Long Ride, Short Essay

Picture this, if you will: Half dozen plus one motorcyclists gather at a local watering hole with grand visions of coastal roads full of turns to the left and the right with the giant Pacific Ocean always starboard of the handlebars, wave after wave wishing you well travels to a destination of drinks, laughter, and warm waters full of tourists and caramel-brown skinned locals. We, the six plus one, saddled up on our mighty high-horsepower steeds and aimed them south-ish towards the impossibly far destination of Cabo San Lucas in the Baja peninsula of Mexico the unknown, Mexico the untamed, Mexico the place that is said to need a wall to protect us from its bad hombres who want all the jobs, all the money, and all of our virgins. Travel advisory bulletins and fearful non-travelers full of advice on what other places you can aim your motorcycle towards that has less brown people and more gun carrying, G-d fearing folks who know hospitality, weighed in with concern for the safety of our health, our bikes, and our bodies. Six plus 1 motorcyclists threw caution and our machines into the wind towards adventure and the promise of experiences not known to us in a land far from our daily reality, but close enough for a reasonable motorcycle ride down the western coast of the New World.

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A perfect stranger landed on our lap while we took in the smell and sounds of the crashing waves, at the southern-most Oregon coast that’s so full of dramatic landscapes. The Pacific Wonderland is a well-placed uppercut to the senses of those who can see smell hear the world for the blue ball that it is and it renders the partaker euphoric. We, 6 plus one, felt the urge to celebrate the stranger’s birthday who had the thousand-yard stare of someone that’s been on a BMW F800GS for three or so weeks, and has been to Cabo and Seattle and is headed to the nearest bar that has a shot of bourbon and a dimly lit candle to blow out for the 30th trip around the sun. The stars aligned, and parents who are celebrating retirement rendezvoused at the thickly forested Jedidiah Smith State Park with hot pizzas, cold beers, and a German chocolate cake with 30 individual candles and the Perfect Stranger was a stranger no more as we shared drinks, pizza, and laughter until sleep took over and we snored loud enough to scare the idea of bears and other critters away with dreams of margaritas in another land.

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And then we became six because life has a funny way of reminding you that if you’re not in it for fun, then why bother at all. One turned back to the promise of a loving partner’s bosom and a comfortable bed and we hugged him with pinky-swears of next time farther, next time together, next time just you and me so that the adventure doesn’t go on without you. Next time.

Highway 101 to 1 in California’s Redwood forest that’s full of giants, so impossibly big that the word giant took on literal meaning, and our giant steeds suddenly became small and insignificant next to these majestic trees that have seen the white man come and push out the natives to take the gold that meant more to them than lives, kind of like now but different but the same. The awe in the face of us six turned to grins as the road twisted and turned back and forth at a rollercoaster rate, heartbeats increasing with each lean of the beasts under us as we negotiated with the tires that howled under the load of metal and skin, snarling from bend to bend as we went straight towards the water with giggles of children that turned into a gasp. The water, an inexplicable shade of blue that you wouldn’t find in a box of Crayola, made us pull over and look again, and wonder if the Earth really is round because it just ends beyond the horizon and we couldn’t see the curve enough to not snicker at the disbelievers. An Englishman who we had passed beeped his horn and waved as if to say that at his slow pace, he could look and ride.  Silly Englishman, at our pace we rode and looked while our hearts sang. Neither of us wrong, the same task at different speeds proving that there’s more than one way to skin a Pirelli tire.

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In San Francisco we were greeted by a great fog, a grand bay, and a red bridge that somehow framed the entire city in a picturesque postcard of “wish you were here”. I sent a text to my sweet wife to tell her I love her because that obnoxiously expensive city somehow makes us feel at home in its chaos and it felt lonely without her, even with the camaraderie of five riders at my side. Few things in this world can heal a weary traveler like the familiar sound of a friend’s voice and a sizzling hot New York Strip steak, grilled to a 129 Fahrenheit of medium rare perfection. Michael opened his house to six happy men who giggled and chattered like boys about a ride that was full of adventure, only 48 hours young. Multiple rooms yielded minimal snoring effect and we woke up early to eat a breakfast best served to giants. Corned beef and hash, thank you, with eggs over medium and sourdough toast and room temperature butter. Happiness comes in many forms, and breakfast is among the finest.

