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Updated: Motorhome-biker shares his story

Posted by on August 30th, 2007 at 8:12 pm

[NOTE: This post has been updated since last night. Please hit your “refresh” button to make sure you are seeing the full story.]

brian camper bike-2

Brian
(Photos by Jonathan Maus)

Like most of you who read the story about how the famous motorhome-bike was destroyed Wednesday night, I instantly assumed it was the work of vandals.

But as the day wore on, evidence mounted that the bike’s creator, Brian, might have done it himself: a commenter who has spent time with him said he’d been wanting to “trash it and start from scratch”; Ayleen Crotty reported that he needed help with repairs; and Jonathon Severdia, who wrote an article about Brian for WorldChanging called to tell me he wouldn’t be surprised if Brian did it.

Despite all this, I didn’t want to jump to conclusions until I heard what happened directly from Brian.

Fortunately last night, on my way to catch the B:C:Clettes at the Clown House on Alberta, I happened to see Brian entering the Safeway at MLK Blvd. and NE Ainsworth.

“Nothing ever lines up for me, no jobs, no nothing…I’m invisible out here, like a ghost. People only notice me now that this happened.”
–Brian

I felt awkward introducing myself to him. No matter what the circumstances are around his bike, I knew he might not be in the best mood right now. Not to mention, I was a complete stranger.

At the outset of our conversation, things did not look good. I quickly realized he had destroyed the bike himself and he was mumbling and going on about how sick and tired he was of everything: living on the street; living in his “camper”; not finding work; not having many friends; being hungry; and so on.

He didn’t really look me in the eye and he was angry, frustrated and depressed.

I let Brian know that while I couldn’t relate to his experiences, I could understand why he felt angry and bitter at the world. Mixed in with my empathy, I let him know that there was a community of people who cared about him and who were willing to help; but only if he wanted it.

As we walked back to the site of his tattered bike, the warm breeze blew the wayward pieces of tattered foam all over the street. He had a few plastic trash bags and I asked for one to help him clean up the mess.

As we picked up bits of glass, metal, and foam, the picture of Brian’s breakdown became clearer.

brian camper bike-8

After decades of traveling the country in his camper-bike and living a seemingly carefree, nomadic existence, Brian had had enough.

Still upset, he said, “Nothing ever lines up for me, no jobs, no nothing…I’m invisible out here, like a ghost. People only notice me now that this happened.”

I offered (and he agreed) that perhaps people mistakenly assumed he was happy and content with his existence. After all, he was free-and-clear, without the stresses of work, mortgages, and other rat-race responsibilities. He was on an eternal bike tour, living off the land under his own power…how bad could that be?

As we talked, many people would honk and wave as they drove by.

He explained that last winter he reached a breaking point. The dark, cold, wet days found him “just lying there, in my cabin, staring out, losing weight from not eating.” “I can’t do that anymore,” he said “I felt like I was in jail in that thing, trapped…”

He pointed out mold that was spreading through sections of the cabin’s foam walls and expressed concern about breathing it in.

Despite his anxieties over the state of his life, I noticed that the more we spoke, the more stable, and less upset he became. Slowly but surely the fog around his mood began to lift. Eventually the conversation turned to how he could get rolling again and he even started joking and smiling.

brian camper bike-7

brian camper bike-6

With a huge grin he said, “This is what happens when you build a camper that’s not big enough for a woman.”

I told Brian that if he was interested, I would help him raise some money and maybe even have a little work party. He said he definitely wants to rebuild, “I can get this all fixed in just a couple of days.”

Staring at his bike and thinking of rebuilding, he said, “It will be like the big family argument that gets better when you buy a new car and everyone’s happy.”

That “joke” is actually a true story from Brian’s past. He told me about a “big blowout fight” between his mom and dad. Then, the next morning he noticed a brand new car in the driveway, and “the house was silent…and everyone seemed OK.” With a confused look and a sheepish grin, he said, “I could never figure that one out.”

I was relieved that his spirits seemed to be getting brighter. At this point, he was talking less of his frustrations and sadness, and more about how he could get rolling again.

