I had no more excuses. Sitting in my driveway was an old motorcycle that still ran well but was beginning to rust away. For years, I'd dreamed of taking my Motorcycle Diaries trip, which definitely included the part about exploring South America, having some steamy love affairs, maybe even starting my own Che Guevara-inspired revolution.
But dreams are still dreams, and the idea of driving a motorcycle from my home in Colorado to Argentina seemed, sadly, impossible with my domesticated trappings. But a trip through Wyoming and Montana, for two weeks? That seemed doable. So I took some time off work, bought a few maps and found three books that were perfect for the trip.
By James Galvin, paperback 240 pages, Holt Paperbacks, list price: $15
Driving through Wyoming, I started with a novel called The Meadow by James Galvin, which takes place on the Colorado-Wyoming border. Galvin describes a punishing stretch of ranch land where men still snap ribs on cattle drives, and where the winters are so long and the silences so heavy that people lose track of days and, sometimes, their sanity. This is a novel to ingest slowly and patiently. Because Galvin is primarily a poet, he's not interested in riveting plot lines, but moments, images, crystalline reflections of characters who sometimes die because they're too scared to ask for help in a community that prides itself on self-reliance.
In Search of Small Gods
By Jim Harrison, paperback 104 pages, Copper Canyon Press, list price: $16
From Wyoming, I crossed into Montana — the rugged territory of Jim Harrison, whose iconic novels include Legends of the Fall and Dalva. But like James Galvin, Harrison is also a poet, and his most recent collection of poems, In Search of Small Gods, is a stunner. It captures Harrison's love for both Buddhism and the outdoors, contrasting moments of inner calm with the primal brutality of the Western wilderness. At the same time, Harrison refuses to abandon his storytelling powers, and many of these poems unfold like simple fables. They leave you with the sense that you've just learned something, even though you're not sure what.
By Hunter S. Thompson, paperback 273 pages, Ballantine Books, list price: $15
But look, I realize that a motorcycle trip is also supposed to be a manly adventure of oil and engines and whiskey and troublemaking, so I brought along Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson. This is the ultimate biker book that recounts the author's adventures riding with the infamous Hell's Angels motorcycle gang as they brawled, boozed and tore through small towns like vikings. But in the end, Thompson reveals that they were still regular guys whose toxic reputations commonly broke apart their families, their jobs and sometimes their entire lives.
It's rumored that Thompson wrote the last half of Hell's Angels in 48 hours with a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon. That story inspired me so much that I hid away my book of poetry and ventured into a dingy biker bar. I quickly realized that my week-old patchy beard and Patagonia raincoat looked pathetically lame next to my leather-coated, tattooed brethren.
Needless to say, I returned home to Colorado a humbled man.
So for those of you who have always dreamed of taking a similar adventure, you have no more excuses. Because I have already solved the hardest problem of taking this trip, or, for that matter, any trip. It isn't figuring out where you'll go or how you'll get the bike, but deciding on what books you'll bring.
Jonathan Bastian is the host of Page by Page, a syndicated literary program on Aspen Public Radio. He owns a 1993 BMW GS motorcycle, which is currently covered in snow but will be ready for another trip this spring.
Three Books... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva.