Motorcycle Misadventures May Newsletter
Richmond, CA May 9, 2008; In May, at the Esalen Institute on the coast of Big Sur one can soak in hot spring-fed baths poised dramatically on the cliff side while watching barnacle-crusted whales passing by on their northern migration. I spent a week there as a fiftieth birthday treat, without laptop, without telephone, without even putting pen to paper.
Instead I took Stewart Cubley's painting workshop--rather, an un-painting workshop to "awaken the creative spirit," and attempt to be unconcerned with the end product. As I'm not a painter, it was probably easier for me than the artists in the workshop! Kind of like kindergarten, where you just mess around with color and see what makes you feel good, or feel bad if you're in that kind of mood. I needed a break from writing, and it gave me the space I needed to take a step back from my life and work.
And every spare minute in the baths, with binoculars to spot the whales, sea otters, sea lions, and sea birds. Flocks of pelicans glided very close, hugging the cliffs just above our heads. How often do you get the chance to examine a pelican's belly? And the conversations! Besides the painting workshop there was a Gestalt workshop, biofeedback brainwave training, wilderness experience, and an improvisational action workshop going on. I really must appreciate my life in Northern California!
On Sunday I rode back up the coast to spend the special day with my family. It was the first long ride on the BMW K75RT I traded with my dad, and it performed very well on both freeway and the twisties on California's Highway One: quiet, smooth, and most of all, reliable! (I still can't get used to it.) Being a sport-tourer, it doesn't have the low center of gravity of cruiser-style bikes, and it feels like turns require a little extra umph with the arms than just swinging a hip this way or that. It feels a bit like the Moto Guzzi Breva 750 IE that I rode in Italy, which, if pressed, I have to say is my favorite bike so far.
I turned east on Highway 152, a road I rode often when I lived in Santa Cruz years ago. Just out of Watsonville I passed a gang of teenagers on minibikes buzzing toward the grade, and then, blissfully, there was no one ahead of me all the way up the mountain, and the sole car I caught up with on the way down pulled over to let me pass. (How often does that happen? Maybe only on my birthday.) There is something truly magical about the cool green on the eastern grade of 152. The air is moist and clean, with dappled sun shining through the redwoods onto the ferns and mosses. And then you burst out into the dry yellow hills of Morgan Hill wine country.
My birthday gathering was intimate. Despite urgings from friends to have a wild party I just wanted to celebrate with my family. We were in the back yard, Coronas in hand, the barbecue smoking and nieces and nephews running around with balloons, when a phone call brought news that my father's best friend, who was touring around the USA on his motorcycle, had been killed in an accident on a Texas backroad.
What better than to have people I love most around me at this time, Dad said, when he could manage to speak. Then we toasted my birth-day and Chuck's death-day, which we now share until the end of my time, an annual reminder of the value of every small moment.
A few years ago I convinced my dad that he really had to see Burning Man, and he convinced Chuck to come, along with another friend who had an RV. Mostly they'd gravitate toward vehicles like the propane-powered motorcycle that hurled balls of flame into the air, or the musical steam train, or one of the other hundreds of exotic and mostly dangerous machines that were definitely illegal outside the confines of the Black Rock Desert. They endeared themselves to the builders of these monstrosities as it was quickly obvious that they were accomplished mechanics and engineers themselves. It was amusing to step back and watch the cultural barriers melt with conversations and problem-solving amongst these two straight old white guys and crews of tattooed and pierced mechanic-artists with dreadlocks and outrageous clothes. The photo above is taken at the Computer History Museum, where Chuck (seated) and Dad worked together to get machines like the old IBM 1401 running, so people can see what computing was like in the days of punch cards and mag tapes.
Every year I do appreciate life, love, family, place, experience--everything--even more than the year before. Chuck died doing one of the things he loved to do the most: motorcycling. But his accident--all motorcycle accidents--are especially horrifying to motorcyclists. We can hear the news of a car, plane, bicycle crash without getting that shiver of dread. But it won't stop me from riding, Mom, though yes, I'll be more careful than ever, wear proper gear, resist the urge to split lanes too often . . . all that. But more than that, I'll be more careful to love every moment.
Until next time, may all your misadventures have happy endings.