Sunday, May 22, 2016

Travel Lightly

The bike is loaded and ready to roll in Pensacola, FL

The photo above is my bike loaded for an 8 day trip through 21 states.

When I travel by motorcycle, I see a lot of people with, well, different philosophies from mine.

I travel light. My longest trip so far has been 9 days, but I think the gear carried on that trip would suffice for a much longer trip. I pack 3 pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks and three T-shirts. This gives me four days on the road with clean clothes where it counts before stopping to do laundry on the fourth evening. Typically, I'll do laundry on the third evening if convenient just to avoid the stress of finding a laundromat when I really need one.

I went through a series of small duffels before achieving what I considered to be a success. The guys I sometimes travel with were quite entertained by the way some of my luggage would ride just fine on the highway only to slide off the side of the bike when I pull into a gas station. Eventually I found a small pack at a surplus store.

The new pack has straps on all sides for compressing the load when not completely full. It also has tie points at the bottom where I need them for securing it to the rack so that adjustments are not necessary when expanding it. Almost as important are the tie points (called molle loops) located all over the outside of the pack where I can tie my chaps and jacket if things just get too warm. I just added an 18" shock cord net over the top sometimes as a handy place to cram my jacket when it gets too warm.

Through experience, I have discovered I sometimes need rain pants. The pair I bought can be worn over my jeans and on laundry day the rain suit may be all I am wearing at the laundromat while my clothes are processing. After a three day monsoon in Ohio in 2008, I also pack a rain jacket (I wish I could find a pullover since the zipper just lets water in). It doesn't take up much room and it can save my leather jacket. Since this gear needs to be handy, I roll them both together and tie them to the front forks where some people carry a small tool kit. I keep them in a small military surplus bag to protect the rain suit from ultraviolet rays.

I didn't cut corners buying my leather jacket. A birthday present from my wife the year I got the bike, It has pockets I didn't even know about until I had been wearing it for six months. It has a snap-in liner which has not been necessary since I don't ride much when the temperature is below 40f. The two to three inch overlap on the zippered front keeps most of the draft out. It also has zip up vents in front and back which keep me cool when riding in desert country in August as long as the bike is moving. I apply mink oil followed by neutral shoe polish to the jacket before each trip so it repels light or brief showers, but I can wear my rain jacket over it if needed.

In winter, I'll pack a pair of mittens that can be worn over my gloves, although if the weather is cold enough to require mittens when I start, I probably am not going to go. In summer I'll pack an extra pair of gloves or wool liners for those cold mornings.

If there's any room left over, I pack a good quality army surplus poncho. These things are incredibly versatile to have around. I'm going to have to experiment with mine to see if it can be used to cover my pack on the bike during hard rains. If so, I can omit the little rain tarp I carry for covering the bag. I also like to carry one or two disposable ponchos to give away at accident scenes or to sleep on in questionable hotel rooms (see: Sturgis 2010 trip).

I don't carry an extra pair of shoes. The boots I wear are well made and in good condition. On my first nine day road trip, I wore my trusty cowboy boots that had served me so well for so long. So long, it turned out, that the soles wore through on the first morning. Now I check my shoes much more carefully. Sneakers might come in handy for going walking, but I don't seem to do any long hikes when I'm on a road trip, so I stopped packing them. There is a pair of shower shoes stuffed into a sleeve on the bottom of the pack but they haven’t been out since I put them in there when the pack was new.

If something happens that ruins my jeans, I'll just put on the rain pants and stop by the next Walmart for another pair. Every town in this country seems to have a Walmart. On laundry day, I wear my rain pants while the jeans are in the washer and dryer.

I do pack a paperback book and some snacks because down time happens. You can never know just when or where you'll be. It might also be a good idea to pack a bottle of water for emergencies. If you carry an emergency water supply, don't drink it as you go along or you will not have it when you need it most.

I wear a multi-tool on my belt and carry a cell phone in lieu of a full tool kit. These have served me so far, since I'm not much of a mechanic anyway and I have towing insurance for the bike.

(# items always in go-bag)

Assorted pack items:
 LED flashlight
 book (preferably light reading)
 ball point pen
#  small notebook
#  rain cover for my soft luggage (or poncho?)
 extra bungee cords beneath luggage on rack.
#  parachute cord
 Harley travel guide (US atlas and service locations)
#  non-tinted safety glasses in case I’m riding past sunset
 1/2 pint of whiskey (101 uses besides drinking)
 charger for phone
#  cigarrette lighter
 watch cap (in really cold weather)
 ball cap (in mild weather)

#  3 t-shirts
#  3 pair of socks
#  3 pair of underwear
#  warm gloves
#  shower shoes

spit kit:
#  deodorant (roll-on stands the heat better than sticks)
#  spare disposable contact lenses
#  contact lens case
#  disinfectant wipes (individually wrapped)
#  tooth brush and paste
#  dental floss (actually little floss bows)
#  ChapStick
#  suntan lotion stick
#  facial tissue pocket pack(doubles as toilet tissue when needed)
#  allergy medicine
#  analgesic (the older I get the more varieties I need)
#  sewing kit

Carried in pockets or on belt:
     disinfectant wipes

     helmet w/flip mask (flipping it up in slower traffic helps keep cool)
     relaxed fit jeans
     dew rag (around neck)
     leather chaps
     leather gloves
     leather jacket

Tied to front forks:
     rain jacket
     rain pants

Travelling Alone

My father remarked to me once that when he was in the Navy during WWII, that alone, he was welcome wherever he went. On the other hand, no matter how nice his companion sailors were, groups of two of more were greeted with either suspicion or hostility by everyone but bartenders.

