“Wealth I ask not…all I seek is the heaven above and the road below me.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson “The Vagabond”
My recent trip to San Francisco reminded me that it has already been twelve years since I rode my motorcycle across America. The trip had a lasting impact and changed my life for the better. Riding across America opened my mind to new perspectives and priorities. What follows are my road diaries from that epic ride.
It has been my lifelong dream to ride a motorcycle across America. I originally planned to do it when I graduated from Boston College in 1993. I actually bought my first motorcycle with the intent of a post graduation cross-country journey. Life got in the way and I opted for a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity instead. I remember my great friend Megan Furth scolding me saying, “you should do the trip now before you get too old and tied down with responsibilities. If you don’t do it now you’ll never do it!” Well, Megan is now gone forever, but these words live with me everyday. Megan’s recent death awakened my soul from the mundane routine of life. I simply could not let another year slip away without fulfilling my dream of riding a motorcycle across America. Megan was one of those rare people that most of us never get to meet in life. Her spirit of adventure and love of different people, places, and cultures made it an easy decision to dedicate my cross-country trip in honor of her extraordinary (but short) life. A motorcycle ride across America became my perfect personal vehicle to raise money for Megan’s highly worthwhile Foundation. I am a novice at fundraising and have never raised a dime in my life. As of this writing, the trip has raised well over $75,000. Given the existing commitments, I am confident that the target of $100,000 will be exceeded.
Knowing I could not do such a trip alone, an easy process of elimination quickly concluded that I had only one choice for a riding partner—Nick Einstein. Einstein was defiantly the only friend I have who could make such a journey. He is the only one of my friends who shares my extreme interest in motorcycles and possesses the riding skills and spirit of adventure that was required of such a bold expedition. There is nobody on earth that has the sense of humor and zeal for living life in the moment like Einstein. Einstein is actually a distant relative of Albert Einstein. I first met Einstein in the late 1970’s and we grew up riding bicycles and mini bikes together on my parent’s farm in Bedford, New York. Some of the maneuvers we used to do on motorcycles in our youth were clearly dangerous, stupid, and irresponsible. We used to zoom around my parent’s farm, jumping our dirt bikes and riding them non-stop for hours. Somehow our daredevil riding around Coker Farm actually made us responsible street riders. Luckily he was entering his second year of business school and had time in August to make the ultimate journey west. The day after shipping his bike east from Seattle, Nick learned that his wife was pregnant. Good timing for the ride—he certainly would not be able to skip town for three weeks next summer. With a whisper in my ear from Megan, we fired up the bikes and rode incident free across the entire United States.
Well, we did the trip and we did it in style. The journals that follow are my observations and recordings of seemingly insignificant details that in aggregate form the best memories of my life.
8.9.04: Willoughby Hills, Ohio: We left Bedford after a great sendoff that mom orchestrated. Complete with blueberry muffins it was an appropriate beginning to an epic journey. We had an esteemed sendoff committee comprised of Nick’s father, my parents, and Otto Theurkauf. We filled up at the Bedford Shell and rolled on the throttle over the Tappan Zee Bridge. Nick almost made off for Mahwah NJ on 287, but kept right at the last second towards Morristown. We drove clear across Pennsylvania at a very decent cruising speed. I was surprised to see how much dense and undeveloped forestland is in central and western Pennsylvania. Many of the views from Route 80 were actually stunning. We ran into tons of construction on Route 80. I began to think to myself how incredible the road building and maintaining process truly is—the amount of work it has taken to build and maintain our Interstate system is mind-boggling. While we are going to mostly stick to back roads, we are very lucky to have these huge paved roads crossing the country only a short 200 years after Lewis & Clark. The fact that Lewis & Clark’s expedition was only 200 years ago is something I am going to ponder a lot on this trip. 200 years is not all that long a period of time.
On Route 80, a truck passed me going well over 100mph in the right lane, which left a huge jet wash in its wake. We have noticed two things on this trip: 1. The truckers roll it on and really drive fast, and 2. Minivans are the most dangerous vehicles on the road; their drivers speed and make random and reckless maneuvers—with their cars full of kids. No kidding, we have witnessed some stupid driving, most of which has a high correlation with the minivan. Indeed, our senses are forever heightened to the danger of the minivan. We stopped for gas in central Pennsylvania and got nice big Subway subs. Nick has been frustrated because it has proven impossible to buy state stickers, the kind he could stick onto his BMW side bags. He wants the full adventure look on his BMW, with a sticker from every state proudly displayed on his motorcycle. All the stores just sell magnets, but no stickers. My old 1993 R100R is such a nice bike. It is over ten years old but only has 3,000 miles on it, so it is virtually new. It runs super smooth, super stable, and has a lot of torque. It is the last of the truly air-cooled BMW’s. I love it. The bike is possibly the best bike I’ve ever ridden. The Chagrin Valley of Ohio is really a surprisingly beautiful place. Waterfalls run right through the town, and there is still a lot of open land. Most of all, it was great to get to spend some time with Lauren.
8.11.04 Metamora Michigan: We left Maypine around noon and blasted across the Ohio Turnpike, which are a toll road and a real pain on the motorcycle. We past the rest area and then realized we were out of gas, we finally got to an exit after what seemed like an eternity. We pulled over in Sandusky, just east of Toledo. Sandusky is famous because it is Thomas Edison’s home, which I didn’t know. Toledo is a hole and not worthy of any discussion. We drove 235 miles from Cleveland to Metamora Michigan, and it went by fast after our long gas stop, but the traffic in Detroit and Lapeer was just brutal. With touring bags our bikes are just too wide to lane-split, so we waited in traffic along with all the other cars. Detroit is just a dirty and filthy industrial city in total decay; it is very depressing to see. From the outside the city seems like a melting ice cube. After seeing Japan and specifically Tokyo earlier this year, it makes you think about how the Japanese just ate our lunch in the automobile industry. Something that you do not realize driving in a car is the pungent odor of burning brakes and tires from big tractor trailer semis. The smell is evident whenever we hit serious or sudden traffic. As we were rolling along the road riding our precision BMW’s en route to the west coast, I could not help but think about how lucky we are to be able to make such a journey.
We arrived at Stump Lane Farm to visit my Aunt Jocelyn, who is not really my aunt but rather my mother’s best friend from Smith College. Stump Lane Farm is a very special place. Aunt Jocelyn is the greatest and deserves the coveted title “aunt.” She is more like my second mother. I used to come out and visit every summer for about two weeks. Indeed, some of the best memories of my life are spending summers at Stump Lane Farm. Today we drove all over Metamora. It looks the same here, the dirt roads are great, and her farm is beautiful. Her family owns so much land here, I think well over 350 acres. It’s a very special place with lots of memories. Jocelyn showed us all kinds of farms and houses in Metamora, and told all kinds of stories about people she has known over the years. This is seriously a great community, and they have a very active hunt club. Tomorrow we are off to Northern Michigan, otherwise known as “U P” or Upper Peninsula. We have some serious miles ahead of us.
