During my first month on the road, I've experienced and learned a lot. And while I've been doing my best to document everything I've seen, thought, and felt, my attention to the what, where, and when has often overshadowed the how, which is just as important. So this week (or, as it turns out, month), I'm aiming to publish seven reflections, each on a different aspect of travel, free from time and space. Here's the sixth.
Nothing has characterized my road trip more than my mode of transportation: a scooter. Many have trekked across the country in cars, motorcycles, even bicycles and foot, but to my knowledge, no one was ever crazy enough to make a go of it by scooter, or at least not a full 15,000 miles, or at least not to live and care to tell the tale.
Traveling by scooter, then, had some anticipated (and unanticipated) drawbacks. For one, I was always fully exposed: exposed to the elements, exposed to the road before me, exposed to the vehicles around me. The simplest rain or wind could easily turn a magnificent drive to a life-threatening one, the most mundane pothole or trench could start my scooter wobbling toward collapse, and the most harmless person, distracted behind the wheel of a car, could throw me to the ground in an instant. Yes, while a three-hundred-mile drive in a car might be a solid day's work, a pleasant ambling through the countryside, aboard a scooter is was an achievement, and I always felt grateful to have survived another day.
Rousseau, of course, was a spectacular companion as far as scooters go, no puny Vespa or diminutive crotchrocket, but a fully grown 250cc powerhouse, capable of speeds up to 90MPH, capable of easily cruising at eighty, and, steep inclines aside, never giving me any trouble with a fast acceleration to get out of harm's way.
Beyond a flat tire, a few moody starts, and a mild but manageable calamity during the last week on the road, along with a few aesthetic plates and pieces that fell off in transit, Rousseau never gave me a problem along those many miles. She did make it clear, however, that she was no pack mule: upon first embarking, I had loaded her rack with items that wouldn't fit in my pack or her under-seat trunk, a helmet and a coat, and then a small tank of gas, and then a few guidebooks, and thrice she bucked that extra cargo from her back when I wasn't looking, not to discover the incident until a hundred miles later, despite my increasingly intense efforts to lock that cargo down with redundant sets of bungee cords, until I finally gave in, sent some items home, and made do with the small space provided underneath the seat.
More so than the danger of demise, lack of storage was my key grievance with my mode of transport, not because I wished to carry more, but because I simply wished for a place to leave my pack while running into a shop or embarking on a short hike, and with no safe place in which to store it, I was forced to always move with my Kelty 50L Redwing affixed to my spine, weighing down on my core, a good workout indeed but not always a desired one.
Though exposure to the elements was indeed a drawback, it was also a benefit, for it brought with it not just gratitude for life, but a sense of having deserved the destination. I'm sure setting eyes on the Pacific Ocean after a long drive westward would be soothing for any cross-country traveler, but to have done it aboard a little scooter, the smallest thing on the highway, against all odds, it felt wonderful. I felt proud of myself; I felt like I had earned it, each and every sight of the trip.
The most blatant advantage to scooter travel, however, was the novelty with which it touched others. A vagabond in a car may indeed pique interest by some, but my DC plates were all I never needed to announce myself as a person worth talking to, and I found myself, each and every day, chatting with complete strangers in the dozens, all wanting to know where I'd been and how I'd made it and what it all was like. And though I grew tired over the same questions day in and day out, I appreciated the interest and the interaction, and positively glowed when someone said they were "inspired" by what I was doing.
Economically, the scooter was also a good choice, with mileage per gallon ranging from sixty to a hundred, on a few occasions even more than that. The economic advantages were not absolute, though; while I saved in gas, I often paid dearly in lodging, for while I may have been fine getting a late-night slumber in the back of a car, or driving through a nasty patch of rain, cold nights and rainy days occasionally nixed my camping plans and left me running for the nearest motel or hotel.
Most important, however, and the reason I'd do things exactly the same if I were to do them again, is that traveling aboard a scooter allowed me to experience the world around me in the most visceral, direct way: no blind spots, no closed windows or windshields or obstructive car roofs, just 360 degrees of earth, vibrant and near in every direction, so close I could literally smell and sometimes taste it, and always feel it, the winds and the temperatures and the energies of each and every location, just me and the road. And my scooter.