Waking up the next morning, the echoes of wine fogged the corners of my mind. I stretched out on my sleeping pad on the floor of an empty room letting the light twinkling in from the windows warm my senses. Looking behind me I saw a small pile of my very tightly organized clothes, then I remembered;
“Oh my god, I’m going to be living out of a scooter for a month.”
And then I smiled, because I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything more than just that.
My wonderful badass adventure lady friend was kind enough to offer breakfast and her home for as long as I needed it before she took off for work. With a warm cup of Joe in my hands, I curled up on her couch and opened my computer. I had been updating threads on ADV Rider, Expedition Portal and American Adventurist about preparing for my trip. This was pretty much the only “preparation” that I had done. So many wonderful people had offered gear, advice and fantastic encouragement for what lay ahead. Reaching out to these people really helped me feel apart of something larger than myself. As I was officially on day TWO, I was able to update these curious folks that it had actually started, that this crazy girl was officially “on a solo cross country adventure”, on a 171cc scooter.
After my update, I started Google Mapping my ‘avoid highways’ route up to my friend’s place in Truckee, CA. Not really having any idea of what I was doing, or actually researching ANY of the roads beyond one 15 mile stretch, I was ready. A 267 mile ride would be totally fine… right?
After I finished packing up my gear, the fear came back from the day before. Thoughts of self-doubt and questions of how long it really would take me, or if I would even make it at all started to make my body rigid. I quickly told those thoughts to bugger off and walked out to Jolene to give her a good ol’ fashioned pep talk. Ya know, like crazy people do when they talk to inanimate objects in broad daylight in front of people walking their dogs do.
I tried to mask my pep talk by poking around her underbelly while checking to make sure everything was still in the right place, and that there were no red flags of disaster waiting to spring free. Deciding that she was just as peppy as she was ever going to be, I gave Jolene a pat on the tush, and went back for my bags.
Tip toed on either side of Jolene, perched and ready for takeoff, I sent one last text message to my friends in Truckee letting them know my supposed ETA. I told them I’d check in along the way to let them know how things were going, AKA that I wasn’t dead or whatever. I went to turn on my in helmet directions/music to pump up some classic montage tunes (‘Eye Of The Tiger’)… and nothing. I had left the Bluetooth headset on the charger all night! How was it possibly dead?! Resolving to sort that mess out later, I realized I would just need to rely on looking at the directions as they came on my iPhone. I had the phone locked into my Joby bike mount that I had rigged to fit on the windscreen for the scooter. Not having too much experience with needing to look at a map and scoot at the same time, I hoped that things would just work out swimmingly.
We pulled out onto the first secondary road, and started to creep up to 20mph. My breath was suspended in slow motion as I cautiously checked my mirrors to see if I still had all of my earthy belongings with me. Feeling confident that my new packing method seemed to be working, Jolene and I worked up to 35mph. Feeling some movement free in my statue of a neck, I worked out a small head bob of congratulations. Knowing that I had a left turn coming up, I looked down to my phone. Here is where I started to realize that I might have some problems without the in helmet directions. My poor phone was vibrating at the perfect tempo to completely blur out Google Maps written directions. As you can imagine, a stream of beautifully colored profanities painted the inside of my helmet. I worked to slow my quickening heart rate to try to see what clues I could use to know what street I was actually supposed to turn on. Luckily there was enough color contrast to see the moving arrow as I approached my turn, but I made a mental note that I would have to be hyper vigilant to keep tabs on the traveling arrow representing me and my 171cc’s of a scoot in order to avoid any last minute lane changes and potential road squishing.
I leaned into a left turn, then a right, I started to trust the weight on the scooter and was getting into a groove. I welcomed the feeling like this whole traveling across the country thing would be easy as pie. Two lane, opened to four, then exploded to eight with bridges. I had gone from the safety of Kansas, to being chased by flying monkeys in a matter of minutes. Every hair on my body stood on end as I navigated lane changes and tried to dodge the wild, speed hungry Californian’s. Then I saw it: train tracks. My brain immediately offered up a snapshot of a line drawing depicting how to take a motorcycle over train tracks from my Driver’s Ed manual. The DMV graciously drew two variations of train tracks you might find in the wild. One perpendicular to the road, and one on a 45 degree angle to the road. THESE REAL LIFE TRAIN TRACKS DID NOT FOLLOW THE DRIVER’S ED INSTRUCTIONS. They were in the middle of the intersection, in an entire lane of the road and just caddywhompus all over the place. My brain immediately started creating its own line drawings of how to fix the drivers ed manual. Eventually realizing that this was NOT the time and or place to submit improvements to the DMV, I waited at the red light sweating bullets and straining my eyes to try and see how big the divots were on either side of the rail lines. Some looked relatively small, for sure smaller than my tire, and others were big enough to employ a crocodile as a full time moat man. Charts, graphs, and pie charts were simultaneously developing at top speed, showcasing my chance of death, general maiming, or possibly success to offer my brain support in creating a game plan. Being first in line at the red light, I didn’t have anyone to follow. Eyeing the cars in my mirrors, I figured at least I would be able to get out a head of the mob of vehicles behind me, and maybe I’d have a better chance of them stopping, if things went poorly.
