IT WAS THE PERFECT PLAN, except it wasn't planned. I had no idea how I would survive on the road for 19 months, with no money for hotel rooms or even campgrounds.
Lucy Leaf encouraged me with tales of her four-year horseback tour, during which she camped in people's yards and empty fields. I embraced humility and relied on the kindness of complete strangers.
I am still amazed at the wonderful response I received, and I am so proud of this nation. Around dinnertime every night, I would knock on doors and ask people if I could sleep in their yards. I am sure that none of them had ever been asked this question before, in this way, and I was never disappointed with their response, as harsh as some of them were. A point that I'd like to make, is that most of the people whom I asked were, rightfully so, concerned for their safety. But in reality, I was always the vulnerable one, stepping into my canvas fort on a stranger's land and sleeping through the night.
Along the way, I bagan to realize that I was a sort of modern-day barnstormer, sweeping into town on my grand machine, carrying a sackful of adventures and stories to share. I was wholesome and somewhat clean and I had a purpose. I would give the homeowner my card, set up camp and climb inside, and I am sure that seconds after they closed their door, they would be on their computer, or on the phone to a relative or friend who had one, and I think that, as skeptical as they might have been, one look at my web site put them at ease. "This guy checks out, dad," I'm sure many children said to their elderly parents who called and said; "Mom and I have a Harley parked in our side yard." I represented the great American dream, and I helped people connect to it. To cap it off, as I left in the morning, I would stop by their mailbox and slip in a little note. It was thankful and respectful and inspiring, and most of all, it let them know that, in spite of what they hear on the daily news, they were a part of a beautiful country.
September 6-8, 1998.
I WILL ALWAYS KNOW of this place as "Ed's Cabin." Ed owns a Christmas tree farm in Laingsburg, Michigan, and he didn't even know me, but when his friends Doug and Gayle, who barely knew me, asked him to let me stay there, he said "sure." Everyone around here walks, bikes, rides or skis around to each other's homes, their dogs by their sides, and they live what I consider, with tremendous envy, the good life.
October 8,9, 1998.
AMERICANS ARE SO hospitable. I have knocked on doors of complete strangers and asked if I, a complete and certainly mysterious stranger, could sleep in their yard. They usually paused, and at first I thought they were trying to say no, but I learned that they were usually -- I'm not kidding -- trying to think of the nicest place on their property for me. I am still floored by this. People would put me near rivers or lakes or gardens -- even in their RV's -- hoping to actually please me! Marty put me next to his favorite willow tree and offered to loan me a fishing pole. I found that what I enjoyed most was to stay plumb in the middle of a wide, open field. Don't ask me why...
November 14, 16, 1998.
ONE OF MY WORST evenings of this trip. I searched for a campsite for 5 hours and rode 60 miles around Pheonix, Arizona. Finally, around midnight, I rolled into Saguaro Lake Park, which doesn't offer camping. "Screw it" I said, and set up right in a parking space. No one complained, and with this view, neither did I.
I RODE BOB through some pretty mean terrain, but it was worth it. I would have rather camped at the top of this hill, but the wind was getting pretty rough.
May 11, 1999.
UP THAT CREEK again, in Gravel Switch, Kentucky. I guess I got the better of it, eh?
June 12-16, 1999.
IN AN EDEN in west Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was a simple lawn, about the size of a football field, bordered on two sides by tall trees, which spread overhead and made me feel like I was in a tunnel. There was something very special about this place, and about the wonderful family who let me stay here, and I remember it and them often.
July 8, 1999.
SOMEWHERE ON ROUTE ONE, between Palmer and the road to Valdez. Some rivers meander quietly along, minding their own business, while some race and roar and thunder, and they are both equally exciting.
August 6-9, 1999.
SO MANY TIMES on this trip, I would set camp and rejoice in my good fortune. Sure, I spent many nights next to railroad tracks, dumpsters and barking dogs, but often, I would strike it rich, like here, on Tap's ranch, 700 feet above the Pacific, with his friendly horse, Hank.
August 19, 1999.
IN A CORNfield, in south, central Pennsylvania.
August 31, 1999.