8.13.04: 10pm: Marinette, Wisconsin: What a day. We did almost 500 miles. If we were smart we would not have gotten on the bikes today. Yesterday while Jocelyn was showing us around Metamora a black cat ran right out in front of the car and across the street in front of us. I said nothing for fear of jinxing us with bad luck. Nick noticed it too, and also chose to say nothing. On top of that, today is Friday the 13th. We got up at 7:30 and parked the bikes on the front porch and loaded up. We had a breakfast feast and said goodbye to Aunt Jocelyn. She gave Nick a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label to make our arrivals a little more pleasant. We rolled on the throttle up past Saginaw on Route 75. What an awful and depressing town. The pavement was good, then bad, then excellent, then bad again. We rolled along at 85 mph most of the time. The legendary BMW’s are proving to be top performers. Great bikes, I love the R100R. We drove over the Mackinaw Bridge, which was really large and gave us a great view of Lake Michigan. Once we got north of Saginaw the scenery improved dramatically. After the bridge we hit Route 2 and had lunch at a Big Boy. Along Route 2 there were lots of wildflowers and spectacular views of the lake. We met a few bikers at rest areas and gas stations, all of whom were really friendly and very interested in our trip. There are lots of Harley’s up here, and we’ve only seen 2 BMW’s.
Nick is such a great person to travel with—nothing fazes him at all. I’ve just laughed and laughed the whole trip, he is pure comedy. The ride was great, we really rolled it on. The UP of Michigan, or Upper Peninsula, is very poor but a really beautiful place. Nick got a bumper sticker for his side bag that says, “Say Ya to Da U.P. eh?” There were lots of modest houses situated right on the lake. In Bedford or Greenwich such lakeside real estate would be worth millions—but not up here in northern Michigan. We struggled to find a room with high speed Internet access so we could update the website. Our first stop at a Best Western was comedy. Nick asked the front desk if they had high speed Internet. The manager replied a resounding “yes!” He then said, “But we have no rooms available.” We got the last room in town at the Comfort Inn and are going to get some rest, although our room faces the train tracks and big long trains run every hour. Tomorrow we are going to power across Wisconsin. The only news that we have heard is that New Jersey’s governor has resigned for sexual indiscretions and that hurricane Charley has destroyed south Florida.
8.15.04: Eagan, Minnesota: Please say a prayer for the 16,784 insects that lost their lives on the windshields of our BMWs yesterday as we blasted across the entire state of Wisconsin. As we rolled into a Mobil station in Spring Valley, it looked as if we just left a crime scene. Dead insects covered the windshields of our motorcycles and the face shields of our helmets. I could feel the sparrow sized bugs and butterflies pelting me in the head as we cruised along gorgeous Route 29. Between the carnage of insects on our bikes, and the mud that covers them (from our drive down the wet dirt roads of Metamora Michigan) we look like badass bikers. Every time we stop for food or gas people ask, damn, where have you been and where are you going? We have driven well over 1500 miles since leaving Bedford.
The state of Wisconsin ended up being a huge surprise to both of us. I never would have expected such perfect roads or spectacular scenery. Wisconsin is a beautiful state. We drove for hundreds of miles, passing old farms and thousands of acres of corn. Most of the farms were running full tilt, with enormous John Deere tractors working the fields. We saw hay being made and wheat being processed. Some farms appeared to have been abandoned long ago, but somehow they have resisted the passage of time and have self-maintained their old world patina. As we rolled along deeper into Wisconsin, the sky became about 75% of what we could see. Big sky. I’ve never seen so much sky. A few puffy cotton ball clouds dotted the heavens for miles and miles, providing just the right amount of occasional respite from the sun. Endless visibility. I will forever remember Wisconsin as being 25% corn and 75% sky. We drove into a small town and there was a tall barn on the right side of the street. As I approached the barn a crop duster plane flew around the backside of the barn at about 20 feet over my head. It came out of nowhere. It was a close encounter and totally unexpected. I could feel the prop wash and the vibration of the big single engine plane. As we moved west the terrain became less flat. About 100 miles from Minnesota there were actually rolling hills. We had perfect weather for the entire 400 miles from Marinette. We’ve passed and seen a lot of Green Bay fans. The most memorable was the Green Bay Packer Edition Hummer H2 with the license plate CRUSHEM.
We’ve actually been so lucky with the weather for the entire trip so far Megan must be hard at work keeping the roads dry and the skies blue. Indeed, weather can make or break a motorcycle trip, or any trip for that matter.
One thing that we both could not help but notice is how Wisconsonians manicure their lawns. We must have passed hundreds of people mowing their lawns with riding mowers. These are not the plane Jane riding mowers we see in the northeast. These things are tricked out, chromed out, and pimped out in every way imaginable. Canopies and cup holders are just the beginning. Some probably have navigation, DVD, and leather. Indeed, the riding mower out here has become a sport of sorts. It is the status symbol of Wisconsin. We noticed dozens of dilapidated farms with perfectly manicured lawns. These folks tend to mow a portion of the land around their houses and let the rest grow wild. However, whatever is mowed is cut like a putting green. I wonder how much gas and how many resources are wasted keeping patches of Wisconsin looking like the Maidstone Club in East Hampton? Would our GDP increase significantly if the farmers of Wisconsin spent more time on their bigger (but less cool) John Deere tractors?
We crossed the Mississippi River into Minnesota and found a hotel in Eagan. For some reason I’d heard of Eagan before. As we checked in I asked the receptionist why I might have heard of this unremarkable town. He said it was likely because two of the pilots that flew the planes into the World Trade Center learned how to fly in Eagan, just one mile from our hotel. It is really hard to picture Osama’s evil henchman hanging out here in simple and small Eagan. On a random note, I read in the Wall Street Journal tonight that things are really difficult at Toys “R” Us right now. The article says, “After years of battling cutthroat pricing from Wal*Mart and other discount chains, Toys “R” Us indicated it may get out of the toy business altogether.” Excuse me for being an idiot, but what other business lines does Toys “R” Us plan to be in other than the toy business??? I can just imagine the board meeting where the decision was made to exit the toy business, “We are going to exit the unprofitable toy industry and enter the lucrative aerospace and defense business….going forward we will be called Bombs “R” Us.” Maybe I am just really tired, but that headline really made me laugh out loud. There is so much in this world that I just don’t understand….
8.16.04: Brookings South Dakota: We continued to cover a good piece of the heartland yesterday. The weather continued to cooperate and the road quality was great. The BMW’s continue to amaze us with their smooth power and rock solid stability. While loading up our gear yesterday morning the hotel receptionist made the observation that we have a ton of gear with us. We have tents, sleeping bags, fly rods, bedrolls, bags, back packs, tank bags, rain gear, and one bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label thanks to Aunt Jocelyn. While pushing our cartload of bags out to the bikes I realized just how much weight we are carrying.
En route to South Dakota we made a stop at the adventure retail epicenter of the world, Cabelas. Cabelas is the ultimate outdoor and camping center, located in western Minnesota. We picked up two cheap 4-piece fly rods and rolled onward. We got of Interstate 35 and picked up Route 14 west, an incredible single lane back road that takes you through dozens of John Cougar Mellencamp small towns. All day long we passed hundreds of Harley-Davidsons as they were all headed home from the rally in Sturgis. Nobody but us wear helmets out here. The rally in Sturgis for those of you non-bikers is the single biggest convention of motorcycles ever known to mankind. We debated about pressing on to make it in time to see Sturgis in full swing, but decided against it. We are driving German metal, not what you want to be on during a Harley rally. The Sturgis event is in its 61st year. We met an elderly gentleman at Hardees who told us about his 1938 Harley that he regrettably sold while in the service in the 1940s. He proudly told us that women often do not wear any clothes at the Sturgis rally and that we should make every effort to get there ASAP.
