Our Sister Sites:

Bikernet Trikes Bikernet Baggers Bikernet Blog
Ride Forever - Bikernet.com
Wednesday Edition


Methods of the Drifter

Scooter Tramp Scotty

Share this story:


Authors note: Although this piece is arranged in a fictional format, every situation in it is a true story that actually happened.


*     *     *

Under normal conditions, when departing for a road-trip, the average biker is now on vacation. Like most people, he probably works a lot and doesn’t get to ride as much as he’d like. Now he’s gonna make up for it. So he’ll ride hard, put in many miles a day often traveling through intense heat, rain, cold, sleet, or even snow. Later he will boast of these things but in reality he may not have enjoyed them. The trip may be just alright, good, great, unforgettable, or even the time of his life. Yet, by the time he returns home he will usually be the weary traveler. It’s often a good idea to grant oneself a day’s rest before returning to work.
For most, this is likely a fitting description of a road-trip. For the drifter, however, things are a little different.
Lets pretend for a moment that you’re gonna be on the road for three consecutive years; living from only the things packed aboard your motorcycle. Like “Then Came Bronson” you’ll be traveling from adventure to adventure, seldom staying in any one place for more than a few weeks. Panoramic beauty, parties, rallies, new friends and, with luck…women, will be your almost constant companion. True freedom of the road. Unparalleled adventure.
Now, do you think the aforementioned traveling formula is gonna work for this too? Think about it. Then trust me when I tell you from hard won experience—it won’t. No chance. For along with the adventures that are utterly unavoidable over the long haul will also come a new set of problems. And if you do not adapt your methods of travel, you’ll soon be forced to quit the journey altogether. No shit. And although there will be many obstacles, let’s look for a moment at a few of the more glaring.
The first problem you’ll undoubtedly experience is that just rushing from place to place is a real drag. Traveling and never stopping is a lonely business. And although it may be good for a time, over the long haul it will most likely bring to a person the need to set down roots somewhere and make a few friends.
I sometimes wonder if it enters the minds of those who dare to dream, just how often they’ll be arriving in new places. Anyone who’s ever moved to a new town knows what this feels like: you’ve just pulled onto an average city; the streets are filled with traffic. The common man’s time is now occupied with work, home and family. Tomorrow he’ll do it again. You know no one. What’re you gonna do? Sit in a bar and twiddle your thumbs? Solicit friendship on the streets? (although I’ve done just this, sometimes with good results too). Problem is, now your gypsy ass is gonna be in new places all the time. So in fantasy, having the freedom to throw a dart at the map then go wherever it lands may seem wonderful. In reality however, it often sucks.
Kind of a drag huh?
Another common side effect of this blasting from place to place is that, especially now that it’s become your normal life, you’ve grown pretty sick of being the weary traveler. You’re tired of frostbite, heatstroke, and being just plain drug out. You now long to veg on a cushy sofa in front of the tube and rest your weary bones. Let others do the adventuring for a while as you watch them on the flat screen while munching chips and swilling beer.
See what I’m saying?
So, in many ways you will adapt. Adapt or quit!And if you persist, so many of the things you learn will also be of wonderful use to greatly enhance the travels of you and your friends when (or if) you return to the more conventional life of work and vacation.
In my own 18 consecutive years of road-life (as of 2011) there’s been a small handful of Motorcycle Drifters I’ve come to know pretty well. All are technically homeless men (and one woman) who own nothing more than the simple things strapped to their bikes. Invariably, I run across them at various motorcycle rallies every year. Some I’ve traveled with through parts of the U.S., or wintered with for short spells in the warmer southern states. A few have been on the road for twenty and even thirty years!
It would seem that, to some anyway, such a life can be very addictive.
These are guys who’ve adapted to the ways of the highway long ago. And it’s from them—and personal experience—that I’ve come to learn so many things.
One old Panhead drifter who’s been traveling for much longer than I, keeps a basic agenda and often tells of it when we meet. So I listen. Immediately apparent is that his travels generally include visits with friends (almost everyone loves a guest in his home provided they don’t overstay their welcome). Next, and probably more important, is his list of scheduled events. These may include anything from bike-rallies like Daytona, Laconia and Sturgis, to Drag Races, Nascar events, Bonneville’s land speed record trials, or even something as simple as a Blues Fest or free ride on a gambling boat (he never gambles). And although his plans are always subject to change as events unfold, the general idea is that, unlike an unknown city, those who attend these events are no longer in “Work Mode”. No. They’ve come to let their hair down. Forget their woes. Make new friends. Find romance. And so on. These events also offer a surplus of entertainment other interesting wonders.
For the drifter soon finds that if he does no more than travel from place to place, boredom and loneliness will soon drive him to long for home. But if he’s experiencing an interesting barrage of adventures (be they large events or simply settling into the mellow heat of an Oregon mountaintop hot-spring) he’ll never wanna go home. For the major factor that keeps such men shackled to this offbeat lifestyle is that the experiment of settling down invariably brings to them an unaccustomed measure of boredom. For them, the solution would seem to be an equal quantity of adventure. Thing is, most adventure requires other people. So my Panhead buddy—an expert Road Dog—tunes his agenda accordingly.
