Monday, April 29, 2013

Desert Wilderness

Women-Motorcycle20 miles out of Yuma on Interstate 8 and my wet vest was already nearly dry. Since it was drenched when I layered it over my leather vest and a long sleeved t-shirt, I had mistakenly anticipated it would stay wet a couple of hours. The back of my leather vest and the seat of my jeans seemed to be the only cool places on my body, and looking out at the stretch of painful desert ahead, I was grateful for them.

The desert Interstate was straight and long. Saguaro Cactus began to pop up now and then on horizon, if only to remind me how far from home I had traveled. The desert plants were different here in the Sonora Desert than the plants I had grown accustomed to in the Mojave Desert. Living in Barstow for a number of years as a child, the desert still has a place in my memories.

The desert of my childhood was lonesome, barren and dry. I lived in isolation, without comfort, in the wilderness of my family. Imprisoned, I would stand at the edge of our little town seeing the Interstate 15 in the distance, wishing I could run to it, because that was the way back to my father. But I knew I was no match for the rattlers, the dry sand and the sun. I had learned early what a dangerous place the desert was, so survival came first. Listening to the cries of the lonely coyotes at night, I focused on surviving my childhood, knowing that greener lands lay out beyond my vision.

But riding today I didn't feel the fear and sorrow I had as a girl. The desert perfume filled my helmet and reminded me of childhood smiles; rain dancing with my brothers, camp-outs with my family roasting hot dogs on a stick over an open fire, walking hand-in-hand with my Mother picking wildflowers. Memories of the laughter and happiness flooded my mind with the scent of sand and sage.

Today the desert was not my captor, but my host. With Katie Scarlet between my legs I felt secure knowing that my time here was not permanent. Highway riding Blackbird followed us, ensuring we were safe and not alone. As long as we pressed on, the sand and the rattlers could only watch us go by. Mile after mile I felt the sun sap away moisture, first from my vest, then my clothing, then from me.

Girl-RiderOur goal had been to reach Gila Bend, 120 mile stretch which normally would be a breeze for me, but today was not that day. The oasis of the Rest Stop 32 miles shy of town was a welcome sight. I motioned to Highway towards the sign that read "Rest Stop 10 miles" and pulled my throttle hard. Screaming at 90 mph it still seemed an eternity to reach the oasis.

It has a way of doing that, the desert; making time pass so slowly it seems to never move at all. The vastness, the consistency of the horizon, the subtlety of the changes, they fool the mind, fool the eye. Katie pressed on hopeful and anxious, like my heart, knowing greener lands lie ahead.

She was right. All of us, Highway and Blackbird, Katie Scarlet and me, we've all come so far.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Crossing The Gateway

Real-Biker-ChickAfter swallowing about 200 miles of Interstate 8, we rolled into Yuma, AZ just before sunset. Even though I was bug splattered and full-bladdered, I was still filled with energy. I felt like I could ride another 100 miles. This was my first time riding my own Katie Scarlet out of her home state of California and it filled me with immense pride. Having passed my own personal milestone of riding 3,000 miles solo, our Road Pickle Motorcycle Bohemia is finally a reality.

Reaching this point has meant overcoming many challenges for me. In a rather backwards way, I decided to take this 6 month motorcycle road trip and THEN I learned to ride a motorcycle. To be fair, I had taken the motorcycle training class a couple of years ago, had my endorsement on my license, but hadn't ridden enough to have any experience. Then I took an 8 month hiatus from riding (having no wheels of my own) so I forgot everything I had learned. It took dropping my new Kawasaki Ninja 500 a few times to learn to keep her upright, working with my hubs Highway to relearn how to ride, just to keep my poor, old body from continuously hitting the pavement.

My poor, old body has her own challenges. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that sends pain signals to the brain saying there is injury when there is not. My body constantly feels pain, much like that of a person who had a car accident just yesterday; that all over ache, soreness, stiffness, etc. I wake up every day with this pain and manage it all day long. I've learned that avoiding certain foods, eating organically (as much as possible), drinking lots of water and exercise and stretching help greatly. But I am 47 years old and I feel it every day.

Real-Biker-ChickBut to my credit, I will say that I am determined. It seems if I put my mind to something, it usually happens. (I say the same thing about my amazing daughter too!) So crossing that state line was more than just another mile of road. It was the gateway to the rest of America.

We began in San Ysidro, CA so we can touch all four corners of the lower 48. We hope to ride to Blaine, WA, Madawaska, ME; and Key West, FL, eating and drinking our way from one state to another. I want to stop to see the sights, ask our Facebook and Twitter fans where we should go next and what we should see. I'm not about clicking miles off my odometer, but really experiencing life in America! Stop and really see where we are and what life has to offer. Along the way I plan to buy my man a beer and screw his brains out in every state in the U.S. That's all I want. To see America, meet people, eat good food, love my hubs and make him smile, and ride, ride, ride.

And if that's not a lofty, worthwhile goal for my life, well I don't know what is.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Death and the Road Stain

Biker-Chick-Pink"Be Safe!"

I hear it time and time again. When I say goodbye, it seems everyone chimes in a "Be safe. . ." as I walk away. Often I turn and ask them to watch for motorcycles when they drive, because we're everywhere. Hitting one of them is the same as hitting me. The response is usually one of surprise, yet positive.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no traffic going southbound. Not a single car on the opposite side of the Interstate 5 in Burbank, CA, midday on a Friday. I had been concentrating so much on lane splitting, only my second time doing so, that I hadn't taken a breather to look around. I decided to stay in the number 1 lane for a bit, since traffic was starting to clear up. Highway followed closely, letting me set the pace.

