MOTORCYCLE DIARY: 1

I bought an (almost) 20-year-old BMW R 1150 RS in May of this year with the intention of flying to California to pick it up and ride it home to NY (with a stop in Great Falls, MT for the BMWMOA national rally). In addition to my cameras, I brought along a Zoom H4n audio recorder to keep a diary while on the road.

I’m posting the transcripts of those recordings alongside some relevant photographs to this site. Here’s the first post:

JUNE 17, 2021 – PASADENA, CA

2002 BMW R 1150 RS

RECORDED IN PASADENA

[START OF AUDIO] Testing the audio recorder. It is 7:15 AM. June the 17th, 2021. Pasadena, California. I’m at Micah’s on East Howard Street. I’m in the backyard with coffee, a notebook, a Rolleiflex, a light meter, an iPhone. I’m wearing sunglasses, shorts. The same underwear for day three. My same T-shirt for day three. Groggy, but feeling good. (I really hope this is recording, by the way.)

I’m looking directly at a Tesla Model 3, which is currently plugged into Micah’s house. Now, I’m walking around the Tesla, and on the other side of the Tesla is a silver 2002 BMW R 1150 RS Sport Touring motorcycle, which is owned by me, apparently. I bought this machine in May. The previous owner, who lived in Granada Hills, rode it to Micah’s here in Pasadena after we transacted, and it’s been sitting under a tarp waiting for me. Excuse me. Not a tarp – a motorcycle cover.

I had a nasty flight from New York to Burbank two days ago. I was really uncomfortable in an exit row. There was nothing really terrible about the flight, but somehow, it was just the worst SEAT of my life. So uncomfortable. Couldn’t fucking sleep, couldn’t fucking stay awake. Could not seem to even… SIT. It was like the Bad Man filled your pants pockets with knives and pencils and car keys and ordered you to sit in a small box full of snakes. Sit down and you know what happens: snakebite ass and pencil punctures to the thighs and genitalia. Stand up to avoid this and the Bad Man slaps you right in the or face. Hmm. Perhaps split the difference and crouch a bit above the box and avoid standing fully erect? Nope. The Other Bad Man kicks you in the back. Anyway, what I am trying to say is: it sucked my balls. But! When I finally landed, Micah picked me up. We had dinner at Din Tai Fung with Daniel and Jenny, who are in LA visiting his folks, so we had a nice dinner.

I drank about seven or eight glasses of ice water at dinner and managed to revive myself, and became human again. Crashed that night. Was that Friday? [chuckles] No, today is Thursday, so I guess that was Tuesday. Tuesday night I fell asleep. Woke up early, because I’m on New York time. Headache, acute. Locally located [laughs] Locally located? What the Hell does that even mean? You know, uh, the headache is LOCATED in the right corner of my head. Not a skullwide affliction. I just felt like shit, ok? Was up for about two hours in the early morning, and then the sprinklers came on.

I just paced around. I photographed the motorcycle with the Rolleiflex, and went into a dark place thinking about the bike. Definitely, intimidated by its size and weight. It’s not terribly big, but it’s a heavy bike – over 500 pounds. There are a lot of complicated emotions attached to the motorcycle, the purchase of the motorcycle. The fact that it’s the last– I frame this for myself as The Last Adventure Of The Decade Project.

I wanted to do something after– I wanted to something for The Decade Project, some final trip, some interesting thing to do and photograph before the year is over, but also, I have complicated feelings about motorcycles, in general. I’ve loved them since I was a high school kid, but I had one in about, whatever, the year 2000 and it was a– I could ride it and I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t handle the cost, and I was in a bad state of mind back then.

Eventually, it was damaged, towed, I racked up fines. My insurance lapsed. One night, out of desperation, I pushed the bike to a Brooklyn parking garage. Got my parking stub, walked away, and never looked at the bike again. It was, ultimately, repossessed and auctioned. It fucked up my credit. It was a shining example of my psychological health at the time. In some way, this revisiting of motorcycle ownership is an attempt to do it correctly, right a wrong, come full circle, etc. etc…. and, uh, finally get the bike I really wanted back then.

