I might not have planned to go to Birmingham, but then again, I didn’t really plan not to go. I ride a large sport touring motorcycle and pull a pop-up tent trailer. It is minimalist mobile glamping. Being alone out on the road, at campgrounds and even gas stops, I meet so many people who are curious about my set-up. At this age, I realized how lucky I am. How many of us can say they spent 106 days on the road last year, and 81 nights sleeping in a tent?
As long as I am healthy, I want to travel. If I coped with three and a half months on the road last summer, there is no reason why I can’t enjoy being out on the road for six months or longer. I just have to follow my nose and the weather.
I’ve always considered myself a planner. Not in the grand scheme of things like planning for retirement since my twenties, but in the case of minutely detailing a two- or three-week motorcycle trip with important items like kilometres per day, accommodation costs, meals, groceries, bourbon, and bags of ice.
Yes, motorcycles can haul trailers. As a retiree, getting up off the ground and getting dressed on my knees in a tent no longer appeals to me. The comfort of being able to sit up in bed, then stand up and get dressed is virtually priceless. To carry a two-burner stove, cast iron frying pans, and a cooler with real food while camping certainly beats my previous camping without the trailer. A motorcycle and trailer give a certain flexibility, sense of adventure, and economy that a conventional trailer or RV just can’t provide.
Even when retired, it takes a while to realize that weekends, statutory holidays, and even sick days no longer have the same meaning they did in times past. Last winter, I was busy planning an extended vacation, maybe a whole month on the road, going to rallies, camping, attending a reunion, and visiting with old friends.
You can plan, you should plan, but at this time of life you also cannot take things for granted. The unexpected can happen. It will happen. Without going into details, I found myself selling my house, divesting myself of “things,” filling a storage unit, and downsizing to the motorcycle and tent trailer. Technically, I became homeless, but not hopeless. What was I to do?
Technically, I became homeless, but not hopeless. What was I to do?
Well, I had already planned to be on the road for a month. I no longer had a house with all the obligations that entails. One of the friends I so wanted to visit had passed away less than four weeks from when I was supposed to see him. Just one more thing I had put off. We just can’t count on plans.
The sensible thing might have been to worry about where I was going to live, but my heart said I needed to do something radical for myself, and partially in memory of a friend who could no longer be spontaneous. Instead of finishing my “vacation” in Ontario and heading back to Newfoundland, I turned south and for the first time in my life, and saw the Mississippi River. It’s big!
That took me to Hannibal, Missouri, the birthplace of Mark Twain where I had my own Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn moments remembering my adventures as a twelve-year-old. On top of that, I had jokingly told someone that if I got as far as Memphis, I would do a drive-by wave at Graceland and that’s exactly what I did.
There was no logic to my travels. It was now all driven by whims. Clarksdale, Mississippi, the birthplace of the Delta Blues, beckoned me for a drive-through on a hot September afternoon. I did not plan to go to Birmingham, but it was only half a day away, so why not? Exactly, why not! Actually, the draw wasn’t Birmingham but the realization that the Barber Motorsports Park and Museum were nearby. Visual overload with over 1,000 vintage motorcycles and the bonus of a superbike race weekend. Sadly, it was then time to consider meandering my way north.
Okay, not everything was on a whim. I was going to ride with some friends for a couple of days in North Carolina on my way north, but Hurricane Ian was coming through and there were warnings of heavy rains in the area I was camping. Looking around the campground, I saw a watermark about half a metre up the tree trunks. As Ian was continuing northward, I did the only logical thing and headed west to Kentucky. I stayed dry and found myself doing a two-kilometre trek through Mammoth Cave. Amazing. Just one more thing I was not expecting or planning to do.
Time for meandering was now over. If I was going to get back to Newfoundland before the first snow, I needed to keep the distractions to a minimum. Just ride north towards the ferry and home. Home now defined as a winter rental with no long-term commitment so I can plan, loosely plan, to head out on the road again.
Jim Gow was brought up in Nova Scotia. After 44 years as a theatre technician and instructor, he has embraced retirement by traveling on a motorcycle, camping and creating YouTube videos.
106 Days on the Road – the Start
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