Well, that’s a wrap on the Summer 2020 riding season. After my Escape from New York and 10,000 plus miles of open road, I’ve put the bike away for the winter and settled into my next life as a rugged survivalist in a one room cabin high up in the rural mountains of central Idaho. What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been.
At the conclusion of the 2019 riding season, I stashed my bike in the parking garage at the Spokane Airport and crossed my fingers that it would be there again when I came back for it in the spring. So when the trifecta of the pandemic, the collapse of the concert industry, and hence my way to make a living, and the proliferation of sirens and helicopters in my downtown NYC neighborhood left me feeling a little too much like Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas, minus the cocaine paranoia, I tossed my keys at my landlord of 8 years, put my stuff in storage, and hopped a plane to the great Pacific Northwest.
Step one was retrieving my bike. The parking rates were $14 a day, and with my bike having been there since October 5th, 2019, the math added up to the exact sum of “Oh Fuck No!” So I hopped onto my baby, and after she fired right up, somewhat surprisingly, I rolled around the parking garage looking for the exit of least resistance. Typically I’d just ride right around the parking booth gate, but the management here must have been tricked a few times already, as these gates at the toll both went all the way across the roadway, dashing those plans. There was one break in the curb I found that would let me right out onto airport drive, but there was a cop parked there, so that was out. After a few more laps, I decided to just sneak out under the cover of a giant pickup truck. I waited for one to roll up to the exit and pay their (likely way cheaper than mine) parking tab, and I crept up behind them until my headlight was about to make love to their tailgate, and I waited. As soon as they got the green light and started moving forward, I was rolling along in lockstep and managed to escape over the line to freedom before the guillotine of the Spokane County Parking Authority was able to slice down on my credit card, or, god forbid, bop down and knock me on my helmeted head. Phew.
Off I rode, into the Wild Wild West. I had a loose plan to visit some friends in Idaho, Colorado, Texas, Nashville, Florida and then make my way back up the east coast by autumn and find a new place to settle down once my real rock n roll life resumed. But you know what they say, the easiest way to make God laugh is to tell her your plans, and before long I realized both that this pandemic wasn’t going anywhere soon, and that I was in love with the PNW. The entirety of my 10,000 miles in the saddle this summer ended up spent traversing Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, NorCal, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
From the jump, I knew this trip was going to be different. All I had with me was my camping gear, a few books, some clothes, and my trusty Butler Maps, which I would highly recommend for anyone doing any sort of serious road tripping. They highlight all the most fun, winding, and scenic roads in a state. Plus tons of rad dirt roads. Oh man, making me wistful just thinking about em. The one thing I didn’t have was a backup plan. There was nowhere to go if I grew weary of life on the road if I decided to stash my bike at yet another airport and head home. This was it. When I tossed one leg over the bike and stood up on the pegs and settled into my seat, I WAS home. That was it. There was no plan B. Life without a net. My comfort zone.
I’d done some camping before, here and there, not a whole lot, but this Summer I had no choice. The reason I gave up my pad and hit the wind was that I had no idea when I’d be back to living the high life of an NYC concert promoter again, and was determined to stretch my newly minted mask money for as many months as I could. So it was gonna be camping, every night. And the occasional motel to charge my phone batteries and live high on the hog with some microwave pizza, instead of the roadside peanut butter sandwiches, campfire hot dogs and canned beans. Now that’s living!
So ride I did. With only one aim every night. And that was to find a new place to pitch my tent. Traditional campgrounds were not my aim. Like, the ones you have to pay for? No thank you. My idea of an acceptable campsite doesn’t involve struggling to find some inner peace while an RV 20 feet away cranking Red Holt Chili Peppers jamz while the resident honkies whoop it up over nine or ten Heinekens. No way Jose Cuervo. If I’m gonna be sleeping out under the stars, I wanna be all by my lonesome. Full on middle of nowhere, dispersed, renegade camping. I had two x gallon bottles of water that I would refill at gas stations, and in the occasional cleaner looking mountain streams, and I picked up a camp stove, a hatchet, a pocket knife, and mini shovel for digging shit holes, and all that along with my healthy lack of fear of the unknown, which I’d been relentlessly honing over the past 4 decades. Meaning I had everything I’d need. Whats the worst that could happen?
