I thought it would be a Grand Adventure. Something I would return from with tales of interesting events and intriguing sights. But it wasn’t like that at all. In fact, there wasn’t a whole lot to report on, on a day to day basis. I’d kind-of bemoaned that about Lois Price’s books. I enjoyed them, but it felt a bit like she’d left out so much. She’d cross entire countries only mentioning their existence in passing. “How could she leave out so much?!” I thought. It just doesn’t make any sense until you have a long adventure of your own that you understand. It’s the simple fact, that for the most part, not much happens on a motorcycle adventure, at least, not while things are going according to plan.
It’s not that they’re boring, or uninteresting. It’s just that, unless something goes wrong, the vast majority of the time you spend on one is spent sitting in a saddle watching the landscape go by. I rode over mountains, through canyons, and clouds, and buffalo. And while I took lots of pictures of many the many interesting things, in the end, they’re essentially a collection of landscapes.
For a while now I’ve been intrigued by the adventures put on by The Adventurists ( http://www.theadventurists.com ). One thing they emphasize on all of them is using vehicles that are wholly inappropriate for the task, and providing absolutely no support should your vehicle break down. On the page for their Rickshaw Run they write, “Support? Of course we don’t provide any support. The Rickshaw Run is supposed to be an adventure. What sort of adventure would you have if we were following you in a truck with spare parts and a comfy bed. No, no we must get out there into the world and get stuck in. When you’re stuck, lost, and up a certain creek without a rowing implement is when you start to have fun - and the last thing we want to do is stop you having fun! If you want a full support crew there’s a very nice place called Butlins based in Bognor Regis.”
What I’ve learned now, is that they are 100% correct. I look back at my journey and realize that the most “interesting” parts of it, when I was actually faced with serious choices and events, were when things went wrong, or when things were anything but smooth. I loved taking my absurdly laden street bike up a dirt road through the rockies at elevations far above my carburetor’s tuning, with the very serious possibility, and near instance, of being crushed between truck and stone as they came flying around a blind canyon curves with no room to spare, or falling over the side of the cliff to my doom, but that just proves their point.
I loved going through the Black Hills National Park. I was astounded by the beauty of it, but I’ll never forget riding through the middle of three buffalo herds on a motorcycle that always put them on edge, or seeing one running in a direction that seemed to be very much towards me. I loved the Badlands, but it was made forty times better by the fact that I could barely keep my bike upright at times on the very gravely road, that I had to ride most of it in the wrong lane, and when a car came towards me I had to slow to a near stop to cross over the eight inch mounds of loose gravel that my street tires were woefully unequipped to handle.
I loved driving a hundred and fifty miles through empty lands and towns so small that the idea of anything as useful as a gas station was absolutely laughable, wondering if it would see a gas station before I ran out, thinking gratefully about that spare gallon and a half strapped to the rear seat.
I look back at Lois’s books now and understand why they’re the way they are, because while I may have ridden through nearly four thousand miles of farmland there’s not a lot to tell you about it. How much does anyone want to hear about four thousand miles of corn, sunflowers, and random green things I can’t identify? Kansas was great, but the most noteworthy moment was when I pulled off the road to eat lunch near some grain silos, and watched two men come out from them to watch me eating a few hundred yards away.
But, you can’t leave it at that. To do so would imply that more mundane bits spent riding between the complications are somehow unimportant, or not worth the time. But it is. I wrote before about how your motorcycle becomes home ( http://masukomi.posterous.com/today-was-the-last-it-started-off-in-a-cloud ) in a very real sense, not just because you have nowhere else to go. There’s something incredible about climbing onto a saddle that’s also your home and setting off on unknown roads. Especially on a motorcycle.
Ted Simon, who wrote Jupiter’s Travels, said “I think the motorcycle is best because it puts you so much more in contact with everything. You experience much more closely the nature of the terrain and can almost taste the cultures that you’re riding through. Because it exposes you to the climate and to the wind and rain it’s a much more complete experience.”
