it also had some of the best Mexican fish tacos I'd ever had in my life. As soon as I took off my helmet on came the stares and the questions. Being a strong advocate of All the Gear All the Time, I can appear genderless with my helmet on, which can come in handy if I’m filling up the tank in a sketchy place. But once I expose my feminine locks and features, the reaction of the on-lookers changes (so far as I have experienced) in a surprisingly positive way. As a woman, I’ve been objectified and harassed by men frequently. It seems that no matter what I’m wearing, be it sweat pants, dance clothes, cocktail dress, or parka, there’s always someone who feels the need to be crass or send their hungry eyes my way. But every man I’ve encountered while in my gear has only treated me with the utmost respect and admiration. They often asked me questions about my journey and my bike, but always encouraged my independent nature. In fact, it was usually the women who would either glare in disapproval, ask me why I was “inviting danger”, or simply refuse to acknowledge me. It seems more and more that it is women who put our gender in a box rather than men.
Returning to my journey, the pavement continued free of potholes as I headed further down the warm coastal highway. Unfortunately it was clogged with more traffic than I'd expected on a weekday in the middle of November. It wasn’t so much that there were a lot of cars, as there might be in the middle of summer in California, but rather that there seemed to always be a tourist in a rental car creeping around each one-lane curve. No matter how many I passed, there was always another caged creeper just down the road forcing me to turn my focus from speed to scenery. I might have thanked the pokey tourists for that opportunity to stare at the sea if the camping spot that I had planned on stopping at hadn't been full, making time an issue. The sun was setting and it was starting to get cold. I had passed Big Sur and was going to have to start racing the clock. I had thrown around the idea of just stopping somewhere on the road and attempting to lay out my sleeping bag in some brush in the hopes of going unnoticed. Then the idea of being woken up by a cop or worse in the dead of the night kept that idea as a last resort.
The sun had gone down about an hour ago. I was exhausted and knew that I was entering the “danger zone” (and no, not the Kenny Loggins one).The more I continued down the road the more dangerous I became to myself and to others. “Cambria 6 miles” the road sign said, and I pulled off into what I thought was Cambria sometime after that looking for some answers. My phone was almost dead. I had had it in airplane mode to save energy, but with or without it, I felt utterly lost. I had remembered not seeing a campground after Big Sur on the map untill SLO, and I was stuck in the cold some hundred miles or so in between. There were a few hotels, but this was my only night on the road before heading into to LA tomorrow and I refused to give in and stay in one. Not only was I pretty broke being only a recent college grad, but I knew that I would have felt like an utter failure. I had ridden all this way with all this crap on the back of my bike to prove to myself that I was independent and strong. I had done this to prove that I had grown from mom and dads little college girl into “adventure woman” ready to embrace the world with nothing but a F650GS and a tent. And now I was supposed to just call it quits and pitch up in a hotel?! Hell no! I took a deep breath, latched my helmet back on, straddled “Lady Godiva” once again and took off South. Sure enough, about a mile down the road, I found my deliverance from the winding One.
“San Simeon State Park”. Apparently I hadn’t hit Cambria like I thought I had. That brown little sign with the shinny triangle “tent” icon glowed in the night and I took a left as well as a solid breath of relief. I followed the dirt road on my trusty dual-sport – I told my friends that this option would come in handy – up the hill towards the inaptly named “primitive” camping. It was dark but I found my way around and my “primitive” spot of choice which had a nice picnic table and grill, both of which I never used. I pitched my tent in under ten minutes and decided I'd leave the sill off because I wanted to wake up with the sun, since my phone was now dead and I had no alarm… terrible idea. Even though it wasn’t as cold as one might think it would be on a Northern coast in November, it was still cold enough to wish I had put the sill on and woken up whenever the hell my body wanted to wake up. Nevertheless, it was a lovely night. I was freezing but I had the luminescent full moon and howling coyotes for company. No sleep and no warmth didn’t mean I had a reason not to smile. Sure I was frightened, who knew what was out there waiting to prey on a woman alone with nothing but a bit of pepper spray and a pocket knife clung to her chest for defense, but then again, when had I ever felt this? On my own, wherever the road would take me, on the most wonderful vehicle for adventure that humankind could have ever invented? This is what I had wanted out of life. So many of my friends and peers were struggling to figure out what they wanted in life. Thrown into the “real world”, they were wishing they were back under the security blanket of student loans and grade point averages to define who they are. I didn’t want to go back, well, besides to pick up my diploma of course. I didn’t want to be anywhere else but on the road.
