3.31.2010

Update

Apologies on the long delay in posting. I've arrived in Arizona at the research field house and work site and had to hit the ground running. It's been wild and busy and exciting, but internet and time are scarce. I'll have postings up (to complete the trip journal) and plan on continuing the posting about my further bird and motorbike adventures here in Lake Havasu City, AZ. Thanks again for reading.

3.22.2010

Making Arizona or, Foolishness Across America, Day 16

   After breakfast we ran the old highway to Gage, where we broke off into public lands. We parked down a gravel road and loaded the revolver for some target practice. A white and green truck swept around the turn and skidded to a stop before us. Border Patrol. Border Patrol are nothing to worry about, an increasingly conspicuous fact of life in this stretch of America. We told him that we'd be firing off some rounds and he went along. "Just as long as you're not shooting at me," he said, "and watch out for that ricochet."

   We blasted a few cans and a dead yucca stalk before returning to the highway outside of Separ. There was no longer enough time for Tucson, by the time we'd arrive Jayko would be leaving for work in the forests up north. I'd been told about some good riding roads by a Harley biker in Las Cruces and I picked them out on the map. We rode north and west along the western edge of New Mexico, following 70. Pajaro followed behind me in his truck and I was glad to have the company after so many miles riding alone. We crossed grasslands and emptied towns of the west. The wet winter had left the hills green and speckled with yellow wildflowers. We could see snow on the mountains as we approached the Arizona line.

   The grasslands rose and became hills and suddenly we were in Arizona. I stood on the bike and shouted as we crossed the state line, Pajaro laid on the horn behind me. With the day's riding, I had clocked over 3000 miles on the trip. I could hardly believe that I'd made Arizona on this lunatic machine.

   We rode over tall hills and broken rocks, past ramshackle towns and wideswept valleys. We stopped for coffees and Reuben sandwiches in Globe. The town was sequestered away in the mountains east of Phoenix and the strangeness of the people reflected the geography. A bizarre busboy at the diner cornered us, enthusiastically showing off his collection of Lost in Space DVDs. We declined the offer to watch any with him and made off to the corner store. I waited outside while Pajaro bought shaving cream and other sundries. An elderly woman stopped and laid into me for parking on the sidewalk. I put my helmet on, drowning her argument, and rode back to the highway.

   We continued west, down and down towards Phoenix. The road became suddenly interesting, twisting around the sharp precipices and through tunnels in rock. The bike swept along the road like a slick phantom and I remembered the leaf-strewn Pennsylvania roads of home, the roads that had taught me how to ride. Climbers sat on the roadside, decorated in ropes and harnesses, eying up tall spindles of sandstone. I was exhausted by the time we reached the sprawl of Phoenix. We laid up in a cheap room for a night of comfort before Havasu City. It was almost unbelievable, how close I was to the last stop of the trip. The travel had been exhilarating beyond expectation, but I was road weary and ready for work to begin.

   I called WhiteCarrot and made plans to meet for dinner at a nearby Thai joint. Pajaro took a breather in the room and I stripped down for a jump in the motel pool. The water was cold, at first taking my breath away. I dove under and spread my arms against the water. There are only so many ways to sit on a Honda Shadow and the long ride had crimped my neck and shoulders. The swimming enlivened my muscles and woke me from the meditation of the road. One day from Havasu City.

3.18.2010

New Mexico Grassland or, Foolishness Across America, Day 15



  The ride to New Mexico was, of course, windy. The Spring breeze across the southwest had proven a tough challenge, one I hadn't expected. I stopped in Van Horn to fuel at the old Shell station, hoping to catch Larry breaking tires out back. When I got there, the station was boarded and shut. Larry was not outside breaking tires. One more ghost of the past. I filled at the Texaco and moved west. I'd been in Texas for so much of this trip and it felt refreshing to see the New Mexico line.

   Pajaro was cutting west from Midland and we hoped to intersect somewhere along the interstate. He was fresh from South America and had signed on to work with my birding team in Havasu City. We met at Aplo's place in Deming. The last time I'd seen Pajaro was in an airport taxi in Medellin, Colombia. We were hungover and flying out to foreign cities, worn out from three weeks in the jungles and mountains. The trip had been a huge success, having lucked upon a Choco Vireo. The bird was rare enough and so far outside its range that the sighting ensured permanent preservation of the land.

 Feeding the Peregrines at Paul's


3.17.2010

Texas Memory, or, Foolishness Across America, Day 14


   If you love something, you let it go. And you hope, and you hope hard and long, that it will return.

