In which we find Sisyphus challenging destiny through probability as his plans go awry…
If you’ve joined these accounts of my moto adventures before, you know that I get nearly as much joy in planning a ride as in actually riding. I pull out dozens of maps, spend hours gleaning websites and viewing YouTube videos of fellow travelers. I have to admit that Google Maps have made planning much easier to communicate to my mates about the trip and convey to my readers the scale of the undertaking even though the algorithm doesn’t stick to the route I’ve selected. Apparently backroads are anathema to the algorithm.
I get to anticipate experiencing new places and faces we meet along the way. I also get to lay out all of the gear that I hope to winnow as I sort them in must haves, like to haves, and are you kidding me piles to minimize weight and leave a little room for souvenirs. Pete has influenced my sorting. I can tell when I pull out an are you kidding me item and Pete smirks then reminds me of the $14 portable folding camp chair he purchased at Walmart that is more stable than my $99 REI Flexlite model. Of course he doesn’t smirk about morning coffee and hot chocolate served using my $114 REI Jetboil to heat water for the Starbucks instant coffee and Swiss Miss I pull out of my overloaded panniers. The tradeoff is that Pete always has room for the campsite rehydration at the end of the day.
Setting off on the adventure to bring those plans to fruition provides a more real reality. And despite developing an itinerary that seems real simple and complete enough, I always try to build in space for the reality of the unexpected. Whether that comes in the form of weather, a suggestion by a local to check out some feature of place that doesn’t register on a map, a wrong turn, or a mechanical, I’ve learned that I can always find my way home having had yet another satisfying adventure.
Following the ride I get to thoughtfully recall it all in reflecting and revisiting places and faces in the photos or commenting on highlights of the trip while on bicycle rides with Pete. It’s in composing a reasonable facsimile of the trip and those features I find interesting and amusing that I hope my modest, but scintillating audience, appreciates. That’s what this is. It’s a narrative in words and pictures of what it is that I do with my moto friends and hopefully convey why I do it and usually it’s great fun with a few laughs. And so I humbly offer that this sort of adventure awaits those who are a willin’…
Last October my riding buddy Pete and I embarked on a 3,000+ mile trip to Santa Fe, NM (see Abbey’s Other, On-the-Road-Trip Parts 1 & 2 on sisyphusdw7.com). We were on the road for 10 days traveling through six western states departing from and returning to California clockwise via Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Aside from some rain, some cold, and some heat the trip was largely “uneventful” save for the joy of riding a motorcycle across incredible landscapes and terrain of the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and Mojave in the company of a good friend, me on my loyal Kawasexy Versys and Pete on his trusted Suzuki V-Strom.
Our October trip was to have been a reunion of the three amigos whose pre-pandemic ride across Death Valley under a full moon was featured in an 2019 post, Riding Under a Fool Moon. Unfortunately Andy was unable to join us for New Mexico. I was excited to get the band back together after riding out the pandemic with Pete. Even though 2/3 of the amigos are retired, family matters and other circumstances postponed the departure for our annual late Winter/early Spring ride until April 2022 when calendars and responsibilities permitted.
I proposed an abbreviated three day two night quick trip including camping at our favorite San Simeon State Campground and what we had hoped would be the Pinnacles National Park. Alas, spring break was in full tilt so we were only able to secure the last available campsite for our first night out. There was no room at the Pinnacle campground so I found myself searching the interwebs for an alternative campsite or spot to boondock. I just so happened to find in the foothills east of Paso Robles the Sweetwater BLM campground.
Day 1: Destination San Simeon
Merced to San Simeon State Park Please Note: I’ve learned that Google’s Maps algorithm changes the route I select and feature in the link favoring a “faster” non-backroad highway route despite filtering out highways. I’ll post a screenshot of each leg, however, the details will be fewer than the map link to the app permits. The following is the “Plan B” route.
Andy was now sporting a Moto Guzzi Norge for this brief but spectacular ramble over backroads and byways to enjoy the last vestiges of spring flora along the central coastal foothills. The ride commenced just as the first heat wave descended on the western United States. Our route would take us on CA-59 and 152 to the Dos Palos exit where we would then make our way south on North Russell Avenue then west on West Shields to Little Panoche/Panoche Roads.