We cruised by Loon Lake, Clear Lake, and through the bustling town of Sleepy Eye. Sleepy Eye has a deserted main street, consisting of a bank built in 1885, a barbershop, a hair salon for women, and an insurance broker. The rest of the storefronts were empty or for rent. It was like driving through a time warp. Wal*Mart has destroyed any hope of entrepreneurial success in these small towns. Life in these heartland towns is so different. Despite the perilous and desperate conditions, a strong sense of pride remains. Many of the billboard ads for Dairy Queen, Subway, and other service businesses that cater to traveling bikers like us share their billboard message and give the local town a positive plug. One billboard we passed for Dairy Queen said “great ice cream” and touted New Ulm as “a great place to grow up, go to school, build a business, go to church, and raise your children.” We blasted through Florence, which has a sign indicating a population of 61. When we hit Tracy, Minnesota, the wind became almost unbearable. The wind came directly from the south, pushing our bikes off the road. We had to ride at a 10 o’clock position just to keep the bikes upright. I’ve never ridden through such a strong unrelenting wind. The wind in that region must be a regular occurrence as the Buffalo Ridge area was full of enormous high tech energy windmills.
While cruising through all these small towns we noticed that the big social events revolve around bingo and supper clubs. We passed one single bed and breakfast on the entire drive through southwest Minnesota. Toward the end of the day Megan must have again been looking out for us, as she has been doing all along the way of this epic journey. We were driving along Route 14 and there was the darkest, blackest sky I’ve ever seen. The storm was on the left of us and on the right of us. Sunshine covered Route 14 for about 80 miles as we watched a violent lightening show off to the right, and saw rain falling off to the left. We were riding on a channel of sunshine for miles and miles. It was surreal. We cruised into South Dakota and pulled over where Route 14 crosses Interstate 29. We had a roadside board meeting and the board of directors decided, quite prudently as it turned out, to pull over and call it a day. We did not have a drop of rain yesterday, except for right after we arrived at the brand new Holiday Inn in Brookings South Dakota. Thank god we decided to stop because this is the last piece of civilization for hundreds of miles. When we checked into the room we saw on the TV that there were tornado and violent thunderstorm warnings just west of our hotel, exactly where we would have been driving if we decided to press on into the unknown.
This is turning out to be the trip of a lifetime. Driving a motorcycle across this country is fatiguing and a test of endurance. I am so lucky to have Einstein with me, as doing it alone would be impossible. The throttle rolls on to the Badlands and Mount Rushmore.
8.17.04 Badlands, South Dakota: Did we get it done yesterday! We drove clear across the entire state of South Dakota. After we left Brookings, we rode due west for about 400 miles. The state of South Dakota is just like Wisconsin, a total surprise. Under a bright blue sky we rode through the small towns of Arlington, Huron, Welsey, Miller, Harrold, Pierre (the capital), and even a small but well named town called Philip (population 1077). We had an epic American lunch at the Ranch Cafe. What drew us to the eatery was a huge banner that said “Bikers Welcome.” I’d bet that half of the 800,000 bikers that attended Sturgis hit this little establishment. Einstein was daring and ordered the Hot Beef Combo and didn’t ask a single question about the dish. I was more conservative and ordered a burger. As we rolled on through these many small towns, we continued to see lots of drive in movie theatres and drive in restaurants. There was a 100-mile stretch where there were endless fields of sunflowers on both sides of the road. It felt like riding through a prairie of sunflowers. The roads slowly turned from working farms to baron grasslands. The roads were so straight, and the visibility was so good, that we rolled on the throttle more than usual. The wildflowers we abundantly growing on the side of the road, providing a rainbow blur as we rolled by. We covered a lot of ground yesterday and the BMWs continued to perform tiptop.
After the town of Hayes, the terrain rapidly went from perfect flatness to something more closely resembling the foothills of the Black hills. We capped off the day with a sunset drive through the Badlands, which just might have been the most magical ride on record. We pulled into the Badlands loop road, pulled over and removed our jackets and helmets. We rode the entire loop road at 25mph just soaking in the views and listening to the flutter of the air-cooled boxer twin motors. On one downhill stretch I shut off my engine and glided down into a huge canyon. Indeed, the only way I can describe the Badlands is that they are basically a lunar Grand Canyon. They are a sacred place, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. We pulled off the road and stared at the incredible view. A young couple on two Harleys stopped as well and we had a nice chat with them. By the sounds of it, Sturgis must have been wild. We are actually lucky to have missed it by one day. The receptionist at the Best Western told us that every hotel and campsite has been booked for the last two weeks. Until yesterday, there were no rooms available for 300 miles in every direction. People in Sturgis were actually sleeping at the iron butt motel. The iron butt motel is when you sit on your motorcycle and lean forward onto the gas tank and drift off to sleep. There were over 800,000 people at Sturgis this year. What an event. Maybe we’ll have to attend next year. We’ve been so lucky with the weather, but today the western sky looks somewhat ominous. Well, we have no right to complain, we’ve had almost 2500 miles of perfection. Today we are going to keep heading west, seeing Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. We will head into Wyoming and ride on to Yellowstone. Route 212 is apparently voted as the best motorcycling road in the country. We were watching the Weather channel this morning; east of Wisconsin to New York is all rain.
8.18.04 Billings Montana: Yesterday was an extreme test of endurance. We rolled on over 500 miles. The weather channel showed an ugly mess right in our path. We suited up with full weather gear only to find the weather (where we traveled) was perfect. Thanks again Megan! We rode through Rapid City South Dakota, a depressing town loaded of fast food and pawnshops. Loans galore. Car title loans, pay day loans, usury at its finest. One store had a big sign out front said Car Title Loans, and You Get to Keep the Car! What a deal! Rapid City was the fastest route to Mount Rushmore. We took a quick peek at Mt. Rushmore, which is stunning but a tourist trap. We rode to Sturgis via Route 385, which was a twisty winding road through the Black Hills. We rolled into Sturgis and there were many straggler Harleys still hanging on to the moment. Sturgis is an unremarkable town, but there was still a lot of activity, even two days after the epic rally. People really do not like to leave Sturgis. We had lunch at Bobs Family Restaurant, a local favorite. Our bikes have been sipping a little oil so we called the BMW Guru Phil Cheney and got advice on Nick’s oil leak and general optimum oil levels. There is nobody in the world that knows more about BMWs than Phil Cheney. We are lucky to have him on call when and if we encounter problems and questions. Phil said the oil use was normal. We picked up a quart of 20W50 motor oil and topped the bikes off and rolled out of Sturgis. I demanded a stop at Dairy Queen to fulfill my strawberry sundae crack habit. In the parking lot there was a Chevy pickup with an enormous dead moose in the back and I whipped out the digital Nikon and snapped a photo.
We headed west on 212, off to the south was dark sky and rain. Off to the north and above us was clear blue sunshine. We rode west for 250 miles in perfect weather, with heavy rain just a few miles to our left. Good weather makes all the difference on motorcycles. We have been SOOOO lucky with the weather, although that could now change. We covered a ton of ground across Montana. The roads were perfect and the visibility was great. The bikes ran great. We drove straight through the Cheyenne Indian Reservation. The small town of Busby is depressing and something that everyone should see. Largely inhabited by Native Americans, it is so poor that you cannot determine abandoned houses from ones that people actually live in. Driving through the reservation is one of those memories in life that will forever be in my memory. I stopped along the side of the road just looking at this one particular house. I wondered what it must be like to live here in the dead of winter. The homes are totally dilapidated and there are low budget casinos every few miles—with full parking lots. One roadside house was having a barbeque and they waved at us to join them. While we wanted to stop, we rolled on in a hurry to beat darkness and make it to Billings.
Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere the road went from perfect pavement to dirt and loose gravel. For about 40 miles we drove along a lonely dirt road, with nothing but prairie for miles. The sun was dead ahead of us, setting at a rapid pace. I became totally fatigued, the ride had become too long and I rapidly began to fade. After countless miles of dirt road (my bike does not do well in gravel, especially the large chunky gravel that was all over Route 212) I pulled over, took off my helmet and just yelled into the darkening Montana sky. I felt much better after that little tantrum episode and we rolled on for another 120 miles to Billings. It was the longest 120 miles of my life. Off to the north and just off the road were dozens of wild horses. I pulled over and got my camera and tried to walk closer to them. The very sight of me coming closer made them run for the hills. I thought to myself, maybe the next great Olympic show jumper was amidst that pack of roving mustangs? We made it to a hotel in Billings, more tired than we’d ever been. Just as we rolled in and elderly couple arrived on a huge Honda Gold Wing, the biggest and best touring machine around. They had done 640 miles but looked a little better than we did. Maybe next time we should ride Gold Wings? No, never, that will never happen.
We are off to Yellowstone today, and we are going to ride Route 212, the Bear Tooth Highway, which has been voted the best motorcycle road in North America. We are hoping to get a fishing guide for tomorrow and do some fly-fishing on the Snake River.
8.19.04 Cody Wyoming: We’ll, we’ve been seeing a lot of Harley’s riding out of Sturgis doing all the good loops throughout Wyoming and Montana. We’ve unfortunately seen several broke down on the side of the road. It either says their owners do not maintain them well, or that our BMW’s reputation of bulletproof reliability is well deserved. Another factor for the many breakdowns we’ve seen probably has to do with the sheer volume of Harley’s on the road because of Sturgis. Regardless, we’ve been singing a little song all along the way and it goes like this: HARLEY HARLEY MADE OF TIN, RIDE EM’ OUT AND PUSH EM’ IN. Just by coincidence, there is a huge BMW motorcycle rally in Red Lodge, just a few miles from here. We’ve seen lots of BMW riders who have traveled great distances to get here. We met one guy riding a black GS, identical to Nick’s bike except that it was completely modified for world adventure touring. This bike was pimped out to the maximum, full of high-end and expensive Touratech accessories. He had ridden all the way from Naples Florida for the rally. We are not going to partake in the rally as we’ve got places to go, but it has been fun to see some hard-core BMW riders in a world where we’ve only seen Harleys.
I know I’ve said this every day, however, yesterday we had our best ride to date. We rode on Route 212, which slowly climbed into the Rockies. The temperature dropped 30 degrees within 3 miles and the sky became dark as night. We had to pull over and put heavier clothes on, and some preemptive raingear. We again dodged big rain, only hitting a little moisture while in the mountains. The fact that we have been able to dodge rain this far into the trip is unreal. It’s no longer luck. Megan is working hard for us. Rain would seriously negatively impact the fun quotient of this epic journey. We’ve looked at the weather maps and almost every city we have visited is now soaked with record downpours of rain. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been pounded by Monsoon rains since we left the region.
The Bear Tooth Highway up the mountain was so spectacular, full of great twists and endless curves. The altitude definitely affected the performance of my motorcycle, as I’m riding a machine with carburetors. The thin air at 9,000 feet was noticeable. Nick’s bike is fuel injected, so he was virtually unaffected. The Bear Tooth Highway is the road that has been consistently voted as the best motorcycle road in North America. At the top of the mountain we hit the densest fog I’ve ever seen. It was literally a wall of fog. We rode into and out of the densest fog you can imagine. We had to ride at 2 mph for miles just to get through it and not go off the road. On the backside of the mountain the fog lifted and we cruised along. We saw wild Moose grazing along the side of the road. Cattle were loose on the range and in the road.
We pulled into Silver Gate to get lunch and parked our bikes on Main Street under a big huge pine tree. We looked up in the tree and there was a Grizzly Bear sitting in the tree looking down on us. I’m not kidding. It was a young bear, probably about 2 years old, and weighed in at about 250 pounds. Riding out of Silver Gate we rode through a beautiful dense pine forest and the sweet smell of pine was pungent. We got on the Chief Joseph Highway, which far surpassed the Bear Tooth Highway (in our opinion). We rode some of the best turns and scenery I’ve ever encountered (the scenery was even on par with New Zealand). We stopped at a spectacular turnout and read some of the tourist information monuments. In the midst of this beautiful scenery in 1877, General Sturgis’ army raped, tortured, and brutally murdered thousands of Shoshone Indians. The Indians were not equipped to fight Sturgis’ gunpowder equipped army.
We arrived in Cody at around 6pm, found a hotel on Sheridan Avenue, and got great steaks at the Proud Cut. We are going to head into Yellowstone today, and head south for Jackson Hole. We’ve arranged a fly fishing guide for the Snake River all day on Friday. We are going to fish the Snake River and get us some Cut Throat Trout! This trip is without question the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.
8.21.04 Jackson Hole, Wyoming: We reluctantly rolled out of Cody two days ago. Cody is a great little town with a truly western feel. I couldn’t leave without stopping by Wayne’s Boot Company and outfitting myself with a styling pair of Ostrich skin cowboy boots. We had them shipped back to New York as our bikes are completely overloaded. Ironically, the tax savings of shipping to New York covered the postage to mail the boots. So we drove out of Cody on Route 20, which provided us with spectacular views of the Rockies. We rolled through Yellowstone. It is a waste of time for me to try and describe what we saw in the Park. For those of you who have been there you know what I mean. For those of you who have not been to Yellowstone get out here and see it. My vocabulary is just not sufficient to give our experience the justice that it deserves. See the attached photos for a general idea. Wild buffalo ten feet from my BMW. Wild Elk and Moose galore. We saw a huge pack of Bison swim across an enormous river. We rode our motorcycles parallel to the Fire Hole River, one of the most famous and beautiful trout stream in the world.
They had just paved the main roads within the park less than two weeks ago, which made for perfect fresh pavement riding down the endless twisty roads. We headed south out of the park and cruised by the Tetons. It was a long slow drive to Jackson Hole. Yet again, the weather was perfect, but we narrowly missed a massive thunderstorm. We even pulled over and put on raingear in anticipation of a royal soaking. Our weather experiences can no longer be attributed to good luck. There is certainly more at work here. Megan, I don’t know how to repay you. We have driven well over 3000 miles and have not had ANY real rain. We passed by the Tetons, and there was a huge angry storm over the Grand Teton. Of course, (and as usual) it was sunny above us and storming off to the right. This has happened to us so many times that I just laugh at dark clouds and power onward. The storms here can be severe and dangerous. Our fishing guide told us that last year four climbers got caught up on the Grand Teton when a massive electrical storm rolled in. A girl was struck by lightening and was vaporized. They could not find much left of her, literally her body disintegrated from the extreme blast of electricity. Grim story indeed.
We arrived in Jackson Hole and were completely done. Finished. Expired. I’ve never been so fatigued in my whole life. We’ve been doing 300 to 500 miles everyday. The concentration level required while riding a motorcycle is much much higher than driving a car. The roads have become narrow and now wind through forests, so the grand visibility we had in the plains is gone. These roads require lower speeds and a lot more caution. Hitting an Elk or a Buffalo would put a rapid end to this marvelous trip and to life as we know it.
