No gas? A seemingly endless road through the arid desert like this could be in Africa, South America, Mexico, and here where it seriously tested my 175-mile range.
What is adventure motorcycling? Ten years ago what today is being touted as adventure riding was known as motorcycle touring. A tour on a motorcycle could include some adventure, but the journey from start to finish was not defined as an adventure, rather it was called a ride or a tour.
I polled some of my motorcycling acquaintances recently, asking them what were the elements that comprised an adventure ride and where they would have to go to experience one. It was a skewed poll, no question about it, and far from statistically valid. The commonalty was they were all motorcycle owners of BMW, Kawasaki, KTM, Yamaha, Harley-Davidson, or Suzuki motorcycles and were touring. Most were covered in road dirt and dead bugs from the tops of their helmets to their riding boots, and each was wearing protective riding gear.
The sample was a group of 16 motorcycle owners I met during the month of June and July from Alaska to Colorado, nearly all of whom was riding a dual-sport motorcycle and each was on his vacation ride. One was a high powered attorney normally doing 15-hour days of power stuff, another was a low-powered attorney trying to close out his practice and retire. Another was a wastrel, someone who had inherited money when his mother passed on and fritted some of his wealth away on various adventure-labeled motorcycles. Four were Internet keyboard warriors who admittedly spent five to ten hours each week posting and sending their riding opinions over the Internet, all dreaming of making that big ride around the world. One was a climber/hiker/salesman/business owner who did mostly dual-sport riding a few weeks each year. One lunch-bucket Joe was an electrical wire installer who wanted to make a ride to Mexico, having never been outside the USA. Another was a cruiser owner who did not know a GS from a DR or an Africa Twin, but considered himself a road warrior and rode widely around the USA on his Harley-Davidson, from Daytona to Sturgis and this summer to Alaska.
Need wild animals? These free roaming cows were no match for the motorcycle rider who had to stop to let them pass. Just before them had been a herd of skitterish wild horses.
The common elements that they agreed needed to be included in a serious definition of adventure motorcycling were: bad roads, wild animals, high temperatures, no gas, a foreign language (not Americanese), border crossings, risk of crashing, dirt or gravel roads and guns. They all seemed to want to have guns somehow involved as part of their defined adventure, whether it was for getting themselves stopped, robbed, kidnapped or for shooting others or animals, none of which was made clear. What was clear was guns had to be somewhere in the list of elements.
I would close out our discussion with an admittedly leading question, “Where would you have to go to have such an adventure, Namibia or America, or where?” The answer was not once America. Most opted for Namibia or “Africa somewhere.” One said South America.
Then they would usually ask why I wanted to know, for what reason was I asking them and why I was taking notes. Telling them I was curious because I could experience all those elements for no more than 1/20th of what it would cost to go to Africa (or South America in the one case) and within a day of my home brought responses like, “Ahhh, b*******!
“Nope, just look at the numbers,” I would reply. “A flight to Africa, plus shipping the motorcycle or renting one there, or using one on a guided tour, plus food, sleeping and swill, will cost an easy $5,000 – $10,000, and the same for South America. I can ride my own motorcycle for a day, maybe two, and then in one day meet, see, ride, and experience everything you say needs to be in adventure motorcycling.”
More, “Ahhhhh, b*******.” Then I would pull out my AAA map of the Western States/Provinces and point at two broken gray lines I had ridden in July. One vectored southeastward off Highway 395 to Sutcliff past Pyramid Lake and the other went north from Highway 50 at Eureka to Jiggs, both in Nevada.
Wonders of wonders, adventure motorcycling was right in the United States, not $5,000.00-$10,000.00 and half a world away. The gravel roads in Nevada were as tricky as any I had ridden in Namibia, including the washouts and sandy sections. There was no question that the section from the Nevada state line to Pyramid Lake was through some of the driest desert in North America, so dry that Pyramid Lake has no outlet, only a river running into it, the water evaporating out. Hot? Both roads were hot enough to melt chocolate in a Gortex jacket pocket.
When I told my survey subjects that the blue sky of Nevada above each road I pointed to was as blue as any I had seen in Africa or South America, and the roads seemingly as endless, there was no argument, because they had seen neither.
Border? Road signs said that there was a change ahead, not only a lowering of the speed limit, but also that a border was about to be crossed.
Then I told them about the border crossings, where the traveler crossed into another nation, another sovereign country, that of an American Indian reservation, in this case the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Once on the reservation, like many of the hundreds in the United States, the traveler had entered another legal country, very similar to crossing a border outside the United States, for instance from the Republic of South Africa into Swaziland. Even though there was no border guard or passport requirement, many legal arguments support the position that there could be those requirements if the American Indian tribal entities chose to impose them. Merely the fact that non-tribal members were required to observe tribal laws and seek permits, while remaining on public roads when driving, should alert the adventurer to the fact they have left one domain and entered another.
Need a foreign language? “Pesha Mu Nobenena Kooyooe Panunadukwae” as this sign read was as foreign as you will read or hear anywhere on the globe.
My cruiser rider survey subject had the best “Harrumph.” As he looked at the map some more he said, “You know, there’s a lot of them broken gray roads here showing in Nevada. A guy could have a heck of a lot of adventure riding there.”
I unfolded the map until it was fully open and said, “Look at the broken gray roads all over the western part of the United States, there’s adventure motorcycling as you defined it in nearly every western state.”
He answered, “Harrumph, I guess adventure motorcycling is where you want to find it.”