It was a warm morning once we began heading in the direction of Panoche Pass, Pacheco Pass’s little cousin to the south, with the temperature soaring the mid-90’s by noon, that just days and weeks before, were in the 60’s. The normally verdant hillsides surrounding Mercy Hot Springs and beyond were barren due to the third year of little precipitation.
After a layer-peeling stop at the Panoche Inn we began feeling the warming valley air yielding to slightly cooler air as we rose over Panoche Pass. Once over the pass, the temperature was somewhat moderated by the Pacific onshore winds that cause the upwelling of cooler ocean water providing that marine layer typical of coastal California as high pressure builds over the interior causing temperatures to rise. Even that slight decrease in temperature made riding so much more pleasant. It also contributes to the emergence of the growing viniculture in the region.
I’ve noticed a number of vineyards in the area on previous rides (Pinnacle Vineyards above) along with wine production facilities not far from the Airline Hwy and Panoche Rd (Alba Coast Winery, Donati, et. al.). I have since learned that Paicines is the southernmost designated AVA in San Benito County. Though associated with the production of bulk wine in the 1980s and 1990s, the region is now home to some premium vineyards producing higher quality wines made of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes. Hey Gallo, even though we grow 70% of California grapes in the Central Valley, some of which found its way into Thunderbird back in the day, is Livingston an AVA?
And now for a historical factoid: First debuted by Gallo in 1957, Thunderbird was known for its striking yellow color and intoxicating effects. The formerly fortified beverage (initially containing a whopping alcohol content of about 20 percent, which later was lowered to about 17.5 percent) was a mix of wine and citrus flavoring.
Given our preference for Panoche Pass over Pacheco Pass to get to the Central Coast, Pete and I have stopped at the Paicines Market to enjoy breakfast burritos on several prior rides. The new proprietor of the little market that serves this tiny agricultural community was a bit surley on this Friday morning. When we inquired about a burrito, she pointed in the direction of a display saying that the cook was on break and the premade burritos would have to do. I walked over and grabbed one not noticing a small note posted above the burrito vault prohibiting unauthorized entry. Apparently self-service is a no-no at the Paicines Market. The cook, who was on break, I was told in no uncertain terms, was the only authorized burrito dispenser. Methinks the proprietor could use a refresher course in customer service in regards to managing health department requirements in the Covid era and staffing.
After consuming somewhat less than satisfying dry chili verde y papas offerings, maybe a shot of Thunderbird would have helped, we hit the road. Traveling south for some 50 miles on the Airline Hwy, also known as CA-25, we enjoyed moderately undulating terrain with gentle twisties through Cienega Valley rangeland, bordered to the west by the oak studded, chaparral and sage covered Galiban Mountain range. I’d get into an armchair tangent about the formation and geology of the Coast Ranges but I suspect my marine layer or Thunderbird tangent fulfilled my tangent coefficient for this episode.
At the intersection of Hwy-25 and Peach Tree Rd we continued south through cattle country then on Indian Valley and Hare Canyon Roads to Bradley. The afternoon was warming and there was a little relief from the heat as we kept moving. Crossing US-101 we joined Nacimiento Lake Drive, aka county road G-14, where we planned to stop near Lake Nacimiento at the Oak Hill Market for a cool beverage and snack before heading over the hill to Cambria, offering certain relief from the heat and our camp for the night.
It was around 3:00 pm as we neared crossing the dam at Lake Nacimiento. Though warm, the ride was exhilarating butt we were overdue for a break. We had been on the motos since about 8:00 am stopping only briefly in Paicines for breakfast. Traffic was light, the roads sublime, and the experience of the ride over the undulating and twisting terrain was ineffable. It was only in the last half-hour or so of riding in the arid southern Salinas River Valley that the heat increasingly became an issue. As you can see from the Google Map image below, Nacimiento Lake is on a descent with a tricky decreasing radius turn followed by a sharp hairpin before approaching the dam crossing. That’s where the lot’s-o-fun was interrupted by a moment’s inattention.
