The mountain roads of Santa Barbara, CA have the plump curves and stunning views that you barely have time to take in on motorcycle.
On one side, a cliff that falls for an innumerable number of feet -- I’ve never bothered to estimate -- when you’re ripping corners in jeans, a t-shirt, and converse, there’s no second to spare on the consequences of breaking your line.
The other side: a mountainous face with fingerling weeds and stubborn boulders. A rider on these roads is the epicenter of ascent and descent.
I ride a 1982 Kawasaki KZ550C. I found it on Craigslist stored in a sterile garage in Ventura, CA. I lowered the handlebars and threw some bar ends mirrors on her. I’ve kept up with basic maintenance and replaced the chain and sprockets. The back suspension is fucked and my front brake squeals when i squeeze it lightly, but my steed is comfortable and reliable. It was love at first sight.
I won’t say that riding is a way of life -- like so many new and oblivious riders would -- but it’s my freedom. When the helmet straps on, the gloves are tight, and Betty levels out around 55mph, my mind is clear. But it’s a moment that doesn’t come for free.
When your back tire slips, it isn’t free.
From start to finish, East Camino Cielo is a solid 1.5 hour ride. It’s a gem. After about an hour in from my preferred point of entry off CA 154 the road turns to freshly paved gold. Black gold. So fresh that it still stinks.
There are turnouts flanking the road where vehicles can pull out to take in the views. When they pull back on, their tires drag sandy pebbles into the road; the kind of pebbles that might cause a motorcycle to drop. And that’s what happened to me. Almost.
I came around the corner on my line. Betty was brushing 8,000 RPMs in second gear. My components are busted, but I know what 8k feels like; 2k from the redline. I dropped into the left turn. Too fast, but I held it. Half way. Almost clear.
And then I fell out of sync with gravity, overwhelmed by that stomachless feeling. I had gotten squirrelly before, but I’d never dropped. The professionals tell you to just go down if you feel yourself falling -- never try to correct. A low side is always better than a high side. But I’m stupid and lucky so I went for the save.
I killed the throttle and heard a screech -- my tire grabbed, and the moment was fast approaching where I would go down… or pop up! My feet were off the pegs -- only my hands had a hold on the bike. Betty straightened herself out with me hovering inches off the seat, I landed back on the bike, and dropped into a hard turn to avoid the a sheer cliff.
This time Betty held like a champ.
It was kind of her to gently bump me up while she straightened out. “Ejection seat” is the usual, and violent, result of losing traction and regaining it like I did. I think she loves me like a rescue dog loves their owner.
I rescued her from withering away and in return she’s guiding me -- firmly but gently -- through the ropes of riding two wheels.
Mammoth in the summer -- four years into a California drought -- is dry and beautiful. The cracked bark of the trees are crispy to the touch. Horseshoe Lake looks like it could very well be the last remaining, dwindling body of water in some dystopian reality. What is left where the blue arms of the lake once stretched is an expansive, dusty rim of white sand that puffs palpable clouds into the light breeze which each step. My exposed feet were caked up to my ankles. Dusty skin socks inside flip flops.
Dryness aside, the lake is still beautiful. The closer I got the ground turned from sand to hard packed earth. In the flats where moisture still held strong, there was mud. Not your quagmire type -- an irregular pattern of impressionable brown bricks with deep valleys between them. I was like a giant stepping from muddy glacier to muddy glacier. As I neared the water’s lip, my weight broke the bricks, and each step became a balancing act. The mud here was thirsty for my sandals.
There was a log lodged not too far out into the water. I could see the line where the water once lapped, about two inches higher from where it was currently soaking. Undoubtedly, the lake has more shrinking to do.
When I stopped to take a better look at the log, in a perfect line across the lake on the other edge sat a giant stone. It rested about twenty feet out of the water. These two had once swam together, and now they stared at each other. It was romantic, like they knew they could never touch, but at least now they could see.
