It was a few weeks before the big adventure, sometime end of July or the burgeoning days of August, when I finally connected the dots about the people I would meet. I was going into the bank, if I remember correctly I was cashing the second to last check for the large mural I had just completed. finding a good parking space didn’t ever seem to be an easy task in Grand Rapids, MN around 3 p.m., at least not near my bank. I was fortunate on this day. I saw a motorcycle parked all by its lonesome and luckily enough there were a few parking spaces open near it. I had just started riding Little Wing a couple weeks before and I was still quite infatuated with just about everything he had to offer. It was before we had grown comfortable together, before the patina of adventure had taken a hold of his shiny blue tank or scuffed underbelly. Even so, this didn’t stop me eyeing up every motorcycle I came in contact with. The bike Little Wing and I parked beside was a black Harley Davidson. A cafe racer, not something I had seen parked often around this small town of 10,000 I was riding around. Cafe racers weren’t exactly the go to bike of motorcyclists in Grand Rapids.
I went into the bank and did my business. I talked to the friendly tellers about my newly acquired motorcycle — they were always curious — and I reminded them all that I still had my Rebel I was looking to sell. They were always interested in the fact that I was riding, and ofcourse they all knew about my budding bike collection because the only time I would withdraw large sums of cash was when I had a new one in my sights. The discussion would switch between a mix of envy and empathy depending on the weather outside. On rainy days they would all coo over my drenched self, and on sunny days they would look at my riding gear longingly. The majority of them didn’t ride, but they all enjoyed a good chat about motorcycles, ofcourse I was more than willing to accommodate that discussion. Well, anyway, after I had deposited the check and the tellers and I discussed riding in sunshine I made my way back outside. Little Wing waited patiently, as did the Harley. I gave it another once over as I put my helmet on. I was eyeing it up from the front and buckling my chin strap when I looked up to see a young man, helmet in hand, exiting one of the stores. He approached the motorcycle and as he did I straightened up and told him I liked his bike. I asked him what it was and he told me it was a 750 and asked about mine. I told him. He was shocked (as many are) that a single could be a 650. The discussion blossomed as we exchanged bike talk.
He was young, a few years older than me I figured. I recognized him from the coffeeshop. I had served him coffee before, back when I still held my part time job as a barista, before I had to switch over to full time artist for efficiency sake. Neither one of us had bothered to strike up conversation then. At that point I was a server, and my secret life as motorcycle rider wasn’t written across my forehead the way it was when I had my helmet in hand. He was also hiding his secret life, or at least I had no way of identifying it. This meant neither of us would have known to bring the subject up. In this new setting, with helmets in hands (I had taken mine back off my head by this point), bikes at our sixes, we had found comfort in our easily identifiable similarities.
Mike and I (as his name happened to be) eventually ran out of words about motorcycles. He wished me luck on my adventure, which I had told him about. I thanked him. We both left the conversation smiling. I was proud to be the first to peel off demonstrating Little Wing’s speed and my novice handeling. The interaction left a warm fuzzy feeling in my gut the rest of the day. When I told my roommate, Lea, about it I explained to her that the good feeling stemmed from the knowledge that these conversations would soon be a dime a dozen. Positive interactions with strangers outside of banks? Wasn’t that what I would find on the road? Making friends while openly living my (generally) secret identity for a full year? No more of the superficial conversation, the discussions on the street about about weather, we could skip that and start right off talking about motorcycles. If the conversation did turn to weather it would revolve around how that effected riding because my helmet would be in my hand when I entering the dialogue. I wouldn’t be standing behind a til unwittingly handing coffee to riders without further discussion. I would be riding amongst riders. I would be riding amongst people. I would be on adventure and everyone I met would be able to talk to me from that level. Life for me would be pretty clear cut, my goals written across my forehead, and the conversations revolving around written goals would be honest and enlightening. I told Lea that this was just a sign of things to come. I was right.
Despite my accurate predictions, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. I knew it was coming, but somehow I was still taken by surprise. People came out of the woodwork, just as I suspected, but my mind had trouble comprehending at first. People like Mike have struck up conversation with me, or I have struck up conversation with them. People have given me shelter. They have given me sustenance. People have given me little gifts to help me along in the journey. Each interaction has caused me to bust out, and branch forth, a wee bit more. I was standing around yesterday, thinking about growth, thinking about all the people I’ve met, when the memory of Mike’s face came floating in front of my mind’s eye. That started a torrent of memories to come cascading down. An innumerable amount of people.
