Today, as I was driving down a mountainside road in Tehachapi, I experienced the most terrifying panic attack of my life.
I thought I was going to end up at the bottom of the cliff near me, and roll down to the bottom of Kern Canyon. Thankfully, I held it together, and extricated myself from the harrowing situation.
Before I get into that, I want to report about the California Liberty March on Wednesday May 8th from Palmdale to Lancaster.
Report: It was pretty uneventful.
I had left from a community park in south-east Palmdale and walked across residential and commercial areas separated by stretches of undeveloped desert land. Cars would occasionally drive by and honk, but when I’d look to wave, the people in the honking cars were facing forward, as if they hadn’t honked at all.
Whenever a car within a group of passing cars would honk, I was always unsure of who did the honking. In fact, I wondered if they were honking in support of the flag or out of annoyance.
As I passed a middle school, some boys playing with a kick ball saw me. The first one gathered his pals, and they shouted and waved. The first boy was pumping his fists in the air and shouting. He decided to go all out and bent his knees. He followed this up with hip thrusts. I just laughed, shook my head, and walked on.
The only people I had actual conversations with on this march were both in Palmdale. The first was a thin man named Tony A. who was standing outside a McDonalds. He walked up behind me as I was rolling up my flag. When I noticed him over my shoulder, he said he wanted to see how I did it.
Tony started telling me about the bad nutritional effects of eating at any fast food establishment. He was going to go in and eat a yogurt parfait, he said, but wasn’t sure.
“With all due respect,” he said cautiously, looking at my gut, “Have you ever done a cleanse?”
“No, but I probably should. I want to lose forty more pounds.”
He went on to tell me about faith leader Danny Viera, who is in northern California, and who has a cleanse product that works wonders. Tony and I talked further about faith and religion. His goal is to establish an “Empowerment Ministry” in Florida. He had worked as a para-legal and loan modification agent before the present administration. His wife and father-in-law drove up, and Tony handed me his card.
The second person I met was Ryan; a young man in his early twenties, who was wearing a black baseball cap, unzipped hoodie, and saggy pants. He was standing outside of a hobby store miles away, smoking. His bicycle was leaned up against the wall.
I rolled up my flag in order to step inside the hobby store to look around and to get out of the sun. The wind was blowing hard, so the flag wasn’t rolling up correctly. Ryan stepped up and helped me get it under control.
I walked around inside the store to see if they had any cheap plastic figurines of children I could buy to use as playing pieces for the prototype of a board game I am developing called, The Very Scary Cemetery. An artist I know (who was once a 3D animation student of mine), is going to paint the art for the game pieces and board. The store owners told me they didn’t have what I wanted, so I left.
As I was unfurling the flag, Ryan asked me why I was walking with it. So I told him.
He smiled, revealing some chipped and missing teeth. He told me that he wanted the local Sheriff’s Deputies to uphold their own oaths, as they harass him on a weekly basis. Ryan said that because of his appearance (he has neck and arm tattoos), he is pulled over as he rides his bicycle, and is asked if he is on parole or probation. He told me that he continually hands his ID to the deputies, telling them to run his card.
“Check my background. I have no record. I may look bad,” he told me, “But I’m a good person.”
He gave me another lop-sided, toothy smile, and I shook his hand. All I could think to tell him was, “Hang in there…”
I then continued to 10th Avenue West, and turned northward to Lancaster.
Desert, Desert, Everywhere
From that point on, there were very long stretches of open land, with business park developments or mini-malls punctuating the long arid walk.
After several hours, I reached Lancaster. Mike DeGrood, a member of the Sons of Liberty motorcycle club, called me at 4:30 pm to try and find me. He wanted to walk a little with me. He was going to pick me up at the end of the route and drive me back to my car at the park in Palmdale.
I was about three hours away from completing the 20 miles. He walked with me from Avenue L to Avenue K before turning back in his work shoes to get his car. I continued walking to reach Avenue J before me got me.
