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.
It was a 14 lane highway that led me into the City of Angels. Wind turbines flapped about helplessly against the onslaught of this linear hell.
I was going to meet my sponsors Yamaha in Long Beach and after a night in the Hyatt Regency I hung around the harbour when the deed was done. At a junction by the lights the absence of large volumes of traffic took me by surprise and I could hear a symphony of halyards slap against a crowd of masts. Boats many of which would never face a breeze let alone an ocean crossing but the fact they might is an adventure in the telling.
That night I made for Palmdale and as I left the motel the following morning I chatted to a guy, a contractor and he said to go via the back roads to Death Valley, to follow Avenue K past Edwards Air Force base and Randsburg known as a ‘living ghost town’, but before then I parked at a Starbucks to do some work. Behind me some bloke was asleep, his knocked over coffee cup dripping off the table, his head in a pool of coffee that dripped onto his shoe. He wasn’t asleep, he was unconscious, I think there’s a difference. Loitering around me in the land of the mad, of which I play a bit role, another man with red hair and a rucksack fidgeted, one leg to another. He looked like he was struggling with a bladder mishap as you see in small children and old men when they get their timing wrong, but I guess it was simpler than that, doing anything, just twitching was part of his control. Outside yet another youth was singing, maybe to himself shuffling around in a kind of quickstep before adopting an air guitar playing creditably in a make believe stadium by the bins. I was watching, I kind of wanted to join in but instead we chatted. He was 34, came from hereabouts but slept anywhere usually in a corner somewhere, sensibly protected from miscreants and the wind by two sides. He said he slept near ‘old food’ so he had a ready supply or by a ‘large plant’ in the desert. He switched from types of thought processes to a conversation we could share so instantly it suggested this was a bright person caught out by some frivolousness in his own personal passage of time. There were large billboards advertising Cannabis everywhere, any strength, the stronger the more it numbs yer and ordinary folk thought nothing now of admitting to a once not talked about habit. The USA is making billions selling dope and his mis-firing brain would not recover, the neural synapses have been screwed of their serotonin and when it’s gone like loose petals in a gale it’s gone. Little sparks in that dark transfer just can’t cross the vacuum no more and it’s surely a terrible judgment to be so condemned always to the outskirts of most people’s lives. Jeez, they sell you the stuff, you go crazy and you sleep by the bins and that’s a business? Anyways he played and he asked passer-bys for money. To hone in on a strangeness, the World Air Guitar Championships are held in Oulu every year and hundreds of devotees would find this man extraordinary and Forest Gump said, “well, so what? I may be a idiot, but most of the time, anyway, I tried to do the right thing—an dreams is jus dreams, ain’t they?” I guess.
So I did as the man said and rode out of town to 150th East and then followed his instructions into Avenue K and hit the dirt. The piste wasn’t technical, the sound of traffic replaced by a gentle wind feathering through a bit of desert calico and bedstraw which you see in Paniment Valley but short of the horizon single story trailer buildings that I saw were brightened by the sharp rays of the setting sun. It would be more than an obvious statement of fact to think that people here perform poorly in an urban environment. If rusting vehicles and trash littering by fence poles like broken teeth it showed to me what an offence it was to the tidy mind. Not that I’m a bright ember of efficiency but there was a collective air of mess and dishevelment which threatened the likes of people who keep a tidy knicker box or like their spanner’s in a matrix of order. Over the hill descending down to highway 135 settlements had an air of such distress, buildings abused by poverty or complacency or poor mental health, I perhaps naively imagined a false step across their border would increase your chance of getting shot. Old mattresses, covens of debris and plastic had grown to become large rotting piles. What looked as if they had recently left for car heaven were standing stock still where they last operated for the purpose for which they were designed, stuck in a biblical automart where everything turns to dust in the end.
Ridgecrest itself was a ribbon strip of a town with all the amenities you would expect from modern America. It had nail shops and tanning salons, fast food everywhere and places where you sell cars and places where you fix ‘em. Although I didn’t actually see anything cultural like a library or theatre, it seems malls like this, because that’s what they are, prioritise around stuff that comforts along with banks, traffic lights and motels. Given the thinness of the town, although not as thin as I once thought as I crossed over the border into the desert and the hills, it was my conjecture to question why anyone would transect any place like this and instead drive right along through. I did but I kept coming back because it had what I needed. Yet it was unmemorable with its dermatological clinic, earthquakes, Naval Weapons station, a Walmart and a Starbucks. Nope, I struggled to make up anything else that was interesting about it’s wide Main Street.
That night I camped the other side of Red Mountain after meeting Dave the Polymath and Mr. Getwell. These are like just dudes that tell me things as I pass knowing I won’t return. Those who don’t believe in magic won’t never be told it and in a shabby rusty kind of way it emerges as if from a dark ill-fitting box. It starts off stutteringly because the words don’t get used a whole lot but when the flow they pile up like a river at a dam. Whatever Dave the Gas Attendant is, it’s the secrets he hides that tell us what he wants to be. Belle English had her hiddennesses, her daughters that made no sense. Everyone has their secrets which are mostly irrelevant. The fact that you have them is not.
The next night I camped on the edge of Death Valley. After Trona Rocky Novak told me all he knew. He lived his time at Ballarat, a ghost town in the desert and pointed to the trucks and the cemetery. The Trading Post had tee-shirts for sale but I made my way up the Apache Indian Trail to set up my tent. I sat by my fire and thought about what it was I was looking for, and as you look deeper into the flames, you realise the back of your head has suddenly got very cold and your face has begun to burn.