One Trail

Total Distance: 989mi
I left San Francisco around 1, and made it to the edge of Yosemite well before nightfall. I’m starting to get the hang of putting in longer days in the saddle. The first two camp sites I had intended on staying at were closed, and I came around to checking out a thousand Trails spot. The attendant told me it would cost $55 dollars for a primitive site. Yep. The better half of a hundred dollars for a one-night rental of a 6’x8′ piece of land. Welcome to the land of the free. There was no way I could bring myself to do that, and it was getting dark quick. I floated around for a while before finding a spot where the edge of the road dropped off with a medium grade, out of sight from the road. I unloaded the gear, and carefully slid the bike down the dirt decline and leaned it up against a tree. The main reason I wanted a camp site was for the food lockers. This is bear country, and they’re more curious now than they’ve ever been. Of course, I had just gone grocery shopping before heading off into the wilderness. I’ve been improving at distinguishing the size of whatever it is going bump in the night around me, and though there weren’t any times I was necessarily fearing for my life, there was definitely something making a pretty audible sniffing noise. I rose before the sun, broke down camp, wrestled the bike around and rallied victoriously up the hill. I’m learning to take advantage of my situation, remembering that I chose an on-road/off-road bike for a reason.I had two months of riding experience before leaving for a 4,000 mile trip. That’s risky. Doing it alone? Dangerous. However, even when I’m miles off in the woods, I very rarely feel like I’m alone.

One of the reasons I embarked on this trip to see what I’d do when I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes the prospect of finding a place to call home under the pressure of darkness falling isn’t exactly what I think I want. When I lay my head to rest, not once have I known where I would be doing so the next night. However, in the morning I am proud of myself for making it happen. I didn’t embark on this trip looking for answers. I’m looking for questions.

One of the answers that has found me is community. No matter where I go, Northwest to Southeast, I have felt like I’m a part of something. With a bike loaded for touring, it’s pretty clear that you’re on an adventure. People like adventure. I get approached much more frequently with the bike loaded (the tree helps too). I’m asked what I’m doing, where I’m going, where I’m coming from. After telling them a little about myself, I usually get a good story about motorcycles, magicians, or  one of my destinations. Then I’m wished safe travels, and sent off with a strangers blessings. I can tell people are pleased to see what I’m doing, and this makes me happy.

Motorcyclists wave at each other. If I’m traveling, each day I’m guaranteed to be waved at at least a handful of times. It’s a pretty small thing, but it makes me feel good. When you’re staying in a camp ground, you’re automatically admitted to a community. When you drive by someone’s site, often times they’ll wave at you. You acknowledge each other if you pass one another at the facilities. You are a part of something.

San Francisco was the first time I ever really stayed in a hostel. The first night the place was full of loud preteens that were a part of a Christian Science getaway. ‘Nuff said. The second night, however, was really something special. As I pulled up from my day of scorching in traffic downtown, I happened upon a huge group of children and parents, all with red bandana neckties, assembled on the steps of the hostel. They were preparing for a photo, which I was asked to take for them. My arrival in my crazy orange suit must’ve made an impression, because as I took the groups’ photo, half the children spontaneously shouted “motorcycle” instead of “cheese”. A smiling older woman I took to be the leader said “You’re going to get to know us very well over the next 24 hours!”. At first I thought it was another religious outing, and that I was going to have to share a room with five excitable, semi-brainwashed little kids. Great.

It turned out to be a second grade class. “Mrs. C”, the kind teacher that asked me to take the photo, had arranged an overnight field trip exploring parts of the city, and chose to stay in a youth hostel. Did you ever get to do anything so cool in second grade? When I returned from grocery shopping, I watched how well organized the class was, how skillfully Mrs. C managed twenty-something seven year olds. She spoke quietly, and by the way they listened I could tell the children respected her. I could tell she was a great teacher.
They shared their dinner with me, and afterwards the parents did comedic skits while I sat in a corner armchair and  loaded videos from my camera to my computer. It was great seeing the parents get so involved, seeing how much fun the kids were having, knowing none of this was a required component of some state-imposed curriculum. I tried unsuccessfully to imagine something like what I was witnessing happening in my second grade life. It was really special, and I decided I wanted to be a part of it.

