Cassie’s motorcycle, a 650cc Yamaha V-Star, rumbled easily down the beautiful green trough through which Interstate-5 in Washington meanders. It’s a freeway bejeweled with iron bridges, a variety of rivers, and spacious rest stops. We were riding north on our way to Canada. But first we had to brave the traffic apocalypse known as Seattle. There has to have been some demonic alliance that created Seattle traffic. Somewhere a gaggle of trolls sat around a fire of burning dreams, scheming on the most profound way to spray a lovely trip to Canada up I-5 with a mixture of heat, bad concrete, road rage, and the seizure inspiring flashing of brake lights. Oregon is not the only place with a construction cone as the state flower.
After grunting through the tides of iron ire, we cut east toward Sumas, Washington. Dramatically, the hot urban scape turned into the cool green of farming lands. We rode happily across the Canadian border into Chilliwack, B.C., a Canadian city ensconced lovingly into the middle of a crown of mountains that seem to jut out of the ground without the ceremony of foothills. They are majestic and are so much so, it forgives the use of that overused adjective. These mountains leap at the sky, and reach it. From on high, they look down upon our microscopic life spans and our puny significance. If the gods exist, this is where they summer.
My road-weary visage after a long day behind the handlebars, which has parted crowds in other establishments, barely got a glance from the professionally friendly woman behind the desk at a startlingly nice Chilliwack-ian motel. Granted, when I walked into those other places, it was with Monty who looks like an extra in Vikings. Here I walked in with a petite young woman who can’t help but make friends. As we unpacked our steeds a lovely older couple walked up and asked to take our picture. There were farmers from Saskatchewan and were fascinated by these two motorcycle riding Oregonians. Their accents and manners were the stuff of which travel brochures for Saskatchewan are made. When we got to our room after 300 miles on the slab, neither of us was shy about pulling off our boots and letting them fall where they may. Cassie and I have been riding together for years and have the advantage of having shared an apartment as roommates. We can forgive the indignities borne from traveling out in the wind and weather where a good portion of the traffic is indifferent to our survival.
My sister Deirdre and her husband John had the room next to us. Deirdre and I didn’t even know of each other’s existence until I was 34 years-old, which proved that the dark, irreverent humor we share is genetic. We are forbidden to sit together during serious events due to our propensity to chortle blasphemously without warning or apparent provocation. This time we really needed to throttle this back since we were there for a family function, to toast those who have gone before us. There’s a story about my grandmother’s funeral I’ll save for later.
After too brief a sleep and too fast a breakfast, we embarked on a long ride through the magnificent country to where the families were coming together. An extended ride was provided by the GPS turning a ten-minute jaunt into “the long way.” We eventually landed at a pub; the universal Canadian meeting place. In search of something bracing Cassie found the bar, and I launched into family time. I’m not prone to feeling awkward but family tends to bring that out in me, as families are wont to do. My Darkside persona felt a little too bombastic and I found myself replaying almost every interaction from the pub that afternoon. Putting aside insecurities, there is a significant joy to seeing those whose lives have run parallel to my own. Visiting with them, even for an hour, was well worth the trip. Well, that and taking Cassie to Tim Horton’s for lunch to hear the old folks kibitz about American politics.
I’d never heard of a chicken, fig, and brie sandwich, but I had one at a nicer restaurant where we lit for dinner later that night. The beer flowed and family stories erupted with volcanic laughter. None of which Cassie found as amusing as me trying to turn the volume down on my Canadian accent. We also shared a Canadian honesty I’ve missed. Because they start and end almost every sentence with “Sorry,” the filler between can be to the point--especially if that point is to poke fun at each other. The depth of the teasing is directly proportional to the love for the person. We spared Cassie from our teasing not for lack of love, but because she was new to this branch of the family. I suspect next trip we make north she will be exposed to a lot of “Sorry”s. Before coming to Oregon she lived in Salt Lake City. As a non-Mormon lesbian, our remarks will be amateur hour.
We slept well that night. For me it was no doubt due to the exhaustion of incessant laughter, the joy of seeing Deirdre and John, and sharing their love and laughter with Cassie. The friendship Cassie and I share was tempered by the loss of loved ones, so having her there as family was a perfect fit. After breakfast goodbyes went from humor to the sweet pain brought by the knowledge that this visit was too short. We stretched out hugs and promises for more time together until the lump in my throat threatened to turn to tears. With helmets strapped on, we slipped away.
Soon we exited Highway 1 to drop south to the border. There was a wait at the border and it had me revisiting every transgression I’d ever committed. I almost greeted the guard with, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I have an orange in my trunk.” Instead I just said Howdy and copped to packing fruit. He asked--didn’t tell, but asked--if I would mind opening my trunk and getting it for him. He took it, looked at it, dropped it in the trash and thanked me. As I packed up he asked if I was traveling with that person on the motorcycle behind me. I made sure he was looking at Cassie before I nodded. Cassie reported that during her turn with him, he was courteous and friendly as well. When he asked how she knew me, she laughed and said that was a long story. He let her get away with that. We were on our way south.
We hit Portland just after the sun had set. Cassie’s partner Katrina was glad to see us and she even stood on the ottoman to give me a super hug. The plan was for me to spend the night then do the last 80 miles home in the morning, but even after the trip from Canada, I wasn’t done riding. My ass was numb and my neck ached, but I wasn’t done. After a long embrace, Cassie turned me loose into the night. The bridges out of Portland are familiar to me and I can slalom between potholes and distracted drivers using the reptilian part of my brain. Maybe that’s why I got back on the road; to access that part of me that can make life and death decisions without the banality of consideration. Unfortunately the re-entry to daily life from that place is unkind to me--and sometimes others, before I resocialize. Joey manages me well and I tend to choose seclusion over socialization. All the while resisting hopping on the bike again and seeing where I might end up.
As I get older, that distinction between friends and family becomes less defined. I’m hoping it’s due to my evolving to a place where I’m celebrating the loved ones in my life with the same appreciation regardless of DNA. Though no one can make me laugh like Deirdre or make me feel avuncular the way Cassie can, the more time I spend with them, the more I see that delicate web that runs through all the people in my life. It pulls together my passions, from cinema to motorcycles to dank memes, into a tight ball that fits nicely into the pocket of whatever I have to wear into my day.
If you're hankering for more of my essays about Canada, look no farther: Oh, Canada