Friday, November 30, 2012

Emptiness and Running Away

The year was 1986, and my best friend Greg and I hadn't even owned our motorcycles for a year yet, and there we were already comparing ourselves to Wyatt & Billy, dreaming of a cross-country motorcycle trip and wondering what new people and places we'd see.

Such a wild, carefree endeavor mixed with such naivety and innocence could only come from two nerdy college students desperate to run away from their feelings of loneliness and abandonment.

But we were still kids back then, still more interested in radio shack computers and racquetball than we were about life on the road.

Twenty-four years later, and I find myself having been married for twenty years, a homeowner, a landlord, a business owner, and still a motorcycle rider. But yet, unhappy with my life. Seems my whole life I've tried to force things to happen. I was trying to show my parents how wrong they were for having divorced, remarrying, and starting their lives over with new kids.

Yeah, I was the one they left behind, a painful reminder of memories they'd rather forget.

So, I struggled to achieve just to show them that I was the pony they should have betted on. I made things happen, and made decisions I really didn't want to make, all for the purpose of getting their attention.

And all it brought me was misery. There I was, managing a rental property I didn't want to manage, climbing up a corporate ladder I didn't want to climb, and dedicating to a domestic life I didn't want to dedicate. And even though my parents praised me for my achievements, it still didn't get me any more closer to them.

I was still wanting to be like Wyatt, being free, homeless, just riding across the country not knowing where I'll sleep or who I'll meet.

So one day Sash comes along. She was in the same place I was. She was like this little girl who crossed my path saying she's sad and wants to run away. I told her that I'm sad too and that I want to run away. We decided to leave our respective lives and start a new one together, almost as simply and quickly as that.

But it was actually a long time coming. It had to take years and decades of heartbreak and misery one after another, just to numb ourselves enough to where we didn't care about the aftermath, allowing us to feel bold enough to quit. Even today, we're still paying for this decision.

So far, I still feel more free. I still run a business, but I left the house to my ex-wife and I no longer have the rental property. I even let her have all my tools and stuff.

Next year, April 2013, Sash and I are going to embark on a six-month motorcycle trip across the United States and Canada. We're going to vacate our apartment, put our things into storage, and ride bikes. But, we're not going to be riding the entire time. We're going to pull into a big city live in a vacation rental for about two weeks, seeing all there is to see. Then, we'll hit the road for three to five days until we pull into another big city and start over again.

Maybe after six months we'll love it so much we won't want to come back.

Somehow, someway, the mental, physical, and sexual abuses of children leave permanent scars. Feelings of worthlessness, trying to contain the storm raging inside, never subside. They're part of the reason why such people are drawn towards running away, and maybe explain why some of us ride motorcycles.

And it's not always about running away, but about starting over. When you live in the same place long enough, you can't hide your weakness anymore.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

The Irony Behind Riding Clubs

motorcycle in a curve
Lewis was a short, chubby, ugly Hungarian immigrant who worked as a cab driver in Riverside, CA.  I can remember his accent, his fiery personality, and his preference for the practical over the cool.  Yeah, he could ride, and yeah he could tinker with that old Yamaha V-Star 650, but he was still ugly.

I remember the afternoon when he and I took off for the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve to see the fields of gold in the middle of April.  He and I were both original members of the Iron Horses Riding Club, now defunct, based out of Temecula, CA.  I had put together the ride because no one else was putting together rides, and we were supposed to be a riding club.  So, someone had to step up and keep the club riding.

But only Lewis showed up to ride.

The rest of the members were fighting.  Not fighting other people or other clubs, but between themselves.  Riding clubs don't fight, except to cry and whine about the direction the club is going.

Lewis and I only wanted to ride bikes.

So off we went.

Brotherhood is not earned.  It's not measured by earning colors, and it's not even something you deserve.  It simply happens between two people whether they want it or not.  You can't stop someone from loving you anymore than someone can stop you from loving them.  Brotherhood just is.  Patch or no patch, club or no club.  The harder you try to find brotherhood, the less likely you'll get it.

I mean, we were a riding club, we were supposed to ride.  Even though there were disagreements between folks, I figured members could pull together for the sake of the club.

I guess not.

I knew that some members wanted the club to gravitate towards Harleys, where the only rides we took were to other bars and clubhouses, and where the members were younger and tougher, not older and grayer.  And I also knew that some members didn't want to ride that far, or do that many twisties, but instead do more poker runs, hang out with more bikers, and see more biker chicks.

Yeah, you can tell I'm being cynical.

But a true riding club doesn't exist.  The freedom of riding, of exploring, being in the great wide open, with no rules, no limits, and no expectations, can't be contained within a club.  A club means, by definition, to limit your freedom.

If you limit motorcycle riding to a set of policies and procedures, then you don't have freedom.

So, riding clubs are technically an irony.

If there are any riding clubs they're really just motorcycle clubs that use the term "riding club" to avoid the responsibilities and headaches associated with maintaining position in a pecking order of local area dominant clubs.  Both motorcycle clubs and riding clubs have less to do with motorcycles and riding, and more to do with organization and power, both of which I want less of.

Lewis and myself, 2005

When Lewis finally moved away to Northern California, I could tell the club would never be the same.  Even though there were other riders in the club, they still had their issues with me putting together 200+ mile rides, picking routes through tight twisties, or going to bars where bikers tended not to congregate.

The finger pointing started turning towards my direction, and at that point I put threw my hands up in the air and quit.

I tried my hand at getting involved in another riding club, one that promoted more freedom, but the less organization you have, the less of a club you have.  So, it never gained traction, and now I find myself doing a lot more solo rides.

