I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
—Robert Frost

There comes a point where you just do not feel like stopping, where getting off the bike feels unnatural. It doesn’t start that way, it ends that way. Presumably you probably have a destination you want to get to: your own bed, your own coffee maker, your spouse, your front porch. Interstates are great for that, and I detest them. They are heartless, soulless slabs of asphalt and concrete looking at the same thing over and over again: orange barrels, the usual fast-food slop chutes, and truckers and tourists. That’s not living.

And that’s not what you are doing. You want to get to that place where you simply keep going. Where that is the most natural thing. Weather, missing loved ones, wanting to sleep in your own bed and not digging clothes out of a saddlebag; none of that matters. You just want to roll. That feels natural, being stationary does not. The only natural thing is to be making asphalt disappear behind you. You need U.S. and state highways for that, and along the way you get to meet the people you are traveling through. That is a remarkably free feeling.

US 2 is easy: go east until you hit Lake Michigan, then hang a right

US 2 is easy: go east until you hit Lake Michigan, then hang a right

I establish habits. I am a creature of habit.

Wake up early before sun break, drink some coffee and be ready to ride at dawn. It is solitude; you have thousands of miles with yourself to yourself, and flying solo with nothing to answer for except getting done what needs to be done. On the east coast you may mark progress by the odometer, stop every 100 miles and fuel up. Out west is different; you mark progress by states, and you get fuel where you can. And pretty soon, like some weird form of moto-meditation, it sets in. The road, you, the bike, the journey; that’s you.

You think about too much, or you think about too little; the road will help you figure that out.

It is 2,100 miles from Kalispell, Montana, to Sunbury, Ohio, going the way I chose anyway. And for a good part of that we can fly. Mind your manners in town, but out on the road you can wick it up. It’s a remarkably civilized way to travel. You don’t stare at a speedo, or the instrument pod, you scan the horizon and the road as you should be. It works.

I always associated North Dakota with missile silos and fracking. Miles of sunflowers as far as the eye could see are a bit surreal and had me looking for flying monkeys and the Emerald City.

I always associated North Dakota with missile silos and fracking. Miles of sunflowers as far as the eye could see are a bit surreal and had me looking for flying monkeys and the Emerald City.

And the route I chose was US Route 2. It is our farthest north highway, if you can call two lanes a highway in our country, and you can alter time and space with the throttle as you see fit. You can also look for gas stops because they matter out there. Mind your manners in town and observe speed limits but otherwise just go. Every night demands a T-bone steak, a baked potato, and a beer, at least in my world. Fries are okay.

You need to go to foreign places, places you are not used to. Surround yourself with different things and people. My intention was to dispense with Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the upper peninsula of Michigan before being compelled to turn a wheel on an interstate at the Mackinac Bridge. The payoff is obscure roadside attractions, old kitschy hotels from another era, and people not used to the normal onslaught of humanity interstates bring. These were roads built in a simpler time which is fine by my simple state of mind.

In a way, this manner of travel most mimics life, you elect a direction to go and have some vague guidelines to follow, but as to what challenges you encounter, what people you meet, and what you see, there’s just no way of knowing. You just let it unfold, adjust on the fly, be surprised at times, and in doing so grow.

A beautiful girl in a desolate Montana gas stop on the high plains; the Fort Peck Indian Reservation; hanging with the Sioux on the res; a walleye fry and shotgun raffle; a Richard Bong roadside memorial; the geographic center of North America; miles and miles of sunflower fields as far as the eye can see; the slate gray water of Lake Superior and the deep blue of Lake Michigan; a giant plastic lumberjack; and the unerring pulse of a big Boxer Twin that just wants to run. These things are what happens when you get off the interstate.

Richard Bong might be the least known American ace in history. He was a Medal of Honor recipient and America’s highest scoring ace in World War II.

Richard Bong might be the least known American ace in history. He was a Medal of Honor recipient and America’s highest scoring ace in World War II.

It’s all out there, and the peace that comes from backroads travel through areas time and the interstates forgot. But the closer you get to home, all the people you have met and the things you have seen that have changed daily, the constant motion every day that seemed like such a task at the beginning, it now feels second nature. Heading down US 23 in Ohio on a glide path for home, I wondered, dreamed really, “What if I just kept going, woke up in a new place every day, met new people, saw new things?”

Lake Michigan, the signal to head south, the descent back to reality begins.

Lake Michigan, the signal to head south, the descent back to reality begins.

That could not happen of course. I had responsibilities at work and people that loved me at home, but it felt so right to a part of me, anyway. But to capture that feeling for even a short period of time, from skating over ice patches on the front range of the Rockies, to hailstorms in North Dakota, to sweating through Ohio cornfields with every vent open on my Aerostich Darien jacket. To compress that much living into such a short period of time is irreplaceable. And a motorcycle is the perfect vehicle, the only machine in my opinion, which opens the world up that way.

Ride hard, travel light, wear layers, and look where you want to go.

About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.

  • blansky

    Thank you for a great read.

