Thursday, October 6, 2011

Alabama Map

It is in my bloodline to be fascinated with maps.  When I got my first motorcycle this infatuation, which started with my mom’s Plymouth minivan and a drivers permit in south Texas, reached full fruition on the blue and even smaller grey highways of Alabama.  Other states were soon within bounds.  I started ticking off states.  Surrounding states first: FL, LA, MS, TN, NC, GA, TX.  Mostly, I wanted to explore every twisted forest road, every wide open farm two laner and every century old town square still not yet eaten by the a freeway and bulldozed for a strip mall.  Those old bricks saw decades more use than the new lego structures with so much parking and so little usefulness.  
Soon the entire U.S. was no longer out of bounds.  I had developed the perfect tool pouch for road side repair.  My camping equipment was not worn out yet.  I piled it high onto my first makeshift sissy bar and set off.  I saw the West coast, British Columbia, Wyoming, and all the states in between.  All on different trips.  
When I would return home from the lone journeys I would thirst for companionship and, having rode 12 hours a day for 3 or 4 weeks, would usually let the bike rest as well for a couple of weeks.  I began riding the backroads of Alabama less, losing curiosity in what I perceived to be confined and monotonous at the time.  My curiosity had expanded.  So there was such a thing as too much.  Must be if I no longer day dreamed all day at work about going to eat breakfast in Centerville, AL at Twix and Tween, a 24/7 truck stop between Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, nowhere near an interstate.
I fasted from riding in Japan.  1 year, no motorbike.  I don’t recommend staying off a bike for a year but I can say, with some authority, what staying off motorcycles for a year did to me.  Time away from my own motorbike meant lots of time spent inside of my head considering the psychological effects of riding time, garage time, and friends.  I got cranky, even mean, going through this mental purging.  I binged on Japanese beer, which all seemed to taste about the same and was way more expensive than beer in the States.  I got to where I hated it but drank it anyway.  Stress crept into my joints and my nerve endings caught on fire, making movement painful.  Through all of this a there was a kind of rebirth happening.  A shift in paradigm.  I would never look at riding, wrenching, friends and home the same way.  The “why” of it all became clearer, if not easier to explain.  
My drinking did slow.  I made motorcycle friends and a bought a skateboard, which I should have done as soon as I got there, but I was caught in culture shock and learning how to navigate in Japanese for a bit.  Adhering to my old high school philosophy, if your joints or your brain hurts, punish your body.  Of course the opposite happens to be true.  Nerves eased. I became good friends with an 8ft metal ramp and acquaintances with a bilingual rollerblader, who call themselves skaters in Japan. Rollerblading is way more popular than skateboarding in Japan.  He was the only bilingual person in the park and we spent a lot of time on that ramp.  I had no idea what he was doing when he skated but he was a nice fellow.  His name was Takaaki.
I also spent some effort in getting to know and photograph some motorcycle friends.  Particularly the Vise crew in Nagoya who treated me and my wife better than family.  All the while, I ached, watching those friends go everywhere on their weathered and faithful machines.  
Now I find myself, both literally and figuratively at home again.  To what effect?  Now, again every off colored two lane road on the Alabama map jumps off the page with possibilities.  A two wheeled commute to work changes the entire experience of the day’s business.  My wife says I have returned to sanity from wherever I was.  Any excuse to ride is an excuse to daydream, like I used to about skateboarding and travel in high school.  I reflect on past miles, knowing I was there, but seeing them in a sort of dreamscape.  I was asleep then.  Now every mile that passes under my wheels is added to a vast reality of experience.  No longer sleeping, living the dream.

Picture by Brandon, rider: Chauncey


  1. trip up here and check Indiana off the list buddy.

  2. this was, fer lack of a less fruity word, inspiring - I like yer high school philosophy.

  3. Going through the same shit man.

    Living in South Korea teaching english and missing my machine more and more. 3 months in, plenty more to go. Skateboarding all weekend helps, but I'd trade anything for some american beer, a bbq, my garage, and zbar time right now.

  4. You said a mouthful Brian. Good luck in Korea.