If West is best then I have just experienced the best part of my adventure today.
I’m in Oakland, CA, not far from Berkley, making my way around the United States one turn around and twist after another. I left Berkley this morning to head South since my hosts took off from Berkley to head North for their Thanksgiving. They went Northeast to Minnesota in a plane, so I went Southwest on Little Wing.
My trip, thus far, has constituted of riding West. Eventually I got to the coast and then the goal was to head South. I’m basically circling our country, so soon I will head East and then back North again, but for the time being I still had to hit the most western part of our great country, and I did that. Today.
I rode out of Berkley after a two and half week stop. A nice long reprieve from the hard road and the rainy weather. Hard road my foot, but it sure sounds good so I am going with it. Two and a half weeks, the majority of which Little Wing was stationary, immobile, not moving. Well, Little Wing did get a little excercise, but mostly in the form of stopping and starting at stop lights and with top out speed of 40 mph. Today we went for a long ride where for short spurts we went 55 and then 65 when we hit the freeway. It was good excercise for the bike, and it was good excercise for me. My greatest workout is on that bike. I love the feel of being bone tired after a long ride, which is how I’m feeling now. It is a comfortable feeling, it is like a blanket from home to me now. When I stop for a long time with little to no bike movement I begin to miss being bone tired at the end of the day. It is the same exhaustion that comes from a long night of dancing, which is one of the reasons I crave dancing when I’m not riding. I did dance once when staying with my hosts in Berkley. I went to a fun bar called Starry Plough and I caught their house band playing. It was a great mix of jazz/funk and hip hop that was easy to dance to and great to hear. I had the great fortune of getting a free beverage from a kind lady who was marketing Sierra Nevada beer so I didn’t have to purchase one (I didn’t ride my bike to the bar so I didn’t mind having a drink). The beer made me tired though, so I also ordered a black tea. When I tried to pay for the tea later the bartender told me it was on him. He seemed to think two dollars was hardly something to deal with the til over, and I didn’t feel the need to argue about it. It was so super kind. It made me look to the stars and thank the universe for all the kindness it has to offer.
This evening on my way back to Oakland, though, I met the my first mean person I’ve met since I have been on the road. I was riding, it was dark. I was following the directions from my GPS to find my way to the home I am currently sitting in, and I missed my turn. Twice. The first time I pulled into a Taco Bell parking lot. I pulled in, my GPS readjusted, and it told me I could get to the road I wanted if I kept going straight and took the next right. I missed the next right, realized what I had done, and pulled off again. I did a u-turn in a parking lot and got myself pointed back towards the entrance. I had to wait for the light to turn inorder to make my turn without traffic, which was now on my left. As I idled and waited I heard some one yell “hey, wait! ” I heard the words, but I didn’t think they were directed at me. The light had turned green and I was about pullout of the parking lot when I heard it again, “hey, wait!”
I turned around to look and there was a young guy in a flannel coat and ball cap approaching me. He had with him an anxious chocolate lab on leash. The dog was pulling back towards where they had came from (behind me) and the owner was dragging the leash and dog towards me making for an uncomfortable game of tug-o-war. The owner managed to pull the dog across the sidewalk to my bike where he stood a little behind me on my right side, lined up with my panniers, but not bothering to stand at my side, so I was forced to crane my neck to look at his face. “How old are you?” he asked. The way he said it sounded gruff, but I didn’t put much emphasis on that observation because people often sound gruff and they are often quite kind.
“No you’re not,” he responded. He was a young man, not much older than 21 himself I would guess. A very symmetrical, good looking kid, with hair that matched the fur of the chocolate lab who was, by now, squirming in a circle, doing some odd yoga type position that looked like he was chasing his tail. In actuality he was just trying to get away from the leash. Because he was a good looking kid, and because I have gotten accustomed to giving humans the benefit of the doubt, I thought he might be trying some weird pick up line, despite the fact that his voice sounded still very gruff.
“Why do you ask?” I responded. Now keep in mind that this was happening in a very short time, but the light had turned red during the time this kid was distracting me.
“Because you’re not 21. Are you a runaway or something? You are clearly like eight, you can’t even ride this bike. I saw you riding and you don’t know how to ride it.”
At this point I figured out the boy was in fact just a kid with a gruff voice because he was mean. I couldn’t figure out his point. My brow furrowed, and for two seconds I waited, astride Little Wing, for him to tell me he was just kidding. Just having a laugh, being funny, finding humor in starting odd discussions with strangers. He didn’t. And two seconds went by, and I, instead of saying something angry back at him (even though I wanted to so bad), heard some other voice come from my lips. It said “oh, thank you,” as I turned back to the lights, away from the kid and his unhappy dog. Being that I was in a parking lot, and no traffic was passing the way I wanted to go, I hitched my feet up fast on Little Wing, opened up the throttle, and took my left turn, leaving a little extra exhaust behind for the brown haired boy.
