The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

(To start from the beginning of my trip 8,600 miles by motorcycle and 600 miles by foot around the U.S., click here to read the first post)

On my last night in Toronto, one of my friends asked for a “quote from the road.” Of course, I had had plenty of time to do lots of thinking throughout the 2 months of my trip, alone with my own thoughts for so much time, but I never really thought about it in a way to put it into just a single quote.  The final couple days of driving  really got me to think on everything, and now that (yesterday) I’ve put Eowyn, my faithful ’05 Dyna Wide Glide that traveled the full 8,600 miles around the country with me, away in storage for the next two years, it seems like a good time to put it all into writing.

Overall, it was an amazing trip. I spent two months, on a day-to-day basis being constantly blown away by the beauty of the United States (and, briefly, Canada). I went from the skyscrapers of New York City, through the Shenandoah Mountains, to the winding Tail of the Dragon in the Smokeys, to New Orleans, through bayous, ranch lands, cacti, deserts, southern California mountains, San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, resort beach towns, the ocean hugging cliffs and farmlands of central and northern California, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Redwood Forest, an incredible hike on the PCT in Washington which included weeks of rain, near death experiences, fights with mice, and complete isolation in the mountains, the brittle cold but awe-inspiring beauty of Montana, flatlands in Wyoming, Sturgis, SD and Mount Rushmore, St. Paul, MN, congestion in the mid-west, Toronto, Niagara wine country, the rolling hills of the Catskills at the peak of their autumn colors, and, finally, back to New York City.

The really crazy thing about this trip is that the idea for it as it eventually materialized was only fully conceived as such about a month before I actually hit the road. A lot happened that changed my plans, and there were plenty of times, as I was hiking through the mountains or riding on my bike, where I just had a huge grin on my face at the thought of how incredibly things all came together. This is what the Rubber on Road motto means to me: “I never get lost because I don’t know where I’m going.” If you just go along through life without forcing anything, but allow situations to unfold in the way that they seem to naturally want to go, you’ll never find yourself in the “wrong” place.

This trip for me was less about learning something new and more about confirming and solidifying what I was already starting to believe. Throughout life, you’re constantly faced with choices, forks in the road, and I’ve found that the trick to going down that road is that when you have to make those choices, take the path where you won’t have any regrets and then, just don’t look back. There’s very rarely a perfect path, without any downside, but you can always walk through life knowing that you’ve moved forward. Things don’t always work out how you expect or even how you would’ve liked, but they do always work out the way they’re supposed to. Sometimes it’s the next day that you see this, sometimes the next week, and sometimes it can be a year or years later, but as long as you look back confident that you made the best decision you could have and have moved forward as a result, you’ll eventually see how perfectly everything did work out.

There have been certain decisions in my life that I have questioned before reminding myself of this. But when I was on my motorcycle or hiking, I couldn’t help but look back on everything that led to this and see that this was exactly how everything was supposed to work out and how happy it had made me not regretting anything. In 5 months, I graduated from University, got a job in Beijing, got trapped on a mountain, swam in an alpine lake, travelled around 25 states, visiting 6 major North American cities, watching the leaves change colors as I went through 3 different seasons, had my heart broken by a girl 5 months after I’d broken hers, said goodbye to life long friends, and made some amazing new ones. Sometimes things can look really crappy, whether it’s depression, exhaustion, heartbreak, being stuck in rain for a week and a half, or fighting off mice from your tent, but as long as you feel no regrets about the choices that you made to get there or the ones you’ll make going forward, you’ll get out of it, and you’ll find yourself being happier than ever. The only regrets in life are those you feel when mistakes are made, and the only mistakes are the ones you don’t learn from, so live a life with no regrets and enjoy it all because every bit along the way is just part of the adventure.

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Days 54-56: A Drink to Friends and a Drink to Enemies, A Drink to Those you Love and One to Those You’ve Lost, and Then One More Just Because!

