As well as renting a room and having a job again, I now have a car to move me between the two and that means I might survive the winter after all.

Operating the car is effortless, like a kind of teleportation. Softly depress a featherlight pedal and gravity shifts as the light of the world flickers and changes; momentarily, lightning-quick I move from point A to point B without really occupying the space in between, without feeling wind or heat, smelling nothing and feeling nothing except the dull stagnant air inside the car-pod. Shifting is eerily easy, just a casual rearrangement of certain items in the cockpit, and driving is just a set of ritualized, abstract motions that I repeatedly perform inside the car to facilitate this voodoo travel. But ease is comforting and not always bad.

Time flits by again; my daily routine is as dull and invisible as it was before. I read, watch TV, play video games.

I thought it would be harder to find places to sleep on the trip, especially since I had to find places where I could safely hide the bike, but it was never a problem and always getting easier. At night we live inside narrow corridors of light, our world suddenly collapsed to a web of illuminated scratches on the dark globe — take literally just a couple steps outside that illumination and you disappear. Night after night I threw down my sleeping pad just a few yards from the road, still surrounded by the roar of traffic but safe because I was invisible, gone off the map. I was never disturbed because no one ever stepped outside the light to stumbled over me.

Before this trip I would have scoffed at the idea of traveling with a computer- simplify, right? But not only did this little laptop facilitate cheap convenient bulk communication, it formed the glowing heart of a body of words in which I so often dwelt. On the many mornings when I woke and it was too cold to ride but also too cold to sit around for hours until the sun rose high, I’d ride to the next fast-food spot, buy a coffee (and maybe a sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuit) and plug in. When the flipped-open screen filled with light a capsule of words rose up around me and I was gone, warm coffee clenched in quaking hand –gone and happy. You can do the same with a piece of paper, of course, it’s one of our oldest and best gifts — strike the stone and words spring up- but there are times when electrically-powered words are comforting. Bang on the table and up it springs, a symbol-encoded world like the one Neo saw in The Matrix when he at last perceived the green streaming code behind reality — not an escape from the world but a version of it, a lens, a watery bubble in which I spent hour after hour.

It’s not just the car that’s easy; there’s a sense of ease running through everything. It was stronger in the first few days, but it lingers still. My internal organs feel loose, slippery and good, as if freshly oiled or more efficiently configured.

There is something inside me. I used to think it was a hollow chamber, a large cavity rife with perfect sound, booming and ululating, but sometimes it moves. Sometimes it moves, powerfully, gently, shifting, sliding, convulsing, as smoothly as a magnetic field reversing, sad, ecstatic, music-like. Sometimes I almost choke and stumble — there are feelings for which we have no names. Now I wonder if it might be some kind of heavy compass, swinging- what really drives us, when we finally act?

My soul is made of lands.


I-10, I-20, I-85, I-95, home: October 26- November 6, about 3,500 miles.

Keeping it steady at 60, my odometer becomes a clock. In states where the interstate exits are numbered by their mileage, time, distance, and fast food all become interchangeable, just different manifestations of the same quantity; high on their slender stalks the colorful signs for restaurant and gas station chains are like giant flowers or minutes.

Again and again I don’t realize how cold I am until I get off the bike to refuel and start shaking and can’t stop for ten minutes, twenty, half an hour. When I’m riding I don’t notice because I slip into a cold torpor, the blood supply to my limbs silently restricted to maintain the temperature of my central organs while all of me goes just numb enough to not notice; my hands become unresponsive claws and my legs become weak as a child’s and I don’t even notice until I try to clutch, brake, stop and stand. I wobble and lurch into the bathroom to hold my hands under the faucet. The lights and colors are disorienting and my brain feels sluggish. The hot water sears me like sunlight on a vampire, not because it’s too hot but because my hands are too cold.

Once the pain goes away the warmth feels like liquid joy seeping into my hands, like life animating dead tissue, like happiness running into my lonely blood. I think, desperately: if I could curl up in this handful of hot water, that could be home. I could be home now. I could live out the rest of my days happy and warm in a truckstop bathroom sink.

Haunting me is the knowledge that I’m still only in Texas, still as far south as I can be, and I’m so damn cold. I haven’t even turned north yet, and when I do it’ll only get a thousand miles worse. Lying on the grass at a rest area in east Texas and trying to warm up in the thin sunlight I think long and hard about selling the bike; sell the bike and buy a bus ticket home. Yeah.

But I don’t. When I cross out of Texas and into Louisiana I feel much better; Texas is just a hard state to cross, too big. I enjoy a psychological boost- although a mile is a mile no matter what state I’m in, after spending two nights in Texas I now cross a couple states a day and it feels great. I feel like I’m in the East now, closer to home than not.