Brian said he could re-build his camper for around $200 in supplies. Here’s a list of what he needs:

  • 6 1″ thick, 4×8 feet Armax (?) double foil-backed sheets.
  • A big roll of duct tape.
  • A can of spray paint.
  • A roll of silver flashing.
  • Some glass.
  • A front moped wheel.

Before I left, I wrote my name and phone number down and told him to stay in touch (he said he would). I offered my backyard as a backup place to crash if he needed it (he’s currently got a place to stay that’s off the streets).

Then, at his request, I went to Safeway and bought him a 40 oz. of Pabst and two cans of spaghetti.

If I do hear from Brian, and if there’s sufficient interest from the community (which I think there will be), I will coordinate a work party to happen in the next few days. Stay tuned to this post for more details.

In the meantime, I’ve created this PayPal button for anyone who wants to make online donations. All proceeds will go to help Brian rebuild his bike (and maybe a show of support from the community will help him rebuild his zeal and outlook on life as well.)


















UPDATE: As of today (8/31) at 4:15 pm, we have raised $515.00 for Brian. Wow. Stay tuned for more info…

UPDATE: We’ve set up a work party for tomorrow. If you’d like to join us, meet Brian, and show your support, come to the Walgreen’s parking lot at MLK Blvd. and NE Ainsworth at 3:00 tomorrow, on Saturday, 9/1.


NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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K
Guest
K

I had a feeling…

Roma
Guest
Roma

Ha! So much for people \”picking on him because he\’s weird\”.

I think some people would actually have felt better if it was done by vandals.

David Dean
Guest
David Dean

Roma,

Are you accusing me of having a persecution complex?

DK
Guest
DK

Time for a new look, or was it one of those days?

pdxrocket
Guest
pdxrocket

I had a feeling it was an inside job; but if you say anything like that on this board you get attacked. Next time I need a new bike I\’m gonna trash it then post pictures here; everyone should come running to help me make that new purchase. 🙂 [kidding]

Roma
Guest
Roma

@David

No – my comment was not directed at anyone in particular. There were a lot of people saying those types of things.

I just think it\’s interesting that people who live in Portland of all places immediately assume that vandals were somehow picking on him because he lives outside the norms of society. I would have bet it was drunk teenagers just wanting to destroy something before I would have thought he was specifically targeted.

There are few places in this country where you are less likely to get picked on for being \’weird\’ than Portland, Oregon.

Jessy
Guest

You should check out the comments from the last post… The destruction was apparently in response to being harassed. There\’s more to the story.

Also, I like the idea of being there to support him, whatever the issues. He\’s an icon to people everywhere in this country. We don\’t want to lose that.

Jessy
Guest

The story got bigger, all of sudden. Well, I\’m glad that\’s cleared up.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

Jessy,

I\’m aware of the mention of harassment in a comment on my previous post. The commenter said he heard that from some Safeway employees.

Brian made no mention of this to me last night, although given his state of mind, I don\’t deny that he might have just not told me about it.

I think the important thing, like you mention, is that Brian could use some help. thanks.

Jonathon Severdia
Guest
Jonathon Severdia

I am sure that for some on these boards support for Brian is boiling away now that he is no longer seen as the righteous victim in some easily digestible fantasy about a gentle soul being savaged by a cruel world, but the fact remains that this action, confounding as it is, has created an opening for us to help someone who needs it. I am increasingly suspicious that living in a bicycle will ever promote good mental health, but I am sure that a safer, better bicycle would boost Brian\’s spirits in a measurable way, and I believe that even more good could be done by us coming together to assist in that process with all the positive energy we can bring. People on these boards have already said they would support Brian either with money or with manual assistance. I urge everyone who has made such statements to follow through with them, and help me put together a work party to pimp Brian\’s ride. It will be fun, I promise!

Please see my comment #23 on the earlier post for more details, for now I go back to my day job.

Jessy
Guest

And there\’s a donate button now! I\’m going to donate some money. He might be crazy, but every time I ride my bike past him and his creation it gives me hope that there\’s a better way to live than the suburban-housing, SUV-driving, cablve tv-watching way.