The bike I got at the time was cheaper and smaller, because I couldn’t afford this one, which is the one I wanted. Anyway – the idea is to ride it safely, embrace ownership, maintain it, keep it, hang onto to it until the end of its life like a classic car. It’s already almost 20 years old. It has, as of yesterday, 56,340 miles on it. Well maintained. These engines can clock 200,000, 300,000 miles, if you take good care of them. More, really. Can I keep this motorcycle and maintain it, and enjoy it, and strip motorcycle ownership of all this emotional significance? That’s an open question.

My entire focus is on safe riding, conscientious riding, taking my time, not pushing myself, and constantly evaluating throughout the trip ahead, whether I should continue or whether I should stop, and have the bike shipped back to New York. I’m going to maintain that option throughout the upcoming journey because I don’t want to ride past my skill level. I don’t want to have the calendar and timing at my back.

I don’t want to feel pressured or rushed. I want to enjoy it. Again, top priority is safety. With safety in mind, I have all of the appropriate gear. I will not get on it without the appropriate gear. I am spending these days in Pasadena, before I depart, riding the bike every day. Familiarizing myself with its weight, handling, and characteristics. Obviously, I can ride a motorcycle, but each one has its own quirks, handling, weight distribution, power, braking, and so on.

Two reasons I feel strange about the motorcycle. One is, the decision to purchase it was (even though I researched it and found the perfect bike, and I got it for a very, very low price) a pretty reactive, and angry, and impulsive decision, I think. The only rosy interpretation of the purchase was the idea of doing something fun, and amazing, and visually beautiful for The Decade Project before the year is over, but the other things that motivated it are all pretty dark.

One is, as I already mentioned, revisiting my motorcycle experience from 20 years ago. I also did it, in part, in reaction to the 18 months of quarantine and feeling trapped, stifled, and insane, to the extent we all felt trapped, and stifled, and insane, being inside for so long, while death was blowing around in the wind. Moreso, it was a reaction to working on [redacted].

[Entire paragraph redacted.]

Sorry, the purchase of the motorcycle in reaction to that experience is a little peculiar, hard to explain…

It reminds me of deciding (again, angrily and impulsively) to run the New York City Marathon in 2008 after [Female Human Person A] and I broke up for the second time. The two things were not in any way discernibly related, but that was the reaction I had. In my mind, the sentence dancing around my head was something like, “Fuck you, I’m running the marathon.” Not that she would care, not that we ever talked about marathons, or it was something to prove to her, it was just– It was where I put my energy and reaction to something I couldn’t control. I think this is a similar thing.

I think now that I am here with the motorcycle – and I leave on Sunday morning, the 20th. Now that I’m here with it, I’m just contending with the reality of it. I own this thing, I’m going to take it on a fairly long trip, and I have to calm down, let the last 18 months go. Again, strip this purchase, this adventure from the nastier motivations that informed it, and get from where I am right now mentally, to a place of enjoyment.

My hope is that, over the course of this trip, as I put miles underneath my ass, that I really let that stuff go, enjoy the experience a little bit more each day. The idea would be, the hope would be that when I arrive home in New York, well, I’m ready to get into a new job, give myself a break, put the pandemic and that job behind me, and dig into, A, some really fun things that lie ahead, like making The Decade Project book, finding a new job that is enjoyable and rewarding.

I had something else in mind, but I forgot it. Anyway [slurps] – drinking a little coffee there. Yes, I want to really cleanse my soul on the road, it’s very middle age, middle life crisis-ey, it’s very American and On the Road-y, it’s very male in a cliché way to get a motorcycle when you’re in your 40s. It’s all very funny. But! It’s also beautiful and awesome.

