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Road Tripping Scrambler Ducati Style – Part 6 – Lessons From the Road
It sounds great when you say it like that , but all that stuff was luck – I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’t plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help –
~Harry Potter, The Order of the Phoenix
1794.2 miles later I successfully completed my journey (read Part 5 here) and picked up lots of tidbits of wisdom.
There’s a lot to be said for taking a solo road trip on a motorcycle and there’s a lot that cannot be said; some experiences must be, well… experienced. You have to live them, ponder them, and reflect upon them later with a wistful smile and nod of your head knowing that no matter how hard you try with your pictures, words and gestures you’ll never be able to adequately relate your personal perception of all the (tangible or intangible) aspects of your journey. Despite the fact that I actually rode solo and completed my journey alone, I in fact, was given a great deal of assistance along the way and can in no way claim to be the independent warrior my escapades would lead you to believe I am. With this final installment of my 6-part blog, I’ll do my best to wrap up my thoughts on what the journey meant for me, give you some practical information, and share accolades with the folks who deserve it.
Some pros and cons of solo road tripping:
PRO – Have it your way
You can plan as much or as little of your trip in advance as you feel comfortable doing. You aren’t held captive by an anal partner who feels a complete itinerary with exact expected arrival times is the only way to prepare. If you’re the free spirited adventurer type (me), you can loosely make a plan and then wing it as you like. Sometimes the most amazing memories are made from those unplanned, off-route adventures.
CON – Not enough forethought
On the other hand, if you’re going all Wild West style (I don’t need no stinking plan!), and you fail to leave yourself enough viable options you could find yourself in big trouble. And be all alone. What if you’re in the boondocks and dump your bike and there’s no one there to help you get it upright, or you have a mechanical failure or a medical emergency, or you find yourself in a less than friendly situation, etc. AND there’s no cell service so you can’t even call for help. Yeah, a buddy sure would be helpful now…
PRO – Talking to strangers
I’m a people person; I love to hear people tell me their stories. As an actress, I pull from these folks’ experiences when I need to use them in creating a similar character. There’s no better place to hear real-life stories than from strangers you meet on the road. That dirty homeless looking guy? He’s actually taking a break from his labor job to get some refreshment and has a loving wife and kids at home. That creepy guy with the backpack? He’s on his own self-discovery pilgrimage and revels in the fact you took time out to listen to him. That stuck-up looking woman with the bratty kids waiting in line for the bathroom? She’s escaping some personal demons and trying to give her children a nice vacation away from the drama. Every person you meet has a story and they are more than grateful to tell it to a sympathetic ear. You will be blessed and enriched for taking time out of your scheduled itinerary to inquire, listen, and acknowledge your fellow human beings.
CON – Crossing paths with unsavory characters
While I was completely blessed and had no dealings with such, I’m not unprepared or naive enough to think I couldn’t be faced with a potentially dangerous confrontation. The Lord had his guardian angels working overtime for me and I never once felt the need to use my weapons (yes I had them – multiple ones stashed in multiple locations) to defend myself or the felt the urgent desire to flee. But those situations can and do occur on the road. No road partner means no one has your back – literally.
PRO – Pee breaks/leg stretches on your own timetable
Going it solo means you can take breaks when you want, for as long as you want, and you set your own pace because you are your own boss and the best judge of your capabilities. If you gotta pee – LIKE RIGHT NOW – you don’t need to clear it with anyone while you do your best to keep your bladder from exploding; you just pull over when it’s convenient for you and take as much time as you want – No toe-tapping impatient partner pushing you onward. OR if you want to keep riding through, you aren’t stuck breaking your stride to pull off so your partner can stretch their legs while YOU now find yourself being the frustrated toe tapper.
