Steph recently reminded me that I had written in the Epilogue
of this blog,
The people who tell me this is a "once in a lifetime experience" befuddle me: it will be very sad indeed if I never do something even bigger and better than this. There will be many more journeys to come. ... I think the most important thing I learned on this trip is that the journey doesn't have to be out there, miles away, navigated on a map. I am the traveller and the road, and the journey is wherever I go.
So on that note, I should point you to my new (as of June 2011) travel blog, with my girlfriend Steph, at stephandben.com
. We traveled around Europe and Israel
, moved to Buenos Aires
, Argentina (for a year, Sep '11-'12), motorcycled across the Argentine northwest
, and backpacked in Patagonia
. If you enjoyed this motorcycle blog, you might like that one too!
I'd like to point readers of this blog to some newer posts
: I moved recently with my girlfriend to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Last weekend we rented a Harley Davidson Road King for a wonderful day trip through the Argentina pampas
We would like to rent a bike again for a longer trip, hopefully at least 8 days, to the Argentina northwest (Cordoba, Cafayate, Salta, Jujuy). But bikes here are expensive, so we're looking for sponsors. If anyone is interested in sponsoring or contributing to the adventure, or have any ideas about who to approach, please let us know
UPDATE Nov 10: we're leaving on Saturday morning! Follow our motorcycle trip through the Argentine northwest here
In one moment many years ago, I was inspired to travel across the United States on a motorcycle. Having never ridden a motorcycle, or known anyone who had one, this idea might have seemed absurd on its face. Perhaps it was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
that got the bug in my head. Or the realization, after racing with the BU Cycling team in my freshman year, that I loved the speed and the road and two wheels but could only go so far by pedaling.
Regardless of how I got there, however, I knew in the summer of 2005 that I was going to get a motorcycle. First I signed up for the MSF's riding course in Beverly, MA. I bought motorcycle books and travel diaries and a helmet. I got my license riding a Honda Nighthawk 250, and a few weeks later, by sheer coincidence, I had my very own Honda Nighthawk 750, the big brother of the 250, the '92 model on a line long out of production. (Or maybe it's the big sister
model; whether motorcycles are male or female is something I never did figure out, and one of the reasons I never gave mine a name, but it was my only baby til I met Tristyn.)
The first step in my crazy idea to go across the country on a motorcycle thus complete, I set the departure date for the imaginary adventure as the following summer. Then, everything else in life aside, I waited a year.
The idea slowly grew into a plan. A non-plan plan, as I called it: the route and schedule would be decided on the fly. It was set for July in the summer of 2006 and expected to be a month long. The plan began to include many details: things I would need, logistics to arrange, concerns to take into account. The riding season of 2006 came around, the bike came out of storage, got a full tuneup and was running in peak condition. It was D minus three weeks, I had almost everything prepared to leave, had the final shopping spree for gear on my calendar... and then I got hit riding home one night and broke my arm.
My wrist immobilized, a cast for six to eight weeks, surgery, physical therapy: the trip was cancelled. I told myself it was only postponed, but with family visiting in August and classes in September, there was no way it was going to happen that summer. All the imagining and planning had been ruined, I was crushed and my arm wasn't healing fast enough.
Eventually the cast came off, the pins came out and I started to regain strength in my wrist. And then one day it occured to me: why not do it in the fall? I could take a semester off; I was a semester ahead anyway. The weather would be better in September than in July and I would have as much time as I wanted. The new plan floated in my brain for a few days until I realized it was not only feasible, it was a great idea. It was just a matter of working out the logistics, like making sure my scholarship wouldn't disappear when I returned and getting health insurance to replace my school policy.
Then one day, D-Day was there, for real this time. The bike was loaded up with all the gear I thought I would need and the tools to improvise everything else. I had a new digital camera and compact laptop to chronicle the journey and work along the way. With butterflies a-flurry in my stomach and a huge road atlas strapped to the bags, I was off.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or more correctly, it's the contents of this blog. 14,000 miles through 37 states. Weather ranging from desert heat to mountain snow. Amazing days and days when I wondered what the hell I was doing. Moments when I couldn't have felt more alive and moments when I was sure I was going to die. Hours when I thought I could ride by myself forever and hours when I just wanted to be home. Nights when I wanted to sit up all night watching the stars and nights when I was sure I would be eaten by a bear. Mornings when the road and sky beckoned and mornings when the rain made me want to cuddle up all day in bed. Rides when the bike flew like it was built yesterday and rides when I expected the wheels and chain to fly off at any moment.
I saw the most beautiful sunsets and nearly went broke twice. I learned that fear is best when I am aware of it and happy it's there but don't let it overwhelm me. I learned that we really don't need much to live on, but that good toys in their place are wonderful to have. I learned to love this country and its history and the pride of its people. I learned to love the road and appreciate the yearning for home. I learned to love my own company. I learned what's at stake.
