Miraculously, We Made It to the Bay - Celebrate With Me

What's your favorite invention?

This is a question I have often asked over the past decade while facilitating workshops or gatherings for human rights activists. My answer always varied based upon my mood, but ultimately steered towards coffee production as an homage to my elixir of choice. But after yesterday, I think I will always choose duct tape.

During my last 300 miles, my burgeoning MacGyver skills, a few tiny wires and shreds of duct tape were holding my clutch cable together. Not a good scenario, and admittingly, not the wisest of moves. Before I set out, I debated between being land-locked in rural California waiting for a part to ship, or pushing forward for the last stretch and trusting in my bike, the Gods and Goddesses of the open road and all the guardians who seem to be helping me along this journey. I thought about it, and I decided to go for it. Fortunately, and somewhat miraculously, I'm happy to report that it worked out. Yesterday, as light rain helped coat this drought-ridden Californian soil, I pulled safely into the Bay Area and into the arms of a few of my dearest friends.

These past few weeks have been incredibly rewarding, trying and inspiring. This short update is to let you know that we've crossed a significant milestone: My bike and I made it across the United States! I feel a bit like this:

Good to be back amongst the giants

Good to be back amongst the giants

As I type, I'm writing-out the long list-out of 'to-do's' and starting the logistic dance that will be my next few weeks and months. (Good news for everyone nearby, I'm starting with laundry.)

However, for now, I'm feeling fantastic and full of gratitude for everyone that has helped ensure this project could get off the ground and my bike and I moved safely across the winding black slab of concrete that webs its way through our exceptional country.

I wish I could contact each of you directly, but please accept this brief update and gratitude note as a consolation for now. Specifically, a huge thanks to all of the donors who've invested generously in this project, those who've spread the word and all of your thoughtful emails and notes of support. A massive appreciation for all of the exceptionally thoughtful friends who've hosted me over the past three months. Without you, this period would of been much more trying and exhausting and a whole lot more boring - and much more expensive (over the past three months, I've only paid for two nights in a motel and one depressing night in an RV Park).

Most importantly, a huge thanks to the men I've had the pleasure to speak with and learn from. I'm looking forward to sharing their stories, insights and perspectives with you. I've learned so much from them and continue to grow in ways I wasn't able to foresee, and I believe once you hear them, you will as well.

To be clear, the project is far from complete - I am looking forward to doing two more interviews while I'm here in the Bay Area, and I will be heading back East to do some work and conduct a few more interviews there as well. Currently, I'm planning on doing more outreach over the Fall and working my way through the South in the Winter to meet with more men and further expand the project's diversity of voices and insights.

Though, today - right now - this is a noteworthy moment!

This is a great milestone and one that inspires pause and reflection...and celebration. Please take a moment to mark this great start to this project and a safe, adventure-rich and inspiring journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific and over the 12,000-foot Independence Pass in Colorado, down below sea level into Death Valley and then rising-up through it to the trunks of the largest trees in the world. My emotions and mind have had an equally rich series of twists, turns and ups and downs.

I look forward to sharing more details on what's happened and what my plans are for the project, but for now: A big thanks, a hug and a high five.

Oh, and though I'm in the Bay amongst the sea of orange and black, Go Royals! If you're here as well, come on by Amnesia on Valencia at 19th street tonight after the game to hear my favorite Bay Area band, Gaucho, and find me for a hug and a dance.

Aspens in Aspen seem apt to share.

Aspens in Aspen seem apt to share.

Serendipity Strikes: The Kindest Motorcycle Surgeon Rescues Me

Sure, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Over the years, I’ve tinkered a bit, which usually went something like me poking and prodding around until I had to tow my bike to a notoriously gruff mechanic in Brooklyn and pay him out of my ears to get me out of the trouble I got myself deeper in. Over the past decade, I’ve had two motorcycles and knew virtually nothing about them or bikes in general. That was until the proverbial shit hit the fan yesterday.

Before I delve into that saga, let’s start with Mingus - the first motorcycle I had. He came to me like a miraculous gift from the heavens. I was in Goa, India, after working two weeks outside of Bangalore at the InfoActivism Camp. The Camp was a seminal event in my professional and personal life. It was a gathering of 150 human rights activists, lawyers, technologists, creatives and some of the most inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. We shared tips and tactics to enhance our human rights campaigns, camped in tents and took over an old, abandoned hotel that once held the Miss Universe Pageant and made it our playpin of idea and skill sharing. It was surreal on many levels, and the first and only place where I had rats climb over my forehead at night.  

Here's Mingus and I after a long day. I wore that blue-fringe tuxedo shirt everyday. It and the mustache helped mitigate the excessive request for bribes. Usually. 

