Sunday, December 19, 2010

Supertrip Part Two

     There on the western horizon, under a hot, clear sky, sixty miles away, crowned in snow (in July), was a magical vision, a legend come true: the front range of the Rocky Mountains. ... The image of those mountains struck a fundamental chord in my imagination that has sounded ever since. -Edward Abbey from The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West
Road Philosophers:

Warren speaks of the road as if it were a spirit itself.   It may be the collective memory of those restless, jobless, impulsive, insane, desperate or adventurous travelers from the natives and mountain men to the Dustbowl and today’s two lane highways. Whatever the reason, dream, survival, figment of the imagination, they left a spiritual residue behind.  It must be the feeling you get when you are crossing the Great Plains and you see the remains of an old stone farmhouse with no roof left in the distance.  This feeling is present on backroads anywhere in America, but for me it is piqued in the tremendous expanses of the Western United States with its boom and bust artifacts left standing as monuments.  You can’t help but think of those who have run the route you are on now and why they did it.  Wandering  who stood where you are standing and looked at what you are looking at 150 years before is intense.  You become a part of a that collective memory in your mind.  That collective spirit is felt more heavily by some and Warren may be feeling it today.  Or perhaps he is just feeling  the chill of the mountain air.  Either way, he is tearing up.  
I met Warren  two years previous on a campground in Tennessee at an event called the Big Mountain Run.  He gave me a Jr.’s Cycle Products t-shirt and we didn’t speak again for a year until I met him at the same place the next year.  The next time we met our exchange was a bit more than a few words.  Warren is  a craftsman, a thinker, a geek, and a wanderer rolled up into one.   He is quiet, but when he does say something with that thick Midwestern accent it’s worth a listen.  I tend to talk too much, making us opposites.  Similar motivation, different personalities.   
During our annual conversation at the Big Mountain Run, we find out that we have a common interest in riding our motorbikes to California at the exact same time.  We want to go to a motorcycle event called Born Free.    My friends will be going as a big family of outcasts, vagabonds, perfectly normal law abiding citizens, and some who cannot be pigeonholed so easily.   So we combined our ventures and some Midwesterners where added to our otherwise Southern bunch.
Five days into the trip I am glad to be getting to know Warren and Jerimiah.   Even though Warren is a bit younger than me, he seems well versed.  He can navigate too, which it saddens me to say seems to be a dying art.  He doesn’t mind taking the lead.  He seems motivated in action more than words.  All admirable traits in a young man.     
 This is not my first trip across the country by two wheels. The road has taken care of me in the past  and has taught me some important lessons.   This is a process of making ourselves vulnerable to the unknown.  Some folks fear this kind of vulnerability and their sense of adventure becomes civilized.  Others of us get a small taste and the spirit adventure is awakened and branded into our psyche.    We become addicted to the feeling of life through movement.  A continuation of our boyhood fascination with wheels, machines, bicycles, boards, trains, planes, cars, trucks, etc., we become the movement that our eyes fixated on as children.  We choose faster and faster vehicles, starting perhaps with skateboards or bicycles trying to propel ourselves away from environments that restricted our freedom as kids.  Then to motorcycles.   Not that we can escape the mediocrity in reality, but it is the pursuit that helps ease our minds. The tools of flight become extensions of ourselves.  Somehow dangerous hobbies lend adhesiveness to our friendships.  Vulnerability has kept our sense of freedom awake.  Vulnerability also makes us comrades.  
This is where the phycological benefits of wandering come in.  I think that Warren’s philosophy about “the road” is getting at something deeper in content.     I can’t say how many strangers I have met going cross country who have put me up, gave me parts or tools, or pointed me towards camp.   Those souls who help you on your way: the steakhouse owner that points you towards camp, the welder who repairs your frame,  the old boy and his wife in Arkansas that let you crash in their half built cabin and give you a bbq sandwich in exchange for a listening ear about the old days of motocross (thanks Gary), the bear that smells your camp but doesn’t eat you, all embody the spirit of this philosophy.   Contrary to the 24hour image blasted out of of every media vein,  I have found strangers to be generally kind, with only a few exceptions.  Being in the middle of nowhere allows us to taste a little peace and quiet from those barking televisions.  Out there, reality is nice enough.   
The roads that we use as conduits are  also the veins that allow what Edward Abbey and even John Muir warned us about.  Good for riding motorcycles, the mellow grades were originally designed for trucks to carry the land away with the optimal gas milage.  The very  scene of adventure that we are soaking up is disappearing by the same roads we are using.  Next year the smog from L.A. may prevent more than a 10 mile view in the open desert.  This fact lends a tinge of paradox to the trip as L.A. is where we are headed.  Our obsession with the internal combustion engine is taking us there.  Internal combustion will allow us to explore the some far reaches as they are now.  Just like our skateboards were the vehicles we used to try and make something palatable out of urban and suburban waste. I fully advocate the use of two wheeled vehicles to reduce your personal carbon footprint. 