CON – No one to share the memories
Not having a partner to share in the journey kind of sucks when days/months/years later you excitedly exclaim, “Remember that time… Oh wait, no, of course you don’t…” as you hang your head and drop your shoulders with the dawning comprehension that your comrade wasn’t there and they are sick of hearing you recount adventures they had no part of. ~Heavy sigh~
Planning, packing, and hindsight lessons:
I don’t want to call this section advice. Advice makes it sound like I know what I’m doing. You’re smart people, you think smart thoughts, and you haven’t made it this far in life without being able to make critical decisions on your own. So here’s list of some things I did that made my own ride better (or worse) in no particular order:
- Helmet Hair – My Schuberth C3 Pro Women’s helmet ROCKS! It really does, but there’s no extra room in it for bunched up hair. I have long hair so I braid it to keep it from getting tangled in the wind (you know what I’m talking about – those wind knots that leave you crying in pain and considering just shaving your head rather than go through the torture of the de-tangle). Before I took this trip I experimented with different configurations for the most comfort, and lets face it, least hideous look when the helmet came off. Single french braid down the back, single dutch braid down the back, single regular braid down the back, two tight braids on either side, etc… Turns out, in order to avoid having my helmet drill into my forehead causing excruciating headaches within minutes to hours, leaving my hair completely down was the best option. This however was not a practical solution (tangles remember?) so I figured out that loose braiding (either single in the back or two pigtails) was the only way to go. I HATE a loose braid, but gosh darn it, it works for this application.
- Food – I have lots of food intolerances and allergies so in addition to packing my bags with the necessary clothing/tools/gear, I have to make room for ALL of my food for as long as I think I’ll be on the road. I cannot stop at a restaurant and grab something along the way. This adds to the prep time and weight and bulk of my bags, but I’ve gotten pretty creative over the years and know how to pack enough nutrients, calories, and liquids to last me for a very long time in as small a space as possible. (BTW, eggs are nature’s perfect protein for a journey! If you hard boil them and leave them in their unbroken shells they can literally last for weeks without refrigeration.) Some of my medical issues require that I take in more salt than most people and my all-natural diet means that I do not get hardly any unless I make a point to add it to my food. Even if you don’t need to do the same, do not underestimate the power of salt in your diet! Oops, I failed to pack any – absolutely none! On my return trip I happened to purchase a bag of fried pigskins (weird that I can eat those, but yes I can!) and it was while ravenously devouring them that I understood how much I had been lacking this precious compound. My foggy brain got clearer almost instantly and my body was better able to process the water I was drinking.
- Comfortable Gear – As I talked about in Part 3, my knees took a beating from ill-fitting knee armor and continuing to ride while ignoring the pain actually created an unsafe situation. The day after I arrived at my folks’ house I got right online and ordered some flexible Forcefield Net replacement armor for the return trip. BIG difference! Also, I didn’t mention this before, but the day before I rode out, I purchased an in-helmet speaker system so that I could plug into my cellphone to listen to GPS turn-by-turn directions if I wanted to. It was a brilliant setup and worked great until 2 things happened: 1. my ears were squashed into the bars of my glasses and caused even more excruciating pain than the knee armor, and 2. having my phone running GPS for so long caused it to overheat and shut itself down to keep from exploding. Midway through day 2, realizing I knew the way and could check my GPS sporadically if I needed to, I ripped out those speakers and felt waves of relief spreading through my tender ears. I think a Bluetooth setup is in my future and well worth the expense.
- Things you can’t have too many of – Plastic grocery bags, ziplock bags, water, and paper towels. I found myself grateful each and every time I dug one of these items out of my bag. I can’t even remember what I used them all for, so you’ll just have to trust me and be sure to pack more of them than you think you’ll need. With the exception of water, the other things squash down to an almost non-existent size, so you don’t have to worry about taking up valuable real estate in your bags.