A couple of meat and potatoes things: I met the bike for the first time after dinner with Micah, Daniel, and Jenny and sat on it for the first time. Took the motorcycle cover off for the first time, started the engine for the first time, and contended with its weight for the first time. I have to admit, again, I was pretty intimidated– By the way, I’m circling the bike as we talk. I was pretty intimated, and then the next day, I woke up in the morning like today, before I went back to bed and fell asleep until 1:00 in afternoon.

Looked at it and contemplated it, and [chuckles] felt its raw power and wondered, whether it outclassed me or what? Hesitant to ride it, to really put on the gear, fire it up, back this 520-pound motorcycle out of the driveway, but ultimately, I did it. My first ride was just out of Micah’s driveway, and around the blocks here locally, rectangle, bigger rectangle, bigger rectangle, one block, two blocks, three blocks, eight blocks, right turns only, right turns only, right turns only, and then left turns only, left turns only, left turns only.

Once I was on it and it was moving, and those initial, those first initial quirks of brake sensitivity, the instrument cluster, the sound that the ABS servos make when you press the brake or apply the front brake. Getting used to all that stuff, wearing the jacket in 90-degree heat, the helmet, field of view, all that stuff. Just cruising around going over the little speed bumps on his block, and using the signals and getting up to speed in second or third gear. Once it’s moving, it’s nimble and maneuverable, is really nice.

I rolled back into the driveway after about five miles, killed the engine, put the side stand down, got off the bike, and I actually said, [chuckles] to my surprise, to the bike, I put my hand on it and I said, “I love you.” [laughs] I went out for a second ride. A little later did the same thing, all the big rectangles locally. I was stopped at a light in the red– Sorry, stopped at a red light in the right lane of two lanes, and I probably had four cars stopped in front of me in my lane, and four in the lane to the left.

What I didn’t notice is just to my right, there was a parking lot for a little strip mall of stores. Across to my left, there was a woman in a big SUV, who was trying to turn left into that lot. I was like, “Oop, oh shit.” I was blocking it, so I rolled forward, and I’ll be damned if the bike didn’t start to lean. I’m going not even a mile an hour, just moving forward, the bike started to list to the right, and I was like, “Oh, shit, no way.”

Kablunk. The bike dropped, I rolled off of it onto the pavement, [chuckles] she was like, “Oh, my God, are you okay?” I was like, “Yes, just hang out for one second.” I squatted next to the bike, put my back against it, and lifted up the 520-pound motorcycle, got back on, started the engine, and drove away. As I flopped onto the street, I actually said the word, “Good.” Over the past month or so, I’ve been going deep on YouTube videos about motorcycling technique, cornering, braking, really, really deep – way deeper than I ever did 20 years ago when I first got a bike.

There’s this dude, Fast Eddie, and I think he lives in San Diego, he’s a marine. He makes all these videos about safety techniques, his mantra is, “Shut up and practice,” just practice, practice, practice, take classes, practice. One of his videos said, “You’re going to drop it,” and he did a whole video about not being afraid to drop the bike, the bike falls when you’re practicing at low speed, you’re moving at low speed, that’s when the bike is going to tip over. It happens, let it happen, expect it to happen, pick it up, keep going.

He does all these videos in parking lots where he does u-turns and figure-eights and high-speed breaking, and demonstrates one technique, talks about it, draws illustrations in a pad, and then he goes out and demonstrates it, he does it. He shows the order of operations, what you do first, what you look for whatever like, “body, head, bike.”

Shift your body to the place you want to be, look where you want to go, then move the bike, this sort of thing. Anyway, I fell down, I was just like, “Good. Got it over with.” Blump, dropped it. I didn’t drop it in a parking lot. I dropped it in front of traffic, and I’ve got this woman like, “Oh, my God are you all right? It’s hot out.” (Which I thought was hilarious and confusing, by the way. It’s HOT out?) I said, “I’m okay. Can you just stay there for a second, so I can pick this up?”

Her truck blocked me from the cars behind us, and I picked the thing right up and I got right back on, started it right back up, and just shook my head, like, “Damn it.” Mostly just at the embarrassment, but happy that it happened, and it wasn’t a big deal. It helps with the fear, this idea that it might happen. It’s like, “Ah”, plunk. Oh, there it is. It’s down in the middle of the road. [laughs] You just pick it up and keep going.

