Traveler’s Blog, Supplemental

I was cleaning off my desk this weekend, in preparation for my next trip (canoeing down the Green River, in Utah), and I found a piece of paper with some post-motorcycle-adventure musings on it. I was going to throw it out, but decided to blog about them first because they still seem interesting to me. I hope you find them interesting, too.

Bike Stats and Minor Mishaps: I rode 7655 miles in 37 days. Including Arizona, I touched 14 states: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado. I completely wore out my rear tire. I had to replace my battery at Rick and Eve’s house. I melted (and then lost) the right-side saddlebag cover. I also managed to melt the new weather radio / flashlight I bought for the trip. Apparently, the tailpipe gets rather warm. :-O I had to learn (several times) that air pressure inside a sunscreen bottle can force the sunscreen out very quickly!

I got lost, or at least lost the route I was trying to follow, in almost every major city I passed through on the Historic Route 66 part of my trip. This happened in Albuquerque and Santa Fe; Amarillo; Oklahoma City and Tulsa; Joplin; and Greater Chicagoland. The root (route?) cause was the fact that I wasn’t traveling an established, numbered route, but rather a collection of roads that used to be Route 66, and therefore I had to rely on one or more of three things: a step-by-step description of the route through a given state; a more-or-less accurate (but not necessarily very detailed) map of the route through a given state; and signage. I discovered that it’s impossible to follow a printed, step-by-step description while riding solo – I don’t have enough hands, eyes, or feet to ride and navigate at the same time. And the signage, while generally very good, tended to be missing at crucial turns in the cities. Coincidentally, the city parts of the maps were where they were the least detailed. Imagine that…

I had originally hoped to camp for at least half the nights of my trip; combined with Sturgis and my visit to family in Illinois, this would have meant that I would only be staying in a motel for a total of 7-10 nights. In reality, I only camped two nights. The rest of the time I typically was riding too far into the evening to *want* to camp. And even when that wasn’t an issue, there were challenges with campgrounds: National Forest campgrounds tend to be on dirt roads, which I wasn’t too keen on riding; and a lot of the “urban” types of campgrounds (like KOA) didn’t accept tents. I would still like to do a motorcycle camping trip (maybe along the Pacific Coast Highway next year?), but I’ll have to drastically revise my traveling methods to make it work.

I was mightily impressed with the overall levels of organization in Sturgis. Granted, they had 74 previous rallies to get it right, but with all those bikes and people everywhere, I think things in general went pretty smoothly. In particular, I noted the extra people guiding the bikers at Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, and I also discovered that the folks at the Sturgis laundromat had a system for making sure customers got use of the dryers in order. It takes a lot of work to move that many people around for 10 days, and the folks in and around Sturgis did a darn good job of it. Oh, yes, the trucked-in temporary traffic signals all over the place helped, too.

Wind. OhMyGawd, the wind! To people who live in the Upper Midwest, it probably wasn’t anything special, but I battled headwinds and crosswinds most of the way from southern Wisconsin up to Michigan, across to (and through) Minnesota, and on down to South Dakota. It wasn’t too bad at Sturgis (probably because most of our riding was in the Black Hills, which would break up the wind currents some), but from Sturgis, through Wyoming and down into Colorado, it was really strong – again, headwinds and crosswinds. I think the wind itself curled around on me, as well as the roads changing direction so that I was always riding into the wind or across it. Gusts were the worst.

Sensory overload. I wrote back in July about “Sensual Immersion.” I think I corrected myself somewhere along the line after that, and realized I should have said “Sensory Immersion,” but no matter. When you ride a motorcycle long distances, you are immersed in the real world – hot, cold, rain, sun, dark, light, wind – whatever Nature throws at you. I had plenty of experience with hot-and-muggy on Historic Route 66; in the Upper Midwest I had lots of wind; here and there I got pelted with rain; and always the ambient sounds of the Honda. Oh, yes, the vibrations of the bike, too. The bugs splatting on the windshield and my faceplate. The amazing, and sometimes overwhelming, beauty of the outdoors. The silence when I stopped for lunch. Watching storms move across the landscape. More than once, in the last week of my trip, I found myself thinking, “I could see myself doing this long-term. I can see why people become full-time RVers.”

There’s another aspect to sensory immersion when you avoid the Interstate, too. You have to PAY ATTENTION ALL THE TIME. To road signs. To oncoming traffic. To the road surface. To cross traffic. To EVERYTHING. On the Interstate, all you have to do, basically, is point the car in the right general direction and press the gas pedal (or set the cruise control). On Historic 66, though, you have to watch for the identifying signs (which may or may not be there); you have to pay attention to varying speed limit signs; you’re always stopping/turning/slowing/going straight through SOMETHING. In the Upper Midwest, the stops/turns/etc. are fewer and farther between, but the markings are more subtle, too, sometimes. And if you miss a turn, you have to make a U-turn to go back. Of course, on these roads you *can* make a U-turn; you’re not locked into going to the next interchange (however far down the road that may be) before you can turn around. I came to think of the Interstates as “soulless” because they were specifically designed and engineered to get people from Point A to Point B efficiently, whereas the roads I was traveling were, I thought, “organic” – they evolved over time from old trails or dirt roads to the two- or four-lane paved roads I was using.

So these are some of the ideas I jotted down when I got home. There are a couple more, but I don’t like to get *too* wordy – I know how short your attention spans are online (so is mine!). So I’ll do another post in a day or so.

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