Write of Passage

“When riding the city streets, remember that you are in the statistically proven most dangerous place on earth. You are on an open plain of concrete, lurching around like a steel elephant, with hunters coming at you from the front, back, and both sides, all intent on making messy spots out of you. Remember that you’re less visible than other animals on the plain, and that you are less important to most of those other than their fellow beasts. Remember that you are are quick set of reflexes — yourself — coupled to a slow response — your mount. Think of yourself as a fat man at a dance and strive to be graceful.

—From “The Complete Motorcycle Nomad” by Roger Lovin

Why am I taking this trip?

It is a rite of passage of my own creation. I knew from the intense dream I had that I would be a motorcyclist. I knew that my path as a performer ran through New Orleans. Over the summer I found the bike I was looking for at a good price, which meant I had to get it to New Orleans somehow. I had been brainstorming the idea of a self-contained character, a traveling entertainer that packed light but played big. The motorcycle seemed to be the main missing puzzle piece, and I had no choice but to fill in the blanks.

What I’m doing is dangerous. The fact that I’m doing it alone is borderline foolish. But it is a unique feeling to be miles away from anyone, with no cell service and nothing but the sounds of nature around you. Doing something like this takes courage. A lot of it. I have the lion on the back of my jacket to serve as a reminder to myself that what I do (on and off) the road requires strength and confidence. While I am still relatively young, I want experiences like what I’m currently undergoing to be a part of my character makeup. By the time I make it back to Washington, I will have a trophy of an experience, a memory that will encourage me for the rest of my life.

I wear bright orange because I spend most of my time in the statistically most dangerous place on the planet (next to an active war zone). When on or off the road, my livelihood depends on how much attention I receive. Last week the rain forced me to stop at a gas station on the ride between Clearwater and Jacksonville. I was immediately approached by an older man, and we got to talking about the trip. This kind of attention is fairly regular; when someone sees my steed loaded to the teeth and bearing a Washington state license plate, I am immediately identified as an adventurer. The gentleman explained that he was a retired motorcycle cop, and that taking a tour like mine had always been a dream of his. He proceeded to warn me at length about the drivers in Florida, many of them being elderly folks that like to text while driving. He said he’d been called to at least 60 motorcyclist accidents in his career, none of them pretty. I thanked him for the advice, and we said good bye as a few more bikers pulled into the gas station.

The six of us got to talking, mostly about me, my steed, and my tour. We chatted for fifteen minutes before one of them pointed out the “Magician on a Motorcycle” stickers on my KLR, and I began producing coins out of the air. As rain poured and lightening struck, I entertained the most unlikely group of men and women under a gas station awning on a back country road in Florida. I brought the routine to a conclusion, and said “Yep, for the last year I’ve made my living traveling the country and entertaining strangers”. The alpha male of one group pulled a $20 bill out and handed it to me with a contagious smile on his face, to which I was not immune.

I’ve been caught in the rain more in the last week than I have in the entire 11 months I’ve rode. I’m glad I recently caught a flight to Washington and performed in the rain, because I now think of the rain differently. I’ve always believed that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. After being misinformed a dozen times by the Weather Channel, I now spend less time looking at the radar and more time looking at the sky, paying attention to the wind and the coloration of the clouds.

A few nights ago I was ending my days’ ride just outside Savannah, GA, and began looking at the map for a place to camp. Nearby was a place called “Jekyll Island”, which sounded pretty sweet. I rode out and across a bridge, only to find a ritzy, almost-private island, with a $6 “parking fee” just to get to it. I was considering camping at the maintained campground on the island, but the fact I had to pay just to get there was annoying enough for me to want to sneak around and stealth-camp. The place was over-dressed, with a convention center and a handful of trees with lights at the base of their trunks. This is the sort’ve thing that had me fleeing Florida early.

I found a side street with a gated fire-access road. I rallied around the gate, and took the gravel road for a mile or two before coming across a landfill. I pulled up behind a giant container, but decided it wasn’t enough cover for me to feel comfortable. Walking to a nearby copse, I saw that once you pushed through the brush it opened up into a decent canopied space. I remounted the bike, and rode it through the wall of green into my new found-camp. I set up the tent and bedding and strummed my uke for a bit before falling asleep to the sounds of rain.

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I slept through my alarm, and didn’t get packed up until 7:30 or so. I set up my camera to capture me bashing back through the bushes, rode out to the gravel road, and ran back to grab the camera. As I returned to the bike, a white maintenance truck came rolling around the bend with two men inside.

“Sh*t!”

They pull up to me, eyebrows raised and mouths slightly open, shocked to see me in my fluorescent orange gear with loaded bike back there on a maintenance road in their private oasis. I climb back on the running bike and seriously considered gunnin’ and runnin’ it, but instead I rode right up to them and asked “Is it this way?”, pointing the opposite direction I came from. The driver looked at me for a moment before slowly pointing a thumb over his shoulder the other way. “Thank ya sir” I replied, and rode off before they had the opportunity to break the stunned silence. I laughed out loud as the stationary truck faded out of sight.

 

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I am taking this trip to put myself in the types of situations where I must think for myself, and do so quickly. I am thousands of miles out of my comfort zone in order to shape a character that looks not to a cell phone for answer, but to the sky. I seek to know myself and my capabilities by having tested them first hand.

I am here to ride a story. And have fun =)

I’m applying for my Savannah street performing permit today, which takes five days too long to clear. It’ll be waiting for me when/if I return. I intend to be sharing dinner with my younger brother in Atlanta before nightfall.