Traveling through America on a motorbike.
7910 miles / 12.656 km
Ely – Pioche – Caliente – Las Vegas
When I left The Netherlands 2,5 months ago I realized how much trouble I had – and still have – with leaving. Being away from home is not what frightens me; leaving does. The past ten weeks I barely slept in the same bed twice; every morning I had to say goodbye to a place and/or a person. Sometimes that was easy, sometimes not at all. I have not returned to any place or person, except for Pioche. From there I drove 200 miles back to Vegas – the same route on which I started my journey.
When I arrived in Pioche and smelled the scent of ‘my’ bar I did not want to leave anymore. Again. I got the nicest room and they had a surprise for me. The next day I got a cowboy hat and they took me to the shooting range. A shooting range in Nevada is pretty much like an empty field in the middle of nowhere with a view of the mountains. A former shooting instructor (Dan) and John (the plumber, no joke) showed me the ropes. They taught me about different bullets, different guns and how to use them. The love, the care and enthusiasm with which they shared their knowledge was touching. I started small, with a .22, and ended with an uzi. Learning how to stand firmly; to focus, concentrate and control a weapon was a special experience. In a certain way it was comparable to motor riding – most motor riders will recognize the euphoric feeling of taking a very sharp turn (successfully) with your knee almost hitting the ground. This also requires focus, concentration and is about playing with something that is bigger and/or stronger than yourself.
After two days it was time to leave Pioche. Las Vegas was the final destination. On the way I rode past Caliente. Suddenly I remembered my first ‘photo-subject’ lived there. I recognized the RV park and rode up to his trailer. I knocked on the door and there he was. The man who had been walking to the post office several times in the last few weeks to check if I had already sent him a letter. Now I was at his front door, almost 8000 miles and 2,5 months later. He threw his arms in the sky and gave me the sweetest hug. I had to cry when I saw him. The man moves me so much I cannot express it in words. I could listen to him for hours. He talks about responsibilities, desires, connections. I am struggling with a lot of ‘why-questions’, and without realizing it he gives me the answers. He speaks in my words, as though he can create order in the chaos in my mind. The man is lonely, but not bitter. The man narrates without being pedantic and the man is sweet above all. His eyes tell a 1000 stories and I want to hear all of them. His words when I arrived: ‘It is good to have you home! I missed you, honey’. That’s how it felt. Home. There the not-wanting-to-leave feeling was again..
Once I arrived in Vegas I was empty – drained from all emotions, meetings and impressions. Yet I could not find peace. I was still not finished. Mike, the man who I met in the first week, who called me ‘lil gal’ and let me use his gun to shoot along the highway, put me into contact with a beautiful voluptuous lady who worked in a thrift shop – a nice title for a photo: ‘naked lady in thrift store’. I shot an image that reminded me of ‘woman sleeping’ from Lucian Freud.
The next morning marked another goodbye: my metal buddy had to go back to the dealer. The lifeless object had already become so much more than that to me. It had driven me to many different places, with me riding on his back, jabbering/singing/crying/cursing. The longer I was on the road, the calmer I became. The worn out tire gave away the amount of miles it had made. Calmly I rode to the dealer – a few last thumbs up from guys in cars. I parked the Harley in front of the door and got a bit sick to my stomach when someone came for the key. The thought of someone else riding ‘my’ Harley hurt a little. I asked how much it would cost to bring it to Amsterdam. They gave me a price for the same model. But I did not want the same model, I wanted this one. That was virtually impossible. And so the motorcycle, my buddy, would stay there to carry someone else. I was a bit jealous, even though I had no idea who would ride it. It embarrassed me.
Once I got to the airport I finally realized that I had done it: I had made almost 8000 miles (in the beginning I set out to hit 6000)! Birds, butterflies and dragonflies that dodged my bike at the very last moment, the cold airflow when rain was coming, the white mist of a nearby hailstorm, the sun creating dark spots on the top of my hands, the rocks hitting my skin when a big truck passed me with ease, the mascara in my eyes after a sudden downpour, the smell of yellow flowers alternating with the smell of roadkill – I will miss EVERYTHING.
This whole journey was about overcoming my boundaries fed by fear. Fear as an emotion is necessary, but often it does not tell the truth. Often, where I should feel a boundary, I can’t sense it. And where the threshold is based on fear I feel it too fast which often holds me back. I wanted to embark on a journey which pushed me over the edge physically and mentally – I think I succeeded.
Currently I am in New York City. This morning I shot my last portrait of the trip. My whole journey was about photographing people whom I felt a mutual connection with. I wanted to end the series with a portrait of someone who I – as long as I can reminder – admire in what she does. The way she plays with boundaries fascinates me endlessly. I photographed Marina Abramovic. She opened her door and almost immediately we both felt at ease. I wanted to end with a double portrait, that seemed like a nice finale. We curled up on the sofa together – she in her pajamas and me in my worn out only pair of jeans and all was well. We were lying against eachother, it felt like home again. Maybe my home is in transit. If this is true, I never have to leave again.
The end. Or the beginning (it depends on how you look at it).
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PS. I should not forget to mention that I am more than happy with my equipment, thanks to Calumet Amsterdam, Mamiya and Profoto Studiopartners.