As you know, I’ve been writing for a long time about how Motorcycling is Mindfulness. I’ve been enjoying this podcast for quite a while, and in fact I had a brief email conversation with the host about my idea that motorcycling is a mindful activity. When the host mentioned that he was prompted to interview a Buddhist monk due to “a conversation with a listener”, I foolishly thought I might be about to get a big ole shout out. Nonetheless, it was nice to hear that I’m not crazy (at least not for this reason).
Sheltering at home as so many businesses have been closed or only partially open, I make time to ride here & there. I didn’t feel like I was riding less than a normal year. Sure, I had to postpone the usual week-long trip since it looks like New England is closing down again and I don’t want to be turned back at a state border.
A big ole chunk of my riding every year is going to work.
Bikers commute to work. Bikers take the bike on normal errands. Bikers take their bikes to the grocery store up to the limit of their storage. Many people who ride view their cars as a necessary evil specialized for hauling large things or carrying more than two people or getting around in the snow.
I haven’t been riding to work. Wow, there goes a few thousand miles this year. I don’t ride to work every day, a little rain or whatever is fine but I work in an office and sitting at a desk dripping wet sucks. I ride when it’s cold, but not when there’s snow on the ground. I’ve ridden my bike to other states when work required it and I had the time: rolling down the highway getting sunburned with a suit jacket in the saddlebags makes me laugh.
Sure, I can make time to ride several times a week just as a break, but losing the commute to work is a bummer.
There are a lot of germs that make people sick that we’re basically always swimming in. The common cold or strep throat is basically always around, but they catch us in a moment of weakness. You’re like that, always in the back of my mind but on a bad day or a particularly great day you’re suddenly there in full force, and I lose my shit.
Speaking of germs, we’re in lockdown due to a new virus that is very deadly and very transmissible. The US has nearly 1/3 of all worldwide cases and over 120,000 Americans are dead from it in about 12 weeks as I write this. I can picture you and some of your friends digging deep into the conspiracy theories on this one. You were never a fan of the science you were so good at. Your wife & son had it, but they got over it. I was scared for a while there.
Our sister lives in Idaho now, and man is there great riding out there. I went West this past year, over Beartooth Pass and through Yellowstone down into Idaho to visit her. She’s finally done having kids at 6, and man the young ones are cute – my totally biased opinion based on who wanted to hang out with their uncle.
This year, though, with the Coronavirus “shelter in place” rules different in every major city & state, it’s hard to say what a cross-country motorcycle trip looks like. I spent a lot of time planning a route through all the New England states, but that part of America has been hit the hardest. I don’t want to get stopped at the Vermont state border or some crap like that, and I’m not sure I want to eat out of gas stations for a week either. We think Georgia is unlikely to close no matter what the danger is, so we might head down to Wingnut Dave’s instead. Local bars, restaurants, hotels is a part of the joy of travel, I can’t imagine what this is going to be like.
After the last time Mrs. Roadrunner found me mid-meltdown, I thought I’d give talking to a shrink another try. It’s been pretty good for getting me through the winter months. It’s a colder than usual May right now, I’ve only been able to ride a few hundred miles so far this year. Speaking of the winter months, the shrink I mentioned told me I have PTSD from finding you dead. That sounds insane: PTSD is what happens to people who go off to war, not well off people in the suburbs just living their lives.
I probably said this last year, but missing you is hardest when things are good. Some of my crazy plans get a little more real every week. I can see how it might not be too many more years before I can buy some land and do some real bushcraft, maybe build a cabin with the boys or something. You would have really liked that.
I had, for a while, struggled to add anything new compared to last year. I thought about what I’m grateful for, and that includes a small but loyal and awesome group of riders that I have, that you used to be a part of in fact. I think about expanding this group, and I realize that I can never replace you. That’s the hard thing: some things are permanent. Time does not heal all wounds. This will not pass.
I might as well get a tattoo that says “Bart’s gone forever”, because that’s a thing that’s already a scar.
Huh? What the hell is this?
