For the last 9 months I’ve been living on my Royal Enfield motorcycle named Battle Cat. This is part 2. Click here for part one
This story begins after leaving the west coast; over the cascades and toward the Rockies. In Seattle, I cashed out my Roth IRA (from a job a long time ago) and spent every cent on an incredible Sony A7-2 camera.
First stop was Malalo ya Chui.
This was where I went to school from age 16-20. I dropped out of high school to study naturalist, wilderness survival, and ninja skills. I helped build this place of the Cascade mountains of western Washington in 1996. It has a dirt floor, and a fire pit where we started a fire each winter morning by rubbing sticks together.
Malalo Ya Chui means, “The Lair of the Leopard” and comes from the Akamba tribe in Kenya. Ingwe-The Leopard, was the grandfather of our school and his teachings were a big influence on me. The structure is still in use for teaching youth programs at the Wilderness Awareness School.
My mom was worried that I would end up homeless if I dropped out of school… In a way I guess she was right, but I prefer the term “home free.”
After crossing the mountains I rode for a few days through the deserts of eastern Washington and Oregon. I broke down along the Snake river in the hot middle of nowhere after somehow shearing the teeth off both sprockets.
After towing the bike to the nearest town I had a week to learn how to use the camera.
I got this camera specifically for low light and night photography, so naturally I climbed some barbed wire fences and up the local water tower to play with the camera settings.
A week later I was back on the road and headed north to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. As a teenager I used to track wolves in this area and wanted to see if I could catch a glimpse of the animal that represents everything that is wild and free.
Wolf front and rear track
I explored long stretches on mountain gravel roads, camped in my old favorite spots and discovered new ones.
Battle Cat took a dive, cornering on a gravel road.
I found fresh wolf tracks and scat along the edges of forest and field and decided to make camp there.
I made a traditional tobacco offering as a thank you. As I learned growing up, many native trackers believe that it is possible to connect with the spirit of an animal through its footprints, so I spoke to them with respect and reverence.
After Glacier I headed south to Yellowstone. To avoid paying campsite fees, I parked my camouflaged motorcycle in some trees and slept next to a fire in an empty site; being sure to wake up before sunrise to avoid and park rangers. Problem was, my bike doesn’t start in the cold or at high altitude so I spent an hour in below freezing cold spraying some explosive gas into the air intake and then jumping on the kickstart like a frustrated toddler.
On the way out of the park I passed a fresh roadkill rabbit (still warm) so I turned back, put it in a plastic bag and strapped it to my bike to eat later. It was delicious.
Rabbit in a white plastic bag strapped to the bike
After riding down to Salt Lake City I made a last minute decision to go to burning man and rode 600 miles west through Utah and Arizona.
Burning man from a prop plane. 60,000 people camped below
Dirty sexy bike
On the playa
I don’t have any other Burning Man photos because my camera, and everything else I own, was stolen by some meth addicts in Sun Valley, Nevada.
All that remained were the clothes on my back, the contents of my pockets, and a broken motorcycle.
I found myself here after a catastrophic motorcycle breakdown left me sitting next to my motorcycle in the desert with a seized engine.
My new camera, laptop, backup hard drive, passport, my sleeping bag and tent (my home) all my clothes, and everything I need to survive. My favorite knife. Gone.
Here’s my journal entry:
September 8, 2015
My motorcycle broke down on my way out of Burning Man and the only Royal Enfield specialist in the state of Nevada was 100 miles away. After waiting in the desert all day I finally got a tow truck and arrived in Sun Valley around 11pm. There were no motel vacancies within 20 miles on account of the festival so I left the bike in front of the mechanics and stashed my bags in the bushes. I decided to grab an apple and some milk and then sleep on top of the 7 eleven.
I saw what I thought was a homeless man playing solitaire around the side of the building where I intended to climb up, so I sat across the street to wait him out. After an hour he approached, asked for a cigarette, and inquired what I was up to this time of night. I explained my situation and he offered a place on his couch a couple blocks away. As a traveler I have come to rely on the kindness of strangers many times and I though, “amazing! Such great luck.” I desperately needed a shower.