   Back in West Texas, the place all this adventuring started five years ago. Bacon and eggs for breakfast. Kale was hurting from the tequila and stayed in bed all day. I managed to catch lunch with Albert and Carolyn in Fort Davis before heading to the ranch. The roads were twisty, empty, beautiful. It felt strange to have the bags off the bike and I found it easier to lean into turns and shoot up steep inclines. On the way to Valentine I stopped for a few photos. An old pickup pulled into the clearing behind me and OldBoy stepped out. He was without the black denim and wide-brimmed cowboy hat this time, but the grit of his voice was unmistakable. He was on his way to Ft. Davis to replace some vehicle switch for his rig. We talked awhile about the country and he told me some stories about making records with Stevie Ray Vaughn in New Orleans.

   I found the old dirt track to the ranch and began the drive in. The winter rains had washed the road and the bike jolted badly against the washboard surface. It took me forty minutes, over cattle guards and water ruts, before I reached the ranch headquarters. Granny and Gramps were inside at their usual places. A bowl of freshly-shelled pecans brimmed on the table next to a pitcher of unsweetened ice tea. It was as though life had stood still in this place. I wore the same faded cowboy boots I'd bought here years ago and sat in my regular seat at the table. It was hard to be there without A, after all the time we'd spent working and learning on the ranch. There were too many memories under those old cottonwoods for me to stay the night, so I took off on the bike, back down the rough dirt track and out to the highway.

   The sun was low, spreading a pale violet across the grasslands. A few pickups passed by, but mostly I was alone on the road. The engine rumbled rythmically as I retraced the route. A few Great Horned Owls bellowed at the turnoff to 116, but otherwise I was the only sound in the night. I was cold by the time I reached Fort Davis and thankful for the hot meal and the comforts of the guest house. This forgotten slice of West Texas was frozen in place and as beautiful as ever, but it was hard for me to stay. Thin ghosts of the past lingered at every fencepost, on every blade of tobosa grass. I resolved to leave early the next morning and outrun them as best I could.

 Rough roads at the Ranch

Oldboy on Highway 505

3.15.2010

Miles Per Gallon, or, Foolishness Across America, Day 13.5



   The ride began like a dream. The sun was warm, the roads twisted beautifully through the Hill Country. The grease I'd used on the shift linkage was a miracle. The bike had always strained to drop into 1st, but did so now with smooth precision. I felt light and free, finally out of my heavy winter gear. I stopped awhile in Fredericksburg, taking in the side streets of the little German town.

   It didn't last. A sharp, steady headwind met me at the interstate junction. The bike struggled to move west. I ducked behind the windshield as best I could, remembering the cold first week of riding back East. Clouds grew in tall, dark stacks on the horizon. There hadn't been any rain in the forecast, and I was unprepared. I could see the strands of precipitation forming and suddenly regretted packing away my warm clothes and wet weather gear. Down drafts gusted from the storm, blasting the bike from lane to lane.

   The storm was like a wall, and behind it I could see the break and the clear blue. The rain was falling, but only beginning to hit the highway. The storm and I were advancing in opposite directions. If I could make it through before it really hit, I'd be in clear sky. When storms hit in the plains, cattle tend to run away from it, and in doing so only prolong their time beneath it. Buffalo run headfirst towards the rain and thunder, braving the worst of it so as to reach the other side's clear more quickly. I thought about buffalo and opened the throttle. The rain smeared across my visor and windshield. Wind threw me and thunder roared overhead. Then, I was out, I was clear. I yelled a cheers to the bike, shook the rain from my helmet and went on into the wind.

   Still, the headwind was fierce, the worst I'd encountered yet. I thought my throttle had locked up, only to realize that I had it open as far as it could go. Even with full throttle I could barely get the bike to 65mph. I downshifted and chugged up the hills, tractor trailers riding my rear. At Ozona I lost power, the bike suddenly dropping to a crawl. I threw on the reserve tank and rode slowly into the first station I could find. I could hardly believe that I'd run through the fuel so quickly, having only gone 90 miles. The bike can reach 70 miles per gallon when treated right, but the wind had thrashed me, and I'd counted on worse mileage. When I filled the tank and crunched the numbers I was in shock. The headwind had taken me down to a miserable 30mpg. Stations in West Texas are often eighty to ninety miles apart, and with a 3.2 gallon tank, I'd need to fill at every opportunity.

   I stopped inside for coffee and a chat with the register girl. She said that the wind had taken the roofs from several houses in town. I lingered a bit before pressing on. The rest of the ride was hard. I made it to Balmorhea with little left in the tank. I pulled off the exit for gas and the bike died completely. I coasted to the side of the road, cursing and scanning the bike for clues. No luck starting, the engine cranked but refused to turn over. I checked electrical lines, but the lights and horn worked well enough to dispel such worries. The spark plugs were firm and clean, the lines were tight and intact. I attempted to pop the clutch, to no avail. Shoot. It was cold now, and the sun was getting very low. Cell signal was weak at best in the mountains.