There was no sign indicating the nature of the curve nor any warning to reduce speed, however, having been over this road before, I had downshifted prior to entering the curve and was decelerating. I can only attribute my inattention to fatigue and an untimely check of the navigation screen to see the name of the road I needed to take to the market anticipating a cool beverage. Since timing is essential when negotiating a curve, I missed the apex, crossing the oncoming lane, thank goodness unoccupied, to the opposite shoulder where I tried to slow and ride out my miscue. Unfortunately, for me, I drifted into what was apparently soil that had been disked earlier in the season over which grasses had since regrown. The front wheel of the bike augured in and I high-sided over the bars flying through the air. Andy who had witnessed my flight described it as a Flying Wallenda with a decidedly ungraceful landing.
Stunned, but conscious, I lay in the dried grass hastily assessing the damage. I could tell this was no pick-up-the-bike-before-anyone-could-see-me affair despite what I could feel coursing through me, that Scotch-Irish stubbornness to get up as though nothing had just happened. This was probably the initial norepinephrine response to that ungraceful landing. After regaining the wind that had been knocked out of me and what seemed an eternity though it was only a minute or so as the lads pulled up, dismounted, and stood over me. Perhaps as shocked as I, they cautiously lifted me to upright after my pleading to get up. Now standing I attempted to help Pete lift the defiled Kawasexy realizing my right ankle, shoulder, and ribs were not cooperating. He started the bike, which was a good sign, and it too was soon back on the road side, no worse for the abuse I had just rendered.
I knew my body had been punished. A quick examination determined the bike was only mildly damaged with a bent windscreen, controls slightly rotated, and some scuffs to the Candy Matte Orange/Metallic Spark Black fairings and panniers. The engine guard/crash bars and soft soil saved the farm. My only thought was to get off the side of the road and continue to the market for a cool drink and debrief what had just happened. How’s that for denial?
I hobbled over to the bike after retrieving my tank bag that had flown off finding all of its contents except for a portable charging battery that I intended to use for keeping my phone and cameras juiced. I guess I preferred fleeing the scene to filming at that point. I hoped the lithium batteries wouldn’t suddenly overheat and cause a fire. Or maybe I didn’t.
What does shock induced thinking produce you might wonder? Norepinephrine, also called noradrenaline, is a substance that is released predominantly from the ends of sympathetic nerve fibres and that acts to increase the force of skeletal muscle contraction and the rate and force of contraction of the heart. The actions of norepinephrine are vital to the fight-or-flight response, whereby the body prepares to react to or retreat from an acute threat. I could only imagine the threat of my wife ending my moto adventuring when she heard of my moment’s inattention.
Fighting the real reality of what had just happened, we fled to the Oak Hill Market. Hobbling through the market as the new reality began to sink in I simply wasn’t going to let some little accident interrupt our plans. After fueling up, we retreated to our coastal campsite, my mates refraining from expressing their skepticism. Or perhaps it was my convincing stoicism. Yep, just the kind of awkward things guys do in a situation like this.
Originally, plan A, was to head over the Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd, ride 63 miles to CA-1, and then ride another 40 miles south to the San Simeon State Campground. However, last minute plan checking had revealed that the atmospheric river storm event that stalled over Monterey County in late January dumped some 15 inches of rain on the unstable drainage through which the road meanders. The Highway 1 washout at Rat Creek generated national headlines, however, the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road that connects Fort Hunter Liggett and Highway 101 to CA-1 suffered significantly more damage but received far less media attention. Extensive slides, debris flows and road failures at a dozen sites along the road had rendered Nac-Ferg impassable to vehicle traffic. That’s why in this “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley,” scenario, it was good to have a plan B.
San Simeon State Park via Fergusson-Nacimiento Road
We departed from the Lake Nacimiento on mellower roads including Godfrey Rd turning west on Chimney Rock Rd towards Adelaida. Nearing the Halter Ranch Vineyard we continued south on Vineyard Drive passing Whalebone, Thacher, Brecon, Opolo, Denner, and Donati Family vineyards on twisting roads over hills overlaid by trellised vines populated by an occasional oak tree. A brief spin west on CA-46, Green Valley Rd, to Santa Rosa Creek Rd would take us through a wooded canyon on an undulating narrow road with many sharp turns. Just the sort of road I love when whole. It was a bit challenging broken.
