An hour or so out of Sedona, Arizona, the red rock ridgelines provide a natural border to the sharpest and clearest blue sky I can remember. Purple wildflowers announce spring in the high desert, and the cool morning air delivers their sweet fragrance, stimulating dormant parts of my technology-anaesthetized senses. My physical body is doing what it was designed to do, embracing the low temperature by pumping extra blood (adrenaline, perhaps?), and the high is clean and the dialogue honest. Out here you can’t escape yourself, even though the landscape stretches to a horizon that is further than a man can walk in one day.
Cutting down into a small canyon on a new BMW R 1200 GS Adventure brings me closer to a steep wall of layered rock thrusting out of the desert floor ahead, each of the multicolored layers a period of compressed time from the countless eons it took to create it. It’s a harsh contrast to my fragile, butterfly existence as I pass so briefly across this ancient land. I wonder if one of the thin dark lines represents a time when man was here before, destined to evolve to extinction, be recreated, and like Sisyphus, start all over again? That I exist here as a living organism capable of conscious thought seems so insignificant to the land around me that it snaps me back front-and-center to my own reality.
Below and to my right a river runs strong, brown from the mineral rich land it has traveled through to get here, as evergreen trees vibrate with color. I lean into the strong wind that pushes the big GS around, engaging my motor skills at near full capacity. Floating over the rough and rocky terrain on the pinnacle of two-wheeled technological evolution while wearing the latest and greatest in off-road adventure touring gear…I wonder if I’m being cool? I read somewhere that being cool needs witnesses; in this vast Arizona desert, I am alone. Cool requires my attention, not my better judgment as a human being. Out here there is no need for it, so I ride on.
Beneath me, I’m aware of the muscles in my legs contracting and releasing in response to the uneven surface we cross. I stand, to better control the motorcycle. I can see my right hand easing on the gas, shutting down for gear changes, as I decelerate into a tight bend. My left hand is working in harmony, feeding the power to the rear wheel, then restricting it at precisely the right moment as I roll off the throttle and squeeze the front brake. My left leg takes the weight as my right foot grazes the rear brake pedal; all my physical functions are in unison as the ground rushes beneath my wheels. My mind is still, my eyes laser-focused advance scouts relaying road conditions and information to the systems processing all these sensitive inputs. Viewed from a short distance, motorcycle and body are rising, falling, sliding, and spitting rocks and gravel from the rear tire. Inside my helmet exists a calm bliss, a complete attention to the moment, as if each heartbeat can be cherished in slow motion. I’ve done it again — I’ve ridden through the storms of past and present to be here in this moment, to be here in a beautiful, wild American landscape. To get out and live.
Photos by Kevin Wing
This story first appeared in the “Neale Bayly Rides” column in “On the Level”.