(originally published in the December 2013 issue of USRiderNews)
When shall we decide to dance on the razor’s edge and pry off the lid of the bucket where our dreams are stored? Scott Cochran, 2013
I can vividly remember the first time I heard someone mention they’d ridden a motorcycle across the country. I was 18 years old at the time and I remember saying, “Wow! That’s awesome. What was it like? What was the best thing you saw?”
I was disappointed with the telling because their matter-of-fact accounting of the journey was straight forward and lacking in the adventurous overtones I’d expected such a trip would generate.
And the person involved hadn’t done anything remotely as adventurous since taking that trip, twenty years earlier.
How could someone travel from one coast to the other, 2,600 miles, on a motorcycle, and not have at least one story longer than 3 or 4 sentences?
I suppose you can travel east to west and never leave the interstate system. But, even then there are attractions and pieces of history just off the superslab that beg to be discovered.
And, as I discovered recently, there’s enough to see on I-40 from Oklahoma City to Flagstaff AZ to make interesting conversation.
I once interviewed John Green, of Easyrider Events, and asked him if he could only ride one interstate in America for the rest of his life, which one would it be. He thought for a minute and said, “It would have to be a long one, and have interesting scenery, so it would have to be I-40.”
After two weeks on the road, with 4 days of those spent of I-40, at times riding 90 mph through stretches in New Mexico and Arizona, I have to agree with him.
My travelling companion for most of the ride was Walt Lumpkin. Walt can be considered a “veteran motorcycle tourer.” He knows the best hotels, (and the worsts) and the best restaurants and diners.
He’s found these gems because he’s not afraid to pick a restaurant and give it a try.
He and I share a common philosophy while on the road. Find a local and ask them to point out the best food. If that doesn't work, check YELP.
The only “chain” restaurant we both go to in a pinch is Cracker Barrel.
So many of us never have the chance to ride across country. The reasons can range from lack of money, time or opportunity. I don’t want to discount any of those reasons. However, if you’ve got a desire to make a trip like this, I can promise you can find the time and figure out the money.
On this trip I had just ridden CA 2 from Wrightwood to La Canada, (and dodged falling rocks) and jumped on the 210 heading west. Igot turned around in Pasadena when I got off the interstate to get gas. It was Sunday, just after lunch and I saw a hair salon with an OPEN sign. I’d been thinking about getting a hair cut so I made a U-turn and parked on the street in front of the shop.
The shop was deserted except for the two stylists. One was a woman in her 50’s and the other in her 20’s. You can probably guess which one was sporting bright orange/red hair.
Even though I don’t have a lot of hair to cut, and the procedure didn't take long, it still cost me $20.
Thinking I was a local, they offered me a coupon for my next visit. When I explained that I was from Georgia, the red/orange haired one told me she wanted to visit new places and see new things. Then she asked me “exactly where is Georgia?”
I drew her a map and showed her where it was in relation to Florida and I saw her eyes light up as that high school geography lesson came back to her.
On a hunch I asked her if she’d ever been to Death Valley. She said, “Where’s that?” I asked her if she’d ever been to Yosemite or Sequoia National Forest. She said no. I said, “so you want to visit Georgia, but haven’t been to the best places right here in your own state?
I told her I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass, but why dream of going 2,500 miles across country when there was so much adventure waiting for you just outside your own door?
Her response was that everybody she knows can say they’ve been to the places in California, but Georgia and Florida are trips you can brag about. Places your friends haven’t been. Places they may never get to go.
I shook my head and said, “Darling, if that’s the only reason you want to travel somewhere, you’re going to be miserable during the trip, when you get there and miserable coming back. And when it’s over, you won’t have anything worth bragging about.”
I told her the beaches in Georgia and Florida were just like the ones in California. We have malls, restaurants and fast food chains that are duplicates of the ones in Pasadena. With a few minor differences in climate and accents, one place looked pretty much like another. We have more trees and mosquitoes. I didn’t mention the gnats, I figure the mosquitoes were bad enough.
I told her that before she wasted a wad of cash travelling across the country, she should learn how to travel. Learn how to spot interesting places, and uncover hidden gems. Learn to interact with the people you meet on the road to discover what makes a place truly unique.
Avoid the trap of focusing too much on the “destination” and missing the little things that are right there waiting to be discovered.
Travel is a little like an “Easter Egg” hunt. The best trips I’ve taken are the ones where I wander around, uncovering one golden egg after another.
She nodded her head as if she understood what I was saying but the confusion in her eyes betrayed her. I’m afraid she hadn’t comprehended any of what I’d just said.
But she’s young, and there’s hope yet.
Until next month, ride safe, and always take the road less traveled.