Road Trip Optimism

My Massachusetts Adventure:

Road trips always begin in optimism. Even road trips on a motorcycle.

“We’ll stop every hour and a half. Definitely no more than two hours. It’ll be a real easy ride for your first motorcycle trip.”

He has his dad’s trailer attached to the Harley’s hitch before I even arrive at his house. For a week’s travel, we pack it three-quarters full, and then kick around the pebbles in the gravel lot behind his house, waiting for his grandparents to arrive.


Our itinerary is a litany of numbers and route names stretching up through the backwoods of New York State. We start in the Finger Lakes, brush the Catskills, and then aim past Albany for the Berkshires.

Somewhere in the rippling hills beneath Albany, I decide the only real way to road trip is on a bike, searching out the back roads, breathing in the fresh air. So close to the scenery I could touch it.

It is amazing.


Our first destination is a timeshare resort at Jiminy Peak. September now, the ski slopes outside our balcony look green and lonely, fat and sinuous snakes running perpendicular to each other up the mountain. The chair lift sits silent, its chairs following one by one up to a motionless destination. To our left, the swimming pool dotted with children; to our right, the hot tub and tennis courts; on the balcony, I wiggle my toes against the railing and shut my eyes.

Every road trip begins with optimism.


We stay one whole day at Jiminy Peak and leave on the second morning. I am learning motorcycle road trips–even ones from New York to Massachusetts– are best done in stages. No rushing. No fussing.

Today, we weave away from our resort down a curvy, switch-backing, mountainous route, intending to strike straight across Massachusetts. Destination: Dennis Port, Cape Cod.

When my boyfriend lifts both hands from the handlebars of his bike and leans back into me steering down a hill using only our weight–for the first time when he’s done this– I smile. Maybe even giggle.


We stop for lunch–egg-salad sandwiches made by Gram–in a parking area with no bathrooms that lies just off the highway. A small stand of brush and trees separates the trucker’s area and ours if I want to chance it, but I decide I can make it to the next stop.

We eat our sandwiches and corn chips at the only picnic table in the parking area, and as my boyfriend’s Gramp studies the interstate map, the wind snatches at the paper towels rolled around our sandwiches and rustles in the chip bag.

Every time we start riding, a delicate dance occurs–button down the saddlebags, lock up the trailer, zip anything I might need into jacket pockets (tissues, sunscreen for my un-gloved hands), pinch earplugs into my ears, pull my helmet down over my head and chin, take a wide sweeping step up to mount my seat. Tap my boyfriend on his flanks.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

The bike roars to life. It is more than just sound: it is constant movement. Even still, the bike shudders and moves, as if its momentum is barely contained. Gram and Gramp leave before us on their three-wheeled Spyder, zipping down the merge lane. We follow.

It is easy to hear when a Harley shifts–the engine revs, and then comes a sudden release like a roar of sound, dipping down before it revs again.

It is even easier to hear when a Harley does not shift, as it does now, whining suddenly, the engine straining before my boyfriend lets off the throttle. He tries again. It revs and whines, protesting. He eases us to a stop as he looks at his left foot where the shifter sits.

By now, we sit at the end of the merge area on the shoulder of the narrow, two lane highway. Cars breeze past us far closer than I want to think about.

I’ve been with him before when something has gone wrong with the shifter, but this feels and sounds worse than that.

He leans over the side of the bike and tries to pull the clutch in with his left hand and manually shift with his right.

Nothing happens.

I flick my visor up. “What’s wrong?”

“It won’t shift!”

“At all?”

He shakes his head. “At all. We’re stuck in second.”

By now, his grandparents have disappeared. I sit up and survey the highway as my boyfriend tries to shift the gears by hand again.

“What are we going to do?” I shout when he pauses.

“We’ve gotta get off the road. Get somewhere I can look at it.”

We both stare at the highway sign we now sit even with–exactly a mile until the next exit.

He flips down his own visor and shouts: “We’ll have to go in second!”

A mile is not long at running speeds, but when you’re rolling down the shoulder of the highway at thirty miles an hour with your engine screaming at you, a mile seems like forever.

“It’s only a mile. Only a mile. Only a mile,” I recite until we pull into the first available parking lot. A Burger King.

“Well,” I think, “at least I can go to the bathroom.”


By the time I return from the bathroom, my boyfriend has the shifters removed, and he is inspecting the inner splines that are supposed to catch when the shifter is pressed and actually shift the transmission. On both connecting parts, the splines are worn away. There’s nothing to catch on. No way to shift.