About once a year so far, I write a letter to my dead brother as a form of therapy.
I have known far too many men now who have taken their own lives. Every time a friend is going through a hard time that’s more than a parking ticket, I have a sudden panic that they are next. I recently got spooked and called a friend and pleaded with him:
Please, don’t make me give your eulogy. I will if that’s what it comes to, but don’t make me stand in front of your family and try to make sense of your life. There’s a fucked up sense of honor in it for me; it’s a really hard thing that no one wants to do and I force myself to do it. I’ve forced myself to do it too many times, though, and I need you to hang out for a while.
I guess this is my main point this year. Don’t be the next Bart. “Get help” is such a bullshit phrase, it has no meaning. Call a hotline? Talk to a friend? Who can appreciate the depth of what you’re feeling enough to really talk to you? Sometimes losing a job is just losing a job, and sometimes it’s the last thing a man can take. If you find yourself having thoughts of self harm, think about what you would be putting your friends and family through.
I’ve been “sheltering at home” with my family for over two months now. This is not a real hardship. This is not a generation that sent their sons to war, or endured the dust bowl, or the possibility of a nuclear attack on US soil. Still though, for a loner like me this has been surprisingly difficult. Ordinarily I’d have a commute to work, or a lunch out to get some me time. Not with COVID19 – they’re always there.
I figured motorcycle camping would be a great way to “social distance” while getting away – buy groceries at home, ride, pay at the pump, camp, eat over a fire, talk to no one. It seems like I got a different answer every time I talked to someone at a state or county park though. Yes we’re open. We’re open but not for camping. We’re open for camping but only if you already had a reservation in February. I’m down for adventure but I’m not going to risk showing up to park to be turned away, and then a campfire on random land in Northern WI.
Luckily ABATE of Wisconsin owns 80-100 acres in Greenwood. I was told there would be wood there and otherwise didn’t know what to expect since I’d never been to “Abate Acres”. This is private land I couldn’t be turned away from. Despite the prediction of severe storms all over the state, I packed a ribeye and all my camping gear and hit the road.
My plan was to visit Sturgeon Bay in the “thumb” of Wisconsin, but I had packed for warm weather and it was wicked foggy and cold in Two Rivers which is still quite a ways south. After checking the radar again I decided flexibility would be key and cut off the thumb to head for Abate Acres.
Despite severe storms all over the state, I was pretty lucky with sunny weather in the 80s until after lunch. Keeping with my social distancing theme, I’d packed couple PB&J along with my prized ribeye for dinner by a campfire.
Oddly enough one of the brackets for my windshield had rattled out, yet not fallen on the ground somewhere on the road, so I got very lucky and was able to make a field repair at a gas station. Thread lock and torque wrenches are your friends, folks.
I stopped and had lunch in a rest area in some tiny central-WI town I’ll never remember the name of and then proceeded to get rained on like crazy. I’ve been caught in the rain dozens of times, and it seems I’ll never get used to it. If there’s rain gear that’s not a huge pain to put on and wear I have yet to find it.
Arriving and Camping
There’s maybe 1/2 mile of gravel to get to Abate Acres. Wow. The land is 80-100 acres, and because I only had a cell phone and GoPro with me I wasn’t able to take a picture that really shows it off. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, I miraculously had a cell signal and a little bit of data so I could keep an eye on the weather. I had the whole place to myself.
There was wood, as I was promised, but it was all insanely wet. Part of my camping kit includes a hand axe (I own several) and a 13″ knife along with my pocket knife. My secret ingredient for fire is dryer lint. I carry a bag with a couple of handfuls in it to help with fire. I also have hand sanitizer and Gorilla Tape (burns like crazy) but I’ve never had to move beyond dryer lint.
I also had a good length of aluminum foil to try to preserve some fire when it started pouring.
I post a lot of food pics on Instagram, but very few steaks as my family just doesn’t like steak all that much. My go-to campfire meal is a ribeye and mushrooms. This was as good or better as nearly anything I’ve ever made at home.
