On the Road: The American Experience
Aspen, CO. – Douglas, AZ.
Not all those who wander are lost. The script words on my friend’s ribcage immerge from the water. The clank of plastic glasses and the laugh of friends fill the air – the last hot tub of the season in Aspen, the embodiment of joy. Amazing friends, a breathtaking environment, an active lifestyle, great conversations, strong embraces. It’s what we all cherish and why we all call Aspen home. Yet for all its opportunity, all its character, and all its glory, to truly expand ones horizons, to expand ones understanding, empathy, and context for the world, one must venture out.
And so, like many off-seasons before this, I chart a path for adventure. Leaving from my little home on S. Cleveland St, I will ride my motorcycle south through Central America. Path undetermined, locations unknown, experiences yet to be seen. With trepidation, anticipation and bursting excitement fighting for the battle of my heart and mind, I will again begin what is sure to be another epic quest for knowledge, personal growth and excitement.
I wake up, walk outside, lock my door for the first time in 10 months, mount my motorcycle, look up at my beloved Aspen Mountain one last time, turn the key and hit the throttle. It’s exhilarating. The second I am on the move the nerves subside, instinct takes over and I’m filled with a sense of calm, oneness, peace.
I am on my way to Mexico. First stop, Flagstaff. The drive is beautiful. The great American expanse - endless deserts, towering mesas, blazing dust-storms, and cart-wheeling tumbleweeds. It is a prescient reminder of American dynamism and the pluralism that makes us strong. But as ever America will not bestow all her bounty without effort and fortitude. The brutality of the crosswinds places the bike at a 65 degree angle to the ground as opposed to the more commonplace 90 - a discrepancy that rivals the average pitch of the Highlands Bowl. 100 in a 75, perhaps I should slow down. As I do, she again extends her grace. Children selling fruit on the side of the road smile broadly and wave. A deep sense of contentment washes over me. America - my home.
As I trundle into Flagstaff, the town greets me with charm and a glint in its eye. Old brick structures, quaint cafes and art galleries line the streets. Art and creativity seem omnipresent. I locate the town hostel and settle in. Faces young and old dot the common rooms, we smile, converse, share stories. Settling at a hidden bar I order coffee and begin to soak up local culture and personalities. Everyone is lovely, boisterous & welcoming. We talk of life and make plans for the evening. It turns out to be an epic endeavor. I bring a little Aspen dance party to a bar decorated wall-to-wall as a library, real books. The DJ bumps hip-hop jams and I rock out with a diverse group of new friends. When the night is over, we hug and I return to rest my head. They all know they have a couch in Aspen. Our community grows.
In the morning I take the long way south through Sedona. This is a good decision. The towering blood red canyon walls glisten in the sun. They are magnificent, covered in lush green foliage and dotted with bungalows and shops of southwestern architecture. It’s like a dream. I punch the throttle, hot wind in my face, my orange bike seemingly leaving a trench in the pavement behind me as I carve the canyon road.
After a day’s drive I settle in Bisbee, now 25 miles from the Mexican border. An old mining town turned tourist hot spot. Obvious historical parallels not withstanding it does not feel like Aspen but has a presence all its own. The main street meanders through a deep canyon, like Idaho Springs in layout but seemingly on an extended mushroom trip. It’s weird, funky, full of mirth but yet somehow needlessly obstinate. My hotel, built by the first Mayor, rests on top of the towns first natural spring where the minors of yore sourced their water. The check in gift shop encircles the open spring and is backlit in psychedelic pink and green lights. I sit down to plan. Where the hell am I going tomorrow? Worry sets in again. Are the roads safe? Which way will I go? Where should I first stop? Will I have time?
I do my research; talk to travelers, calm my nerves. I source empirical data on crime, statistical breakdowns by region, read first-hand accounts. I feel settled again.
5:45am - the alarm beckons. 40 minutes later, I’m lock eyed with the sign. Big and green with bold white letters proclaiming “Passenger Vehicles Mexico”. I creep forward, two men in fatigues, I stop at attention. Skittishly, I await my orders. They ask me about my day, I reply, now they wait. Realizing my folly they instruct me to move forward, this is still America, they need nothing from me; it is the two AR-15 clad gentlemen ahead with whom I need to speak…in Mexico. I must be nervous.
Skippy Mesirow is Chair Next Generation Advisory Commission Aspen, CEO Real World Reporting, AVSC Big Mountain Coach, Enthusiastic Community Member and Friend.