‘Greg, are you speaking to yourself?’ Jess called out from inside the motel room.
‘No, I’m taking a video,’ I said panning from myself, standing in front of the bikes, over to Jess. ‘Anyway, how often do I speak to myself? Do I?’
‘This thing is in wrong,’ Jess said, disregarding my question and focusing entirely on trying to secure the wind liner inside her mesh riding jacket.
‘OK so this is what we are doing. She is stressed this morning. Jess gets stressed any time I am ready before her,’ I said to the camera and then to her I added, ‘I’ve been ready forever. What have you been doing?’
She let the question linger unanswered as she continued to struggle with the clasp that secures the liner to the inside of the jacket sleeve.
‘OK, so this is quality television,’ I said before I end the recording.
In ten minutes Jess emerged victorious from the battle with her riding jacket, we greased the bike chains, double-checked the rigging of our luggage, and checked out of the motel. Sixty km after that we were in Coursegold, which is a few minutes drive outside Yosemite National Park on Highway 41. We stopped here so that Jess could put her riding camera on her helmet. Going into her left pannier to retrieve an additional layer of clothing for the coolness at our new, higher elevation, she discovered that the pannier was not holding securely to the metal rack. When I inspected it, I found that one of the plastic braces that fastens the pannier to the rack had cracked so that the case was only securely fixed to the motorcycle at two points.
‘What happened?’ she asked as my head emerged from inspecting between the rear wheel and the underside of the bike.
‘So remember that little collision we had yesterday,’ I said, trailing off at the end.
Immediately I recognized that this could easily be patched with duct tape and immediately after that I realize that, among all my tools and spare parts, there is no duct tape.
‘Damn fool, how can you forget duct tape,’ I berated myself.
We found duct tape in a nearby general store and within ten minutes I had the pannier taped firmly to the rack so that, after subjecting both panniers to the jiggle test, I determined that the damaged one was more secure than the other.
Back on the road we continued on Highway 41 into the national park. We rode through the mountains again as we did the day before in Sequoia but here there was more congestion so that you are either pressing up behind someone or someone is pressing up behind you. After a long tunnel we came to a popular turnout that gives a view of El Capitan and Half Dome and the other gray granite peaks that surround Yosemite Valley. We parked our bikes and retrieved the small cooler bag from one of Jess’s panniers and found a place to sit a little away from the crowd of visitors that descended in waves from the tour busses.
After a snack and an effort to explain in French how to use my camera to a tourist who had offered to take our photograph, we were back on the bikes and following the line of vehicles on the descent into Yosemite Valley. No matter how many times you visit Yosemite you will always be struck by the beauty of the place, but, after several visits, you will probably be less inclined to hang about because of the heavy congestion of tourists.
Still, even if you do not linger about, somehow just by riding through a place, you will feel strongly connected to it. This is another reason why I love to travel by motorcycle. Maybe it’s because you put more than ordinary effort into getting there or because riding through it you were more exposed to its elements or because for you the means was at least as important as the ends.
After riding through Yosemite Valley and stopping and doubling back for a few choice photographs, we left going northwest out of the park on highway 120. Leaving, I felt a bit downhearted for not having spent more time or stayed over to hike to the top of one of the peaks. Then I remembered something I had learned from my first motorcycle trip and I repeated this to myself (yes, I do sometimes speak to myself as Jess had earlier asserted), ‘There will be a lot more of what you don’t than what you do. It has to be that way otherwise you wouldn’t get anywhere.’ This made me feel better and also the knowing that, if you miss something and it’s important enough that it sticks with you, you’ll have a good reason to come back and make there be a next time for it.
We continued on the 120 past Manteca and changed onto Interstate 205 where we stopped at Tracy for the night. It was 100 kilometers further to San Francisco, which was our next destination, so we decided to tackle the Bay Bridge and the city’s hills and its congestion when we were fresh the next morning. In the evening, outside our motel room in Tracy I pulled the covers over our motorcycles after earlier unloading the luggage and making a trip to the grocery store for provisions. Doing this, which should have been the last thing I wanted to deal with after a long day of riding, I realized how I really appreciate this act as some kind of small demonstration of my affection for our motorcycles.
The next morning we took Interstate 580 west past San Leandro and Oakland across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Once past the toll, we caught our first great view of the city and, although we were surrounded by so many people for whom this was an ordinary commute, riding in on motorcycles and doing it carrying with you everything you really needed in the world, the enormity of it struck me very deeply.
Inside the city we first visited the Castro District and from there we went to Haight-Ashbury where we stopped at a bistro.
After we ordered fish and chips for her and a French roast for me, Jess mused, ‘You know this is the first proper restaurant we have gone to alone since coming back from Liberia?’
‘No,’ I said and then, ‘Can that be?’
‘Name one,’ she challenged.
‘I guess you’re right. It’s been all fast food or going out with others,’ I said.
Jess had decided she wanted to visit Alcatraz so during this early lunch we researched it to discover that even this late in the season tickets sell out several days in advance.
‘That’s what I don’t like about this – we go place to place but don’t get to do anything,’ Jess said.
‘It’s only the planning ahead for touristy things that’s going to be a problem because we never know when we will be somewhere,’ I said. Then I offered, ‘We could go there and see if there was a cancellation or something.’
‘No let’s continue on,’ Jess said. ‘I don’t like the hills to just be riding all over the place.’
Back on the bikes we connected with the 101 and took the Golden Gate Bridge north out of the city. At Petaluma we took the 116 east through Sonoma and then the 121 to the 29 north into Napa. In Napa we took a small walk through the town and tasted varieties of the local olive oils. We decided this was a better choice for us than the wines because we were not committed to staying the night.
After Napa we continued north on Highway 29 through St Helena, which seemed to be a charming offshoot of Napa, and then past Calistoga where the congestion freed up and the highway became a pleasant twisting mountain road. At Lower Lake we took the 53 and came to a stop for the day a few kilometers north at Clearlake. After finding a motel and unloading the bikes, we bought a liter of beer for me at the local grocery and excellent takeaway Mexican food from just up the road. Back in the motel, stuffing the food into our hungry faces like feeding jackals, Jess took a pause to say, ‘I think I would have liked to visit Alcatraz.’
‘Well,’ I said, assuming this manner I have of sounding more Zen about things than I really am, ‘if you miss something and it’s important enough that it sticks with you, you’ll have a good reason to come back a make there be a next time.’
‘Well then next time we won’t ride there,’ she said definitively. ‘I did not like those hills at all.’
‘You handled them beautifully,’ I said and then reminded her that I had stalled on three separate occasions and she hadn’t once.
‘Yeah, well, more than once I thought my bike was going to topple over forward when I was braking downhill.’
‘No, I don’t think so,’ I said, ‘but what I noticed was how going uphill at red lights you stopped into the pedestrian walk where it was more level.’