I made it home! In one piece, more or less. The Impeller didn’t fare as well. Speedometer is blown. Windshield split in half. Turn signal cracked. Brakes are squeaking. Tank paint is peeling. The stator is shot. The battery won’t recharge. My leather jacket is plastered with bug guts. My pants are full of battery acid holes. But I made it! What a ride. This is a big, beautiful country, and I just spent a month floating across it. A dream fulfilled. I could have kept going for a long, long time…
The Entire Trip. Over 5ooo miles, according to Google.
My sister asked me – why would I want to ride a motorcycle around the country? Because it feels like freedom? Yes. Because it feels like freedom. The open road, and speed, and exposure, and wondrous landscapes, and no place I have to be. Exploring. Moving fast. Outside. This is the flavor of freedom. Life on a motorcycle is immediate and vital. Hurling across the countryside, hovering a few feet off the ground… the experience is charged and fully sensual. You are there. Each shift in climate or geography brings a new array of sensations. Colors come alive. The nose is awake, taking in every smell. The subtlest change in temperature registers on the skin- the shadow of a cloud, a drop in altitude, an irrigated field. The wind roars in your ears as it pushes and pulls and slams against you. Gravity connects your body to the machine. Turning is falling. There is no opportunity for abstraction. You are strapped to the moment.
Presence becomes a priority, because you are vulnerable. A sudden thunderstorm, an oil patch, loose gravel, road construction, thick fog, deer on the road, a drunk or distracted driver -the consequences of an accident are likely to be dire. There is a present danger and you must remain alert. You are there, you are exposed, and you are paying attention– because you want to and because you have to.
And if you stay off the interstate and stick to the winding roads, all that immediacy and vitality and presence will happen in the context of a natural world stunning in grace and beauty, varied and diverse and whole, surprising you at every turn.
I’ve gathered up the trip onto this page. There are photos and maps and notes. Click on the markers on the maps to see stories and pictures attached to specific locations. Click the links below the maps for a larger view. All the notes are also collected together later in the post. Enjoy!
The First Half of the Long Haul.
View Nate’s Motorcyle Trip Summer 2011: The Long Haul: in a larger map
The Second Half of the Long Haul.
View Nate’s Motorcyle Trip Summer 2011: The Long Haul: in a larger map
The Trial Run. Idaho mountains.
View Nate’s Motorcycle Trip Summer 2011: Test Run in a larger map
The view from Independence Pass, Colorado.
Nate’s Motorcycle Trip Summer 2011: The Long Haul
Randy and Danyelle’s House. After a week wrenching in the garage, and a successful and inspiring 600 mile test run, we are ready for the long haul.
7/28 – Day One. Idaho and Oregon. Umatilla National Forest.
Fresh apricots and cherries at the country fruit stand. The smell of mint in the fields as we turn off the interstate into Eastern Oregon. Already we are fatigued and our asses hurt. Aftershock from the test run? Oregon National Forest Campground. $5. Nearly empty but for us and the cows rustling quietly about.
7/29 – Day Two. Oregon. Deschutes National Forest.
A stop in Bend OR, which is on my list of possible relocation spots. I drove (a car) through Bend a couple summers ago and was turned off by the big-$-ski-resort-style condos and old warehouses and mills turned into shopping malls. But there is a pocket of the old city which is full of very very cool old homes with gables and gardens and very very cool old cars parked nearby with all kinds of outdoor adventure contraptions attached. We stopped for directions in a used outdoor gear store with a cute young Boise expat giving good camping advice. I had to haul Randy out of there kicking and screaming. Oregon is the undisputed champ of clean cheap uber-awesome camping opportunities. The sweet spots near Mt. Bachelor were all full, but we eventually found a site. Delicious fresh spring water from a pump to fill our Camelbacks.
7/30 – Day Three. Oregon Coast. Umpqua Hot Springs.
Randy has an internal homing device set for killer hot springs. And bakeries. And taco trucks. And fish and chips joints. Umpqua hot springs is perched on a cliff overlooking the Umpqua river. A few miles up a dirt road and a hike in amongst tall pines and you find a shelter built over a natural pool sunken in the rock cliff. Nudity officially sanctioned. After a soak, we rode along the Umpqua river down down until we reached the end and found the ocean. Salt, sun, and sky. The state parks are all full, but we nabbed a tent site on the beach at a dirtball RV park. Camping on the ocean. Nice! Out for fish and chips after setting up the tents. The waves on the beach under the moonlight did me good. We may be doing our level best to trash this planet, but this scene will continue long after we are gone. The ocean waves will continue to roll, until the sun burns out at least, no matter what we do.
7/31 – Day Four . Oregon and California. Klamath National Forest.
The Oregon coast! Miles of sand dunes gave way to dramatic cliffs crashing into the ocean. Much like Big Sur, but with a 10th the number of people. Brookings seems like a great place to live if you want to be on the ocean. We decide to turn in toward the Redwoods and stop at a very cool campground nestled in the Ponderosa pines high up the mountain road leading to Oregon Caves National Monument. Randy knew about the place, having been there before.
8/1 – Day Five. Oregon and California. Oregon Caves National Monument. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
I ducked out of the cave tour halfway through. The slow-pace-sardine-packed-low-oxygen-tight-spaces tour led by dorkmeister goofball teenage ranger kid was giving me some serious heebie jeebies. Randy stuck it out and thought the caves were awesome. Freekin’ amazing old lodge with cedar shakes and cedar bark siding, framed with massive timbers, was itself worth the trip up there. We hit the California coast and are suddenly blasting and turning through wind and dense fog on a total crap interstate with trucks whizzing by construction and falling rock. What happened to the wide open roads and graceful turns we enjoyed all over Oregon? Getting dark. Every camping option is full. We duck down a narrow road that isn’t even on the map and find ourselves winding through massive redwoods as the sun flickers in the foggy canopy. Magic. A cancellation at the state park gives us a spot for the night. $35 a night to camp in crowded CA parks. Oregon $ x 7. But it has showers. I am ready for clean while Randy is more interested in the park ranger talk happening by the group campfire. California is full of people.
8/2 – Day Six. Northern California. Randy and Nate split. Highway 1.
I have to get to San Francisco to meet my sister who will be there for only a couple days before driving to Big Sur. Randy has to start heading home to get back to the wife and kids. Good times riding motorcycles and camping out with a great friend. Randy is never less than generous, with help and advice and time to spare, and I would not have gotten this adventure underway without him. Thanks, bro! Next: Highway 1, California Coast. The legendary Highway 1! I blast through redwoods until I reach the unassuming beginning of Highway 1. It’s just a narrow winding road through mountains for the first hour or so until you reach the coast. I ease through the small rural farming towns of Humbolt and Mendocino counties. Cows and grass and ocean. I opt for a snack at the well-appointed grocery store in Mendocino township as the sun is setting. I need to stop for the night soon, but every state campground in CA is full. Twisting down Highway 1 in the dark with huge Ford trucks and BMW’s riding my ass, I quickly decide that that is enough of that. Large dirtball RV Parks tend to have an open space or two. I find one on a river bed tucked under a high bridge. Safety and a decent night’s rest in a grass parking lot full of RVs towing fishing boats.
8/3 – Day Seven. Northern California. Larkspur Landing Hotel, San Francisco.
Sister Kris just happens to be in San Fran for a day or two before she heads for Big Sur, in a hotel that just happened to upgrade her to a 2 bed suite. After a harrowing day of battling traffic, cold, fog, and very tight turns on Highway 1, followed by massive construction, even worse traffic, and high wind gusts on a totally crap interstate 101 from Santa Rosa to San Francisco, followed by getting stuck in block-to-block stop-and-go traffic in downtown San Francisco, I finally arrived at my sister’s hotel, got cleaned up, and went out for a nice Thai dinner. Aaaah. Clean and safe. And already ready to get back out on the open road.
8/4 – Day Eight. San Francisco. Bryan and Tina’s House.