I ran into Lewis a few years after he moved away.  He had traded in that V-Star 650 for an old V65 Sabre, which I felt was more suited for his style of riding.  We tore up some roads through the Redwoods and relived the memories of the old days.  I said goodbye to him and haven't heard from him since.

There were newer riding buddies I met, and I created many more great memories with them.  But in the past year I moved away from my old stomping grounds and now all but one of those buddies have stopped calling me.  I guess I'm just like Lewis, moving away.  

Somehow, the best riding buddies never seem to stick around.

I guess not sticking around is what a tried and true motorcycle rider does.


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Monday, October 8, 2012

1971 Schwinn Stingray in Orange

schwinn stingray
With as much excitement coursing through my veins as there was fear, it was really just the happiness of knowing that I would finally free myself of the training wheels.

"Don't let go!" I shouted to my Dad, as he held on to the back of my Schwinn Stingray, running with me as I pedaled nervously.

"OK, I gotcha!" he said.

Maybe it was the tall handle bars with the streamers hanging out of the grips, or maybe it was the banana seat with the sparkling flakes, or maybe it was because all the other kids were riding Stingrays, I just felt a sense that I had graduated from a little boy to a big boy, with my dad behind me helping me along.

Pedaling faster the more comfortable I became, the neighborhood seemed bigger. It was like discovering new streets. I turned down a different street, and then turned down another, riding past houses I had only been able to do from the backseat seat of our family car.

I made another turn, and another, exploring new areas.

There was no end to where I could go, the feeling of freedom and a boy filled with adventure.

"Are you still there?" I shouted to my dad.

He didn't answer.

my mom and dadI turned my head around, and he was gone. He had let go somewhere along the way. I couldn't even see him. I figured I had pedaled so fast, he couldn't keep up. But the truth is that I was doing fine on my own, and I only needed him to hold on for a short bit.

Even though I was just six years old, I somehow felt confident I could ride back home by myself. There was still some nervousness, But I still knew I could do it.

And when I got back home, I found him putting the training wheels away.

The Navy has a way of separating little boys from their fathers. The words, "War is Hell", has more than just one meaning.

Just a year later, my father and mother divorced, and I saw less and less of him. He wanted to start a new life, and a few years later, married a new wife who gave him a new son. And despite me pulling on his arm to stay, he had to let go.

It was just a year ago my wife and I filed for divorce. While moving out of the house, I dusted off some of the old books my father bought me when I was 3 or 4 years old. I found old photos of him and me with my toys. I found a tennis trophy he won, and a plaque thanking him for his service in Vietnam.

In my adult years, I had tried to reestablish that father-son relationship I knew from my childhood, but as it turned out, I wasn't a child anymore.

Life was never meant to be fair. Those who complain will never move on, and those who never move on will always be left behind. That's the lesson I learned.

But he was there in my life just long enough to leave a mark on me.

I was able to build a successful career for myself. I was able to start my own business and travel the country on my motorcycle. He was able to fill me with the spirit of adventure, a feeling of freedom, and a sense of wonder. He filled me with his spirit, the same essence that had made him want to join the Navy, to discover new worlds and experience new things.

heritage navy poster
When I got the word he had passed away last night, I couldn't really cry. Over the past several months, I had already grieved for him. I had already experienced cancer with my father-in-law, and saw all the familiar signs.

But I realize now that my father's death is the start of a new relationship with him. He's no more farther away than my voice or my thoughts. I believe he understands me clearly now, and knows that I never really said goodbye. I now have a direct, unfiltered line of communication to him.

I never did learn of what he did with those training wheels. Maybe, they never really existed.

As it turned out, he only needed to hold on to me for a short distance.

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Las Vegas, NV: The Yin and the Yang

grooves in the freeway
Putting the key into the ignition and engaging the clutch, the ST comes to life once again. With fuel flowing through its lines, and air breathing into its chambers, mixing together and injecting into its cylinders, it pushes off like a race horse leaving the gates. The tread grips the road and I can feel all 1,267 cubic centimeters of displacement pulling beneath me, whisking me away, far, far away.

With a sharp twist of the throttle and a few quick shifts into third gear, my eyes open up and I take in a deep breath of air. Instantly, my heart pumps and I spring to life, eager to leave this place behind.

Slab is what slab is, and while I've traveled up and down this stretch many times before, often there just isn't a feasible way around it. The I-15 between Southern California and Las Vegas is a reality that you simply must face.

Like a Tale of Two Cities, it's a story of uprising, of downtrodden masses defying the odds for a chance at a better life, and the limestone walls of aristocracy slowly eroding away under the current.

I make the same pilgrimage, it seems, a couple times a year, but not so much to win money, but to pour myself over the masses and allow them to carry me wherever they choose to carry me. I don't care to think much in these conditions; I don't want to influence the outcome, I just want to see what cards I'm dealt.

There's a sense of truth in taking whatever comes your way and dealing with it. Whether the result is positive or negative, it's still a truth, and it's up to you to make something of the knowledge gained.

paris las vegas
I often struggle to figure out if I'm in control of the ST or if it's in control of me. I may be twisting the throttle and turning the handlebars, but it doesn't necessarily make me the master. I'm ever so dependent on the ST to remain operational. With miles and miles of blazing of hot desert, it could simply fail to run and bring about my demise in a rather quick way.

Master is only as capable as its slave, and its slave only as existent as its master.

Who is in charge of whom is not always clear.

The motorcycle would never come to life without my turn of the key, and without the motorcycle, I might never come alive. Somehow, we're two halves who need each other to become whole, neither having an advantage over the other.