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In SoCal the traffic looks heavy from afar, but once you weave into its embrace, you learn that the school of fish on the highways will keep swimming no matter how thick or thin. Welcome to Greater Los Angeles, where getting there is just the beginning and you have to ride and stay aware for another hour until Burbank appears with family who’s been waiting to see if we six were really riding on motorcycles all the way from Portland, Oregon, to Cabo San Lucas not to save the world, but to imbibe in tequila and sour mix in large-format glasses in celebration of self-proclaimed grandeur. This kind of thing is once in a lifetime year, man. Six men, resembling a tiny League of Nations with an Iranian, a pair of Romanians, a Canadian and 2 handsome Caucasian dudes, were treated to a Persian/Armenian father’s hospitality that involved copious amounts of filet mignon kebabs, buttery Jasmine rice and ice cold beers. Hotel rooms, close to Bob Hope Airport, made the snores a thing of the past.

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Viva La Mexico! Interstate 5 ends in Tijuana, Mexico, and we six were greeted by a wall that separated San Diego, CA, USA, from Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. A wall separates free people from walking back and forth to similar lands that are within feet of each other. A wall separates people from seeing family that’s not allowed to cross its borders out of fear of this or that, none of it making much sense if you hang around long enough to see the reality of it. They waved us through, quickly, so that we could be tourists instead of human rights activists and we took the bait. A big Mexican picked me up and poured tequila down my throat and I laughed heartily at the prospect of another man picking my 245 pounds up as gravity reminded him that in Mexico it’s still the law. We found fresh churros under the biggest flag that any of us had ever laid eyes on and, drunk and stumbling, and saluted the unbelievable floating sheet that signified the land upon which we stood. The kind churro maker suggested a genuine Mexican breakfast to help heal this tequila buzz and at 7am, we found ourselves sitting at the colorful dining room of El Parian with breakfast breads that looked nothing like croissants and toast, but tasted sweet and inviting with a large order of huevos con chorizo for good measure. Southward bound on Mexico’s highway 1, to find vineyards as old as 1888 had me scratch my helmet in amusement that Napa Valley isn’t all that old in the new world. Bodegas de Santo Tomas was ripe with the most succulent vines that these eyes had ever ridden past. I thought I knew what a vineyard was supposed to look like.

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Long rides are good for pushing the envelope of your belief in yourself and your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in someone else’s narrative of what is good, bad, or otherwise, but a long ride might Alt-Ctrl-Del your head space into a new perspective which, as they say, is reality. A sudden lack of tire pressure brought perspective into our adventure in the middle of nowhere while we were mouth-breathing at the spectacle of giant boulders in the middle of a white sand desert, peppered with 40’ tall saguaro cacti. As it turns out, no matter how many puncture kits are at your disposal, nothing will fix a 2” tear in the rear tire of a Ducati like a patch, and nothing will make your heart sink deeper than the realization that no such thing was packed in our cases. Enter frame, the heroes of our story, two smiling cowboys that rode out from the middle of nowhere that was by the middle of nowhere close to the road in the middle of nowhere Baja, surrounded by boulders and saguaros. Our saviors in cowboy hats and shit-kicker boots came bearing ice cold Tecate Light cervezas and a truck with a hand-me-down air compressor and enough tools to maybe hopefully please oh please fix a badly punctured tire. A language barrier was broken with hearty laughter and a genuine “it takes a village” mentality as, two hours later, our heroes patched us up and waved us farewell toward our mission of sunny beaches and larger than life margaritas. Perspective has a way of changing when the national news about international behavior is proven wrong by a villager’s kindness and generosity. These lines that we draw are false and temporary, yet some are led to believe in the permanence of a 4 year term’s empty accusations.

