Chapter 10

I stayed up reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, tending the fireplace in the 8×10 common room, and drinking Patagonia Pale Ales until the sun finally went down completely, leaving no trace of pink clinging to the mountains or the lake out the window.

I had decided long ago that I’d never read “Zen and…” because my ex was reading it at the recommendation of her secretly lesbian room mate with whom I assumed she was having a secret tryst.

The room mate had a boyfriend who was a motorcycle mechanic, so like every girl with few hobbies and a feminised liberal boyfriend who is too scared to erect some kind of relationship boundaries, she went out and bought a motorcycle too, and they were a perfect hipster austin motorcycle riding couple, I suppose. The room mate then convinced my ex-girlfriend to buy one as well, as she was entering her “anything a man can do, I can do” feminist jean jacket wearing stage, thus signaling the eventual death of our relationship. The ex rode that yamaha all of four times, wrecked it in a parking lot, lied about her scraped up knee, and then sold it for less than what she paid.

So for some reason I said “No, absolutely not” when she tried to lend me her tattered copy of Pirsig’s classic philosophical travelogue. But I suppose I’d grown up since then. I was taking my own cross country motorcycle trip, trying to write my own motorcycle trip story, and thought it would pair well with Chatwin’s “In Patagonia” at any rate.



The sun took eight or nine hours to traverse the globe, and rise and bleed over the mountains behind my cabana: the same amount of time it would take for me to ride the 240 Kilometers to Perito Moreno, Argentina.

Ulf and I packed up, fueled up, and had a few coffees while using the Cafe’s rare wifi connection. The two coffees, plus the energy drink I’d chugged the moment I’d woke up, had me primed and ready to leave the lakeside village behind and head further, ever further, south.

We may have left Puerto Tranquillo behind, but the lake stuck with us for hours, its electric blue shimmering and flickering in the sun. We rode up mountain passes, back down to the lake side, back up and down, circling around the west side of the lake for about four hours before finally trudging up a rough gravel ascent and parting ways with Lago General Carerra for a while.

The road to Perito Moreno was gravel of varying quality from solid smooth packed clay, to unmanageable shifting gravel, that finally deteriorated into an absolute nightmare of slipping, then giving, then sinking  soft gravel.

There was a thirty minute stretch, sometimes at a 25-30 degree slope, that I had to put the bike in first, and almost walk it up and down the winding “road”, as my front end shifted constantly and tried to betray me. The weight of the bike plus all of my gear plus the grade of the road plus the thick shifting gravel was an equation I was trying to solve minute by minute as the variables changed, attempting to solve for “X” which was not tipping over.

In some spots, the road was one lane between a sheer tan, dusty cliff face rising to my right, and a 300-500 foot fall down to the lake to my left. Keep in mind that this isn’t the scenic route into Argentina from Rio Tranquillo: It was the only route. Ulf and I were sharing this “road” with tour buses, freight trucks, and family cars, all throwing dust into the air and leaving behind giant ruts in the malleable gravel.

All of this while trying to solve for “X” and trying to soak in some of the most undeniably beautiful sights in creation. It was almost unfair. It took a constant concentration just to stay on two wheels. One glance out into Patagonia beyond and below, and the bike would falter and slip.

Despite the sometimes terrifying Ruta 265, we were making pretty good time. Ulf was ahead of me, but not too far ahead, which was saying something since he had ridden from Germany to China on a similar bike, and all things considered, I felt pretty good. The road straightened out for a while, and even smoothed out a bit as we came into view of Lago General Carerra again, looking vast as the ocean. The lake, the far off mountains, and the sky were all blending together into a subtle three-hue striation of reality.

The road turned away from the massive patagonian lake, and away from those great snow capped Andean monoliths. We were in the high country now. I felt like I’d accomplished something, like I’d defeated that stretch of road with transcendental math and pure concentration and will power and maybe even a little skill.

The scenery slowly changed little by little from grand patagonian postcard welcome center panoramas to Arizonan tans and New Mexico browns. It looked like an old western movie, complete with barbed wire and flat-top mesas rising solitary from the landscape.

My hands were tired. Really all of me was tired. It had basically been three straight days of rough gravel, pot holes, and rattling and gripping and tensing and bouncing.

There was a cliff off to the left that overlooked a pastoral, almost Keatsian meadow, and a farmhouse sitting on the shore of lapping, pristine, Laguna Verde.  I slammed on my breakes, skidded to a stop in the gravel, pulled off the road and dismounted my bike. I went and sat with my motorcycle boots dangling over the cliff. Down below were ten or twelve horses grazing in the meadow. A few of them looked like foals, lying on their sides in the lush grass. The last Andes I’d see for some time stood gargantuan and opaque in the distance, and I prayed to God., thanking him for a moment before consuming the scene below me. I added the rocky overhang to my running list of possible ashes-spreading-sites as I mounted the Kawasaki again, looking over my shoulder one last time, heart heavy.







Mt. Washington part 1
September 10, 2013, 5:27 pm
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The sky above Pittsburgh wept.

Tourists snapped pictures of the skyline- at hubristic towers of jericho- from a Mt. Washington overlook.

I imagined the sound of flashbulbs, but of course no one used flashbulbs since the 1930’s or something.