Many times, I could not have continued without the kind help of strangers, and they were always there. Many times, less kind people could have stolen my gear or the whole bike, when it was uncovered and in the open, yet nothing was ever stolen.
I learned the importance of good gear. My gloves that kept my hands warm and dry enough to ride in the worst conditions. My sunglasses that, despite cracking and needing to be superglued back together several times, I could not have lived without. My tent, its rain cover and my sleeping bag. My compass. My gasoline-fueled camping stove. And all the other containers, fibers and doohickeys without which I could not have done the trip.
I learned that it's good to have people who worry about you, even if they worry about silly things and call after every rain storm. Like fear, those who fear about me serve a crucial purpose, so thank you to those people.
After all that I have seen, there is still a certain longing for the things I missed: the cities I didn't see, the lakes I didn't swim in, the beers I didn't try and the people I didn't meet. But I could spend a thousand lifetimes exploring my world and still have the world to see. That just means there's always more road to ride. The people who tell me this is a "once in a lifetime experience" befuddle me: it will be very sad indeed if I never do something even bigger and better than this. There will be many more journeys to come. Already this weekend, Tristyn and I loaded up the bike again to go camping in Salisbury Beach. The bike is going into hibernation soon for the long New England winter. Maybe I'll buy a car. Or I could get a pilot's license. But I think the most important thing I learned on this trip is that the journey doesn't have to be out there, miles away, navigated on a map. I am the traveller and the road, and the journey is wherever I go.
(I back-posted for New York on 11/16, see below. More coming soon.)
Arrived in Boston. Will write much more later.
From Philly I tried to take the NJ Turnpike up to Paterson to meet my aunt, who was going into NYC to have dinner with a friend. But as with the last time I tried to take the turnpike - which is also numbered as I-95 - I took the regular I-95 exit instead and missed the turnpike completely. I finally got to the turnpike but was too late to meet her to go to their scheduled dinner, so I rode to Queens myself and met them for a second dinner.
In the morning I rode into Manhattan and met UJ for brunch, just like on the first leg. (He took a video of me coming and leaving on both occasions, so hopefully I'll post that soon.) Then I headed north out of the city towards Boston.
I visited my friend Josh last night in Towson, MD. I knew him freshman year, when he was a junior; then he left BU to tour with his band, and besides one time when he visited Boston, I hadn't seen him in two years. He's studying and living in Towson now with his girlfriend Erin, and we caught up on old times and watched a very trippy movie, Before Night Falls
, about gay writers in the Cuban revolution.
At 10am this morning I set out, northbound for Philadelphia. The nice weather from yesterday continued. My destination was the Reading Terminal Market, where I was under strict orders from UJ (a former Philadelphian) to eat a particular piece of heaven at one of the stalls: the foot-long roast pork sandwich with greens and provolone at Dinic's Roast Beef & Pork. Suffice it to say, it lived up to the high expectations. Then I bought a treat for later at an Amish bakery stall.
Back at my bike, two businessmen walked by, and one (the boss I assume) looks over the bike, looks at me and says "I'll give you some advice, the best advice I've given," and proceeds to tell me how to drive to Massachusetts, "take this road" and "that one sucks," with his subordinate laughing stupidly at random intervals. Asshole. His route goes nowhere near where I need to go, anyway.
Departing that semi-illegal spot, I rode a few blocks down to the Historic District, where I parked in another spot of questionable legality, the end of a dead end cobblestone road near Independence Hall. I was walking around the nearby park taking pictures and seeing the sights, when I see a bicycle cop walking towards my bike. So I sprint back as he's looking at the license plate and about to write a parking citation. He's not much older than me. I tell him I didn't realize it was illegal (I mean I figured it was, but there were no signs either way) and would move it right away.
"Well you can move it, but I'll have to write you a warning. For my records, you know."
He takes out his radio and reports, "Disregard that, I found the owner." Then to me: "Can I see your license sir?" So I hand him my license.
"Oh, you're from Mass?"
"Yup. It's a Mass plate too."
"Oh wow, I'm from Mass too. I won't give you a warning then. Have a nice day." And he left.
So I rode around the block and parked in front of a meter, next to a grassy area covered with leaves where I now sit on a ledge. The squirrels in the tree above me seem to be using me for acorn-throwing target practice.
It's starting to drizzle. In a few minutes I'll get back on I-95 and head up to NJ to meet Aunt Shari.
The ride last night after dinner was long and dark. At one point, a deer crossed the road in front of me, the third or fourth time that's happened so far on this trip. At first I thought it was a car turning onto the road, but it didn't have headlights, so I slowed down, saw it was a deer and slammed on the brakes as it strolled past. I finally got to Staunton River State Park shortly before its posted closing time of 10pm and camped for the night. The leaves made a good cushion for my tent and I had the campground all to myself. The Virginia state parks system is very impressive - there's a sign at the entrance boasting "voted best state parks in America" and I believe it - and they even had laundry machines which I used in the morning.
