Wednesday, September 23, 2015

If I Lose Everything, I Still Have Myself

Leaving San Diego on my motorcycle this morning felt different than with other trips. The 5+ plus weeks that Sash and I spent here since returning from the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally left a profound effect on me.

I'm now on a one-week solo trip that'll take me into Yosemite National Park and back. Meanwhile, Sash is on a motorcycle trip to Bakersfield where she'll pick up her daughter and spend a few days bonding with her in San Francisco. Afterwards, Sash and I will reconnect somewhere in the LA area before returning to San Diego.

Since we started this motorcycle vagabond lifestyle 2 1/2 years ago, we've become different people. What we initially dubbed, "Road Pickle" has not only changed our perspective, but also changed our relationship.

That's what Road Pickle was all about in the first place, changing your outlook on life by taking a long road trip. This is the actual definition I published on the Road Pickle website...

road pick·le
[rohd pik-uhl] noun, verb

1. a motorcycle road trip so profound and/or comprehensive, that it changes your perspective of yourself, others, the world, or life itself. (eg: “I’m quitting my job, moving out of the apartment, and doing a road pickle this summer.”)

2. the act of embarking on a road pickle. (eg: “We’re going to road pickle all summer long and reassess ourselves.”)

How are we now different?

I think from here on out, Sash and I will put more focus on pursuing individual endeavors. We've agreed to find a permanent home in San Diego and use it as a base to launch our personal goals.

For one, I want to do more long-distance riding. I want to pare down my belongings and see how bare I can get and still get by sufficiently. I want to spend more time writing fiction. I know that Sash wants to become more self-sufficient, and has already put herself into a better position to do that. She's also started to surround herself with a network of trusted friends to give her the emotional feeding she needs. Consequently, what she's doing will free me up to do these solo trips.

Spending more time apart is something we realize we need to do. Since we first met, we've spent almost all of our time together. And riding across the country together gets us cooped up in hotel rooms, cabins, and vacation rentals. We start stepping on each other's emotional baggage, mostly without knowing it, and next thing we know, we're blindsided into a fight.

What Road Pickle has done is expose all this baggage. And since Sash and I still deeply care for each other, we naturally want to help each other. That's why we're doing this.

In effect, Road Pickle has improved our relationship.

Several months ago, I watched this documentary called, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", and found that it offered a profound message. The piece is about a famous itamae (sushi chef) named Jiro Ono. Jiro owns a very tiny sushi bar in Tokyo. In the documentary, Jiro is 85 years old. His oldest son, Yoshikazu works for him as an apprentice, and expects to one day inherit his father's bar.

The message is that to master the art of something, you have to break it down into very small elements, and master each element. Each element is not small, nor insignificant, but rather complex.

Yoshikazu started his apprenticeship washing dishes, and focused solely on washing dishes for many years. Because his father believes that dishes add a significant component to the fine art of sushi, it was an important element to master. There was a particular process of scrubbing, a certain water temperature, specific soap, and a process of rinsing and drying. The dishes had to have the right amount of shine, reflection, and surface tension.

After his son mastered dish washing, he was allowed to wash the rice, which he also did for several years as well. Once he mastered that, he was allowed to cook the rice. In the documentary, Yoshikazu is 50 years old, and still hadn't progressed to making sushi yet.

For the Japanese, honor is everything. No sushi master wants to have to bow his head in disgrace because he forgot to make sure the rice was perfect.

But for the sake of this article, stripping something down into its basic elements is a way to tackle a problem in a structured process so that even idiots can eventually master it. It's like saying the sure fire way to find your way out of a maze is to put your hand on a wall and keep walking without losing touch. It's basic, rudimentary, certainly overkill, but always guaranteed. And if you do it enough times, you'll learn the variables and subtle nuances that lets you take shortcuts.

Somehow, stripping myself of belongings and doing these solo road trips, I feel as if I'm doing just that. I think it stems from this philosophy of mine that even if I lose everything, I still have myself. And as long as I have myself, I have everything I need.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Getting 100,000 Miles Out of a Motorcycle

100000 miles on the odometer
My odometer, seconds after the 100,000 mile turnover
The feeling was more like a revelation than anything else. When Blackbird, my faithful Honda ST1300, finally logged its 100,000th mile this afternoon, I realized where it happened, and when it happened, and thought to myself, "Oh, OK."

I mean, after my Alaska trip in 2010, I felt convinced that this bike was a keeper. That's the point when I wondered how long it would take until I got to see the odomoter tick from "99999" to "100000", and where it would happen. It wasn't until just a few weeks ago, that I finally had a good idea.

