Chapter Three: Damage Control and Facing Fears

Crossing Lake Champlain on a Ferry
Crossing Champlain: the first water crossing of many!

I couldn't believe it. I'd spoken to him not an hour ago, and now I was getting a phone call that I'd been dreading for years. Growing up, I always worried about my dad going out on rides, mostly because of some long-standing, generalized anxiety about the wellbeing of my parents. That said, Dad and I would often talk about motorcycle accidents as one of those "it's not 'if', but 'when'"-type things. If you ride long enough, the odd's edge towards having an accident - I mean, a quick check of the DOT website will show you that, in a mile-by-mile comparison, you're 29-times more likely to die on a motorcycle than in a car.

I think about that statistic sometimes when I'm riding, though only for a moment or two. I think about it when people call me crazy for choosing my bike as my main form of transportation. They ask me "WHY? IT'S SO DANGEROUS."

In short, I default to the standard "adventurer" response: if I let the fear of something dangerous get the best of me, or let the fact that an activity is dangerous stop me from doing something that gives me joy and provides fulfillment in my life, I'd live a very boring life. I accept the risks every time I click into first gear and let off the clutch. I understand the danger involved, and that the only thing I can do is to be as vigilant as possible and stay within the safety margins as much as I can. It's easy for me to accept those risks, but it's hard to swallow sometimes for the people I care about.

I asked the slew of questions that anyone would ask: What happened? How bad are the injuries? What hospital is he at? Do I need to get on a plane and fly down there?

I was, for a lack of a better term, freaking the f*** out. This was my dad, the guy who got me into motorcycles; the guy who has supported me the most on this journey up to now, and the guy who I've always looked to for guidance - and now he's laid up in a hospital.

"He was riding down the highway, and a truck went to pass him on the right side. The guy merged into Dad's lane, and his trailer cut dad's tire out from under him. He broke his leg in three places, broke his hand, and he's got road rash everywhere." Mom told me.

Christ almighty. I went through the crash in my brain, and I could picture it happening in slow motion. The classic "I didn't even see him" situation. The lowside crash. I could see Dad, desperately trying to stay upright, reflexively putting his foot down to catch himself, causing the break. The slide.

Mom told me she'd keep me posted, and I hung up the phone. I put my head in my hands, and leaned my elbows into the kitchen counter. I took some deep breaths, and tried to keep composed. Emily, having listened to me from the other room, came in. I explained the situation, and she gave me a (very comforting) hug, trying to reassure me that everything was going to be fine. She did a great job, being an ER nurse.

That night was hard. There was a lot of back and forth with mom, dad's friend down in Oklahoma, the hospital. After two hours I was finally able to get on the phone with Dad, after which all the anxiety melted away. He was all there - no head injuries, no real worry of him going home and keeling over of a blood clot, and generally in good spirits.

I really felt like this was a bad omen; I mean, less than a week in. I expressed this, saying to Dad, "I gotta say, it's gonna be kinda spooky getting on the road tomorrow after all this."

He didn't miss a beat: "No, you're going to get on the bike, focus on the road, and enjoy your adventure. That's your journey. This is mine, and I'm going to handle it. Okay?" He said.

"You got it, Pop. Touch base tomorrow. Love you."

After a restless night's sleep, I got moving early, heading out around 9am after packing the bike up. I thanked Andrew profusely, and he waved me off as their two dogs paced the yard behind him.

I aimed east towards Plattsburgh, with the goal of purchasing a new laptop to replace y recently destroyed one. The ride north was stunning - the temperatures were perfect, and I subconsciously inventoried the number of trees that showed changing leaves - small flashes of yellow and orange in a sea of evergreens.

I rode east on Route 3 through the heart of the Adirondacks, taking a short detour on County Road 18 just outside of Bloomingdle, NY, a small "blink and you miss it" community about 20 minutes from Saranac. I turned off my headset, taking in the freedom of the open road. It was all so new - for four years, I was tethered to my job, literally and figuratively. I needed the job to support my livelihood, and the trade off was being expected to answer my phone 24/7. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was free.

I stopped in Plattsburgh at a Best Buy, and quickly found out that they didn't have the laptop I needed. I pulled out my GPS, and quickly figured the next best option was about an hour south in Burlington. I hadn't realized until that moment, but I'd need to overcome one of my biggest fears that day: deep, dark waters.

I hate deep water. The thought of ending up in a deep body of water, with viscous, churning, dark green waves around me is enough to make my palms sweat. You could honestly say I'm a full-blown thalassaphobe (look it up.)

