I ride alone. That’s just how it is, and to be honest, I tend to like it that way. There are no worries about abilities, speeds, preferences or responsibilities when it’s just me. No dramas or egos, expectations or grief. Mostly, it’s just easier. I did discover recently that I’d forgotten how much fun it can be to have others to share a stretch of road with, though. When I got an opportunity to join up with friends as they made their way on a multi-state run, I jumped. It must be said, I enjoyed the hell out of the company. Though I’d known some of the group for a while, some were new acquaintances, but none had been my riding partners before. For them, they’d known each other since childhood, riding together all their lives. I couldn’t even imagine.
There’s a bond that forms as you all learn to trust the rider next to you enough to hurl yourself down a highway at 85 miles an hour as the pack navigates twisties, weathers the heat, dodges cops and learns each other’s limits. Covering ground while working out who rides point, who rides sweep and who likes the yellow as opposed to the white lines is all part of the mechanics of the road and, for the most part, involves blind faith with no conversation.
As we became acclimated to each other’s riding styles, we got to know each other’s foibles, as well, and it became clear that each of us has developed our individual set-in-our-way traits for whatever the reason. For some of us they’re important enough that we make the preferences known out loud right up front. Our road captain divulged that he has vertigo and cannot ride high bluffs with sheer cliffs. I sympathized with his misery, imagining how inconvenient that must be. With that announcement I found myself remembering some of the points of contention others have shared over the years and caught myself giggling at the recollections. Things like favorite equipment, riding accessories or frequency of gas and butt breaks is typical. Some things are less than routine.
One rider I know refuses to ride behind a mutual friend who is constantly smoking pot while riding since he dislikes the smell, but didn’t seem at all concerned about the possibility of his friend’s impaired abilities. Another doesn’t like to ride early due to the position of the sun in the morning sky, another dislikes the afternoon sun so he calls it a day by 2:00 p.m., and yet another hates spiders so much he’s afraid to ride in Arizona since he is convinced the resident tarantulas would attack him while riding. Me, I’m afraid of vampires. It’s why I don’t ride at night, but I don’t tell anyone that.
As for routes, well, my dislikes tend to be about roads already traveled. It’s just a thing I have; constantly seeking a new direction with never before covered ground and unseen vistas. I’m so adamant about my routes that I refuse to make U-turns, preferring instead to simply find a different road rather than retrace an already ridden path. That whole “you’re never really lost; you just discovered a new route” thing works well for me. It’s easier than admitting I made a mistake.
Sometimes the best trip is one that evolves from a gas station conversation with a local who wants to share their favorite cool road. The latest trip to the top of Idaho at the Canadian border is just such an example. The lake there was used during World War II by the U.S. Navy to experiment with their underwater submarine research since Lake Pend Oreille is over 1,100 feet deep. The Bonner’s ferry near Sand Point shuttles drivers for free and the surrounding glaciers are breathtaking, as are the roads through the area. It was a wonderful side trip, as I waited to catch up with my friends. Chances are I’d never have discovered the beauty of this part of the U.S. were it not for the tip from a cage pilot who also rides a BMW. Once I caught up with the road warriors, I left the routing to the masters since I was a mere tag-along.
Riding a scant 168 miles in a day on a 1,300-mile trip was a new experience, especially after realizing that the short day was designed around seeking the best steak dinner along the route. Who maps a route around meat, for crying out loud? I would have missed the massive 24-ounce rib-eye steak at Sir Scott’s Oasis in Manhattan, Montana, or discovering that there’s such a thing as a Testicle Festival if I’d not sought to join this group. Who knew there was actually a party planned around, of all things, testicles? Most of all, I’d have missed the laughter and the fun that comes with a road trip among friends. All these little life-enhancing experiences come from connecting with people and letting one’s guard down. I’m learning that being a cohesive group, or part of a pack, takes some adjusting, but the rewards are priceless. Perhaps the bigger picture is that I’m just learning to trust. Maybe.