(Day 8 and 9 are being posted together and only reflect my views as Terry’s are probably different. I also promised myself that I would be truthful of the journey and not just do the “Pollyanna” version. I do apologize for not posting for a few days but you will see the rationale as you read).
As I am warmly tucked into my hotel bed in Irvine, I still tear up with images of the last two days of our motorcycle voyage across the US. There aren’t many pictures from those two days as we pushed first from Kingman to Palm Springs on Saturday and into Irvine on Sunday for several reasons but only due to the range of emotions that occurred at the end of the trip. If you ask me now, I will probably smile politely and say “it was a trip of a lifetime” and I might even admit I was scared. I may even give you a partial truth and say the last two days were difficult but what I probably won’t tell you is that for miles and miles for 2 days, I teetered at my edge, my breaking point emotionally. I cried silently multiple times those days, secretly wondering if we made the right decision or even if we would survive. 100 + miles of unadulterated fear- facing it down while being at the mercy of the road and my husband. I knew this trip would challenge us as a couple and individually but I didn’t realize the growth as a person I would experience as the miles past underneath our tires. Nor was I prepared for the depth of emotion I would experience in those 9 days- from amazement and excitement to complete and utter terror-and oh how the tears would flow. The trip took on a life of its own at the end and it still takes a bit of processing as well as quite simply difficult to explain. It became a living breathing being, more than just a story or experience but rather soul-baring. It became a part of me, my story and emblematic of my medical journey. It is as if the trip ripped open the invisible surgical wounds, exposing their ugly emotional scars so thus the delay in the final posting.
Life becomes very simple when you travel on a motorcycle with one tiny bag for 9 day. As traveling nomads, Terry and I had developed a system that became a soothing routine for me-4 small bags being unpacked and packed daily with the largest holding IV and medical supplies for me and the smallest with our clothing. That routine became my courage for the day, my symbol to my husband that once again I had faith in him to care for both of us through the day. Stepping on the bike each day, it was never far from my mind that we faced a possibility of significant injury by forces outside of our control and there is no defense against someone else’s poor judgement. When we reached Irvine on Sunday (on time I will have you know), the finality of the trip weighed heavily on my heart as the last two days of the trip became a mental battle with the pavement. The silence from the road teaches you that life is no longer about clothes or material things but rather it becomes about you, your partner and your mental fortitude. It becomes survival when the only thing between you and the pavement (and significant injury or death) is your husband’s steady hands and his ability to suppress his fear through treacherous terrain.
So here is the finale..Slightly shaken from the descent from Flagstaff, once we arrived in Kingman, I started researching our route into Indian Wells with topography maps (near Palm Springs California). I had read that the California route we had planned was “roller coaster” like and the Arizona 95 from Lake Havasu was “pleasant.” Unfortunately that meant pleasant in a car and not on an 800 pound machine (and yes, I shouldn’t believe everything I read on the internet). Right out of Kingman…another 6% descent to rattle the exhausted nerves but we forged on through Lake Havasu. Ahead laid the one part of the trip that wasn’t mentioned on any blog or realistic map-Buckskin Mountain State Park. If you google Buckskin, (which I hadn’t until afterwards), it is an 10 plus mile stretch of terror inducing mountains that line the Arizona and California border and yes we went through them. In the darkness of the night, I still hold my breath (and tear up) at the mere thought of those mountains. The brown craggy edges are sharply imprinted on my heart as I will never forget Terry’s silent shaking of his head as we drove closer and closer. His chilling words of “oh my god- we have to go up that?” still resonate in my ears. After much research I believe our nemesis was Monkeyhead Mountain and Castle Rock with several other peaks. They each have an elevation of well over 1,000 feet with NASCAR quality banking turns that were not designed for motorcycle use. Slightly terrified of heights, I was pinned to the motorcycle seat multiple times as Terry had to enter the curve banking high in to keep the motorcycle upright through curves that were often at the top of the mountain- and there was no guardrail. Repeatedly this process had to continue through miles and miles of hairpin curves with declines and ascents through the