Here's Mingus and I after a long day. I wore that blue-fringe tuxedo shirt everyday. It and the mustache helped mitigate the excessive request for bribes. Usually. 

After the Camp, I headed to the coast to meet with friends in Goa and then join Bergen, one of my dearest friends, to join him for a month riding motorcycles throughout Southern India. A daydream that had been with me since I was a teenager, but one that required me to find someone to buy a Royal Enfield off of within two days.

My generous hosts in India introduced me to Gregor, an exceptionally attractive Frenchman who had opened up one of the fanciest restaurants in the area. Goa is infamous for how its lush tropics and rolling hills meet some of the prettiest beaches in South Asia. It is a mix of rich indigenous culture with dropped-out hippies. When I was there, it had just hit full-stride with the drum and bass clubs and organic juice bars. A predictable development. 

I met Gregor during our dinner and asked him if he knew anyone who had a motorcycle they would rent or sell me for the journey. He just so happened to have had his second child and his wife was not keen on him riding his bikes anymore. To make the situation sweeter for me, he had found an old, beaten-up and rusted Enfield under a tree in the countryside and spent the better part of the year restoring it.

After copious amounts of cloudy French liquor, he agreed to sleep on my offer to buy his bike and promised me he would have an answer in the morning. The next day, I meandered down the overgrown path to find him with his rusty, yellow Enfield and a key for me. With a 25-liter tank, its 350cc engine looked like the largest Harley you would find in Asia. It was a beast.

I jumped on the bike and took it for a spin with my buddy Bergen in-tow. It rode beautifully and after a delicate negotiation, he agreed to sell me the bike with assurances I would pass it on to a local human rights organization that would grant him access to it as he desired – or as his wife would allow him. With that, Bergen and I were off the next morning and had one of the most rewarding and inspiring adventures I’ve had. Throughout, Mingus – which I named for its beautiful, exceptional timing like the great legend, Charles Mingus – never gave me an issue. I rode it for six weeks without even a mechanical hiccup.

Mingus spoiled me silly and I had hoped all bikes would be as stable, kind and classy as it. Sadly, that hasn't been the case and my current bike is teaching me the hard-won lessons of motorcycle ownership and maintenance. I’m still trying hard to get Zen about it.

Fast-forward six years and a few thousand dlollars later, I’ve got my current bike. Unnamed but incredibly loved, s/he has tested me for four years, but never more than the past few weeks.

I have always loved the look and feel of old BMW bikes. I swore to myself that I would get one when I had enough money. When I did, I jumped head-first in the murky water of vintage motorcycle ownership. While living in Brooklyn, I bought my bike from a middle-age banker who needed to offload his 1979 BMW R65.

Over the years, it has survived two hurricanes, a few tip-overs in New York City and the pothole-riddled streets of Brooklyn. The bike was conceived when I was, and I always thought that was a romantic notion, never more so when I embarked on this project connecting with other men who lost their fathers to suicide. There are many reasons why I chose to motorcycle cross-country to meet and interview these generous, courageous men. Mainly, I love riding bikes, love the diversity and splendor of the United States and I figured riding would help me clear my head after each interview so I could better reflect and retain insights that I would gain from the conversations.

Well, that was the romantic notion and hasn't been the reality of late. These past few weeks have been exhausting. Cracked mufflers breaking off in Canada, parts flying off on the highway, wiring breaking, fuses exploding and a failure to start have all been part of the journey. However, nothing compares to the most recent challenge: The bike dying on me randomly. Often.

As I made my way from my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, to Wichita, the issues got worse. It felt like everything was coming to a head. As I was trying to mentally and emotionally prepare for visiting my family, paying respects to my father’s grave and hopefully getting the chance to get into the room where he actually took his life, all I could do was pray my bike would make it the next 10 feet.

So, yesterday morning I was riding to the house where my mother grew up so I could go down memory lane. On my way there my bike sputtered and died. Again. I pulled over and tried to adjust what I knew and got it starting again, but only for a few minutes. As I was tinkering and praying to the gods of metal, oil and grease, a man pulled up beside me on a gorgeous, new BMW. Chuck introduced himself asked if I need help. I begged him to tell me there was a good BMW garage in town. He told me not within 150 miles, but that I may be in luck.

He told me how there was a weekly breakfast gathering of BMW motorcycle enthusiasts the following morning and that was my best bet at getting help. He gave me his phone number, the address and wished me luck. I got my bike started again and continued on memory lane. Slowly.