Spent the day and evening with Bryan and Tina and their ridiculously adorable kids Cecil and Quincy. What a show! Notable moments include Quincy single-handedly destroying the great Mexican restaurant we visited for dinner. Also, sitting in the living room with Cecil standing in front of me holding six balloons and explaining to me that he just got back from space and took a big bite out of the moon and guess what? (whispering) It’s made of ice cream. Oh, yeah? What flavor? Vanilla and chocolate and vanilla and…. um… mint… and the entire time Quincy is standing behind Cecil, buck naked except that he’s wearing my robocop motorcycle gloves, which swallow the better part of each of his little arms, and he’s standing there holding both of his gloved hands up in front of him and shouting “WHAT’S GOING ON!?!” and falling like a cut tree face-forward smack onto the floor, again and again. I was delighted that Jonathan was also able to hang out with us for much of the day. After the kids went to bed, Bryan, Jonathan, and I cruised around San Fran all evening and caught some jazz at Club Deluxe on Haight Street. Also cupcakes.
8/5 – Days Nine through Twelve. Big Sur with Sister Kris.
It so happened that my sister Kris was renting a “cabin” in the mountains of Big Sur just about the time I was passing through. Hee hee. I planned to stop for a night or two, but ended up staying for days. Kris and I went out on adventures visiting our old neighborhood in Salinas, sunny Carmel Valley, 17-mile drive, Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, the tide-pools of Point Lobos, the famous Nepenthe restaurant perched on the cliffs of Big Sur. And eating. Too much eating. The cabin was actually a guest house built by potter Embree De Persiis. It sits next to Embree’s ceramics studio and her own hand-crafted home. Embree has been there for 30 years and used to teach at Esalen. The claim to an ocean view was a bit of a stretch, even if it hadn’t been engulfed in fog most of the time. But the whole place was completely charming. 10 miles down Big Sur, turn left onto Palo Colorado Road, dodging redwoods up a winding road, then rain-gutted packed dirt and up a steep driveway. Like an idiot, I took my bike right up there and parked on a grassy incline. As I tried to dismount, I caught my foot on my pack, and all 500 lbs of The Impeller fell on top of me, and me on top of Kris. I cracked the windshield in half. The left turn signal was crushed. I couldn’t lift the bike to set it back up. Luckily, Embree had a visitor and he helped me get it upright. Kris and I spent the next day in Monterey and Salinas looking for parts. No luck. I duct taped the turn signal back together and decided that if those Harley guys don’t need no woosy-ass windscreen, neither do I.
8/9 – Day Thirteen. California. Crazy twistys on Highway 1. Windy and Scary Hot Desert. Speedometer Chaos. The Budget Inn on the edge of the Mojave desert.
Fog, fog, fog… and cold. Wild turns. Bridge construction. I’m wearing long underwear, a fleece jacket, my leather jacket, and my sturdy raincoat. Cold turns to hot as soon as I head East and out of the coastal fog. Interstates suck. Stick to the twisty roads. Twisty means either rivers or hills or mountains, which generally equates to beautiful. And no long-haul trucks to battle. But this stretch of Highway 58 is blazing hot and there are no services, no amenities, no towns or homes for miles and miles. I am the only one out here. Can The Impeller take this heat? What if the radiator gives out? Do I even have enough water to walk however many dozens of miles for help in this 100+ relentless sun? I’m nervous, but can’t help being awed by the golden grass hills rolling and bending out as far as the eye can see. Somewhere between Mojave and Boron, my speedometer needle starts flailing wildly back and forth. Then the needle pops clean off. I put my hand on the housing and can feel a shuddering vibration, and heat, building toward a friction fire. I pull the cable out entirely. I’ve been riding sans speedometer or odometer ever since. The tachometer gives me a general ballpark for speed, but I have to add up miles in my head to make sure I don’t run out of gas. I’m looking at the weather on my phone. I am about to ride through the hottest section of the USA… in August. 110+ degrees. Yipes. I decide to motel it in Barstow, at the edge of the Mojave desert, get some good sleep and get up with the sun next morning to try to get through the worst of it before noon. I’ve just gone through miles and miles of central valley ag; uniform rows of tomatoes, and fruit trees, and lettuce, and you-name-it stretching out to the horizon. The smell of pesticides in the air. It turns dark well before I reach Barstow and the travel is harrowing. An endless convoy of semis, barreling down from behind and blinding me from the opposite lane. Can’t see the road and it’s rutted and bumpy. Huge sigh of relief as I turn into the Budget Inn parking lot.
