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One for the Road: Asphalt surfer

By Shadow

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It’s early December and here in northern New Jersey a damp chill is settling in, foretelling the first snowfall of the season. This time of year, my road trips are much fewer and farther between, and I’m already getting a bit stir crazy. Planning for next summer’s adventures is the only thing that keeps me sane when the roads are covered with snow and I can’t get any of my bikes out of the garage anyway.

This coming year, though, money will be even tighter than usual, and I need to be even more circumspect in my spending. With my most fuel-economical bike, the FXD, getting over 50 mpg and gasoline prices the lowest they’ve been in years, the big expenses will, of course, be lodging and food. I don’t see five-star hotels and fancy restaurants in my future, so I’ve been looking into alternatives.

I thought about hostels, which were great when I was tramping about Europe in my 20’s, but I’m no longer interested in sharing sometimes-sketchy housing—and bathrooms—with a series of random and sometimes-sketchy travelers. Airbnb is about as daring as I’ve gotten lately, and I’ve been fortunate to have experienced several pleasant stays in some splendid locations rather than some of the horror stories I’ve read. But neither of these types of lodgings are geared toward motorcyclists.

There are always organizations such as Horizons Unlimited, formed to help motorcyclists share about and plan their travels, of which lodging is a huge part. And then there are the forerunners to today’s social networks such as the now-defunct XL-List from the also-defunct Sportster.org where, 15 years ago, I “met” numerous other motorcycle riders, some of whom were quite generous about offering fellow XL-Listers a place to stay. I did take three of them up on their offers during a Sturgis trip, spending nights in Ohio and Iowa on the way out and upstate New York after riding through Canada on the way back. When I showed up with a contingent of five, not one batted an eye; they just rolled with the punches. Generous as these folks were, nowadays I hesitate to impose like that upon strangers.

Then, as I was flipping through my Natural Awakenings magazine—you know, those local holistic franchised publications that feature healthy living and stretching your dollars while saving the planet—I saw an article about couch surfing which claimed that creating connections with strangers makes us happier and, of course, leads to great (and hopefully positive) travel stories. The author went on to describe couchsurfing.com, an organization that connects travelers across the globe. Apparently this community, which has been around for a decade, is 10 million people strong, with half a million events happening in more than 200,000 cities. They consider strangers “friends you haven’t met yet” and you can either look for a place to couch surf during your travels, or offer up your place to other travelers, or attend an event, or some combination thereof.

My curiosity spurred me to sign up immediately (it was free, although they’d like you to pay $20 to “get verified”). The first thing I did was to try to find groups related to motorcycling, and my search turned up 136. Wow. Upon further investigation, though, I saw that most had very few members, but there are some very robust groups of thousands of motorcycle travelers all over the world looking for places to stay or willing to share their homes. What was even more interesting is that I have four Facebook friends, all of whom are motorcyclists I actually know, that are couchsurfing.com members.

But none of them are the half-dozen nomadic motorcycle travelers that I can call friends. From time spent with them, both in person and through their writing and photography, I know that some choose to set up camp outside, often hidden in the woods, where they can create their own world, sometimes preferring to drift, allowing serendipity to dictate where they land. Others would rather rely on friendships forged long ago, buttressed by the trust that has formed over many years. And by the motorcycle or machine shops that are nearby. These moto travelers put down tens of thousands of miles a year on their bikes, resulting in the need for frequent repairs.

I reached out to some of these motorcycle nomads and asked them if they knew about couchsurfing.com. One responded that he has a lot of friends and wherever he goes someone invites him to stay at their place. He says that sometimes his friends get mad because he didn’t stay with them when he was in town! And that sometimes he’d rather just get a cheap room for the seclusion and to recharge before going back out into public again. Another of my wandering friends responded, “I’ve heard of this or something similar but feel that I should reciprocate stays at my home. I’m never there and think that would be unfair.”

Another responded that she never heard of it, but that it’s not her “cup o’ tea” at all, preferring to look her hosts in the eye, and see them in the flesh, before committing to making herself vulnerable on their turf. And she pointed out something that I hadn’t considered: When your bike is actually your home and your belongings are only what you can pack, trust issues are real issues. While she might trust someone to let her crash on their couch, the safety of her bike is a completely different thing.

Well, couchsurfing.com sounds like a cool idea if I were traveling in another country and the bike I was riding wasn’t mine, but for my domestic travels, I think I’ll go back to basics, the way I used to do it when I first started riding. Camping. Low cost to no cost. Simple. Just my bike and me.

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