So when I realized that I'd have to undertake my first ferry crossing of the trip, my gut churned over. I was afraid, but excited. I'd read of Ted Simon's ferry trip across the Mediterranean, of Ewan McGreggor and Charley Boorman floating up the Nile, and hundreds of blog entries from travelers like myself who've floated across many an "impassable" body of water for sake of time-saving. I always pictured those water crossings as the "ultimate challenge" when traveling, probably due to my fears and trepidations around water itself.

So when it came time to cross Lake Champlain, I embraced it, fears be damned. I rolled up to the ferry dock around 11am, but quickly turned around to gas up the bike - I was running on fumes, and thought that running out of gas on said ferry probably wasn't a good move. While gassing up, another motorcyclist pulled into the lot on a Honda Goldwing, one of my dream bikes. He was dragging a trailer, and had the quintessential "biker" look: leather vest, scraggly beard, a portly stomach spilling over his stained jeans. His name was Rick, and we spoke for a while about our travels. He was on the road involuntarily - he'd been kicked out of the home he shared with his sister, the same home they'd inherited after their parent's passed. He was back in town after spending three months down in Florida with a friend, and I felt bad for him when he said he wasn't sure where he was sleeping that night.

The conversation was a reminder that my travels are an adventure - one that I can end whenever I choose to. But for some, this is their life, and it's not always an idyllic one. I kept this in mind after we parted ways, him heading north, and me heading back to the ferry. I pulled up to the boat ramp and handed the deck hand my ticket; the entire crossing for me and the bike was only $7.50, which shocked me - I've spent almost 4 times that for train tickets into NYC, and here I was, ferrying all of my worldly belongings across one of the largest lakes in the country!

I rolled on, parking at the head of bow of the ship. I got comfortable, removed my helmet, and settled in while the other cars loaded up. As the ship pulled away, I felt my equilibrium shift as the boat broke from the soft lakebed. A cool breeze blew across the lake, and I felt the mist blowing across the deck on my cheeks. To the southwest, the Adirondack High Peaks loomed through a hazy afternoon glow. I pulled out my camera and tried to make a few exposures, but couldn't do the view justice with the wide angle lens, so I just sat back and enjoyed the crossing.

I pulled off the ferry in Grand Isle, standing on my footpegs and smiling like a madman inside my helmet. While riding through Grand Isle, I noticed a biker on the side of the road and pulled over. His name was Jake, and he was pushing his older Yamaha cafe racer on the narrow shoulder. "I just picked it up from the guy who sold it to me! Now it's sputtering out whenever I roll on the throttle." He said.

I checked over the electrical connections, calling on the minimal motorcycle mechanical know-how I've racked up over the last two years. No obvious issues with the battery connections, no issues with the choke. I was about to give up when another guy pulled over and asked if we needed help. His name was Andrew, and it took him all of six seconds to diagnose the problem. I observed closed as he knelt down, looking over the left side of the bike, and watched his hand disappear into the crevices between the seat and the engine. He stood back up, hit the ignition, and the bike fired up.

"Your fuel reserve switch was on - the reserve tank must've run dry!" He told Jake. We all laughed at the simple fix, and I filed that lesson away for the future before moving on.

I rode south to Burlington, determined to get my technological needs filled before the day's end. The entire Best Buy process took all of 20 minutes, and ended with me walking out with a new laptop, and an Apple AirTag that would live in my camera bag until the end of time. Lessons learned the hard way always stick the most, right?

With the afternoon sun falling over the mountains to my left, it was time to finally face another fear: finding camp. I'd camped on motorcycle trips before, but only twice - once on a trip to Maine in 2019, and once in October 2020 on a trip to Ithaca. So to say I was a beginner at vagabondy, boondocky camping would be an understatement. I pulled out my maps and browsed, trying to find a nearby campsite. I checked a few right on the shores of Lake Champlain, but at premium short-notice costs as high as $60 for a basic campsite, it just wouldn't do. Frugality is key to long-term travel, and I'd have to learn to be resourceful sooner, rather than later.

First night's campsite. Simple, cozy, and complete with picnic table!

It took some time, but I found a State Forest about 20 minutes from Burlington - Mount Mansfield. I set the GPS, and rolled east with my new laptop, still in the box, tucked inside my jacket. I pulled in at dusk, luckily snagging the last campsite free of charge. I set up my tent, clumsily fumbling with the tent stakes and rain fly, and then got a fire going. I enjoyed the process of gathering kindling, building my structure, and nurturing the infant flames.

As I settled into my tent, with a belly full of a rehydrated Thai Curry camping meal, I was overcome with a feeling of accomplishment: I felt like an adventurer. I completed a ferry crossing, met some fellow travelers, found a campsite, and didn't get hurt that day. My thoughts calmed as my eyes closed, and I was excited for the next day.

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