My White Whale

‘We’ll go when we come back,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to go riding now when we’re leaving for a six-month motorcycle trip tomorrow.’

‘The riding season will be over when we come back this way and besides this is my white whale,’ I said.

‘It’s your white whale?’ she said.

‘Yeah, you know, like Moby Dick.’

‘Yes, I know Moby Dick,’ she said.

‘The Rock Store is the big place where motorcyclists go on the weekends around here. I’ve never gone because I’ve always been nervous because I didn’t have a nice bike or the right riding gear or I don’t know the biker lingo. All these years it’s been out there mocking me like my white whale. And now it’s a Sunday and maybe the last nice day of the riding season and I have an awesome bike and a tall, blonde girlfriend who rides and has her own awesome bike, and we’ve added all the good accessories so that our bikes look serious and I have good riding gear and I know how to talk about bikes and tomorrow we’re leaving to start a six-month trip.’

Greg and Jess ride their new motorbikes

Jess rode in front as she normally does because she feels more comfortable to set the pace instead of feeling like she has to keep up. By now she had done enough riding that she could handle almost any situation if she had to but she still held an intense anxiety about parking. When we neared the Rock Store, she signaled me to pass her with her left hand. Passing ahead of Jess as she slowed slightly and steered to the right side of the lane, I felt a surge of anxiety as though I was about to experience one of those singularly important life moments.

Nearing the Rock Store I thought about how my first foray into motorcycling had ended less than one week after I bought my first bike eight years before. I was stopped at a light about two miles from home when I was rear-ended by a breathtakingly beautiful girl who did not see stopped at the intersection. She hit me so hard that her car crumpled around the back of my motorbike and this kept my motorbike upright and me still seated on it, still holding the clutch in, after watching the spit leave my mouth and splatter on the face shield of my helmet during the elongated moments of the collision. Some landscapers working nearby helped me to extract my bike from her fender and roll it off to the side of the road. When we exchanged information she explained that the car was a rental and she was not authorized to drive it, and that she did not have a valid license, and that she had no phone number to be contacted, and she was without insurance, and could she pay me directly for damage if I would agree not to report it to the insurance company, and could I give her some time because she didn’t have the all the money just now.

I thought about this and then I thought about how it was four years later before I got back on a motorcycle. This was in Honduras while traveling after I finished my doctorate and deciding I needed to be alone and do something amazing. So I rented a 125cc motorbike a road 100 km in one direction before I got a puncture and was grossly extorted by a cab driver and a mechanic respectively for a lift and a patch job. Then I decided I had to ride a motorcycle through Latin America. So, I flew home to Los Angeles and with what savings I had left I bought a motorcycle – not based on what could handle the demands of a long distance trip but on what I thought looked good. It was a 500cc 1993 Yamaha Virago, rusty on the inside from lack of use, and with a few hundred dollars in saddlebags and a top case and some invaluable help from a friend with power tools and the knowhow to use them, I set off naïve, unprepared, and scared shitless. Somehow I lived and had the experience of my life and finished the trip six months and many breakdowns later in Panama at the end of the Pan-American Highway.

I thought about that and how before that trip I never went to the Rock Store because I felt like a joker for what I was planning to do and for planning to do it no knowledge and no gear and that particular motorcycle. I also thought about how after the trip I never went because I now I understood just ridiculous the trip I had done really was and besides I no longer had a motorcycle.

As I thought about this, we rode through a bend into a clearing and then another bend and then the parking area of the Rock Store stretched out in front of us. The lot was mostly full but not the way you see pictures of it when it is the middle of the riding season. The sun glared off the chrome of the parked Harleys and the Harley-like cruisers and gleamed off the plastic fairings of the sport and enduro and tour bikes parked in nice formations in the lot. I pulled in at the end of the lot and then maneuvered past one line of cruisers and into a gap between two Harleys. I walked the bike back and forth bying time as I nervously tried to determine if I was too close to the closer of the two Harleys or if I was leaving too much space that would better be conserved to admit another bike in the line. When I looked back to Jess she gestured to ask if she was parked ok and I felt just a little better to think that maybe she was more nervous to be there than I was.

‘We’re here,’ I said after we had parked and removed our gloves and helmets and began to walk to the patio of the Rock Store.

‘Yes, love, we’re here,’ she said.

‘It’s my white whale,’ I said.

‘Yes, love, like Moby Dick,’ she said.

We sat at a table in the patio of the Rock Store and we ordered a couple sodas and then I ordered a corn dog because I saw someone else had one and it looked good and appropriate for the place and how long had it been since I had last had a corn dog. Jess ate the French fries and we covered our sodas so that the bees wouldn’t get in and we watched a grizzly biker ask out the most attractive of the several blonde waitresses.

Jess at the Rock Store

‘No,’ I said. ‘Not unless someone talks to us first.’

‘Then why are we here?’ she asked.

‘Because it’s my white whale,’ I said.

Half an hour passed and we paid for our drinks and got up from our table. We put on our riding jackets and our gloves and helmets. We mounted our bikes and maneuvered out of the line and I followed Jess out of the parking lot. As we pulled away along Mulholland Highway without looking back, I suddenly felt both very accomplished and very underwhelmed and I thought, ok, now you’re ready to start this trip.

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