Just a few more months. Everything you are doing is towards this goal. You need this trip. You need this escape.
Don't jeopardize it now.
I've been repeating this mantra in my head endlessly over the past several months, a process of self-medication to try and ease my tortured mind. It's a small but crucial balm to soothe my stress and bring my life back into focus.
Forget the drudgery of the day and the cruelty of working mindlessly, endlessly. The goal is on the horizon. Soon you can escape, however briefly.
It's small comfort. I've been working retail for 12 years and I will forever hate it. Unless you've done it yourself, you can't fathom how destructive it is to your psyche. After a while you will only see the worst side of the people you serve. Your customers begin to blur into a series of unpleasant stereotypes who seem to haunt your workplace with the sole purpose of making your day worse. Every day is a struggle to suppress your desire to lash out against the rude, self-entitled attitudes you are forced to suffer through fake smiles and forced pleasantries.
Over the years I've tried to maintain my belief that people are inherently good and kind and interesting, but working in retail service for several years is a quick way to dispel those notions. There are, of course, many good and friendly folks who will approach your counter but, in life as on internet comment threads, it's the assholes who you will remember first. And just like on the internet, when you get to the point where the only people you can recall are those assholes then it is time to step away and take the time to refresh yourself with an excursion into the wilds of reality as far away from your desk as possible.
After a while your only remaining power is your apparent freedom to quit, but that is a false sense of control because you struggle to make ends meet and missing even a single day of wages will set you back so much you can't even take a sick day. The economy is shit and has been since you left school. You remember being unemployed for six months living on borrowed money. You don't dare tempt fate.
I've long struggled with my position in the world. It's a never-ending oscillation between self-pity and self-loathing punctuated by moments of unrelenting optimism. The sort of manic mental state most people aren't interested in dealing with, one I keep hidden behind my easy smile and my calm demeanor. Sympathy is hard to come by. After a while you stop looking for it and learn to deal with your own demons. Everyone has their own shit and there's always some self-righteous twit out there who will point out that you have it so much better than most people in the world because you aren't dead.
My demons are numerous and always amplified by long bouts at a desk, where my endless, manic thought processes run amok and blow minor situations out of proportion in my head. Forcing an introvert to deal with far too many people on daily basis is asking for problems. The duality of my personality has become more and more exaggerated as I get older, my facade cracking more and more easily. I try to keep my perspective in check and avoid the endless, toxic analysis of the world that accompanies my low points. Focus on the positives and push the days of depression to the wayside. Try to keep the nihilism and destructive tendencies at bay. But it gets harder as you get older and begin to feel trapped, a prisoner of circumstance and a hyperactive mind. Being trapped in a dead end job doesn't help.
But you aren't here to read about my personality disorders. You are here to read about motorcycles. And I'm here to write about them.
To wit: the only escape from my demons, the only thing that can consistently make me happy, is my motorcycle. It sits in the parking lot, awaiting my return, welcoming me back to a better reality when I pass through the doors on my way home. The sound, the vibration, and the sheer violence of the performance brings my dulled senses back into sharp focus. There's a reason I've gravitated towards vicious, uncompromising machines, even for daily commuting - nothing else makes me feel alive like riding a wild animal to and from work, and nothing short of a skittish sport machine can satisfy my lust for sensory overload after 9 hours of selling oil filters.
I tell people the only thing that makes me happy is riding motorcycles. And I mean it. It's the one thing I'm unwilling to give up on for love or money.
I let the Ducati languish for the better part of the previous season, mainly because it was such a chore to get it running on a cold morning and riding a 916 through city traffic is a form of cruel physical and psychological torture I preferred not to subject myself to. If you want to truly devastate your worst enemy, give him the keys to an iconic superbike and force him to ride through 50 km/h zones littered with speed cameras, all while dodging dopey motorists at 8.30 in the morning.
Then I discovered a sump full of fine metallic glitter and I knew the engine's days were numbered, so I nursed it through to the end of the season before retiring it to my living room to await an engine transplant sometime in the future. I had hoped it would be my mount for the second USA Tour, but fate, mileage, and mechanical fatigue ended up conspiring against that idea. Not to mention my back and neck aren't holding up like they used to as I approach 30.
