Day 2 (July 11) Oxnard to Big Sur

It is amazing how much can change in a day.  Yesterday I had been having doubts about the trip, worried that I would crash or at the very least hold Tom back.  Today I was grinning and laughing inside my helmet for the entire day.  The coast highway was absolutely spectacular and I had the most fun I’ve ever had operating a motorized vehicle.  By the time the sun was setting as we approached Big Sur, I was throwing the bike around the corners.  At times I was leaning way out over the road, countersteering madly, feeling the wind from the ocean on my face, giggling like a little kid.  My control of the bike through the turns was an order of magnitude better than the night before.  This section of the one is apparently the best cruiser ride in the world.  I believe it.  If I were pressed to design a better stretch of highway for a Harley, I don’t think I could best it.  It has it all: the ocean on one side, mountains on the other, hills, turns, cliffs…  I would come around a corner and be hit with yet another dazzling vista of waves spraying over rocks hundreds of feet below.  I would look up with anticipation and see the one, cut out of the mountainside, snaking into the distance above the coastline.  Giving Shelley II a burst of throttle in a curve and feeling her come to life beneath me, I would wonder: Does riding a Harley get any better than this?
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Well maybe it can.  When we checked into our motel that night, the attractive girl working there was impressed when I walked in wearing biker leather with a helmet under my arm.  It would seem that showing up on a Harley induces flirtation.  She even made a date to meet us at the bar after her shift.  While I was chatting with her, a group of College kids invited us to a party at their campsite, begging to go for a ride.  People love the bikes.  Even more importantly, girls love the bikes.

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Day 1 (July 10) Los Angeles

It would be embarrassing to dump the bike right in the Eaglerider parking lot.  This was a real fear of mine as we arrived to pick up our rented Harley Davidson Sportster 883s.  The biggest bike I had ever ridden up to that point was a 250cc Suzuki, and I’d only had a few hours on it.  My next biggest fear was that I would stall the bike and look like a complete newbie (which of course I was) right in front of all the Harley dudes.  When we arrived at Eaglerider, our bikes were parked out front waiting for us.  It became immediately obvious that we would have to wear backpacks (or rucksack as Tom would say) because the saddle bags were small.  There just isn’t much storage space on a Sportster.  I also decided I wanted my own Helmet, as the Helmets available were not full face helmets but rather 3/4 helmets without the chin bar.  We would have to make a stop at a bike shop before we left for the trip.  I also wanted to get used to the bike in a quiet area (as opposed to say an LA freeway).  We got kitted up (I had bought an armoured leather biker jacket in Santa Cruz earlier in the trip), started up the bikes (I love that sound), and rolled out.  I didn’t stall it but I revved the shit of it.  I made it out of the parking lot without dropping the bike.  Victory was mine.

I soon discovered that the Sportster was not the bike for me.  At 6’2” I was just too tall for the bike.  My legs were cramped after riding for less than an hour because my knees were up around my ears.  How would I make it 5 days?  After I bought a helmet and Tom finally bought a Jacket (he must have tried on about a dozen jackets at 5 different stores) we returned to Eaglerider.  I upgraded to a Heritage Softail Classic http://www.harley-davidson.com/wcm/Content/Pages/2007_Motorcycles/2007_Motorcycles.jsp?locale=en_US&swfsection=model&swffamily=so&swfmodel=flstc.  This is the bike I had always pictured when I thought of a Harley.  She had 1450cc, floorboards, three headlights, silver coated engine shinning in the sun, and she weighed in at an impressive 3/4 of a ton.  I dubbed her Shelley II after a horse I had ridden on a previous adventure (a great story for another time).  Both Shelleys were a bit fat but beautiful and strong-willed.  Neither liked to be overtaken, both loved to be pushed.  Shelley II, like her predecessor, would turn out to be a fantastic ride. 

