Highway Mental Floss (Published Oct. 2008)

As we close out 2014 with a final post, I’m continuing with a few of my favorite columns through the years. This appeared in Midwest Motorcyclist in October of 2008. As an aside, the friend I mention in the article has gone from novice to accomplished rider and motorcycle adventurer. You can find a bit of Paul’s story here, at The Deliberate Birder. Have a safe and enjoyable New Year’s, and I’ll be back with everyone in 2015! -mike

Highway Mental Floss

I was lucky enough to spend the long 4th of July weekend solo tripping on my Ulysses. I covered about 2000 miles in 5 days, the longest trip I had done on a bike by myself. I had a great opportunity to hang with a long-time friend in Madison, WI, and participate in the Buell 25th Anniversary Homecoming celebration near Milwaukee.   The entire trip was great, and I enjoyed myself immensely, but spending so much time in a helmet allows thoughts to run rampant. The cleansing effect is undeniable, though- there are few interruptions to the mental debates that play out on miles of concrete ribbon. Through it all, several topics stood out- which, of course, I need to share. Here, in no particular order, are a few strands of my mental floss. The lure of the open road has long drawn people far from home. We read books and magazines, make plans for the “right” time when the kids have grown and the responsibilities have lessened, then we hope we still have the health to make the trips of our dreams. Day-to-day concerns overwhelm us, and the trips get forgotten for a while, but always seem to grab us even harder the next time they surface. Occasionally we actually get the chance to hit the road for a day, maybe even a weekend and we feel accomplished and satiated for a while… but it never seems to enough for the long term. Someday, we tell ourselves. Someday I’ll take my trip across Australia by motorbike, but for today I’ll take whatever freedom I can, for as long as I can. Five days on the road, four different states, plenty of new faces. This will do for a bit … until the next time Interstates suck. That’s all there is to it. From a convenience standpoint, they’re a great way to get from A to B quickly, but watching the same colored pavement stretch far into the distances a mind-numbing exercise. The amount of sheer willpower necessary to stay alert after a few hours is as exhausting as a good set of twisties, but without all the fun. My fantasy trips all include back roads, but reality has time constraints, so interstates and turnpikes it has to be. Turnpikes, however, add their own major inconvenience in the form of toll booths. Chicago was ridiculous, stopping every few miles of crawling along (I hit rush hour AND a major thunderstorm on my way through) to pay what seems an arbitrary amount at each booth. I waited no less than 10 minutes at any toll booth in any state. When I crossed from Indiana into Ohio there was a mile and a half back up of stopped traffic waiting in the westbound lane, all idling away $4/ gallon gas and adding enormous amounts of pollution to the air. This seems unconscionable in this time of necessary energy conservation and the possibility of global warming. Waiting alone in lines for the tolls allowed me to come up with an answer: interstate transponders that would work through ALL states. If you plan any turnpike travel, you pay, say, $50/ year to your home state for a transponder that would allow passing through “hoops” like they use in Illinois without needing to stop. Since this would be an optional cost to travelers, a few booths would remain manned for those who do not travel enough to justify the yearly cost. End result would be little to no tie-up, far less fuel being wasted, less chance of accidents and reduced emissions in the vicinity of the toll booths. Sounds like a winning situation to me, but that’s just my 2-bits. 10 hours at… umm… some speed near the highway speed limit, (more or less) pushing into a headwind on a nearly naked bike truly rattles ones brains. It’s also great for causing a stiff neck, tight shoulders and back aches in places you’ve never felt pain before. But hey, it’s still the freedom of the open road, right? I was surprised by the courtesy and awareness shown by most drivers I passed. In 5 days, I only had one instance with a boneheaded move on the part of a cager, but one I was ready for. It wasn’t a car/ bike issue, it was a jackass-driver issue. This guy had been cutting and tailgating at speed in my mirrors for the last mile or so, so I didn’t expect him to see me any differently than all the others he had been torquing off. Also a bit surprising were the many drivers who wanted to talk at gas stops. That is, if I took the helmet off. Helmet on, people looked at me with varying degrees of distrust, curiosity, wonder, and who knows what else. Once the helmet came off, though, people wanted to know where I was heading on my loaded bike. I heard plenty of “I wish I could do that…” or “I’ve always wanted to do that…”, or “I did that just after high school/ college/ the military, and I plan to do it again, after…”. It was quite the ego-boost- since more often than not, I was one of them. It made me realize we may be alive, but it’s far too often we forget to live. One particularly cool thing I realized on the ride, is most bikers do wave to other bikers. In the Cleveland area that I call home, I’d estimate less than half the riders wave. At the beginning of the season, when the snow’s just thawing and the “real” riders pull the bikes out, there is a mutual respect and all wave to one another. By mid-summer, when the weather is perfect, the beautiful expensive customs come out, and, for whatever reason, those riders seem to feel it’s beneath them to acknowledge a fellow rider, and the waves among everyone seem to taper off. Then in mid-autumn, when it’s turning cold and gray again, the camaraderie of the bikers still on the road tightens again, and the waves return. Maybe it’s the same in other parts of the country, but all across Indiana and Wisconsin it seemed like EVERYONE waved- even across six or eight lanes of freeway with a grass median! Might not be a big deal to some, but I found it refreshing. Once in Wisconsin, I stayed in Madison with a good friend I’ve known since high school. Sometime in the last year or so, Paul had asked me about getting into riding. He had never ridden before, and wasn’t even sure it was something he would like, but something in a Triumph he saw in a parking lot sparked a small flame. I suggested a MSF Basic Rider course, and he said he’d look into it when he got time. I had nearly forgotten about the conversation when I got an email from Paul telling me he had passed the Harley Riders Edge course, had his fresh endorsement and a Buell Blast from the same dealership. Wow, that flame was a bit more of a blaze than I had realized! Due to work schedules and winter, he didn’t get much time to ride his new scoot, so the idea of hanging out with the Buell crowd and putting some miles on the bikes wasn’t a tough decision. We put several hundred miles on the bikes, swapping my Ulysses for his Blast on a few occasions. He experienced a bit of speed on the parade lap at Road America and had fun demoing several different Buell models. The decision he’s stuck with now is deciding which bike is going to be replacing the Blast in his garage this year. I think Paul’s completely hooked on two wheels now, and he’s reminded me what a rush it is when a newer rider starts finding his rhythm on the road. It’s a feeling we all know, though few can adequately describe. Once that rhythm hits the soul, it’s impossible to get the song out of your head. The time that passes between visits with friends is always longer than we realize. The day-to-day part of life has a way of distorting time, and helping us rationalize long absences between friends and family. We need to take the time to hop on the bike, pile the kids in the car, jump on a plane or whatever it takes. Family or friends, take the time to catch up on things. We always assume those people will still be there “when we have time”, yet time will have the final laugh when they’re gone… One constant through most of my trip was really no surprise at all: I missed my wife and kids. The thought of getting away on your own always sounds great, but I actually enjoy being with my family. Every discussion hashed out in the cranial confines of my helmet seemed to have a part that I wanted to run past my wife. There was always an experience I wanted to share with one or both of my kids. I took photos of a pink Firebolt for my daughter, but would rather have seen her expression when I pointed it out to her in person. The photos of the original Buells were for my son, but I know he would have loved touring the Buell factory with me. I love traveling by motorcycle, and the road will always pull at me, but there is always comfort in knowing there is a garage for the bike, and people waiting for me to come home. Be seen, ride smart, stay safe and I’ll see you on the road! -mike AngledBuell

2 thoughts on “Highway Mental Floss (Published Oct. 2008)

  1. Anonymous

    it is so great to travel – better yet, to return to home and family!

    • Absolutely!
      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      -mike

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