I’ve quoted that before, but it’s just so true. I think my trip through Wyoming’s plains might have been pretty boring in a car. But, there’s just such a huge difference between passing a curious windmill and passing a curious windmill after having felt that same wind pushing against you for hours. Racing towards the silhouetted edge of the cloud that is itself racing along the road is neat, but doing it after riding through the heart of its brother with water condensing and dripping from every exposed surface, after feeling the chill wind that’s blowing thirty five miles an hour against you, the windmill, and the cloud you’re racing, and knowing that when you reach that edge you’ll feel the sunlight again. Laughing with joy when you finally do… Laughing because it’s so suddenly warm, laughing because you raced a cloud, laughing because a tumbleweed suddenly blew across your path, something you’d only ever seen in Road-Runner cartoons and Western movies. “Tumbleweeds don’t really go rolling across the road in front of you.”, you thought.
I loved sleeping in a tent, listening to the cicadas as I set it up, and noticing they’d all gone quiet, but that the chorus of insects was picked up by others and still going strong as I went to sleep wondering if any of the ants that had scampered around as I pounded in tent pegs would find a way in. Doing so wasn’t just the cheap option. It was the *right* option. To have used a motel every night would have left me so cut off from the world; as if the adventure were some safe video game that you could turn off at the end of the day. Even the sterilized campgrounds with their precisely laid out RV spots and electric hook ups felt wrong. I kept thinking of Wan, ( http://totalruckus.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=12143 ) a Korean guy who came to the US, bought a little 50cc scooter and circumnavigated the lower 48 states, finding places to hide his tent, when he wasn’t shacking up with strangers from a message board. I kept thinking that if my bike wasn’t neon green and was either light enough to be carried when stuck, like his, or capable of real off-roading, I would have totally done some sneak-camping too.
I loved going three days with no electricity, every night trying to figure out how to keep my iPhone going one more day so that I’d be able to check the GPS if I needed to, something which would drain the battery in an hour and a half, or record my nearly daily audio posts for you.
And there was something liberating about loosing my map in Iowa, and awesome about not knowing what day it was, and later finding you were two days off, and not knowing what state you’re in, checking the map later and discovering you’d passed through three states in a day. I loved how, at the end of almost every day, I’d find myself checking the sun to see how far it was from the horizon, learning just how low it could get before I’d be setting up camp in the dark again. “Come on… Come on…. I’m not going to make it…. shit I’m not going to make it. Oh look, a campground sign! Turn! Turn!”
I learned a lot this trip. It wasn’t the life changing experience I’d dreamed of, but It ended up being the practice adventure I’d hoped for. Incredibly informative, but relatively easy. Too easy to stand on it’s own maybe. Like a bike with training wheels. It gets you from point A to B and you’re excited to be going, but you’re not *really* riding until you take those training wheels off. Now I know that The Adventurists are right. “When you’re stuck, lost, and up a certain creek without a rowing implement is when you start to have fun”. The United States are, honestly, a bit too safe. You have to work at it to worry about gas, and I can’t remember a road I didn’t encounter someone on fairly regularly. To make it exciting here you have to work at it: take the Trans-America Trail ( http://www.transamtrail.com/ ), or make it a real challenge and take a tiny little 50cc bike like Wan. It’s not at all surprising that when you watch Long Way ‘Round America, while over 3,000 miles from Alaska to New York is one of the shortest and least interesting pieces of the show.
If that sounds anti-climactic it is, but don’t take that to mean I didn’t have fun, that I didn’t shout a hearty “Hello Cow!” as I passed our four footed cousins who raised their heads to watch me, that I didn’t grin from ear to ear when I saw the Prairie Dog warning, and remember them scampering ten feet from my wheels as I drove past a family of them two states ago.
Or that I even the simplest moments of beauty didn’t make me think about higher powers.
Don’t think for a moment that I would trade a moment of it for the comforts and safety of my home, if anything I regret not going all the way to California. And know that if this has had any impact on my life it has been to show me that the things I want so desperately in my life are just waiting for me to come and join them.
So, who feels like riding to Mongolia with me? Cameroon?
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