I leave Las Vegas not any more richer or poorer. I don't really gamble much aside for the opportunity to get a free drink. I'm just there for the convergence of energy, the cumulative hopes and dreams of millions who pour in. I'm just there to haunt the place, soaking up the excitement and sorrows, riding the humanity like a tsunami flooding down Las Vegas Blvd.

One thing's clear, Vegas wouldn't exist without these people, and these people wouldn't have hope if not for Vegas. The two are so intricately tied with the I-15 connecting the two. It's a symbiosis of organs feeding each other via arterial lines.

And I just throw myself at it like a leaf on the river, tossed in between the Yin and the Yang, wondering where I'll end up, and what I can make out of it.

jeremy's tire shop newberry springs

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Boonville, CA: Lost in Translation

highway 128 california
Perhaps it's just something in the oaks and fir trees lining the narrow two lane passage of Highway 128 that rescues one's heart and mind away from the maniacal congestion of Toyota Camrys and Ford Explorers north of the San Francisco Bay.

Perhaps it's just the spattering of sunlight reaching through the canopy, or the parallel lines of dirt tracks sandwiching a strip of tall grass leading past a rickety gate towards an abandoned barn.

Or maybe, it's only the fluttering wings of a blue jay, the cacaphony of songbirds, and the formation of ducks migrating above that drops my defenses and fills my lungs with tranquility.

The sight of a girl swinging on a bald truck tire, a mother hanging shirts on a clothesline, an old man driving a '63 Ford pickup, all made me feel like a time traveler with my textile riding jacket and 3/4 helmet.

Somehow it seemed we had entered into a different time and place, where everyone moves at a slower speed. Hanging out at the coffee shop is their idea of adult entertainment here, and they don't seem to care that they can only get one bar on their cellphones.

The Anderson Valley is just a narrow strip of agriculture hidden between mountain ranges that might otherwise not be bothered with. The exit signs on US 101 doesn't say much about what you'll find, and I suppose locals prefer it that way.

Sash and I left the 101 and began the 27 mile ride into Boonville in search of the famed Anderson Valley Brewing Company.

The numerous advertisements of wine tasting rooms along the way might have stolen my attention had it not been for the maze of 20mph turns twisting through the mountains like grape vines on a wire fence.

But when I finally walked into the tasting room at the brewery, there they were, locals sitting at the bar, bellies full, hardly moving or making a sound, like frogs sunning themselves on lily pads.

"A Brother David's Triple" I asked.

The server obliged with a pint glass in front of me.

Meanwhile, Sash made her way into the gift shop to inspect racks of souvenir t-shirts and tops.

anderson valley brewing companyThe old man sitting a few stools away from me wore his Peterbuilt cap, hanging his head down towards the glass, in a brown button shirt tucked neatly into a pair of faded Wranglers. It wasn't quite what I had expected to see nursing an Imperial IPA. He seemed more like the PBR kind of guy.

"How is it?" I turned to ask to him.

He didn't move.

"How is it?" I spoke up a little more.

He turned to look at me. "Lors rurr roar. Hoo, shal mor nesh fashint nor spla!"

I had no idea what he said. It sounded kind of like a mixture of gaelic, hillbilly, and trucker, with a little garbled phlegm for effect.

"Oh", I said smiling, and nodded my head in agreement.

I learned later on that Boonville actually has its own language called, "Boontling".  No shit.

A number of city dwelling folks walked in, I could tell because they wore sandals, plaid shorts, golf shirts, and Oakleys, and were giggling over something that sounded like a lesbian joke. They all crammed the bar and hailed the server. When she asked them what she could get them, all I could hear was, "Do you have a hefeweizen?"

"Hefeweizen?" I thought to myself. They came all the way up here to drink wheat beer?

Sure enough, the server served up glasses of the stuff to every one of them.  Putting Oakleys, golf shirts, and lesbian jokes aside, Boonville means something different to each of us I suppose.

Sash came back to model her new purple top for me, emblazoned with the words "Anderson Valley Brewing".

"It looks like nice on you", I said.

I thought about picking out a souvenir set of duds for myself too, but couldn't find anything that reflected my feelings of this town.

A place like Boonville, with no more than a 1,000 people, would certainly be just as well off with a tavern serving watered-down lagers and cheese sauce nachos, at least I would think. But why settle with 3.2 beer when they're pouring 10.0 stuff over here? With its own language, its own brewery, and its own slow paced, "we'll get there when we get there" kind of living creates a certain spirituality that'll fly right through you if don't know what to look for.

Lost in the translation of Boonville, to the handful of us who learn of its location, is the essence of the oaks, firs, songbirds, and 1963 Ford pickups. The incomprehensible old frogs on lily pads who lose themselves in thick malty, double fermented ales is part of the ingredient that goes back into delicate brewing process, swallowed, pissed out, and reprocessed all over again, each time adding a tiny bit more to the flavor.

One doesn't just ride through the mountains to get to this place just to pass through with little more than a memory or a photograph. Time moves too slow here, and most of us don't bother to wind down enough to capture the elements that make the Anderson Valley what it is.

honda st1300 woman

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Felicity, CA: The Center of Nowhere

felicity californiaFelicity, CA stands as exposed to passers by along Interstate 8 as the empty expanse of the Colorado Desert.

You can't miss the pyramid off the side of the highway, but you'll definitely miss the exit. After making the u-turn to get back, down a cracked and rippling layer of asphalt, Sash and I thought the place had been abandoned.  But it was too well maintained.

It almost seems eerie, ghostly like.  The silence and loneliness here could just as well be purifying, but it feels like you're being watched.