8/10 – Day Fourteen. Mojave Desert. Needles. Coconino National Forest, Sedona AZ.
The gas station guy in Needles claims it hit 120 just a few days ago. But amazingly The Impeller takes the Mojave heat like a champ, and I’m staying comfortable by filling my Camelback with ice and wearing it inside my mesh leather jacket. The desert is full of the bones of burned out cars, and homes, and abandoned motels and RV parks. Once in Arizona, I turn off the interstate and onto a long stretch of Historic Route 66, South of the Grand Canyon. Big empty road and another stunning landscape. Perfect. I spend an hour or so checking out Flagstaff and then ride down toward the red rocks of Sedona and camp near a river in the canyon. Next morning I’m at the Starbucks in Sedona (which Susan says is near the Vortex) to use the internet and I notice that a patch of the tread on my rear tire is almost gone; like dangerous almost gone. I spend the better part of a day in Flagstaff paying too much money for a new tire and installation. Big difference once it’s on, though.
8/11 – Day Fifteen. Arizona. Burning Hills. Campsite outside of Payson AZ. Rattlesnakes, bear shit, and more fun with motorcycles.
I’m sticking to twisty roads, and that’s final. Way too pretty. Brick red mud and green brush desert give way to cool pine forests as I start to gain altitude. The sun is setting behind me and a full moon is rising massively over the burning hills ahead. Burning hills? There is a line of smoke running for miles on the ridges of the hills directly ahead of me. A managed burn. The camp host tells me they used to call it a controlled burn until they lost control so many times the locals weren’t laughing at the joke anymore. There are forest service guys waiving at me to slow down and soon I’m coasting through dense smoke, patches of fire smoldering and flaring on either side of the road. The smell is delicious. Roasting pine sap and needles and sage and sweet grasses. It’s getting dark and I need to find a place to camp. 10 miles outside of Payson AZ, I pull into a national forest campground. It’s huge. There must be 100 sites. All empty. I pick a spot and set up camp… and soon notice a puddle gathering under The Impeller. Shit. It’s coolant. What the? It’s dark. I’m tired. I’ll deal with it in the morning. Since no one is around, I strip to the raw and take a bucket bath by the water pump. Next morning, I trace the drip coming out of the radiator to the drain plug. Must have rattled loose. I give it a gentle twist to tighten it and the plug bolt snaps off in my hand. Great. I’m ten miles from town. The bike is leaking too much to drive it anywhere and I’m afraid if I do drive it the rest of the bolt could give out and drop coolant all over the highway, probably sending me straight into the ditch. Just then the camp host pulls up in his little golf cart and big cowboy hat. He invites me to his host site to use his tools. I ride the bike over there and put it up on the center stand. As I’m pondering what to do about a leaking radiator with half a bolt stuck up the drain hole, Brent the host’s wife Wendy rolls up in her own little golf cart and says, “Honey, we got a rattlesnake in camp.” Brent turns to me with crazed look in his eye and says, “I’m gonna shoot the mother. That’s what I’m gonna do!” He sort of sprints (in a portly, older guy manner) to his camp host trailer and fumbles around for his pistol and ammo. I say, “um… mind if I ride along?” “Sure, be my guest. I’m gonna shoot the mother.” Barney the schnauzer gets shooed over to Wendy’s cart and I take his place beside Brent as both carts hit the metal and chase each other over to the other side of camp. We converge at a corner, and there it sits, about five feet off the road– big, dark, and coiled. Brent, trembling with excitement, sneaks up and takes aim through a scope nearly as big as the pistol it’s mounted to. Blam! Me: “I think you got him!” Brent: “Gonna make sure he’s good and dead. We got kids around here.” Wendy: “And dogs!” Blam! Blam! Blam Blam! Pause. Wendy: “I think it’s still moving, honey.” Blam! Ba-Blam-blam-blam! “Shit!” This