Friday, July 31, 2015

The end of the trail

We always knew this time would come.

The last day.

The final miles.

Thanks to all of you who've supported me and helped me make this adventure possible. Thanks to all of you who I've met a long the way and who have enriched this experience beyond measure.

Tonight I'll be in my own home, sleeping in my own bed, but a part of me will always be out on the road.

A part of me will always be Chasing America.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Nobody knows who tomorrow will bring

I can just hear the questions now:

"You went to New York City and you didn't go to the top of the Empire State Building?"


"You didn't take a photo of The Statue of Liberty or the new World Trade Center?"

No again.

"You didn't even go to Times Square or Central Park or Coney Island or Radio City Music Hall or..."

Nah, non, nein and how many times do I have to tell you? Uh-uh!

"Then what DID you do?"

I met people and made new friends along the way like...

Jamie and John Miles, Madison, GA

...Jamie and John who gave me a place to sleep in Madison, GA.

Jamie walked me around the town showing off the wonderful antebellum homes. We had only met through the internet and through our column writing, but we talked about our children, our pets, future writing projects and gardening. How can a photograph of Central Park be better than that?

They put me in a great position to reconnect with former classmates like...

Beth and Tony Stoddard..

...Beth and her husband Tony who live in Powhatan, VA.

She was in choir, I was in band. We knew each other, but on a very superficial, high school level. Lucky for us, the internet and Facebook let us reconnect in a more meaningful way, enough so that they gave me a place to stay for the night. We chatted about music and guitars and motorcycles and kids, and it was great for both of us to discover what had become of the other. How can going to Coney Island compare with that?

They made it easy for me to make my way to Livingston, NJ to see...


... Darla and Gregg.

Darla and I were in high school band together. We've kept up through Facebook, but we hadn't seen each other "for real" for 30 years. They gave me a place to sleep, let me tell my stories and take photos of their cat, and then on the morning I left, they gave me some snack bars for my journey as well as...

Darla's cheat sheet that got me through NYC.

... a cheat sheet to make it through downtown New York City.

And I know what you're thinking: "You've never been to New York and you rode a motorcycle right through downtown? Are you crazy? Do you have a death wish?"

Ah, it was super easy with Darla's cheat sheet. Although I did have to look down a couple of times to read it when I should have been looking straight ahead, but it's all good. I made it. And this was my route...

My route through NYC

And to be honest, I did see the Statue of Liberty. I was in traffic. I looked over my right shoulder to see if I could catch of glimpse of her, and I did. But knowing that I'd come a long way and probably would never have this chance again, I glanced over my shoulder one more time to make sure she was really there, and thought it sufficient.

After braving New York City, I headed across Long Island for Port Jefferson and to meet...

New friend Rachael, aka FuzzyGalore, in Port Jefferson, NY

... Rachael, or as I know her better, @Fuzzygalore.

You know all those scary stories about people meeting up through the Internet and the axe murderer is the only one who lives to tell about it?

Well, we're both alive, we had a great time meeting each other, and we ate pizza, told stories, shared philosophies about traveling alone, talked about kids and politics and doing what you love, and it was just a wonderful afternoon.

I don't care how many great photos you come back with of the new World Trade Center -- they will never compare with meeting someone new and discovering that being friends was just meant to be.

Rachael and I also talked about taking the slower ride (non turnpike or major highway) through the New England states, and that was all I could think about before I boarded the ferry to Connecticut, when I met...

Ferry Dan

... Dan from Long Island.

Dan was taking a three-day ride over to New England. He showed me where to pay for my ticket. He helped me find the right road out of Bridgeport. And we rode together for awhile until it was almost time to go our separate ways.

But then, as we were filling our tanks, he offered to buy me a coffee from the Dunkin' Donuts restaurant he liked to stop at when he was out for a ride.

So we had coffee, and a bagel, and we talked about the NY road system, our families and jobs, our bikes, and once again I had found a new friend.

No. I didn't take photos of all those iconic places that maybe I should have, I didn't visit those wonderful places that people on vacation spend tons of money to go see, but I found something that means much more to me than that.

New friends.

And I can't wait to see who I meet tomorrow.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Words of Caution

If you find yourself in the south of Florida and think I-75 north has got to be better than taking 95, it isn't and it costs $15, but they have these great Florida Citrus Centers where you can buy postcards and alligator heads, so I guess it evens out.

If you find yourself in Lake City, Florida, and you're beating yourself up because you didn't stop in Key West to have a slice of Key Lime pie, and you haven't eaten much for a few weeks except for Ramen noodles and dehydrated backpacker meals, don't go to Cedar River Seafood and order fried alligator tail, hushpuppies, oyster soup AND a slice of Key Lime pie and expect your stomach to cooperate.

