San Francisco, California

Confidence and Berry Glen

I’m hurtling through Northern California up to Oregon. I want to see if I can travel alone out here and I have everything I need; a backpack, a motorcycle, a couple of t-shirts, a book. But do I have the confidence to charm my way through this place? Do I have what it takes to navigate and solve problems on the road? How long can I last out here on my own with no backup, no friends along for the ride? Can I stand the desolation of this place, too?

A landscape where you can drive for hours on end without seeing anyone at all.

Downshift, drift, knee down, through the corner, upshift.

I’ve been doing this for hours now – riding through canyons and countless forests that reach out far beyond the horizon. There’s a pattern to it all that I find meditative but to absolve myself of the loneliness I’m listening to a podcast as I swoop through the valleys and small towns that dot the state with names like False Klamath, Rockefeller Forest, Berry Glen, Surgone, Crescent City.

I can’t stop smiling.

I also can’t stop listening to an episode of Roderick on the Line as two giant bears – statues perched on the edge of a cliff next to a bridge – welcome me into their village. John begins talking about how his nine year old daughter has been having a tough time of things lately; she’s struggling with homework and with school as everything in her life is becoming more complex. People now expect things of her and she is constantly disappointing everyone.

Merlin doesn’t chime in with a joke as usual but instead leans into the microphone and listens, waiting for the story. How is John trying to solve his daughter’s problem? Well, that’s the thing John says. You can’t.

I suddenly find myself in a giant canyon with all the light and heat of a hundred suns bearing down on me. I find myself leaning away from these canyons roads and into John’s story as I drive. The way he talks so effortlessly – and in the perfect measure and rhythm – is how I hope to one day write.

But John can’t solve his daughter’s problems at all. He can no longer fix everything in her life and he sees that this is the first step in her becoming an adult – her life is more complex and sprawling than a child’s now. John appreciates that she’s a person with her own feelings and hopes. She has a web of connections with other people that he can no longer see or even fully understand. All he can do to help is listen. And nod his head. And listen some more.

Downshift, drift, knee down, through the corner, upshift.

I start sniffling, then crying a little bit (I’m crying my guts out) and as I listen to all this I accelerate through that canyon road.

A swarm of bikers on Harley Davidson’s suddenly appear in the distance coming towards me. They all start waving and hollering — thrilled to see someone else enjoying being alone with a motorcycle. They’re wearing leather everything — chains droop from their pockets, bullet proof vests hug them tightly — they’re hairy, hulking, enormous lads and every single one of them are cheering me on.

I hesitantly wave back, pretending to be that Big Biker Boy but under my helmet I’m still crying ferociously. Although now I feel overwhelmed with laughter as this is quite possibly the least tough thing in the world and I’m being cheered on by a bunch of vagabonds and nasty boys.

I cry and laugh through that entire stretch of canyon highway whilst I keep telling myself: downshift, drift, knee down, through the corner, upshift.