goes on. Brent pumps what must be close to 20 rounds from about a four foot range. The snake remains alive. Eventually, Brent gives up on the scope and sites straight down the gun barrel. Fires. Hits. Wendy steps up with a shovel and slams the sharp edge into the snake’s head. It’s dead now. Wendy says, “I get the rattle!” Brent volunteers to drive me into town in his huge truck. On the way, he points up to a mountain road and says, “You see that road up there? I was up there on my four wheeler the other week and I came across an area in the woods just covered with bear shit. Piles of it all over the place. Never seen anything like it. I mentioned it to my friend from the forest service some time later, asking her if she had any idea what could give a bear the shits like that. When I told her where I found it, her eyes opened wide and she said, “That’s right where we released the frogs!” Apparently the Forest Service had a campaign to reintroduce an endangered species of Leopard Frogs to the area. They released hundreds. “Ha!”, Brent says, “That bear was having frog legs for dinner!” We stop at five different stores in Payson until we find a workable replacement plug for the radiator. Back at camp, I manage to remove the broken bolt and drain out all the coolant, put the new plug in and refill. Much of the day is gone, but The Impeller is ready to roll. Wendy says, “We aren’t letting you out of here until you join us for a big plate of spaghetti!” I follow Brent into a large open tent next to the trailer. There is an iron-wrought sign with two crossed pistols and the words “Man Cave” mounted over the entry. We each take a seat in one of the over-stuffed Lazyboys inside, parked in front of a large television set that has been blaring out Fox news this entire time. There is a refrigerator and a swamp cooler. A wood stove for when it gets cold. Books and magazines on sidetables. A portable man cave. Wendy appears with the big plates of spaghetti and iced teas. After eating, I thank them both profusely and then suggest that I should probably get some miles in while there is still daylight. Brent says, “Sure! But first you have to see our hummingbirds! Have you seen our hummingbirds?” We walk to the side of the trailer. There are two feeders hung outside the window. Brent says, “C’mon up here! Right next to the feeders. Stand real still!” We stand real still, our faces inches away from the feeders. The hummingbirds flutter and buzz around us. Three. Five. Eight. There must be twenty hummingbirds flying about our heads, buzzing and fighting and dipping their long snouts into the sugar water, hovering in place with a flurry of wings.
8/12 – Day Sixteen. Arizona and New Mexico. Green Meadows. Cibola National Forest, NM.
The drop down from Show Low to Eagar is covered with the lushest grassy green open meadows I have ever seen. I had no idea. Just as the sun is setting, a beautiful BLM campground in the Cibola National Forest. Perfect. Tent on soft grass under a shade tree. $5.
8/13 – Day Seventeen. New Mexico.
Rain! My first soak while riding the bike. Caught in a downpour. I didn’t bother with the rain gear. It felt nice in all this heat. The sun came back out before long and everything was dry within ten minutes. Rain in the Southwest tends to come in short heavy bursts. Isolated thunderstorms rolling across huge skies. You can see them coming, six or seven visible at once, scattered across the desert. Night Seventeen – Motel 6, Santa Fe NM. Dark and raining. And I need a shower. And internet and some time to write all this. I decide to spring for a motel. But so much for catching up on sleep in a comfy bed. It’s 4 am. It takes huge chunks of time to put this stuff together. Santa Fe is nice, one of the places on my potential relocation list. There is culture, there are mountains nearby, and it has a charming town center that reminds me of South America. But the place is far from lush. Homes are plopped down on hard red clay, surrounded by high desert brush. I wonder what you could grow here?
8/14 – Day Eighteen. New Mexico and Colorado. Earthships. Oh My God! Colorado!
