One thing that we have learned to be consistent across this country is the concept of tradition. Though America is a relatively young country in the scope of the world, we’ve still managed to build a whole lot of traditions for ourselves. These include, but are not limited to: Explosions on the Fourth of July, Superbowl commercials, pumpkin growing contests, groundhogs predicting the weather, tailgate parties, holiday fruitcakes, turkey pardons, and countless more. On a more personal level, even the great American road trip is a tradition in itself. It is something that all Americans dream of and many go on to complete. In reality, our trip itself was just one small piece of the entire narrative of road trips this country has seen. And while we fancy our experience closer to Steinbeck’s journey in Travels with Charlie than Chevy Chase’s in National Lampoon’s Vacation, we could not fathom letting go of the age-old tradition of taking pictures with each and every state sign that we passed. Failing to do so would be, well, simply un-American. Although we did miss a few (Nevada and Illinois to be precise), we’re proud to present the grand summation of our playful continuance of this great American tradition.
In a way, the trip already feels like a distant memory. Those early mornings we spent breaking camp in the cold morning air of the Pacific coast feel like years ago. Rolling the tent into its stuff sack and talking of the night’s sleep; sitting at the table and waiting for the coffee to brew while talking of the day’s ride ahead; waiting for the bike to turn over after cooling in the wet coastal air all night. These moments that marked the start of this journey have already been classified into the realms of our memory that hold fleeting images and flashing images than entire streams of consciousness.
Even our time not so long ago — in Wisconsin or Ontario or New York, where we unexpectedly came upon hospitality and homeliness unfit for the rag-tag group that we were — feels like the better part of a year. The time that we battled the night to ride hundreds of miles across the New York thruway in hopes of a soft bed and a warm shower; the days at Echo Valley that we spent trading our labor for food and a bed, our young and opened minds for well crafted knowledge and wisdom; riding with a lively Canadian along the Lake Erie shoreline and discovering the hidden facets of Ontario life. These experiences are ones that will never be forgotten, but it is hard to imagine that they will ever be recollected any different than we do now — blurry remembrances highlighted by high points.
The very recent memories, however, those are still vibrant. When we think of our time scurrying across the South m0re dirty, disgruntled, and determined to get home than ever before, the images are not just flashed that summon a smile and a stare at the wall. These thoughts call our minds right back to the moment that we experienced them and place a vivid scene in our head. Scenes of us racing down the highway with the hot Texas sun beating on our forearms; of us navigating a misty, muddy swamp late at night with no idea where to camp and no bearings of our direction; of us holding tight on the throttle at a steady twenty miles per hour while sheets of pouring rain fell upon us, stinging our eyes and soaking our fabric to the bone. These thoughts remain. Yet, knowing that they will follow the same fate of our earlier memories, we can only enjoy them in this state for a short while longer. Soon, they too will be memories more established in the stories we tell ourselves rather than the pictures automatically played across our eyelids when drawn close.
And the most vivid — of course — is the now. It is the return to California, the ride over the Spring Mountains and into the Mojave Desert, where sparse formations of Joshua Trees and dense outcroppings of power lines make up the desert landscape. The hot California sun glares in our eyes as we head directly west in the afternoon, bound for Los Angeles where friends — no, family — await us with open arms. Los Angeles mends us. It heals us. It makes us whole once again. We are not home yet, but the end is in sight. One last drive up the coast awaits us. We turn the bikes North like we did so many days ago and, soon enough, are enveloped in the fog once again.
To see us in this moment would be to see us in the absolute pinnacle of our triumph. As we passed into the city limits, our fists raised to the air in the typical style that we adopted during the trip. This time, however, it was not a motion to stop or a tribute to Road Dog. No, this time it was completely automatic. Our arms raised to the air, our eyes turned to the sky, and we stared out into the blue wonder. Our voices rang out from within our helmets and screamed “WE FUCKING DID IT! YEEEEEHAAAAWWW!!!” It was victory. Nothing in the world could bring us down.
Upon our return to San Francisco, it had been 54 days since we had crossed the Golden Gate and headed North. In this time, we rode over 10,500 miles and passed through 28 states, we crossed scorching deserts and cold mountain passes, we experienced the hardest times of our lives, and we enjoyed the best times of our lives. We returned to San Francisco on August 28, 2013 tired, tanned, dirty, burnt, smelly, blistered, and broke. But we were not broken. Behind us lay the road, but ahead of us lies another equally challenging journey. It is time now not to experience, but rather to exfoliate the layers of our trip — to peel back each moment we encountered and analyze the emotions divested, the knowledge gained, and the troubles conquered.
Now is the time that we sit down and re-watch the footage; now is the time that we re-collect and re-iterate the adventures; now is the time that we re-call what kept pushing us along those lone, empty highways where sagebrush reigned as king and a raincloud on the horizon was our only worry. Now is the time that the memories that have been fading as we drift off to sleep each night are displayed in their truest form on the screen of a computer rather than the projector of our minds. Now is the time that the memories are relived. Now is the time that we take the entire effort put forth in the last two months and, for you, re-create the magic that was our time Finding Main Street.
More than any other region, we were looking forward to the ride through the desert. At once a challenge and a mystery, we saved the deserts of of the American Southwest — New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and California — as the final leg of our journey to reminisce about all we had seen and how we had changed as people. The quintessential ride through Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon was to be a beautiful conclusion to the many journeys we already had. But it wound up being nothing like the movies we had seen. We had imagined long empty highways snaking around the towering rock cliffs, red and sun-baked by the hot desert sun. Instead we learned, yet again, how fierce and unpredictable this country is. No way was this land going to let us pass through its deserts easily. Before we got home, it wanted to remind us one final time of its unpredictability and sheer power, this time with monsoon rains for three days straight across some of the driest parts of the country.