We had an amazing day of fishing yesterday. We floated down the Snake River with our guide Brandon Powers. Brandon was from Texas and somehow found his way to Jackson Hole six years ago and has not been able to leave. I can see why. This is paradise. We floated down the river complete with an eight-hour view of the Tetons. Again, we had perfect weather, a short shower and some threatening clouds floated around us, but for most of the day we basked in the Wyoming sun. We stopped on a bank and had a delicious lunch. The sun was shining and the view of the Tetons was unreal. It was one of those moments in life that I will never forget. We caught several perfect and huge Cut Throat Trout. The Snake River Cut Throat is a species of trout that is indigenous only to the Snake River. Einstein caught three huge LUNKERS (a lunker is the fishing lingo for a huge fish). We ended the night with a huge feast at the Snake River Grill. We are going to get a big breakfast and head on towards Boise.
8.22.04: Sun Valley, Idaho: We cruised out of Jackson Hole on Route 23 up and over the Tetons. We stopped and had a huge breakfast at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn, and bumped into the actor Andrew McCarthy. He apparently was in St. Elmo’s Fire, Less Than Zero, and was a member of the Brat Pack. I of course never heard of him and did not recognize him at all. As soon as we got over the Tetons and into Idaho, we unexpectedly encountered plains like South Dakota. Just 30 minutes from Jackson is some incredible land that could probably be had for half the price. I started thinking about how great it would be to someday own real estate out here. The only issue getting to land up and over the Tetons would be the winter snow. I wonder if this road is even passable during a major winter storm? We headed our bikes towards Idaho Falls and got some ice cream at Sonic, America’s Favorite Drive In. Although only about two hours into the days drive, we needed the rest badly. We are definitely getting tired. Days in the saddle are wearing on me.
We rode west along Route 20, past Atomic City and the home of the first nuclear power plant. EBR-1 is a national historic landmark in the middle of nowhere. They sure must have been nervous about the first nuclear power plant because it is miles from anything. We kept rolling on towards Craters of the Moon. Craters is just that, a stretch of road that goes for miles in which the scenery looks like obsidian volcanic moon surface. It’s a very strange and lonely place. We again narrowly missed a huge rainstorm, with night black sky off to the west just a mile or two. We rode along the side of the storm, getting a refreshing sprinkle but nothing more. As usual, the sun came out and we watched the storm off to the right. I’ve decided to stop talking about the weather because it has just been so absurd. We have driven almost 4000 miles and have not had a drop of rain hit our windshields. The roads were great, and Idaho (like every other state) was just a series of surprises. The roads were open, the prairie was flat, and the wind was enough to push the bikes into the oncoming lane. Literally, when we were driving through Craters of the Moon, the wind was so strong that I had to fight to keep my BMW from drifting into the oncoming lane.
We drove by some farmers bailing straw and I pulled over to watch the labor-intensive process. Around the town of Bailey we dodged another huge rainstorm. But this time the most pronounced rainbow formed over the mountains just to our right. As we watched the rainbow evolve, another one formed just above it. There were two of the most defined rainbows I’d ever seen. I pulled over and got lots of photographs. We finally rolled into Ketchum and then Sun Valley. Sun Valley is just an awesome town. It is fancy, but not like Aspen. Its more mellow and genuine outdoorsy than Aspen; it almost feels like Carmel California. I fell in love with the town. Apparently, the town is abuzz and worried that if Kerry wins the election their paradise will be ruined. His wife owns a place in Sun Valley and spends a lot of time here. There is only one road into and out of town, so it will be a security nightmare should Kerry win the election and vacation with his family in Sun Valley. We had an awesome steak dinner at the Pioneer Saloon. Nick has had steak for dinner for almost 10 days in a row!
8.23.04 Boise Idaho: We had a lazy morning out of Sun Valley. Enjoyed a huge breakfast downtown at the Kneadery, a real western style establishment. We randomly decided to take Route 75 north out of Sun Valley and then take Route 21 out of Stanley. We almost aborted because the weather looked mean, but decided to press onward. Thank god, because as usual the raindrops missed us and we hit the best twisty roads that we have had the whole trip. We climbed up over some huge mountains, with the roads twisting up and down and all around. We had a blast throwing the BMW’s into the tight twisty curves. These roads (we later found out) are famous as being some of the best in the west. We knew we were heading into good riding as the GPS showed lots of zigzags ahead and we kept passing tons of motorcycles coming the other way. An abundance of cycles is a telltale sign that good roads are on the horizon. We ended up behind some Harley riders who should not have been operating motorcycles. After watching them carelessly drift into the oncoming lane and over the double yellow line, we passed them. One of them was riding an overgrown Honda scooter and narrowly missed death a dozen times before I could get around her. Some people should just not ride motorcycles. We arrived in Boise after a truly epic ride and found our way to Kevin’s house. Kevin is a great friend from business school and now lives in Boise. We hit a rainstorm just as we arrived into Boise, and we were able to park our bikes in Kevin’s covered parking spot. He graciously took us in and we had an awesome dinner in Boise. It was great seeing him and getting a tour of the town.
8.24.04 Lewiston, Idaho: Yesterday we crossed the 45th parallel (the halfway point between the North Pole and the equator). We also drove into the Pacific Time zone, which gave us an extra hour to get to Lewiston. Since leaving Bedford, we have driven through 3 time zones. We happened to be in town on Kevin’s first official day at work in Boise. Kevin has met this guy named Bob Egan, who is a motorcycle fanatic. Bob invited us over for coffee on our way out of town. He has a beautiful home in the hills of Boise. His garage is full of bikes. He had 2 BMW’s, (a K75 and a K1200RS), a Ducati 996 DesmoQuattro, and two police bikes, one is a Harley and the other is a Kawasaki. He is a part time sheriff and also does funeral processions and motorcycle escorts for Boise. He had some crazy stories about funerals, one of which was about a motorcycle cop who was killed while escorting a funeral. He said that he never drives the police bikes for fun because everyone drives really slowly around him wherever he goes. We had a good laugh over that. Over coffee we poured over maps and Bob gave us some great tips on our drive north. We rolled out of Bob’s joint and got a quick bite in Boise and rolled on up Route 55 to Route 95. Driving along the roads of Idaho we’ve noticed that most of the highways are sponsored or adopted by local businesses and families. One unusual sponsor was the Boise Atheists Inc, who have adopted a long stretch of State Street.
North of Boise we hit some of the most spectacular roads of the entire trip. Idaho is the most diverse state we have yet traveled. We followed the Salmon River for miles and miles. The roads just blew my mind. We rode through canyons, along the river, and there were no guardrails, so we drove literally alongside the raging Salmon River. One wrong move would have meant a quick and certain wet death. We arrived in Grangeville after blasting through McCall and the small town of Riggins. After Grangeville, the topography totally changed and we headed into bright amber fields of wheat and straw. The sky was enormous, as big as we’ve seen. A huge rainstorm made an attempt at us but as usual we escaped it and rode into sunshine. Arriving into Lewiston, we could smell the pulp from the paper mills. It was really disgusting.
Driving along the pass into Lewiston (Lewiston is named after Lewis of Lewis and Clark, and in fact there is another town nearby called Clarkston) it suddenly struck me how this trip has been a life altering experience. Riding a motorcycle across America has been a transforming event. My social, political, and economic view of America has forever been transformed. I need some time to go by to really absorb what I’ve seen and observed. We rolled into a Holiday Inn Express (our hotel of choice because for $79.00 you get a great deal, and most of the buildings are brand new) and had a terrible dinner at Red Lobster. Einstein promptly got sick and puked his brains out when we got back to the hotel. Stay away from the Red Lobster….lesson learned.
8.25.04 Seattle, Washington: We arrived in Seattle having put 4061 miles on the bikes since our departure from Bedford. 4061 hard driving miles and not a single misfire, breakdown, or problem of ANY SORT WHATSOEVER. The BMW Krauts in Spandau Berlin definitely know how to build a reliable motorcycle. The reputation of legendary reliability is well deserved.