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Shelley I (left) and Shelley II (right)

I managed to get Shelley II out of the parking lot without dropping her.  Our goal was to avoid freeways and get out of LA on highway 1 (“the one”) and make it to Santa Barbara.  I had already stalled the bike on a left hand turn.  I just wanted to get out of the traffic and onto a quiet country road.  Soon I got my wish, but it was more than I had bargained for.  We ran out of daylight shortly after Santa Monica, and worse the fog rolled in.  It was hard to see the one’s many treacherous sharp turns.  I had never taken a corner at highway speed, and now I was losing my virginity on a dark foggy road.  I was loath to go too slow because I did not want to get hit from behind.  At the same time, I had poor control of the bike around the corners and it felt like I was taking them too fast.  At times I would drift over the centre line or towards the side of the mountain.  The headlights from the oncoming traffic were blinding, and I had to completely guess on some corners.  I thought to myself: “What the fuck am I doing here?”  I was downright petrified.  My arms and shoulders were sore from gripping the handlebars so tightly.  I had knots in my stomach.  I wondered if I would have any fun at all on the trip.  I thought about proposing that we shorten our planned route.  My nerves would be shot if I had to go another 5 days on the edge of my seat, wondering if I was going to crash on the next turn.  My mind wasn’t helping, painting all kinds of horrible scenarios: that car is going to turn right out in front of me, the truck beside me is going to suddenly change lanes and run right into me, a deer is going to run out onto the highway…

By the time we stopped for the night in Oxnard, I was physically and mentally exhausted.  Tom had had a near miss on a curve: while looking in his rear view mirror he misjudged a corner and had to hit the brakes causing him to skid towards the mountainside.  I went to bed feeling traumatized.  I knew going in that it would be a challenge to go on a Harley adventure, but this was quickly going past the point of being fun for me.

Wreck Beach

It’s a travesty that I live right across the street from Wreck beach and yet rarely find the time to indulge in its spectacular scenery.  People come from all over just to see it.  I regret not spending more time down there while it is so convenient.  Soon I’ll be living in Toronto and Wreck beach will seem like it’s in another universe (and in many ways it is).  I made it down to Wreck on Saturday for only the second time this year (the first was a bonfire back in May).  I’m glad I did.  It was nice to relax, observe the scenery, go for a swim, throw the Frisbee around, drink a few beer, and just chill for a day.  The beach was packed and exuded a party atmosphere.  It was a human carnival.  Which may explain the police presence towards the evening.

If were to pick one law that needs to be taken off the books in Canada it would be the following: it is unlawful to consume liquor in a public place.   I think that it is out-dated and downright backwards.  Europeans certainly find it laughable.  When I was in Germany we sat around and drank beer out of our backpacks on the roof of the Reichstag, the centre of the German government, and it was perfectly acceptable.  I can understand that such a law gives police a bit more ability to curb public drunkenness.  But walking around Wreck handing out $112 tickets is not serving any purpose.  It is an abuse of a law that is designed to reduce drunk driving.  The police could easily maintain a presence at the top the stairs leading to the beach and charge intoxicated people if they get into their cars.  Drunk driving kills and I have no problem with police taking a tough stance on drunk drivers.  But people should not be given tickets for sipping a beer on a beach where public drinking (and much more) has been deemed socially acceptable.  Wreck is not a family beach.  It is isolated.  There are no neighbours to complain about noise.  I believe that in most cases drinking a few beer in such a place is harmless.  The law needs to change to reflect this.

I have survived

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I rode a Harley 1200 miles and have lived to tell the tale.  Riding a motorcycle is as fun as it is dangerous.  I guess that’s what makes it so exhilirating.  Throwing the bike around corners on narrow winding roads like the Big Sur Coast highway (above) is a heart pounding adrenaline rush.  A mistake could send you into and oncoming vehicle, into the mountainside, or off the edge of a cliff towards the waves crashing below.  I was grinning the entire time.  The #1 highway along the California coast is reputed to be the best ride in the world.  I certainly couldn’t see how you could design it any better: spectacular scenery, sharp turns, ups & downs, bridges, and no traffic.

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Although Tom and I both agree that the coast highway was the most fun to ride, we also enjoyed many other stretches on our 5 day odyssey.  Our trip took us from LA up the California coast to Monterrey.  We then cut inland to Yosemite national park.  We completed our big circle through California by coming back to LA through the desert east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  We escaped the heat of the desert by going on side trips into the mountains.  Big Pine creek is pictured above, just a few minutes ride from the scorching desert of the valley floor.

The variation in California’s geography is astounding.  Our trip took us from sea level to passes 10,000 feet high.  We passed through lush forest and barren desert.  We rode by snow at the side of the road only to be plunged into 110 degree desert heat less than an hour later. 

