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.







Bus Trip ‘Oh Ten: Episode 33- King of the Eyesores

July 19th continued…

We lounged in the water like birds in a feeder, flapping about, splashing each other, and cooing beneath the reaching redwoods. I watched a family downstream from us with their blonde children, all three playing in the water like little perfect Tadizos, and here I was a distracted Aschenbach, chilled in the abyss, falling in love with my Californian surroundings, quickly forgetting about the beautiful, cream-skinned children.

I was awoken from my near-dream state by the following question, ejaculated from Pual’s mouth, “Hey man, know where we can get any L?”

I quickly looked over at him with arched eyebrows. He was talking to a curly-headed, bearded hippie boy in tattered pants who climbed along the silver rocks barefoot. If it weren’t for the specifically human looking legs, I may have mistaken the boy for a fawn who had darted out of the surrounding magical forest for a drink from our stream, but his rolled up blue jeans betrayed my pastoral fantasies, and a rip down the inner seam of his thigh, revealing bits of his specifically human looking genitals, made me turn my head away.

“Quiet down, asshole, there are kids down there,” Tyler reprimanded Pual.

I had no idea what was going on, and apparently my facial expression showed it because Pual explained to me in a hushed tone, “LSD, dude, acid.”

Oh, how quaint, I thought, Pual is trying to make a drug deal right out here in front of the redwoods and God and the stream and the possibly Polish family. Continue reading

Bus Trip ‘Oh Ten: Episode 16-Fourth of July in Fort Collins

July 4th

We woke up Sunday, July fourth, and drove up to Ft. Collins, Colorado. We parked the bus at a Wal-Mart and Steph, Michelle and I walked a mile into town for a fourth celebration. Ben found the little celebration on his beloved iPhone, with which he has helped us find so many restaurants and things to do that we have started calling him Benphone, a nickname I’m not sure he particularly likes.

The rest of the crew stayed behind to do whatever it is they are always doing: eating, doing their hair, buying candy, i’m not really sure. I’ve become so manic that once the bus stops, I’m bounding out the doors to do whatever it is we came to do. I figure I can check my facebook and brush my teeth when I get back to Houston. I’m just glad Steph and Michelle are willing to come be manic with me, or else I’d be either frustrated or lonely.

The walk to the plaza was hot, the sun was unbearable, a feeling I’ve chosen to forget since we’ve been in the mild state of Colorado.  We’ve been spoiled here with all of the previously cool weather. At the plaza, in old downtown Fort Collins, I immediately started looking for a hot dog stand because, well, what good is a July fourth without a hot dog? I splurged the four dollars on a dog with sauerkraut and relish and we sat down to watch a female-fronted rockabilly/soul/swing band play what must have been their entire discography. The townspeople danced in front of the stage. Scantily clad teenage girls, little kids, a few old couples, and what looked to be an entire dance class all danced about felicitously,with rare, genuine smiles on their faces.

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Bus Trip ‘Oh Ten: Episode Thirteen: Blame it on the altitude.

July 1st

We woke up at five in the morning, per Josh’s request. He said if we didn’t get an early start on our hike, we were likely to get caught in an afternoon thunderstorm, and having been threatened by rain on every single hike we’d been on during the trip, we took his advice.

So those of us that were going–Tyler, Pual, Michelle, Stephanie, and I– reluctantly got out of our bunks before sunrise, got our gear ready, and walked across the Target parking lot, to meet Josh at the “clubhouse”. Ben and Saray stayed behind (what a surprise) so Ben could get more work done. I was disappointed that Ben would be missing out on the fourteen thousand foot hike (even though he dismisses the sort of spiritual high I derive from such an expedition as “modern Nashville-style Christianity) because I think it’s a shame to spend as much time as we are in Colorado Springs, and not see its most famous inhabitant. Continue reading

Bus Trip ‘Oh Ten: Episode Twelve-Adventurers in Hyperbole

June 29th

Last night we parked in the back of a Target parking lot across the street from my friend Josh’s apartment. They live on the far north side of Colorado Springs in a recently developed that looks like any other suburb: an empty field with houses and Pet Smarts and restaurants with red signs plopped down in the soil.

Josh ran out with his dog and met us in the empty parking lot. I hadn’t seen him in a year, since I messed up my knee longboarding with him in Dallas. He’s grown an impressive beard since then, with is probably a requisite of living this close to the mountains.

Josh had work in the morning, so he had to go back to his wife and his bed, but he did let us into the apartment complex’s “clubhouse”, which had big screen tvs, computers with internet access, a kitchen, hot chocolate and coffee, video games, and comfortable couches. Oh, yes, right, and a pool. We were all in need of some R&R, a sort of vacation from our vacation.

Today his wife, Gina, let us take showers and wash our clothes in their apartment. The amenities and luxuries this place has to offer us was reason enough to stop, even if we didn’t do anything but lounge in the pool, it would be worth it. Just knowing we have nowhere to go, nowhere to be, no rush to do something, is a luxury.

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Bus Trip ‘Oh Ten: Episode 4-Wrestling a Yellow Whale

June 19th

Stephanie and I made pancakes this morning in the parking lot outside the bus. It’s pretty nice having her around as my partner; if I were alone I probably would have had a stick of celery for breakfast. We washed our dishes at a water hose on the side of a gas station and filled up our water jugs. It’s funny how doing something so insignificant as washing dishes and getting water becomes something of an awkward chore, scrubbing on pots and pans as people pump gas into their SUVs ten feet away.

We finally managed to convince everyone it was time to go, which has also become a chore. It’s hard working around everyone’s sleeping schedules. I just can’t stand sleeping when I know I could be driving to our next destination. Don’t get me wrong, I love to sleep, but when I know there is something to be done, I feel guilty for wasting my time sleeping. But everyone was finally ready to go, and after Ben and Saray hopped back on the bus from brushing their teeth in Wal-mart, we headed out.

We have this ritual before we leave where we all call out our designated numbers, from one to seven, to make sure everyone is on the bus. With seven of us, it is just too easy to lose someone. Pual could be napping on top of the bus, or hitting on some girl with bad hair. Tyler could be doing a ridiculous myriad of things from playing video games inside Wal-mart to putting his “big sexy hair” product in his mane, to achieve that “bed-head” look. And Ben and Saray are almost always missing, and we never ask what exactly they are off doing because we don’t want to get the heebie-jeebies. So we count off, I start at one, and 234567 and then we drive away, this time to Carlsbad Caverns. Continue reading