The sun is rising and the road ahead of me is perfect. I’m headed from the Salton Sea along Box Canyon Road to Joshua Tree National Park. It is immaculate tarmac with smooth back-and-forth curves and no traffic. The desert is just starting to warm up and the weather is ideal. I can smell the cactus in the warming sun. I smell sage and possibilities as I know the day is going to be amazing.
I don’t know exactly how I got here, but I know where I’m going, even if I don’t really. I have no schedule. I am not needed anywhere. I am not intending to arrive at any place at any time, nor is anybody waiting for me or wondering where I am. I have no work responsibilities, no deadlines, and I am completely free to travel.
I am riding an adventure bike—a Triumph with a great sounding and feeling triple engine. Triples have fantastic linear torque and effortless acceleration, with enough rumble to know that it’s there yet silky smooth. My seating position is excellent; I have terrific wind protection but still feel the wind washing over my body like gentle warm water. I feel like I can ride all day without fatigue, and I am directly connected to the motorcycle like it’s a part of my body and my soul. Every twist of the throttle, every lean into a turn, is exactly right.
I am not sure how everything came together so perfectly, but I’m not questioning it. I ride for miles through beautiful rising and falling turns and amazing vistas, Joshua trees, cactus, and tumbleweeds. Just when the straightaways feel a little boring, a beautiful set of twisty turns presents themselves, so I lean in and throttle up. I love the desert.
I ride for hours and hours and can’t get the smile off my face. My thoughts run deep, but do not consume my mind, which is flowing like the endless undulating road ahead. There is a meditation that occurs on motorcycle trips that is like no other experience. The mind opens and expands to fill the open landscape, but there is also an underlying, subconscious focus and attention on the machine, the road, the environments, and potential risks or challenges. It is this wonderful balance of an empty mind and heightened awareness that makes motorcycling unique.
Continuing on, I feel the urge to stop. As I crest the next hill, sitting alone on the side of the road is a lone coffee truck offering gourmet grinds. I pull over. The smell is fantastic, and as I am talking with the barista, I notice photographs along the side of the truck. One of the pictures is of the barista with his wife at their wedding, and by his side is Clint Eastwood. Weird. So, I ask, and sure enough, the coffee truck owner is Clint Eastwood’s son-in-law. His coffee truck is a side business that he enjoys.
As I finish an amazing mocha, I’m excited about the rest of the day. I climb aboard and fire up the motorcycle again. The deep rumbling sound is as perfect as ever. Amazingly, as the sun rises, the temperature still remains ideal—73 degrees, and no humidity. As I continue to ride, I lose track of space and time. The next thing I know, I am in the high desert town of Twentynine Palms enjoying a fantastic meal—jerk chicken at Kitchen in the Desert restaurant.
Afterward, I ride up into Joshua Tree National Park, tackle a few dirt roads and trails, and end up at my campsite, which surprisingly is already set up with a campfire ready. As I unpack, I encounter another motorcyclist who is riding cross country and camping nearby. We swap travel stories of long-distance riding over whisky and beer and a campfire late into the night.
It is the next day, and I have been transported to Montrose, Colorado. I am now on a BMW R 1250 RS sport touring bike with a traditional boxer engine. I don’t remember how I got here exactly, but somehow that feels perfectly normal. Today, I am tackling a bunch of Colorado mountain passes. The fall air is crisp and smells of the turning leaves. Once again, I have no schedule to keep and no place to be.
The weather presents another great day—low 70s, no humidity, bright and beautiful. I lean into the motorcycle and grab some throttle. Its response is instantaneous and gratifying, and the bike is perfectly balanced with a low center of gravity. All day, I climb up steep twisty mountain passes with no traffic and perfect tarmac scraping my footpegs. I’m getting that familiar tingle in the stomach as I peer over the edge of the steep drop-offs. I feel like the bike and I are one, receding through these mountains.
I stop at the top for some epic views, then fly back down to the valley floor, pushing the machine to its edge, or at least the edge my skills can control. I pass through beautiful Colorado mountain towns, large and small. After a fantastic ride up and over deserted passes, I stop for a rich cup of mountain coffee and a light lunch in Creede—a tiny mining town with a great vibe.
I finished my ride today following the Gunnison River to the picturesque Blue Mesa Reservoir, with miles of beautiful still blue water framed by a curving shore and rising mountain plateaus. Somehow, I’d even squeezed in a drink in downtown Crested Butte. My arms and body are exhausted from taking so many turns—my kind of fatigue!