Those first few nights were a little sketchy, with half my head still connected to the big city, and every now and then I waited too long to find a place to settle down, and when it became clear I was going to lose my race with the setting sun I would find a little clearing just a little bit too close to the road. The headlights of passing vehicles was much more frightening that the sound of howling coyotes in the distance. Soon enough I found my rhythm though, and ended up with a quite a knack for picking out the perfect spots. Lava lakes at the end of long ass dirt roads? Check. Black sand beach shrouded in fog on California’s Lost Coast, which I stumbled upon by accident after a 30 mile treacherous dirt road through the wilds of Humboldt County? Check. A quick stop where I left the tent wrapped up and just strung my hammock between a couple of redwoods and hoped a meddlesome park ranger didn’t stumble upon me in my lumber slumber? Check. You name it, I slept there. But that fateful night where I threw caution to the wind and just slept in the hammock with no covering was a game changer. I pretty much never used the tent again. Waking up in the middle of the night, forgetting where you are for a brief moment, and opening your eyes to a beaming canopy of the cosmos really reminds you what it feels like to be alive.
So I just kept on riding and exploring. The more off the beaten path a place is, the more I’m attracted to it. I avoid the interstates like the plague when I’m on my bike, partly because of the huge trucks, but mostly because they never lead you anywhere interesting. Which is pretty much the point. Those huge roads speed you from place to place with the idea of making you forget, if you ever even realized in the first place, the the heartbeat of America lies far far away their asphalt apocalypse. The stitching of the fabric of America are the dotted lines on the maps. The rural roads, the dirt roads. The roads to nowhere. The ones where you find abandoned service stations, barely there VFW outposts with $1.50 cans of Hamm’s beer, a lonely post office, and where people shop for groceries at the Dollar store, because that’s the only store. Thats where you’ll find me at my most intrigued, and most inquisitive with the locals.
Pretty much every day had the same routine. Ride until I was too tired to keep going, usually finding a spot to lay my weary head at dusk. Forage for wood, start a fire, cook something up, read for a while, climb into the hammock, wake up with the sunrise, make a little instant coffee, dig a hole, shit in it, fill it back in, and keep on riding. Just chasing the best roads I could find, and always keeping my eye open for a little sliver of single or double track dirt road that would lead me to only god knows where. My favorite kind of riding. And those “who knows where” roads always packed more than a few wallops. Most notably the morning I unsuspectingly woke up deep in the heart Humboldt County’s Murder Mountain, the place the Netflix series was named for. A dastardly and dangerous backwater that’s home to scores of marijuana farms, most of them quite less than legal, and probably the one place in America that’s still full of outlaws. I had been getting some sketchy vibes from the locals over the past few days at the gas stations and such, but I didn’t really realize what I was in the middle of until I texted a bud and told him my location and he filled me in.
The previous day I had been on a long and winding dirt road that connected two burgs of nowheresville, just puttering along in first gear and admiring the scenery when a gate opened and a masked man clutching an assault rifle shot me a dirty look and then barked an attack order to his guard dog. A rabid snarling pit bull leapt and chased after me, nearly burying his frothy fangs into my riding boot. I narrowly avoided crashing trying to get away from Cujo, and shudder to think at would have happened had I skidded out on that gravel patch. That night I ended up at a sketch-bag motel in the shadow of a lonely stretch of the 101 in Graberville, CA. It’s almost never a good sign when the door to the motel room next to yours opens and out comes a guy in off brand basketball shorts, sandals and socks and a stained tank top clutching a bloody tissue to his nose. Two more doors down an obvious drug deal was taking place. A few years back I probably would have knocked on that door myself. But those days are in my now personal hamper for now. So I grabbed some grub from the shit hole next door and then locked my door, and when I did I found a wadded up napkin stuffed into the peephole. I could smell that Henry Hill paranoia rearing it’s ugly head again, this time left over from the hovel’s previous occupant. So I figured it was hight time to check out this “Murder Mountain” doc.
