When I bought my current beloved bike, the first thing I did was plot out a trip around the outside states. Then I added a few detours to take me into close-by neighboring states. You know, if I'm going to be that close, it only makes sense to hit them. At less than 9000 miles for the whole ride, the map says it would only take five days, you know, straight through. Of course, driving straight through like you have a delivery of perishable body parts to make isn’t really the point. So plan on 10 days. Or maybe 14. But then we're talking about riding highways like a bat out of hell for 14 days. That's work. That's not fun. If I were to take that trip, I’d want to take back roads. I want to stop and meet people. I want to see sights. I want to visit the local culture. Sample the local cuisine. And maybe make a friend or two. That's not a 14 day trip. That's two months.. maybe a month.. if you hurry. More likely two months.
Since then, I’ve planned a LOT of motorcycle trips. Anything from half a day up to a week long. Part of the problem is that there's so much to see and so many places to go. It’s such a big country. Not like the country of.. I dunno.. Rhode Island (which I still haven’t ridden yet). And if you have a job, vacation time is not infinite. I've often tried to picture what life would be like if my employer just allowed me to take off and decompress until I was ready and eager to return and find joy in my chosen profession. They do that kind of thing in some places in Europe, don’t they? I'm waiting for them to put a suggestion box. Think of how joyful and productive the workplace would be! Maybe not the first month... or year. But after that perhaps.. after we all came back.
It’s odd to say but, unfortunately, I’m a biker with a job. With weekends and some vacation scattered here and there, I try to work out adventures when I can get them.
I've read in several places that most people over-schedule their vacations. Even citizens. "We arrive at Disneyland at 9:00 am sharp. We have 5 hours to have fun. By 2pm, we'll head over to lunch.. which we have 1 hour for. At that point, we'll trek across town to spend an hour and a half with the in-laws. At which point, we'll go do some other rigidly timed thing.." and on and on until your vacation is completely (and unrealistically) scheduled and becomes more of another exercise in time management than a vacation. At the end of it, you're grateful to get back to work because it's easier than vacation.
I tend to do the same thing on bike trips, particularly when it comes to the actual riding part. "We'll leave at 8am sharp and stop for gas at 9:15. we'll have 5 minutes to get gas and be back on the road. If you want to grab a bathroom or a snack.. well.. if it takes 3 minutes to get gas, that leaves you 2 minutes..."
More often than not, I over-schedule because I'm going somewhere and want to maximize my time at the destination. Logically, it makes sense. But that's not what riding is supposed to be about. At the risk of using a cliché, it IS about the journey and not the destination. Personally, I find both can be pretty enjoyable, but not if I'm all wired up and looking at my watch more than I'm looking at the road and the world around me.
It's too easy to be analytical when you're sitting at a map and working out mileage vs gas stations. Like most of us who are fuel injected, I don't have a reserve on my gas tank and the thought of pushing my bike for a long distance sounds like less than a good time, so I try to work out stops. If the map says it'll take six hours to get where we're going, I can plan on seven or eight. Of course, if it's eight, I should add another hour to stop and eat. But that means we really need to be aware of the time. Eat fast.
Planning is a skill and I try to use it when I’m riding with others. I tend to play “host” on my rides and feel like their trip rests on me. But some amazing things happen on a motorcycle when you can just relax and enjoy the road and the ride itself. Some of my favorite and most memorable moments have happened when I was just cruising along in no particular hurry. No particular place to go, as they say. Call it “Zen” or whatever you'd like, it can be pretty wonderful.
Looking back on all the things I’ve done that may be… well.. not well thought out, it’s hard to believe that I still haven’t really learned to be spontaneous. I’m working on it. But I’m not there yet.
After a run up and down the east coast last summer, I really hadn’t put many miles on afterward. I was still going back and forth to work every day. And there were little road trips here and there. Of course, after going a long run, most road trips seem smaller. I had just over 51k miles but I was really hoping for 60k miles by winter, and when the days are shorter, so go the trips. I wasn’t going to hit it the way I was going.
On the way to New Hampshire during said summer, I decided that I’d get a dealer pin from a Harley dealership in every state I ride in. My wife collects poker chips but I get to a lot of dealerships and I just didn’t want that many pins on my vest. I’m not sure I can put 50 pins on there. One from each state should be fine. The rule was that I had to ride in that state though. I couldn't drive up in a car and get a dealer pin. The good news is that pulling into the parking lot counts, even if they’re closed. I rode here.
Personally, I’d prefer patches but they tend to be way too big to fit 50 of them on a vest. The problem is that the dealership pins are made in China and they are not without problems. The posts break loose.. A LOT… and sometimes the posts are in places that don’t secure the pin well. If you’re going to do it, you can try super glue for the posts. It hasn’t actually helped in the long run and I’m trying to come up with an alternative plan.
Once I got back home, I realized that I had nothing from Georgia. I’ve been through Georgia probably more than any other state outside of my own. I decided to ride up to Augusta and pick up a dealer pin. I probably should have checked to make sure they were open on a Monday. I swung by a favorite restaurant in the area before heading back. They were closed too. A little planning would’ve helped there. Nonetheless, it was a great ride along mostly back roads. I enjoyed it.
