The Special Bonds of Motorcycle Road Tripping
I miss it. I miss everything about it.
I miss the anticipation of the trip, the packing, the excitement of cramming my saddlebags full of warm clothes and strapping camping gear everywhere until it was heavily laden like a Yukon bound pack mule seeking a golden fortune. However, instead of heading for the frozen north, we were pointing our front wheels south to mine our memories from the golden shores of the Pacific Coast Highway. Levering my weighty bike off the kickstand and thumbing the starter felt like a leap into the unknown, the first steps of a thousand mile journey, my Honda VFR’s repaired electrics held together by electrical tape and happy thoughts, partly because I got lazy, party because it finally worked and I didn’t want to mess with it lest the whole mess unravel.
I miss meeting my riding buddies on that first night, all of us giddy with the anticipation of the undiscovered, of what adventures the next few weeks might bring. Whatever was to come, we were in it together.
There are sportbikes somewhere underneath all that gear. Really there are.
Although I have been making the pilgrimage to Laguna Seca for years, it was Trevor Alexander’s first time, Dave Wensveen’s third, and seeing everything I take for granted through their wide eyed vision reminded me to not grow complacent about the spectacular.
For what we do is rare indeed. Small in number are the ridiculous souls that tour off sportbikes, fewer still take two-week expeditions on them and even more strange are those that bungee camping gear everywhere to sleep along the Pacific Ocean’s dreamy waters.
God I miss the Pacific Coast.
If you live on the wrong coast or are landlocked, know that everything you dream about the Pacific Ocean is absolutely true and better than you have heard: the icy blue waters, giant white capped waves and golden sand shores ending in jagged fractured cliffs will redraft your definition of the spectacular.
That night we spent camping near the beach was one of those moments in time that make you feel alive, like you finally found out what you were put on this earth for, erasing all memories of the reality of debit cards, computer screens and stoplights. All of that crap is a construct, society’s way of squeezing the life out of us, killing our explorer spirit, keeping us in line. The ocean is God’s reset button on life, His way of putting you in your insignificant little place, of reminding you that your phone can be put down, your email can wait and the internet does not exist here. Heck, everything can just wait. Lay it all aside, sip some Vodka and stare at the ocean. Life makes more sense that way.
“Hey Trevor, that crab has your phone.”
We slept well that night near the Pacific, tents so close to the shore the sound of the waves sang us to sleep. Vodka may have helped. Our nightly television was watching kite surfers play on the inlet, seeing them bend the forces of wind, gravity, lift and drag to skim across the water like a violently tossed stone, take to the air in flight for a few surreal seconds, then splash down. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I miss that night and our kite surfer view, feeling the chilled salty air on our faces as the waves hit like crashing cymbals, for who gets such magical nights like this with their two closest friends along the shores of the world’s biggest pond.
I miss motorcycle riding along the Pacific Coast.
Day after wonderful day, every turn revealed a different view of paradise, morning mist chilling us, forcing us into our heated gear in July, snaking roads hugging the coastline as we rode. Narrow roads with roadside cliffs that plummeted into the sea and but for a slight twitch we would surely be airborne with a few seconds of drawn out time to consider life before splashdown. Weighty bikes like ours resist our pleading to turn so at day’s end we were jubilant but exhausted, giddy on the high of the ocean while drained of any motivation to continue. We knew when it was time to call it a day.
Dave and Trevor binge watching kite surfers at sunset. No login required.
I miss being exhausted, that feeling like you have gotten the most out of the day and you have drained from it every last possible ounce of joy. You could not ride another mile if you had to. Our days ended like every day ended: a questionable meal, a mediocre beer and so many jokes between us three that I swore I would either suffocate on my laughter or drown from the drink coming out my nose.
I miss Laguna Seca. Our destination of the trip, it is one of the most famous racetracks in the world and the people here are our kind. Among the general populace we are freaks, sportbike jockeys, recipients of sideways looks from strangers and scornful comments like “Aren’t you guys going to kill yourselves on those things?”, or “I would never let my husband/kid/anyone I care about ride a sportbike,” or “Wouldn’t it be easier if you guys just drove?”
Our greasy tanned faces and bug stained clothes are an anomaly everywhere we go. We are foreigners dressed in black protective armor, striding like Darth Vader, strangers who weave around and through traffic at breakneck speeds with little concern for the deadly consequences of an error.
The author (left), Trevor Alexander (middle) and Dave Wensveen (right) all agree that life really is better at the track. Photo by our friends Geoff & Barb Nickless.
But at Laguna Seca we are normal, accepted, bathed in a mass of our people. Here, during the MotoAmerica races, everyone gets us, understands what we do, why we do it and no one asks such stupid questions. Fellow riders look at us and appreciate the planning, the time, the effort and the suffering it takes to pilot a sportbike full of camping gear down the length of the Pacific Coast Highway to arrive at this holy piece of tarmac.
The campground here is a teeming throng of bikes, a convention of the unconventional, a mob of the fringe elements of society whose risk tolerance is severely out of whack, a place where people set up a circus tent in camping spots, call it The Aloha Bar, then give away food and alcohol for free because they are bikers, and you are a biker, and that sole fact makes us brothers, and we take care of our kind. So grab a free drink, help yourself to a paper plate of brisket, say hello to Tyler O’Hara and sing Sweet Caroline loud enough to raise the dead.
a convention of the unconventional
I miss those nights at Laguna Seca, turning The Aloha Bar into our own gambling hall as the biker gang and us three swapped money all night at the whim of the tossed dice, our shouting fists stuffed with wads of money like mafia dons. Yelling, arguing, pointing of fingers, slamming of drinks, calling of names, rolls of the dice and angry throwing of money continued late into the night until our hands finally fell.