So you’re six months into the three year trip now. With so much time spent out there you’ve become more comfortable on the road than ever before. The road has become your home and you now only feel homeless when staying at someone’s house. For freedom compensates you in ways you never before dreamt possible. It’s strange, but it feels good. You’re coming to love this life more everyday and are therefore also becoming aware of its enemies.
The first of these is travel fatigue.
Although entirely tolerable for short periods, road weariness as a way of life is not working out. The first perpetuator of this is: trying to ride to many miles in a day. The other scooter drifters you’ve met by now all speak of their rides. Of slowing down; a more relaxed form of travel. In the past you’d always thrown up an impenetrable mental barricade against such ideas in favor or what you believed to be the very essence of a good road-trip—high mileage. But now you’ve begun to bring an open mind to the gypsy table and weigh the ideas of which these men speak. After all, you’ve nothing to lose and quite possibly something to gain.
You contemplate past road-trips against these new ideas.
At one time you worked very hard to ready yourself for the trip ahead. You earned the bike and did the maintenance, saved the money then arranged the time off from work. Finally came the day to experience true freedom of the road. To live the dream. So it was on that excitable morning that you went to the station, filled the tank, made for the highway, then blasted out the long hours seldom stopping for more than gas and maybe a quick bite. Arriving at your destination quite possibly ahead of schedule you pealed your tired ass from the seat with a subtle sigh of “Thank god that’s over”.
This method is no longer working.
Also: by now a good running bike, sunny day, fine highway, pocket full of pennies, and no time limit has become your personal idea of Nirvana. And you’re beginning to dislike anything, especially avoidable things, which fuck with that little niche in heaven. For as any experienced rider knows, there comes a time on any motorcycle when one is no longer enjoying the ride; he’s just trying to keep his ass in the saddle long enough to reach his destination. Doing what you love to do, and not enjoying it.
No longer acceptable.
And so you wonder…
Then comes the day when you have opportunity to travel with one of the old time drifters for a while. An exciting opportunity. You decide that for the duration you will observe closely, ask few questions, make no suggestions, and simply go with his pace. After all, you have all the time in the world these days.
So the two of you set out. The first thing apparent is his insufferably slow pace. He seldom even hits 70mph. But even 70 can be kind of fast on some of these funky little back roads he’s chosen. But you don’t really care because just traveling with this guy is kinda like a dream. Another irritation is his incessant breaks. They go on for days. You’ll never need a fancy gel-seat here. Sure, there are longish intervals in the saddle, but your gypsy friend also stops for just about anything he deems interesting.
A historic roadside monument gets his attention for a minute.
A happenstance country car-show stops you for an hour and a half.
In front of a tiny roadside bar sits a handful of older Harleys while as many bikers stand on the little porch nursing their beers. Of course you’re buddy pulls in. These guys are uncommonly friendly and immediately you’re steered to a big pot of homemade chilly. Good stuff too. But you know no one here and before long find yourself a little antsy; a little bored; kinda ready to go. When you express this to your buddy he says, “If you move to fast you’ll outrun your adventure” and “Is there someplace you gotta be right now?” Remembering your resolve to make no waves, you sit back and try to relax—a thing that seems quite natural to your rambling friend. Later it begins to rain and the owner insists you bring the motorcycles inside his bar. Everybody’s got a pretty good buzz by now and some of the chicks begin an impromptu titty show atop the bikes as you sit at a table with some new friends and snap pictures. At closing the owner offers you the backroom to sleep in, or yard to make camp if you prefer.
You’ll never forget this night.
Next day, it’s from another tiny back road that you see a big church social going on. Many cars. Scattered across the lawn, a mostly seated crowd attends to their paper plate lunches as they mingle. Although neither of you is religious, your buddy pulls in and parks near the front door. As usual the packed up bikes are an immediate curiosity and a small crowd gathers. A woman soon leads you to the industrial sized buffet. No charge. With plates piled high, you step from the church and make for the lawn to sit among these friendly people. Today you’ll watch you’re language.
Another time your buddy pulls onto the dirt drive of what appears to be a huge abandoned barn. He dismounts and, a little nervously, you follow. As you quietly enter, a large owl stares at you from an upper level. In a moment the magnificent bird begins to fly in circles. You guess his wingspan at better than four feet. Sporadically he bounces into the wall as though he’s hurt or disoriented, all the while leading toward the opposite entryway; hoping you’ll follow. When you don’t, he leaves. Your buddy then heads up a wooden stairway and you trail him to a nest of three scruffy little, half grown, owl chicks. You’ve never seen such a thing. Helplessly, they hiss viciously as you snap pictures. In a while you leave as quietly as you came.
You marvel at the things your friend finds interesting. His love of adventures, be they large or small. He seems the ultimate fuck-off-traveler. He’s got some pretty strange ideas about it all that’s for sure. And although you may not share them all, you have to admit your having the ride of your life. For rather than passing quickly over the land, you now feel as though you’re interacting intimately with it and its people—experiencing them and their world. Your world. You think of the high mileage days of other journeys and wonder if maybe you didn’t play a little too much like you worked. You begin to wonder if maybe the ride is less about high mileage and more about maximum pleasure.

