“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
There is a specific type of person meant to roam, and though it took some time to understand, I know now I am one of them.
I have a wild heart, and the eyes of a dreamer. If there is one thing I have wholeheartedly accepted, it’s that this is where I belong, and where I am supposed to be.
Out here. On the road.
I made the decision prior to my departure to bring along an old copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, one of my favorite novels of all time, to observe any parallels between one man’s exploits on the highways of North America and my own, with a seventy year gap between our realities. The discovery concluded, that while the world looks a lot different than it did in 1951, Kerouac and I had remarkably analogous reflections, most notably, that experience, above all else, is the greatest teacher that exists. There is nowhere to go but everywhere, and the world is rich with possibility, if you only have the courage to leave complacency behind.
Welcome to the end of one chapter, and the start of another. A moment of tying loose ends, of feeling the seasons of life begin to change, and of breaking out of the chrysalis.
Welcome to a new day.
Alex and I arrived back in Cody after our stint in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, where we set up our home base for a few days. Alex had reached out to the Wyoming Tourism Board with the idea of collaborating with them to create media content about Cody while we were in town, and they did not disappoint. The Board had a lovely evening planned for us the first night (that’s a lie, they had a lovely evening planned for Alex, and I got to tag along and reap the benefits) – dinner and a show, plus the rodeo after, and so with haste after our arrival, we unpacked and showered, only to be gifted with beer, snacks, and a refrigerator brought to our room from our hosts. It was then I realized were getting the ‘Princess’ treatment for the next day and a half: hotel, activities, and access to music and museums a lot of others don’t even realize exist in Cody.
Again. It did not disappoint.
Though we were (Alex was) working to capture what was needed while hitting a list of places to be, I got to enjoy the little things: watching Alex be called out in front of an entire show and serenaded by the Cody Cattle Company, shooting guns dating back to the 18th century at the Cody Firearms Experience (squeal), visiting and experiencing the incredibly cool Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and listening to the wildly talented and hilarious Dan Miller perform at a small venue called The Colonel with a crowd of travelers at least twice both Alex and I’s age. For about 36 hours, it was a nonstop schedule, but a fun one, nonetheless.
When our stay in Cody wrapped up, Alex and I made the decision to head to Montana for a second attempt at Beartooth Pass, and then, see where the road sent us next.
So, cut to the next day – a pivotal and exciting moment arises when we ride through the same gate to Beartooth Pass which was closed the week prior when we made our initial effort to ride it. A huge smile comes to my face. Beartooth Pass, or rather, the Beartooth Highway, is a section of the US Route 212 in Wyoming and Montana which began for us at the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park and ended in Red Lodge. The actual pass stands at 10,947 feet, and the dramatic switchbacks both up and down the mountain range are, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. Our route up was in a small caravan of vehicles, yet it made no difference to me: it was impossible not to gape out at the incredible scenery, and I quickly understood why it was called “the most beautiful roadway in America.” As far as the eye can see are lush lodge pine and tundra forests, mountaintops littered with glacial cirques, alpine lakes, and even patches of snow. Interestingly enough, the brutal climate is not always a feasible environment for trees or shrubs to grow, but there are plants which have adapted to survive; some actually convert sunlight to heat, and many conserve water in a similar fashion to desert plants, accompanied with widespread, shallow roots. My favorite? The wildflowers. They make me want to sing Climb Every Mountain and twirl around in the fields like Marianne in The Sound of Music.
We arrived at the top, taking in one of the most stunning views thus far on our trip, only then to realize that something was quite amiss, and that something, was the hoard of mosquitoes attacking every human being at the Pass. With haste, Alex and I scrambled to the rock he designated ‘his rock’ (cue me laughing while other sightseers swarm it), where we get the video and photographs he needed to wrap up his Wyoming project, and hurried back to the bikes, because now was the fun part to conclude our stop. Due to Alex needing drone footage and not wanting to juggle riding down some seriously steep turns while filming, the moment came for Grace to earn her keep and be a body double, a small ruse we were really only able to pull off due to my height of 5 feet 10 inches and my very blonde hair being tucked up inside of his helmet.
Not that Alex wouldn’t look great blonde, of course.
The Beartooth Pass ride up was remarkable, but the ride down into Red Lodge took it to a whole other level of magnificence. The views stretched further, the valley seemed to fall deeper, and the extraordinary way the late afternoon sun lit the world around us made every color more vivid. I was speechless, a novelty for me, since it doesn’t happen all too often – the feeling was that of a dream coming true, riding Lorraine down what was arguably one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever been on. Every turn was butter smooth, and if it’s possible, my grin grew wider with each passing second. Because this? This is why I do this. The smile. The butterflies. The feeling as goosebumps erupting on every surface of my skin with adrenaline and joy. That is why I am here. And that, is why I ride a motorcycle.
