Caravan on the Pirarie

Las Vegas. Nine in the morning. Sunlight piercing through the heavy curtains of the hotel room. I have already been up for an hour, so full of excitement I am unable to sleep. My uncle, Noah, is snoring in the next bed while I sit eating cold noodles left over from last nights slightly more glamorous meal at the “Caesar’s Palace”.

A month and a half ago I managed – after a number of tests which I will not disclose even under torture – to get my motorcycle driver’s permit. I always knew I would have a motorcycle. My grandfather had a motorcycle. My father had a motorcycle. My uncle had a motorcycle. See? Tradition! And the dream – which will come true soon – has always been around the world on two wheels in four years. Any person who has ever ridden a bike somewhere and written about it – I have that book. And so, the first chance I got, sneaking away from work in my huge blue Isuzu D-max in the middle of the day to do lessons – I got my motorcycle license. When my grandfather invited us to San Francisco a plan formed inside my mind, as though it had always been there, so obvious, so clear, almost inevitable. I decided to rent a motorcycle and drive from San Francisco to New Orleans on my own.

Two days ago my uncle, Noah and I set off from SF. Until today it is still unclear to me how Mo, the owner of the motorcycle rental company, allowed me to drive off and didn’t run after me screaming to return his bike after he realized I could barely drive it out of the parking lot. Nonetheless I managed to navigate the morning traffic and escape the city, headed towards the Yosemite and Death Valley. My partner for the journey was a Honda CB500F, for whom this journey was a bit of a stretch; 4,800 kilometers being at the edge of what a bike like this meant for urban commute could handle. Noah accompanied me for the first two days – up the nerve wrecking climb to Yosemite going 30 kph with trucks over passing me, down to the blinding heat of Death Valley where your heart beats as though you were running a marathon only from the effort of not burning alive, and all the way to Las Vegas.

And so that is how I got to this point – probably the only person awake in the entire city at this time of day. Now it was time for me to continue the journey on my own.

I rouse Noah and he drags himself up, wraps a white bed sheet around his shoulders and, looking like an Arabian Sheikh, comes down to the hotel lobby with me. We pass upon abandoned casino machines and head to the parking lot. I pack my bike in a ceremonial routine so soothing every biker would agree could replace a few therapy sessions. Get on my bike, wave goodbye and eventually, with a few zigzags, begin my journey. The route I have memorized by heart the evening before from Google Maps.

I continue with the road up to Zion Park, beauty so ravishing it could rival Zion itself (I should know). The path runs steep, with cliffs dropping down below me on my right and pine trees towering over me on my left. When I finally exit the park unto level ground – and not just any ground! The bright red sand of Utah clashing with shimmering blue on the horizon as though nothing but those two colors exist in the entire universe – I breath a sigh of relief. Suddenly a huge khaki-colored Harley trundles past me. The driver, with tattooed arms and impressive mustache, I can only assume belongs to the Hell’s Angles. On the seat behind him is poised a bumptious blond complete with hair flowing in the wind.  Surprisingly, they slow down and mention to me to drive up alongside them. Yelling through our helmets, they explain to me that they noticed that I was driving alone and wanted to invite a fellow biker to lunch in their house close by. We stop by the side of the road and they tell me “Don’t worry, we know it sounds suspicious, but we really just want to be friendly”.  So I do simple math; 50 percent chance that they will rob me, kill me and leave my body to the crows, 50 percent chance that there is a hot meal and an interesting conversation down that path. So I say yes.

We turn to a gravel road between huge plots of red earth, in the middle of each a caravan has sprouted seemingly from the ground. We when we arrive at their caravan they take off their helmets and introduce themselves as Rock and Bonnie. Rock was a marine who fought in Korea. On one of his leaves back home his ship stopped in California. He went ashore to party and woke up two days later, laying in an alley and emerging from the haze of a hangover high. From there he joined a motorcycle gang, became addicted to drugs, fathered about seven children (that he knows of). His lowest point came when he was fired from his job at a rock-grinding mill. He told me how he lay as though dead next to his motorcycle for two days until he suddenly decided to get up and leave everything behind. He traveled for two years around the US, sleeping on the ground, bumping around, changing his outlook on life. When he eventually decided to return to his hometown the first person he wrote to was Bonnie, his high school sweetheart. Bonnie had grown up in Idaho, a white girl on a Native American Reservation with a constant feeling of not belonging. She had already married, divorced and lost her son to an overdose. They told me about the old love that had rekindled and the new life they had built together. Today they go on charity rides and ride their motorcycle for positive change. We talked for many hours until it began to grow dark and I had to continue.

When I got up to leave they hugged me and told me that from now on I had another family, that I was like a daughter to them. I was surprised. Touched by their openness and their willingness to accept someone they had only just met. I have won a new home, a small white caravan on a red plateau, underneath the blue skies of Utah. This is why I travel. Exactly for this.

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