Tail of the Dragon

Beginning and Abound

Day One and Two

“People have always been captivated by quests. History’s earliest stories tell of epic journeys and grand adventures. Whether the history is African, Asian, or European, the plotline is the same: A hero sets off in search of something elusive that has the power to change both their life and the world. 

In the Judeo-Christian story of creation, Adam and Eve are banished from the garden and sent to toil the earth. In the Buddhist story, the question of practice and struggle is emphasized over creation – sacred texts skip straight to the quest toward enlightenment. 

The world’s best-known literature reflects our desire to hear about struggle and sacrifice in pursuit of a goal. From Aesop’s Fables to Arabian Nights, many classic stories are about adventure and quests.”    ~ The Happiness of Pursuit

Maybe this is why I took this effort on again, the idea of the grand adventure to seek out something elusive. That elusive thing being a sense of self, who I am and who I seek to be. I think the strange thing about sense of self is that it’s always changing. In a way though it’s also about perseverance, the fact that the trip came to such an anti-climactic last time left me feeling incomplete. So in the same way that the Buddhist ideology ties into practice and struggle, this is my version. Just like the Christian ideology refers to the idea of repentance and positive outcome is only achievable through struggle. Clearly both of these tie to this idea of struggle, just as the hero of any story has a moment of trial to overcome in order to reach their goal. By no means am I saying I’m a hero, or my story is comparable to faith journeys or the many classic pieces of literature written by much more adept wordsmiths than myself. Though I am trying to reach my own “enlightenment” of sorts, that being a sense of happiness and completeness in self. I’m close, I think. Though there’s always a ways to go as I feel like there’s always more to learn, more to give, more to become. This time, maybe it’s more about seeking to go beyond myself. I’m starting to figure there’s an importance to give back. To try and make the world as I know it a better place somehow, in my own small way. So maybe I’m trying to figure where I fit into all of this. Either way I appreciate y’all hanging with me.

Day One I headed out to Knoxville, TN today with plans to ride the Tail of the Dragon, sort of a mini quest of sorts. I got started a few 4 hours late thanks to my own stupidness. I was clearing my computer and deleted my startup disk, leading to me having to spend the next few hour re-imaging my computer and updating everything. Now I can’t complain I got it taken care of and hit the road just after midday. I can’t say how pretty this ride was, headed up through Asheville then cutting over I-74 headed toward that dragon. The hills and pathways between I-40 and 129 is gorgeous, if you’ve ever riding the area and you want to see beautiful skies then I can’t recommend it enough.

Needless to say I enjoyed the ride and then hit the dragon. I got to meet a few people along the way but all in all it was clear riding. Not much traffic and not much weather once you got onto the mountain, the overhang kept the roads shady and cool, and besides a saddlebag that wouldn’t lock down it was all good (even a little fix took care of that). The Tail of the Dragon, 11 miles with 300 plus curves. The first few took some getting used to but after that I was rolling strong, playing that clutch and throttle like a bluegrass fiddle. By the end it was completely worth it, I didn’t know what to fully expect but I’m glad I did it.

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Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap

It wasn’t as precarious as I thought, I pictured steeper turns and heavier strain, but it was a smooth ride once you figured the sharp curves and the random car coming or going. I even met a former soldier working on a film project, crossing the country over a few years trying to discuss ways that we’re all more similar than we are distant. Seemed like an odd coincidence, but an appropriate start to this journey.

The day eventually ended in Knoxville meeting up with my friend Tyger, from my Myrtle Beach days. She’s living in Knoxville now and it was good to catch up after about two years. A night sitting on the patio and having drinks, laughs, and catching up was perfect. It was also good to have a comfortable bed to lay my head on for the night thanks to Air BnB and a kind family in Clinton, TN who had their hosting game on point! So all in all today was a good day.