But we could raise a trophy. How a MotoAmerica King Of The Baggers trophy found its way into the Aloha Bar I will never know, but no one questioned it’s appearance, so neither did we. We raised it above our heads in triumph that we had made it this far into the trip unscathed. Despite the thousand miles, Dave’s questionable passes, the sketchy lane splitting, the cliffside roads and the biker gang I had just won thirteen dollars from, we were still around to celebrate.
Gotta win gas money. And a lofted MotoAmerica trophy to boot.
So the three of us left The Aloha Bar and tore off into the frigid Laguna Seca night with others in celebration, performing escapades I cannot talk about here, because this is where I am invoking my 5th Amendment rights. Dave and Trevor and I will share only by word of mouth what happened there, then deny everything. Forever we will have that screaming memory etched into our psyche, ready to playback anytime life’s dullness threatens to suck the life out of us. That night alone was worth the trip.
Oh how I miss The Laguna Seca Corkscrew.
Leaving our Laguna Seca paradise was as painful as the next morning’s recovery, but necessary. We would stay at Laguna Seca forever if we could, but doing so would surely mean our hedonistic demise. Death by paradise. We had already traveled the Pacific Coast, so we turned inland.
Death by paradise.
I miss Monitor Pass. Whoever decided to make a road through this section of the Sierra Nevada mountain range is equal parts genius and insane, cemented in their own stubbornness, insisting on making a paved road where no road has any business being built. Third gear sweepers on Monitor last forever, then suddenly degrade into a one lane road, no centerline, no shoulder and first gear switchbacks so tight you simply pray that no one approaches because there would be little room for the oncoming truck and your bike with its camping gear and wide hipped saddlebags. Who makes roads like this? What were they thinking? And can I buy them dinner?
Heat wave? What heat wave? There is still good skiing up there.
At Monitor Pass’s 8,300 foot summit we stopped to catch our breath and it was a total of 30 seconds before I drilled Dave in the back of the neck with a snowball. I braced for retaliation because although it has been decades since Dave’s collegiate baseball days I know he still packs a wicked two seamer. But I didn’t care. There’s something special about a mid-July snowball fight, the cruel irony of knowing that the rest of the country is gripped by deadly waves of heat yet here we are watching Dave make a snow angel just two feet from his bike. Maybe the problem isn’t the weather, it might be that people need to get out more. I miss that snowball fight.
After Monitor Pass, we dropped into Reno and the temperature rose by 40 degrees.
I miss the Oregon Outback. Opposed to the steep and narrow one lane of Monitor Pass, the Oregon Outback is a desolate wasteland of absurdity that you only travel through to get to somewhere else. Straight asphalt continues like an arrow into the horizon as signs warn of 90 mile stretches with no services. You have been warned. Only a few stretches of Nevada desert I have traveled can rival this emptiness. Oregon calls it “Room To Roam”. The rest of us call it hell. So we dispatched these straight-line roads with an abundance of speed for hours on end.
Then a sudden impact made Trevor scream. Dave screamed next. Then I screamed as I got drilled in the collarbone. It took us a few seconds to process what in the world was going on, but we soon realized that we were riding through a cloud of grasshoppers.
Not much life exists in the Oregon Outback. Except grasshoppers. There are plenty of those.
What had been a triple digit drag race through the desert became a game of dodgeball through a biblical plague of insects from which there was no escape. At our speed the fragile winged creatures felt like getting shot by the full fury of a ma deuce. We all took cover behind our windscreens but the grasshoppers found our weaknesses, hitting our exposed arms, feet or drilling our windscreen with kamikaze attacks hard enough to spray bug guts onto the barely showing sections of our helmets.
Trevor made the mistake of signaling the all clear and raising his head above his windscreen only take a direct hit to the face shield hard enough to vibrate his helmet. The impact left a grasshopper leg stuck to his face shield where it did the death twitch in front of his right eyeball. His cries brought a sick joy to Dave and I, because that’s what friends are for. Thinking about it now, it still makes me laugh.
I miss my friends.
How precious it is to find like-minded psychopaths willing to leave the comforts of modern society and live off a two wheeled machine and just go, pile their crap on their bike and get the hell out there, somewhere, anywhere, to boldly go where they have never gone before and scratch the itch to explore.
Finding friends that share that explorer spirit is a rare thing. In a previous age souls like ours would have built great wooden ships and sailed the seas, piled our goods in covered wagons and pointed our mules west, or strapped giant rockets to our asses and shot ourselves into the sky. Buried in our wiring is that inner voice telling us to do things not because they are easy, but because they are not.
Different vehicles. Same spirit.
For what good is the idle man, choked by desk and routine, bound by chains of safety, soul squished under expectations? What might happen if those chains were loosened? What potential lies underneath? Where would that man go if he had no place to go but anywhere? How much life could be squeezed out of the day? Pick the mountain to climb, the shore to reach, the sea bottom to explore or the road to ride and live more in one day than most do in a year. We did just that, day after day after exhausting, unpredictable day.
I miss the adventure, waking up each morning wondering what the new day would bring, what unknown lies ahead, what struggle we would overcome, knowing that there was a plan for the day but it could change due to landslides, wrong turns or conversations with random strangers on cool bikes. In our world so meticulously mapped, planned, scheduled and saturated with information there is a freedom in not knowing, not planning too much, a relaxation that comes from the conscious release of control to random circumstances that twist the day. And whatever happened, no matter what, we were in it together. Of all the things I miss, that is what I miss the most.