One of my major lifetime goals has been to drive through the U.S.A. on a motorcycle in the summer. Like all motorcycle riders, and many who are too afraid to take such a journey, I dream of the open road. I imagine the challenge of riding across the great highways, through little towns, and into the big cities. I identify with Jack Kerouac, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Easy Rider, and even John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Tori Amos’s Scarlet’s Walk played on my CD rotation for almost a decade, and I never tire of her line “something about the open road.”
The plan is to ride from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, Tennessee and back again. Total ride distance: 1760 miles . At least that is the plan that my brother-in-law, Peter, and I had devised over the past two months, but as we all know plans oft go awry. My main purpose is to visit “shitty cities” while traversing as far into the States as I can without going beyond the time we have available. I should clarify that Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Nashville are not actually shitty per se, but rather the perception of them within Canada and across much of the U.S.A. is that they are lost Rust Belt towns unable to keep up with the modernity of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston or Miami. I beg to differ on that concept and believe that the cities lost in the economic depression of the 80s and 90s are coming back to glory in a hipster, post-industrial kind of way. I should also mention that while I originally proposed a shorter ride veering away from going south and heading west towards an end in Milwaukee and Detroit. However, Peter had desires, too, and any journey needs to be built on compromise and common foundations. Nashville or Bust: Bourbon, Bluegrass and Buffalo Wings is my thematic name for the trip, and after preparing my Ducati Monster 696 for such a ride I feel like bust is not bing used metaphorically.
Neither of the motorcycles we are driving, a 2009 Ducati Monster and a 2014 Triumph Street Triple, are built for long rides or touring. These are naked city machines built to accelerate quickly and look sexy; nothing is sexy about leaning into headwinds for 400 miles on a bike without any concern for ergonomics. Still, we look forward and make do with the iron horses we have. I did look into trading in my motorcycle for a much more comfortable Harley Davidson Fat Boy Lo, but getting a mere $4500 for the trade and then paying $22,000 on top, I felt that I would rather brave pain on a ride I know than try a new ride which I knew nothing about. In the end, I decided that I would have to lay out some cash on Kriega bags, a handlebar riser, new bars, softer grips, a Sena bluetooth headset, and a few other basic necessities to make touring bearable. What I did not plan for though was the unknown costs that I would incur as I checked out the bike’s road-worthiness in the two weeks before the trip.
A nail in my tire. Sigh. A (insert favourite swear word) nail in my (insert favourite swear word) tire! If there is one obstacle that slows you to a halt, then it would be finding a nail in your almost new tire, pulling it out, and hearing the air leak to deflate all hopes of getting on the road without godly intervention. In my case, the nail was only the second problem I faced, but it was the one that hurt. Nails happen. I wish they did not, and I wish someone could explain how they lodge themselves deep in your tire while you ride 100 km/hr. For me, this is a $400 expense that I was not expecting, but more importantly, it is a repair which is not easy to have done because I cannot even ride the motorcycle the 63km to the shop. Fortunately, I had purchased CAA Premium coverage for this trip a week before, which I had been meaning to get since my last $400 tow a year ago. I have to admit that their service was prompt, polite and saved me both a nightmare and a few tears.
All metals are not equal; and Ducati metal parts are worse than others. I hate the cheap, awful, flimsy alloy white metal that Ducati uses on their Monster series. I have replaced more metal and plastic on the Monster than you can imagine. It simply cracks and has no torque potential. Case in point: while I was tightening the throttle to the newly installed Rizoma handlebars the back casing plate cracked in two. I was hand-tightening the bolt and it split. Of course, Ducati only sells the entire throttle assembly for $140, and it will only take 10 days to arrive. I suppose that it the price one pays for a perfectly designed, aesthetic masterpiece, but poorly produced motorcycle. Like a sensual mistress who walks in beauty like the night, she demands a lot of attention, money and aggravation for the pleasures given.
Where am I? Standing, hoping, and waiting to see if the parts will all arrive before we expect to leave on July 19th. The bike was towed to GP Bikes in Whitby, and I will await more bad news until the day we hit the road. I even decided to buy a complete set of brake pads in case they are the next problem. The lesson to be learned about road trips is that perhaps the problems one encounters before they start and along the way make for much better stories than the boring achievements and easy rides. People care little about trips to resorts with few cares and minimal wear. People desire tragically flawed disasters barely mastered and tamed by the hero and adventurer who lives to tell the tale.
Until the 19th I will need to also focus on the novel that I began writing two years ago. I have a week-long writing workshop with Kelley Armstrong next week that will explore the genre of Dark Fantasy, which is close to the realm that my novel. So far I have about 50 pages written and edited, and I am hoping that taking the workshop will give me the momentum to begin again after a long pause. I certainly had both the opportunity and inspiration to write while we were travelling in Maui and Kauai, and was able to plot where I wanted the story to take my main characters. Writing is an important part of my creative self, but during the school year wherein I need to read the work of aspiring twelve year old boys as they learn the foundations of the craft I simply do not have the energy or spark needed to devote to writing on a daily basis. Writing needs to happen in this way. Novels are not poems, songs or blog entries; continuity is required.