Filed in Zen (Chan), Travel

The Loneliest Road in America

Zen and the art of motorcycle ridingAlex Tzelnic

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We dropped down from Lake Tahoe into the Great Basin. The signage warned us about a veritable Noah’s Ark of animal life: bear, deer, cattle, moose, horses, men on horses, men on tractors. It got hot, fast. Ninety-two miles in we had lunch in Fallon, Nevada. Then we entered the desert, our motorcycles shredding the silence.

When I mentioned to Hunter, my riding companion, that the next stretch of 409 miles was known as the Loneliest Road in America, his response was “Well, I’m the loneliest man in America.”

Hunter was fleeing a relationship and riding with me back to the East Coast. I had set out from Cambridge on my motorcycle some seven weeks and 7,000 miles earlier, pinballing around the cities of the Midwest and then whipping across the plains and over the mountains to Seattle. I joked with friends that I was just swinging by Seattle to pick Hunter up. The truth is, our journeys happened to align. And yet I wasn’t sure what had caused me to fling myself out on the road once again. I had nothing to flee. Maybe it was like John Steinbeck said: “Once a bum always a bum.”

Hunter tore ahead astride Rhonda, his 1979 CB750. Rhonda had a menacing growl and a whole host of complications. She was in her dirty thirties, we joked—a longtime smoker. We wondered if she could make it through the desert unscathed. We wondered if we could make it through the desert unscathed.

I cruised steadily behind on Darsan, my 1990 BMW K75, so named because the Hindu concept of darshan—witnessing and being witnessed by the divine—has long intrigued me. And what better way to take darshan of America than on a motorcycle?

In his own American motorcycle journal, Robert Pirsig wrote, “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” But what about valleys? Hunter and I were about to find out . . .

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