“I feel like everything I do on a motorcycle road trip is CALCULATED.” I wrote this in my journal on Day 3. Even through the end of the three week trip, calculating was still my primary preoccupation. Having to calculate meant I was sizing up the degree of risk and making decisions along those spectrums of acceptable to inacceptable risk, of still-would-be-able-to-manage to would-not-be-able-to-manage risks.
At the beginning of the road trip, I found these calculations pervading and exhausting. They eclipsed the other aspects that I enjoyed in the past about road trips. I really began to feel that one’s mode of transportation can really limit and dictate the course and depth and even quality of a trip. I can see why motorcyclists seem to just want to ride and not do much else. It takes effort to make any transition: take the gear off, lock away anything you want to protect. Things are packed so specifically (at least that is the only way things fit for me), that if I wanted to use something and the order physically collapsed, I would have to take time to carefully repack when I replaced that item. And if it was raining during the repack? Even more of a tricky chore. To do a simple hike, besides taking off the protective armor, taking out my camera, pulling out my backpack and making sure I have water and some snacks, I would have to unstrap my large bag to remove the bear-proof canister with all of my food and toiletries, because if I can easily tip over my motorcycle, a bear wanting easy food could easily knock over my motorcycle if I kept the food on it, so it was wisest to remove the food and smelly items and put them separate from my motorcycle. Then there was the reverse process at the end of the hike. While I was doing this I would calculate: could I just leave the food on my motorcycle this time, for the sake of efficiency and simplicity? But for me it the potential consequences of damage to my bike and potentially being unable to complete my trip was not worth the risk.
Being a newer rider and not quite confident with certain skills or riding conditions, my mind was constantly sizing up my situation and going through a series of decisions, that continuously needed updating. For example, I did not have much experience riding in the rain up until this trip. Then nearly every day for the first week and a half I had rain on this trip, including Day 1, and sometimes it was quite heavy, and with wind. How fast should I be going, especially on curvy roads? Could I be seen or did I need to stop and put on my garish, high visibility reflective vest? Do I feel safe or relatively trust the current traffic and drivers on the road around me? Is there any driver in particular that I need to be wary of?
What are my skill and capacity levels on a motorcycle? I want to stop here for a picture or park there for an errand. But with the kickstand down, will the lean of the bike be too much to where I will not have enough hip strength to get the motorcycle back up off of the kickstand to take off again? Indeed this happened once, and I nearly dropped the bike as the kickstand wanted to fold. Somehow without the aid of the kickstand, I managed to get my body on the downhill side of the motorcycle and slowly walk it uphill as it leaned against me, until it was on more level ground. Then there was the other time I turned onto the wrong driveway, which ended up being dirt with some gravel, with various angles of slopes coming together. Here I opted to not try and u-turn in the smaller, multi-sloped space, and instead tried to walk my bike in a sort of five-point turn. And it was here I dropped my bike. In situations I am already sizing up to be potential tip over or stuck zones, the order of priority is preventing the situation in the first place, and if there is still a risk, the question in my head is whether there are people around frequently enough that if I needed aid, someone would be able to help me within a very short timeframe.
Then there are the more complex layers of variables. What does the weather look like up ahead? Do I need to stop to add a layer for waterproofing or warmth? How much more distance and time until my destination? How much daylight is left? Will I get to my campsite before the animals that the traffic signs warn may cross the road at any point (deer, elk, mountain sheep, moose) are more likely to come out? I can deplete quickly; what are my energy levels? Do I need to eat? Do I have strength, mentally and physically? Am I tired? Does my body need a rest? Is my butt too stiff to where my legs really need some actual movement beyond standing up on the pegs every once in a while? Then there is weighing the options: take a break to self-fuel and risk creeping into that margin of being on the road while the animals are more apt to be out, or push and deal with the potential consequences of not staying ahead of my own basic needs? If I diverge from my itinerary, will I still make it to where I need to be a few days down the road?
I also have to pay attention to my health. Early on in my trip, presumably from the stress of constant calculations, my cycle was thrown off to where it quite concerned me. I was already fatigued and have been anemic in the past. I decided to self-medicate and take iron supplements, just in case. In the end this was a wise decision, because I went to see a doctor after I came back from my trip, and although my labs did not reflect anemia and my ferritin (iron) was normal, it was low by about 30 points on the measurement scale, and the doctor told me to continue with the iron supplement.
Aside from me as the rider, there is the need to be attentive to the motorcycle and gear. I had to make sure to get fuel and stock up on food and water when those were available, especially in rural areas.
None of the above are really issues when driving a car, aside from maintaining fuel, food and water supplies. In a car, I can push for long hours and miles, eat while driving, body stiffness is not pleasant but rarely would move into a safety risk zone.
I had wanted to do off-road riding on this trip, but was not comfortable doing so alone. Some stretches of highway had dirt and gravel sections, one for several miles. One campground’s inclined driveway was washed out, so I had some fun opening up the throttle to get over the rocks and erosion. At another campground I had done my survey loop, and did not realize that to close the loop to get back to the beginning to actually select a site, I would need to go down a gravelly road (I do not quite like gravel), which was so overgrown that there were only the tracks for two tires; so on a motorcycle, it was like gravelly single track. The sun was setting and the yellow grasses glowed golden with purple flowers scattered throughout; this is true riding. Yet knowing I was on gravel I focused more on the seriousness and only peripherally the beauty and specialness of that moment.
Calculations, for me at this point, are conscious and take effort. Towards the end of my three week trip, I began to relax and experienced the flow of calculations happening on the semi-conscious and conscious levels, to where the experience at that moment was at the forefront of my awareness with the calculations close behind but not eclipsing the essence of the ride. I had picked up what I call that rapid eye movement that I have observed in dirt bikers, which I myself had only previously experienced once, during my off-road class. The rapid eye movement must be part of the body’s adjusting to a hyper sensory input, so that even at speeds of 70mph the body is gathering and analyzing a significant amount of data, more than is usual in typical driving or riding modes, at least from my experience of it. It means that, even as I was focusing on the single track gravel and calculating what to do and not do to prevent falling when very shortly I would need to make a turn while transitioning from gravel to dirt, I was able to also observe and fully experience the beauty of the scene I was living in and a part of.
See the rest of the Motorcycle Diaries