Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ride: to Eat

The motel nights punctuated the days: the period at the end of the sentence. The next day, a new sentence to write. At last, they strung together in a long prose poem, The Big Trip. The meaning was not known until the end. And the end has not yet been arrived at, since big trips have an endless coda--memories. They recur at strange moments, disconnected sensations bubbling up from somewhere unseen. The sun slanting across the Napa grapescape. Garberville ("The Hemp Connection"; the Sherwood Forest Motel). And, like the commas and semicolons in the middle of those sentences, meals.

Outside Yosemite, at the Best Western, the Spaniards swum darkly in the pool; the French spoke in low tones to one another. The Germans asked politely, and formally, in near-perfect English for directions at the front desk. And at the "breakfast buffet" the next morning, I cringed: So this is American cuisine, they thought to themselves. Cheerios, white bread soft as paste, gluey margarine, "coffee," gelatinous jam inseparable from its plastic pack.

This is largely how I, too, ate for a month. The high end was Outback Steakhouse; the low end was . . . low indeed. Much trail mix passed through the digestive system, many cheese crackers. In the hellish heat of Kansas, of Nevada, orange dye mixed with chemical electrolytes washed into the bloodstream. A pack of peanuts, ice cream, French fries. More French fries.

In San Francisco, we wandered through the farmer's market at the Ferry Building, and my craven sighs were audible. Not just organic peaches, by the cartload, but nine types of organic peaches. A great spillage of colorful produce. And none of it would last a half hour in a tank bag. So we wandered some more (twelve dollar malted milk balls?), fresh fruit juice from our single taste dripping from our fingers, and then turned to walk back to the shop: the bikes were ready, wearing fresh rubber, and we needed to ride again.

There is a kind of riding where meals are simply a kind of fuel to burn, and procured at exactly the same place as the bike gets its gas. Or maybe from the saddlebag, where you've stashed the granola bars you bought at Target way back when. I had food that had seen hard miles, crushed beneath the electric jacket and the laundry bag, from New York to California and now back to Colorado, where their crumbs perform a utilitarian function at last, when I was hungry enough not to care. Much.

The motel rooms
were our temporary home. (What is it with the astonishing proliferation of chain hotels in America? I must remember to update my drugstore rant; there's something up with the economics of so many, many imposingly large, anonymous structures, with their expensive rooms and, yes, identical [and identically bad] breakfast buffets). For maybe ten hours. A quick swim. Then to dinner at the nearest option, usually scoped out while still on the exit ramp. Applebee's, IHOP. There was real food out there, but it required getting back in gear. Sometimes you just want to walk, you know? So, next to the chain hotel, surprise, there is the chain restaurant.

This is America. But that is also America, too, and we saw it all: the miles, the miles, the miles. The variegated. The old, the places they have not touched. The Cowboy Cafe nearly made me laugh, its perfection. The dust in the air, across the empty crossroads.

We saw it all. Or what we passed, which felt like all.

For the record, the pies at the Thunderbird Restaurant were delicious. And if they were in fact ho-made, well, I think everyone deserves a pleasant way to spend their downtime.


Steve said...

A certain part of my summer slipped away from me. I'd intended to mentally keep track of your trip, sort of channeling motorcycling as I imagined your progress. But I not only missed that, but also lost track of my own summer. phfffttt! Gone.

It sounds like you have had an excellent trip; memories that will return to you forever, sometimes when least expected. I hope that in your California experiences the Third Time was charmed.

Welcome home, good that you had a great trip.

Scotty in Devon said...

Great to have had a fantastic summer & trip Mellissa; like Steve mine slipped away and my plans came to nothing. In my case due to pneumonia.

As soon as you mentioned the dusty crossroads I remembered a trip I took in Australia in about 1998 when I stopped, surrounded by golden fields of wheat, and just listened to the wind sighing in the fields....nobody around. It actually seemed a crime to start the SRX600 and continue on the journey....