So as we left Texas behind and began our final stretch home, we were in high spirits. The morning ride through New Mexico was warm and we rode in t-shirts. We thought for sure it was going to be an easy 500 mile day. But as we ventured further Northwest the colors changed and gray clouds began to peak out over the horizon and watch our progress. We stopped at a gas station upon a hill and looked out across the nothingness of the desert. The immensity of the desert dwarfed even the largest of storms. In the distance we could see lone rain clouds blowing across the desert like jellyfish in a sea. While this truly was an awesome sight to behold, it also afforded us the ability to predict the storms and for a time we were able to dodge and leap-frog our way through some of this terrain.
But then the skies truly opened and all the power of a New Mexican Monsoon hit us. At times we were up to our pegs in water, with passing cars creating waves that covered us from head to toe. We couldn’t see, we could brake, all we could do was bunker down beneath whatever ledge we could find. But even there — beneath these little ledges, these nothing shelters in the middle of nowhere — that good old American hospitality would come find us. This hospitality found us whether it was at an old butcher shop that had been in the family for five generations or just at one of the many gas stations where a local would give us directions or advice about the weather ahead. Out in the desert there was very little to rely on, so being able to rely on the kindness of strangers helped get us through those rain-soaked days.
Nevertheless, as hard a riding days as those were, in that dim, rained-out light the desert looked like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The clouds that whipped around the desert cliffs and dove off the walls of the Grand Canyon created views that were never captured in the films. After we finally crossed the border back into California, and the sun was routinely shining, the bitter hardship of crossing the desert in the midst of thunderstorms amounted to very little compared to the final wave of that outstanding feeling of experiencing something so challenging and painstaking, yet ultimately so very fulfilling.
Upon entering most other States, the mile markers on the side of the road seldom top 300. But when we crossed into Texas, they read 880 miles to the other side. Texas was gonna be a long haul. Unlike other “regions” of the United States, such as the Pacific Northwest, the South, New England, Texas stands alone. Neither the South nor the West, the Lone Star State is almost a nation of its own. So as we left the South behind, we rode with curiosity into the seemingly endless Texas plains.
Like most American travelers, whenever we cross into a new State we stop for a photo with the State sign. Usually this involves a dangerous stop on the shoulder of the highway with trucks racing by as we try to pose. But with Texas there was an entire visitor center with parking, a giant lone star sculpture, and a pullout just for State sign photos. Texas was proud to welcome new visitors to its border.
Although Austin was the only city we were able to visit, we were able to take in the immensity of the landscape that dwarfed even the tallest buildings on the horizon during the days it took us to cross the State. But our time in Austin was three days of pure fun and adventure. Everyone says that Austin is like nowhere else in Texas. And except for all the honky-tonks and cowboy boots, it was definitely unique.
Not only was it one of the youngest cities we’ve visited on the trip so far, but it’s also full of artists and musicians, all swimming in the river during the day and dancing the two-step by night. It’s a college town that has attracted young people from all over, and so the attitude and opinions of the town are very progressive. And yet, it’s Texas. And all of the culture and hospitality of the State was still alive. Austin, like Texas as a whole, seemed to be not an international city in regard to other cultures, but rather a national city where all the cultures of America have gathered to form a really extraordinary city.
New Orleans. It’s a city of crawfish, catfish, jambalaya, and gumbo; of the Vieux Carré the Sazerac, and the Ramos Fizz; of taking part in the madness of Mardi Gras, listening to live Jazz, and dancing all night on Bourbon street. But even though this city offers all of the above and more, this is not what impressed us most about New Orleans.
New Orleans has soul. Or rather, the people of “New Awlins” have soul. They live in a wet, sticky swamp infested by mosquitoes and commonly ravaged with storms, but that doesn’t change their outlook on life. They understand that life is, in it’s purest form, meant to be enjoyed to it’s fullest. The people of New Orleans (and Louisiana in general) understand that each day isn’t a living punishment, but rather an opportunity to have a good time. They smile, they crack jokes, they talk to one another with enthusiasm and interest, and, no matter if they’re having a good day or bad, they won’t be unfriendly or harsh to a stranger.
A trip down to the bayou showed us how people enjoy the pleasures of southern life in a small community. Our journey through the rest of the state westward proved to us that New Orleans isn’t an anomaly of kindness surrounded by brash souls, but rather a small part of the large, living soul that makes up Louisiana as a whole.
In seeing New Orleans we saw the heart of the south. We saw that certain flavor that no one else, nowhere else, can recreate or imitate no mater how hard they attempt to. We saw a part of America that is truly unique in it’s candor. New Orleans is undoubtedly American, they just chose to express it in a different way.
Regardless of differing feelings and opinions about the varying political, social, and economical issues that our country is faced with, we, as Americans, often feel a strong sense of unity and patriotism. Something inside of us inherently connects and binds us together, and regardless of the fact that we live in 50 different states with their own identities and governments, we together consider ourselves American. Throughout this journey, we have often found such sentiments to be true. From California to Montana, Detroit to Nashville, we have seen this underlying identity shine through in often unexpected moments.
Still, there was a point in time when this country did not function in such a way; there was a time when one was not solely an American, but rather identified with their state. We were a country made up of Virginians, Georgians, and New Yorkers. As we stood by one another on the former battleground of Gettysburg and walked amongst the graves of our fallen countrymen, we are reminded that this country was not always united as we now stand. It was just South of here that we crossed that infamous Mason-Dixon line and into a part of our country that almost had a very different future.
