the face of america, 2003

I was sent out ahead of the pack about 20 miles, intending to help control traffic at an rural no-signal intersection with poor visibility. Instead, I decided to set up camp 2 miles closer at the steel grate bridge. We hadn’t planned on the fog and mist rolling in off of the ocean, and the problems we actually were prepared for suddenly became secondary.

My Suzuki’s low-fuel light had gone from solid to blinking at some point, but I couldn’t remember when. I put the sidestand down on the concrete shoulder about 500 feet from the bridge deck. Hell if I knew where I was, or where the next gas stop might be. Didn’t really think about it. There was no traffic to speak of. I clicked open the topcase, traded my helmet for a rain hat, lit a few flares, and pulled out my cell phone.



“How’s Missouri?”

“Tough. For a lot of reasons. But its good just being here and seeing everyone. We’re in the car listening to your CD right now. Thank you.”

“I was listening to yours last night.”

“What are you up to?”

“Sitting on a bridge. In New Jersey. There are some ducks, rain, my motorcycle, some flares…”

“Sounds perfect.”

(Those innocuous conversations were the ones that hit the hardest, making you realize that life was a lot bigger than you could handle on your own, and not in that painfully predictable melodramatic detached This American Life kind of way, despite how similar it sounds).

On the horizon, I saw the first wave. The pros came through quickly and quietly, but behind them was the real story. The NYC/DC firefighter team was first, each pulling 10′ US flags attached to their bicycles despite the brutal coastal winds from the storm system. Then the blind pedalers on the tandem bikes with their lead riders calling out cues to them. The team of Palestinian and Israeli bombing victims, riding together… most on modified handbikes since they were missing limbs. Senior citizens who usually got sagged out, but tried like hell anyway. Office workers, concerned citizens, family members, total strangers. Hundreds and hundreds of people, all pedaling from Manhattan to DC… without a real unifying cause or banner.

The next day, during the last 10 feet of an incredible 300 mile journey, my friend Michelle and I somehow crashed our motorcycles into each other at speed. It made us better friends.

Leave a Reply