That people would put so much effort (and money) into building something like this in the middle of nowhere, and then claim it to be the "center of the world" somehow seemed arrogant to me.  If there truly was a "center of the world" and it held some kind of power, then why aren't there more people here?

Somehow, the addition of a pyramid at one end, and a church at the other, seems to unify the metaphysical with the spiritual.  Sandwiched between the two are rows of granite blocks etched with the history of the world.  I'd spend more time reading the etchings but it's too damn hot here.

And what's with the apartment buildings nearby? You wonder if this place is really a freak cult where members dress themselves in black jogging suits and Converse All-Stars, pulling weeds and polishing the granite, while waiting for alien spaceships to take them away.

But it's not. Felicity is the creation of one guy who bought up a bunch of land and decided to spend a bunch of money on it. Here's the whole story on him.

Felicity, CA
(760) 572-0100

felicity california
The Church at Felicity, CA
felicity california
History of the world in granite.
felicity california
Sash at Felicity, CA
felicity california
The church at Felicity, CA
felicity california center of the world
How many people paid to have sex on this spot?

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Bonneville Salt Flats for the Common Man

Put it in gear, twist the throttle, and ride far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, away...

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Looking At The Bigger Picture

motorcycle temperature gauge
Highway 93 runs south through the Great Basin of Nevada connecting the desert towns of Wendover, Ely, and Pioche before finally emptying it's contents into the neon oasis of Las Vegas.

I watched the temperature gauge on the ST climb up to 107 as I headed south from Wendover. Past Highway 489 and Telegraph Peak, as the July sun crested its afternoon rise, the heat continued to mount. 108 then 109 then 110.

Storm clouds were visible on the horizon, and it seemed like a cooling down was in order, but I did not know if the 93 would take me into it.

By the time I reached Ely, I caught just the tail end of the passing storm heading southwest, away from my direction. No rain fell, but I managed to enjoy a drop in temperature from 111 to 102.

I couldn't help but feel cool in 102 degrees F. I had never known such a temperature to feel so relieving. Any other moment, 102 degrees would make a ride miserable.  Yet at this moment, it made my ride a pleasure.

Relief, as with everything else, is relative.

It's like celebrating victory in a battle while still losing the entire war. Our perception is skewed when we look at things from the ground level. It's only when we can look at the bigger picture that we can see our real situation.

Imagine being kidnapped, blindfolded, and driven 50 miles to a hideout. Then you were put into a basement, with just sliver of daylight from a tiny, ground-level window. They only feed you one peanut-butter sandwich per day with a glass of water.

But one day they gave you two peanut-butter sandwiches as a reward for cooperating with their demands. You feel rewarded for the extra food, and know that you won't feel so hungry sleeping at night. Somehow, for just a brief moment, you forget that you're a prisoner, and feel grateful for your bounty.

Politics is often like this.

All that really matters is that we're protected from invaders, that we're free to pursue our dreams, and that food and shelter are plentiful. And yet the battle over the Healthcare Reform Act (aka Obamacare) can draw such high emotions on both sides of the argument, that people get angry at each other, they cry, and friends become enemies. Yet for a moment, they lose sight of the fact that they're still living in the safest, wealthiest, and strongest country in the world.

Even in relationships, we fight over petty things. Lost in the argument is that two people have such trust in each other to share their most guarded opinions. We often forget how lucky we are just to have a lover to share our secrets with.

The ability to look at the bigger picture helps us to gain a clearer perspective and prevents us from feeling hurt about our situation. As bad as we often find ourselves, there's always people on the other side of the world who have it really bad.

US Highway 93, south side of White Horse Pass, Nevada

There are people who commit suicide who were still getting their Caramel Macchiato every morning.

The same with kids in public schools, getting free lunches on the government dole, and tossing their uneaten apples into the trash.

The small patches of green clover on the side of the highway are often not noticed until you step off the motorcycle, point your camera to the horizon and see how its color adds beauty to the photograph.

Someone will pray to God that they'll ace the job interview and get hired, but God will look at their situation and compare it to someone else in Ethiopia who no longer has the strength to swat flies from his face.

And when God doesn't answer our prayers, do we lose faith in God?  Do we become angry?

It's hard to see how good or bad your situation is when you're looking at it from the ground up. But as it turns out, this is the perspective that we base our emotions on. It's at this level we measure our fulfillment.

As it turns out, that drop in temperature was only short-lived. South of Ely, the skies were clearing up. As I continued down Highway 93, the temperature rose again, and by the time I reached Las Vegas that evening, Blackbird and I were back in 111 degree temps.

I guess I should have looked at the bigger picture and saw that I was still in the desert.


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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Philosophy of Shadows

motorcycle shadowIf the Humboldt Redwoods State Park reveals any truths, its the smallness of ourselves, how trivial our existence, and how plagued we are over our fear.

Highway 101 through California's Central Valley seemed long and straight until Sash and I had ridden far enough north to where the terrain was carpeted with old growth redwoods dating back hundreds of years.  The thickness of the trees and the darkness of their shadows forced the road to become more narrow, and the air to become more cold.

As wide and tall as these redwoods are, they put up no defenses, allowing mankind to cut them down en masse.  Trees as old and tall as these never lie.  Each one records its memories in the growth rings of its cross-section.  There's something triumphant about conquering something so large and strong yet something so cowardly knowing it won't resist our industrial endeavors.

It's only when a ray of light shines upon us are we followed by a shadow.  

