They Call It #1 For a Reason


I've been riding motorcycles since I was 15. You may have heard the phrase "ride it like you stole it."
I did and I did.  That will make this year my 57th and, I expect, final year of two wheel adventuring.

I've probably had (owned, that is) more bikes than I've had girlfriends. Japanese bikes. Brit bikes. Late night street racing from the Ace and other motorcycle cafes around London. American bikes. German bikes. I always wanted a Ducatti or Moto Guzzi. Just never got around to it. I've ridden the UK and Western Europe, the northwest bits of Africa; Canada, the US and Mexico - north to south, east to west, and a few Pacific island states.

There is Zen in long-haul motorcycling but you have to ride alone. It's liberating when your mind focuses on just one thing, the road. Your Monkey Brain goes still, stops the endless chattering. It's soothing to be intensely alert to only one thing, the road. By long haul I mean consecutive days of riding, each day at least 300 miles. 

The longest day that I can recall was about ten years ago. I started with breakfast in a diner in Lethbridge, Alberta. I had dinner that night in a very nice hotel diningroom in Kenora, Ontario. That was a Zen day. Zen is the only thing that could make the soul-crushing boredom of the Trans Canada Highway through the prairies remotely bearable. Zen keeps you from succumbing to "are we there yet, how much further?" I reached Winnipeg late in the afternoon and I began thinking about where to stay for the night. Then I saw a highway sign "Kenora, 250 km" and I just knew I had to do it. Not Alberta to Manitoba, no, Alberta to Ontario.

What a contrast between Canada's poorly patched, endless stretch of misery, Highway 1, the Trans Canada, and California's Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH. 

You can ride the PCH on a Hog or a Honda Goldwing - if you must. People even bundle the kids into RVs and ply that blacktop, in their own way. Some corners are so tight that you can see the scars in the asphalt gouged out by lumbering behemoths that should be exiled to the inter-state where they belong. 

But to really ride the PCH you need power and agility, a machine that can accelerate and brake like it's on an aircraft carrier and can happily lean over until the pegs kiss the road. These are corners that are made to be challenged, your mind quietly doing the calculations of lines, entry speed, when to get off the throttle, where to brake, where to get back on the gas, exit speed. The asphalt slingshot. You have to know exactly what your bike can do and exactly what you can do and you have to respect the limits and then you can challenge the corner. Get it right and it's exhilarating. Get it wrong, well anything can happen and you may not get a do-over.

I think the clock has run out on me and the Pacific Coast Highway.  I boycotted the States after Trump came to power and now there's the pandemic.  They say that as you get older your world shrinks. They're right. Days are numbered and, in this case, that also applies to the PCH, Hwy. 1. Sea level rise is taking its inevitable toll on the steep slopes on which the highway is perched, a road so steep that, in some places, you can almost look straight down to the sea. The highway is also experiencing washouts from the heavy rains that trigger mudslides.

 I'll miss that road. I'll miss riding from the Olympic Peninsula, along the spectacular Oregon coast, through the Redwood forests of northern California and on to the magical coast, the icing on the cake. Tempus fugit.


  1. .. as I've written, I was a dirt & pavement rider. I always had pickup trucks & a 2 X 12 ramp and a Bouvier de Flanders riding shotgun. I was curious about Canada. Keep in mind though as a cameraman I shot cars, dragster, motorcycle & cycling races.. big cajones required by participants. I was more Travels With Charlie - John Steinback driving across America with a genial standard poodle in their camper back pickup Rocinante

    With a farm buddy, we left Tofino in the false dawn, 24 hrs later Winnipeg (plus grabbed a paycheck in The Chuck) & next breakfast near University of Guelph to avoid late registration fees. I've crossed Canada either way so many times I lost count, truck, car, train, plane & riding my thumb.. but never on a super bike as I just didn't 'get it' .. However I always dreamed of owning a Norton Commando.. figured that would set me on a righteous path

    To me riding was always a zero alcohol deal.. the ride was always way more buzz enuff.. and you describe it well. Add a passenger and you just amped it up even more. It was kind of like guns.. Zero room for error - Zero alcohol.. Unless you wanted to be a 'kidney donor'

    1. That 750 Commando was a fine machine. I always wanted one but the closest I ever got was a third-hand 750 Atlas, the Commando's predecessor. Wonderful handling.

      Booze and bikes are lousy traveling companions. If nothing else it keeps you from getting in the zone mentally. I didn't like riding with other bikers and I preferred to ride solo, no passenger. It has to be you and the machine and that's it. Otherwise it's fatiguing. Three, four hours max.

  2. Very evocative, Mound. My big regret is that I never got to the PCH, and given my present aversion to the U.S., I doubt at this stage I ever will.

    1. I don't know how they'll save the PCH, Lorne. Sea level rise is eroding it at the bottom and the combination of wildfires burning off the ground cover and these atmospheric rivers are turning the hills above the road into mud that flows like lava.

      I bonded with that road the first time I got on it with a modified Harley Sportster and I've ridden it north to south on six or seven return trips, some of which carried on into Mexico or the Sonoran desert. The shortest trip was a day or two short of three weeks, most were five, one went just over eight weeks. You climb onto a powerful bike every morning and pretty soon you're in a different place. It takes a bit of adjusting once you do get home.

  3. Haha.. A Harley tale for ya.. I wuz once enchanted by a brilliant sexy woman but alas she was enchanted by a scurrillous loser who eventually assaulted her by hiding in her shower and chasing her up the street, knife in hand.. I kid you not !

    He had her sold on riding Harley's .. and so she bought a Sportster.. 900 as I recall
    Being 5' 2'" and approx 85 lb was a prob but she was a trooper n I had my kinda concerned .. concerns..

    After the Psycho re-enactment she went to the Lesbian Side.. well Amen.. Became a group run Mom n sold the Harley.. A great lady.. but watching her bounce it off the back wall of the garage then pivot & park that bike in her garage was a lesson in .. well, something or other. Fortitude ? Belief ?

    Great buddy n I helped her relocate.. I went to the local cop shop for her preservation & talked to Desk Sarge.. told me he would assign a senior cop for a purpose visit to the assholes place of employ... ie he saw the wisdom of my plan.. I had suggested I would cheerfully insert an HB pencil up the loser's nostril.

    Thus n later we sat on her new back deck with numerous shots n beers.. On her 1st evening free of the psycho .. a momma skunk led her latest new horde out on parade from under her new deck.. Haha .. we lit a few hoovers.. darkness fell... All was well. End of Harley tale.. I never got to ride one

    1. 1200 Custom (tons of chrome), bore kit, performance heads, carb re-jetted, heavy duty springs (front forks), Ohlins in rear, 10,000 km. (max) tires that were usually gone in 6,000. I can't remember what it dyno'd out at but it was fierce and the suspension upgrades kept it on the road. By the time it was finished it was reduced to just the "go" stuff and the "stop" stuff.

      Oh yeah, a completely illegal headlamp that would light up the old island highway in the middle of a bad night just like a movie set. That had to be used sparingly or else the wiring would catch fire. That bulb was complete contraband. The parts manager at a large HD dealership called me, said he had two. One was for him and he offered me the other. It was one of those things where cash changes hands on the understanding that you will never speak of it again.

    2. Oh yeah, I got rid of the stupid front pegs and controls. Moved everything back, turned it into a "standard" as god intended.

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