Like previous posts (here), this entry is an edited excerpt from my road journal. Forgive in advance its erratic nature.
Is the desire to go westward innate in Americans? Has it been bred into us like so many frontier hungry traits generation after generation? Lately it seems every ride I want the west, farther and farther each time, and in this part of the country it’s open and red and rolling and the air is so clear and the people are kinder than anywhere else in the state and I am in love with western Oklahoma. And this is the worst time of year to want to ride west, unless you are part lizard, which I am not. But to the east is land more familiar, not that I won’t go back and find new in the old but for now, after a summer bogged under the weight of obligation and hospitality and drastic shifts in our familiar, I need new and open and free and long trips loosely planned that are cut in half by frequent stops to photograph and explore.
And west we keep going. After a changing of pipes (Josh had decided he didn’t like the old ones. I need to get around to my changing my bars as well, but not an hour before ride time.) and a few quick stops, onto the highway. Venturing out into the wide open short grass prairie, the weather was cool and overcast, dark gray silhouettes of storms intermittent on the horizon to the south, the sullen pewter sky shielding us from the heat, and we passed a billboard that said something about “I can’t dance” and just like that I was singing Gram Parsons to myself the rest of the trip. A beautiful blur of blackish asphalt and eighteen wheelers until we left the main interstate and were back on our road, our home away from home, this nation’s mother highway, 66. To the west of the City she is in much rougher shape than to the east, but contrary to popular belief she still stretches most of the way, under aliases such as “frontage” and “county”, you just have to know where she’s hiding, often in plain sight. In whatever condition, it is her, rolling next to the wider, straighter, faster interstate, forgotten to the high speed passerby, here for the seeker. We could see the interstate at the farthest just on the horizon most of the route we traveled, but they couldn’t see us. If we’d waved and shot off fireworks, an entire motorcycle parade of ridiculous spectacle, they’d have never noticed, too intent on the destination to give a damn what happens outside their little box on wheels.
With that thought in mind, as we passed under one of the wind farms cropping up all over Oklahoma, I found myself staring at the turbines, fascinated, watching the blades slowly oscillating, marveling at their behemoth stature. How had I not noticed their size before? Really noticed it? Only last week I passed them just as closely, the same ones, but being in my truck, I saw them, I just didn’t see them. And from there my eyes went back to the interstate running right beneath those gargantuan tributes to modern energy, truck after truck, car after car, racing to get wherever they are going, never noticing the journey. And two bikes went by. They never looked up, they never noticed. Are they too in such a hurry that they fail to see the point of being on a bike, being part of the scene, coming face to face with your place in the whole?
Is the real reason so many are buying motorcycles because they know, in a primitive, visceral place, that all this “advancement”, all this racing to the destination, all this “progress” is killing us? In spite of that underlying knowledge, are they too deadened to reconnect? Is this one of the reasons for a lasting fascination with Route 66 nostalgia? Do they realize in the great subconscious all the old sayings about the destination being death and the journey is living are true? That racing through life is speeding up dying? That their self, their being, their existence, their whole does not need to get every phone call so immediately as to require an electronic leash, that they do not need to be completely across the country five minutes ago requiring interstates that destroy the path, that they do not need immediacy, that self-important over-conveniences are killing our raison d’etre? Is the swiftly growing interest in riding one of many symptoms of a desperate need to reconnect with what we really are?How many more people are waking up from the modern conveniences coma?
Protecting and preserving artifacts from the time before the unnecessary immediacy is part of why I love the things I love, why I preserve through photographs the objects I do, why I am trying to see with my own eyes all those miles after miles of dried up monuments to something fading, something being buried in the collective conscious, before they, or I, are gone into that same streaming conscious. Or are they gone? Are they making a comeback? My monkey mind keeps grappling from question to question and in the meantime the air hangs heavy with the last of the rainy day moisture and passing ponds are extra cool and the fresh cut hay is overpowering syrupy sweet and the honeysuckle smell I love is twice as strong.
We go until we’re too hungry to keep going and as I’m scribbling thoughts at a back table in a roadside smokehouse, Josh exchanges intermittent calls with out of state friends rolling through trying to figure out where in the hell we are, where in the hell they are, and how the hell we find these places and Josh is questioning how this place stays in business. I’m questioning if the road makes the people look like her or if the people have made her look like them, but the beautiful voluptuous girl waiting tables with the unnatural burgundy dyed curls piled loosely on her head is too young to have changed the road, although she is wearing a mask of tired like it does, tired from experience and history, too worn out to shine most days but too strong to fade out.
Our friends meet us, but the afternoon sun is out now and they have been traveling for three days solid, and thus decide to nap roadside shade while we keep rolling, only for a couple hours more as it becomes too hot to breathe comfortably, like riding in a furnace. Time to turn back. The advantage of going east to get home is having the hot afternoon sun to your back. The disadvantage is finding out later all the small places on the back of your neck you missed with sunscreen.
Back in a parking lot at sunset, our friends are rested and changed and we catch up after years apart before finishing the ride home. How beautiful that real friends, the blood without blood kind, can be apart for years and never miss a beat.
By the time we left the wind was light and the air went cool, a slight chill after all the sweltering afternoon glare, and in the billowy blanket of cornflower blue night clouds, a lunette of rosy yellow halo before the clouds parted and the full moon shown so bright her shadowy craters were hardly defined and I sat up straight marveling and our friend whistled a loud horse whistle. When we looked he pointed at the moon and made motion that a full moon brought out his crazy (the moon is hardly to blame). He lit his bike up, or she lit up on her own as she always seems to do, and wild like some cowboy of yesteryear breaking into a mad gallop, he and the bike went squirreling and squealing, smoking and roaring out ahead, all freedom. After a day in the open west to see a man who rides like a cowboy, who’s bike moves of her own volition, a living breathing creature herself, very much his horse after almost thirty years together, as much a part of him as he is her and they slice through traffic, splitting lanes at angles, and scare the evening drivers, I realize this is my west.