While the parts of Palmdale I had walked through were predominantly populated by Hispanics, the northern part of Lancaster I walked through are predominantly blacks. The expressions on the faces of people I passed by as I walked in both towns made me smile; because they all seemed to be wondering what type of lunatic I was.
I received a lot more honks and thumbs ups in Lancaster, as well as smiles and waves. The usual battle cry of, “America!” was occasionally shouted. I even got two “Whoo hoo!” from girls driving by.
Side note: Teen aged girls and college girls almost always shout the same thing: “Whoo hoo!” I wonder why that is. Although, some do occasionally shout, “America!” like boys and men tend to do.
By the time I reached Avenue J, Mike D. was parked off to the side. “You ready?” he asked.
My arches were aching, and my right foot was once again throbbing with pain.
“All you’re going to hit from this point on is desert,” he told me. “No one will really see you and the flag.”
So, I put the flag in his car, and he drove me back to the park. It was a long drive, because of the surface streets route, even though we did take the freeway along the way. Then, I followed him back to the freeway, and then drove 45 minutes north to Tehachapi, where he lives and works.
As I followed Mike’s car, we passed through part of the Mojave. To the West, I saw hundreds of wind turbines in the distance. It was amazing. They were on the plains and on the hills. When Mike pulled over along the way to gas up, he told me that he works for a company that constructs them.
From there, we drove to Tehachapi.
That is where I am now, blogging. He and his wife have offered to let me stay here for a couple of days. Tomorrow, I will leave early in the morning to get the Bakersfield for that march. I’ll return here for tomorrow night. Early Saturday morning, I will drive up to the next route, which is from Tulare to Visalia.
After that, I drive northward.
I haven’t had much time to explore. From what I have seen of it, it is a very nice rural town. I left at 3 pm today to drive around and take some photos for you guys, but I didn’t get very far. As I passed houses on acreage that had white fences around them, I came to the top of Kern Canyon.
That is where my harrowing experience began.
Yesterday, I had told Mike that I have a phobia of driving on high, curving overpasses and bridges. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and others is a concern for me.
I first became aware of my anxiety with driving over bridges in my early Twenties, when I was a Resident Assistant at UCLA. I was driving some students from my floor somewhere along the I-405. When I came to the I-10 interchange, and was driving onto the overpass, I suddenly experienced sweats and anxiety.
I slowed way down and made it, but was freaked out.
Since then, I have done alright while driving. But last Summer, while I was driving my children over the Coronado Bridge to reach the island, I once again experienced a terrible panic attack.
I didn’t want to freak out my kids, so I remained calm, breathing slowly. All the while, my mind kept seeing the bridge in front of me collapsing, and I was deathly afraid we were about to plunge into the bay below. I just kept talking myself through it, telling myself to remain calm, to check my speed, to look at the road ahead (instead of the open sky above and around the bridge).
We made it. I was so shaken by this, I let my eldest daughter drive us back over the bridge (even though she was still a new driver).
Today, I was trying to find a famous landmark where trains do a turnaround. So, I followed a road Mike had pointed out. That road went through the rolling plains lands of the houses with fences I mentioned. It was when the road started to descend alongside a mountain when the panic attack occurred.
I was driving down for a few hundred feet when I was struck by how interesting the landscape in the distance looked. I pulled over on a very slim patch of gravel on the side of the road, on the lane closest to the canyon. I was a little nervous, so I double-checked the parking brake, and that I was in Park.
I got out of my car, walked up the road a little to take a photo of the canyon with my tablet. When I got back into my car and started driving down again, there suddenly was a sheer cliff alongside me. There were no longer any trees alongside me to provide a point of reference for my eyes.
I suddenly panicked and felt my heart race. I told myself to calm down, and I prayed.
“Through God, all things are possible…”
I slowed down and came to another gravel pull-over spot. Luckily, it was twice as wide and long as the first. I hit my Hazard lights and drove slowly onto the gravel. I was terrified. To my right was a canyon far below.