Then, yesterday, last thing, I met up with Ryan Schude, we’re going to do a photo of me and the bike on Friday. I met him at a bar, just I think in Highland Park, just south of South Pasadena. I rode down there, we hung out for a while, shot the shit. I had pineapple juice and seltzer. He had a couple of martinis, but we shot the shit. It was really nice to see a friend and a human being, post-pandemic.

Schude in Highland Park

It was really nice. We sat in the dark and took some photos, and shot the breeze, talked about the photo we’re going to do. Then, I rode home. I’ll just note that riding home, this was ride three of the day. The temperature was no longer in the fucking 90s. It was LA weather, 78, the sun was lower in the sky, and it was just glorious. The light was pretty, the air was cool.

I’m staying off highways, just doing local roads, little local winding roads. It was just really pretty and relaxing. I will note also, one thing about the motorcycle is, it’s so unlike driving a car, not for the obvious reasons, like, “Ooh, it’s got two wheels,” and whatever. All four of your limbs are engaged when you ride. When you ride a motorcycle, your attention has to be complete, not only on the road and the traffic, as it should be when you’re driving, even though everyone’s on their fucking phones.

Balancing the bike, controlling the bike in curves, when you’re stopping, when you’re accelerating, when you’re navigating traffic, making turns, whatever, it is complete focus that is required. It’s like playing the drums, you don’t play the drums and multitask, you play the drums. Riding a motorcycle is similar. Everything is engaged, you’re doing this one thing. I think that’s what lends itself to focus, meditation, like a meditative state, it relaxes the brain.

It’s like playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s all encompassing, and this is just what you’re doing. It clears everything out of your head in a really nice way. An effective purgative for all the demons living in your head. Just that ride home, I just had hung out with Schude. I was going back to Micah’s, I’m finding my way back to his place, but it does center you, relax the brain and keep you focused on one thing, which is really nice.

Anyway, I came back here, and in all yesterday, my first day on the bike, I did 30.9 miles. It was great. One drop. [chuckles] Last thing, because I’m getting on 25 minutes here and I am only assuming that the recorder is working. [chuckles] I’d be really pissed if it doesn’t record. The plan. The plan is, I am leaving here on Friday morning as early as possible, and I am going up toward, and into actually Sequoia National Park.

I want to see the General Sherman tree, which is, obviously, it’s one of the notable sites in America’s national parks. My parents went there in the ’60s, and shot Super 8, which I really liked. I would like to go there and do my version of the same thing. Then, I have a campsite somewhere nearby, already reserved it. I think it’s called the Azalea campground.

That’s my first day.

I’m going to leave here, see General Sherman, find my campsite, and park my ass there, have food and sleep in my tent. The next night, I go to a place called Granite Falls, which is another campsite. It’s near, I think the closest town is Truckee, California, and same thing. Then, on days three and four, I’m going to make my way through the route, takes me through Nevada and Idaho, on my way to Montana, and where I am headed is the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America National Rally, which is Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday of next week.

It’s 5,000 motorcycles, camping, food, vendors, blah, blah, blah. I am actually taking two courses. They are riding courses, because as Fast Eddie will tell you, the best investment you can make in motorcycling is yourself, take classes. You don’t need to trick out the bike, change the bike, add things to the bike, buy farkles and bling, and your exhaust upgrades and all that shit.

Invest in yourself, train yourself, increase your confidence, learn everything about the bike, learn your limits, and then learn to exceed those limits. It’s increasing your confidence, increasing your familiarity, so that you feel as comfortable on a motorcycle as you do in a car. You have to jam on the brakes, you jam on the brakes. (It’s actually an incremental, steady, sort of exponential increase in brake pressure.) That part I can already do. I guess what I mean is not “you have to jam on the brakes” I mean “you have to stop quickly.”

