Day 24: Yesterday – Eureka to San Jose. More coincidences; Pliny the Elder; Tough Ride; Was that the Golden Gate Bridge?

Day 24: Yesterday – Eureka to San Jose. More coincidences; Pliny the Elder; Tough Ride; Was that the Golden Gate Bridge?

When I left McDonalds yesterday after writing my last entry I ran into a young man who I could tell was also struggling with life. He didn’t have much but he was excited and wanted to talk. So we chatted about motorcycle rides and microbreweries. “Ah man,” He said, “You’ve got to stop at the Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa. Have a Pliny the elder! The place is off 4th street.”

I studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia and had frequently read about Pliny the Elder. I take signs and portents seriously and so the die was cast. I would be stopping at the Russian River Brewery and Pliny and I were going to meet.

I managed to go the 50 miles down the road and exited into Santa Rosa. Amazingly for me, I immediately found 4th street. Eventually, I found the brewery and did as I had noticed a couple of other motorcyclists had done, I parked up on the sidewalk.

I went into the packed bar and finally got the attention of a bartender and ordered a Pliny the Elder. I sat outside so I could keep an eye on Big Red.

I Googled Pliny to remind myself of what he had been about. He had been a Roman writer, philosopher and naval commander who had lived between CE 23-79. I thought this quote from his nephew Pliny the Younger was interesting.

For my part I deem those blessed to whom, by favour of the gods, it has been granted either to do what is worth writing of, or to write what is worth reading; above measure blessed those on whom both gifts have been conferred. In the latter number will be my uncle, by virtue of his own and of your compositions. (This was in a letter to the historian Tacitus.)

I thought: Yeah, that’s what I want to do with my life – do what is worth writing of – or write what is worth reading. Both, if I’m lucky.

A couple were standing across from me talking. I decided to try and engage them in conversation so I asked if I could ask them a question. They said “sure” and so I asked: “Do you believe in love at first sight?” Well, that got the ball rolling with all of us and we shared a few of our love stories. I learned that they were both out her having a vacation and hailed from Lawrence, Kansas. They had a 4 year old at home, being watched by grandparents and this was their first time away from the child. They were an absolutely delightful couple and told me about all the weird things that had happened that had brought them together. I talked a little about the Chinese concept of Yuanfen which has a lot to do with Fate. I asked them about their jobs and I knew what the woman was going to say and she did: “I worked as a social worker.” What has happened to me that I can now spot a social worker in a crowd of strangers?

I couldn’t finish my Pliny the Elder so I left it and said goodbye. Great couple. Pliny was a bit too hoppy for me and its alcohol was 8% but the taste was good. I noticed the bar also had a Pliny the Younger but that was enough Pliny for me today.

So I hopped back on Big Red, just hoping to get to the other side of San Francisco so I wouldn’t have to face the traffic in the morning.

The next two hours of riding were harrowing. The road became rough and bumpy, the temperature dropped drastically, fog moved in and it started to rain. I had a hard time seeing anything. The wind came in gusts from all angles. A sign said the Golden Gate bridge and while I must have ridden over it I couldn’t see a damn thing. My eyes were fixed on the uneven road. I almost hit a damn toll booth and laughed.

The road went through San Francisco and there were a lot of traffic lights so I got to see the people, the stores and restaurants like Mel’s Diner. It had a nice feel to the place. But I had been there years before and wasn’t into sightseeing so I bustled through. I kept going south on 101 and the traffic was heavy and fast. Finally, I saw a Motel 6, pulled off and got a room. I was in San Jose. The room was the most expensive one I had encountered on this trip: $125. By the time I hit the sack it was after midnight.

Today, I packed quickly. It was over 350 miles to LA and seeing my daughter, son and son-in-law. I couldn’t wait! But I was going to take my time and enjoy, as much as possible, today’s ride, though it scared me somewhat. I had taken the Pacific Coast Highway 3 years ago on Big Red and the scenery was amazing but riding along the ocean often at great heights and dealing with the gusting crosswinds had scared the hell out of me. I remember writing in my blog back then that it had been my best and worst ride. But today, we were going to conquer that. Big Red and I will prevail! Or, I’ll make myself drink another Pliny the Elder.

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Day 20 Continued: Most Miles on This Trip – 521. 106 Degrees in Yuma, Blow Dryer Weather, Incredible Desert Colors, Prayer..

