Drifting alone across a continent on 2 wheels with nothing but a tent, a case of cold beer and steaks, and a Coleman stove strapped on the back of your motorcycle is the greatest form of freedom a man can achieve in this life. The only sense of time I used was the rising and falling of the sun, moon and stars like the mariners and warriors of antiquity. As the title of the late, great Anthony Bourdain’s culinary travel show went: “No Reservations.”
Even though I had no itinerary I at least wanted to visit memorable places along the way, so I perused YouTube and watched a plethora of motorcycle road trips. Over the past 2 months I pressed play on dozens of videos from chopper road trips all over Europe to runs down to Mexico for some righteous hell raising. Some of the most memorable videos was the trips where people were bold enough to take on motorcycles even smaller than mine. There’s an enhanced sense of adventure when all you have for instrumentation is a speedometer mounted on a gas tank instead of being inundated with an almost automobile-like instrumentation cluster. An infotainment system, multiple gauges, and a full fairing protecting you from the elements, and plug and play storage where all you have to do is throw something in a tour pack and go.
Don’t get me wrong–There is absolutely nothing wrong with pounding the pavement in a protective cocoon of technology and comfort while enjoying a calm bubble of nonturbulent air from behind a windscreen. Someday I’ll give it a go but right now there’s more thrill in strategizing how to pack and secure a couple days worth of clothes, full-sized camping gear, and enough other necessities to live indefinitely on the road. There’s a heroing intensity in withstanding constant turbulence and devising creative ways to relieve pressure points by having multiple seating positions yet still maintaining a consistent bearing down the interstate.
One thing I quickly came to realize while watching various YouTube videos was the difference between how full-sized touring baggers, adventure motorcycle riders and guys on handmade choppers rolled. The bagger types are some of the more conservative of the bunch with their leisurely rides and scenic views of the countryside that end at restaurants, hotels, and various landmarks. while entertaining that really wasn’t the feel I was looking for.
As expected, adventure bikers went far off the beaten path. Some traveled all the way to the bottom of South America or across barren land on continental Europe or outback of Australia. They enjoyed the true ruggedness that nature had to offer, which was indeed intriguing but not my cup of tea either. An added degree of difficulty is being concerned with breaking your bike while conquering various difficult terrain, and having a satellite phone handy for emergencies. As if dealing with all of the usual obstacles a motorcyclist has to deal with on paved roads and interstates you also have to worry about not only making sure you don’t break your bike but also making sure you don’t break yourself navigating rough terrain. I’ll pass.
Then there are the guys I like to think of as land pirates on 2 wheels. These guys build their own choppers from the ground up with 60 to 80-year-old makeshift parts–Knucklehead, panhead, and shovelhead Harley v-twins, old bike frames, car parts etc. I have boundless respect for those guys and their roadside antics but I certainly don’t want to spend my time on the side of the road piecing my bike back together in the middle of the night or stranded in the middle of nowhere. Traveling like that requires riding with other guys that can back you up in a pinch, and that in itself requires having a very tight knit group of guys who are just as mechanically inclined as you if not more inclined. There is something to be said about a rag tag group of guys that you can trust with your life on the road like that. Maybe back in my twenties I wouldn’t have minded wrenching on the side of the road, crossing my fingers and trudging on but not now that 50 is right around the corner.
When it comes to riding across the country my mindset is to focus on enjoying the journey. Obviously, if problems do arise I want to be prepared to deal with them, and dealing with a problem or two on the road is part of the adventure but I don’t want to be pounding the pavement on a bike I know I can’t rely on with confidence. So, now that I’ve solved the problem of having a bulletproof, reliable, low maintenance motorcycle that has proven to never fail me time and time again the focus is on unique destinations. ergo Staci Wilt and her YouTube channel: Ride To Food.
Out of all of the videos I watched Staci’s video where she rode across country to Eureka Springs, Arkansas caught my eye with a spectacular delight. I had no idea where I was staying or what I was going to do once I got to Eureka Springs but I knew just from watching her video I was going to have the time of my life. The 572 mile ride from Birmingham to Eureka Springs really started to take on a different feel once I passed the Arkansas welcome center. The countryside all of a sudden began to take on more of frontier-like setting as the elevation increased. With every stop I made there was always a character, some elderly fella, that would pull me aside and tell me stories of high adventure in his heyday like I was a long lost friend or relative.
Being a lone black biker on a motorcycle outfitted like a vagabond people will easily approach you with their defenses down. They’re eager to find out where I’m coming from and where I’m going, and mind you this isn’t an issue of keeping track of ‘the suspicious black man’ these are people that are truly curious, some fascinated even because it’s not everyday that a person like me comes along in a predominately white, small town.
The level of curiosity I encountered only increased as I ventured further away from home. Once I made it to Eureka Springs I was overcome by my own curiosity at how beautiful the downtown area was. I gave in and rented a room at the Country Mountain Inn. The owners were powerfully friendly and eager for all of their tenants to be aware of the activities they have planned on their grounds. After checking in I unloaded my bike and partook of my adventure to downtown Eureka Springs. There is no better way to travel around the downtown area than on a motorcycle where you can get a perpetual 360 degree view of this enchanting town and take it all in while creeping along up and down the steep, curvy, narrow roads.
It’s true–I’ve been told many times by people that follow my adventures and see my pictures that I’m an imposing guy but in actuality I’m quite an approachable, unassuming person. It’s a trait I inherited from my dad. When I was a kid tagging along in his 1960 Chevy stepside I marveled at how everywhere we went guys would honk and wave. There wasn’t a corner of city we went to where someone didn’t know who my dad was. It’s damn near flabbergasting how people–total strangers–will walk up on me and strike up a conversation like I was Joe the plumber from down the street. Some of these people feel so comfortable as to share their personal lives. Their passions, trials and tribulations family problems, motivations and testimonials, and I’m humbled by their candidness.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I sensed the antique character of this compact town. The architecture is reminiscent of a French Quarter/Victorian age but astonishingly well preserved. Not a crack or a stone out of place. Not a fade or a blemish in the paint on the buildings. This brought about the feeling of being in a time warp as the storefronts are 17th century picture perfect. You almost get the feeling while riding along that you’ll see one of those high society, turn of the century women wearing a long dress, and twirling her parasol walking across the street with her frost white toy Poodle.
The biker’s destination in this area is a bar called “The Cathouse” which is heavily occupied by bikers from around the country on a daily basis and long into the night. While this was an outstanding bar my desires went beyond the town’s limits. Bright and early the next morning I ventured down the pig trails out into the countryside where I got an immediate feeling that I was back in Cincu, Romania walking amongst rolling green pastures and hills.