Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's weird to pull the letters from this leather journal and smack them to the computer screen.  "It already feels like it happened four years ago," Casey said over his glass of water as we waited outside the restaurant in the familiar downtown of Athens.  I agree.  I went into this trip knowing I would be walking through future memories, and here we are reminiscing.

Day Two:

Lauren gave me a box before I left.  I stuck it in my green mesh bag that would ride all nine thousand miles on the left side of the bike.  It held just enough of her and home in it to keep me focused on the road beneath me and in me as we hit day twenty-three and thirty-five.
"Look for God today.  See the good news around you."
This was the theme from the note that I read at the beginning of the second day before I pulled on my wet leather gloves and packed up camp.

I think someone may have stolen half of my two man tent before I strapped it to the back of the bike because it was considerably smaller than I remembered.  I knew Casey and I were close friends, but this was threatening to be a little too literal.
We walked down to the river and hopped a couple rocks so we could dip our hands in the cold water and wash the morning fog out of our eyes.  The Smokies felt like a Guatemalan rain forest.
Last night we met a man who said his name was "neither here nor there."  Ah, the mysteries of the open road.  Who knows what he meant, but I felt like it meant something.  Know what I mean?
The sun starts to fight through the trees as we ride out of camp.
I wonder when we'll settle into a rhythm.  When will constant movement feel like the rest I so desire?
For now it is to Pigeon Forge, the place where America's consumerism is on display.  If you like Pigeon Forge and its hundreds of pancake restaurants, I don't mean any offense.  It just wasn't what we were looking for.  We moved on.
We were separated by traffic and rain on our way into Knoxville and spent a couple hours trying to rendezvous after putting on our rain gear.

To the Tennessee hills.
We drove past Sergeant York's house and grave.  He was a pacifist that received a lot of metals in WWI for shooting people and had a movie made about him that I watched in the eight grade.  I thought a lot about memories.  We had black beans and corn for dinner after settling in under the pavilion at a Separate Baptist Church.  We weren't familiar with their doctrine, but assumed we could shout out a couple convincing Bible verses before they ran us off their property with their shotguns if they found our hiding spot.
"Do not murder!  Take in sojourners!" were our go-to's.
It was dark and the turns were sneaking up on our headlights too quick for comfort so we had no other choice.

Then came the police officer.  The first words out of his mouth were, "Todd Harrison?" which is my dad's name.  Now, this is a strange greeting from a stranger with a gun and a bright light.
After a short discussion he let us know that our GPS had been malfunctioning and sending out emergency calls to our families.  They were freaking out.  We were telling stories and relieving our bladders in flowing fields.  There was no cell service so the inexperience factor led them to conclude we were laying in a ditch by the church pressing all the SOS buttons on the GPS and looking to the sky for our rescue helicopter.  Thankfully we weren't and we were able to get in touch with them.  Afterward, conversation and sleep came easy as the kind officer reassured us we were camping in a safe place.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What to bring?
Gear is both an exciting and an expensive part of the process.
I cut corners to save cash in almost every area.
Yes, it all fit.
Yes, I looked like Che and his cousin in "The Motorcycle Diaries."

We planned quick and kept the luxuries slim, but here are a few of the most important road tested items:
-My Barbour International jacket will be a prized possession for the rest of my life.  I wore it every day no matter the weather.  Rain, snow, heat, mud, exploding soup cans, and bugs were all kept out like armor.  I layered underneath when the temperature dropped into the thirties and left it unbuttoned in the Arizona sun.
-Leather boots.  I went cowboy because, yes, I already had some.
-Leather work gloves and leather work mittens.  My hands fall off when they get cold.  I'd rather run fifty miles on a Georgia summer day than have cold hands.  Not having a fairing on the bike made it so the wind chill at eighty miles an hour was quite intense.  However, I didn't want to spend $200 on heated gloves.  So I went with mittens.  For $20 you can't beat the results, yet there is nothing you can do about the cold when you're scaling the Black Hills.
-Knife.  Good for opening cans and feeling just a little more comfortable in that sketchy camping spot.
-Paracord.  Never camp anywhere without it.
-Headlamp.  Flashlights are a thing of the past.
-Less clothing than you think and a willingness to stink.  Now, my bike wasn't outfitted with the slick and spacious cases so this will change with every rider's preferences.  If you are willing to wear things more than once then you'll hit a laundry mat before you have to go for round four on those socks.
-Way to efficiently document.  The days and states blur together.  Find your own method, make it simple, and stick to it.  I brought a journal and Casey brought a camera.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Day One:

Casey is riding a 1990 BMW K100 and I am riding a 2007 Honda 1300 VTX.
And we are off.
We took our "before" pictures and ignored all thoughts about practicality and responsibility that the parking lot tried to stick to our feet.  Packing was still a process that took stares and trial runs, but we had our headbands and sweet shades so there was no turning back.  Before I knew it my leg had surprised me and swung over the saddle leaving no time for hesitation.  We didn't know it, but we were ready and unprepared, which is the perfect combination for this sort of trip.
I didn't know this at the time, but Casey was sure his death was just around the next turn.  And we were headed for the Smokies so he thought about it often.

"Three days.  I was sure that was my maximum number of days left on this Earth."

You see, we'd never done this before.  Riding motorcycles.  Never done it.  I had been riding for a highly experienced two weeks, but this was Casey's first launch out onto the open road.  Our bikes, affectionately named White Lightning and Black Stallion because of their sheer beauty and imposing nature, roared passed the kids in the back seats of their minivans strapped in to their shallow dreams of flip down TV's and half empty bags of Doritos.
"Just wait, kid.  Some day you'll be able to run off and become a real man," was in our swag and our sunglasses-tilting winks.  We were bikers.  Sure, our cruise control knobs fell off on the highway and we overflowed our gas tanks, but we were doing it and we were surviving to tell the story.
I opened my Road Atlas for the first time in Dahlonega and Casey pulled out his iPhone.  This would be the trend for the entirety of the trip, and it would prove to be highly useful.
Old school versus new school.  Paper versus electronic.  Classical thinking versus modern thinking.  Leather journal versus MacBook.

We were going to learn many things about each other and ourselves over the next thirty-eight days, and at the basis of it would be common goals and different methods.  There is so much value in the alternate to your natural way of thinking.

As our steeds ate up the road beneath our boots, I began to feel my strings break.  Now, there are the strings of love that distance can never sever, but the strings of schedules and patterns and comforts and time start to stretch.  By day three they had let me go.
We were aiming for Great Smoky Mountain National Park and as we crossed into North Carolina the mountains grew and retreated from the road.  The valleys stayed close and spurred us on.  We were rookies that needed their encouragement.  After a few miles, the big mountains let us back in and we started weaving.  By the end of this trip, these "big mountains" will be modest hills in comparison.

Lauren's voice is soft and kind as we talk before the cell phone service runs out.  I know that I will miss feeling that voice in the room.  Like Garth says, a phone "just ain't enough to hold."  But if I want to come home a better man, then I must keep going.

Dinner was triumphant.  We lit our fire with the hundreds of pamphlets at the check in cabin.  We cooked pork in a pot and ate asparagus out of a can that was sizzling hot over a wet fire.  The trees shot up into the thick fog that made the road slick.  All was green and so were we.  We laughed at our luck and retreated within the moist tent walls.  Our boots were wet but that was a problem for tomorrow.

"Everything is on purpose."  I wrote that down as my lesson learned from this first day.