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could gather, in one great volume, all the moments in all the road trips of all the riders that crystallized so that we remember them--with a shiver--years later?

But of course, it would have to be a magic book. One that transported the reader into the moment. Because those moments are made of light, and sensation, and mood. Ephemeral. Personal.

That's why I did not, could not, write a travelogue--it would have felt wooden to you all. Like taking more pictures of Grand Canyon: that's the impulse, when you're standing there, but another two-dimensional arrangement of color when seen later.

Nonetheless, thanks for reading some of my attempt to get at it, Steve and Scotty. I, too, know what it's like to have summers slip away--that's what they all were doing, until I had to say "no mas!"

Peter said...

My own summer ride was from home in San Francisco to Ohio via Wisconsin and the Michigan upper peninsula, and then back across the middle of the country. I avoided the chain motels by avoiding the Interstates, rather spending the night in inexpensive mom-and-pop motels. The dearest was $55, the cheapest was less than $40 - a couple were no bargain even at $45, but most were fine. Breakfast was always at a small town cafe in mid-morning about an hour or so down the road, and the breakfasts were always inexpensive and almost always excellent. The old US routes - 50, 18, 6, 34 - parallel Interstates and there's little traffic and even fewer trucks. In the more populated Iowa and Illinois I rode on state highways because the US routes in those states had more traffic. If you have the time, and I did, that's the way to go - my average daily mileage was 400-450 with a couple longer ones.

Any chance you will provide more details about your trip? I'm curious which bike you rode, any problems, etc.

(Apparently the "Ho-Made Pies" sign at the Thunderbird Restaurant is the result of space limitations on the original sign - no room for "home"? - and the rest followed.)

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Darn, Peter--next time, would you lead the ride?

You obviously have some suss regarding route choice: I deeply regretted the all the time we spent on the slab, but we felt we needed to make time. Obviously, there's a better way to do it. (Though it was state routes, of course, throughout CA, NV, and UT.)

It's funny. At the time, the breakdowns (faulty starter, followed by clutch disintegration [R1150R]) seemed like terrible disasters. And to my wallet, they sort of were, but that's the function of money, isn't it? Yet now, from this remove, "losing" an extra day in Vegas wasn't a loss--I ended up having a heck of a good time on that "lost" day, with potent memories. And so it goes.

That's why I now tell people it was ALL great. Even the moments that weren't.

Peter said...

It’s funny how minor disasters can turn into fond memories over time. I remember rebuilding the transmission on a friend’s Suzuki 35 years ago in a dealer’s parking lot in Yakima, Washington. A disaster at the time has become a good story, and the strongest memory of the trip. Last year on the way to Alaska with a small group one of the bikes developed a noticeable low speed stumble. While the rider rode back to Portland, Oregon to get the problem sorted out at a BMW dealer, the rest of us took the extra day to visit a great museum in Neah Bay, Washington and to ride out to Cape Flattery. Since the ferry from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island is every other day, we now had an extra day to the next ferry, and so had the time to ride to Tofino on the western side of Vancouver Island. I certainly have nothing against a trip where everything goes right and the weather is perfect every day, but, as you point out, the adversity builds strong memories.

Ouch - clutch disintegration on an R1150R. Was this by any chance the infamous input shaft spline issue, which can take out the clutch as well? My own R1150R has 95k miles on it and so far so good, but it’s a worry in the back of my mind.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Y'know--I don't know exactly. Someone who actually understands machinery could tell you using proper terminology. What I do know is that at first, the clutch slave cylinder was suspected--apparently a weak spot with the 1150. But then they disassembled it, and I saw the pushrod: disformed at one end, so it pushed too far & stopped the whatchamacallit spline thingy; the splines too were worn.

Hello? On a bike with 18,000 miles on it?

I had been told this model was pretty bombproof. Obviously, some people's are. But I'm glad ALL the problems are over, forever, with mine now.