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June 5, 2012

NXNW Motorcycle Trip - IFA to SFO (Millbrae Train)

Flying to SFO from IFA. Leaving bike at airport in idaho. Fly back Fri night to resume westward journey.

Tires nearly bald. Will try to get them changed this week while i'm in SF. Bike running fairly well, but not great. Wont run over 80 mph for some reason. Not clear why.

Update: I'm in San Francisco
Day 5 - Millbrae Train

Yesterday, I woke up just outside the south entrance to Yellowstone.  Well rested, I checked out of the hotel around noon.

Head north into the park, past Moose Falls at Crawfish Creek.  Yellowstone is just breathtaking, of course.  I'm like rolling through this stunning landscape, but this is hard for me.  I mean, I live in Colorado.  So, it's beautiful and breathtaking, but a lot of it has a familiar look and feel to it also.  I've been here before, of course.  And parts of it I remember.  Part of it I don't.

I stop and shoot when I feel compelled to shoot.  But landscape photography has never been my strong suit.  I'm not clear that my landscape photographs will look any better than the overage tourist's photos.   And I'm seldom going slow enough to use the long lens.  Mostly, I'm just shooting landscape postcard type of photos.

I come to a patch of Yellowstone where it was obviously burned out some time ago.  And you see that it's been a long time since the forest burned.  Most of the trees that are still standing are long dead husks.  Relics of their former beauty.  But all around them, the new trees are growing up in their stead.

This place is timeless.  Truly remarkable, inspiring, timeless beauty.  You see here that, nothing that man does really matters.  I mean, not in the long run really.  The tree-huggers are all running around like chicken-little screaming that the sky is falling...global warming...climate change...the coming ice age...whatever fear they're peddling on any given Monday.

But really, the earth isn't something that we're capable of breaking.  Not in the long run, any way.  On a time scale of millions of years, you see that, eventually, the earth will forget that we were ever here.  Whatever perceived sins we have committed will scab over and heal in the blink of an eye.

It's presumptuous - even conceited - to assume that we could really affect the earth, in the long run.  

This is the closest I get to believing in what most people would call a religion.  Looking at Yellowstone makes me think that maybe there could be a God.  You don't feel that way living in San Francisco, really.  I mean, when you live in the city, it's just such a rat-race.  For me, it's hard to look at the madness in the city and think that someone is up above looking down, and sanctioning our existence on some higher level.

But here, the idea seems at least more plausible.

At one lake, I stop to snap a couple of pics.  Another photographer does the same.  You see a lot of photographers here, plus, it seems like everyone I pass these days has a DSLR slung around his neck.

So, dude is standing there in the little turnout above the lake, looking out, and goes to change lenses.  Now, as a rule, I don't change lenses in the field.  It's a bad idea for many reasons.  Primarily because it introduces dust into what should be a pristine environment - the air-space inside your camera-lens connection.  But also because it wastes time.

So, I'm watching this nimrod juggling his lenses on the side of the road and suddenly he bobbles the ball.  The lens slips from his hands and pops up in the air.  He juggles it once or twice and then....poof...it's gone.  Falls down the face of the mountain...into the snow and trees below. 

I watched the guy try to scale down there and get it.  I wouldn't have even attempted it, as it was a nearly vertical slope.  But when I left, he was still down there digging through the snow, tree branches, etc, trying to find his stupid lens.

I leave the hapless would-be photographers in my wake and roll north.  I'm not sure where I'm going to end up today.  I should mention that.  There is a problem with getting on a dirtbike and riding off into the unknown that runs very deep.  

To the average arm-chair couch-potato, an adventure might, on the surface, seem attractive on some level.

But there is a niggling, inherent problem - an intrinsic problem with any great motorcycle adventure, and it goes something like this.  "What are you running from?"  And maybe, you have an idea of what you're running from...a woman, boredom, the law, etc.  

The next question is "Where are you running to?"  And, of course, this one is every bit as debilitating as the first question, if not more so.  Because, no matter what your destination, there is a time-money-health-risk cost to getting there.  And, if you don't have a real tangible reason for going there, well then, this sort of eats at you as you roll down the highway, perched precariously on your steel steed.

