Sensual Immersion

There’s one thing about riding a motorcycle that you can’t avoid, and that is total immersion in your environment. [Well, there are probably plenty of things you can’t avoid, but I’m only writing about one of them today.]

If it rains, you get wet. If you’re lucky and you have appropriate raingear, only your outer layer gets wet and you’re okay, but if you don’t have that all-important protective layer, you’ll get wet all the way down to your skin – and you’ll probably stay wet for a while, too. That happened to me the day I rode through the Painted Desert / Petrified Forest National Park and then on to Gallup, NM, where I spent the night. My first mistake was not putting my rainsuit on soon enough. My *second* mistake was not putting the *entire* rainsuit on at the same time. In both cases, what I thought was going to be a short, relatively light shower ended up longer in duration and heavier in rainfall. I put the jacket on before I got too wet, but by the time I decided to put the pants on, my jeans were soaked and water was starting to wick down my socks. [That night, my socks were wet all the way to my toes.]

If it’s sunny, you’d best remember your sunblock – and put it anywhere there *might* be sun on your skin! I’ve gotten a sunburn on my face more than once because I forget that my helmet’s faceplate isn’t UV-resistant. And even with sunblock, I’m getting a very interesting tan line on my wrists, where I leave the cuffs of my riding jacket unzipped.

If it’s cold, dress warmly – and then add another layer to account for the wind chill you’ll experience. When I rode from Tucson to Flagstaff in mid-May, I knew it was going to be cold and rainy; in part, that’s why I chose to ride the Honda instead of taking the truck – I wanted to see how well my new rainsuit would work. It did fine, but I had forgotten about gloves. I had Thinsulate ™ gloves on, but they weren’t water-resistant at all, so my fingers rapidly chilled to the point of actual pain. I’m just happy they didn’t progress to numbness! [I got a pair of water-resistant gloves when I got home!]

If it’s hot, well, you’re gonna sweat. Riding at 50 – 60 mph will give you a good evaporative-cooling effect, but you’re still gonna sweat. I actually had salt lines on my t-shirt almost every day while riding Route 66, and my jeans were also damp and sticky from the sweat.

So that’s immersing your sense of touch in your environment. But what about the other senses?

Sight is definitely enhanced (or, maybe more accurately, not restricted) on a motorcycle. When Rick met me in Chicago and we rode up Riverside Drive and then Sheridan Road, I could (and did!) swivel my head continually from left to right to catch a glimpse of as many mansions as possible. I didn’t have to crane around anyone else’s head; I didn’t have to try to look through the roof of a car; I didn’t have to peer through windows – all I had to do was *look*. It was awesome!

Another sense you probably wouldn’t think of: smell. Probably 98% of the time I’m in a car, I have the windows up, either because it’s hot and I have the a/c on, or it’s cold and I have the heat on, or I’m driving on the freeway and I don’t like the roar of the wind blowing me around (and a car is more fuel-efficient at freeway speeds with the windows up anyway). But on a bike, if it’s in the air, you’re gonna smell it. The scents can be really, really good, like cooking smells and freshly-cut grass, or they can be really, really bad, like dead skunk or cow manure. In fact, I was assaulted by that very smell along Route 66 one day. I was riding along, minding my own business and admiring the view to my left, and WHAM! I start smelling cow manure – LOTS of cow manure. I was still admiring the view to the left, so I just thought there must be some cows around somewhere. But the smell persisted, and eventually I looked to the right to see what the view was over there. Guess what? I was riding past a feedlot! No wonder it stank! Thank goodness I finally rode out of range.

You get a lot more sound/noise on a motorcycle than in a car, too. I’m old enough to remember how I used to be able to tell approximately how fast I was going by the tone and volume of the noises generated by the car I was in. These days, though, and for a long time now, cars have been so quiet that it’s very possible to be rolling along well above the posted speed limit without realizing it. [That’s one reason I use cruise control so much – even in town.] On a motorcycle, though, there’s the sound of the engine; the sound of the wind roaring in your helmet; and the sounds of the sirens as you get pulled over. [I’m kidding about that last one, at least on a personal level. I’ve not yet been pulled over while on the Honda.] But seriously, your ears get pounded by a lot more noise on a motorcycle than in a car. You might even want to use earplugs.

There’s an old joke about how to identify happy motorcyclists: Look for bugs in their teeth. I don’t have that “problem” (if such it is) because I have a windshield on the Honda, and if I’m riding faster than about 40 mph, I have my visor down to reduce the wind buffet on my helmet (and my head). I’ve heard that bugs are tasty, but I think I’ll leave that to others if I have a choice. So taste isn’t necessarily more involved in riding, other than your subjective impression that things taste better or more intense or whatever simply *because* you’re riding.

And there are other sensory inputs, too – the vibrations of the bike, the sudden jolt of a crosswind, the heartbeat that’s skipped when your tire hits a small patch of gravel or sand on a turn and you feel the (hopefully!) momentary loss of traction.

All of these are part of why I ride. Being in the outdoors [is that an oxymoron?] and not so walled off from it, as I am in a car, makes me appreciate my travels, even when I’m cold, wet, tired, and achy.

2 Comments on “Sensual Immersion

  1. Pingback: Traveler’s Blog, Supplemental | The Peripatetic Traveler

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