   I pumped some fuel in and left the reserve tank switch on. The engine sputtered a bit, giving me a flurry of hope. I waited another moment and cranked it. Ignition. Success. The bike woke up and fired. I hopped on and cruised to the filling station. A full tank of gas kept things going smoothly. It seemed to be a problem with the fuel, and I went along hoping it would last till Fort Davis. A cop cruiser tailed me awhile on 17 South, but finally gave up chase and passed on. I was hesitant to stop, thinking I may not get the bike started again. When I finally pulled into town I was exhausted and worn with the wind. Carolyn's house was warm and full of hospitality. I put down a hot meal and refreshed with a some good Mexican tequila. It had been a hard day, maybe the hardest of the trip. Thank god for friends in wild country like this, I thought as I kicked off my boots and laid in for the night.

   After some analysis and a discussion with my father I decided the bike, low on fuel and running hot, had formed a vapor lock in the lines. The sudden deceleration and the decline of the exit off ramp must have thrown the remaining fuel to the front of the tank, sending only vapors into the carbuerator. The system was locked up until the bike cooled down and fed itself more liquid fuel. A bit of a scare, for sure. So far we'd come, without real troubles. I fell to sleep and hoped the trials of the day were simply that, and not an omen of things to come.

3.14.2010

Spaghetti Box Hitchers, or Foolishness Across America, Day 13

   Ali fixed his secret breakfast blend when I woke and we ate together, watching the day grow warm. I returned from loading the bike to find him fiddling with a mouse trap. A tiny mouse had appeared in the bathtub overnight, huddling near the drain and refusing to leave. We set the trap with peanut butter and set it carefully inside the tub, inches from the creature. We watched quietly, neither of us really wanting to kill the thing. Nothing. We left to finish breakfast, but the fate of the mouse still hung in the air. Ali checked on it again, but the thing hadn't taken the bait.

   "I could take him with me." I offered, "Drop him off somewhere down the road."

   "Yeah," he quickly agreed, "Maybe it's a lucky mouse, since it hasn't been caught in the trap yet."

   We pulled the trap, relieved to have found a way to save the mouse without shirking our manly duties. Ali put the mouse into a pasta box and I duct taped it shut (thanks again for the tape, Louisiana Gas Station Clerk). The box wedged nicely into my tankbag and I prepped to ride. Ali sprayed water after me for good luck, the custom of his hometown in Iran. In the desert, water holds severe importance. To pour it after departing guests is a wish for good fortune and safe return. I felt honored by the gesture. Travel by motorcycle seems to bring with it a whiff of adventure and superstition.

   I thought about taking the little Ralph S. Mouse all the way to Arizona, but decided against it, figuring the trip would be too much for him. I dropped him off at the highway gate. He sprang from the box and sprinted into the underbrush. There wasn't much room on the bike for hitchers, but I was glad to have made accommodations. So long, Ralph.

3.13.2010

Iranian Soldiers, or Foolishness Across America, Day 12

  
  
   I had never before met my next hosts. Gypsie and Ali had lived and worked with my parents in Iran, long before I was born. These days they lived outside of Johnson City, down dirt covered roads, tucked away in the hills. I punched in the gate code and drove over the small bridge that crossed the dam. A mile down the dirt track I found the sign for Moon Face Ranch and pulled in. They met me at the gate and helped me clear a space for the bike inside. Their home was beautiful and spacious, built completely of white stone-work. A back porch looked southwest into the sunset and the expanse of Texas Hill Country. Brewer's Sparrows warbled their metallic song from the scrub. Kestrels and Wild Turkeys called noisily at the red-violet ball of sun as it lowered against the skyline.

   We finished the night inside over Coors Light. At ten, their son Nick came home, fresh from his high-school baseball game. He was a smart kid with a boisterous disregard for authority. His spirit reminded me of my own high-school years and we shared stories of foolishness and rabble-rousing. Ali showed me photos from years ago. Photos of him and my father in Iranian Army uniforms, posing with rifles. Photos of Gypsie and my mother laying on blankets in the sun, surrounded by hip young Iranians, picnicing and smoking cigarettes. My sister was there, just nine months old. Gypsie recounted stories of waiting for the oil company plane to arrive, hoping for Ali to be on board. He was always the last to step off the plane, she said. They served free beer on the plane, he said.