Shadows are ourselves, but they show no expression.  They exhibit none of our fears or hurt, and they erase away all of our joy.  Despite our best attempts at foiling their efforts, they never fail to follow us wherever we go.  They practically haunt us, taking our shape, copying our actions, reenacting our mistakes and successes, as if they kept a ghostly tabulation of our hits and misses.

Sometimes my emotions become too much for me to handle, and I find comfort in my shadow.  I almost envy it, able to sail along the highways on my motorcycle in complete silence, free of all misery, yet not completely alone.

However there are moments when I want to forget about my past and blaze a new trail.  Yet, my shadow never ceases to follow me, reminding me of who I am, almost mocking my attempts to run away.

Only in the wide open outdoors, under the life-giving warmth of the sun, is my shadow ever there.  Only when I'm free to run in any direction and maximize the potential of my abilities, that the cold, darkness of my shadow is there in equal match.

Sash and I soon found ourselves in near night as Highway 101 wound its way into the Humboldt Redwoods underneath of canopy of trees so thick and tight, that only the luckiest rays of sunshine poked holes into the melancholy of darkness.

Our shadows had left us, leaving us to ourselves against a seemingly endless avenue of giants, as if we had to face our fears alone in a cold place of daytime night.  Slowing down to a more manageable speed, these redwoods had seen a billion souls before, and we could sense their lack of emotion and lack of concern, yet feel the awesomeness of their presence.

You can't enter into a courtroom without feeling cold and alone, and such a courtroom of behemoths can squash the humanity right out of us.

It wasn't that our shadows had left us, but that our shadows had been swallowed up by bigger shadows.  We were basking in the same cold, uncaring yield of these old growth redwoods.  Centuries of history recorded within their rings, memories of placer camps, indigenous people, fur trappers, and explorers, had shadowed over us in fell swoop.  The stories they told, of Humankind and Nature, mixed together into a plasma that Sash and I found ourselves awestruck by.

As beautiful the Humboldt Redwoods are, they are as equally cold and uncomfortable.  As awesome and impressive their size and strength, they are equally as submissive and yielding to our fragile and brief existence.

The warmth of the Sun may be reassuring, but is equally met with the cold, emptiness of the shadow.

philosophy of shadowsNo matter how fast we ride, or how low we stoop, it sees all that we are, our failures and successes, and never fails to remind us of who we are.

As Highway 101 lead us out of the redwoods and into wide open country, the warmth of the Sun once again found us, but just as quickly the meager truth of our existence was cast upon the pavement below.


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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Murphys Hotel: Between Past & Present

murphys hotel
One doesn't come into such a town so boldly and so quickly and not feel the pain and laughter of 150 years before.

Whispers from the creaks of wooden floors, stares from the eyes of paintings on the walls, a wayward traveler can only feel such presence through the bumps on their skin.

I could have smelled the same old scent of history in my great grandfather's basement when I was still a boy. Dank, earthy, and pungent, like the concoction of vodka and cigarettes on his breath, each step up the stairs filled my senses of the hurt and joy left behind after a century-and-a-half of service.

Murphys Historic Hotel stands as a sentinel over a small town struggling to hang on to its soul amidst the advancement of wineries, boutiques, and name brand labels. Murphys, CA knows better not to sell itself out, but even history has become too old of an attraction to lure tourists seeking newer pleasures.

Somehow, Blackbird felt at home here, as a light rain started to fall. I had her parked in front of the hotel where passersby took the time to appreciate the graceful lines of her chassis covering over the wear and tear of tens of thousands of miles.

In the hotel saloon, I slipped into a more comfortable state of mind over a pint of ale and a chat with the bartender.

And in the same way that hundreds of thousands before me had done, I traveled along the same road connecting one gold rush town after another, only to rest my weary mind and body in the same old hotel and saloon.

I laid down my resistance, sank bank into my chair, and felt the ghosts pull me back in time, syncing me to their wavelengths, and entering into my mind with each deep breath I took. For just this evening I became just one more soul swallowed up into a bottomless abyss of poker players, burlesque dancers and ragtime music.

Dorian, the proprietor, told me about Eleanor, a former 1860s chambermaid at the Hotel, whose spirit is said to still haunt the restaurant. But he didn't mention anything about Floyd, who since the 1920s, has resided in an adjacent room to mine, still waiting for Joyce, a woman who had already passed to the beyond. Sad souls who's memories can still be felt in the drops of water from the rain gutter, or the subtle flicker in the electric lights.

Mark Twain found refuge in these very walls during the 1860s, and at the time those walls had much to talk of the prospectors, claim jumpers, and ladies of night who sealed their fates at the height of the California Gold Rush. As I looked about the hotel, still containing the same fixtures from that time, I made connection to their hopes and dreams, albeit how brief and slim.

From all those who came to Murphys with hopes of striking it rich, only to find themselves empty and lost, the old hotel pours forth a drink so thick with the hurt and evil of humankind.

I became just a messenger who stayed long enough to feel their presence, and carry their memories onward.

Later that night, I returned to my room, and sank myself into the soft cottony sheets of an old squeeky bed, closed my eyes, and allowed their stories to fill my mind.

murphys hotel bar menu

murphys hotel table

murphys hotel chandelier

murphys hotel motorcycle

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lane Splitting on the Strait and Narrow

lane splitting
The year was 1520 when Ferdinand Magellan sailed his fleet through a narrow passage on the cape of South America, in what now called today, "The Strait of Magellan".

At the time, people believed that if you sailed far south enough, you'd reach the Gates of Hell. The fleet had sailed so far south, and found the waters choppy and the winds cold, that his men mutinied, and Magellan had lost some ships.

But determined was Magellan to push on in search of the elusive passage that would connect Europe with Asia.

As they entered the Strait, temperatures grew much more cold, and they found ice floating in the water.  The ships were tossed about.  In the distance, they could see fire and plumes of smoke, lit up by natives that they did know exist. Magellan named the area, Tierra Del Fuego, the land of fire. The crew thought for certain that they had sailed right up to the Gates of Hell.

Magellan, however, wasn't going to let Hell ruin his cup of tea. He was still smart enough, and skilled enough, to stay on course, navigating through the dangerous waters. and eventually out into the wide, warm waters of the Pacific.

At the time, the Pacific Ocean was named Mar Del Sur by Vasco Nunez de Balboa. But because Magellan was so rewarded by the calm seas, he renamed it, Pacifico.

As I raced down the freeway on my way home, I could see red taillights ahead, causing me to cut back on the throttle, making the roar of the ST's V4 motor to wind down.  I kick it down a gear, slowing some more, and then kicked it down yet another gear.

Like a Boeing 737 preparing to land, I made my approach, waited for the moment to come, and then guided my bike down the narrow path of cars stopped on the freeway.

Lane splitting can be like a test of skills and a rite of passage, where if you use your senses, and not so much your focus, where you're just feeling your way through like Luke Skywalker in an X-Wing Fighter, then you've made a connection between yourself and the motorcycle that's almost spiritual.

Along the way, I pass by other motorcycle riders who opted to stay behind the cars, getting caught up in the traffic.  I come up to another rider who's lane splitting, but at a much slower speed.  Every rider learns at their own pace.

The bumpy ride over the dots and reflectors glued to the pavement lessens my maneuverability.  My eyes are focused on a tiny square in the center of my retina depicting the width of space between side mirrors of vehicles well up ahead.  I'm hardly moving my body, giving the ST only minimal input.

Somehow my brain is able to detect the motions of cars and trucks beside me and my body and hands make the necessary adjustments to the steering.  Brain, hands, body, steering, braking, accelerating, it all works together in one fluid, poetic motion.

Going 40mph would otherwise seem like a piece of cake, but seems damn fast when you have only a four to five foot window to navigate through with stopped vehicles on either side, and the constant vigil for drivers who look like they're ready to make a lane change.

I manage to get myself into a groove, and find myself flying along.  Eventually I come up to the accident, get past it, and now all I see is empty, wide open freeway.  I crank the throttle and punch it into high gear.

I can't help but think that the few motorcyclists who opted not to lane split are still way back there, definitely safe, but stuck in traffic.

There's something almost spiritual about taking the more dangerous route, the more bumpy road, that requires one to focus and make the greatest use of their skills.  We could just play it safe, stay in traffic and wait it out.  But what if you could maximize your potential and find greater reward by taking the narrow, less obvious path?

Am I to remain in lock step with the rest of the flock, under some general idea that I'm safer this way, or should I be among the few that says "fuck you!", and lives by his own design?

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Disassociating from Manzanar

Highway 395 through the Owens Valley is unrelenting like a ghost of California's past, showing us the dreams of men and women laid to waste under the hot, arid landscape.

The roads are so long and straight, and the land is so barren, there's little else to focus on. Even the hum of the Honda ST's engine remains constant and unwavering as I hold the throttle at 80mph.

Why anyone still lives here is anyone's guess. Perhaps it's to get away from the congestion of the cities, or perhaps it's to prove something.

When I turned off the highway to visit Manzanar, I could feel my senses tighten.

"There's a lot of pain in here", I thought to myself.

I began to disassociate, a reaction I developed back in my childhood to escape from the pain of abuse. Except today, I use it to avoid my emotions.

A film showing Japanese children dressed up like George and Martha Washington, to celebrate Independence Day, seemed all too humiliating to a group of people whose faith in the American Dream had just been laid to waste.  The same Japanese children were depicted dressed up as Indians, ironic considering the government also forced Indians from their homes.

japanese racism
I never felt a connection to Manzanar because my mother immigrated from Japan long afterwards. Even though I grew up being called, "Jap", or assumed to be a Kung Fu master, I still never felt the sting of racial hatred.

If anything bothers me it's how we as a society have disassociated from the failures of our past.

For most people, Manzanar is simply a "Japanese thing", not a concentration camp. The US didn't even call it that, preferring to use "war relocation center" instead, thus denying Japanese-Americans the sympathy they should have received.

At one time we used the word "shell shock" to describe soldiers returning with severe psychological trauma. Just the words themselves make the condition sound troubling. Today, we call it "post traumatic stress disorder", because it sounds more friendly, and let's us broaden the scope to include any kind of stress.

Had we still used the words "shell shock", perhaps we'd feel more sorry for our veterans, and give them more attention.

The same thing about Manzanar.

manzanar tshirt
As I walked out of the museum and into the gift shop, I couldn't help but notice the t-shirts they sold with the word "Manzanar" on them. I guess you can emblazon the name proudly on your chest and boast about how you've been there. Again, a little disassociation helps us all.

I wonder if they sell similar t-shirts at Auschwitz.

Leaving Manzanar, I headed south on Highway 395, past the abandoned motels, run down shacks, and rusted sedans dotting the scenery. It's all right there for the viewing, exploring, and perusing.

I stopped at an old abandoned cafe, walked in and saw the vintage oven and countertop amidst piles of trash and plywood. There's an eerie sense that people ate sandwiches and sipped soup here long ago, that this was once someone's pride and joy. Now it's just a home for ghosts and rattlesnakes.

