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A cross country odyssey- a honcho, a Honda and a highway


I remember last May. Finals and end-of-term papers suffocated my id. Suddenly my only preoccupations were those damn grades and the hope I had not wasted $5500 of tuition. Yet, I couldn't stop thinking about summer waiting on the doorstep, asserting itself with the occasional day in the 80s, subtly disrobing the people and seducing them outdoors.

I had planned nothing. There was talk of going to China with a friend from Wellesley to make a film, but due to lack of funds and motivation to organize the trip, we folded. Desperately, I started to shop around for something exciting to do, but it was difficult with the pending deadlines of end-of-term papers and finals. Even a job would have been acceptable at this point. Panic set in.

With my mind obfuscated by despair and wishy-washiness, I started to give up on the idea of excitement and began to accept words like "mundane" and "mediocre" in my summer prospects... Until one fine day, while sitting around with Marco Monzini, we were visited by a mutual friend from Harvard. He informed us that he was going to La Jolla in Southern California for the summer to work with a high-tech company (it happens to people from Harvard also!) and he wasn't sure how he was going to take his motorcycle across.

Without letting him utter one more word and with my brain racing at 1000 miles a second I offered: "I'll drive it for you!" His eyes stared at me in disbelief. Then, as my face could not hide my eagerness and sincerity, he started to make some calculations.

In the end he agreed to let me drive it. I suppose he figured that it would be cheaper that way, despite the considerable additional mileage. On my part I was ecstatic; in one brief impulsive moment I had rescued my summer plans.

After dealing with insurance and some minor check-ups and repairs, Martin (the owner) left for Italy leaving me with a specific date to reach La Jolla. When I went to pick up the bike, the mechanics at the Honda dealer were cynical to the point of scaring me: "You really think a 600R is going to make it cross-country? The bike has one cylinder for heaven's sake! It might be a 600cc, but it's an Enduro (off road bike)," said one of them almost condescendingly.

My friend's reactions were no different. It was either that the engine was too small, or the suspensions too high, or the fact that it didn't have a wind-jammer, or that it would be difficult to maintain. I started to question my decision. Had I really decided to do something stupid? But at this point I was too excited to let go. I was ahead of the game; summer had not officially started, and I was already having an affair with a ravishing, red riding machine.

Finals were finally over. I felt satisfied with my academic performance, but now I had a new thing to consume my mind: getting ready for the trip. Given my unavoidable low budget, I thought immediately to plan the route according to where some of my better friends resided. Remarkably, there was an almost perfect linear distribution all the way to Lawrence, KA, followed by a big void all the way to Los Angeles. This posed the first major problem. Martin had agreed to pay for the gas, but had made no mention of accommodation.

My second worry regarded what to bring. The bike had limited space, and I was constrained by the number of tools and bike accessories I had to carry with me. In the end my cargo consisted of two small backpacks: one full of tools, clothes and personal items, strapped on the fender between the front part of the saddle and the back light. The other, my school pack, filled with my documents, money, maps, etc., fit firmly onto my back.

My third and final worry was my father, who, being a motorcyclist himself, was absolutely horrified when he heard what kind of bike I intended to use for the trip. So great was his worry that he offered to ride down from Montr'eal to meet me in Albany, NY, and check out exactly how I was set up to cross the land of opportunity.

STAGE 1: Boston, MA, to Buffalo, NY

On the 30th of May, I was ready. Since I did not own any adequate riding gear, I had to improvise. I borrowed a pair of hillbilly look-alike overalls and a combat jacket from a friend who had AWOLed the army. Martin had given me his red helmet, which I windproofed with masking tape, and for my hands I had a pair of gardening gloves. My feet were in a pair of old Brook racing sneakers. I couldn't find any size 111/2 riding boots. Lastly, to protect me from the rain I had a yellow rain-jacket with matching pants.

It was 6 am when I walked through the front door. There was a slight drizzle. My backpacks were waterproofed with plastic bags and I had my foul weather gear on; still, I could not help feeling discouraged. "What happened to all the sunny days during finals week?" I asked myself.

The first operational problem became obvious when I tried to kickstart the cold engine. (That's right, more often than not enduro bikes do not have electronic ignition.) As I fumbled with the decompressor lever (a device to decrease the pressure in the cylinders) and began pressing violently on the kickstarter, I scraped my shin against the protruding foot rest. I was sweating profusely, very nervous and embarrassed. My visor steamed up. All this in front of my Cambridge home. Eventually the wretched bike started. The deep rumble played like a lullaby. I headed toward the Mass Pike thinking to myself that it would be very difficult to ride all the way to Los Angeles if I had so many problems starting the bike, let alone riding it.

After this disappointing debut I made for a gas station. I filled the tank and reset the odometer. The bike had a range of about 110 miles with a full gas tank, so the only way to know how much gas was left, without waiting for the bike to stall, was to monitor the miles travelled.

Near Albany, I met my father at a pre-established exit. It was quite a relief to see him, since the relentless drizzle had dampened my spirit somewhat. I saw him straddling his black and white BMW RT100, clad in a black leather riding suit. He looked like a chic version of The Road Warrior, feet on the ground stabilizing the bike, his white full-face helmet resting on his lap. At first I admired him, then I envied him and the experience of his 63 years as a navigator and traveller (he was a commercial airline pilot.) But then I reconsidered the nature of my trip and I felt like a young, idealistic, romantic and slightly foolish pioneer. I have always been attracted to doing things at a self-imposed disadvantage. Call it masochism if you will, I prefer to refer to it as love of life. In any case, I just wanted my father to be proud of me.

After coffee, bran muffins, a mandatory lavatory visit and the biggest hug, we hit the road; he in front, me following like a gosling following Father Goose. He looked like the greatest Dad in the whole world. All I could think of was whether I would also be riding motorbikes with my son at 63. The 250 miles left for Buffalo suddenly seemed not so distant.

The rain eventually stopped and the sun broke through. We averaged 65 mph which sapped away a lot of my energy. At the last toll booth before Buffalo, we stopped, embraced for the last time and then Dad headed north, back to Montr'eal. Knowing that I had made it thus far, he could now sleep better at night -- only after I called to reassure him.

Megan Smith's house was not too far away. I arrived after 20 minutes to a warm welcome. I once again appreciated MIT for being an institution which gathers people from everywhere.

The next day I spent with Megan and her father touring Niagara Falls. It was here that I had the idea to open a business called "Enter the Waterfall." Essentially, it would provide a closer look at the falls by lowering a tourist as close as possible to the falls via a cable attached to a helicopter.

(Corrado's journey will continue in the next issue of The Tech.)