How Riding a Motorcycle Across the U.S. Became a Journey of Self-Acceptance

Bojana Novakovic is a Serbian-Australian actress who is currently starring in the new CBS series Instinct.

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Photo:

Valentina Novakovic

I've dreamed of riding across America on a motorbike ever since I was 12 years old. It's an odd dream for a preteen, perhaps, but being born in Serbia and then growing up in Australia, I've had a desire to travel and explore that has always run through my veins. Last year, at 35, I finally did it. For 30 days in the blistering heat of July, I took a 4600-mile trip across America on my motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson that goes by the name of Jolene (after the Dolly Parton song). My sister, Valentina, came along, driving all my belongings and my dog, Mowgli, in a beautiful big Dodge Ram 1500 truck. We set off from California, zigzagged up and down the country, and covered 18 states all the way to New York City, where I was moving to begin work on my new job, the CBS show Instinct.

When people find out about my journey, the first question they tend to ask is, "What made you want to do that?" Here's what I tell them:

 

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Bojana Novakovic

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."

I read this when I was 12 years old, before hipsters reappropriated Kerouac with manicured orchestrations of beatnik life on social media. On the Road shaped my life. I hitchhiked for the first time when I was 14 and made sure my grades were good (I was valedictorian) so my parents couldn't complain.

I lived a bit of a double life for many years, so I got sober when I was 24 and started straightening out. I talked slower, ate better, and started reading best sellers, but my restlessness never died. The urge to travel, to keep moving, to keep exploring didn't go away. Then, as if he knew something was waiting to be reawakened, my boyfriend at the time gave me a copy of Bukowski's Love Is a Dog From Hell. Bukowski is one of my favorite writers—although also occasionally terrifying—because he inspires me to embrace the mess inside myself, which is not an easy thing to do for a recovering perfectionist. So even though I didn't think it was "sane" for me to travel 4600 miles cross-country one month before starting a major job in New York City, Bukowski was back in my life, and "sane" had a new meaning. I had to get on my bike and ride across America like I had dreamed since I was 12.

I like riding in order to be alone. I don't ride with groups and will seldom ride with a friend. But this experience was even more introspective than I expected. I was alone six to seven hours a day, 30 days straight. So the next question I normally get doesn't surprise me: "What did you think about all that time on the road?"

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Bojana Novakovic

On the whole, my mind was very busy. I sang, I laughed, I screamed with glee and rage and fear. I cried like a baby and had conversations with people who will never actually hear them (particularly my then-boyfriend and God). I also had conversations with parts of myself I didn't even know I wanted to talk to, but more on that later.

The biggest surprise for me, however, was how much of my thinking was practical, even banal. (What do I feed Mowgli? Should I have Diet Coke or coffee today? Remember to call your mother!) There is nothing ethereal about the mindset you need to be in in order to stay alive going 70 miles an hour on two wheels with crazy winds blowing at you in all directions. Thoughts like What if my bike slipped from under me and my sister had to watch my head come off my body and then tell my mother about it? also crossed my mind, but it was so much more useful to focus on the practical aspects of staying present than to contemplate the reality of how close life and death actually are.

So while my mind was a constant barrage of compulsive thoughts, those thoughts were generally practical.  How do I get to that destination before dark? Am I drinking enough water? How can I cut my sister's hair off in her sleep? The bigger-picture stuff of Why am I doing this, and what is life about anyway? didn't come until later. It's moments like now, when I sit down to reflect on the journey, that I can truly experience the brilliance of the bigger-picture mythical lessons the journey led me to discover.

Which brings me to the final question I am always asked: What lessons have I learned?