Subject: Wanderlust 17 - Wander Last
Date: Mon, 30 Jun 1997 18:42:32 -0700
Wanderlust 17 - Wander Last
Ozona, Texas - Blythe, California - San Francisco, California
There is illness at home. I have decided to end the wander. Although it pains me to do so, it is only because the world of normal reality is grasping at me with the gravity of its closeness. We all know "it" must end sometime. Better to choose.
"Your travel life has the essence of a dream. It is something outside
the normal, yet you are in it. It is peopled with characters you have never
seen before and in all probability will never see again. It brings occasional
homesickness, and loneliness, and pangs of longing ... But you are like
the Vikings who have gone into a world of adventure, and home is not home
until you return."
- Agatha Christie, English writer, 1890-1976
Unfortunately, I am fortuitously close to the Eisenhower Interstate System - the blessing and bane of American travel. Are you aware the network of highways is named for Dwight not because he was President, but because it was his vision to build them for military transport. It is said that while he was a young officer, he was sent on a road convoy trip across the country. It took months. He saw the need for more direct routes linking major population centers by limited access roads to maintain speed. When he came to political power, he pursued that goal. (Necessary cynical commentary: To say nothing of the good it brought to construction and real estate interests, of course. :) The good news is the I-system worked well beyond what anyone could have guessed, becoming almost a modern day equivalent of the transcontinental railroad (see how my stories run in circles?). The bad news is that in order to be consistent, they roads must be consistent - ad hypnotism if not ad nauseam. There may be one or two stretches of Interstate somewhere marked "scenic" but you'll never find one marked "motorcycle". And so I became one of the ants in the parallel streams of flow across a never varying path to the nest.
According to Map'n'Go it is 1,692 miles to my house. Easy two days for a trained long distance rider. But nonetheless, this is going to be a completely different mindset of travel. Yes, some more stamina will be called for, but it will be a greater mental fight against boredom. You want to really get to know yourself? Point a motorcycle down Interstate-xx and don't get off for a day. This form of motorcycle travel isn't for everyone - some are too uncomfortable to be alone with themself for that long.
Just admitting the pull of gravity made it stronger. So I set out from the rally after the evening awards ceremony. Three hours could get me 200 miles closer. It's just time and distance now.
Fredericksburg US290 I10 Ozona
FuelPlus statistics: 183 miles, 3:25 engine run, 54 mph average
The waning light of nightfall kept most of the visual pleasures of the hill county hidden. That's too bad because this is one of the few areas where the raised level of the highway lets you see the rolling expanse of the land. This morning I would begin the focus-wrenching flats of the west Texas plains. It can almost hurt the eyes to gaze on the vast spaces without concentrating on a visual object. It feels like your eyes disconnect and want to move in different directions, like a fish. Or perhaps it is because the mind is swimming in a sea of uncertainty ... is there really an end to this emptiness? Our European friends, and many of those from the Eastern US megalopolis, can't imagine the distances I am talking about. You can see for 50 miles, often more, and see nothing above the height of your shoulder - just scrub oak or mesquite. No buildings. No people. Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles. It strains credulity to mentally contrast this with the cheek-on-jowl terrain of the inner city.
"This world is only tolerable because of the empty places in it - millions
of people all crowded together, fighting and struggling, but behind them,
somewhere, enormous empty places. I tell you what I think," he said, "when
the world's filled up, we'll have to get hold of a star. Any star. Venus,
or Mars. Get hold of it and leave it empty. Man needs an empty space somewhere
for his spirit to rest in."
- Doris Lessing, British novelist
Back to the concept of being alone. During the rally I attended a panel discussion by and about Women Who Ride, represented by some of the female luminaries in our endeavor. Beyond the physical demands of riding, women also have to be prepared to handle a segment of the sport which is not a common element for females in our general society. A frequently incredulous question asked of the lady long riders at a rest stop is "Are you doing this ALL BY YOURSELF!?" The implication is not always that they can't do it, but often that they _would_want_ to do it. Again, it can be frightening to know that the only voice you will hear for the next so many hours is - the one (or ones :) in your head. You may be only a few feet away from other people, but they are encapsulated in their cages while you are literally out of touch in the elements that touch you deeply.
Some, like me, are drawn to the intentional isolation. While the Interstate road is no fun, the mental exercises are like spending a day in the attic looking through boxes of memories you haven't opened in years. None of the mess has to be clean out ... but it sometimes helps to rearrange the piles. Occasionally, like in the attic, you drop something heavy.