- Products worth carrying – Chain lube, helmet shield cleaner, flip flops, spare gloves, and lock. I didn’t need the spare gloves but I had them. Mine dried out enough on the road between rain bursts so that I didn’t have soggy hands the whole time, but it sure would have been nice to put on a dry pair if I needed them. I also never used my cable lock on my bike, but if I had to spend the night in a questionable place I sure would have been glad to be able to lock my bike to something sturdy. Can you imagine coming out the next morning to find your ride had been stolen? I did, however, make good use of the other things. The chain lube was important since I went through lots of rain and wanted to keep my chain in tip-top condition, and the helmet shield cleaner (and paper towels – rags tended to smear) was a God-send. I use Plexus on my shield and it acts as a rain repellent in addition to cleaning the bugs, tar, and gunk off my shield. Get yourself a mini can and keep it on your bike! Also, having some sort of footwear besides the riding boots was pretty nice on my tootsies at the end of the day!
- Places of interest – I’m not just talking about plotting out picturesque twisty roads, quaint villages, and roadside attractions. Those are valuable things to plan for to make the most of your journey for sure, but what I mean specifically here is knowing where your essential places are located. The two most important being gas stations (I needed to know where my last possible gas stop was before entering the Shenandoah National Park and exactly how much fuel I was likely to burn through before I got to the next fuel up) and possible lodging choices (I had multiple ones scoped out along with their contact information so if my plan A didn’t work I had a few more options to burn through before I really had to wing it), and I carried an honest-to-God paper road atlas in my bag just in case my GPS failed and I needed to sort out my route.
- Battery charging – Of all the amazing features on my Scrambler Ducati, I think the one I love the most is the on-board USB port. I NEVER have to worry about running out of charge on my phone. Having a charged cell phone could have meant the difference between life and death (as long as an emergency happened within range of cell signal or free Wi-Fi of course). The USB port on this bike only charges the device plugged into it as long as the motor is running meaning there’s no chance of draining my bike battery by leaving a device plugged in. And speaking of battery charging, I always keep a charger with all the pertinent connections under my seat so if I happen to run into the situation where my bike battery fails, I could either jump it off another bike (NEVER off a car!) or plug it into an outlet to recharge.
- Endurance and Stamina – I learned early on that taking short breaks more often was way more refreshing than trying to ride longer spells and take longer breaks. Even just getting off the bike, walking around for 30 seconds and getting back on was enough to last me for another 45 minutes to an hour on the road. Getting stiff is your enemy – especially on demanding roads in rainy, cold, weather. Take time to eat, use the bathroom, drink, etc. Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re like me, you can actually forget or ignore those signals from your body. My comfort and awareness was greatly enhanced by getting a little nourishment or having an empty bladder. And take your vitamins. I take lots of Vitamin C but, while on the road, knowing the added stress my body would be under, I made a point to pop several more than I normally would throughout my day. I didn’t get sick once and for those who know me, you know what an accomplishment (and testament to my diet/exercise plan) this was.
I’ve likened my trip to zombie hunting and by now you know I didn’t actually get to slay any real-life ones along the way. That’s not to say that I didn’t meet any un-dead creatures waiting in ambush or tearing after me in hot pursuit, metaphorically speaking anyway. Anything can be a zombie. Walkers, like the classic style zombies (Night of the Living Dead, Walking Dead, or my personal fav Shaun of the Dead) come at you slow, stumbling, and relentless so that it’s easy to dismiss their real danger until it’s almost too late. Runners are more like the modern style zombies (Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland, or 28 Days Later) who rush at you in hyper speed and there’s no time to formulate or debate your attack plan. For me, my zombies came at me in the form of physical pain, sudden bad weather, emotionally resounding memories, obstacles in the road, other (stupid) motorists, and all around endurance testing. Some of those zombies were walkers and others were runners, but all of them were real enough to me and they served a valid purpose of keeping me on my toes and mentally alert. You cannot ride for 8-10 hours at a stretch and allow your body or mind to be lulled into complacency. That’s when accidents happen and shit gets real. On a motorcycle, I learned the zombies are always out there, waiting for you to drop your guard. Constant vigilance!
(Thank you Professor Moody for those two little words of wisdom!)