My heart raced and my head was spinning, and I thought I was going to drive off the cliff. From where I was at, on this narrow two-lane road, I was able to see oncoming traffic from both directions for about forty feet each way. There was a hairpin turn ahead of me, while the road had a shallower curve behind me.
I had to get off of that road as soon as I could. The terror was quickly building. It took a lot of talking to myself to keep track of what I needed to do:
Is your foot still on the brake? Are there cars coming from the north? Are there cars coming from the south? Am I sliding into the canyon? How much space is there to turn left into the mountain, so I can back up onto the gravel again and complete turning around..?
I looked up and down the roads again, saw that they were clear, then I went for it. I turned hard left, drove across the lanes until I was facing the mountainside, then I looked back to see where I needed to go as I backed up.
When I looked back, I was completely horrified, all I could see was the sky. I didn’t know how much road there was until I hit the gravel patch. I was afraid I’d accidentally hit the accelerator and drive off the cliff. But, I knew I couldn’t remain blocking the road. Someone could run into me at any second.
So, I drove back slowly until I felt the car roll over gravel. I then turned quickly to see how much room I had left ahead of me. No cars were coming, so I turned the wheel hard left, then accelerated back onto the road, and headed back up the mountain.
I retraced my route back to the DeGrood’s. When I parked the car, I was nauseous and shaky. My head was throbbing and it hurt. I went into the house and into the bathroom. There, I splashed water on my face and I was overwhelmed with emotion. I started to cry.
So I went into the guest room and cried into a folded up towel until the feeling went away. I rewashed my face and left the house. I wanted to go to bed and curl up but instead, I left the house and drove into town along a different route.
There, I saw a Starbucks next to an Italian restaurant called, “Pacino’s.” I felt queasy so I decided to eat something. I hadn’t eaten any other than a protein shake up to that point.
Inside Pacino’s, I saw that it is essentially a shrine to the actor. There are movie posters everywhere, as well as framed head shots from throughout his career, and painted murals of the man and of his work.
I ordered water and spaghetti with salad and bread sticks. I was still shaken but slowly feeling better. Across the aisle from me was a woman named, Darlene F. She and I started talking.
She told me that she is a commercial and competitive Bass fisher. She travels throughout the South fishing and competing. She told me of how the weather conditions were so extreme at times that she and other competitors questioned their judgment in doing what they do. This fascinated me.
She told me that they sometimes band together, sleep over in rented houses or campsites, and share stories of their day’s travails with one another. They compete for money, boats, and sometimes houses. Mainly, for money. But they pay $3000 entry fees to enter competititons!
“It’s all about winning,” she told me. “It’s to be competitive.”
Talking with her calmed me. I told her about my march, and she told me to contact some of her FB friends who are fishermen and who are Conservative. We shared names and then she left.
After I was done eating, I drove around the town for ten minutes. It had started raining, and it was overcast. I felt exhausted, so I drove back to Mike’s house.
Excelsior Henderson Motorcycles
When I returned to the house, I started blogging. After an hour, Mike returned and needed to use his computer. So, I got off and went into the guest room for a while. I then went into the den to ask Mike a question.
He was looking on Google for images of motorcycles that have the same type of windshield he needs for his motorcycle. That is when he began to tell me the story of the resurrection of an American motorcycle brand called, the Excelsior Henderson.”
Apparently, the first American-made motorcycle was the Excelsior. Ignaz Schwinn, the famed German-born mechanical engineer, and bicycle maker, purchased the rights to the Excelsior and another motorcycle brand called the Henderson. He then began producing the Excelsior Henderson motorcycle.
The “X” was the favored motorcycle of law enforcement officers in the Twenties. Charles Lindburgh rode one, and even Henry Ford was an owner. It was the first motorcycle to reach 100 mph.
