September 6, 2012

San Diego to Seattle - Day 9 - Returning

Leaving Medford, sunny skies and tolerable temperatures appeared to be on the horizon. Shortly before crossing the border into California a large mountain range required crossing. Climbing to over 4,200 feet, the ride down the other side was a breeze. Winding around light traffic, hugging the turns, I sat back to enjoy the scenery. Highway seemed in the zone; focused and adeptly maneuvering the machine up the road.

Once we crossed into California, another mountain range lie before us. Pleased to be back in our home state, I relaxed on the back seat, nibbling almonds, sipping water and taking photos on our pleasant ride. Running into a bit of roadwork, with the lanes narrowing into one, Highway worked to maintain a safe posture, slowly following semis up the range. Frustration began to build inside of me, yet once the road opened up, Highway expertly maneuvered around the obstacles the day provided.

The northernmost part of California holds vast valleys of farmland, open pastures of roaming cattle and horses, with skies so big I nearly felt insignificant. Passing the tiny towns, we blew along the Interstate as a tumbleweed in a breeze. Noticing the engine beginning to labor again, I realized that open pastures lie behind us as we entered into the Shasta-Trinity mountains.

I was filled with anticipation to reach Lake Shasta for an opportunity to take extraordinary photos. As we passed Mt. Shasta, I was disappointed with the haze, blocking my view just enough to ruin a good shot. My anticipation grew, longing for breathtaking photos to show my friends of the lake that lie ahead.

Again, I leaned back, nibbling my almonds, awaiting the lake. Then I smelled it. Smoke. Smoke certainly from a forest fire. Leaning forward to look over Highway's shoulder, I saw the plume from the far-off blaze wafting through the mountain range.

"This better not ruin my photos of the lake," I muttered to myself selfishly.

More roadwork slowed us down, and then again, even more. The dangers of roadwork are not just slow vehicles and distracted drivers. The road itself becomes highly dangerous for the motorcyclist. Grooves in the road will send the bike off balance with the tiniest flick of the wheel, gravel will send it sailing uncontrollable, and unavoidable road debris will topple even an experiences rider. All rides require skill, but traveling at high speeds among all of these challenges requires real expertise. But riding with Highway, I never worry.

An enormous amount of trust is required by a passenger. When I ride in the backseat, I can only see the road before us if Highway leans the bike or if I lean forward to look over his shoulder, as his helmet always blocks my view. Technically, I ride completely blind. This requires a great deal of body awareness, to feel his lean, to feel him tighten his core with concern, to sense which way he will turn next. If I let fear grip me, ever, I may make a mistake that will cost both of our lives. While I have no ability to protect us, I have every opportunity to harm us, with a jerk, a scream, a simple lean the wrong way at the wrong time. My job on the back is to trust, feel him, be still and hold on, every mile, every minute, every time.

Highway maneuvered beautifully, yet again, through the treacherous conditions created by roadwork and circumstance. To my surprise, the smoke thickened and I began to notice the great amount of fire crews we passed.

"How big is that fire?" I wondered.

Coming closer to the lake, I saw singed trees on the side of the road. I tapped Highway, motioning to the trees. He nodded. I had forgotten he can see better than I can, and he could see what lie ahead.

Horrified, my eyes set upon the charred remains of the recent fire. Peering over Highway's shoulder, the thickness of the smoke began to frighten me.

"Where is that fire? Are we safe?"

The fear began to grip my heart as tightly as I gripped my husband. I could not tell him I was scared, but he knew. Tears filled my eyes as we passed thousands of acres of burnt forest. Sad and afraid, I did my best to click photos while gripping his waist.

The trust that I have for Highway settled in my heart, reminding me that no matter what lies ahead, he's taking good care of me. I know that with him I'm always safe. He won't let anyone, or anything hurt me. He would do whatever is required to protect me, and I'm never alone.

My heart eased as we made our way through the rest of the forest. Delivering us to Redding safely, we gorged ourselves on crispy tacos to fuel up for the remaining ride.

As much as I try to be fearless, sometimes I lose my nerve. Just touching Highway always reminds me I'm safe, because of him.

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