Jul 2010

Pit Stop for Bliss

Every good motorcycle trip includes a stop at hot springs. By the time you’ve been on the road five or six days, camping on pine needles and sharing cheap mouldy motel rooms with hairy spiders, you’re ready to detox, de-dust, soak your bones, and heal what ails you. Today, what had been ailing me was my left knee from having it bent up on the pegs for so long, and my throttle pinky, from gripping hours on end in all weather. Now, after a 4-hour session of hot and cold, I have no ailments. The waters at Harbin Hot Springs are truly healing, the hot, almost scalding, the cold, near ice and the warm, blissfully body temperature. The pools are surrounded by low-hanging fig and eucalyptus trees and blossoming flowers. Once you’ve opened your lungs wide with a cycle of hot and cold, the aromatherapy is mainlined into every cell. It doesn’t take long to release yourself from the constraints of human form. Sanctuary in nature.

Near midnight under a billion stars, I ended my session in the warm pool, where a woman was receiving the most beautiful “Watsu” treatment I’ve ever witnessed. Lots of people give and receive this Harbin original form of water shiatsu, but this particular practitioner was expert and a joy to watch. At its best, Watsu looks like a cosmic dance where practitioner and recipient become one in a weightless flow of healing movement. The practitioner supports the recipient’s body in such a way that she can let go entirely, then he manipulates her body gracefully through the water to create stretch and alignment and openness. People claim it feels like re-entering the womb. By the look of bliss on this woman’s face, I believe she did.

Being witness became a meditation, and for almost an hour, everyone else in the warm pool faded into a wall of shadows and whispers. I felt as though I was both giving to and receiving energy from the treatment, and by the end, I, too, was in that uniquely Harbin state of bliss. Like a spiritual tune-up, it’s worth coming back for every couple of years if I happen to be within a 100-mile radius. In the dressing room afterward, Rutherford introduced himself, thanked me for being part of his session, and offered to give me a treatment tomorrow. I wasn’t planning on staying another day, but it’s Sunday tomorrow, day of rest, right? And traffic heading down the 101 through the Bay area will be lighter on Monday...

Today’s lesson from the road: Never say no to an offer of Watsu.



There’s always a barking dog at a cheap motel, and a woman who’s seen better times telling it to behave. I’d rather be on the ground under the redwoods tonight, but when I arrived in Willow Creek after seven hours riding in the heat, I was so ready to be off the bike, and this place was handy. I’m sharing my room with a couple of rather large spiders, but they seem to be content in their corner above the plastic-lined canvas drapes. I’ll call the bigger, hairier one Bigfoot, after the motel.

Last night I camped in the woods beside a rushing river and had a delicious sleep breathing in oxygen and absorbing all the negative ions (they’re good for you). I rode most of the afternoon yesterday along the Oregon coast until I got too cold from all the fog breathing down my neck, and turned inland at Florence. Almost instantly, it was warm, so I rode east on the 58 and pulled into a forestry campground at dusk. I usually make a point of camping in populated campgrounds. I realize I’m taking enough risks as it is, so I’m not foolish enough to set up my tent in a ditch or under a bridge. Last night, though, there were very few other campers, and by the time I got my bags off the bike and my tent set up, it was dark, and in the woods with no moon, dark is pitch black. I should not read the news or watch “Dexter” or “Breaking Bad.” That stuff can pollute the mind with images of serial killers and convicts escaping the law in the woods of south central Oregon.

My closest neighbour appeared to be alone with a van. I often wish I could meet other solo adventurers on the road, but I rarely do. People travel in packs of buddies, families or couples. He made a pass by my site a couple of times, presumably to collect firewood, but by now it was too dark to acknowledge each other in any kind of way that would not have been a little creepy. I had no reason to think that he was anything other than a solo camper, like myself, out enjoying nature and solitude, but in my media-poisoned mind, he was assessing the situation, making sure I was alone, plotting something evil. In the dark, firewood can look like an axe. I crawled into my tent and lay awake, listening to the roaring river below, and when a train passed by on the other side of the river, shaking the ground and drowning out all other sounds, I found myself thinking like a killer. Now would be the perfect time... And then I fell asleep until the sun broke through the old growth and warmed my tent. I didn’t stick around for campfire coffee.

I stopped at the TrailHead CoffeeHouse in Oakridge just 20 minutes down the road, and was greeted by a guy in a red bandana, and three red and blue stripes like ribbons tattooed down his right cheek. I asked for a soy latte, just for my own amusement, and to my astonishment, he made me one, with a smile. I took a look at the menu, and along with the many ways to have “breakfast meat,” I could also fill up my veggie belly with tofu scramble. Woo hoo!

It was another 95-degree day today inland in Oregon. The roads were clear and dry, making it smooth sailing down the 58 to the 97 south to Klamath Falls. By the time I got to Weed, I was feeling dehydrated and craving that cool fog again. I decided to get back out on the coast, but in order to do that, some time on the interstate would be required. Motorcycles have no business being on the interstate. Especially those under 1100 ccs. Though it was nowhere near fun, the nimble little 800 handled fine, and if not for all the trucks and other traffic, the 5 heading south would be quite a gorgeous ride. Contrary to popular opinion about motorcyclists and speed, I’m not a speeder. Even though I’d love to meet a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer so I can tell him I grew up watching CHIPs, I’ve never been served a speeding ticket on a motorbike. Some would say I ride like a girl but that’s ok. When I met the pack of 9 Wild Hogs at a gas station in Florence, they all wanted to dump their buddies and ride with me. Good thing for all we were headed in opposite directions. So I got off the interstate at Redding and headed west again over the south Cascades and here I am in Willow Creek, sharing my room with Bigfoot the spider.

