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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Trip Superlatives

...Because I've been asked:

Favorite states to ride: I couldn't narrow it down to just one, so the top four (in no particular order) are West Virginia, California, Texas, and Utah.

States you should probably skip on your motorcycle: Nebraska, Kansas, Connecticut, New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana

Most dangerous place for motorcycles: New York City (seriously, it's a stupid, stupid, legitimately dangerous place to ride)

Most speed traps / cops: Arkansas, Georgia

Windiest state: tie, South Dakota and Nebraska

Worst drivers: California (putting on makeup and driving do not mix with 6 lane roads)

Friendliest People: South Carolina

Best road quality: Montana (surprising for a winter state)

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20,088 miles, 136 days and 46 states: A Retrospective

It's been a few weeks since I returned to Houston after almost five months on the motorcycle and I'm still not sure the full degree of what I did has entirely sunk in. I set out to do something epic, to see the most beautiful corners of the USA, and to get a feel for what lies in that vast space between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I wanted to *live* America and capture a lifetime's worth of experiences all at once.

I was advised by some to bring a gun, by others to bring a friend, and still others said I shouldn't really do it at all. I'm sure that those who knew me best never expected me to hesitate on account of a few naysayers anyway.

I survived. To me, it seems a silly thing to say, but apparently there was some question about the probability of such a positive result. Despite temptation lurking around each corner and over every hill, I somehow managed to avoid knife fights, shootouts, robberies, brigands, thieves, drug runners, angry wildlife, angry mobs, backwater yokels, meth heads, marauding packs of wolves, high speed crashes and (fatal) freak acts of nature.

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Gulf Coast – The Final Leg

The final leg of my journey was a three-day, 1200-mile sprint from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Houston, TX. With the end in sight, I had to keep reminding myself to breathe deep and take it all in. Luckily, the Gulf Coast is one of the most beautiful areas of the US and can't easily be ignored.

I started the ride by pushing due west through the Everglades, making sure to gas up and get comfortable since there aren't a whole lot of services during that 80 mile trip through the wet wilds of Southern Florida. The highway passes through an almost endless expanse of boggy forest and reeds, separated from the road by a threatening-looking barbed wire fence. Despite my hopes, I didn't see any gators hanging out by the side of the road but there were little white birds everywhere and the flora was nearly bursting through the fence.

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Spanish Moss and Southern Sun

If you've ever ridden a horse on a trail ride, you know that there's usually a point about 3/4 of the way through it that the animal begins to catch the scent of home and becomes more or less completely unmanageable. On my ride into Georgia, I began to see things that looked eerily familiar to me -- a sunny pasture here, a muddy riverbank there, a gnarled tree or two -- and it made it very difficult to concentrate on enjoying the moment when I was awash with the sensation of Texas, of "home".

Which in itself is a strange sort of emotion, since Texas really wasn't my home anymore. I had a bunch of crap in a storage locker and a Jeep stashed in a parking garage in Houston, but otherwise there wasn't anything physically tying me to the Lone Star state. But I was forced to admit to myself exactly how much I was going to miss certain aspects of life there. I grew up in Massachusetts and I've lived in Kansas, Pennsylvania, and New York but none of those places quite inspire the same feelings that arise from a wandering memory of cool rivers and rolling hills beneath a hot Texas sun. I love Texas.

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The Mid Atlantic and the Carolinas

After a brief couple of days grilling, organizing my life, and hanging out at my family's house in Newport, RI, it was back on the road again. I love the Eastern Seaboard for reasons that are entirely unrelated to the quality of the driving there. Because, frankly, the driving sucks. The I-95 corridor is just home to too many humanoids and there's no avoiding them without taking a significant detour inland. So from a motorcycling perspective, my trip down to the southeast was pretty poor, particularly through the length of Connecticut.

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NY to NE

I departed from Pittsburgh, a city of rivers, bridges and steel that positively overflows with character, and headed north via a winding series of narrow highways through the hills that overlooked green valleys and small towns. I soon left the interstate and picked a path along local roads. Sometimes that gamble pays off with amazing scenery and sometimes it becomes stoplight, logging truck, and school bus hell. In this case, it was the latter: I went 80 miles in three hours. On top of that, the cool air made it difficult to find a comfort zone even when I had stretches of road to myself.

Once I finally returned to the highway, it became a race to get to Syracuse before dark. Atypically, this ride was actually much better than the local roads had been. The rolling hills were draped with long fast curves and occasional farms that gave the whole ride a pleasant backcountry feel. The further north I got, the more color began to fill the forests as autumn made its presence known.

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Appalachia Again

I spent a couple days in Franklin TN (just outside of Nashville) with some good friends doing the 1,000 things that I hadn't had time to do while on the road during the past couple weeks. It was great to see them again and great to have some peace and quiet for at least a short while.

I hit the road again on the next major leg of my trip beneath a beautiful blue sky and feeling pretty good about the road ahead. I was particularly excited to get another crack at Eastern Kentucky, a part of the country that left me wanting more after my first time through. After such a long time without seeing much besides flat horizons and forests, I couldn't wait to get into some real hills.

The highway driving was better than it had been in the midwest since the road actually curved and climbed and the weekend truck traffic was light. Even the trees to either side, which spread thick gnarled boughs wide across the way, were an improvement over the monotonous forests of before.

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Pinballing Through the Midwest

After my plane landed in Kansas City again on Sunday morning, I left straight from the airport and rode to Des Moines, IA. The trek north through Missouri wasn't terribly interesting, consisting mostly of forests that hemmed in the highway and occasionally a nice farm or two. The countryside got prettier as I pushed into Iowa and the farms became more common. The crops weren't always harvested yet and the road was sometimes rimmed with meadows of yellow flowers that shone golden in the occasional sunlight.

Des Moines is a pretty city. It's got a simple Midwestern charm combined with patches of modernity. Clean stone buildings flanked the capitol area downtown, which played host to a street fair when I rode past. I found a nice brewery to stay in for a couple hours and soak up the local flavor.

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Nebraska and the Kansas State Fair

Before I'd even started my trip, I had images in my head of riding down from the mountains of Colorado and spending the next week criss-crossing a patchwork countryside of tall golden cornfields and sparse pasture lands with romantically hazy sunsets at my back and surrounded by a pleasant late summer warmth. The reality fell far short of those expectations.

Northeastern Colorado flattened out quickly and the air thickened to the point where I could hardly breathe without having to clear my throat. It was some kind of mixture of cow shit and dust that stung the eyes and lingered in the nostrils. The road cut past enormous cattle farms and stockyards with their plumes of stench so powerful as to make you gag. The rest of the land was wide open commercial farmland with nothing left in the fields but the stubble of cut stalks left behind from the harvest.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Great Colorado Countryside

The journey down from the mountain passes towards Great Sand Dunes National Park continued through the afternoon. We stopped where we could to take pictures of the marvelous countryside.

At last the passes opened up into a much bigger sort of plain, one which had flat land as far as the eye could see. The patchwork of giant squares formed by the intersection of straight country roads every few miles was divided evenly between empty barren spaces and large, dry-looking commercial farms. The mountains stretched out along the edges of the horizon to either side.

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