When I initially set out to ride to NY it was simply for the fun of riding. But through the process of planning, preparing, testing, and doing, I learned an awful lot and self-discovery was inevitable. I might have expected to stumble upon a few things on such a journey. Things like “damn, my pack job was great”, and “next time I won’t wear X article of gear/clothing”, or “holy cow I’m a better rider than I thought I was”, or “crap, I’m not that good of a rider”. But I also gained personal insight into my physical and mental strengths and weaknesses, my ability (or inability) to quickly recognize, process, and take action in the face of dangerous situations, my unexpected visceral emotional responses to people, places, and things, and how well (or not) I was able to keep a level head and ride through adversity, and most poignantly, how much I simultaneously absolutely loved being alone and despised not having my husband with me to share in the experience.
My blog wouldn’t be complete without recognizing that, like Harry Potter, I didn’t do this alone even though it was a solo adventure. I almost always had help! I would like to thank the following people, products, and companies who helped make this journey not only possible, but immensely enjoyable. Each of you helped in your own special way whether you realize it or not and I’m grateful for your advice, assistance, motivation, inspiration, kindness, and prayer.
- My husband, Neel Guest
- Johann Keiser, Motomotivo
- William Vaughan, DMC Motorsports
- Neale Bayly, Neale Bayly Rides
- Robin Dail, Moto Girl Cafe
- The Flying Vs
- Do The Ton Triangle
- Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)
- Joanne Donn, GearChic
- Genevieve Schmitt, Women Riders Now
- Alicia Mariah Elfving, TheMotoLady
- Joan Krenning, Steelhorse Sisterhood
- Steve and all the guys at Garcia Moto
- Dime City Cycles
- Greig and Clark, Devolve Moto
- Lackawanna Bed and Breakfast
- Zion Springs Bed and Breakfast
- My best friend Jean Graham
- My crazy, lovable family, but especially my parents and my brother
- All the random bikers and friendly people at every gas station break
- Tequila, specifically Lunazul Primero and Milagro Añejo
- And most of all, Jesus Christ – without the Lord’s help, grace, and mercy in everything, I would be lost!
But the fun doesn’t end here! Stay tuned faithful followers, another exciting adventure is on its way – Zombies aren’t the only villain in Hitgirl’s sights! There’s a certain Dragon taking up in residence in the Great Smoky Mountains calling my name. Superheros are always on duty and sometimes it’s not pretty….
Next up, A Dragons Tale…Details
Road Tripping Scrambler Ducati Style – Part 3 – Battling Zombies
Monday June 13 – 333 miles/8 hours.
After an epic first day and a good night’s rest (read Part 2 here) the zombies emerge…
Yawning and stretching I lazily rolled out of bed having slept like a baby at the Lackawanna Bed & Breakfast after a stellar adventure on the road the day before. Peering through the window panes between the silky sheer curtains I spied a dreary hue of gray that I hoped was just an indication of the time of day rather than unsettled weather. I glanced around the room. Somehow my bags had managed to regurgitate their contents overnight splattering the room with clothes, food wrappers, and toiletries. Viewing the carnage, I groaned apathetically; the thought of packing my gear seemed a little less romantic today than it did yesterday. UGH!
I gave the mess a dismissive waive and stumbled into the bathroom to begin the ol’ morning routine, when – SURPRISE!!! Mother Nature thought it would be funny to to bless me with a reminder of my femininity. This was sooo not good. Like a Boy Scout, I planned for everything and I was prepared with the necessary supplies; but I was not, however, prepared to ride for another day or two in unendurable misery, clutching at my contorting, convulsing, contracting, delicate internal lady parts while searching for decent restroom accommodations. This was not how I intended my personal Blue Highways exploit to unfold. I had envisioned discovering picturesque sights in unexplored, fringe outposts of civilization, having stimulating conversations with exotic characters who told compelling, unbelievable stories, and narrowly escaping pitfalls, landslides, earthquakes, and nuclear explosions while outrunning zombies on my trusty Falcon. DOUBLE UGH!!
Begrudgingly, but meticulously, I repacked all my scattered belongings being sure to place everything in an orderly, accessible fashion and made up my mind to hit the road as quickly as possible to minimize the, shall we politely call it, “discomfort” of the day. Leaving prematurely, I was going to miss out on the fellowship of my new friends and not be able to delight in the scrumptious breakfast at the B&B, but the road would, without a shadow of a doubt, become more arduous the longer I waited, so I trudged down the stairs and began loading up. I was all packed and about to throw my leg over the Falcon, when it began. Remember the gloomy skies I saw an hour ago? That wasn’t daybreak greeting me. It was light and misty, but yep, it was definitely raining. TRIPLE UGH!!!
I almost considered just riding out as is, thinking it wouldn’t last, but I’d be an idiot to set off while my battle-tested rain gear was tucked neatly away in my tail bag instead of on my body where it belonged. Alright, I spat through gritted teeth, then began the tedious task of unbuckling, unzipping, and unpacking the precious impervious attire, painstakingly stuffing myself into it, then re-zipping, re-buckling, and re-securing my bag once again. A good 10 minutes later and feeling like the Michelin man, I was finally ready to climb aboard my Scrambler Ducati and, given the inauspicious start of the day, prepare to battle the inevitable zombie hoard attack.
At 7:30 AM the kickstand went up and off I rode into the misty, drizzle under an umbrella of low hanging clouds. I didn’t exactly have a definitive path mapped out from this point to my final destination because the majority of my day would be spent traveling through Pennsylvania and I’m more than acquainted with the eastern PA roadways. Given the current circumstances, I chose a rather scenic byway with a slower pace in the early part of my day thereby allowing me to feel out my riding muscles and perhaps still reaping some rewards of the journey before I was forced to grit my teeth and power through on strength of will alone.
Honestly though, once I hit the road, a silly grin sneaked across my face beneath all that gear. I could feel my responsive mount tugging on the reins begging me to give her her head. Ah yes, this is where I belonged – sitting astride a beast full of untapped power. Drizzle and impending girly problems wouldn’t dampen my spirits – I DO LOVE RIDING!
A short time later, I was puttering though Harper’s Ferry, crossing and re-crossing the Potomac, standing up on my pegs to better view its waters happily bubbling over its boulder-filled river bed. I was mesmerized watching the eddies and swirls as I rode over the bridges and traveled along its banks in the shadows of the tree-lined cliffs and rocky outcroppings. There was no safe place to stop to take pictures and where I could pull off, the view wasn’t as spectacular, so I have no visual evidence to show for it. You’ll just have to trust me on this, put Harper’s Ferry on your moto destination list! And whaddaya know – no zombies here.
Next, I made an obligatory stop in Gettysburg, PA. because, well, it’s Gettysburg. I could have just ridden past as it’s a hair out of the way, but come on, if you’ve been there you know you don’t bypass it. First order of business: rain gear OFF! Whew, that’s better. Next, I hung out in town, gabbing with the locals and eating some lunch. BTW, everywhere I went, G-Burg included, people were enamored with my Falcon. She’s not like any other bike out there and draws quite the crowd because not many Scramblers have hit the roads in America yet. After wrapping up my Scrambler TED talk, I plopped my butt back on the seat and went on a little tour. I love this historic town and riding through the rolling battlefields with its trees growing out of formerly blood-soaked soil always makes the hair stand up on my arms. Its history is humbling. However, I’ve spent much time here in the past visiting the must-see sights like the wax museum and Hall of Presidents, touring the battlefields, and nosing around the shops so I didn’t dawdle too long today.
Thus ends the enjoyable portion of Day 2. Once I got to Harrisburg it was all highway, all the way baby. I now needed to put as many miles behind me as quickly as possible. The rain gear went on and off several more times and I can tell you, riding at 80 plus mph for hours on I-81 without a faring, battling intermittent rain, and enduring cramping pain is not for amateurs. Boys and girls, don’t try this at home.
