I’m 36, have about 120,000 miles of on-road motorcycle riding experience and have come to the realization that I have a problem.
Not with riding: that’s never a problem. What’s wrong with a long day in the saddle while seeing new places and learning more about American history?
My problem is with how I have been touring. I began believing that because I’m old hat at planning and executing motorcycle tours I don’t need to spend as much time preparing for one. I’d let myself begin to believe that long-distance riding is quantity over quality. I’ve done this so many times that I don’t cherish it the way I used to. I still feel joy, excitement and contentment every time I throw a leg over Jadzia, my trusty 2008 Yamaha FJR1300. But as I’ve tried to pack more and more into my tours the last four years or so, the return on the time and energy spent on the tour has declined.
At the end of each tour, it’s begun to feel more like I completed a task rather than concluded a most excellent two-wheeled adventure. The passion to tour is alive and well, but the way I’ve been executing it has dulled it some. Yet, even as recently as last night, I found myself trying to engineer ways to to pack just a little more into several trips I am planning for 2020.
“Maybe I could leave a night early, you know?” I said to myself. “Then I’ll just push like hell in the morning to make it to the event in time.”
As I was sitting here in a waiting room while my flu-infected girlfriend sees her doctor, I thought about the trips I am in the process of planning. Then my mind drifted back to my first couple motorcycle tours. Some things are still the same. I still plan trips right down to the fuel stops to make sure I don’t run out of gas and have few or no options for fuel. I still compare several hotel brands to make sure I’m getting the best deal I can for each stop.
But some things have changed that have jaded the touring and tour planning experience. During those first tours, I planned 6-7 hour days, giving me plenty of time to stop and see things along the way. Packing lists were strictly followed. Test rides were done with packed luggage to make sure there were no balance or weight distribution problems. Logs were kept to track how far ahead or behind schedule I was running. Notes were made at each stop so I could reference them for planning future tours. I stopped when I felt I needed to, and each stop was often my first time at each place. I had time to conversations with other riders or others who would walk up and ask how I could bear wearing full riding gear in the middle of summer.
More recently, trips have been planned more haphazardly, and I’ve broken one of the rules of touring I’ve written about (not packing the night before a trip) all too often. I try to plan 9-10 hours in the saddle each day, and having to make an unplanned stop becomes a choice between risking my safety in the present to not have to ride after sunset or feeling the stress mount as I continually check the time and watch myself fall further behind schedule. Those conversations still take place, but are often much more abbreviated and rushed. I’m in too much of a hurry to enjoy tracking my progress and learning more about my own touring habits.
As my touring has become more and more destination-focused, I’ve lost sight of the journey. In the rush to see things further away or not have to take as much paid time off for a given trip, I’ve sacrificed the experience of riding simply to make it to as many destinations as I can. I’ve turned the relaxation of recreational riding into a race against Father Time. And what I need to do now is look myself in the mirror and realize I’m trying to compete against something that is undefeated.
So, this year, I’m going to do things different. I’m going to go back to the roots of my touring and make sure I don’t forget to plan a journey that more of an adventure and less of a chore. I’m going to find some new places to ride to that aren’t as far away, and I’m going to plan trips so that being stopped by heavy rain, lightning or other acts of god are simply an unplanned break as opposed to a nerve-rattling setback in maintaining a frantic pace.
Will I stick to what I’m saying I’ll do different? I guess we’ll find out at the end of 2020.