United States

Freedom Beards, Tucson, and the Pacific Coast Highway


Big news from the personal front.  I’m solidifying the career move I’ve been working on for the past couple of years, which is taking me from a technology role to a business role, and specifically marketing.  It’s been a bit of a crazy adventure to get from there to here, but the long and short of it is that I took a little time off between roles to travel a bit and see some family + friends.

IMG_1904So while I had the opportunity, I made sure to visit Orlando and hang out with the extended family for a couple of days.  I also went January man-camping to build epic fires and have a run-in with a bonafide Sasquatch hunter named Lee.  And, of course, Erin and I went on a quick trip to Savannah where we discovered the joys of open beverage laws and southern culture.

But, with my last weekend to rock the Freedom Beard, I decided to head west.  West.  I stared straight at the setting sun and walked towards it with determination and a vague destination called Tucson, Arizona.

RyanPhotoBooth2The diligent and steadfast readers may remember Ryan Shea of Volcano Surfing and Sardine Buses fame.  While we did see them on our way from Idaho to North Carolina, we had let that relationship go unattended for too long.  Which was a perfect reason to head out to see what the hell was going on in Tucson.

Tucson = Mortal Kombat + Beer


Turns out that Tucson is a pretty cool town, but more than that, it turns out that Ryan and I picked up right where we left off.  There are so few people in this world that are able to drop any previous disappointments in communication, and focus on the present time available.  I can only hold my beer so high and smile so widely, but my glass is raised to Ryan and Leah for housing me for a couple of days while we caught up and I got to see a small sliver of their new hometown.

IMG_1658I flew out on Friday, arriving that afternoon. Once Ryan escaped from the children he teaches, we headed to their local watering hole, Tap and Bottle.  I could see me living in those stools, chatting up the bartenders and sitting happily on that merry-go-round of Tucson.

Leah had a work function, which allowed Ryan and I to head out exploring.  While a blast, this didn’t last long as soon Leah was calling us out to join her.  Sure, why not? I’m 100% underdressed and haven’t shaved in a month, but I’m down.  Of course, Leah has joined a great team, and it’s not as if some of them cared.

The true highlight of the night, however, came after the work function, when we headed back to their apartment and gave our Letters to Tucson.  To paint the picture completely, you have to IMG_1668(2)imagine sitting on a patio, facing railroad tracks, toasting the town and watching your well-wishing travel the rails.  Its as if the moment the expressed thoughts cross the vertical plane of train tracks, they’re transported across the town, across the state, and to their final destination, where’er it may be.  It’s a fairly incredible feeling to send out your thoughts along a monument to the industrial revolution.


Saturday was a great time.  Given that Erin doesn’t exactly fire endophins when board games are suggested, I took advantage of the tabletop kinship and suggested we play a few games.  Ryan quickly unhoused his hidden treasure trove of Ikea-hidden games and we settles on a game of Takenoko, which is clearly designed to make you feel like a Japanese schoolkid, with Panda eating bamboo the farmer grows. Hilarious.

IMG_1662Of course, we headed from this to the arcade, where we broke all the records that ever stand on the pinball hall of fame.  Unofficially, of course.  But the Star Trek, NBA, Star Wars,  and other classic pinball games were awesome.  What could top this?  Anything? Maybe some Mortal Kombat? Street Fighter II? And, the icing on the cake, we CRUSHED Simpsons.  I’m not sure Mr. Burns will ever recover from that beating.

Although the night of Tamales was a bit quite, it was perfect.  No distractions, simply sitting and chatting up whatever topic hit the brain.  I’m currently reading Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls get the Blues and was trying to describe the inimitable style, but simply couldn’t come close.

The game of Slap .45, however, was epic, and I’m fairly sure that my hand sustained permanent damage slapping the cards with a fury that is generally reserved for dollar bills, tacos, and the last slice of pizza.  I will be taking this one home, especially as we adapted it for a bar that has no idea what’s about to hit it.


Sunday was glorious.  I needed shades, even in January.  After a quick breakfast at 5 Points Market, where I indulged in some solid TexMex (Durham needs a real/better TexMex place.  Either be TexMex or Mexican, this grey area is disastrous.), I headed out to explore while Ryan and Leah worked on some chores.

