by Thomas Day
Late in the summer of 2008, I rode to Nova Scotia. It was my first trip east on any vehicle. In 60 years as an American, other than some business flights to New York in the 70’s that only allowed a view inside a factory, the only “east” I’d seen was Florida and Ohio; and the points in-between here and Ohio.
On this trip, I looped the Great Lakes, out on the Canadian side and back on the US. Altogether, I put on about 5900 miles in 20 days, including a 4 day semi-stationary interlude in Nova Scotia with my wife. I also hung out with friends in New York and friends in Cleveland for two days each. It wasn’t a mile-pounding trip, like the previous year’s trip to Alaska. Counting the days off, I averaged about 295 miles a day. However, the days off were the days that meant the most in many of my memories of the trip. As time dilutes the memories of back-roads in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and the grand views of Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail, the stationary moments take on even more meaning. This is probably just me, your mileage differs, I expect.
It is the people I met, the places I savored, and the things I learned about the places I travelled that stick with me. The pure mile-covering fact that I rode somewhere, met some people, and burned their fuel will wither away into faint recollections. At one that summer, I almost canned the whole idea of riding across the northeastern portion of our continent on my 650 and replaced it with a North Dakota tour on my 250. I hadn’t yet worked out the 250’s fuel capacity problems or the more “pressing” seat design, so that option never really gained traction. However, carrying minimal gear and really exploring a place foreign to me has an even stronger appeal after my second long tour.
A year earlier, I did a bit more than 10,000 miles in 26 days. In 2008, 5900 in 20. Before that, my longest motorcycle trips were 4,000 miles in ten days and a collection of 1,000-2,500 mile trips in five to ten days. It’s a luxury to have 30 days to play around with. I’m lucky to have stumbled into this point in my life when I can gamble with security and time and still have some sort of employment to come home to at the end of the trip. I gave up a lot of money for this flexibility, but it was worth the trade-off. In fact, I wouldn’t consider returning to the corporate life for any amount of money.
Ok, that’s sort of a lie. If I were offered the kind of cash that would require a short commitment to provide security for the rest of my life, I’d probably sell out, again. I am an American, after all.
All my life, I’ve known that “money is time,” not the reverse. Before committing to my curren life, it was only a theory that I desperately wanted to believe. Now I know that people who believe that “time is money” are boring types who desperately need a hobby or three. Anyone who thinks money has value outside of the time it can buy for adventures, time with friends and family, and time to relax and enjoy life is someone I don’t want to waste my time on. A pile of money is a poor exchange for life. I have way too many hobbies and way too little time. Most likely I will never have much money, but I can always remember what I did with the time my money bought me. I have no good memories of actually earning that money.
Travelling at even the modest pace of 300 miles a day doesn’t leave much time to meet people, learn about local history, see the important attractions, and absorb a little of the culture. If you’re on the gas, averaging 50mph, you’re barely slowing down to see the landmarks if you’re on the road 6-8 hours a day. You aren’t spending enough time anywhere to have a decent conversation, let alone get to know anyone. The difference between travelling by cage vs. a motorcycle is as dramatic as covering miles vs. taking time to get to know a place. I think there is a place for both. Before I’d taken my first trip west, I didn’t have any idea what I might like out there. Once I’d made my first tour of the western states, I began to get an idea of what I wanted to see more of. The same went for travelling east. None of the eastern cities have any draw for me, but that’s mostly true for cities as a group. Having traveled through a fair bit of the east, I found a lot to like about parts of New York and most of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Quebec, and all of Nova Scotia. So, I want to go back and see more of those places someday soon.
In 2009, I made my first trip “back” after the original exploration trip. To and from Alaska, I blasted through a good bit of North Dakota. I liked a lot of what I saw there and decided to do it again a lot slower. Friends told me, “You’re gonna hate North Dakota.” But they were wrong.
North Dakota is not Kansas, although a big chunk of the northeast section of the state is at least as boring and industrial. Industrial farming has not made a total conquest of North Dakota, owing to the rugged topology of the west and general lack of water resources to violate for the God of Corn. The southeastern corner of the state has its share of corporate farming, but it also has the Sheyenne River Valley. The collection of state roads that make up the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway are among the coolest, most interesting roads I’ve ever traveled. Due to technical problems with my intended ride on this trip, my 250 Kawasaki Super Sherpa, I didn’t spend as much time on the Sheyenne trail as I’d intended. That gives me a wonderful excuse to go back and do it all again. I didn’t cover nearly as much of the southwestern corner of North Dakota as I’d planned, which leaves me another opportunity. I can’t imagine spending too much time in Teddy Roosevelt’s namesake national park. I hit most of the historical sites in Bismarck, but that city has a music scene that I didn’t slow down long enough to experience. I chose exploring the Canadian boarder over the North Dakota/Minnesota boarder, so I’m still a stranger to Grand Forks and I’ve barely skirted Fargo.
The parts of Alaska and Canada that I skipped over the first time, California and Oregon’s northeastern mountain towns, and all of the southeastern portion of the United States are still on my list of places-to-go, but it’s nice to have a collection of targets within easy reach. If you can’t travel far, travel slow and near and poke a hole in your comfort zone the easy way. If I’d have listened to advice about North Dakota, I’d might never be able to say I have ridden a Vincent, enjoyed a three-hour pre-Columbian-to-Custer history lesson from Mandan historian, cruised a motorcycle through a herd of buffalo, or spent a night in the over-grown town park of a completely abandoned town. All stories that hold as much meaning to me as remembering the rides to Alaska and Nova Scotia.