In many ways that North South line stills exists. Not only is there an actual sign, signally some sort of cultural border, but we too often see these states separated on television as Red States and Blue States, States too stuck in their ways to ever agree on anything. True, the weather changed a bit, and there did seem to be a more relaxed atmosphere south of the line, but our travels so far throughout the Southland has revealed a part of our country not one blob of red, but as varied as anywhere else we’ve been.
Virginia, at one point the most influential colony of the original thirteen, offered a sight similar to many other states we’ve passed through. Corn fields and soybeans lined the highways, people inhabited the small towns lined with brick houses and American flags, and trucks, cars, and commerce crossed the state no differently than any other we’ve passed through. What we did notice differently in Virginia was a change in the speech and attitude of the people. We encountered our first real glimpse of a “southern” accent, and the people were warm and friendly, offering directions and showing interest without little pretension or provocation.
We then crossed through the length of Tennessee and explored the roots of that great American sound of Country music. Like America itself, country music is a product of immigrants. The Irish Fiddle, the German Dulcimer, the Italian Mandolin, the Spanish Guitar, and the West African Banjo all came together to produce a sound as new and long lasting as the country itself. Just as with Jazz and Rock n’ Roll, Country music is an all American creation that came about thru hardship, dreaming, and fresh beginnings. Tennessee continues to be a musical State, with live bands at every bar and traveling musicians at every corner. On a map Tennessee looks like a narrow strip of land in a very big country, but the culture is a pure American one, and its influence not only helped shape an American identity, but forever changed the course of music world-wide.
Though we may have felt like we were in the South in Maryland, Virginia, or Tennessee, from the moment we crossed into Mississippi, we knew we were in the Deep South. As we rode down Highway 61 and along the delta of this massive, foreboding river that we last crossed in Wisconsin, a vibrant change came over the landscape. The air became warm and moist while the southern sun set large on the horizon. The people we met at the gas stations and rest stops were full of life and pride. And, as dusk came, a calm fog rose over the land. When we finally settled into camp in Southern Mississippi, the moon shone bright over a landscape riddled with a quiet, waiting nocturnal landscape. We had finally made it to the South.
It all started from an idea. Many inspirations which stemmed from our own life experiences brought us to the point where we departed on such a journey. These ideas built us. They pushed us. They forced us to follow our passions until the point where we looked at the idea directly in the face and said, “I will conquer you.” We looked North, East, West, and South. We turned the key into the ignition each day and embarked on the day’s ride that lay ahead of us. As we rode, we found that the journey was more about the in-between than it was about the destination. Although we’ve made it to our halfway point, it was never really about reaching the East coast and turning back. Rather, the entire journey had been more about what we’ve seen, the roads we’ve crossed, and the trails we’ve razed than it has been about the destination we’ve reached.
We intended to set out to explore the country, but we learned much more. Each day of riding, as the day would turn to dusk and we would still have yet to reach our destination, we would take to the ride like wolves against the moonlight, riding to ensure our own survival against the darkness. As the roads of America jetted under our feet, we expanded our thought to new understanding. Bounding past the walls we’ve created within our own souls and investigating our own thoughts within the endless hours of self reflection, we rode not only to make our destination, but also to answer the ever-asking questions within our own helmets. We rode, we traveled, we wandered, we wondered, and we awoke.
In this day and age, there’s a few select ways to cross the country. Most choose air, opting for a a six hour journey complete with in-flight movies and CocaCola on ice to make the journey bearable. Others choose a car along I-80, complete with air conditioning and the novelty of rolling windows up or down depending on the weather. A few choose a train or a greyhound bus, vessels both riddled with annoyances as they are conveniences. All these adventurers aside, a select few of us choose to conquer this country on those wild machines ill-equipped for long travel, without windshields or air conditioning, upon the seats of old bikes fueled by the fumes of pure wanderlust.
From 19th avenue in San Francisco, where we set off more than 38 days ago, until now, in New York City, we’ve encountered more than most Americans believe they can. Winding up the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington, we saw a people and country much like we are accustomed to at home. As we turned East, we encountered the America that one sees in post cards and commercials — an America full of wheat fields and tractors. Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota tested us in our resilience. We fought hard against the roads, the weather, and the environment. However, as we put the wild West behind us and arrived in the mid-West, all seemed to be redeemed. We turned from interacting with a people independent and uncompromising to a people full of life, love, hope, and happiness. We became one with ourselves once again in the breadbasket. The food nourished us and the work on the farm replenished our bodies. Continuing East, we found a city more alike ourselves than any other. Amidst the warnings of danger and the playful quips of self-reliance, we found a city in touch with the naturalness of America. In only Detroit does one find an urban city so in touch with America’s rural side. Though this was entirely not what the city of Detroit intended their identity to be, it oddly fit with the rest of America which we have seen. We turned from Detroit with angst to reach the East coast. For the first time, we truly turned the throttle around the clock and reached the East coast after a 400 mile night ride in freezing cold weather. Though the rest of the trip had not been anywhere close to easy, it was time we truly tested ourselves. And we passed. We reached Hyde Park, NY, at 5:30am after riding more hours at night than we had the entire trip in one day thus far. Here, we rested. We regained our composure and nurtured our spirit. We had time to reflect on the journey we’ve made. We’ve managed to cross the 6,000 mile point and reach New York City, the halfway destination. We’ve looked out upon the Statue of Liberty and seen her prideful face. It has given us hope of soon turning to the Pacific, bikes on hip, with the same smile on our face which we faced the Atlantic with.