At this point in the trip, Warren is solidly in the lead.  We are blasting our way through one of the most beautiful states in the Union: Colorado.   Sometime the day before, the rest of the crew saw the Rocky Mountains open up in front of them from the Great Plains.  Heading west out of Pueblo, they entered the canyons of the Colorado plateau, following stream beds that would lead them to the high places and camp.  
 I began with this vision early this morning.  This will be my long day of the trip, crossing the expanse of Colorado from east to west and into the southern Utah desert with my friends tonight.   It was nice to have a moment with my thoughts.  The last 400 miles solo have reminded me of my past ventures on two wheels without company.  But this time I felt something a little different.  I am ready to rejoin my friends. This run has been intensified by the company.  A lesson in the stuff that my friends are made of, and why they are my friends.  I wouldn’t  choose any other company.  Actually, I didn’t really choose them.  Our commonalities set us on a trajectory course down Colorado Highway 50.
 We wound up the mountains to Gunnison, a small town in the upper atmosphere which I assume is named for Captain John W. Gunnision who in 1853 scouted this area for a good east to west place to lay railroad tracks, before there where any train tracks spanning the country.  No doubt the highway way we have followed today has roughly paralleled his route.  We ate lunch at a diner that I forget the name of.  We got to know some locals there. Jerimiah was loud and the food was good.  Then onto one of the best souvenirs shops in the continental U.S.  Coon skin hats were dawned and various animal tails were flagged from the ends of the bikes.  Then on to Montrose and Cortez via the Telluride route.  The jagged, snowcapped San Juan Mountains are the backdrop. 
 At Cortez the mountains are fading behind us and the high desert is now in our sight.  On a whim, we took a no name rode across into the Navajo reservation in Utah.  A shortcut if you will.  Sunset on the edge of the desert.  The country in this part of the U.S. has no comparison anywhere.   I could spend months happily exploring any of the four corners states on wheels or foot.  The environment is just hazardous enough to keep you spiritually involved at all times.  Desert sky, mountain air.
The sun goes down and we sandwich Duane in the middle of the group because he has no headlight.  Actually, I think he does have a headlight filament stuffed in his baggage, but would rather ride without lights tonight.  Duane cares about his friends way more than he cares about himself.  He cleans up toxic waste for a living, which I guess also indicates that he cares about the world more than he does himself.  He has a love hate relationship with his bike and he has a love hate relationship with his best friend Chauncey, whom he grew up with in Locust Fork, Alabama.  He has a tattoo of sweet tea.   He is also very photogenic.  It’s difficult to truly understand someone who is only living in the moment every time you see them, but it is not hard to love them.  Again, he is a quintessential example of making yourself vulnerable in order to live life to the fullest. 
We land in Mexican Hat, Utah.  Mexican Hat is a jumble of old buildings next to the San Juan river.  The river is on its way into the cataracts and canyons of southern Utah, headed for a meeting with what used to be the raging Colorado river.  Now I believe it meets with a massive puddle of mud called Lake Powell.  Dammed. Canyon lost.  Somehow I end up in Mexican Hat every time I pass through the southwest.  I can’t help it.  It is on the way to nowhere.  At the Mexican Hat Lodge we ate steaks and burgers off of a swinging grill, drank 3.25% beer just before we retire to a boat dock on the river, at the friendly recommendation of the bartender.  Not totally satisfied with the desert accommodations, Jerimiah disappeared back to the steak patio, only to return with the bartender, a golf cart, and a load of  mesquite firewood, nice for cooking steaks or for desert river beach fires.  

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