Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Chasing After the Duality of a Motorcycle Maniac

A story written by my sweet Cookie: I should have known that the trip would be eventful when the drive over the lonesome mountain peaks of Colorado was far too silent for a holiday weekend. The breakdown karma began when the ever-so-forgetful mechanic happened to mention three hours into our drive that the van was making a fairly significant vibration over the speed of 65 mph. I could only keep my thoughts contained for so long (foreseeing the future of being broke-down along the interstate in west Nevada by myself) before I called a local tire shop in the town we were passing through. Of course, my mechanic was grouchy about the situation – he knew what needed to be fixed, but instead we were relying on the hearsay of an underpaid-tire jockey nearing the end of his shift. Needless-to-say, the hour and a half did not pass so quickly, and the vibration did not change much, nor did the check-engine light go off (another tidbit of anxiety). The check-engine light would remain on for the entirety of the trip, but the alien sounds coming from the engine would cease to exist on the east-bound side of L.A when I would eventually take the wheel. One should never have to stay in Barstow, CA, but it appeared as though we would be gracing the presence of the abandoned Routt 66 town for two lovely evenings. As we rolled in the first night, the mechanic took on his racer identity, and spoke of his previous encounters at the cheap hotel not far from where we were staying. The tale consisted of midnight cockroaches and a greasy breakfast of Carl’s Jr. The mechanic-racer wanted to provide his copilot with some entertainment, so we set out looking for something a bit better than Carl’s Jr. My stomach told me things would get dicey when we rolled into a four-star restaurant (based on local opinion) that housed no exterior windows and Looney Toon characters on the walls. A note on the dry-erase board stated “Guacamole one extra dollar due to rising costs.” I thought, “boy we better have some of that then.” My stomach foresaw that the mechanic-racer and I would be lying in bed with over-bloated bellies crying like coyotes. Aside from agreeing to drive a ticking-time bomb van, this was the first mistake of the trip – trusting the mechanic-racer’s idea of fine dining; yet, I was appreciative not to have crushed a cockroach between my toes when I rolled out of bed. The wind was treacherous the next morning, especially as we descended the hills of central California in search of the beach and the closed-for-the holiday motorcycle shop that I was very much looking forward to entering. Oh, well. I settled for a walk along Santa Monica pier with the Sheryl Crow song buzzing in my brain. A few piles of trash and an assumingly dead body later, we were back on the road, twisting through the hills of Malibu where we would spend the Thanksgiving feast with the nicest couple on the earth. An entertaining afternoon of ugly-Christmas sweater cookie constructing and a tie-down motorcycle job from hell was just enough to warm my heart that was far away from my traditional family Thanksgiving. As we loaded ourselves back into the white-monstrous van, the sun began to set over the farthest point west one could possibly be; it was a watercolor stroke of desert rainbow that could appease even the coldest of hearts. After a rampant drive to Palmdale, CA, the racer became quite edgy, and the quiet sovereignty of the mechanic had disappeared. I knew that the excitement had hit home, and the night couldn’t end quick enough for the both of us. The hotel room was a golden sanctuary of warmth and rest, but as the five o’clock alarm buzzed long after we were awake, I knew that breakfast would be tense. The racer was preparing himself for battle, and I wanted to stab him with a butter-knife just to see if it could puncture the thick-skinned warrior (mostly due to his moody conduct). He set off around six in the morning for tech inspection and was trailed by two hours of tailpipe racket that resembled the locust cloud of the second coming. I decided to finally get myself in the van and take an adventure. I wanted to see if I could spot an elusive Desert Turtle in the wildlife sanctuary on the outskirts of Mojave, CA. I found myself on the Sierra Trail Highway among a pack of KTM’s, which seemed very silly to me at the time because I thought this was an off-road ride, but later I would realize the need for dual-sport bikes when dirt was no longer an option. I had fun pacing back-and-forth with the motorcycles, but decided to open up the white van to see what it was made of; not bad for a Dodge that could explode at any moment. Along the way, I spotted many strange residences and a field full of eco-windmills, which was hauntingly surprising. I stopped to take a closer look and nearly squashed an already squishy coyote. Thus, I found myself in Mojave. I needed a few nourishments before the trip resumed, and as I climbed