There was the one gas station In Wyoming where I was stopped by two bikers who I inadvertently insulted. Both wearing their leathers, they came over to take a look at Little Wing. The insult came in when I told them that though as thumpy as a Harley with it’s on cylinder Little Wing was smaller and therefore had less to maintain. The more talkative of these two guys, who were somewhere in their late 50’s, gave me a look and threw his extended thumb over his shoulder as he gestured back towards his and his friend’s bikes. “You have Harley’s, huh?” I asked. They both nodded and I laughed, shrugging my shoulders, “if the shoe fits,” I said. The more talkative of the two threw his head back and laughed as he gave me a good thump on the right shoulder, causing me to lose a little of the gasoline on Little Wing’s tank. As I continued to fill up they asked where I was headed to. I told them about the adventure across country, but how, at that very moment I was just headed towards warmer climes, mainly at the coast. The asked if I was taking The 1 down the coast and I told them that was the goal. They both warned me about this. They said it was busy and that cars didn’t slow for anyone, including bikers. They told me that one had to keep their eyes always focused on the winding road because it was unpredictable. They advised me to consider Highway 101 instead. I said I would chew on that idea. By this time Little Wing had his fuel and I had mopped up the extra gasoline that had spilled on the tank. The guys told me to ride safely and gave me big grins as they told me to have fun. Bikers always have good words to share.
As I got on thebike a woman came out, her vehicle was parked behind me, she put a hand on the same shoulder the more talkative biker had thumped, and I turned with a start to look at her. She told me good luck on my journey. I figured she must have overheard the loud conversation between me and the two big bikers. I gave her a big grin as I slid on my gloves, and I wished the same to her.
Earlier in Wyoming I had stopped at a gas station, one of the few on the East part of the state. It had an old pump from the 1980’s and also didn’t require prepay. I filled up and then went in to and use the restroom and pay. I stood in front of the cash register offering my card to the woman. She informed I had to spend a certain amount to use the card so I grabbed a couple chocolates and tossed them on top of the purchase. She swiped the card and I scooped up my chocolates and started unwrapping one as I wished her a great day. I reached for the door handle just as it started to open. I grabbed it and swung it open for a woman in her late thirties. I smiled and she said thank you. As I said no problem she spoke again to tell me have a safe trip with a smile that filled her whole face. It was my turn to say thank you, but I am not sure she heard as she stepped lively towards the bathroom. I wondered how she knew, I wanted to ask. I was slightly shocked until I realized, while walking towards Little Wing, that we were the only two vehicles at the gas station and she was parked right behind me. I sat on Little Wing and ate my chocolate and considered how conspicuous I was. Small bike, loaded down, Minnesota license plate in bohunk Wyoming, I was clearly a traveler. I pulled away with a smile on my face.
It is amazing how people have stepped up to wish me well. Words one doesn’t get while working the til at the coffeeshop unless someone already knows you. Words people don’t give when driving around in a truck. On motorcycles riders are openly exposed to elements and vehicles around them. We are more susceptible to the negative affects of heat, cold, rain, sun, or bad drivers. But on the other hand we are also more open to kindness from strangers. Our tender underbellies are bare to all who can identify it. Fellow bikers know because they live that secret identity too. Others just see it and want to wish that part luck and safety. As I have exemplified quite well, bikers are prone to the elements, but we are also receptive to kindness and strangers. It has something to do with the walking/riding bill board we become when the words are written across our forehead. People are fascinated by the freedom, and interested in the adventure. They are concerned for the safety and curious about the person willing to take on all that. It exposes me to a whole group of caring, interested folks, who give a shit, and that just might be the best part.
The people I meet, it is a large part of the adventure. I have had a lot of people say real positive things to this affect on the comments, and in emails, messages, texts, in person, over the last week, and I agree. People are fantastic. I really like all of you.
Humans have shown me why it is that we should have faith in one another, and I am so grateful for that.
Thank you for being one of those interested, curious, concerened people in my life and in this world.