“Ya know, there’s only two types of riders — those that have gone down, and those that are going down.”
Those were the first words out of my stepfathers mouth when I told him I bought a motorcycle.
This weekend I once again I found myself with a storm between me and the next destination. Since leaving New Orleans, the first two weeks of the trip I stayed in a motel 6 several times, which was impractical and a result of a slow readjustment to returning to the life of a traveler. The pads of my feet were still soft, my back well acclimated to my king sized mattress. My stealth camping skills were rusty, and I had a decent financial buffer, so $30 here and there for a motel wasn’t that big of a deal. Once I got out of the highly-populated areas, I began doing more and more stealth camping, avoiding even maintained campsites, because in Florida a lot of them were damn near the price of a motel 6. Plus it was a lot more adventurous finding my own place to stay.
Adventure. It’s a funny thing.
Let’s backtrack a tad. Friday night I worked the Hot Summer Nights festival in the Ozark Lake area, and it was a great example of the surprises adventuring can provide. I was planning on making it to Kansas City that day to work throughout the entire weekend, but I’d flipped through a local newspaper and saw that there was going to be a car/motorcycle show. I opted for the small-town crowd, instead of the days’ ride and a big city crowd. The event only happened five times a year, and the vehicle turnout ended up being much bigger than I had anticipated. It took place along the touristy part of town, the Bagnell Dam strip. I walked up and down it once, scouting locations and keeping an eye out for a coordinator. I spoke with lovely face-painter named Merry Mary, & she told me that one of the gentleman doing the announcing was a coordinator. All the shops and cars had their radios tuned to the local station that was broadcasting live from the event, so I located the announcers’ table and waited for a break in their banter. My eyes met with a gentleman behind a table full of T-shirts, and he flagged me over. He asked if I was the Magician on a Motorcycle, and revealed himself to also be a coordinator of the Hot Summer Nights. He gave me his good graces to perform, and I set about doing shows (and even got introduced over the radio).
I want to muse for a moment over subtle communication techniques. An hour before I left New Orleans in May, a friend of my fathers’ let me use his custom-sticker machine to print up a hundred “www.magicianonamotorcycle.com” stickers. I knew from the SEA2NO tour that the loaded bike would draw attention just about anywhere it went, and I wanted to streamline that into the topic of magic. A handful of conversations have begun because of these 3″ x 5″ little pieces of paper. A few times, I’ve been in a grocery store in a tiny town somewhere, and someone that saw the bike outside would walk past me in the produce isle and say “You must be the Magician on a Motorcycle”. Ya think it’s the mohawk, or the bright orange shirt? Regardless, I want people to know what I’m doing, and though the stickers aren’t fantastic, they’ve definitely done their job so far.
In the map-pouch of my tank bag, I have my notebook with a sticker on it, in front of the only book I brought, “The Complete Motorcycle Nomad”. From that one lap up and down the Bagnell Dam strip, I could sense that at least a few dozen people had read the small sticker on my back. Sticking out the way I naturally do, once people realize that I’m a magician, it all starts to make sense, and the “Look at this weirdo” turns into curiosity. Jeff, the gentleman behind the t-shirt table, happened to notice me sticking out and saw the stickers, which streamlined into me receiving permission to share my art.
It’s been such a valuable experience learning how to adapt the show to different locations and audiences. I want to be able to work anywhere, and by exposing myself to new venues, I’ve been forced to learn new skills. It would be impossible for me to grow like this if I was staying in one place. I’m striving to create circumstances that give me no option but to experiment and develop. Put into evolutionary terms, this trip is about jumping off enough ledges until I eventually grow a sturdy set of wings.
I met a tattoo artist named Colby while I was performing, and we ended up getting a drink as the event wound down. After hanging out for an hour or so, he offered to let me crash at his place, becoming the first complete stranger to house me during my travels. He shared an apartment with his girlfriend, and the three of us ended up chatting into the wee hours. The longer I’m on the road, the more I’m realizing that although it’s magic and movement directed, the common denominator of the tour (and of life in general) is the people. I chose Psychology as my main focus in college because humans are really what make the world go ’round (or so we think).
Having spent some time himself train hopping and hitch hiking, Colby took a liking to me because I too was a traveler. But just covering ground and seeing sights is no where near the extent of the experience. Being exposed to different cultures and lifestyles has been so rewarding and such an incredible learning experience that now I seek it as much as I do performance locations, new sights, and shelter. I slept wonderfully in their comfortable guest bedroom, and dreamt for the first time in weeks.