We rolled out of Lewiston to the rumors of huge storms covering the entire state of Washington. The weather radar had covered the entire state in green, and two travelers checking into the hotel advised of very foul weather and gusting winds all the way from their drive from Seattle. We decided to press onward and go for it. The road out of Lewiston followed the Snake River and then we crossed the Columbia River. The wind was ferocious. It was enough to push the bike into the oncoming lane if you were not paying attention. However, we did not have a drop of rain until we were well into Washington State. Eastern Washington is desolate; there is nothing there to see. We rode through some canyons, and there was very little vegetation. Had the weather been perfect it would have been a pleasant drive, but the wind and intermittent rain made it the kind of ride you just wanted to trudge through. Eventually we came across some orchards.
We stopped in the middle of nowhere at Judy’s restaurant and had an awesome lunch. Judy’s parking lot was full of pick up trucks. It continued to drizzle occasionally but the weather was fine up until we were about an hour from Seattle. It poured on us and then cleared up and then poured again. It was not nearly as bad as it could have been. It was just enough rain to remind us how lucky we have been to enjoy perfect weather for the entire ride. We stopped at Judy’s Restaurant for a delicious lunch. The parking lot was full of pick up trucks. I seemed that Judy’s was the only game in town and there wasn’t a town for miles. When we were getting back on the bikes after lunch an elderly woman was getting out of her car. She took one look at me, walked around the back of the bike, and asked in an accusatory tone, “Where the hell are you from?” After I told her that we rode cross-country, she replied in a loud stern tone, “Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ! You two are our of your minds, Jesus Christ….on a motorcycle????” She left us and walked toward Judy’s just shaking her head exclaiming “Jesus Christ!” over and over again. Einstein and I looked at each other and just shrugged and laughed. As we got closer to Seattle we began to hit intermittent rain. We finally rolled into Seattle and put the bikes in the garage and had a huge sushi dinner in downtown Seattle. Delicious vittles.
What a ride. I need time to reflect on the enormity of such a journey. It was indeed life altering. The trip transformed my view of America and of Americans. My view of the social, economic, and political realities of the United States has forever been changed. Things are not well in America. I’ll be writing more again soon. My motorcycle is going in to get serviced tomorrow and then I leave for California on Monday.
8.28.04 Seattle, WA: What a great few restful days here in Seattle. My days have consisted of late mornings, early nights, great food, and some light explorations around Seattle. Nick’s wife Joie just had a sonogram and we all shared the joy of seeing the picture of the little nubbin in her womb. The baby is only an inch long, yet you can see its legs, head, and even heart. Exciting times in the Einstein household!
Yesterday I took my BMW to Ride West, the local BMW dealer that has a reputation as being one of the finest BMW motorcycle dealers in North America. Just before leaving New York I had new tires put on my bike. Tires and tire pressure are so critically important on a motorcycle. The service manager recommended that I change the rear tire due to wear. In two weeks I wore out a brand new Metzler tire! That is a first for me for sure! Ride West changed the oil and filter, adjusted the values and re-torqued them, synched the carburetors, replaced the spark plugs, and changed the rear tire all for a reasonable $414.35. Getting any work done to a BMW usually means huge bills. Labor alone is $78 per hour. Nick and I spent yesterday afternoon cleaning up the bikes, getting all the road grime and Metamora Michigan mud off the machines. My bike looks good, however, some sort of very sticky something found its way on to my beautiful aluminum front wheel. I tried every possible solvent but the grime is there for good. While waiting for my bike I took a brand new 2005 BMW R1200GS for a test ride. WOW! It is incredible what ten years has done to motorcycles. This bike was absolutely the softest, fastest, and buttery smoothest beast I’ve ever ridden!!!! For $15,500 it better be!
While at the Ride West I struck up a conversation with Paul Clark, a local Seattle BMW rider who was also getting his oil changed. I told him about my vintage BMW’s and particularly, my beautiful and ultra rare 1937 BMW R5. He said that while I’m here in Seattle I should stop by and see Kevin Brooks. The name sounded familiar to me. Well, indeed, I had spoke to Kevin Brooks about a year ago and he sent me many photos of his vintage BMW’s. Kevin also owns an R5. Kevin is an expert on old BMW’s and restores them professionally. He lives only about an hour from Seattle and today Nick and I are going to go for a visit to his shop. Paul was kind enough to email me Kevin’s contact info yesterday, so I gave Kevin a call and arranged a date. As our luck should have it, there is a vintage motorcycle Concours show tomorrow only a short drive from Nick’s house. According to Kevin, it is the single biggest and highest quality event for people into vintage motorcycles. We are off!
8.31.04 Lincoln City Oregon: I left Seattle around 11 yesterday, drove down the awful Route 5 through town and then down towards Olympia. The roads quickly got better and before I knew it I could feel the sea breeze. I rolled through Canan Beach at 3pm and because the weather was so good I decided to keep motoring south. Megan was with me again! The sun was setting as I drove along the coast; it was a magic moment never to be forgotten. The flutter of the boxer twin was music to my ears. The bike and I were one and we were completely alone on the road. The only occasional oncoming traffic was that of logging trucks passing me in the other lane. They sure are still really pulling plenty of trees from the Pacific Northwest. One interesting observation from the entire trip is that all of the best roads, all of the most beautiful places that we encountered, were usually completely devoid of people.
I decided to ride to Lincoln City and found a room in the Comfort Inn for $49.99, a great value. Dinner at a delicious local Thai restaurant was good, and I had a good nights sleep after watching some of the movie about the legendary racehorse Seabiscuit. Tomorrow I’m off to Mendocino. Should be a spectacular ride!
9.1.04 Eureka California: I just could not drive any further. 330 miles was my limit. While the weather was perfect, there was a lot of fog. I would drive into and out of sunny patches, but all in all the weather was cold all the way from Lincoln City. My fancy BMW heated vest broke, so I had to really rough it in the cold! The Oregon Coast is certainly something to see, but the 101 does not always follow the Pacific Ocean, in fact, it is mostly an inland road. Don’t get me wrong, there were some spectacular views but frankly, I was not overly impressed with the Oregon Coast. The Oregon Dunes were nice, but you couldn’t see much from the road. I pressed onward to the south hoping to make it to Mendocino by nightfall, but rider fatigue set in and I had to pull over and rest. There was no way that I was going to get killed by some dumb mistake this close to San Francisco! Eureka is a crapy little town and it doesn’t feel that safe. I found a Clarion Inn and settled in for the night. At around midnight I realized that I left my bike parked in front by the lobby, uncovered for all the world to see. I put on some sweats and brought it out in front of my room. There were two Harley’s parked next to it, except they had a big lock on them. I left my lock in Seattle by mistake. I prayed that it wouldn’t get stolen. I’m in love with that R100R if it is possible to be in love with a machine….
9.2.04 San Francisco, 710 El Camino Del Mar: Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge while the sun was near setting I had this indescribable feeling that must have been at least 1/10th of what Lindbergh felt when he crossed the Atlantic and landed in Paris. I hummed the theme song to Chariots of Fire. 5,250 miles from Coker Farm to the Golden Gate Bridge! No rain. No breakdowns. A perfect trip. Nobody got injured or killed, except for millions of insects! I tried to persuade the toll collector to let me go for free (given my journey). She was a tough militant type but advised if I had been an hour earlier I would have been allowed to go free. Apparently bikes don’t have to pay the $5 toll during rush hour. I had a great excuse to be late! The roads!!!! The roads!!!! In a single day I drove the Avenue of the Giants and the entire northern One. Huge Redwood trees, incredible surf, and great roads made it a day to remember. I’m totally exhausted and will write a lot more tomorrow.
