Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Road trips….

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road. On the road, driving by car to and from various contract gigs, and rolling up at least 100,000 miles on motorcycles.

Of these trips, the bike rides always seem to yield the most interesting experiences for me. People react differently to folks on bikes. Their reaction falls into one, of two, distinct camps in my experience.

The first camp is comprised of those folks who are fearful of bikers. Some of these folks may have had a bad experience with bikers. They might be afraid of what might happen; bikers (in general) after all do have a rather nasty reputation. Some (mothers I’m sure), seem to have this distant stare where, in my mind, they’re picturing their child after a bad accident on a bike. They seem to stare distantly for a moment, then give you that ‘mother look’ as they turn away.

The second camp is comprised of (at least) three types of people.

The first is folks who currently ride. They’ll generally walk right up, make a complimentary statement about your bike, and then start right in telling you about theirs. A trip they’re planning, one they took last year, or the new ‘part’ they’re adding to the bike this year.

The second are the folks, usually older (like my age) who rode at one time in their life. These folks will approach a little more cautiously, watching your eyes to see if you seem receptive. They too will make a comment like “nice bike”, ask where you’re headed (I could be getting gas at the corner station, someone still always asks where I’m headed), and then will tell you about the bike they had. Usually they were in their teens, and are hoping to ride again one day soon.

The third group is made up of those folks who have always dreamed of owning, and riding, a motorcycle. They’ll usually shout their “nice bike” from a few gas pumps away. If you acknowledge the comment, only then will they approach and begin to tell you how long they’ve dreamed about owning and riding a bike. Places they’ve dreamed about going, the kind of bike they’ve always wanted and why they’ve just not gotten around to it yet.

There have been times when those types of things have happened when not on a bike, but, they were rare, and only when I had a “righteous ride”, or at the least something radical.

So, for me, traveling by motorcycle is at least twice as much fun as traveling by any other means. I enjoy hearing the stories these folks tell me, it’s a bond, sort of. They want to share with me, the joy they’ve found in something they know we share. Its one little piece of motorcycling that would keep me riding, if none of the rest of this was there.

It’s not all fun and games. Riding bikes is dangerous, and can get you dead, if you don’t stay focused. For me however, it’s precisely the focus, the heightened awareness, the total ‘in the moment’ experience that defines motorcycling, and that’s at the very root of my love of it.

At the same time, I’m often heard saying that “You’re never quite as alone as you are when you’re riding a motorcycle”. There’s nothing else, except that experience, and you. You’re in charge of your destiny, how fast, how slow, how far ahead you’re planning. Is that curve ahead going to get tighter beyond where you can see, where to set up for the turn in? What are the road conditions like, is it damp, sandy, is there debris on the surface?

All the while, you’re smelling cut grass, fresh manure; hear the sounds of the combines bringing in corn. You can feel the temperature shift as you head into that valley, the cool breeze coming off the lake, your wife or girlfriend leaning into your back, reminding you you’re sharing this experience with her. You’ll hear crickets, dogs, livestock, bull frogs, birds and cicada’s as you roll down the road.

In these days of highly air conditioned, sound proof vehicles, killer stereos, cell phones, personal listening devices and in car DVD players we’re cut off from the outside world once we close those doors. We’re just cruising along in living room luxury.

That’s why my bike is relatively Spartan in terms of creature comforts. I do have a windscreen for trips that will involve 100’s of miles on the concrete slabs that are the interstate. As well as saddlebags, tankbag and a seat pack to hold the required gear on a long trip. Other than that, it’s bare essentials all the way.

You see, in motorcycling, as in life, it’s the journey that matters. Or as my old biker buddy Tim White used to say “The ride is the destination”.

I intend to write some soon, about the adventures on two wheels that Tim and I have shared. One real thing we had in common was that, riding, was what we wanted to do. We worked for a time at the same company, and each Friday folks would always ask where he and I were headed on the bikes that weekend. Our answer was always the same one word “Riding”. We weren’t being flippant, or sarcastic, just stating a fact.

We rarely knew when we left work that day, where exactly we’d end up. Sometimes we’d flip a coin, or alternate turn choices, at the first dozen intersections, before we had even a general direction. Once we’d gotten 30-40 miles out of town, we’d stop, drag out a map, look for some good roads in our general area and head for them. Riding until dusk and then looking for a small motel before calling it a night.

Often we’d sit around the pool, or anywhere outside, and talk about the ride, remembering curves, deer or wild turkeys that had crossed in front of us, and sometimes drag that map out again looking for the nearest twisty roads by flashlight for our trek in the morning.

On occasion if it had been a particularly hot day, we’d have a beer or two, but never more than two it seemed, and on nine out of ten nights just a cold bottle of water or ‘Gatorade’. Alcohol dulls the senses, slows your reaction times, neither of which is desirable when motorcycling!

Tim and I racked up close to 20,000 miles together in just about a year, our jobs did not require us to ride and we usually drove our cars to work! With the exception of one trip up to NY, we rode all of those miles in North Carolina. I could post blogs for a month, just about our trips, and not cover a tenth of our experiences, or the fun we had.

Tim, and his wife Donna live in Missouri these days, but we managed to get together again back in 2001 for a couple of great rides; the first was on RealLady’s and my “motorcycle honeymoon”, the second was our vacation later that year to the Rockies. I suspect those will be the first two rides I write about as they’re the freshest in my mind. They each deserve their own post though; one could not possibly do either trip justice!

As always, thanks for reading… Feel free to leave me a comment, thought or idea before you go!


Trevor Record said...

I would probably fall into that third pro-bike category "wants a bike but hasn't ever had one". If I do, I'll be sure to relate some of the motorcycle-related adventures for your nostalgic enjoyment.