We often talk about this country as one, all encompassing country. Fifty states combined in unity to become an all powerful, all inclusive macrocosm of life in the Western hemisphere. In one sense, it is. We are a people bound together by more similarities than we can count, and we define what life is or can be for those who work their hardest to fulfill the American dream. Traditionally, one can come to this country and make it for themselves without judgement nor ridicule, but rather be accepted as someone trying to make it in their own personal struggle to overcome the hardship. And however much the fact that we are all just a number of different Americans trying to make it rings true, one can still turn on the news and not help but ponder how we are a people so different yet are still united under one common flag and one common constitution.
Since departing from San Francisco, the three of us have noticed a number of very human themes that pull America together. These themes have ranged from individuality to dependence, hopefulness to hopelessness, inspiration to desperation. Yet. above all, we have noticed a certain untouchable pride in people — no matter how much the other themes come to light — a pride in people that truly, no matter the costs of stating such a fact, we are all American. Though many may say this country is more divided than it is united, we have come to discover the 0pposite. We are American, and we are all proud of it.
Throughout this trip we’ve tried to hit every region of the country so far in our quest to document the universal themes and characteristics that are truly American. These regions don’t always fall within one state or city, but rather can spread across county lines, state borders, and even time zones. However, New York City — a mere 300 square miles populated by more than 8 million people — is a region of its own. Never have we seen, on this trip or in our lives, a sight like that city. Nothing can compare. There’s more people there than there are in entire other states. Where they were from and where they were going was impossible to tell. But seeing all those people hustling and bustling, running around, talking on phones and shouting for cabs, was as awe-inspiring as the mountains and valleys we’ve seen thus far.
Then you realize you’re just one of those many people, standing on the streets and getting caught up in the crowds. It’s an ego-losing experience. You’re just another rat in the maze, insignificant and small. But in New York that’s not such a bad thing. For in that maze, dreams are made. In so many ways, you can see the top from New York. The ladders are long and the work is hard, but you can go right to the source there. Business, go to Wall Street. Fashion, Fifth Avenue. Media, New York Times. Entertainment, anywhere. If you want to make it, then New York is the place for you.
But it’s all a little too overwhelming. Was they’re any organization to it? Was anyone in charge? Trying to film this spectacle was a bit daunting. We had to fight the urge to just grab someone and shout “Where are you going?” No one seemed to ever stand still or stop to talk. Despite all the people, it was easy to feel alone. It’s neither strictly a bad or good thing, but the endless ambition and movement that was New York was truly one of a kind. New York felt like a whirlpool for the world, where everyone goes to make it, but where no one decides who does. One America out of the many we’ve seen, New York seems like both the most and least American place we’ve seen yet.
The road to Detroit was one of caution and advice. From friends, family, and strangers alike, our decision to head for the Motor City was followed by sincere concern for our safety. The nearer we got, the more we heard advice like ‘Watch yourself there boys’, ‘Act like you know where you’re going’, ‘It’s a different sorta city’, ‘They’ll steal the paint off your car’. And heading straight for Metro Detroit after five days herding goats in Wisconsin, we were inclined to listen. But there’s a fascination about Detroit that trumps the inevitable dangers that come with severe poverty. Like many of the travelers passing thru, we were fascinated by the magnitude of the desolation and of the industrial ruins that show the wealth that once was. These monoliths account for many of the city’s main attractions, but the life and culture that still rustles in the empty factories and the tall grass of the vacant lots is starting to tell a new story, and it was that which we wanted to hear.
Mobbing around the city on our bikes dodging potholes and debris, it was all too easy to feel we were navigating an apocalyptic landscape. The burned down and boarded up homes, the trash piles and the overgrown yards, the empty factory and office buildings, all served as haunting reminders for how frail an industry and income can be. But what wasn’t so frail in Detroit was the sense of community and pride that Detroiters still share. Where once there were homes and shops, there now are farms and art installations. It seemed that no matter what neighborhood we crossed, the residents who stayed have bonded together and have begun to rebuild, if just a little at a time.
The car industry has all but gone from Detroit. Even those lucky enough to still work in the plants have had pay cut to such a level it’s no longer a feasible career. And so it seems the city is reinventing itself. Whether that means a city of entertainment, with casinos and venues, or a city which has gone back to the land, with small farms spread across the vacant lots of the city. The path for Detroit is still unknown, but from our brief time there, the one thing we’ve noticed is the resilience of the people, who keep on living, keep on rebuilding instead of waiting around for better times.
Every once in a while, one finds themselves in a place and time that seems to be a perfect fit. More often than not, this sort of match seems to come about by pure chance. It has happened a lot this trip; randomly running into strangers who soon become friends, stumbling upon places that seem unremarkable but with closer inspection become spectacular, and arriving at a place expecting something quite normal and ordinary but instead finding something truly incredible. Echo Valley Farm, a quiet and happy little place nestled in the Driftless Mountains in Southeastern Wisconsin fits all of these bills.
We arrived at the farm with the intent of finding a place where we could stop traveling for a few days, capture some footage of us working the soil of America, and, frankly, recompose ourselves before the metropolitan blur that is the East coast. With the help of WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), we also had the fortune of exchanging labor for room and board. What we found was not just a simple exchange of manual labor for food and a bed. Though that was indeed a part of it, we found much more at Echo Valley.
What we somewhat stumbled into at Echo Valley turned into all three of us greatly furthering our understanding of community, sustainability, lifestyle, and happiness. The farm is a twelve year old “experiment” in the way of living life close to the earth much like indigenous people always have, without much dependence on government or globalized markets, in harmony with the plants and animals living on the farm, and, perhaps the most importantly, as a strong community that advocates cooperation rather than competition. The farm, which consists of roughly two hundred acres across three parcels of land, consists of upwards of five gardens, a vast orchard, hay fields, a concert stage, teaching spaces, a vast number of log, timber, and cob cabins, and more chickens, goats, sheep, mules, cats, dogs, turkeys, and guinea fowl than are worth counting (for they’ve all seem to haven grown in number the five short days we’ve been here).
