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Old 09-23-2013, 11:46 AM   #1
Candiya OP
Gnarly Adventurer
Joined: Dec 2010
Location: Bremerton, WA
Oddometer: 208
Life after death: my first solo trip


Technically this ride began months ago. December 10th to be exact. Well, possibly it began on August 22, 2012 when my boyfriend, Mike, died. But we'll settle on December 10th for this story. I was on a flight to CA for work, reading Motorcycle Consumer News to pass the time, when I ran across this letter to the editor:

Ghost Rider

I enjoy your magazine and look forward to each issue arriving. Mark Barnes did a book review on “Ghost Rider” in the October 2012 issue, and I'm surprised at how he missed the point on this book.

There are many books that talk about motorcycle adventure and how to ride. There are few books that talk about riding a motorcycle as a way to avoid sending a bullet through your own brain. Neil's book does an amazing job of this.

If anyone you know or love has suffered the loss of a loved one, this book is a must-read.

Roland Cannon
Salt Lake City, UT
Immediately, I started crying. Averting my face to the window for some privacy on the full flight, I knew that I had to read this book. I downloaded it later that afternoon at the hotel.

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road was written by Neil Peart, the drummer from Rush. He lost his daughter in a car accident then his wife to cancer, all within the space of a year. He dealt with it by getting on his motorcycle and riding a total of 55,000 miles. Reading his story, I knew that someday I would do my own ride.

In March, my cousin sent me the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I devoured it in 2.5 days, laughing and crying along with the author, Cheryl Strayed, as she described her thousand miles of solo hiking to save herself after the loss of her mom. This book added to my determination to do my ride.

The urge to journey, to quest, to find some sort of redemption or resolution or peace...must be universal. Historically, the bereaved have journeyed solo to the mountains, the desert, and the sea. They have walked, cycled, backpacked...and motorcycled.

I have never received so many offers to travel as I did in the days and weeks after Mike's death. Friends and family invited me to New York, Florida, California, England, Brazil, and more. But I knew that there was no use traveling until it was about moving forward, not escaping the past.

Last month was the one year anniversary of the accident. I've spent the year honoring him and, honestly, just trying to endure and survive. Stepping forward into the new year, the second year, I want it to be about moving forward, about choosing life.

This is my quest for life after death. I set off on my solo motorcycle trip September 10th and returned 10 days and 2,263 miles later.

The Preparation

I wondered how the trip would go. This trip meant setting off into the unknown in so many ways. Would I be lonely riding solo or sitting alone in restaurants and hotel rooms? Would I be able to handle the riding? What if I got lost, ran out of gas, had mechanical difficulties, or went down? Who would I meet on the road? Would people be threatening or helpful?

To be honest, I doubted that I had the riding skill or mechanical know-how to do a trip like this. But I wouldn't know until I tried. This past year, I've often felt like a burden on my friends, especially when it comes to motorcycling. I started from zero knowledge and needed to ask for help with every little thing. My amazing friends always generously helped me and shared their expertise. But eventually, I knew that I needed to learn how to do it on my own. I don't want to go through life being a leach.

The week before I departed, I did my first oil change and cleaned my chain, with step-by-step instruction from a friend. I was adamant that I wanted to do everything I could myself. Afterwards, he asked if this oil change was going on Facebook. I said yes but never posted it. Oddly, this oil change was too personal to put on Facebook. It was about claiming control over my own safety, about taking over the tasks that used to be Mike's, about facing my fears and inexperience doing anything mechanical. This minor maintenance task was major for me. It was the first step in my trip and aligned completely with my reasons for doing the trip. To see if I could do it on my own.

Preparation for the trip began in earnest a couple weeks before I left. I knew I should have started earlier but just felt on hold until the anniversary of the accident. Everything was in stasis until then. Afterwards, I threw myself into it: researched satellite communicators and got a Delorme InReach SE, picked up rain gear, considered GPS options, and vacillated over possible routes. These last two took WAY more time than they should have. I researched dedicated motorcycle GPS units versus GPS phone apps, checked out library books with route options, and pumped friends for information on their trips. I even had a “blind date” coffee with a friend of a friend, a female rider who has done a lot of solo trips. She generously shared her insights on route planning, GPS versus paper maps, and safety on the road as a single woman. I'm a researcher by trade, which can be a plus in some instances, but in this case, not so much. I was in a tizzy of preparation until the very last minute, when I finally forced myself out the door.

Day One: Bremerton, WA to Hood River, OR, 268 miles

Route: 16 south, I5 south, 512 east, 7 south (Morton), 12 east (Randle), FS 25, FS 90 (Cougar), FS 90, FS 51, FS 30 (Carson), 14 east, hood river bridge, 84 west, Columbia Cliff Villas Hotel in Hood River

Favorite road of the day: The new pavement on FS 30 into Carson.