At night you make camp in the seemingly forgotten and very private spots that your buddy seems to find with relative ease. He says they’re all around, but a person just doesn’t notice till he starts using them. When you protest of the laws against trespassing he reminds you that sleeping on the land is not a real crime. You ain't gonna do time for it. If the cops do show up (which isn’t likely) they’ll probably just check your paperwork then let you stay or, at worst, ask you to move on. Well, he’s been doing this since you were in high-school and probably knows. Even so, this seems the hardest idea to come to terms with yet. Then he reminds you that the belief that one man must pay another man for the privilege of sleeping on the land he was born to has been mandated only to recent history. “When was the last time you slept without paying another for that privilege,” he asks. You can’t remember. “You’ll get use to it,” he assures.


At an interstate crossing your friend pulls into a truck-stop then rides to the fuel island to ask a trucker if he has an extra shower ticket. Forty minutes later you’re both clean and in freshly laundered cloths. But it’s late in the day so you hang in the TV-room for a few hours before making camp on the grass behind the trucks. After morning coffee you move on.


At noon it begins to rain. Your friend pulls into a gas-station/convenience store and parks under the big awning. You follow. Once shut down he grabs a large cup from his saddlebags then ambles inside for a coffee refill (50 cents) and a newspaper. He then relaxes into his bike to read for a while. Nervously you watch the rain fall harder. Finally you ask, but he only states that he’s a fair-weather-rider and ain't going nowhere in this. An hour passes. Your anxiety grows. Eventually you pull a raincoat from the saddlebag and set out in search of a good camp-spot in case the rain persists into the night.

No luck.

