Travel always teaches me a lot about myself and about the world. In 2011 I loaded up my motorcycle and set out for a solo trip across 25 states and three Canadian provinces. Here are the top 25 lessons I learned from my journey.
- Avoid fussy fabrics. This includes cotton. Get yourself some underwear that wicks away perspiration, will drip dry completely overnight,and can be washed in a sink or with a garden hose. I used to be an Under Armour gal—two pair of compression shorts, two sports bras, three T-shirts—but now I’m an LDComfort convert. I don’t know how they make them, but those LDs are the bomb!
- Sip water constantly.If the only time you drink liquids is at stops, you’ll be thirsty enough to drink a whole 16-ounce beverage—and then you’ll have to pull over when it passes through your system. By sipping water every 15 minutes or so, your body will use the water more efficiently, meaning youll have little to waste. This keeps you alert, hydrated, and maximizes your time on the road.I like to wear a Camelbak or a touring jacket with a built-in water bladder.
- Dont underestimate the kindness of strangers.I believe we’ve become unnecessarily afraid of our fellow humans.I am often alone on my travels, and naturally, friends and family worry about me. But in my experience, 99 percent of strangers will help you out in a pinch. Dont be afraid to ask a kind-looking stranger when youre in need of directions, road-side assistance, or a hotel or restaurant recommendation. You might just make a new friend or have a great conversation in the process.
- Pack healthy snacks. An apple beats a bag of chips—on many levels! Packing food for the road doesn’t require a lot of advance planning, and it doesnt necessarily need to take up a lot of room in your tank bag. Ive found that taking fruit, nuts, and some baby carrots can get me through a day without resorting to unhealthy fare from the gas station.
- Be on the lookout for animals. That doesnt meanjustdeer.Elk are camouflage masters, as they often rest in high grass. Keep an eye out for antlers above the grass, and always be alert for quick movements on the side of the road.
- Dont park broadside. Wind can blow over your bike! I learned this the hard way last year. While crossing the Canadian border into Saskatchewan, I stopped to take a photo of my bike. A second after I clicked the shutter on my camera, the 40 mph winds gusted and took my bike down, breaking my front blinker and cracking my windshield. I had to walk back to the border patrol and ask the officer to help me lift the bike. And yes, it took two of us!
- Pack your gear low and over the wheelbase. I had a couple of parking lot disasters before a friend helped me reallocate my gear in the correct position. In one particularly embarrassing incident, I pulled into a busy Dairy Queen parking lot, put my stand down, and the bike just kept going over. Not only was itloaded incorrectly, but I’d parked on too steep an incline. The guys in the neighboring bar had a good laugh at my expense, but luckily a kind soul from Dairy Queen ran over to help.
- Always carry a camera. I don’t mean pack one, I mean always have it handy. If you bring along a fancy camera with a big lens, I recommend also carrying a little point-and-shoot (or your phone). I took the marvelous shot below as I was headed north to Alberta from Glacier National Park in Montana. I was just touring along, about to enter a blind curve, when these three horses crossed my path. I stopped, fumbled in my jacket for my camera, pointed and clicked.Look at those skies!
- Rechargeyour electronics. I love to travel alone, but one thing I’ll never do is be incommunicado. To keep my cell phone powered up, I had my mechanic rig up a cell phone charger to my battery. Yes, in ye olde tymes people traveled cross-country without cell phones, but there was a pretty good system of pay phones back then. These no longer exist, so stay charged.
- Consider the “pink bra effect.” When you strap a pink bra across the windshield of your motorcycle, everyone knows you’re doing something for breast cancer. This is how I learned so much about the rampant cancer rates in North America—people stopped me everywhere to tell me their stories or the stories of those close to them. There were times I’d hear one story at the gas pump, another in the bathroom, and more in the concession area. My book, Live Full Throttle: Life Lessons From Friends Who Faced Cancer,was born of these conversations from the road.
- Let inspiration in. I find so much inspiration on the road and in nature. Seeing theheadwaters of theMississippi River, for example, reminded me that even the mightiest of things can start out small.
- Start every morning with thanks. Speaking of nature’s inspiration, I find I’m more open to its gifts when I’ve started my day the right way. I bring my yoga mat with me on road trips and use it as a base under my sleeping bag when I camp. In the morning I stretch and do some sun salutations before packing up. I enjoy the quiet of morning to pray with the background music of birds and crickets. The way I spend my morning sets the tone for the entire day.
- Embrace the unknown. Life is full of blind corners. You never know what the road—or life, for that matter—will bring, but don’t let that uncertainty stop you from striking out. Resolve to ride your best ride and take life as it comes.
- Pack your warmest sleeping bag. An Eagle Scout once told me to err on the side of warmth, and I’m glad I listened. You can always sleep on top of the bag if it’s too hot, but it’s hard to layer up when you’re cold—or worse, cold and wet.