Anyway, so course one is a cornering class, and cornering is the most challenging part of motorcycling. It’s the hardest part. It’s where the most early rider accidents happen, because people fail to negotiate curves. They come in too hot, they’re afraid to brake. They’re afraid to lean, and schmucks crash into guardrails, dump their bikes, hammer on the brakes and panic. This is a cornering class that teaches cornering techniques on your own bike.

I take the RS and I take this class, and I think I will probably be cornering faster or more aggressively than I’m used to, but learning those limits is, it’s essential. Otherwise, rather than trusting the machine and trusting your skill and knowing what’s possible, fear exists at those margins. You don’t quite know what you’re capable of. You don’t quite know what the bike is capable of, and so you’re scared. Cornering, cornering, cornering.

I like the idea of doing– Well, obviously, I like the idea of doing the cornering class. In terms of structuring the trip, a handful of days on the bike with specific destinations, achievable mileage, not pushing myself, leaving in the morning, taking multiple breaks to hydrate and rest, and eat some food to get myself to the rally. Then, I have four days to hang out. I take classes to increase my skills, meet other people. Photograph for The Decade Project, whatever, eat some fucking hotdogs.

Then, I take another class which is, it’s a class that they give motorcycle police. It focuses on, I think mostly throttle control, braking, low speed riding, which is its own challenge. Cornering is the thing, but again, most people dump their bikes when they’re doing what ought to be easy, like a U-turn in a gas station parking lot.

You do like one mile an hour U-turns on a 520-pound motorcycle. You weave through all, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, one class is cornering, and the other is throttle control and low speed maneuvers. The police class is taught by motorcycle cops. It’s an actual curriculum they give the motorcycle police. I’m looking forward to that too. Two classes, the first two days, and then it’s up to me to leave on day three or day four or day five. I don’t really know yet.

Camping is provided. I just get there, put down my stuff, and I can fart around and look at bikes and take a ton of photos, and take my classes and stay all four days, or I can get my ass in gear, that is to be determined. I guess, the idea, the remainder of the trip after the rally would be, ride home to New York. I would be meeting Michelle at Akwassasne, for 4th of July weekend.

We go to the lake every year, so that would be the plan. That is predicated on my feeling good, my feeling confident and safe, and believing that I can do it again without pushing myself, either in terms of time and mileage, or skill level. I believe, getting to the rally in the time I’ve allotted is doable, not crazy, and will be enjoyable. Then, taking classes at the rally to further boost my confidence, I think is a great idea and was a good choice.

Then, I’ll see. I may decide not to go all the way to New York, and maybe a cross country trip on a motorcycle by a new motorcycle rider is, or a re– Whatever. New motorcycle rider reprise 20 years after the fact. If that’s aggressive, insane, too ambitious, I’ll bail. I may just try to go to the Badlands in South Dakota and stay in the same campsite I’ve stayed twice before, and maybe putter around for a few days in the West with no destination at all.

Maybe just ride for an additional week, and maybe not put a lot of miles on the bike, but just explore and photograph with no deadline or destination in mind. When I’m done, arrange, like… “Okay, that’s it. I have to be in New York in six days, or in four days. Or whatever.” Arrange to have the bike shipped home and get a one-way flight to New York, go to Brooklyn, see Michelle and Gladys, take a shower and just go up to Akwassasne in the car.

I’m maintaining that option. Every day is an evaluation. Do I feel good? Am I over-tired? Overly stressed out? No? Cool. Do I think I can put a couple hundred miles on the bike today and see some stuff, and then take photos and have a nice dinner? Great, let’s keep going. Basically, between Pasadena and the rally is planned, and set in stone. I have no concerns about that leg.

After that, I will make an evaluation day-by-day and see how I do. That’s it. Anyway, this is audio entry one. I’m going to try to do this as much as possible, because it is enjoyable to keep this record. My coffee is cold. I’m going to make another one. The end. Let’s see… how you stop this thing? [END OF AUDIO]

MOTORCYCLE DIARY PART 2