"Young, Wild, and Riding Free"
Natalie Ellis Barros #199011
You might say it was a little allegorical that my first solo adventure on a motorcycle would be heading 600 or so miles down the “One” to pick up my college diploma. I was too cheap to pay $60 for it to be mailed, and I was in need of my first real ride, alone. So, closing one chapter of my life and riding straight into the next, I heaved myself and a bunch of gear onto the back of my beautiful GS and hit the road for Southern California.
I know it’s not around the world or anything, but after three hours of mingling with the commuters headed to the Bay area and fighting for the carpool lane on the I-680, bending against the ocean breeze and squinting into the glare of the sun off the iridescent waters felt like a magical world all its own. The wind likes to try to knock you over on that section of the 101, and I wanted to go faster than the 70 mph speed limit because the road just sits there, open and clear for you with the sun smiling down, but the wind wanted nothing more than to throw this 23-year-old out on her first adventure ride off her poorly packed bike. It was in that moment, when all my muscles in my tiny body were tightened together in order to keep the bike up, occasionally having to punch the bags strapped up behind me to keep them from pulling me down, that I started crying. But the tears were not from some “girly” frustration and weakness, but out of pure happiness and the excited thrill of being alive that only motorcyclists can understand.
I stopped in Monterey for a late lunch at a lovely little American diner just off Cannery Road. Ironically, I had some of the best fish tacos in my life. As soon as I took off my helmet, on came the stares and the questions. Being a strong advocate of ATGATT, I can appear pretty genderless with my helmet on, which can of course come in handy if I’m filling up the tank in a sketchy place. But once I expose my head covered in long feminine locks and features, the reactions of the on-lookers around me change and surprisingly almost always for the better.
As a fit young woman, I’ve been objectified and harassed by men frequently. It seems that no matter what I’m wearing, be it sweat pants, dance clothes, cocktail dress, or parka, there’s always someone who feels the need to be crass or send their hungry eyes my way. But every man I’ve encountered while in my gear has treated me with the utmost respect and admiration, often asking me questions about my journey and my bike, but always encouraging my independent nature. In fact, it was usually the women who would either glare in disapproval, ask me why I was “inviting danger,” or simply refuse to acknowledge me. It seems more and more that it is women who put our gender in a box rather than men.
Returning to my journey, the road was beautiful and warm as I headed down the coastal highway. The camping spot that I had planned on stopping at was full, so on down the road I continued. Soon, the sun was setting, and it was starting to get cold. I had passed Big Sur and was beginning to get worried about time. I had thrown around the idea of just stopping somewhere on the road and attempting to toss down my sleeping bag in some brush in the hopes of going unnoticed, but the idea of being awakened by a cop or worse in the dead of the night kept that idea as a last resort only.
With the sun down for about an hour, I was exhausted and knew that I was entering the “danger zone” and not the Kenny Loggins one. The more I continued down the road the more dangerous I knew I became to myself and to others. “Cambria 6 miles” the road sign said, and I pulled off into what I thought was Cambria looking for some answers. My phone was almost dead. I had it in airplane mode to save energy and without it, I felt utterly lost. I didn’t remember seeing a campground on the map until SLO after Big Sur, and I was stuck in the cold in between. There were a few hotels, but this being my only night on the road before heading into to LA tomorrow, I refused to give in and stay in one. Not only was I a broke, recent college grad, but I knew that my trip would have been an utter failure. I rode all this way with all this crap on the back of my bike to prove to myself that I was independent and strong, to prove that I had grown from mom and dad’s little college girl into “adventure woman” ready to embrace the world with nothing but a F650GS and a tent, and I wasn’t just going to call it quits and pitch up in a hotel. Hell no! I took a deep breath, latched my helmet back on, straddled “Lady Godiva” once again and took off south. Sure enough, about a mile down the road, I found my deliverance from the winding One.