back into the van, the racer called and said that he had made it to the first gas stop. I was relieved that he was now in good humor, and riding as hard as he could (which made me wonder how long that could possibly last on a Mad-Max beast of a motorcycle too big for its own good!). Back on the road, and this time facing the now-dusty pack of orange bikes. I passed the gas stop myself, but headed in the opposite direction. Somewhere along the lines, I took the wrong road, which was easy in a geometrical spider web of washboard-desert roads. I examined the landscape around me and noticed for the first time, the snake of motorcycles – visible through the dust they were creating – winding their way through the desolate land. I had found myself in the territory of the so-called “Desert Rats” – weekenders apparently – with their huge campers, dirt bikes, four-wheelers, and side-by-sides. I became mindful of my speed, even though I was having an excellent time floating over sandy piles of what was once road. A very large man waved me good day while he drove his little family around on a tag-along, four-wheeler trip. I reached the end of the road rather early unfortunately, and had to decide which way to go. Up to Ridgecrest, CA or go ahead to Barstow. Knowing the racer as I do (and the state of his motorcycle), I turned left and headed to Ridgecrest. The newly-paved road demolished my previous backroad ecstasy, but the creepy, deserted mining towns on the way to Ridgecrest allowed for a wandering mind. I rolled into the Albertsons parking lot and found a good spot for a nap. Shortly after, as I was dreaming about tommyknockers crashing through the windshield, I was abruptly disturbed by a phone call from the racer. He broke the surely-breakable bike…. but, he could ride it into town because he was not too far out. I thought, “well it’s over.” Still, there was a playfulness in the racer’s voice, so I presumed that the ride had been good and worth the struggle. When he arrived at the van, I could tell he was having a blast, but the beastly motorcycle would not be fixed any time soon. What to do? I wish I could take credit for the Craigslist option, but the racer had a group of wise friends, and we found ourselves driving back towards Victorville, CA, where the wind nearly blew the van over the day before. The bike was supposed to be for the seller’s son, but as the two guys leapt out of the small truck, I couldn’t imagine how the tiny bike could be too big for the overly-grown teenager that stood nearly as tall as the racer (above six feet). The seller unloaded the cute, little vintage bike, and the mechanic showed back up for work. I could tell that mechanic was not impressed; especially when he pulled his finger out of the gas tank and it came out looking like Freddy Kruger’s last victim. Rust is the blood of metal, and it means for a really sketchy adventure when you are out in the desert and have no amenities. The mechanic knew this was not a good idea, but the racer did not care; he wanted to get back on the ride. So, we settled for a shorter distance for the next day’s ride from Baker, CA on the new-old bike. That night we went to sleep in a cradle full of hope after the mechanic-racer tinkered on the new-old bike. We had spent the evening with an eclectic crew at the only place in Barstow with some class (sorry, I don’t recall the name). I was hoping to get to Las Vegas for a spell of leisure time, but I knew that was not going to be the case. The only leisure time I would get was snailing my way to Sandy Valley High School. After spending nearly an hour in the parking lot of a gas-station, multi-restaurant, gambling establishment while the mechanic cleaned the gas entrance to the carburetor, I could only hope that he would make it to Sandy Valley High School. What lies between Point A and Point B would be nearly impossible for me to rescue him with the van should a breakdown inevitably occur. We strung a banner of prayer flags with optimism on the handlebars of the bike and I tried to foresee a happy ending. When he left the parking lot toward the World’s Tallest Thermometer, I became skeptical. Should I wait here for a moment? The answer was no. The new-old bike was found on Craigslist for a reason, and that reason was to haul an extra-large kid to the finish line.