We arrived at the State Park and an affable ranger checked us in. Our campsite was in the adjacent Washburn Campground that is not as exposed to the onshore winds typical of the Central Coast. We had a great site right next to a restroom among several families with kids and dogs in RV’s. The boys had to assist setting up my tent and bedding. In fact they had to assist setting me up and down, a feature of the ride that would play out over the next two days. Andy was busy trying to figure out how my gear worked as Pete gloated having set up his new tent in seconds. Pete is a minimalist. I’m a gear-head. He defers to my “pack for comfort” excessiveness. After further inspecting the Kawasexy and your’s truely for any unnoticed damage we decided to head into Cambria.
After exchanging pleasantries with some of our fellow campers who traipsed through the campground with their kids and/or dogs in tow, we rode into town to enjoy our second meal of the day at the West End Pub. Shrimp tacos and a delightful Central Coast pilsner took the edge off of some of the discomfort, especially my ribs that by now I feared were definitely broken. The pub’s host, presumably the owner, greeted us with some lame jokes about not serving dirtbags on motorcycles. Good thing. Had the humor been humorous, I would have suffered. Breathing was painful enough. Laughing was intolerable.
The clientele at the pub were well into the Friday happy hour as I imagined how much of a drag I was becoming to my companions who would end up looking after me like an infant. Trying not to be a big Eeyore, our normal joking and good natured ribbing was, let’s say, subdued. For amusement it was decided, over dinner, to concoct an account of sorts for what had happened so that it would seem more of an “accident due to my avoiding a road hazard” than a moment’s inattention in an attempt to appeal to my wife. The kind of juvenile thing three guys who should know better, might be persuaded to do after a long day and a beverage or two. I half heartedly proposed a couple of scenarios knowing my skeptical wife would see right through the scheme. She’s like Liz Cheney that way.
On the way back to the campground, we stopped for rehydrants and ice for the rehydration, relaxation, and reflexion hour. The ice was for the “RICE” (rest, ice, compress, elevate) camp therapy. It was now some five hours after the crash and I was feeling 9/10 on the pain index. Andy went next door to one of the RV’s asking for some ice for my throbbing ankle because, well, they forgot the ice back at the beverage depot. Thankfully, campers are best noted for sharing.
I really didn’t care for any more fermented rehydrants as I was by then swallowing handfuls of Tylenol. I also knew that getting up in the middle of the night to see a man about a horse would be an ordeal. Andy proposed I try an aromatic treatment that might help me relax and alleviate some of the pain. What did I have to lose, right?
It had been some time since last inhaling medicinal herb and I had forgotten that my delicate lungs when filled with suspended carbon particles resulting from the combustion of organic matter would induce an apoplectic attack. Coughing with broken ribs and a bruised lung was a small price to pay for what Andy promised would be relief.
Later my orthopedic surgeon would remark that if one really wanted to punish an enemy, taking a baseball bat to their ribs would do the trick. I would add, offering them an aromatic to inhale following a swing or two of the bat would amplify the effect, turning a base hit with no one on into a grand slam.
Lying on the bench of the campsite picnic table I began to partition consciousness of the physical pain from my perception of being enveloped by the night sky. I was at once one with the galaxies drifting through the space and time continuum buoyed by this magical cosmic picnic table just as Andy had prescribed as we began babbling about multiple universes or something…
… That is until I had to pee. After helping me to my feet, I hobbled over to the conveniently located restroom adjacent to our campsite.
The beverages were exhausted, so the conclusion of the three R’s was imminent. Pete assisted me and Andy joined him to lower my almost, not quite, dead weight gently into my tent. Once in the tent, removing the moto gear as the magic aromatic took a back seat to my discomfort, frustrated me to tears. I struggled to get comfortable in my sleeping bag and once in, I was unable to sleep, all stove up, finding no position in relief of my shattered right side.
Normally, I have a hard enough time sleeping on the ground, even with a thermarest pad and inflatable mattress while tuned into my favorite podcast. Further, I knew that being of a certain age, I’d have to get up sometime in the middle of the night again to see that man about a horse and I’d have to try to rouse one of my buddies to help me up and down. I could take care of the horse trading myself.
