February 13, 2003 GMT

Next day, the storm follows me for six hours, lightning cracking overhead all the way into Nevada as I search for the loneliest road in the USA. I find it full of Harleys. The riders are amiable enough. In their quest for personal freedom and individuality they all dress the same. It's like meeting the Village People.

Is this fashion for outmoded big twins all about the US being confident in itself-the men more secure in their anxieties-or less secure, taking on these outrageously impractical signs of male identity to prove their power to themselves because they feel it slipping away everywhere else? Essay by next week please. (Nice chaps by the way lads. Very Castro.) They all squint at the Transalp, and seem to be wondering if it is a motorcycle at all. What the fuck does that say about the rider? Where’s your male identity buddy? I, uhm, left it at home today, uhm, the dog ate it, but here’s a note of explanation from my mum. It's really very practical, honest.

I overnight in Nevada Hotel, Ely, which is as about unlike its Cambridgeshire cathedral town namesake as one could imagine. In Utah you can’t get a drink in the street. Over the state line they give beer away with your gambling chips. The tourist brochure includes money off coupons for the local brothels. It’s not quite two for the price of one, but you get the picture. I stay up late drinking good whisky, talking to anyone who’ll listen. The waitress has five kids. She is 25. The guy next to me would like to buy a Harley yeah, and yes I AM FROM ENGLAND.

Highway 6/50 continues westwards in its straightish desolate way for half a day. There’re no towns, no pollution. The air is clear. You can see right across the salt flats to the distant sierras. I sit back on the seat, right hand on the throttle, the other leaning behind my back on the big rear-seat bag. This is a nice place to muse. No bends to spoil the reverie. I don’t have any great thoughts, but the space is healthy and restful. My baby-size V-twin hums along nicely. Small is beautiful. And today, big is beautiful too.

Reno: five dollars back for free when you cash your paycheque says the tannoy every three minutes. Mesmerizing blinking slot inhumanity all around. Machines obscure exits and aisles lead nowhere. The place is designed to disorientate, so you’ll wander around the tables endlessly, forgetting your intentions and decide upon a life of giving away your money. Seems to work okay. I wonder have they considered bringing the toilets to the tables? I drink the subsidized margarita with my back to the gamblers who are graciously paying for it. I tell myself I need more salt for the heat. It is two for the price of one, and the one isn’t that expensive to start with. I am getting in that salt in bigtime. This is as close as the town gets to a health drink. An hour of intensive treatment passes and I am getting very very healthy, dizzily so.

Stagger to the eatery. You need some packing on that Simon-mate. In the restaurant the waiters’ trousers don’t fit. They dangle oversized and ugly, roughly hauled in at the waist. There is no aplomb here. Instead of redecorating, they have just dimmed the lights. Consecutive years of this technique have produced a near dark environment. Perfect for the food too. I turn on my bat radar and crawl into a booth. For appearances sake I sit rather than hang upside down. “Steak and eggs for four dollars please” and “no, water’s just fine”. There’s a small thrill in not giving too much money to the mafia/Mormon gambling alliance, but it is a very small one. I guess they will make it without me.

Take a big long lie-in on white sheets. A joy. Dawdle over more steak and eggs, this time forgoing the health drink. It is hot across the California valley. I am on the Bay Bridge at eight. The sun sets all orange-pink. The skyscrapers are half-lit and majestic; Alcatraz a black silhouette lump of dough on a solid silver lake; the rich people’s houses on the hills small beacons of reflected light. The city welcomes me, and I feel good.

Posted by at 04:31 PM GMT

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