In this exaggerated autobiography two brothers decide to take a road trip from the Middle of California to Seattle via the Pacific Coast Highway. Along the way they battle heat, cold, rain, fatigue, and hangovers. Ready for anything and prepared for nothing, this trip turns out to be one for the books.
Chapter 1: The Trial
The throttle on this Honda Shadow 650 doesn’t do much when you twist it. But it doesn’t have to. The northern part of the Pacific Coast Highway winds between cliffs on both sides. And the speed limit, paired with how unstable this bike feels, turns my knuckles white.
The cliff to my left falls straight into the ocean and the cliff on the other side rushes straight up to sky. Age and dampness have turned these cliffs black and large, bright green patches of moss droop from the outcroppings. This place glows in a dreary sort of way.
We’ve reached Oregon and I feel pretty lucky about that. On every sharp turn I feel the bike wanting to slide out from under me, across the road, and into the ocean hundreds of feet below.
Yesterday morning my brother and I woke up in mid California in a small gold rush town called Grass Valley. We had planned this trip for a few months now, but in our normal fashion, we awoke the morning of the trip unpacked and unprepared. In a matter of minutes we had eaten breakfast, jammed everything for the trip into our bags and, tied the bags to the bikes.
“We got everything?” he asked, looking up from his bike.
“I think so.” I said without forethought. “If we forgot anything I guess we’ll just have to pick it up on the road.” Such was the theme of our motorcycle trip to Seattle.
For the first part of the day we cruised down desolate country roads, in no rush to get anywhere, when we reached this valley. One hundred and six brain rotting degrees quickly wore me down. Sweat filled my leather jacket and ran down my body. I felt as if I had showered in my clothes. I lost fluid faster than I could drink and didn’t realize that I was dehydrated. I also didn’t notice that my peripheral vision disappeared until we stopped on the side of the road.
“Hey man, you doing ok?” My brother asked. “You’re taking those turns really slow.”
I peeled the helmet off of my head and was instantly thrown back by just how narrowed my vision had become. I guess tunnel vision is a real thing.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I replied. “Just thirsty and ridiculously hot.” The words fell out of my dry mouth with no assistance from my sapless tongue.
“Drink this water dude” he said, standing beside his bike taking his own helmet off. He tossed me the bottle from his pack. “Look at this place. It’s amazing.” He said, tying his bags back down. “There’s nothing here for miles.”
We stopped in the valley just before the Coastal Range mountains pulled the earth up into the clouds. There really was nothing for miles, nothing but hills, scattered small trees, and a massive expanse of tall brown grass, fried in the sun. The sound of the hot, dry wind blowing through the grass was serene, like a thousand snakes in conversation with one another. We were next to a small stream that was trying its hardest to stay wet under the beating sun. The fact that we found water here at all amazed me. This place does not forgive the weary traveler. It’s nothing like the desert, but it’s still not a place I’d want to be stuck in without a ride.
“Alright” I said while putting my helmet back on. “Let’s do this.” And we took off down the road. I looked in the rearview and saw two clouds of dust hanging lazily in the air from our tires spinning on the dry dirt. It was the only indication that we were ever there.
Later that evening we were crawling our way through the mountains toward to the Pacific Coast Highway. The temperature had dropped to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit and the fog was so thick we struggled see the yellow line to which we were desperately clinging. On mountain switchback roads, this is a problem.
I learned to look ahead when riding a motorcycle. “Look in the direction you want to go” motorcycle course instructors will tell you. “Don’t look at the line.” But straight ahead was nowhere, fog, nothing. We had to cling to the line or we would have driven off a cliff we couldn’t see coming.
We were already drenched with sweat and now even more so from the fog. Forty-five degrees, wet clothing, wind, and the darkness of the night will chill you to the bones on a motorcycle. But uncontrollable teeth chattering aside, this trip was turning out to be a story to tell.
We descended other side of the Coastal Mountain Range into the Redwood National Forest. The Avenue of the Giants they call it. The forest was deep, dark, foggy, and timeless. Out of the thick fog and darkness emerged these wooden behemoths: unmovable and sacred. Next to these ancient trees we were just insignificant blips of time mashed in with all the other insignificant blips that ever drove by gawking at them. This was a powerful place. Humans made the road where the trees allowed them to make it. We didn’t rule this area.
