There are few things like a solo motorcycle trip to straighten out your head. In the hot summer of 2013 I packed up my Triumph Sprint ST to escape. I couldn’t get away from the heat, so much as the humanity. But I’ve always heard that’s more of the problem anyway. At least it is for me.
I follow a general rule not to travel by motorcycle if I have to hurry. Hurrying affects your judgment and that’s not something I’m willing to gamble on with half as many wheels as usual. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy longer trips – because I have all day and can manage my time instead of riding faster through places where I shouldn’t. On July 19 of 2013, traffic was painfully slow through Little Rock, Arkansas. When I say painfully, I mean uncomfortably. In a car or truck, you sit in traffic with a radio, a drink, and an air conditioner, and aside from schedule requirements, it’s no less comfortable to sit still and idle than to move at highway speed. On a bike though, and especially a sporty bike with a more aggressive riding position, sitting still accentuates the fact that you are straddling a heat producing engine and then you have to lean forward and put weight on your wrists at low speeds. This posture and heat gets old quickly in mid July.
But once you escape the traffic (the humanity), things are happy again. You leave the heat you produce behind with every revolution of the wheels, and the wind not only cools you but if your windshield is set well, it will provide just enough lift to your torso to relieve the pressure on the wrists. So at a decent speed, even in heat, you’re cooler and you feel your own weight less.
All this goes without even mentioning the joy of the rises and drops in the road that you miss in a caged vehicle, or the aromas, or the coolness of river bottoms, or the curves.
The curves: motorcyclists take some pride in how much of their tire they actually use. A tiny little narrow worn strip in the middle of the tire suggests excessive breaking through curves. Failure to allow the bike to perform as God intended. See motorcycle tires are rounded instead of having squared-off edges for a reason. The manufacturers know that motorcycles lean when turning. And the more you lean into the turn, the more of the tire you use, which gets your money’s worth out of the rubber. It’s just good economics, really.
Don’t try this with a car or truck though. It’s dangerous. In a four wheel vehicle the sensation is completely different – when you take a curve on four wheels you feel like you’re coming out of your seat, and your tires don’t lean into the curve. But on a bike, your tires are made for the curve, and you are being pulled down into your seat, instead of out of it. Exhilarating crap. It’s all about physics. Here’s an explanation to bore you:
“The difference between centripetal and centrifugal force has to do with different ‘frames of reference,’ that is, different viewpoints from which you measure something,” according to Andrew A. Ganse, a research physicist at the University of Washington. If you are observing a rotating system from the outside, you see an inward centripetal force acting to constrain the rotating body to a circular path. However, if you are part of the rotating system, you experience an apparent centrifugal force pushing you away from the center of the circle, even though what you are actually feeling is the inward centripetal force that is keeping you from literally going off on a tangent.” – livescience.com
The short of it is that on a bike, you are part of the machine, while with a car you’re just a passenger. That magical lean is what connects you to the FORCE. Anyway, I went off on a tangent didn’t I?
After stopping for some boiled shwimps in Lake Providence, eaten on the deck of a restaurant overlooking the lake, I re-mounted the bike and cruised into the cooler twilight of Louisiana. The air was thickening, though, and the further south I rode, the more humid and buggy it was, like a crescendo to the climax of a good piece of music.
As the sky darkened, the lightning bugs came out and my headlights began to reflect off even the other bugs, creating a “warp speed” effect in front of me. As enjoyable as this was on its own, in the distant east I could see a lightening storm out over the corn fields, the sweet smell of which I had been enjoying for some time before I came to it.
So at this point, I am spending my evening riding at night with the Mississippi River on my left and hundreds of acres of corn to my right being revealed only in flashes from a distant electrical storm, and basking in every minute of the show, which captures all of my senses.
Then the rain started. Not the bad kind, that hits your skin like ice picks, but the gentle kind, that cools you off just a little more and pushes the bugs away. Still all good. So I continued on in a ride that even DisneyWorld couldn’t replicate to my satisfaction.
After making my way through some construction and traffic in the last several miles, and found my in-laws’ (again, the good kind) house to sleep for the night in a warm, comfortable bed.
The next morning I re-packed and hit the road at 8 a.m. going East. Once I made it through Natchez, I found myself to be the only vehicle as far as I could see on a four lane divided highway. Luxury. Ear-buds, music, and my engine, eating up miles. I stopped for gas at some lonely little gas station, bought some chicken tenders, put the bike on the center stand and sat on the back seat to eat, using the tank as my picnic table. As I enjoyed my lunch, a lifted, blacked-out pick-up truck rolled up and out jumps a twenty-something female in what my wife says is a “high-low” dress. Odd, I thought.
“Nice bike,” says she, giving me a side eye.
“Thanks,” says I, with grease on my chin and a half eaten chicken strip in my hand.
“How much does a bike like that cost?” she inquires. Looking back, I realize that she was trying to make conversation, but not thinking about that then because of my interest in my lunch, I said:
“I dunno.” And I went back to my chicken and tater tots.
With this she became a little perturbed. Her whole countenance changed, along with her body language. “You don’t know how much your own bike cost?”
“I don’t remember. Plus, you asked me how much a bike like this costs, not how much I paid for mine. Figure out what you actually want to know and I’ll answer your question.”
She went inside. I tried to choke down my final tots before she could get back out, but I didn’t make it.
“You don’t see bikes like that around here. What is it?”
“It’s a Triumph – British.”
“Wow. I like it,” she presses on . . .
“Ok,” I say, trying to make sure my wedding ring is visible now.
“Well, see you around . . .”
“Probably not. Bye”
Again, her attitude changes and she climbs up in her truck as I re-pack and shove off too.
I rode off into the heat of South Mississippi, thinking how fortunate I am to have married my wife instead of a gas station girl.
I finally made it to the Gulf Coast of Florida to find all the rooms booked up except for the honeymoon suite of a Best Western. The heart shaped jacuzzi hit the spot after the long ride.