San Francisco (Summer Writing Challenge Week 2)
It's a Ducati Multistrada (the one we both drooled over sleek pictures of online until people started asking why we were trying to hug a computer monitor) that we load up, wolfing muffins and tea as we work, with dawn just breaking and strings of mist being tugged from the familiarly scruffy mountains. The motorbike is narrow but sturdy, and does not complain as duffel bag after duffel bag is secured to the back. I think her name is Kaylee.
We set off at last, two girls and a motorcycle with the wind tightening our clothes, and take turns driving and sitting in back. Cars zip by us; other bikers hover beside us on the winding Vermont highways as if discreetly trying to race us and we always let them get ahead and "win" because we know enough about structural engineering to play by the rules.
By the late morning, we've crossed the bottom tail of Lake Champlain into New York. We stop for lunch at a fast-food joint in Utica. The open bike does little to contain sound, but we blast pop-rock songs on the radio anyway and ignore the disgruntled looks when we pass through cities. Time blurs between Maroon 5, Adele, Green Day and One Direction, who we argue about (you like them; I don't) in the way that people argue when they don't expect to convince anyone of anything and don't really care.
We stop for the night in a little town on Lake Erie called Silver Creek, near the Pennsylvania border. Dinner is in a small local restaurant, and we camp out on the beach. There's plenty of driftwood to make a fire and we sit looking quietly into the flames, moody from the lateness but content. After a while, you drop off to sleep, and after another cup of tea, I follow suit.
The morning is the beautiful kind, and at five-thirty the last stars are fading. We load up Kaylee and treat ourself to bacon omelettes at a diner in Girard before we pass into Pennsylvania. Northern Pennsylvania, we find, is shaped like Vermont, only with more golf courses. The space in between the big cities is significant, and we spend much of the drive eyeing sleek BMWs on the road and guessing the ages of their drivers. Lunch is in Toledo. Indiana passes so quickly we barely notice it until we're in Ohio, which is far more groomed. The rain starts as we hit Chicago late at night, and we give up on machoism and chose a motel for the night so that we can park Kaylee inside a parking complex instead of out in the downpour. We order pizza and eat it in our little double twin-bed room, wrapped in blankets with the TV on.
Thankfully, by sunrise the rain has stopped. We don't notice the sunrise, however, because we oversleep. At nine, grumbling at ourselves (and each other) for our lack of ruggedness, we haul ourselves out of bed, shower, and reluctantly take food to eat on the road. I eat while it's your turn to drive, and you eat while it's mine. Because we're behind schedule, we don't make any pit stops until we hit the Iowa border. The land is, to us, criminally flat, and we count cornstalks until we can't stand the sight of another one. Lunch is in Iowa City, dinner in Omaha. Nebraska is flat too, but there are jagged and sharply beautiful cliffs and mountains that cling to the horizon. We keep on going until it's too dark to drive, and finally pitch our tent in some woods by a spindly river between Gothenburg and North Platte. (I only have to kill a few spiders for you.) We make no fire, because the alien air is so dry to us that we're sure we'll burn down the woods and anyway, we haven't found anyone to give us permission to camp here.
We don't sleep in again, and buy enough time to stop in a real Starbucks for breakfast. Somewhat sugar-bloated, it becomes everyone's fault when Kaylee breaks down thirty miles out of Sidney. We're in the middle of some isolated agricultural fields, and have to walk, on either side of Kaylee and each with a hand on a handlebar. Five miles we spend trudging along, me grumbling, you chirping "it ain't broke!" and Kaylee still puttering weakly as if in apology. Five miles to Kimball, where a flirty mechanic charges us an arm and a leg to replace her carburetor. Sore-footed, we leave Kaylee in his hands and trudge into a bistro for a late lunch. The garage isn't finished with Kaylee, so we wander the tiny town. The visitor's guide lists all of four "tourist attractions", the most convenient of which is entitled the Stone Building and is just that, a two-story stone building. We decide to retreat to a park bench for several games of Travel Blokus until Kaylee is road ready, which isn't till the late afternoon.