You feel very small on a dirt bike.  The desert winds blow you across the Wyoming deserts like a tumbleweed.  Lips dry and cracked.  Sunburned face.  Raw neck.  Low on fuel.

And these questions, they sort of eat at you the way the sands eat at the prominent colorado ramparts.  They work at you as you roll down the highway.

This is a lot of time to spend inside your own head.  And you really start to question everything.  This can be a healthy process.  It can be a time to refocus your life.  But it can also be a time to question your life.  So, this is a type of surgery that we perform on ourselves, as we roll across the lonely planet.

Plenty of people get out on the open road alone and turn back.  I've met them.  Seen their faces.  Talked to them.  Heard their stories.

Because, out here, there are no echoes.  Only there is the sound that you make and it goes off into the distance but nothing ever comes back.  There is no answer.  No voice of reason to bounce things off of.  Only there is the wind.

And, into this vacuum, into this hollow time-space-continuum, your throw yourself...your dignity, your self worth, your mental health...all of this is packed neatly, orderly, into a little motorcycle-sized suitcase and spilled onto the lonely highways of the Great American Desert.

And so, when this journey begins, there is some knowledge now, of what to expect.  I've pushed myself over this cliff many times.  This is not a new frontier for me.  I know that you have to commit to the journey, and be very wary of changing your goals out in that vacuum.  Whatever plan you made before you went into the jungle, you need to follow through with once you're in there.  You can't trust yourself to change the game plan.  Any plan to change the goal or the destination has to be diligently and critically evaluated.

Because it's easy to turn tail and run home.  But, when you're at home, you'll have no-one to answer to but yourself for all of your short-comings.  Any destination you didn't reach will haunt you to your grave if you can't honestly explain to yourself why you didn't finish the journey you had initially planned.

It's way too easy to go home and lie down on the coffin-couch and watch television until some man you never met cooks you in a crematorium.

Pull in at Old Faithful to get some lunch and stock up on supplies.  Batteries for the GPS, stickers for the bike, a cap for my nappy head.

I'm sitting in a rocking chair out front, enjoying my sandwich and gatorade when someone comes outside and says "It's 2:00 and it's supposed to go off at 2:09" or something like that.  So, I've got nine minutes apparently.  So I hustle up there to watch Old Faithful erupt.  I can't recall if I've ever seen it or not, honestly.  I've certainly been here before.  I remember seeing this wall of pallid fleshy tourists assembled before.  

And sure enough, Old Faithful goes off right on time, buddy.  Same as it ever was.  And all of the people assembled here waddle back to their cars and roll on down the roads.

I go to the bike and throw my bag into the trash can.  Later, I'll realize that I accidentally left all of my Yellowstone stickers in that bag, including a rainbow-colored moose sticker that I really fancied would look cool on my bike when I rolled triumphantly into San Francisco.

Now, as I roll north out of the Old Faithful area, I'm planning a mutiny against myself.  I'm conspiring against myself.  The goal is, to make it to Glacier National Park.  The problem is that, quite clearly, there's no possible way I can make it there and then get back down to San Francisco in any reasonable amount of time.

Even from the west entrance of Yellowstone, it's a solid 550 miles to Glacier National Park.  On Saturday, I drove something like 330 miles.  That's a LONG way on a dirt bike.  I've done about 520 miles a day on a bike, but it's not fun.  It's grueling, exhausting, and turns would could be a nice ride, into an unsafe, debilitating exercise.  When you're tired, you make mistakes.  On a motorcycle, you won't get away with making many mistakes.

