The Road West

***NOTE: With these landscapes, the quality increases dramatically if you click into the slideshow THEN click “View full size” in the bottom right corner***

Thanks are in order. Thanks to all the people who gave me a couch or a bed to sleep on. Thanks for the good times. Thanks to the roadside fruit vendor with the tire iron for help with my chain in Kooskia, Idaho, and the mechanic in Sausalito, CA, for the same. Thanks guys for being on the trail that day when mama bear came along. Thanks to the strangers-turned-friends who shared a campsite or motel with me when it was time to get dry, and especially to the family who took me in out of that days-long downpour in Grants Pass, OR. Thanks for renting The Jerk that night, for the delicious tacos and the gloves. Thanks for trusting me. Belgians! Thanks for meeting my grandfather. Thanks to the old friends for remembering me and taking time. Thanks to the folks at my old newspaper. Thanks to the ladies in San Clemente, CA, for demonstrating true strength, and for the chance to take a trip with my old man. Thanks for the trip, old man. Thanks to all the road trippers for your spontaneity. Thanks to all the folks on the scene. Thanks for advice and perspective. Thanks for watching my bike, cousins. Thanks everyone for all of the love and all the good luck. Thanks for building the fire.

My motorcycle wasn’t designed for a trip like this. A couple large backpacks awkwardly bungied down on the back created a large, awkward sail of sorts, and big trucks shook me pretty good when they passed. Small and slow, without handguards, windshield, or weight (I don’t add much), the Yamaha XT 225 isn’t, compared to say the Harley or the automobile, a comfortable means of transport for a 5000-mile journey through perhaps the windiest parts of the western United States (maybe of the Earth, who knows?). But people have done it before and before that they did it without motors at all, and although the trip was at times excessively exciting, it was fun, and I’d probably do it again. It’s good to feel the sun on your neck when you’re in damp woods or thin air. It’s good to downshift when you have no idea what’s around the corner. It’s good not knowing. My bike really seemed to understand all of that. It was a fine travel companion—reliable, honest and appreciative of small miracles. Great gas mileage, too.

The route led us north for a while—from Colorado through the buttes and prairies, through the vast middle of Wyoming to western Montana (the best part of the best state), to where Canada was just a slap shot away, then west across that skinny, mountainous, thermal-puddled panhandle of Idaho, on through the wind farms and vineyards of southern Washington state, between volcanoes in the Columbia River Gorge (and I thought Wyoming’s wind blew), to Hood River, Crater Lake and Bend, OR, before depositing us in the city of Portland, ready to do laundry. Then it was up and down the Oregon coast and on to northern California, where we lived in a dream under redwoods for a spell, and finally to San Francisco and Lodi, CA. There were so many good rivers along the way.

That three-month romance between man and machine was at a point interrupted by a wedding between two people back in Colorado (Congrats Drew, Amelia!) and an additional impromptu road trip to southern California with my dad to deliver a car to a friend. It happens that I’d been reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, and finished it just in time to set foot in Abbey’s country. Arches, Zion, Antelope Canyon—nothing can really prepare a guy or his dad for the spectacle, not even Abbey’s long-winded description of every rock and juniper in Utah. Nor could Abbey’s account of what was lost when it was built prepare me to see both sides of the Glen Canyon Dam.

My dad’s a drive-all-day-and-night, each-hour-must-be-packed-with-experience kind of guy like I am, and we enjoyed more than our fair share of impossibly red canyons over a few days time. Sorry to gloat. We enjoyed one another, too. It was a special time and the timing was perfect. After California, I rejoined my bike in Oregon. We then drove to California.

There’s more to tell, but you get the idea—for miles and miles, everything happened the way it was supposed to and everything ended in California. I took these photos along the way.

I’m back in Colorado now figuring on what’s next. It’s nice, today, to reflect instead on what just was: on the road. I like it there. Seldom am I as content off the road. I think it’s because that while it is at times lonely, life on the road is simple. Basic human and animal needs seem as one; shelter is at the forefront, and right behind shelter is the need to seize and savor—to hold on TO dear life! The miles and their places are always almost behind you—just burnt rubber and memories, after all. Even if it meanders, there’s an urgency on the road. Time with a person is likewise fleeting—you may only get to speak to someone once. But you also get to speak to someone new in a place you don’t know well, over and over. I feel compelled to make those moments count extra. All of those first impressions, and so many of them the last ones. On the road, there’s always the land to consider. It’s usually strange and often beautiful (the less familiar, the more of it you see), but you get to know one another. You share a nod with the land like you share a joke with the guy who fills your tank in Oregon. You’ll stop sometimes, just so you and the land can stare one another in the eyes.

You’re in your own head a lot on the road. Without a lot of domestic clutter, you have space in there. Despite myself, I spend a lot of time on the road thinking about life off of it. I see more and more the value of staying in one place, of joining up with a community, of investing more time with fewer individuals and on fewer causes. I see, in the distance, the value of going all in—of roots. But I can’t stop loving the sacrifice either; I don’t miss a commute, don’t miss paying bills and spending freedom for comforts I don’t really need. I don’t miss knowing a damn thing about what’s going to happen tomorrow. I won’t say I never will, but my addiction to the road is fierce.

I owe a lot of favors, but that’s no bad thing. I missed some people along the way that I should have seen. There were times when I should have stayed longer. Each fork’s a choice when you’re underway with no plan. But once you turn (or turn, stop, take a piss, make a U-turn, stop and reconsider…), you’re in for whatever and whoever you get. Sometimes the weatherman is way off and it’s blue instead of the crap you were planning for; or you might have to pull over, hide and swear a while because it wasn’t supposed to rain. Sometimes the weatherman is just in your head, too. I was met with acceptance and gratitude when I was expecting a hard time; I encountered a little intolerance and greed when it should have been so easy. I met people who would take the shirts off their backs even though shirts were about all they had. I met people who didn’t think they had it good enough. I met people who were asking for it. I saw some people get a break. I saw, more than once, someone learn something from his opposite. Sometimes people are proud of the wrong things, and regret the right ones. I felt self-pity over nothing really, once or twice on the road, but self-pity shoved off when I did, burned off with the fuel, blew away in heavy wind. For certain ailments, the road’s a doctor.

I met people who never left town, and some who found themselves in the West for the first time. I met a real magician and someone who hated New Orleans. You get all kinds on the road.

10 thoughts

    • Hey Belgians! Good to hear from you. Thanks for checking it out. Still owe y’all some facebook pics too. They’ll be up soon!

  1. Hola amigo, es grato saber que sigues desarrollando tu pasión , las imágenes están espectaculares, vivimos momento agradables en Venezuela pero espero verlo pronto por Colombia, cuídese, se le quiere y recuerda gratamente

    • Hola Jose, gracias q viste mi blog! Estoy en este momento pensando en donde viajar siguiente. Te aviso si voy al sur. Cuidase, primo, espero q nos vemos algun dia pronto!

  2. Another great read, even better ride through your amazing world of words…. Absolutely love this piece, Michael, and the photos are excellent. Well done you.

    • Bev, if it wasn’t for you and Brad I’d probably be trapped in the snow somewhere! It was a pleasure seeing your spot and catching up with Jeff, too. Thank you again!

  3. Michael, WOW! What an amazing set of pictures, and the story that went with is truly wonderful. You are a special young man and I am so proud to be your Papa.

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