We could send Gram and Gramp to the nearest Harley dealer–surprisingly only a few minutes away–but it’s Labor Day weekend and no one is open.


Gram and I sit on the wide base of the nearest light pole. My boyfriend has decided our best chance is to Loctite the two broken pieces together and hope that we can at least get the shifter into working order–enough to make it to Dennis Port.

Gram and Gramp retrieved both Loctite and JB Weld for us, but after twenty minutes or so to set, the worn parts still won’t catch. We limp to a nearby gas station just to prove it.

Again, Gram and I take a perch on the curb, watching cars pull in and out at the pumps.

“What we need,” she says, “is to find some random Harley parts.”

We hear the telltale thunder of a down-shifting Harley as he leans into the turn at the gas station.

“I’ll bet his would work,” she chuckles.

We both know Gram would be the last person to take anything from anyone; it’s just the rather crooked optimism of the broken-down road trip taking aim.


My boyfriend and his Gramp “fix” the bike by JB Welding the splines together in a spot further in along the pieces where there is not as much wear. It isn’t perfect–in fact, it feels rather tenuous to our minds, if nothing else–but it will work.

We make it to Dennis Port, but not without cringing and holding our breaths down every off ramp, through every stop-light, and taking off at every intersection.

Don’t break on us now!


Cape Cod is a magical place, especially on the back of a motorcycle. Our rooms may be right on the beach, but the best view is caught when riding.

Like most problems, the tenuous hold of the shifter seems much more solid when we wake that first morning on the coast. Gramp decides it’s the perfect day to go up toward the National Seashore and on into Provincetown.

We rumble through small communities where the tourists jump into the crosswalks . We force park goers to plug their ears after we stop off to explore one of the oldest windmills on the East Coast. We glide around corners, and the bay opens wide and blue on our left, the waters sparkling from the brilliance of a sun in a sky without clouds. I stare out at a world gone shiny from the brine covering my visor.

Ocean salt. You can’t experience that trapped inside a car.


We decide we will use the grills at the resort to cook our dinner, and on the way back from our touring, stop at a grocery store to pick up meat and veggies and a few things for our breakfast. We cart our three stuffed bags out to the bikes and expertly stow things into the roomy trunk on the front of the Spyder.

My boyfriend and I take our one bag and pack it into the Harley, and then begin our departure dance. Once I’ve settled into my seat, I look up to see Gram walking our way.

“He can’t find the key,” she says. “Can you kids go back in the store and see if he left it somewhere?”

A pit opens up in my stomach, the kind that happens when something simple, like misplacing your keys or wallet, occurs on a trip far from home.

We strip off our helmets and head back toward the store.

“Wait,” my boyfriend says as we near the other bike, “don’t you need the key to open the trunk? You must’ve just had it. You probably dropped it right here.”

We each squat down on our haunches and examine the asphalt beneath the bike. Then we examine the asphalt beneath the cars parked around the bike. Finally, we examine the nooks and crannies on the bike–anywhere a key could have fallen and caught. We collectively decide the only place it could possibly be is in the trunk, which we can only open again with the key.

Gramp immediately looks up YouTube videos of how to open the trunk of a Can-Am Spyder without the key. It can be done, but only with a long piece of study metal, preferably hooked on the end. The only thing we have are my boyfriend’s allen wrenches, and they are far too short.

My boyfriend and I alternately try to reach our hands in while Gramp pries up the corner of the trunk; we only succeed in scratching and pinching ourselves. As we struggle, Gram makes a circuit of the storefronts trying to find anywhere that sells something that might work. The grocery store sends her to the gas station, the gas station points her to Marshall’s–across the highway.

My boyfriend and I ride over to help her. Even if they have an old-fashioned coat hanger, it might be enough. Rack after rack, we find only plastic hangers, but at one display, my boyfriend taps the long metal hook they use to display smaller items.

“That might work,” he says. “It’s certainly longer than my allen wrenches.”

He and Gram grab the first associate we see. “This might seem like a strange request,” he begins, outlining our predicament and what we need the hook for. “I promise we’ll bring it back regardless.”

We fly from the Marshall’s parking lot under a darkening sky. But it’s no use; the display hook is too short. Nicks and scrapes litter my boyfriend’s forearms, as he leans back from the bike, once more at a loss.

“Hey, you guys need any help?” says a man, who has just pulled up in the parking spot next to us. “I’ve got tools in my truck. Not all but some.”

“Do you have anything really long?” I say. “Like a long screwdriver maybe?”

