There are lots of ways to travel the world. If you fly you see a patchwork quilt through clouds at 30,000 feet. If you take a train the view is closer to the subject but again it is just a speeding blur and your direction is predetermined by a single track. If you drive there is more liberty to experiment but you are still encased in steel. The perfect way to know the earth is to walk. It is high-quality exercise if you are in good shape, exhausting if you are not and you wear out your shoes. Bicycles are next best; you can cover lots of mileage in comparison to walking but you get run over by trucks.

Planes, trains and automobiles are great ways to go from one point to another if time is a consideration but the connection with the flora and fauna is limited, hardly what could be called interactive. Walking and bicycles are too physical. That makes motorcycle travel perfect for a person with a little adventure in their soul, who wants to fully experience their surroundings and possesses a better-than-average sense of balance.

Certainly, only the severely naive would suggest that motorcycle travel is for everyone. Waxing poetically about the sights, speaking lyrically about the sounds and smell that can only be enjoyed while riding a motorcycle loses all its charm to the unprepared rider who is standing under a highway bridge, soaking wet from an unexpected afternoon thunderstorm. Pass a cattle feedlot or a chemical factory making glue and you are required to become philosophic and remember that to enjoy nature’s perfume you must also endure the noxious odors of skunks. Not all of those sights and smells are sublime. Two wheels are not for everyone. Therefore, let’s just talk to those of us who are prepared for rain and do enjoy the unique sensory inputs one might encounter while on the road.

In a Harley-Davidson publication some time back they asked their readers to comment on whether riders wanted to ride in large groups, small groups, or individually. The results were to some extent equally distributed. Which means there are lots of different ideas on how to go down the road. That also means there are lots of reasons to argue the different points of contention. Good; I like to argue.

Personally, I have travelled for days with large groups of several hundred (Run For the Wall), a week at a time with a dozen riders (H.O.G. groups), a couple of weeks with small groups of four or five, lots of miles with one other rider and by myself for thousands of miles. I am a poor roommate. I prefer to ride by myself but to each his own.

Having lunch a month ago with several motorcycle associates I was asked if I wanted to join them on a motorcycle ride to Alaska. They had seven and all the motel/hotel accommodations would be better served with the even number of eight. I thought about it. “Are you moteling it all the way or are you camping?”

“Motels, no camping.” OK… “Are you taking time out to do some fishing in Canada?”

“No, the only time off is at the H.O.G. rally in Fairbanks.” OK… “What is your route?”

“The first day is 836 miles.” OK…“Why 836 miles?” The information from there on became a blur.

I questioned one of them if he believed the motorcycle advertising slogans that publicize the notion that riding a bike was all about the journey not the destination. That makes every mile the equal to every other mile. If he believes it, why then are they humping it the first day to throw away 836 miles in one fell swoop? And worse, how could they speed across British Columbia, one of the most beautiful places in the world, with some of the best trout fishing, to get to a H.O.G. rally in the dull city of Fairbanks?

“Thanks, guys; hope you have a great time and it is the perfect trip for you, however, on my next trip to British Columbia I doubt that I will make more than 50 miles a day. There are too many bridges over too many trout streams. Have fun and be safe.” These are great fellows but this was not my kind of trip. They knew that when they invited me and were just being polite. I know they were relieved when I said no.

In the last 50 years there have been other such adventures offered me. Some of them I have taken, some have been rejected. One that was rejected was a trip to Sturgis. I knew it was the wrong trip with the wrong people when I heard their plans. Once out of Los Angeles they planned on stopping at every bar they passed. That’s right, they were going for a world’s record. “We ain’t gonna pass up one single bar.”

When they got back I questioned them about the trip. “Tell me about the country you rode in.”

“Oh, we rode through eight or nine states and saw everything.”

“Everything?” I asked, if they saw this or that, any elk or antelope, did they stop at any spectacular natural wonders or clever tourist attractions. “No,” was the answer. They had ridden 2,500 miles and had seen the white line in the middle of the road and the inside of bars that all looked the same.

Don’t tell me you’ve been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and seen everything if you’ve got your head down doing mileage. I’ve done that and I didn’t see anything. Don’t tell me you know all about Iowa if you haven’t been carp fishing in the quarry or taken in the weekend stock car races in Waterloo.

According to the advertisements, “It’s the mileage not the destination.” And that makes every mile the equal of every other mile. When I travel I slow waaaayyyy down and no longer haul ass anywhere. The idea of motorcycle travel is to experience everything. Like my dad used to say, “Do everything once and the good ones twice.” Otherwise, take the plane.


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