Just as my steak was nearing medium rare, the sky OPENED UP. I’ve been caught out on the bike in storms, and I’ve camped in the rain, but I was totally surprised that my rain fly actually kept my tent dry inside: this was some green & black movie storm shit.
Thanks to the power of my aforementioned cheats, I was able to get a fire going again after that storm passed. I was able to sit by the fire, have a couple of cold beers, and enjoy hours of solo mindful time. Mercifully the bugs mostly respected my fire smoke and my Cutter insect spray.
Cold beers? Yes, I added a Bison cooler to my gear. It’s great, but it takes up a ton of space. I continue to tweak my load-out.
It stormed again at 1am and 3am, and I was warm & dry.
Mother nature woke me up at 5am with sunlight, which in addition to being woken up super early by The World’s Most Mistreated Dog the day before left me in rough shape for the ride home. It looked like the Great River Road was going to be partially flooded again due to the storms, so I went home sooner than I thought and only did 400mi the second day.
It’s not clear what the rest of the 2020 riding season holds, but this was some much needed solo time. Luckily all ABATE of WI members have a place to hide in Greenwood.
Here in April of 2020, we are on a government mandated “Safer at Home” order. Riding a bike is a great way of “socially distancing”, and we have many county parks nearby that are still open, so I’ve been able to pack a lunch and sit by myself during what little good weather we’ve had.
I have a trip booked with my father and other close family for a fishing trip in Alaska. A log cabin lodge For both my father and I, this would be the 50th state we’ve visited (though not ridden in, of course). If we don’t get some good news soon, that’s getting kicked to 2021.
The Power of Anticipation
You may not appreciate the power of anticipating trips like that until you’re suddenly unable to. The planning, the packing, buying gear, making sure your gear is in top operating condition. Telling people about the trip and promising to bring back pictures and stories.
My wife and I are both, thankfully, able to keep working right now as unemployment skyrockets across the country. There’s still still food in the stores and I still have money to buy it. I’m an introvert anyway so I’m doing OK – but I don’t have those big bright spots that help me get through the day. Am I getting away with my wife? Am I really going to be able to ride to Maine in July like I’d planned? I don’t know, so I’m doing the next best thing – I’m doing tons of research and planning trips, and more than just trips.
Another Kind of Riding
Many people who love two wheels grew up riding in the dirt. I really didn’t. Like many people, I was given my first real look at adventure riding when I watched The Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor. Yes, these are rich famous guys with a support vehicle, but it was everything I love about motorcycling write large: off the gird, but more. Isolated with just a friend or two, but more. Camping, making your own food, but more. Strange lands, but more. I thought of the many State & National parks I’ve ridden through and wonder what it would be like to just point the bike and go thatttawayoff into the dirt & woods.
I told my self that if I could swing the time & money that some day I’d be an adventure rider. Not the way Ewan and Charlie do it, to be sure, but there’s a lifetime of adventure in North America. I want to sleep on BDR land in the middle of nowhere, I want to ride the Dalton Highway all the way to Prudhoe Bay, and to ride the Trans American Trail. In The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing, Melissa Pierson describes long distance riding as the purest form of the activity, but I wonder if it’s really this on & off road blend with a healthy mix of dispersed camping thrown in.
I don’t know when I’ll have room (or money) for a BWM or KTM adventure bike in my garage (or a Harley Pan America?), or time for yet another calling that takes me far from home for days at a time. This is something I can fantasize about, when COVID19 is in the rear view.
It’s the 2020 Corona Virus Pandemic, and things are pretty locked down. School is out, everyone that can is working remotely, and people are getting caught up on games and getting after that Netflix queue.
I just spent some time with a friend helping him fix his computer so he could do his taxes. Even now, without being there in person, you can show up.
Seeing your friends should be fun, otherwise why are you friends with those people? But, laziness is a hell of a beast. There’s going to be someone’s daughter’s graduation party on a weekend you just wanted to stay at home. When people need help moving they need help moving even if it’s a rough week at work. When someone needs a shoulder to cry on it’s not an event they could schedule in advance and make sure that was a good time for you. You go to your friend’s tupperware party, pampered chef or whatever the hell else because it’s important to them, not because it was the #1 thing you wanted to do.
