Trans-Canada Highway 17. 5 o’clock in the morning. Leaving Sault Ste. Marie on the dawn of the fourth day of a road trip around the great lakes in mid July and I’m ready for a strip of road known to be to motorcycles what the Sahara Desert can be to ill-equipped or ill-fated people.
The problem lies in the petrol. There are not enough places to fill up from point A to point B and many bikes simply run out of juice. On top of that, it’s a damn good distance to go in one day – from ‘The Sault’ (pronounced, the locals informed me, as ‘su’) to Thunder Bay, the next and most anticipated destination on my trip.
My record reading distance on maps thus far hasn’t been good. And travel by motorcycle, I’m learning as I work through my maiden voyage, takes longer than by auto. (more…)
*Photo is of my bike but in a different location
Sometimes 20 miles away can feel like a whole new world. Actually, it was about 17.2 miles according to Google Maps. But distance traveled doesn’t determine the quality of a trip. Neither does time spent nor money invested, thankfully, because too many of us have little of either. I’ll take travel whenever and wherever I can get it, including in my own back yard.
I threw my friend David on the back of my Triumph at the intersection of 25th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan and we two-wheeled it out of the city. He’d been asking me to take him for a ride for weeks now and since he’s about to pack it up and move down to Miami, I figured I’d better make it a good one. After all, the last time we sat together on my bike we had about 10 minutes of good FDR cruising and 45 minutes of horrible Park Avenue gridlock.
David is a peculiar sort, to say the least – indescribable in attitude and experience. Truly unique, much to the benefit of society at large, I believe. Still a good egg, just not one you’d want to feed to your children. He’s lived here his whole life but seems to exist inside a pre-defined bubble. He all but giggled as we flew past the Intrepid Museum around 46th Street on the West Side Highway; apparently he’s never been this far north. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, it’s about the same as owning a house for 42 years and not knowing there was a basement until just now.
He must have been blown away when we crossed 158th Street. Jersey, our intended destination, would by these measures be Mars.
I’m not judging. There’s a whole slew of natives who’ve never taken the time to traverse the city and its surroundings in any depth. I guess it’s just not that exciting when you grew up here. I’m lucky as well. I bought the motorcycle on a sudden urge and, without realizing it, my range of motion within the vicinity nearly tripled. There are places I’ve been that, without motorized transport, I never would have known existed.
Such as the Palisade Interstate Parkway. Everyone raves about it. Though I don’t think the ride there to be particularly amazing, as is the Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina, it’s a nice road in a scenic landscape. The view from various lookout points, on the other hand, could easily leave one speechless.
But that’s not at all why I took him there. The trip began as only a quick motorcycle ride somewhere with little traffic and relatively high speeds unhindered by lights or stop signs. I recently became acquainted with this stretch of the freeway because of some work related trips in the area. It was a perfect choice. Besides, as much as I enjoy the ride and spending time with my friend, I had a whole list of things to do – a.k.a. let’s not spend all day running around town. Typical, I was trying to hurry things along.
My original plan was to shoot up there and swing back around to my apartment without stopping but quickly realized that forcing him to sit on the back that whole time without stretching was absurd. So we pulled off into a scenic overlook near Alpine, NJ and got off the bike. There was nobody else around. We walked over to the edge and gazed out over the Hudson River and on to Yonkers in the distance. The city became a distant memory.
As much as I may not have wanted to spend much time out there, his utter joy and infectious excitement slowed my pace and forced me to take in my surroundings. He said he’d never been to a place like this before and was instantly in love. We gazed out over the tranquil water and talked about nature and how we both wished there were more of it in our concrete lives. After a bit, we hiked a nearby trail a short distance. Towering trees and overgrown brush suddenly gave way to a paved platform jutting out above the cliffs. David remarked about how the sounds of animals and insects were more prevalent than those of cars, city noise or, most importantly, people.
Standing there above the river gazing down the densely tree-packed cliffs of the Palisades both our spirits soared. It’s a magical sight for sure but watching David soak it all in was twice as beautiful. All he kept saying was that he’d seen places like this on television but had never actually been to one. I’m sure it’s burned in his memory forever. I know it’s burned in mine.
We gathered our things and got back on the bike, refreshed by the warm breeze of the 70 mph winds and the dose of nature, and headed back toward the concrete and stainless steel. They two forces, urban wilderness vs natural wilderness, play on each other magically. There’s nothing like open forest and a nearby body of water when you’re in the city 24 hours a day. But then there’s nothing like flying through the Trans Manhattan Expressway, a veritable dungeon of artificial lighting, cracking roadways and swerving traffic. It appears that harmony is always just on the other side of the river.