LONG WAY HOME

Woke up this morning, had the blues three different ways,
Had two minds to leave here, didn't have but one said stay.
- Robert Johnson

I don't know exactly when the idea first got into my head. For a long time I'd thought, and occasionally talked, about traveling around the country revisiting some of my old scenes from my drifting days in the sixties; but it was one of those things you kick around without really taking them seriously.

Then all of a sudden it was something I had to do.

Maybe there was an element of middle-age-crazy: the sort of impulse that causes some men to attempt voyages in home-built boats, or move to Alaska to take up prospecting, or have ill-advised extramarital affairs. I was, after all, just turning 41, getting into the dangerous years.

But I'd always been something of a fiddlefoot; one of Robert Service's "men who don't fit in." I'd warned Phyllis about that, clear back in '67 when we got married, and if she'd been inclined to disbelieve me she learned better a few months later, when she found herself on a freezing-windy road shoulder with me, hitchhiking from Omaha to New York...and I'd made a pretty good effort to settle down, afterwards, especially after achieving Daddyhood; but from time to time the old urge had gotten too strong and she'd seen me take off again and yet again, by bike or thumb or bus or boat or on foot, on one fool's quest or another.

And she never said anything. Which was why I always came back.

There seems to be no cure. Tom Paxton once advised, musically, nailing your shoes to the kitchen floor; but Tom was just coining a singable phrase. In the grip of the compulsion for going, the true Ishmael will rip his feet clear of the shoes, dive headlong through the kitchen window with an awful howl, and charge barefoot into the night, to be seen again only when the madness has past - if he can find his way home, which some never do.

No doubt it is the same impulse that caused the bear to go over the mountain to see what he could see. Which, we are told, turned out to be the other side of the mountain, and almost certainly it looked just like the first side, and the bear may even have reflected that when you've seen one mountainside you've seen them all - none of which, you can be sure, stopped the poor bastard from taking off again next time the need hit him.

At least I had the means, now, more or less; I had recently acquired an old but reliable motorcycle (details here if you missed it) - rather a small one, for a long-haul road bike, but plenty fast enough, and the make had a reputation for reliability.

I didn't have the money for a windshield - which I would have regarded as rather an effete item anyway, back then - or proper luggage; for saddlebags I slung on a pair of military-surplus backpacks, plus a couple of gas-mask bags on either side of the tank for smaller items, with everything else bungeed gracelessly to the rear seat and the slightly rusty luggage rack.

I had a cheap but adequate leather jacket, and a butt-ugly full-face helmet, but my old GI jungle boots would have to do for footgear. And I did own some fairly decent camping equipment from my backpacking and whitewater-cruising days, so I could at least look forward to reasonably comfortable overnight accommodations.

(One of the things I didn't have, and couldn't afford, was a good-quality camera; and so the illustrations in these pages are pretty poor - though discount-store printing, and decades of being stuck in a cheap photo album, haven't helped. I should add here that a good many of the pictures I took have been lost over the years; so all in all this account will not be strong on illustrations.)

I had a little money from a recent book deal; I did some figuring and concluded it would be enough, if I was careful - which was all I wanted; just-barely-enough always looks good when you've spent a lot of your life without even that. I gave the chain a final lube-and-adjust, made sure the oil tank was full, loaded up, and set out. It was May 9, 1983.

* * * * * * *

NEXT: Southwest

MOTORCYCLE PAGES INDEX

HOME PAGE