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The Test Ride Was a Near Disaster. And a Great Success.

May 06, 2017

Last weekend I rented the bike I had reserved for my trip because I’d never ridden it before and wanted to make sure I could handle it. I’m pleased that I did because I can’t. The ride started out well enough. I picked up the beautiful 860 lb Indian Chieftain in San Francisco and rode it back to my place to load it with what I expected to bring on my trip. I wanted to make it to Fort Bragg, a small coastal town about 200 miles north. Since I didn’t get started until 1 p.m. that proved to be an aggressive goal. The traffic was pretty bad through San Francisco so I took the 101 as far as Petaluma to make up time before cutting to the coast to ride Hwy 1. The bike had a radio already tuned to “the #1 all-hits station in the Bay Area”. I wear earplugs when I ride so at 70 mph I was noise polluting the entire freeway with Selena Gomez, Bruno Mars, and Ed Sheeran, completely tarnishing the badass image the Indian was trying to paint.

chieftain test ride
The Indian Chieftain at Ocean Cove Campground

I pulled into a gas station in Petaluma to remove some layers and almost dropped the bike. It’s a wonderful ride once it’s moving, but negotiating parking lots and low speed turns with a bike nearly 6 times your weight is tricky. I caught it, muscled it up, and got the kickstand down, cursing myself for not taking it slower and paying attention to what I was doing. I hopped off the bike and noticed my bungee net detached and my sleeping bag missing, lost to the 101. But, I reasoned, that wasn’t so bad. Almost dropping the bike isn’t the same as dropping it, my tent somehow remained, and I’d passed a Target a mile back. After taking off my jacket liner and the bandanna around my neck, I was off. I carefully parked at Target, quickly found a replacement sleeping bag, and then almost dropped the bike again when I was leaving. Now definitely shaken, I questioned everything as I drove through town on my way to Hwy 1. You’ve almost dropped this bike in 100% of the parking lots you’ve been in. How are you going to make it across the country? Say what you will about it, but I like the bike I own. It’s small, you can throw it around, and hop on and off with ease at a moments notice if you pass something interesting and want a closer look. Do I want to be scared to stop on my trip for fear of dumping the bike and not being able to pick it back up again?

After half an hour with those thoughts, I started feeling comfortable again and decided I needed to snap out of it. I passed through Gualala, a town I have no idea how to pronounce, and stopped to get gas. Flawless parking lot execution. Filled the tank and…almost dropped it again. That was it. I parked across the street, called off my plans for Fort Bragg as the sun was already about to set, and started looking for campgrounds near whatever the hell town this was. I had passed one a few miles back that looked fun so I decided to risk it and, if all else failed, I could ride back home. I grabbed a quick bite to eat, got a 4-pack of beer at the corner store, and headed back south. I didn’t have any more issues with the bike and the campground had a site for me. Happiness. I set up the tent, unwrapped my new sleeping bag, and immediately knew what I’d done. I threw the kid-sized sleeping bag into the tent, opened a beer, and laughed. The only appropriate reaction.

kids sleeping bag
My brand new sleeping bag.

As I watched the sunset over the ocean from my tent, I chalked the trip up as a success. I could update my reservation in the morning to a smaller bike and if I hadn’t taken this test ride, it may have ruined my trip. My plan was to finish my beer and call it an early night, but in the spirit of making myself uncomfortable, I decided to head to the bar 300 yards up the road to see if I could meet someone new. It was a Saturday night and the bar was empty. The bartender told me as I sat down that they closed in three minutes, 9 p.m., but I could get a beer and watch the rest of the Giants game. So, expecting a bust, I drank slowly and paid my tab. As I was getting up to leave, I met this guy and his friends:

ocean cove
New friends.

Yes, those are jade rings on each of his fingers and yes, he’s as cool as he looks. He noticed my Iron and Resin hat, a San Francisco motorcycle and surf shop. He knew the owners and has done a 3,000-mile motorcycle ride up and down the west coast on a rigid chopper. Noticably drunk, they bought a round of shots and a round of beers from the reluctant bartender. They were staying at the same campground I was and most of them had met that night. As we were leaving to head back, one of the guys ran into two girls he knew from college so we all met at one of their campsites, 8 of us now, listened to music, ate delicious food, and told crazy stories. They offered weed and shrooms, but I stuck to Coors Light water beer and called it a night around 11:30 p.m. like an adult. The sleeping bag came up to my belly button, but I was warm, met new friends, and fell asleep with a smile.

The ride home in the morning was without issue. I navigated parking lots white knuckled and scared, but I kept it upright. I was getting pretty comfortable with the bike by the end of the ride, but I still decided to change my reservation to something smaller. Being confidently in control is more important to me than the comfort and range of bigger bikes.

To live is the rarest thing. Most people only exist. ―Oscar Wilde

I have life priorities because I’m a crazy person. One of them is to “seek novelty, take risks, and don’t regret what you didn’t do”. Upon hearing about this trip, I’ve heard many people say they always wanted to [insert awesome thing] but then [insert excuse] and now they regret it. Few great things in life are easy. Usually, the only thing holding us back is ourselves. My test trip was scary and for a half hour, I doubted everything. But I gained much more.

I’m writing this from Orlando. I pick up my (much smaller) bike tomorrow morning. And I can’t wait to get started.


Rocky Warren's blog.

Principal Engineer and Architect at Vertex Software. I do other stuff too.

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