One man’s search for self-worth, self-identity and a self-serve gas station in the states that accepts Canadian debit cards.
Story by Vincenza
Dedicated to all the insects we have loved and lost.
Once upon a time a teacher in elementary school told me that all great stories begin with ‘once upon a time’ – which is the only reason this story does. It was a deep dark winter’s night as I sat at the kitchen table of my poorly illuminated little apartment thumbing the pages of a tattered local newspaper that was dated 4 months prior – during a time when the sun still stood proudly in the sky well past 9pm and I didn’t rely on dried pieces of wood to feed the flames that provided me with both heat and light.
Out of sheer boredom I had flipped across these pages countless times. I could tell you which local indoor soccer high school team beat which other rival team during a ‘real nail-biter’ semi-final round and what new additions the local library was raising funds for, but I had never ventured into the Classifieds section at the very back – until tonight.
During winters gone-by I would save the Classifieds section until I could stand the bone-chilling howl of winter no longer. But tonight I was at my breaking point and with only the dancing flames from my woodstove and my darling Ella fast asleep on my lap to keep me company I decided it was time to venture. With my faithful highlighter in my right hand (because I’m right-handed, obviously) and a fresh cuppa’ on the table in front of me I flipped to the final page. BOOM! There it was! Right at the very top of the furthest left column was the ad that read:
FOR SALE: 2011 Honda Gold Wing, 112,000km mostly highway, heated handlebar grips, chrome luggage rack, aftermarket windshield, some minor scratches but the bike runs well. Certified. Asking $11,000 or best offer, please don’t waste my time with low offers.
That’s not true. I translated that for anyone who hasn’t looked for a used vehicle before. The actual ad:
4SALE: ’11 Wing, 112highwayKM, heated grips, chrome rack, windshield, small scratched strong bike. Cert. $11K OBO don’t waste my time.
Funny how things change when billed by-the-letter. After looking over the bike and pointing out many things it would have been nice to know about before making the 2hr drive we shook hands and agreed that $9,000 was a more reasonable price. Hey, don’t judge me, you didn’t see the rips in the seat! With the Wing loaded in the back of my pickup, and Ella peering out the windshield while perched on the dashboard, we headed for home.
Anyway, pull in the clutch and kick this thing in gear, it’s time to get this story going. It didn’t take long for Ella and I to agree that ‘south’ was the only direction we would be heading, and since the Wing was certified we decided we’d print off a variety of maps, drive to the Canadian-U.S. boarder where we’d unload the bike, park the truck and just ride.
Such simple plans meant that we were on our way in no time, and the Honda offered loads of storage for our camping gear and essentials. Whatever couldn’t fit in a compartment was strapped on the bike. I made sure to adjust my mirrors just right so that I couldn’t see a single piece of gear in the mirrors, because I thought if I can’t see it then I won’t be bothered to check constantly only to find something had fallen off a few miles back. With convenience and ease of packing in mind meals on the road were simple, and tonight’s dinner wasn’t going to be any different. After unclipping my imitation Swiss Army knife from my riding pants I worked the blade out of its red handle. With both hands now on the handle and a can of No Name kidney beans squeezed between my knees I worked the blade around the inside lip of the can until I had made two laps around it’s circumference. As the desert sun hung low in the Californian sky I lit a modest fire and balanced the open can of beans on a rock near the largest flames. It was amazing how quickly one can cover distance when you’ve got no destination in mind, only an understanding of what you want to leave behind. Canada’s cold was the enemy, and the warm coast of California was the only thing in my sights for the last 4 days of riding.
Once the beans began to pop and fizz in readiness I dug a spoon out of the deepest darkest reaches of my top box and began chomping down the little kidney shaped pieces of protein – blowing a swearing like an impolite sailor (or an impolite person of any profession) as the beans burnt their way down my throat, filling the grumbling void in my gut. Before discarding the can I fished out one final bean and flung it to Ella. As she neared the bean she had a look of disgust on her face, which was likely a response to the now sand-covered morsel offered to her.
