Written by Willa Rodencal
There are several moments in life I was able to predict. I could expect that each year your birthday will be on the same day, you can anticipate graduating from college, and you can plan what you will eat for breakfast for the week. I have always found myself to be a planner, I like to have a consistent schedule for my weeks. My friends know that if they want to see me it will have to be planned days in advance, not a few hours before. With all this information in mind, I never thought I would be riding on the back of a motorcycle through the Grand Canyon… in the middle of a rainstorm.
To tell this story I have to go into some background. From ages 0-18, my older sister, Cassidy, and I were both homeschooled and raised by the traditional hippie parents, which I’m sure is not surprising information. My mother stayed at home with us when I was young, and my father went to work at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, WI. Our family was about as extroverted as we could be, my father loved networking and had connections in all corners of the world. His networking was especially prevalent in the Harley-Davidson community, and he had many interesting experiences at his fingertips because of this. So it is no surprise when he said yes to racing coast-to-coast on a 100 year old motorcycle, for the second time.
This race was called the Cannonball and was to take one month to complete the ride. In 2016, 70 teams gathered on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey, to set off on the endurance race. The goal was racers to make it all the way from the east coast to the west coast on absurdly old motorcycles. Support teams followed along ready to pick up bikes if they broke down, and to help repair them at the end of the days travels. The first time my family completed this race it was our small family of four as our team, and people thought my parents were crazy for bringing their 11 and 9 year old daughters on a race across the country. The second time around my mom opted out of the travels and allowed my sister (17) and me (15) to be my fathers only support crew as he rode his 1915 Harley Davidson board track motorcycle from New Jersey to California.
With our minivan loaded up with spare motorcycle parts and plenty of snacks we set off. Legally I was not allowed to drive at the time which meant that my older sister had to drive over 4,000 miles in total, averaging about 250 miles a day. Support crews and racers took different routes along our journey so that we would not cause any traffic issues. It was also for the safety of the riders as the motorcycles could only go about 40 miles per hour, and needed gas station stops much more often. The amount of miles my sister and I drove each day took us roughly 3 hours, but would take my dad and other riders about 6-9 hours. I’m sure you can imagine what it would be like locked in a car with two teenage girls everyday for a month, so I’m glad to say we never had any extra riders joining us. We had lots of highs and lows, though most conflicts were resolved with Dunkin’ Donuts and singing as loudly as possible to Hannah Montana.
We learned a lot about our selves and about our country as we drove through each state, slowly making our way westward. We learned that driving up steep Colorado mountains in a dodge minivan pulling a trailer is a terrifying experience that leads to many near vehicular breakdowns (as well as mental ones). But the drive didn’t teach us nearly as much as the parking lots did. Each night as teams gathered in the parking lots of hotels to fix their motorcycles for the next days ride it was a bonding experience like none other. We shared stories not only of that days travels, but my sister and I still very much in our youth would listen to stories told by others that were from before we were even alive. We had the pleasure of getting to know wonderful people, and most of them are very dear friends to this day. Most of my friends my age think it’s strange when I tell them that I have friends in their 70s, but in this journey of life you never know who you will meet along the way. I learned this lesson while listening to Pat Simmons, lead singer of the band The Doobie Brothers who were popular in the 70s, sing us his songs in a Hampton Inn and Suites parking lot.
Pat Simmons and his wife Cris were among many influential people on our trip. They have taught me a lot along the way, and their free spirits helped teach me to not miss out on wonderful adventures. So when we were just over halfway across the country, the buzz early in the Arizona morning was that it was the day we were passing the Grand Canyon. Everyone was figuring out the best places to stop and sightsee, but unfortunately for our team my father wouldn’t be making the journey. The previous night his motorcycle had many issues and he didn’t think it would make it through the day, which meant an extra rider in our minivan. So when one of the support crew who was riding on a modern motorcycle to watch over the historic bikes and make sure everyone was safe on the trip, offered me the chance to get out of the minivan for the day I jumped on the chance for adventure. With only about 20 minutes to find extra gear and I was stumbling over my habits of planning.
So there I was. On the back of the motorcycle of some guy that I had met only about 2 weeks before, I’m pretty sure I was going against everything my mother ever taught me. But riding on the back of a Harley is always freedom like none other, this time wasn’t any different. As we traveled across the red sandy horizons, gazed up at huge mountains, and looked into deep ravines. I was barreling head first into this life of adventures without plans. And then the rain came.
Luckily, we had noticed the skies getting dark and quickly pulled over about an hour before the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. With our rain suits zipped up we rode on, what started as a drizzle quickly became a downpour. You know when you’re in your car on the highway, with your wipers on the highest setting and it’s still hard to see? Well picture that but your car doesn’t have a roof or doors, and that’s roughly what we were experiencing. Our rain gear didn’t keep us dry for long, but thank goodness for Arizona having warm rain. As we finally pulled up to the gates of the park we knew our soaking limbs would be worth it as soon as we looked at the natural wonder. Weaving our way through the park with the rain finally starting to lighten up as we got nearer to the viewing points. When the rain had turned back to a mist with the humid air surrounding us we parked our motorcycle and climbed off our motorcycle, walking towards the steep drop off of the edge of the canyon. Standing there with our clothes dripping completely in disbelief of what we saw; nothing.
Spreading as far as the eye could see (which wasn’t very far) the entire Canyon was covered in fog. In the moment I had no idea how to react, every emotion coursed through me, though I mainly felt disappointed. We had traveled through a rainstorm to see a beautiful gorge and yet all we got was fog. It was like waiting all year to open your Christmas gifts and finding all of the boxes empty. Yet, all we could do was laugh. We found our selves in one of the most unfortunate situations that was completely out of our control.
I think that is when I learned my life lesson about planning, sometimes you just have to take risks no matter the possible outcomes. It’s an experience I will most likely never have again, and I thought this over as we rode out of the park. With the rain starting up again, I pondered nature and the miraculous ways in which it works, we passed a herd of moose to top off the crazy things we had seen that day. With the rain passed we pulled into the parking lot of our next hotel after finishing our roughly 9 hour ride.
The rest of our journey I used my new found epiphany of taking risks and jumping on the chance for adventures, in just the way my free spirited parents always hoped I would. We visited many historical locations like driving on route 66, visiting the four corners of the United States, and swimming in both coastal oceans within the span of three weeks. The life lessons I learned on this trip and from these people I still take with me to this day. I can best describe it by a quote from the great Jerry Garcia “what a long strange trip it’s been.”
Photos Of Our Travels.
All photos courtesy of Cassidy Blue Rodencal, and Willa Rodencal.