The message that Echo Valley promotes is an overarching, powerful statement that existing with peace towards all living things, we can rediscover the way of life that many have forgotten, and that by living in this way we can reduce our impact on the earth and let others in the future enjoy its splendor. And the lesson is strong. Though we only spent a short time here in the scope of our trip so far, we gained much insight into such ways of living. The work we did, though physically challenging at times, was a pleasure to do knowing that we were helping such a positive cause.
We’ve spent our time here clearing orchards, re-purposing old barn wood to make compost bins, cutting and splitting firewood, weeding gardens, herding goats, fixing computers, cliff jumping, volunteering at a country fair, feeding the animals, and – of course – eating and sleeping very, very well. Parking the bikes for a handful of days and trading travel for life in its purest form has been a nice change of pace and a much needed time to reflect and meditate on the experiences we’ve had thus far.
Check out the site and their mission here: http://www.echovalleyhope.org/. To our friends at Echo Valley, it was truly a pleasure spending time with you. We hope to see you all again soon.
Today as we rode across the plains of South Dakota from Rapid City to Sioux Falls, our tangle with the west came to an end. From the minute we entered into Montana more than a week ago, it has been a wild ride. We’ve ridden over numerous mountain passes, winded along lakes, swam in rivers, took dirt roads, crossed over the continental divide seven times, dealt with mechanical issues, been caught in thunder and hail storms, dodged buffalo crossing the road, and had our fair share of sleeping closer to bears and moose than to other humans. Despite the years since the Wild West, we found that parts of this country remain just as wild and untamed.
It can only be assumed that something about the nature of this land attracts the folks who inhabit it. Nearly all the great American folk heroes have wound up in this place one way or another across the years. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, and Chief Joseph, whose retreat from the U.S. Army we followed up from Washington to Wyoming. His story, and that of the Nez Perce and their war, is one we will never forget. These are the true Americans – from the Lakota to the Cheyenne, from outlaws to lawmen. They rode across these lands on horses more than a hundred years ago, similarly to how we now traverse it on motorcycles.
But these people, the cowboys and outlaws, still exist today. We’ve even met a few in our time out West, from Road Dog and Brother Bill, to our hippie/biker friend Bob who we met in the woods, to Michael and Mick in Rapid City, to Emmazen, the goggle wearing dog who traverses the country in a Harley Davidson side car. And though they do inhabit this wide open land sparsely, their full, rich personalities seem to give such an empty space a sense of warmth and togetherness that isn’t often found in more densely populated places.
Tomorrow our journey East continues. We leave South Dakota and continue across Minnesota and Iowa aiming for Wisconsin and, eventually, the great American city of Chicago. The West was awe inspiring, but we look forward to exploring the breadbasket’s rich farmlands and varied political landscapes next.
It was a late ride out of Hamilton and we barely made it across the Big Hole ranch land before dark. After all the sun and bike work, we made camp early down a dirt road in the middle of the woods. It was a long day over mountain passes and through valleys, yet we woke up at 6am ready to take on the next leg of our trip; out of Montana and into Wyoming, winding through Yellowstone on the way. But if we had known what was to come, perhaps we’d have slept in just a bit longer.
Following the advice of a mechanic in Hamilton, we cruised down I-15, skirting the Idaho border, and enjoying the serenity of a long, empty highway early in the morning. We were told that the best, or perhaps most scenic, way from Hamilton to Yellowstone was through the Big Hole, down I-15, across South Valley road, through Red Rocks Wildlife Reserve, and into Western Yellowstone on Highway 20. The exit we took to get to South Valley Road and Red Rocks was, fittingly, called Exit Zero. The exit stood right on the continental divide and the border between Idaho and Montana. It was the sole road into the town of Monida, a small town of 13 residents on the map that everyone bar the locals thinks of as a ghost town.
We stood on the Exit Zero off ramp, staring down the winding dirt road, watching it snake up into the hills and out of sight, wondering if any of us had enough gas to make the crossing. But with the nearest town 70 miles back the way we’d come and the crisp morning sun rising hot above our helmets, we tossed a coin and put our faith in heads or tails. We were to make the crossing.
What was supposed to be a paved road through a wildlife reserve turned out to be a grueling 50 mile dirt road through sun baked ranch land without towns, services, or a drop of water. On top of that, Brant’s bike was running one cylinder down and leaking from the petcock, cutting his gas mileage to about 30 miles a gallon. After buying a gallon of gas of one of the town’s residents, we began the slow ride up into nowhere, hoping we had enough fuel and water for the trip. It was Wyatt’s first time off-roading on a motorcycle, but he soon found that there’s no quicker way to learn than taking an 1100cc bike with fifty pounds of gear out into the Montana wilderness.
Most people would think of Exit Zero as the end of the line, skid row, the place where there’s no coming back. Once we hit that gravel and rode up into the hills, there indeed was no turning back. But that first hill was just the beginning. It took hours to make the crossing, but the wildlife we saw, the adventure we had, and the dark goggle tans we took with us made the whole experience worth it. We were little more than dust clouds upon exiting the other side near Yellowstone, and although we did run out of gas the moment we hit asphalt, the the day’s journey taught us that the dustiest, dreariest, and most hellish roads are not always the worst. Though we could have spent just as much time comfortably on asphalt and concrete, too much of America’s soul still exists in the wild to ignore it. When we turned down Exit Zero and headed up that gravel road, we found that sometimes Main Street is in the middle of nowhere.