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Guerrero Negro, known for sea salt and migratory grey whales, should be known for the most delicious tacos and the howling of stray dogs at night. Our post-sundown arrival was greeted by a smiling, half in the bag, local motel proprietor who spoke better English than our broken Spanish and suggested an el pastor huarache at Ploblanos. Confused, we hoofed it a few blocks along the dirt road and our noses told us we were at the right place with the sweet smell of marinated pork being roasted on an open fire.  The smiling patron didn’t skip a beat to our broken Spanish, asking for pork topped sandals. Dear Huarache, a taco longer than your size 12, may you always be so delicious and welcoming.

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Well rested and fueled up, we six saddled up with visions of blue waters and beach-side tequila. The map pointed south-east, away from the west coast, towards the Gulf of California through flat desert aimed at mountain peaks that looked like a mirage. As the boredom of flat land started to settle, a small white sign got our attention: “Peligroso Curva”. When piloting a Ducati, a sign that promises dangerous curves is a flirtatious invitation to throw caution to the wind and make a grown man giggle. In our Bluetooth headsets, we were reduced to middle school levels of vulgarity and profane laughter at these high elevation twisty roads, sans any barriers to stop a mistake from plummeting to one’s end. The aforementioned curves led us past a set of tall peaks, a sight not previously seen outside of California, which belonged to Volcan Las Tres Virgenes. The Mulege Municipality of BSC is the gateway to bits of twisty asphalt which introduce your weary eyes to the blue waters of the Gulf of California, twinkling like a sea of diamonds as you descend to Santa Rosalina, the ugliest little sea-side town and ambient temperatures that may boil the water in your turtle-pack.

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All was forgiven as we passed lovely Mulege and found ourselves face to face with paradise on earth: Bahia de Concepcion. Pictures do no justice and words fail to translate the beauty that greeted our sweat-stung and worn out eyes. Hastily, we turned left into Playa Los Cocos and parked the hot, ticking bikes under the shade of a beach-side hut. No time was wasted as we disrobed and ran, screaming with glee, into the clear water of the bay, surrounded by beautiful fish and shrimp. And then we became seven. A well-spoken German man, traveling from Anchorage, Alaska, towards the long country of Chile on a well-seasoned F800GS was tickled to see a group of Ducati motorcycles in Baja, Mexico. We exchanged stories and sealed the deal with a friend request on Facebook and didn’t want to leave paradise but for the promise of Bienvenidos A Cabo San Lucas. A fresh shrimp taco at the picturesque Ana’s Restaurant made these wide-eyed moto tourists promise each other a hasty return to this jewel, because you’re here on borrowed time and your death bed stories should include Playa Los Cocos, camaraderie, and shrimp tacos.

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The next day, The German Tourist went his own way as we decided to explore La Paz, not as tourists, but as motorcyclists desperate for a new rear tire that would guarantee a safe return through the potholes and twisty roads on the way back. The kind hearted salesman at the local Honda Motorcycle dealership jumped to action to help us find the ultra-rare 170-60-17 rear tire of a Ducati Multistrada Enduro. Once we finally located the hoop at a random bicycle shop, we were pointed to the direction of a motorcycle repair shop capable of solving our problem. Alto means stop, we learned as an irate Policia Municipal threatened to take away a few driver’s licenses. Never give them your driver’s license. One thousand Pesos later, we were escorted to Motos Baja mechanic shop and chuckled at the 18-1 exchange rate of Pesos vs. USD.