October 20-22; Zero Miles

It was a pretty surreal experience being back in Toronto. For one, it really meant that my trip was just about over. Second, this place had been my home for nearly four years and a lot can happen in that amount of time, a lot of fun, a lot stress, a lot of love, and a lot of heartbreak. Since, for me, the end of this adventure really just meant the beginning of another as I’d be moving to China indefinitely in only a couple of weeks, this was a somewhat permanent goodbye to a place and people I’d grown to love.

Most of my time was spent going all over the city, getting together for drinks with as many of the people that I could see as possible. On night one I managed to go to the old restaurant I used to work at, from which I had been fired after falsely being accused of stealing a camera only 6 months earlier, but also where some of my closest friends worked. So after a couple of towers of beer (a new beer special at the place) with two other friends, we headed off with some of the staff as they got off and continued til last call at a couple other places. The next day was much the same. At 4 I met up with some friends after they got off work, then moved on to Hooters (my first ever visit, the wings were great) to watch the Toronto vs New York hockey game (how appropriate!). There, Pam and Brent, who I hadn’t seen since their bike broke down in Roanoke, VA, met up with us. Then, after saying bye to this group around 11 or 12 I made my way up to the north end of the city to continue the celebrating with another group of friends in that area. Then came my last night, which, no matter way I look at it, ended exactly as it was supposed. Luckily it was a Friday and so I got to see a lot of good friends who came out to a bar that we eventually ended up taking over and which also stayed open for us beyond the Ontario last call so it wasn’t until about 3 in the morning that I said goodbye to everyone for the last time.

As it turns out however, despite what would have otherwise been a great visit, it probably wasn’t the best idea to have stayed with my ex-girlfriend. Despite a great first 24 hours or so, when it was very nice to see each other again for the first time in 5 months but feeling like no time had passed at all, it just went downhill from there. It is definitely a hard thing to impose on a person, the coming and going almost on a whim, and it was this reality, of another departure in only 72 hours, that probably pushed the situation over the edge. Unfortunately for the story, it’s probably not fair to get into too much detail, but it certainly was a learning experience, one very appropriate for such a trip as well as for a farewell to a city that I’d gone through so much in. The last night in particular, though incredibly fun, happened to be a particularly eventful and dramatic one. Suffice it to say, people got much more hurt then was probably necessary. But after all was said and done, I’ve found, especially during the course of this incredible 2 month trip around the country, that there are no regrets, only experiences to grow from. So in that vain, thank you everyone in Toronto for everything.

Day 53: The Long Haul to Toronto

Driving through Chicago

October 19th; Miles 7070-8030

Today is when the reality of my trip soon being over really started to set in. I moved through the rest of the midwest and then entered the east. Well actually technically Toronto, Ontario is counted more central Canada, but after today I would just be heading south back to New York. I had also spent 4 years in Toronto for my undergraduate degree and so this area was actually familiar to me, in contrast with most everything else I’d done so far.

Despite this however, it was not an easy day by any means! I was on the road for a total of 17 hours, went through 5 states, 4 major cities, one time zone change, two countries, and went through my second iron butt of the trip!

It was not originally intended to be so long of a day, still tough, but only about 800 miles rather than the nearly 1000 that it turned into.

I actually got a good start this morning. My host, Debbie, woke me up at around 6:30 to leave by 7 since she had work to get to that morning. Then I was on the road, making my way entirely on interstate, I-94 –> I-90 towards Milwaukee, WI where I could hopefully pick up the ferry to cross Lake Michigan over into Michigan state.

I say “hopefully” because, unfortunately, when I arrived at 1:15, I had missed the last ferry by 45 minutes… and the next one wouldn’t be in until 5am the next morning. So I stood in the ferry hub after being told the bad news, took a deep breath, and decided to bite the bullet and start making my way the long way, south, around the lake. This meant driving through Milwaukee, Chicago, Indiana, and then finally back up to Michigan. This also meant going through Chicago traffic which was just pure congestion, not moving at all. It took me over 3 hours to go 150 miles, not good when I had an extra 200 miles to do.

