“I write because I’m too afraid to steal, too ugly to act, too weak to fight, and too stupid in math to be a Cosmologist.” ~ Paul Beatty
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to change our nature, to do something drastic to better oneself. What comes with that and how it effects things around us. In turn I’ve also been thinking about one of my favorite poets and what his writing meant to me the first time I read it. So I’ve been delving into some of those readings and some new things here and there. To some extent the past few months to a year have been interesting. Life has changed a lot. Change used to frighten me, I downright hated it. More the unknowing nature of it and what it meant to give up a space where you are comfortable and know the world around you, how it operates, and how to bend it to your will to some extent. What I realized though is that fear was based way more on thinking I had a vision for my life, for who I was, or maybe should be. When it came down to it I am what the Lord made me to be, no more, no less, and that’s okay. What I came to see is that sometimes you have to give up comfort to learn who you’re meant to be. Comfort can make us complacent and complacency can often be an anchor weighing us down. Now I’m trying to see what it means to carry that weight around (no pun intended) daily, and make it part of me, allowing it to strengthen me each step along the way.
“But in that coming day no weapon formed against you will succeed. You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you.” – Isaiah 54:17
I have a ride planned in a few days. I can’t say I’m terribly excited about going, which is strange for me. Its not that I think it won’t be enjoyable, but its real hot outside, and its real far, and I’ve done nothing but travel the past two months. Family stuff and helping out some people I love has kept me moving, but that’s okay. It’s been worth it because its for people important to me. It all started a few weeks ago with a trip planned over a year ago.
I’ve luckily connected with some riders online and over the years we’ve followed one another, talked, and checked-in. This of course is a strange extension of the nature of riding with others, many times you form bonds that seem to go beyond location and familiarity. Last year they planned “Top to Bottom” ride, leaving at the end of June 2019 for 4 days, beginning in Ft. Kent, Maine and ending in Key West, Florida. Essentially this ride would run the entire course of US-1 from its 0 mile to 0 mile markers. This would be an undertaking to explore the twists and curves of the northeast coast and cutting inland before back out again. K-Solo and Reef, managed to bring a number of riders, though only 5 of us actually set out on the eventual journey due to to weather, mechanical issues, and other concerns.
Lets back up for a second. The two of them ride like no one I’ve ever known, particularly Solo. This dude will be on one coast one day and the other two days later. I don’t get it. He just rode to Deadhorse, Alaska… seriously look that up on a map, I still can’t wrap my brain around it. I’m honestly not sure these two have a life outside of riding. Lol. Anyway, that information will come into play later.
For me this meant this trip didn’t start in Ft. Kent, it started with wrapping up teaching a workshop, and MFA courses in Nashville and literally leaving from class to start my trip north. My stops along the way were Cleveland OH, Littleton MA, and onto Ft. Kent. Along the way I ordered a new rain suit and had it sent ahead to Massachusetts. Luckily I had some real friends who came through and let me stay along the way, special thanks to Alicia and her husband in Mass who I haven’t seen in years but opened their home, garage (basically auto shop) and fridge to me as long as needed. Having other friends with bikes is awesome, and even better when it comes as an unexpected surprise.
The day came to head up to Maine, which was big for me as its the only state in the Northeast I haven’t rode through. Unfortunately waiting for the rain suit held me up a bit and I got underway late. Maine was a beast that day, rain, cold, heavy fog and highways that didn’t offer much of anything in visibility. I pushed as hard as I could but realizing I was another 3 hours out, I realized my safety was a reality. This was the moment I came to a realization in life, at least in my motorcycle life. I love what I do, but I don’t have anything to prove to anyone… not even myself. The hardest decision to make is sometimes knowing that you’ve done enough, even when you naturally feel the need to do more. Bangor, Maine was the furthest north I could safely make so that would have to be it, and I was okay with that.
After getting in touch with Reef and preparing to meet up the next morning, I had the opportunity to run some quick errands. Getting some new hex wrenches for the bike, tightening a few bolts, getting glove liners, and topping off tire pressure. I was lucky to meet George McNeese, a gentleman in his late 80’s headed to Jacksonville to visit his daughter. He’s been riding for almost 70 years and has covered most of the United States, we chatted and laughed, photographed one another, and as he wandered across the street to grab a bite with some of the Harley Davidson employees I thought how rare it is to have these moments to meet someone like him. Someone so different than me, connected by this passion and that supersedes everything else.
I’d learn this even further as I would head to meet up with the crew for the rest of the ride. Heading out a few short hours northeast I pulled into Ruth and Wimpy’s parking lot ready to begin the official Top to Bottom.