- Wear proper safety gear.Can you say red-faced raccoon? Besides the obvious safety benefits, afull-face helmet is the ultimate sunscreen. To each her own, but I’m an advocate of ATGATT (“all the gear, all the time”).
- Consider riding for a cause. You get when you give. Riding for breast cancer causes has enriched my life. Riders are notoriously philanthropic,and I encourage everyone to combine their passion for biking with a passionate cause.
- Remember that everything wobbles (but not every wobble becomes a fall). We know this as bikers, and we should also remember this in life.
- Pack light. Clothes can double as a pillow. I pack pretty lean and use my sleeping bag’s stuff sack as an extra pillow when I camp.
- Check customs before you depart. Did you know Canadian customs will confiscate your pepper spray? Why they let you into the country with bear spray but not pepper spray is beyond me. Oh well.
- Learn new things every day. Donkeys may look like horses, but feeding them apples will give them diarrhea. I learned that in Oatman, Ariz., where the donkeys come to town for their daily feed.
- Rethink souvenirs. We Americans buy too much stuff. My two children are in their 20s, and while I’m largely to blame for their expecting a present after every one of my trips, I’m changing my ways.
- Bless the detours. As in life, the road is full of detours. Next time you’re forced to take one, try to remember a time when you had an unexpectedly wonderful experience as a result of a detour. Then tell yourself you’re in for another. It may not pan out that way, but it will take the stress out of the experience.
- Tune out to tune in on what matters. Taking a break from the news is good mental hygiene. I don’t watch much television, but I do listen to National Public Radio (NPR). In 2010 I spent 40 days on the road with very little exposure to the radio and, as a result, the news. When I got back to work, I opened up my radio app and found myself agitated by even the mildest level of dissension expressed on the most mundane subjects, like whether outdoor cats should be forced to wear bells to warn wildlife. Whoa! It just goes to show how much stress we are exposed to in daily life. Take a break from the news. Get some wind therapy!
- Turn off your ABS when riding off-road. I learned this in my training at BMW’s Performance Center, but I forgot it when I was in Port Orford, Ore. I wanted to get my front tire in the Pacific Ocean, so I headed down a steep embankment, and—well, you probably know where this is headed. The ABS kicked in when I tried my off-road braking skills, and I laid down the bike in some shrub before gravity got the best of me. Lesson learned.
- Watch out for squirrels! That doesn’t just apply to the road. Campground squirrels are fearless thieves. I guess that’s why my spouse calls them “tree rats.”
About the Author
Tamela Rich lives with her family in Charlotte, N.C., where she is a freelance writer of books, articles, presentations and speeches for business professionals. She based “Live Full Throttle: Life Lessons From Friends Who Faced Cancer” on two trips she took across the United States and parts of Canada with a pink bra strapped across the windshield of her BMW motorcycle to raise money for breast cancer research. When forced to travel by car instead of motorcycle, she knits compulsively; if she’s driving the car, she knits at stoplights. Autographed copies of “Live Full Throttle” are available at Tamela’s website and on Amazon.com.
30 thoughts on 25 Inspired Tips for Your Motorcycle Road Trips
Nice article, come ride in South America.
Great article! I am heading out for my first trip since back surgery, solo from Texas to the Ruidoso, New Mexico, rally. I sorta tricked hubby into it. I said I wanted to go to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and he said that was way too far, so I said how about a few days in Roswell, New Mexico (one hour from Ruidoso, where the rally is)? Happy wife=happy life. LOL! I’ve only been on short rides since I got cleared to ride in ;ate April! Crazy right!
Congrats on getting back in the saddle for this long ride, Bobbie. We wish you all the best and will be thinking of you. Thanks for being such an enthusiastic fan of WRN!
What an inspiring and educational article. I’m planning a road trip of the Continental U.S. next year and have a lot to learn. No squirrels, snakes or mountain lions in Hawaii. Once again WRN has come to my “now how can I pull this off?” rescue.
Thanks for the compliment. Hope you have an amazing trip!
What an inspiration! I met so many people who are just amazed when a woman travels solo. I did it by car for many years before I got married, but it is completely different on a bike. I met people from all over, and when I was running late on my return trip to Seligman, Arizona, the motel owner had the diner hold me a dinner plate! Thanks to West Side Lidos dDner I had a hot meal after a long cold ride!
Very inspiring and true hints and tips! Ride safe, you all out there!
What an amazing article with such great information! Thank you so much!
#3 was the biggest impression from my first solo ride. I was wary of nuts/murderers/rapists around ever corner, and it really restored my faith in humanity – ordinary people were so nice given the chance, and some were even extraordinary when I got injured.
What a great sharing of information. I will look for this book. Thanks!
