Mia 7 Group Fire
17 Dec 2018

Vignettes of Being on the Road

Maiden America V with Profile Racing, FBM, and QBMX

Words and photos by Matt Coplon Additional photography by Steve Crandall / Dillon Leeper / Jay Schille

Walk with Me...

...While I wait in line at the SFO airport. What do you get when you reserve a rental car from the cheapest vendor available?

We wait in line for two hours while folks with reservations haggle over rental options, and those potential clients devoid of due diligence, argue, some sob, finding out they’ve waited in line in vain, temporarily stranded in South San Francisco.

My two hours of torture is up. At the counter, I wade through the horrors of the client agreement; the tolls, pre-paid gas where the fuel option is twice the amount of any other state.

And finally the damage waiver.

Although I’ve waited two hours to decline everything, I’m horrified by the stories of superficial damage due to parallel parking, and the fact that parking anywhere in the city is a risk. And that is on top of the wildfires that rage across the state. The current one, just north of here, the largest and most devastating in US history.

I’ve realized, within the five minute conversation, that, like any village on the cliff edge, you’re paying top dollar to walk on soon to be extinct lands.

And you’re insuring yourself and your immediate surroundings just in case you become a part of that extinction.

I do not decline the damage waiver. In fear.

My insurance becomes double what we paid for the rental.

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Jay Schlie. One in a three way tie for co-MIA-conspirator. First out of the van, last back in. Pic by Matt Coplon

The Judas Goat.

“What’s up you fucking Judas Goat?”

I weave through traffic back to the terminal to pick up Crandall. As on the dozen trips before this, every pick up from luggage is initiated by some meaningless insult towards me.

“How was the flight?” I ask.

“Dude, you’re in the wrong turn lane.”

I’ll spend the next six days travelling up and down the California Coast. Driving in the slow lane, missing turns, heading the wrong direction from spacing out.

This was nothing new to me in my personal, daily struggle with meandering my home commute, in addition to battling general anxiety and the high blood pressure that accompanies it.

But with Crandall as navigator, this ineptitude would drive him crazy.

Driving up US-1 through San Francisco in 5’o’clock traffic entails gridlock, the inching towards each light hoping you don’t get stalled in the intersection. Once finally out beyond the city-scape; the Golden Gate bridge, the weaving through the NorCal hills and into the desert, past the prisons positioned purposefully in solitude.

Here we head to Yuba City, inching closer to that historic fire.

This is just the beginning of our road trip.

And given the circumstances, I begin to think that maybe Steve’s whimsical jab is some sort of roundabout prophecy.

A van wreck, possibly; turning too wide on a mountain pass lacking a railing, running a red light, a blown out tire.

You’re in command of a group of friends, leading the charge to fun.

But my terrible driving is coming into full perspective, and I’m starting to harness the possibility that this road trip, like any, where you command a posse of friends, could lead to our demise.

Maybe you really are the Judas Goat?

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Declan Murray and some classis SF. Photo by Steve Crandall

"But my terrible driving is coming into full perspective, and I’m starting to harness the possibility that this road trip, like any, where you command a posse of friends, could lead to our demise."

- Matt Coplon

The waffle Iron...

...Is a staple at motels in towns like these. Within the selection of run down desert 'lodges' to hang your hoodie for the night, the option of a manual waffle iron for breakfast mostly seals the deal.

Unlike the bagel, or the combining of milk with cereal, the intimacy of the waffle iron is an indicator of a productive day. Dripping the right amount of batter. Being cognizant of the time, where too little equals too mushy, too much and you’re swallowing carcinogens. And then there is the correct amount of syrup drizzle. To each his own, depending on what and how much that person drank the night before.

Sipping a cup of coffee, I watch those in line inch patiently towards the iron as if taking their morning communion.

Steve and I notice a man at the head holding up the breakfast queue.

As we look over, starting from his two mismatched shoes, going up to his shorts in sub forties weather, we notice that in his back pocket, there is an extremely large crescent wrench. One that you’d use to tighten an oversized pipe fitting.

He stands in front of the waffle iron, and in extended detail, cooks his waffle, waiting for just the right crispness.

“Sir, are you a guest here?”

The motel manager approaches, questioning his extended stay in line.

She is a tiny, standing as if in the shadow of this unwelcome guest.

Having been caught, he makes his way towards the lobby.

On his way out, he leans over to Steve and I.

“Morning guys...can you snag that waffle for me when it’s done?”

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Matt Coplon. In and out.

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Photos by Steve Crandall

In the Oasis...

...You run into folks who’ve moved here for the military. If not for their own careers, the career of a relative.

I find out that the adjacent Air Force Base was central command for the U.S.’s lineage of spy aircraft. During the beginning of the Cold War, it harbored the U2. Later, the SR-71 Blackbird.

As a child, I was enamored with those engineering miracles, so my ears naturally perked in

conversation when a local filled me in:

“The SR-71 was made out of some sort of porous material. When it flew at incredibly high speeds, the metal would heat up, stretch, and seal the fuel tanks. But when sitting at the airfield, fuel would leak through the gaps in the skin, leaving a puddle below it’s belly.”