9.3.04 710 El Camino Del Mar Library: Ok, I’ve ridden bikes in Europe and in New Zealand. I’ve also just ridden across the most spectacular roads in the United States. I don’t care what anyone says, there is nothing better than California 1. The One. The One and only. The head honcho. The big cheese. The top dog. The A-numero uno! What a road!!!! I could go on and on! The California One is certainly not for beginners. The road is narrow and twisty, the pavement inconsistent, the wind blustery, and the turnouts tend to leave lots of sand and dangerous silt on the road—deadly to a speeding motorcyclist. But perhaps the greatest danger is the scenery. The breathtaking views cause you to not pay attention to the road. Many huge trucks travel the road, as do many rented RV’s driven by people who do not deserve the privilege of having a license. These vehicles do not keep to their side of the double yellow.
I picked up the One just south of Eureka in Leggett. The twisties going toward the Pacific were dreamy. The fog lifted and the sun came out (of course!). I eventually was parallel to the Pacific Ocean heading towards Fort Bragg. I decided that I would stop in Mendocino and have lunch. This was my fourth visit to Mendocino. My first introduction to Mendocino was well over ten years ago when my brother was living in San Francisco. I came out to visit him and we borrowed his friend’s car. We drove all the way up the coast to Mendocino and then on to Eureka. My next visit to Mendocino was on a rented BMW motorcycle in 1996 while I was in San Francisco visiting Megan. That too was the ride of a lifetime. Just about a year ago I drove up to Mendocino when I arrived in town for Megan’s funeral. I came a few days early with my good friend James and we drove up for the night and we stayed at the Mendocino Hotel. On that visit we saw pilot whales forty feet off the cliffs. Indeed, I’ve always felt a certain special something about the rural seaside town. Mendocino is one of those really special places. It is the kind of place that for some reason you have to return to again and again. Its not because there is just too much to see in one visit. No, this is not like going to Florence Italy for a week and wanting to go back sometime because you didn’t have time to see the David. Mendocino is just a small simple town right on the Pacific Ocean. Mendocino is a magical place that seems locked in the 60’s. The signs outside the stores say, “Please enjoy your food and drink and chocolate outside.” In New York City the same signs would say, “No Food in this !@#$% store!”
A postcard in the general store described Mendocino as a community where you “turn off the TV, leave the house, know your neighbors, greet people, look up when you’re walking, sit on your stoop, plant flowers, use the library, play together, buy from local merchants, share what you have, help a lost dog, take children to the park, honor elders, support local schools, fix it even if you didn’t break it, garden together, pick up litter, read stories aloud, dance in the street, talk to the mail carrier, listen to the birds, put up a swing, help carry something heavy, barter for your goods, start a tradition, ask a question, hire young people for odd jobs, organize a block party, bake extra and share, ask for help when you need it, open your shades, sing together, share your skills, take back the night, turn up the music, turn down the music, listen before you react to anger, mediate a conflict, seek to understand, learn from new and uncomfortable angles, known that no one is silent though many are not heard.” From what I can tell, most of the residents of Mendocino abide by this credo.
I continued to ride along, the weather getting better with every mile. I passed by this incredibly beautiful cemetery by the sea and made a U turn. Now, I am certainly not one to be the least bit interested in cemeteries and do not fashion myself a connoisseur of such usually sad and depressing places. However, this little cemetery was a corner of the world that I will never forget. It was alive. It was old, real old for California. Some of the graves dated to early 1800, and entire generations appear to be buried together side by side. It was extremely well taken care of, and I was surprised to see several graves from 1890 and earlier had fresh flowers growing. There was a row of huge healthy old tall trees lining the seaward border of the cemetery. These tall trees resembled the kind that Dr. Suess invented in his masterpiece The Lorax. The Truffala Trees were blowing in the wind; you could hear the steady sound of a soothing wind blowing through their fluffy tops. Along with this pleasant and constant whistle was the sound of the ocean. The foliage of the trees was all at the tops and the long skinny trunks did not obstruct the view of the Pacific. I spent some time and walked around. It was such a peaceful place.
I headed south towards Bodega Bay, along the coast, which just became more spectacular with every mile. I pulled over to admire the view and another motorcyclist stopped to chat. Pierre was from France, enjoying a week of riding on one of the best roads in the world. You meet the most interesting people on a motorcycle. He took a look at my BMW and admired it, as so many have on this journey. The last of the real air-cooled BMW’s. Together we marveled at its Zen like design. A lot of people have admired the machine along our journey. The BMW regional manager at the Seattle dealership offered me cash for it right on the spot. I told Pierre about how the brilliant innovator Steve Jobs has two things that he feels represent design perfection sitting in the Apple Computer headquarters lobby in Cupertino California: A Bosendorfer piano and a BMW Boxer motorcycle. Ok, I digress…. Pierre was looking over my bike and saw in the clear map portion of the tank bag that there was a photo that I took of Megan and her mother in front of Mont St. Michel, the famous monastery in Brittany France that becomes surrounded by the sea during high tide. He said proudly, “You’ve been to Mont St. Michel?” I replied, “Yes, back in 1990 I was there with my friend Megan.” He told me that he lives minutes from Mont St. Michel. I then told him all about my journey and what had happened to my great friend Megan and how I was raising money for her foundation. After about a half hour we parted ways, never to see each other again, he rode north and I headed south.
When I arrived in Bodega Bay (the famous location where Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Birds) I called my girlfriend Lauren and left her a message that said “I’m just calling to say….that I made it all the way…..to Bodega F’ing Bay!!!!” I also called Nick’s father Arthur to tell him about the trip and to let him know that I was closing in on San Francisco. By this point in the drive I became totally wired up. Endorphins were pumping. I was wired like I’d done five lines of Cocaine. Not ever having done Coke I don’t know what it feels like, but I was definitely entering a psychedelic state like the sort generated from an extreme and reckless use of recreational pharmaceuticals. I was less than 75 miles from San Francisco!!!
I continued on the One all the way through Marin County and into Golden Gate Park. I thought to myself, “Jesus Richter, don’t get killed now, you are too close to die!” The sun was setting and a slight fog was rolling into the Bay. I was really tired. I drove up to the very top where the view of the city is breathtaking. I found a nice German couple and began to speak to them in German. They must have thought I was out of my mind. Bike loaded to the gunnels, New York Plates, speaking German, and totally wired. They were from Nurnberg, one of my favorite cities in Germany. Nurnberg is a beautiful medieval city that is famous for being the spiritual center of Hitler’s Third Reich and the location of the famous Nurnberg Trials where Hitler’s remaining henchmen were tried and executed. They took a great photograph of me high above San Francisco. In exchange for their taking my photograph, I gave them some tips on things to see. They had literally just arrived and had never been to San Francisco before.
I left the Park and crossed the bridge, feeling an unfamiliar sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and pride that I’ve never known. The Olympic theme played through my head, with miscellaneous random chords of Chariots of Fire also thrown in for good measure. I am no songwriter and it certainly wasn’t a great song, but that didn’t matter. I tried to negotiate with the toll collector for a free crossing. No luck. While she was very impressed with my ride, I had just missed the 4 to 6 pm free toll for motorcycles. Only in California would they let motorcycles cross for free during rush hour. In New York they would love to charge double during Rush Hour. No wonder California’s bond ratings are going south–they are losing tons of revenues at the Golden Gate Bridge alone!