Great, great advice! Thank you for sharing! Feeling inspired to venture out!
Michele,Perhaps we should add to this great list that riders should be sure to stash some YouVee Sunscreen Swipes and Fearlessly Refreshing Facial Wipes on their road trips from your company, Adventuress. I’m a fan and highly recommend them because they’re quick and easy to carry and use.
Great article. Thanks for sharing.
Great article Tamela. Loved your tips and will be remembering them as I travel. Thank you.
In 3.5 days I leave for a solo south-north ride from central Texas to Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The last two summers I rode from central Texas to Yellowstone National Park where I spent the summers working in the park. This year I will only be gone three weeks and plan to cover about 4,000 miles instead of the 6,500 I rode last year. I had some checklists from HOG and books by round-the-world motorcycle travelers, but I will add some from your list. I covered my bike each night to keep ravens and “whistle-pigs” off it. Ravens pick at all the bright studs on my Harley, and the pigs can build nests in the tailpipes if it’s left for a day or two. Thanks for the article.
Enjoyed this article! I ride a BMW K 1300 S and my husband rides a BMW K 1200 S. We are currently on an 18 day trip on our bikes. We are Okies. We went through Glacier National Park, crossed the border into Canada to see Lake Louise, and also the ice fields. (Don’t forget your passport.) Didn’t really understand the pepper spray vs. bear spray either! Great advice as far as packing your weight low on the bike, keeping snacks handy in your tank bag, as well as hydration. I’m guilty of packing too many things and making my bike too heavy. I’m a firm believer in wearing clothes layered that are moisture wicking. Love Nike technical gear as I’m a runner as well, so it has multiple uses for me. Unfortunately, we had to bring hot weather gear as well as cold weather, but am a firm believer in the ATGATT rule. I keep my iPhone in a pocket in my tank bag that I can quickly access and have some good pictures. Thanks for sharing these tips!
I have met Tamela twice now. Once in Greybull, Wyoming, at the Conga line and in Carson City at the AMA Women and Motorcycling Conference last summer. Great advice in her article and don’t forget that Subway restaurants are pretty easy to find for a filling salad for lighter fare on the road.
Excellent article and thank you for sharing your insights. I’m trying to find the courage to do a solo ride to Nova Scotia and the Cabot Trail. I’m an experienced and confident rider, but a baby when it comes to traveling by myself. I wonder if there is a “courage app” for my smartphone?
I too learned so much when traveling 33 days alone last August and September. All of these points are so very true! I spoke to so many people…got recommendations for motels, hotels, restaurants…and all of the advice was great. And I had great conversations and made wonderful memories with people I met. Your list put a smile on my face and joy in my heart. Watch for the story of my adventure, coming up in six months or so!
Loved your article. Pleased that you have a good sense of humor to go along with the tales of your wonderful travels.
Great article! I am very lucky to have my Toby to ride with. After my motorcycle safety course completion he has basically guided and enhanced my experience and training. We have logged a total of about 30,000 miles together now in the last three years, 13,000 of that with me behind the handlebars of my own bike, a V Star 950. We plan to do some serious touring for our honeymoon next year, and I now feel fairly confident I will do better then I did on my first 3,000-mile ride. May the author have many more enjoyable and successful rides ahead!
After taking a class several years ago, the rest was on my own. At least for a few years. I have since ridden with a HOG group and increased my skills but I still love to ride by myself. There have been those who have tried to tell me I can’t or shouldn’t and at one time I was almost convinced. That didn’t stick for long though. All I had to do was get on my bike and ride and I knew they were wrong. Thank you for your learning tips and for being a solo riding role model for women!
Fabulous article! Sounds wonderful what you doing for a cause. I think that’s very brave of you to ride totally by yourself cross country. Wow! I would love to read your book.
I also ride alone quite a bit. It’s nice not to learn everything the hard way. Nice article. Thanks for sharing.
Really enjoyed reading it. Felt like touring on a bike around that territory you covered. You get great photo opportunities besides the exhilaration of open-air adventure of bike travel. Thank you!
Great article. This is great information. I’m planning my 3600-mile motorcycle adventure on the west coast and west coast interior now and am so excited.
I’ve just started riding this season. I don’t have a male family member, spouse or friend to help assist me in this learning process. I have to say, from a girl who started completely from scratch (I’d never even driven a standard vehicle before I starting riding), this article was the best thing I’ve learned.Thank you for posting this. It’s so fitting for riding and in life. I cannot wait to learn the things you’ve learned from that experience.
Misty,We highly recommend you learn from a certified motorcycle safety instructor by taking an approved safety course. We discourage people learning from a friend or family member as there is a high chance of picking up bad habits from that person. To learn more, please visit our Beginner’s Guide.
Great article. Thanks!