Of Harleys and Hakamas

Thursday, May 20: Danielle and her mom were still up in Alaska last weekend, and I was trying do decide whether or not to drive up to Redwood City to train with Doran Sensei in the regular Saturday morning class. But I got on the Internet to check his seminar schedule and found out that he was going to be out of town, teaching at a weekend workshop in Redway, CA.
Where the heck is Redway???
Lycos Maps showed that it was in Northern (way North!) California, up in Humboldt County, about an hour or so south of Eureka, or about 325 miles from Monterey.
Beautiful country, but a very long drive.
Too far....
I'd driven through some of that part of California years ago. I remembered that I had thought at the time (and several times since) that it would be nice to go there again - but on a motorcycle, and really, not on just any motorcycle, but on a Harley-Davidson.
Which in turn reminded me that a few years back, in the parking lot down in Nepenthe, Big Sur, I had seen a Harley with a license plate frame that indicated it was from some place that rented Harleys. A quick check of the Internet and I found a place in San Francisco. Except they didn't have any available for the coming weekend. Oh well, so much for that idea....
Then I remembered that my youngest brother had a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that he only used occasionally. Hmmmm, I wonder if he still holds a grudge from that time 30 years ago when I threw the beanbag chair on top of him....
There was another problem - I didn't have a motorcyle driving license and I hadn't ridden a motorcyle in 25 years. Even then, it was a much smaller Yamaha 350.
I contacted the DMV and found out that by passing a written test I could obtain a learner's permit, that would allow me to operate a motorcycle, with a few restrictions: no passengers, daytime only, and no freeway driving. So I drove over to the DMV, picked up their motorcycle pamplet and did a quick cram on the information - and passed the written test. I now had a permit, but no motorcycle.
That evening I called my brother and asked him if, ummm... hmmm... could I uhhh... 'rent' his motorcyle for the weekend. "No", he said, but I could borrow it from him! Wow, I guess he didn't remember that little beanbag incident!

Friday, May 21: Drove up to Morgan Hill and met John at his house. He keeps the motorcycle in a rental storage unit only a few blocks from where he lives. A few minutes orientation and a few laps around the storage building and I was ready for the road(!)
Later, after dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, he showed me his riding gear and asked if I wanted to borrow it as well. A helmet, I needed of course, but the rest I wasn't sure about: leather gloves, jacket, boots, and chaps. I didn't know whether they would fit. I didn't even know how to put chaps on! Actually, everything fit pretty well, and Sheila and John had fun commenting on the chaps - something about the jeans being 'optional'...

Saturday, May 22: Up at 5:30am. Had the bike loaded up and ready to roll at 6am. The sun had been up for almost 20 minutes. And I wasn't taking any passengers. So I was going to be okay on at least two out of three restrictions.
The early morning drive north was wonderful. Traffic was light, and the air was still cool. I drove fairly conservatively, trying to get more and more of the feel of the beast. Man, did it sound great!

The countryside north slowly transforms as you get farther away from San Francisco. But it wasn't until I hit Healdsburg that I felt that my memories of why I had wanted to make this trip on a motorcycle were finally being rewarded. Driving through thick forests of redwood trees, winding along the Eel River canyon, smelling the fragrance of wildflowers - this was surely the only way to go. Eventually I lost track of the names of all the small towns along the way that I thought "now here's someplace I'd like to live".

It was a bit farther, and took a bit longer than I had anticipated to make it to Redway. It was almost 11am and I knew I must have missed the first morning class. I still had hopes of making it in time for the second morning class - but I needed to find the dojo.

I had tried calling the phone number listed for the event, but had only gotten an answering machine voice asking me to leave my phone number. Still, I thought, Redway can't be that big a place... I figured I'd spot it easily. Well, I was right about Redway not being very big. I drove up and down through the whole of 'town', but didn't find anything like a place where an Aikido seminar was being held. I checked the local phone book - nothing listed at all for Aikido. Called the phone number I had, again. Still the same recorded voice asking me to leave my phone number. Geez, where could they be? I drove through town again, asking several folks if they knew where the local Aikido club met. The town is so small I figured someone had to know. A couple of people guessed that the most likely place was the Community Center. But I had driven by there twice and it was totally quiet. I decided to try once more. This time I found a group of people inside - decorating the place with balloons. Didn't really look like an Aikido event. But then one of the girls said, "Oh yes, they're meeting at the 'New Beginning' building, down in Briceland" - the next little 'village' down the road about 5 miles.
I'd have never found it without her help.
I arrived at the gravel road, just past the fire station on the left, and the large tree stump on the right, you can't miss it, shortly after 12 noon. I was pondering whether or not I really wanted to drive the Harley up this narrow gravel road, when I saw a car coming the other direction. It was Frank Doran!

The horn on the bike didn't work, so I revved the engine a couple times (probably makes more noise than the horn would, anyway) and waved. Thinking I was a motorcycle cop (the bike actually had been a police bike before John bought it), they slowed down and I yelled something like "Is this a private seminar, or can anyone join in?"

It actually took them a moment to recognize me under the leathers, helmet, sunglasses, and of course, the Harley. After all, it's not like they were expecting to see me. "It's Michael", said Ursula. "Follow us, we're going back to Redway for lunch."