If you find yourself looking at a Cedar River Seafood hand-written food bill before you get your Key Lime pie, and it's not totaled up (there seems to be a crossed-out zero at the bottom), and you're pondering the meaning when Meggan, the waitress brings you the Key Lime pie and says "it's on me," she's talking about the PIE and not the ENTIRE MEAL.

And if you walk right out of Cedar River Seafood without paying, thinking that mankind is beautiful and you'll never forget the kindness of Meggan the waitress, but a bouncer-sized manager follows you out and says you haven't paid and you try to explain that Meggan paid for it all, DON'T. Just go back inside and pay because he's twice the size of you and could break your legs twice without working up a sweat.

P.S. If you wake up the next morning and your stomach is on strike and you know you have to ride 300 miles to Georgia through the heat and thunderstorms -- just wait awhile. Brush your teeth. Maybe write a story.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sunrise over I-10

I've seen some spectacular sunrises on this trip across America.

Sunrise over the Davis Mountains.

Sunrise over Lake Superior.

A hint of sunrise behind the fog over the Pacific Ocean.

But today I witnessed a sunrise over I-10 in Florida's panhandle that was the highlight of my day.


THE highlight.

Well, that and the brief chat I had with a Florida state trooper.

You see, I knew today was going to be a bust photo-wise because 10 and 95 are excruciatingly long and boring highways (I rode 451 miles over eight hours and took only two naps) that get you from one part of the state to the other without you even realizing that there's more to see than just highway, trees, thunderclouds, gas stations and Subway sandwiches.

I mean, if you were to ask me to describe Florida after what I saw today I'd say it was a trip odometer that barely moved forward, and sometimes, out of spite, ran backwards.

But none the less, I decided this morning to TRY and take a sunrise photo.

So I stopped on the shoulder, took several photos while ignoring the 18-wheelers buzzing past, and got back on my bike to continue on.

And that's when one of Florida's Best pulled up beside me.

"Everything cool?" he asked through his opened window.

He was a youngish trooper, round face, blond hair (I didn't get his name or badge number -- my inner reporter was slipping).

"Sure. I just stopped to take a picture," I said.

He looked down the highway and I knew exactly what he was thinking:

Take a picture of I-10? The Spanish Inquisition of all highways? The highway that makes perfectly-happy couples contemplate divorce twice for every hour they spend on the road because, "This is your fault we came this way too long to the next rest stop this car now or I'll pee all over my mother told me not to marry you better get us out of this God-forsaken state of mind to leave you now, buster, and I really mean it this time"?

Anyways, he just stopped to see if I was okay. I told him about the trip, he seemed quite impressed, and then...


He gave me a police escort back onto the highway with lights a-flashin' like I was some bloody Rock Star!

Ok, the "escort" only lasted about 52 yards...

...but that was a fantastic 52 yards.

Sunrise over I-10, Florida

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A little help from my friends

This is going to sound like an advertisement, but it's actually a testimonial:

I've been a bit down these last two weeks. I'd hoped to break a Guinness record this summer, but I've been riding too slow for the amount of time I'd given myself -- and I felt that if I wasn't going to break a record, then this whole trip was turning into a frivolous misadventure that I could ill afford to take. But I kept going.

And then things got worse: I noticed I had a bit of an oil leak; my helmet visors were starting to scar and crack; the intense pounding of the road broke my video camera mounts; and the extreme range of weather conditions and ceaseless wind caused my saddle bags to rip apart (I was just lucky they didn't fall off completely). But far worse was the fact that every motorcycle shop I talked to said they wouldn't be able to service my bike on the spot, that they had weeks-long waiting lists.

So when I finally made it back home and called my local bike shop for help, I really didn't know what to expect. Would they be able to get me back on the road with minimal loss of time, or was my trip over and out, dead and buried?

Not only did Spruill Honda fix my bike in less than 24 hours; not only did they give me a tab for parts and labor that I could pay off later; but when I told them to just chunk those weather-torn saddlebags, they found some old ones lying around in their shop and put them on my bike -- free of charge.

You may believe that this country is full of mean-spirited people who are only looking out for themselves, but I'm here to tell you this country is full of marvelous, interesting people who will not think twice about helping you out in whatever way that they can.

And some of the most caring people can be found right in your own hometown.

Thanks Spruill Honda.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

It's time to go home

I met a woman today named Spring. She was standing outside a gas station in Gillette, Wyoming, playing a penny whistle for food money. I heard her playing Down By The Sally Garden, so I gave her some money. Looking back, I should've given her more.

Spring is hiking from New York to California. She sleeps in a tent every night. She asked me if I also slept in a tent, and I told her sometimes I sleep in a hotel. She said I was rich.

