Northern California has an aroma reminiscent of the home that attracts the flocks of college kids who are subjected to dormitory living and looking to take it easy. The cannabis related paraphernalia, aswell as all the medicinal marijuana clinics, offer an explanation for this phenomena, but it is still a curious new experience; smelling smells that might be taboo anywhere else. Curious, like much of California. There are curious trees here like the giant Redwoods or the touch-peel-and-stand Madrones. There are lush, foliage filled, forests encasing and canopying twisty moss laden roads. The country is full of curious smells. On a motorcycle it is much harder to escape these scents because one is actually out in it. Like riding through an early morning fog, the smells seep in and get into a riders pores. They can chill, or thrill, but they definitely fill.
The smell of the stereotypical young punk wearing a Bob Marley tee is not the only smell that has met me in Cali. The smell of blossoms, blooming flora, is also here. The sweet sweet smell of a flower that has never known a freeze. Plants that know nothing of the winter that strikes much of their kin in less coastal parts of our homeland. Minnesota, the state that I call home, is not much higher in elevation than many of the towns I’m riding through, and like these towns, Minnesota is also home to wet forests and plantlife. The difference is that California is currently receiving a mix of rain and sun while my Minnesotan homies are already welcoming snow that they will continue to host for six to nine months. The vegetation will all freeze or hibernate, the lone exception being the conifers. California plants know nothing of this though. Unless they are in the mountains snow is probably as foreign to them as a nun to a college kids odoriferous abode. As foreign to them as I feel to the splashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
The other smell which permeates and lays claim to the air that fills the coast is the smell of salt water. The smell of sea life, the smell I smelt when sniffing my first raw oyster before slurping it down with immense satisfaction. The smell of soft sea salt, warmed lightly, and then knocked against sandy beaches and erroded ocean bluffs. This is not the first time I’ve been to the Pacific Ocean, not the first time I’ve inhaled the salty air or stepped foot in its cool waters, but it feels like it. The first time was on a school trip when I was seventeen, but that hardly counts. It feels, and smells, differently on Little Wing. I’m not sure if it is because I’m out in it, being embraced fully by the environment I am eager to be emersed in, or if it is the increase of awareness I have this time around.
At seventeen I hardly understood the importance of travel and new experience. I mean I was excited about the opportunity. I was ecstatic to be standing in front of the ocean waves and wiggling my toes in sand that was much finer than any Minnesotan sand I had ever wiggled in, I don’t mean to imply otherwise. What I mean to say is that at seventeen I thought traveling was in my future. I thought it was easy and would come with adulthood. At seventeen I thought being an adult would make everything easier. That answers would come with graduation, and independence meant automatic world intelligence. What eighteen tought me is that the world is not my first raw oyster. Adulthood only meant responsibility and answers were to be taught by hard knocks, versus just given like the pop quizzes and homework that had been handed willy-nilly just a few weeks before. At seventeen I thought traveling was as easy as saying it, at eighteen I learned differently, and at twenty-one life showed me that I was smarter at seventeen than I was as a newborn adult.
The sea salt air and funny trees welcome me to this new world I’m traveling through with an openness that the rest of the world should show to all graduating kids, but should is not a useful word.
If, at eighteen, I had thought that traveling and experiencing adventure was as easy as saying it, I would have done it with out enjoying it as much as I do now. My seventeen/eighteen year old self would not appreciate the wonder of the trees as much as twenty-one year old me does. Seventeen year old me would not breath in the air of salt and flora with the same exuberance that twenty-one year old me inhales it, and seventeen year old me would not understand the humour in the familiar smell, reminiscent of my peers, that permeates the higher elevations of Cali the way twenty-one year old me does.
My toes felt as though they enjoyed their first wiggle in the soft sand that borders the Pacific Ocean more than any previous wiggle. It is possible.
I’m finding that the world of hard knocks should be met on a motorcycle, and accompanied by a smile that spans fifty states and beyond; something I wouldn’t have guessed at seventeen, and something I would have denied at eighteen.
Life is hard to discern. At eighteen it seemed like it should be easy. I thought that if I followed the rules that were so obviously written out before me in my skewed minds eye I would have a handful of answers handed to me, no problem. I have now learned that there are no rules to life. We live and we die, and what we do in the middle has no owners manual or educational video to go along with it. Discerning is an unnecessary fools errand. My twenty-one year old self is living by this new discovery.
Speaking of discerning, it isn’t uncommon to smell a smell and think that it came from oneself. Discerning smells is necessary. On a motorcycle this is a reality which is often stressing and pock marked with inaccuracy. When a diesel truck passes at close proximity the sudden fear of a piece of motorcycle engine burning is a ridiculous and present conclusion. A truck with a bed full of gas cans gets me nervous about an imaginary fuel leak. The smells of states like Washington and Wyoming were nerve racking for this reason. California smells so sweet, my hypochondria is taking a rest, sitting on the backseat with my baggage and commitments.
California has me by the nostrils. The salty sea water has a habit of sticking to my helmet visor and fogging it so my smell is clearer than my vision most of the time. The coast is beautiful. I was given a week of sunny days to make this coast trip down to San Francisco, and Little Wing and I are enjoying it every bit of the way.
Smelling well with our olfactory senses, even if our own odors cannot say the same.