The dog -- London, my aussie step-dog -- loved it. Practically infinite sand to run on and squirrels to chase. She was in heaven; a sandy, rubbery, squirrely dog heaven.
Mammoth is beautiful in the summer. The sky is the most pure blue, the brewing company has tasty beer, the mountain is open for biking, and the town is alive with festivals. Just don’t forget a few board games; Mammoth is a simple town.
I almost spent $149 on a handmade backgammon board, but I settled for a $2 deck of cards with bears on them.
I’m sitting on a corner couch in a Seattle Airbnb. A white-haired , spindly fellow just stumbled into the backyard chasing a rogue chicken that had kindly greeted me earlier with a bock-bock and a neck jiggle. Tell me there is another place in the world like this and I’ll kindly tell you to piss off.
My partner and I meandered into the closest epicenter of bards and got drunk. A fellow bar rat told us about an establishment not too far from our room. We went, and walked out five minutes later with two grams of my favorite strain and a complementary candy bar. Ah, it’s a great time to be alive.
The bed we slept on was a cloud made of some magical material descended from the Gods. Saint Tempurpedic. My shoulder pain is gone and my back feels strong and aligned.
Breakfast with an old friend is a crapshoot — a gamble. Three years can do a lot to a person. I’m taking myself as an example here. Thankfully this wasn’t one of those cases of lost character and we coated our stomachs with Bloody Mary and brunched hard between bouts of laughter.
I rode that buzz through our ferry ride to Bainbridge, an island that’s host to, among other quaint delicacies, Puget-front homes and dog shops and fabric stores. We took advantage of the sun and the scenery to indulge on some state sanctioned snacks.
Queen Anne is the ‘hood of the rich' — at least that was my first impression. With equal views of the Space Needle and the bay from grand homes, I’m unclear what other impressions there are to be had. But the beer still gets you drunk and so we leaned on that constant to mask the fact that, even combined, our income is decades away from buying here.
Back to Capitol Hill we went, where bars are decorated in cobwebs and the bums practice their bum-ery in hopes of one day reaching the legends of the Tenderloin.
It feels like home. I could live here.
“You’ve arrived. Early. Your room will be available in about 4 hours.”
It’s 2:26a.m. my time. With no energy to do much of anything, I’m drinking black coffee to ward off the nausea. This hostel has a multi-level lounge with a very large bar and pool table. I might get sharked by a foreigner tonight.
People are bustling in and out, and it’s kind of inspiring. The bottom of this coffee will see me out the door behind my camera lens.
It’s beautiful here. Gray and drizzling. Just how I like it. Some breakfast sounds nice too, but I really do feel sick from the lack of sleep. It’ll fade. Push through, kid. It is Halloween, afterall.
I found a local eating eggs and toast by himself on the patio of cafe, and asked him where I could get a good cup of coffee. He pointed me to a great place, Queen of Tarts, but it seems the whole city knows of it. A party of one is easy to seat and so I sat at a perfect little table covered from the drizzle.
Five English girls are standing next to me talking about the wait and the delicious scents wafting from the bakery next door. I keep catching them staring at me. It’s quite an honor because they’re beautiful, but I’m worried they’re locked on me because I’ve been traveling via plane and train and bus for nearly 24 hours and I look like shit.
Before I could overhear their opinions they switched to German. The tall quiet one won’t stop. She’s shameless.
Ah, my cappuccino! Revive me!
There are alleys everywhere and exceptional people walking down them who whisper in accents from around the world. This isn’t just Ireland; this is Spain and France. This is Europe. I can’t help but admire the frictionless nature of such a volatile combination of peoples.
Is this how the rest of the world works?
I need to get out of California more…
Bacon and leek potato cakes with cherry tomatoes. I have to eat slow — I’m still coming down from my flight. The nausea is almost completely gone. I’ll finish this, find some water, and explore until my bed is ready.
I will sleep until I wake up and welcome whatever Dublin has for me then.
Bacon is different here.
Last night, I met Cole and Becky. Let’s go back.
