You’re nobody if haven’t been around the world on a motorbike these days but the grandfather of all the two-wheeled explorers, Nick Sanders MBE, is at it again. The 61-year old is currently on his eighth tour of the globe – and for this 100,000km expedition, he’s riding the new Yamaha Ténéré 700.
In previous circumnavigations the super adventurer has been all about speed, most notably in 2005 when he smashed the Guinness World record for the fastest lap of earth on a bike; 19 days and four hours to be exact. And this feat was made even more astonishing because he achieved it on a Yamaha YZF-R1.
This time though, Sanders is not so bothered about speed and instead looks to raise awareness for the Two Wheels for Life charity and take in the “interesting points of view about the world and its people as I ride on by,” so says the man himself.
Starting off by transporting the Ténéré 700 across the pond to New York, Sanders joins his steed in the Big Apple and heads west. We pick up his journey by sharing photos, comment and stories taken from his own blog as well as those which he shares with us on the occasions he’s got phone service.
“This is whaat a think,” said the truck driver, “you’ve come from that New York an’ I wouldn’t give you spit fer them cos they’re so damn rude, same with them on the east, jus’ as baad.” He looked at me, gauging my reaction which was just blank, just giving him time to dig that hole cos he had a big shovel, “I mean we in the middle of the country have our crazy folk but we keep them hidden in the house so no one can see ‘em, but out there they jus’ as gone an’ roam the streets,” shaking his big head.
He described Californians and New Yorkers as being ‘f**cked up like a soup sandwich,’ and that’s all he had to say even damning whole populations on the east and west coasts of this mighty country he had perhaps more than said enough.
Like me ruminating in my helmet he does the same in his truck. He had to wait for 17 hours because of DOT regulations, stuck right there, his belly squeezed against his steering wheel jamming him in his cab, his short trunk-like legs faced with the enormity of what they had to carry stretching out to reach the pedals. I liked the guy, not what he said but he talked, he was friendly, he had character and I hadn’t spoken or heard a word from any other human all day.
Parked up outside the Mississippi Welcome Centre I went in and a woman at the desk asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee, so I sat down a while to think about that big man outside. We’re all on a million-mile schedule but the truck drivers; they’re the ones who rack up the miles best.
Alongside, the I-20 rumbled on unhesitatingly straight until I re-joined and pulled off at Marshall. I’m in Joe’s Coffee House overlooking a quaint little main street straight out of a Cracker Barrel menu with its faux traditional home-cooked Grandma kind of custard fare and cushions embroidered with the words ‘I Believe’. Still there Joe, still talking and he said the economy in the old days was based on agriculture in what were the antebellum years, the years after the war of 1812 and before the Civil War which he said started in ‘61. I drank my coffee and he said over there, pointing to an impressive building that with its colonnaded frontage looked like a court house, “local planters used enslaved African Americans to harvest tobacco and hemp along with quality livestock,” and then he asked if I’d heard of the Tennessee Walking Horse, which I hadn’t which unbeknown to me with its four beat gaited walk and flashy movement was very famous in these parts and all over the world.
Joe had to serve and I drifted off into my head thinking how if our brains amount to one fiftieth of an average humans body mass – horses fair badly at one to six hundred, about the same as lions, the mind of a dog is about the size of a tangerine but that truck driver said he was related to royalty now he might have been joking but sometimes I meet people in adjacent rooms to where I check in at night and one guy who looked at me leerily must have had a brain about the circumference of a plum. He was a contractor, they all are on the road, and whilst he could probably drive a car it was clear he hadn’t got the hardware to do all of the things humans think they can do, and within minutes after closing my door his snoring started to push through our adjoining wall, the conversation reminded me of my dog.
I just needed the back roads, a little quietness to move through a kinder space and in my time. For a while I was riding on my own and everything began to slow down.
At the end of every day when I check into a hotel there is always someone big who buttonholes me to recite my plans, which is done in seconds so as to be polite. When he says and incredulously, because it’s always a man, “an’ how yer thinkin’ of getting over ther” and how in the face of such obtuseness have I bitten my tongue until it bleeds instead of saying what I think “on my motorcycle.”
“You bet,” he says and I mumble how it’s been a long day and time to rest.
