Friday, June 13, 2008

Getting anxious about the trip

For me there are two phases of planning . The first, I suspect, is shared by all persons getting ready to alter their daily routine and travel along unknown roads through new places in order to arrive at a desired destination. I look at the map. Actually, thanks to technologies at my fingertips, I looked at maps of various richnesses. There is the Road Atlas, trusted map of weight and the unique ability to be cut out, torn, written upon and folded. Tangible. I have several Road Atlas covers that contain fewer than the published pages because I have cut out pages in the past.

They are missing whole states. And one always looses the state on the back of the cut out page. I hate it when I forget and carry these tomes to the car only to discover that the state I need is missing. I must start marking the cover with the "Previously Cannibalized" symbol.

I like to stare at these paper maps and flip back and forth from state to state to try and align the roads as they pass from one page to another at state borders. But I don't travel like that. In a currently unpublished blog entry in the "I'm thinking about it" stage I describe my don't-ride-into-the-sun theorem: Plan to be going North-south at sunrise and sunset. Or better yet, get off and enjoy the environment where you are. There are natural laws that enhance the experience if you go with the flow rather than fighting it. It goes something like this: In the early morning, when challenged to go East, find good coffee and conversation until the sun is higher. In the evening, find substantial food and a good micro-climate to unwind while crazy people sear their eyeballs looking into a ball of flaming gases. (This axiom can be extended to 'Don't buy a house west of your place of employment' or 'Don't work normal hours' or both.)

While looking at the maps, think about where you will stop for the day and what opportunity you have to start the day going North or South. Or choose to start the day at 10am, or 5am and find thee a breakfast at sun-in-the-eyes time. More goes into road choice than shortness of path or speed of travel. Like finding those roads that go from no-where to no-where. A good rider once defined them as the invisible roads. There is not likely to be much traffic on them, and you can actually make good time (if they happen to align with your natural path of travel, which never happens!) and they are often scenic and LOW STRESS.

Low stress is the key for me. Why would I want to drive with people who are intent on getting somewhere? Crazy. Most states indicate such good roads with a special designation, like Scenic Highway. Good hint, except in Louisiana where a road is actually named Scenic Highway and it literally leads to the dump so you follow garbage trucks for miles through un-scenic areas of run down housing and petro-chemical plants. After this experience you understand why New Jersey is called the Garden State!

Non-riders do not realize that one of the special pleasures of riding motorbikes is using more than two senses in navigating the world in time and space. In addition to our eyes to see and our butts to sense our mass, we use our noses to sense smell (good and less-good) and use our skin to sense temperature and humidity. My most memorable smell experience was a couple of summers ago crossing Pennsylvania from west to east, about midnight, on PA 45, a two lane road through a farming area. My GPS screen glowed softly in the absolute darkness marking my progress as dots on a blank screen because the road I was on was not mathematically defined in its database. The road was straight but had rises and dips that made it interesting. Also, I think they have a deer education project in Pennsylvania as I saw not one dead beast in the many miles of that trip. So I was really relaxed, doing about 60mph on my old R60 and cresting a rise, descended into a valley that was filled with the smell of celery. Bam: I went from no smell to Strong Celery Smell. It was great. Likewise, these same rises and dips correspond to temperature changes that are recorded by the skin exposed on the face. Just a few degrees is very obvious as one descends the dip for a few seconds and then into warmer air on the rises. You don't get that in a car even with the windows open. So I look at these maps to see what might present itself along the way. Even in the mid-west, with what most imagine are just straight roads, look first for a river and then the roads that follow along the banks and a good experience is at hand.

In the second phase of planning I progress to the digital, virtual map, that cannot be cut out and folded. But, with the advent of Google Earth and the like, I can actually see the terrain, and the density of buildings, driveway cuts, and super-walmarts. This is a great planning tool that allows me to avoid these areas except in the middle of the night. In addition to the great on-line mapping products from Google, Mapquest and others, I use a product from DemonicOfRedmond called 'Streets and Trips' that allows careful planning and, at the click of a button, tells me where construction is planned along my proposed route. (Side note: My main reason for not ditching the Windows world for a Mac or better yet, a linux laptop, is that there are no mapping programs for either platform. Obviously Mac and linux users don't care for this style of navigation).

You can click on two maps of my plan for this summer in the upper left of my main blog page under Summer Trip 2008 . When I actually travel I use an old, primitive GPS for stats and a record of what path I did take, and paper maps that I faithfully collect from state welcome stations and police. I mark them up and save them as artifacts that researchers can examine in 300 years and wonder "What was this guy thinking?"

Do not be deceived! All this planning does NOT relate to the path I take during the actual ride, but only is done to enhance my time while not riding. Once I get on the bike I just wing it and go on whatever road looks good at the moment. I have been known to ride the same road twice. I mean, if the road is really nice, I might turn around and ride back some miles and repeat it again. How many car drivers would do that?

It might not be the road itself that calls for a re-ride. The blog entry picture posted called "Book Cover Photo" was the result of two passes through the greater Onward metropolitan area. The photo was taken in the southerly direction on a north-bound leg of a trip from Baton Rouge to the Mississippi Delta. Food places get my attention too. I stayed for several hours in Lewisburg, a small town in Pennsylvania, in order to eat at another little cafe that looked good. Truth be told, I ate in three places in that town. First a cafe (good homemade bread and chicken salad), then a bakery down the street that had good deserts and later on a coffee shop of the older kind where nothing in a cup was over $1.25 and the fatted caf was not yet known. In between I walked the streets of the five block downtown, visited the post office lobby to see if my picture was up yet, repacked some of my gear and talked to a few "My dad had a bike that once" folks.

I'll write an entry on finding good food in places you have never been. I do have a formula that has been repeatable and yields high value and many smiles. Keep tuned, it proves that lawyers are useful!

So take a look at the maps, tell me if there are cool places I am missing along the way. And if you live along the way, let me know and we can have a cup of joe together. I might be arriving at midnight, but it will be worth it.

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