I woke after a good night’s sleep and packed up the tent and checked over the bike as Ella cleaned herself from atop the passenger seat. The Honda was running perfectly with all 6 cylinders going through their motions as they sucked, squeezed, banged and coughed. Think about it. It’s more like a cough than a blow. Settling into the passing miles I flicked through the FM transmitter – past Dale Goodberg offering only the finest used cars east of the Pacific, past people finding God, disputing God and wars beginning because of him. I stopped when I heard the voice of a man who sounded like he was sitting in a massive leather recliner smoking a thick hand-rolled cigar while swirling a glass of some fine scotch you wouldn’t dare taint with even an ice cube. His rough voice was explaining about an old mineshaft located somewhere near the edge of the Mojave Desert, constructed in the 30’s as a make-work project. According to the voice, a few years after the tunnel’s constructed a miscalculated blast buried 36 men alive. The small town established around the mine was said to have marked the entrance with a thin white cross before they all picked up and left. Apparently that was the town’s way of letting the fallen miners rest in peace.
Now I know this is getting a little depressing, but it plays an important role in my story. The radio show host explained that the mine cannot be found on any maps or in any books as the grave site isn’t meant to be found by just anybody. The voice went on to proclaim that it is truly the ultimate motorcycle destination in North America as the only people who have been able to find it were riders. It was almost as if the location only let’s people traveling by bike find it. The radio host brought the program to a close by exclaiming that he believed in such a place as he had come across it years ago during a solo motorcycle trip.
As his voice trailed off it was replaced by drab elevator music that was so uninspiring I clicked-off the radio to allow myself some thinking time inside my helmet. I know the tooth fairy isn’t real, I don’t believe in ghost and I have my suspicions about the Easter bunny’s whereabouts but there was something about what I had just heard on the radio that left me with a tingle down my spine and a childish grin on my face.
As the natural light quickly diminished and my buttock lost feeling all together I decided that 9 hours in the saddle and 500 more miles now in my rear-view mirror was a good time to stop. We rolled off the interstate and into the parking lot of a Flying J. Using my bedroll as a pillow Ella and I took shelter under the stars right there on the pavement lying side-by-side. I was little spoon, obviously.
I woke up to the sounds of footsteps drawing near but didn’t turn to face it’s maker until I heard the heart-wrenching sound of a size 7 ladies boot crushing an the exoskeleton of an innocent insect with ease. I spun around in horror and yelled “You murderer! Move your stinkin’ boot!” Standing there was a slender lady of about the same age as myself. Her big beautiful Mediterranean curly hair hung past her shoulders. She had an indescribably cute little nose and deep brown eyes that matched her hair perfectly. But a murdered nonetheless. “Wha wha why?!” I whimpered “How could you?” “How could I what?” She responded defensively. (Damn, she even had a nice voice.)”Ella! You’ve murdered Ella!” I said. “What? Who? How?” She questioned. “Lift your damn boot! You’ve stepped on Ella.” I demanded. “Stepped on?” she said with a confused look on her face as she began to lift her foot. “Gross!” she said “that is an Ella?” “No! Well, yes. Ella is the name of my pet who also happened to be my travel companion. She is a beetle, my beetle.” I explained. “Well yeah I can she is…err was a beetle, but why are you traveling with a beetle? And, wait, why are you sleeping in the middle of the parking lot?” She asked. I explained that we got in late last night and by that time Ella had already fallen asleep behind me, I had decided to rest right there because I didn’t want to wake her. To which she responded: “Wake her? Are we still even talking about a beetle? In hindsight don’t you think it would have been better not to camp right here?” I then said “Well yes, of course in hindsight I should have risked waking her for finding a better place to sleep. But it’s a little too late for that, eh?” Ending my last sentence with the classic ‘Eh?’ turned out to work perfectly as she then explained that she is Canadian as well.
As our conversation continued I found the courage to explain that I was in search of the mysterious mine, only to learn that she was too – and by motorcycle! Asking where her ride was she explained that it was at a nearby dealership with a seized motor. A cross-threaded oil drain plug from the week previous had been slowly leaking until her trusty Suzuki GS500F decided that it couldn’t take the lack of lubrication any longer. (Insert dirty thought to yourself here.)