In all honestly, we’ve been incredibly lucky so far on this trip. We’ve had great weather, awesome company, and little to no bike problems…. until now. With that said, folks, we’re stuck here in Hamilton, MT while we wait for a part of Dylan’s front fork that’s coming from California. It seems that the last owner didn’t put all the parts back in when he rebuilt them. The part should be here tomorrow afternoon, when they’ll rebuild the shocks and send us on our way. In the meanwhile, though, we’re just here in Hamilton exploring the town (yes, it has a Main Street) and biding our time.
We spent our first night in the Montana wilderness up above the town in the Bitterroot Mountains. The camping was free, yet the scenery has been some of the most spectacular of our journey. The steep cliffs on either side of us were comparable to those of Yosemite, but upon which herds of Mountain Goats hid from view. Down among the trees we camped and discussed the day’s ride.
And a ride it had been. We took shelter in a drive-thru church from a thunder storm south of Missoula. We changed our brake pads, our oil, and our front fork seals, all with the generous help we received from the local mechanics. They not only let us use their tools and yards, but also connected us to a string a local welders and shop owners who could help us out.
Throughout the trip, we’ve met a lot of people. The spectacle of three rag-tag guys on near vintage bikes, loaded up with gear, generally draws quite a bit of attention from everyone, especially other bikers. All of these people have been incredibly kind and thoughtful. In the last few days, especially, we’ve met some riders and mechanics in particular who have gone far out of their way to make sure we have a safe and enjoyable journey. Our gratitude goes out to them, as they have helped us get through these particularly troubling times a bit easier. The generosity and sense of community we’ve seen thus far throughout the country has inspired us to no end.
Anyways, we just put together this handy map below for you to track our travels so far. If all goes according to plan, we will be heading south along the 93 into Idaho again, where we’ll cut East, pass through Yellowstone, and stop in Cody, WY to stay on a ranch for a few days and volunteer through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).
-On Maxim, On Magna, and soon to be back on Seca.
View Motorcycle Trip Live in a larger map
Since Seattle, we’ve crawled over the Cascades in the freezing cold of the morning, driven across the rolling wheat fields of eastern Washington, seen the Grand Coulee Dam, passed into both Idaho and Montana, went swimming, and arrived in Missoula, MT.
It’s been tough on the road — we’ve been waking up at 5am, breaking camp by 6am, and riding for the better part of day (up to 12 hours sometimes). True, we stop a lot. The smallest tank of our bikes only gets about 150 miles per fill, so we stop for gas often. We’ll stop at anything we see on the way, such as a sandwich shop, a photo op, a swimming hole, or anything else that meets our fancy. We’ve managed, with doing this, to make some pretty good mileage still. We’ve done a few 300+ mile days, which on a bike is a lot harder than it seems. Mostly, we’ve been averaging just under 200 miles per day, including the days we stopped for the better part of it — like in Portland or Seattle.
Everyday we meet people for encounters either long or short. Up at Long Lake outside of Spokane, we met another one of these people. Dan had moved up from San Diego, CA to Spokane, WA to do some work for ABC media. Hearing that we were touring the region (after a long conversation about fishing and Pike), he told us to get out the map and showed us every route from Spokane to Wyoming, and everything in between. He outlined the next days’ route, from Spokane North to Sandpoint, ID for breakfast, to Clark Fork, ID for sandwiches from a Mennonite Deli, up Hwy 56 in Montana for a dip in the Bull River, and back down the 200 towards Missoula, through the Cabinet and Bitterroot mountain ranges. It was a truly beautiful ride, and reminded us of an earlier conversation.
This trip, as calculated as it seems sometimes, is really largely unplanned and whimsical. Each day we wake up with a general direction, East (maybe somewhat Southeast) at this time and have a general end destination, but it is in no way mandatory we reach it. Truly, we are following a little trail of advice across the country. Dan brought us to Missoula by way of the 200, and today we will go try to meet his friend who owns a fly shop down in Hamilton, MT. Before that, however, we followed the 2 from the Coulee Dam on the advice of some biker, the 20 through the Cascades because of a conversation back in San Francisco, and so on and so forth. We truly can’t wait to see where the trip takes us next — be it Idaho again, Wyoming, or Eastern Montana.
Here in Montana, a state that both scares the living hell out of us and intrigues us to no end, we plan to hop around from city to city looking for a ranch or something more interactive to tour. While we’ve had a great time riding and passing through the scenery, we’ve decided it is time to participate within it.
Yesterday, while taking a dip in the Bull River in northwestern Montana and eating our lunch, two of the truest bikers we had ever seen came peeling into the small little dirt patch we were parked in. Road dog (as he called himself) jumped off his red, in-line 4 cylinder Honda engine with Yamaha carburetors, Volkswagen air-filters, a Triumph oil tank, his custom seat and handlebars, and a Harley kickstand.He started looking around and screaming “Ohhhhaa V65! Zingga! Babbbby! 4 cylinders ain’t dead, no no no! Yeeeehaw!” We’d met a true biker. There was nothing in Road Dog’s soul more important than biking. Not even his own life.
His compatriot, Brother Bill, pulled up on his nearly stock Road King. Quiet and reserved, he was the antithesis of Road Dog’s explosive, live-wire attitude. While Road Dog became somewhat intimate in staring at, dissecting, criticizing and praising the three of our bikes, Brother Bill (don’t just call him, Bill, whatever you do), explained that they were living up in the Biker Church in Troy, Montana. They had no homes, as they had been living at the church for more than a year, but just P.O. Boxes to pick up their registration and insurance.