IMG_1643After some wandering, I ended up on the incredibly-implemented Turquoise Trail. After discovering the Presidio San Agustin and the origins of Tucson, I was lead around the city on a 2.5mi walk, guided at all times by a turquoise line on the pavement.  (I immediately took a note that I should recommend this to the Museum of Durham History.)

I had been quizzing Ryan and Leah on the history of the area, so this was a great way to understand a bit more about it.

Amtrak Crystals

Part of my amazing plan required me to get from Tucson to LA.  Somehow… hmmmm….  how? Amtrak, of course! It’s a terrible service, except when it’s going from where you want to where you need to be.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve tried to make it work on the East Coast, which is basically Fort Amtrak, and always been unsuccessful. But this time, it worked!

I boarded in downtown Tucson, hopped into my sleeper car, and realized that I was in for the best night’s sleep in my life.  Before retiring at the ripe hour of 9pm, however, I headed down to the dining car to check out the local action.  I really felt like I was in the Duke of Hazzard show when they are chasing the casino in the back of the semi, except without the tablegames.

The sparsely populated car was a gem for people watching, particularly as a mid-30s guy and his friend sat at a booth with a mid 50’s hispanic woman.  After a faulty start in pure Spanglish, he switched to pure English, as he would need full faculty to describe the crystals that were bringing him light. It was a scene you couldn’t write and make people believe it.  Reality is simply too unbelievable for fiction.

Soon, however, I headed back to my bead for a night, remembering the phrase my mexican mom used to say when I would head to bed: “Que duermes con los angelitos.”

Los Angeles at 4am is a drum and bass solo

IMG_1675While I was initially worried about the train arriving late, it actually arrived early.  4:30am, in fact.  I was scheduled to meetup with my college roommate (and dorm RA) at 5:45am, which left me with some time to explore.

As you may already recognize, I have wandering feet. So I yelped the nearest coffee shop at headed out to caffeinate myself with gusto.  It may have been a short mile away, but the walk there was a joyous meander through the early mornings of downtown LA.  So often, a city is overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle that plays both rhythm and lead for the city band, but at 4am, it’s like getting a quick bass and drum solo, where the backbone is exposed and free.

Seeing Brian was a great joy.  He’s got a kid now, as do many of my friends.  Seems to be the trend.  We drove back to his neighborhood, then proceeded to land early at the breakfast spot.  It was 6:15, but the waitress let us hang out until they opened at 6:30.  We had to problem keeping the conversation up, and indeed, I was struck with the same feeling that I did with Ryan: here’s a person who I can pick up the conversation, almost as if we hadn’t been apart for the last umpteen-years.  Truly an incredible individual, especially given the life events he’s recently experienced.

IMG_1689Eggies and coffee in the belly, we headed back to his house, where I immediately had house-envy.  This will sound hilarious, but I was infatuated with the astroturf lawn.  It was so real! I’m determined our patio should have it.

Eventually, the little one and momma woke up and came out to say hello.  Farhana and Henry are a great looking pair, as any mother and kid should be.  I prepared my awkward football cradle for the package, told myself not to drop the cargo, and received the potato sack with great care.  It was a core workout, in fact, an entire body workout as I flexed every last muscle in case it might be called into action to repair whatever mistake I’d make.  I know moms and dads move right past that stage into the come-what-will stage, but I’m not exactly there, especially with another’s life charge.

What a great joy to simply sit in their kitchen and chat about their life, catch up on their new changes, and hear their plans.  Though it lasted a short 4 hours, I felt renewed by seeing them again.

And…. let’s open that throttle

To call out our loyalists again, those that followed our South African time might remember we purchased a 1994 BMW F650 to take us across the country, which is did so with grace and constant vigor.  So in that vein, I arranged for a rental in LA.  I had initially looked for the F800, which is the 21-years-younger cousin of the bike we had.  But, alas, it wasn’t in the cards.  However, I was able to secure a R1200 GT, which I was always curious about.  As I wasn’t planning on any off road activity, I decided to pull that trigger, especially over the hogs available, which are generally as heavy as the riders.

Hello LA Traffic….