Jessy
Guest

Oh, sorry. My comment wasn\’t to you. It was just for comments # 1, 2, 5. But there were no details yet, and now there are. I just didn\’t want people to see the short-story \”he did it himself\” and go nuts blaming him, etc.

Jonathon Severdia
Guest
Jonathon Severdia

Wow, and as soon as I hit submit I see that Jonathan has updated this post with the whole story. You\’ve done a great job summing up the whole sweep of things, but now I really have to get back to work. Suffice to say, I am down to help!

Darren
Guest
Darren

To Inform and Inspire says the masthead.

Perhaps we should donate to Jonathan for his empathy and outreach efforts. Isn\’t this a great example of how to live your values?

john
Guest

This is a really nice piece of journalism. Good one!

James Lingk
Guest
James Lingk

White guilt is a powerful thing.

SnarkyPants
Guest

Indeed, the empathy expressed in this post and exhibited by your efforts to support Brian are commendable and inspiring.

I\’m all for pitching in to create a little hope here and there in the world.

You do great work, Jonathan. Thanks for your commitment to the community.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

I just gave $20. Jonathan – Keep us up to date on what happens.

As romantic as it may seem, a life on the street with this vehicle would be very difficult – physically, but especially mentally. If a few people can help out when he is down, it will make a difference.

I wonder if a magazine article or book about his life is possible – something that may help support him for a time.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

James (#16),

Thanks for your comment, but I\’m sorry you see it that way.

For me, this has nothing to do with skin color or guilt associated with race.

wsbob
Guest

In this world, it can be very hard being an extraordinary person. Why have no jobs ever lined up for this person? Given that he rides the bike, he obviously has a level of physical fitness for some kind of job. If people are willing to work, work should be available to them.

It\’s just unpleasant to imagine being stuck in a little compartment outdoors in Oregon\’s cold, damp, dark winters. It\’s great that people are going to do what they can to help Brian out, but a job that would allow him to provide for himself a little better would probably come in really handy.

ND
Guest
ND

On one hand, giving him money for a new bike will, well, create another sweet new bike (which was probably his plan from the start, it happened how long after he was getting blogged about?).

On the other hand, having hung out with Brian a number of times, it is unlikely the solution to his issues, like launching into a world-hating rage and destroying things, luckily this time at least it was his own stuff.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”It\’s great that people are going to do what they can to help Brian out, but a job that would allow him to provide for himself a little better would probably come in really handy.\”

I agree with you to some extent wsbob… and part of my hope in this situation is that perhaps other opportunities (besides money and a rebuilt bike) will surface…

Izarra
Guest
Izarra

A wonderful followup, Jonathan. Thanks so much for keeping us informed and doing the right thing!

Dan (teknotus)
Guest
Dan (teknotus)

So it sounds like he needed to rip it apart to clear out the mold. I guess it wouldn\’t be obvious from the outside that it needed to be reduced to it\’s frame, and rebuilt.

brian
Guest
brian

It\’s a \”jump to conclusions mat\”. There are different conclusions you can jump to.

Kyrstin
Guest
Kyrstin

Sign me up for the work party, just let me know where and when!
I dont feel white guilt, I feel a sense of community: when my bike was stolen, leaving my son and I stranded, the bike community in this town rallied to our aid and got us back up and rolling. I cant wait for the opportunity to give back, and feel strongly that the cycling community needs to stick together and have eachothers backs

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

Roma, people in Portland are no more morally superior than people anywhere else. Portland has it\’s fair share of rule-followers, and some of them do act out. Even though the overwhelming response to a tallbike in the street is positive, more than one of my friends has been attacked while riding one, and the overall vibe was that it was because they were weird and different. Both incidents happened in NE. I may have jumped to conclusions, but based on my experiences they were far from unfounded.

Good job reaching out, Jonathan. You are a very compassionate man.

I cannot donate supplies, but I can bring whatever tools may be required and I have a strong back. If a rebuild takes place I would like to help.

janis
Guest
janis

Count me in. Thanks Jonathan once again for bringing things to our attention.

Compassion is wonderful. Embrace it.

Ken Wetherell
Guest

Nice job Jonathan! Setting up the Paypal donation button is fantastic.