This morning I showed up at Riverside Café in Wichita to find a table of mostly retired motorcycle lovers. They jumped right in, eager to help me as a Kansas boy who has returned from New York and was trying to get back on the road. One particularly generous soul made a few calls within minutes and got ahold of Tom Gard, the man who saved my bike and kept me and this project rolling.

Hours later I rolled-up to Gard’s house in north Wichita. He invited me to ride my bike back to his garage and let his adorable dog lick my hand until it was raw. When he opened his garage gates, it was like he opened the gates of motorcycle heaven. Inside, he had a mechanic’s wet dream of an operation. Lifts, drills, welding equipment and more tools than Ace Hardware. This man was the real deal and as he inspected my bike with genuine zeal and curiosity, he transformed from a mere mortal to a genuine Saint.

Saint Gard in his sanctuary.

Saint Gard in his sanctuary.

Over the next five hours, Saint Gard performed a series of miracles on my bike and gave me the education I had craved for. As I looked over his broad shoulders, I was in awe of his confidence, agility and wisdom. We started with taking apart, cleaning and re-tooling my distributor and ended with re-setting all of my valves and carburetors. Along the way, he explained everything to me and let me jump in with him as best I could.

The surgeon's set-up.

The surgeon's set-up.

I went in with a bike that couldn’t keep its fire and felt like it was on its last leg and bringing me and the project down with it. Five hours later, I left with a powerful, humming engine that had been reborn. Though it may be commonplace for Saint Gard, for me, I witnessed a miracle. In addition, I had one of the most beautiful affirmations of human kindness and tenderness.

When we were done, I was spellbound and speechless. I was overwhelmed by Gard’s thoughtfulness, openness and commitment to getting me back on the road. Along the way, he taught me more about bikes and how to learn the feel of my own bike more than I could of imagined. I used tools that I didn’t know existed and he helped me find the courage to continue on, but now I would be taking more informed risks. Most importantly, Saint Gard gave me a great dose of that older, male energy and wisdom that I have been craving for decades.

I’m grateful for Chuck stopping to check on me when I was broken down and for inviting me to the most fortuitous breakfast I’ve had on the trip. I’m grateful for Bill for jumping right in and calling Tom Gard – and for picking up my breakfast tab. I’m grateful for Saint Tom Gard for him simply being him and for giving me more gifts than I can adequately articulate. Ultimately, I’m grateful for all the support that enables me to be on this journey – from the kind words, emotional support and financial backing that keeps fuel in all of my respective tanks so I and this project can keep rolling forward.

Me and Saint Gard

Me and Saint Gard

I’m back on the road, heading to Denver on Friday, and riding with a bigger grin, recharged mind, body and bike. Here’s to the road and where it will take me, this project and who will enhance us on the journey…



Riding Back to Kansas in Style

While here in Columbus, Ohio with my friend Todd and his wife Genevieve, I've eaten exceptionally well, slept in a proper bed with those crisp linens that make you feel like royalty when you get in them and played with power tools. A great trifecta. 

After my muffler cracked off Lake Erie in Canada, I got to Detroit and found worse roads then I had experienced then when I rode through Southern India on my Royal Enfield, Mingus. One of the hundreds of fierce, aggressive potholes in Detroit took an important plastic cover off my bike with it and left my fuse box exposed. Not wanting to blow another fuse or deal with more wiring issues from rain or snow, I turned to Todd for help.

I was in the right place. Todd is a woodworker who knows his way with the grain. He has a big workshop, leftover wood and the all-mighty Dremel Tool. We traced-out my two favorite creatures and spirit animals of sorts: The Kansas Jayhawk and the Seahorse. Throughout my life I've found joy in solace in both. 

Being a fan of the Jayhawk was inevitable growing up in Lawrence, Kansas, the birthplace and home of The University of Kansas and its mythical mascot. As a kid I would give high-fives to the life-size Jayhawk at games, who must of been a Freshman on the verge of heat stroke most of the time, and wear it proudly. 

Here is a great overview of the evolution of the Jayhawk. Don't worry, I won't go too much longer on my shoebox of love for the Jayhawk, but take a look. I'm partial to the 1912, dapper-J who's got some sweet shoes and cute grin. The Depression-Era Hawk is looking rough, but the 1941 Jayhawk, the WW2, "Don't F*CK With Me" Hawk juxtaposed with the post-war, happy Hawk is pretty interesting to me. Seeing how the zeitgeist was embodied in the design of a mascot. 