The desert has a way of being truthful. Without any trees to get in the way, you can see the failures of America's past so clearly.

abandoned cafe

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

I Love a Rude Biker Chick

Meet the world's newest female motorcycle blogger...

That's my new wife.

I divorced my old wife last year. After riding solo for some time, I picked up a new passenger, and eventually she moved into the rear seat and started decorating the place. I guess that makes it permanent.

She goes by the name, "Sash" because she was a former beauty queen.

But don't let the good looks fool you.  I'd be the one riding bitch if her legs were long enough to stand up the Honda ST.  Her shtick is all about looking fashionable and sexy with the toughness and wit to back it up.

She's actually more full of personality and expression to my dry, introspective way of writing. She's written for magazines for years, and later learned the fine art of advertising sales. She's also written a book of poetry. Today, she runs her own consulting business and does motivational speaking.

She got her motorcycle endorsement (license) not too long ago, but still doesn't have a two-wheeler of her own. So for now, she's blogging from the passenger seat.

Her father was a long time Harley rider, and she feels it's in her blood to ride.

So, give a fellow motorcycle blogger a chance, and make her a part of your regular reads.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Like Father, Unlike Son

A cold front rolled in over Lake Washington as I left Renton in the early morning, making my ride back to San Diego a chilly and tense experience.

The tears running from my eyes could just as well have been from the cold morning air drafting through my raised visor, but there was more to it. I sensed I had just hugged my father goodbye for the last time.

Memories of him and I from decades ago, when I was just a little boy in adoration of his strength and wisdom, contrasted against the thin, tired body now ravaged from cancer and months of failed chemotherapy.  He seemed so frail, practically a shell of what he once was, I couldn't help but weep for what the cancer had done.

Having made my way into California, I lean into a curve on Highway 12, running from Sacramento to Jackson, past fruit stands, old barns, and 100 year old oak trees.  Emotions that had boiled over manage to simmer down as my focus shifts towards negotiating 40mph curves at 75mph.

It seemed I was drawn into riding faster as the wind rushed into my helmet and created a howl that somehow reflected my feeling exactly.  I just want to get Hell out of Washington, far from the roots my father had dug down into that land.

"I don't want him worrying about all this turmoil going on in the family", my step brother told me, trying to address the animosity brewing between family members. I knew what he was talking about, but took issue with whom was responsible for the turmoil.

The past 35 years my step-mother and father built new lives for themselves.  He raised his step-son as if he were his own son, and now had grandchildren.  I could see that son rushing to his defense when he addressed me about the turmoil, and it made me jealous that my father had such devoted family around him.  I could see he and I were still worlds apart, and would never get as close as we were when I was his only child.

I had simply come to make peace with my father, to heal old wounds, and show him that I'm still here, carrying his flesh and blood.

For years we never had a relationship, he never seemed interested in calling me or visiting me, and I had given up pursuing that old father-son bond we had when I was a kid.  Yet with his life nearing an end, I was encouraged to go see him, open up to him, and rekindle that old bond.

But having never grown up with him, nor with his new family, I found that my principles and perspectives didn't coalesce with his.  His wife and step-son saw me as a threat to the peace they had enjoyed for so long.

I realize I'm just a ghost of my father's past that he likes to entertain, something that gives him the same sort of pleasure as flipping through pages of an old photo album.  He didn't want to renew a relationship with me unless I was willing to sacrifice my principles and perspectives in exchange for assimilating into his family structure.

I told my step-brother that I wouldn't be back.

As Highway 120 winds further away from civilization, large, old growth oak trees take over the scenery, and shade me from the afternoon sun.

There's something solid and reliable with these trees that gives me comfort.  The fact that they have grown roots into this area, spread their acorns, and developed a loyal following of people who protect them from developers, humbles me.  I could easily slip past them as a ghost, with all of my insignificance and invisibility, admiring their  centuries old wisdom.  It's nice knowing that a tree will always be there, offering a hiding place to a soul with no foundation.

Many of us were born to put down roots, integrate into a community, and develop a support system.  But some of us were just meant to drift from one place to another, staying in one place long enough to rest and enjoy, but leave before trouble starts.

I still took some solace in knowing that I showed my father a reflection of himself living in an entirely different way, with an entirely different set of principles, suggesting that the chip off the old block could thrive and succeed in a different world.

Maybe I really am a ghost, and not necessarily a ghost of his past.

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Making the World Go Around

soledad, ca
Highway 101 runs north through the Salinas Valley serving as an artery for the agricultural cities of Gonzales, Soledad, and Salinas.  Trucks wait as flats of fruit and vegetables are loaded on board.  Workers bent over under the midday sun harvest the bounty destined to reach families across the State.

In other ways, it's a land of solitude, where the ghosts of migrant farm laborers of decades past still haunt the fertile valleys, looking to earn a day's pay and a drink of whiskey.  It's a place where compassion comes few and far between, where a bullet to your head can just as well help than harm.  It's a land of Steinbeck, of hopes and dreams, and of mice and men.

I love a road that goes on forever.

At times it runs so straight for so many miles that at 80mph it seems like I'm floating on air, lifted from my own weight, free of all that had kept me grounded.  The field workers, the trucks, and the boxes of produce are in a constant state of blur.  Only the distant horizon is in focus, yet that horizon remains elusive.

She found such great comfort with him that she kept him contained.  All he wanted was to feel special, and she gave that to him.  Together they remained in the same house for more than 30 years.  And now that his time is nearing an end, he feels ready to go and she feels betrayed.

I felt compelled to make peace with my father, and somewhere over the past several months that peace came.  Another weight was lifted from my conscience.