I’m not going to go very far into details of the trip itself. Let’s just say it was more than I expected. If you can imagine, up in the northeast US-1 is curvaceous, its winding roads, and small town stops and starts. You can ride 6 hours and only have gotten 150 miles under your belt. That’s a struggle both physically and mentally after doing that for 18 hours. The trick was we had just over 3 days to complete the trip, so every mile and every hour counted. Day one ended with 12 hours of riding and 3 tired bikers in Warwick, RI… and two crazy men ready to push on.
There were 5 of us; Solo, Reef, Paul, Matt and myself. Coming together from various parts of the country meant some riding had already been done to get here, and most of them made it to Maine some time ago and explored Southeastern Canada and got to know one another if they hadn’t already. Paul and Matt knew each other, Solo and Reef, Solo and I online, but I felt somewhat like odd man out. I usually do in situations like this, the whole getting to know new people falls into that change category I mentioned earlier. Usually I’m in control of a classroom or situation somewhat, here I was thrown into the mix. Midway through day two we were still weaving hard and fast down the coast, and as the day came to a close the frustration was mounting. 18 hours ended us just outside of Baltimore, MD, it was 2am and we wanted to sleep. No hotel rooms available, exhaustion full on set in, Matt, Paul, and I needed to sleep. Some phone calls ended us at some pretty questionable motels in Perryville. Needless to say I didn’t question for one moment this motel is where I’d end up in a shoot out or a serial killer would come for me in my sleep through a hatch in the floor… the Relax Inn was far from that.
The morning came quick and we were down one man. Matt was done. Bike issues with a tire and exhaustion had taken its toll, at 6am we pressed on. Virginia was the first sign of relief. As we questioned how we would ever pull off the timing to Key West, the roads began to straighten and open up. Day three was much more mileage friendly. Stopping briefly in South Hill, VA for lunch at a great Mexican restaurant, El Saucito was a much needed break from the heat that was now beating down.
It was picturesque as well, so it was nice to get a moment to myself for some shots, but it was also the first time I began to connect with everyone else. Nothing like a meal to make this happen. Not to mention Paul vocalizing his need to have a bed to lay in that evening for more than 3 hours. I had found a kindred spirit and co-conspirator! The day would “end” in Jacksonville, FL, 19 hours after it had begun.
Now this is where the previously mentioned information on Reef and Solo is essential. Day three, hour 17, Paul and I had formed an alliance. We were traveling at our own pace and looking forward to a good night of sleep somewhere. We’d catch up and stand our ground, we were going to sleep. Reef and Solo were ready to roll through the night, apparently sleep is completely optional for them or they’re literally the undead and require no rest whatsoever. Lol. After agreeing to disagree at midnight, they rode on while Paul and I found rooms a short few hours ahead, and energizing for a final push for the evening. 2 hours later we were in Jacksonville and checking into a motel for what was the full night of sleep we needed. To make a long story short, the next morning we picked up another rider (Snoop, Reef’s cousin) and the three of us ended the day at mile marker 0 in Key West just before midnight after another 15 hour riding day.
Due to the distance over the timeframe we pushed hard everyday. All in all this was the hardest ride I’ve ever done, in the sense of being physically, mentally, and emotionally drained by the end. Key West was a relief, and a day to take it all in was just what I needed. While everyone else got back on the road, I enjoyed a day on my own taking in the city and recuperating. While its not the longest trip I’ve done in time or distance it as the most time sensitive and that was exhausting. At times I was uncomfortable, frustrated, angry, and baffled by components of the trip. Other times I was blissfully at ease, or laughing with strangers quickly becoming friends. It was a strangely and positively bi-polar experience that forced me out of my comfort zone and into the control of someone else. This may have been the most valuable part of the experience as a whole. While I was walking away a mixed bag of feelings, I found myself joking with someone that drove me crazy a few days before, discovered someone else who carries their own toilet paper, and overall gained 4 brothers on the road.
Being forced out of my control and comfort meant I had to adapt. I couldn’t let a situation break me, I have to learn to bend. Bending allows you to flex without failing. For this lesson I’m thankful. What was by far one of the hardest trip, maybe turned out to be one of the most important in many ways.
Now back to this week, tomorrow morning actually. I’ll be taking off for the National Biker Roundup, this year in Gulfport, Mississippi. I’m riding with a friend from Woodbridge State Burners and in classic fashion we can’t do anything easy. Instead of heading straight there, we’re going first to Denver, CO then to Las Vegas, NV then after tiptoeing into California, turning and burning across the Southwest and South to Mississippi. Yeah, we may be crazy people. But we’re crazy people on a mission apparently. There will be some more long days ahead, but this time in a little more of our control as we’re hoping to just enjoy the ride and head to some places we’ve never been. Catching up with old friends along the way, and undoubtedly making some new ones. If you see us be sure to say hey.
Ps. Special shout out to Sid’s Cycles here in Nashville who got me in real quick today and replaced my rear tire and pads. Definitely makes peace of mind a little more solid for the 9 days ahead!