One thing I resurrected out of an old memory box is the dirt between the plants. Growing up in the Northeast, where the ground vegetation is like a blanket, it never occurred to me that groundcover would be different elsewhere. I first visited the Southwest when I was 7 years old. I remember being stunned that there could be just dirt between the plants, and them being maybe 5 feet or more apart. No grass. No weeds. How different than 'normal'. My observations of the land started early.
As I approached the cities in the Southwest, I again felt the sense of emptiness. 50 miles out of Phoenix you see nothing but open desert. How different from San Francisco, where 50 miles south is the larger city of San Jose. How more different from Los Angeles, where 50 miles out - you are already "in" LA.
Hour after hour, the miles droned by. When you have to do an impossible task, it is best to break it into possible pieces. El Paso, the New Mexico border, 365 miles. A 'short' hop to the Arizona border, 165 miles. Only 395 miles to California. Except ... this is through the increasingly arid desert. It may be a tribute to the tenacity of man to make the uninhabitable merely inhospitable. Except ... on a motorcycle it is intolerable.
It was a relatively mild 106F 41C in Phoenix. In the shade. In the deserts south of Phoenix it was hotter. In the sun. This is not a time to play test-of-strength. The Camelback was a life saver. Between gas stops I would drink the entire 2 liters of water, then down another liter of fluids at a stop - and barely have a few drops to urinate. That is a danger signal, and I knew it. At each stop my vocal cords would be so dry it was difficult to form sounds. Drenching my clothes with water before starting out would give me an hour or so of evaporative cooling - then the drying sweat would crust the fabric like over-starched laundry. I've ridden in hot weather before, but this was one of the toughest days I can remember. Although, you know, once you commit yourself to a course of action, the mind can make the body do things you know it shouldn't try.
Yet, the mind is resilient and adaptive when necessary. As the day wore on I saw fewer and fewer BMWs returning from the rally. Either they were getting home before me or I was outpacing them. One other man on exactly the same model bike as mine passed me 3 times. He would ride faster, then stop sooner. I was gauging my speed for maximum time-distance-mpg performance. The last time I saw him he was stopped under a bridge. Instantly alert to his condition or need for help, I saw him rubbing his arms - probably putting on sun lotion. Approaching at speed with the engine coasting, I gave him a thumbs-up then thumbs-down then open-hand. There is no 'official' motorcycle sign language, but he saw and understood. He gave thumbs-up and I re-engaged cruising speed.
I crossed two time zone boundaries, and reached the Golden State in the "cooling" darkness. Stand at the edge of the motel parking lot and hold your hands waist high, one over the dirt, one over the pavement. Feel the thermal difference. Now a mild 95F 35C.
The shortness of today's route speaks loudly against the stats:
Ozona I10 Blythe
FuelPlus statistics: 925 miles, 13:36 engine run, 68 mph average
My last day on the road is not my last day of wanderlust. Even if this trip had not been shortened, I don't think my lust would be sated. The goals never set were achieved, yet the objective remains - to ride. To travel is to seek. I sought to travel.
" ... I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's
sake. The great affair is to move."
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish writer, 1850-1894
There will be other trips. I hope I can enjoy them as much. They may not be as grand an adventure, but they need not be less of a celebration of motorcycling. To the many of you who know what I mean, take the time to be one with your machine. Even a weekend trip or a day ride to nowhere can bring surprising rewards just waiting to be enjoyed.
"After all, the grand tour is just the inspired man's way of heading
- Paul Theroux, American writer
This has been a set of amazing contrasts and unpredictable opportunities. I feel fortunate to have seen and met and been. I set no records and discovered nothing that was not already there. My wonder is at being part of it all ... to say nothing of having just circumnavigated the United States from (Pacific) coast to (Atlantic) coast to (Gulf) coast to (Pacific) coast and not ridden in rain *once* while traveling! Take THAT, Jon Diaz!
The time of my story is over. Sweetness and sorrow await. As I finish
the course of the city streets, I see the familiar and foreign sights mixed
into the ongoing images of life. I am no longer a traveler, I am now a
local. My ride could have been around the block and the man on the corner
would not know the difference. Of course I am different for it, yet I am
Or am I?
"A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns
home to find it."
- George Moore, Irish novelist
Blythe I10 I5 I580 San Francisco
FuelPlus statistics: 596 miles, 9:56 engine run, 60 mph average
Total trip 9,012 miles. The ride is the reason.
Thank you for reading/riding/reasoning with me.
Sam Lepore, San Francisco