WILD COWS harassed me all night, here on Mt. Nebo, Utah. They kept mooooing as if someone were yanking on their udders, and there were "cow mines" laid all over.
September 1, 1999.
I LOVE WATER and wide, open spaces, and I love this place, on the Koosharem Reservoir, near Burrville, Utah.
September 2, 1999.
ONE OF THOSE NIGHTS that make this entire trip worthwhile, I stayed on a bluff above Hanksville, Utah.
September 23, 1999.
I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. This was my view when I woke up on Dana's ranch, in Brush, Colorado.
September 27, 1999.
I CAN'T TELL YOU how many soybean fields I slept in, but I now have a special kinship with those farmers. Up on this hill, I caught a beautiful sunrise, and I enjoy camping out in the open, but I can't explain why.
September 28, 1999.
ARLEN and mark weren't too keen on letting me stay on their farm, but their hospitality got the better of them. They set me near their barn, and Mark even brought me out a bag lunch the next morning.
September 30, 1999.
YES, FISHING. The morning after I asked Mark if I could stay near his barn north of Lincoln, Nebraska, one of his friends came out and dropped a few lines.
October 13, 1999.
I AM VULNERABLE when I camp in public, but this place, in Kansas, was beautiful. A few rowdies camped next to me, but I had no trouble -- in fact, I had no trouble this entire trip. This is an incredible, beautiful country.
October 14, 1999.
TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW IN PUBLIC! This time, in a simple, city park. This is unusual, but people in the town of Eureka said that people often camp here, so I did. Several kids mingled about, but I didn't give them motorcycle rides, and I didn't even play on the horsey ride.
October 25, 28, 1999.
DURING OFF season, many public campgrounds waive their fees. I got lucky here, at Twin Creek, west of Hot Springs. There was no A/C, but there were hot showers, and I had a campfire each night and a nice view each day.
October 28, 1999.
THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT AN ORCHARD. They are so serene, stately and picture-postcard clean. This one is in Keo, Arkansas.
November 4, 1999.
THIS OLD SCHOOLhouse would make a beautiful home, with vaulted ceilings and lovely, simple woodwork. I couldn't find anyone in the town of Manda, so I just camped here, without permission. No one bothered me, though, and I think I heard one car drive by all night.
November 9, 10, 23, 1999.
CITIES ARE TERRIBLE places to camp, and I have to go past suburbs into rural areas. I rode 100 miles in and out of Houston each day to camp at Rosenberg Fairgrounds. Then, I made a wonderful friend, who shared her Houston home, saving me more than a long ride each day, and then giving me more than I could ever ask for. The school bus RV was cool! It belonged to a Mexican carnival family.
December 4-19, 1999.
I "camped" in Nickey's luxurious fish camp. Honestly, I just can't thank these Americans enough.
December 16, 1999.
BLM OWNS A LOT of land out west, where you can camp for free. Near Yuma, Arizona, I pulled off I-8 into this dune buggy area, to where people of all ages drive from all over to take their balloon-tired machines all over the dunes.
December 23, 1999.
IN ELMO'S SHOP, Fruit, Alabama - he insisted that this stranger stay in his private workshop. He came by in the night with his granddaughter "for a snort." He pulled a bottle out from behind the riding mower and took himself a snort, or two -- I didn't see him give any to the child.
Christmas Eve, 1999.
IN A COTTON FIELD in Butler, Georgia, owned by a man named Cleveland. It was a good night, actually, as there was A/C power in the field (for the irrigation system) and I charged all my batteries.
Christmas Day, 1999.
MY LAST NIGHT AS A STRANGER was in Mayo, Florida, in Levi's tobacco barn. It was one of the more, um, unsettling nights, but I slept well. I woke up somewhat relieved, having met the challenge I accepted nearly 600 days prior. Early in the trip, in the summer of 1998, I remember being frustrated while trying to find a place to camp in New Jersey. A powerful feeling of desperation overwhelmed me as I faced the task of knocking on strangers' doors and asking to sleep in their yards for five-hundred more nights! Well, I took it one night at a time, and things really did get easier. Also, I had the help of many good friends, whom I just can't thank enough. I never had any real trouble, and I just can't imagine having the same, positive experience anywhere else in the world. What a beautiful, beautiful country!