Because the three travelers portrayed here offer such a powerful message, I’m compelled to bring a piece of it to you here. By the end of this article I will have gotten to the point and hope that the idea will have bled through in sufficient quantity to affect the lives of at least a few.
For each rider I’ll offer what little I know from our encounters together. Though this may not provide an abundance of information, I believe it will be enough.
I’ll start with Rocky—who got his name because be used to travel with a raccoon.
For some years I’d seen this guy working at the large motorcycle rallies for a big outfit called Racepro. They sell a variety of motorcycle accessories such as carburetors, clutch mods, etc. Though I’m familiar with these guys because I also work for vendors and we all tend to know each other at least to some extent, it wasn’t until this year when Racepro hired me to help set up their outfit that and I came to know Rocky. It seemed impossible not to find his story intriguing.
A friendly little dude who’s quite the perfectionist, Rocky was born completely deaf. Although he has a good home and wife of multiple decades, for the entirety of his 70 years this guy has been an avid, if not obsessed, motorcyclist. In his youth Rocky was heavily immersed in the dirt bike scene and spent much of his time at the motocross track while working as mechanic for some of the largest racing outfits out there. Unable to hear the tone of a motor, it’s said that Rocky can tune an engine to perfection by the feel of vibration coming through the handlebars. And although Rocky still works as a wrench, he’s undeniably a serious rider as well.
Though Rocky reads lips, communication with him requires effort and pieces of a conversation are sometimes lost to both parties. Still, my interest in conversation with him eventually led to the photo album in his phone and that’s when it hit me. For many, many years Rocky has been making regular, solo, multiple month, cross country, motorcycle journeys.
What I also gathered from our sometimes spotty conversations is that, among a few of the other health problems that accompany age, last year Rocky found himself in a battle for his life against cancer. After many painful treatments, the time for one of his long rides came up and Rocky simply left town. As he tells it, “Three hundred miles out I remembered I had an appointment for another treatment the next day. What the hell, I decided, I’m just gonna keep going. When I returned a month later the doctor ran more tests and determined that the cancer was gone.”
“Motorcycle medicine,” I replied, “The great cure-all.” and we got a good laugh outta that one.
At the time of this writing Rocky is on a two months solo ride from his home in Jacksonville Florida to California where he’ll then turn north for Oregon and Washington.
Next we have Michelle Hope.
Years ago Michelle walked away from the high paying corporate job that was slowly sapping the life from her very spirit, pushed her expensive furniture to the curb with a sign that read “Free”, loaded a few belongings into her little car, and left the state. With no previous motorcycling experience, the influence of a Softail rider named Kim lit a spark and Michelle soon purchased a 1985 Honda Shadow for $800. After practicing on the motorcycle for only a week, Michelle liquidated what possessions (including the car) would not fit aboard the bike, packed the remainder on, and hit the road. At first she encountered those problems that are bound to plague any traveler new to the road; but it was “out there” she soon discovered that the little voice deep in her gut, the one that had always yearned for freedom, was in truth the sound of some deep seated passion.
Having been a graphic artist for the corporation, Michelle was also a painter and for a time brought in money illustrating children’s books. Eventually however, she took to working for rally vendors such as I do. But this was an avenue she pursued only for the money.
Over the years of continuous road-life with her little dog 2Lane as companion, the Shadow’s engine began to drink oil and make disturbing noises. After ignoring the racket for quite some time, Michelle finally gave eBay $200 for another motor and installed it with the help of her son James. In time however, that engine began to suffer similar problems.
But it was not to last.
One sunny afternoon, while traveling through a small Georgia town, Michelle stopped into a Harley dealership to sit for a while, drink coffee, and socialize with the patrons there. One of the customers took a liking to her that day and, noting the beat up Honda, bought her a new/used/trade-in motorcycle. It was a 2007 Suzuki Boulevard with very low miles. As she tells the story, “The experience was very emotional for every customer present. It was the act of such extreme kindness that inspired these feelings you see. At one point they were holding hands around the new bike and praying. Some were running into the shop to buy me accessories, and a few even shed real tears.” By late afternoon Michelle had moved her belongings onto the new bike, left the Honda behind, and road away; never to hear from the man who’d been so kind to her again.
To date Michelle and 2Lane still travel aboard that bike.
Michelle always ventures ahead, for she keeps no house at which to return. Being part hippie-chick, Michelle’s a vegan, holds great interest in natural medicine, and actively pursues spiritual advancement techniques such as yoga. After seven years of continuous road life Michelle decided the time had come to pursue this passion as well. Returning to San Diego, she enrolled at the International Professional School of Bodywork. But the degree she sought would require a two year commitment. So Michelle purchased a used RV and, as so many do in that city these days, parked on a street near her school for an easily walk or short motorcycle ride to class. For you see, Michelle had grown used to the absence of debt and did not want to complicate her studies with the pressure of rent.
At the end of those two years Michelle graduated, sold the RV, and has returned to the nation’s highways as a massage therapist/holistic health practitioner.
I’ve never seen her happier.
Michelle can be contacted at facebook via Michelle Hope, and her numerous drifter stories are also available online in the Gypsy Bikers section of hdopenroad.com.
Last but not least is Brother Speed.
Though I’ve known this man the longest and once even stayed a night at his house, our many encounters have often been brief and it’s quite possible that, of those depicted here, he’s who I know the least about. So I’ll just relate what I do know…
For many years I’ve seen Speed in various parts of the country. By spring, he ties the old Shovelhead (heavily decorated with a million coins and other memorabilia) into the back of his pickup truck (which looks to be a 1960something model) then takes off to attend the huge summertime motorcycle rallies scattered across the U.S. In fact, I just saw him at North Carolina’s Myrtle Beach motorcycle rally last May.
Brother Speed tells me he cruises the old truck along at about 50mph while traffic whizzes by. He’s also talked of a few rather major breakdowns where he was forced to unload the bike, run for parts, then sleep in the cab when the truck’s repairs took longer than the time left in that day.
Brother Speed generally works rallies as a night watchman for the Broken Spoke Saloon or its equivalent. While there, Speed covers the truck’s cab with a thick tarp for darkness then sleeps inside by day. But I believe Brother Speed makes these journeys mostly for the purpose of being out in the world, doing what he loves, and staying close to his lifelong passion of motorcycling.
Brother Speed is 80 years old.
This man is not computer literate and for more info about his unusual journey you will simply have to approach him at a rally.
For most of us, when considering the actual pursuit of what may to date have been considered only a dream, the mind will often invent the usual excuses and fears such as: I’m to old; I don’t have enough money; I’m to weak; I’m a girl; It isn’t the responsible thing! (like going out to enjoy the life God gave me isn’t the most responsible thing I can do with it); You might break down! (I’m sure that’ll be the end of the world); Something terrible could happen! (but never at home right?); You’re not gonna have a good time anyway (as if the mind’s already been there and knows all about it.); etc. etc. Yet in the face of all these imagined concerns, and against what might even be considered insurmountable odds by the standards of many, the men and woman portrayed here have instead taken easily to the reality of their dreams. For me, their stories offer a powerful message: It would seem that, for those who dare to dream of the highway’s freedoms, or possibly any other passion for that matter, 80% of the real obstacle lies in the mind, while only 20% constitutes the material part of such a venture.
Over the years many have called to ask me for advice on their upcoming motorcycle tour. My reply is always the same: Get all the things you think you’ll need, bungee them to the bike, pick up your balls, set them on the seat, and hit the gas…