The light turned green, not wanting to go out of my chosen lane of traffic, I did my best at hitting each crocodile ridden moat at as much of a 45-90 degree angle as I could while keeping the bike completely upright. I’m sure I looked like a rabid squirrel as everyone immediately increased their distance as I dipped and darted around my lane.
We made it. The sound of rubber squeaking across the slick metal made my skin beg to melt off of my body. But we did it.
As I cleared the chaos of the intersection, I looked down again at my vibrating phone. She gloriously was offering a turn away from the eight lanes of heart attack. Hungrily lapping at the depleted oxygen in my helmet and steaming up my visor, I quickly lifted a hand to crack the lid. A cool fresh wave of air gave me life as I now found myself on an empty two lane road leading out and away from the concrete carnival toward the glowing amber hills that make me still love this state. I started to find my excitement again as I turned onto a road boasting a scenic byway sign and immediately had it put in check as I saw the squiggle line depicting tight turns followed by 20mph. Oh right, I assured myself, I guess I would have to practice tight turns with weight at some time during this trip. Giving myself a mental pat on the back, I stuck out my chin and got to turning. For those that don’t do too much “turning” on two-wheels, there isn’t a whole lot of actual ‘turning’ that happens with the handlebars, it’s all about the lean. When you’re already not sure where the “point of no return” is on your ride, then you add a whole bunch of weight to the equation, well let’s just say this makes for a suspenseful adventure.
I approached each corner greeting it anew, making sure to line myself up on the correct side of the road to prepare for the turn, and to give myself enough space to lean as oncoming traffic flirted with the centerline. Casting a quick glance behind me, I realized there were several sports cars behind me revving up my tail pipe. Checking to see that I was going the speed limit, I quickly waved away that resolve as I remembered speed limits mean little to Ferraris. My new found worry was trying to find somewhere to get out of dodge ASAP as I listened to the antsy 4-wheeled beasts barely caging their molten horsepower. A few turns, and no pull offs later, we all found ourselves behind two massive dump trucks. Happily passing the blame onto another road foe, I got back to focusing on perfecting my craft. I wish I could tell you that the 4-wheeled beasts let off their insistence that the perfect place to position their ego was a mere four feet behind me, now that there was a visible obstacle, but alas, I cannot. Battling the fear of being sandwiched between a slow and a fast moving rock, I focused on not falling over. About 45 minutes of this fantastic balancing act gave way to a turn where no one followed. I found myself one of the gems that the ‘Avoid Highways’ feature on Google Maps can lead to. A forgotten frontage road connecting farmland to rumored civilization. I was truly alone. Finally feeling like I could breathe, I worked on freeing my stress with singing at the top of my lungs. The road was nestled in a cocoon of trees and vines. Cool air lay hidden beneath the canopy in an air of forgotten luxury. I strung together lyrics telling the leaves of my worries willing them to be left behind. While my head was swirling around the clouds, I eventually stole a glance at my gas gauge.
I was almost on empty.
The spare tank I had strapped behind me was empty.
I had no idea where or when the next town was.
Slowing down to reduce the vibration of my phone, I saw that there was no service to be found.
All of a sudden the bliss of being alone became slightly concerning as I wondered when someone would come along, then when someone would come along that would actually stop… Trying to squelch the fear demon, I just hoped for the best, and resolved that a magical town would be just around a magical corner. And, because apparently magic does happen, not but ten miles later I found myself in a bustling metropolis hosting the golden solution to my famine.
Unfolding my legs at the gas station, I graciously thanked my body for still being in one piece. Stretching out my back, a groan similar to that of an old Victorian house shifting in the wind, escaped from my frame. Yikes. I took a note to do yoga, or tai chi, or get a new back later. I took a look at my phone to see what progress I had made on my voyage. Much to my dismay, I had barely moved any closer to my goal of Truckee and already I felt like I had pilgrimaged half way around the world. Noticing that I was making considerably slower time than I had anticipated, I sent out a quick text letting them know to maybe add another hour onto my ETA, and that I was still alive.
I passed through town happy to have gas and some more circulation in my body. As I would quickly learn to be a recurring theme in my scooter-venture, It wasn’t long before I encountered my next battle. The weather advisory dinged on my phone with that pesky little exclamation mark announcing the dangerous wind gusts up to 50mph.