   I woke late in the morning. I watched Ali feed the chickens out back while Gypsie cooked eggs and bacon inside. The meal was delicious. I drank french-pressed coffee and ate pears with jam. This was, a thousand times over, the most comfortable stop of the trip, and I relished in the luxury. After breakfast I helped Ali rake and fertilize some sapling trees in the yard. Pomegranates, Pears, and Apple Trees, sitting cozy in their beds of fresh-laid soil. Working in the warm sun felt good, and the gardening reminded me of the countless hours of yardwork I'd done with my dad. I spent the rest of the morning birding, recalling the familiar desert birds as they sang and fluttered past. We split a few strands of Cedar for the fireplace and retired inside.

   I propped the motorcycle up on the centerstand and set to cleaning and checking her over. The shift linkage had grown stiff, and I cleaned the assembly until it ran free. I greased the kick and centerstand and tightened up the engine bolts. Finally, I pulled the spark plugs and spent awhile examining the burn residue. It felt good to run through the bike and I ran the engine a few minutes, listening to it run, before pulling her back inside. I thought back to chilly October, when I'd bought the bike for $700 from an ad in the paper. I hadn't even had the confidence to register the thing for more than one year. And now, we sat in Texas, in the midday sun, wind-worn and halfway through America. Oh, the places we go.

Desert Mechanics

Getting in some elbow grease.

Nick on violin

3.12.2010

Heat, or Foolishness Across America, Day 11


   I made Austin before the second storm broke, stopping once for two gallons of 93 octane and one almond Snickers bars. Andres was sleeping when I showed up, so I relaxed awhile out front. We hadn't seen each since the Brasil trip, but the reunion was easy and natural. He'd taken up boat piloting on Lake Travis outside of the city, operating party barges for legions of drunken tourists and college kids. Open water, hot sun, and over-drunk twenty-somethings. "Yeah, a lot of people die," he said, "but I haven't had anyone get killed on one of my trips yet."

   We went for BBQ at the Green Mesquite and met Maduro afterward at the B.S. Saloon for one-dollar-LoneStars. Andres' girl met us a few drinks later at the taco stand on Lamar. Tacos led to more beers which led to a soak in the hot tub. My back ached. My right hand was throbbing from 2000 miles on the throttle and the heat was miraculous.

   I woke loosened and refreshed, with only a slight haze from the lateness of the night. I'd thrown off my blanket sometime in the early morning, but still woke with a thin band of sweat on my neck. The sun was pouring in though the porch window and the weathermen were calling for a high of 80 degrees. Andres and I got some cheap Vietnamese before I took off. I rode 290 west out of town, sweating under my thick jacket. The storm had cleared and Spring had arisen almost overnight. The trees and the hills took on a familiar color and shape and the sky opened blue and vast before me. Two thousand miles had passed below us: I had made it to the desert once again.

3.10.2010

Thunderstorm Casket, or Foolishness Across America, Day 10



   The news that comes at midnight in a Motel 6 parking lot is never good news. It was A on the other end of the phone, angry, upset. I hid under the eaves of the building, avoiding the rain as we talked. The distance and uncertainty was taking its toll and I could hear in her voice that her patience was nearly gone. It was late when the conversation ended, and I wished badly that I'd bought more than just the two beers.

   I woke to roaring thunder. The sky was dark and unfriendly. Two hundred miles till Austin. I hoped it was enough time. I stopped in one of the hotels along the road for a free continental breakfast and stolen WiFi (a trick I learned from my brother after his first cross country venture). One hundred and ninety miles till Austin. It was not enough time. Fifteen miles out I was hit with a wall of rain. The drops started slowly, plink-plunking off my helmet and windshield.

   Everything was suddenly draped in gray and the road disappeared ahead of me. The raindrops felt heavy against me, despite my many layers and thick helmet. I tossed my head side-to-side, trying to clear my visor, but had little luck. Trucks on all sides threw up streams of backwash and wind. Motorcycling next to tractor-trailers makes for a strange dance. The trucks first stir up the air and toss you sideways, then, as they pass, pull back sharply, sucking the bike dangerously close.

   I struggled to stay in the middle of two trucks, using them to break the wind and rain. I'd wrapped my luggage in black trashbags, but had neglected to shield my tankbag. The map and directions were half-soaked, so I took the next exit and found a bridge to hide beneath. It was like being in the eye of a hurricane. A peaceful, quiet place, surrounded by torrent. I covered the tankbag and waited a few moments before climbing back on. The rain had quieted some, and I could see enough to ride.

   I passed by a mangled semi, laying in the median. Police and rescue workers ran wildly about, dressed in high-viz yellow and shouting orders. A family of Mexicans stood nearby, looking back-and-forth between the semi and their own obliterated SUV. I'd had a close call the day before, nearly being eaten alive by a truck carrying a load of coffins. I appreciated the irony for a moment, then gunned the engine and sped away as fast as I could.