Leaving Taos, I rode along a large tract of desert that was dotted with the craziest looking homes, half-buried in the red clay. Odd, non-Euclidean, organic Dr. Suess structures in varying shapes and hues, like a desert version of Whoville. I realized that I must have stumbled upon a community of earthships. I had read about the earthships. Earthships are a particular approach to building homes that are almost completely self-sufficient in terms of heating and cooling, water use, energy, and waste. One of the homes has been turned into an information center, which I visited. Fascinating. Passive solar greenhouses grow food while catching the heat from the sun to warm the house. Walls built with soil-packed tires and recycled cans and bottles provide outstanding insulation. The earthship I visited was the most comfortable building I had been in since I first entered the blazing Southwest heat. The roof catches rain. Water is used four times before ending up as septic waste. There are individual earthships and earthship communities all over the world. Impressive. Find out more at earthships.com. Oh My God! Colorado! It was like entering a wonderland, crossing the border from New Mexico into Colorado. Arizona was desolate and beautiful. New Mexico felt enchanted– sort of shimmering with some kind of mythic presence. But Colorado? Magnificent. Suddenly — almost the moment I crossed the border — I found myself in an alpine paradise. The weeds turned to flowers. Crystal streams tumbled through lush meadows. The air was crisp and clean. Trees in every direction. Mountains climbing up the horizon. Snowy peaks in the distance. Rich and full and… magnificent. Night Eighteen – San Juan National Forest. I’m the only one camping here. What? In California I had to drive for miles to find an open spot to camp, and half the time I didn’t find anything. Here, I have the whole place to myself.
8/15 – Day Nineteen. Oh My God! Colorado! Part 2.
Up 550 from the very charming (potential relocation spot) Durango, CO and within an hour I was at Moras Pass. Had to stop and take it all in. Colorado keeps on pitching ever more astonishing vistas, like “How you like me now?” I like. Several hours later: Paonia. A tiny unspoiled village surrounded by small-scale organic fruit and vegetable farms and boutique vineyards. Feeling verdant? The girl at the ice cream shop seemed completely untroubled, like, if there is any problem with simply being alive and enjoying it, no one bothered to tell her about it. Night Nineteen – Gunnison National Forest. Apparently random gatherings of people by a mountain river usually means one of two things: good fishing or….. Hot Springs! The sun was setting as I tore off the helmet and leather jacket, stripped to my Ex Officios, and plopped down next to three young and beautiful women who were in the midst of a bicycle tour through the mountains, who pretty much convinced me that I will be moving to Denver in the near future. “You’ll fit right in,” they said. I had a sour view of Denver for some reason prior to this trip, but I keep meeting people who live or have lived there and love it. Time to reevaluate my position.
8/16 Day Twenty. Colorado. Independence Pass. Thunderstorm Wins. Eagle Fire Lodge, Woodland Park CO.
I saw enough of Aspen to want to keep on moving. Everyone walking around looking expensive and talking on cell phones. On the mountain pass out of Aspen, while negotiating narrow twistys with sheer cliff drops, I was stung on my throat by a bee. Directly on my Adam’s apple. Talk about a test of composure! But my throat didn’t swell quite enough to asphyxiate me and I managed to keep vertical and on the road as I climbed up to Independence Pass. 12,000ft. I stopped the bike and spend a few hours hiking up to the highest, nearest peak for the kind of top-of-the-world view I haven’t had since the Himalayas. Storms rolling by to the South. Warm, perfect sun overhead. Humbling and amazing. Colorado just keeps on giving. Now the fun begins. I stop for gas in Buena Vista around 6pm. I’m thinking I’ll camp in the mountains tonight and tomorrow check out the string of towns laid out North-South just East of the Rockies– Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins. I push the starter on the bike. Nothing. What? Try again. Dead. Randy had just been telling me the story of his battery failing on his way back to Boise from the Redwoods and how he had to camp out overnight on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere until an old Harley guy stopped the next day and helped him diagnose his crap battery and get him back on the road. OK. So I need a new battery. I get a jump from some kids at the gas station and head over to the Autozone nearby. No motorcycle batteries in stock. The kind woman there calls every place in town for me. Nope. How far is it to Colorado Springs? About 2 hours through the mountains. It will be dark by then, I realize, but I decide to make a run for it. The kind woman gives me a jump and I hit the road. Leaving town, I notice that the sky to the South is looking rather ominous. Dark thunderheads appear to be gathering strength. I can see that it is pouring buckets in various spots along