“San Simeon State Park.” Apparently I hadn’t passed Cambria like I thought. That little, brown sign with the shiny triangle “tent” icon glowed in the night, and I breathed a solid breath of relief. I followed the dirt road on my trusty dual up the hill toward the inaptly named “primitive” camping. It was dark, but I found my way around to my spot. I pitched my tent and left the sill off because I wanted to “wake up with the sun” since my phone was dead and I had no alarm…terrible idea. Even though it wasn’t as cold as one might think it would be on the coast in November, it was still cold enough to wish I had put the sill over and wake up whenever my body wanted to. Nevertheless, it was a lovely night. I was freezing, but I had the luminescent full moon and howling coyotes for company. Sure, I was frightened; who knew what was out there waiting to prey on a woman alone with nothing but a bit of pepper spray and a pocket knife clung to her chest for defense?
On my own, wherever the road would take me, on the most wonderful vehicle for adventure that humankind could’ve ever invented. This is what I had wanted out of life. So many of my friends and peers were struggling to figure out what they wanted in life, thrown into the “real world” and wishing they were back under the security blanket of student loans and grade point averages to define who they were. I didn’t want to be anywhere else but on the road.
I woke up with the sun after sleeping but a handful of hours, packed up and hit the road. I passed Cambria with the sun in my eyes and saw Morro Bay for the first time shortly after that. I’ve grown up in California and have been up and down it a dozen of times, and yet I’m still finding places I never even knew existed. It was a quiet and fresh morning, and there sat Morro Rock, tall and magnificent, a soldier in parade position waiting at the ends of the Earth for me to pass her and salute.
I stopped for breakfast in San Luis Obispo and discovered that it was about 7:30 a.m. I continued on along the coast to Santa Barbra and decided I’d take the 101 into LA to visit friends before heading to Newport Beach where my best friend was waiting to celebrate the weekend with me.
By 2 p.m. Hollywood was already hell. I thought I hated driving there, but riding there with too much gear and splitting lanes and possibly denting a Maserati was even worse. Luckily, a good friend of mine lives a block away from the Chinese theater, so I parked the bike, locked up my gear at his place, and he and I took to the streets to laugh at the tourists, judge the hipsters, and admire the Art Deco that hides behind the glamour of modern Hollywood.
I spent the weekend in Newport Beach visiting my old stomping ground and finally picked up my diploma from UC Irvine just before heading back up Highway One that next week. I had never gone up past Long Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway, so up I went with what seemed like a lot more courage and self-assurance than I had come down with. My gear never wavered, and I pissed off countless drivers stuck behind each other as I fearlessly scooted between them and past the vast and crowded city.
I took my time on the way up, stopping at “points of historical interest” and points that at least I thought were interesting even if no one else did anymore. I visited some abandoned well, a tree that hung to the ground like an old woman, and the Inez mission that sits just past the way-too-adorable Solvang which I just couldn’t bear to stop at and take a photo of. I camped again on the way up, and this time I remembered to charge my phone longer so that I could throw up the sill. I hit the road early in the morning and got to see the elephant seals playing on the beach before the tourists swarmed them with camera lenses. My gas light went on, and I had to wait at the gas station in Ragged Point for the place to open and my phone to charge. At $5 a gallon, I was once again happy to be riding a motorcycle and not a gas-guzzler.
When I took off again, it was just after 8 a.m. and the road was empty. I slowed down to keep pace with a Red-Tailed Hawk. At first, he almost crashed right into me, but then for about a mile he flew next to me! He was close enough that I could make out the sharp curve of his beak and the bright red of his tail feathers. I smiled from under my helmet, and when my companion finally took off and I went around a bend, I knew I could never feel more alive. I never believed in fate, but as I’m sure most of you reading this have felt, if there is such a thing then this is definitely my fate; this is what I was meant for. I startled a bobcat that scampered up the nearly vertical hill like a bullet, and I slipped past the ever-crowded Big Sur seemingly unnoticed.
I stopped for lunch in Monterey yet again, and as I turned inland I sang at the top of my lungs. The beauty of the full-faced helmet is that you can still look like a bad-ass while screeching Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” at the top of your lungs. When I finally did arrive home I was more exhausted and more fulfilled than I had ever been in my entire life.
Next stop, South America. Anyone down?