After a few mugs of java and I hardy breakfast (that I insisted she pay for since she killed Ella) we decided that her bike was in good hands, and that she would join me on my bike so that we both could continue our journey. Since she had a headset that could be linked to mine via BlueTeeth (is that the correct plural?) we passed the time chatting about nearly everything accept for the mine we were both in search of. Once I realized we were literally riding in a straight line with no destination in mind I decided to gas up at the next station and grab something to eat before we made a plan for our mysterious destination.
What?! Another gas station that doesn’t accept Canadian debit cards? American’s sure know how to hold a grudge. Beat them at a military conflict in 1812 and they just won’t let it go. If the gas wasn’t so (relatively) inexpensive I would be angry. With a sheepish grin I looked over to my new travel companion, Vincenza, who rolled her eyes and reluctantly pulled some greenbacks out of her purse. While sipping our horrible coffees at the nearby convenient store we discussed our plans for finding the mine. I explained to Vincenza all about the radio broadcast I had heard, and she told me that she had learned of the mine from her grandfather. Thankfully her grandfather had been there before, but he never spoke of it until the final time she saw him. He had told her that she should ride to the spot where the Cedar Canyon and New York’s Highest mountain met. Once at the crossroads she should ride ‘as the crow flies’ and if she does just that, she will be lead right to the white cross. Apparently her granddad was an educated man who often spoke in rhyme or riddle and because of that she always thought that maybe the canyon and mountain references were actually roads, but she couldn’t figure out what he was trying to tell her about the crows.
Asking the cashier, a pump attendant and some locals we pieced together that there is a Cedar Canyon road near the south-western corner of the Mojave Desert, but nobody knew of the mine or the NY mountain. Strange.
With extremely limited clues to go on we decided to ride out along historic Route 66 from its most westerly point until we come to the Mojave National Park main entrance, which is said to be smoothly paved, which sounds desirable while aboard a Gold Wing and sharing the experience with a lovely little lady one is trying to impress. Even though she is a cold-blooded killer.
It is now Day 15 since I originally left home. I am one travel companion short, but have gained another. The Honda sings its internal-combustion song without fault. The rubber contact patches on my tires are slowly widening as the hot rough pavement of Route 66 slowly nibbles away at my tread. The bug splatters harden on my windscreen and headlight but they have become part of my daily ritual. I make a weak attempt at rubbing them off each morning, and again each evening. My seat has accepted my bodyweight and seems to now welcome its mass, rather than push against it and make me uncomfortable as it did the first few hundred kilometers. The scenery is amazing, my SD cards are reaching their max and my eyelids feel heavy as each day is spent on the road, with the pair of them scanning the horizon endlessly in search of a thin white cross, cracks in the pavement, chunks of garbage and other foreign matter on the road, animals jumping out of the ditches, truckers trying to run me off the road and cops hiding behind bridges and signs trying to make their quota. Oh and don’t forget about the careless teenagers who have fooled their parents into thinking they are responsible enough to borrow the family car so that they can text and talk on the phone while they hurl their massive vehicle in my general direction.
Day 16 went much like 15, but with an interesting accident spotted to break up the day. See the included image for a better interpretation of the crash, but I`ll do my best to describe it. We came ridding up a slight incline only to see a smoking car on its roof laying on an embankment on the left side of the road. A state trooper is near the car with his lights on, eating a doughnut and looking bored. That is interesting enough as is, but the cherry on top was that it was an arrow-straight section of paved road for at least 20 kilometers, and it was a beautiful clear day. How one finds themselves losing total control of their car and flipping is beyond me – but it makes for interesting conversation with your riding buddy.
Turing off the interstate we slow so that Vincenza can snap a picture of the impressive Mojave Desert sign welcoming us into its endless sandy land. Later that day we saw a real tumble weed, and a road runner! Turns out there wasn`t a coyote with dynamite hiding behind any nearby bushes, but seeing some stereotypical American desert items brought the entire trip into perspective. For the first time since I left home I thought of the snow mounds back home and the snow blowers running all hours of the night. I missed Ella.
Riding northwest now further into the national reserve we soon came across Cedar Canyon Road! What a road she was. 2-foot sand banks lined either side of the 20-foot wide road, the banks were created by the sand snowplows, seriously! Cedar Canyon Road was extremely bumpy as the blowing wind moved the sand much like waves in the shallow shores of a lake leave the sand in small uniform ridges. Although the road looks very pretty with its small rows of sand it shook the hell out of my passenger, my ride and myself.