The Tuono came into my life through a happy bit of circumstance, another case of rescuing an underappreciated Italian sport bike from the hands of apathetic caretakers. Fortunately I found myself with a bike that was reliable and virtually maintenance free (at least compared to what I'm used to) while retaining a wonderful degree of charisma… Which is a curse on some days. Unintended powerslides through city traffic are a quick way to tempt fate. Every time I have a squirrelly moment saved only by my sloth-like reflexes - sometimes the best reaction is no reaction at all - I imagine a hooded figure in a darkened room adding a tally to a parchment scroll until some arbitrary total is reached, at which point I'll get spanked into the pavement.
Regardless of its apparent propensity towards killing its operator, the Tuono makes a pretty decent touring mount. Aside from a hard seat, it's quite comfortable and can be ridden it all day, provided you don't get driven insane by suffering the lean surge in the lower midrange while trying to abide by posted limits.
That, unfortunately, makes for a rather more boring travel experience. The spectre of mechanical doom was part of what made the first USA Tour such a hoot, and every destination along the way a triumphant conquest against the odds - a point made quite tangible when the ECU in my 916 shit the bed immediately after I arrived home. People remember when you show up on an inappropriate machine that should never be ridden too great a distance from a fully stocked tool chest. They won't if you show up on a Goldwing or an R1200GS. While the Tuono isn't exactly an Adventure Tourer™, it's also not a torturous choice for a long-distance mount.
My masochistic side tells me that I'm cheating, that this will be too easy. I'm too well equipped and the bike is too appropriate for the mission.
Maybe I shouldn't jinx myself.
Given that I've spent most of my years riding along the East coast it only made sense that I should start planning a run along the West. I'd never driven past the Great Lakes before I made the decision to abandon my increasingly jaded life in Montreal and drive out here on a whim. I've never been to California, and I've only made limited excursions into the Rockies since I moved to Calgary. Utah isn't that far from Alberta so visiting Bonneville, a place for which I have nurtured a sense of curiosity for its apparently intense grip on those who worship at the altar of speed, seemed like a good enough excuse to saddle up and ride for a couple of weeks.
God knows I need a proper vacation. My move across the country and its associated costs had left me completely broke for the better part of 2014. I took the funds I received in advance for a four month sublet on my Montreal lease and used it to pay for my expenses; for four months I had to pay rent twice, on apartments in the third and fourth most expensive cities in Canada, keeping ahead of my creditors with borrowed funds and putting in too many hours of unpaid overtime.
So after suffering through a year without a decent motorcycle trip, I needed to reset and renew. Maybe ponder my most recent hackneyed existential crisis in a new and exciting landscape. Meeting some like-minded enthusiasts on the road would be just the sort of therapy I could use to renew my faith in humanity after so many months of putting up with uppity customers.
I needed another aimless journey into the unknown, setting my sights at the horizon and taking off on a long adventure on unfamiliar routes. So I started planning the second USA Tour in the vein of the first, a long trip aboard an uncompromising Italian sport bike with a few key stops along the way to gather research and photographs for future articles. Given that OddBike has grown considerably since the first Tour in 2013 there would be more opportunities to meet followers and fans along the way, and as soon as I announced the trip I received numerous offers for places to stay along the way from generous fans. Too many to accept, in fact. That was in addition to the numerous people who contributed to the Indiegogo campaign to help fund the trip, and the endless stream of kind words and suggestions sent to my inbox.
I've always wanted to ride the Pacific Coast Highway, ever since my father had planted the idea in my head many years ago. I wanted to camp among the Redwoods. I wanted to run up the Mulholland Highway. I wanted to sleep in Death Valley. I wanted to ride the lonely desert highways and tight canyon roads I'd only read about in magazines - and see if the SoCal-centric legends lived up to the hype. This time around, I'd make a point to take advantage of the side roads and scenic routes that I'd neglected to do during the first USA Tour when I took the easy way out and spent most of my time on dull Interstates. It would be a challenge given I had a mere two weeks to cover at least 7000 kms, and I wanted to spend most of that time on twisty secondary roads with stops in small towns and out-of-the-way museums.
Then came the news, just prior to my departure, that the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Week had been cancelled due to poor salt conditions. The whole climax of my trip was a bust before I even left.
It suddenly seemed that the second OddBike USA Tour was going to be about the people more than anything else.