It had been two weeks on the road with Alex, and for the first time in years, I felt like I had my head straightened out and my heart free of the previous barbed wire which used to encapsulate it. A piece of this is sheer determination, to work, to experience, and to keep moving, but the bigger piece, is another I take from Kerouac, which is the notion that worrying is about a futile as throwing rocks at the moon, and how the mystery of our lives would be a lot easier to handle if we understood our worries won’t cure apprehensions or uncertainties.
For me, uncertainty used to be a source of fear; now, uncertainty is the foundation of my existence. After a fortnight of waking up without a destination, of sweating and hustling and gutting out takes of one prospect only to realize we need something different, of witnessing some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders on this planet in their element of the wild, I learned to relinquish the desire for control and expectations, and it has made me infinitely happier and more content as a human being.
It forces mindfulness. You are more ingrained in the present than past or future, which is where our heads belong. Humans create conflict, complexity, and crisis when they are bored or stagnant – we should make a point to ask ourselves why we make it harder to live, when already, it is hard enough to endure on the tough days, weeks, months, and sometimes, years. I don’t care how cliché it might sound, every day we get to be here is a gift. Tomorrow is not promised. In the blink of an eye, time passes, like sand falling through our fingertips. And while not everyone might agree with me, I firmly believe this life is what you make it, and you get what you give – the rest sorts itself out.
As fate would have it, the two-week mark of our time on the road took us to Bozeman, and it was also the point when the purpose of our journey shifted dramatically. Alex’s project in Wyoming had come to a close, and after spending a few days getting reoriented and caught up, we packed up the bikes and hit the road south for Idaho – and from there? We weren’t really sure.
But we had nowhere in particular we had to be, either.
Our campsite in Twin Falls was along the Snake River Canyon directly across from where Evel Knievel attempted to cross from cliff to cliff on a rocket, and this spot was absolutely mind blowing without another human being in sight. At the edge of the canyon, we set up our tents with a perfect view of the Shoshone Falls, and that was it – this was one of the only days we’d arrived at our camp early enough to decompress, so we took advantage of it. A night of rest, of listening to the crickets, of walking along the edge of the canyon, and witnessing an epic kaleidoscope of colors torch the sky as the sun set in the west: burning bright oranges and burgundy, slowly overtaken by the evening hues of cobalt and violet. With the light fading away, I laid down in my tent, gazing up at the sky and listening to Nils Frahm, giving myself a moment to breathe, and breathe deep. No worry. No concern. My head was empty. The scent of petrichor in my nostrils, the sound of music in my ears, and the sight of the sky darkening and the stars emerging had my soul at peace while I was horizontal, in a blissful state of presence.
A few hours later, we would be woken from our slumber to the pouring rain which wouldn’t let up for another 36 hours, but for that moment of our night, everything just felt right. Because everything had, at last, fallen into place. And it’s wild, how what often starts as one thing, becomes something else entirely.
Prior to leaving on this tour with Alex, I expected us to be wrapping up our trip in Idaho, taking perhaps a day or two to finish shooting or editing whatever was necessary and then ride our separate ways; however, the longer we lingered, the more we wanted to keep going and see just where in the hell this crazy train took us. Another cinematic video? More photography? A deeper level of storytelling? It was clear our enterprise wasn’t over yet. So after a few days of getting soaked in Twin Falls and freezing to death working in Starbucks, Alex and I set our sights on heading back to Montana to create another cinematic film, and so that was the direction we set our sails. But by the time we returned, it felt like Montana just wasn’t far enough.
The time had come…to wander north.
The revelations I’d had on the first fraction of our trip were subconscious and unintentional, elements which bubbled to the surface and were the corollaries of the extreme honesty I was able to conjure from my heart and release. In wandering north, I wanted to give myself a purpose other than assisting Alex and learning from him. I wanted to be deliberate. To be unguarded. And to explore just what it was I wanted to do with newfangled tenacity I’d discovered behind the handlebars.
As I fell asleep in Missoula a few days later, listening to the coyotes singing beneath the full moon, I was filled with a sense of impetus and inspiration as an artist and human being. What direction was next? What really was north? What would I find here I hadn’t found already?
Intention. Art is the self-expression we form from our personal experience in this world, and with an objective, it is how it finds a way to connect to the hearts of those around us and make it bigger than just ourselves. My intention is to inspire, motivate, and provide authenticity to an increasingly artificial culture – how I do this, is the unanswered question I hope to resolve, and to chase down, one way or another.
And so, we wandered north, to Canada, to see just what she had to offer.
As Kerouac would say, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
Road life. We are all mad here.
Until next time, live wild. Ride free.