Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Joy of the Road

I really love motorcycling. I can't tell you what exactly makes it so very great, but I can tell you about some of the constituents.

I used to hate driving. I think this was mainly due to the way I approached it. Driving was always an obstacle to be overcome, like some sort of proving ground. It was as if the universe were saying: sure, go visit interesting places, but to get there, you're going to have to suffer. It didn't help that many of my first experiences with longer distance driving were done with little preparation and little forethought. When I finally discovered that taking along music or a book on tape was a good idea, my driving became much less labored. But I don't think I'll ever really enjoy driving for driving's sake. Especially not as long as I know I could be driving a motorcycle.

There is something raw and intensely physical about riding a motorcycle. The wind's loud, ever present roar, the thrill of never quite knowing if the cars nearby have actually seen you, and the manual muscle memory twitches of every little pieces of the bike all contribute to the feeling of really being present on the road. It also helps that you're generally riding in extremely scenic places that are off the beaten path.

One of the best rides to do around the Seattle area is the backside of Mount St. Helens. This is just an incredible ride, scoring off the charts in all of the categories: scenic, twisty (very, very twisty), and traffic. I've been up 3 times now, and each and every time it doesn't disappoint. If you're interested in seeing more pictures take a look at this gallery and I think you'll get a feeling for the kind of beautiful scenery and perfect roads you can experience there.

One of the more unexpected things I enjoy about motorcycling is the food. I almost always hold out for mom and pop cafe establishments, hopefully ones that are frequented by the locals. I almost always have a burger or pasta, and I always eat well. Motorcycling can take a lot out of you, and since I don't go on long rides terribly often (maybe once a month) I indulge myself a little bit. While the food is not always of the legendary Jane and Michael Stern level of quality, it is almost always good, and always filling.

Another thing that is great about motorcycling is the isolation. Sometimes I ride with friends, but often I can't get anyone to spend a whole weekend riding. I used to regret not having anyone along, but I've gotten to where I actually like it. I don't have to stop when I don't want to, or continue when I want to stop. I get to think a lot, engage my introspective side a little bit. I always bring along a couple of good books and a DVD or two, and I get to relax and luxuriate in a hotel room at night. Its one of the few times I truly get to be alone, without even a dog to keep me company. And since you're riding most of the day, you miss all your phone calls as well, and don't even have to feel guilty about it. In the busy, busy, cellphone using world of today this is a rare thing indeed. I'm not saying I'd want to be on the road all the time, or even be disconnected like that every weekend, far from it, I would go crazy if it didn't have a definite end.

In the end, motorcycling has taught me how to appreciate two things I don't think I ever would've truly appreciated: driving, and being alone. Both of these things must be taken in moderation, but they are definitely big pieces of why I look forward to climbing on my bike.


Dukey Monster said...

Great article. I would enjoy the ride you've described around the back side of Mt. St. Helen.

The coastal and mountain roads in Northern California are some of the most beautiful places to ride your motorcycle through. That said, ugliest roads are far better on a motorcycle than the prettiest in a car.

Safe riding!

Ben said...

Thanks for your comment! I've driven (in a car) highway 1, and I'm looking forward to carving out some time to go back there... Simply gorgeous. Once I made it down the northern part of the Oregon coastline, and it was some of the best I've ever seen.