Photos First:

Gates Pass, Tucson, AZ

A little friend

To the right, my first Niko Kopelli

Skinny tree to the left

The cuts for a few weeks, experimenting with the dual

Lake Apache

That is Geronamo’s cave, one of the hideouts he’d retreat to after raids.

Incredible landscapes on the Apache Trail

The other night at dinner my grandparents (democrats) and my aunt and uncle (republicans) were discussing the presidential debate. Politics is a topic they normally avoid altogether, deciding instead to keep the peace and agree to disagree. Obamney this, Robama that. Shortly thereafter they began discussing which direction they prefer their toilet paper to unroll, over or under.
I hadn’t really noticed they’d switched topics.
I spent 10 days in Tucson, a few more than I intended, but it was pretty nice having a home base, and I really don’t get to spend much time with my desert family. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon two festivals, the Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival, and the Fall Festival in Patagonia. Now, since I didn’t know they existed, they certainly were unaware of me, which meant I had two choices. I could either make contact with the organizers and inform them of my intentions, or I could crash the festival. Crashing a festival is when you just show up and do your thing, no audition, no permit, no fee. With some acts, it’s easy to do, but if you have a crowd of fifty around you, it’s difficult to stay under the radar.

Crashing a festival is a lot like finding your own place to camp. You’re essentially sneaking around, hoping to succeed in an objective without being detected, and doing your best to increase the odds that if you are caught, you’ll be received well, or at least not punished. When using a found-campsite, I tend to sleep lighter, listening for someone with a flashlight to stumble upon my tent and ask me to leave, though no one has done so yet. I was worried that if got in trouble the first day of the three-day festival, I may be barred from performing the rest of the weekend. This is an example of worse-case scenario thinking, not something I suggest. I spent practically all of Friday at the Tucson Meet Yourself festival just trying to find someone to give me clearance. I was denied, told I’d have to wait until next year. I spoke with another busker, and he informed me that he too missed the application date, but he was allowed in because a few days prior he managed to audition in front of a coordinator named Mia. I set about searching for her, and after four or five hours I was ready to give up. I planned on going home and just crashing it the next day, but as a last ditch effort, I approached two staff members in a golf cart, and asked them if they could direct me to Mia. After I explained my dilemma, the woman riding shotgun introduced herself as the director of the festival, gave me clearance and told me to refer to her if anyone at all gave me trouble, even Mia. I set about working the rest of the weekend, made a nice chunk of change and got some good footage. In retrospect I was just being overcautious, not entirely uncharacteristic of myself. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to beg for permission. The festival was great, and I had a lot of fun. It’s wonderful to be submersed in something different, and the Southwestern culture provided some interesting variations.

On Sunday I went down to Patagonia, a small town an hour or so North of the border, to perform at a Fall festival being held there. It was a quaint town, and the fest was surprisingly active, with rows and rows of vendors. There wasn’t really a centralized area I could set up in, so I found a clearing between vendor tents and did a show. I had a good core of kids there right from the start, and since I was the only busker there the show was nice and intimate, with lots of time to really play with the audience. I felt really good about it. Immediately after I did my finale and finished the show, a guy with a clipboard came up to me briefly and told me I couldn’t be there, I had to perform outside the festival grounds. He turned his back as I took my hat off and collected my $30 something, which is a fair amount for a 12 minute show. Afterwards I was left with the feeling that I’d done something wrong, like I was the bad guy for bringing magic to the small town of Patagonia. I got over it, and went back to Tucson to work the rest of the day at the Meet Yourself fest.

I’m realizing that performing in an unknown location is one of those things in life that you just have to do in order to find out what happens. I am learning to be bolder, braver. I keep my fluorescent orange lion-embroidered riding jacket with me when doing shows, right next to my “Magic Show” sign. I do it as a memory mark for spectators but also as a reminder to myself to be bold, and put myself out there without fear. After playing the role of the cocky jock in a small-town high school, I spent a few years muting my own horn, growing shy and timid in college as I witnessed my comfortable pond grow larger. Comparatively, I made few friends in the dorms at CWU my freshman year. Performing magic was a critical factor in the cracking of my social shell, and recently I took to performing on the streets to magnify this effect. The results have been astounding, and I’m infinitely more personable than I was a few years ago. I’m gradually learning not to be louder, but to be less self-conscious about who hears.

I have the kind of personality that has a pretty wide spectrum of presence, a large range of how much attention I like. Sometimes I’m most comfortable and in the flow of things when I am leading a group of people through an action. “Nicholas” means “Victory of the People”. I get high off crowds gasping, laughing, clapping in unison, and as a Leo, I thrive on attention. I never believed a lick of astrology until someone told me what a Leo was, and once I looked it up I began to see things differently. I chose to pursue performance seriously because it is in my nature to shine when I’m in the spotlight.

But the other half of me is most comfortable in darkness. I’m often a loner, reclusive, and solitary. I spend a lot of time with myself, and maybe it’s just a result of circumstance, but it seems as though more often than not it’s what I prefer. The last year of living in Bellingham, I spent most of my time in my room (aka the Portal). I couldn’t imagine taking this trip with anyone else, and in fact the few times I have grouped up with others part of me has felt as though I’d lost a certain degree of power. Granted, there’s a possibility the reclusiveness is just a chapter of my life, as it’s mostly been a prevalent characteristic since redefining myself. Maybe I just needed some time to decide who this Niko character is. I’ve always been a pretty reserved person, but that’s not how I imagined Niko to be. I am learning not to be shy. It’s an odd thing, considering I make a living working with people, something I’ve done for the last four years or so. Between street performing and spending a few years working at the Cobra Lounge, my human-to-human interfacing skills have grown exponentially. Ahhh, growth. Sweet, uncomfortable, awkward, boundary-stretching growth.