Early in my magic career, I’d been ripped to shreds by kids on a few separate occasions. Short attention spans, minimal inhibitions, relentless straightforwardness. Twice I’d been hired to do children’s’ parties, and both times I felt like I hadn’t earned what I was paid. Most of my performance experience involved college kids and young adults. With children it’s a completely different game. When I started street performing, it opened me up to a broader range,and I began to see how important it was to be able to connect with children. It’s something I wanted to get better at.

So I pulled a parent aside and asked them if I could do a magic show for them. I had plenty of leftover magic in me from the half-day earlier on the street, and seeing the group activities melted my frustrations of spending the day in traffic instead of performing. The kids finished their cocoa, and after being read a story by one of the parents, Mrs. C sat them down on the floor of the commons and began speaking very gently, doing a short relaxation/breathing exercise with them (They’re in second grade! Can you imagine encountering something so progressive in your youth?).

I then stood up from my seat in the corner and launched into a modified version of my show. I tried to adapt the themes and lines to the audience, and I found new moments/nuances within the show that hit harder with kids than with regular street-crowds. I had only one trouble child, and as I felt my way around gently but firmly taking control of the situation, I could see myself growing. The show went well, and I came away from it with a new outlook on performing for groups of children.
I retired to my room for a while after the show, and when I came back out Mrs. C informed me that my hostel fare for the night was being paid for by the group. I couldn’t believe it, since the performance was something I wanted to do, something I volunteered for, and I wasn’t expecting any compensation. The next day the children would not leave me alone, shouting “motorcycle magic man!” every time they saw me. As I prepared to leave I had to go on autopilot, asking the group crowded around me simple questions to keep them preoccupied while I  loaded the bike. One of them asked for a signature, which led to me giving away half a deck worth of signed cards. Two parents came up to me and tipped me generously, another very unexpected surprise.
Spectators don’t distinguish between you, your effects, and how you make them feel. I don’t think most of those kids will remember my name. I don’t think they’ll remember my tricks. I’m pretty certain they’ll remember how they felt though. “Motorcycle magic man”. By the time we left the hostel, I felt like I was a part of that class. The kids, Mrs. C, the parents, they all treated me so well, included me in their group. Magic is really what has brought me out of my introverted shell, and being so readily accepted by strangers has provided me some great affirmation.

Almost four years ago, an incident led to me suddenly becoming acutely aware of my creativity muscles. This was the birth of me as an artist, the beginning of Niko. Since then, I’ve dipped my fingers in an unreasonable amount of forms of expression. Some I experimented with, most I still practice to some degree or another. Music via several instruments, dance, art, slam poetry, magic, and more. After a year or two I realized I had my hands full. I was a jack of all trades, and a master of none. I needed to focus on one of these outlets. I chose magic. It’s different. It’s the only one I did before I became Niko. The main reason though was its permeability. It’s tough to pull a harmonica out in a bar. It’s tough to do a slam poetry piece in a park. Magic was the one form of expression I could do almost anywhere. It’s also what allowed me to connect with the broadest range of humans.

Mrs. C was right. By the end of the 24 hours, I definitely had gotten to know the group pretty well. I feel blessed to have had the privilege.

A lot has happened since leaving San Francisco, but I’ll end this post here and save the rest for later. As I teaser I can tell you I’ve broke 4,000 miles on the machine in 100 days I’ve owned it, climbed 10,000ft in the Sierras, and had my front tire go flat at 75mph.

It’s been a trip. It’s Wednesday night and I’m in a hotel in Ridgecrest, CA. I plan on getting my tire fixed in the AM, & making it to Phoenix in time to perform at a street fair on Friday. Two long days of riding await me, and I can’t wait.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure =)

Just outside Yosemite. As the woman took my photo I realized it was the first one since departing WA that I was actually in.