Then I saw the pony-tailed blonde pulling the measuring tape wearing the green uniform. "FORENSICS" read boldly across her back. I knew instantly what I was seeing. The semi stopped in the number 4 lane, then another semi, then another semi. . . more forensics people, Highway Patrol officers. . . the driver answering questions with his head hanging. The traffic was completely stopped.

"They only stop all of the traffic when someone dies. . ." I heard myself whisper in my helmet.

The sound of my own voice startled me. I turned my focus back to the traffic I sit behind. Feathering the clutch, dragging my boots in first gear, I slowly inched ahead. It seemed to take a lifetime.

The long, makeshift, blue tarp fence started at the far wall and stretched across 3 lanes diagonally. I could see the officer standing guard, the crumpled front wheel and one fork of the bike and part of a black body bag. I turned my attention back to the traffic in front of me, determined to look no more, but it was too late. The lane opened up before me and I was slammed into sixth gear before I knew it, flying at 80 mph again.

I motioned for Highway to lead and I followed his taillights to Bakersfield. Shaken, I couldn't stop my mind from reeling. Scenarios played out in my head over and over. Having been lane splitting only moments ago, I realized how close I was playing to the edge. The semis scare the living shit out of me, no matter what speed, because I know they can't see me until I've passed them. When I felt the tears on my cheeks I became so angry at myself for entertaining Death in my head.

As a rider I realize the perils that I face on every ride. Death stands close without touching me. At least not yet. I wear skulls on my clothing not to infer that I am dangerous, but to represent that Death is part of my lifestyle. The skulls remind me the dangers I undertake every day. Dawning them on my body is an acknowledgement, the signing of a waiver which states I understand the risk and I'm willing to take it. I take this oath seriously, that while I may dance with Death, I do not taunt him nor mock him. I respect his power and pray he keeps his distance.

Turning my attention back to riding, I feel the wind dry my tears. Pulling back on the throttle, we rode the Tejon Pass at 85 mph, chewing up pavement like bubble gum. I know that if I didn't focus on the road ahead, I would be the next stain in the number 1 lane. Arriving in Bakersfield an hour or so later, I was to have had time to relax into the ride again and relieved to make it safely. Had I pulled off to take a breather or calm down, it would have been harder to get back on and ride. I've made this mistake before and I won't make it again. Stopping for Death only gives him free rent in my head. I will keep riding until I arrive to my destination or until Death catches me.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Destination Fuji

I watched his tail lights all day. If he took the outside of the lane, I took the outside of the lane. If he sped up, I sped up. Watching intently, I didn't think, I just repeated everything he did.

Fuji Joe was leading our tiny pack of four riders, with his gal Grand Diane behind him. I followed her and my hubs Highway followed me. Fuji was just far enough ahead in all of the turns to keep my eye on, mimic his riding, and get me through each twistie. I found that if I watch Grand Diane, I was too close and I had less reaction time. If I watched Fuji Joe, I looked all the way into the turn, using peripheral vision to watch the lane. That yellow line can be my savior and my nemesis, all in one. It keeps me safe, yet taunts me to stare at it. Not this day, because I was watching Fuji Joe.

The ride from Fallbrook, CA on Route 76 and Route 78 to Lake Henshaw then on into San Marcos was filled with turns. From large, sweeping curves, those of an elegant woman's hip, stretching long and languid from waist to thigh, all the way to steep, tight, switchbacks, reminiscent of the angry arch of the elegant woman's brow. Gliding through the turns, I saw only Fuji's tail lights, and the graceful swing of Grand Diane's Harley occasionally pass between us.

Knowing Highway followed me filled me with security that no one would sneak up behind. We rolled through the hills and turns, the roar of my tiny motor and Collective Soul belting tunes filling my helmet. Songs I know and love, unknowingly repeating the words I've sung so many times while repeating each movement Fuji made, I felt a focus I've never had riding before. The synchronicity of the four of us, the road, the bikes, the music we made as four bikes roared with one sound, filled my heart with collective unison. A Collective of Souls on eight wheels. . .

At The Round Up BBQ Grill in Lake Henshaw we stopped for a meal and to talk; discuss nothing and everything that has happened or will happen. We filled ourselves with iced tea from quart jars, pork and beef tacos, burgers and fries. The view was stunning, the food was good, the laughter lively and the communion harmonious. As we mounted up again and I joined the other riders, who are always ready to go before I am, a thought flashed in my head.

"What if Fuji makes a wrong move? Will I simply follow him off a cliff?"

My mind reeled.

I decided in that moment that I needed to follow guidance, but trust my own instincts.

"You have to ride your own ride," Grand Diane shared weeks ago; good advice she learned from a friend of Fuji Joe.

My body, my motorcycle, my ride; these are my responsibilities. Following good advice or good riding is smart, but what I do with that knowledge I gain is my choice. I can follow a good rider, but making a bad choice because he made one doesn't negate my responsibility.

"Would you jump off a bridge if your friends did. . ." the old adage filled my head.

I bopped Katie Scarlet into first gear and headed onto the highway behind my mentors and friends.

In San Marcos we found refuge and refreshments at Churchill's Pub.

"You ride much better than you think you do. I don't know what you're talking about. You took those turns perfectly. Why are you worried?"

Fuji Joe seemed puzzled. The gripping fear I feel in the pit of my stomach and the riding mistakes I've made have been topics we've discussed a few times.

"I just followed you Fuji. I was going where you were going. I had it made. My destination was you, Fuji." I smiled.

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About Sash

People call me "Sash" because I'm a former beauty queen in my old home town. My father used to ride in an MC which got me interested in the culture. After my last divorce I said "goodbye" to Susie Homemaker and became the rude biker chick I always felt inside. (Read more...)