Father had taken me to the riding area up in the Laguna mountains before, but it had always been to ride up and down the dirt road skirting the north end of Lake Morena. This time, he took me all the way up to the campground at the end of the maintained road, from which all trails were designated “ORV” or, off road vehicle area. Everything that wasn’t the main road was more challenging than any of the riding I had done up to that point in the desert, and even that dirt road had its moments. Every path was cut through sagebrush and littered with blocks of granite. A vast network of trails or varying difficulty crisscrossed the mountainside. This became Father’s favored riding area as it was much closer to home than the desert areas, and offered more interesting and varied terrain. I always felt that I wasn’t good enough to be there, and the tales Father and his friends told of the dreaded Corte Madera hill filled me with fear that certain death was waiting around every corner.
I had outgrown the little trail bike that I had learned to ride the year before. Father took me with him to buy a used motorcycle he had seen advertised in a local publication. The bike was yellow and black, and the angry screaming sound of the engine completed the imagery of a swarm of wasps. Even though the motorcycle wasn’t much bigger than the one I had been riding, the motor was almost twice the displacement. It was also a two-stoke motor, which gave it the intimidating rage of sound. I was allowed to ride the little RM-80 around a small open lot for a few minutes before Father asked if I liked it. I did, and so he paid the man, and loaded my new motorcycle into the van. As we drove home, the smell of gasoline hung heavy in the air. I was excited to have a new toy, but the sound and fury of that two-cycle engine had me nervous that I had bitten off more than I could chew. Perhaps I had, as of all the motorcycles I called my own, that RM-80 is the only one still talked about by family. Perhaps Father knew it, as soon thereafter he purchased for me a full set of ride armor and a new full-faced helmet.
During our family vacation to Utah, we stopped by an ancient lava bed. The road meandered through a dense conifer forest. The parking area was surrounded by pine trees which reached up to a blue sky. A short walk down a trail and suddenly the forest was replaced by miles of shattered volcanic igneous rock, the uniformity of the grey stone broken only by the green and red lichen growing thereon. A sign had some interesting facts, which I read as sister ran back and forth along the edge of the enormous pile of rock.
Almost every day, Father would take me to school on the back of his motorcycle. I wore the same helmet I used when riding off road. The ride was enjoyable to me, as Father was an excellent motorcyclist, and rode through the hills at an exhilarating speed. One day, just a block from school, I saw a woman walking up the concrete paved hill. She was wearing an impossibly short skirt and dark sunglasses. I thought she looked so cool.
In the pediatrician’s office, there were two arcade cabinets, which were free to us kids. Asteroids was my favorite. I looked forward to playing it every time I was in the waiting room. One day, the office was running behind and so no one came out to call my name and interrupt my game. An hour and a half later, I still had not lost even one life, and the score was a number so large I didn’t know whether it even had a name or not. I knew then, that if left unperturbed, I could earn any score I wished on that game. It was only a matter of opportunity, of time.
Further to the north, along Pole Line road, were a collection of outlying mud hills. In one particular place, the road traveled through a notch between two wide hills. The hill to the east was so boring, I can barely remember what it looked like. But to the west was a hill that immediately grabbed not only my attention, but that of many riders before. It’s broad flank quickly angled up until at the top, where it was for a brief distance it was vertical. I was amazed as I watched Father ride his motorcycle along the trail which used the curvature of the hill and some magical rules of physics to allow those riders who were brave enough to for a second ride along the vertical portion. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes, but it was true. Father had ridden his motorcycle up a cliff! I knew better than to even try, so I kept to the flat portion of the road. Yet, as week after week, we rode by the mud hill and I watched Father ride up it, I came to believe that I could do so as well. One day, I decided to try and follow Father. At first following the trail was easy, but as the angle became more steep, I lost faith in my abilities. Deciding to turn and ride back down the hill, I changed my angle a bit, but rather than turning, all I managed to do was upset the delicate balance of gravity and inertia. I fell. Because I had decided to return my allegiance to the more standard applications of gravity, the hill in turn decided not to hold me to itself. My belly flopped onto the dirt, and as if I were on a water-slide made of earth, I slide face first down the hill. This would have been comedic enough, but comedy loves irony, and so my motorcycle fell and landed on my back, pinning me to the ground as I slid along. Because I was wearing chest armor, I wasn’t seriously injured, but the shock of it had tears in my eyes as Father lifted the bike off of me. He helped me back to my feet and asked if I was okay. I told him that I was as he straightened my goggles. “And that’s why we wear chest protectors” he said as a matter of fact. The next time I tried to ride that trail, I was successful. I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of continuing to move forward.
Week after week, I rode the same trail, looking up at Pole Line road and it’s mysterious destination with a combination of fear and curiosity. Sitting around the campfire, Father asked me “Why are you just riding back and forth? Why don’t you ride up the road a bit?” I gave some weak answer about enjoying where I had been riding. He scoffed “Well do what you want then.” The next day, Father said “Let’s go for a ride together.” Riding away from camp, he turned almost immediately onto Pole Line road and up the embankment. I followed him, knowing that he wouldn’t lead me into danger, but I couldn’t help feeling a sense of nervousness. At the crest of the hill, it dipped down a slight bit, before the road continued on, more or less flat. I was amazed, excited, and embarrassed all at once. The hard packed dirt road was even flatter here than it was nearer camp. Slowly, a feeling of absolute freedom washed over me as I discovered that my spirit of exploration could live as strongly on a motorcycle as it did on foot. In fact, I was soon to realize that it could thrive. After riding on for a ways, Father slowed to a stop. Over the noise of our idling engines, he shouted to me “Okay, let’s head back for now, but don’t be afraid. There’s nothing dangerous on the road, and you can turn off of it anywhere, and ride around. Go out and have fun, alright?” I nodded enthusiastically, and we set off again. He didn’t turn around right away, but when he did, I followed as we made a wide circle around some brush and back toward the Pole Line road. Once back on the road, Father slowed to a stop so as to make sure I was following. I thought this was a good opportunity to show him that I was capable of going off on my own, and so rather than turning after him, I continued straight across the road. Suddenly and completely without warning, my face smacked straight into the ground. I heard my motorcycle fall close behind me. I was shocked, and as I stood up, was thoroughly unprepared for anything I might see. Nothing at this point could have been too unusual or mundane to have shocked me any further, and so when I straightened my riding goggles well enough that I could see, finding myself at the bottom of a pit came as little surprise. From the top of the hole, Father called down “Are you alright?” on the verge of tears I answered, “No.” to which he asked “Are you hurt?” I thought about it for a moment and replied “No, I’m just mad. Why is there a hole here?” Climbing down into the pit, Father said “Yeah I don’t know. This shouldn’t be here.” then, standing my bike up, “Let’s get you out of here.” I was amazed as he lifted my motorcycle up and pushed it over the edge of the pit. He climbed out, and then lifted me up. As he took the front wheel between his knees and straightened the handlebars, he calmly said “I wouldn’t ride down there again, if I were you.”