This story comes from the print edition’s column “Behind the Wheel with Bama” written by Chris Milucky, aka Bama. Considering we’re in the throes of winter now, it felt appropriate to share. It might be cold, but you should still get out there and ride. — Ed.
We’d been riding Sedona, Arizona, singletrack and drinking all day. It was getting late, we were all tired and it was a perfect time to know I had to quietly escape on a solitary, man vs. himself cross-country motorcycle trip.
The sun came up as I walked off the plane in Orlando, Florida, and I nearly collapsed in the wake of the thick, dank fog of humidity. I was now a long, lonely ride from home. Everyone had told me I was crazy for taking a motorcycle road trip in the middle of winter, but I probably am crazy. I’ve ridden through blizzards in the Rockies and hailstorms on the Plains, seen fire and rain, but pain fades with time and the adventurous spirit grows wild and wooly. Bolder, braver and psychotic, if not exercised to the point of fatigue.
Regardless of my own inclinations and vagrancy vagaries, this trip wasn’t entirely my idea: My old man had gifted me a motorcycle. He lives in Florida and I was in Arizona. I had no choice. I had to ride this mystery machine thousands of miles, into a cold, westerly headwind. On the surface, the reward was obviously the bike, but secretly, I’d be all alone for two weeks—just the highway and me. Total isolation, a form of solitary confinement that I have little experience with.
My old man picked me up at the airport. We stopped along the way and grabbed a bite to eat at a fast-food joint. I was so smoked from the redeye flight and the hangover of the previous day’s boozing that I wasn’t really hungry, but out of habit, I ate just the same. When I finally got to my dad’s place, he showed me the bike. It was ugly and old. I knew he wanted to see an expression of gratitude, but the coffee and “greasefast” I just had was forming a line of scrimmage in my gut.
I faked a smile. I strapped my bags on my back. I was gone.
Halfway into Georgia, it started raining. I traveled on through Birmingham, Alabama, and into Jackson, Mississippi. I passed dilapidated mobile homes and a field of Civil War–era cannons, crossed bridges that seemed overwhelmed just by the toll of gravity. I rode through Alexandria, Louisiana, and on into Austin, Texas. The freezing rain was taking its toll and I learned via social media that my friend Hurl from Cars-R-Coffins fame was heading to Austin for the cyclocross national championships. In the spectacle of it and under the influence of delicious “brownies,” bourbon and cigarettes, I spent two days there.
It had been cold, but on my way out of Austin, the weather took a real digger when an ice storm swept through. As I passed miles of tumbleweed and quintessential west Texas limestone—all wearing a toque of ice—the endless reflective banter in my brain was just as deafening as ever: “It’s so cold, stay warm, scrunch your toes, make a fist, fight the frostbite.”
This conversation with Self was contained and protected from the wavelengths of the general public by the fiberglass and foam of a helmet: I was the only man on a motorcycle, and I was all by myself. My thoughts of pain were so incredible, so intense, that even a 1,000 cc engine slamming the rev limiter at 90 mph was not even noteworthy.
Almost a year ago, I met a man in Santa Cruz, California—a hardworking, selfless type who genuinely cares about others. Blue collar and educated, sophisticated and dirty. Thirtysomething, but with the spirit of a 3-year-old and a passion for old motorcycles.
A few days following our juncture, he was diagnosed with a very advanced, very fatal cancer. He’s doing fine now, and I can’t say that anyone is really surprised by his survivability; the guy’s toughness is coupled with an incredible attitude. But as I was freezing my ass off in the middle of winter, riding my motorcycle through an endless field of broken dreams, I just couldn’t help but think about the whole thing. How a young man rode the line, endured a hellish year of chemical poisoning and beat cancer.
And then he sent me a text message: “Heated grips are your friend.” This coming from someone who’s endured 12 months of chemotherapy and stood toe to toe with the grim f’ing reaper. Heated grips? Heated grips! As if cold weather was a worthy worry for him?
Discomfort is the litmus for adventure. When comfort has been attained, we have given up and are no longer living. We are casually wasting our time. Feeling hot or cold means you’re still living your life. Feeling comfortable is a surefire sign you’ve given up and quit truly experiencing this life. My friend’s struggle, strength and fight form my beacon to go and see, to live and love.
New trails and friendships are waiting for you. Spend less time researching and more time getting lost. Spend less money on gadgets; instead, leave outrageous tips. Don’t worry about going on a designated vacation; spend more time at a friend’s house. Forget about grievances and forgive the bullies. Remember your lovers and appreciate them. Don’t fight living, fight to live no matter how tired you might be.