I walked back to my hostel after breakfast and Cole was outside smoking a hand-rolled dart. It looked delicious and I couldn’t help but ask for one. He passed me the bag of tobacco and I rolled up and we smoked.
I still had four hours until my bed was ready and Cole had nothing to do so we chatted up a shy Frenchman and drank a few pints. Why is it so laborious to strike up conversation with French men? It’s quite the opposite with French women.
Cole had just completed his Master’s in something like Industrial Planning in some foreign country. The Guinness started turning my memory to muck. He has travelled Asia and parts of Africa, and he was very knowledgeable about the history of Europe; also, he plays Mass Effect. He’s 24 and from Fort Worth, Texas.
I must pause to exclaim about this Irish breakfast. It might be that I haven’t had a real meal in 36 hours — no, this meal is undeserving of excuses. Revive me eggs and sausage! I love you.
Back to Cole. The man was smart, down to the ends of his frizzy, shoulder blade-length, ginger hair.
Where was I? Yes, Cole.
so after catching a buzz I still had hours to kill. I decided to take a walk North, and Cole came along. I think he enjoyed my camera’s company. Many times he would walk ahead and pose, indirectly of course, looking majestic as fuck staring at a stone wall or toward some beautiful shedding tree. Dublin’s fall was in full swing.
We found Dublin’s suburban sprawl; matching homes except for the different colors of the doors. Red and blue. Brown and blue. Brown and yellow.
Ah, my yellow curry is ready.
It’s delicious! I’m not surprised. Neon was a recommendation from a like-minded Irishman named Bruce. I’ll get to him later.
Cole and I got another pint when we got back to Generator — our hostel. I was wiped and my bed was available so I said “cheers”, got him on Facebook, and went to my bed. This was my first night at a hostel, and I was surprised by the cleanliness. I had heard so many horror stories. I made the bed and crawled in.
When I woke up two hours later I felt an overwhelming sense of displacement, like a stubborn longing for home. It was so strong. I was scared and thought about catching a plane home. It took a feat of consciousness to shove the anxiety to the back of my head. I was just under-rested and hungry.
I threw on some jeans and went downstairs for a pizza. I saw Cole sitting at a two-top, but he didn’t notice me and I didn’t feel like company.
My phone charger didn’t fit in the outlet so I paid 6 euro for an adapter and another 6 for a cheese pizza.
I found a seat on a couch next to a woman sitting and drinking alone.
Her name is Becky. Two days later and I can tell that my explanation of her will not sound as enamored as it would have yesterday. She is Irish and in the process of renovating a van to travel around the country. Not a gypsy (that term is frowned upon here), but near to it.
She kept scribbling notes in a lined pocked notebook with the ferocity that an Aquarius does when they set their mind to it. Charming woman, she was, and obsessed with the traditional ways of Ireland. Her friend stood her up so we went for a few pints at a traditional pub called Cobblestone for an Irish “jam session”.
I bumped into a pair of Americans, the woman had an uncanny resemblance to my old Moroccan boss. I wish she had really been there. I missed her company and guidance.
After Cobblestone, I went back to Generator and slept for 14 hours.
I woke up around noon. The room was empty. I had heard people moving about the room in my dreams, nothing loud enough to wake me.
I took a shower for the first time in three days (the time difference had me all messed up). It felt wonderful. I packed my things and said farewell to Generator, and walked across the River Liffey to the Four Courts Hostel.
Of course my bed wasn’t ready, so I dropped my duffel in the luggage room and went out for a walk through the cobblestones with my camera. I ended up in the Southern District where I found some alternative shops and the people were all dressed professionally. I took that as a sign this was a decent place to grab a beer and I spotted an open table outside a patio-ed pub.
When I returned with a foaming Guinness in hand, a decidedly Irish gentleman was sitting at my table. There were no others available so I asked if I could sit. He said yes, and we both proceeded to light up.
His name is Bruce and he turned out to be quite a good dude. We chit-chatted about tech and literature and history. It was refreshing. An hour and a half later he had to leave to meet a friend, but before he left he invited me to go see the new cinema version of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender with a friend of his the next night.
