Dialing in Alaska from Outer Sunset. Jan 10 – April 5, 2017.
Alaska was in my sights, but it wouldn’t be ridable for months yet.
On Jan 10, 2017 I landed in San Francisco from Hong Kong, solo again after a whirlwind month traveling with Fred. The weariness of jetlag shared space with the ache of separation, while gale force wind and driving rain rattled the panes of my aunt’s home. Of course I’d landed during one of the many storms that season that would eventually collapse Californian spillways and put an end to their five year drought. Normally, I poke fun of what California deems ‘weather’ but as I hiked to the grocery store, flimsy umbrella held in front of me against a wet, windy protest, I allowed that this was indeed serious. Every few steps a gust snatched the whole thing and flipped it backwards, and as I blinked away raindrops I noticed two spokes were already broken.
What the fuck am I doing here?
Last year, from the comfort of Fred’s home, it seemed a grand idea to put Alaska on my agenda. The month of May would be the earliest I could arrive, so I’d designated the months beforehand to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities. It made sense; my bike was already stored there, I had a place to stay, I could get some jiu-jitsu in, and it was generally temperate enough to ride, allowing me to stay sane and generate some income to stay afloat until the north thawed out.
I just hadn’t expected it to start out so… cold, wet, hungry, and alone.
Anyway. The plan?
Introducing Serenity Delivery, joining the Postmates fleet. While other parts of North America were suffering through varying degree of tundra, the climate on the coast (when it wasn’t experiencing record breaking rain) was quite tolerable and even pleasant. The ‘dash’ – as an energetic bicycle courier referred to it – brought me to corners of the city I’d never visited, and fit around my jiu-jitsu schedule. I already had plenty of luggage space, and California is the only state that allows lane sharing, which makes scooting around the city a joy.
I’d arranged to stay at the house my aunt inherited from her late father (much gratitude!). It currently sat empty in the sense that it was unoccupied by humans, but thoroughly populated by several generations of audio equipment, floor to ceiling drawers of cassette tapes, two dozen non-operational DVD players, nests of snaking extension cords just itching to catch fire, at least one drawer full of plastic bags, and… actually a lovely garden in the back. I was borrowing a house with a past life, a sanctuary of a 90’s era Chinese-American childhood that I never had. The walls were pastel, the doorways rounded, and the floor was carpeted. While making curry, I found 7 can openers in the kitchen drawers, about 0 of which I felt were food safe. Ironically, I couldn’t find any chopsticks.
No matter, any number of shops in the Sunset district would carry them, and everything else under the sun, packed floor to ceiling at low prices. This and the discovery of Kevin’s Noodle House(Moose’s favorite pho spot!), and I was all too easily enamored by the neighborhood.
My Postmates career proved short-lived though. In a lucky (and unlucky) break, Scuderia was short an employee due to a collarbone fracture. I already haunted the shop and the guys all knew I would be leaving for Alaska in 8-ish weeks, which happened to coincide with the healing time for a collarbone. Thus, I was hired to push some bikes around!
It’d been 10 years since I held down a job with regular hours (I had to count, I can’t believe I’ve been my own boss for that long). I feared for the worst, but Scuderia turned out to be a great place to learn about working in a shop, as well as pick up mechanical tips. My workdays began to take on regular rhythm – pack lunch to save money, ride to work, drink coffee/tea, ride back, change into gi and go to the late night Jitsu classes. On Wednesday nights, I joined Moose and Joe to go bouldering. All of it happened, rain or shine. Weeks took on a predictable and not altogether unpleasant shape. I only wished I could attend those morning Jitsu classes, regular job hours hogged an inconsiderately huge portion of the day. Aside from that I could coast like this for a while…
At the shop one day, a video was playing in the showroom of a group of scooter riders, gloriously gliding along a richly forested mountainside somewhere in Europe. The sun sparkled off the bikes as the camera tracked them, and the riders, presumably friends, stopped and removed their helmets to take in the scenery.
I wondered then, how many people stared at such videos from the seat of a secure job – the kind with regular hours, benefits, an upward trajectory – and longed for the feelings depicted in that video. How many hours are lost to longing, versus how many hours spent living. Or is it enough to shoehorn those feelings into a weekend, maybe a couple weeks every few years? Would it be easy for me to slip into a ‘regular’ job again, as long as I had a date picked out to leave it? For a couple months, I looked in from the other side.
Due to work constraints, I couldn’t justify riding to the Las Vegas rally… so weird! Fred and I flew in from separate edges of the continent, and rented a Triumph. This better not become a habit.
Two years ago, when both of Pete’s wrists were broken, I stood in for his arms and legs for Gina’s scooter riding lesson. Fast forward to 2017, and Gina is 2 motorcycles in and planning a cross country trip on her Bonneville T120! You can follow her trip on Instagram. We planned to ride south along the coast together for a day, as a send off – how cool, I get to send someone off instead of being the one leaving!
Often I’m asked, “What do your parents think about your trip?” My gut reaction is to tell them to ask my parents themselves next time they see them, because I’m not the authority on that. I don’t know what the questioner wishes to hear; that they support me even if they don’t understand, or that they’re concerned in the way parents are obliged to worry about their offspring? Until this April, my parents had never even seen my Vespa in person. Perhaps it spared them some worry when it was merely an abstraction, one of many inscrutable enterprises that Steph, the artist one, engaged in on the other side of the world. To confront them with the object that altered the course of my life so much (for the odder, but better!) felt unreal. It was more awkward than introducing a boyfriend, and for a while they stood about 6 feet back. There’s a particularly Chinese brand of guilt that comes from making parents worry, and even my hyphenated American identity cannot escape it.
I’m thankful for their support, but I’m also thankful for the space and independence they gave both my sister and I. It’s hard enough to leave loved ones, if I had to ride away from my parents as well all the time, I don’t know if I could have embarked on any ambitious overland journeys.
…Nah, I probably would’ve managed.
Finally, my last day of work at Scuderia was behind me, my boxes were shipped off, and the house was cleaned up. All my eggs were in a row, or were those ducks in one basket? Idioms are better scrambled. All my eggs were in one Vespa basket-case, time to get cracking and make an omelet! Let’s get to the good stuff.
Great post Steph!
I love traveling with motorcycles too!