Elements of a Ride



Riding Harleys uses alchemy—you can experience the elements of air, earth, water, and fire all in one ride.

The first element we encountered was fire when our planned destination was in doubt when we met at the dealership for a scheduled HOG chapter ride. Coldsprings Tavern was in the mountains east of Santa Barbara which would take us through a newly sprouted wildfire near Malibu. Road closures and smoke warnings forced our road captain to take a different route, one that would ride through the mountain community of Ojai. There were only four bikes and six riders, so it would be easy for us to stay together on the freeway portion of the ride, as well as the many different turns we would need to take on the back roads.

Air quickly became the strongest element of this ride. Summer heat squeezed us as we threaded through traffic, crossing the San Gabriel Valley by freeway. Even though I wore a light jacket, I could feel the sweat trickle down my back. Some of the riders had water bottles in cup holders; an accessory my husband and I agreed was a necessity for the next trip. Instead, I balanced a water bottle inside the front of my jacket, passing it forward as requested. Finally we exited and headed into the mountains, giving us some relief. The air carried to us the fragrant spice of pine trees and hot mountain dirt.

The element of earth performed for us with majestic peaks, plunging valleys, and chiseled cliffs. Every turn revealed new vistas of forested ridges and white granite boulders. Sudden L shaped bends in the road caused me to hold my breath as we slowed to a crawl. The mountain led us onward, up and down until we reached Ojai.

Slowly we crawled through the tiny village’s downtown, flocks of tourists on each side. Leaving Ojai’s Spanish style colonnades behind, we headed toward the coast. We were glad to move faster, for even the mountains weren’t cool enough on this summer day. When we reached Ventura, air and water competed for our attention. Our sweat soaked bodies shivered in the cool ocean breeze full of salty tang. The bright blue horizon stretched on forever and we could still hear the crashing breakers over the roar of our motorcycles. The highway hugged the beach for miles, giving us natural air conditioning during this part of our trip. When we arrived at Santa Barbara, it was time to go back up into the mountains once more, returning to the element of earth.

Soon we turned off onto Stagecoach Road, a small side road that connected with our highway. Although we couldn’t see the wildfire, smoke tickled our noses and made our eyes water. Elements of air and fire worked together to torment us. Suddenly around one of the bends, a small group of buildings appeared nestled in the trees. We had arrived at Coldsprings Tavern. The aroma of grilled steak cut through the smoke. It was time for lunch.

After we devoured our tri tip sandwiches and drank heavily from the local spring water, it was time to head back to the desert. Most of us decided to forgo safety and shed our jackets before jumping back on the bikes. We headed back down to Santa Barbara and took a different route home.

Our road captain had pity on us as he kept us on the coast highway as long as he could. Again the ocean air gave us strength for the furnace that we knew lie ahead. Finally the traffic slowed down, and he led us through the strawberry fields into Simi Valley.

While crossing through the fields, the element of air teased us with the sweet smell of ripening strawberries. In the summer heat, the strong smell reminded me of cotton candy at the fair. I wanted to stop and buy some berries at the farmers’ stands, but the heat forced us onward, our leader seeking to escape the force of the blazing sun.

Finally we met the freeway, and we placed ourselves in the jigsaw puzzle of traffic once more. The hot air pushed down on us, adding weight and causing floods of perspiration. In the maze of cars, two of our group got ahead of us. My husband and I followed the remaining couple back through the San Gabriel Valley. Our water bottle tasted hot enough to make tea so we suffered our thirst for the remainder of the trip.

When we arrived back home, we parked the bike, and quickly changed into swim suits. The element of water welcomed us as we jumped into our pool.

As we stood immersed in the cool water, we talked about the air, earth, water, and fire; the magical elements of a motorcycle adventure.




A Desert Lament


If I only knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t be so out of shape.

Sighing, I lay down my Kindle, and push myself out of my sunken couch. My hips protest as I shift from one swollen ankle to the other. I wipe the sweat off my face before my makeup runs into my eyes. My tank top feels like I just came out of the pool. The kitchen beckons me with a pantry full of sweets and a refrigerator slammed with sodas. My mind scolds my stomach, but my stomach always wins. Chocolate cake with Diet Coke- they cancel each other out, right?

Lollie sits intently before me as I slice the cake and return the rest to the fridge. I’ve never given that dog any people food, but he still hopes. His eyes bore into me until I finally go to the laundry room and return with a Milkbone. At least he gets a healthy snack. Always the gentleman, the fluffy Pomeranian gently takes the treat from my hand and goes off to find a place to hide it.

After plopping myself back on the couch, I grab my phone and check the weather app again. 106 degrees. It hasn’t changed in the 12 times I’ve checked it during the past hour. The air conditioner wheezes a faint coolness into the room. If I stand on the couch and put my hand up by the ceiling vent, I can barely feel it. I resist the impulse to do that now as it would take too much energy.

Gazing out the window, I can see the ripples of heat rising from the driveway and the street. The front lawn pants and shrivels up. With the water restrictions, it barely gets enough nourishment to survive. No bird or animal is seen. A woman walks by with her baby stroller. Nature has more common sense than humans, and waits huddled in the shade until nightfall. The heat is an anvil pressing down on our city, the legacy of living in California’s desert region. Coming here from Iowa, it seemed so cheerful and sunny.

What did I know back then? I’d never seen mountains before. The stark sculptured horizons of the desert seemed bold and expressive to my eyes. Most of the year provided temperate weather, at least to a native of snow and ice. I could wear shorts in October instead of jeans and boots. In a giddy rush, I tossed out my heavy coats and sweaters. I welcomed the sun on my face every day in place of cloudy skies. Then summer arrived.

I admit that July and August were hotter than I expected. But when November finally came, I forgot about the heat when I watched the winter weather reports on TV. It wouldn’t be as hot next summer, I convinced myself.

But it always was.

Twenty-five years later, older and more sensitive to heat, I am trapped in my living room for those horrible summer months. Walk the dog? You’re kidding, right? Even at 7:00 a.m. the temperature hovers at 80 degrees with plenty of humidity. Humidity in the desert? I feel betrayed by every movie I’ve seen featuring California. It’s not all beaches and surfing here.

Frantically, my mind makes a list of all the things in our house that would have to be fixed before we could call a realtor. The hole in the garage, the broken tile in the pool, the horrible front porch carpet. With renewed purpose, I jump up and grab a notepad and pen. My husband and I could probably whip through these repairs in about 8 weekends. I pick up my phone again. What temperature will it be at 7:00 p.m.? 101 degrees? It looks like we won’t be able to start any fixing up until after Halloween, and that will have to fit between El Nino rainstorms.

If I had only known what I know now, I would have settled for the smaller house with no yard. I would have ignored my rational mind that argued that the desert was more affordable. Since I could exercise every day, I wouldn’t be a fat blob that I am now. I would have been happy in my tiny condo at the beach.

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