3.08.2010

Duct Tape and the West, or Foolishness Across America, Day 9

  Up early and out of New Orleans. I'm growing accustomed to the riding and feel itchy sticking in one place for more than a night. By day two, I begin fantasizing about riding fast and out. I took 10 West through town and out across the watery Mississippi delta. The highway turns into miles of long bridgework west of town, and police were in full fury. I began seeing bikers everywhere, scores of them riding in front and behind. A group of about ten had been pulled to the side by a troop of cop crusiers. I stopped sixty miles from the Texas line to fuel up. Every gas station had at least one or two bikes at the pumps. I met with some old Harley riders fresh out of Daytona. Most of the riders I'd seen were heading home from the bike week, worn and hungover from whatever strange biker festivities I'd missed. The lead rider of one such group came over to chat and marvel at the long ride I'd had from Delaware. He was dressed in a thick one-piece Carhartt and smoked Winstons as he filled his tank.

   I had some bag trouble a few miles down the road, my saddlebag had torn against the shocks and was threatening to tear off completely. I thanked my luck for finding it before the otherwise inevitable parade of underwear and socks that I would have left flailing down the interstate. I asked the clerk at the station for some duct tape. "Whut in th' hell you done settin' out on such a thing as un-pur-pared as such?" he scolded, but gave me the tape, no charge. He was right, anyway. I patched the hole and went on.

   Four hundred miles of riding took me west of Houston, where the rains started. The sky unstitched itself and rain begain pouring from the seams in the sky. I was exhausted: it was more than I'd ever done in one day and I was still weary from New Orleans. I scrapped Austin and pulled off into the next town for the night. I bought a few tacos and watched the steady rain, hoping to find clear skies by morning. I was across the Mississippi, officially west. Unpacked, the bike seemed little more than a seat on wheels. I looked her over, amazed to have come so far already.

Gypsy Band Saturday Night, or Foolishness Across America, Day 8


   We woke late of course. A rooster was bawling from somewhere behind the abandoned elementary school across the street. I rousted myself with some wickedly-strong coffee and went to check on the bike. I half-expected her to be gone, or at least missing some chrome, but she was waiting patiently in the late morning sun. It was warm, the warmest day of the trip by far. I shed my thermal for the first time since leaving Delaware and tested the tire pressure, fluids, and few randomly selected bolts. The tires were fat with air, despite the countless piles of broken glass I'd run across on the way in. It was a minute from noon, so I scrapped any thoughts of leaving that day. There was a heavy storm blowing east from El Paso, but there wasn't going to be any way of avoiding it. I'd been lucky so far and guessed I was due for some wet riding.

   NoDance, Gunker, and Kells were on the front porch when I came out of the backyard and we rambled down to the cornerstore for breakfast. An hour later we were in the bayou, southeast of town. A series of mile-long boardwalks carried us over the thick swamp water and knobby cypress knees. Insects and tree frogs rattled from the green-brown bog and we chanced upon a small alligator sunning near the water's edge. His thick, jointed tail looked like the shredded truck tires that litter the interstates. It seemed a thousand miles from the city and the noisy revelry of the night before. A Barred Owl passed above us, disturbed from some tucked-away roost. A life bird for me, having only heard their guttural calls, but never seeing one. Several species of woodpecker flitted in the snags above the swamp. A solitary Great Egret stalked minnows in the shallow water. After four miles of trudging in the bayou we returned to NoDance's car (a German machine that ran on vegetable oil). A few troopers in the parking lot were on high alert, having heard some gunshots in the swamp. They left us alone, but let off their steam out by detaining a group of teenage softball players who'd been spotted throwing rocks at gators.

   A tremendous pasta dinner back at Milo's before heading to a show downtown. The road closest to Milo's was shutdown due to a shooting, so we took St. Claude. We missed the first band but showed up as Tim Barry, a punk-rock redneck Woody Guthrie of sorts, was hammering away on acoustic guitar. The crowd cleared out when Barry went off, but the next band went right in. They filled the half-empty hall with beautiful mix of brass, accordion, and euphonium. We listened, mesmerized, for the full set. The rest of the crew convened to round the night out with drinks on Bourbon Street, but I went back to Milo's for an easy end. I'd had my fill of the city. The ride to Austin was a long one, and I needed some rest if I was going to face off with the coming storm.

3.07.2010

Gators and Gunshots, or Foolishness Across America, Day Seven


   New Orleans. I could feel the city long before it crept into view. There emerged the flat vastness of the land below sea level and I could smell the humidity of the bayou in the air. The earth planed out in brown and green-blue. The highway became a long span of bridgework, like great vines grasping the city and holding it to its place on the edge of the ocean. I stopped on the roadside to watch it all for a few minutes before pulling into town. Tugboats and barges whistled from the waterways along the road, trailed by swarms of gulls.