I am camping again, this time, the campsite is empty along a rushing Colorado River near Gunnison. The air is fresh and cool, with the promise of winter lingering in the breeze, and my campfire is roaring. I fall asleep hard and fast with the sound of the river and the smell of the pine.
I am now in the Dakotas on a fully dressed Harley-Davidson Limited, which is weird because I have never owned a cruiser. I am beginning to grasp the edges of my current state. I am in an alternate reality, but I have no interest in changing it! I am traveling back roads through the Black Hills, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore, dodging the occasional bison, and enjoying the gorgeous undulating terrain. Once again, the weather is perfect, and the road is smooth and empty.
The smell has changed, heavily scented with pine and granite. I descend from the mountains and continue into the Badlands, which are completely different from the Black Hills. The air becomes drier, and the pine gives way to the dirt and farmland smell of the plains. The scenery is impressive—raw, stark, and full of sheer beauty. As I flow through the long sweeping turns, I twist the throttle, and the bike roars to life with torque for days.
I am feeling pretty badass in the Badlands on my Harley. It has presence and purpose, and likes the open roads of the plains. The drone of the big V-twin engine and vibration of the bike is unique to Harleys. It puts me in a familiar motorcycle trance that any rider who has done distance on a bike will know.
The next day I find myself leaving Nashville on the Natchez Trace Parkway, a beautifully maintained 440-mile stretch of rolling smooth, forest-covered road with no stops, no commercial enterprises, and no commercial traffic. I’m on my Ducati Desert Sled, a raw 800cc L-twin air-cooled beast. It is old school looking and feeling, but at parkway speeds (50 mph), it purrs along wonderfully—motorcycling heaven. I amble along enjoying everything, with fantastic stops in towns along the way. I lose track of time under the green tree canopy. I stop in Madison for the night.
The following morning, I am still on the Ducati, deeply enveloped in the warm moist Mississippi Delta air. I am on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway headed into New Orleans, and I couldn’t be more excited. It is early spring now, Mardi Gras, and I am staying on the edge of the French Quarter. The city is alive with energy. After delving into The Quarter for a little Mardi Gras madness, I divert to the outer edges for a quieter and more local vibe. I am itching for a packed, slightly divey bar with local color. I am vaguely aware that something has kept me away from bars (screw you, COVID), so I jump in headfirst.
A loud Irish bar with actual Irish bartenders is a great start. Then Pal’s Lounge, a small local bar with a good mixologist. Ahhhhhh, all is right in the world again. In the morning, I have delicious chicory coffee and beignets at a place that looks like Cafe du Monde but with no crowds and even better coffee. Jazz is playing in the background, and New Orleans is starting to slowly rev up for another day of unbridled energy. Before I take off, I know I’ll need some oysters, so I head to Seaworthy and Luke to load up.
I am now on a Triumph Bonneville in a leather jacket, bombing the vertical-twin engine westward along U.S. Route 90. The twin is completely different from the triple, with earlier torque, a deeper rumble, a lot less wind protection, and a feel of the 1950s and ’60s. I turn my head, half expecting to see James Dean and Steve McQueen riding along with me. Instead, I have two of my riding buddies—fantastic!
Somewhere deep in my subconscious, a faint feeling is growing. My trip will be ending soon. I know there is another stop I have to make in Louisiana. We soon divert to travel the back roads. We are headed into Cajun country, the epicenter of all that is good and right in the world of food and drink. We stop for coffee along the way. As we approach New Iberia and Lafayette, we restaurant crawl to the final destination—my buddy’s house, filling our bellies with crawfish, boudin, charbroiled oysters, and Canebrake wheat ale.
Upon arrival at the house, I am ambushed by my buddy’s young son, who wants to play…for hours. Luckily, I have limitless energy in this universe and can easily accommodate him! The night wraps up with dinner in Lafayette at Pamplona with a bunch of local friends and live music at a small venue nearby. I hit the bed hard and fall into a deep sleep. After sleeping for what feels like days, I awake in my home in LA. It was a long and wonderful dream. Time to start planning the next adventure and turning dreams into reality.
This story was created as I quarantined, pulled from a number of trips I have done over the last few years. The story was created from distinct experiences, with just a few minor changes (timelines). I cannot wait to make more memories in 2021!
Photography by The Author.