After a good half hour or more of conversation, the five of us saddled up and headed out. We agreed to ride out towards Thompson Falls on the 200 together. After a while of them following in our wake, they snaked their way to the front of the formation, gave one last peace sign and fist in the air, and took off.
As they pulled away and faded into the distance helmet-less, careless, and free, we wondered how these guys could actually revolve their lives around the bike. Sure, for the next two or three months these bikes are our lives, but that’s largely because they’re what carry all our gear and move us about. These bikes, Road Dog and Brother Bill, lived for nothing but their bikes. The bikes weren’t a tool to see the world, but rather the world was a tool to ride the bikes upon. I’m sure we will remember these guys for the rest of our trip and longer. Ride on, old boys, ride on.
As we’ve winded up the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, we’ve gained insight into many things about ourselves. We’ve been tested upon the limits of our ambition, the strengths of our passion, and the depths of our fortitude. We’ve had some long and difficult days when nothing seemed to go right, but we’ve also had some incredibly gorgeous and inspiring day that not even the worst problem could turn bad. Ultimately, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to spend most evenings of this trip thus far either bedding down in a beautiful campsite — along rivers, on the shores of lakes, in rainforests, or at the beach — or spending time in an awesome city with great people — as we did in Portland and, now, Seattle.
The traveling has been exhausting, especially sleeping on the ground after 12+ hours of riding, but we haven’t been put off by it. At the end of the day, when we sit down at the campsite and get to talking about the things we’ve seen and the places we’ve met, the consensus is always that there’s no place and time we would rather be than right then and there. When we wake up in the morning and break camp over coffee and talks of the day to come, the possibilities are truly endless. We may set a destination that would be ideal or convenient, but rarely do we make it that far, for exploring that which we stumble upon always takes up more time each day than we allocate it.
Aside from learning about ourselves in less than conventional ways than usual, we’ve gained an incredible amount of insight into the nature of this country. Spending so much time on the bikes alone each day, we’ve all had plenty of time to think in solitude. Of course, there’s the obvious things we thing about — where we’re sleeping that night, how we’ll capture better footage, when we’ll have time to charge our phones, but it is the thoughts that the surrounding promotes which really drive us to wonder. When riding through the redwoods we felt strongly against the logging industry; however on the Olympic peninsula we understood the necessity of such an industry for the local economy and the country alike. When we slept in a tee-pee in Arcata, we freely talked and joked about Native Americans; yet when we stopped for gas on a tribal reservation, we were humbled by the economical state of today’s Native American communities. These moments of inspection and pondering may seem short and brief here, but on the road they can occupy hours of solitary time. The mind wanders in unusual ways when left alone and, on a motorcycle trip such as this, it is often in such a state.
Random occasions have become some of our favorite parts of the trip. Stumbling upon some little girl’s Otter Pop stand on the street in Portland, and, subsequently, receiving an email from the father about how we managed to inspire and promote self-reflection for him and his daughter’s future is one of the most heartwarming moments of the trip so far. When we meet other bikers who’ve done what we are many years before, we’ve had inspiring and enlightening conversations about the nature of society and the benefits of pursuing such an adventure.
As of yesterday, the second leg of our trip both metaphorically and physically began when we reached the most NW point in the continental US – Cape Flattery, WA. After staring out at the Pacific one last time until our trip is done, we turned our bikes east and went forth into Seattle. From here, we will continue East until the Atlantic shows on the horizon. Then South. Then West back on home.
There was a lot of learning in this first leg of the journey. From the surrounding to ourselves, it has almost been overwhelming at times. However, the greatest lesson we’ve learned in this week has very little to do with the trip itself but rather with those surrounding us. As of writing this post, our Kickstarter project is a mere hour from ending. We have 67 different people who have backed this project. From anywhere between $5 to $500, almost seventy different individuals have shown their trust in us by support, believing, and spending their own hard earned cash to help us make this goal a reality. We are truly fortunate to have such a community surrounding the three of us and so unfailingly willing to support us in these endeavors. While we have learned a lot of lessons this week, the most powerful has been the one that you guys taught us: with the support of friends and family, any shallow obstacle can be overcome to achieve something great. Once again, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
One week in and the trip is rolling by. We’ve stayed in tepees and by rivers, met travelers and townies alike, and have gotten to know life on the road. We’re writing this from Astoria, OR (home of the Goonies) and are about to cross the great Columbia River on our way to Washington. As we travel through some of these more remote areas with limited internet access, be sure to check thew “quick updates” section on our homepage for our locale or any other info. The next couple of days will be spent winding through Olympic National Park before we head into Seattle.
Alright! First day on the road. So much happened, but in a sense, so little did as well. We made it out of the city at about noon after packing up the bikes, informing various social media channels of our departure, trying to figure out a last second radiator leak, and finally hitting stop and go traffic from 19th avenue to Marin City. Our first stop was the two-building town Olema, where we grabbed a quick lunch of crackers, sardines, spam, and wild plums and discussed the ride so far.
Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino county all have great riding so far. The roads are smooth and twisty with enough straights to let us relax for a moment in between twists. We all had a good amount of time of self-reflection to think about how far we’ve come to make it to this point and, conversely, how long we have yet to go.
We were aiming for Fort Bragg, but after finding they were at capacity for camping (and, according to a Park Ranger, a bit like Night of the Living Dead), we decided on camping at Manchester State Beach right outside of the small town of Port Arena. Some people we met at the general store in Point Arena told us about their 7th of July parade and convinced us to come back the next day before taking off further North to Arcata.