By Eastlands Texas I bought a room in a Super 8, got some cheap snacks from Dollar General and then settled in front of the television. Over breakfast the following morning an old lady introduced herself as Belle English. She was a banker retired these 30 years, three daughters who all drank badly along with her son, a homosexual long since gone to San Francisco. One daughter died months before her own husband’s premature demise when his legs suddenly went badly whilst her other girl lived with a man weighing 400 pounds. The girl who died said she wished she’d listened to her mom sooner but it’s always too late when your kid turns round to say just that. Belle looked great for 82 and she was bright with a clear and keenly enquiring mind. “I drove up and down that I-20 all the time, my husband dying and my daughter doing chemo for 4th stage colon cancer, it was a six-hour drive. She’d stopped smokin’ an’ drinkin’ but her husband got her back to it ‘cos he said she was no good to him if they didn’t do stuff together” and she paused, “he jus’ wanted to get rid of her, that’s about the sum of it.”
Why do people tell strangers their secrets? We over share because we’re close in space triggering some false intimacy or there’s some norm of reciprocity where a cycle of intimate thoughts push through only to disappear when that person has left. In an atomised society do we all reach out to anyone who’ll listen? Belle said she’d got few friends and that in her bit of Texas, neighbours would sometimes be at church with her but would never tell where they lived.
I asked her why it was that kids go wrong and she said it was influence, “my first husband’s father was a paedo, the mother was evil, four kids an’ three died, all drinkers and when my middle daughter said she wished she’d listened to me probably at the time she got the beginning of crooked lungs, she knew it was too late. Yep you can’t help your kids and you have to stand back.” Belle got up, came over to shake my hand and apologised for off-loading like she did and left. I saw her walk along the line of rooms anonymously here in the flatlands of Texas and I set off to ride for the rest of the day.
In these parts there were nodding donkeys and refineries, one come along just after each other in between the wastelands all the way down the road. I saw the bins and when I stopped to take a look just like an action man with his gun in his holster Sheriff Joe Commander went and passed by.
There’s a story circulating out there with Dr Kent Moors headlining a blog by the ‘Oil & Energy Investor’ that somewhere in the Chihuahua Desert across West Texas a banker bought a bit of what was thought to be worthless land. With a suitcase crammed with all the dollars he had, he settled there to look for oil. According to Dr Moors the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hadn’t done a nationwide inspection for a long period of time and coincidentally shortly after the bankers' purchase, survey teams were sent out to discover oil reserves that prior to fracking were thought to be unrecoverable. In the area that this man had secured his land, right where I was riding on the highway the USGS estimated a find of 20 billion barrels of oil, three times bigger than the Bakken oil field. As a sales point, Dr Moors suggested the deposit has the potential to mint 100 new millionaires every single month for the next 11 years.
The next day it was raining as I left El Paso and leaving at 6am it was easy to beat the rush hour by an hour. The evening before I arrived in the dark and the wet and in sight this side of the mountains was Cuidad Juárez. Until 2008 when there were 138 murders per 100,00 population it was known as the most violent city in the world. Since then there has been a reduction in crime with theories suggesting the Sinaloa cartel’s boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman moved in and restored a kind of order among thieves. With some irony in 2014 according to the El Paso Times the city was ranked the safest city over half a million in the whole of the USA.
After a couple of hours, I split off the 10 onto the 70 west and stopped in Hilda’s Restaurant in Duncan for mash and gravy. Xmas music played on the radio as a group of people sat at their table. How the lives of people can be so similar here as it must be as at home how folk while away their time: the old, the dispossessed, never the young, they’ve already fled to the cities but on the wall photographs of serving military, or the fallen, watch over, an absolute cast in aspic forever, never to change.
Now, there was another way to see things, how everything has a story and I preferred this one about the tree.
I asked about the photos and the waitress, a small Mexican lady, said they were from the town.
“Did they come home?”
Next door the old bakery and bank looked closed down, a ghost of a building and an advance sign of a town no longer greased by folk buying stuff but the mural across the road was a moment in time. So, you get on your bike and once again down there in the southern Texan Hills, with the sun on your face you gently start to ride with the wind.