Sure enough Andy was awakened by my mournful 3:00 am cries, not unlike the cattle in the adjacent pasture who were wailing mournfully for their offspring from whom they had separated. You know who your friends are when they can distinguish your plaintive cries from that of a cow’s.
Day 2: Destination Parkfield and the Sweetwater BLM Campground
San Simeon State Park to Sweetwater BLM Campground
We awakened to beautifully clear skies the morning following a spectacular clear night sky. By the time the lads had helped extracting me from the tent, assisting with my getting dressed and making coffee, the condensation on our tents had evaporated and so we began breaking camp. Normally we’re on the road by 8:00 am. This day, it was closer to 11:00 am. I was moving at around 12.5% of my normal pace. Looked like it would be brunch rather than breakfast.
We made our way on this Saturday morning further departing from the original itinerary where we planned to head south through Harmony, a funky little coastal village, to Cayucos before heading east to Parkfield. Instead, it was back to Paso Robles on CA-46, jumping on US-101 north to San Miguel and Vineyard Canyon Road east to Parkfield.
Parkfield is a small place that is tucked into the Cholame Valley in the very southeastern-most corner of Monterey County. The main “industry” in the area is cattle ranching. There is some wine grape production along with a bit of tourism thrown in. Just like Harmony along the coast, Parkfield has a population of 18. The two towns are similarly quaint in feel and both are worthy to visit. I didn’t feel so bad about changing the itinerary once setting eyes on the Parkfield Cafe.
Okay, I can’t help myself. Time for a geology tangent. So, around 252 to 65 million years ago,± a million or two years, an enormous tectonic plate named the Pacific Plate began subducting or shoved under the North American Plate and dove into the mantle where the leading edge melted, five to ten miles down forming the Mesozoic Accretionary Wedge Complex. Today we call that complex the Coast Range Mountains for short. California has three main physiographic provinces. From the Pacific coast on the west to more inland positions in the east, these are: Coast Ranges, the Great Central Valley, and the Sierra Nevada. In spite of their subsequent geologic histories, these are all remnants of California’s former history as a convergent margin.
Today, the region is famous as a transform boundary, where the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate slide laterally past one another along the San Andreas Fault. Parkfield is situated smack dab on top of the San Andreas Fault.
The area has become known over the last 30 years mainly because of the “Parkfield Experiment” an attempt of earthquake experts with the USGS to detect any signs that would enable them to better predict and warn about upcoming earthquakes. As noted, the San Andreas Fault runs through the valley there and seismologists have made this the most heavily instrumented earthquake area anywhere in the world. You won’t see most of the equipment however, as the sensors are buried or found on private property reachable only by gated dirt roads. You are able to see some outdated equipment at the Parkfield Cafe and read about some of the scientific work taking place there.
What we were able to see were some pretty sweet vintage British and German motos as a Central Coast club was out for a Saturday ramble.
Pete, Andy, and I quenched our thirsts with a quick soda, after the two returned from ogling the club’s hardware. It was time to set off for the BLM campground at Sweetwater. I had planned on taking the Parkfield-Coalinga Rd to CA-198, roll into Coalinga for supplies for the night and then make for the campground north on Coalinga Rd. The Parkfield-Coalinga Rd was an unknown, even with all of the maps and Google.
Uncertain, I asked a fellow who was at the cafe and who lived in Coalinga, rode a Harley (though he was there in a mini-van with his family), and was a truck driver, if the road was paved. He said it was paved and given his local-motorcyclist-truck driving bona fides I figured we were set. Now certain of the route, I was having second thoughts as I contemplated rising temperatures, another beaten-up road, and the specter of attempting to sleep on the ground another night.
We set off for Coalinga some 29 miles distant by way of the Parkfield-Coalinga Rd, but about a two or three miles down the road, the asphalt yielded to dirt. Pete went ahead on the V-Strom to see if it was worth getting everything dirty and more importantly, given that even the slightest irregularity in the road caused me to cry, he quickly returned nixing that leg. So much for using the locals for “local knowledge”.
