What Is Within Is Without
What gets you outside of yourself? Where are you headed? What do you feel as your brain stretches its invisible tentacles into the outside world—sometimes with the help of the tools and devices you use to bring you out of yourself? Like the mobile phone, for instance, which can take you out into the world or pull you back inside yourself. That’s up to you. What is within is without. Pot and LSD can spirit you away, too. They’re different kinds of tools that open you up to the outward world in a different way than you’re used to. Of course, you can also use them to delve inward. Either way, you’re always searching for that which is true to yourself. Or at least, you should be. What is within is without.
High on the Road
It was the start of the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love, and I was headed west to California, riding my 1967 raked Triumph 650 Bonneville TT through the grasslands of northwest Nebraska on Route 12 along the meandering Niobrara River, just outside the small city of Valentine. My shoulder-length hair was flowing behind me like a black cape. I was Dracula on a motorcycle, stoned out of my mind, cranking ninety-five on a long straightaway, ready to take a bite out of life. Transylvania was behind me, San Francisco ahead of me. A bright, shining light. Thunderheads filled the darkening sky. The smell of ozone was strong and tingled in my nose, urging me to pull over and seek shelter. I kept going. Not about to stop—not yet. I was headed for a KOA campground several miles down the road I’d stayed at once before. The rain, I hoped, would wait until I set up my pup tent. But of course, that wasn’t meant to be.
Jim Harrison, a writer I hadn’t read at that point of my life, used to make road trips by himself to get away from his work and family. He’d take off in his car and follow some lonely highway out into the hinterlands. At the end of the day he’d stay at a motel, eat a sumptuous meal at a diner and drink copious amounts of red wine. He’d have no destination in mind. He just wanted to drive and think. Unlike me, who was headed to a fixed destination, he was headed into nowhere. But nowhere is always somewhere to someone. Still, nowhere sounded good to me. For right now, anyway. Nowhere would be a good contrast to San Francisco. I vowed to enjoy it until I got to somewhere: Haight-Ashbury.
The rain came a few miles from the campground, sideways and every which way. I pulled over and put on my helmet. Hated helmets, but the force of the rain hurt the top of my head. I took off again. The gusting wind nearly blew me off the road, but I held onto the bike, slowed down, much to my chagrin, as the sky closed in around me, thunder booming, lightning striking too close for comfort. Then, a burst of hail exploded like a bomb above me, fell like bullets, bouncing off my helmet. I finally made it to my destination, drenched to the bone. The campground was full, and as I was about to turn around and drive away, dispirited, not knowing where I was going to hole up for the night, a group of hippies (like me) I guessed by their looks, huddled around a campfire, partially shielded with a massive tarp strung from three trees, motioned me over and bade me to stay with them.
Motorcycle on the Rooftop
They told me to park my bike under the tarp which, for some strange reason, reminded me of a song (don’t recall the title) by the rock group Spirit, with lyrics about a motorcycle parked on a rooftop. Strong stuff I’d been smoking. They provided me with dry clothes, a bowl of gruel and a joint. I changed in a VW microbus parked nearby and joined everyone around the fire. I hung up my wet clothing on a line under the tarp, lit up the joint and relaxed, stopped my shivering and dug into the rice, beans and lentils. Nothing ever tasted so good and, along with the pot, I felt like I had arrived at a safe place. Even though I was among strangers, I at once felt they were old friends I had lost track of.
Uncle Bob and Aunt Harley
I remember some of their names, because they were unusual. At the time, I didn’t know if I’d stumbled onto a cult, but it seemed like it. No matter, I’d go with the flow. Throw my paranoia to the wind. I wasn’t going to be with them forever. At least, I hoped not. Their leader, if you can call him that, was named Uncle Bob. He was taller than the rest, really tall—6’6”, I guessed. His partner was called Aunt Harley. Others were named similarly: uncle and aunt, this and that. I warmed up and relaxed. I found they, too, were headed to San Francisco. I was asked to join their caravan. Even though I was a lone wolf, I accepted. I was tired of being by myself. I needed the company, cult or no cult.
The rain abated a few hours later. We sat around the fire, smoking and joking. I fell asleep in my sleeping bag, my pup tent still stashed in my pack on my bike. When I awoke the next morning, the sky was clear with a reddish glow lingering in the east. I could already feel the heat of the day coming on. It was six in the morning. The smell of ripe hay and farm animals permeated the air, manure and deep earth. We packed up and I led the caravan out of the campground onto Route 12. Two VW microbuses and an old Dodge van pulled out behind me. We were on our way to Haight- Ashbury.
We dropped down onto I-80 for a while, then onto I-25. Outside of Denver I stopped and picked up a hitchhiker—in those days you could still do so without worrying your hair off. Today, not so much. I remember he was a young kid, maybe eighteen, wiry build, red-faced and fast-talking. He reminded me at once of Robert Fripp, the lead guitarist of King Crimson—a spitting image of the man. He was on his way to see his girlfriend in Los Angeles. I told him I could get him to San Francisco, and he could head south from there. He agreed and got on the back of my bike. He was clearly tripping, wildly gesturing at the passing landscape and various birds along the way, not making a whole lot of sense. Said he’d taken two tabs of acid that morning. It showed. Told me his name was Brendon. He worked in some hardware store in Nome, Alaska. I didn’t ask why his girlfriend lived in L.A. and he lived up in the boonies of Alaska. Different strokes for different folks. I mean, there are hardware stores in L.A., too.
The One-Horse Town
The caravan headed into Utah, and we stopped for the night at the border in a small town I’ve forgotten the name of. We camped in a deserted, wind-swept campground. Brendon and I went into the town, which consisted of a one-block main street with houses nestled up behind the two or three buildings. The kind of place you rolled into, put your brakes on and you were already out of town. Still, in a dilapidated park we scored some tabs of acid. It was that easy back in the day. Freaks were everywhere, even out here in nowhere, where the people live somewhere.
My Bike, My Awe
We all dropped the acid that night. I remember running out into a field and staring down a cow, thinking I was a medicine man with horns coming out of the top of my forehead. The cow regarded me with indifference, turned and meandered away past a massive haystack I thought was a giant leering at me from the shadows. I stayed up all night and didn’t feel tired the next morning. The LSD was strong, and I was still flying when I got on my bike at sunrise. Out on the road the pavement turned into a snake and wound its way around me. My Triumph was the perfect worldly device, propelling me from inside to outside and back again. Without the bike, I wouldn’t be here now, wouldn’t be experiencing these new people in this new, novel way. The motorcycle enriched me, made it possible to create this time I was living. Without it I wouldn’t be heading to California. I was a hog-riding fool, picking up the pieces of my outward experiences and putting back them together inside my head, then throwing them out again. Haight-Ashbury lay ahead of me, grinning like the Cheshire Cat stoned on Acapulco Gold.
Up Next: Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love