Thursday, September 8, 2011

Planning My Trip

On Saturday I left for a solo motorcycle trip down south.   After much deliberation, I finally realized I really wanted to go alone, but was concerned about how to plan it.  The bookstore, riding friends, and two girlfriends helped me.

I’ve never ridden longer than 5 hours a day and I’d never taken a multi-day trip with overnight stays in more than one location.  When I’ve heard others talk about long trips, it was always broken down into miles as in, “we covered about 400 miles per day.”  Some of the best things I’ve seen have been by accident and I was hesitant to plan too carefully yet the distance I hoped to cover required some homework.  To prepare for it, I talked with several friends for ideas.  Michael had just come back from a solo trip of his own around two of the Great Lakes.   He told me he’d started with how many days he wanted to travel and then worked on a general route with a few ideas for day trips, should he decide to stay in one place more than one night.  That first conversation helped me realized I didn’t need to worry about being too rigid in my planning.  I could make this trip whatever I wanted and didn’t need to feel constrained by miles, hours, too specific a route or overnight accommodations.

I made two trips to the bookstore to review books written on “scenic byways.”  While there weren’t books specific to motorcycling, I found one that outlined scenic routes from Ohio, south to Kentucky and Indiana and west up through Illinois.  Ken leant me a motorcyclist’s guide to scenic routes in the south including West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.   After studying these routes on Mapquest, a general plan began to develop.  I found myself drawn to eastern Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.  I purchased state maps and started highlighting scenic routes from Ken’s book.  Finally, I met with Michael again, to review my route ideas.  He had ridden West Virginia a few years back with Geoff and Mark and said the roads there could keep me occupied for days.  He also told me it was easy to find motels near expressway exits and mom and pop places at the edge of town.  He taught me a thing or two about reading maps and reminisced about his own trip as we finger-traced routes.

I was also interested in challenging myself in another way on this trip- I wanted to incorporate some “best roads” and “challenge” patches from the RIDE club.   Once a RIDE member earns 10 patches he earns a “doctorate” from “Two-lane University.”  This is the playful part of RIDE membership that I really enjoy.   After this trip, I’ll be referred to as “Dr. Souldance.”  Michael and I mapped out a route I could take to earn the “5 states in one day” patch.  I also planned to ride Ohio’s 555 and a route in West Virginia and Virginia covering roads 219, 250 and 220.  With the 9 days I had available to ride, I was also hoping I might bring home the “2,500 miles in one trip” patch.   Planning around these patches helped me break the trip down into little bite-sized pieces and made organizing the ride less daunting.

The week of the trip, I set up final preparations.  I laid out all my gear including supplies for rain, cold, hunger, bright sun and bad hair: rain suit, heated jacket, granola bars, sunglasses, and a hat.  I also gave the bike a bath and an inspection.  Patrick changed my rear tire, which arrived just in time.  Anita agreed to watch my kitties and Amy volunteered to keep watch for me via text.  Armed with well-marked maps, a few changes of clothes and my camera for charting my trip, I set-out for Ohio.

In my excitement, I talked to several friends and coworkers and got lots of interesting responses: 

            “What are you doing that for?” 
            “Aren’t you dreading the drive?”
            “Oh, my!  All by yourself?”

Each answer lead me closer to my own understanding of why I was taking the trip.  I needed to be alone.  I needed to take stock of what’s important to me without the influence of others.  I needed a break from daily life in my home and at work.  I needed to carve out enough time for myself so I could reconnect with the part of me that has answers at hand, instead of those that come only after sifting through other’s expectations and desires.  I wasn’t just taking the trip alone, I was also tuning out email, Facebook, phone calls and texting.   I know I sometimes use these communication tools as a crutch when I’m feeling lonely.  And the irony is, I often don’t feel less alone after a conversation than before it.  I wanted to take enough time for myself so that lonliness, even if it crept in, was only part of all the many things I felt in a day instead of the feeling I kept trying to drive out.

As I pulled out of my driveway, I was undecided about which route to take to get out of Michigan.  I realized then that all the planning I needed was already done.  My Michigan map was laid out in my magnetic map pouch and affixed to my tank.  I just had to pick the first road to start out on and from there the rest would come.  My destination was Zanesville, Ohio where I would pick up the 555.   Tom was the last person I spoke with on Friday night before I headed out.  He encouraged me to quickly make my way east through Ohio as “there is nothing” in western Ohio.  I picked 96 East out of Grand Rapids  to begin my journey.  It turns south and heads straight into western Ohio.  Once I got into Ohio, I didn’t know if I’d jump on the tollway and run quickly east or stay on back roads and head south.  Once I got to the exit though, the answer was clear to both my mind and my body.  I headed south.  I was as eager to ride along the rural roads as I was to find out what “nothing” looks like.

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