I made the immediate right off the Bridge and drove through the Presidio and rolled into 710 moments later. 710 El Camino Del Mar defies description. I’ve been fortunate to have stepped foot into some beautiful homes in my day, but nothing on earth compares to 710. It is without a doubt the nicest home in all of San Francisco. 710 is full of great memories for me. 710, like Donna Furth, is all class. It was built in the 20’s and looks out over the Pacific and the Bridge. It is built on two lots, so there is no shortage of lebensraum. Robin Williams is said to live a few doors down, and I’m a huge fan. It is the kind of home where you really feel at home. It is big, but not enormous. It is the permanent new home of my beloved BMW R100R. Is it possible to fall in love with a machine? I think I have, and now after all this I’m sentimentally attached to it. The idea of having a bike on the left coast really appeals to me and it gives me a good excuse to come out and visit Donna. I am going to try to make regular use of the opportunity. Donna had the garage door open and rolled a big landing pad rug diagonally across the huge four-car garage. An enormous welcome sign greeted me. Upon arrival I rode the bike in circles behind the house, honking my horn like some deranged lunatic. I made it, and damn did I feel good! To top it off, Donna pulled out a bottle of 1994 Chalk Hill Cabernet to celebrate my arrival. I slept and slept and slept and slept. Donna’s been feeding me steaks and arranging massages for me. I’m going to relax for a few days and head to New York on Sunday.
The vastness of America cannot be described here in any accurate form; it is simply something to be experienced first hand—preferably on a motorcycle. Ron Pirsig said it best in his legendary book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, no just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the experience is never removed from immediate consciousness.
For miles and miles we rode towards (and away) from beautiful nothingness.
First, I want to say thank you to Nicholas Einstein. Without him I could never have made the dream a reality. Indeed, the 1000 solo miles I rode from Seattle was tough without him. Doing such a trip alone would have been impossible not to mention dangerous—one should never ride a motorcycle alone. We traveled many rural roads where an accidental mishap could leave you stranded alone for days or weeks. No one would have found me if I had accidentally driven off the road and crashed somewhere in rural Montana. There are few people like Einstein who have the riding ability, determination, and stamina for such a trip. Indeed, at times it was a long and tiring journey. Some days were really brutal, as we had to keep riding and press ahead despite our growing fatigue. We were so lucky with the weather; in 5250 miles we only hit rain one hour from Seattle. Thank you Megan for arranging that, the ride would have been hell with inclement weather.
This entire trip has generated a satisfaction, education, and awakening that I never expected. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, I probably experienced about 1/10th of the feeling that Charles Lindbergh must have felt when he landed in Paris—but what a feeling! If you think about it, riding a motorcycle across this vast country in 2004 is about as close as you can get to a modern day Lewis & Clark expedition. Sure, a bicycle would probably be closer, or even a horse for that matter, but in this day and age who can take four months or a year for such a journey? Besides, I think we were really able to get a strong sense of the major social, political, and economic realities currently facing our nation.
Riding primarily rural back roads, we sure got a flavor of how hard America works. People make livings in very creative (and often increasingly sad) ways. So much of our nation lives in trailer homes at the subsistence level. The damaging effects of giant super efficient retailers became clearly evident in every rural town across America. Main Streets storefronts are largely empty and for rent. The only surviving merchants in the dozens of small towns we rode through were barbers, restaurants, and tax preparers. The entrepreneurial spirit of Middle America seems to have been stripped away by low paying (and meager benefit) jobs at Wal*Mart or Costco. Most of the people we talked to drive over 100 miles one way to do their major shopping. Indeed, the colossal giant from Bentonville Arkansas supplies and employs much of Middle America. The majority of rural Americans we came in contact with are living hand to mouth and struggling from day to day. I did not get the sense from these people that there is huge upside for opportunity or advancement—regardless of ability or work ethic.
It is no secret that the United States is facing enormous challenges. Driving across America I really had time to think, see, and reflect upon the major issues facing our maturing nation. I am growing increasingly concerned with the overall direction of our great country. The trip has certainly served to heighten my awareness and concern. Indeed, the debtor nation that America is becoming is not at all what Thomas Jefferson had in mind. The current fiscal condition of our country would make Alexander Hamilton give up his citizenship and move to New Zealand. True, America is a fantastic country with vast resources, smart people, and abundant opportunity. America is still the greatest place on earth to live. We are a nation of inventors who consistently lead the world in innovations of every sort. We pioneered aviation, the assembly line, put Neil on the moon, and introduced the world to “Intel Inside.” However, with all our successes, America’s problems are growing more serious by the minute. If not proactively faced in the near term, we could seriously jeopardize our collective future.
The falling dollar, record household debt, massive current account deficits, low savings rates, reckless government spending, overly generous government sponsored entitlement packages, and ballooning budgets are placing our future (and that of worldwide global markets) at risk. Our social, political, and military challenges are growing along side of our financial woes. Soaring healthcare, education, and insurance costs along with obesity, frivolous lawsuits, loss of jobs to cheap labor overseas, malpractice suits, teen pregnancy, drugs, terrorism, and an army stretched to the breaking point are but a few that come to mind. At the end of the day, America’s problems boil down to mounting debt, unsustainable pay-as-you-go retirement programs, and a rapidly aging population. We must proactively choose to address these problems or solutions will be forced upon us.
My generation has inherited a legacy of prosperity and privilege. We have grown used to benefits and luxuries that my parents (and especially my grandparents) never enjoyed nor expected. The elected American politicians in Washington have waged war on the America’s younger (and even unborn) generation by saddling our nation with a growing pile of insurmountable foreign debt. We are losing our sovereignty as a nation. Our liabilities will soon become unsustainable. We must become savers and investors instead of consumers and spenders. Driving through Yellowstone Park I could not help but think how we have effectively mortgaged that beautiful land to the Asian Central Banks.
We have a momentous amount of work to do in the decades ahead. It will take luck, great effort, courage, and strong leadership to combat our deteriorating stature as a leading nation. The balance sheet of the United States is deteriorating rapidly and is already dangerously overleveraged. Our citizens need to get involved.
Megan Louise Furth was one of those rare friends in life that you cannot imagine living without. I’ve had to do without her for over a year now and it sure has not been easy. While her loss was devastating, I try to always remember how lucky and fortunate I was to have had Megan in my life. I only wish our time was not cut so short—I would give anything to have just one more dinner or another walk with her. Her drive, determination, energy, values, intellect, and presence will forever be a part of me. Indeed, without some kind of major push I would have put off this trip until I was too old and gray to ride a motorcycle. I would have crossed America in a sidecar wheelchair with eyesight too poor to notice anything of substance. I only wish the impetus for this great journey was not Megan’s death.
At age 34, I have enjoyed a life altering experience that has broadened my view of the true character, nature, and fabric of America. Had I done this trip right after college (as I originally intended to do) I would never have been able to get so much out of it. At this juncture, it is hard to reflect on the trip with any meaningful insights. It is all just too recent. I believe it will be months or years until the full impact of the journey is felt, before I can truly articulate the various impacts it has had on me. Regardless, my view of America and Americans is forever transformed.
Thanks to all of you who supported this journey and made a donation to Megan’s Foundation. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We are closing in on our goal of $100,000! Thank you to my mom and dad for making so many opportunities possible in my life. A special thank you to Donna Furth. Donna’s constant support and friendship over the years has been so important to my personal and professional development. Long before Megan’s death, Donna was always there for me. Donna is a remarkable person and a rare mentor who has made an enormous impact on my life. Thank you Donna.