the valley. I can see the occasional flash of lightning. Should I reconsider? Return to Buena Vista? I check the map on my tank bag. There is quite a ways to go, but maybe I can outrun this thing. I decide to go for it. The clouds get darker. And bigger. I’m right on the edge of a massive storm front. To my right: swirling darkness and blasts of wind. To my left: bright, hot daylight and calm skies. Like I’m straddling two worlds. I stay just ahead of the rain for 30-40 miles, the storm nipping at my ass. I’m nervous, but mostly dry. And then it catches me. Just as I’m heading up the final pass before the descent to Colorado Springs. Downpour. I’m drenched through in minutes. But I can’t stop. The bike won’t start again if I do. And there is no shoulder and no shelter on this narrow mountain highway. Now I’m getting cold. I can’t see anything, rain splashing all over my visor. The Impeller starts blubbering, losing power. Blub-BLUBBLUB blub-RRRRRrrrrRR!!! Blub. There is a line of cars and trucks forming behind me, but they can’t pass me and I can’t stop. I have to keep downshifting and winding out the engine just to keep the bike moving. Now my teeth are chattering. I’m soaked through, cold everywhere. At this point, I’m only interested in two things: safe and dry. Miles go sputtering by and there is no safe and there is no dry. This really isn’t fun anymore. FINALLY, a town– Woodland Park. I pull into the first motel I see and stop. The bike dies. I trudge into the motel lobby and the clerk says, “What happened to YOU?” She wants over $100 for a room. Holy shit. She says, “Can you afford that?” I say, “Not really. But I guess I don’t have much of a choice at this point.” She takes pity and gives me the “winter rate” of $75. “Go get warm, honey.”
8/17 – Day Twenty One. Colorado. American Motel, Wheat Ridge.
The morning was spent in Woodland Park finding and charging a new battery for The Impeller. The afternoon was spent exploring Colorado Springs and Denver. After Colorado Springs, the valley, with its ranches and country homes, gives way to the outer suburban ring of Denver. I spot the downtown cluster in the distance and, skipping the interstate, take whatever roads seem to lead to the center. I happen to pass right by Columbine High School. Eerie. School is in session. The tragedy hits me more viscerally than ever before. Such a normal looking place. The scene playing out in my head is horrific. But Denver itself is already growing on me. It reminds me of Minneapolis. Once in the city, I pass through beautiful parks and cool old neighborhoods. There are trees and gardens. People are outside jogging and playing with their children. It is sunny and warm (300 days of the year!). There is a kind of cultural renaissance happening here. Restaurants and galleries are opening. The arts are flourishing. I drive by the botanical gardens. The place feels good. Plus there is a river with white water rapids for rafting and kayaking running through the center of town! Next to the massive REI, an amusement park, and a funky warehouse district with wood-fired pizza joints and brew pubs. People on bikes everywhere. Looking fairly happy. Plus, what is that over to the West? Oh, just the friggin’ Rocky Moutains! Endless outdoor adventure and gorgeousness, summer and winter. I like. It is rush hour, hot, and I’m exploring this city by motorcycle, taking in as much as I can. Stop and go. Stuck in traffic. There are a lot of people here, that’s for sure. But it feels good. After dropping all that cash on the motel last night, I decide to head into the mountains outside Denver to camp. It is hot. I’m dehydrated and stop at a juice store in a strip mall in the Western suburbs. After quickly draining my Immuno-Veggie-Blaster, I turn the key to start the bike and… nothing. What the hell? This is my new battery! Dead. I get another jump from a stranger, ride over to the Autozone nearby, and pull the battery to have them check it. Sure enough. Drained. No charge left. I consult with Randy by phone and we decide the problem is probably that I didn’t charge the new battery sufficiently when I first got it, and all that stop-and-go idling in Denver didn’t rev up the engine enough to recharge it. OK. So now what? It’s late and there is no camping and no motel anywhere near this strip mall. The Autozone girl charges the battery just enough to fire up the bike, and I end up riding several miles to the American Motel in Wheat Ridge, CO, which advertises rooms for “$32.95 and up”. Every other motel nearby is at least double that. The Google reviews of this place say things like “I’m pretty sure this hotel houses most of the sex offenders in the state” and “The best thing I can say is that there was hot and cold running water.” I ask for the cheap room. “Sorry. We are fresh out. I can give you one for $50.” OK. Fine. I’m done. I keep the bike running while I unload all my gear into the room and then drive a couple miles to the nearest Autozone where I pull my battery and leave it with them to charge overnight. The bike stays put in the Autozone parking lot and I foot it in the dark back to the motel (which, to my relief, turns out to be clean and sufficiently comfy).