Firehawk said...


Alas, the crippling insurance bills keep the younger generation from easily riding in the States. I know that they wanted the full price of my bike every year just for liability insurance. Hence...big old Dodge in trade. I still miss that little Kawasaki, though. It was a runnin' little SOB. On a brighter note, I did have a ton of adventures in that Dodge...

Spirit Of Owl said...

"Riding bikes is dangerous, and can get you dead."

Absolutely. A cousin and two good friends of mine have died in motorcycle accidents. Another friend has lost the use of his left arm, and has steel pins holding both his legs together.

But at the same time you're so right about the romance of the bike. I was the only person I knew well who didn't go biking in the summer. Damned hayfever again - I just couldn't do it. I'd listen with real envy to their stories as we sat in the pub at night. I still envy them now.

Maybe one day... :)

RealLady said...

thank you darlin for the wonderful adventures that we had together on the Shadow and VTX! and I do look forward to counting mile markers again with you real soon!

Master of None said...

You talk about the focus needed to keep a biker alive, I just don't know if I have it. Regardless, you made me want to leave work immediately and hit the open road--even if it is in a car with the windows down!

Beth said...

My father always had a bike so I grew up with them. I don't have any inkling to ride after seeing some accidents, but I have a built-in respect for riders. Too many motorists don't understand how dangerous it is to cut off bikers.

I always keep a safe distance and let them have the right of way.

Robin said...

I have fond memories of riding with my husband pre-marriage days. Often the ride would be our date. We both LOVED it. He sold his motorcycle to give us a good honeymoon and didn't ride for 10 years. Just 2 years ago he purchased a bike again but finding the time to ride it with responsibilities and kids is tough.

MJ said...

I have a fantasy of being a biker-chick (even own the leather jacket with a tab collar), but my father's voice imprinted on my conscience is what stops me the most. His sentiment when I told him I was thinking of buying just a Vespa: "If you get one of those, or a motorcycle, you will die."

Sweet, huh? Can always count on Dad to not beat around the bush!

I really want a cream-colored old BMW with lots of chrome. Not too big, for the reasons you mentioned (none of this living-room-on-wheels malarky, I agree).

In the meantime, one of my favorite hangouts is a biker bar/pit stop on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), right above Malibu, called Neptune's Net. Great calamari steak burgers. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Braleigh said...

Motorcycles terrify me in a "Holy shit, please don't offer me a ride because I would kill to even touch your bike and I will have to say 'yes' because I simply MUST discover what it's like and I need some adrenaline right now but this is all too petrifying...what if we crash?" kind of way.

No_Newz said...

Sounds like good times. Me, I've had enough road trips to float a boat. :) Along our travels we saw a fatal motocycle crash, so all of you riders, use caution, especially around big rigs. You know what hampered the semi driver's vision? A road sign. So, if you think there's no way they didn't see you, think again.
Lois Lane

Comfort Addict said...

Nice post, Bill. You are such a good storyteller. Your writing is easy to read and it draws you in.

By the way, is there a fourth category in group 2 - people attracted to those who ride bikes? Just asking.

Bill said...

Trevor, if you start riding RL and I will have to take a road trip your way!

Firehawk: Insurance for an old fart like me costs far more than it should as well. Fortunately I'm paying less for insurance now, than I did for the bike I had as a teenager! I need to tell you a story about 'Bertha'... my old Dodge W200 Power wagon one day... had some adventures there as well :)

Spirit of Owl: I was very close to dyin' after a bike accident myself. It was a turning point for me, and why I don't drink and ride (or drive for that matter). My Dad used to say "If there's any justice in the world, you get to die in your sleep" I agree with him but there are two other ways I wouldn't mind going, and one of them is riding the bike. :)

RealLady: Yes we will, until we're so feeble I have to strap us both on so we don't fall off!!

Master of None: Thank you, that was exactly the mood I was going for. If you give in to the urge, remember, the focus can be learned, it takes about 3,000 miles to get 'settled' in. A good beginning rider course is an excellent idea as well!

Gardening Knitter: I thank you, and other riders thank you. We're hard to see, especially when most drivers are looking for vehicles their size or bigger. It seems the mind sees what it expects to see if we're not careful! I promise I'll wave when you go by!

Robin: We've had trouble finding the tiem to ride as well. 'Life' seems to have a way of 'getting in the way' sometimes. Sometimes, just knowing you 'could' be riding, makes everything else easier somehow.

MJ: "but I got the jacket and that's a start" .. reminds of that old Beatles tume :) .... PCH we've been down it at least three times that I can recall... unfortunately always in a rental car, as it was a business trip! Great road, incredible scenery!

So go find you that old Beemer... start off slow, take a course, it's a shame to let that jacket go to waste!

Braleigh: Take that first ride with someone you really trust, and tell them, what you just told me. If they're any kind of rider at all, you'll be hooked! (most of us who ride, felt *exactly* like that, at one time!)

Lois: I've seen all too many fatals on the highway too... Bikes can be dangerous... I've been ushered to another lane, the shoulder and into oncomming traffic by drivers who just didn't 'see' me. As a result, in traffic, I'm a very defensive driver!

Comfort Addict: Thank you, I'm glad you think so. I do try.

There is definitely that 4th goup, but, they're usually in one of those other camps as well. When I used to ride solo, there was always someone who wanted a ride. I was married then, and my wife didn't ride, so with rare exception I never went down that particular road. (now, in my teens and early 20's... that was different)

Thank you all for taking the time to leave your thoughts behind. I appreciate it, and enjoy reading them as much as the writing and remembering.