   I eased the bike into town. Milo lived in the Bywater neighborhood, somewhere southeast of city center. Every other house was abandoned, boarded sloppily and covered in spray paint. Small scooters weaved through the late day traffic. An old man on a decked out touring bike passed me while I waited to turn. The tags were from New Jersey, I'd been outdone, in distance at least. I consoled myself by noticing his fancier equipment, more comfortable bike, and the fact that I'd be pressing on to Arizona.

   Milo's house was easy to find. A half dozen bicycles were strung about the front porch. I parked and laid on the stoop till I heard the door. She was due in for a shift at Mimi's Bar in an hour, but we caught up and did a tour of the house. I managed to squeeze the bike into the backyard, where I stripped it of luggage and chained it securely to the fence railing. Soon, a knock at the door. I was surprised to find Kel, NoDance, and Gunker from back home. I'd heard they too were traveling the States, but hadn't counted on such a well-timed rendezvous. I was excited for the company and decided to stay an extra night.

   We walked to the French Quarter for some quick dinner and Turkish coffee. On Milo's recommendation, we stopped in for a performance at the Iron Rail Bookshop. We were again met with the strange coincidence of the highway-bound. Ry, Fitz, and One-feather were standing on the corner outside. I hadn't seen One-feather since he'd left for Washington years ago. He explained that he'd just arrived in New Orleans three days ago, eager to make a home. Fitz and Ry had left Philadelphia on bicycles in October and gotten stuck (happily) in old NOLA.

   Our gang grew and we relocated to the French Quarter, where we drank tallboy beers on the street corner and swapped stories. Ry and Fitz knew half the kids in town and we had a stream of strange folks merging and moving through our circle. A brass band rang out from a bar a half block down. Red and blue neon poured from the storefronts, giving gleam to the horde that moved up and down Frenchman St. The night ran on, from bar to bar, streetcorner to streetcorner, until we found ourselves back at Milo's, exhausted, over-drunk, and an hour shy of sunrise. We made spaces on the hardwood foor and passed into dark, deep sleep.

3.06.2010

NOLA

In New Orleans there is a vibrancy and life that makes posting on blogs a touch difficult. Until the next write-up, here are some photos from the past week.

 
Riding out with PorkRoll on Day One.

 
Feeling patriotic in the capital

Cold wind in Carolina

Waffle House coffee break. The fellow in the back was a riot.

3.05.2010

Domain Shift

   A note to let everyone know that I've moved to the simpler http://www.motorbikebirder.com . If you use the old address (.blogspot.com) it should redirect you. Either way, the new address is a lot easier to remember. Thanks again for reading and making this interesting!

3.04.2010

Hark! House of Waffles, or Foolishness Across America, Day Six

   A song of praise for the Waffle House. See the yellow, windowed boxes, scattered by the thousands along the highways of these southern states. Thanks be to your three-dollar-omelets, so vivid in the mind, and your grits (sans butter), a rare, healthy find. Thanks to the windows that wrap your perimeters, offering views of our bikes to soothe security jitters. Grateful for the coffee, surprisingly strong, and your sweet southern waitresses, conversationally drawn. Missed exits? No problem, for lack there is none, of square yellow Waffle Houses, towards which we run.

* * *

   It is still chilly on the road, but I the sun appears with greater regularity, and the smell of the Spring grows. I can even hear the tink-tink-tink of frogs by the creek tonight, one hundred miles from Mobile, Alabama. One goes through many shifts in emotion during a long motorbike ride. Often there is the haziness of morning, before the mind sets into the ride. It takes only five or ten miles before the highway strips away the sluggishness. I can almost feel each strand as it peels off into the wind. Soon, there is again the feeling of life and you are weightless. This is the best time to stand on the passenger pegs, high enough that you can no longer see the bike below you and there is only the sensation of flight.

   On and on and on to New 'Awlins.

3.03.2010

Daytona Wannabe, or Foolishness Across America, Day Five

   Thanks to the friends and other folks who signed on as blog followers. It's given me a motivational kick in the rear to keep up the posts. I'll try and add some photos soon as I can. I forgot to bring along the card reader gizmo to get them from camera to computer.
   
   Georgia. Karaoke honky-tonks, Christians, and white Ford pickups. Here begins the long, lonely stretch of the journey. In all my past cross-country drives, we'd avoided the south, shooting over to see Lanks in Memphis and eat wet-sauced barbecue ribs. I knew the mountains would be bad this time of year and figured I was overdue for a trip in the deeper states. I took some good advice and skipped Atlanta, cutting south from Bozer's on I-77 instead.

