Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Preliminary Thoughts on Routing

Looking ahead, I'm starting to formulate rough ideas of where we might go on the Big Ride.

One obvious choice is up the eastern United states along the US 1 / I-95 corridor. The White Mountains of New Hampshire and the rugged Maine coast are beautiful riding destinations with fantastic roads. The two drawbacks would be the unpredictable autumn weather and, more importantly, the extremely heavy traffic and densely populated areas that stand between here and there.

Another possibility is a direct westward course, heading towards Texas and continuing all the way out to Arizona or even southern California. (I did this in 2006.) This would largely allow us to avoid the potential cold-weather issues and we'd be able to spend a lot of time relaxing on wide-open, lightly traveled highways. On the down side, the scenery doesn't really start getting interesting until about the fourth day and (unless you turn north) most of the highways are laser-beam straight through mostly flat countryside until you get pretty far west.

If we went in time to beat the arrival of the snowy season, we could think about a loop through the upper western states -- Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana -- where the spectacular views and insanely fantastic two-laners would definitely make the trip enjoyable and memorable. That if is a big one, however, and we would probably need to get started no later than September if we wanted to make sure we didn't hit an early winter weather blast. Also, Trish may or may not feel ready to tackle twisty Rocky Mountain roads at that point.

Another strategy would be to keep the overall distance shorter and contain the trip within a smaller geographic area, permitting a slower, less challenging pace and enabling us to wander and explore in a more improvisational, serendipitous way. We could loop through Texas hill country, the Ozarks or along segments of the Lincoln Highway, Route 66 or the Great River Road. Taking this approach would mean we could stop more frequently, make more side trips to weird roadside attractions and adopt a meandering track.

In any case, I've found that I like to alternate moto-camping (one third) with regular hotels (two thirds) and the occasional nice bed & breakfast (one third) for a balanced experience -- not too much grimy adventure, not too much cushy indulgence. I think that will probably be our default lodging tactic regardless of our destination(s).

Ultimately, of course, the Big Ride will be about us, so rather than just focusing on where we want to go, I think our planning should emphasize how we want to spend our riding days together. It needs to be challenging enough to be interesting -- not scary. It needs to be ambitious enough to be satisfying -- not frustrating. Most of all, it needs to be safe and fun.

I have definitely learned from previous trips that a key element of an enjoyable ride is to keep the daily mileage within realistic parameters for both the rider's experience and comfort level and the type of bike -- an easy day's ride on a touring bike might legally constitute abuse on a sportbike with an OEM seat. For me (on this particular motorcycle), 300 miles is an easy day, 600 miles is a full day and anything above that is tough but do-able. The most I have ever done in one day on the Bandit was 1,000 miles: Orlando to Beaumont. (It stopped being fun after about 750 miles.) If I had a differently configured, better-equipped bike I think I could probably add 200 miles to all three of those categories.

One hard lesson was not to plan your route in such a way that you get stuck late in the trip having to do consecutive big-mileage days to get back home again on time. Doing 800 miles a day early in the journey because you want to is exciting; doing it after you've been on the road for a couple of weeks because you have to can be exhausting.

In any event, I'm looking forward to watching the hazy outlines of a plan start to emerge and evolve.

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