An exploration of the borders between the United States, Canada, and Mexico becomes a comedy of breakdowns in small towns all around America in this four-month, ten-thousand mile adventure. Experience moments of blissful backroads freedom, cultural connection, and roadside romance--interrupted by cracked welds, electrical gremlins, evil tow truck drivers, tornadoes, and hurricanes. From B.C. to the Blue Ridge, Boquillias to Beverly Hills, American Borders is a unique and intimate exploration of the United States and its neighbors.
Carla gives an overview of the book:
In 1995 I traveled around the United States on a Russian Ural sidecar motorcycle that was designed in 1938 and built in 1994. While I could have chosen a more conventional and reliable motorcycle, the Ural enticed me with unique qualities from a previous era-the graceful lines, the sidecar, the sound of its engine. I'd ridden many bikes since I learned to ride as a teenager, but I had never actually traveled by motorcycle until I was 28, when I somewhat accidentally ended up alone in Europe. Because a woman traveling alone is an oddity, and doubly so if she is traveling by motorcycle, people often ask, "Aren't you scared?"
Back then the answer was yes, but today I can honestly answer no. On that first trip, I learned to face my fears, and not let them get in the way of my dreams. So the story of this journey really begins with that first, accidental, solo tour.
I was twenty-four when I married a man who seemed to share my desire to travel, but four long years passed before we made real plans to go. Once the date was set, the arrangements were left to me, as my husband was busy with a big project at work. I rented two Honda 750's to be picked up in Milan, made lists of gear, bought guidebooks, phrasebooks, and detailed maps to plan our route. But when it came time to book the trip, he backed out.
I was angry and disappointed because we hadn't taken a real vacation in four years-since our honeymoon. Also, because we had been dreaming of this trip since we had been dating, and it had been delayed too many times.
Of all my emotions, anger won out. I booked my own airline ticket and cancelled his motorcycle, then presented him with the itinerary and motorcycle rental agency information so he could make his own arrangements. He conceded that he might join me for the last two weeks of the trip, if the project was completed. He didn't try to talk me out of going, or suggest a new date that would be more convenient for him.
I thought he would relent, but when the day came, he drove me to the airport and I boarded the plane alone. Several hours into my flight, panic set in. Until then, anger and disappointment had obscured all other emotions, most notably, fear: fear about the future of my marriage, and fear about traveling alone. I considered turning back once I arrived in Milan, but when the plane landed, I boarded the train, determined to keep my appointment to pick up the motorcycle, which was to be delivered to me at Milan's Stazione Centrale.
The man who rode it there was in a hurry to catch a train back home, so after a quick review of the features of the bike, I was left alone in the midst of people purposefully going about their lives. Trying to match their confidence, I loaded gear from my duffle bag into the panniers, arranged my Milan map in its place on the tank bag, and headed south to a large youth hostel where I had decided to spend the night.
Milan is a large, confusing city built in concentric circles, and no matter what I did, I kept ending up back at Stazione Centrale. The street signs, embedded in the stonework of the buildings, were nearly impossible to read in the fading afternoon light, and traffic was unrelentingly aggressive. It was dusk when two cars in front of me collided, stopping traffic. The drivers got out with voices booming and fists clenched. When a young man on a Moto Guzzi pulled up beside me, I took advantage of the delay to ask him for directions. When he realized that I could not understand him, he led me through a maze of side-streets to the hostel's door. There, I fell into a deep sleep, despite the excited chatter of the young travelers who shared my dormitory.
The next day I took the autostrada to Genoa, then turned west at the coast. I ate lunch standing up in a zinc bar-cafÈ crowded with construction workers who were gulping tiny cups of espresso, stopped at a market for supplies, and found a campground on a bluff above San Remo. I pitched my tent, enjoyed the sunset, and slept soundly. In the morning I packed up and, just a few kilometers down the road, crossed the border into France.
By then my anger had subsided and I was alternating between two emotional states: numbness and extreme self-pity. After all, I was visiting places my husband and I had planned to visit together- the Riviera, the casinos of Monte Carlo, the Roman ruins of Arles. Each evening I set up my tent in a campground filled with couples and families from all over Europe, cooked a quick dinner over my camp stove and washed it down with wine. I went to sleep early so I could rise early for another day of riding, of experiencing all the sights and smells we were supposed to experience together.
The day I was to visit Carcassone-one of Europe's perfectly preserved medieval villages and the destination I'd looked forward to most-I'd been riding for a week. By then I had called home several times, and my husband had hinted that he might still join me at some point on the trip. Riding to Carcassone, I saw a telephone booth and stopped, because suddenly, I had to know. Plunking in some coins, I waited for the clicks and silences that meant the call was going through, and the remote, tinny sound of a telephone ringing in California...