An article, written by Ms. Susanne Bacon, titled Across the Fence: Planning a Trip, was published in The Suburban Times on July 5, 2019. Susanne’s article had a powerful influence on my thinker, ultimately inspiring me to write the travel column you see before you today.
I began my travels at age 21 when I rode a train sitting up in my seat for 3 1/2 days on my way to Chicago.
My means of transportation for travel over the years has included trains, commercial airliners, cars, buses, motorcycles, ships, boats, subways, helicopters, Lear Jets, ambulances, and hitchhiking.
I have racked up 148,500 miles on motorcycles alone, traveling the USA along with touching Canada, and Mexico.
I have visited all 50 states. Hawaii is the only state where I have not traveled by motorcycle. I tried, but the narrow-minded motorcycle rental guy refused to rent a Harley to me just because, at the time, I had no experience riding motorcycles and I did not have a motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license. Hawaii is on my slop-jar-list (slop-jar is a synonym for a bucket list, but more fun to say.)
One of the first concepts Susanne included in her article concerned “comfort zone.”
After several years of motorcycle riding using the buddy system where I rode with 1 to 7 other guys, I faced the possibility of riding solo to Louisville, Kentucky.
Riding solo was a concept that pushed me out of my comfort zone. What if I have a flat tire, hit a bull elk, or I fly over the handlebars? (Flying over the handlebars is a ridiculous fear that could never happen!)
Riding solo would mean I would have no one to help me should extreme adversity cross my path, like the time a big bird lost its radar and flew into the side of my helmet just like an unforgettable scene from the movie, Wild Hogs.
After stewing on this issue for several months while sitting in my Scandinavian recliner, I posed four questions which I asked and answered.
- “Joe, does riding 4,734 miles round trip to Louisville fall outside your comfort zone?” “Yup.”
- Joe, do you love riding motorcycles”? “Yup.”
- “Joe, do you want to see your pal, Tom”? “Yup.”
- “Joe, will you ever be able to figure out what the solo ride will be like while sitting and thinking”? “Nope.”
I stood up, threw my leg over my iron horse, fired up the motor, and pointed my Harley towards Kentucky.
After months of fretting over my comfort zone issue, I headed down the road with the thought I could always turn around and head for home.
I admit to some slight feelings of discomfort at first, but I quickly fell into a travel rhythm at which point my discomfort dissipated. That meant I now had more travel freedom and flexibility with the ability to ride with others or to ride solo.
I made it to Louisville without hitting a bull elk.
The second idea Susanne brought to mind is related to the subject of maps.
While G.P.S. can be advantageous, like the time I ran G.P.S. on my smartphone and using Bluetooth received my directions inside my helmet as I twisted and turned my way to my nephew’s on the dark, crowded, narrow, rain-soaked streets of Boston, Massachusetts.
Susanne is right though. G.P.S. is not an end-all, be-all if you wish to maximize your experience and adventure.
That is why I have frequently capitalized on membership in AAA. That is AAA, as in Triple-A, the travel company, not AA as in Alcoholics Anonymous.
AAA provides three useful items.
Item #1: A map of the US to give me the big picture. If you ask AAA, they will highlight a recommended route between home and your ultimate destination, including any additional target destinations on or off your primary course of travel.
Item #2: I always ask for state maps for each state I plan to travel through. The state maps give me a detailed view.
Item #3: AAA provides TripTiks. A Trip Tik is a custom booklet designed for your specific route. The handy document provides you with places to stay, local sights, and a multitude of other helpful information.
I use old fashioned paper maps, an atlas, and G.P.S.
Susanne talked about lining up places to stay during travel. I am familiar with four methods for arranging accommodations.
#1. MINUTE DETAIL APPROACH: I know a guy who plans his itinerary down to the tiniest detail. He lines up all his accommodations before he leaves home even if it is a long trip. His approach is too rigid for me, plus it generates too much travel pressure. Overplanning can lock you in and cause undesirable results, such as arriving at the motel too soon or too late.
#2. TRAVEL TILL YOU DROP APPROACH: Travel until you wish to stop and then take your chances on finding a motel. That reminds me of the time I was riding with my pal Jim Howe to Howe, Idaho where I arranged to have the mayor present Jim with a key to the city.
Jim and I planned to spend the night in the biggest town near Howe, Idaho but found there was not a room available for miles. We were forced to ride through the dark, rainy, lightning, and thunderstorm night to the larger city beyond Howe arriving at a very late hour.
#3. TRAVEL, THEN PLAN, THEN TRAVEL SOME MORE APPROACH: Option #3 is what I prefer over options #1 and #2. It does not require I plan my trip down to a nats eyebrow, so I need not feel locked into a rigid, inflexible plan.
I do not try to locate a place to stay at the last minute either only to discover none and then have to ask the town sheriff if he as an empty jail cell for the night.
Being of advanced age and retired, I do not have to be in a hurry. Accordingly, I have trimmed my mileage goal from 600 miles a day to 400 miles a day, which equates to about 8 hours of riding.
I hasten to disclose that my mileage goal has to be flexible. An example of needing flexibility is the time I was running through Oklahoma. A tornado was chasing me. As I passed through some small towns, the tornado would touch down behind me and wipe out a trailer park. I reached the point where the storm was starting to overtake me as I was about to exit a small town. The entire sky began to close in.
I thought to myself, “It would probably be best to skip my 400-mile mileage goal. Three hundred miles sounds just about right. I then tucked my Harley into what was equivalent to a protective cave formed by the motel’s buildings, walkway and walkway cover.
Assuming the weather does not unduly impact me, I usually start my travel by 8:00a stopping around 2:00p. My 2:00p stop is often a gas and planning break. Depending on how much energy each rider has, we decide how much further we can travel. We study our AAA paper map looking for places that should have a motel. Once we identify a target town or city, we use our Mapquest on our smartphone to estimate how many miles and how much travel time will be involved.
With a target city in mind, we locate a phone number for our chosen motel online using our smartphone, or we use one of the small motel books carried in our saddlebags for chain motels such as Motel 9 or Astronomical 8.
The rest of our day’s travel is comfortable and relaxed with the knowledge we have a place to stay 2 or 3 hours ahead.
#4. TRAVEL – STAY WITH FRIENDS APPROACH: During my extended time on earth, I have practiced a couple of ethical behaviors all my life that still serve me well to this day. (1) Do not steal money from your friends. (2) Do not steal your friend’s wife. By practicing these behaviors everywhere I go, I still enjoy friendships all over the country, dating back to 1949.
So as I look my US map over, I spot friends and relatives with whom I can visit as I cross the US. I had one trip where I hopped from friend to friend never spending any of my retired fixed income on motel costs.
To make this joyful experience, repeatable, I only stay for 1 or 2 nights because I understand, “A little Joe Boyle can go a long way.”
While Susanne Bacon inspired me to write this column and her name is sprinkled throughout my written work, by no means is that an indication that Susanne agrees with any or all of my travel tips. In that regard, we will have to let Susanne speak for herself.