On just their third date, two young artists strike out on a six-month journey with an aging, heavily loaded, injury-prone Kawasaki LTD. Following are excerpts from Marla’s journal. It’s a girl meets boy then hits the open road kind of story.
We left Halifax for Mexico in September, riding my boyfriend Peter’s 1985 1100 Kawasaki LTD, a bike we called Mystereo. Its matte black gas tank had been stripped of its decaling, which was used to make Christmas cards. On the front fender was a Nova Scotia sticker; on the dash a lovely hoola girl wobbled side-to-side while her dress flew high in the wind. On the back was an artistically fashioned metal rack made and installed by Peter and his brother. There were black leather saddlebags—one for each of us—and a two-step bright orange, fuzzy fur seat, tinged with black. The headlight was half covered by our tent and raingear, the storage holds bulged with art and camping supplies. Prepped for a road trip that would eventually last six months, we were on just our third date that early fall morning.
We flew through the Maritimes and arrived in Ontario in the company of freezing temperatures, ice, rain, hail, snow—ridiculous conditions for motorcycles and camping. At times on the back of the bike I would go into states of lucid consciousness, half dreaming and half aware of my body beginning to shut down. By the third consecutive night of camping and long riding days, Peter would hop off the bike at a gas station and look at me shivering uncontrollably. “Yes Marla we can stay inside tonight,” he would say, knowing I could not possibly survive another moment of cold. Other times I would suck it up and slide off the bike hobbling into the warmth of a gas station to warm my bones before having to set up camp and crawl into a cold sleeping bag.
The prairies were flat and cold too—dipping to -15C—but in the small town of Strathclaire, Manitoba a woman invited us to stay on her farm, where we helped wean calves and watched her children at their chores. We felt a part of that family and its everyday life.
We crossed the endless mountains of BC and bike shops became our hotels—five tows and repairs at six different bike shops in all. Most of the breakdowns were electrical issues dealing with the charging system: the stator and regulator were replaced, a new battery installed, and we screwed in a new petcock too.
After a stay with friends in Victoria, we headed south and crossed the Oregon/California border, but despite the sun being out it was still unseasonably frigid. We awoke in our tent many times with frozen water bottles, which made it a little harder to make the morning coffee.
We made friends with two homeless guys in Hollywood as we reorganized our load on a sidewalk. One danced and sang with me, and asked if he could adopt us, while the other wanted our bungee cords for a belt.
On back roads we entered the desert, where we found ourselves staring at a deserted town and the ruins of a gas station. The sign ahead said it was 48 miles to the next gas stop in Needles, California. We knew we couldn’t make that on the gas we had left. I held my breath and thought of what I could scrounge up for supper if we had to sleep in the desert. But we made it onto a larger highway, shut down the engine and coasted down a long, winding road. It was odd not to hear the sound of the engine and yet feel the movement of the bike. We coasted in silence for about 10 minutes before Peter started the engine and threw it in gear, barely making it to the gas station.
We found our way to the Grand Canyon and cruised up and down, zipping in and out of each little turn out to find the best view for painting—we’re both artists. At Hopi Point we sat and painted for three days straight while tourists came to talk to us and give us gifts. We felt spoiled. We had one very special encounter with two lovely women, Carol and Ro-z, who talked to us about painting. Carol said she had overbooked her condo in Sedona and asked if we wanted it for a night. It had a two person Jacuzzi, a fireplace and a KING size bed.
Two days later we were on the old Route 66 pounding out the miles until we broke down near a small town gas station where we spent the night locked in its concrete yard, sleeping beside cars and trucks and old buses.
Crossing over the California state line we entered Tecate, Baja, Mexico. The weather grew kinder as the roads curved through the desert land, and cacti spread as far as we could see. The desert was raging with browns and reds. I began to fall in love with these prickly trees; they looked ancient and wise, hardy and brave. Some had decorations on them too: old tires, plastic chairs, garbage, or clothing—whatever someone felt like putting on them.
On some stretches of road we filled pop and water bottles full of gas to carry with us, as well as buying over priced fuel from men who sold gas out of oil drums and jerry cans. The gas stations didn’t always have gas!
It was about 50 kms from La Paz when Mystereo sputtered and stopped. It was nearing dark, but 15 minutes after breaking down a “tourista truck” pulled up. The driver, who spoke a little English, said he would go call a tow truck and come back for us. When he did, he returned with freshly picked oranges, maps and information on La Paz. We were towed to the city, and the bike was ready after four days of camping in the concrete shell of a house and enjoying tequila.
We turned south again to the peninsula of Baja, endured another bout of battery charging problems, but finally cruised into Los Barriles, a touristy beach town on the east coast of Baja and found an arroyo where we spent a few days of beach camping, We made our way back to La Paz, brought Mystereo in for servicing and met a family who took us in as their own. We spent days drifting around the neighbourhood, drawing, painting, drinking, cooking and converting old trucks into monster trucks. The days floated by in the most relaxing way. It was amazing how good the Mexican family was to us.
It was nearing the end of February and the day before Peter’s 29th birthday. The bike was going to be ready that day and we planned to leave the next. I somehow arranged to buy a piñata, fill it with candy, order Hawaiian pizzas (in Mexico they put cherries and bananas on these pizzas), buy a rich bottle of tequila and a CD of Mexican tuba music. That night we danced, ate and had a wonderful evening together.
The next day we said our goodbyes and hopped onto the ferry that took us over to Topalabomba on the mainland of Mexico. From there we cruised up the coast spending long days riding and zooming on the new four-lane highway. It was not our ideal but it was fast and efficient and we were home bound.
We reached Arizona in just a few days and mailed about 100 pounds of our gear back home. As I repacked the bike I felt this great sigh of relief to see the small amount of baggage that we had with us. We hopped on the bike and with beaming smiles started our ride home. We rode for an average of 13 hours a day for the next 10 days. Interstate 10 was a super fast ride with Peter ripping up the pavement behind us. The weather was colder, much colder then Mexico. I huddled closer to Peter and began feeling the memories of our Canadian winter biking that we experienced just a few months ago.
We cruised into New Orleans and had our first taste of alligator. Through the next three states, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, I thought a lot about alligators: where they were and how many of them were out there. I wondered, where exactly did the movie Easy Rider take place?
We arrived in Daytona during Bike Week, passing hundreds of other bikers on their journey to that motorcycle Mecca. It was fun to chat with them and watch their mouths gape open at the distance we just covered.
We sped through Maine and at one point pulled off for gas only to find ourselves surrounded by snowmobiles. It was very odd to see such a combo of snowmobiles and motorcycle gassing up side-by-side.
Finally, we arrived back in Halifax and pulled into the driveway where Peter’s parents live. We were greeted by friends, family and hugs at every turn. It was the official end of our third date.
by Marla Benton Canadian Biker #234