FANTASTIC. What even is that?!?! Is what ever 50mph wind is accompanied by a plague of locusts?!? Fire breathing demons perhaps?! Maybe some fluffy puppies that all want to be snuggled. Oh! YES! I’ll take the fluffy puppies please!
My body had most certainly not forgotten the wind that plagued my fist voyage across the Golden Gate Bridge. This couldn’t be any worse… could it?
Ahah! These silly questions I ask myself. Yes, YES, it can most certainly be worse. But, I did have my Golden Gate Bridge defense ready to rock and roll.
Three words: Battle. Scooter. Stance.
Core engaged, elbows out and at the ready, and the meanest mean mug my face can muster (for those that know me well, this still involves something of a smile). Oh yeah, and praying to every god, goddess, and sacred toaster oven that you can think of to not die. (Mom, maybe you shouldn’t read this next part)
Two lanes of 55mph traffic divided by a massive concrete barrier, the occasional passing strip, semi’s, SUVs, rumble strips, and me. I think there were mountains, or grass maybe, but crippling fear prevented me from acknowledging anything beyond my immediate potential death zone. I grappled with my fluttering heart and ability to breathe as I started to become acquainted again with 55mph speeds on my sweet little Jolene. I noticed the shoulder start to become incredibly gracious, but I was also curious why there wasn’t a second lane of traffic. Then I crested my first hill and the wind hit me like a concrete wall. The realization of needing space for semis and other wind susceptible vehicles to get out of danger dawned on me. My arms immediately began shaking in protest as the wind begged to rip the windscreen free from my scooter. As the windscreen is attached to the handlebars, I strived to keep the handlebars from ripping free from my pleading death grip. The wind toyed with by body and machine as I struggled to keep the throttle engaged and the bike upright. The first onslaught was a straight on assault, but wind has never been one to be caged, so my fleeting moment of knowing the direction of attack was replaced by a dual battering of an erratic side-to-side pendulum. I feared to lean in any direction as the turn of the wind shifted with each heartbeat. I wondered when the montage of my life would proceed to scroll across my minds eye, but instead I hung in the suspense of disbelief as I remained alive for a second more. I willed my eyes to stop the tears that threatened to blind my eyes. I reminded myself that I am doing this to LIVE, not to experience death. Time bent at its elastic waist as I finally saw my exit down in the plain below. Each passing expanse was a marathon victory. My heart’s happiness in its will to live and my minds terror of its fleeting possibility were met in a standstill as I fought to keep the precarious balance of momentum afloat. My memory is a shaken kaleidoscope of history knowing that I made it to that turn, but not knowing the how. As life does, it continued and somehow put Jolene and I further down its story.
The road fell behind me and my body began to feel the shudders of release as the wind continued its siege on the hill at my heels and let me escape, for a moment at least. The golden wisps of feathered grass danced their sun kept illumination like diamonds while I rebuilt my well of confidence that I was going to make it. I left the definitions of what ‘making it’ meant to another time, but I perched in the silence of my mind and fell into the sound of distant wind and the rhythm of Jolene as she rebounded the freckled face of the road.
Again we road the wave of the California hills until, yet again, the wind came to meet us. Battle Scooter Stance at the ready, I still wasn’t prepared for the hit to the chest that knocked me back into my seat and into another realm. No one spoke to me of this place, and it had simply not occurred to me that there could exist such a realm on the back of a tiny two wheeled being.
A wind pocket.
Yes, a fantastical place where wind would pass before and behind me, while leaving my battered body at peace. A few tears managed to escape at the corners of my eyes as gratitude warmed my veins and the hint of joy began to slip back into my fingertips. Shortly after we began to wind further up into the landscape and the road started to reflect the birthing of mountains from the hills, my smile returned. Alone and at peace, I played with this new relationship with the weight of the scooter and the different control I had with my own positioning. A new bond blossomed with my trust in my noble steed that would escort me on this trial of life.
A few gas stations, and a few “I’m still alive, add another hour to ETA” text messages later, I found myself at Lake Tahoe as the sun was just flirting with the ridge of the tree line. A brilliant ember captured the clean, crisp, and quickly chilling air on the mountains. Feeling the freeness of seeing this incredible land on the back of Jolene, as if for the first time, I saw my first passing Harley Davidsons. I flashed my first motorcycle wave (the two finger salute), to the pair, hardly able to contain my excitement for such a fantastic first of firsts. The two returned the wave, then in slow motion, dropped open their jaws mouthing ‘Whhaaaaatttt??”, while turning their head’s to the side, as the realization that they just waved to a scooter hit them. Needless to say, I giggled.
I pulled into my friend’s driveway that night with 267 miles and about nine hours of harrowing, yet extremely satisfying scooter life under my belt. Already just happy to be alive, see the smiling faces of some of my favorite people and have a place to pass out, I entered their house and heard some of the most life giving words that have ever been spoken;
“We have a hot tub, hot food, and cold beer”.