I woke up with the sun after sleeping only a handful of hours, packed up in under 30 minutes – this time making sure my packing was a little more… dynamic – and hit the road. I passed what was actually Cambria with the sun in my eyes and saw Morro Bay for the first time shortly after that. I’ve grown up in California for the majority of my life and have been up and down it a dozen of times and yet I’m still finding places I never even knew existed. It was a quiet and fresh morning and there sat Morro Rock, tall and magnificent, a soldier in parade position waiting at the ends of the Earth for you to pass her and salute.
I stopped for breakfast in San Luis Obispo and discovered that it was about7:30am. I continued on along coast to Santa Barbara and decided I’d take the 101 into LA to visit some people before heading down to Newport Beach where my best friend was waiting to celebrate the weekend with me. By 2pm Hollywood was already hell. I thought I had hated driving there but riding there with too much gear to risk splitting lanes and denting a Maserati was even worse. Luckily, a good friend of mine lives a block away from the Chinese theater. So I parked the bike, locked up my gear at his place, and he and I took to the streets. We laughed at the tourists, judged the hipsters, and admired the Art Deco that hides behind the superfluous glamor of modern Hollywood.
I spent the weekend in Newport Beach visiting my old stomping ground and finally picked up my diploma from UC Irvine just before heading back up Highway One the following week. I had never gone up past Long Beach on PCH, so up I went with what seemed like a lot more courage and self-assurance than I had come down with. My gear never wavered and I pissed off countless drivers stuck behind each other as I fearlessly – but cautiously – scooted between them and past that vast and crowded city.
I took my time on the way up, stopping at “points of historical interest” and points that at least I thought were interesting even if no one else did anymore. I stopped at some abandoned well stuck in the side of one of the many curves of the road, as well as a tree that hung to the ground like an old woman's breasts. I even went out of the way to visit the Inez mission that sits just past the way-too-adorable Solveg that I just couldn’t bare to stop and take a photo of. I camped again on the way up and this time I remembered to charge my phone longer so that I could throw up the sill. Nevertheless, it died as soon as my alarm went off so I never really got any photos of the campsite. Maybe next time I’ll invest in a real camera.
I hit the road early in the morning and got to see the elephant seals playing on the beach before the tourists swarmed them with camera lenses. My gas light went on and I had to wait at the gas station in Ragged Point for the place to open and my phone to charge. At $5 a gallon, I was once again blessed to be riding a motorcycle and not some gas guzzler.
When I took off again, it was just after 8am and the road was empty. I slowed down to keep pace with a Red Tailed Hawk. At first, he nearly crashed right into me, but then for almost a whole mile he flew beside me. He was close enough that I could make out the sharp curve of his beak and the bright red of his tail feathers. I smiled from under my helmet, and when my companion finally took off and I went around a bend, I knew I could never feel more alive. I never believed in fate, but, as I’m sure most of you reading this have felt, if there is such a thing then this is definitely my fate. This is what I was meant for.
I startled a bobcat who scampered up the nearly vertical hill like a bullet and I slipped past the ever crowded Big Sur seemingly unnoticed.
I stopped for lunch in Monterrey yet again, and as I turned inland I sang Prince at the top of my lungs. The beauty of the full-faced helmet is that you can still look like a bad-ass while screeching Little Red Corvette at the top of your lungs. When I finally did arrive home I was more exhausted and more fulfilled than I had ever been in my entire 23 years of life.
Next stop, South America. Anyone down?