California is a truly amazing state. Though we’ve all lived here our whole lives, it’s a state that holds so many new experiences. Within a 10 minute period we went from rolling to coastal bluffs, to redwood groves and back to cattle ranches. The people are as varied as the scenery. In one day we met or interacted with everyone from the frigid city-dweller, to the bubbly country folk, to the jaded old hippy of southern Mendocino. This trip holds so much opportunity for seeing different scenery and meeting varied folks. California, in this sense is the perfect place to start. We can hardly wait to get back on the road. Oh, p.s., we found the first Main Street of the trip in Point Arena.
So after six months of discussing and saving for the trip and then one month of frantically packing, preparing, and planning… we’re finally off! There’s been ups and downs in the last several months. We’ve had times when we felt like we should scrap the whole idea and there’s been times when we felt we could leave the next day and just leave all the preparation behind. We had our share of excitement and elation when we cemented the idea of “Finding Main Street” and saw incredible amounts of support in the first few days of the Kickstarter launching. We’ve also had our share of stress due to motorcycle maintenance issues, unflattering bank statements, or loose ends needing to be tied up with frayed rope. We had moments of extreme mood swings, where in a five minute period we would go from hair-pulling stress to bouncing around the room in excitement. We did it though. All the pre-trip stuff is behind us and we’re off in a few minutes. The road is all that lies ahead.
From every single facet of each one of our networks, we have seen support. Be it something as simple as a Facebook like or a website view, as kind as a Kickstarter or personal donation, or as hard as equally sharing the burden of stress and physical effort; you’ve all shown tremendous amounts of generosity. You know who you are and the lengths in which you’ve contributed, and from the bottom of our hearts — thank you.
While you are reading this we will be on the bikes. Take a listen to the music below made by friend and musician Kameron “Kameronessi” Rogers and think about where we are. While you listen to the music, we are listening to the sound of the wind and the hum of the engine. Think of us riding along in the shadows of giant redwoods or on the bluffs overlooking the vast Pacific ocean – it is the adventure of a lifetime, an ode to the heroes of the past who took their own odysseys, a trip of internal and external reflection… and it is happening today.
We are gonna go find Main Street. See you soon.
There are a lot of things that go into planning a motorcycle trip. There’s the bikes, first of all. They must be running smoothly and hassle free — unlikely to be the source of too much stress and hardship on the road. They must be equipped to hold enough gear to sustain one’s self for two months on the road. And, perhaps most importantly, they must be comfortable. Really comfortable. There’s the gear, which for a trip of this magnitude includes both camping and camera gear alongside all the other essentials of daily life. There’s the actual day-to-day planning, which involves pouring over maps and the internet for places to stop, things to see, and people to meet up with. And finally, there’s all the tying up of loose ends at home, because one can’t just leave home for two months without closing up shop a bit. Needless to say, the three of us have all been quite busy the last few weeks taking care of all of the above.
This weekend Dylan and Brant had the fortune of traveling up to Grass Valley, where they did some custom fabrication to the bikes — welding stuff directly to the frame notwithstanding. It was incredibly hot, which probably a good preview of the latter parts of our trip to come, and the work was hard, but we got it done. The bikes are now almost fully prepared. There’s just a few last little mechanical annoyances to take care of and we are ready to go.
The rest has been largely finished… Camera equipment is compiled and ready to film, data backup hard discs are to be bought, and camping equipment is ready to be strapped to the bikes. Soon enough we will be on the bikes heading over the Golden Gate Bridge, and we won’t be turning around anytime during the next two months.
“The Map” – a short trailer from the Finding Main Street crew.
Planning. Usually it’s necessary, sometimes it’s not. We’re trying to go on this trip relatively carefree and without plans, but a good route is a necessity. So far, we’ve roughly planned the first 2 weeks. Riding days should be between 150 and 300 miles a day, sometimes less if there’s any sights to see in the area or we’ve been pushing the limit the day or days before. Most nights we’ll hopefully be camping. Other times, maybe every 3rd or 4th night, we’ll be staying in a roadhouse or motel.
So far, it looks as if we’ll be heading directly north first. We will hug the coast and ride roughly 175 miles the first day to Fort Bragg, CA. After a night of camping, our first real, full day on the road begins. We’ll rise at daybreak, break camp, then head to Arcata, CA. There we have a teepee to sleep in (no amenities or anything, but hey… a teepee’s a teepee!) and will get back on the road early the next day again. We’ll cross the Oregon – California border once again on the coast, which we will hug until Coos Bay for the 4th night of camping. A long day of riding the fourth day should take us to Astoria, OR, where we will rest before crossing into Washington the next day. The fifth day will take us meandering through the beautiful Olympic National Forest, and to Port Townsend, WA, where a warm shower, hot food, and good company awaits.
After Seattle, we head East. The idea of heading further north to Vancouver and then onto Calgary through the mountains sounded great, especially because none of us have been that far north on this continent. But in the end this is a trip about the United States. (Still, we may pop in for quick bite of poutine up in Quebec.) By heading East we’ll see the backbone of America’s great frontier. This includes the Columbia River, Northern Idaho, the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, Keyhole National Park, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Sturgis, Crazy Horse Monument, Mount Rushmore, the Missouri River, and much, much more. And, of course, we’ll be filming and documenting ALL of this for your viewing pleasure. Stay tuned.
As you probably know by now, our Kickstarter has officially launched! Just over 24 hours in and we’ve already reached 10% of our goal. Big thanks to everyone who has already helped fund us! If you can afford to help, please do! If not, please share the link and help spread the word about this project. The more funding we get, the better the final project will be! Thank you all!