♦      I ride when I feel like it.
♦      I rest when I don't feel like riding.
♦      I take lots of detours and don't generally consult maps.
♦      I tend to get more mileage while travelling more slowly in a day with less pressure.
♦      I feel that I am far more approachable to locals.
♦      I tend to be far more alert when I don't have anyone scouting ahead

For every benefit, there is a disadvantage of course and these too, must be taken into consideration.

♦      Personal safety
♦      Vulnerability to being stranded longer by breakdowns
♦      The ability to enjoy the scenery more when you aren't the lead bike.

I tend to look at travel as an adventure and therefore am generally very alert to my surroundings which is the first step toward successfully defending yourself against criminals. Another thing is that complete immunity from confidence scams is simply a matter of not being willing to take what you have not earned. Lastly, I have a concealed firearms license and the pistol I carry as a last line of defense has served me well so far.

Vulnerability to being stranded for longer than group riders is another question. I rented a truck last year to move some household items. Out in the middle of nowhere, the check engine lights started glowing. Not wanting to be charged for a blown engine, I pulled over in a comfortable spot, called the 800 number for service and sat down to wait for help. I found the four hour wait relaxing and enjoyable as it gave me time to read more of the book I was carrying and again, the handgun helped to keep me company.

While I enjoy the opportunity to ride in a formation where someone else is scouting the road ahead for hazards, I find it tedious to the point that if I'm there too long, my mind wanders from the business of staying alive. Most groups have a leader who is always the front rider and that doesn't work for me. I prefer everyone taking their own turn at scouting.

Various rules of the road my companions and I have developed:
1:  Everyone rides his or her own ride. Peer pressure is neither exerted nor responded to. EVER!
2:  We agree on top speeds and comfortable cruising speeds in advance and based upon the least experienced rider's comfort level.
3:  We agree in advance on whether to get on freeways. Generally we avoid them and rarely notice any extra drive time because of it.
3:  Everyone should know what the hard gasoline range as well as the preferred distance between stops is for the other riders and stops should be scheduled around the person with the shortest range or preferred distance.
4:  The lead bike decides where we get gas or eat or take other stops. When one bike gets gas, all the bikes get gas.
5:  If you aren't the lead rider and need gas, food or another stop, simply overtake the lead rider and pull in to the stop of your choice. The rest of us will follow.
6:  You are responsible for the rider immediately behind you. If you lose sight of that rider, you should slow down or stop or turn around as the situation demands until you can re-establish contact. The riders in front of you should do likewise in a safe manner when they see you are no longer there.
7:  Ride in staggered formation as this allows better visibility of the bikes behind you. Leave plenty of space between bikes and allow traffic to move through the line if needed. Two second spacing sounds great, but leads to tedium on more than a very short ride.
8:  If following traffic wants to pass, the trailing bike should slow down enough to allow the following vehicle to safely pass with a minimum exposure to head-on traffic. This also opens up space for the car to dip into between you and the rider in front of you in case of an emergency. Remember, if the car or truck passing you has a choice between bumping you off the road and a head-on collision with whatever might be coming at him, you lose.
9:  Use the generally accepted hand and foot signs to warn riders behind you of road hazards and group maneuvers. This does not mean that everyone wants to have the week-old dead squirrel pointed out to them.

Other Thoughts

Circle the parking lot when pulling into a new place, especially if you expect to be out of sight of the bike. This applies to restaurants, gas stations, motels and anyplace else where you intend to park the bike. This gives you the opportunity to find the safest place to park as well as seeing who is lurking in or around vehicles.

When parking, I often park closer to the street if there are too many people hanging around the entrance. This way, someone approaching your bike where it is all alone will stand out. It makes troublemakers nervous to stand out. If anyone is in the parking lot, make eye contact with them. They are much less likely to steal anything from you if they think you might recognize them later.

Take time to enjoy and record some of the sights as you see them. Don't count on them repeating, and don't rely on your memory. Keep the camera handy and shoot lots of digital photos. You can always delete them later, but rarely will you get a second opportunity for that once in a lifetime shot. This has been my biggest failing in past trips.

If you are traveling to a single destination like a rally, think about asking the hotel where you have reservations if they will accept a freight or mail delivery of most of your clothing so they don't have to be carried on the long haul.

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