So, I'm basically exhausted, and not overly thrilled with the idea of driving 550 miles in one day, particularly, if it means racing through Yellowstone to get there, which is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

This idea is turning over in my head.  How long will it take me to get there?  When do I have to be back in San Francisco?  I'm not honestly sure when I need to be back in the city.  I haven't heard from my boss.  I took off one week so far.  Maybe I can take off another week.  I'm not really clear when they expect me back.  But, the last week I was out there, they didn't have work for me.  So, it seemed like a good idea at that time to drive across the planet on a dirt bike...to bring it from Denver to San Francisco.  Granted, Yellowstone isn't on the way, let alone Glacier, but this was what the brain came up with when I started looking at a map.  Montana seems so small when you're looking at it on a piece of colored paper.

The days just really aren't there.  There's really no way that I can leave from Old Faithful at 2:09 p.m. on a Monday, drive to Glacier, and then be in San Francisco by Sunday evening.  Even if it was theoretically possible, it would be such a grueling pace that it would make the trip unenjoyable.  

There is another problem as well.  I was planning on taking off the next two weeks to go to Hawaii with Jennifer.  Or to Europe. We hadn't decided officially.  But when Jennifer took off, I decided that I needed to take off.  But now that I'm out here on the road, the flaw in that logic becomes clear to me.  It means that, when Jennifer has time off (in the summer), I'll now have to work in SF to make up for the time I took off while she was in New Mexico.

Now, suddenly, I see my time on the bike in a different light.  Now, I see that it will cost me time away from Jennifer.  This was not something I'd considered before.   Earlier, my thought process was "Jen's not here...I'm not sitting around here sulking...I'm out of here".   But now I see that taking time off from work is like me being on vacation alone, without her.  It means that I'll have to work next week and she'll be bored and alone somewhere.

All of this is turning over in my mind as the wheels turn over on the bike.

I don't like this little mutiny that's forming in a corner of my brain.  This revolution brewing.  This violates the cardinal rule of going on the road.  Don't second-guess yourself when you're in the middle of a grand adventure.  

But there it is.  The seeds of a revolution are planted.  I decide that I'll figure out what to do when I get to the west entrance of Yellowstone.  At that point, I'll either head north to Glacier, or take a more relaxed route through Crater Lake down into San Francisco.

I make it to the west entrance at Yellowstone, in the state of Montana.  Montana is pretty fart out there.  Probably, if you told people you were driving to Montana, they'd think you were insane.  Probably for good reason.

So, I like being in Montana.  Make no mistake about that.  I'm very far out here, and this pleases me to no end.  This is a good thing.  I'm happy with the idea of being in Montana.  Outside the west entrance to yellowstone is some little tourist trap spot and I stop to fill up.  Buy some new stickers and put them on my bike.  Glad to have stickers from Yellowstone, RMNP, and Yosemite on my bike.  It's an accomplishment, of sorts.

3 guys pull up on Harleys.  Talk to them for a bit.  They're returning from AZ to MT.  Tell me of a good route to take...go SouthWest on 20 to Rexburg.  Then cut west, and hit 93 north up to some little town in Montana.  Then, keep on going to get to Glacier.  

So, there is a path to Glacier.  The problem I'm facing is that I don't have enough time to make it there and back.  

I really can't decide what to do.  I have a full tank of gas.  I have the stickers on my bike.  But I can't decide what to do.  I can't get my head straight.  Can't come up with a plan.  I really really really don't know what to do.  I want to sit down and think about it, but the gas station doesn't have a bench outside.  And I'm just standing here in a sea of confusion.  Not happy that my little trip has somehow imploded at the west entrance to Yellowstone.  I don't like that we ended up here.

I check my phone and there's a message from boss saying 'where are you?'

Apparently, they were expecting me back this week.  I honestly wasn't sure when I needed to go back.  The last time I was in the office, there was no work, which felt weird.  But now, apparently, there is work.  So, I need to go back to work.  Hmmm.  This is interesting.  Actually, this might work.  It gives me something to lean against.  Some boundaries.  Very few people will ever experience true freedom.  By this, I mean having enough time and money to do whatever they want.  Of these people that do reach this point, probably less than 5% would describe themselves as "happy" or "fulfilled".  Probably, most of these people would be truly miserable.  True freedom is every bit as debilitating as slavery.