I grabbed my backpack from the bushes and me led me to his house; a dumpy place with viscous sounding dogs in the yard. It’s maybe 1am.
He informed me that he didn’t get along with his housemates and I needed to be quiet. His room was a walled off living room with an accordion style wooden “door”, a couch over an in floor hot tub that was filled with pillows, a TV, and desk. An absolute white trash shit hole but whatever.
He wore glasses, was a bit ugly and fat, had a quirkiness that made me assume he registered on the normal side the asberger spectrum. And horrible teeth; the latter I came to find is a symptom of chronic methamphetamine abuse.
He seemed harmless.
In the morning we walked to get breakfast and talk to the mechanics. He told me to hide my bags in the room, which I thought was a bit strange, and I tucked them under the couch.
We returned two hours hours later to find my bags missing. He ran out of the room and began a screaming match with some very upset sounding lady in the living room.
“You took my friends bags!”
“You can’t have guests here!”
“I fucking LIVE here you crazy bitch!”
I came out to reason with her and apologize for intruding. I tried to explain that these bags contained everything I owned in the world but she cut me off and told me to get the fuck out. I tried to gently appeal to her sense of humanity.
A shirtless white man with stringy long hair came out of one of the back rooms wielding an axe. I apologized, and left with body language showing that I didn’t want any trouble. Yes. An axe.
She screamed that she was calling the cops.
“Good,” I thought to myself.
They showed up almost immediately and my new friend started freaking out and acting like a drug addict. Suddenly I realized that this was a very bad situation. They cuffed him as he struggled and I stood aside as directed. What was I going to tell them?
Once a female officer approached, I explained my plight and they went to talk to psycho lady. Upon returning, they explained that the woman inside denied any knowledge of my bags and there was nothing they could do. The man with the axe was no longer in the house and I assume he slid out the back when he heard the police arrive.
My MacBook Air, hard drive full of 10 years of travel photos, new Sony a7-2 ($2,500) about $1,500 in camping gear, and all the medicine items I’ve collected from years of traveling the world,(a yak horn amulet from the Tibetan kingdom of Lo, a boar tooth necklace from my Thai brother, white sai sin strings from my now deceased Thai father and grandfather, a 2,500 year old Alexander the Great coin I made into a necklace) were all gone. Probably $6,000 to replace everything, and of course journals and pictures; priceless memories.
The officer explained that this was a Flop House: a place where people come to buy drugs and guns. There might have been 5-10 people coming and going at odd times and any of them might have taken my belongings. There was nothing they could do.
I feel foolish and totally defeated. I can’t even write anymore. I’ve have nothing. The loss is numbing and I can’t stop tears from coming at random times as I stare at an empty wall.”
It was hard to keep myself from burning their house down in the middle of the night.
After repairing the bike as well as I could on limited funds, my first ride was a full day along highway 50–The Loneliest Highway in America, keeping the bike at 50mph on account of the engine rebuild. It was a long, lonely day for sure, and I shivered for hours and hours into the desert night.
After dropping the bike at yet another mechanic in Vegas, I caught rides and hitchhiked around the southwest to take some photographs (with my phone), slept outside in the desert, on rooftops, or hidden in plain sight like a proper ninja-Vagabond.
Insert vegas pic
After visiting a night club, I slept in a hidden spot behind this statue on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Horseshoe bend, Arizona
Havasu before the flash flood
Havasu before the flash flood
I spent about a month visiting a friend in the Chemehuavi Indian reservation on the west side of Lake Havasu, and spent many nights sitting around fires with friends and telling stories.
Questions I often get:
I don’t go to gyms anymore as the road makes any nonessential routine difficult. Very rarely will I crank out a bunch of pull-ups, push-ups, or single leg squats but over all my raw “gym strength” has diminished. I’ve lost weight. I have also stopped fight training. I don’t train Muay Thai or play Jiu Jitsu anymore, so my conditioning isn’t there either. So I’m not sure if I’m actually staying fit or just slowly losing it.
However, I hike with a pack, climb trees to gather branches, and carry loads of firewood. I run when the land inspires it, I climb rocks, bridges, and buildings seeking beautiful views. It’s all very natural and creates a useful, rugged type of fitness that feels good. My broken back is still more stiff than it should be for my age so I need to address that somehow that isn’t yoga.
