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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

The fantasy scenario

I can't remember when the open road first gripped me. In high school I used to take long drives in my beat-up old Ford F250. I'd open a map of the state, point to a random spot and drive there. 

I remember once spotting that Young America is in Minnesota, the place to which I had, as a child, sent off countless proofs of purchase and hard-earned allowance money for the various things offered on the backs of cereal boxes. I jumped in my pickup and sped there full of excitement. I'm not really sure what I was expecting to find, but whatever I was imagining wasn't there. Young America was home to a General Mills factory and a whole lot of flatness.

I fell more in love with travelling the United States after reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac. When I was 19, my girlfriend and I read it as we drove from upstate New York to Minnesota. I took any number of long journeys thereafter – North Dakota to Massachusetts, Minnesota to Texas, Minnesota to Wyoming, Minnesota to Nevada, Northern Nevada to Southern California, Southern California to Minnesota, and so on. I love the road. I love seeing the landscape slowly change. I love being free.

In 2009, I got a little money from a book I had written and decided to blow it all on a three-month road trip. I rented a car in Boston and drove: Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, a flat tire in Idaho, Seattle, getting stalked by a wolf in Mount Rainier National Park, Portland, Sacramento, Reno, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Houston, Austin, back up to Minnesota and back out to Boston with my best friend riding shotgun.

That trip changed my life. It changed who I am. And I am perpetually trying to figure a way that I could carry on a trip like that for a full year: 365 days of freedom. Of course, out of that now comes the desire to travel such distances on a motorcycle: I picture a saddlebag-laden Victory Judge. I would just ride and ride and ride, wandering all 49 continental states and Canada.

But in my motorcycle fantasy there would be no end to the journey. I'd just keep going for as long as I had strength to keep the bike upright. I'm a writer, and I daydream that I could somehow make enough money to sustain such a lifestyle. I'd carry a sleeping bag and tent for camping but would also make use of friends' hospitality – sleeping on their couches and repaying them by entertaining their kids with motorcycle rides. It would be an easy, wonderful life.

Of course, I'm conveniently forgetting bad weather, and, more importantly, my wife. It's a fantasy that will never fully come true. But perhaps I can still one day get that bike.

Comments

  1. I touch on this subject extensively on Motorcycle Philosophy. I left my first wife for many reasons, one of which is that my need to take long motorcycle trips frustrated her. As a result of my riding so often, she countered by spending so much of our money on knick-knacks, gifts for nieces and nephews, and ton of clothes. So, it became a fight.

    After the divorce, I let her have everything, except for my motorcycles and my truck. I've pared my life down to a one-bedroom apartment. My job is that of an Internet marketer, where I work entirely online, out of my laptop, which allows me to travel anywhere.

    The answer is that you have to take a hard look at what you need to feed yourself, where your life is going, and then change the environment you're in to suit that. When you've done that, a woman who lives in that same environment will come to you.

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  2. I have the amazing opportunity to be "that woman" for Highway, the writer and rider of Motorcycle Philosophy. How funny that we both happened on this same article, without either one of us discussing your blog! Talk about like-minded, huh?

    My mother was anti-riding. My father wanted to ride. My parents divorced, over many, many things, but I'm sure this was one of their issues. My father remarried, one of my mom's friends, to a woman who would ride his backseat everywhere he went. Eventually, she got a bike of her own and rode along with the boys.

    I've always had a heart full of wanderlust, but never a spouse filled with it. Until Highway. I've walked away from everything and everyone to follow him everywhere he goes. I didn't even realize how much I ached to break away, until I did it.

    Your last two sentencea broke my heart Chris. "It's a fantasy that will never fully come true. But perhaps I can still one day get that bike." Never say never Chris. I can't stand the idea of a man like you sitting on the curb, watching the parade go by.

    Good luck on your quest. But don't give up.

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