We’re going touring! An East-to-West Covid-19 cross-country tour takes a peek beneath the headlines to outrun Armageddon and find that not all is lost
Words by Kali Kotoski
Photos by Kurt Eisinger and Natalie Kleiner
After months of pandemic fears, forced captivity, idle hands, stylish facemasks, six-feet protocols (above ground) and a shotgun blast to the knee of a rippin’ economy, something was bound to break. And while some took to the streets — both peacefully and violently — the think tank over at V-Twin Visionary said to hell with it all! It is time to ride!
So a band of loosely-tied strangers assembled to embark across the country in early June, riding over 2,000 miles from Virginia to Los Angeles to test if America’s veins were still pumping steadily or if, instead, the country was just suffering a momentary sickness of the brain.
On day three, when the tour lead by Jeff G. Holt rolled into the homestead of Radflagz owners Kent and Lisa Prentiss in rural western Oklahoma, Thunder Press’ Eastern Sales Director Kurt Eisinger had one question: “Where can I blow some shit up?”
The group of six riders had departed from Little Rock, Arkansas earlier that morning and embraced the wide-open plains and the western allure, all while struggling to keep the bikes tilted into 50 mph gusts. Eisinger’s question, similar to a question likely posed by a visitor at Hunter S. Thompson’s compound in Colorado, was met with something like “right over there. Next to that little hut,” Eisinger recalled.
“Once a month I get a call from the sheriff asking if I am blowing shit up again,” homeowner Prentiss said. “He tells me to be careful and to keep all my fingers and toes.”
This was literally another world for Jersey-proud Eisinger, who secured a slot on the tour with the strict understanding that it was an off-the-clock, vacation-only adventure to catch up with some old industry friends, and to make some new ones.
The inspiration behind the tour was purely born from the group being tired of stay-at-home orders and quarantine guidelines, especially for Eisiniger who, since March 21, was told by authorities to lock the front door from the outside. And while Covid-19 cases and deaths surged in New York City and throughout New Jersey, Eisinger’s little hamlet remained largely unscathed.
“It was not like some shit is closed, it was like you can’t go out. Run to your grocery store now, buy like a prepper, and don’t go anywhere,” Eisinger said. And in that time, it seemed like not only did people superficially adopt the “new normal,” but they also started packing the powder keg that sparked with fury after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, leading to weeks of civil disobedience and social unrest.
“Everything seemed to be burning to the ground with riots in the streets. So I said to myself, ‘Damn the Man! Damn the Empire.’ And I really wanted to ride a motorcycle,” Eisinger explained.
Eisinger met up with Holt and company in Nashville, with Holt having secured the Harley-Davidsons in Virginia. Once the plane hit the tarmac, Eisinger was confronted with the fact that his experience battling the 2020 plague was not universally applicable.
“In Nashville, it was like I stepped out of a bad movie into an okay one,” Eisinger said. “You walk off the airplane, you’re freaking tired and wearing masks and you look up and no one in the airport is wearing a mask. So, think about that… Some people are living life like normal and the rest of us are being herded like sheep.”
But what a relief it was to see a part of America more or less functioning the way we like it to function. That sentiment is what enlisted Natalie Kliener and a dude known as Big Kev to join the tour at the last minute. Big Kev is well-connected in the Nashville music scene, previously worked for Kid Rock and tours with a band called Blackberry Smoke.
With kickstands up the following morning, and after finalizing the very loose plans over martinis and ribeyes the previous night, they rode 500 miles and chased a setting sun.
In Arkansas, the group was heartened to see other bikers touring America all the way from Ontario, Canada.
That feeling carried throughout the trip as the group met and talked to locals and small-business owners, like coffee shop owners, only to discover not everyone was hurting and desperate as others sidelined by the economic shutdown.
After Oklahoma, the group wound their way to Durango, Colorado, home to the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally and operator John Oakes, glad to have conquered America’s flat middle and gain some elevation on mountain switchbacks. Some 40 miles away, a forest fire had broken out and was pillaging a mountainside.
“With the forest fire and the smoke with the clouds and the way the sun was coming through the forest,” Eisinger said, “I can’t even describe what it was like looking over the cliff; on one side it was pristine nature and on the other you couldn’t tell what was sun and what was fire. Literally, it felt like we were in Dante’s Inferno or riding into the gates of hell!”
But at John Oakes’ quiet ranch it was tranquil, as if the outside world was of zero consequence. There was food and drink and laughs and eventually the sky parted and the stars were clear.
“It puts everything into perspective. The sterilization of everything. The restarts. Nature,” Eisinger said. “People had no problem opening their doors to us, opening up their beds to us, sharing their pillows. That tells you something – either we’re all gonna die, or we’re not.”
As the group shed the wilderness and climbed down to Phoenix to rejoin society, the reality of the country’s struggles crept back with a nagging persistence. Throughout the tour, the riders talked about how the pandemic had impacted them.
“People had loved ones who survived Covid, while others had loved ones who had passed from it. As crazy as the pandemic and the riots are, it showed that life hasn’t stopped for those who have continue to live it,” Eisinger said.
Still, at the same time there was that big what if, as Eisinger explained. The what if I bring something back home. The what if taking the vacation screws up everything after months of diligently taking every precaution to protect the kids and the elderly parents. The what if’s…
“That’s never been a concept. Now, it’s a totally different dynamic. Your entire thought process has changed. But I also realized it was like the what if I twist the throttle and the guy at the red light doesn’t stop. We ride motorcycles because we are not the people that ask the what if questions,” Eisinger said.
In Phoenix, several members of the group prepared to depart, as Holt and company still had to ride the final stretch to Los Angeles. But to commemorate the adventure, they all decided to get matching tattoos with the outline of America and red X’s signifying where each rider had joined the tour.
“I don’t know if friendships became stronger because of shitty scenarios, or because of the importance of a good laugh because of those shitty scenarios. I haven’t laughed as hard as I laughed in the last week in years and that’s so healing for the soul,” Eisinger said, adding that everyone in the group has returned from the trip healthy and are planning the V-Twin Visionary Sturgis Smash to the Sturgis Rally, second, third, fourth, fifth wave of the virus be damned.
Thunder Press was the official media partner of the V-Twin Visionary COVID Crossing