Traveling “Solo”

When I turned 21, I began taking birthday vacations to random cities I’d never been. I’d look at a map of the U.S., settle on a city that had a direct flight from Salt Lake, pack my BMX bike, and forget about everything for a week. At that time I thought alone was the only way to travel. I didn’t have to wait on anyone, or make concessions on what places I’d see or what hotel I stayed in. I would leave it to chance if I met anyone to hang out with, and if not, fuck it. I’d ride my bike around and drink heavily at the quaint little Irish Pubs I would inevitably find. I did that for about five years until I felt that my responsibilities at home or work were too great to completely check out for a week at a time.

This trip to Sturgis has in a way been a flashback to those times, but with a perception of “alone” that has drastically changed. Sure, I rode my motorcycle solo through 4 different states, cooking for one, and packing a single sleeping bag, but I am by no means alone anymore. And that’s a good thing.

This guy never travels alone.
DOG is my co-pilot.

This realization hit me when I arrived in Sturgis and had to start tearing my motorcycle apart. I’d had a recurring problem ever since I put a new battery in about a month prior. After about 10 starts the battery would be completely dead, and wouldn’t recharge while running. I thought that being on the highway doing long miles at a stretch the charging system would do it’s job, but I still had the same problem, leaving me jump starting it frequently. By the time I landed in Sturgis it was completely dead again. I needed help.
First the seat came off and the battery came out. I took the battery and walked the half-mile to an O’Reilly Auto Parts where they were more than helpful, putting my battery on a charger overnight.

I had packed enough tools for an unexpected roadside repair, but now I needed information. I’d seen a coffee shop down the road, so I went to see if they had WiFi accessible. They did, so I sat down to do some research on my phone. I’d met a guy named John through a forum dedicated to the type of bike I ride who had immense knowledge of these Hondas. He lives in North Carolina which is two time zones to the east, so I dropped him a message describing my problem and moved on to other sources.

I called my buddy Jay back home in Santa Monica. Jay’s obsession with electronics and motorcycles makes him my go-to source for anything that has wires.

Next was a phone call to my dad. He has owned Japanese-made bikes for over 30 years, and if my childhood memory served me correctly, he possesses a quiver of curse words designed to launch at whatever is being worked on in hopes that it will begin behaving through intimidation. Since I’d used every one I knew up to this point, some fresh ones might come in handy.

Now it was time to check in at home. I use the word “home” loosely, as my significant other works in motorsports and isn’t actually home a lot during the summer. Although she is absolutely no help when it comes to motorcycles, she is without question who I turn to whenever I need a distraction, or when I need to take a step back, calm down, and look at life’s bigger picture.

I had by that time reached out to 5 different people from all over the country in search of help on this “solo” trip, and you know what? That’s awesome.

When I originally started travelling alone it was a decision based on selfishness. I didn’t want anyone to influence or change what my “ideal” trip would be like. I had no interest in taking advice, because when I was 21 I knew everything. Now 13 years later, I barely know anything. The hindsight I have of those trips leaves me with an empty feeling. Sure there were some highlights at times, but those highlights have the common thread of being shared with others I met on the road. Now I see in this particular situation I not only needed the help of others, but I also wanted to be connected to them.

Creekside bike repair. It was 95 degrees out when I took this. Not cool bike.
Creekside bike repair. It was 95 degrees out when I took this. Not cool bike.

John from North Carolina messaged me back the next day, and we set up a phone call to try to get to the problem quicker than the digital back-and-forth. I had never actually spoken to John, as every interaction was via messaging before this. Once we began chatting about the bike, I felt like I’d known him for a long time. He told me of some specific wiring issues he’d seen in the past, where they would pop up, and how to fix them. Before ending the phone call he even invited me to North Carolina for some BBQ at his place. What a fucking cool dude.

Jay talked me through some wiring and electrical theories, and explained how certain parts of my bike work and how they may be affecting the charging system

My dad shared thoughts on what to do if I couldn’t get it fixed, being the one to think ahead to alternative scenarios. He even offered to come up and trailer myself and my bike back to his place in Wyoming if the need should arise.

My girlfriend, by sharing what is going on in her life, reminded me that there is a lot to be considered outside my own little bubble. To look at the collected energy being sent my way and to make sure I saved it for when it’s time to repay other’s generosity.

Even the two guys at O’Reilly became temporary buddies, and when I left for the last time I tipped them enough to have a couple rounds of beers on me.

“I wonder if this is a problem?”

When I began digging deeper into my motorcycle, now armed with specific things to test and look for, I found that the problems were numerous. It was charging erratically seemingly due to heat, the plug from the stator to the voltage regulator looked like it had been in a microwave, and because of the heavy rains on the way up most of the ground wires and connectors were corroded.
It took me a couple days to get all of the problems repaired on my motorcycle. And guess what? It didn’t fix it. It did make it better, and with that I was able to trust the bike to get me home where I could focus on it in a more suitable environment.

Learning more about my motorcycle ended up being little more than a fringe benefit to this situation. What is more useful is admitting that I need help sometimes. Without those people who were with me via phone, text or spirit, it would have taken me weeks to reach the same conclusions, if at all. With them I was able to share the experience, connect, and in the end learn the lesson that a story involving numerous characters is always better. I also now have an excuse to ride to North Carolina one day to eat BBQ with a new old friend.

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