Returning your soggy ass to the station you park again beside the other motorcycle and drip on the pavement as your friend offers you his uncommonly relaxed appraisal. He’s still dry. After another sip of coffee he says, “Tomorrow we have to cross Lake Champlain on a car-ferry. It costs four bucks and takes ten minutes. But I’ve been reading this little ferry schedule they give away inside the station and see that there’s another ship that costs five bucks but’ll keep us on the water for almost an hour. What do you think?”

You’re dumbfounded. All your anxiety amounted to nothing while this simple relaxed acceptance bore fruit. “Sounds good,” you mumble. Although rain has always brought a rather uneasy need to get moving in the past, in future you will remind yourself that what it really means is—relax. It’ll end. Your friend tells you that road life is often built from stretches of down time—or boredom, if one chooses to see it like that—broken up by numerous intervals of often outrageous adventure. “It’s still better than sitting home watching TV,” he says. You decide to start carrying a book.


Four hours after you pulled into the gas-station the rain stops. Freshly cleansed air envelops the world as you both set out for a truly enjoyable ride from the Shell station to a nearby $1.50 movie theater. Later you make camp in a thickly wooded lot nearby.

Next morning you board the ship.


After eight days, the two of you split up. Your friend will ride south for a motorcycle rally and the temporary vendor-job that awaits him there, while you move north for Canada…a new experience.


Alone again. And although you can now travel in any fashion you like, the last week has been so marvelously relaxing—you’ve enjoyed it so much—that no longer can you imagine changing back. From the map you choose a little back road. For although you’ve yet to realize it, your friend has just changed the way you will travel forever.



So you’ve been on road for a year and half now. Experience has taught you to avoid the mountains by spring and fall then migrate far south as the winter sets in. By summer you practice exactly the opposite. For undesirable weather conditions now make your ride—your life—exceedingly difficult to enjoy. So, as do the other drifters, you now plan your agenda accordingly.


You’ve solved so many problems by now. But there’s still one you seem unable to avoid—heat. Sometimes intense heat; for much of the plains and deserts, even in the far north, are virtually blistering for a few months every year. Unavoidable. So you sit on that black highway by afternoon and watch the ripples of heat shimmer from parched pavement as beads of sweat rolls down your chest. For an hour it’s okay. But after five hours of consistent boil you’ve become irritable, bitchy, sunburned, overheated and just plain miserable.

Again, doing what you love to do and not enjoying it.


In time you’ll learn that if one is experiencing heat stroke, he’s probably doing something wrong. Eventually his methods will need to be adapted. But how? The answer still eludes you. Slowly though, the pieces of this puzzle begin to come:

In Yuma, Arizona you meet a man who suffers from psoriasis. When you ask how he deals with the summer heat, he replies, “I try to stay out of it.” A simple statement, but it starts the gears in your head to turn.

At a funky espresso shop in some other desert town you sit in conversation with an old Shovelhead rider. The present topic is like a ping pong match of the best riding you’ve both experienced:

“Rocky Mountains in the summer,” you say.

“Highway-1 on the cost of Oregon,” he retorts.

“Southern Utah in the springtime; America’s best kept secret” you counter.

“The desert on a summer night,” he replies.


You’re caught speechless. You think of a late night ride you once made across Nevada and through the city of Los Vegas. Dressed in a T-shirt at midnight you putted through the 90-degree heat along interstate-15. But the sun did not peal the skin from your face, nor did heat shimmer off the pavement. In fact, the weather was unusually pleasant. And the open desert, so radiant in its depiction of endless freedom, seemed to go on forever until it eventually reached a silhouette of small mountain peaks that stood silently against the distant sky. No manmade light existed out there, and you never knew there were so many stars. This surreal scene drew you helplessly into a sensation of complete otherworldliness. Ahead, the bracelet of head and tail lights moved steadily along the interstate. Then, in the distance, Los Vegas appeared looking very much like some great heap of Christmas lights that God had discarded upon the dessert floor. In time you were upon the great city…then out the other side to regain the desert as it had been before.


Desert riding by summer night is, you had to admit, some of the very best. By afternoon, however, it truly sucks!