When it started to get dark, and I could feel myself starting to fade a bit, I began toying with the idea of pulling over and just getting in early in the morning. But I had had an energy drink and a coffee at around 4 or 5 and figured once that wore off I’d pull over somewhere. I was in Ontario, at around 9:30 and with about 200 miles left when this happened. So I pulled off the highway when I saw there was a hotel, too expensive (over $100 with tax), so I went on, pulled over again, same thing. When I saw there were campsites, I pulled off only to see a sign telling me it was 14km off the highway. Not good when I had already experienced seasonal closings of campgrounds. So it wasn’t too long before I resigned myself to going the whole way, and by 1:00 I finally saw the Toronto skyline.

Unfortunately, my night wasn’t over yet! I was going to be staying with an ex-girlfriend of mine who I hadn’t seen in over 5 months since leaving Toronto after school for China. I got in at 1:30, unpacked the bike and carried my stuff over to her door. She had roommates so I didn’t want to ring or knock on the door. I couldn’t use my phone since I was in a foreign country now but luckily there was a 24 hour coffee shop across the street with wifi. So I left my bags at her door and went across the street to call. No answer. I called again. Still no answer. I did this maybe ten times, texting as well. Then I went across the street and knocked. Again, no answer.

This went on until about 3 o’clock in the morning. So with my eyes stinging from the exhaustion of driving and only having eaten a couple of the left over donuts at the Tim Hortons since my mid-afternoon McDonald’s snack, I found a hostel that was about a half mile away. So I left a message for my ex saying what I was doing, picked up my two bags and helmet and set off (in her defense, I wasn’t totally sure if I was going to make it in that day and I also wanted my arrival to be a bit of a surprise so I wasn’t too specific on when I was going to get in, explaining why everyone was asleep and unprepared).

I got to the hostel and asked if they had any space available. Of course with the way the night was going, they only had a private room that cost $70 before tax. After turning down only slightly more expensive hotels, I decided that was ridiculous and asked if there was anything else in the area. Turns out the guy was trying to rip me off because all of a sudden he realized that he was looking at the wrong day (because it was after midnight, right…?) and that there actually was an empty dorm bed for $23. I said I’d take it and moved in, trying as much as I could (though unsuccessfully) to be quiet as I took off all my riding gear and collapsed in bed.

At 4:30 in the morning though, my phone vibrated, waking me up. My ex had woken up and gotten my messages and wanted to know where I was. I told her the address and said she should come get me in the morning. Next thing I know, 10 minutes later, the porter for the hostel opens the door, sees me, and tells me my friend was there! So, feeling so tired that I feel drunk, I put my clothes back on, pick up all my stuff and head back with Courtney.

This was a very action filled first day back in Toronto for what would turn out to be a very intense 3 day visit.

Day 51: Taking in Some of the Sites on the Road

October 17th; Miles 6010-6460

Now that I had gotten farther south, and even more importantly, out of the mountains, it was much warmer, so definitely easier to get started this morning. In fact, once the sun was up long enough, I was able to de-layer for the first time in two days, especially during breaks when there wasn’t wind anymore.

I decided a couple days ago that I might as well hit a couple of major sites while I was in this end of the country. The first is a pretty exclusively motorcycle pilgrimage site, Sturgis, SD, a small town in South Dakota that’s the location for one of the biggest gatherings of motorcycles in the world. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there for the big rally, but it was still good to see and say I’d been.

Sturgis also just happened to be right out of the Black Hills National Forest, where you can find Mount Rushmore. So when I got to Sturgis at around 5pm, after a beer at the Knuckle Saloon, I made the decision to push onward even though I’d be riding in the dark. I did ask a local in the store how cold it got up in the mountains, as I was considering camping for the first time since my 12 degree night. She told me it was starting to get to the mid-to-low 30’s, so just about freezing. Well, after my gear was able to handle 12 degrees in Montana, I figured that’d be ok. Not to mention, it would be pretty cool to camp in front of Mount Rushmore.