Bruce doesn’t have Facebook. In fact, he has no social media presence. I did get his phone number only to realize later that I’d taken it down wrong. I swear I would be lost and helpless without the reassurance of the Internet. Bruce is a relic and a martyr of a lost time.
For the first time since leaving LAX I felt hunger. I headed to a thai place recommended by my pal, Bruce. You might remember Neon? They served me a dry ice cream cone with that delicious yellow curry. I was confused until I looked up to the sound of a squealing Chinese girl overflowing her cone with soft-serve from a self-service machine.
Interesting touch. I like your style, Neon.
Neon was the 1st. It’s now the 7th. I’ve been hooked on my camera and wifi, I apologize, future reader. From this point on I can guarantee that the people and places that appear here in this small blue print are all true and factual. The sentiment, on the other hand, is the result of too much Guinness, a recovering hangover, and a jaded sense of displacement in a city that feels too much like home.
The world is so unbelievably human. The woman across from you at the pub. The man curling up with his mangy dog on the street. The horrors committed by the stupid and the powerful. It’s all human, and proves without a doubt that a fear of traveling is a fear of humanity, a fear of the very soul resting in your chest, a debilitating fear. A feeling more overwhelming than unforeseen moments of grand experience or lingering heartbreak — the kind that sits with you, even now, from a long lost partner that, I pray, you haven’t thought of in years. I apologize for the reminder, but now we occupy the same headspace and I can continue with my tale knowing that you’re aboard.
After Neon, I headed back to Four Courts Hostel to settle into my bed. The walk was a bit over a mile and it was pleasant. I found the original gate, tower, and wall of Dublin; a run down, still strong, stone structure that gaped down at me in its glory. The gate was locked so I was relegated to the perimeter which I walked, in awe for the entirety.
Four Courts is a dump compared to the other places I’ve stayed, but to say it’s uninhabitable is far from the truth. I grabbed my stuff from the luggage room and came to my door, but it was locked. I took a few seconds to ponder. Maybe people are fucking in there… maybe I don’t need to barge in right now? So I went to take in the drizzle and ran into to two people staying in my room. They were just as confused when I told them.
The three of us headed over to our room and knocked until someone opened up. A man opened it and before anyone had a chance to breathe I said, “Don’t lock the door.”
“I didn’t lock it. Why would I lock it?”, was his response. He’s Aussie and his name is Nathan. From that point on we were mates.
That night we headed out to a few pubs. “A few” is an understatement. It was a great night. We shared a box of chicken wings at 1a.m. It was all very bromantic.
I got to the theater 45 minutes early and found Bruce at the bar having a Cute Hoor (it’s an Irish IPA). His friend met us later, a nice woman.
The film was moving. Macbeth with do that to you. I would recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of Shakespeare, Fassbender’s abs, or Marion Cotillard.
After the movie we returned to the pub for a pair of pints, each. The air was frigid and there was a youth sitting at a table across from us reading "Their Finest Hour" by Winston Churchill. He was waiting for his uncle and he needed a phone so Bruce lent his. I hope he got home alright.
The next day was Web Summit, the first day of three days of networking with the most fascinating purveyors of business. I have nothing outstanding to report, except that they know how to treat the media.
As it is with conferences, the days blend together. You can only listen to so many pitches and keynotes before the company gets worn out. The same goes for hostels.
I’m on a plane home now, and detailing all the bullshit I got into over the course of this trip has become taxing. It’s not like there isn’t a fair share left to tell like the student on the steps of Trinity College, the pub crawl through Temple Bar, the English pubbers, the third wheel guitarist, my breakfast cafe, or the hellcat taxi driver. I took a weekend in Galway! Maybe it’s because I took too long to write it down. Maybe I’m frustrated trying to recall the details and it's all so much less grand now.
It’s 2:38a.m. in Dublin and I’m somewhere over the Atlantic.
“I’ll have tea, thanks!”