The wind kicks up, here in the low desert, the temperature plummets.

And in the distance, a scorched fog slowly rolls in. Fingerlets of the wild fire.

I began to worry, just a bit.

The thought of a nearby puddle of volatile rocket fuel didn’t help.

The pause allows for our conversation to switch subjects. In our new thread, I learn that in his adolescents, out of utter boredom, he decided to learn German.

Now, he’s completely fluent.

I’m taken aback by his obscure engineering knowledge, and even more so in revealing his complete grasp of a foreign language.

Embarrassed by my own ineptitude, I hide the sentiment by asking him in this parking lot of a

Korean Cafe that prepares American style hamburgers: “In German, how do you say ‘there is sauerkraut in my lederhosen’?”

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"The dines, bro." Garrett Ginch on sardines as a road trip staple. Pool slayer in foreign lands. Pic by Matt Coplon

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Ron Wilkerson - DIY godfather. Photo Steve Crandall

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Garrett Ginch making a mountain of a mole hill at Gearhead Bikes with smoke from the worst wild fire in recorded Amercan History. Pic by Matt Coplon

Motel Blues.

Smoke envelopes the pine trees as we wait in line to collect keys for our reserved motel rooms.

We’re not sure if it’s the smoke, or if the clerk is simply a fledgling at managing the 100 or so rooms occupied by a mix of weary, choked out travellers and kooks.

From beside the office, a woman appears with two leashed labrador retrievers. The chocolate one sits idle, as the tan one heads for Crandall, her nose targeting his feet.

“Oh, excuse us…” the woman says.

Crandall steps back.

“Don’t worry, she’s friendly, and she won’t sniff crotches...

...she lifts crotches.”

Mia Dillon Leeper Photo Hotel Shenanigans

The Dads maxing and relaxing while ole Dec-Daddy makes sure the beds are proper. Photo: Dillon Leeper

"We’re not sure if it’s the smoke, or if the clerk is simply a fledgling at managing the 100 or so rooms occupied by a mix of weary, choked out travellers and kooks."

- Matt Coplon

Thirteen is always an unlucky number.

On this trip, I’ve left it up to everyone else to decide on where we eat.

Off of I-80, we take a break in the evening, and pull over into a shopping plaza. Stereotypic in driving across the U.S., each has a sandwich shop, a Chinese Restaurant, and one of a selection of low-budget hamburger joints.

This one is an anomaly, where, somehow in the middle of the desert, a southern BBQ joint has found itself a home. As the crew chooses, I stake out my options, which have been limited to another Tex-Mex Restaurant. A choice that is reserved for desperate times as a lifelong, strict vegetarian.

I go against my gut and order three burritos.

Each, a tortilla, refried beans and no cheese.

Years ago, I renamed them bean logs.

Knowing the outcome, I stubbornly refuse to learn from past mistakes when, days later, this fast food has become my default.

Thirteen total by the end of the trip.

I see less and less people in my van.

The businessman who will sit next to me on the 5 hour flight home will pretend like he wasn’t covering his nose.

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After riding an untouched spot we had to make the hike back up the hill, with tourist wonder why we were down there with bikes. Photo: Jay Schille

I keep Holding on.

Going down U.S.-1, south out of San Francisco, the smoke from the worst wildfire in history obscures the extensive, sandy beach ending at the Pacific Ocean.

In the surf, dozens of folks on boards get pitted, it’s in the low 50’s, and their resilience extends to the poorest air quality on record in the city by the bay.

We will connect and reconnect to four major highways over the next ten miles as we head towards the airport, weaving a dodging one of the most congested cities in the state of California.

Here, in this urban maze, the events of the past six days kick in. This is the beginning of the end. The closure of experience.

From this, now, I have to begin to formulate substance into meaning.

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"The crew is me, the crew is you, we are the crew." -- 7 Seconds.

Although it is Wednesday, SFO is mad. The four lanes of traffic into departures are in complete gridlock. And as we’re three lanes removed from curbside, Crandall decides to break for it.

Grabbing his backpack, he heads to the trunk to snatch up his large, faux-golf bag disguising his complete bike.

As he heads back, all four lanes of traffic begin to move, instantly making me the roadblock.

“I’ll see you…” Crandall hollers through the rolled down passenger window. I watch as he lugs his bags across the lanes, where, after a second, my line of vision gets cut off by a man driving a black limousine.

He looks directly at me, furious.

I see his hand come off the steering wheel as he flicks me off, mouthing “asshole” as he drives away within the commuter swarm.

On the radio, Simply Red’s song Holding back the Years starts its refrain.

“Holding.”

“Holding.”

“Hold...”

“...It’s all I have to say, It’s all I have today.”

Proper closure as I twist the radio knob to off.

And, like every road trip before it, these events will be filed away in memory until the time comes when you no longer can.

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Get in the van. For real. Pic by Matt Coplon

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