You think of an old drifter you met at the Sturgis rally the year before. Although only on the road for five years, Hank lives exclusively from his tent and only those other things strapped to the back of his Road King. He’s 70-years old. An interesting character to say the least. It was an opinion he once expressed that comes to mind. Hank had said, “This is the last lifestyle that’s akin to being a mountain man. Since you can’t adjust conditions to suit yourself, you have to adjust yourself to conditions.”

It makes sense now.


You see that in the past you had often likened vacation more to work than you’d realized. For even through the summer heat you’d get up early (whether you wanted to or not), ride hard all day (whether you wanted to or not), then grab a room at 4 or 5 in the evening. Long about the time you stepped out to the restaurant the weather was perfect! It never dawned on you. Now it does.

You begin to experiment.

You ride as late into the night as your newly-relaxed attitude will allow. After bedding down for a few hours, you arise at the crack of dawn then ride till about 1pm. Although the ride’s been wonderful so far, the summer heat’s grown exceedingly oppressive. Finding a truck stop, you roll the bike into the shade then amble inside to sit in the air-conditioning. You watch TV, grab a shower, do a little laundry, socialize with truckers, babble on the phone, and just plain relax. And you watch the sun. At the moment it drops below the horizon you emerge from the building. Feeling even fresher than when you arrived, you hit the highway to enjoy an incredible ride through the warm evening. The solution works perfectly. Later you learn that if a truck-stop’s not available, a matinee will work just as well. On occasion you even hang out at a swimming hole or in the pool behind some unsuspecting hotel.


Later you learn another solution:

On those rare occasions when you use a hotel, you simply book your room by early afternoon then hang in the AC, groove on the tube, and do some swimming for a while. Then, after setting the alarm for 2:00am, you arise early to utilize the good night and early morning weather. Before long you are again doing what you love to do and enjoying it more than ever! A major breakthrough. You wonder why you were so slow to get this one.

Knowing that the summer nights are a heated wonder you will never again forgo, you stop at a motorcycle shop to buy a high-output dirt-bike headlight bulb (the box states that by law it’s to bright for street use). The thing costs 20-bucks and you install it easily in the parking-lot. There are many accessory lights to choose from as well, but this new bulb grants about as much candle power as a good set of car-lights anyway.


So you’ve taken your place among the other Scooter Gypsies. For the time you spend on the road is now unlike almost anyone you know except them. And even if you return to some semblance of your former life, never again will you regain the old method of travel. For these new methods bring to you such phenomenal pleasure. And if by chance your vacation time is short, the trip will be kept closer to home to insure no rush or pressure. But all that’s a big if. For this crazy—wonderful—and so-easy life has burrowed its way so far under your skin that stopping may no longer be an option.

But decisions can wait. For the sky is pale blue and warm sunshine dries wet pavement of the rain that fell in the night. The bike runs good and there’s money to last at least a while. Ahead lays South Carolina, the Myrtle Beach rally, and a girl you knew last year. Leaning farther into the bedroll that rests against your sissy-bar, you relax into the green forest scenery of this little Georgia two-lane.

It’s a good day to ride.

Scooter Tramp Scotty



Share this story:

Back to More Wild Road Tales, Two Wheeled Tales

Reader Comments

Just sent an open invite to Scotty to crash at my place. That dude has life figured out. If it weren't for the ol'lady and kids I'd be with him.

Eric Phillips
Bruceton Mills, WV
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Really enjoyed the story, and the it sounds like you have found peace with the road. Nothing better, just taking life slow and easy.

Decatur, IL
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Editor Response Thanks, and don't miss Scotty's latest story on New Orleans.
Absolutely great philosophy on life and how to live the way you want to. A great insight. Inspired.

Glasgow, scotland, United Kingdom
Monday, August 25, 2014
I met Scotty in Sturgis 3 or 4 years ago and enjoy his company a lot more every year. I'm on the road now and I think i'm starting to get it.

Rock on Scotty. See u in a couple weeks.

port aransas, TX
Friday, July 18, 2014
Page 1 of 3 (12 items)

Your thoughts on this article

Your Name
Anti-Spam Question:
Please enter the words you see in the box, in order and separated by a space. Doing so helps prevent automated programs from abusing this service.