Then I rode 150 miles to Richmond, where I currently sit at the 3rd St Cafe eating french toast and satisfying my caffeine addiction. (Free refills were undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, but with coffee they have a downside.)
I had breakfast at Cracker Barrel this morning, one of their big combos with grits, eggs, biscuits, gravy and sausage. Yum yum yum. Then I meant to take I-40 West (actually north) from Newport, towards I-81 North (actually east) towards Richmond, but accidentally went south (east) on I-40 back towards Asheville. But it worked out better that way, because I was able to get on the Blue Ridge Parkway instead. It's a scenic route that goes northeast through North Carolina and Virginia, pretty much the route I wanted to take. It winds through forests and mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains I assume, not a fast ride (compared to the interstate) but a lot more fun.
Shortly after setting out, the cold hazy weather from earlier in the morning disappeared, and it suddenly became sunny and warm. It was lovely thin-glove weather the rest of the day.
The Parkway detoured onto other roads several times, and I ended up on route 221, a scenic route parallel to the parkway, which took me into Virginia. One of the last towns I went through in North Carolina was Sparta, a town I read about in Tom Wolfe's great book, I Am Charlotte Simmons
. The main character of that book, Charlotte Simmons, is from Sparta, NC, but I didn't realize it was an actual place until I rode through it. It's a farm town, like all the towns in the area, with big country houses far apart on large tracts of farm land. Charlotte went to Allegheny High School (the name of the county), and as I rode through, a school bus from Allegheny Elementary stopped in front of me to let off kids returning from school, and the kids in the back seat all waved to me.
Route 221 turned left at that point, into Virginia, past Independence, to Galax, where I stopped at a Pizza Hut for the Monday night $5.99 large pizza special. I'm sitting there now, half the pizza eaten and half in a box for later. As usual with Pizza Hut, the service is terrible but the pizza makes up for it.
Southern culture is quite charming. Everyone is proper and polite, it's all yes sir
and yes ma'am
, good Christian values as they would say, and I haven't encountered any unfriendly people yet. I don't know the first thing about farming but I think I'd like to try living on a farm someday. Maybe not an actual active farm, but a ranch house on several acres of hills with streams and a lake wouldn't be too bad.
I didn't get as far as I thought due to the slower going on the scenic roads, but I'll try to ride a few more hours to a state park, camp for the night and ride to Richmond in the morning.
It's a frigid, hazy morning. I'm heading out soon towards Richmond. Brrrrr
It's kind of funny to hear Native Americans speaking in thick southern accents. I mean, it shouldn't be funny, but it is for some reason. They're supposed to have, well, native accents. Crisp and clear, like in the movies. You don't see Chief Flying Eagle saying "The suh-un is rah-zing too-deh-ay"...
Oh, and the guy at Wendy's asked me to repeat my order:
"Whut wuz thee-at? Pleez see eet ageen slowwwly..." Since when is my accent hard to understand? I thought I didn't have an accent.
The ride into the park was much longer than it seemed on the map, and signs were lacking, so by the time I got in it was almost dark and getting very cold. Surprisingly, there was no entrance station like all the other national parks I've been to, so it would have been free even without my pass. (Maybe the first half of the park is free and then they charge you, I don't know.) I started riding along the park road, up into the mountains, as it got darker. At a good vantage point I got some long-exposure shots just in time. I kept going up but started to encounter snow and ice on the side of the road. With no indication that the elevation would drop or that the temperature would rise if I kept going, and with the road being too dark to see if there was ice on it, I decided to turn back and not risk it. So I backtracked through the mountains, back through Cherokee territory, got a big triple combo and tea at Wendy's, and got on I-40 heading northwest towards Knoxville. However, my next destination being Richmond, VA, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go all the way to Knoxville, so I stopped at a motel in Newport, TN.
Depending on how early I wake up, I might go to Knoxville for breakfast, or I might try to see the park again from the northern side. Then I haul ass to Richmond.
I had breakfast at a cafe on N Main St in downtown Greenville. From there, route 25 headed north, became I-26, to Asheville, NC. Uncle J recommended an itinerary of things to see, including the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Unfortunately, entry to the estate (on top of any tour) is $47. Instead of that, I'll head west a little, towards Smoky Mountains National Park, where my national parks pass will get me in free. I was going to go to Charleston, WV, but I'll take UJ's recommended route instead through Richmond to see Civil War sites.
I am currently sitting on a bench outside the Biltmore information center - the only free area on the estate. My hands are going numb from the mountain cold, and nasty gray clouds are moving in so I expect it to start raining any minute.