The drive through the Black Hills was quite nice, twisty roads in the mountains but at night, I was pretty nervous about deer and I did in fact see several, so most of the time I tailed another car that was moving at a good pace.

The area turned out to be really well developed though unfortunately. Even though it was all woods, there were motels often enough, and only 2 miles right before getting to the monument was a little town (tourist oriented of course). Then when I finally got there, it was very built up with parking, gift shop, amphitheater, and plenty of lights. So, it didn’t seem like a good idea to set up camp on the pavement in the viewing area of the monument, but on the bright side, there was no entrance fee since I came at night, and it was a pretty cool thing to see Mount Rushmore lit up at night.

After snapping some photos, I headed back to the town and decided to spring for a motel in town. Grabbed my room and headed straight to a local bar/restaurant for some food and beer as I watched some football, Redskins playing the Eagles too, so, good game!

Day 49-50: It’s getting cold!

October 15th-16th

Miles 5170-5589 and 5589-6010

The cold weather really took me by surprise at this point. Yesterday when I was riding out of Portland it was actually relatively warm and didn’t need too many layers. So when it was cold in the morning out of the little Washington town I was in, I figured it would warm up as the sun came up. But, unfortunately, as I was continuing north, this didn’t quite happen and was breaking often to add layers as well as to just warm up

This put me slightly behind schedule. I had planned to go all the way through Glacier National Park today but after starting to head North off of I-90 after going through Washington, Idaho, and then entering Montana, it started to get dark just as I caught my first glimpses of the park and the Rocky Mountains. It also of course didn’t help that I had about an hour or two of less daylight and was moving east into later timezones.

I got through West Glacier Village and started looking for campgrounds, but as it turned out, they were all closed for the season. This obviously didn’t bode well for me as the weather must’ve been getting cold enough to close the campgrounds.

I eventually found a flat area by the side of the road right outside of Glacier where I was able to set up my tent for the night. So I set up, made a fire, and cooked up some dinner before heading to bed. I could feel it getting a little cold but nothign too bad, especially while next to the fire. The temperature kept dropping though and despite the layers of thermals, wool socks, fleece, hat, and gloves I was wearing in my sleeping bag, the cold woke me up several times in the night as I tried to sinch up the bag around me and bundle up in a ball as much as possible for warmth.

When I woke up in the morning, there was a thick layer of frost lining the inside of my tent from all the condensation freezing over night. It took a lot of will power to get myself out of my bag and into the biting cold. Once I had, I got out my pack towel to start wiping down the tent of all the ice and then packed up. I was a little concerned at how the bike would start up in the cold but the ‘ol Wide Glide started up without a hitch and I was on my way.

If it was cold when I was at rest, it was 10x colder moving at 60-70 mph. The cold wind was painful cutting through my leather jacket, rain jacket, fleece, shirt, and long  johns. Worst of all, my hands and feet had gone past the point of numbness to a biting pain. I tried to keep my left hand hidden close to my body but my right hand had to stay on the accelerator so it was all I could to continuously wiggle my fingers to keep the blood somewhat flowing.

Since this was the middle of the mountains there wasn’t really anywhere to stop, so I had to go about an hour before I got to East Glacier Park and stop at a restaurant. It was at this point that I decided that I couldn’t stay up here anymore and had to start heading south to some warmer weather. So I thawed out for an hour with a pancake breakfast and some hot coffee as I looked over the maps. The waitress then told me it had dropped down to 12 degrees farenheit over night, which certainly made a lot of sense. So I made sure to layer up as much as possible before heading back out, buying some fleece gloves to put on inside my leather gloves and wearing two pairs of socks.

