“Cause I got friends in low places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away, but I’ll be okay. Now I’m not big on social graces, think I’ll slip on down to the oasis. Oh I got friends in low places.” ~ Garth Brooks
I wake up in the darkness to the sound of barking. It’s the seals again. Crawling out of my sleeping bag, I yank my cowboy boots on and I’m dressed. A minute later I’m stumbling down a soft, sandy trail — headed to the campground restroom by the light of a full moon. There’s a big tree in the middle of the trail, and I quietly drift to the right of it. I’m just clearing the tree when suddenly I’m standing about 15 feet from a young deer. Maybe it’s used to people because she is in no hurry to leave. She looks at me and then goes back to nibbling the tall grass that’s growing at the edge of the trail.
“Get out of here,” I say while making a quick motion at the deer. She raises her head and just stares at me while chewing. Again, it feels strange when nature looks back. I’m starting to think I might have a problem on my hands. Reaching inside my motorcycle jacket, I grab my Leatherman tool. The deer is still watching me as I flick out the blade. There’s a sharp metallic click as the blade locks in place. The noise startles the deer. She’s up and over a 25 ft. sand dune in a second. I can hear her jumping through sand and grass as she moves away. I will see a lot more deer later today. Most will be laying on the side of the road in broken, bloody messes.
A few minutes later, I’m back at camp breaking everything down and loading Connie’s luggage. The sky is changing from black to deep purple, and it seems I’m the only person in the campground who is awake and moving. So, I work quietly; folding, rolling, tying.
I’m packed and ready to roll by the time the sky changes from purple to deep blue, and the color of the sky is a reflection of my mood. I’m seriously concerned, after making so little progress yesterday, that I’ve gone too far. I’m like the scared little boy in the pool who has carelessly strayed into the deep-end and suddenly realizes his mom is talking to her friends and the lifeguard is distracted. I’m in over my head, and nobody is coming to the rescue.
I’m going over my pre-ride check list; tires, oil, turn signals, fuel level, etc. It’s a quiet task that takes only a few minutes of concentrated effort. I’m down on my knees checking Connie’s tire tread, when I hear squeaking and low, rhythmic thumping. Looking to where the sound is coming from, I see the neighbor’s travel trailer is bouncing and rocking on its axel. It looks like the neighbors are getting an early start on their Labor Day weekend fun. I don’t want to interrupt anything with the sound of Connie starting up, so I take a short walk to the bay where I watch seals play in the water. They remind me of happy wet dogs. Maybe it’s the barking.
I hit the road at 7:00 a.m. determined to rack up some serious miles. California Hway-1, with all it’s tight twists and turns, is amazing, but it’s a slow road. I didn’t plan on it taking so long to get through. I also didn’t plan on the constant mental and physical stress of this style of riding. Individual moments are fun, but sustaining the effort is so hard. There ain’t no coastin’ on the coastal highway.
I’ve made only 60 miles of progress two hours later, and I’m doing the math. “This trip was a huge mistake, and it isn’t going to end well,” is what I’m saying to myself as Connie and I roll slowly through the small town of Point Arena. I’m contemplating what “giving up” looks like when I smell bacon cooking. It’s coming from the Rollerville Cafe next to the road at the Lighthouse Point Resort, and that’s where I drop all plans for the day and abandon Connie in the parking lot.
Those of you who ride understand how keen your sense of smell becomes when you ride. For me, it’s an essential part of motorcycling. So, imagine the effect on my psyche when I open the cafe door and cross over from the ever-present chilly, life/death, salty ocean smell to the warm breakfast and coffee smells of a small cafe. Standing in the doorway, I close my eyes and inhale the place.
“Come in or go out, but don’t stand there with the door open,” the waitress says while refilling a customer’s coffee cup, “and sit anywhere you like.”
The waitress, that’s not a good word for her, is a handsome woman standing confidently in her mid-30s. She seems to be running the place. She’s quick to smile, and her blonde hair sways across her shoulders as she gracefully navigates this busy, intimate space.
“You look like you could use a cup of coffee,” she says while I shuck off my motorcycle gear.
“Thank you, and could I also have a glass of water?”
“That is next on my list,” she says with a smile as she glides away.
This isn’t her first time at the rodeo. She’s probably served thousands of tired, dehydrated motorcyclists who stop here while riding Hway-1. I’m wondering how many of them look as bad as I feel right now? I cradle my heavy, warm coffee mug and bow my head into the steam that’s rising from the dark liquid. Thoughts of motorcycles and roads are a thousand miles away as I close my eyes.
“Are you okay?”, a familiar voice asks.
My eyes flutter open. The waitress is back with water and a menu.
“Not sure right now,” I say softly.
“I couldn’t tell if you were praying or sleeping, so I left you alone for a minute. I decided to check on you when I thought you were going to drop your coffee,” the waitress says.
I’m embarrassed and flustered. I think she wants me to leave, and I start to apologize.
