Leaving Chicago - Day One - June 12, 2015 / by Walter Kitundu

It’s amazing how quietly a trip like this begins. Cleaning out the sink and taking out the trash while the bags sit packed by the door and the bike still slumbers under its cover. Today is the day. Thank goodness Shirin already left for Los Angeles because this would be so much harder if I had to ride away from her into the unknown. On top of that, we are expecting our first child and the idea of leaving for a 10,000 mile motorcycle trip has my nerves up. Good thing it’s rainy steadily outside. I just tell myself that’s a good sign. It means fair weather is just around the corner. Right?

Chicago traffic lives up to it’s reputation and the rain helps center my focus. I’m not interested in laying it down on the way out of town within a few miles of home. I make a few stops to dial in the balance of the bike but more to satisfy my desire to know that my tire pressures are right and all those little noises that didn’t exist before today are still just figments of my charged imagination.

Finally I’m getting settled in and the miles begin to roll by. I’m shrouded by the mist and spray emerging from the wheel wells of semi-trucks and passing cars. The sun peeks out from time to time but mostly I’m swaddled in rain gray gloom. The nerves eventually fade but they never disappear after a few hundred miles I approach the first milestone of the trip. The Illinois/Iowa border marked by the wide swath of the Mississippi River. The wind makes taking a selfie an exercise in concentration but later I’m glad to have captured the gray mood and my all too serious demeanor.

It’s my job to get places safely and I have thousands of miles of getting places safely to do in the next weeks so I take my work seriously. I think of my wife and our child-to-be. I think of my brother whose home I’m barreling toward through these cornfields, of My Mom and Uncle and the children’s hospital they are building in Tanzania, and how every mile will help provide a new ambulance for them. I think of Alaska in all its abstract glory, lurking somewhere down the road ahead, a mental mirage that I won’t trust until the mountains and mosquitos assert themselves.

And I think about my father. After his passing in 2011 anxiety quietly worked its way into my blood and bones and the proximity of my mortality felt close enough to touch. I wound up having a panic attack that put me in the hospital and spent the next 6 months trying to tamp down my overactive fight-or-flight system. It was soon after that I dreamt up the notion of this trip as a way of healing. I needed to know I could be ok when miles from help, that the world could be beautiful and benevolent. I needed the boundaries of life to stretch into the distance just like the horizons I hoped to cross in the more remote areas of the continent.

The outskirts of Des Moines appear and the first day on the road draws to a close. The rain has passed and it's been replaced by a blanket of warm thick air. I rode through here a week ago on a 1,000 mile trip to test my gear and get myself used to multiple days in the saddle. Still, I manage to take a wrong turn and and get lost on familiar ground before eventually rolling into my brother’s driveway amidst the hum and heat of summer insects. The shade of leafy trees embraces the house and since no one is home I sit down and listen to the ticking of the cooling engine and let the tingling subside in my hands and head.

Day one is complete but it replays itself in an attempt to mimic the rhythm that I hope will develop in the weeks to come. I met strangers on the road who were interested in the bike and in the journey to come. Some would follow along on social media and even support the journey with contributions to the hospital. Now I’m in Des Moines surrounded by my brother’s family and very happy that my mother is visiting from Tanzania. It feels like a great place from which to ride off into the unknown tomorrow. I’m still very much in my comfort zone and the challenges are yet to come.

In the evening I watch my nieces perform in a dance recital and think of my wife and of our child and of bears and racists and spastic deer and mechanical breakdowns and lightning and glaciers and the fact that I’ve ridden only 340 of what I think will be about 10,000 miles that lay ahead. One mile and one moment at a time. For now I’m at peace and happy to be finally underway.