Once this was done and the sun came up a little more, the riding got much more pleasant. I joined up onto route 89 which would take me back south, meeting up with I-90 again in Wyoming. Without having to worry about the cold anymore, I really got to enjoy the scenery of Montana which was absolutely phenomenal. The route continued to skirt by the side of the Rockies as it wound through hilly terrain that looked straight out of an old Western. The contrast was really impressive especially when, for the stretch before hitting I-90, the road was heading straight for what looked like a wall of mountains taking up 50% of your eyeline as they shot straight out from an otherwise relatively flat terrain.

I was sad to have to leave the more scenic rt. 89 for the monotony of the interstate, especially as it looked like it continued to head straight for the wall of mountains, which I’m guessing was Yellowstone National Park. I’m definitely going to have to make a point of heading back to Montana and driving the whole of 89 which goes through the middle of both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, preferrably during a warmer time of year though!

Day 48 (motorcycle): Rubber Back on the Road

(sorry if the day numbers seem weird. I started the numbering over for the hiking, but it seemed better now to just keep it all together. So 48 is the total number of days out)

October 14
Miles 4993-5170.3

So after exactly one month and over 550 miles of hiking, it was finally time to get the rubber on the road again!

After spending a great afternoon in Seattle where I got my sleeping pad fixed at the MSR factory, eating fish sandwiches and raw oysters at the market, and getting a coffee at the very first Starbucks, we were on our way south to Portland. There, 8 of us (we lost Swiss Miss this morning on a plane back to Georgia), were invited to stay at the home of the Splarmboys (Splints and Farmboy), whose parents were so fantastic to not only do so much for me but then to also take in so many of us still not quite fit for normal society hikers.

I was the second casualty of the group as I said goodbye to everyone as they drove off in the morning. It wad nice to be back in my cotton riding clothes and to see my bike again, but really sad to say bye to my hiking friends.

My first stop was the Harley dealership to get my steering column and spoke checked. After that it was the highway.

The Columbia River Gorge was a gorgeous ride and the weather was perfect. Unfortunately I got a late start though and so couldn’t take full advantage, falling short on miles.

It’s weird to look back on all that time on the trail. It was such a big chunk of time and it was so much fun, but it feels like the only real proof that it all happened is how quick my joints and feet stiffen up and how fast my metabolism still is.

Day 30: Uninspiring Hiking Conditions and the Last Day

October 10th; 24 miles

Unfortunately, the weather was just as bad when we woke up as when we went to sleep. The rain had kept up full strength through the whole night. There was so much water that it had soaked through my tent so everything that was in contact with the floor or side of the tent was wet, which was in addition to my therma-rest only staying partially inflated, and since the rain never stopped, I had been holding in a pee for about 6 hours.

No one else had a really good night either and no one was in a mood to hike 24. I actually have a tendency to, when conditions are really miserable and close to rock bottom, start to get in a really good mood, in this situation figuring, “hey, I can’t possibly get any more wet!” and it was in this spirit that I started to shoot the idea around of just hiking the full 38 mile day to the end! I was feeling like hiking and it would be my last chance to beat my personal record. Even though it would have meant a few hours of night hiking, hey, it’s the last day anyway so who cares!

Unfortunately, Steiner was the only one even close to as enthusiastic as I was, so 24 it was.

It wasn’t that bad of a day in fact. It didn’t rain the whole time and there were even some good views for the second half of the day. It did get very cold though, and the rain eventually turned to snow. This was actually preferable though because, aside from the fact that it was a little too cold to take any kind of break, snow does t get you wet like rain. I also think it makes the landscape look fantastic.

We made camp by an alpine lake and the temperature kept dropping. It was manageable but we all got in our sleeping bags as soon as possible and tried no to leave. The next morning, there was a layer of frost over everything and all of our boots were completely frozen, so anyone who didn’t loosen their shoelaces the night before couldn’t get their feet in. Swiss miss had the most trouble with her double knotted shoelaces. It was so bad that I ended up boiling some water and pouring it on to loosen them up.

Swiss, who seemed to be having a particularly rough time with the cold and wet, developed a new motto for the group: just survive. It was the last 24 hours after all so all we had to do was make it! Just close your eyes and think of the party in Seattle!