Tomorrow is another adventure. Only one thing is guaranteed: there will be forks in the road.


Old Territory New Bike

astoria bridge
Today’s ride couldn’t have been more perfect. The skies were clear all day and the temperature rose to 95 degrees and stayed sizzling til sunset. The inside of my old leathers was like a sauna, but after the chill of the Cascade Pass the day before, where there was snow on the sides of the road at the summit, I was loving it. I dressed down to a t-shirt underneath and opened the jacket zippers to catch some wind to dry the sweat.

It was my 3rd day’s ride with the BMW, not counting the ride from Calgary to Banff the day I picked it up, when I got tossed by a sudden crosswind into the left lane north of Morley. I’m happy now to have it loaded down with luggage. It’s 13 pounds lighter than Henk, with a slightly higher centre of gravity and more stuff on the sides for a wind to catch. Good to know so I can adjust my riding. Along with the heated grips, which are an obvious luxury, the extra faring makes me feel spoiled because it protects my knees, on Henk the first body parts after my knuckles to catch the wind. But it definitely makes the bike less “naked” and more vulnerable to a nasty crosswind. Wind barely bothered Henk. He’s such a thug with so much weight close to the pavement and no faring, he sticks to the road in anything.

I glided easily and relatively noiselessly (this bike is not much louder than a sewing machine) out to the coast, on the 20 to Whidbey Island and took the ferry across Puget Sound to Port Townsend. It was great to be on the water under such warm summer skies. A retired local couple, Joan and Clive, chatted me up about riding and bikes. Though they were in a car, they’re long time riders, presently on a Ducati sport tour model that sounds like a dream. Last year they did route 66 all the way from LA to Chicago. We talked about the freedom of doing your own trip without the “Wild Hogs” who sometimes want to tag along, and Clive, a man after my heart, confessed to never planning ahead. That can be maddening for others who can’t go to bed at night without plugging in the entire next day on their GPS. Joan paid me the nicest compliment by saying I’m a great role model for female riders. It’s ironic that I’ve inspired more men to ride than women. But I know women catch the spirit of adventure when they see me. Whether it translates into a motorbike lesson or to taking a solo journey by car or plane or canoe, or taking a bold step into a mythology of her own, it’s all the same spark.

A mentally challenged ferry volunteer suggested to me twice that I’ll probably need an oil change on that bike, so it’s on my mind to do just that before too many more miles. The Great Spirits of The Road take care of you.

Down the 101 all the way to the southwestern tip of Washington, across the “Bridge to Nowhere” into Astoria, Oregon. I gulped a welcomed cerveza at sunset under the bridge at a Mexican cantina where I was the only patron.

I did this ride in 07 when I went all the way from Venice Beach to Inuvik, NWT, past the Arctic Circle, and back. The 1 was gruelling with Henk because much of it is slow going, following RV trains, in and out of fog, up and down through 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears, rarely opening it up for any speed. The BMW is more suited to this ride. At least I can sit upright comfortably. It’s the kind of bike that almost rides itself, so sit back and enjoy the scenery... I’m taking some video from the bike, which I’ll post when I get a chance.

Today’s lesson from the road: Expect an occasional perfect day, and when it arrives, celebrate fully.


Henk's Support Staff

tent bike wood
It wasn’t love at first sight. Sure, when one is sleek and elegant, perfectly proportioned and impeccably put together, one is bound to turn heads; but character and grit and substance excite me more. I’ll forever be comparing new bikes to Henk. I took him for a ride yesterday when I got him back from Al the bike doctor. We didn’t go far, but we went fast. Henk seemed to be showing off, as if he knew I was leaving him for another - as if to say, go ahead, try out that prissy little F800, but remember what a gem I am. Don’t forget I’m heavier and more solid and I stick to the highway in any kind of crosswind. I’m a brute. I’m bigger and more powerful and can pass anything on an uphill climb in mere tenths of seconds. I’m much more unique...and I’ve been with you longer than any other bike will ever be.

Yes, it’s all true. Henk is damn cool. I miss him already on this trip after only two days on the road, but his imperfections, those little quirks I’ve fallen in love so deeply with, have become detrimental to our ride. Isn’t that always the way?

In his place is a beautiful barely-used 2007 BMW F800ST. I took the Ulysses for a spin when I arrived in Calgary. I had made a deal over the phone and thought I was going to go that way, but after sleeping on it, I just wasn’t comfortable with the height. It handled beautifully on the highway, and is unquestionably a Buell, but I was on tippy toes at stops and you need a good grip when you pull into gravelly campgrounds and you need your footing when maneuvering in a tight spot. This BMW, an 07, had only 2300 kms on it. The guy bought it with good intentions, but two kids and a dog rightly took priority. I got a good deal. My plan is to put a few miles on it and sell it at the end of the season before I wreck it too badlyWinking It’s not Henk. Not nearly as sexy. But it’s smooth and comfortable and does the job with finesse. It feels a little gentlemanly in that all the components are there for a long and winding sport tour, but one could do it in a business suit and barely scuff a cufflink.