I feel like I should be completely honest, right from the start, so we’ll begin this with a confession: I’m terrified, deep down inside, that this whole thing is going to fall apart somewhere in the middle through no fault but my own.
I know I’m in no way the first to do anything like this. Hell, George Wyman crossed the country on a motorcycle in 1903. It’s even been done alongside blogs, video and audio diaries. I was partially inspired by Ben Lee’s 59parks.com (discovered through Petros Jordan’s wonderful blog). There is a plethora of information online about making a journey such as the one I have envisioned. Any number of motorcycle–oriented websites and forums can give lists of tips, advice from people who have succeeded in cross–country trips and warnings from those who failed.
Even within my social circle there are people with experience being on the road for extended periods of time. Just because the experience didn’t come straddling a motorcycle doesn’t mean it can’t apply to my plans. There are friends of friends who have hiked large portions of the Appalachian Trail, arguably the backpacker’s parallel to what I want to do. Their advice is invaluable even though their journey didn’t involve a motor. [Edit: I discovered, the day after writing this, that one of my childhood friends has a bicycle travel blog, which you can visit here.]
The question of why naturally arises. Why travel across the country—crisscross, really—on a 40 year old motorcycle? Oddly enough I have trouble answering the question in complete sentences (the phrase, “because…duh,” comes to mind). Even now, asking myself “why” in my own head I’m finding half answers. Highway 1 in California…Death Valley…Blue Star Memorial Highway…Small farming towns in the Midwest…The bike I’ve always wanted…
But what kid hasn’t imagined the day when they can hop behind the wheel of a car and peel off into the sunset, into the unknown world beyond the horizon of their hometown? It’s almost a sub-genre of the American dream. The Teenaged Dream.
It’s an opportunity not nearly enough people are able to experience. My parents, my friends, my coworkers, they all agree the trip would be incredible and would love to embark on a similar one of their own. Maybe some would take a car. Maybe they’d fly. Maybe they’d pick a different country or stay in hotels rather than camping. But the concept of exploratory travel is there, in their minds, waiting to be sated.
So there’s this romance to it. A vision of a life on the road, on my ideal motorcycle, that it will be an immensely rewarding and pleasurable experience. That the problems and hardships I face (and, of course, overcome) will leave me with a level of self–satisfaction and esteem I can’t get from any amount of working for money, education or any of the opportunities presented to me at home. The romance is what inspires the trip.
But there’s science to it, as well. A necessary science I’m trying to attune myself to more and more each day. When I travel and what the weather will be. How reliable my motorcycle is. How much food do I carry with me? How much money will I need for gas, for lodging? The science is what drives the trip, what prepares me for it.
I’m trying to keep my head level, while still allowing myself to dream. I want to overload my expectations now. Add as many sights and stops and days and months to the trip as I can, racking up the expected expenses as high as possible and then, knowing it would come to this, whittle them down to a manageable itinerary. Perhaps this is a bad process, but at this point, this very infantile stage, I can’t keep myself from imagining up ways to make the trip more incredible.
And I know there are formidable issues before me: not the least of which are my lack of financial discipline (just earlier this week I returned from a trip to California which drained both my checking and savings accounts to less than ten dollars each), a habitual refusal to stick it out when the going gets particularly unpleasant (too cold or too wet), and a stubborn streak which keeps me from admitting my own lack of knowledge in fixing mechanical problems (resulting in half–fixed problems).
This blog, this little space on the internet with an odd name, is my attempt to prepare myself for this trip and with any luck to help inspire others to make a similar journey of their own. Maybe I’ll add something to the collection of stories, advice and encouragement already present online. Maybe not. Maybe the only person who will benefit from this blog will be the author and I’m okay with that.
A bit selfish, maybe?
I’m hoping I can get anyone who may wander in swept up in the romanticism of my trip while encouraging them to take the time and effort needed to execute the science of it. That someone will stumble upon this blog and see that all it really took was a plan. And they’ll open a notebook and write a list of places they want to see, find them on a map and start their own planning process. I hope they will see, as I will surely learn, that there will be days, weeks, maybe even months when the goal seems almost impossible, but that with time and planning any obstacle can be surmounted.