I started the day harried and frantically trying to get out of town. It was a series of “just one last thing”. I had borrowed a Garmin the day before, and my goal this morning was to download the GPS tracks for Oregon, but the computer wouldn't recognize the GPS. I finally gave up and forced myself out the door.

All loaded up and ready to go!

Reminding myself not to set off for a full day of riding on an empty stomach, I met a friend for breakfast. He suggested a route south to Hood River, and I carefully took notes. Finally, I was off...almost. I stopped by my work in a last ditch effort to download the tracks to the Garmin. Still no luck so I printed the cue sheets and set off FINALLY at 1:00 pm.

Setting off after breakfast

With the last minute frustrations and feeling the daylight slipping away, I wasn't excited or nervous. I was just relieved to be on the road at last and felt pressure to keep moving.

About to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. This time, I put the correct change for the toll in the side pocked of my tank bag.

Passing through Tacoma, the gear indicator started acting funny. I was in 3rd, and the indicator was flipping back and forth from 3 to 6. “Hey, I found gear 36...overdrive!” The indicator continued to provide amusement throughout the trip.

What a gorgeous day. See how crystal clear the mountain is, poking out above the signs?

Stopping in Morton for gas and a break, all of the parking spaces close to the mini mart were full so I slipped into a spot in front of the insurance agency across the lot. Crossing my fingers that they wouldn't mind me using one of their spots, I smiled at the ladies through the window. “Oh no,” I thought with a sinking heart as one of them approached the door. “They're about to ask me to move.” She poked her head out the door. “Do you need anything? Water? A bathroom?” Well...sure! I enjoyed their AC, a glass of cold water, and the use of their bathroom. In exchange, they wanted to hear about me and my trip. Before the trip, a friend had told me that most people are kind to solo women riders and protective of them. This was my first time seeing it in action. They sent me off with smiles and reminders to be careful. I was humbled and heartened by their generosity. Full of good cheer and refreshed as much by their kindness as by the break, I continued on.

Parking in front of the insurance agency in Morton

The kind insurance lady

As I rode farther into the countryside, the morning's tension flowed away. Winding through the base of 25, I found myself saying, "Thank you, God, for the empty twisty roads, for the verdant hillsides, for the clear blue skies." I could breathe again.

It's interesting how perceptions can change. I really didn't like 25 before today. It felt like the pavement was combative and wished me ill. But today, the frost heaves were fun and made me laugh as they popped me up. Maybe it was because I was warmer and more relaxed. (It was low 80's this day, 40 degrees warmer than the last time through.)

It felt blissful to be riding alone. I reveled in the freedom to go my own pace and stop whenever I wanted...though, ever mindful of the passing sun, my breaks were short. I didn't know if I would enjoy riding alone throughout the trip, if this was just the “holiday” feel of setting off, but I enjoyed it for today.

Stopping for some photos, I longed to just sit and listen to the silence. The pressure to make it to the hotel before nightfall kept me moving, but I promised myself that sometime during this trip, I would find the space to listen to the silence of wilderness.

(When I was planning the route, it seemed more logical to take advantage of the good weather by going down the coast, but I just couldn't face the thought of joining the herd of tourists shuffling from one seaside town to the next. I longed for mountains and wilderness and solitude. I am glad I followed my heart. There is no question that these quiet, twisty roads fed my soul.)

I was playing with the settings on the camera. Sorry the colors are weird on this one.

A couple cruiser riders offered to take this pic. One was from England, and the other was from Ireland.

I was losing daylight fast as I pulled into Cougar for fuel. The GPS was suggesting that I head back out the way I came in to get to Carson. Was that really right? I pulled out the paper map, and the gas station attendant came out to help with directions. Yep, I had to go back up 90 to get to 51 and 30 to Carson. Huh. I didn't actually need gas yet so I could have skipped Cougar, but you win some, you lose some. My fault for not finalizing my route through WA until this morning. (I think I went the wrong way somewhere here - but no matter.)

Continuing on to Carson, dusk fell, and I was mindful of deer. Still, the fresh pavement beckoned, and I admit to having a little bit of fun on 30. Running along 14 beside the Columbia River, night had fallen in earnest. The urgency to make Hood River before night had dissipated. It was already dark so why hurry? I enjoyed the warm night. It felt like I was swimming through currents of different temperature air, and the temps rose and fell by almost 10 degrees as the road twisted along the mountainside. I buzzed through the tunnels, and my headlight created a nimbus of light that followed my progress.

Crossing the bridge into Hood River, I felt a deep contentment. The view was gorgeous, with the mountains silhouetted against the last bit of orange sky. I knew that I would make my goal for the day. The GPS directed me to pull onto I84 for a couple miles, and as I merged on, I realized that this was my first time on a freeway at night. It was nice and mellow.