“Do you want your bike washed, senor?” asked a skinny man with kind eyes. I jokingly told him that I was collecting the thousands of splattered butterflies as souvenirs. He didn’t understand my sarcasm and asked the next rider. Much to his surprise, one of the riders offered him money to find us food and he, very excitedly, agreed to take his money and run. Chuckles and jokes were thrown around, offering guarded commentary about how he’ll never see that money again and, 10 minutes later, the man with the kind eyes returned with bags full of tortillas, meats, veggies and sauces and we ate outside of Motos Baja while I struggled to get my foot out of my mouth. Kindness is everywhere. You just have to stop being conceited and accept it.

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A new motorcycle tire gives the rider a new perspective on speed and stability and the next 157 kilometers were spent in giddy fits of laughter, Mitch Hedberg quotes, and ultra-high rates of speed as Cabo San Lucas crawled closer and closer on the GPS display until we saw it in the distance: a city surrounded by water and high-end resorts on its southern tip. We screeched to a stop under the blue sign with big white words that read: WELCOME YOU BRAVE MOTORCYCLISTS, WELCOME YOU HOOLIGANS WHO THREW CAUTION TO THE WIND, WELCOME YOU SHENNANIGAN DOERS, WELCOME YOU TWO WHEELED MASTERS OF THE ROAD. Bienvenidos A Cabo San Lucas. After a few photos and high-fives, we crawled our way down through the city towards the water and found big comfortable beds, at the Medano Hotel, with the promise of sleep and respite to heal our road weary bodies. But first, fulfilling the promise of margaritas! Once we had showered the road off ourselves, we walked down towards the water and found a table at The Office, aptly named for being anything other than an office. Most drinks fit in a proper tumbler, but a margarita at The Office is served in a miniature swimming pool, and you should swim with caution in these tequila-spiked waters. Throughout the blurry celebration, we reminisced the 2,430 miles which took us from the cool weather of the beautiful Pacific Northwest to the hot and dry Baja California Sur and this thought came to us: when you fly to Cabo, get picked up in a private car and then chauffeured to a shiny beach-front resort you see the Baja that they want you to see. When you ride through the peninsula on a motorcycle, with your comrades through thick and thin, you see the Baja that you need to see. It is beautiful, through and through, and is resided upon by folks who are kinder than you and me.

Get on your bike and head out to a destination not common to you or your fellow partners. It will force growth of character and a forged bond that’s not easily cracked in these times of political turmoil and disagreeable online vitriol. Get out and ride.

Star Gazing

The truck, a Nissan Patrol, was cruising through the Iranian night at a casual pace and the world was filled with stars, clouds, and tree tops rushing past my eyes.  My 8 year old eyes hadn’t seen the world just yet, but the sky was always the limit and it was clearly visible that night.  An unbroken gaze with it would reveal more stars with the lack of light pollution in my periphery.

The motorcycle, a Ducati Multistrada packed with camping gear, was cruising through the mist laden narrow road, cutting through the Cascades.  My 37 year old eyes had seen the world, and in the wet road ahead things cleared up, one mile at a time.  Miles, a Navy vet who I work with, led the way at a safely brisk pace on his Multistrada.  There is something soothing about the symphonic melody of the Italian built L-twin motor and, if you’re not careful, it can put you into a trance. 

Miles, not afraid of the rain!

Miles, not afraid of the rain!

The Nissan Patrol hummed along the highway and my father would, from time to time, look back into the truck bed to see me blissfully star gazing.  Creedence Clearwater Revival was barely audible over the noise of the inline-6 work truck engine.  There were no bills to be paid, or deadlines to be met.  There were fleeting thoughts of what the future might bring, easily distracted by the Milky Way’s appearance across the night sky.  I bundled up, more, in my make-shift bed of comforters and pillows that my dad had arranged in the back of the Patrol.

The rain wouldn’t let up nor be agitating enough to complain about and our rain proof gear was doing a good job keeping us warm and dry in the cool early June Oregon morning.  The freedom of coming to peace with a situation is empowering.  Miles pushed along and missed the turn-off for Rte 242, McKenzie Pass.  I laughed in my helmet because I knew just the sort of zone he was in, looking forward and through the trees that lined the very green Cascades.  Two gears down and I passed him and motioned for a U-turn.  He let me lead us through the pass, but I had to stop.  The Douglas Firs were like green and brown giants, towering over these two small and seemingly insignificant mortals.  Miles understood the zone I was in, in full admiration of what’s above.