Well you can imagine my fucking surprise to find the opening scene of the movie was a mother canvassing the folks at the diner RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM WHERE I WAS STAYING, trying to find information on her daughter who had mysteriously disappeared!! The more I watched the more everything else I had seen in the last few days started to coalesce in my mind, and like the grand finale of Usual Suspects, I dropped my styrofoam cup of mountain dew and it crashed on the filthy carpeted floor at my feet and just like Agent Kujan, I realized I had spent the past several days deeply entrenched in the turf of a deadly murderous mob. I went outside and pulled my motorcycle around to directly outside my window and barely slept a wink that night. And then I shot up at the crack of dawn, tearing out of there my back wheel was on fire and my mullet was catching, with a vow to never ever return. Until I inevitably do, of course. Because, let’s face it, the terrain is GORGEOUS 😉
And on and on I went, up and down the coast, ambling down ratty old roads that hadn’t been repaired in decades, up and over countless mountain passes. I put my annual National Parks Pass to heavy use, and even ran into the esteemed Jonny Corndawg and his family in Yellowstone, and ended up squatting at their campsite with them for a few days. I got smoked out of a campsite at Mono Lake by the wildfires, and even ended up spending three nights at the ‘World Famous’ supposedly haunted but most definitely creepy Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada. So many more hijinks ensued, many of which will forever remain inside my brain, as they only made sense in the moment, and only to me and were connected to events of my past through a rapid firing of synapses in my own labyrinthine maze of memories. But the tapestry to tales they weaved for me will remain with me forever, randomly spitting back out to my conscious mind in the oddest moments, and making me laugh out loud, like a madman lost in his own internal film, directed by God and starring me and my badass bike and our pink Pretty Pony that I strapped to the handlebars and who accompanied us through the whole glorious Summer of 2020.
Not long into my seemingly endless journey to nowhere, I stopped to see some friends in Central Idaho and spent a week with them, enjoying the trappings of a roof and a bed and electricity and a kitchen and running water. And then I headed out again, with a loose plan to circle back and hang with them some more. After I few weeks I came back and enjoyed a shower, some home cooking, and most of all, their company. The thing I’ve missed most isn’t city living, or the amazing restaurants in NYC, or even the shows, but companionship. I missed my friends and my social and mental support network in NYC, of course, I missed talking to people. In person. And meeting strangers on the road. The Rona cancelled my usual plans of popping into little diners and bars and podunk roadside bait and bullet type shops and just shooting the shit. I learned a long time ago that appearing in these places and announcing myself as a city slicking New Yorker wasn’t always the wisest choice, so my invented wandering identity has long been a guy from Bakersfield, CA just out on a little road tip. The California plates aid the charade. When asked what I do I usually say “As little as possible” and when pushed let my interrogator know “I inherited a janitorial supply company from my dad. It pretty much runs itself.” All of those things usually get us past the plain ole bullshit so we can talk about the real nitty gritty, like “Anyone spotted any bears or rattlesnakes round these parts lately?” or “Where’s best riding roads ‘round here?”
So without my usual go-to methodology of extensive jibber jabber, it became a way more solitary season than I was expecting. Not bad, really, just… quiet. So I circled back to my friends in Idaho a few times, and after one 5 week jaunt on the road whose tail end saw me survive a pretty nasty crash at 50 miles per hour in the desert sands of central Nevada, I rode for a few stiff and sore days and limped my bruised body back up to my homies’ little slice of Idaho heaven and asked if I could rent the cabin they had so graciously let me stay in on my previous visits. They said yes, and just like that, I became and honorary Idahoan. How long I’ll stay here is anybody’s guess. But I’m loving it for now. Which is all any of us can ask for in life, right? To love where we are, and who we are, at this very moment. If only for a moment. And if we manage just a little more than that, that’s where the sweet spot lies. And that’s when you reach out and grab it, and squeeze til the juice runs out, and savor every last drop. Drink it all up my friends. For tomorrow may never come.