Most of us never achieve that dream of a house with a white picket fence, and yet some of us who do still feel robbed, even after living it for more than 30 years.

She's leaving such a burden of guilt on my father's conscience that his solution is for me to take his place in the family, and somehow making her feel comforted.  I only wanted to settle my mind, not his.

I gave the throttle a quick twist and weaved in and out of the cars, getting past the congestion of slow moving vehicles, the rolling roadblocks, the road ragers, and the cellphone cagers, and headed for that stretch of clear highway up ahead, where I can dial myself into 80mph and leave one hand on the handlebars.  If I can just put all those troubles behind me, get myself into that wide open space, I could breathe more easily and feel more free.

Yet people define themselves, stake out boundaries, and set goals, only to end up unhappy and feeling robbed.  They measure their success without realizing that all they really have is themselves.  Their house, their money, their position of power, is all just facade.  It's all just crutches propping up a weak interior.  Mother Nature already gave us a backbone, yet many of us never bothered to use it.

Somehow, we find ourselves burdened and bound by the very crutches that prop us up.

Like the lonesome man seen walking down the highway, or the biker who never seems to wave back, maybe some of us are destined to leave society and set out on their own.  Maybe putting down roots is just a nicer way of being burdened by a home, family, and social standing.

Or maybe I'm just that one rare kind of person that the world doesn't need make it go around.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

When You're Already Dead, Who Cares About Your Helmet?

Interesting discussion I read online about a rider who was killed on the freeway in San Diego over the weekend.

It was at night, and some kind of "landscape debris" had gotten kicked up and struck the guy on the helmet, knocking him off the bike.  According to the news report, his motorcycle landed 100 yards away (that's a football field's length).

One guy posted a comment...

Full face helmet may save him


The guy is already dead.  Does he need to know that now?

It seems to me that kind of attitude is prevalent amongst riders who frequent motorcycle forums.  That whatever got a rider killed, could have been prevented had he utilized better safety equipment.

"It's always the rider's fault", seems to be their attitude.

Even if he was stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to turn green, and someone rear-ends him and kills him, some other rider on a forum will say the same thing, "He should have worn a full body glow-in-the-dark yellow jump suit".

Why can't we just pay a rider his respects?

Why can't we just blame the landscape debris in this case?

Why are riders blaming their fellow riders for their own deaths, even when someone/something else was actually to blame?

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Road to Self Discovery

road to self discovery
Sometimes it's not so much the choices we have before us, but the lack thereof. Halfway between the novelty of exploring new paths and the banality of one road after another, the struggle to define one's self is often elusive as the mirage of water on a hot desert highway.

I pass by other travelers along the same journey, perhaps also in search of their souls, or just marveling at the wonders revealed at every turn. They're seemingly uninterested in the urgency of the matter, perhaps feeling safe in the confines of their cages, or priding themselves over the fuel economy of their hybrids. Time seems to be on their side.

The whistling of the wind dies down to a low, buffeted rumble as I lowered my head down behind the windshield. The roar of the ST's V4 motor increases in pitch as my fingers bite down on the throttle. The rush of anticipation sweeps through my body like cresting the climb of an old wooden rollercoaster, and then all I see before me are miles of twisting road snaking down towards the desert floor and a blur of painted lines guiding my way.

The painted lines; they're all I need to see. They're all that I trust. They're all that matters at this point.

road to self discovery
Like riding the sine wave of an oscillator, the rhythmic left-right, left-right, becomes mesmerizing. It's not so much my speed that I care about, but the frequency of the curves. A simple mental exercise of hand-eye coordination becomes purification for the conscience, removing all other stimulus but the arc of the painted lines, bending, cresting, flattening, warping.

While riding through a city, one becomes overwhelmed with choices, so many roads intersecting one another, presenting so many choices, so many journeys, and so many distractions along the way. But in the vast expanse nothing, when all you have is one single road to deliver you from the wilderness, there's no longer a need to choose.

You just follow.

And there's so much release in submitting yourself to something else. Placing all your trust into a slab of asphalt that stretches into a wasteland of hot, dry, landscape devoid of water, food, and shelter, fraught with the dangers of the wild, with all the fears of the unknown, and know that somewhere, somehow, sometime, you'll be delivered to a safe place, creates a sense of spirituality.

You have faith in the road, faith in your motorcycle, and faith in yourself.

The three fuse together into one, a blending of body, machine, and the elements. The heat of the desert sun, the ping of a beetle bouncing off my visor, the scent of sagebrush, and the crosswinds pushing my motorcycle at an angle, all creates a soup that I cut through like a hot knife. One stretch of mile after another, bringing up a slightly different set of elements, offers up a new recipe for the senses that I pierce through and consume.

It's like gobbling up a bounty of low-hanging fruit, one tree after another, for as long as the road will take me.

road to self discovery

And when the road comes to an end, I bask in the safety of civilization, an urban respite of gas stations, taco shops, and cellphone coverage in between stretches of solitude and wilderness.

From thereafter it's more road, and more respite. More road, and more respite.

Yet even after hundreds of miles later, the road keeps me safely tethered to my home, and always connected to my origins. As long as the pathway back is always there, and my motorcycle always with me, it somehow feels like I've never completely let go. It's like venturing off into the deep end while still holding on to the side of the pool.

We may never define ourselves until we eliminate all of our comforts, strip away all that protects us, and leave ourselves to our own devices.

But the road to self discovery is not so much about finding what's there, it's creating something from the journey. Following a road you've never been on is really about following your intuition, and having faith that you're destined for something. Yet it's not in the destination where you've come to define yourself, it's when you've returned home to realize you're a changed person.

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About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)