   I don't know a soul between Charlotte to New Orleans. Planning the trip back home I'd glossed over this part, figuring I'd ride fast as possible and sleep when necessary. I shelled out the cash for a cheap motel tonight, badly wanting a hot shower and a bed after five days on the road without either.

   The cold and high wind is wearisome and I ended the day's 300 miles with little energy left. I alternated between interstates and Georgia highways, getting rained on a few times between shifts. I stopped halfway, frozen and starving, at one of the thousand Waffle Houses along the route. The old women inside gave me the same crazy stares when I talked of riding to Arizona, but brought me coffee and baked potatoes just the same. In just one day the attitude of the trip has changed completely. Most noticeable is the quiet of the motel room. Since leaving Delaware I'd been immersed in old friends and the commotion and partying that comes with. I was a bit worn down from it all, and it's likely that these lonely days before New Orleans will be a necessary recharge. Still, the riding is tough, given the cold and battering winds.

   As I get closer to Daytona (bike week coming up soon, from what I'm told) I see more and more motorcycles, though all of them strapped to the backs of trailers and pickup trucks (all Harley-Davidson so far). To date, I've only seen four other motorcyclists out riding, one of them being Porkroll who saw me off in Delaware. It's a thrill when I do run across another biker, sometimes sharing a moment side-by-side in the road before roaring off ahead. They all seem to have newer bikes, better-matching luggage, and slower cruising speeds than me.

   I started the ride a bit hazy from the late nights in Charlotte. On Tuesday I'd went to work with Bozer at the Habitat for Humanity site, spending the day volunteering and hoisting heavy furniture from place to place. It felt good to work and to have a day off the saddle. I'm still inventing strange new positions when I ride so I can unkink and stretch without getting off. The wind is fierce in the wake of yesterday's snowstorm and my fingers take the worst of it. I can easily ride with my left hand tucked behind the windshield (a last-minute purchase for which I am constantly grateful). The right hand, being in charge of throttle, is much trickier. I spent a few miles perfecting knee-operated crusie-control before realizing the stupidity of such a venture. Praised be that damn windshield. I spend much of the day ducked forward behind it, watching the ripples in the road and remembering the heat of Costa Rica.

3.02.2010

Wine Dogs, or Foolishness Across America, Day Four

   The straight road from Raleigh to Charlotte runs beautifully. It was a short day of 140 miles, so I avoided the interstates and cut directly across, through the emptier highways of Carolina fishing country. The air was still cold, but the sun shone all day. I was mostly alone on the road, and decided to try music for the first time in my motorcycling career. I wedged the earphones under my cumbersome face mask and plugged in. The iPod sat nicely in my tank bag's map case. Wonderful. So much of the thrill of biking is the immersion in the surroundings, the awareness of the senses to the road. Admittedly, cranking bluegrass and indie rock while blasting down the highway takes away from this, but the combination of great music and open highway sure has its merits. I spent the day alternating between these two experiences.

   I stopped at a filling-station-tackle-shop-gun-store-breakfast-cafe a hundred miles east of Charlotte. I treated myself with a pair of sunglasses (long overdue) and two coffees. The woman at the cafe treated me to a breakfast sandwich. I treated the bike to a full tank of high-octane. Then, I treated myself with a ten minute nap in the sun. I laid against one of the defunct pumps and shut my eyes behind the new sunglasses.

   I was in Charlotte by one. Bozer and his brother, Fratello, lived in Plaza, a bit east of city center. I sputtered down the street honking the horn until I found him. We parked the bike in his backyard and unloaded bags. Fratello and his girl, Bree, came to meet us with freshly popped Yuenglings. I could almost taste the whiskey from the night before, but I braced myself took a swig. I might live to see Arizona, but things were starting to look bad for my liver.

   We caught up on the back porch, talking past parties and other nonsense. More Yuenglings led to more stories led to more Yuenglings. I escaped for a moment to answer a call from some birding organization in Michigan.  A woman on the phone. Wanting me to give a professional reference for one of my volunteers from my Hawk Watch. Despite the overwhelmingly unprofessional state of things, I obliged. The call was a bit of a wake up. Only three days in, but I'd nearly forgotten what I was going to Arizona for in the first place. I made a mental note to brush up on my southwestern bird calls.

   Bozer's girl Cardine came back from her bakery shift and we offed to town for jerk chicken and fried plaintains at Mama's. We hit the Thomas St. Pub for a few furious games of drunken ping-pong before returning to Bozer's. The night degenerated quickly. Cardine's tiny white puppy made off with an unattended glass of Cabernet, leaving a trail of red splotches across the living room floor. The intoxication was comically immediate. The dog fell backwards from the futon, arms and legs flailing against the air. He turned himself and slid down the hallway, back legs skating on invisible ice.