Around eleven pm we finally reached civilization. It was some ramshackle town that may as well slip, unnoticed, into the Pacific Ocean. Please. And take the sickly inhabitants of this town with you on your plunge into non-existence. Fortuna. What a place.
Everything but a gas station and a block of hotels was closed. The only people still awake were those that had run out of meth for the night and couldn’t find their dealers. So they dragged their heels around in circles in front of this one gas station. If there was a zombie apocalypse, it started right here.
We were starving in line at the gas station waiting to pay for our essentials. Pringles and beer. We could see these people – strike that, we could hear these people and smell these people dying right in front of us. Never did more than three seconds of silence elapse between some heaving cough, ass-clearing fart, or drug induced verbal tic. This may have been the most miserable place I’ve ever seen. I loved this trip so far!
I love seeing places no one goes. I love being places no one has on their bucket lists. Fortuna. “Well, before I die I need to get to Fortuna, California.” No one says that. Ever.
So we took our Pringles and our beer and rolled up to the fanciest hotel we wanted to afford. We paid up and got our keys to the Super 8 double queen room.
I opened the door and the smell of bleach and something god awful whacked me in the face. It literally pushed me backwards. The bleach was hiding something heinous I’m sure. I’m glad I didn’t know what it was. We made it through our first night of this trip in a cheap hotel with chips, beer, and an impossibly hard mattress. All part of a proper motorcycle trip.
Chapter 2: The Hardening
The next morning my eyes opened long before my body wanted them to. And it took an unreasonable amount of energy to sit up. As my eyes focused I saw sunshine crawling through a small crack in the curtains, shining in just enough light to outline everything in the room but leave it all black. An old air conditioner rattled through its on/off cycles and an off-balance ceiling fan clicked and clacked.
Just after I woke, a deep and labored yawn came from the other bed.
“Yo man” My brother said in a hoarse voice. “I’m beat.”
“I hear that dude. What a ride yesterday.” I answered in an equally pained voice. I had no intention of moving. The room was still dark so every time I closed my eyes I began to sink back into sleep.
“Guess it’s time to get up” he said noncommittally.
Life on the road can be painful, but it’s not bad. What is bad, though, is the smell of this room. We were two dudes who had ridden all day and slept all night in our own sweat. Furthermore, our gas station feast from the night before transformed this room into something resembling the morning after a party. Every surface in this room was covered with empty chip bags and beer cans.
I pushed the covers off and started for the bathroom to shower and brush my teeth. An empty beer can crinkled under the weight of my first step toward the bathroom. Chip crumbs crunched under every other step I took, all the way to the bathroom. No doubt the resident rats were in for a big breakfast today.
The bathroom was not spared of our mess. I found the sink and reached for the handle disrupting a pile of beer cans and sending a few rolling off of the counter to the fake tile floor below.
“Dude, we really messed this place up.” My brother said from the main room pushing the garbage from the table tops into the garbage can.
“That we did” I replied, toothbrush-in-mouth. “No time to admire our work though. We need food.”
“Yeah dude” He said in a serious tone.
After a couple of much needed showers, we suited up, crammed our mobile lives back into our bags, and headed for the nearest diner, handing the hotel clerk our keys on the way out. Roadside diners become havens on a long road trip. Only they have bacon instead of water. Ok, water too. But thank god for bacon. There’s something about salt and grease that revitalizes the soul.
Stuffed from breakfast, we walked over to our bikes slowly to enjoy the beautiful weather. We sat on our bikes, and at the same time, lifted our faces toward the sun. The day was cool but the rays of the sun in the cloudless sky warmed us. Like it was scripted, we put our helmets on, pushed the visors down, and started the bikes.
The sound of the exhaust from the bikes and the wind in our ears drowned out the rest of the world. We were back on the road now, careening through turns and burning through one town after the next. We passed herds of people in these towns, people who were living their normal lives, grinding through their daily routines: breakfast, work, lunch, more work, home, dinner, TV, bed.
We wanted nothing to do with that. We were on a journey. The destination was just an excuse to go. On a motorcycle trip, the world exists for me. Some people call that freedom. I think the label takes something away from the experience.