Anyhow, we got the wood and power tools out, mapped-out new covers for my bike and clamped them on with some dense foam behind to keep the wood from rattling and also help keep that pesky rain and dampness from getting to my fuse box. On the right-side of my bike, you'll see this


On the left-side of the bike, and then one that I approach to get on, I put my spirit-animal of sorts, the Seahorse. I've always loved the grace and agility of the seahorse and have spent many hours transfixed in front of aquariums admiring them. Over the years, and I'm not sure when or how this developed, I began shift my mind to the floating seahorse with its itsy-bitsy fins on its back, gliding through the sea when I was stressed or needed to recalibrate my thoughts. 

With that, I decided to etch-in a Seahorse, but add a fun twist: A Unicorn's horn. This was my first attempt at the Dremel Tool and it got a bit rowdy, but here you'll see the great UniSeahorse!

And here's me and my great friend Todd, who is opening Acre, what will be a most exceptional Farm-to-Table-to-Go restaurant in Columbus. Please stop by, say hello and get nourished when you're in the area.

Motorcycle Camping and Invading a Formidable Canadian Tick Castle in the Rain

- Detroit, Michigan -

The last 48 hours have yielded a range of highs and lows; like being on an old, loud wooden rollercoaster. Or, on my bike.

After I replaced my clutch cable, sorted a few electrical problems, and adjusted my idle and carburetors, I felt I was making progress. Great progress for me as I was finally getting over my fear of tinkering with my bike. You see, I've been fumbling along, not fully embracing the opportunity to learn more about my bike and I knew this trip would help set me on the necessary track to get over some fears and get a handle on something I've always wanted to know more about. 

On my list of, 'What I Wish My Dad Taught Me,' learning the ins and outs of cars and bikes makes the Top 20. I drempt of passing greasy tools back and forth, talking of fuel lines, enhancing performance and other such things mechanical folks speak of. So, I thought this trip would force the issue a bit and I would hopefully pass down my own hard-won lessons to my (hopefully future) son or daughter, if they fancied it. 

Well, any of the positive feeling I had of making healthy strides got a blow to the gut when I saw that my muffler had cracked and was barely holding on by two centimeters of chrome. Not good. Especially not good when you're 30 miles away from the nearest stoplight. In rural Canada.Surrounded by skunk road kill. 

That was my morning yesterday. It looked a bit like this. 


The night before I camped on the Canadian coast of Lake Erie after seeing the raging Niagara Falls, watching the throngs of plastic poncho-wearing tourists get drenched and processing my last interview in Vermont. 

My conversation with Max was really moving and insightful. After his father died, he read for a few weeks straight all that he could about suicide and shared some pearls he found useful in processing his father's death. We talked of the method our fathers chose to take their lives (like most men who die by suicide, guns) and inferred what that said about them and what he'd read about that. This is something I had wanted to talk more about but hadn't. It was good for me and I was grateful he brought it up and opened up about his own thoughts, feelings and perspective. 

Anyhow, aspects of our dialogue kept spinning in my head during a few long rides and as I pulled into a desolate campground, hoping to make camp before the fast-approaching rain hit me. Again.

I found a dreamy campsite - willow trees providing extra rain cover and a nice fire pit. I set up my tent with a smile, whistling Van Morrison's 'Domino' and when I returned to my bag I found hundreds of ticks -HUNDREDS. 

Campsite 5 was an inhabited tick castle and I was an intruder they knew how to deal with. Within seconds I shook out, stamped out and beat down as many ticks as possible. It was war and all I could think about was John Goodman in 'Arachnophobia' and winning this war with a grin. 

But, I didn't win. I'd like to think of it as a draw. Regardless, I was reminded of how nature always wins. Always.

Smartly, I retreated to Site 7 and re-set up my camp as the first drizzle fell. It was my third day of cold rain and bone chill. I had had enough and needed some semblance of warmth. Immediately. 

I got on my bike and headed to the park store to get wood - the only store within 20 miles. It was closed, and wasn't opening for four days. I could see my saving grace: Dry firewood in a barb-wired, eight-foot gate. 

I climbed it like a wet cat being chased by a one-eyed junkyard dog named Brutus. Once inside, I assembled a small stash to give me warmth for the night, threw it over the fence and returned to camp to make a fire in the rain. It was glorious and gave me the warmth I needed to help me tuck-in for a long night of cold, windy rain. 


As I type, I'm in an adorable cafe in Detroit praying that my friendly mechanic can create a patch of wonder to hold my muffler on and keep me on the road (and save hundreds of dollars and days of waiting). 

While l'm here, I'm hoping to explore Detroit with old friends and have an interview with Fox TV here about my project and to support Detroits's branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with their annual walk to help raise awareness about suicide prevention on the 21st. 

Please send good thoughts to my mechanic and the organizers of the walk! I'll report back.