I have to confess that the excitement and anticipation of my first motorcycle road trip was heavily layered with doubt and concern. As a Boy Scout of more than a decade– an Order of the Arrow honor camper– I faced no uncertainty about my ability to live in the now-lavish comfort of the modern campsite. It was getting there that gave me pause: miles, in fact HUNDREDS of miles, of roadways to be negotiated before finding a safe night’s sleep in the wild. But in mid-March of 2009 (six months into my motorcycle learning curve) I put my new commitment to the test. With my chosen steed carrying the essentials for life on the road, I clothed myself in the trappings of a Highway Darth Vader and set out for what I intended to be a four-day trip.
The saddlebags hold a coffee pot and other Spartan cooking gear, meager foodstuffs, a well stocked tool kit, some spare parts, moccasins for wear in camp, and an embarrassing assortment of electronics for navigation, communication, and entertainment. The big bag behind me is attached to the “sissy bar” and contains clothing and a first aid kit. The light blue roll is a spacious tent (a down sleeping bag is on the other side of the bike, out of view). And the small tail bag duffel (mounted on my newly installed luggage rack) contains quickly accessible gear in case the weather goes suddenly wet or cold (remember it is mid-March).
It took nearly two hours to get clear of Atlanta’s urban congestion. But it was time well spend in getting the feel of a wholly different way of riding. The added weight (about 150 pounds) mounted high on the back of the bike was like carrying a passenger– something I had not done. Then, when I did hit the open road, there was another new level of experience to contend with. My vast riding experience– five months since buying my first bike– had peaked at a giddy and terrifying 50 miles per hour. Suddenly I found myself on a four-lane expressway where traffic tolerated no minimum below 55. Soon I was routinely making long runs between intersections at 60– which was hardly distinguishable from 50 except for the wind noise. And as the mystery subsided, I soon found myself looking down at a speedometer pegged solidly at 65.
Inexperience and an excess of caution put me at my first night’s stop too late for pictures or much of anything else except making camp, eating a cold supper, and getting to bed. The campsite at Georgia’s Mistletoe State Park, near Augusta, was clean, comfortable, and beautifully uncrowded. The facilities were terrific. But in the morning I was eager to get on the road, and photos would have to wait for a less pressured time.
Immediately, another new challenge presented itself. Fifteen miles from the campsite I began my first run of travel on an Interstate Highway. Now all the rules were changed: 55 mph was likely to get me killed; 60 and 65 became the new routine with regular excursions to 70– and the wind noise and buffeting of my helmet became brutal. There were long stretches of road where my eyes could barely focus, and I had real concern for my only functioning ear. I’ve been totally deaf on my left side since I was 32 years old, and as a result I’ve grown quite defensive of that remaining ear. After ten miles on the interstate I stopped at a rest area and put in a foam rubber ear plug. It helped with the noise but the buffeting at turnpike speeds felt as though my head was in a paint shaker.
(For the record, a group of owners of bikes similar to mine proved very helpful with this situation. When I returned from this trip I posted an Internet query about the scrambled brain syndrome, and they described an aberrant airflow situation on motorcycles of our design. Several of them suggested I order and install some additional wind deflectors for low on the front of the bike. It seemed strange to me since the problem was up at helmet level, but I took their advice. After installing the deflectors, I took my Black Beauty for a test run at 70 mph and experienced no buffeting whatsoever.)
Early afternoon on that second day found me in Columbia, S.C. It’s what I call my childhood home, but by the time I was seventeen, I had lived in ten other places that I can remember. I went to high school in Columbia, and I had three siblings who still called it home. So that’s what I called it, too.
I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression about the hospitality of my family. They offered, but I declined, invitations to spend the night as their guest. This was, after all, a trip to test the bike, the rider, and the support systems against plans for future and longer journeys. So that night I slept at Dreher Island State Park on nearby Lake Murray. It was another spectacular facility, groomed and equipped for campers of all sorts. And, again, sparsely populated. The Beauty and I made ourselves at home.
This was to have been a four-day trip; my plan was to make the ride home a two-part excursion. But some important errands were weighing on my mind, and I had learned what I had set out to discover, so I decided to cut the ride one day short. If it hadn’t been for the brain-bashing jet stream that hammered my helmet, the ride would have been almost idyllic. I avoided the interstate highways, and with the help of my trusty GPS I made my way westward on some lovely roadways through lake country. It was mid-week, and I enjoyed long stretches of highway with hardly a car in sight. Of course all of that was crudely dispelled as I neared the gridlock of the city.
My next chance to escape was not long in coming… see Smoky Mountain High