The Last Ride

Carson City was a bit crazy as we had suddenly multiplied. Day riders and friends were joining on to do the final push with us. One of the day riders was my MSF instructor Roy Denny, instrumental in getting me ready for this trip. He gave me a couple extra lessons which really helped my headspace in the weeks leading up to the trip, when I was filled with dread and anxiety. He was originally going to meet us in Springfield as well, but he hit a deer one morning on his bike, got banged up, had to get surgery, and just recovered with enough time to blitz out west in four days to meet us. As Roy likes to say, “ride, eat sleep, repeat!”

Back with the Mighty Wood Ducks (MWD for short), our numbers had doubled. As he was donating booze from his bar, Kilowatt, over in the Mission for the closing party, Pete had gone up ahead. Bob was leading us, Diane was the tail, and Bob’s lovely wife Becca had joined on as well. We dodged rush hour traffic headed north into Reno. I gave a motorist the finger when they cut me off and then had to remind myself to calm down — I was already freaked out about the day. Not good to flip off people off on the highway!

Highway 80 got twistier and was filled with more and more traffic. We were plunged into shadows, evergreens growing around us as we crossed over the border into California, riding near Donner Pass. My teeth chattered, my hands almost numb. I had forgotten how cold northern California could be. We stopped in Truckee and everyone hopped around, soaking in the growing warmth of the new sun.

Back on 80 and a jerk in a pickup truck swerved, almost hitting Holly. She can’t use her back brake due to limited mobility in her ankle, so her only choice was swerving out into the next lane. Luckily she was unscathed, albeit rattled. A bit further down the road and a black SUV (douchemobile) almost cut me off as i passed through its blind spot for mere seconds. Sheesh. We were indeed headed towards civilization again, warts and all.

Up ahead we were rewarded with lengthy traffic jams, the now unbearable and punishing sun shining down relentlessly. I wondered how thirsty was too thirsty. We crawled over bridges and under highway overpasses. We watched solo riders split lanes as we fought with the friction zone, clutches flickering. Up over another ridge, it appeared we were in the Marin Headlands. But how long would it take?!

We traveled over a steep bridge and suddenly there was water and wind. The temperature began to drop. After an indeterminate amount of time, we zoomed around a corner AND THERE IT WAS. The Golden Gate looming below. Holy shit. I sucked in air, gasping, a half-sob.

Quick through a tunnel, much like the longer one we took to exit Brooklyn so many days earlier. Tunnel book-ends. Turning down into Fort Powers, at the base of the bridge, for photos. They were waiting for us. Folks from the San Francisco Motorcycle Club (SFMC) were on site to direct us, pointing the way and cheering us on. Bikes everywhere. I see Robert Pandya ahead, he shouts for me to drive straight. To my right are all the riders, screaming and “woo!”-ing and clapping. Ahead and to my left were many many cameras, telephoto lenses in gear, invisible “snap!” of digital shutters.

BUT WAIT! We weren’t there yet! People wanted to hug and cry and celebrate, but I kept thinking… we still need to go over that big bridge! Ever-anxious, I was obsessing about the hairpin turns we’d have to travel back up to get out of the park. My brain had to stay in travel-mode, as odd as that seemed, for self-preservation purposes.

We queue up, me with the Indian riders so I could be next to my parents, behind them and Sarah “SeCCRet” Moreau (SeCCRet about the break Bessie Stringfield’s record for most cross country trips — completing her EIGHTEENTH, which seems impossible.) We wait for the rest of the cross country riders to pass. I know them all, send love direct to each of their hearts as they climb up the turn. We fall in after, before the day riders. We climb. Around the bend. SFMC riders here and there, zooming up to hold the cars back, blocking the intersections.

We approach and enter onto the bridge. IT’S ALL HAPPENING. This is REAL. We so many (150+) that we take up one entire lane, beginning to end. And then the crying starts, of course. Orange pillars pushing up the fog-laden air. It’s a moment outside time, although crossing probably couldn’t have taken more than three minutes. I look to my left and see my brother Adam, his wife Meg, and our good family friend Bob standing and cheering at the last pillar, holding up a sign which read, “CONGRATULATIONS VB SISTERS RIDERS!” I shoot my arm up, high five with the sky, before entering San Francisco proper.

We veer around the corner, sea breeze to my right. I look over and two big white/orange hawks are flying with us, cresting on air currents. I like to take birds as signs, and this was as good a sign as any — Augusta and Adeline, there with us, bearing witness.

People are everywhere, taking note, taking photos. Some of them ignoring, somehow. We continue. SFMC takes us on an outlaw-style tour of the city. There’s only about five of them riding with us, but they have it down to a science. One guy zooms ahead at full speed, stopping at the next intersection. He puts his hand out, and that’s all it takes for motorists to stop — they’re confused or scared or interested; at any rate, they obey the hand of the motorcycle rider; this hand could just as easily stop floods or move mountains in this moment. We parade through. Next guy is already past us at the next intersection, and then the next. The first guy zooms past again to the next spot. They hop-scotch through the city, taking us up and down 60-degree-grade hills, pushing traffic aside.

Eventually there are just too many intersections and not enough SFMC members… which means we just blow through the intersections, horns blaring. Not a cop in sight. Surprisingly, we do this with minor issues, save a few huffy hipsters and impatient Saturday drivers. (Of note is the fact that I hadn’t seen hipsters in three weeks, until entering San Fran!) People regard us with the full spectrum of facial expressions. We demand attention. They don’t even know what the whole thing is about; they just see a line of bikes as far as their eyes will strain in the afternoon sun. It reminds me of Critical Mass in NYC, the radical cyclist event which forces other street users to pay attention. WE ARE HERE. But instead of a “share the road or fuck off” intention, we were filled with joy and tears, happy to meet the city, lucky to traverse their beautiful streets.

SFMC takes us along the best route we could have asked for, a real victory lap. This group has heart. And balls. I found out later that this was completely outlaw-style, unsanctioned. No permits filed, no permission asked. “We do this all the time,” they said. Makes sense — I’m always surprised when I get to SF, forgetting how much more like the Wild West it is than NYC, which seems uptight and regulation-heavy in comparison.

But there was another reason SFMC gave us such a welcome. 100 years ago they weren’t where they said they’d be. The plan was they’d meet the sisters as they rolled into the city, but they flaked. Augusta and Adeline arrived to absolutely no fanfare and nobody, tired and annoyed. They quickly said “screw this” and left for LA, where they got a warm reception from some Hollywood types.

At our closing party later that night, the historian from SFMC issued a formal apology for their 1916 gaff. They certainly made up for it! SFMC 4-EVA! (And their clubhouse is totally amazing, filled with old photos and memorabilia; they’re the second oldest motorcycle club in the world behind the one in Yonkers, NY. If you ever have a chance to visit them, DO IT!)