We make it to Pine Bluffs, right on the edge of Wyoming, before dark. It's a little eye-shaped town, neatly tucked between two highways. Sore and exhausted, we hit the nearest burger joint and camp quietly in the woods just past it, which we're sure is illegal. There's another group of bikers stopping there too, a middle-aged couple and their twenty-something daughter, heading from North Dakota to Albuquerque for a family gathering none of them wants to attend. We exchange hushed conversation and Oreos before you and I have to excuse ourselves and stumble off to bed.
In the hazy morning, you have to give my shoulder a vicious massage (which I thank you profusely for) before I can even move it, the combination of a merciless tree root and sleeping curled up. We leave the other family still sleeping and creep onto the road, and I gratefully let you take the first turn driving. While you do, we get our first look at Wyoming. We thought we were mountain-savvy, but these ones are jagged, stark, stony peaks, still capped with snow, that take our breath away and leave us swerving on the road, thanking a God we don't believe in that highway patrols are few and far between. We buy Italian sandwiches from a deli in Green River, and take them to spread out a clichéd red-and-white checkered blanket on a majestic stone hillside, enjoying the views of Sweetwater County with some disbelief.
A pit stop in Evanston, near the Utah border, takes us to a small park bustling with shockingly friendly people mostly our age. A boy asks me my number; a boy and a girl ask yours. We turn them down regretfully, and the boy with his eye on you takes some convincing that we don't live around here— he's sure he's seen us before. We leave laughingly, both teasing each other, and the drive through Utah seems light and short. We enjoy an unrealistic sunset with Salt Lake City silhouetted against it, and then check into a Holiday Inn in the city. We debate for a while about whether we should drive late tomorrow night or make a stop in Nevada. Eventually we decide to steel ourselves for a long day and set our alarm clock for four AM.
It feels criminal, dragging ourselves out of the luxury of a mattress while it's still dark outside to splash cold water on our faces, dress in the dark, and blearily order coffee downstairs. Even you, who hate coffee, request an espresso drink or two. We load up Kaylee, a pale glow just reaching the horizon, and set off. After Wyoming, Nebraska seems a little dull until I crank up the Firefly soundtrack. No one sees us on deserted highways, cutting through wheat fields, whooping at the distant cliffs, pretending to be futuristic cowboys. No one is there to laugh at us or be jealous of our fun.
A late lunch at Winnemucca, a name we laugh about, is followed by another less rambunctious drive southwest. Just as we reach Reno, though, Kaylee's carburetor breaks down again, and we haul her to another repair garage, grumbling curses at the flirty and incompetent mechanic of a few days earlier. The garage in Reno tells us that this will have to be an overnight repair, and we book a motel in town, wondering why we woke up so damn early only to stop at three in the afternoon. We spend the afternoon in the city markets, and discover that we've both bought each other necklaces as a "surprise", and both from the same vendor. That gives us something to laugh about until dinnertime, where we indulge in the lavishness of a real sit-down restaurant. We turn in early for the first time in a while.
We sleep in somewhat and hit the road immediately, stopping later in a town called Truckee, just inside California, for breakfast. (We could have eaten in Reno, but we wanted to see this Truckee.) The landscape changes drastically to ethereal forests filled with trees we can't name, and then to sprawling brushy meadows as the population gets denser. We have a relaxed lunch in Oakland, knowing that the trip is all but over.
It's early afternoon when we near San Francisco. I've been here once before; you haven't. I tell you to smell the air as we sail through Pacifica, and we breathe the eucalyptus trees, feeling the fresh, clean, minty scent clear the grit from our lungs and minds. The sun is out in full force. We pull Kaylee over at the top of the first hill of the city and get off to stretch our legs and take in the view of the rows of beachy buildings spread over the small and sharp hills like waves— all of them either white, off-white, or very pale colors— and the bay below. We pick up twigs covered in long, bladelike eucalyptus leaves and crush some, inhaling deeply before stuffing the branch into one of our bags for safekeeping. I'm pulling out our phone, but you hug me spontaneously before I can dial our friends.