(Arbitrary and often belated writings from my current motorbike ride across the United States. Notes from this trip will be interspersed with past writings)
I rode out this morning, having finally found a hole in the weather large enough to fit a Honda Shadow through. The job counting birds along the Colorado River starts in twenty days. Being the crew leader this time around, I've got a stake in arriving alive and mostly on-time.
Last night, I strapped on satchels and saddlebags and stared awhile at the unlikely carriage. All of autumn spent wrenching and riding, all of winter spent prepping and planning. And now, suddenly, it was here. I propped the bike on the centerstand, loaded and fueled up, and went to sleep. The night was fitful, having many things on my mind, not least of which being one very sad girl lying in bed next to me. Morning rose and the smell of mushroom omelets came creeping up the stairs. I ate slowly, enjoying the last breakfast I'd share with my folks for many months. They both came out to see me off. Dad wished me luck and blessed me with an Iranian good luck prayer that his mother had always recalled before long trips.
I rode off to say goodbye to A. It was terrible and sad and left me with a heaviness in my stomach. I left her at the park and rode southwest. Snow was still falling in thick powder flakes, touching only a moment upon the road before melting away. LW and PorkRoll met me in Newark for a quick coffee. PorkRoll had decided to ride out with me a few miles for good luck and I was grateful for the company. We roared down Main Street, stopping a minute in front of Homegrown to see Birdman. We gunned the engines until he came rushing out, in full cooking gear, from the restaurant's busy kitchen. We went on, heading dead south for the canal. We rode, changing leads and weaving across the highway at full speed. I slowed a few times to let him off, but PorkRoll pressed on, following all the way to Middletown before cutting back home. The road was mine alone now: naked, empty, and limitless. I raised up high in the saddle and squinted, trying to see all the way to Arizona.
notes from Colombia, December 2009:
"...The road out is thick with silt. We sweep past indigenous huts
and rivers full of naked swimming children. A group of men pan for
gold in some unnamed river. We arrive in Urrao late afternoon, covered
in the fine grit of the road. All eyes fall on us as we go from store
to store, buying cigarettes, rum, candy and bread. We take lunch in an
empty cafe and the kitchen girls peer at us through the threshold,
giggling and hiding each time we turn our heads.
At the farm we trade our jeep for horses and saunter up the rocky
hillside. The trail steepened immediately and the horses were soon
covered in a greasy leather-smelling sweat. After another hour we
reach the bunkhouse. Inside, Luis's wife finishes dinner and sets into
making tea. We are at 10,000 feet and the water takes a long time to
Darkness comes and I slip outside to smoke. The stars overhead are
familiar but, being skewed by latitude, seem foreign and strange. A
long falling star streams across the sky, melting as it goes. I think
of a thousand things.
The river went running along in front of me, babbling its constant
song. It seemed that it would run forever, past the beautiful birds,
past all the mornings and evenings of life, past everything: unspoken
and eternal beneath the diamond sky..."
"...Late in the day, we return to the mountaintop and await the
parrots' return. Thunder shakes the valley and soon we are met with
monsoon rains. The dusk is magnificent. Rain and thunder surround us
and we sit silently beneath a tin-roofed cow pen. The earth is a
vibrant green and the rain makes the thin air shimmer.
A flock of thirty returns, crying and cajoling as they gather in
tight groups along the tips of the palm fronds. We watch a long while.
A boy pulls a laden workhorse down the road. The clattering of the
horse and its load is clear and strong and seems the most important
sound in the world.
At last we regather in the jeep and drive down, opposed by pouring
rain and clay-slick roads. It has been 15 hours and we are exhausted,
quiet. I am furthest back and can watch the road pass behind me. I
hang my legs out the open back and feel the rain run down my saturated
pantlegs. Lightning bugs like tiny bulbs wink and fade along the
treeline, gleeful and impermanent. I am thankful, and watch them for
as long as I can."