   Cardine's face flushed red and she ran to the computer google wine and dogs. The rest of us took a more laid back approach, and sank deeper into our chairs. It was quickly brought to our attention for dogs (and especially ten-pound white ones) that wine (and especially cheap red wine) was on par with poison. Trouble. Cardine was working herself into a storm, so we cleared out. She got busy inducing doggy vomiting as we filed off down the block.

   We went to Fratello's and watched some movies he'd been in. Bozer and I rejoined Cardine, who'd calmed down a bit. The dog was asleep, but alive. We talked about birds some, and Cardine admitted that she'd saved a small American Goldfinch she'd found dead beneath a window. She pulled out a mason jar, filled to the brim with thick sea salt. We broke the jar and excavated the songbird from the hardened white coffin. The smell reminded me of the quail A and I used to feed to the Aplomado falcons in Texas. I felt a strong and sudden emptiness where she should have been. Cardine pulled the wings and feet from the dead goldfinch, tucking them away for some clandestine purpose, and we went off to sleep.

3.01.2010

Starlings at the Window, or Foolishness Across America, Day Three

   A strange dream last night, one of home and missing motorcycle bolts. I sat with pieces of the dismembered front fork in my hands. Lucky for me, I woke up before I had to put it all back together.

   I woke at River's place, a bit stunned from the whiskey. A pair of starlings came to the window sill as she was preparing for work. Starlings are, of course, like a bullying plague in the bird world, despised for their obnoxiousness and their penchant for usurping nests of "nicer" birds. Not so for River, who had never known a thing about them (let alone their latin name).
 
   "They're so pretty," she whispered, "iridescent and spotty and everything."

   I had to give it to her. The bird suddenly looked marvelous in the morning sunlight. No longer some terrible scourge, or cackling roadside mass, just a pair of beautiful blackbirds waiting for the warmth of the Carolina sun. Like the motorbiking, it seems that even the ordinary things look different from a new perch.

Bridge Wind and Dead Possums, or Foolishness Across America, Day Two

A striking difference a second day can make in the riding. I left Delaware on 301 South and crossed the Preston Memorial bridge onto Hanson Highway. Riding bridges on a motorbike is always a mix of terror and adrenaline. It is perhaps the closest thing to flying: the roadside drops away around you and there is a sudden onrush of powerful wind. It lifts you above the water, where you join the company of the gulls and osprey. The smell of the air and sloshing of the river below are overwhelming and the mind seems to empty out into the breeze. Flight and freedom.

  It is, of course, at this moment that you are surprised by a pile of metal sheets in the roadway just ahead. Bridges, while exhilirating, seem ridden with biker hazards. I swerved to avoid the long metal plates, wedging myself in between them and the neighboring semi. My tires rebounded off the sawtoothed joints in the road and I did my best to stay with the wind, dancing side to side on the footpegs as it gusted.

   I hit DC and decided to stay on 50 and ride through town. Motorcycling mostly liberates one from parking worries, and I pulled up on the sidewalk just in front of the Washington Monument. I checked the bike, the bags, and had a few bites of a two-year old powerbar on the Mall. I felt very far away already, and more sore than I'd planned on. By the time I got to Weasel's apartment, I was flushed with wind and brain-fried. It was paradise to strip away all my cold weather gear and eat a towering plate of hot food. I put down a filet of tilapia, then a mound of green beans, butternut squash and saffron rice. Seconds was sesame fried chicken, paneer palak, masal chole and more saffron rice. On the way out I grabbed a glazed donut, a new york cheese danish, and a cup of earl grey. Heaven, pure and simple.

   We smoked a pipe of good tobacco and talked about everything in the world. In the background, radio reports on the Chilean earthquake competed with the hustle of the Olympic hockey game on TV. I slept hard.

   After bagels and coffee, I was off. I took a route suggested by Weasel and was thankful for it. The road was empty and beautifully winding. I've criss-crossed the country three times by auto, but the days of driving mostly seemed the same, the reward was always the end of the day. Exploration always had to wait until the engine was off.

   Now, I watched Red-tailed Hawks hanging on the wind above me. I spotted high kettles of Black Vultures circling over factory yards where men in forklifts raced in their own small spirals. As on the bridge, these moments, while the lifeblood of motorbiking, threaten the attention a bit. I turned back to roadway to find a red-and-brownwhite hunk of furry dead possum. I was too close and too fast to  swerve, so I stood on the pegs and hit the throttle just before impact to lift the front wheel. The thud was heavy, but in a moment it was gone, the bike never veering once from the impact. I hollered a cheers, said a prayer for Old Dead Possum Pete, and congratulated my bike on it's first obstacle overcome. On and on and on to Raleigh.