“Uh–long? Let me check.”

He returns with some kind of magnetic tool that can be added to and lengthened. He snaps a few of the pieces together as he walks over. “This isn’t much, but you can make it longer.” He hands it to Gramp. “Listen, you guys can borrow it. Just give me a minute to run in and grab a pizza. I’ll be right back.”

They try the man’s magnetic tool, but it doesn’t work either. It might be long enough, but it lacks a hook and cannot snag the lever.

Just then an ambulance pulls up on our left and three EMT’s jump out. Gramp, who runs ambulance himself back home, immediately relaxes; his hands dig deep in his pockets.

“Oh, these boys’ll have something that works!” He ambles over to them, and at first, they give him disbelieving, confused glances as they try to push past him to the store. I don’t know what changes their minds, but they realize that Gramp isn’t joking. The key really is locked inside the bike.

Suddenly, we are surrounds by EMT’s, each looking over the Spyder with an eye half-full of admiration and half-full of business.

A tall, lanky EMT pulls out a tough coil of metal from the side of the ambulance and begins shaping it with his hands. He lengthens a piece and fashions a tight little hook on the end.

“Think that’ll work,” he says with a mischievous grin, all sure of himself.

“Let’s hope so!” says Gramp.

The lanky EMT bends down, hooks the piece of metal beneath the trunk lid, and fishes back and forth for a moment. A light catches in his eye just as the hook catches beneath the trunk. The elusive lever pops, and Gramp pulls open the trunk.

“Yay!” we all shout, as my boyfriend pulls up the grocery bags. There in the bottom of the trunk sits the key.

“Thanks, you guys!” The exclamations and pats go all around to the ambulance crew. No longer needed, they disappear into the grocery store, shaking their heads.

“Come on,” my boyfriend says. “I’m hungry.”

Back on the bike, we race across the highway to Marshall’s and return the hook.

We speed back to the resort just as the first raindrops plop down.


Massachusetts lives among the historical. We motor to Plymouth and snap pictures of an underwhelming rock half-covered by the rising, muddy tide. We sit beside the harbor and dream of taking trips in the teak-lined boats. The Harley nearly overheats in traffic on the way, but I tap my boyfriend’s shoulders and say, “Don’t worry! We’ll make it. We’re almost there now,” as the traffic snakes in front of us.

And it’s true, as we cruise up the narrow bridge around which traffic had bottle-necked.

We pick up motorcycle parts from a red-faced, red-haired man, who smokes cigarettes greedily and calls Budweiser “Clydesdale piss”, even though it’s the only beer he drinks.

We eat dinner at an Irish pub, but order Wienerschnitzel and seafood and drink Cider.

All the little things build up, buoying the optimism, until the road trip isn’t a road trip at all, but the chapter of a story.

Our story.


The plan is to go back the way we came, across Massachusetts to Jiminy Peak.

No one ever told me a human’s butt could get so sore.

After our one and only stop on the trip (two less than the same previous trip), perhaps still an hour from the ski resort, I can’t feel my right calf anymore, and any time we lean into a corner, the base of my hip rolls across the seat, and I feel fire blossom in my butt and thigh.

Coming down the hill to Jiminy Peak, tears roll back from my eyes, and I gasp at each bump.

“Thank God!” I say when I see the resort sign.


Even road trips must come to an end. We pack up the trailer one last time and admit to ourselves it’s time to turn home. I pile on the layers, Under Armour beneath it all, because the summer’s heat is failing, and fall greets us when we step out the door.

Gramp, eager to get home, decides to drive four-lanes all the way.

I have been warned now about just how sore a human’s butt can become, and on top of not really wanting to go home, I dread that Gramp wants to get there so quickly.


We eat lunch at a gas station with only two parking spaces, one of which is available, but my boyfriend squeezes the Harley in beside the Spyder, though our trailer sticks out.

When we are finished, Gram hugs us each five times at least and tells us how happy she is that we came. Our roads will split soon, as they are headed further away.

We wave goodbye to them at their exit, and now with each mile that passes, the fire builds slowly in my thighs and calves and butt.

“After this,” I say to myself, watching road signs flash past. “Only two more cities after this… Only one more city after this… Ten more minutes… just ten more minutes… Five…It’s right around that bend…Right around this bend!…One more stoplight… Oh! I can see it!”

Relief.

Every road trip ends in optimism.


To keep my creative momentum up, I crafted this little gem for you. Although it’s not perfect, I hope you enjoyed the little dip into creative non-fiction.

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