What do you eat?
Pretty much everything. When I’m on the road it’s either a Nomad Oatmeal mix that I make myself (rolled oats, powdered milk, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, and dried cranberries- just soak for a while and eat raw or heated), a sandwich and an apple at a gas station, or coffee, eggs and toast at a roadside diner- this was the most common roadside meal of the last 9 months.
Some days I don’t eat, but If I’m visiting a friend in town somewhere, I feast like a wolf. It’s ridiculous. Really.
Living on the edge reminds me I’m an animal. I feel sharper and more in tune with my body and surroundings. I spend sunny afternoons naked along remote mountain rivers, swimming, washing clothes, gathering wild edibles.
One thing I always carry is a small jar of truffle salt. Salt makes pretty much every thing taste better and the truffle aroma quickly transforms wild meat cooked over a fire into gourmet cuisine. This also works for eggs, bread, hard cheese, and fish. Add wine? Things become fancy real quick.
Where do you sleep?
I sleep next to rivers, in desert badlands, on mountains. I reconnect with something primal. At times I feel the animal that lies just underneath my thin layer of humanity. This changes how I interact with the world in every way. If it’s raining I sleep in a camping hammock; if not, I’m next to a fire.
When I connect with nature I’m reminded of who I am. In wilderness I am a king; free to roam. The stars are my ceiling, and I fall asleep tracking their ark. They are familiar. It is all mine.
I’ve lived outside in 120 desert sun and spent nights shivering on the ground where I awoke covered in frost. I’ve been very hot and very cold on this trip. To say I shiver a lot is an understatement.
I don’t carry modern outdoor gear and I rarely feel protected from the elements. A pleasant result is that I deeply enjoy basic comforts.
Every once in a while, the climate is just so. You know, that unnoticeable perfect temperature between hot and cold? I stop and I notice. I appreciate it. When you’re hungry, food tastes better. When you live outside, good weather is delicious.
What do you wear?
I “practice poverty” (in the stoic sense) by both necessity and philosophy. Everything must be plain, simple, and easy to carry.
I have two outfits, one for civilization, one for wilderness. Both are carefully constructed to blend and function in their environments. I can go to a a nightclub or ninja climb a building with one outfit. In the other I can disappear into the wilderness. Carrying anything else is unnecessary and cumbersome. I have come to see my clothing as a functional costume. One my hero would wear.
A always wear a knife or two and a tactical flashlight. When I need to go into any building with a metal detector, this has to be considered. I stash them outside in blind spots and then do my best not to forget them.
I regularly hide my backpack in bushes or “dead spaces”–ninja spots the eye doesn’t notice–so I’m able to wander around like a normal person. Besides, carrying everything all the time is a real burden. Not once has anything been found.
I have a pair of black leather boots that have become soft as moccasins, and a pair of flip flops. (because i like hiking in flip flops)
What do you do when you visit cities?
I’m no hermit. I crave human connection. Maybe it’s a flaw, and sometimes it feels that way, but after days or a week without human contact I want to talk to someone. So I ride toward lights on the horizon.
I make new friends and get glimpses into different lives. I share beers or cigarettes with strangers, vagrants, and hippies. I go to bars, sit on street corners and talk to weirdos, prostitutes, and homeless people.
I look at small American life with the same curiosity and wonder that I might when visiting a remote tribe in an Indonesian jungle or nomadic Tibetan Yak herders in the Himalayas. I see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I meet people who are like characters from movies and I am fascinated by them.
Through the eyes of a traveler, everything is exotic.
The more people I meet and stories I listen to, the more I see myself in others. Something in them reminds me of a lover, a family member, or a friend. I see the humanity in everyone.
Empathy is a powerful tool for connection and I feel it comes naturally for those who travel in this way.
Nights find me at friends place, in a park, or on some rooftop, and I fall asleep listening to Alan Watts or adventure books on Audible.
So here I am, ending this chapter. I’m leaving my motorcycle in LA and heading to Southeast Asia to visit friends and family, explore new places, and possibly continue my Enfield adventures in India and Nepal.