Heading down the Oregon coast, it was an early morning full of fog and mist. We were looking to thaw out somewhere, so we turned into a Fred Meyers parking lot. Our plan was to grab a coffee and quickly hit the road. As I was standing in line, I heard someone behind me say “Hey man, are those your bikes outside?” I turned around to see a guy with a unique look to him. He was a dirty fellow, with long hair and a red-soaked bandana around his neck. I was immediately interested in his story. “Yea man, are you riding also?” I asked. His name was Todd Blubaugh; it ended up that he was on his way down to LA from Seattle on his bike. He too was looking for a warm up and a caffeine break. We made our way outside, coffees in hand and continued our motorcycle chat. I had guessed Todd was around his early 30's but had a very old soul to him. I was interested to know more, but he remained wise and humble throughout the morning conversation. He was riding a red cone shovel with lots of unique and fabricated parts on it, an aggressive looking bike. You can see that it's had its fair share of miles on the road which I admire greatly about any motorcycle now days. His gear was all tied to the sissy bar, only the bare essentials for his voyage. For the distance of Todd's trip compared to the amount he had in his sack, it's fair to say Todd wasn't a stranger to life on two wheels.
We knew instantly that we could learn quite a bit about long distance riding from him. Todd's style of camping was finding a low-key spot just off the road and just big enough to hide himself and his bike for the night, much easier than our paid campground spots that were few and far between. It was later that day when we were grabbing a bite to eat that I found out just how humble he was. We were in a Pizzeria grabbing a bite when we got more into detail about his journey. I had brought up the idea of a photo book, and Todd said he was coming back from his “Too Far Gone” book release party. A book that he had written, inspired by a cross-country trip he had taken after the passing of his parents. When he showed me some of his work from the book, I couldn't believe the creativity in both his words and photos. As we shared the coast down, as well as some cold campfire nights I had learned a little more about him. This trip wasn't just for his release party, but it served as a mental escape from a recent incident that occurred back home. Right before Todd had left for Seattle, he had lost a very close friend/mentor if his in a motorcycle accident. His friend Bill was leaving a benefit gathering they held at their warehouse when the incident happened. My heart sunk when he told me, I couldn't do much to help aside from being ears to listen to whatever he wanted to share. California as a whole has had a rough year for motorcycle accidents; Todd had already dealt with a few lost friends during this summer so I couldn't imagine how he was feeling.
The last day was a long stretch, but after a few days, a couple of roadside repairs we finally pulled into his warehouse called “The Chun” late at night. We were welcomed by his close friend and housemate, Snake.
My heart was heavy when I arrived knowing what Todd and his friends were going through. Despite their loss, Todd, Snake, and Peter opened up their space to us and treated us like family. Easily one of the nicest groups of people to conveniently run into, followed by one of the coolest places I've ever seen. A work/living space they converted with a stage as a living room, a bar, a workshop and a separate section for their bedrooms. With some odd luck, I had stumbled across a place that I had only dreamed of living in, “The Chun.” That same night, I opened up Todd's book that I've been craving to read. I sat on the couch, sipped on a cold beer that they had given me and submerged myself in his story.
Your Shovel has more character than most bikes I've seen, can you tell me a little about it?
It fell into my hands in 2010 I believe. My buddy Bill sold it to me and said “It really is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen but there is still a bike in there. Good luck”. It was metallic blue, even the swingarm, with invaders (the wheels were really cool actually) but I chopped it with some salvageable pieces and made “The Redhead”.
Out of all of the people and chaos you've encountered and wrote about in your book, any memory stand out above the rest?
I’ve got some that stand out, good and bad. Once I reconnected with my 5th grade teacher who I held responsible for getting me put in private school. He had told my parents long ago that he was retiring from teaching because of me… so they took academic action and I was not happy.
I was passing through my home town (on my bike) and saw him at the only café on main street. He didn’t recognize me but was sizing me up. I went over and asked him if he remembered me.
He said he didn’t but guessed that I was one of his students. I told him he was right. He was in the writing process of something substantial with notebooks and references all over the table so I asked him what he was writing. Memoirs he told me. He asked what I was doing here. I told him I was also here to write. I sat down and we discussed the art of the personal essay for hours before I told him who I was. We had a good laugh that we had both arrived back in the same classroom.
Was there any particular person or event that influenced you to move to Los Angeles to become a traveling photographer?
I’ve been heading this way my entire life but I acquired some responsibilities that redirected me along the way. When Snake and Peter asked me to move into the Chun I decided it was time to pack up.
I know you recently set up a photo studio at The Chun, are you planning to get back into commercial photography?
I hope not but I will if I have to. The Chun is continually evolving but photography and motorcycles has always been a consistency. We figure the marriage of the two will last. We can shoot our own conceptual projects while renting the space out for commercial shoots. It’s a really efficient environment for both.
Do you have any more trips planned out for the future?
I plan a new trip everyday. It’s all I think about.
Are you currently working on any other books or projects?
Yeah, I always try to have a few irons in the fire. Too Far Gone is set up to be a volume. When the stars align I will take another chunk of time off to travel on another bike and write the story. The next book will be on a 49 EL I just finished. Aside from publishing I just finished a feature film with my friends back home in the Midwest (http://mammothmedia.tv). We will start shopping it around this month. I’m also finishing up another feature treatment to follow. So I’ve been busy but the real test is how to finance your concept. That is always the hardest part…getting someone to buy your time while you execute your idea. Sometimes it seems impossible, but you just have to be patient and keep warm in the meantime. Eventually something will catch fire.
Be sure to give Todd a follow on Instagram, and you can purchase a copy of Too Far Gone here.
-Brandon / @soulofire_
Party Time_3LG from Todd Blubaugh on Vimeo.