Bikers should know this. Sometimes your buddy breaks down, and you’ve gotta be there. So, here we are on a partial “shelter in place” depending on where in the world you are.
Call your mom.
Send some buddies a photo from a trip “Remember this you guys?”
See if you can bring some groceries or beer to someone who can’t get out on their own.
Why two wheels? Because motorcycle riding may be one of the best ways to get to a healthy mind.
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you may have come across the idea that Motorcycling is Mindfulness, and if you haven’t you might as well start there. Harley claims that riding a motorcycle improves focus and reduces stress. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that riding a motorcycle is a multi-faceted path to more general mental health. I’m going to use this particular page as a place to bookmark all of my best arguments and observations so that when someone asks “Why make that trip on a bike instead of a car?”, I have one place to send them. Some of these are ready to read now, some are teasers to be filled in as I have a chance to do more writing.
Motorcycling is Mindfulness: Mindfulness is having a moment in the sun right now, but being briefly popular doesn’t change the core benefits.
Lost Connections and the Cost of Belonging: It’s probably no surprise that many people’s social interactions are, well, fucked up. Why do so many people have depression and anxiety and what can we do about it? Thoughts on motorcycling as it relates to Hari’s work on addiction and depression as well as other works.
Riding Fast and Slow: Thoughts on long solitary rides as it relates to Kahneman’s work on human cognition.
The mind needs nature: it’s no coincidence that the most popular rides are set against amazing natural scenery. Much of our mental wiring evolved to find food, mates, and avoid danger. Nature is complicated, and the complex texture of nature is something that makes our brains happy. Thoughts on motorcycle travel involving research I was first exposed to by Levitin.
All of these things might be attainable in other ways, but stick with me as I fill in the blanks as to why riding might be one of the best mental health bang for your buck things you can spend your time on.
This is my map. The states with the copper color scratched off are the states I’ve ridden in.
What’s better during the winter than fantasizing about the riding once it finally warms up? I’m planning a trip in 2020 that will get me through all the New England states. I plan on having ridden through all 50 by the time I’m 50.
Just over a year ago, I finally lost a 17+ year battle and got some pets. We have a dog in the house. She’s a pretty good-looking and nice doggo as far as things go, a hound mix. This is Cindy:
One of the things that makes me laugh is Cindy’s excitement for a walk outside. Even though she’s walked nearly every day that isn’t outrageously Wisconsin-cold, when she sees the leash come out she loses her goddamn mind. She forgets her manners, she’s jumping all over me; I will probably lose an eye to her pre-walk affection some day. The very next day, or even later the same day, she will have the same reaction to getting to go out for a walk – this is about to be the greatest moment ever and no amount of training will control the excitement. I always thought it funny, does the dog not understand she’s probably getting a walk tomorrow too?
The other day, I backed my bike out of the garage and started it.
It’s only been a few weeks since I rode, but it was an early and brutal winter in 2019: a hilarious amount of snow on Halloween and unseasonably cold temperatures. At least a month was cut out of my riding season with ice and snow on the roads. Suddenly the sound of my exhaust and the feeling of handlebars in my hands was as comforting as a familiar lover after years at sea. Sitting on the seat, and just easing the bike back up the driveway into the garage, I got a little taste of forgotten memories.
The problem with the Wisconsin winters is that they are absolute, merciless, and eternal. I look at pictures of myself in a tank top and just a little sunburned, and it seems unreal: this is not a thing that can happen; it has always been cold and it will always be cold. Are there really places in the world where it’s nearly always 80 and sunny or is that merely a trick of the simulation we’re living in?
Nonetheless, I felt like the dog getting a walk. I know the spring will come, but I’ll be overjoyed for each chance to get out, even when I’m riding to work every day again.