I had a little difficulty finding the hotel since their driveway wasn't lit. When I finally pulled in a little after 8:00, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a lovely, Spanish style hotel on the river. I had opted to splurge on the hotel for the first night, hoping that having a soft place to land at the end of the first day would make me feel better about traveling solo. I'm glad I did.

The Columbia Cliff Villas Hotel

I checked in, and when I asked about a safe place to park the bike, the attendant's eyes lit up, and he grabbed a remote. “You can park in this garage. There are just a couple chairs in there.” Score! My baby got a private garage for the evening.

My private garage

The only place walking distance for food was the historic hotel next door, the Columbia Gorge Hotel. I quickly changed and headed that way, intent on getting my order in before their kitchen closed at 9:00. I was starved since all I had eaten was breakfast (long ago and far away) and a granola bar.

The Columbia Gorge Hotel

Arriving in the quiet, formal dining room, they first offered me a romantic table for two. It was set with linens and crystal, and I cringed at the idea of sitting there alone. With relief I spotted the bar in the next room. Luckily, they served food there, and I gratefully settled into the bar, where I ordered a giant spinach salad and chicken sandwich with homemade ranch potato chips. (Thumbs up on the food at the Columbia Gorge Hotel.)

Beside the bar. I was bemused at finding myself in such a formal setting on a motorcycle trip. Very different from what I had pictured.

Yummy dinner finally

The bar was empty, except for one man working hard to pick up the bartender. She was moderately open to it and offered him her phone number, but the whole conversation seemed slightly sad and dreary. Is this what I have in store for me when I'm finally open to dating again? Sad conversations in empty bars? I tabled the thought for the future. There's nothing I can do about it now.

Heading back to my room, I started to run a bath in the deep soaker tub, only to find that the stopper wouldn't seal. I called the front desk with no response. With my newfound technical adventurousness, I took a look at the stopper. “Hmmm...I wonder if I can remove the spring?” With a little fiddling...ah ha! I disassembled it, sealed the tub, and enjoyed soaking my aches away.

After the bath, the next challenge was figuring out how to break the seal so it would drain. The slim wooden coffee stir sticks looked like they'd be perfect, but they softened in the hot water. Ah well, I'd figure it out in the morning. With a full belly and relaxed from the bath, I climbed into the cozy bed and slept well. All in all, a successful first day. Maybe I could do this trip after all.
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Old 09-23-2013, 01:04 PM   #2
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I think Mike may have a very wide grin right about now. You are treading some very tender territory with extraordinary sense of direction and purpose. I admire your openness, sense of adventure and determination. Changing the oil, fixing the bathtub stopper; I see no limits. And I sure as hell do not see any sad situations upon a bar stool in your future. I do wish for more of your writing.
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Old 09-23-2013, 01:22 PM   #3
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Good on you, great times and travels ahead. I'll be enjoying your journey as well from this side of the planet
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Old 09-23-2013, 01:55 PM   #4
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Prior preparation has put you in good stead. Well done on your travels.
Marty F
'13 Triumph Sprint GT; '14 BMW G 650 GS
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Old 09-23-2013, 02:12 PM   #5
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Location: San Diego
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The reasons for taking trips vary as much as the routes themselves. I can't think of a better reason to hit the road.
Scott - Semper Fi
'04 BMW R1150GSA, '05.5 KTM 950 Adventure
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Old 09-23-2013, 03:16 PM   #6
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Old 09-23-2013, 03:25 PM   #7
Formerly H20Pumper
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Good luck and enjoy the ride.
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Old 09-23-2013, 03:33 PM   #8
Back-to-back motos suck
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Joined: Feb 2007
Location: Mineral Point, WI
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Outstanding read thus far. Motorcycles clear our heads, and the trips we take on them warm our souls.

Travel safe.
'07 DL650, '06 KLX351, '97 DR350, '83 XR350R (vintage GP racer), '74 Bultaco Alpina (trials)
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:03 PM   #9
Brian Keith
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Great story. I like your writing style. I love Neil Peart's drumming and writing. I'm looking forward to reading this thread. Enjoy the ride.
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:07 PM   #10
Joined: Aug 2008
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Good for you. The ability of a motorcycle to rejuvenate ones soul is nothing short of miraculous. I look forward to reading about the rest of your adventure!
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:12 PM   #11
Rust never sleeps
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:18 PM   #12
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Cry Sorry for your lost

Great report so far, ride safe and keep the story roll.....
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:24 PM   #13
plains ranger
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Location: Denver, CO
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In! Ready for the next installment.
Life is not a journey to the grave arriving with a pristine body. But a journey that should end in a sideways skid, body completely used up, box of chocolates in one hand, glass of Chardonnay in the other, yelling "WHAT A RIDE!"
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:30 PM   #14
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Old 09-23-2013, 05:18 PM   #15
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I'll be keeping an eye on this thread for sure. Keep riding, keep smiling
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