  • TalonMech

    I’d love to have the free time to do a similar trip across the south. Unfortunately it will probably have to wait until I retire. Vacation days are a precious commodity, and I’m expected to spend them with wife and family. I have tried talking the wife into taking an MSF course, and getting her to take up riding, but she considers it dangerous and frivolous.
    On the other hand I consider her hobby of restoring antique furniture to be boring, and I have no interest in taking that up either.
    Anyway, I enjoyed the read, and dream of striking out someday on a trip of my own.

    • Campisi

      Antique furniture restoration is no laughing matter! Insects and animals to forcibly vacate, the burns and cuts from heating horsehide glue and shaping all manners of wood and leather, brass-tack stabbings, and the fumes- oh lord, the fumes!- it’s enough to kill a man, destroy the mind and hobble the joints and make a jerkied, knotted anachronism of you to match your charges!

      Risky business, that. Don’t have the constitution for it. I’ll stick to bikes.

      • Chris Kallfelz

        Heh, heh…

  • howard kelly

    nice Chris…this is classic “if i have to explain, you wouldn’t understand” thinking. loved it

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Howard? Thank you, Bud, that’s very kind.

  • I’ve never been there. Not really. I’ve had times when I was tired, close to home and kept going, but I’ve never said I am not getting off the bike. I have a 12 hour ass and when time’s up, it’s up.

    • Ok Campers

      James, I think the article is about the ride itself becoming the destination rather than the finality imposed by having a “fixed” destination or time limit. The opening sentence can lead to the hurried conclusion you have drawn ( as it did with me, at first glance), however the rest of the article corrects that inaccurate assumption. Be on guardl not to allow your personal horizon to get too close to your nose.

      • Like I said, I have a 12 hour ass, so whether I am averaging 30MPH or 80MPH, it doesn’t matter. After that, I am done.

        • Ok Campers

          Still don’t get it, do ya ……..

          • I get it fine. You don’t.

          • Ok Campers

            Here’s what I DO get: Further communication with you on this topic is pointless due to the limitations you are experiencing with reading comprehension.

            Now, whether those limitations are voluntary or involuntary becomes the question. It is a question whose answer I no longer wish to pursue.

            For some people, a single grain of sand constitutes a beach. This can be either a positive or a negative, depending on one’s perspective.

            I don’t expect you to understand that, either.

            Ride safe, my friend.

          • And you don’t have a fused neck, bad knees and lack of padding on the ass. What you do have is an unentitled opinion of yourself and must be some sort of ersatz blow hard. You have a lot in common with Neil and the author.

          • Ok Campers

            “And you don’t have a fused neck, bad knees and lack of padding on the ass.”

            Are you calling me a fat ass?? How do you know how much padding I have there? (Lighten up, I’m making a joke…… but, on the other hand, I could stand to lose a few pounds.)

            At least you have clarified one thing; your lack of comprehension is involuntary. It is clear that conceptual thinking is beyond your mental skill set. That is not meant to be a condescendingly applied comment, but merely a non-judgmental statement of conclusion based on your repeated protestations.

            No big deal; it is said that Einstein couldn’t balance his checkbook. By that I mean Einstein , a renowned genius, lacked the mental skill set to do simple math. In the context of our discussion, that means that your mental skills lie not in comprehension of the abstract, but elsewhere and are worthy of celebration for their own merit.

            Ride safe, my friend.

  • Phil Tarman

    I retired in 2013, while my wife was still working. That gave me the chance to take my “Epic Post-Retirement Ride to Alaska, the Four Corners of the US, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador”. I didn’t ride very many really long days, but I was gone for 74 days and 21,000 miles. It was a great experience, even if I never get that long for a trip again. I have managed to get in at least 2 or 3 8-10 day trips every year since I started riding in ’98 and love the feeling Chris describes here.

  • JMDonald

    How much time is available for this stuff?
    All of it.
    How much time do we allocate to doing this stuff?
    Not enough.
    Well done.

  • ChrisS

    Due to work/family obligations, the longest ride that I can squeeze in is a 500+/- mile RT over a weekend. I love my wife with all my heart, but sometimes the road is the best place for me to kick my demons to the curb and make it to inner peace.

    The interstate is indeed a soul sucking place, not to mention adding levels of danger that are unacceptable except in the worst circumstances. Give me 2 lanes of blacktop and light/no traffic, my Road King, some cash, and I’m good. That moment when everything that troubles you pulls a Houdini and vanishes, leaving your mind free to focus on the trip itself. Therein lie my zen moments.

    I can tell you that the road and longer trips call me like a siren…I want to tour all the way to Washington from my home in Florida. A ride the width of the nation. Friends and old army buddies are scattered to the four corners, and I’d like to see as many as I can as I am on the doorstep of the half century mark age-wise.

    Thanks for writing up this article, it has affirmed that it isn’t just early senility setting in, but the call of the road is a very real thing.

  • Bob Ray

    “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing
    but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to
    make today worth remembering.” – Harold Hill

  • Ashurbanipal

    This is so inspiring. I hope to take a trip such as this one day soon.