I am terrible at talking about myself – I’m really not all that special on my own. At least, I don’t think I am. There isn’t anything special about, nothing that I’ve done that others couldn’t – apart from the fact that I did them and so many people never do.
I was born in Milwaukee, went to school, did well until late in Middle School when I sort of lost interest for a while. It was a combination of bad teachers and boredom, which lasted until High School, late in High School actually.
My sophomore year I’d taken a class on Science Fiction – it was an interest of mine – and the teacher of that class noticed me. He was the coach of the Academic Decathlon team. At the time, the teams were 9 students, three is each of three GPA brackets. A, B, and C and lower. While any student could be in a higher bracket (A B student could be on the A squad), none could be in a lower one (No A students anywhere but A). So, the teacher was on the look out, constantly, for – lets call them “underperforming” students.
The next year I was in a different home room (which no one told me), and different set of classes. I realized I had been doing school all wrong. Yeah, not doing much did sort of work, but people were constantly nagging you to try harder and do more. The advanced classes (for me anyway) were much simpler. And, for that less effort, I got better grades and more freedom than I had ever enjoyed to do things I wanted to do. The classes were more interesting too, and by my senior year I had tested out of most things being offered, was taking some college courses, and a lot of AP stuff.
One of those AP course was philosophy. This wasn’t the normal class with boring lectures comprised mostly of history. Actual Buddhist monks came in to talk about different part of buddhism. We read works of fiction and trying to assign classic philosophical arguments to the characters. It was fun. One of the books we had to read was Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I had never read anything like it before – okay the philosophy part was interesting and Persig has said the trail part was really just a framework for the points on Quality he was trying to make, but the solitude of motorcycle travel, the time to think and connect to the world in a different way, appealed very much to my young, troubled mind.
Of course, the idea of having a motorcycle was immediately shot down by my mother. She had been exposed to a bad motorcycle accident when she was younger and considered them death machines, and there was no way, no way I was going to be allowed to have one. So, that meant I had to wait until after college when I could do things without her permission, and had the spare income for a vehicle.
I bought an SR250, mostly because it was in my price range. It was bought used from a dealer, since I couldn’t make sense of the letters and numbers in the classified ads, and when I mentioned wanted to travel on it they tried to sell me something else. I don’t even remember what the other bike was, other than bigger. I didn’t want bigger, not even then.
I learned to ride. I didn’t have a lot of choice since I didn’t have any other vehicle. Early spring in Wisconsin led to some cold mornings, but I learned how to deal with it – without spending much more than I already had. The things I thought I would need was refined, and in early summer I hit the road. The bike was packed with clothes and camping gear in luggage I had made myself from cast off bags and straps. The first morning was cold and rainy, and I didn’t have anything that was particularly waterproof. After being on the road for an hour I stopped at a rest area and went inside the building. It was heated there, and I took off my soaked coat and helmet, and sat with a soda (I didn’t have a stove to heat anything warm, and didn’t have anything to heat up anyway), wondering what I was doing. I could go home. My parents were probably just getting up, and I could get breakfast, a nice hot breakfast. And a hot shower. Dry socks.
That would mean going home, though. And I knew, knew, I wouldn’t start a motorcycle trip again. I wouldn’t keep the bike, wouldn’t ever ride from coast to coast. I might still travel in a car, but this would be it for the motorcycle. My mom, least, would be happy.
I finished the soda, put the cold, wet gear back on, went back out to the motorcycle, and kept going.
By the afternoon the sun was out. Most of my stuff had dried, and at a late lunch I got out my phone-book-sized campground guide to find somewhere to stay. I hadn’t turned back, and after that day nothing would every threaten my travel by motorcycle again.