song of the open road

The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road—the gay fresh sentiment of the road.

O highway I travel! O public road! do you say to me, Do not leave me?
Do you say, Venture not? If you leave me, you are lost?
Do you say, I am already prepared—I am well-beaten and undenied—adhere to me?

O public road! I say back, I am not afraid to leave you—yet I love you;
You express me better than I can express myself;
You shall be more to me than my poem.
-WW, SOTOR, Leaves of Grass

I wrote a bit last year about the passing of my friend John. Grief journeys look different for everyone; in my case, it needed to be an actual journey, in the form of that un-taken motorcycle adventure  that I’d failed to do in 2017, commemorating our epic 1997 voyage.

Having set aside a bit of time this summer to go on this journey, I’d originally planned to take my classic old BMW R75/5 on the road. A minor electrical fire (!!) in the headlamp assembly in June suggested to me that I risked spending more time by the side of the road than on it, were I to attempt taking a vintage bike on a long trek.

the bmw slash five
I scrambled to research and procure a more modern, road trip-worthy bike on my budget on short notice, and ended up in possession of a 2014 Suzuki V-Strom that more than did the deed.

the suzuki wee strom

The John Francis Donahue Memorial Road Trip took place in July and August. Our mutual friend Max rode with me for the first 2 days, and other than a few days off the bike here and there with Herb and other friends, it was an entirely solo bike adventure. (I’m pretty sure John joined me for a few days between Nanaimo and San Juan Island, though.)

While there were plenty of moments of grand fun and delight, it was, on the whole, an incredibly tough trip, emotionally more than physically. My body can still hang with long days in the saddle, I was happy to learn, but my heart and mind don’t have quite the same steeliness I thought they once did. (Hell, maybe they never did.) There were a number of days where I felt a total loss of nerve, and a great deal of sadness and anxiety. Still, I’m proud of having taking this trip; I don’t think it’s my last.

After 3 weeks, 3 states, 1 Canadian province, 2717 miles and 126 adventures, I arrived back in SF pretty drained, and glad to be done. John Donahue, I don’t know how you did things like this so often and so effortlessly, but I’m glad to have had a chance to have ridden alongside you a long time ago and somehow on this trip, too. Thanks for keeping me safe.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens;
I carry them, men and women—I carry them with me wherever I go;
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them;
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

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