Monday, June 13, 2011

Goin' Solo

This past weekend I took the first ride of moderate length (260 miles round-trip, including side-rambles and other tangents) since Trish and I started riding together. The purpose of the trip was to do some jumping down at Skydive Sebastian. Riding without Trish alongside me was strangely bittersweet. The intensity of the feeling took me by surprise.

I hadn't realized until that point what a profound emotional and psychological impact riding with Trish had made; it had effectively created a great mental milestone dividing my personal motorized two-wheeled history into B.T. and A.T. periods (as with almost everything else in my life). I ride every day, of course, commuting to and from work, going to the grocery store etc. -- I don't even own a car -- but this was the first time I have taken a purely recreational motorcycle trip in the A.T. Era, so to speak.

Dinnertime at Mulligan's Beach House Bar and Grill in Vero Beach. I sat in an Adirondack chair and watched the windblown surf breaking over the sand as the sun went down behind me. The whole time, I was texting Trish, telling her how great it was, how much I missed her and how much I wished she were there with me.

During my previous major rides, I enjoyed the significant benefits and pleasures of riding alone. Chief among them are:

  • The ability to set your own pace. Some people like to ride fast for short intervals; some people like to ride slowly but stop infrequently.

  • The freedom to abide by your own schedule. Are you in the mood to do 1,000 miles today? Or do you feel like stopping at every scenic overlook, roadside attraction, local curiosity, exhibit and marker? Do you want to wander and explore aimlessly? Or do you want to reach a specific destination by a fixed deadline? When you ride alone, you can change your plans on a whim.

  • Not feeling responsible for anyone else's safety or well-being. Everyone has to look out for everyone else, but this sense of responsibility is especially strong when one rider has significantly more road experience than another.

  • Not having to communicate and coordinate. Some messages are realatively easy to get across -- "I need gas," "let's stop and get something to eat." More complex suggestions and requests are difficult to convey without radios. This can get aggravating.

Riding in groups -- or even as a pair -- requires making a series of strategic compromises that usually leaves everyone frustrated to some degree. This is true, obviously, of any partnership or team effort. It even serves as a reasonable metaphor for marriage! In our case, however, I have discovered that the fun and satisfaction of riding with my best friend more than overbalances these negatives.

I think I had expected riding alone again to be a relief -- instead, it felt kind of sad, like something was missing. I was unprepared for that.

One of my favorite parts of any motorcycle trip is the unplanned and unexpected detours. I see something that looks potentially interesting and I stop on an impulse. Those moments almost always end up being the most memorable highlights. I stopped several times during this trip and deliberately indulged in a roundabout, unhurried intinerary. My overwhelming feeling, again and again, was I wish Trish were here.

I stopped at Castaway Point Park on the way back to eat a protein bar and enjoy the scenery. It was a pretty spot -- I could see large crabs scuttling among the oyster shells and coral rubble in the clear, shallow water. Several small sailboats were anchored in the lagoon nearby.

I'm usually a little bit sad to see a road trip coming to an end. This time the opposite was true; I couldn't wait to get Home. That's Home with a capital H, as in wherever Trish is. I don't feel bound to any particular geographic location, but it's not Home if she isn't there.

Riding alone can be great; it often is. Riding with a partner or a group can be nerve-wracking and annoying. In fact, it can detract from the experience to the point of ruining it.

But riding with someone you really care about -- someone who gets it, who gets YOU, who enjoys traveling in all the same ways and for all the same reasons you do -- can enhance the ride so much that you find yourself never wanting to hit the road without that person beside you.

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