Lightly placing her hand on my right shoulder, she leans down and says, “Let’s get some food into you.”
I look at the menu and point at the top item; two eggs, hash browns and toast. She scribbles on her pad and moves off to make it happen.
I take a hit of the coffee. It falls down my throat like something tossed into a dry well. It’s warmth floods my empty stomach, and I take another gulp. That’s the moment when I look up and begin checking out the room.
The cafe sits in front of a resort, and most of the customers look to be staying there. A young couple directly across from me is drinking beer with their breakfast, and both of them have a serious case of bed-hair. They’ve got that “I’m young, attractive and on vacation” look about them, and they are giggling about last night.
There’s a radio on back in the kitchen where two cooks are cracking eggs a kicking ass. They are listening to country music and singing along with each song. I’m starting to like this place.
There’s a couple good old boys in the back corner. They appear to be local farmers in their short-sleeved checkered shirts, work boots and old ball caps. They’ve got some serious business spread out on their table. I can see bar charts, pie charts and fever lines every time one of them turns a page from their stack of computer printouts.
A young mother sits with her family just to my right. Her husband reads the paper while she wrangles a 4-year-old girl and bounces a robust, chubby cheeked baby on her lap. The baby just got the top off one of those little packets of jam, and she is making a glorious mess of things.
My food, along with more coffee, arrives. I inhale the first part of the meal, but then I slow down and just soak this place and these people in. It occurs to me that I’m recharging my batteries.
Couples and families come and go. The waitress / manager greets people, delivers food and keeps the coffee coming. During all this, the radio in the kitchen keeps delivering Nashville’s golden oldies. At one point that old Garth Brooks song comes on, and just about everyone in this wonderful little cafe tosses their heads back and sings along with Garth during the chorus. God, I love this.
I finally finish up and the waitress slides my bill on the table and says I’m looking a little better.
“Thanks to you, your place and Garth Brooks,” I say, “Don’t ever let anybody replace that radio or change that station. It’s kinda perfect as it is.”
I pay my bill and step out to the gravel lot. Connie is parked right in front of the gift shop front door. Standing next to Connie, I’m looking down the road, zipping up my jacket and sliding my helmet on when I get the feeling that I’m being watched. Turning to the gift shop door, I see a little boy staring at me through the glass. He has silky smooth blonde hair, and he’s about 4-years old.
I keep getting ready, and now the little boy is pointing at me and frantically calling to someone in the store. An adult woman’s head pops around the door frame. She’s got the same hair as her son. She looks at me, rolls her eyes and is gone.
Tossing my right leg over Connie, I settle into her saddle as the little boy struggles with the heavy door. He gets it open enough to stick his head out and yell, “Power Rangers!” as loud as his little lungs will allow. Then the weight of the door wins their fight, and he steps back into the store to see my reaction.
Looking at him, I can see what he sees in the reflection on the surface of the glass door. In my silver helmet and gray motorcycle jacket, sitting astride a huge silver Kawasaki Concours, I do kind of look like a Power Ranger. So, I decide to play the part for this little boy.
Sitting at attention, I give him a wave and a quick thumbs-up. He gives them right back. Then I hit Connie’s starter button, and she rumbles to life. The boy’s eyes get big and he presses his face to the glass as I rev the engine. I recognize that look. It’s the look I used to have when I’d watch old cowboy movies back when I was this boy’s age. It’s hero worship.
I moment later, I ease Connie from the gravel parking lot and then open her up on the highway. I still have a long way to go.
A long time later I roll through Fort Bragg, Calif. to find that there is some kind of biker rally going on in this little town. The bikers look rough, and I see a lot of gang patches on jackets and vests. I don’t want to have anything to do with this, so I move through town as quickly as possible and fly up the road.
I pull over about an hour later to make pictures from a high cliff. I’m looking throught the viewfinder when I hear a deep rumble to the south. Moments later, hundreds to bikers on all sizes and shapes of Harley’s roll slowly by in a procession that last for at least five minutes.
“Damn! Now I’m going to be stuck behind them,” I angrily say to myself.
I wait for 20 minutes before getting back on the road, figuring that will give them enough time to get way far ahead. However, I am surprised to find all their bikes lined up on the side of the highway less than a mile up the road. The bikers are hiking down a sandy trail to the beach, where it looks like something ceremonial is about to happen. A small line of young bikers are standing with their backs to the ocean. Older, dirtier, fatter bikers are gathered around them in a semi-circle. It looks like the leader has something in his hand. It might be a knife. I don’t know what’s happening, and I don’t want to know. I’m rolling.
A couple hours later I unceremoniously pass a little sign that marks the end of California Highway – 1, and I swing onto Highway – 101 north. This highway is built for speed, and that’s exactly what I do, except for a 30 mile side trip through The Avenue of the Giants where Connie and I get to ride through a forest of Redwoods.
I finally get to Crescent City, Calif. several hours later. I’m tired and sore, but I feel okay — at least until I began looking for a place to sleep, but that is another story.