I\’m wondering whether Brian\’s new outer shell would benefit from some added protection and improved insulation. I\’ve been experimenting with corrugated plastic sheet material used by sign makers. It is lightweight, durable, flexible, easy to cut, and comes in large sheets — oh, and it\’s cheap. It has been used by others to construct velomobiles and fairings.

I would be happy to bring Brian a sample if he is not familiar with it and would like to consider using this material.

Dusty Grimm
Guest

Seems like this weekend would be the best time to offer any help to get our friend back on track and feeling good about his home again. I can only be available all day Sunday and possibly monday, but I am more than willing to help in any way. I will donate whatever I can. We could even get some live acoustic musicians who might want to be involved and make a \”Go, Brian, Go! renovation party\” out of it.
I\’m sure it would be a pretty fun thing. Spectators will probably be coming by just to watch i\’m sure. Anyways, maybe that\’s a little too much, but i\’m guessing any extra money would be going directly to Brian right? For keeping him healthy and living as well he can…? The legacy must live on.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

It sounds to me like what Brian wants most right now is being hooked up with a job– something that bikeportland readers may also be able to help with.

In the meantime, helping him rebuild meets his immediate needs. I\’ll be glad to send some money his way…

anon
Guest
anon

is anyone here in the position to offer this guy a job? it sounds like that\’s what he really wants.

anon
Guest
anon

ha ha, rixtir, didn\’t mean to get all redundant.

i wrote the comment and walked away for a couple minutes before hitting submit. great minds think alike i guess.

the duke
Guest
the duke

if someone can find out what size glass he needs, and what kind, i can probably lay my hands on that and bring it to whatever work party gets organized. i might be able to get the \’silver flashing\’ as well, depending on what it is.

RMax is a thermal sheathing product.
http://www.rmaxinc.com
it\’s available from Service Partners in Tigard. 503.598.7060 It is $15.90 per sheet.

i assume jonathan, that you can get our email addresses out of these posts, but if you can\’t, post a response and i\’ll send you my contact info some other way.

DK
Guest
DK

As much as I admire his carefree spirit and living style, he might think twice about using the same materials he did before, on the rebuild. Like #27, there are different plastics, underlayments and caulkings that he can benefit more from, especially in the coming months. Or even better, get ready for a road trip to the sunnier locales. Also, he should make it a bit wider…alone in the cold, dark and damp nw would be hard to get used to.

Dusty Grimm
Guest

#32,

That\’s cool you\’re offering this. Since glass is something not everyone can just \”come-by\”.

I don\’t think the glass needs to be any specific size or type. From what I remember he had just a few pretty small panes just to let in light and to see out somewhat. Like 12 or 14\” by something around half that I think…
Someone else may have more info on this. I\’m sure what ever you can come up with would suffice. The cab is being rebuilt around whatever anyone can provide. We can assess as we go too.

Excuse me if I misunderstood, but I couldn\’t quite tell if you were asking what the flashing is… The silver flashing is what\’s in the corners of roofs to keep water from pouring into the walls of a second story when the walls meet the roofs. rooves? no roofs, i think. Shiny foot wide or so flexible metal that comes in rolls. I\’m not familiar with any types though if that\’s even important.

I\’ve got duct tape and spray paint. Gold silver and black. Plus access to Napa discounts for any other supplies. Adhesives, paint, tape, whatever we can use from there.

michael downes
Guest
michael downes

Jonathan,

Excellent reporting! And heartening to see the response of the wider community. I made a donation and would be happy to be involved in any work party. I used to wrench and currently have access to a full model shop if any fabrication is required. On a technical note condensation and mold are perennial problems with campers. Does anyone know of any solutions that could be incorporated?

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

ahhh PBR saves the day! That\’s all he really needed!

let us know when/if there\’s a work party, i think it\’d be fun. I\’m near that area so if you need some help, I\’m there!

todd

Esther
Guest
Esther

I\’m glad to see you are spearheading such a wonderful effort to help Brian. From some comments here and in the other posts, I\’m guessing he has a mental illness and it sounds like he is going through some tough times. You should make sure he knows he can call the Multnomah County Crisis line at 1-800-716-9769 and Cascadia has a walk-in clinic at 2415 SE 43rd Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97206. He may be unwilling to call, but it might be helpful to know especially since he is nomadic and may not be familiar with Portland\’s services.

