Stephen W Starling
Writer and Photographer

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Escaping Los Angeles - California, USA

Sunday, November 01, 2015

'Escaping Los Angeles' is an extract from Stephen’s latest book ‘Three Harleys, Three Aussies, One American Dream: a 5,000mile motorcycle adventure searching for the Real America’

The street crossing East Los Angeles to the freeway is ugly. Car yards, burger joints, and pawnshops line the roadside. All three lanes are bumper-to-bumper, inching forward in fits and starts. It is hot — hot from the California sun and hot from the Harley-Davidson rumbling and shaking below me. Jim and Peter are still visible in the mirrors, but it is difficult staying together in rush-hour traffic. This is our first time riding motorcycles in America. Weaving right to take the 10 freeway to Santa Monica, my tires thump over the joints in the highway pavement. My heart thumps too, in anticipation of a 5,000-mile ride around the western USA.

Ahead, Pacific Coast Highway contorts its way up the California coast, clinging to rocky headlands and sweeping down around sandy bays. Beyond are the twisting pigtail bridges of Iron Mountain Road near Sturgis, the high passes of the Million Dollar Highway snaking along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, and the bends curving between the red cliff walls of Canyonlands National Park, all legendary roads bikers dream to ride.

There are legendary sights to see — the rugged grandeur of Yellowstone National Park, the towering monoliths of Monument Valley, the immense crater of the Grand Canyon, and the desolate wastelands of the Badlands. Studying the guidebooks, we have plotted a route that circles five picturesque national parks with visits to extravagant eccentricities such as Hearst Castle and national building projects like the Hoover Dam.

We want to meet the locals, too. Back home in Australia we have seen plenty of Americans acting out parts in the movies, but what are they really like in real life? Are cowboys still riding the range? Have all the backwoodsmen left the woods? Do the stars come out in Beverly Hills?

Jim has plans to wander the wide-open spaces, to explore the grandeur of the national parks, and search out authentic country and western music. Peter just wants to get on a bike, to take to a deserted highway, rev that motor, and race the wind. At the end of the day he will be happy to hang his helmet wherever there is cold beer, hot food, and a chance to chase good-looking women. I expect he has already picked out blues bars along Monterey’s Cannery Row, honky-tonks in Denver’s Lower Downtown, and sparkling nightspots along the Las Vegas Strip.

I’m excited thinking about all these escapades as I slice though a gap in the traffic to escape into a vacant lane, although for me, this adventure is more than just a road trip. I want to explore how history shaped this nation, find out what unites these disparate states, and learn what drives these ambitious people. Given recent economic setbacks and current social tensions, is this still the land of opportunity where American dreams come true? I am off in search of The Real America.

The three of us flew in to Los Angeles from Perth a couple of days ago. Jim is an easygoing Londoner with a wicked sense of humor. He is also an experienced rider, having crossed Australia many times on his Kawasaki GTR. Peter was born in Germany, but grew up in Australia. He has been riding for about three years and now owns a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, but he has not done much long-distance touring. I left England in the seventies to work my way around the world before settling in Australia. I have clocked plenty of miles on my Honda ST1300 and have driven in America before, so I am assigned to lead the way. However, I am learning that navigating the L.A. freeways on a motorcycle is much more challenging than in a car.

Navigation is only one of the many challenges we have to overcome. Will we master riding on the right side of the road? What about the weather? It is hot today; will it be hotter crossing the western deserts? How cold will it be on the high Rocky Mountain passes? Will the rented Harley-Davidson motorcycles be reliable? Can the three of us get along? Will there be tensions or disagreements aggravated by spending twenty-four hours a day together for weeks on end? And, crucially, can we keep going physically, spending five hours in the saddle and riding 300 or 400 miles day after day? We are all over sixty years old.

Free of the traffic, I throw open the throttle, my Harley roars into life, and I rocket away from the constraints of congestion — blasting off for an adventure on the open road.

©Stephen W. Starling

And so begins Stephen’s 5,000-mile motorcycle adventure across the USA searching for the real America.  Come along and experience an exhilarating road trip by reading “Three Harleys, Three Aussies, One American Dream”, Stephen’s latest book that is now on sale online and in bookstores – for more details click here


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