I left Ozark Lake Saturday morning after being fed breakfast by my generous impromptu hosts, and headed towards Kansas City. I made it 60 miles down the road, stopped in a coffee shop to get some of this post out, and to check on the shelter-seeds I’d sent out via faceboook and Couchsurfing. I was hesitant about heading into Kansas City without any sure footing, since i didn’t want to go into the city and then have to backtrack out of it to find a camping spot. Reflecting on it, it’s silly for me to worry about where I’ll sleep that night (which might sound like a silly thing NOT to worry about). What I’m remembering about throwing oneself into the winds, is that once you fully let go of the river banks and go with the flow, you are ALWAYS taken where you need to be. But the Unknown demands your full belief, your full faith in the uncertain; it will not work if parts of you cling to what’s shore. In regards to that notion of trusting your timing, the book “The Celestine Prophecy” was a big inspiration, and I highly recommend it.
I stopped again in Warrensburg, MO to check the map, check the weather, and check Motel 6’s on the outskirts of KC. There was a gnarly storm on the way, but it looked like I had an hour or so before it hit. The Weather Channel said it would be a severe storm with slight tornado risks, so I was pretty hesitant about camping. The motel 6 I was looking at was only 50 miles away, but before I got onto the highway I checked the Days Inn at the onramp. $65.00+ tax, twice what a motel 6 would be. I decided to charge the storm, considering myself brave and hoping to get some good footage of a little lightening as I casually coasted into my motel hidey-hole.
Oh the fantasies a brave adventurer.
I donned my rain gear and hit the highway. The rain fell steadily, the wind was light to moderate. I saw a few lightening strikes, and pulled out the GoPro to catch a few of them. “Oh yeah, this is going to make me look like a badass, riding into a storm and ‘ish…” I’d been getting more and more rain-riding experience, and I was confident.
In a span of about ten seconds, everything got dark before the wind hit my left side so hard it hurt my neck. I went from the center of the right lane to the edge of the shoulder so fast I barely had time to reduce my speed. I’d guess I was going 25 or so when I hit the grass, and the bike immediately slipped out from under me, spinning counter-clockwise down a hill as I baseball slid after it. Thankfully I was able to get out from under it before it smashed my legs. I jumped up, ran over to the bike to turn the ignition off and attempted to hoist it upright, but it was parallel with the slope of the hill and began rolling backwards, wheels sliding on the wet grass when I held the front brake. I dropped it, spun it perpendicular to the hill and gave it another shot. At this point the rain is coming down in wind whipped waves, lightening striking a few times a minute as conditions rapidly worsened. I had never seen weather like it. Images of the recent tornados in the Midwest popped into my head, and I realized i needed to get back to that $70 hotel, quick.
I heaved the bike back onto its feet, by this time I was on the edge of a dirt field that was quickly turning into mud. My tires are dual-sport, but I’d opted for a cheaper brand tire, and the almost 2,000 miles I’d already put on them had reduced their once-nobby tread to about 30%. I mounted the bike, turned the ignition, hit the gas and watched the spinning tires just sink into the mud. I killed the engine, laid the bike back down and set about removing my load. I gathered the contents of the tank bag, which had been tossed in the crash, and piled the things up on the pavement. I remounted and gave it another shot, but by then the mud had only gotten worse. The weather was quickly getting nastier and I was starting to feel panic creeping in. I wondered what people driving by thought, knowing that at least a few of them could see me from the road.
Most motorcycle accidents are not action-oriented, but reaction. Overreaction, to be exact (reaccidents, I call them). With a decade of athletics under my belt, my brain does a decent job slowing time down when the ‘ish hits the fan. On the SEA2NO tour when my front tire blew out going 70mph down Sierra Nevada mountains, I felt like I had an eternity to react. When the wind blew me off the road, I was fairly sure of what was happening, and reacted accordingly. But as my bike sank into the mud and the grass around me turned into a violently whipping sea of green, I started to lose my cool. I didn’t think I could get the bike out alone, and if this was just the onset of the storm, then I needed to get the hell out. Now.
Regretfully, I walked up the hill and abandoned my bike in the mud. I’d never considered leaving it like that, but I had no idea how bad the weather was going to get, and I had to choose my own safety over hers. I grabbed my tank bag and went up to the road, removing my grey rain suit to reveal my fluorescent orange armor, and started to flag down a ride back to town. Looking down the highway I could see just about every vehicle had their hazard lights on. The wind was strong enough to send me staggering at times, and I started to feel like I was in full emergency mode. I flapped my arms like a fool, occasionally holding my thumb out.
