America is a place of constant motion; a country whose identity relies upon the dream of moving from one place to another. At first it was the railroad, cars quickly followed, and maybe soon robots will be the next big transportation boom. Despite developments, a sense of movement like that of a horse in gallop never truly left the forefront of our cowboy inclined minds.
A motorcycle is a guarantee that you might not know where you are going, but at the very least you are aware that you are going. Those long hypnotic scenes of Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider movement, or the classic gorge jump scene from Terminator 2; these pop cultural moments speak to the symbolic power of the two-wheeled transport. No company knows this better than Eagle Rider Tours.
Eagle Rider found a particularly compelling business niche; create travel experiences that are centered around the unique transportation experience that a motorcycle affords. Founded in 1992 amongst humble beginnings, owner Chris Mcintyre said that the true a-ha moment came from a chance encounter with some bar patrons who were fascinated with his bike, but didn’t ride. If the motorcycle was such a potent symbol of “cool” that everyone recognizes, but might not own, how could a business fill in that gap?
As the idea germinated, Chris knew he had to hire the right people. For some “the right people” could mean the right job experience, for Chris it also meant the right life experience. He must have been onto something, because the rest was history. After two decades of expansion the Eagle Rider namesake has grown to become the pre-eminent motorcycle tour company, with offices spanning from Los Angeles, to Miami, to Chicago.
I am typically not effusive about many things, but I can say that Chris Mcintyre was right: The tour guides were professional, and made a totally naive motorcycle amateur like me feel wholly comfortable.
But the founding of a company like Eagle Rider is only partially the point. What the experience was truly about to me was America, being alive, and of course motorcycles. I had a hunch going into this trip that the reason why people rode motorcycles had more to do with a comfort with mortality than the idea of its impossibility. Many of those who are dissuaded by motorcycle travel likely view the conversation with the possibility of death as too terrifying to undertake, and I can’t blame them.
But to those of the bike culture, that proximity is thrilling, and maybe even lifesaving. Scotty Brown, now a successful real estate agent living in Malibu, was once a high times living young man going on helicopter rides with Stone Temple Pilots in Miami. He would be the first to admit he lived it big. That was until one day when he got cancer, and the experience changed him. Lying “cut from top to bottom” in the hospital, and feeling a desire for some isolation and meditative separation from others due to his chemotherapy, he figured “what the hell.”
Scotty went on to purchase a motorcycle and proceeded to ride it whenever he needed to remind himself that he was still in charge. Cancer wasn’t going to stop Scotty from really living, and really living often means being close to death. With a motorcycle, how close you are to that fate is at least partially in your control. The feeling you have after the conclusion of a successful motorcycle ride? It feels like a little victory in a little test of fate, a delicious bit of ego-opiate that makes you feel just a bit more alive. This whole trip felt like experimentation with the only drug that comes on two wheels.
The first evening was a nice introduction. The crew was quite the mixture with diverse attendees, including Eagle Rider motorcycle veterans, automotive magazine writers, Marie Claire and 17 other editors. We all mingled with some drinks and casual conversation at South Side Customs in El Segundo, California. Classic rock blared from a band that was there playing just for the Eagle Rider tour, and a bit of delicious slow smoked brisket served as the dinner to settle a nervous pre-ride stomach.
The next day, the true meat of the trip began. Walking out of the hotel I shook hands with Steve Feather, a retired Orange County firefighter and paramedic, who would be not only my guide, but the pilot of the bike I was to ride passenger on. This was a great development in my opinion on two levels, the first being that he is now a professional motorcycle rider with years of experience. The other being that he had EMT training which luckily didn’t come in handy, but could’ve if it came to that.
Upon the first mounting of my bike I was given rigorous instruction, which I can reproduce in entirety below. “If you see a signal pass it back, and make sure to lean into the turns, not against them. And uh… well that’s it pretty much!” You might have had trepidation hearing that, but Steve had such an honest timbre about it that I couldn’t help believe that only a true expert is comfortable giving minimal instruction to a total moto-novice.
Soon enough, we were cruising to Palm Springs, and a bucket list moment had been achieved. We exited the city and confronted the expansive desert, a sharp contrast to the lush populated hills of Los Angeles. The turning windmills near Indio stood not only as companion, but also as comparison, to the natural scale of the desert lands that we drove through the most. From Palm Springs we went on to Joshua Tree National Park, Laughlin Nevada, Oatman Arizona and finally Las Vegas. Along the way were drinks, conversations, hanging poolside in Palm Springs, boat tours and a bit of getting in touch with what it means to be an American.
When you are on a road trip, you watch a movie. When you do a motorcycle trip, you’re in the movie.
Oh, and some of the best ribs I have ever had at The Rib Co. in 29 Palms California. As great as the locations were, everybody knows the journey is far more important than the destination. Eagle Rider made sure that neither was left lacking.
Along the trip, I wondered how to articulate the difference between car and motorcycle travel. Until at a gas station outside of Needles, California, Ed Subias from Hotbike.com perfectly defined it. “When you are on a road trip, you watch a movie. When you do a motorcycle trip, you’re in the movie.”
This “movie” I was now in had a couple of different thematic questions. I thought a lot about our country while looking at the outdoors in motion around me. I wondered about the sort of cultural anxiety everyone is feeling, regardless of their age. The ever increasing notion that the reality of our country is quickly getting out from under us, not just politically.
“What does it mean to be an American?” seems to be a more perplexing question than ever. Every answer is so subjective, and so removed from the inclusion of everyone you agree with and everyone you don’t.
Then you start to see the wonders of this country, the wonders older than every politician combined. The natural beauty that facilitated the sort of grandiose dreams America is built on. It recenters you in the myth that might bring us all back together. Passing through the hippie town of Idyllwild in the mountains near Palm Springs on the back of a motorcycle. Riding a boat amongst the Arizona red rocks at The Pirate Cove Resort. The spectacular witness of the awesome scale of the Grand Canyon via a helicopter tour, a sight that might make even the most vehement atheist see the shadow of God.
Then there are the little things, like tough, motorcycle men making a point to stop all traffic on the road when a dog wanders out into it on our way to Oatman, Arizona. The relief of laughter when you know you aren’t the only one who thinks that Guy Fieri’s restaurant is terrible. A moment between you and a fellow journalist twice your age swap opinions about the existential implications of the casino clientele in Laughlin, Nevada.
From the micro to the macro, motorcycles gave me a moving witness to just a bit more of this wild project that America represents. It also taught me that you when you are scared of your own mortality, you should embrace it. And when you embrace it and travel across the country, you appreciate and become in tune with those things that aren’t mortal.
The immortal monuments of universal beauty that we, temporary occupiers on this rented space we call home, can look to when we are trying to figure out how to look at each other.