The last stretch to San Dimas

August 16, 2012

I headed out after topping up the bike’s tank, quenching the need for water and electrolytes with a bright blue bottle of Gatorade then drenching my head and shirt with the contents of a bottle of water before covering with helmet and jacket. My camel back is full of cool H2O. Outside it’s a furnace and I’m heading out into a desert like place. I’m kind of praying for no traffic jams. Those really take it out of you as you sit on an idling engine, amongst idling cars on a hot tarmac.


99 South.


I keep an eye on the engine temperature and I am surprised to see that it stays between 88 and 90 C. Very nice.


I found by trial and error that it is much more pro survival to keep all the gear on. It insulates you, keeps moisture in. Even the face shield is kept down to keep from a direct contact with this hot air that feels like flames.  I guess it’s like the Beduins in the desert with the long robes and turban.  Keep the system’s integrity.


As much as the cold, the heat is dangerous. The human body has shallow margins of tolerance.


I zipped down the highway, staying in the open spaces, constantly moving, changing lanes to stay alert and stay where there is the largest amount of wind. It’s amazing to realize how much heat one truck can generate and on the same breath, amazing to feel how much coolness a tree generates.


Along the road are mainly orchards or some type of farming. Another amazing thing is the intensity of the smell of pesticides.


I’m doing pretty good. The wet hair and shirt in conjunction with the wind act as air conditioners. I get to Bakersfield in 2 hours and some, I don’t recall exactly, I can never quite keep up with numbers, be it distance, time or amounts, all I know is that I made good time, everything performed as needed and that it now is time to stop. I  fill up and it hits. As soon as you stop the 106 F of pure heat hits without delay.   My head swims, the heart pounds, the sweat pours and the breathing gets more difficult.


One more Gatorade, one more bottle of water. What I found out is that when it’s that hot, I need to take a serious break after 2,3 hours of riding. It’s a must for me and for the bike. If I don’t do that, I start feeling agitated, weak, overwhelmed then dizzy and disoriented.  It seems to apply for the bike too.  If I don’t give the bike a cool off time it seems that the whole machine gets too hot, as if there is a softening of the chain, brakes, engine… it gets louder, it doesn’t feel quite right.  The BMW was built for that. You could ride that machine for 12 hours, stop and go and it would not mind. I don’t think that Suzukis were made for that sort of continual, all day long, non stop riding. It’s just my opinion and it’s not scientifically proven but if I take that longer break, especially when it’s brutally hot, it seems the machine is thankful.


On my way to the Starbucks, a young man on an old BMW pulls next to me.  He’s smiling, he saw my license plate : “ Did you come all the way from Ontario?




“Cool! I just took a trip around America on this bike!”

“Awesome, what year is it?



His bike reminds me of Beowulf, built like a tank, big engine, big metal boxes for luggage. The guy looks so free and happy, fresh faced, open, it’s a joy to see him. Bikes will do that to people.


“Do you need a place to stay?”


“No, I’m on my way to San Dimas, I need to find the Starbucks…”


“Follow me!”


He guides me a few blocks down and points to the Starbucks, he continues and I turn left. I wish he’d have time to stop, I bet he had lots of stories…


I parked and walked in. Yeah. Super cool air. Phew. I need to stay at least 90 minutes maybe more. I feel my body almost pinging from the heat. I ordered a frozen drink, pulled out the laptop.


A while later a guy comes towards me.  He’s wiry, white haired, intense.


“Which one of you is riding the bike?” He was looking at me and the guy at the table next to me.

“I am.”


“Oh, well, I was wondering, how is it for woman physically to travel on a bike, how can you deal with it?”

… For a woman… Poor chap. Doesn’t he know? Women are tough. Women carry the babies, the husbands, the families, the villages on their shoulders since the dawn of time…


“It’s fine.” I said.


“Well, I have a BMW 1200 (something or other…) and I’ve always wanted to take a trip but I don’t know… I like my comforts…”


“If you really want to take that trip, you should do it. It’s really amazing.”


We chatted a little bit. He left. I wondered how many bikes sit in how many garages with their owners thinking of taking them out but not doing it. How many dreams bottled up in the shiny glass of comfort bottles.


I looked at the map, chatted with a few friends on Skype and Facebook about the options available. My plan was :

58, 395, 15, 210


“You should avoid the desert…”

“You could take the I-5…”

“You could take the 2 and get some curves…”

“You could take the 14… “


So I modified the route this way :

58, 14, 15, 210


The desert wasn’t too much of an issue as it’s getting close to 5 PM and very soon the temperatures will come down, the 5 I really didn’t want to take… too much traffic, too fast, I was too tired for that. The 2 well, that was tempting but same idea, too tired, didn’t want to take unnecessary risks.


Time to go. I drenched my head and shirt, checked the load on the bike, put on the gear and headed out.


I rolled through the desert, It was beautiful. A brand new patch of road, lots of trucks, mountains looming in the horizon, golden, burnt, parched. I thought of stopping for photos but it’s too hot. Those stops with the gear on put so much stress on the body, I made a note to come back this way. I did that again when I got onto the 14 and the Joshua trees stand, massive crowds of them, basking in an orange-purply light as the sun finishes its round. It was breath-taking. But I motored on.


I finally hit the 15 and it’s rushing flow of traffic. It’s wild.


I can feel the destination ahead. I’m almost there. All the emotions start to rush in. I almost cry. I almost scream in victory, but I’m not there yet so I don’t.


210 West. I’m here. I’m really here.  I’m in California, I am finally hitting my destination after a very long detour.  I’m a few exits away from the place I left 17 months ago. I was going to be gone for 2 weeks, handle a few things and be back and resume life.

It’s epic. Dwarfing. It is the will of life and the moves we make to deal with it.


The motor runs. It’s getting dark. Ahead lay the last colors of the day, around the air cools. I’m lying on the tank, watchful. Arkadaş took me all the way from Ottawa to California, from lost to found, from wishing a hopeful thing to seeing it happen.


I get to the exit, it’s kind of unreal. It’s real. It’s now, it was then and I think of Melanie, my soul sister, she won’t be there, and I choke. 1 set of lights, another and another, the gas station I used to fill up… the dip down the road where the temperatures are always at least 5 degrees cooler. Turn left, another left, turn right and a last left. Oh my God…. It’s all quiet in the neighborhood. I pull up to the garage door.


It opens, slowly, in a dignified sort of way. I see Ozzy. I see a whole bunch of bikes, the red Fiat Melanie had told me about so excitedly. I don’t remember what I said, tears run down my face inside the helmet, I get the bike inside the garage, get off, give Ozzy a big helmeted hug.


I made it.


5 Responses to “The last stretch to San Dimas”

  1. bobskoot Says:


    Your words made me suffer in the heat with you. You’ve sort of made it back “home”. Yes, it was a very long 2 weeks

    Riding the Wet Coast
    My Flickr // My YouTube

  2. francoise moulin Says:

    Hey Danielle, je ne sais pas si tu recois mes mots mais je te lis et je suis pres de toi a t’encourager. Je pense bcp a toi et tu peux te dire que tu fais un sacre bout de chemin. Je t’embrasse tres fort et voila, tu es a la maison et enfin, toutes les portes vont s’ouvrir pour que tes reves se realisent. Bisoussssssss

  3. Danielle Liard Says:

    Bravo la belle! Mais ce n’est qu’un autre début tu sais. 🙂


  4. Aaron Says:

    You made it! That’s an understatement. You certainly did Danielle. “You” made it!

  5. David Walker Says:

    Welcome home, it has been a long and winding road. Love,

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