When I got the bike, I was already planning on coming down the coast and making this pit stop in Arizona. I’ll admit it, the first few weeks I was pretty terrified of the machine, primarily because I knew next-to-nothing about motorcycles. The last vehicle I had was a 4Runner, and once it broke down I had a whole summer of pitting myself against metal, striving to understand and sweet talk the beast back into working order. Mechanically disinclined as I was, I felt helpless. A friend helped me rebuild the block, and after piles of cash and buckets of sweat, the truck was up and running for a few weeks before the transmission went out. I sold it to another friend, and didn’t purchase another vehicle for almost four years. Living in Bellingham at the time, I didn’t really need one. Plus, in my little liberal town I was helping to save the world by not driving around my silly lifted truck

In the back of my head was the idea that if I could just make it to Tucson, I’d be able to spend a week or so learning about the bike from my grandfather. He’s owned 70-something bikes, has rode most of his life, and is the only exception I know to the “There’s only two types of riders: Those that have gone down and those that are going down” cliche. As I prepared for the trip, I was very fortunate to be able to call him with questions, asking his opinion and receiving helpful suggestions. He’d owned a KLR at one point himself, and I knew that if I could just make it to Tucson, all my problems would be solved. I just had to make sure I could make it to Tucson. For the two months I had before leaving, I began spending at least part of each day preparing for the trip in some fashion. Gathering gear, plotting my route (which changes daily), working to save funds. But most of that time was put towards getting to know my steed. Researching common problems, taking pieces off and inspecting/cleaning/replacing them, conducting recommended upgrades. In the back of my head remained the notion that Tucson would be my safe haven, my grandfather my savior.

The KLR has taught me a plethora of lessons and a handful of virtues. Patience is one that comes to mind. Out of the long list of things I’ve been taught by motorcycling, I would say the most important has been a shift in my thought patterns. The gears on the left side of my brain have broken free of their seized state and begun turning again. For almost four years, I had been so flustered by the 4Runner experience and so absorbed in exploring my newfound right-brain creativity that my logical, analytical, and methodical traits had recessed, washed away by the music and colors. I was running on imaginative cylinders only. This was all good and fun, as I imagined Niko to be quite the creator, but since the bike has entered my life, I’ve been forced to exercise those withered precision muscles, utilizing long lost methodical modes of thinking. Machines are pretty unforgiving, but if you treat them right, that doesn’t really matter because you’ll rarely need to apologize.

When I first got the bike, it was a complex compilation of question marks. The epiphany occurred when I got in to Tucson. Minus the slight lull in acceleration (the bike had been knocked over in a parking lot in Sedona, flooding the float chamber. Drained it & fixed it right up), the bike was running fine. After almost 5,000 miles, I’d grown attuned to its frequencies, all the sounds of its thousands of revolutions per minute. By the time I got to Tucson I’d already opened the engine case and seen the machines guts. I’d changed fluids, brakes, levers, tires, tubes, fuses. I’d taken the carburetor apart several times. I’d adjusted the suspension, cut off pieces of the bike that didn’t serve me, drilled holes to improve those that did, and installed a partial exoskeleton to mount luggage on.

When I arrived in Tucson, I realized I was no longer riding a complex compilation of question marks. Instead, it had evolved into a simple system of cause and effect, a tempered microcosm of steel, aluminum, and rubber. Metal, wires, fluids and tubes. Though far from a master mechanic, I comprehend most of its systems. I’ve learned much on the road, but the majority of my knowledge was crammed in prior to departing. I knew I needed to know more about my machine to ensure I made it to where I thought I needed to be in order to learn more about my machine. But by preparing to leave, I had already arrived. I knew I needed to learn, but what I had overlooked was that all I had to do was just get my hands dirty and do it.

My grandfather has helped me with a lot since I’ve been here, but the relationship between me and my machine is not his responsibility. In Washington I was expecting him to dispel my worry, cure my uncertainty, solve my problems. If he had then I would be much less complete than I am now. I am a magician. My hands are important, and I keep them pretty well groomed. But I’m growing quite proud of the grease and grit under my fingernails. Throughout this whole trip, it has never completely gone away. It has become a part of me, and like lipstick on a collar it is proof of my intimacy. As infants it is our natural instinct to look to others for aid, and it is in our DNA to help our fellow humans when we can. These touchy tendencies can obscure a fundamental fact about the human experience.

Life is D.I.Y.

I’d like to end this post with a short digression into an area I rarely tread.

I have a close relationship with deception. I appreciate a good illusion. One method of deception is to provide the illusion of choice. I almost completely abstain from any involvement in mainstream American politics, because I don’t believe in what’s presented to us. . Though not one myself, the question “Chicken or beef?” has a different meaning when presented to a vegetarian. Romney is clearly a poor choice, and though I like Obama’s charisma, good cop/bad cop is meaningless without justice. Another tactic in creating an illusion is to cover a smaller movement with a larger movement. For example, if I don’t want you to see what my pinky is doing, I’ll move my whole arm. Or, if I wanted to take another bite out of your constitutional rights and pass a bill that “legally” allows the military to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without trial, I’d do so on New Years Eve while everyone is busy toasting.

I (like to believe I) know a good illusion when I see one, and if you haven’t already realized then I’m sorry to ruin it for you, but American politricks are nothing more than an expensive reality show. Anyone that took a debate class in high school can tell you the presidential candidates act more like guests on Maury than professional debaters. It does, however, make for very good television.

If you really want change, you’ll have to get your hands dirty.

Yesterday I took the ride of my life on the Apache trail. Today, Sedona, and on to the Santa Fe, NM farmers market on Saturday.

Thanks for reading =)

Pz, <3, & =),