Let me take this moment to complain about something else (as if this whole blog post isn’t one long PMS-y bitch session). I love my Joe Rocket Alter Ego riding pants, really I do. But I do not love the original knee armor that came with them. They have always drilled into my knees leaving angry red grooves and purple bruises. I attempted to remedy the problem by cutting ovals out of a yoga mat and inserting them into the armor pockets to cushion my tender (knobby) knees. That solution seemed tolerable on my preliminary test rides, but not even an hour into Day One I was miserable and had to remove the fabricated cushions – they just made my pants stick to my legs in a weird way and didn’t really buffer the pain. When I got dressed this morning I briefly contemplated removing the armor altogether to alleviate the problem, but quickly shot that down. The whole point of wearing ATGATT (all the gear all the time) is protection. (Don’t believe me? Click here to read MotoLady’s blog about her recent crash. Or click here to read about GearChic’s recent crash.) BIG sigh… If I was already going to have to use my superpowers to override pain sensors today I could override a few more. I am Hitgirl after all (If you click the video be warned – it’s graphic – but so much fun):
An unfortunate side effect of ignoring the pain and riding for hours at a time without shifting was that my knees sort of locked up. When I got off the highway for a gas stop in Wilkes-Barre, I could hardly straighten my legs to set my feet on the pavement at a stop light and then I couldn’t upshift properly once I had to move ahead. Awkward … and a little scary… time to take a break, refresh my reserves, and get my act together. I was only an hour or so from the end of my journey so there was no quitting now!
Gathering my strength, I took a few deep renewing breaths, focused my superhero brain on the task at hand, and braced myself for the crappy conditions ahead. How do you know what lies ahead, you ask? Oh c’mon, it’s NE PA and SE NY – crappy conditions are a way of life there – no need to check the forecast – According to Wikipedia:
Binghamton is the 10th rainiest city in the United States, with 162 rainy days a year. With 212 cloudy days annually, it is also the seventh cloudiest city in the country, and the cloudiest east of the Rocky Mountains. Binghamton’s proximity to the Great Lakes results in significant cloudiness and precipitation, as weather systems traveling over the lake pick up significant moisture, and cooler air masses from the west and the north culminate in a continuously unsettled weather pattern.
Without prolonging your suspense any longer, I’ll just cut to the chase. I made it to my folks’ home without having to actually whack the heads off any real zombies. With the full power of my steely mental reserve, I successfully battled my metaphorical undead villains which came at me in the form of physical pain, shitty weather, and highway traffic. Remember in yesterday’s blog how I raised my arms in victory like Rocky at the end of the day? Well, when I crossed the NY border today, I was most certainly more subdued and slightly battle worn, but no less appreciative of the victorious ending to my day’s ride.
“I did it. I’m home, I’m home,” I said out loud and proceeded to cry big fat tears of joy and relief mingled with pride. Most definitely pride!
Less than 15 minutes later I approached my final hurdle with a bit of apprehension. As I turned the corner to head up my parents’ long and rocky driveway (no seriously – we’re talking river rocks, washed out ruts, and not much gravel!) I held my breath in preparation for sliding around and losing control, having visions of dumping my bike spectacularly while my dad stood shaking his head watching out the window. About six feet into what could have been my downfall (quite literally), I realized this was some of the most fun riding of my entire trip! There goes that silly grin across my face again. My Falcon’s stock knobby-ish tires LOVED the gravel obstacle course and let me know it really is dual sport bike!
I wheeled up to the back door of my childhood home to find my mom waiting for me just inside with a big smile on her face. Given an opportunity, no doubt she would have taken the same adventure – we’re cut from the same cloth. Suddenly feeling revived, I couldn’t WAIT to get out there and see where else the Falcon would take me.