IMG_1676I signed up and signed my life away, and those of my nearest kin, packed my meager belongings into the panniers, memorized some directions, and called Erin to calm her fears about my riding skills.  And then, I turned into light LA traffic, which is basically medium to heavy traffic anywhere else. Clutch, ok.  Back brake, front brake, got it.  Mirrors, check, throttle, yep, whoa, yep, that’s the throttle.

Honestly, there were no major issues, but the tension was definitely there.  It took a good hour to get past Malibu and out of the traffic, but as they say, nothing good comes without effort.  I stopped to readjust, pull out my sunglasses (what was I thinking?), take a sip of water, then head back up the CA-1.

I was prepping my body and mind for an avalanche of amazingness, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Apparently, mother nature is a raw force to be respected.  A massive mudslide took out the Pacific Coast Highway, forcing a detour to the 101.

The Central Coast at 30mpg

I wasn’t overly thrown by this at the time, but it definitely added a hefty burden on the next day.  When I took off, I was simply thinking about the joy of riding, and being present in that moment.  It’s a IMG_1680difficult thing to capture, and more difficult to hold, but being present in a specific time and place is a special mindset.  There’s really nothing like it, where you’re completely absorbed into the task at hand. Whether you’re running a router, sharpening and straightening your knifes, coding away, painting intricate trim, or riding a tight curve, the very act of devoting your entire attention and effort toward a singular task holds great beauty. Everything else drops away as you focus into the singularity.

I found the CA-192 just north of Carpinteria as my detour, and couldn’t have been more happy.  The acres upon acres of agriculture gave way to large homes and schools of Montecito, which IMG_1682transitioned into the low hills leading into the Central Coast vineyards on CA-150.  A constant rise from the coast brought me to Los Olivos, where I was planning on heading into Foxen Canyon.  It was only 4pm, but my late start, and early morning had left me ready to call an end to the day.  Had I better estimated the next day’s journey, I might have pushed on, but I wasn’t at a place to see strategically.  Plus, I had wine on my mind.

Being the husband of a sommellier, I rarely get the chance to get my one-upings on, so I had to make this happen.  The wines of the Central Coast are both under-appreciated, and yet not.  There are huge swaths of vineyards making high volume wine for a distinct market.  However, there are also some fantastic IMG_1685wineries out there which deserve some special attention.  I had the chance to try some Kitá and Qupé syrahs, which was an absolute blast.

Pacific Coast Highway – A dream ride

What can I say about this ride?  First, it was long: 325mi according to the Googlebot. I needed to be at the dropoff location by 6pm at the latest.  So I needed to get moving early if I was going to do this at the pace I wanted.  The last thing I was interested in wasy simply cruising up the 101 to SF.  That’s just not going to be acceptable.  What was acceptable, however, was waking up at 4:45am so that  I could hit the road at 5:30, a full hour and a half before sunrise.

Foxen Canyon Pre-Dawn

I haven’t done a ton of nighttime riding, but what riding I have done was on the dusk side of the earth-spin, full of headlights and traffic.  IMG_1686The dawn side was much, much different.  Quiet roads and a calmness to push through.  I stopped right outside Foxen to take in the stars and dimly lit landscape that highlighted the light pollution from nearby towns.

Fantastic. Until I hit the country highway, of course.  That’s when the beautiful ride became a beast, dark of night and wet from the constant drizzle of rain.  I was going against the majority of traffic, which was all farm traffic.  So you’re basically looking into IMG_1905headlights the entire time, coming around a corner trying to figure out where the lines are, the curve of the road, and any gravel patches or potholes that might come up.  But ahead, you see two sets of lights at you.  WTF? A turning lane?  A one-way road? An unmarked intersection?  Nope, just a farm truck dropping off workers in the fields. Stressful riding, to say the least.  So when I hit the 101, I stopped to wait for the sun to ride while I down some eggs and chile verde at the Pappy’s Diner. Whew.

Hearst Castle is amazing.  Period.

Though I was unhappy about it, I took the 101 up to San Luis Obispo to get this show on the road.  I had a lot of ground to cover, and I IMG_1926needed to eat up some miles.  Once off the 101, it was straight to the coast, and I was into the best part of the ride.  In fact, the section from Morro Bay to Monterrey was some of the most beautiful riding I’ve ever done.