Dusty Grimm
Guest

Does Sunday work for everyone? Maybe I or someone can stop by and ask Brian if Sunday\’s cool. I\’m assuming most people have Labor Day off in case we need to work a little that day too. If that works for everyone, we can meet at a later determined time and/or at least drop off any materials they want to donate to the cause sometime between now and then. I can definately help with any excess materials, broken material waste, stuff that needs thrown out/recycled. I\’m very close by and have means of hauling/picking up stuff if needed.

Keep up the updates. Thanks everyone for your support.

organic brian
Guest
organic brian

Wow, Jonathan, I\’m amazed at the results you had talking w/ Brian. I think you must have the biggest heart in all of Portland.

I stopped to talk w/ Brian months ago, when he was parked in front of Citybikes. I was curious about the design, about how heavy it must be, about The Man behind it all, where he\’s been, what does he eat and how does he get by. He was pretty drunk, was rambling about the lack of privacy of being a Bike Cabin Guy icon, how people weren\’t donating to his \”donate\” slot on the bike-cabin, how people were just interested in the bike and not him. I tried to interject w/ helpful comments, that people tended to donate for performance and not things that are static, and that if he wanted privacy there were less conspicuous places to park near parks and fun stuff that I could recommend. I couldn\’t get five words out, eventually I walked away with him still ranting angrily as I left.

I\’m guessing that he is suffering the disappointment of being a person with pure ideals in a society which most values consumption. I\’ll bet that he\’d hoped that his creation would inspire people to make do with less, instead it is an amusing exhibit for them that they later forget. I really would like to see him happy and would definitely participate in a work party. He\’s a hero for at least trying.

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

Esther: I dont think mental illness can be attributed to someone going through tough times. Unless you\’ve never taken out your frustration at life at an inatimate object, otherwise we are all mentally ill.

DK
Guest
DK

Instead of the roll of metal flashing there is this peel and stick rubber and foil backed flashing that is 36\’ wide, and is sold by roofing supply companies. It cuts easy and will seal any nails or staples that penetrate it, and is easily formed around anything…it\’s called water seal…I think its\’ a must for an underlayment around joints, windows and seams for this project.

Jim Bombardier
Guest

The offer of the saddle still holds if he is interested. I can\’t help until Monday but will check this list to see what is going on by then.

If you are not extremly frustrated by the world around us, you are not paying attention.

Phil Hanson (aka Pedalphile)
Guest

Won\’t be able to make it to the work party (assuming one is held) this weekend, so I\’ll kick to the kitty and wish Brian my best.

Jonathan, next time you talk to Brian you might suggest that he finesse his design as he rebuilds. When motor fuels prices soar off the charts and the economy crumbles there\’ll likely be a huge demand for his clever bike/camper combos. Brian already has a good-paying job; he just doesn\’t know it, yet.

Chris Sullivan
Guest
Chris Sullivan

A 40 oz. of Pabst and two cans of spaghetti…that sounds like a good cure to just about any woes.

Good piece, Jonathan!

Jonathon Severdia
Guest
Jonathon Severdia

I just sent an email to my friend Deirdre who works at Cascadia, so when I hear back from her I\’ll know more about what they may be able to do for him.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

Just tallied up the donations…

so far we have raised $515 dollars.

Wow.

Thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

Stay tuned for more info…

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

OK, just talked to Brian. Work Party scheduled for tomorrow Saturday (9/1) at 3:00. Meet at the Walgreens parking lot at MLK and NE Ainsworth.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Oh come on now. This guy is either mentally ill or an alcoholic/drug abuser or a combination of those—and the response is to glorify him as a \”free spirit\”? He needs help and a job, not a bunch of people enabling him to be in his same situation. I seriously doubt your neighbors will be happy about having some drunk camping in your backyard. The camper bike is a neat piece of improvisational engineering, but if he\’s that sharp and in the position he\’s in, there is a larger issue. He needs counseling, rehab, and a hand up—not a hand out.