A 62 mile detour on Cholame Rd to CA-41 to CA-43 would take us to Coalinga. By now I had successfully lobbied the lads to get a room in Coalinga ditching idea of camping. Arriving in the late afternoon as winds began to whip up, we rode through town looking for a “vintage” motel along the lines of the Clown Motel in Tonopah, NV, the Supai in Seligman, AZ, the Atomic Inn in Beatty, NV, the Sleepy Hollow in Green River, UT, or the iconic Y Motel in Chama, NM. All of which qualify for the five star rating of Sisyphus and Associates as preferred non-campground lodging when moto-touring.
We passed a nice new Best Western Plus Inn and Suites right on CA-33 just east of town. In search of something with a little less glitz and a bit more funk, we rolled into the heart of Coalinga.
Here’s what we found…
These are screenshots from Google Maps street views. It appeared as we rolled by that these motels had become housing for the unhoused. There were shopping carts filled with belongings as were vehicles in the parking lots or streeside, likely families of the inmates at the Pleasant Valley State Prison experiencing hard times.
Since I had been the reason for foregoing a night camping, I volunteered that we stay at the Best Western Plus, Inn and Suites. Surely, there would be vacancies. I couldn’t imagine that Coalinga was exactly a Spring Break destination. When we inquired at the desk, we were told there was only one room left with double queen beds and the only roll-away they had was in use as was the only Bell (luggage) cart. I ended up having to tote my gear up to the second floor. Thankfully there was an elevator. There was no valet parking for our motos either. Dang. I sensed a flip was in the making to determine who doubled up or spent the night on the floor.
After the affable clerk registered us finding every available discount including some we technically didn’t qualify for, I further volunteered to pay for the room. “My treat boys, as a thank you for putting up with me.” I graciously offered thus withdrawing from the flip.
Apparently the traveling nursing staff and other vendors who serve the prison five miles east on CA-33 is raison d’etre for the Best Western Plus Coalinga Inn and Suites. According to Wiki, Pleasant Valley State Prison is a 640-acre minimum-to-maximum security state prison in Coalinga, Fresno County, California. The facility has housed convicted murderers Sirhan Sirhan, Erik Menendez, X-Raided, and Hans Reiser, among others. If you’re going to travel, I say, you need to stay where the celebrities stay!
I jumped at the chance to shower, well, hobbled at the chance, removing my boot and sock for the first time to see the ankle carnage. It wasn’t pretty. Pete and Andy decided on who would sleep on the floor using the Larry Johnston method of “the flip.” Pete won the honor. After sending one of the lads for ice, I suggested they go get something to eat and procure the 3-R’s beverages while I called my wife.
I decided to come clean about the crash to Toni. When I called she was suspicious because I normally call and text while traveling to reassure her that all is well. I had not done so for two days. A small detail that would have derailed any alibi I might have tried to excuse responsibility. We both teared up as I described what had happened. Toni graciously assured me that I was not to worry about her wanting to strip me of the Kawasexy knowing how much I loved touring. Besides, riding a motorcycle wasn’t the only risky activity I enjoyed. I’ve crashed while riding a bicycle all over the backroads of the Western United States and the tri-county area of our home. Equally dangerous, I’ve “yardsaled” skiing, Alberto Tom-ba style. Also rife with danger, backpacking in the remote Sierra is no less risk free than sailing in shark infested waters. What would she expect me to do, recreate inside of a hamster ball?
I was able to discourage her insistence on driving down to Coalinga that night to pick the bike and me up. It was dusk o’clock and I was done for the day and I didn’t want her scrambling in the dark to rescue me. I reminded her that I could still ride. I skipped the part about how it was increasingly difficult to use the controls, put my feet down at stops, or to get onto or off of the bike. I reassured her that it would be a piece of cake to ride the Coalinga-Mendota CA-33 to CA-152 and CA-59 home since it was a mere 93 miles with few stop signs or signals and bee-line straight highways.
