Ah spring. Time to fling oneself into new adventures – out and into the wild and warming, open air.
My husband is a life long biker. And by bikes I am not talking bicycles, but motorcycles. “Motorbikes” as he, and other Brits, say. And not big and loud, low-riding Harleys, but sports bikes. Quick little things that have always been like children to him, especially those of vintage variety. He still tears up when he speaks of his first bike at age 16, and just had a 1971 Honda SL 125 restored to immaculate perfection. Just because.
The beloved is now busy launching a motorcycle awareness initiative called Be Alert for Bikers. Annoyed by the ugliness of the bumper stickers he’s seen slapped around on cars for years, he engaged the help of a great agency in San Francisco (bikers themselves) to design his own. Boom, done! Again, just because. This enthusiasm that makes his eyes seem to glow even more blue is what I’ve always loved about him.
While I don’t share his passion for motorcycle racing as a sport, I do fully appreciate the design side of the culture. In recent years a whole network seems to have blossomed – makers of hip, safety-conscious clothing; focused, well branded events; stunning periodicals. Finally, after more than two decades together, my husband and I seem to have finally found our sweet spot in what we can agree is cool about bikes, bikers, and bike trips.
First off, there's Roland Sands, way up in the rarefied air of the bike design world. He’s built beautiful machines and is featured in a series of of excellent mini-docs produced for Royal Purple motor oil, including this particularly gorgeous video. It conveys the creative spirit of the culture that’s rarely as well communicated. He also designs bike wear, and I find this women’s Maven jacket to be downright swoon worthy.
“You’ve got good taste” my husband sighs, noting the price tag. “Why yes, I do” I answer, hoping he’ll grow more excited by my excitement, and is maybe taking mental notes for my next birthday.
Thanks to the internet, there are some pretty great lists of motorcycle roads out there to get the adventuresome blood bubbling. Years ago, we did a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway which was a revelation: my husband had waited his whole adult life to ride along that legendary drive and I learned quickly about vertigo. For reasons I still don’t really understand, I had the insane urge to jump off the back of the bike and soar out, over the Pacific. Repeatedly and without warning. As if I could elect in the moment to morph into a bird. True story, very strange.
Besides struggling with the urge for flight, I struggled with my hair. Helmet head. I envisioned the ads in which the woman with the long blonde hair gets off the bike and shakes loose her mane. It tumbles down on cue, golden waves laying just right. Her legs are supernaturally long and lean looking in her just-right jeans. She is smiling, walking in slo-mo into some cool, gotta-be-in-the-know-to-even-go-there dive in Malibu. Well that wasn’t me. Not at all.
I am 5’3″ on a good day, and more closely resembled a slightly annoyed, wet seal in that 90+ degree SoCal heat. Hair so plastered to my head in such a distinctly unappealing way that even pulling it up into a ponytail didn’t look right. However we did have lunch at the cool place – Neptune’s Net – and even spotted a movie star. Well, a recognizable actor. One who’s played bad cop and biker roles for decades. With blond hair. I will not reveal his name, only share my immediate impression:
“Wow, he looks old. Really old. Rode hard and put up wet…” a phrase I love but do not get to use often enough.
I went back and forth to the bathroom twice, just to get a better look. The closer I got the more haggard I thought he looked, which made me feel guilty and small. Who am I to judge? I returned to my table and put back on the shades. Everything seemed better that way. The food there is way secondary to the atmosphere – greasy good fried fare, great beer, all eaten on picnic tables overlooking the PCH. A loud mix of raggedy, old school bikers, business men and B-list movie stars. The western wind blowing in, cooling off my sweaty forehead.
“This is pretty cool” I thought, chomping on my fish tacos. ‘Cause in fact it was.
My husband keeps a file – lists of motorcycle trips he thinks look promising. Whether or not I accompany him on these is still an open question. “I bet that’d be just as much fun in a convertible” I’ve been known to mutter, looking over his shoulder as he oogles yet one more article packed with Nat Geo-worthy scenery shots. “And I could bring my camera. And more shoes…” The last bit I should’ve left out. His eye roll indicates he has no intention of taking me seriously when I was, in fact, utterly serious.
There was no room for my 35mm camera in our saddle bags, and the black, steel toe motorcycle boots I wore for safety were clunky. Awkward. They worked out alright with jeans at Neptune’s Net but they did not not do me any favors with the sundress I wanted to wear for a nicer night out as we rode into Monterey. I’ll confess I got a little whiny that night. Unattractive. We’d been on the road for four days and I was starting to lose my cool. The unruly hair, lack of shoe options, oh I revealed myself to be far more prissy than either of us ever thought possible. But we made it through, with mostly great memories intact.
For my husband’s sake I’m not giving up on the idea of another bike trip though. It’s been about 5 years and I think we both are itching for an adventure. I am slowly but surely starting to align myself with the notion of hopping back on his bike. But this time, I’ll plan the trip.
First of all, since music is so important to us both, we’ll have to sort out a person-to-person intercom system. There are a million to chose from, so I’ll leave that up to him. All I know is that I want to be hearing Jeff Tweedy’s voice singing about California Stars while riding down a curvy backroad. Camping holds appeal – I love the romance of sleeping in tents and simple meals cooked on a fire. This collapsible outdoor stove seems like a good idea. We could eat this kind of meal and plenty more, based on a quick perusal of dirtygourmet.com. A few ziplocs full of basics and a roll of aluminum foil and we’re in business. Shoe and hair worries, byebye.
My husband also just turned me on to this fantastic magazine called Iron & Air. Wow. WOW! Always a sucker for a beautiful periodical, I was impressed. Thrilled even. I read it cover to cover. I salivated over the gorgeous photography and a fantastic journal feature from James Crowe and Jordan Hufnagel, who are following their dream of a motorcycle odyssey – traveling from Portland to Patagoina and back again. They custom-made bikes to carry extra fuel and heavy cargo – it’s not as if they’d find BP station conveniently located on dirt roads in Mexico. They also had crazy circumstances to deal with in terms of weather, road conditions (i.e. sand. No pavement. Just sand.) and military checkpoints, as in “teenagers with AKs.” I was entranced.
I also found this great-looking, protective denim for my husband – kevlar lined, vintage inspired. “And British!” I cooed. My husband smirked. His strategy worked: I fell even harder than even he anticipated I would.
Next thing I know, I’m adding events into our Google calendars for next year: April in Austin and late May in Indianapolis. Again, as a sucker for compelling graphics and good branding, who could not be excited by The Hand Built Motorcyle Show and Rockers Reunion?
I couldn’t believe that while paging through, I even happened upon one of my favorite Jack Kerouac quotes, planted artfully in the middle of a full, beautifully spare, white page:
“Ah” I gasped audibly.
“You know what it is?” my husband asked rhetorically. “What you’re loving about it? This magazine, this movement, is exactly like you and your girls on the porch. It’s about living authentically…”
Yes, I realized. At its core – the term authentic living means having eyes wide open, looking for subtle beauty and ears attuned, listening for quiet truth. Riding on a bike, digging in a garden, sizzling in a frying pan. Wherever one finds it.
I nodded in agreement, pleased with my somewhat profound feeling of truth. Then I had one more thought, looking again at the photo of James and Jordan on their road trip:
They are so cute. All three of them. The girls find that inspiring too. Road trip 2015? Stay tuned for details.