The interstate between Baker, CA and Jean, NV is one of great desolation. The wind sacrifices any living organism in its path. I can only imagine the beat-down summer sun cooking bugs to the road and drying out a roadside pee in an instant. At Jean, there is a ghostlike adventure zone for those who can’t wait for Vegas. The parking lots were all empty except for a few truckers sleeping off a night of driving. I took the exit warily, and turned the tired van north towards Sandy Valley. The road was unexpectedly new, and rolling as a pile of rock-hard rolls. There was a black spot in my mirror that grew into a pack of midnight bats. Within seconds a pack of bikers flew by me headed to Hells Hollow. I turned off the road as they kept their throttles full. The twisted serpent road I had chosen would lead me to the checkpoint that the racer hoped to achieve. I became uneased with the new road for it began to look like it had been cut out in a weekend for oil-field purposes, but nevertheless the canyon opened to a large valley where the dusty trail of motorcycle riders was effortless to spot. I knew that I had found my way; I anticipated the racer would too. The best part about navigating the van is that you don’t really have to know where you are going because you just follow the dusty dirt-bike trail and eventually find the destination. I know that it is far more difficult for the riders to use the roll-chart instructions and pack of fellow misfits. I wedged the van into a parking spot of the Sandy Valley High School and decided that all the driving had wiped me out and I was long overdue for a midafternoon nap. I let the sun blanket me as I lie in the backseat of the van inhaling the blood of the dead motorcycle. Not long after, the mechanic called. He was two blocks from the school and needed some tools. I flew to the driver seat and threw the van in gear. He was giving the little bike a good beating when I arrived. I smirked at his silliness. “Why would you want to put yourself through this,” I questioned in my mind. I watched the mechanic giggle and cuss and throw rocks. The rocks went into the tank of the motorcycle to tease off the rust that had built up from idle time and neglect. I tried to envision being the rock and finding the light. Finally, after what felt like the entire afternoon (but was only twenty minutes at most), the racer jumped on the bike and rode to the checkpoint. There, he was welcomed with smiles and fresh gas and some kind of meaty substance for lunch. While we sat at the school-bench tables, I looked around at the other riders who were covered in dusty coats. Everyone looked tired. I was nervous for the last leg of the ride, which apparently could be a struggle to get through Red Rock Canyon. When I patted the racer goodbye, I was glad to have a cozy seat in the van, but I knew he was just as glad to have a seat on a motorcycle. When I found Jean again, there was a major traffic jam spanning for miles. On the day after Thanksgiving, I was thankful for not having to drive west. Cars and trucks were lined up along all the exits waiting for a gas station space, or perhaps to wait-out the five-hour drive to L.A... Whatever the case, there seemed to be a lot of unhappy people and people who parked their frustrated behinds in front of the exit to Las Vegas. A man finally decided to angrily wave me through; I know what I wanted to wave back at him! The interstate drive proved to be relatively smooth, and I could only hope that the racer was having as good of luck as me. I began to see the signs of gambling and air pollution, so I knew I was nearing the end. I took the forever-long exit towards The Orleans, and noticed other chase vans in the vicinity. I followed a stickered-up white van (in a little better shape than the one I was driving), and found a safe place to park among the dual-sport adventurers. Knowing that I may have to go rescue the racer, I hesitated to have a celebratory beer, but I thought, “why not!” I had to calm the anxiety of the new-old bike busting on a red rock at the top of a mountain near Vegas. I checked into the hotel, went to the room, went back to the van, went back to the room, sat down, and just as my mind was perpetuating an ambulance ride, the racer called. He was in the parking lot. Relief became my entire existence. I found my way to the parking lot of champions. The mood was high and the riders were filthy: filthy with dust and exhaustion. The racer had a smile as wide as Sandy Valley, and I was grateful that he made it. Even more grateful that the worn-out, new-old bike brought him to a safe resting place. Many times during the chase, I wondered why the mechanic-racer wanted to ride such mangy motorcycles, and I became to understand his reasoning about halfway through the race when his motorcycle failed to follow through. The racer wants a challenge: riding a new dirt-bike would not be exciting. He wants to be beaten down by the rugged terrain and full-throttle battling. The racer is like a ghost that flew out of an old-desert mine, back to finish the job and find the lucky gold. All the smirking and snickering, gives the racer power because he can prove that it is not what bike you ride, it is your demeanor and persistence that brings you to the finish line. In the Barstow-to-Vegas ride, it is not a race for winning, but an accomplishment. The winners hit the jackpot when they arrive at The Orleans, whether by highway, dirt, motorcycle, or van.


Garrett302 said...

More Cookie stories please! Awesome.

Frank said...

Excellent play-by-play. You have a future behind the microphone, Rachel.

Paul said...

Brilliant! Great to hear the race stories of those that make the racing possible. Thanks Rachel... more please :-)