I guess I am rich. Rich in family, rich in friends, rich in not having to worry about having enough food to eat. Rich in being able to travel for a little bit, chase down America, grab it by its collar and shake some goodness out of it.

But now it's time to go home. Maybe a bit early, with miles and miles left undone, but it's okay -- I've found what I'm looking for.

Found it in the places I've stayed, in the new friends I've met, in the people who waved or waved back, who laughed, who helped, who told me their story or listened to mine.

Found it in the woman who worked at McDonald's and was flirting with the elderly gentleman; the kilt-wearing bearded man at the rest stop who had a beautiful dog that everyone was petting; the hotel clerk who told me I'd better go get my Subway sandwich before her son got there because it was his first day on the job; the "real" bikers who paid me no mind; the young man who wished he could ride; the newlyweds; the strawberry pickers; the gas station attendants; the thousands of drivers who never tried to run me off the road.

I asked Spring to sign my bike so I'd remember her. She took my picture so she'd remember me. We wished each other a safe journey and hugged. I could hear her playing her music as I was riding away.

Riding away for home.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

It happened one afternoon near Coeur d'Alene

I was told before I left on my trip that I really should pack a gun.

You know, cuz the U.S. is a dangerous place.

With dangerous people.

But wishing I had a gun was the last thing on my mind this afternoon when I saw a motorcyclist walking down the highway toward me.

I had stopped on the shoulder.

He had parked his bike about 150 yards down the way.

He was still wearing his riding jacket and helmet.

I thought to myself, "Poor guy must be in trouble. Hope it's not mechanical. I know where to put the gas and I know if you turn this handle the bike goes vroom vroom, but other than that, I'm useless."

The traffic was screaming by and he was getting closer.

"I know," I thought, "he's probably out of fuel. Good thing I have two one-liter bottles full of extra. It won't get him far, but it'd get him further."

He was still getting closer, but instead of just standing there waiting for him, I started to walk toward him.

"Hey, what's up?" I asked when we finally met.

And do you know what he said?

He said, "I saw you parked on the shoulder and thought you were in trouble. I just stopped to see if you needed any help."

My mouth dropped.

I told him everything was fine, I was just taking a photo of the Idaho state sign.

We both laughed.

His name was Sam, and he was from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. He'd been in the military stationed in San Diego but moved back to Idaho to get away from the big city and to be near his father.

He was trying to be a good Sam-aritan.

(I just made that up!)

Anyways, there are millions of people in this country like Sam who just want to be helpful.

There are millions of people like Taylor and Dan, newlyweds I met yesterday at an Oregon gas station, who just wanted to say hello, and to tell me to have a safe ride.

There are millions of people like Robert and Jack and Kelli and Marie and Xhristain and Martha -- wonderful people you only meet once, maybe for just a few minutes, some for a few hours -- people who renew your faith in mankind, and that this crazy mixed-up world is still full of people who are kind, caring, basically good, and they just want to help and get along with others.

Yes, there are some bad eggs out there, too, but they are far outnumbered by the Sam's of this world.

After we'd said our goodbyes, I watched Sam walk back to his bike.

I waited on mine to make sure he got there safely.

It was the least I could do.

Thanks, Sam.

You da man!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Now kids, don't try this at home

"How do you feel about lane splitting?" asked Robert.

Lane splitting is one of those controversial motorcycle techniques you never tell your wife about.

Or your mother.

The technique involves riding between the lanes of slower-moving vehicles, hoping they'll stay in their lane while you go through theirs. It's sort of like making your own little HOV lane but with cars and eminent danger on both sides.

And it's controversial because in most states -- like Texas -- it's illegal.

"I always feel iffy about it too, but in California it's legal," said Robert. "And if we don't, we're going to be in this traffic all day."

Up ahead of us were two very long lanes of cars at a dead stop. Road construction? Accident? We didn't know. All we knew was that we had many miles to go, and just sitting there wasn't helping.

"Okay," I said. "I'll follow you."

I met Robert Magill from the United Kingdom earlier in the day at a scenic vista overlooking the ocean. I was taking photographs and he pulled up just behind me.

"Nice bike," I said.

(For motorcyclists, that's equivalent to "how's the weather?")

Robert was retired, he was a bit taller than me, had more hair than me, was more ruggedly handsome than me, so I left my helmet on.

Turns out Robert was in the U.S. on an eight-week holiday to ride around the States and Canada, and had bought the Kawasaki Versys he was riding because it was cheaper than shipping his own bike over.

We talked about what we were doing, where we were going, he asked me to take his photograph with the ocean as a backdrop, I asked him to sign my bike.

And then he was off.

About an hour later we met again at a gas station, and since we were both heading in the same direction -- toward San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge -- we decided to ride together.

And eventually split a few lanes together.

But please don't tell my wife.

Or my mother.