Friday, August 31, 2007

Dawson City, 6 and a half thousand kms north of L.A.

Hello Angels!!

I'm finally in Dawson City after twelve days on the road. Here I will rest a few days and gear up for the next leg up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik.

It's been a surprisingly smooth ride up here. I was telling Suzanne that it really does feel as though I've got angels flying me up here. Henk the Buell, at over 96,000kms is running better than ever and ever since the hiccup in Boulder Creek with a dead battery on day 2, I literally haven't encountered a problem of any sort.

The ride up the Alaska Highway is beautiful. Always existential because it just goes and goes and goes. The solitude and silence, coupled with the vastness you're riding through and into, create a perfect environment for potent meditation.

Every day I'm out there riding, whether it's in sunshine or rain, warmth or wintery cold, I think of Suzanne braving the elements every single day. It's given this trip a real sense of purpose and a reason to talk to people with an instant first topic of conversation.

When I tell people where I started and where I'm going, they're quite baffled. "What? All the way from L.A. on that?" Then when I bring up Suzanne's Angels, their faces soften ever so slightly and they offer such kind words of encouragement, both for me and the ride, and for Suzanne and her future.

One guy I stopped and chatted with in Dawson Creek said he's basically homeless at the moment as well, living out of the back of his van parked at WalMart; but his luck had recently changed. He told me to tell Suzanne that luck can change for the better and once you're out of that rut, you're really out!

On a personal note, I have never felt so grateful. Strangely, I'll be riding along in the cold rain and I'll be singing to myself "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day..." knowing that at some point, I'll come out from under a cold dark cloud and the sun will beam its warmth back down on me, dry off my gloves and boots, and change the world.

A very cool piece of news on the sponsorship front: Erik Buell, founder, chairman, chief technical officer of the Buell Motorcycle Company and designer extraordinaire of Henk the Buell, has personally made a pledge to Suzanne's Angels! How fabulous is that?!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Suzanne's Angels - Women on the road for Women on the street

This group was created in response to a friend asking "What charity are you riding for?" I was inspired.

I'm always a bit leery of "charities." I never know exactly where my money's going unless I give it directly to the person in need. So I often give food or a few bucks to homeless people.

I believe in acting locally, whether it be buying from local farmers, supporting local businesses or helping your neighbor.

Suzanne is a homeless woman I've become friends with in Venice. She lives in her truck with her four adopted cats.

Although she's turned her truck into a funky cabin and lives her homelessness as art, with as much dignity as is humanly possible, it's a constant struggle. She sleeps with one eye open and sometimes feeds her cats better than she feeds herself.

I'm fortunate to be able to choose homelessness for a month to pursue my passion of riding motorbikes. I'll be riding in solitude from L.A. to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, toward the midnight sun in the wind and the rain, camping under the northern lights, sleeping on a gravel bed with a fleece sweater for a pillow. For me, the idea of homelessness for a month is bliss. But I have a home to come back to - a safe place with a warm bed and a cozy duvet and a supportive partner and a kitchen and a shower - things I need to leave occasionally in order not to take them too much for granted. If all goes well, I'll be logging approximately 20,000 kilometres. (Approximately 14,000 miles.)

My goal is to have $1 per kilometre/mile pledged for Suzanne by the time I return to L.A. I'm one fifth of the way there already.

I leave this Sunday, August 19. I'll be posting regular blogs and videos from my helmet cam along the way both here and on First stop, Suzanne's truck in Santa Cruz! Stay tuned, and join Suzanne's Angels! (You don't have to be a biker to be an Angel!)

You (or a group of you) can leave a pledge of a penny per km/mile (or more or less) in the comments section of this blog. or on the wall of the group "Suzanne's Angels" on Facebook. Or email me directly at moira


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Suzanne: mythical muse or human being?

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river...

Leonard Cohen was so inspired by her as a young woman in Montreal that he wrote the poem which was to become the hit song "Suzanne" covered by no less than 20 artists since the late '60's. It's a haunting melody that immortalized Suzanne as a mythical muse in the hearts and minds of millions.

The lyrics painted a portrait of a beautiful and free young woman in a time, a woman wearing "rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters" who found "heroes in the seaweed" and showed you "where to look among the garbage and the flowers."

Fast forward forty years, and you'll find Suzanne eerily encapsulated in "Suzanne" - a woman now in her late fifties, still in Goodwill rags, whose story is as bittersweet as the tea and oranges she fed to Cohen on summer afternoons while boats drifted by and they melded their minds.

Her flat overlooking the St. Lawrence River is now a room in a boutique hotel, her old friend the poet has become a world famous musician, and the beauty of her youth has faded; but for Suzanne Verdal, much has stayed the same.

She has lived most of her life as a gypsy, traveling on the fringes of society, creating art and poetry for the love of it and living for the beauty she could find in a moment.

Suzanne was a well-known and respected dancer and choreographer in Canada, and came to Los Angeles with big dreams. Just as her Hollywood career was about to take off, she had a tragic fall from a ladder onto concrete, breaking her back and both wrists. Her dreams of dance were over.

Now subsisting on a small monthly disability check, she was forced to move into her truck when her landlord evicted her to do a renovation and she could no longer afford rent in L.A.

She presently shares her truck, which has been transformed into a funky wooden art house on wheels, with four beloved adopted cats.

At first glance, it looks like a romantic way of life - when I first met her in a parking lot in Santa Monica by the ocean, I admired her house on wheels with one of the best views going. "How adventurous and free!" I thought to myself.

I began to stop by on my way back from the Wednesday market on my bicycle and we became friends. She read me her poetry and chapters from her life story. It was eloquent and articulate and wistful and melancholy. She'd feed the birds around her truck and call them her angels. She'd watch her kitties climb the gnarly tree, claiming they'd saved her life as much as she'd saved theirs. She recalled being able to turn nothing into magic in happier days.

When she showered at my place, only when I insisted, she emerged bright and radiant, and said "There are angels in water!" I shared with her organic greens from the market - "fairy food" - and at our Venice Easter garden party, she brought chocolate cake and camembert and wore purple orchids in her hair.

Fiercely independent and proud like her Scottish ancestors, Suzanne has a difficult time asking for help. In the six months I've known her, I've seen her give more than receive.

Suzanne has recently taken steps toward getting herself off the street. She's made a big move to Santa Cruz, and is at the moment trading some gardening work, along with her cooking skills and massage for the use of a new friend's kitchen, bathroom and electricity.

I often look at Suzanne, in all her complexities of beauty and pain, sensitivity and strength, freedom and struggle, magic and futility; and I wonder if, given a different set of circumstances, it could be me. If it were, I would have to rely heavily on Angels for help.

This blog is for Suzanne's Angels.

"You know that she's half crazy but that's why you want to be there."