So, there it happened today, along County Road S-22 in San Diego County, otherwise known as "Montezuma Valley Rd", just east of Ranchita, CA, inside Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

But best part about it is that Blackbird did this without any help. That is, she's never needed repairs. Nothing busted, no faulty parts, and nothing worn out. All it has ever needed was the usual fluids, brake pads, and tires. It's not like my 2005 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic, that needed constant repairs and patch work to keep it going. I mean, I suppose any motorcycle could go 100,000 miles if you keep replacing busted parts.

So, kudos to the engineers at Honda for designing a rock solid bike.

Yeah, that Harley was a comfortable bike with lots of bells and whistles. But that's about all I can really say about it. About every 8,000 to 10,000 miles, it would require some kind of major repair. A few times the inner primary seal wore out and needed replacing, which is a tedious job to do. I had a head pipe crack on me. I had the rear brake line wear a hole. I had an engine mount crack and disintegrate. The ball joint on the shift rod connector wore out. And of course, I had the cam chain tensioners disintegrate.

It's as if Harley designs bikes with the intention of failing so that you'll take it to a dealer for repair. That way, you'll notice the newer motorcycles in the showroom that were resdesigned to solve the problems your bike is plagued with.

"Yup, Harley fixed that issue last year", the salesman says to you. "Your bike was the last model year that had that problem."

honda st1300
County Road S-22, just inside Anza Borrego Desert State Park
It's no wonder why the Motor Company sells more bikes to existing owners than to any other group.

It was around 75,000 miles when the cam chain tensioners finally disintegrated on my Electra Glide. I was faced with either replacing them, or spending a lot of extra cash for gear-driven cams. It would take another 50,000 to 75,000 miles for gear-driven cams to pay for themselves, and everyone encouraged me to do it. But I said, "No".

This is where the love-hate relationship with Harley stops.

I went the cheaper route by getting new cam chain tensioners, and then I sold the bike. I used that money to buy a used 2006 Honda ST1300 that had 7,000 miles on it. 93,000 miles later, here I am writing about it.

Complaining about Harleys isn't the reason for writing all this however. My point is that I wouldn't appreciate getting 100,000 miles out of a motorcycle that needed no repair work if I had never had the Harley.

But it's not to say that Blackbird will put on another 100,000 miles. She could fall apart tomorrow for all I know. But at this point, I feel satisfied knowing I got my money's worth.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Conflict Between Love and Comfort

Sash and the Indian Scout along Palomar Mountain Road
Roads in and of themselves are not dangerous. They're simply layers of pavement that remain still. It's the riders themselves that lose control. Yet, motorcyclists often describe one road as being more dangerous than another, and often speak of roads reputed to be so dangerous that some riders refuse to ride them.

When I lead Sash to Palomar Mountain Road last winter, I felt compelled to pull off to the side to give her some tips about what she would encounter. I didn't want her to underestimate the switchbacks and decreasing radius curves and end up dead. Many riders have crashed and died along that road.

"Be careful" I said to her, thinking that somehow, she'd ride more carefully.

But in thinking it through, I felt a conflict. I love Sash for her tenacity, detemination, and guts, yet here I was asking her to be a little more intellectual so as to address my fear. The truth is, it's not fair to a rider that they tone down their enthusiasm to suit someone else's concerns, even if the sentiment was out of genuine care. When someone else asks me to "ride safe", I usually don't give it much thought, nor take any offense. But after having logged hundreds of thousands of miles myself, I like to think that I can make my own decisions on staying safe.

At the root of all this, is a conflict between love and comfort.

We all have things we love, but we also want to feel comfortable. Can we love something and set it free, but at the same time control it when we're worried?

We see it all the time in other facets of life...

  • You love your new boyfriend because he's so creative, spontaneous, and free thinking, but you want him to put on a shirt and tie when taking him to meet your parents.
  • We love sports figures who battle to the death, break records, and pump their fists in victory, but we want them to be humble and civil in public.
  • You love having your buddies over for a night of poker, beer, and jokes, but you want them to keep it quiet because your wife is sleeping upstairs.

In fact, it was Sash who decided a couple years earlier that we ought to wish someone to "ride fun" instead of "ride safe" because it seems to be a more neutral valediction.

But that doesn't always relieve the conflict between love and comfort.

The more you love someone, the more you worry, and the more comfort you seek. Setting someone free is not that easy, yet it's the letting go that mysteriously makes them come back.

These days, I've become more conscious about bidding farewell to a fellow rider. I catch myself wanting to say, "ride safe", but instead say something like "catch you later".

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)