8 /18 – Day Twenty Two and Twenty Three. Colorado and Wyoming. America’s Best Value Inn, Torrington WY.
I survived the American Motel in Wheat Ridge and hike back to pick up my newly charged battery in the morning. I drive through Boulder and then up into the Rockies through Estes Park before descending again into Fort Collins. I’m feeling dizzy, dislocated, light-headed today. No idea why. Fort Collins holds no appeal – a suburban traffic jam. I turn toward the barren landscapes and wind-gusts of Wyoming. After all those lush and winding mountain passes, there is something calming about the vast and quiet beauty of Wyoming. Hours later, I stop for gas in Cheyenne— is it my imagination, or is this bike struggling to start again ? In any case, I’m not ready to stop yet and so I press on until I reach Torrington, WY (aka The Middle of Nowhere). It’s getting darker now. I drive past the auto parts store in town, hoping to get my battery checked. Closed. I decide to stop at a motel parking lot, just in case the bike won’t start again. I turn it off. Try to start it. Nothing. Shit. This most likely means that the battery is not the problem, but that there is something wrong with the charging system itself. Probably the stator (alternator). And that sucks. There is no way I’ll get the stator fixed on the road. First of all, the part would take days, at least, to procure. I already learned that the hard way. And replacing the stator requires pulling the engine. There are no bike mechanics for miles around, and even if there was one, it would likely cost more than the bike itself to get the job done. Another motel night. This trip is getting expensive. Next day I get a jump and ride to the NAPA auto parts store to get my battery recharged. Unlike every other NAPA in the nation, Torrington’s NAPA does not have a trickle charger they can use to charge my battery. But they will sell me one. OK. Fine. At this point, my main objective is merely to get this bike and myself home as safely and quickly as possible. I buy the charger and an extra battery and spend the whole day and another night at the same motel charging up both batteries (and watching continuous episodes of Storage Wars). I figure when one battery dies, I’ll just put in the other one, charge them both again the next night and that should be enough to get me… home.
8/20 – Day Twenty Four. Wyoming and South Dakota. Comfort Inn, Huron SD.
The Black Hills are lovely. Sturgis is empty– just rows of warehouse-sized bars and massive parking lots, all empty but for the occasional lonely echo of a gurgling Harley motor. I head straight east on an old country highway. A hundred miles between towns. I am surprised by the beauty of this state. Gently rolling fields of sunflowers and purple clover as far as the eye can see. Staying at another motel. Had to do it. Last night charging both batteries. More episodes of Storage Wars. Huron has nothing to recommend it, but the Comfort Inn is pleasant enough.
8/21 – Day Twenty Five. South Dakota, Minnesota, and… HOME!
Made it! It feels like home, crossing into Minnesota. I try to imagine I’m seeing it for the first time, like it’s just another state I’m exploring. It’s clear: Minneapolis is a remarkably beautiful city. Trees. Parks. Lakes. Creeks and rivers. Parkways. Bike trails. Gardens. People outside doing stuff. I have never before taken such an expansive intentional look around the US in such a short amount of time and then compared it to my own home. Minneapolis is an exceptional place: nature, culture, community, diversity, parks, rivers, lakes, arts, gardens, friends, family, room to breath. I like it here. I wish I could stay. I’ll give it another winter and see if I can find a way to make it through without too much suffering and insanity. If not… it is probably time to move closer to the equator. The motorcycle trip itself has been amazing. Something I have always wanted to do. I’m kind of a nomad at heart. I could keep on moving for quite a while longer, no problem. But one of the purposes of this trip was to have a good look around at potential places to relocate. To escape the gloom and psychosis of the bleak winter. I did take a good look around and I mostly ended up discovering how many ways my own city is really quite exceptional. The final word: If I had my way, I’d take the whole city of Minneapolis and most of the people in it and move the lot to Colorado.