Nate Farrington is an outdoor professional at Cornell Outdoor Education. He is a full-time vagabond who prefers to travel on two motorized wheels. This is part two in a journal of his trip across the country on his motorcycle.
Today. Today is why I ride.I was having moments of self doubt. After having been through the Midwest in the worst way possible (the interstates on a time crunch), I was honestly becoming worried about this plan. Then, I made it to Colorado and, damn it, the Eastern part didn’t look all that different than Kansas. I missed a real meal in Limon, Colorado because the kitchen closed 8 minutes before I arrived and I wound up at a Denny’s. Things seemed pretty low. I went to sleep that night on a patch of ground behind a gas station and hotel.
I departed that morning after another free hotel breakfast. It was sunny, I was a bit gloomy.Then I hit Denver. And let me tell you, Kansas was beyond worth it. Denver was something straight out of a movie: I crest over a hill and, as soon as I do, a small prop plane spraying fields is flying excitingly close to the road, as though it’s welcoming me to the view of the Rockies in the distance. I’ve got video. My eyes started to feel odd and get some buildup of strange liquid inside of them. The roads started to get twisty. The land shot up around me. Denver turned into Glen Canyon. This is what Edward Abbey was talking about in those books. I’ve never been out West before and I just want to kick myself for not doing it sooner. The words any language has at its disposal is laughably inadequate to fully describe what this place is.
And then I saw what mining does.
Wait. Let me stop there for a moment. I need to check in with you, the reader, and make certain you’re ok with this. I’m going to describe this trip, through my eyes, in as a fair and accurate of a way possible. Sometimes, it will be scenes of great beauty and astonishment. Other times, it will be accompanied by sober realizations and upsetting facts. If we’re going to do this together, I need you to be ok with that. I need you to take the good with the bad and understand this is how my mind works. I see incredible beauty in this world we live in and I see heinous degradation too. I work to increase and expose people to the former and stop the latter. That’s my goal.
The mining didn’t go on for long. And it didn’t seem like anything more than a possible Colorado school of mines test site perhaps. But, this is my issue: the world is full of enough magic and beauty that cannot be articulated and us humans shouldn’t be doing anything to destroy that. That sentence begs a longer conversation and we may get there (or we may not) but please just be aware that I will not shy away from pointing out the ugly within the beauty whenever noticed.
Colorado was breathtaking. Even when I noticed the motorcycle forks leaking fluid. Colorado was amazing. Even when the bike became sluggish thanks to the altitude. Colorado was inspiring. Even when I grabbed two large chunks off the fairing while riding down a steep grade because they were about to fall off onto the road. Colorado will always be remembered. And so will the cordage currently helping to hold my fairing onto the front of the motorcycle.
Utah came next. The place was almost alien. It’s so outrageously different than what I’m used to in New York. The temperature started to become unbearably hot. It got to the point of needing to talk to myself in order to stay alert and not stop every five minutes for water. Once the sun started to settle into its Western nook, the temperature dropped off a little. Rain started to threaten. I pulled over, got my rain gear on with some difficulty, and of course it didn’t ever rain. I mean, come on, the bike could use a wash. So could I.
Around here is where I got some proverbial wild hair up my ass. What if I made today a really big day? What if I set up tomorrow for an easier ride? Could I get to Nevada tonight? Could I pull a 800+ mile day on this thing?Yeah. I can.
Around Midnight (only because the time shifted back an hour) I had ridden 18 hours. I pulled into some small town 40 miles East of Las Vegas. It was still hot. And I wasn’t used to this type of land. Where to set up the tent? Everything is different. I finally plopped down way back behind a gas station near some fields. Those fields held huge steer who glared at me in the moonlight. I went to bed on the ground that night, next to the motorcycle, hoping that the stories of all the land dwelling creatures wouldn’t make a play for me. And also hoping that those steers didn’t get mad and go right through that fence.
And then I drifted off knowing that tomorrow will be the first day I step foot in California.
First things first, I’m here. I am in California. I am in the Giant Sequoia National Forest. I will be climbing these giant trees that are older than I can even imagine.I am in awe.
I should also say that I rode just under 3000 miles in 4 days, to the hour. That is also something
of an accomplishment.
The beginnings of California, while bringing many a smile to my face and while taking many a breath away, were strange to say the least. The portion of California that I entered on is littered with creepy wind farms, solar arrays that could melt the skin from your bones, citrus groves (in the desert) and oil pumps chugging away (directly next to the citrus groves). Why? I’ve no idea. They’re growing citrus fruit in a portion of the state that has some of the biggest and most immediate water problems.
Beyond that, it was also unbearably hot. I am investing in a long sleeve white linen shirt for the ride back. I expect it to get ruined during the ride, but the protective coat is just going to have to be removed at some points. I’ll keep the helmet on and I’ll be as careful and aware as I can…but damn it all I cannot keep wearing that thing. The beginning of the day? It was in Las Vegas, of all hellish places. I started the bike and began to do my routine to get the behemoth off of the center stand. I’m about to take off when I noticed smoke coming from the bike.
Uh oh. I freeze. I have a millisecond of panic until I’ve realized what I’ve done. In my haste and thanks to the distraction, I’ve forgotten to put the oil cap back on when I was filling it. It blew vaporized oil all over my pants and the bike. And now it smells like burning oil because it got on all the hot parts. It was familiar though…because embarrassingly I’ve done this before. It usually happens when I’m tired.Soon after, I make it to San Bernadino county California/Nevada state line. I change my pants behind some trees along the side of the road. I guess I can blame it on exhaustion, but I accidentally leave my old pants there. New attraction!Hours and miles later, I’m at a gas station. I’m taken aback when I’m told I can’t fill my Nalgene with water and that I need to buy bottled water. Then I’m told that I need to pay for the ice I just put in the bottle. I politely tell them no, that I just overpaid for gas at their pump, and that’s quite enough. I leave. I check the oil again and decide to add a little. As I’m doing this, an armored car company pulls in.
Two things happen next. I, somehow, leave the god damn oil cap off again and have a repeat performance of earlier. Now, I’m running into the gas station all suited up, helmet included, to get napkins. I’m frantically cleaning the bike. I run into the gas station again. I mop up more oil from the bike.
Then I notice that I’ve entirely freaked out the armored car people. They’re sitting there, the driver is staring at me suspiciously. They aren’t leaving. They don’t pull away until I pull away. They wait until I turn and then turn the opposite way. A way that I had just come from. A way that I know contains no businesses for a looong time. Sorry guys, but if I had wanted to do anything, I wouldn’t have done it like that.
I’m getting closer now. I finally reach the 30 mile point. But the time is saying over an hour and twenty minutes. I don’t understand. It’s 30 miles! Then I hit that road. I understood now. It’s one of the windiest, twistiest roads I’ve ever seen. It’s also not in great shape.
An hour later, I arrive. I have made it. After a few hiccups finding the right place, I pull in.
To society: please know to always be kind to us adventure and long distance motorcyclists. Please don’t let first impressions color your judgment of us as people. A ride like this takes a lot out of you. It takes a bit to adjust back to human presence, to talking, to thinking…hell, even to walking efficiently. It can take days. Go easy on us.
But, after all these miles…all these nights camped next to the bike, all these worries about the bike making it: I have made it. I am here. And this is really just the start of my adventure.