By 1931, though, because of the Depression, Schwinn walked in and informed his employees that he would no longer be producing the X. Thus, the Excelsior Henderson faded off into obscurity. Until the 1990′s.
It was in 1993 that Dan Hanlon, and his younger brother Dave, reintroduced the Excelsior Henderson. They had spent $50,000 on each of several prototypes that were based on the last known designs of the motorcycle’s previous incarnations. The Hanlons’ designs were supposed to take those designs and extrapolate what the motorcycle would look like at that point, as if it had never ceased production.
From 1993 to 2000, the Hanlons produced one thousand nine hundred and fifty-eight motorcycles. But, the Hanlons needed more money to continue to do so. Each production model cost $1000 more than what they sold for. The Excelsior Henderson name still needed time to build a customer base, and thus, be more affordable.
Despite a push for venture capital, the Hanlons had to file for bankruptcy. While litigation was in process, an outside company came in, promising to revive the company. The principal of that company put down $300,000 as a deposit against the millions needed to finalize the reorganization.
As it turned out, the principal of the investing company was an unscrupulous man wanted in other states. He sold all of the assets and dies and machines used to construct the X. He sold all of the early models from the showroom, and liquidated all holdings.
Hence, the Excelsior Henderson was once again lost. No one knows where any of the machine dies have gone to, nor are there any of the original plans known to be in existence. Whomever has them hasn’t come forward. As Mike said, “It’s a mystery.”
Mike has two Excelsior Hendersons. He proudly showed them to me after he told me the story. They are beautiful cycles. I intend on acquiring one in the coming year, once I am working once again.
Apparently, they are becoming less expensive because original replacement parts are dwindling. They can be modified with parts from other brands, though. From a historical perspective, the X is a collectable. It represents American ingenuity and determination and courage.
I want to be courageous. I want to overcome my fear of heights and of falling. Everyday on this trip, whether I want to or not, I discover something new. I learn something I need in order to be able to leave behind my previous bad habits and fears.
When I Drove Off of a Cliff
I suspect that my phobia and anxiety is due in large part to the day I drove off of a road that ran alongside a ravine. From the center of the ravine was an elevated area on which a train ran.
I was 16, and I was driving a Ford Pinto to the Trestles with three friends. The Trestles was a train bridge over a lagoon in Carlsbad, CA. We would jump from the bridge into the water below. Once in it, the water currents were strong, and wee’d swim against them to reach the shore.
The day before I was driving to the Trestles, I was a passenger in my friend George’s station wagon. He was driving on the dirt road, doing fishtails. We thought that was fun. So, the next day, when I was driving, and George and two others rode along with me, they told me to do fishtails. Being a teenager, I did.
And I did them beautifully! Until I saw an indented patch of sand ahead. So, I stopped fishtailing, slowed down a bit and held the steering wheel straight. For whatever reason, the car suddenly turned in a 70 degree angle, and we soared into the air.
As George and the others screamed, I was trying to get my foot from under the accelerator so I could hit the brakes. Which would have been pointless, but it gave me something to do as I thought (with a sinking feeling in my stomach), “Aw, damn… And I’ve never ever looked to see what’s down there…”
I thought we were going to die. But, after being airborne for a few seconds, the car landed on the side of the ravine and was about to roll on the side when it hit a large concrete block (the type of block used to support power poles). The front right wheel well was lodged against it, prevent any further movement.
For the first half minute, we all sat there. Stunned. Suddenly, the others started nervously laughing. “Let’s do that again!”
Despite being glad we were alive, I was afraid of my parents finding out. I happened to have $50 in my wallet, so I called a tow truck to pull my car from the ravine. He did and it seemed to run alright. Though my step-father asked me why the front end was elevated. I don’t remember what lie I told him. But, thereafter, I have never been in a car accident that was my fault.
As far as I can tell, that may be the genesis for my phobia. I wonder how to conquer it. I want to be able to ride my future X on windy mountain roads without experience that terror again…