It was great fun to see so many people that I knew, but only get to see occasionally when they come down to the Bay area. It was also nice to eat, since I had left without having so much as even a cup of coffee. It was also nice to take a short nap on the hammock out in the yard.
Around 2pm we all got dressed for the afternoon classes, and I rode in the car with Doran Sensei back to the 'dojo' over in Briceland. The training was fun, interesting, and totally exhausting - given the 90 plus degree heat. But, I learned a couple of 'secrets' from Sensei, especially for shomenuchi ikkyo irimi, so that was cool!
Part II of the plan was to return home by way of the Pacific Coast Highway. So I reluctantly had to miss the pot-luck dinner that evening and the training the following morning. Given that it was such a long drive home, I wanted to make some progress while it was still daylight. And Fort Bragg (along the coast) was less than 3 hours drive away.

The road over the coastal mountains was slow and winding. I was grateful that there was so little traffic, which allowed me to enjoy the scenery as well as to pay close attention to manuevering the big Harley.
About halfway to Fort Bragg I first saw it! The dreaded coastal fog! Soon I was really glad that I had agreed to take the leather outfit! Even in the heat of Redway they had not been too uncomfortable, but now the temperatures had plunged at least 30 degrees, and still I was feeling pretty cozy.
I cruised through Fort Bragg trying to assess my options for accommodations. The first two places I tried were already full, but the people were very friendly and referred me on. I finally ended up at the Ocean Breeze Lodge, where the friendly owner, Linda, showed me her last available room. It was upstairs over the office and was very nice, large, and with a big bathtub that just looked so inviting to my slightly chilled and tired bones...
Linda recommended a little restaurant just down the street for dinner, a place called "The Restaurant" where I had an excellently prepared dish of pork scallopini.

Sunday, May 23: I had hoped to find clear skies along the coast for my ride home. But the early morning skies offered little hope for anything much better than low cloud cover. Well, at least it wasn't thick and rolling along the road.

I loaded up the saddlebags and headed down the road to Mendocino. My destination, by Linda's recommendation, the Bay View Cafe, for breakfast. It was only 10 miles down the road, plus a short little drive around the Headlands State Park, before stopping for a leisurely breakfast overlooking Noyo Harbor.
The skies had lifted a little by the time I was once again driving south. And, within a few miles I was actually driving in bright sunshine. It didn't last the entire way, but all in all the weather was not too bad. The solitude and scenery, and the scent of wildflowers and ocean mist were a sublime contrast to the roar and thunder of the Harley beneath me. Yeah, this was great. The road rolled and challenged me in places; the wind too, but the big bike let me know that it was capable of far more than I was willing to risk. I stopped quite a few times along the way, either to take pictures, or to let the occasional car pass me by and leave me alone on the road once again.
I think the one place I saw that looked the most inviting for a return trip was the Harbor House Inn in the small settlement of Elk, California.
By the time I reached Bodega Bay I was feeling pretty good about myself. I was handling this machine; I looked the part. Yep, I'm 'bad', I thought.

I cruised slowly and noisily into the parking lot of the giftshop/restaurant and parked the bike. As I neared the door a large man with a pock-marked face and crooked teeth approached me. "I was just admiring your bike" (yeah, I know, I grinned to myself), "so, tell me, is that a model FXDS or FXDX?"

"Bang!", like a backfire from one of those gleeming exhaust pipes, my ego exploded into a fine mist. My now fog-enshrouded brain struggled to say something convincing. "I don't know," I finally said, wishing I'd said anything but that. His good ol' boy smile instantly melted away into an incredulous stare. "You don't know!?"

"It's a police model," I offered, vainly trying to salvage some measure of respectability. "Oh, so it's an FXDX", he said. And with that he and his girlfriend turned and left.

I purchased a couple of souvenir t-shirts. When I checked my watch I saw that it was already 2:30pm. So much for getting the bike back by 3pm and going to kyudo practice. When the thought came to me, Danielle's trip ends today - I wonder if she has tried calling me. My cellphone lets me know that I am near the edge of civilization as it connects to the outside world with a powerful 4-bars of signal strength. Yes, she's left 3 messages on my cellphone and several more at my office and on the answering machine at home. Thankfully, on her last message, she mentioned the flight number. I made a call to Alaska Airlines and found out that her plane would arrive in San Jose at 5:23pm. Just about the same time I would be getting to San Jose. Now wouldn't that be fun to surprise her!

And as it turned out, I arrived at the airport just minutes before her plane landed. I parked the bike at the curb just outside the baggage claim area and waited to see if I could catch them passing by. A few minutes later I saw them. I revved the engine a couple times and yelled out "Hi Sweetie!". Danielle looked, turned to her mom, looked at me again and saw me waving, turned to her mom again, and finally came out with this wonderful, combined expression of puzzlement, surprise, and cautious happiness on her face. It was such fun to surprise her!
She rented a car and followed me down to Morgan Hill so I could pick up my car at John's house. There I peeled off all the leathers, got behind the wheel of the Mercedes and started driving away. The sensation was so strange! There was no sound, no vibration, and no cool wind in my face trying to push me off the side of the road! Was I really moving?!?