I am in my Motel 6 room in Casa Grande, Arizona drinking a Corona Beer and watching the news about USA soccer. And I got the room for $40! Cheapest room on the trip.
I am absolutely shattered from the ride today. Started well, early trip down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Diego. Beautiful views of the sea, temperature in the low 80’s. Sophisticated, respectable drive. Then heading over on the 805 to Interstate 8 and things begin to change. The temperature climbs and the road rises to 4000 feet. Then there was desert, and more desert. Hundreds of miles of desert and the heat rising. The max I saw today was 106. How does that feel? It feels as if someone has a huge blow drier and it’s turned to the highest setting on you. Lord, have mercy. About every hour or so I drank about 2 liters of water. Driving through the desert was amazing in that the scene changed so little: Mountains made of huge stones, ridges of sand and shadows, unpopulated farmland, sometimes 50 miles or more between gas stations. Then there would be wind farms, miles of windmills moving like synchronized swimmers.
The sun begins to set behind me and I can watch the dusty orange glow go down in my rear view mirror. The sky begins to change from mango to apricot to honey. Ahead to the east the sky is pink and gunmetal blue, the temperature drops and I feel as if I could ride on forever, but it starts to get dark so I settle instead of Casa Grande, instead of Tucson.
So here I am.
Anne Lamott says that the only prayers we need are these three: Help, Thanks, and Wow. Today was a very prayerful day.

Day 20: Back on the Road Again. Last Days in LA, 110 Degree Heat in Arizona, Han Shan Eccentric Poet, Trying to Practice Non-Attachment but Not Doing Very Well.

Writing right now at Dana Point, California at a Starbucks on the Pacific Coast Highway. Already 100 miles under my belt this morning. Three or four hundred more to go if I can take the heat. This’ll be the hottest ride I’ve ever been on as it’s supposed to reach 110 in Arizona today. I bought a camel pack that holds two liters of water and has a long hose that supposedly I can drink through while riding. Anyway, we’ll see about that.
I’ve spent about 30 days enjoying the gracious hospitality of my daughter and son in law. And for two weeks my son Colin and his girlfriend, Chloe, from Northern Ireland were visiting as well. So sad to see them go.
Loss reminds us of loss stored
In the cold, hallowed halls
Of our heart.

I had a great time with my son in law and my daughter the last two days. My daughter and I went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) as I wanted to see the Chinese paintings. Amazingly, they had ones of those 8th-9th century eccentric monks, Han Shan and Shide. Han Shan inspired some of the writings of Jack Kerouac and the poems by Gary Snyder.
I climb the road to Cold Mountain,
The road to Cold Mountain that never ends.
The valleys are long and strewn with stones;
The streams broad and filled with thick grass.
Moss is slippery though no rain has fallen;
Pines sigh but it isn’t the wind.
Who can break from the snares of the world
And sit with me among the white clouds?
Han Shan

Yesterday we all went to the Aroma Café and to the Star Lite Cantina which were both fun. And today, at 5:30 am I said “goodbye”.

Feels good being back on the bike, riding down the Pacific Coast Highway, 71 degrees and occasional sea spray, the whirling spindrift, following the shore through Huntington Beach past the surfers, and through Laguna Beach.

Missing my kids and practicing non attachment, but not doing very well.

Day 19: Motorcycles, Heidegger in LA, Thrownness, LA Traffic, Splitting Lanes, Devil’s Highway, Out of Gas, Synchronicity.

Heidegger, that pesky German philosopher, had a lot to say about existence. My hacking of his thought goes as follows. We find ourselves as a being in this world. This, I imagine, is like us coming to our senses, patting ourselves down: Hey, I got arms, legs, stomach. I touch my head; there might be a brain in here. Next, he says we always find ourselves in a mood. The mood has to do with how we are relating to the world; happy, sad, fearful, anxious. Every guy who has ever gone to pick up a girlfriend has thought at least once, if not more: I wonder what kind of mood she’ll be in. But our mood is more than this. It’s pitch, tune and timbre. It’s how we find ourselves attuned to the world. It can be like a sound track playing in our head. For me, when I think of heading out into LA traffic I hear the soundtrack from the movie “Jaws”. Heidegger also talks about thrownness, the idea that we are thrown into this world into a concrete, historical time and place where choice and possibilities are always limited. There used to be a TV show called the “Time Tunnel” where scientists Doug and Tony went traveling into the past (and future). Whenever they landed in a new place they fell down onto the ground and rolled. Why? Because, like us, they were thrown! We are thrown into this world. Can’t help here but think of Jim Morrison’s lyrics from “Riders On The Storm” (The Doors).
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm

In many ways what we make out of life is what we make out of our “thrownness”.
And when you ride a motorcycle it’s like you’re trying to take a little more control over this “thrownness”. You ride it. At the same time you’re maximizing your openness and vulnerability to your environment. Not just the sights, sounds, smells of the road but also you open yourself to meeting folks everywhere you put your kickstand down. No drive throughs or take aways for you.
Sometimes the “thrownness” can be a bit scary as in yesterday when I chose to hurl myself at LA traffic. Granted, I was on my trusted Road King but this environment was different. Not the peaceful back roads of Hwy 50, the “loneliest highway in America” but instead, the California interstate, the Devil’s Highway. I needed to get an oil change for Big Red and thought I’d see the Pacific Coast Highway again as well. I was on the road before 7 am, but so was everyone else. Uneven surfaces and folks in a tremendous hurry not to be late for a job they don’t like. In California, they allow “lane splitting”, sometimes called lane sharing or white-lining, when you can ride between lanes of cars. I had to do this a few times because the traffic was so slow, or stopped and my engine was over-revving and over-heating. I made it to the dealership, had the oil and filter changed and “You need to get that exhaust looked at. It’s leaking a bit but it should do you till you get back to Georgia.” I guess we will see about that.
Then I “threw” myself down the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway riding along the turquoise ocean. I stopped for coffee a few times and walked out onto the Santa Monica pier (remember those Rockford episodes!). Then I had to head back onto Interstates 10 and 405 and finally the Ventura Freeway. I was so busy avoiding bumps and uneven pavement that I didn’t notice that I was almost out of gas. I shouldn’t have been. Normally I can go another 20-30 miles on a tank of gas but then I remembered the over-revving and over-heating. I decided to take the next exit and cut over (carefully) three lanes of traffic to get to the exit lane and I did. I just didn’t get off the freeway. The bike died. I stopped and did what most bikers do and shook the bike sideways a few times to see if there was any more gas I could get into the system. I cranked it up and rode down to where the exit hit a main road. Then it died again. More shaking, cranked her up and I got a quarter of a mile down the road to an intersection where there wasn’t a gas station but there was a parking lot. I coasted into a space, parked it, turned around and there was a beer shop. Synchronicity!
Since it was after 5pm and I was hot, sweaty and exhausted I “threw” myself at the beer store and bought an Anchor Steam lager, took a few swigs and called my daughter who was just 10 minutes away.
I plan to engage in more “thrownness” on this trip but I’m hoping to stay away from the Devil’s Highway.

Dads and Daughters and Heart Drives

Hannah and Her Dad

Hannah and Her Dad

Dads and Daughters and Heart Drives  

It’s been great these last few days visiting my daughter and her husband, of whom I fully approve. Not that my opinion matters, or should. She was raised to think for herself, to trust herself, to be independent and strong and to follow her own path. I told her that she was not in this world to live up to my expectations, though in fact she has exceeded them. I’m one lucky dad.

Bill is a great guy. Funny, witty, talented, kind, but most of all he’s great to Hannah. I love watching how playful and loving they are with each other.

It’s going to be hard to leave. Harder on her because all her family is so far away; I’m in Georgia and her brothers, mother and closest friends in Ireland. Thank God Bill is such a wonderful and supportive husband. I hope to be like him when I grow up.

But tomorrow we hit the road again. A bit of my heart will stay here and a bit of hers will go with me. In computer terms these bits go into our “heart drives”. That’s the way it is. Hopefully, the bit of my heart will remind her that she is always loved; loved simply for who she is, not what she does. The bit of her heart that goes with me reminds me that I am loved, no matter how silly, clumsy and lost I can be at times.

In about 12 hours we’ll be back on the Harleys again, heading up the Pacific Coast Highway while Bill and Hannah are back to work and school. But we are here now, savoring these last moments, storing them in our heart drives.