mountains. During one such ascent, a driver behind us misjudged our speed as well as there and came within mere inches from the bike. Terry and I will never forget the force of the wind slapping the bike as the van passed on the curb between our motorcycle and the guardrail-with a sheer drop on the other side. When I close my eyes, I can still hear the sound of his tires crunching the cement mere inches from my head. We passed the van pulled over a brief distance away and that is when terror took hold. Terry and I made the quick executive decision that since we didn’t know the intentions of the van, we needed to pull over the bike immediately. Just a few seconds passed before the van whipped right in front of us pulling off the side of the road in front of our motorcycle. Terry’s voice still echoes in my ears telling me to get off the bike to get away as we had no idea of this driver’s intentions. Trembling in fear, I watched the man I love storm toward the driver who had already flung open his door and was storming towards us. The wind stole his words so all we saw was a young man shouting. Closing my eyes even now, I can still taste the fear of watching my husband walk into an uncertain fate. The young gentleman though stopped to see if we were all right as he was certain he had hit us (and that’s why he was pulled over initially when we went by so as to regain his composure and see if we rode by as well). He was a motorcyclist as well and aware of the dangers of riding and yes, couldn’t understand why we were riding through Buckskin Mountains. Shaking with fear, we still had to climb back on the bike as there was no other way to get out of the mountains. Fortunately the land straightened out..for a while. Just as our confidence was again reviving, we met another road hazard. For approx every 1/2 mile for a span of 10 + miles, rumble strips were cut into the pavement in both lanes of the interstate. Each time we enter the broken pavement, the front wheel jerked and twisted with only Terry’s fierce grip to keep the bike upright. Already frazzled, it was impossible to ignore the forks of the bike being twisted underneath his grip. Just as the road work was completed, the mountains ruled our agenda again. Yes, we weren’t done with them yet as there was a 9% decline for 10 miles!! 9% doesn’t seem like much until it’s your front fender of the motorcycle being twisted and pulled going down hill (or the front wheel of someone you love). Indian Wells greeted us at the base of the descent with sun scorching temperatures greater than 104 degrees. Hydration and a visit with Terry’s nephew and godson McCoy, his wonderful wife and family who are stationed in 29 Palms (as a Marine) became our focus Saturday night but what goes down must go back up through the mountains.
Foolishly, we were able to convince each other that the mountains posed no threat Sunday morning… until we started driving towards them. Reality and panic set in at that point as again we were required to drive the interstate though multiple ascents and declines lasting for miles. Over and over the road see-sawed so I caved to the road, pulling us off the interstate into the nameless towns of California. Over an hour was spent trying to figure out a way through the mountains without being on an interstate with cars whippibg by. There was no realistic and feasible route, despite the constant reworking of the route. Quite simply- the only way to get over the mountains to Irvine was to just go through them. It became a partnership of communication then because our bodies had been battered by the wind, sun, rain and physical demands of the road. As the co-pilot and route cheerleader with frayed nerves, all I had to help was announce each mile and shout my encouragement above the wind “Only 20 miles to go” “You’ve got this” “Don’t give up on me. Keep fighting.” and my absolute favorite looking back “This is just like driving in Hines park” which is a local outdoor park in my town. The reality- it was nothing like a a drive in Hines Park- an area where classic cars and motorcyclists cruise in a beautiful setting. As any car crept up to our bumper, I frantically waved them by.
Hotel Irvine staff met us with smiles and held their comments as I started sobbing when our feet touched the payment. Terry just held me as time passed by. We had made it… on time, alive with the mission completed. This had started out as a crazy silly idea but became a way for me to claim my life as my own. There’s nothing crazier than traveling 2,631 miles when your past has been ruled by the need to have a bathroom at my beck and call. My surgeries gave me my life back but the trip gave me gave me my spirit.
Please consider donating to a wonderful organization- United Ostomy Association of America as they supported us emotionally and spiritually through the ride. The link to donate can be found on the front page. If you would like more information regarding ostomies and continent diversions, please go to http://www.ostomy.org. #UOAA2017 #motowntosocal