Sixth & Seventh Day


6th and 7th DayAfter the trike was repaired we realized that there wasn’t enough time to continue to the coast. No time to visit my friend Rich in Eureka, no time to cruise the cooler climate of the Redwoods, and no time for the Pacific Ocean. Of course there is always tomorrow.
We decided to move down Hi5 to get out of Redding, and then head east again, following the Sacramento River, then cut even further east in order to eventually come down into Folsom. I think we thought we might avoid the high temperatures of the valley.
We rolled down Hi5 to Willows and pulled in for the evening. Two things occurred without a lot of forethought. The next day was Father’s Day and Willows happens to have a motorcycle racetrack. I was fine with taking a day off, and going to the races. We further decided that maybe this would be the end of the ride for us. The following Monday morning Matthew would head north to Portland and surprise his son (my grandson) for his birthday. I would ride alone down Hi5 to the Bay Area and then eventually ride to Folsom to return the trike. I was now very used to the trike and riding at speeds in traffic. Safety first!
So now I’m sitting in my favorite chair at home, pondering the last week, the events, the emotions, and maybe the consequences.
I want to first try to write about the physicality of being on the road, particularly on the motorcycle, even if it is a trike. There is certainly the drama of barely having a plan. Hitchhikers know this very well, sometimes the rides simply don’t go where you thought you were going. Decisions are made moment to moment, and everything “depends”. It’s not particularly efficient and there is a certain amount of risk.
Not having a set plan is paramount to adventure. I think you can do this in a car, but it has to have a cracked head or a leaky gasket. The vehicle can’t be trustworthy, because otherwise you will just drive to a destination. Reliable cars are a joy for commuters, but they provide very little drama for an “adventure”. An English sports car that has to stop every hundred miles to be tweaked with a screwdriver, is a perfect example of a great “road trip” car. I could be wrong, maybe a super reliable SUV could be driven with lower expectations of getting there, but then there is the wind, or the lack of it, in your face.
Motorcycles are in the element. They move through pockets of weather, crosswinds that surprise and shake you. Blistering blast ovens contrasted with the cooling freshness of snow patches near to the road. We have gotten used to moving from place to place with a steady climate control. Windows are sealed and we are transported from one air-conditioned environment to another. As we sit in the restaurant or motel, we barely recall the brief moment of real atmosphere as we transitioned. If we do remember, it was uncomfortable, and hopefully very briefly experienced. Almost like people running from the occasional shower. It’s just rain, but people act as if it had been weaponized with acid. Okay, maybe in some cases it is acid rain. Never mind.
On a motorcycle you are in the heat. The heat saturates your jacket, and you feel it becoming more supple, acting like a second skin. Sometimes the moving air gives the allusion of a breeze. Sometimes it is just a blast oven of hot air, sucking every ounce water out of your body. Hydrate! You must take the effort to drink lots of water! Drink your favorite liquids if you must, but only after drinking your liter of water. Maybe two liters.
All of your senses are working overtime. Sometimes you read of people falling asleep at the wheel of a car. You have a serious medical problem if you can fall asleep on a motorcycle. I’ve mentioned the weather impact, but there are other issues. There is the vibration. The steady hum of an engine is not only a sound, but it also signals through your hands, your seat, the bottoms of your feet, and your inner thighs, that things are good and steady, and that you are deliberately moving across the earth.
Changing acceleration, either up or down, in an enclosed car is experienced, but it is simply not the same as a motorcycle. Twisting the handgrip feeds gas to the pistons, and the explosions are more frequent, the cam exerts more force, driving the tires to leap forward. But it’s the sound that convinces you that something dramatic is happening as you crouch lower to the fuel tank. Maybe having afterburners in a jet plane is similar. All I know is that when you are climbing a hill out of the flat, hot, plain of central California, well, the complete experience of sound, wind, force, pressure…it’s nearly indescribable.
And then there is the downshifting on the other side, the controlled compression braking, setting the machine in the exact right spot to make the turn with little or no effort. Then twist the grip, providing the power to come out of the turn with control. As you get more familiar you can squeeze the front break a little, just before giving a power forward twist. It requires subtle control of different muscles in your hand. It is not a natural movement, it comes with lots of practice. Brake and gas are with the same hand.
I have often thought of the complexity of driving a stick shift in a car. There are times when all four limbs are doing different, but complex actions. On a motorcycle it is the same, but it also includes weather, balance, vibration and sound. Lots going on.
For me this was all buried in the depths of my memory. I had my last motorcycle ride in February of 1975. It ended with a crash, as a vehicle hit me at 90 degrees on my right side. This meant my ankle was between his bumper and my motorcycle. I flew twenty feet forward in a somersault with my crushed ankle. I had ridden my motorcycle full time for two years. I had dodged many problems by being alert, I wasn’t alert for this one. I was a block from home and I was tired.
So now forty years later I’m getting reacquainted, and my body is barely responding to what it knew. My mind is distracted by fear and ignorance. And then there is the fact that back then I was twenty-five, and now I’m 66. But that shouldn’t matter. Ha!