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One for the Road: Flying solo

By Shadow

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“Where are you going?” “Where did you come from?” “Are you riding all by yourself?”

These queries probably comprise about 90 percent of the questions people ask me while I’m filling up the gas tank on my way to Sturgis or some other distant destination. Depending on how I answer, which on a good day is usually a smile and a brief, polite response, the exchange might evolve into a full-blown dialogue, one that usually leads to many more inquiries.

Some questions are borne of genuine curiosity, while other folks cannot believe what they are seeing. There was the time I could see a guy watching me from in front of a mini mart as I pulled up to a gas pump. He walked over as I dismounted and proceeded to fill ’er up. He asked me, “That’s your bike? You’re riding that bike?” I retorted, “Did you just see me get off that seat? Who do you think is riding it? My invisible partner?” I immediately felt bad that I’d been so rude, but I was hungry and tired and patience and tolerance are not my list of personal virtues. So let me publicly apologize to the inquisitive—and unobservant—guy in the gas station near Sioux City last August.

The people asking these questions are not limited to any particular age, gender, race or other denominating factor. Surprisingly, many are motorcyclists themselves, and their questions sometimes arise from fear. “Wow, that’s a long way to go by yourself. Couldn’t you find anyone to ride with? Aren’t you scared?” Sometimes I ask what there is to be scared of, and they are taken aback. “Uh, well, what if something happens?” they ask, or something equally as vague.

For the great majority of my riding adventures over the past decade or so, I’ve been on my own, and I have come to prefer that over riding with a large group. Oh, there are a few times in the past several years when I’ve invited someone to ride along—my old riding partner Miss Fire on a Myrtle Beach run in 2006 comes to mind. And there’s the time a group of us rode to Sturgis in 2008. There is no shortage of folks to ride with, as some folks have inferred, but I take special delight in riding solo. Call me selfish, but I prefer to choose my own routes, stop when I feel like it and stay where I want.

I’m also asked if I don’t get lonely while I’m riding solo, and the answer is always no. See, I don’t feel like I’m alone. I like what Karen Davidson wrote in her foreword to Cristine Sommer Simmons’ book The American Motorcycle Girls: “As many riders will attest to, the motorcycle makes road travel experiences much more intimate. Often riders recount their personal connection to their bike. Their bike becomes a partner on the journey, the conduit that bridges guts and accomplishment.” I totally relate to that, bolstered by the fact that all three of my motorcycles, almost without exception, have gotten me safely to my destination. I try to return the favor by keeping them well shod and in good running order.

In my experience, riding alone opens many doors. One time, I was at Bergdale H-D in Albert Lea, Minnesota, having stopped to say hello to the staff and avail myself of the free refreshments the dealership offers around the time of the Sturgis rally. I struck up a conversation with two guys who were also enjoying the dealer’s hospitality. They invited me to ride along with them, telling me that they had an extra motel room reserved for one of their buddies who’d backed out at the last minute. Right up the street from the small-town motel was a wild and raucous bar where we spent a good part of the evening whooping it up with some colorful characters. I had a blast, and this little adventure never would have happened had I not been traveling solo.

The only time I remember feeling a little spooked was when I was riding on a back road in Canada, unable to find the campground where I’d planned to stay. The night sky was pitch black and I could see eyes peeping out from between the trees. There wasn’t another vehicle in sight. I finally found the campground, having averted running out of gas from riding up and down the dark, lonely road. But that was the exception rather than the rule. I generally don’t fear riding through strange towns—even the sketchy parts—nor do I fear people. I try to stay aware of my surroundings and if my Spidey sense starts tingling, I just beat it out of there.

Many times the inquisitors are envious, with people—often female passengers—saying things like, “You’re so brave!” or, “I wish I had the nerve to do that. Good for you!” I can only say, “You can do that! Just get on your bike and ride!” I know life isn’t always that simple, with kids and pets and jobs pulling you in different directions, but do you really want to be on your deathbed saying, “I wish I took that solo vacation when I had the chance?” Note to self: Stop putting off those road trips to the Northwest, the Southwest and other “I hear the riding is wonderful” locations. Like Nike says, “Just do it!”

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