This is not a journey I want to make alone. I have friends who want to ride legs of the trip with me. I hope to make new friends along the way. I’ll join motorcycle forums to connect with riders in my area first, and later with riders across the country. I want to hear from readers interested in sharing a ride down their favorite roads, willing to show me what they love about their spot in the country.
The trip and what it means to pursue a dream such as this does not stand as a lone pillar in my mind. It is connected to my other aspirations. To my goals, both short and long term. To my political and social identities. To my ideas about work and play and life.
This trip, and the preparation for it, is as much an exploration of my beliefs and who I want to be as it is of the world around me. It’s important to test one’s beliefs against the harshest realities of the world and I hope to do just that. I will be sharing those beliefs with my potential readers at a later point, but to be honest about what I see and what I feel is my highest goal.
Soon, and later—but hopefully mostly sooner—this blog will grow. I’ll have pictures of my motorcycle, a separate page dedicated to the progress of restoring and upgrading it. A page dedicated to my physical and mental progress in preparing myself for the journey. A page dedicated to finding and testing the best equipment. A page dedicated to organizing a route through this massive country I want to explore.
These pieces will come in time, each at a different pace than the others, both on this blog and in the planning process. The route will come close to the end, but could impact some of the equipment choices. The motorcycle will take the most time and the most money to prepare, but my mind has to be focused to ensure the time and money needed is always available. My body will need to adapt, and so conditioning is a must.
Practice trips will be invaluable and I’ll chronicle them in detail as they excite me to new possibilities and expose flaws in my thinking. They will break my spirits and possibly my motorcycle. They’ll test my ability to think straight in rotten conditions. I’ll come back from weekend trips wishing I could have stayed a week. I’ll return home knowing everything has been worth it.
Some posts, such as this one, will seem disjointed. Scattered. A hodgepodge of ideas and hopes and setbacks and accomplishments. Some will be short. Some long. Some will focus entirely on one aspect of the trip which is occupying the lion’s share of my mental capacities.
I’m not weaving an eloquently conceived story of a man destined to achieve his goals; rather I am grasping to keep myself organized and focused in the years ahead.
Lists will appear. And they’ll be updated—often slowly. Ideas will be floated one day and then wither in obscurity for months and months. Some may never be refreshed. But visualizing goals helps me. Talking about concepts allows me to reflect on their failings. I will be providing an inside view to the lists, flow charts, and sketches on scrap paper I use in my attempts to organize my thoughts.
In that spirit, I will round out this inaugural entry with two lists. The first is a list of everything that came with the motorcycle. The second a list of big goals: the things I know I need to accomplish before I can begin my trip.
For about $3800, I sold my soul to a bank for:
- The bike: a beautiful 1976 BMW R75/6 (brown, in case you were wondering).
- A helmet, which was too big for me.
- Clymer repair manual.
- A large stack of Airheads Club monthly magazines.
- An Airheads Club member directory from 2010.
- A 6v/12v motorcycle battery charger. Very handy.
- Two white Krauser® hard saddlebags. A bit dirty but in great shape otherwise.
- A folder with the past several years’ worth of maintenance receipts and email exchanges with Airheads Club members regarding do–it–yourself repairs.
Things required to make this trip happen:
- Tune the motorcycle up
- Learn the ins and outs of the bike
- Acquire tools which will comprise a set that can be carried with me on the trip—this set should be able to repair anything wrong with the bike
- Triage on the bike; engine, body, peripherals
- Fix any problems discovered during triage
- Get peripherals: bags, cover, fairings, etc
- Condition myself physically for the strains of the journey: diet, strength, fatigue, etc
- Condition myself mentally for the challenges of the trip (still not entirely sure how I’ll do this)
- Decide what to do with many of my possessions (keep them, sell them, or donate them)
- Figure out what equipment I’ll need and how to get it, then get it