We moved at a moon-walking snail`s pace, covering only 10 miles in the first hour. By hour 6 we were down to 5 miles per hour as Honda`s build quality was going through its most difficult challenge with each passing bump. We had lost my water bottle, Vincenza`s high heels and all of our cookware because the rope holding them all had snapped, and of course I didn’t notice because my mirrors were positioned such that I wouldn`t notice if anything fell off. Other than the bumps, the most notable thing about traveling through the desert was the wondering herds of cattle that would lazily glance at you as you passed, but wouldn`t even pretend to be apologetic for being in your way. Thankfully our slow travel speed and the wide roads meant that there was always enough time to point the Wing away from a heifer.
Then we found it! Nope, not the mine, but New York Mountain Road. Because of our excitement Vincenza snapped a shot of the sign, see included image for proof. We stopped and parked the bike so that we could look around for any indication of an old cart path or lane way that might have been meant by `as the crow flies`. I wish grandpa gave better details. Giving up for the day we set up camp, dinner was once again beans. With a female companion things have to be done to impress, so I opened the can more quickly with my knife, and politely dished equal portions into two bowls.
After a good night`s sleep we both woke with a refreshed sense of adventure, and a determination to find said mine. A group of birds were picking away at the empty bean cans from last night. But not just any birds, these ones were big black crows! Yup, an entire group of them or a murder as they are called, personally though I like to call them a `Vincenza` of crows so that I can rub in the fact that she is a killer. Scaring them away I noticed that they all flew east as they squawked in unison. East! That`s it. We had to head directly east from the intersection! Thanks grandpa.
With endless thorny small bushes and plants I decided to save the bike and go on foot. Wrapping t-shirts around our ankles to defend against the more eager thorns we trudged on. From time to time a crow would pass overhead, and each time the large bird would be flying east.
Then it happened. No, I didn`t pass gas, faint from the intense heat or propose to Vincenza (although all three thoughts were in my mind). We saw the thin white post sticking up from the horizon. As we moved closed the post became an upside-down capital-T then it became a lowercase-t then we saw that the t was clearly on top of a dark wooden structure of some kind. My heart raced and I felt Vincenza squeeze my hand (Nice. First base.). With the massive crows flying majestically around the structure, or perched on one of its many beams, the entire thing looked so surreal. Countless hours of the desert’s relentless sun beating down on the old timbers caused them to darken and dry. A large cast-iron pulley, which I suspect was used to haul the men out from the dark depths of the mine, still hung loyally as if ready at any moment to retrieve the men forever buried down below.
We snapped a number of photos with each of us standing in front of the mine. We didn’t know it at the time but for some strange reason most of the people we showed the photos to couldn’t see the shots of the mine! We couldn’t understand it, our camera was fine, the SD card we used wasn’t damaged and most of the photos everyone could see. Oddly enough only our friends who ride could actually see the old wooden structure. The shot of the car flipped over in the ditch, pictures of the late Ella and the road sign could be seen by all – but not photos that had the mine in it.
It was almost as if the mine itself was only visible to riders. I have a couple friends with scooter and my neighbour has a trike – they can all see the photos. Interesting. It seems that anyone who shares a passion for the open road and the freedom it brings can see it.
Now this might all sound a little crazy so I’d like you, the reader, to do me a favour. At the very end of this story I’ve included an image of the mine, it isn’t a great photo, but it is a great representation of what I saw that day. If you scroll down and find nothing then I’m sure you’re going to think I’m completely off my rocker. But, if by chance you see a photo of a beautiful blue sky with rolling hills in the background, Mojave Desert sand in the foreground and a large wooden structure with a thin white cross atop – then you are meant to find the mine.
Follow the crows and ride with your heart because you never know where the next dirt trail or smooth curve in the pavement may take you.
This post was submitted by our new Guest Blogger “Happy Gilmore” for the Your Best Motorcycle Story $100 Giveaway Contest. Read and vote for your favorite contest stories. Winner chosen by peer and editor rating!
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