It's Just Not Practical
Surfing, motorcycles and film making – what are we thinking?
Perspectives by Leticia, Justin, Leticia
Photography By Justin, Greg & Gary
Once you’ve done enough journeys, you start to get the feel for how the cycle of a trip goes. In the beginning there is the salivating anticipation. The adventure awaiting at your doorstep is a mysterious beast that keeps you up at night with intangible thoughts of knowing that something remarkable is about to unfold for you, but having really no idea what it is. When the actual trip starts it comes on like a freight train. It’s like the moment you get off of that plane your life is put into sixth gear. We all went through the frenzied process of preparing for the journey and here are a few snapshots of how it went down…
I stepped off of the plane in LAX. It was a short flight from Vancouver that left behind rain and welcomed sunshine. I didn’t have much time to waste. The rest of The Howling Sea crew already had a head start on me getting their bikes and gear together. It was pretty much full on from the time I landed, and I had a feeling it was going to be like that. I was chasing down a Kawasaki KLR 650 on Craigslist almost the moment I landed. I found one I liked, took it for a test spin then pulled out the dough and bought it. I didn’t really have the time to be more careful and thorough. I was getting the feeling that was how things were going to have to be for the next little while. Not rushed and ill planned, but fast and instinct based. In the same spirit, I ditched the rental car that had brought me to my bike and bungee strapped all my belongings to the steed.
I had just gotten my motorcycle licence the day before in rainy Vancouver and here I was barreling down the freeway in California with my luggage strapped clumsily to a growling beast of a bike. I didn’t really know much about the KLR. I didn’t know that she doesn’t really like to go fast. I kind of do, and this was causing a problem with some oil. I was doing déjà vu trips to Cycle Gear and Home Depot, which were separated by ten miles of pristine raceway, or freeway I guess is the correct term. I would go to Cycle Gear (a southern California motorcycle shop) and have my head blow up realising all the gear that I needed and all the money I had to spend on the gear then pull myself together and swipe the card. After that I would go to Home Depot or some sport outfitting store and realise I had to spend even more money for more gear to strap to a bike that didn’t have any room on it bought by a card whose room to breath was running thin as well.
Then I’d realise I had forgotten a key piece of gear at the motorcycle shop, so I would hit the freeway again. Here’s where the oil was burning, and I was finding out that my speed and the KLRs were quite different. Apparently she likes to go a bit slower, keeping the RPMs at a nice and respectable level. I was not respecting her wishes and by burning ninety miles an hour down the freeway I was burning her oil. After I almost blew the bike up I figured out the flaws in my ways, apologised and slowed down. The spending, however, did not.
There is a lot of work and money that goes in to planning a trip like this. As much as it can seem like all you need is to just get on a bike and go, it is far from that.
After a couple weeks of prep, we decided to head to Joshua Tree to test out our rigs fully loaded and get a taste for the open road. The gear that we had all acquired was overrunning the surf factory floor that I was sleeping on. I had to push aside spare tires, tents, pelican cases, oil jugs, water jugs and surfboards just to get a spot to lay down for the night. And all of this would eventually be strapped to the bike riffling down deserted roads in Baja. My mind state was fluxing from ambitious wonder to straight up stress. The phrase, “What the fuck am I doing?” sounded in my head more than once. Off to Joshua Tree though…
After spending a few weeks in San Diego getting our bikes fitted out to take on Baja, we decided to take a trial trip to Joshua Tree to test out our modified steeds. Escaping the city to the north with my bike loaded up for the first time I was frothing on freedom and the unknown. The extra weight actually made the bike feel more stable at high speed on the highway, and the new tyres and tubes I purchased had me coasting comfortably at 60 miles per hour. On the road and excited for the adventure, I thought to myself, I’m doing it, I got this.
Only half an hour north of the city my bike suddenly began feeling a little squirrelly, then started fishtailing down the highway at full speed as I quickly applied the brakes and managed to keep the bike upright. Confused as to what had happened I thought perhaps one of my bags strapped to the bike had come loose or I’d hit an uneven surface on the road. As I pulled over to the shoulder I realised that my back tire was rapidly deflating and I’d narrowly escaped a solid beat down. I also realised that I’d secured my sleeping bag too close to my exhaust, and given it’s highly flammable nature it had in fact been severely torched and rendered useless.
Not yet having the mechanical knowledge to swap the back tyre out, I opted to get towed to a nearby motorcycle service centre whose friendly mechanics soon had me back on the road again. There were even some lovely ladies from Hooters serving free wings whilst I waited – what a country.
With my bike back in action I cautiously resumed travelling north on the highway through the urban sprawl of southern California. Signs of civilisation slowly disappeared and I became immersed in the mountainous landscape. Before long I entered the magic land that is Joshua Tree, with an overwhelming feeling of excitement as the adventure was only just beginning.
Given that Gaz and I only had a total of 4 weeks in which to drive from Vancouver, sell our van (and get rid of excess belongings we’d accumulated over 15 months of living out of it), and most importantly, buy and prepare our motorbikes for our first foray into adventure touring, we knew that things were going to be hectic during our time in San Diego. And we were right.
We booted it down to San Diego with no time to stop and dilly-dally, and even Gaz (who is the calmer one out of the two of us) was stressing out thinking about all of the things we had to do in such a limited time. “What if we don’t sell the van?” he thought. “Of course we’ll sell the van”, I continually reassured him. While he worried about that, my concern was finding a bike appropriate for the nature of the trip as well as my short stature, but our respective concerns were laid to rest soon enough.
After a lot of interest in our van, we were relieved to sell it to the first person to come and check it out, although it was sad to say goodbye to our trusty van. Tick. One big hurdle out of the way. We began hunting for bikes by trolling through Craigslist numerous times daily, eventually finding the bikes that were ‘the ones’. Upon checking out the bikes and making sure they were mechanically sound, we both purchased them without a moment’s hesitation. My only problem was that my bike was a little too tall for me and had to be left at the motorcycle mechanic to have a lowering link installed.
While my bike sat at the mechanic waiting for the lowering link to arrive, we both got underway with preparing our steeds that would be our home on wheels for the next few months. Purchasing the bikes was easy enough, but preparing them was a whole other beast in itself. With more online shopping than I care to remember and a credit card statement revealing the dizzying list of expenditures involved with a trip such as ours, slowly but surely, it was all coming together. Panniers, water-carrying vessels, cooking equipment, medical supplies, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, the list seemed to grow every time we ticked something off of it.
Everyday I waited for the phone call to say that my bike was ready, and each day that passed without any news, my anxiety pulsed. Not to say that I was some nervous wreck who was going around pulling my hair out, but I was pretty damn keen to pick up my baby and get some practise riding before we had to leave the country. After almost 2 weeks of leaving my bike with the mechanic, I finally got the call I was waiting for…she was ready to take home. I was over the moon! The same day I took her to have the surfboard rack welded on and by the time she was finished, it was 10pm. So my first time riding my bike was in the jet black of night, on a busy San Diego freeway, trying to keep up with the 65 mph speed limit, and to top it all off, it was the first day of my period. Not the most auspicious factors for the first ride, but I managed to make it home in one piece despite all this.
We had a couple more days to get ready before we had to cross the border, and on the day we left, it was somewhat emotional. Everything had happened too quickly over the last couple of weeks for me to fully grasp the reality of what we were doing. A combination of nerves, the what-the-fuck-are-we-doing pondering that was going through my mind and the realisation of riding powerful bikes that were loaded up to the teeth for the first time truly sunk in as a sat on my bike to depart. But as we said our goodbyes and rode away, I took a deep breath and turned my focus towards the real journey that was waiting for us south of the border.