We were camping on Pole Line Road, north of Ocotillo Wells. I was still riding the Honda Trail 50 which I had learned on. Father was leading on his beloved Bultaco. There was a wide, flat area to the west of the road, broken only by one small knoll. Father turned a wide circle around the hill, then rode over it. I saw this and turned to follow. The other side of the hill dropped off abruptly, and I found myself unexpectedly air born. Father stopped to talk. “I didn’t expect you to follow me up there.” he said. “Did I just jump?!” I asked in surprise. “Yeah!” he affirmed. After that, I was always on the lookout for places where I could feel that brief reprieve from gravity.
One of the neighborhood kids had a little 60cc bike, and they wanted to go for a ride with me and Father. We had ridden the fire break road around the back of Goat Mountain, and along the top of Crazy Man. On the way back, they asked if they could try riding my larger RM-80. So we swapped bikes. I was surprised at how light the little KX-60 was. The front wheel fell into a rut and I reacted how I usually did, by leaning back and rolling on the throttle. The much lighter but almost as powerful bike stood up vertically and I had to quickly lean forward while reversing the throttle. I had a new respect for that little bike that had almost dumped me off its back.
Evidently Mr. D and Father had been in a motorcycle club together before I was born. Neither of them seemed much like bikers to me, but as we were all out in the desert riding motorcycles together, it didn’t seem too much a stretch. Mr. D loved to tell stories though, so I remained at least slightly skeptical. His taciturn son was a few years older than me and I’m not sure we ever spoke, but one day Mr. D offered to let me ride the boy’s larger, taller dirt bike. Sitting on the 125cc bike, my feet didn’t even reach the ground, so I leaned it over and with some struggle managed to kick start it. I was terrified to ride the bike, because it was new and conspicuously not mine. It felt good though, to know that I was able. Afterward, Father suggested that perhaps it was time I graduated to a larger motorcycle.
On many of the weekends the family didn’t camp in the Imperial Valley desert, Father and I would ride our motorcycles together in Corral Canyon. Even though the weather report listed a chance of snow, we decided to go for a ride anyway. Usually if it snowed at all, it would only be a light dusting. The sky was overcast and the air crisp, but the riding area was vacant of other humans, and so we made the most of having the trails to ourselves. We followed a rocky but relatively wide fire break down into the Corte Madera valley, above the dreaded hill of the same name. As we cut back and forth down a series of steep switchbacks, the snow started to lazily drift down from the clouds. Father stopped and asked me if I was okay to keep riding and I said that I was, and so we continued on. Soon though, the snow began to fall in sheets, sticking to rocky ground and riding goggles alike. Icy slush coated the numerous granite boulders, turning the trail into a nightmare of unpredictable trajectories. As my RM-80 started to slide, I instinctively tapped the rear brake pedal. The little motorcycle didn’t slow in the least, instead it drifted at an angle completely foreign to my experience. In a panic I released the breaks and tried to lay the bike down on its side. The front wheel hooked onto a large rock and as as I fell onto my back, the motorcycle slid off the manzanita tree littered roadside. I began to cry in frustrated at the difficulty of riding on the snow covered terrain which was challenging enough when dry. Tears froze my eyelashes closed, even as I tried to choke them back. I heard Father’s bike shut off and his boots scrape the detritus littered ground. “Are you alright?” he asked. I shook my head and whined that it was too hard to keep riding. Father reassured me and promised to retrieve my bike from the ditch. I could hear him struggle to drag it up, but my vision was still obscured by icy tears. “There are only a couple more switchbacks and then the road straightens out. We can take an easier way back to the van. But if you don’t keep going, then we’ll have to go back the way we came, and that’s going to be harder.” I stood up and brushed the snow off my backside. Shivering as I straddled the RM-80, I looked down the trail now white with snow. “I can’t do it.” I told Father. “Sure you can,” he said “just don’t panic and you’ll be fine.” and with that he rode off, leaving me the choice to either follow along, or sit there alone. I kicked the engine over and fighting back fresh tears, I followed.
Father had started competing in motorcycle races known as enduros. The goal of these competitions was to arrive at checkpoints as close to the prescribed time as feasible. As such, it was possible to be the first person across the finish line and yet still lose the race. Toward the end of the first race season that Father participated in, there was a beginners event, and I was excited to join in the adventure. Most of the first part of the course kept to the wide dirt roads nearer the camping areas of Corral Canyon. I felt as though we hadn’t been riding very long when the markers indicated that we were to follow a road which I knew from experience would lead back to the where the course had begun. Father stopped and put his feet down, so I rode up and stopped next to him. Yelling over the sound of our bikes’ engines, he said “I haven’t seen a marker in a while.” He pointed to a pink arrow affixed to a sage bush and continued “It looks like they want us to turn here, but I’m going to ride down this hill and see if I see any other markers. Wait here.” A moment later, he returned. Looking around he said “Well I guess this is it then. This area has some hard trails, so be careful.” Then we followed the arrow and rode down an embankment, across a dry gulch, and up a rocky hill. The trail quickly narrowed and rose at an increasingly steep rate. Father stopped and pulled his goggles up, looking around again. “There’s a turn off up here. If we don’t see any more markers there, we’re going to have to just ride back to camp.” But what he failed to mention was that the turn off was at the top of a three foot tall ledge. I got off and let Father ride my motorcycle up it for me. Soon we arrived at a split in the trail, littered with pink and orange arrows. Father pointed back down the path, and turned again to the direction we had just come. Riding down the trail was more terrifying than going up it had been. Father was in a hurry though, so I did my best to keep pace. Jumping off that ledge, I didn’t have time or energy to waste on being impressed with myself. Several minutes later, we made it back to the main road we had turned from earlier. Father said “I’m going to miss the start of my race, so I have to go. Just follow this road back to camp. You remember where that is, right?” I nodded enthusiastically, and Father sped away. I followed him at a more casual speed. At the bottom of the hill was a series of large signs reading “Beginners Course” and pointing to follow the way Father had just gone. I immediately wondered how he could have missed them. The last few miles of the race, I rode alone. My time at the final checkpoint was 47 minutes late, but I arrived at camp just moments after Father. I slumped into a lawn chair as he scurried around, preparing for his race. Later, he would tell me that the trail we had turned onto was for the professional racers, but it never occurred to me to be proud of having ridden up and down that challenging course, rather I was embarrassed that I had come in last place on my first and ultimately only enduro.
We were on another one of our long motorcycle rides down to the far side of Corral Canyon, Father and I. One of the wider trails terminated under a grove of large oak trees, creating a fine place to rest before following one of the more challenging trails which split off in several directions. Father stopped and shut his bike off. Much to my surprise, he removed his helmet, signaling to me that he meant to rest for longer than I would have expected. We walked over and sat under one of the great oaks. He then proceeded to explain to me some few details about the nature of the human reproductive system. More than anything, I was mystified at his clear discomfort with the subject, but I found the information every bit as interesting as any other new thing. Something though, about the whole explanation left me feeling distant and a little dirty inside, as if I had done something I knew was wrong. I couldn’t place my finger on it then, but hearing Father talk about the differences between male and female bodies felt alien to me. As we rode the long, winding trail home, my thoughts ranged even wider than the path. Something about what Father had told me seemed wrong, and at odds with my own experience. For the first time, on that ride back to the van, I experienced what I now know as disassociation, and in my mind there is a large period afterward where I have no memories.
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.