The most dangerous part of the trip was not the narrow twisty mountain roads, but rather the LA freeways.  5 lanes full of maniac drivers travelling at ridiculous speeds cutting crazily towards exits with no warning, plus poor road conditions, combine to make LA freeways “comically dangerous” as Tom put it.  It would be hard to design a road more hazardous for motorcycles.

After riding for 5 days straight, I am tired but content.  I could get used to the Harley lifestyle.  Harley riders all wave when they pass each other on the road.  At rest areas, gas stations, and road-side restaurants, Harley riders are drawn to each other.  I had all kinds of interesting conversations with my newfound kin.  One guy had ridden all the way from Florida with his woman.  They had been on the road for 5 weeks.  They were kind enough to give us their Yosemite passes.  Harley riders take care of their own.

I love the sound the bike makes when you pull into a place.  No one can miss your arrival.  It’s great to walk in the door wearing biker leather and carrying a helmet under your arm.  People love the bikes.  Random people will come up to admire them and start conversations.  I was even invited to a party just because I arrived at a motel on a Harley.  Now I know what it feels like to be cool, if only for a little while .

007 versus 008

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MI6 has grown careless, and have aroused suspicion that could ultimately expose a couple of their field agents.  My theory is that two St. John’s College residents (one former, one current) are in fact spies.  The first spy to live at SJC was Tom Smith.  Recently, another spy has moved into the college, Tom Morley, who I believe is Tom Smith’s replacement.  Here is why I am suspicious:  Both agents 007 (left) and his replacement, agent 008 (right) are named Tom.  Besides having the same name, and the fact that they seem to attract the same woman, there are some other amazing similarities in their profiles.  Both are athletic (they both run, cycle, hike, etc.).  Both like fast cars (007 likes the Aston Marton DB 9, 008 likes the TVR).  Both like the Back to the Future movies.  A lot.  Both talk funny.  They have a similar sense of humour.  Both claim that their favourite meal is their mommy’s roast.  Is it a coincidence that 008 moved into room 2051, which is right next door to 007’s old room?  The coincidences are a constant source of amusement for those that knew 007.  I think MI6 got lazy and used the same character for both agents.  I wonder who would win in a fight…

There is one other fact that is suspicious: On the same day that 007 arrived, 008 left for the UK under mysterious circumstances.  It is possible (although I realize that it seems farfetched) that 007 and 008 are in fact the same person.

Edit:  Since I wrote this post I have discovered two more similarities in their profiles: 1) both are big fans of Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood; and 2) both hate Boddingtons beer.

Reunion of the St. John’s College Golf Team

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We had a BBQ on the patio at St. John’s College Saturday night to mark the return of two former members of the St. John’s College Golf Team; Tom “The Kid” Smith (aka the Tosser, aka 007) and Adam “Ad-Roc” Bodnar.  (Joel and myself are the other two members.)  It’s the first time the four members of the SJC golf team have been reunited since the Kid’s departure in August 2005.  We ate steak, smoked cigars, told lies, and drank beer and twelve year old single malt scotch.  It was a great Fat Cat night.

Easy Rider

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I am happy to report that I passed my class 6 road test on Wednesday and now have an unrestricted motorcycle licence.  This was the last hurdle that I needed to pass in order to pave the way for a long-planned motorcycle adventure.  I will be leaving tomorrow morning for a two week vacation (much deserved).  The first week will be a golf trip down the west coast with Adam, Joel, and Tom.  Tom and I will ditch the wankers for the second week and rent Harleys (Sportster 883s) http://eaglerider.carrentalexpress.com/one_vehicle.php?vid=6164&PHPSESSID=e17b5bd38d78c2bba8c0c7780ced8091.  We’ll take them to Arizona and back.  We even plan on squeezing in a cowboy adventure while in Arizona.  The plan is to go on an overnight pack trip.

My parents worry a little too much about me, IMO.  Therefore for the sake of their peace of mind, I elected not to tell them about the motorcycle portion of the trip.  As far as they know, I will be golfing for the entire two weeks.  There was a close call because my brother Cailean told them my plans.  Luckily I narrowly escaped because they believed he was joking.  I’ll show them the pictures when I get back.  Luckily they don’t know about this blog
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