He yelled one more thing at me as I took off. I would have rather missed it, but I heard it just as I had heard him the first time he had shouted at me. “Have a nice life,” he said. And just like that, the brown haired demon was behind me.
Honestly, I’m not sure what that meant, or if it meant anything. I am still quite shocked that people as cruel as that exist out here on my adventure. I knew some cold hearted cruel humans back in Minnesota. I know that they are there, waiting to suck the positivity out of a room. Emotional vampires preying on the happy people. However I thought they only existed in Minnesota. I mean since I’ve left I haven’t encountered any. The bad demons have been replaced by kind people giving me places to sleep and free beer and tea. The bad demons were all left behind in my real life, except not. There is one in the Bay area, he escaped and has found his way into my adventure, and he apparently thinks I’m a bad rider. Ah well, every story has to have a bad guy. Even cowgirls riding back from the sunset have to encounter them. I reached the furthest West point of the country and on the way back from it ran into my demons again. I could only ride away for so long I suppose.
That was not my day though. There was so much more to it, and the majority of it was super positive. Little Wing and I made our way down Highway 1. We twisted, turned, curved and cavorted along the winding coastal rode. We wove our way in and out of the sweet towns. After two hours we had made it less than sixty miles, but damn did we enjoy it. We passed many motorcycles along the way. I found my fingers jutting out at waste height making the peace sign to many riders headed in the direction I had come from. I alternated between passing people on their rides and pulling off to the side to let other riders pass me. Eventually I felt the need for a tea and pee break so I stopped in little town called Point Reyes Station. The town was full of bikes, something I failed to notice at first when I made a point to park at the first cafe in town because of the three bikes parked in front of it. As I parked two older gentleman gathered at the edge of the sidewalk. I merely observed them as I situated Little Wing correctly, back tire butting the curb at 120° angle. As I took off my helmet I heard one if ’em say “Long way from home ain’t ya?”
“I am a long way from home,” I responded, hanging my helmet on the handle bar and dismounting.
“Minnnie-sootaa, eh,” said the shorter of the two men.
“Yeah, yeah, but that’s not how we say it” I said, “That is a Fargo misconception. I dont know anyone with an accent like that there.”
The shorter gentleman smiled big “I’m from Minneapolis, and I have a lot of friends up in Canada. My girlfriends from Vancouver, I come by this accent honestly.”
“Ah, ha,” I said, “the border is full of accents like that.” And before you could say lutefisk and hotdish we were in a full blown Minnesota discussion. Two cowboys and a cowgirl standing outside a saloon talking home and shop. Both of the men were from the great Northern state and both of them rode, so there was much to chat about.
Don, the shorter of the two, and Chuck, were friendly as could be. A brief metion of my low rear tire lead to a rearrangement of the bikes parked in front of the cafe, and Chuck’s BMW was reoriented and pulled up besides Little Wing. A portable air pump acted as a tethering device as the pilots got down on the pavement to fill the guilty tire. As Chuck filled my tire we discussed his homemade air pump. Two small boys in blue shirts meandered over and watched our work. They must of been eight or so, and they were both quite small. I made eye contact with them and smiled and they came closer. “I like that BMW,” the more talkative of the two said.
“Thanks!” Chuck replied enthusiastically.
The talkative blue shirted boy went on “I know that is a BMW, but what is this kind of bike?” He said gesturing towards Little Wing.
“A Suzuki Savage,” I say.
“Oh, cool.” There is a pause, “is that yours?” He points at the BMW and looks at Chuck. Chuck nods and the blue shirted boy looks at me “and this is yours?”
“Sure is,” I say.
The boys lean against a telephone pole and watch us more. Chuck and I continue to fill the tire. A remark of some sort or the other is exchanged between us and the shyer of the two boys speaks up to ask what we are doing with that funny machine. We tell him and the other boy picks up on it and explains how the whole air filling process is working. Both boys are fascinated, and the more gregarious blue shirted boy tells Chuck and I that he wants to get a Harley when he grows up. Chuck and I chuckle (you know I was going to make that joke) and we discuss this choice with the boy. He says he like Harley’s, but then says “I like this Suzuki too.”
“It’s light and short,” I say. “If you turn out to be short when you grow up, if your parents are short, then this is the bike to consider.” Chuck gets a belly laugh out of that sentence and I do too. The blue shirted boys just look at us as though that sentence has just gone over there heads, which it most likely has, and I remember they are about eight and don’t yet know that adults are humans with jokes about things like height too.
The shyer of the two blue shirted boys breaks the long confused pause, “Harley’s are more of a gangster bike.” And that gets the belly laugh going again for Chuck and I.
“Don’t get a bike for that reason. When you get a bike choose it for comfort, alright?” I tell them.
“Yeah,” they say, and they watch us a little longer. They run off after a short time, and Chuck and I finish the job alone.