There are things you can buy that are more or less tried and true, steady and dependable you might even say: is a Leatherman pocket tool really going to be that much different from year to year? Is one year’s Mustang going to be so radically different from the next year’s Mustang that you hesitate to buy before the next model year comes out? Is refrigerator technology going to radically advance such that you’ll wish you’d waited?
But some things are not “tried and true”, some things are advancing so quickly you are always at risk of buying old news … and Fear Of Missing Out keeps you on the sidelines. You risk fear of feeling like a stooge for taking the discount on the current model year as they make room for something different and better and amazing. Cell phones come to mind, maybe gaming consoles, mayve TVs. Motorcycles? Naw…
As I mentioned in A Tale of Two Test Rides, I rode a fixed fairing Road Glide on the same day I decided to take my Chieftain Dark Horse Home.
Six months later, Indian unveils this:
Obviously, there’s a lot of real-world miles ridden on fixed fairing bikes: this is a good configuration for long haul touring. That’s why I was interested in a Road Glide! (I also hate the lines of the ‘batwing’ Harley fairing.) You also get a little bit of extra storage in the fairing. I have been privately suspecting for a couple of years that European emissions standards were going to basically force liquid cooling into more motorcycle models before too much longer – it can be very expensive to have radically different platforms on each continent for global manufacturers, and the world is on high alert after the BMW diesel emissions cheating scandals. Even someone like myself, with a somewhat poor level of V-Twin of engine knowledge, though, knows that air-cooled engines require looser tolerances. Metal expands as it heats up: pistons rub against the block, tiny metal shavings wind up in the oil, break in services are required at 500 miles vs. 5,000 miles or “never” on liquid cooled engines. This need for a little fudge factor impacts engine design in fundamental ways such as what compression ratios are safe.
This new PowerPlus 108 also makes more HP. A lot more HP. The stock ThunderStroke 111 makes 79hp. Keep in mind, I love this engine, but as I learned earlier this year, HP does matter even when you have a torque-monster bike that can shred tires at every stop sign. Passing HP and fun on the highway and sweeping turns needs that higher RPM power. 125 HP and 128 ft/lb of torque? That’s an amazing stock engine even if the bike does way 800lb dry.
In addition to the extremely appealing new engine and the fixed fairing, there are some tech upgrades:
Lean sensitive traction control.
Those red line tires…
New Ride Command with weather and traffic overlays – this is a big deal. People who have ridden with me know I’ll happily ride optimistically into the storm of the century because we can “just roll through it”.
This motorcycle is a big jump, and I’m not just talking about the War Bonnet on the front fender lighting up or the puddle lights. This motorcycle is a bridge.
My father, and his boomer generation pals, grew up lusting for a Harley long before most of them could afford one. In the ’90s and early ’00s, many of them finally got them, and set up a bubble and a generational gap that has landed Harley where it is today. There are enough people like me who want an American V-twin but not enamoured enough of Harley to pay the premium for a bike that isn’t all that premium to give Victory and Indian enough sales to cause a ruckus in the marketplace. The Challenger is a bridge product: those who have some nostalgia, and US home-bias, and want an American V-Twin but not enough to go get an air cooled machine. They also want performance and technology, but not enough to go get a BMW or a GoldWing. They want reliability, not the promise that “If you break down there’s Harley dealers everywhere!”
This motorcycle is a bridge for all those who want technology and dial-tone reliability, gas mileage and turn by turn directions, but who also have to admit that an American muscle machine is just plain cooler than a GoldWing. People who appreciate the engineering of a turbocharged Subaru but who might buy a Dodge Challenger or a Mustang instead for the exhaust sound and the body style.
As I was typing this, Harley unveiled the new Revolution Max engine on it’s 2021 Pan America.
60 degree V-twin. Liquid cooled. High horsepower. An engine that may not appeal to those for whom an air-cooled pushrod motor is the One True Way. This engine did not come out overnight in response to the Power Plus – Harley is looking in the same crystal ball as Indian and trying to be ready for the future. I think they’re both doing the right things, and I think competition is good for everyone.