The bottom, west entry, of McKenzie Pass. 

The bottom, west entry, of McKenzie Pass. 

The ghost of my past isn’t an angry apparition brimmed with war filled rage, as it should be.  It’s a wraith, warm with memories of blankets and pillows in the back of pickup trucks, classic rock’n’roll and the crisp voice of my dad, telling me stories of riding motorcycles in the open roads of pre-Khomeini era Iran with a pretty girl on the back.  The pretty girl who I dreamt about, nightly, as a distant memory of a mother’s embrace. 

At the top of McKenzie Pass, the scenery shocked our senses and took the shape of what I imagine the moon would look like, if I somehow managed to ride Archie, the Multistrada, through its rocky terrain.  Miles and I, tried desperately, to communicate through wild gesticulations and gestures that there’s a sight to behold ahead.  The Dee Wright Observatory, a seemingly medieval guard tower on top of the moon, stuck out above the fog and mist and we had to dismount to discover.  The waterproof motorcycle gear proved a sanctuary of warmth while the wind and fog blew around us, undeterred and impervious to its nagging.

The cab of the truck cut through the wind and kept me oblivious to the highway wind.  Snuggled, as a kid shamelessly does, in my fort of pillows and blankets I wondered about my dream girl, angel of American toys, and motherly beauty.  I worried about atomic bombs and schools that were ruled by stick and ruler wielding nuns, who’d hit you if you didn’t eat your meat and veggies.  How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?  Pink Floyd wasn’t a name to me.  Just a sound that felt good in my ears.

Down McKenzie Pass we went, the pace picking up as the tight switch-backs gave way to lazy turns, best enjoyed in accelerated motions, and the fog and rain slowly gave way to warmth and sunshine.  Welcome to Sisters, Oregon, full of trinket laden store fronts being browsed by trailer dragging, SUV driving retirees.  The sensation of dryness, and the lazy comfort it brought, led us to an instantaneous desire for sustenance.  Pizza and soda is a great way to celebrate sunshine and tourists.  On the other side of my phone was the sweet voice of my Valentine, Ann.  She was glad that we were safely eating pizza in a town she’s never been to, but promised to see it all with me.  That’s the sort of promise I can get behind.

The Nissan Patrol came to a squeaky-brake stop and I woke up to the sound of my dad.  The trip was over and it was time to go to bed.  The sweet warmth of my truck bed camp-out was so good that I remember not wanting to leave, but got up and went to bed.  Or I was carried.  The next day, I woke up and immediately missed being on the road.  The stars are so much brighter on a dark road in the middle of nowhere. 

Miles and I worked our way through the sunshine of central Oregon high desert, looking to pitch a tent near a body of water.  The destination was Cove Palisades State Park.  On the map, it looked like two bodies of water that converged together making it look like someone drew an upside down peace sign hand gesture.  In the middle of the desert, any shaped water feature seems like a good idea.  Greeted by the sight of the grandly carved canyon filled with the green-turquoise waters made us audibly laugh in our helmets.  My old friend, the Milky Way, showed its face that night and I forgot about my bills, my deadlines or responsibilities for a few hours.

Cove Palisades State Park.

Cove Palisades State Park.

Wanderlust – noun: A strong desire to travel.  And maybe see more stars, in the sky, than I possibly could in crowded cities of lights, horns and loud music.  Thanks for the truck rides, dad.  They fill my dreams with memories of the wind, the hum of an engine and miles of stars.  

Archie the Multistrada, my favorite form of transportation, and stars as far as the eye could see in the Oregon high desert. 

Archie the Multistrada, my favorite form of transportation, and stars as far as the eye could see in the Oregon high desert.