I heard some ruckus outside my window at about 3:30am and I assumed it was stargazers looking skyward at the Perseids meteor shower. Even though I was awake, I had no desire to view the burning debris of the Swift-Tuttle comet. What had changed in me? As a science buff and a curious person in general, I would have normally leapt out of bed to see such and event. The previous day was overly filled with objects never before seen that I was just overloaded and could not parse another. I snuffled back to a dreamless sleep and remembered that the Perseids meteor shower only happens every 130 years. I apologized to the heavens and mumbled, “Maybe next time.”
I woke up again at 6:30am and I was ready to ride. Today was a long driving day, but I was looking forward to the haul. I was heading for Tonopah, NV after a bizarre suggestion from a barmaid in Telluride, CO who said I should spend a night in a natural hot bath that the locals rent cheap. It was a good halfway point between the next day’s destination of Green River, UT.
I boarded the Brick and cut through the misty soup of Marina. I drove for at least 20 miles before I got out of the fog and could finally see more than 10 feet in front of me. I wondered who would live in such a place. Many people aren’t afforded the luxury of choosing where to live. They are born in a certain town and circumstances keep them caged there. Fear of the unknown is one factor that deters people from venturing out, choosing to remain with familiar surroundings. I left Jacksonville when I was 25 for Tampa because I wanted more out of my environment. After being in Tampa for a short time, I realized I stayed in Jax too long because of fear. I then stayed in Tampa or 10 years and came to the conclusion that I should have left there sooner as well. I lament that I didn’t relocate to NYC sooner when I had the energy and fire for my music. I landed in the Apple with 35 years on the clock and realized my heyday was behind me. Not that I didn’t have good times in those other towns, but being in Florida offered little opportunity for a struggling musician to make his big break.
I pulled over in Hollister, CA after 30 minutes of driving and lowered the side stand. I stood in awe as the sun rose over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This old bike had served me well and I thought that if even if it failed at this moment, I would be satisfied. I have compressed so many memories into such a short time and I was proud that I wasn’t satisfied to remain in the endless loop of work-eat-sleep. I ventured out and my horizons are now forever expanded.
I pressed on comfortably. I owned the roads. I had a funny thought of being the last man on earth, an immature idea that crosses my mind often as I have a penchant for dystopian post-apocalyptic films, most notably Omega Man. As a boy I sometimes wanted to be the last man on earth, perhaps because I came form a large family and wanted to overcompensate for the lack of breathing room, or maybe because I was sensitive boy and bullied at times. The thought of being able to wander the earth, jump into a Ferrari or a Porsche at the nearest dealership, and drive away without paying excited me. I could go as fast as I wanted with no one around. Now here I was on a desolate road with the posted speed limits meaning next to nothing. For a brief moment I had become Robert Neville.
I stopped the San Luis Reservoir and was stunned by the view, this time by rolling hills and vast body of water. I would have wagered that my back would have bothered me by this point in the journey, but it wasn’t bothering me at all. By seeing these sites I am lulled into a state of relaxation and that is reflected in my body. My shoulders are loose, and the long miles on the bike don’t ache nearly as much as I thought they would. I am becoming one with the road. This life suits me.
I arrived in Merced, CA and needed to eat. I drove around the town that seemed desolate. Did it happen? Am I the new Robert Neville bound to wander the earth in a world without humans? I eventually discovered life and found a tasty joint called the Cinema Café that at one time was in an old movie theater. I ordered big: sausage, eggs, toast, fruit, coffee, juice, and water. I downed the whole lot and every bite was delicious. The sausage was delectable and of the home made non-frozen variety. I felt lucky to have stumbled on such a delicious place. The strange thing about Merced is the amount of flies. At the restaurant and even at the gas station, there were Alkali flies everywhere. Maybe their population was seasonal or maybe the winged savages are a local curse never to be escaped like the fog of Marina. I wouldn’t be back to find out.
I drove on for another 50 miles and came to the front gate of Yosemite National park. The price was $10 to enter. This dollar amount seemed a bargain considering the sites the park had to offer. These mountains and rivers took hundreds of thousands of years to be created and now all the park service wanted was $10? I smiled as I handed over my money and drove into the park. The road paralleled the Merced River and the twisty curves were a treat to drive. The mountains were literally breathtaking. My hands on this computer keyboard cannot capture the size and grandeur of their beauty. On this journey I have found myself running out of adjectives. How many times can I use the words: incredible, awesome, amazing, and unbelievable? Yet these descriptors are all I have to express the many things I have seen for the first time.
