It was cold, damp, and windy when I stopped for gas outside Portage la Prairie, MB one July morning in 2017. The fellow at the pump next to me made mention of this fact with the standard comment that "it doesn't look like a very nice day to be on a motorcycle." I replied with the standard response that "a bad day on the bike beats a good day at the office, any day."
He noticed my Alberta licence plate and, since we'd entered the gas station from opposite directions (me from the west and him from the east), asked where I was headed. To Newfoundland, and then on to Florida and California. I asked where in Illinois he was from and where he was going. Just outside Chicago, and he and his wife were going to visit the two National Parks. I knew that Canada had more than two since I was on my own mission to visit National Parks in all 10 Canadian Provinces, and then throughout his homeland. I wasn't about to let the cat out of the bag by asking which two, but I sensed he meant Jasper and Banff and not Riding Mountain and Grasslands. As I put the nozzle back and flipped the gas cap down I told him that I have heated clothing and hand grips, and my Honda ST-1300 has a beautiful big fairing and adjustable windscreen that keep me protected from most of the elements, so my day was going to be better than things appeared.
Truth in advertising.
It's funny how motorcycles attract attention and conversation. I've had people approach me at all hours of the day and night to ask where I'm from (Alberta. Where's that? It's north of Montana. Oh!) and query me on where I'm going. This doesn't happen if you're driving a car. A group of Mexican cabbies at a gas station in Tijuana were thrilled ("You just rode down from Canada?!?"), and many smiling pictures were taken, when my long-distance riding partner, Norm, and I showed up at the end of an Iron Butt Border to Border challenge.
Mexican cabbies were excited when two Canadians interrupted their Sunday morning gas routine.
On another trip, after using the facilities at a visitor center near the start of the Talimena Scenic Drive in Arkansas, Norm and I were met by a very tall lady standing beside a large red pickup truck parked next to our bikes. She’d been driving by, saw the bikes, pulled in, and waited to have a chat. She asked the usual questions and then proceeded to tell us how she used to ride her 600cc sport bike on this very same Talimena, back in the day. She would race her boyfriend, and there was one section in particular where they would try to hit 100 MPH. At the other end of this 87 KM mountaintop thrill-ride I was still marveling at how she could have comfortably fit on a sport bike, but I was dead certain I knew where they would Do the Ton.
Oftentimes, people were astounded when I would answer in the affirmative after they'd asked if I had ridden all the way here from my home. It was after one such encounter at a gas station in Florida that I decided a change to my routine was required once the next trip plan was complete.
My GPS's would know where I was going, and Norm and I knew where we had been, which included riding across Canada a few times and, on one 10-day trip, riding to all 48 contiguous United States, plus Alaska. We know the location of all the States and Provinces, but many people don't have a map of North America in their brain, let alone on their windscreens. So before our next adventure I printed off a pocket-sized map of our planned route and laminated it. Pictures are worth far more than 1,000 words and this was easy to pull out from my thigh pocket to show people where we were from and where we were going and what our trip entailed, while I concentrated on filling with gas or having a snack. Knowledgeable locals, like the lady in Arkansas, would often tell us about great nearby riding or a favorite memory of a ride in the direction we were heading. A lot of people would embrace the romantic idea of motorcycle travel and mention that some day they hoped to be able to do a big trip like what we were in the midst of, or tell us of a relative who had planned, but never completed, a motorcycle trip. The lesson: Don't wait. Do it while you can.
A laminated pocket map enables people to easily visualize your trip.
I had no sooner returned to fighting a cross-wind along the Trans-Canada Hwy, heading for Thunder Bay, with that cold, damp, Manitoba morning gas station conversation still rolling around in my head, when a lightning bolt struck. My reference point was gone. I no longer had an office! Almost two months before, my employer had ended our long-term relationship. It wasn't a surprise as my team and I had spent the previous 17 months packing up our labs and shipping all of our computer equipment to North Carolina. Change of philosophy in corporate systems management. Not a big deal. It seemed like time for something different. Plus, they gave me a nice early-retirement package. But the impact of that lightning bolt took a while to sink in before my face broke open with a huge grin.
Bad day on the bike? In all my years of riding I've only had one bad day on the bike, and the bad part was actually more like about seven seconds. But now, I swing a leg over and I'm at work, and I do have an office again. The bike is my office, and every day at the office is a good day.
And I love it.
Ride responsibly and enjoy your travels.
R. Bruce Thomas