No one would stop. You’d think that during a terrible thunderstorm, the sight of a motorcyclist on the side of the road with no motorcycle might stir the good samaritan in someone. I watched several dozen vehicles drive past me with little more than the occasional flicker of a brake light.
What do you do when no one helps you?
You help yourself.
I left my belongings piled in a pool on the side of the highway and walked back down the hill to where my baby lay on her side in the mud. I felt a pang of shame at having attempted to leave my trustworthy steed like that. While on its side I pivoted the bike a little to get the back tire out of the rut I’d dug, turned her upright and started the engine. Digging my feet into the mud, I used a combination of slow throttle, legpower and determination to get the bike out of the field and back onto the grass. With the grass the way it was, the slope I’d fallen down was far to steep for me to ride back up it. Both my mirrors and my handguards were flopping about as I slow-jogged the bike at a steady pace, lightly turning the throttle and pushing it along the hill parallel to the road towards a spot where it was less of an incline. As I gained momentum and hit a bump, the drive chain, loose from the lightened load, jumped off the rear sprocket and got jammed. By now though, I had regained my composure and was in a “Let’s f#$@’n do this” groove. The soft surface made it impossible to put it on its kickstand, so with one hand I steadied the bike while the other worked to pull the chain out of where it had gotten wedged between the sprocket and the swing arm. Rocking the bike back and forth, remaining careful not to get my fingers smashed, I was eventually able to get it unstuck and set back on the sprocket. I got back in the saddle to give the bike a little more weight, and rode it a littler further down the way until I reached a spot I could start turning uphill. I made it back onto the concrete, and rode the shoulder the quarter-mile back to where the rest of my stuff was. I strapped it back together, and rode in first gear along the side of the highway until I reached a spot I could get to the other side of the highway and head back to Warrensburg.
It was a slow ride back, wind occasionally nudging me, but now it pushed me into the left lane towards the passing traffic. About 5 miles out of Warrensburg, the road was closed by some police and a fire truck. Though there was no wreckage in sight, I assume they blocked it there so we could take the nearby gravel road as a detour. I took my place amongst a long train of cars putting through the gravel, dodging puddles but grateful for the reduced speed. A mile or two of that and we returned to the concrete, as I watched several lightening strikes in the same area ahead of me, right about where I was going. I made it back to the Days Inn, got off the bike and felt my legs get weak and begin to give way. I squatted for a few moments before heading into the office to take a sizable bite out of my remaining emergency credit card fund. As I dug for my wallet I saw my hands trembling, and it dawned on me that I was pretty shook up. A gentleman came up as I was registering, while waiting in line he saw the helmet and said “I bet you’re having fun”. I thought about explaining, but my wit was still lying somewhere in the grass.
I removed my things from the bike and staggered into my room, grateful to have gotten away with nothing more than a sore calf. Sometimes adventure cleverly disguises itself as misfortune. Looking back, I’m glad no one stopped to rescue me. I needed to fly my way own out of that. I needed to experience what it’s like to go down. “There’s only two types of riders; those that have gone down, and those that are going down”. I am grateful I learned in the grass and not on the concrete. I was pretty sore when I woke up the next morning, but I couldn’t have been luckier.
With a few days to reflect, I realized I should’ve just waited out the storm. After several hours, the worst of it had passed and I could’ve made it the rest of the way to KC and saved $40. I was so shook up by the wreck that I just wanted to get out of the weather. I’m learning more about the value of just being patient, the weather always passes. C’est la vie.
I am in the process of editing the bits of footage I have from the storm. I had the camera rolling right before I went down, but it decided to shut off minutes before the accident. There have been so many moments that I thought I was capturing, only to find out later that the moment would forever be no more than a memory. I can’t show you what it was like going down, but I can show you the setting in which it took place. Here’s a short clip of where I was at and the storm that took me down.
I’ll finish editing the GoPro footage and narrate it sometime in the next week (this stuff takes forever!). It’s now been two days since going down, and I’ve gotten noticeably more sore. I’m in Kansas City now, staying with my first CouchSurfing host, which has been an awesome experience (I arrived in KC around 3pm without a shelter plan. By 7pm a CouchSurfing host offered to put me up. Trust your timing). Twice this week I’ve been welcomed into the homes of strangers, and that is a beautiful thing.