Watching the tourists, I wondered, very self consciously, if they noticed me. Their cameras sounded like cockroaches now, which made my skin crawl, so I put my headphones over my ears and I could no longer hear the cockroaches. I could only see the tourists, but I couldn’t really see individual people any more, just a group of tourists, taking pictures of the pittsburgh skyline.

I smirked self righteously. They were missing the whole point.

“You’re missing the whole point!” I said out loud. I couldn’t hear myself over the music in my ears, so I don’t know if I said anything at all, but no one took notice of me at any rate.

What they were missing, was a great convergence in the sky. Emanating from behind the mountain, where the sun was setting, was a dogfight of colour.

My toes curled in my shoes. I was not wearing socks. My mouth curled into a grin as pink, gold, purple, red converged above us, behind us, around us, inside us.

But their attention was on the static, the monolith, the immovable, the secular.

I squinted down at the city, gripping the overlook handrail, and Pittsburgh was as I had seen it a hundred times before, and always would be. I craned my neck back around and the sky above and around me began to bubble and fracture, reds and purples and like a plague of Moses, I was sure the sky was going to break open and engulf us all.

“You’re missing it”. I whispered to faceless tourist horde, taking family pictures with the urban panorama behind them. “Pitt” heather grey sweatshirts and proud parents and I wondered if I would appear in any of the pictures and if God was about to speak from the purple canyon above the city.

There wre fissures and cracks and the clouds began to crumble and all I felt was peace. Overwhelming doves flying like rivers peace. Violent red shaking peace. and God’s love.

In the reflective glass windows of the UPMC building I watched, because one does not simply look at God directly, as a golden rod extended cross the Allegheny and split Mt. Washington in two and tourists inched away from me as I began to clap and I realised everything would be fine.

But damn was I thirsty.

So I trudged up the cobblestone street, and I’m not making this up, no hallucination, Shiloh Street is Cobblestone. I held myself against the cool fall wind as kids played on the sidewalk, using expletives of which they didn’t know the meanings.

I walked into Packs N’ Dogs which had been replaced with a movie set. I was suddenly directing and I had clearly mastered the art of subtle low light and attention to minute detail and melancholic set design.

I collected a six pack of shiners together from the cooler as extras moved in the background, shifting in their seats, wiping mustard from the corner of their mouths, and I struggled to pay the cahsier, whom I knew well enough to realise he had been replaced by a much better looking, and more well-defined jawlined, actor. I exited the building slowly, every step intentional and back out onto the cobble stone street into dim hazy twilight and CUT!

I found myself alone, in the dark, drinking my six pack from a grassy park on the other side of Mt. Washington. A new image of the city shone beneath me, sparkling beneath the hollow moon.

there was a perfect calm draped over Pittsburgh, and i basked in it, feeling teh grass with my toes and fingers like a dog that’s been cooped up inside all day. The grass glowed, buzzed, with a blue fluorescence, like millions of tiny neon lights. I breathed deeply. Breathed in the surrounding night, which held me so close I could hear its organs churning inside, and suddenly I was completely empty, and for the first time in months I could actually hear myself.

the frenetic jarring stumbling voices went to sleep. The manic jittery juvenile storm fell silent.

Most of the time, it feels like there is something writhing inside me. It is vaguely demonic and it is loud. When it stops moving, and it leaves me for a few hours to days, it takes with me anything remotely positive, and I know beyond all doubt that I’ll have to kill myself just to feel normal.

But as I sat there in silence, the city glowing beneath me, the grass like tiny blue sparks, I felt neither the maniac nor the darkness, nor the myriad of constantly competing voices. I was emptiness, and I was me, finally.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I’d forgotten all about that thing.

ANGELA ❤ lit up on the screen. I smiled widely and answered the phone.

I can’t remember what she said because I wasn’t listening. I could hear her, but all that was registering was “I might even love this woman and that is so strange. Everything is so strange.”  And I looked out over the city and way out at the 40th street bridge where it hovered above the river and I could see my own future and I knew that I would always love her. How strange indeed.

“No, I can’t come over right now”

“Maybe later?”

“Yes, I’m sorta dealing with some things. But life is beautiful and you are beautiful and… I’m pretty sure I love you”.

She didn’t respond to that. Instead she told me to enjoy the night because it was mine.

I finished my six pack and headed down the hill to my house. I opened the door to find an empty house, besides my dog, who wagged his tail excitedly and brought me a sock.

I heard voices outside, and upon investigation found Mike and his girlfriend, Jennifer sitting by the fire pit, beers in hand.

“Dude, where the hell have you been?”

I smiled, “Oh, just around”.

Mike looked at his girlfriend knowingly. “He ate some mushrooms. Like the kind that faeries live on and dance around and shit.”

And I was. Eight hours had passed and I was coming down slowly like a big Boeing circling DFW. The ground still slanted away from me unnaturally and the whole world was breathing heavily and the walls shuddered and the grass moved like worms and Mike’s face was plastic but otherwise I was coming down.

“Take me to get some beer.”

“Why don’t you have some water”

“Because I want beer.”

On the ride back to Packs ‘N Dogs, I told Mike about the sky cracking open and the tourists and my brief directing career adn ow i’d stared at a baby deer on some magical stair steps for what seemed like days and that we knew each other intimately now and the deer knew as well as I did that I was fully in love with Angela.

“Nah, man, you’re just on drugs,” Mike said as he pulled into our driveway.