We made the Dragon today. Came down from the north because we had to divert to a couple of dealerships to buy and install rear brakes on both bikes so we ended up making our first pass of the Dragon fully loaded and with 5 hours of riding fatigue on us. We took it easy, though, and made it to Robbinsville and our hotel without incident. More details and pictures to come but, first, philosophical musings. Hmmm.
I've got different gear this time around. Namely a Bluetooth headset through which I can listen to audio books while riding. This goes a long, long, long way to keeping me out of my head. However, sometimes, when Erin chimes in to tell me she needs gas, the book won't restart and there I'll be. Alone with my thoughts.
That did happen a couple of times today and I did have some musings. One of which is the fascination people who aren't doing motorcycle trips have with people who are doing motorcycle trips' trips. Now, on a side note, I try not to run my mouth about my experiences unless people really pry because I hate it when someone gets on their personal stage and won't shut up about something they know/did/saw and I don't want to be seen as that guy. Usually I'll just say "yeah, I did such and such and it was pretty cool" and leave it at that. When people do get interested, though, one phrase they use a lot is "the open road."
"The open road" has always seemed kind of like a trite phrase to me. It's loaded with all kinds of deeper meaning when people say it. Hell, nobody even "says" it. More like they "invoke" it. Sometimes they invoke it with a broad sweep of the arm to call attention to the grandioseness of it all. Sooo, I guess I'll muse, philosophically, on "the open road."
"The open road" is just the road. Like how long do people think the fascination with "the wind in their hair and the sun on their backs and nothing but the road in front of them" lasts? A few hours, maybe? Maybe I'm different or jaded or something but I feel like these people have never woken up, for the tenth time in a row, to a complete mess of a hotel room, bike luggage everywhere, stuff all strewn about which must be condensed back down and then strapped back on the bike. Then, if you're me, you've got that goddamn camel back. It's essential for making time so you don't have to stop or risk crashing every time you want a sip of water but the straps always get caught on stuff while you're trying to put it on and, sometimes, you even forget to put it on till you're about to let the clutch out and you see it there, mocking you, as it hangs from the mirror. Now you have to get neutral, but sometimes you forget and let the clutch out anyway and kill the the engine with a dramatic forward lurch like a squid. Bonus points if you do it in front of an audience. Then you have to take off the helmet which, depending on your situation, could also mean taking off a pair of glasses and removing a perfectly positioned pair of ear buds. Well, you're too lazy to do that, of course, so you try to let the straps all the way out on the camel back and put it on with the helmet in place, only to find out that your head with a helmet plus an arm is like seventeen feet in diameter in real life and you get nice and tangled up till shit is wrapped around your neck and your arm is tied to the side of your face. Finally, you have to concede defeat, remove the helmet, put on the camel back, which is now resting on its usual pressure points, making something that weighs five pounds feel like twenty. Now, put the helmet back on, then take it off again, put the ear buds in, then put the helmet on again, then the glasses (which now fog up because you're all hot from being geared up for ten minutes but don't have the wind yet), glove up, check key on, clutch in, mash the start button and nothing. The goddamn bike won't start! What the ever loving **** now??? Well, the battery is a few years old and I didn't bring a tender with me, maybe the headlight ran it down. No, there would at least be a click. Get off the bike and check the headlight anyway. Remember the kill switch, which you never use but could have bumped in the chaos. No, that's fine. Then you remember killing it like a noob and it's still in gear with the kickstand down. Kickstand up, start button, BOOM, you're off and running. Bonus points if there has been a car behind you waiting to get out of the gas station this whole time.
If all that weren't bad enough, sometimes you roll out of your hotel / friend's house / park bench / patch of grass and your brain just won't come on line. You're drowsy, lethargic, and you check the odometer every what seems like 30 minutes only to find you've gone like a mile or two. 8 perceived hours into the ordeal and you've gone ten miles. Only a perceived week left till the end of this tank of gas and then you have two more to do today if you're gonna make your next spot, which you've already reserved, so there's no punking out or you lose $70. What to do? Your eye lids are sooo heavy but not riding isn't really an option. Well, there are several things to try that your brain thinks are reasonable in its highly crippled state. In no particular order: "Well, maybe if I just keep my eyes open a little bit and slouch some?" Then it's "well, what if I just close one eye at a time?" Then it's "well, what if I close both eyes but only for a couple of seconds?" At some point, some part of you realizes that this is all bs and you're going to have to stop and get coffee. After coffee, you can either wait for the coffee shits to kick in, which they may decide not to do at all, thus, putting you behind schedule for no reason, or get back on the road only for the coffee shits to kick in twelve minutes later, making you stop, yet again, which, again, puts you behind schedule. Or, maybe, instead of coffee, you can get off and do some jumping jacks, which invariably result in the "jumping jack shits" except you are on the side of the road now or in a parking lot rather than a gas station and now you have to find someplace to go to the bathroom. Which, yet again, puts you behind schedule.
Of course, if none of that has wiped the glamour off the "open road" yet, there are always the people who want to know "where you're headed" immediately followed by"where ya from" immediately followed by "oh wow" immediately followed by some question relating to logistics, or how you deal with the heat, or the cold, or the rain, or all them crazies out there, or how did you get all that time off, or some comment on how they used to have a Suzuki SV 650 (I swear you could have a "how many degrees from an SV 650 are you?" game just like the Kevin Bacon one). People, God bless their souls, are the biggest time wasters ever. My suggestion is to, whenever possible, keep your helmet on and stay astride the bike while gassing up. This keeps most polite folk at bay. God forbid you sit down and start lubing your chain or checking your oil or patching a tire... "Hey maing, everything okay there? I got a buddy two towns over knows a guy with a mechanic shop's got tools an shit. Ain't open on Sundays though. But there's this nice hotel about three miles back. Gitta room for about one fifty. Real nice lady runs it. She used to be my nephew's aunt but then they got divorced and now we don't hear from er much anymore but there's a lil ole restaurant out back of the place an they got real good corn beef hash there." Twice on my 9000 mile trip I had people strike up conversations and end up talking to me, literally, all night. Like no shit, a solid 6 or 8 hour conversation that started sometime in the evening and didn't end till the sun was up. Not even joking.
The bottom line is that the "open road" is a chore. I don't know who first romanticized it but they were either a genius at playing off people's existential cabin fever, or it wasn't as complicated back in the day or, maybe, I'm doing it all wrong. I will never understand how someone can put in 700 or a thousand miles on a bike, then have time for a hot shower, change of clothes, nice sit down meal and conversation with the waitress, then get to bed at a reasonable hour after scribbling down a few pages of notes and drawing a sketch of a bald eagle while watching the sun set over a cup of Earl Grey on a grassy hill side only a mile's brisk hike from the quaint bed and breakfast that just happened to have a vacancy with no notice because it's the off season and the only other people there are a retired British Air Force captain from the Vietnam era and his mail-order Croatian bride who is 40 years his junior and is just there making sure his oxygen bottle is full, waiting on the big payout.
But, I mean, aside from all that it's not too bad I guess.
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