On the way, Ryan had mentioned that the Hearst Castle was something to see if I had time.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for, except I really wanted to shout out “Rosebud!” as I sipped on a martini (See: Citizen Kane).  Alas, that wasn’t to happen, as I quickly became intrigued by the individual personality that Hearst, an enigmatic product of wealth, privilege and daunting intellect.  I always associate Hearst with the war-mongering yellow journalism, closely followed by his brain-washed, bank-robbing daughter.

IMG_1933However, he also built an amazing palace with an astounding art collection, stemming mostly from Europe.  It seems quite like the Biltmore of the West, and that’s certainly meant as a compliment.  The architecture and sculptures dotting the landscape made me imagine a 30’s-era opulence of wooden tennis rackets and swimming dresses in the turquoise tiled indoor pool.

While it set me back a couple of hours, I was very happy to get that chance to see it.

The Ride that Sells Motorcycles

If anyone ever asks why motorcycles are amazing, they should ride this road.  I had quite a bit of time to think about the act of riding and the reason for its source of joy, and it’s a difficult thing to explain, but it’s definitely there, beneath the culture of leather, overweight bikes and over-sized engines, and confrontational lawlessness.

IMG_1935The first way I describe the joys of riding is as an experience of the landscape.  When people look at a scenic panorama and comment about its beauty, they’re generally experiencing the sights of the horizon, the smell of the nature surrounding them, and the feeling of wind on their skin.  Maybe they’ll touch the ground and feel the dirt, or graze a rock wall to further that experience.

Riding a road is another way to experience the grandeur of a landscape, with the twists, turns, straightaways, rolling hills and mountain drops.  The scale of the landscape is more present on two wheels because of the closeness of the rider to the land.  It’s literally a matter of inches.

The second reason that riding is a great pleasure is the immediacy of the experience.  You must be present in this moment.  Because of the hIMG_1934igh degree of inherent risk, each turn requires care and diligence.  You simply don’t have the option of not paying attention.  Whether it’s a school bus stopped, a construction zone, a deer, a child, a pothole, a 20mph hairpin turn, or a 5mi straightaway, the dangers are immediate and devastating in their effect, should your concentration wane.  How long can you focus on one simple thing?  How singular can your mental effort endure?  I find great pleasure in harnessing my attention into a single effort, which is overly zen, but true nonetheless.

This section of the ride is one that I hope to do again and again and again.  Words can’t touch the beauty.

Race to the Trip’s End

Monterrey looms large in my memory for some reason that I can’t finger, but it’s there.  So, I was quite excited to stop for lunch there and explore the wharf.  Of course, my time was running short, which meant I only had a few minutes, but it was good to stop by and lay my own eyes on it.  It was definitely larger than most any other pier I had seen, with cars and trucks having room to park for quite a way.

TheIMG_1693n it was off again, heading north to SF.  I was planning on a quick coffee in Half Moon Bay, but when I reached the area, there wasn’t anything that called out to me, so I just kept cruising.  The downside of not stopping, though, meant that I didn’t know where I was going.  I had been following the PCH for so long, that I didn’t remember where I needed to get off.

I was heading up past these small towns, and getting ready to stop off to consult the googly, when the CA-1 became a divided 4-lane highway.  Whoops.  No stopping there, so it was time to just give it my best shot.  When I saw a plane flying overhead, I figured it was time to exit, check for directions, fill up the gas tank, and head in.

The company I used to rent my bike was Eagle Rider, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.  It was a great experience, top to bottom, or more accurately, from LA to SF. The fact that they allowed me to do a one-way trip was a real treat.

Why is the East Coast so far from the West Coast?

IMG_1694My sister, Lisa, was very kind to pick me up from the rental place, take me out to a bar, her local restaurant watering hole, and we simply caught up on each other’s lives for the past few months.  It was a blast to hang out with her and Jackson.  Definitely makes me wish we lived closer together sometimes.

Seriously, why is the East Coast so far from the West Coast?

Well, that’s about it.  No issues getting home the next day.  I’m beyond ready to start my new job.  My time off has been great and well utilized, but I’m certainly ready to make the turn at get back at it.