 

Day Two I woke up early today after talking on the phone until the early morning, which I don’t regret one second. Good people are hard to come by and ones that make a powerful and positive difference in your life are worth every second. After some good laughs and a shower the night came to a close and then this morning I woke to the sounds of the family I stayed with getting their day started. I tried to get some more sleep but it was a wasted effort. A call from my boy, Big Red, signaled a start to the day as we had to meet up in Columbus, OH later on in the day. So it was eventually game on.

Let’s start with this though. So last night I left the bike outside as I did the Air BnB thing to get a place outside of Knoxville. They had offered me the garage but I passed so I could just get inside and sleep. I took my bags in and began shutting it down, but when I came out this morning this happened… 20170714_093716

They covered my bike overnight! What, who does that?! It goes without saying that this was a 5-star Air BnB experience. It’s always iffy staying in someone’s home where you just have a room and little to no privacy or dedicated bathroom, etc. Tina and her family came through completely though. I can’t complain one bit. 20170714_012815 They were good people, and had their setup on point; granola bars and water in the room, a brochure on the area and their home, private bathroom, and a comfy bed. This was a great call. But enough of that, it was time to get on the road. So after making a quick fill up and shooting a few photos, I hit I-75 N and headed toward Ohio.

An hour or so in I hit rain, all for about 30 minutes. So after gearing up for showers and getting back on the road it stopped 15 minutes later. Yeah, I could have waited it out. So after another hour of riding in the building heat and dealing with splashback it was time to gear down and back into cooler wear for the rest of the ride. It went smoothly pretty much from there on out. A stop for tea outside of Richmond, KY and another fill up in Lexington made the stops a great opportunity to refresh from the heat and coat my slowly sunburning nose with sunscreen. I wasn’t until just before switching to I-71 that I hit a construction zone that ground us to a halt. It was sweltering and I thought I was gonna die. It was ridiculous, so much heat, so very much heat. It ended with finally getting out of it all and back on the road and to one final fill up to end the day. I drank 2 bottles of water and poured a third over my head just to cool down. I think I drove through hell, straight through and the devil himself was sitting on the shoulder sipping lemonade with a shade umbrella complaining about the heat.

Once I made it through that point it was just a matter of checking into the hotel and catching up with my boy Big Red. From there it was a shower, dinner with friends here in town, a few drinks, and not long after a much deserved long night sleep. I’ll end with this  simple thought. It’s nice to be reminded that the world is bigger than me. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…” Psalm 139:2

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And Away We Go

“Be your brothers keeper

So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent forgive them.” ~ Luke 17:3

 

Part of this trip is about second chances, mostly of the last time I tried this. With that as part of the picture though there’s also an aspect of forgiveness in my life right now. Trying to figure out how to let go of being hurt, angry, and feeling betrayed. Realizing that my actions today, positively interacting with the world will result in some degree of improvement. Somehow it all rolls together for me and becomes one. So its and effort in self improvement, and part of that means facing failures in one way or another. Some of you already know that this isn’t the first time that I’ve tried this long haul of a trip, even though it’s much shorter than the last time. Though I will say this started off as a much longer effort taking me all the way to the great state of Alaska and eventually back home again. Seems like a great idea, right? Well that’s what I thought until I did the budget and realized I was a crazy person. Not too mention the two guys riding part of the way with me have jobs that they actually work during the summer and don’t have the time off that teachers like myself have. So eventually this trip fell apart.

Ardmore Springs Circle to Whittier, AK - Google Maps

The Original Ride Idea (early on this ride included a ferry from AK to OR and lots of madness) 

From the ashes of that failed concept though came this more practical version that allowed for me to take time during this final full month of my break after some summer teaching. So let me fill you in on why this trip is happening the way it is. I have this idea for a two- year photography project exploring the idea of community development and the way it’s evolved in North America over generations. Next year we’ll push toward completing the rest of this trip as in the map above, but it’s going to take some effort. I’ve got a bit of a story to tell:

“North American Portraits: Locals & Locales of the Quintessential Road Trip

The traditional idea of community structure was founded on the idea of individuals forming living groups, derived from families, built through apprenticeships, seeking education, and either a return to, or remaining in or around the area where one was raised (generally within a 20 mile radius). This ideological founding of “home” isn’t isolated to the United States, but was once the dominant method of community building across the globe. In contemporary modernized societies this idea has become a way of the past as individuals no longer feel the need to remain within a distanced range of their place of birth, generally unless for reasons of financial or familial obligation (such as agriculture, caring for an elder, etc). This work is meant to explore the aspect of why individuals now reside and / or travel from place to place, as seen through the lens of individual experience and connection. This series of photographs will address issues of identity, place as navigated through location and context, but also how these aspects may vary and alter over geographic / demographic differences throughout North America. Secondly the method of production utilizing the traditional idea of the “roadtrip” as an “all-American” experience that is somewhat universal to the audience. This serves as a way to connect the individuals interviewed and photographed, while also allowing the viewer an understandable way in which to “navigate” geography, and content, while also speaking to ideas of diversity and addressing transient populations within our current socio-political climate.”

So there’s a number of reasons that this trip makes sense for my own photographic efforts. That’s not it though, this trip is also about a sense of self. Engaging that part of myself that I rarely get to during the year of being a professional. It’s also about finding opportunities for engagement with a brotherhood defined and built on the road. Its also about seeing some sights I haven’t in a long time, like Niagra Falls and Detroit, and seeing family and friends along the way who will hopefully become part of this photographic effort as well. I’ll be hitting the National Biker Roundup, back in Kansas City for its 40th anniversary and visiting with old friends, hopefully in Colorado and Kansas that I haven’t seen in way too long, including some new little people I’ve never met. That being said, this is what I’ve ended up with including a sudden change just a few hours ago bringing me up through Tennessee and finally getting to ride the Tail of the Dragon.

Revamped 2017 Map

The finalized map, (showing stops) the day before departure, this is doable… right?

Tail of the Dragon

Tail of the Dragon: 11 Miles – 318 Curves (now that’s a helluva ride)

So what else is happening on this crazy ride. Well last time I decided to tackle reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” it was great to reflect upon and also be following somewhat of the same route in the book. This year I’ve found a reading I’ve been sitting on for a while called “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau, an autobiography about the author’s traveling attempt to visit every country by age 35, and of course there are plenty of stories to tell along the way. I won’t ruin anything as I’ll be talking about it as I go, but I’ve been looking forward to it and I feel like in a way it too is reflective of my experience of these trips and the many travels I’ve been fortunate enough to take. Basically it’s a book about long term happiness in life, which is something I’ve been seeking.

This years reading

The Happiness of Pursuit

 

Essentially one of the big things I’ve discovered since the last attempt at this ride that failed miserably, and ended with me having to suddenly buy a new bike along the way is this…. I can’t control everything, so this time I’m willing to go with the flow and let things happen, all while being proactive but also able to react appropriately. Not just in this trip, but in life. I’ve had some ups and downs since then and I’m still here, doing okay and striving to be better in every way. So I’m ready to accept this challenge and all the stormy moments and sunburns along the way, which I’m sure there will be plenty.

 

Tomorrow I head for Knoxville through the dragon, and then onto Columbus, OH for a rally and time with some of my brothers. I can’t think of a way to better begin this trip. So now I’m in the final stages of preparation, making sure everything is charged that should be, all my checkpoints are met, and seeing who is willing to put me up along the way. So if you happen to be one of those people in one of those cities on that map, feel free to reach out if there’s a couch to spare for a night or two. Either way I’ll be moving fast and hard, while photographing at each stop and hopefully connecting with people as I go. All that being said, there’s also been a little change in the bike, so I’m even getting used to how she handles. Not too mention fancy FMGF patches on the way, helmets and some other stuff to bring all this into one effort. I guess I figured, if I’m going, I’m going all out.