September 07, 2005 GMT
Voyage of the Beagle, Summer 2005

Near Laguna Seca race track in Monterrey I came across a dozen Lamborghinis parked for dinner at a roadhouse. I parked in between some of the cars and took a couple pictures of the Beagle among them. The looks I got from the owners/drivers were part "Don't scratch the paint," and part "Dang, look at all the places that guy has been!" Sorry guys, you couldn't buy a trip as great as this one has been.

As I was setting up my last camp at the Laguna Seca race track--the only campgrounds in all of Monterrey apparently--a couple came by in their truck. "Ah-ah-ah," the man said to me as he wagged a finger. "You can't camp here."
"Why not?" I asked.
"This space is reserved. We reserved it months ago for the classic car races this weekend."
I explained that there was no reserved sign on the post, and that if this really was their campsite, I was very sorry, and I would be glad to move my tent and all my gear to another site elsewhere. It was already getting dark. Fog had moved in, and I was frozen from riding up the coast since 8 a.m.

But this guy's attitude was strange. He was a little TOO adamant about the space being his. He kept saying I had to leave even after I told him I would. I asked to see a piece of paper that confirmed his reservation. He pulled his huge idling diesel pickup into my campsite, within inches of my tent, and produced a piece of paper that said he reserved the space for the 18th, 19th, and 20th (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).
"Today is Wednesday. The 17th." I said, handing it back to him. An awkward pause.
"Well this is the first year they haven't put Wednesday on the invitation, he said sheepishly.
"So you're telling me you already know that you don't have it for tonight, and you're just trying to trick me into moving to another site?"
I looked him in the eye, and he just smiled. "I'm not saying anything," he says.

I was so disgusted. I had ridden 15,500 miles to this point through Canada and the USA. I left my key in the ignition most nights, left my bags and helmet unsecured every time I parked, and never encountered anyone explicitly trying to swindle me--until I was 100 miles from home. A well-to-do married couple.

"Get out of my campsite." I said, and went back to setting up. The guy said nothing.
"This is the first year they didn't let us come on Wednesday," the wife repeated from inside the truck.
"If you have a problem, call the ranger." I turned my attention back to the tent.

If they had come to me in the beginning and said, "Hey, could you do us a favor and switch campsites with us?" I might have accommodated. No, they led with a lie and persisted with it, even after I called them on it. I wondered if they cheated at racing too.

That night the campgrounds all around me filled up with would-be racers bringing their classic cars from as far away as Southern California. They were meeting old friends and laughing and wrenching all night long. No consideration for the motorcyclist trying to sleep above turn 7. I barely slept at all. I should have let those swindlers have their space.
In the morning I took Hwy One up to Santa Cruz and searched in vain for a Peet's Coffee. The boardwalk and cliffside road made for nice viewing in the early morning.

Being familiar with Hwy One from there to SF, I decided to take the winding Hwy 9 through Great Basin park and then Skyline Highway to Alice's Restaurant.

The redwoods were spectacular, and I didn't mind getting lost in Great Basin and having to backtrack several miles. All off-roading is forbidden there, unfortunately, and I thought wistfully of all the great dirt roads I traveled in Alaska alone--probably 2000-2500 miles of it.

Unlike the Rock Store in LA, Alice's is open on weekdays. I had a burrito and struck up conversation with people there about my bike and the ride. "I'm 40 miles from the end of a 15,600 mile trip to Alaska," I told them.
"What was the highlight?" one wanted to know.
"The Dalton Highway," I said. Why? "The geography, the road, the weather, the animals, the pipeline, and the significance of riding that dirt road alone, all above the Arctic Circle, with 24 hours of daylight."
One guy on a Honda Valkyrie gave me a card for a free pass to the airplane museum where he works in Menlo Park. It read "VIP Pass." Nice guy. I felt like a VIP all day. Kinda like you feel on your birthday.
I knew everyone in SF was working this day, so there was no way to gather anyone for a welcome home party in the afternoon. I walked over to All Star Donuts, my ritual doughnut stop for 8 years.
"Do you have any doughnuts with pink icing?" I asked again of the young guy who works behind the counter. I have practically seen him grow up from 9 to 17 years old. One time I gave him two Giants v. Dodgers tickets I could not use. He still remembers.
"Not yet," he says, "but more people asked about it."
My turn to brag: "Well I just got back from a motorcycle trip to Alaska and down through the Rockies, and I can tell you, no one has it. I was thinking about starting my own doughnut shop and selling donuts with strawberry and cherry icing."
"You should!"
"You don't mind the competition?"
"Nah, it would be great."

I ate my chocolate donut, drank my Peet's coffee and looked at the Mighty Beagle. I took out my silver paint pen, shook it and added a "CA" to a string of states and provinces on my saddlebag that began with the very same two letters. My friend Mary was right: it wasn't just a list of states the Beagle had been in, it was a record of a single circular trip that introduced me to people I will never forget, wildlife I had never seen before, natural features and geology that can be seen in only one or two places in the world. I rode from California to California--by way of the Northernmost and Westernmost highways in North America; by way of pipelines, ferry boats, old railroad rights-of-way, high mountain passes and the Continental Divide. I explored the National Parks of the West, and understood a little better the importance of protecting them from the very people who are invited to visit. I shared the roads with tankers hauling oil, with trucks carrying food from farms to the cities, and with cars carrying people to and from family, work, and destinations unknown. I saw more, and experienced more in my 2 1/2 months than I had in the previous 16 years combined.

If you ride, and if you yearn for a trip like this, for goodness sake--go. It is so much more than you can imagine. And it grows exponentially in retrospect. The hardships (the breakdowns, the fixes, the crashes) become the biggest highlights.

I delayed writing this final entry because it meant the end of the trip, and I always want to feel like I am still on it, or that I could be at any minute. But the trip is indeed over. I am in Hoboken New Jersey and Beagle is secured in my grandparents' garage in Walnut Creek, battery cables disconnected. I feel uneasy without it. The last week in SF before my departure to Hoboken was a comedy of mind-changing and indecision. It continues to this day. But when you finally come to that fork in the road, you take the one you think is best based on what you know of yourself, and what you learned in all the miles behind you. If anything, my sight is attuned much further down the road than before. I can see already that the Hoboken fork is a short road, and it returns back to California soon enough. But for now, I will be glued to Horizons and my new friends' websites and enjoying their adventures even as I plan another of my own. After Alaska, I need to come up with a new dream ride. I just don't think it is Mexico and Central America. Not right now.

If you read Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos, or Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, you will understand that time and space are linked; that bodies in motion over great distances will pass the time more slowly than those at rest. It is therefore not incorrect to say that the Beagle is a time machine, and that for riding it I have extended my life about one quadrillionth of a second. But I have enriched it infinitely more than that. Keep moving, people.

Posted by James McPherson at 08:45 PM GMT
 

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