By Matt Hoffman
Within four hours, I reach a smooth cruising speed of 95 mph and shed most of the cars and trucks that had accompanied me out of the “City”, the East Bay, and eventually Sacramento. Lights sharply drop off the highway exits; byways and transfers disappear in the side mirrors; buildings and billboards pass by more infrequently. The lanes merge to one and I am among the few travelers on U.S. Highway 50 running west to east across Nevada. Aptly dubbed the “Loneliest highway in America.”
The blinding sun directly ahead calls for the helmet’s internal visor—gliding down over the cracked-lens Wayfarers to create a double shield allowing adequate, yet minimal road vision. It soon becomes necessary to pull over and switch to vented gloves and open zippers to allow airflow as the temperature quickly rises in the barren desert. Tapping from a morning news podcast to a classic rock playlist on the handlebar-mounted phone should keep me in the zone until the next stop. Slow, deep breaths let the muscles and bones stack upon each other into a comfortable yet alert riding position—settling in to cover the hundreds of miles from the California border before the sun finds its highest perch in the sky.
In time, the slow melting of cities, cars, and people lifts the weight from the shoulders. The grip on the back of my neck fades into a soft touch, sure to vanish prior to reaching the east border of Nevada. This experience has become the most welcome part of adventure motorcycling, which began as an obsession when I was no taller than the seat.
Halfway through the first day of the two-week escape, I take a break and collapse under an oak tree near a gas station in BFE Nevada. No more than a gas station and this tree for miles. The temperature is nearly 95 degrees and it’s not even 10 AM yet. I peel off the long underwear and thick socks, which were necessary leaving the chilly San Francisco morning. One can only imagine the thoughts of passersby as I do my best to ignore their stares and change into lighter gear. Blissfully ignorant to the judgement it’s easy to become accustomed to changing, eating, and even napping in public, usually at a gas station or convenience store in the middle of nowhere.
Back on the road, alert, fed and fueled for the next two hundred miles, my brain reaches max productivity and begins working out the details of the following days. Quickly calculating the mileage and stops along the route proves that whatever shortcomings/struggles/weaknesses in math class are quickly overcome when it comes to travel. After each trip, the details in the planning become pinpoint accurate. Often rolling into a gas station on fumes and maxing out the number of miles between stops becomes a good way to add precious time to the people and destinations that yearn to be seen and experienced.
Mere miles from Great Basin National Park, its grey stone peaks ominously hover above the flat and desolate horizon. Patches of white snow are barely visible in the afternoon haze. Near those patches are what most come to see: the ancient bristlecone trees that brazenly survive in harsh and brutal conditions for thousands of years. The oldest living specimen, Methuselah, is a nearly five-thousand-year-old tree, its existence and location held secret from the general public for its own protection.
The ever-reliable BMW GS1200 has covered over six hundred miles since leaving home on the south side of Golden Gate Park at the brisk predawn hour. The setting sun now blinding the past has begun its descent into the distant Pacific. Its setting rays warmly behind as I roar down the route’s final few miles. Baffled that this park is one of the least visited and stunned by its immediate beauty, I park my loaded bike and get the first of eighteen National Park entrance pictures in the pandemic year of 2020.
The sun is moments from its final bow and the elusive green flash when the small embers of the campfire are lit. It took less than ten minutes to set up camp, thanks to the right gear and knowhow slowly acquired over the years. It’s funny to think of how much junk and needless supplies used to weigh down the bike and discourage me from taking/going on adventures. The simple fire, kindling carefully stacked and lit with a single match—was not possible even a year before without fuel or fire starter.
The joys found in the peaceful simplicity of camping is what draws me back time and again. The ability to do it from a motorcycle not only makes the experience more challenging and exciting but opens the senses to nuanced levels never experienced before. There is rarely a moment without full alertness—instead of observing the world beyond the windshield of a car, one is immersed in that world on a motorbike. All colors surround you, their smells impossible not to breathe in/inhale deeply, the changing winds melding with the curves of the road reminding you that nothing is lasting, and all is temporary.
With the camera’s night-lapse mode pointed at the stars, and the fire crackles on its dying embers, I do my best to pretend the stiff bedroll is just as comfortable as sleeping at home. I listen intently to the sounds of the forest around, wondering how the oasis has existed in this harsh desert for so long. Normally aided by soothing sounds of a fan, sleep no longer evades as I am soothed by the harmonic and chaotic noises of nature.
Soon fast asleep with tension long released by the ride and stress a distant problem to be addressed at a different time and place. Normally a light sleeper on the road, it is impossible to ignore the restless anticipation and plotting of the rides in days ahead. This is the first big trip of the year. A year in which there might not be anything but solo adventure.
In the coming days I will visit five national parks in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, as well as a stay with the folks in their new home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ll spend time with an old friend from a past life that we shed years ago, and with it the (literal) weight of stress that belongs to others. I will breathe it all in and add each new cell of experience to the book of life that I am writing for myself—expelling those who are no longer needed or welcome.
In the brilliant words of Rocket the Raccoon, “Ain’t nobody like me, ‘cept me.” And at forty-one, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Be you, be your dreams, be your adventure, and breathe in your life.
Learn more at https://breakingawaytrips.com/