Following the phone call to my wife, I felt I needed to try another dose of Andy’s Cosmic-Picnic-Table Out-of-Body-Escape-from-the-Space-Time-Continuum remedy, or something like that. The boys had returned with a salad for me and refreshments for all. Andy convinced me to try a variant aromatic that he recommended would induce sleep. So, salad downed we hobbled for the elevator. But once more a single inhalation induced paroxysmal coughing interspersed with broken ribbed, lung contused cries in the parking lot behind the inn. Upon hobbling back to the elevator and up to our room I drank copious amounts of water and one or two to of those refreshing beverages to comfort my post bronchial spasms. Once again as Andy had prescribed, I was ready for some sleep. But it was more like multihandicapped up and down horse wrangling throughout the night with more crippling rib and ankle pain than sleep. Torment rodeo was in town…
Day 3: Homeward Bound
When we awakened the next morning after another restless night what with my frequent trips to see that fellow about a horse, Pete, the early bird investigated the complimentary breakfast at the Best Western Plus Inn and Suites giving it a thumbs up. I got dressed and putting on my boots was the worst of the ordeal. Since the accident, I hadn’t removed my boot except to shower. It was acting to compress the swelling. However, my ankle spending the night au natural, ballooned.
Pete who had already sampled the serve yourself break-feast took Andy’s bike into town to look after his partner Cheryl’s property in Coalinga. Andy ambled and I hobbled down to a raucous gathering of shift-change nurses from the prison who were gathered around a large table. Perhaps ten women were sharing their plans for what remained of the weekend until they had to return to Pleasant Valley. Situational irony?
I didn’t have much of an appetite. A little yogurt and granola was it for me. Andy, a recovering farm boy and practicing psychologist, shoveled in just about every item on the self-serve buffet. I was amazed at how he maintained his swelt appearance given the number of calories he consumed. I gain a pound or two for every truck taco I eat. Not only that but he has great hair. Hopefully my Texas-Kentucky hillbilly genes will grant me longevity that shorted me in the metabolism and hairline departments. That is if my Boomer quest for adventure doesn’t intervene, prematurely ending the Sisyphean Saga. Come to think of it, Pete too has great hair and can out eat me two to one. About the only thing I can do better than those two is drink beer. Or wine. Or cocktails. Neither of which had much appeal this trip and unrestrained would likely contribute to premature Sisyphean Cirrhosis to end the Sisyphean Saga.
Returning to the room to gather our things, Pete discovered I had put his boots on, a somewhat irritating moment’s inattention redux on my part, since we have the same make and model. Well, it was off with Pete’s, argh! And it was on with mine, argh, argh! After that faux pas, I half-heartedly insisted taking my own gear downstairs to pack up my bike. Be careful what you insist on. The reward for my stubbornness… It took nine times as long for me to get my bike in order but that didn’t seem to bother Pete or Andy. I was now moving at 9% of my normal pace. I’d lost 3.5% pace capacity from the previous day. It’s amazing how entertaining that little computer in one’s pocket is with wifi or cell roaming when you wish to avoid dealing with the elephant (foot) in the room as Pete checked his investment portfolio and Andy scrolled Craigslist for his next exotic motorcycle. Just ask Mark Meadows about eye contact avoidant mobile phone scrolling…
Since we had parked behind the south face of the hotel, we didn’t perceive the wind coming from the north/northwest as we readied for departure. Once on the road we soon discovered the winds, gusting to 30+mph, were unrelenting. Fortunately the road surfaces were free of most of those pain inducing irregularities that the bike’s shocks couldn’t absorb that wreaked havoc in my busted architecture. Buffeting winds presented their own challenges as leaning into a crossing wind when a gust arose and settled reminded me of my younger years sailing on Lake Yosemite when afternoon zephyrs would turn my trap rigged Coronado 15 into a swimsuit. Since asphalt and water are not the same, I did my best to stay afloat.
By the time we stopped briefly at a Sinclair station in Firebaugh to stretch, I could barely lift my right arm and I was completely avoiding using my right leg/foot. Fortunately I have a throttle “stabilizer” that works like cruise control. My right hand along with my right foot was by now unable to function optimally. Here I was on a motorcycle whose foot activated rear brake and hand activated front brake are both on the right side. I figured I had at best two or three stops left in me using only my left foot to gear down and to balance the bike at a full stop. There would only be one more dismount and that would be at my driveway back home.
