The trip was five years in the making.
Chicago to Los Angeles and back. Over 4,000 miles of open road and blue skies. After a friend successfully procured three weeks off work, Ken Carvajal knew he could no longer put off the trip of a lifetime.
The catch? He’d be making the journey on two wheels via his trusted motorcycle.
His hesitation was understandable: traversing that distance, often along desolate roads without another car, let alone gas station or helpful mechanic, would be daunting to most. Yet Ken is no amateur — the day we spoke, he casually mentioned that he’d be out of touch that weekend, traversing the circumference of Lake Michigan with some friends: a thousand-mile journey.
Ken’s cross-country journey began with the frustration of trying to park in downtown Chicago, where he lives. He initially wanted a moped or a Vespa, but his wife balked at their notoriety for being unsafe. Six years later, he’s still traversing the country on the back of a proper bike, and even convinces her to come along for the ride sometimes.
He admits that there’s something addictive about the bike’s proximity to the elements — he loves feeling the breeze, the sudden change in temperature, the minute fluxes in motion, the feeling of leaning into a turn, of riding among friends.
Those feelings buoyed his adventure, up the climbs of Pike’s Peak (which didn’t have guardrails), by the sandstone buttes of Monument Valley, across Nevada’s lonely 89A, and through the giant sequoia trees of California.
He was particularly struck by the otherworldly vistas in Nevada at the Valley of Fire State Park, broiling at high noon when Ken rolled in. Riding over the smooth roads between the scorching asphalt and the shade from the giant rock formations was surreal. The views were, too. Deep red rock and brilliant blue sky resulted in photos that looked unearthly, that Ken would later slightly desaturate to make more believable.
The trip wasn’t all gorgeous views though, it was a fluid journey, punctuated by snap decisions and ever-changing rest-stop plans. While the greatest mechanical issues Ken and his buddies faced included a burst tire and a simple oil leak, the elements weren’t always on their side.
Temperatures in Nevada climbed to nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and Ken’s return trip included a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. When they reached US 395, the winds blew so strongly he was convinced he’d been riding nearly sideways. The only alternate route was through Death Valley, which was touting temperatures of almost 130 at that time. They weighed their options, choosing wind. Bracing the gusts, they rode on.
Once he returned safely home, Ken wasted no time planning new trips: to South Dakota, Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, to the Mid-Atlantic states and then down south.
He can’t wait to be back on the road, but in the meantime, while he’s at home, exploring Chicago, at least he has no trouble finding a parking spot.