Still needing a pin from Georgia and feeling the need to get some miles under me, I decided a trip to Savannah was in order. The summer was just starting to fade a bit and, while it was still fairly hot out, it wasn’t the kind of heat that makes you feel like you’re riding through a blast furnace. The kind of heat where even the wind sucks the life out of you. Overall, you could feel that summer was packing it’s things and had it’s eye on the door.
For the first half of the Savannah trip, some fairly desolate stretches connect small towns until you hit major interstate, which is the second half of the trip. It was a beautiful morning with mostly clear skies. I had already decided that I was going to spend the day riding with no hurry. I was going to soak up every bit of the experience I could absorb. I wanted to feel the ride like it was my last one. For about a month and a half up to that point, all my riding was utilitarian.. to work.. back.. to work.. back.. and I needed to just ride because I love it. Get away from the other traffic and head down the line. I rode through forested back roads half covered in the shade of trees that lined and reached over the road. I rode along the long stretch that passes by large areas of marsh. The water seemed a little low with mud showing through the patches of grass. The more you rush getting to where you’re going, the sooner the ride is over. So I had to remind myself several times to ease back on the throttle a bit and just enjoy it. I was not in a hurry. Still, I had a hard time getting into it. Normally, I find having some music playing can enhance a ride. This time, I found that turning it off actually helped me settle into that head space I was looking for as I thundered toward Savannah.
I had been working out a trip to Key West for about a month and a half. I mean, I’ve got the route mapped. Side trips. Restaurants. Live shows to see. I mean, I’m watching webcams in Key West every day. I’m fully immersed in this idea. In hindsight, I guess that’s more proof I don’t have spontaneity worked out yet. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the trip alone and all of my riding pals had reasons they couldn’t go. One of the stops on the way to Key West would be Cocoa Beach, FL. There’s a restaurant there called Coconuts On The Beach. I just dig it. Decent food. Nice vibe. Beach. I would almost ride there just to eat and hang out. (As a side note, parking was literally non-existent last time we were there. But, after much ado, we found a place.)
On my way to Georgia, I saw the billboards inviting me to Cocoa Beach. Tempting. Really tempting. But not at this time, thank you. As I passed the signs, I started thinking about places near home. I don’t live far from the ocean. Surely there are great food joints there??
By the time I was done in Savannah and ready to go, I had two choices.Go to The Crab Shack in Savannah and have seafood that’s rumored to be legendary. Or… head back to Charleston, SC and find my own local “Coconuts On The Beach”-like establishment. I opted for the latter with the idea that, if I find this amazing place, it’ll always be there for me. I headed back up the interstate.
After I got back off the highway, what must have been either a bug or a fat pterodactyl, hit me in the face. It was more like someone took a jello shot and tossed it out of an airplane. Yeah.. I looked up just to be sure. I’ve hit my share of bugs. This wasn’t like that. I was just grateful for two things.
My most immediate thought was, “Man, I’m glad my mouth wasn’t open!” Because, like most bikers.. sometimes I like to sing out loud when I ride. Very Out Loud. (I know! You never see that on Sons of Anarchy!) But I know there are bugs. So I struggle with it. It’s like Russian Roulette on a motorcycle at speed. I may not be spontaneous but I take some risks!
“A local biker is killed by a massive bug flying through his mouth and punching through his spine and severing his head at high speed. More at 11.”
My second thought was gratitude that this giant flying puss bag splattered dead center on my sunglasses and not in my eye… or worse.. my mouth. If that stuff had hit me in the mouth, I’d still be on the side of the road hurling my insides out.
The Isle of Palms, SC was much more packed than I expected in September, even for a Saturday. Maybe everyone else felt summer drawing to a close as well. Aren’t these people’s kids back in school? Shouldn’t they be at home? After dealing with parking (which I was never really convinced I did correctly and was constantly worried about my bike), I picked my bar and grill and went inside. I won’t go into criticizing the place. It was okay. Clearly, others loved it because it was packed. But it wasn’t what I was looking for. It just didn’t have the right vibe.
As I left the establishment with a tinge of disappointment but happy that my bike was still where I left it. I thought it’s possible that nothing near me is like Cocoa Beach because it’s not Cocoa Beach. I’ll have to keep looking. Or ride south a lot more often.
This is sometimes the downside of being spontaneous. I have high expectations and, sometimes, the world just isn’t up to the task. But rolling the dice and taking that risk is often the way you find that great place. That hidden gem. That little slice of personal heaven.. whether it’s a restaurant or a road. It’s the big payoff for just exploring.
And sometimes you take a chance and go a different way only to find a long and lean road that stretches so far that you start to worry about whether or not you’re going to have enough gas. You find the kind of road where you start thinking that, if something were to happen out here, the vultures wouldn’t find you for a week, much less the paramedics. No cars. No houses. No driveways. No people. Just road. Maybe you slow down and try to make it last forever. Or maybe you find out how high your speedometer goes. Either way.. it’s off the beaten path and it’s a great find.
I’m still working on being more spontaneous. I guess it’s an addiction in a way. “Hi, my name’s Chris and I’m not spontaneous.”
“Hi Chris.. welcome to the Planners Anonymous. We meet at 7:30 sharp with everyone in their seats by 7:35. You can sit in the third seat from the right. For exactly 20 minutes.. then we break for 10 minutes of coffee and chatter before leaving.”
But I guess recognizing it is really the first step. This weekend... I don’t know where I’m going. Maybe I’ll just get out and pick a direction. It’s part of my therapy.