We’ve left the familiar eastern forests of childhood and entered an unfamiliar land. The Pacific Northwest with its fables and totem poles and giant spruce, fir and sequoia. A land of dark, brooding forest and endless, restless sea, and in between a thousand mystical visions. The glacial white stones of the Ozark forests, the fertile great American plains of soy and corn rows, the lyrical south with its juke joints and troubled history, the mighty Mississippi, visions, visions, they dance before us as we take the sweeping journey across rural America. The hundreds of little towns and baptist churches and then finally little Alva Oklahoma, in my mind the gateway to the American West. And afterwards sage and cottonwood and broad street western towns. Each crossing seeming as if it would never end until now they shrink in the mind. The endless farm roads of Oklahoma are now in the memory merely a footnote to the epic journey, as if the mind couldn’t hold all the memories and visions, conversations and camps. Camps along rivers, by bogs and swamps, deep in the forest or out in the empty sky desert.
So what does it all mean? Why did we bother to ride across the endless expanse that is America? Perhaps it reminds us that life is an adventure and to keep the adventure alive. The sense of play , a healthy respect for exploring, to suffer, to get out of our comfort zone and throw our fate on the mercy of the universe and all the good people in it.
And lastly, on some level, to try to understand what is America. A vast and contradicted land with a history of suffering, American Indian conquest and the black cloud of slavery but also a land fueled by infinite hope and eternal optimism. The American dream lives and breathes in the good hearted people of this diverse and wide open land.
We believe in freedom and self determination despite politicians and preachers best efforts to corrupt and co-opt these ideas. Deep in the heart of every citizen beats an indomitable spirit of individuality. Born in the wilderness of this wild land of mountains, forests, prairie and desert is a sense of freedom that cannot be stolen for righteousness or politicking. It is a law of nature. That all of us are born free and America still holds onto the dream that we tender and desperate souls can live free.
We’ve had epiphanies about travel by motorcycle that echo these freedoms. The motorcycle road trip is more free than the car or RV, out in the open air, free from the confinement of glass and steel. Free to smell the air, to freeze and sweat, to dive into the deep forests on impassible roads and come out the other side muddy, bloody, torn and grinning. But that freedom, like American freedom, has costs and challenges. It means there is no place to get out of the rain. It means the cold is that much colder at sixty miles per hour and it means the dark nights in American towns and forests are that much darker. The challenge for America’s freedom is acceptance. Acceptance of other’s freedoms, acceptance of risk, danger and the possibility of suffering. The lesson of the motorcycle is that to be free it is impossible to live in an antiseptic world sterilized of wildness, of the possibility of attack, of radical thought and action. All freedom, whether straddled to a tenuously balanced motorbike or precariously assembled in an eclectic and diverse society, must accept risks along with freedom. And the American dream, while noble and important, is after all a dream and our greatest challenge is to make that dream real.