And now, I've going someone on the phone offering me an out.  Suddenly, I see an exit sign.  This is my salvation.  Of course.  I've got to go back to work.  I decide to drive to Idaho Falls and catch a flight out to San Francisco.  Then, I can fly back here on Friday, and resume the journey.  It's an idea as crazy as it is logical.

Drive Southwest on 20 to Idaho Falls.  Past St. Anthony's National Sand Dunes.  Past Rexburg.  Exit at Idaho Falls but nothing looks familiar.  They're routing me down some road I'm not familiar with.  

Stop and check my iPhone and figure out where I am.  I'm heading straight for the airport, hoping to catch a flight out tonight.  Get to the IFRA, park, and set down on the curb to check expedia for flights.  Nothing goes out tonight.  But United has a 

Now, I'm driving by the Snake River and I see where I am all the sudden.  This is one of the countless towns I used to work in.  Drive around for a bit just to re-orient myself with the place.  I find the falls and the few bars perched on the edge of the falls.  Funny how much bigger this place was in memories.

Now, it seems much smaller. Almost naked.

I want to shoot the falls but not now.  Not with this light.  First, eat and drink beers and then shoot them with the dying light of the day.

Now to find a place to eat.  A few of these places look familiar.  He was here before.  I know that.  I walk into a bar.  Don't recognize the name.  But he was here.  I step inside and immediately recognize the place.  Sit at the bar and she pulls me a beer.

"Did this place use to be called the Brownstone?" I ask here.

"Yeah.  But it's way better now," she laughs.

Apparently the Brownstone closed two years ago.  Who knew?

They have a beer called "Beaver Dick Ale", named after a famous mountain man, apparently.  His name was Richard, and he had buck teeth, so they called him "Beaver Dick", or so the story goes.  I dunno.  Just I'm reading this off their little flyer that they hand out at the bar to people who question why they sell a beer called "Beaver Dick".

I don't think he was here long.  I see some hotels he stayed in, but I have no one to call.  There's only one name that I can remember.  I wouldn't call him, though.  We we're close or anything.  He was my boss.  That's all.  I remember maybe that he did ask me out to his house for dinner once.  Maybe I should call him.  But I don't.

Only I drink at the bar and talk to this guy just out of the military.  Somehow he came back from the middle east without any obvious defects.  I'm glad for this.  Happy for him.  The military paid for his college, it seems.

That's got to be a pretty touch one-two punch right there.  Signing up for 4 years of college and then service in the military.  Like, first they indoctrinate you will all their tedious white-washed communist ideas, then they send you to the front lines to kill people you've never met.  I'm so glad I didn't get in on that plan.

When it's good and dark, I go outside to shoot the falls.  See another guy out there shooting the falls with a tripod and a large SLR, so I set up by him.  Now, part of this trip was a trial run for my trip down to Panama this fall.  A dry run to check out my gear. 

Several things have failed and will have to be replaced.  One of them is my helmet.  The visor on it is worse than useless as its broken again and I'm throwing it in the trash.  The other thing that failed to perform acceptably was the tripod head.  Absolutely maddening.

So I start setting up my tripod and talking to the photographer.  He's got a daughter about the same age as mine.

"How old is she?" I ask, pointing at the girl.

"14....15...she's just a girl..." he offers, as though I were hitting on her.  I'm surprised he doesn't know the age of his own daughter.

"I have a daughter that's 14 also." I reply.

He starts breaking down his setup.

why you are leaving? I ask

"It's too dark," he replies.

"Just leave the shutter open longer," I offer.

But he wanted a certain light.  Some special light right at dusk.  I'm not really sure what he was after.  But he seemed to know what he was talking about.  I hate shooting falls in bright sunlight.  I'd much rather shoot them on a cloudy day.

So I set up and shoot in the dark, but they've got streetlights shining on the falls, to light them up for the tourists I guess.  So, there's some color correction that will have to be done, but I shoot them anyway because I'm here, and either I shoot them or I don't.

I've resigned myself that I'm going back to San Francisco in the morning.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 5, 2012 at 5:52 AM


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