I see my grey face in the restroom mirror. I wash it almost every time I stop, but every day it gets a little greyer. Maybe this is my natural coloration now. Finally I realize that the grime isn’t washing off because the dark, oily patina isn’t water soluble. I spend 10 minutes in hard scrub and get my face back.

Stranger still, I look closely at my eyes and see foam. My eyes sting, they sting even when I stop riding and they still sting the next day, and along the edge of my eyelid is a thin line of white foam. It’s not normal eye junk, it looks more like the froth made by waves against a lakeshore; from constant irritation by the wind, maybe, but I can’t just stop.

The universe is a place of cruel but beautiful balance. The colder it is, the harder it is to start my bike and the longer I have to spend pushing it up and down hills, the hotter I get from the exertion. If it’s dropped below freezing when I wake up, then I spend a half hour or 45 minutes struggling behind a cold lump of iron on two worn rubber wheels until I’m gasping, soaked in sweat, and sweltering under my layers when the engine roars good morning. But I never doubt that it will start. It always starts. It may be the greatest bike ever made. Blasting down the onramp I smile ecstatically as the sweat freezes to my body.

I forget who I am from moment to moment. Without the constant reinforcement of social interaction, without being told who I am by those around me, I start to dissolve. I’d like to say I have a strong identity wired to a solid, tempered center, but the truth is I’m a loosely associated set of reactions. On the interstate I’m isolated from both people and land and become little more than a ghost hunched over in forward flight.

The ride up the east coast is a short few days,and the last day is a short ride, only a couple hundred miles across New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts on a warm and beautiful day. It’s barely dark and barely cold when I roll back into Manchester 13,758 miles after I left it.

Weatherford, Texas (mid-continent)

Along I-10 east of L.A. were acres and acres of windmills filling the fields and lining the ridges; they were different sizes but all were white with three slender blades whirling slowly like diatoms turning in the surf. In Arizona, south of I-8, F-16’s played low over the desert, dazzlingly fast and viciously nimble. Across the length of West Texas oil derricks bobbed beside I-20, rising and falling in slow prayer.

The Sonoran Desert reaches tentatively up out of Mexico into the southwest corner of Arizona, where it is mostly encompassed and protected within Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I spent one night there.

It was everything I, as someone from New Hampshire, imagined a desert should be. It was larger than life, a Technicolor cartoon desert of bright red mountains and and huge green cacti; the plants were so strange, vivid and numerous that the red hills seemed lush even while they parched and baked in the heat. It was cactus Disneyworld.

The saguaro is cactus prime, the ur-cactus, the ideal cactus of our collective imagination, that giant green pole with one or two fat arms that has become the icon for cactus. It’s the cactus that appears on every sign for every Mexican restaurant in the world and the Sonoran is thick with them, although in real life they don’t wear sombreros. They’re 10 or 20 feet high and stretch out in all directions like trees without branches, a forest of odd green trunks that dominates the landscape.

The organ pipe cactus is a dense cluster of vertical spires or fingers 10 or 15 feet high. The individual fingers are about half as thick as a saguaro trunk but the cactus as a whole is just as green and striking. Each one is a big fat bunch of green organ pipes, a whole handful of cactus, all the cactus you could want. I didn’t see too many from the main road but from the dirt road that ran out to the mountains I could see them everywhere, their gothic silhouettes crowding the hills.

The creosote bush was omnipresent but barely there, like a wispy olive-colored mist. They’re like sketches of bushes, just collections of twigs so sparsely dusted with dark green they look leafless. They’re actually covered with leaves but the leaves are so tiny, just a few millimeters long, that they’re almost like stubby evergreen needles. The branches break easily and seem almost dry inside, as if they’re barely alive, or as if the bush feels no need to struggle because it has some other secret strategy. Crush the leaves and the sweetest smell in the world billows out, a sweet, tangy tar smell, a passionate smell in the desert.

There were two kinds of short cholla cacti. The chainfruit cholla looks like a miniature cactus version of a tree just a few feet high that lowers its linked fruit from its branches in spiny braids. The teddybear cholla is even shorter and spinier, a lumpy mass of golden-needled paws.

There were prickly pear, although I didn’t see any of their spiny purple fruit. There were ocotillo there, too, still fascinating. They only grow leaves after a rain, the rest of the time they’re just slender barbed whips clawing the sky. People break off the 15-foot strands and make fences out of them. In the wild they look like the skeletons of murdered plants.

I rode the 20 mile dirt loop out to the Ajo Mountains at dawn. At one point when I stopped I heard rocks clattering on a hill and looked up to see what looked like a tiny wild pig scrambling between the plants. It was short and dark, only a foot and a half long, and then I saw others. They were javelinas and there was a herd of about a dozen of them moving over the hill. They walked in single file and it was strange to watch, strange to see such clear herd behavior in such small animals, as if they were guinea pigs pretending to be buffalo.

As I rode I watched great swaths of the red, green and gold desert illuminate.