It was one of the last years, I think, that a young man on a motorcycle could travel America like a knight riding the kingdom in search of dragons to slay and maidens to rescue. I set out in the spring from Whidbey Island, Washington, on an 80cc Yamaha motorbike, the Odyssey. Just like a real motorcycle, only smaller. I packed everything I owned on it. Loaded, it topped out at 35mph on straightaways.

I traveled for a year living in a tent and working odd jobs. People asked me where I was going.

From here to there, I replied.

In Idaho, a cowboy on a bay horse rode up to my tent and dismounted to roll a smoke.

“The West ain’t gonna be like this much longer,” he said.

Some drunks near Salt Lake City ran me off the highway. I fry-cooked at a greasy spoon until I earned enough money to repair Odyssey.

In June, I lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation at Four Corners, in a two-room adobe with a family of eight. George Rose was the Indian father.

“There ain’t no place anymore for Indians,” he said bitterly. “By God, Indians owned this country first.”

I traveled throughout the South all fall. One freezing night in Arkansas, I came upon an old-time tent revival in a field. The country preacher’s fiery words slashed through the dreadful night.

“The Lord is comin’! It wouldn’t surprise me if he comes walking right through that door tonight!”

With my helmet, goggles and coat crusted with sleet and ice, I walked through the door like some unexpected Ice Age monster. There was a long silence.

Black sharecroppers in Louisiana found me camped in the cold and took me home with them, to a four-room shanty with a yard full of kids and chickens and an old tire swing.

“Gran’pappy was a slave right down yonder at the ol’ place,” Papa Lee Henry said.

A hurricane menaced New Orleans. An old girlfriend from Seattle and I motored Odyssey up and down Bourbon Street leaving pools of water on dance floors.

In Mississippi, I camped in the yard of an abandoned church. Soon, a threatening mob of locals headed my way while a giant hog rooted around nearby for hickory nuts.

“Boy,” said the most surly of the lot,” that old sow could eat you up tonight and nobody’d ever know what happened to you.”

Afterwards, I learned federal agents that night arrested a sheriff and others in nearby Meridian for the slayings of three Civil Rights workers. Folks in front of my tent thought I might be another Civil Rights protestor.

“Son,” attested a fat woman in Georgia, “in all your travels you should take the Holy Ghost with you.”

I had been on the road a year when I reached Florida. The Yamaha was starting to smoke and show its miles. I stopped at every tourist trap along the way for free orange juice. Limping my way across the Everglades, I arrived in Miami with eight dollars in my jeans.

I rented a skid row room and paid a student Cuban barber fifty cents for a haircut. He promised such a splendid cut would surely get me a good job after my long and brave odyssey from the farthest northwestern corner of the country to its opposite southeastern corner.

He was right. I became a Miami cop.


New Books here of coming this year by Charles W. Sasser: THE WAR CHASER (thriller, Deadly Niche); BACK IN THE FIGHT (Iraqi war, St. Martin’s); SANCTUARY (SciFi, Mischievous Muse); A THOUSAND YEARS OF DARKNESS (Deadly Niche).