I was low on gas and stopped at the gas station in the middle of the park high up on a mountain. A light rain began to fall and I had already put on my rain gear a few miles back. A young customer in the station said, “You are brave!” I laughed and said, “This isn’t much rain, I’m not worried,” as looked down at the fresh tires, internally rejoicing in their purchase that is now providing me safer passage.
I exited Yosemite and drove past Mono Lake. The large body of water is located where 395 meets 120. I drove around the lake and looked at the view from many angles. I am learning to slow down and take time to experience life. Something I have not really done much until making a concentrated effort during this trip. I drove on 120 and picked up 6 and stopped at the intersection in a town called Benton for gas and water. As I fueled the bike, I heard the music of The Doors echoing from a trailer across the highway. The buildings surrounding the gas station were boarded up and again I thought, “Who could live here?”
I made my escape from the ghost town and blasted down 6 to Tonopah with my speedometer pinned on 90. I booked a hotel room at the National 9 the night before, but I left open the option of visiting the hot baths. I was not excited about the accommodations after driving past these relics of mythical healing power. The baths were behind private residences and the entire vibe conjured images of the film Deliverance with the strains “Dueling Banjos” echoing in my head. The experience of the baths was one I could live without.
I checked into the hotel and the flies were as prevalent as in Merced. My room was rustic and the curtains had cowboys on them. I left the motel and searched around for food winding up in a grocery store parking lot. I shouted to a young local girl who was collecting shopping carts and asked her for a good place to eat. “I like El Marques. The food is awesome.” Who am I to argue with the locals? I entered the El Marques and observed it was a throwback to a time when the baths of Tonopah had more attendance. I ordered a combo plate of Mexican food and the spicy flavors hit the spot because I had not eaten since breakfast. The 2012 Olympics closing ceremonies were the night before and the bar televisions had recaps of the highlights. I watched with little interest. I didn’t care about trophies or ceremonies. I was chasing my own gold medal – crossing the country on a motorcycle.
After the filling dinner, I found a small dive bar called the Clubhouse Saloon. It’s a rough joint with haggard customers where people go to get drunk. The only woman besides the bartender was a girl identified by the other patrons as a prostitute. I kept my mouth shut until a guy next to me named Wayne asked about my bike. He said he had an old Triumph that he bought that was in a fire and he restored it. He has lived in Tonopah for 20 years and is on disability. Rain started to fall so I was staying put for a while, even thought the motel was jus a few miles down the street. Wayne’s friend Joe joined in the conversation. We talked about bikes and Tonopah history, laughing and swilling beer. I was enjoying the company after many miles alone on the Brick earlier in the day.
Joe was in Vietnam and talked about how when he returned he just partied as hard as he could. He said he had come close to death so many times that normal life left him with a feeling of emptiness, so he just cranked up the heat. I related this loosely to my trip. After my relationships and hopes for “the dream life” had been shattered more than once, all I wanted to do was be indulgent. I was spending tons of money, speeding, drinking, gambling, and eating whatever I wanted. This trip was my personal return from Vietnam, my own post war recovery. Joe somehow remained sane after his tour in Nam and also retained a great sense of humor. He riffed on Forrest Gump; “God sure took care of Forrest, except when it came to Jenny.” I laughed at this joke, but then I was taken aback. Like Gump, I too have led an extremely charmed life except in the relationship area.
The rain slowed to a drizzle and I decided to head back to the motel. I said goodbye to Wayne and Joe who both kept me entertained with their yarns and practical wisdom. As I left Joe shouted, “Remember, you can’t wash ugly off a pig!” I laughed as I wiped the water off of my seat and cranked the Brick to life. I thought about this chance meeting with these two guys. If you were to run into either of them on the street you would fear for your life as their outward appearance is that of jagged bikers. But below their ruffian surfaces were normal men that I got to know for a few hours while waiting out a rainstorm – such serendipitous enlightenment. I left knowing I would never see either one of them again. I left knowing I would never come to Tonopah again.
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Marina to Tonopah – 380 Miles