After spending last spring and summer in Asia and the wintering in South America, I’ve come back to adventure across America on my battle green Royal Enfield Bullet 500 motorcycle. I’ve been living on the bike for four months at the time of this writing, and I’m just beginning to settle into this lifestyle.
I sleep on a bedroll next to my iron horse, next to a small fire where I cook my food and warm my adrenaline-exhausted, sunburnt body. Sleeping under the stars. Climbing the biggest mountains. Washing my clothes in the rivers where I drink and bathe. This is how the western frontier should be experienced.
Years ago, all I wanted was to get out of the country and see the world, and I still do, but what I was really seeking was freedom from monotony. America isn’t a place to escape; rather it’s the mindset we must abandon. This is my time to rediscover home with new eyes; and what a beautiful home it is.
Introducing my motorcycle. Her name is Battle Cat. Photo Credit: Justin Chatwin
I began this journey at the end of March in Miami, Florida. After replacing rusted front brake calipers and getting a tune up, I headed across the south of the country, over a few weeks. In LA, I met Sterling Taylor and Dominic White, and we spent the next three weeks motorcycle adventuring together.
We rode from LA to the Sultan Sea and Slab City, then up through Joshua Tree, the Mojave desert, Death Valley, Climbed Mt Whitney, Wild Willy’s hot springs, Bodie ghost town, and finished in Yosemite Valley.
The following photos are in sequential order from south to north.
First sunrise with the team. On the shores of the Sultan Sea.
Here we attended a locals party at a place called The Range, in the post-apocalyptic Slab City, just behind this place. What started as a great night ended in a fight with people splitting heads open with microphone stands. Party over. Still an incredible night.
No-roping it in motorcycle boots, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Sterling Taylor
Tending to some boo-boos after climbing. Photo Credit: Sterling Taylor
I burned my finger on my exhaust a week before in LA when I was rear-ended by a car. Climbing didn’t help the blister.
Just filthy. Photo credit: Sterling Taylor
Illegally camping at a secret spot in Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Sterling Taylor
Joshua Tree sunrise in the backyard of a new friend.
Sunset over sand dunes in the Mojave desert.
Sunrise at 11,000ft before summiting Mt. Whitney.
Top of the world. 1000 ft drop on three sides and a nice strong wind. Photo credit: Dominic White
At 14,505 ft, this is the highest point in the continental USA. Mt Whitney. Photo credit: Sterling Taylor
A quick sketchy descent down some ice. Photo credit: Sterling Taylor
Bodie Ghost Town, California.
Feeling a little tired in Bodie ghost town. Photo credit: Dominic White
I didn’t know what a regulator rectifier was before mine fell off. Learning as I go.
After a morning swim in Yosemite river.
From there I continued solo to San Francisco, Big Sur, Napa Valley, and up the beautiful Highway 101 for a few days of camping on the Lost Coast of Northern California. Then Umpqua hot springs near Crater Lake and up the entire Oregon coast, (stopped to visit my mom for a week) and to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to visit the Hoh Rainforest and La Push beach.
Bones of a giant on California’s Lost Coast.
Breakfast on the Lost Coast.
Umpqua Hot Springs, Oregon.
Olympic Peninsula, Washington.
First night shot with my new camera. Camping under a full moon next to the Hoh river.
La Push beach. Olympic Peninsula, Washington.
As much as I love solo adventure, this trip has been a pleasantly social one. I meet up with riders and others thriving in this gypsy lifestyle. We spend time getting to know one another: riding, swimming, climbing mountains, ninja-climbing bridges, and telling stories ‘round campfires.
Ninja silhouette on the old SF Bay Bridge
And this is what I love most about traveling with no fixed plan.
Sure, I have a general outline of where I’d like to go, based on following good weather and visiting places I’ve dreamed of, but open travel allows me to meet people and tag along on adventures to places of which I’ve never heard.
People come up and talk to me on my motorcycle. I think people are drawn to travelers, in general, but there’s just something about a motorcycle. They ask where I’m from and what I’m doing. The first question isn’t an easy answer because I don’t feel like I’m from anywhere in particular. I mean, I’m from a lot of places, and none feels like home.
But when I tell them about my journey, people inevitably get a childlike glow before proceeding to confess their deepest travel dreams or tell me stories of a time when they also wandered free. Sometimes they ask where I’m headed and give advice or recommend cool little secret spots to check out.
Old men get almost teary-eyed and tell me stories about how they used to ride before the wife made them give it up, and I listen as long as they want to talk. I love stories. I’ve learned a person following their passion and living authentically inspires something in others and creates an instant connection. At the end of the conversation, with nostalgia in their throat, they lean in as if to tell a secret.
“You’re doing the right thing.”
I try to live my life creating types of memories I’ll want to have as an old man. Kind of a reverse engineered way of finding priorities. I feel like these old dudes are all passing on a message from my future self. Just to reassure that I’m on the right path in life. This is EXACTLY what I need to be doing right now.
There’s this motorcycle brotherhood (and sisterhood). Riders will see me with goggles on my head, leather gloves, and a bandana and ask, “what do ya ride?.” We talk bike talk for a bit and then bump fists as we go our separate ways. “You’re doin’ it right brother, stay up.”
When riders pass on a highway, each extends the clutch hand in a palm down salute, saying “yeah man, I get it. Respect.” And every time it makes me smile.
4th of July party with new friends in Big Sur. Johnny styling my hat. Photo Credit: Guru
So, what’s life like as a motorcycle nomad? Sometimes it’s hard. In fact, it’s never easy. It’s raw and romantic, but it is raw. A feral existence.
Constant exposure to the elements sometimes finds me sheltering under a highway overpass for hours, reading a book or writing in my journal; passing time and hoping the storm will pass. Like an animal, my daily rhythms follow nature and weather. Sometimes I’m scorching, and all I can do is hydrate and pour water on my clothes for temporary refrigeration in the riding wind. Other times I’m in the cold or rain and shivering for hours on end. So hard that I’m afraid I’ll jerk the handlebars and lose control of the bike. I have to crouch low on the tank and tighten every muscle in my body to generate heat and stay locked on the motorcycle; knees close to the engine for warmth.
Most nights I don’t know where I will sleep and this can be a draining daily decision. Occasionally I’ve rolled into a small town, grabbed a bite to eat and a few drinks at a saloon. When the bar closes, I stumble outside and look at the bike with all my stuff on it and just shake my head. Hmm. Now what?
I’ve slept in city parks, under bridges, and behind abandoned buildings, just hoping I don’t wake to a police officer and a trespassing ticket, or worse. Sometimes it sucks.
After a breakdown, I was stranded in a little industrial town for a while and spent the night on top of the water tower.
But the freedom. Oh, the delicious, invigorating freedom.
There is nothing like standing tall on my bike, flying across an open desert or a twisted mountain road with everything I own in the world right there with me. No time. No place to be but here, now.
There is nothing quite like that feeling.
In the wind, I am electric. Photo credit: Sterling Taylor
This lifestyle feels natural. I feel like a real human in an environment where he belongs. Or maybe a wolf raised in captivity who has escaped, and now lingers along the edge; playing in both worlds.
On the road, I feel alive. I feel… home.
I’m currently on the next part of my motorcycle adventure. I’m heading up to the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho to track some wolves for a while, then riding up to Glacier National Park in Montana. What’s next? Open.
If you want to see more pictures, follow me on Instagram @adventuresofjustin