The sun was just rising and the air had a hint of cool to it from the night, though the promise of new heat was evident. I rode slowly down the wide highway toward Badlands National Park, past dry, open prairies, the Badlands on the horizon like torn paper against the sunrise. They're like icebergs in reverse, made of heat and contoured by wind, and soon I was in them, and they grew around me, and as they did my amazement grew as well.

The Badlands are hard to translate. They appear to be made of sand or dust, fragile and delicate though massive. And yet they have a kind of shell - one can walk up a crest without sliding; sometimes you leave a footprint, sometimes, no trace. I cruised through and around this strange terrain, the Badlands pulling me deeper in, the road following their shapes in steep curving rises to crest and point and drop, down, down, steeply into the heart of this landscape, and from there all that you see are prehistoric peaks growing from you in every direction, penetrating the sky.


What I See

Sometimes I separate myself from myself and see this girl on the road on a tiny scooter, amidst cars and trucks and 18-wheelers, states away from anything she knows, 2000 miles from where she began, and I think what the heck is this girl thinking? It really is insane. And I only get that view for a glimmer of a second here and there; otherwise, it all seems perfectly normal and not out-of-the-ordinary whatsoever.

Sometimes I separate from what surrounds me and see myself - a glance at a dusty boot, a shoulder of black leather in the rearview mirror - and I realize, I am here! I am doing this! I'm in the middle of nowhere I've ever known, flying along four inches above the ground, and I laugh! And I feel like the luckiest person alive.


Gassing Up

I pull into a gas station and a giant RV is parked at the adjacent pump. A condescending and pointless remark from the man as he pumps gas: "there you are girl - we passed you ages ago." Well, here we both are, Dick. The woman looks at me wistfully from the passenger seat and tells me how brave she thinks I am, that she could never be that brave. I believe she could.

I pull into a gas station, fill my tank, clean the face shield of my helmet with the window squeegee, down some water. An older couple approaches me from the other side of the station. They're carrying a green disposable camera and ask if they can take my photo. I laugh and blush and say sure. We chat, they snap; after a few hollow clicks of their plastic camera they thank me and walk back to their car arm in arm.

I pull in to top off my gas in the middle of nowhere Nevada. It's not even a town; it's a place with a sign. I'm about ready to go and the tallest, thinnest cowboy pulls in. I smile, he looks at me and says with a slow, lyrical drawl, "You drivin' that thing across the country?" I say yes. His drawl is almost slow motion. "If it weren't impolite, I'd say that takes baaalllls."

I pull into a gas station that is swarming with Harleys. I'm fairly intimidated, riding into the mix on my sparkly little white pony. The moment I stop I am surrounded with bikers, full of smiles and questions and stories. They invite me to Sturgis. The women who ride on the backs of these Harleys fall completely in love with the Vespa. They righteously declare that if their men don't want them driving motorcycles, then damn! They are going to get Vespas!

I pull into a gas station across the street from a Senior Center. There's a carload of elders - three very old ladies in the backseat and two old men up front. I smile and wave as they drive out in front of me, staring. One of the women gives me such a smile back, it seems as if she is concentrating all her energy and willing herself into my skin, into my body, even into one of the snaps on my jacket, just to be along for the ride.


Before Leaving

I look at my route on a topo map and part of my heart becomes quite still and my lungs start working overtime. There are no lines, there aren't even curves, just these schizophrenic marks, frantic and erratic, scribbled across the enormous Sierra Nevadas.

This opportunity thrills me, it really does, but the glory of the ride ahead is dampened and dulled by my worry of Others. Maybe reckless, maybe simply on a faster ride, I cannot stop questioning, wondering, analyzing: will someone coming up from behind me be able to keep from crashing into me if they come upon me suddenly in one of these innumerable blind corners? How split can a second get? And while I trust myself and trust the road, why can't I extend the decency of trust to other riders on other journeys, these individuals I know I will encounter while on mine?

Here is my cynicism (that humankind is an oxymoron); here is my need to control (that I can only stay safe if I am the one acting, that if I leave it in the hands of anyone else I may as well be toast). Here is my challenge - to believe that other people are around to help me, not to harm.


In One Minute

It's what you see, what you feel, what you notice now and now andnowandnowandnow. Say it fast - that's how fast it's all coming to you as you breeze down the road. Now the air is a different temperature; it's warmer - all of a sudden - with a gradation back to cool as before. Now a bug WHAM on the face shield, cheek level. The sound of impact is startling, just for one moment. Now you see the individual end feathers fringing the wing of a great hawk, who is motionless but moving as fast as you are in the air slightly above you and to your right. Now a car sails by in the opposite direction, sunlight gleaming and bouncing off the metal contours. It's past, it's down the road behind you, it's gone. Now the road changes form - it dips and curves, bending itself into a large sweeping curl. It's three-dimensional, this curve, you're inside it, and then you are it, you and your machine and this road curve together into one feeling of flow... The light on the long green grass breaks you out of this reverie, this oneness, it is so beautiful you have to be yourself to look at it - separateness is necessary in order to gaze upon it - and you slow down, there's no one around, and you go quietly by, taking in the yellow-green light warming these blades of grass. And now one minute has gone by.


Hwy 50: Nevada/Utah border

We Shall Not Cease

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always -
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of a thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
(from 'four quartets')