The curiosity of children. The innocence of youth. What a beautiful thing. I met both Chuck and Don’s significant others. They are all about 60 to 70 and the beauty of age contrasts well with the youth we just spoke with. The keen interest of bikes shared from eight to seventy and an age in between, what a beautiful thing.
Chuck tells me about the Point Reyes Lighthouse, the furthest West point in the United States pretty much, and that is where I decide to go after some tea. He also invites me to come stay with him and his wife, Marilyn, once he finds out my plan is to camp.
The beauty of life, it is such a wonderful thing. Sometimes the people who approach one on a bike are demons, other times they are humans with the kindest hearts, whether they be Minnesotans or sweet eight year olds. I wonder if this is how the cowboy’s felt. Or the natives and pioneers. The country over here is so pretty it would make sense why they would live here. In order to get here they had to travel. I suppose that in order for them to make it this far without stopping they must have experienced more beauty than demons.
Riding to the furthest West point I was surrounded by ranches. They had signs by them saying the year in the 1800’s that they were founded, and informing us passerbys that they were historical landmarks. It was like riding through a luscious green Wyoming. The pastures were hilly and rolling and blanketed with sage brush. The cows were white and black spotted and chewing away at the pad of green at their feet. The road was skinny and winding and full of potholes from the cattle crossing. I found myself bounced of Little Wings seat more than once. The green sage brush looked like a more saturated picture of a more Midwestern state. It was unreal to see such scrawny bushes so close to the ocean. Because there it was. The Pacific Ocean was visible over almost every cows back. The horizon beyond the rolling hills was filled with the Pacific. The air smelt of a mix of cattle ranch and salty air. I thought more than once about pulling Little Wing over and asking for a job roping and riding and surfing. If only I could ride horse or swim.
The lighthouse was at the end of this road surrounded by livestock. When we got there Little Wing was left behind and my tank bag and I walked a half mile to the furthest West point of the United States. I should say, this cowgirl dismounted her steed and left him at the watering hole as she took off on a walk that she had to do alone. Up hill, and then downhill, and then down 308 steps to the lighthouse itself. Along the way one could spot many deer and flying birds of prey. Osprey floating in the wind, and then contorting in on themselves to spiral out of their bed of wind, diving after some small rodent that was invisible to the human eye.
It felt so secluded, just a cowgirl in her riding boots hiking along a well kept trail, with nature running and flying all around, enjoying the salty sea air as much as I was. If it weren’t for the crowds of people who had all left their more loaded down horses and buggies at the watering hole (cars) and had joined me on the busy trail I could of convinced myself I was the heroine in a lonesome Western. After the trek up a hill, down a hill, and down 308 stairs I put my finger to the air, checked off an imaginary notch on my list of things to do, and then reversed course.
East, up the 308 steps with my heavy tank bag and my riding boots. They say those steps are the equivalent of walking a 30 story building. I fet like a true cowgirl after that climb. A wheezing, tired, sweaty, cowgirl. I came to the conclusion that I’m not as fit as I thought I was.
After 308 steps up, a steep incline, and a downhill slope, Little Wing and I were reunited. I had about an hour and a half of light left til the sunset. Looking West I was greatful not to be riding towards that blinding sun as it set. Instead, this evening, I was riding away from it. As I stood by Little Wing, replenishing my liquids before taking off, a man approached. “Nice day to ride, huh?”
“Oh yes! Gorgeous day for a ride!” I tell him.
“I wish I was. I left the Harley at home today. Had to drive the wheeled cage today.”
I took me a second to realize he’s referring to the box that is his car, and I smile knowingly. The freedom of a bike is nothing close to what is experienced in the confines of a car. This man speaks my language. And it turns out he speaks Minnesotan too. When he askes me where I’m from he is shocked. He is a Minneapolis boy himself. The people one meets on the trail. He wishes me a safe ride, I tell him likewise, and with a laugh Little Wing and I are off.
A good ride consists of a lot of laugh out loud moments. Moments of pure joy where all one can do is have a true laugh that is generated from the gut. My ride to the furthest West point of our country was filled with those moments. My ride back from the point was also a petri dish for those parasites of joy that wormed themselves through me (what a terrible metaphor). The bright sun was winking to me as it warmed my back. It would catch in my rear view mirror and it would flash it’s warm rays, blinding me for a second or two. It was both beautiful and dangerous. My response to such petty sun games was one of pure joy. Despite the fact my eyes were squinting, laughter purveyed, and the steady steed and cowgirl rode on.
We rode towards Oakland, and the new friends I had made.
The brown haired demon showed up in the story at that point, but after reflecting, my day had been so great, my Western written with so much happiness, I was due for a villain. Almost three months, and one villain? Not too bad really.
The adventure continues. A warm bed and hot shower this evening. A great dinner and cup of tea, and a place for a sore hiking cowgirl to take off her boots, what a perfect end to a West-is-best day.
Regardless of the villains, regardless of the blinding sun, regardless of which direction one heads, life is beautiful. Life is beautiful, and I’m bone tired. Sweet dreams world.