Matt Lief Anderson is a photographer and travel-lover hailing from Alton, Illinois. In the fall of 2013, he set out on a 4,000 mile motorcycle journey from Los Angeles to Alaska, chasing diverse American and Canadian landscapes. Despite broken-down bikes and a last-minute car rental, Matt was successful in his endeavor; in fact, inspired by the journey, he traveled an additional 6,000 miles.
Want to know more? Read on.
How did you decide to embark on this motorcycle trip? What did you hope to achieve?
I was living in Istanbul and had just finished a huge motorcycle trip in Vietnam. A friend contacted me about a journey in America and we planned it over the course of a few months via email. We spent our time loosely going over routes, looking at potential bikes and contacting companies to sponsor our trip. Our goal was to ride from LA to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. I didn’t have any expectations or anything particular I wanted to achieve; it was just about challenging ourselves and having an incredible adventure, and going home with a couple of good photos to show for it.
Describe your route.
The trip in its entirety was three months long. We started in Joshua Tree National Park, then made our way up through California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, The Yukon, and into Alaska. On the way back, we also rode through Montana and Idaho, ending the trip in Washington. We had loose ideas of routes and things to see but I hate to over-plan. Most of our decisions about roads to take and places to stop were spur of the moment.
What changes did you see in landscape or culture as you traveled from city to city or state to state?
One of the best parts of the United States, and even Canada, is the diversity in people and landscapes. To me, each state and province is like its own little country. One day you’re in 120 degree desert heat chugging 10 liters of water, and a few weeks later you’re huddled over a fire watching the Northern Lights. You go from trendy bars in San Francisco and having drinks in the middle nowhere in the Yukon. I think people tend to think of the US or North America as one large, homogenous place, but it’s actually unbelievably diverse.
Describe a challenge you faced on your journey.
Before we left, I spent all my money on a new motorcycle and it broke down halfway through the trip. I had to scrap it for next to nothing. After that happened, I hitchhiked for a while, hoping to make it to my destination that way. Eventually, though, I succumbed to renting a car. I was so angry and disappointed that I wasn’t going to finish the trip on a motorcycle; being in a car felt like less of an adventure. To compensate, I turned our planned 4,000 mile trip into one of more than 10,000 miles. My friends made it to Fairbanks on their bikes and we finished the trip to the Arctic together. Then they sold their bikes and went home and I drove on for another month or so.
Did you travel differently when you were alone versus when you were with friends?
The way I traveled was pretty similar; the biggest difference was probably how I went about meeting and interacting. Traveling solo is a great way to meet new people; in fact, I met some French guys while waiting for the Northern Lights in Fairbanks and we ended up staying up all night together, and in Banff, I met a group of English girls and we all hiked a mountain together. You’re almost forced to be social with others, though there’s obviously plenty of opportunity for solitude if that’s more what you’re after.
Do you think this journey transformed you in any way – from the way you see travel to the way you see yourself to the way you see this country?
I’ve done a great deal of traveling and I have learned and grown from every trip. This particular adventure put a lot of things into perspective. The little things in life that stress us all out on a day to day basis pale in comparison to pushing a bike down the road in the middle of nowhere covered in blood, sweat, and oil. Getting stuck in a traffic jam or having a flat bicycle tire here in Chicago stresses me out but I’m pretty good at brushing things off now. I’ve been all over the world and have sometimes been in danger or stranded somewhere. I’ve become pretty patient and I don’t sweat the small stuff as much.
What advice do you have for those looking to have a similar experience?
Don’t buy a used motorcycle on Craigslist three days before you embark on a huge trip! But if you do, bring a friend who knows a little bit about bikes to give it a once over.