Closing the Loop

I arrived back from my motorcycle road trip, barely. 5 miles from where I live, I was almost killed – was in the carpool lane and in a car’s blind spot, so was in the process of speeding up to get out of his blind spot when he moved into my lane. Lucky by inches and that like the typical local driver, he’s slow and not committed to executing his driving decisions sharply. Of course this was the most major traffic threat of all of my 23 days on the road; the only other situation was in Canada when an oncoming car decided to move into the opposing traffic lane (mine) to pass another vehicle on the two-lane highway without giving enough space between me and him; if I had not braked the buffer there would have been only about two car lengths, but at least there was likely buffer.

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Numbers:

  • 23 days
  • 4238.9 miles (I know, why not make it 4239 miles? Because then I’d want to make it 4240 miles, or 4250 miles, or 4500 miles, or what about a round 5000 miles, or…?)
  • 2 countries
  • 5 states/provinces

The other “barely” in my arriving back were the wind and the fires. The day before the last day of my trip, the fires and dust the wind kicked up made visibility only 2-5 miles out, and I had to look directly up to see the sky. I had constant high winds for three hours across the flatness of the plains and farmland. Perpendicular wind has always scared me, because being on a lighter bike (compared to other motorcycles out there) you are really fighting the wind and leaning into it pretty hard. My first experience with strong wind when I was first learning to ride was the night I left for my first solo camping trip. That night strong sideways wind shoved me over half a lane with each large gust. I was so scared that I stopped riding and called someone I knew with a truck and asked them to rescue me and my motorcycle. Apparently I am a stronger rider now, however, because I felt like I could mostly manage the situation, and later when I looked at the speeds it was the worst wind (and longest duration in wind) I had ever been in up until that point: mid-20 mile per hour constant winds with mid-30 mile per hour gusts. I played dodge-the-tumbleweeds until I came across this –
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– dozens of tumbleweeds spilling onto the highway. A couple of pickup trucks and a car sat on either side of the tumbleweed collection for a while, trying to decide what to do. They eventually decided to drive through and were fine; so I on my motorcycle could too, right? This photo is after fording the tumbleweeds; they swallow the gap back up right after you part them momentarily.

The reason I kept riding despite the wind was because I thought even if I paused and tried to wait out the wind, it may still continue through the next day and I had to go back to work in two and a half days. I knew that the other route option, the major highway to the south, would likely be the same wind situation, only I would have the added variable of higher traffic. My decision to stay on the route I was on ended up being the smart choice, because the major highway was shut down to traffic at a certain point for several hours due to the wind, dust, and poor visibility that resulted in accidents. On a motorcycle, I would be even more difficult to see. I also knew that the wind would expand the current wildfires’ burn areas by acres and that I was racing against time and the flames to make it through on the roads on my desired route. Indeed, a few days later, those same roads were closed due to fires. There was even one spot while I was riding where a fire had just started a couple hundred meters from the highway.

I know wildfires are fought against and suppressed and described in all sorts of negative ways. In truth, wildfires are natural and nature needs them to occur for the health of the ecosystem. We do not really have a right to see fire as an enemy because it was human choice, after all, to set up shop and build homes in fire-prone areas. And we as humans have exacerbated the fires. Humans have manipulated and exploited the environment in such a way that fires now are much more frequent and more intense in many areas than they should be.[1]  In many ways the consequences of present day fires are our fault.

Keeping this in mind, I tried to see the beauty in the fires. What I saw through this lens was that the sun and sky looked both awesome and foreboding. Within ten minutes time the sun went from shining bright and nearly colorless behind the brown smoke to a blood red.

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Once I crossed back into and across the mountains, the wind was minimal, and in full circle fashion, I started my trip in rain and ended my trip in rain.

After getting back I unloaded, then drove my Rav4 to Whole Foods. It was so weird.  I thought, “Hey guys, do you realize what I just did?” Do I realize what I just did?

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See the rest of the Motorcycle Diaries

 

[1] National Research Council (U.S.). (2000). Environmental issues in Pacific Northwest forest management. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press.