Pete took the lead with Andy trailing me. That way I could anticipate a stop. Pete would come to a full stop as I rolled up slowly and join him without coming to a full stop as he would proceed. He also timed lights by slowing or speeding up to make the green and avoid the red. Andy kept other vehicles from my tail so I didn’t have to worry about any quick maneuvers to avoid phone-distracted tailgaters.
After a couple of hours on the road, we were home, accompanied by my loyal mates who were there to provide assistance, physical, moral, and psychoactively as I was reunited with my family. Once again, our three day two night version of motorcycle adventure was complete. Not complete in the sense of a victorious outing. More like a vicious outing. As the saying goes, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley…
Time for a literary tangent…
The poem, To a Mouse, was written by one of the most famous poets of all time, a fellow Scotsman, Robert Burns. In this poem, a mouse has spent a lot of time making a nest and Robbie destroys it while ploughing his field. The purpose of the poem is to apologize to a mouse. You see, Robbie understands that this mouse has put a lot of time and effort into his nest, and he had it destroyed by the farmer who had to plough his field. In this poem, the poet is feeling guilty about ruining all the hard work of the mouse and wants to make clear that he’s sorry about everything he’s done. Kind of like I was sorry to disappoint Pete and Andy as I was lamed by the accident.
John Steinbeck used this very metaphor in his book, Of Mice and Men. If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m a huge fan of Steinbeck’s. Why a mouse? The fact is that human beings are animals too. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a mouse, a farmer, George or Lennie, life is filled with bad things. We’re not better than the animals, we all have to get through this life. And no matter who you are, there will be times when your hard work doesn’t pay off. (BTW, my favorite film version is the 1939 Lon Chaney Jr., Burgess Meredith Of Mice and Men directed by Lewis Milestone and filmed at the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon).
When considering plans that can go awry, there are three phrases that capture the essence of the randomness of circumstance that implies destiny. “Sh*t Happens,” is a short, simple, and directly to the point conclusion about bad things. “All for nothing,” is perhaps the most literal way of saying that a bad thing has just happened to you. “It is what is,” basically intends there’s nothing you can do, so don’t worry. There will be times when your hard work doesn’t pay off. Bad things happen to good people. I guess there are four of those phrases.
I hate those three (four) phrases. They seem to imply the futility of destiny. As a rationalist, I understand agency. It’s easy to believe in agency when everything goes according to one’s plans. It’s hard to accept the consequences of the randomness of a moment’s inattention when you’ve gotten away, consequence free, for so long. I guess it’s more a matter of probability and less about destiny. At least with probability, you have a chance to win the lottery. I had time to think to “thoughtfully recall it all in reflecting and revisiting places and faces in the photos or commenting on highlights of the trip” as I mentioned in the opening. But I was unable to find a way to come to grips with the real reality to express how I was feeling about that moment’s inattention until recently.
It has taken me since April 7, 2022 to sit and try to characterize this three day, two night trip in which sh*t happened. It was a month before I could sit up for any length of time following the surgery to stabilize my ankle one week from the date of the accident, hopefully not all for nothing. It is what it is may be what came of those three days since all of the my plans for this trip took a hard left turn on Nacimiento Drive.
Just like how the mouse’s effort was all for nothing, the same can be said about George, the main character in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, or, ahem, Sisyphus in A Moment’s Inattention. Thankfully, Andy and Pete didn’t put a bullet in the back of my head and I didn’t return to find my home in a rats nest. I guess I’m just one of the good guy schmucks to which something bad happened who has good friends and a supportive and understanding wife.
Wait, my confusion must be the residual of Andy’s remedy. I’m mixing up this mouse/Steinbeck metaphore with, They Shoot Horses Don’t They? The ride was, afterall, sort of a marathon dance. An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!
I’ll spare posting Peggy Lee singing, Is That All There Is?”
Back at the ranch, rehabbing
I’m happy to report that I’m walking now and hope to be two wheeling by the fall. Maybe to Oregon by way of the coast with a return loop east of the Sierra. Sounds like fun!
To a Mouse
BY ROBERT BURNS
On Turning her up in her Nest, with the Plough, November 1785.
Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss ’t!
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.
That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!
But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!