I went on my first motorcycle road trip last week. The father of a friend of mine has a beach house and he invited a bunch of us to go and hang for the weekend. This same friend, Jon, recently bought a motorcycle as well, like me. Unlike me, he’s been riding off and on since high school. He bought a Kawasaki KZ650 when he was sixteen but calling it a motorcycle then would have been generous. When he purchased it, it was less a motorcycle and more a jigsaw puzzle you might buy at Goodwill. The bike had so many pieces and parts from other bikes we started calling it Frankenstein. That year was a good year for the motorcycle department at the junkyard in Portland, they still have a picture hanging of him with “Most Valuable Customer” etched on a plaque below.
After the invite, he then mentioned he’d be riding his new bike to the beach. I told him I’d bring my bike too. It quite didn’t dawn on me that the location “beach” wasn’t exactly precise. The whole left side of Oregon is labeled “beach” and there’s a lot of “beach” towns up and down the coast. In my mind, I was thinking (read: hoping) that this “beach” would be somewhere in the middle, between Ashland and Portland.
A week before the trip, when riding my bike up had already been set in my mind, I opened up the email Jon sent us all and found the address located in Seaside, or directly west of Portland. Between Portland and Ashland, yes, but not quite in the middle.
But I had committed. I told myself and Jon I was going to do the trip on the bike. Road trips were the whole reason I bought the bike, after all. To me it seemed like good practice for the big west coast tour I want to do. But more on that later.
I split the trip in two parts. I’d head up to my home town, stay there for the night, say hi to the parents then head to the beach the next day. Easy peasy. From Ashland to West Linn it’s 280 miles, a five hour drive when going by car at the posted speed limit. It’s a trip I’ve done dozens of times so I was confident it’d be the same as before.
Looking at google maps only inspire my confidence further.
“Four and a half hours?” I thought to myself, “that’ll be easy!”
There are moments in life we’ll never forget. Instances where we’re on our death bed, nearing the end of our days, and we’ll remember with perfect recollection an event. A moment. The moment is so large, so profound that it’s been burned, embedded in our psyche. Like a brand upon my flesh, the memory is forever emblazoned upon my mind.
Hour four is when I knew I was having one of those moments.
By this point in the trip, I had started making a list of items my bike needed. Things that I didn’t really think I needed when I started to look at the pricing of some things.
The list included highway pegs (to keep legs from cramping), bigger saddle bags so I didn’t have to strap a duffle bag to the back, a larger gas tank, and a louder horn. But most of all, by four hours into the trip, I wanted a fairing (windshield). I desperately yearned for it. Driving with the wind in your face sounds enticing. Feeling the breeze and breathing the cool air through your nostrils is real great until you have to drive 80mph with a head wind for five hours. A bigger man may not have had a problem, but being 5’8” and 140lbs, simply hanging onto the bike was exhausting.
At hour four my back started cramping. My neck was tired from holding my head against the wind and I hit that dangerous part of the trip I dreaded in years past. I went to school in Corvallis and made the drive north to Portland many times. Without fail, I’d grow sleepy right around Salem, regardless of how much sleep I had or how much coffee I had ingested. Driving long distances has never been my strong suit. Napping however…
And to compound all the troubles, aches, regrets and pains I was feeling, my left handle grip started to slide off every three or four miles. Partly because I had no fairing and was holding on for dear life for four hours, but mostly because the previous owners put electrical tape under the grip. A big no-no in the motorcycle maintenance world.
Why? Because electrical tape gets gummy and breaks down when exposed to heat. Like, for example, a 95 degree summer heat, on the Oregon I-5 maybe. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) Every few miles, I’d have to slide the grip up back to its position. All while driving on the freeway alternating between heavy bumper to bumper traffic and brief spurts of 80mph driving. Not the safest thing on the planet. I take back everything I said about that older couple being worried for my safety; they sold me a sabotaged bike.
But I made it. With my back spasming, my eyes dry, hands sore from gripping the bike and ass tired from sitting, I rolled up to my childhood house.
“Beer me,” was how I greeted my mother when she walked out to see me. Not exactly the kindest thing that has come out of my mouth, but my brain was at 3% functioning capacity. Survival was all it could do and cold beer was just what the doctor ordered.
I met up with Jon the next day and we drove to the coast. I was still dead tired and ready for another beer when he rolled up our street on his own bike. Part of me dreaded the trip, because of what I had just done the day before. I didn’t want to repeat the monotonous exhaustion of driving north for five hours.
But when we got out there, when we hit the road, it was a completely different story. It was one of those moments I’ll never forget, just like the fixation on needing a fairing. Riding those back roads on a motorcycle is like swimming in the ocean, it’s like completing a dance flawlessly or hitting your stride on a long run. It’s fluid. It’s fast. Most of all, it’s fun. I was riding on a vehicle with two wheels, an engine firing at 6000 RPM rumbled beneath me, amidst traffic, sharp turns, poor road conditions, and nothing but a plastic helmet to protect myself. Yet despite logic, I felt a strange serenity. It was one of those moments kids talk about doing when they get older. One of those things you hold tight to as you age, hoping that growing up means doing grown up things other than paying bills or going to work.
Was buying a motorcycle a good financial decision? No. Are they safe? Absolutely not. Should have I bought one? Probably not.
For a couple of hours, I was a kid again. To me, that makes it all worth it.
I drove back from the beach on Sunday then back to Ashland Monday morning. Overall, I did a little over 800 miles in a weekend.
Before I took the trip, I had probably done a little under 200 miles. Taking the trip was hard, yes, but I learned a lot about riding a motorcycle. I’ve never been someone who learns well by hearing, listening or researching. I’m more of a trial by fire person. It’d be great if I wasn’t, I’d save myself a lot of trouble, but being impulsive can have benefits. I wouldn’t have done the trip otherwise.
There are a few parts I’m going to buy for my bike before I even think about getting driving long distances again. But before that happens, I’ll need to fix my bike. I’m sure many family members and friends (those worried for my safety) reading this will be happy to learn that the bike died about two blocks from home. It made a loud pop, while I was driving downtown. I thought it was a backfire from the bike but when the power died and wouldn’t start I thought the worst. We always hope for the simplest and cheapest solution, so I was hoping for a blown fuse. Turns it was.
A bad connection to the battery made the bike draw too much power, blowing the main fuse for the bike. My first thought when it died was, “shit” but that was quickly followed by, “thank God.” I was pretty pumped it happened within walking distance to my house and not halfway home, amidst the rain and hills of southern Oregon.
I have a few things to buy for my bike, I thought of a fairing and a warmer jacket when I was driving to Portland.
But first, I need a new fuse and housing.