The miles unfolded beneath us and the pavement rushed by, inches under our feet. Fresh air filled our lungs. The forests smelled alive and the towns we pass through reeked of exhaust, fast food, and porta-johns.
But something’s different now. I can’t remember the last time I looked at my odometer. Instead, I’m tracking our trip with the signs.
“Crescent City. 100 miles.”
My brother commanded his bike to come alive. With one twist of his hand the aftermarket Harley exhaust screamed. Seconds later he was a dot approaching the horizon. I followed suit and opened the throttle on my bike. The wind pulled my head back and I could feel the pressure of it on my chest. Our exhausts echoed through the trees. You could hear us coming for miles.
“Crescent City. 50 miles.”
The forested mountains were a blur in my peripheral vision but I could make out these openings where civilization saw fit to insert itself, like open sores crawling with two legged infections.
“Crescent city. 25 miles.”
The forest opened up to reveal the Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon, with only the sky for contrast. Dark blue and light blue meet in the middle. Straight line; round earth. It’s all about perspective. We are tiny.
“Crescent City. 10 miles.”
Wow I really have to piss.
“Welcome to Crescent City California. Pop. 7,643.” What are we still doing in Cali? Where is Oregon? Better yet, where is the bathroom?
A pit stop with a quick bite to eat and we were gone. You can keep this town. Give us the road.
“Welcome to Oregon. We hope you enjoy your visit.”
“Finally” I thought. And without any opportunity to talk, my mind wandered. “But, who hopes I enjoy my visit? No one knows I’m here, let alone cares. Maybe the owners of the gift shops hope I enjoy my visit. If I enjoy my visit, I’ll buy a polished rock. Or a shell, maybe I’ll buy a worthless shell that was shipped in from Hawaii. Hawaii has nice shells.” I amused myself with this train of thought and cracked a slight smile in my helmet while sniffing out a chuckle from my nose. All gift shops have the same shit.
“Coos Bay. 100 miles.”
Everything is so vividly green. Green leaves, green grass, gangrenous hobo walking down the road with green bags. And the gray sky contrasts with the forest making it impossibly bright.
“Coos Bay. 50 miles.”
“Coos Bay. 25 miles.”
“Welcome to Coos Bay. Population 16,670.” We pulled over at the first gas station we saw and looked around.
A large river cut the town in half and logs floated lazily down the river. Old saloon-like buildings squatted shoulder-to-shoulder for the length of the main road, some of them leaned on their neighbors for support. A casino, the only modern looking building, abutted the river. I was expecting a pistol duel at any moment, but between old people after bingo got out. It was like the Wild West and Paul Bunyan meets tourism. Confused town – meet the Paquin brothers.
“Let’s get drunk” my brother said, still standing on his bike.
“Sounds like a plan” I said through my helmet. “Let’s find a cheap motel and stash the bikes first.” Luckily this town was full cheap lodging. We paid for a room and stashed our bags, ready to grab some beers. Only there were no bars in sight. So we had to ask around.
The hotel clerk pointed us to the only bar in town. She also mentioned that it was prom night. This prompted us to look at each other and shrug our shoulders. It could have been bald orangutans in bikinis night. We didn’t care. We had every intention of punishing our livers. To prom night we walked.
It was a short walk to the bar which looked like the abandoned birth of a strip mall. It was a fraction of the commercial collage it could have been. Slap another couple of stores together, name one choke-n-puke chicken and turn the other into an urgent medical care center. Business would be booming.
Once inside, we were halted at the door by the design of the place. It made no sense. Three levels of floors were accessible by small two or three, or seven stairways, each with only a few steps. A couple of sagging pool tables sat in the front by the windows. A bar to the right, a bar in the middle, and a bar in the back surrounded the scattered places to sit and eat. How does a drunk navigate a place like this? Way too many choices.
We made a pool table our home base for the night and within an hour we were playing one-handed pool, beer-in-hand. Never mind the people who were waiting to play. We were sideways at this point. I’m not sure how many rounds we drank but our balance and conversational aptitude were both waning. There was something about the drinks in that place, something that pushed our pace. I think, that night, we truly believed that if twelve drinks felt good, twelve more would feel twelve times as good. It’s flawless drunken logic really.
Shots, beers, and memory lapses later we made off for the motel, ready to pass out in another cheap, bleach-cleaned, domicile.