Virgin No More; The Importance of Proper Gear, Preparedness, Mentality, & Weather

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

This weekend I had my first real experience with motorcycle touring. I rode the 300 miles east from Detroit to Chicago, making an emergency layover due to the freezing cold and strong winds in Gran Rapids where I caught up with an old friend - a former colleague by the name of Ania to whom I will forever be indebted for teaching me how to ride a horse - but that is a story for another time.

It proved to be an incredibly difficult trip, perhaps a realistic taste of whats ahead for my intended solo world tour on two wheels.

The "problem" was the weather! The weather got extremely ugly, cold and nearly sub zero degree temperatures, but I had to push further towards Chicago, where my father lives and works as a painter ( & not the artistic kind). The conditions outside were straight brutal; first the rain started to intensify making the roads very slippery and compromising the grip of the anorexic looking stock knobby Dunlops of the KLR, already notorious for their poor performance in the wet. Then the rain turned into snow which was incredibly demoralizing knowing I had a full day's riding ahead. So after a short while the discomfort of my soaked gloves turned into a seriously numbing pain that started to compromise my ability to depress the lever.

I suddenly found my self desperately scanning the horizon for the famous golden arches of a McDonald’s, not for any other reason but to use the bathroom hand dryer to return some life into my nearly frostbitten fingers. I even had to resort to putting on plastic gloves under my soaked leather motorcycle gloves - a desperate and futile attempt to conquer more miles and fight the brutal cold which was severely undermining my ability to control the motorcycle.

After a while I returned back to the freeway heading south on I196 only to become a victim of the merciless winds that blow Eastward from lake Michigan. The winds were so strong that I had to ride at a slight angle, fighting to stabilize every time the winds chose to change direction, as is the essential nature of the beast. So I would creep up to a semi-truck hoping to cower in the wind tunnel behind it only to realize that riding behind a big truck is what I imagine having a sparing session with Tyson would be like; if you don't follow dangerously and uncomfortably close, the turbulent air smacks you around like a rag doll as the tires fight to maintain traction, and the KLR's soft suspension and weak forks twist and compress under the sudden jolts of the wind, not giving any positive feedback through the handlebars. This is not what I had hoped my first exposure to motorcycle touring would be.

So finally decided it was imperative to exit the freeway and follow the slower side roads which eventually caused me to get lost in none other then Gary Indiana, home of the king of pop, proudly clinching to the list of one of Americas most impoverished and violent cities. Nighttime on the streets of Gary is a sight to behold to be sure, albeit stopping for gas was as much adventure as I was up for this particular trip.

I finally arrived to my dad's place on the corner of Belmont and Kostner - another urban jewel of misery and dread where shootouts are virtually a daily occurrence. It was around 11PM and I was beaten, shaken and as much emotionally drained as physically exhausted from the elements and the numerous close calls. So I could have imagined no better ending to the day then a shower and a pillow, but as fortune would have it my dad had different plans. He had already filled the apartment with friends, his friends mind you, who had been impatiently waiting for my arrival for a few hours - enough to get a few too many bears in in the meantime. So we were off to an authentic Serbian bar where a night of more drinking and painfully loud accordion music ensued.

All in all this trip proved to be a powerful learning experience which offered the opportunity to contemplate, and prepare for the serious odyssey ahead. As the great Serbian poet, and religious and political leader Petar Petrovic Njegos wrote in his timeless "The Mountain Wreath" - In peaceful times it is easy to be virtuous - it is but in time of grave difficulties that true heroes are recognizable. I am not foolish enough to proclaim I understand what it means to be a hero, but what I take form it is that anyone can cruise when the weather is agreeable - how many would endure a snow storm on their maiden voyage, and still have the desire to continue - nay only to begin the odyssey?!

Moral of the story is: ALWAYS mind the weather forecast; never underestimate the time and distance needed to make it to your destination; have a plan B; and invest in good gear that will aid in you safely achieving your goal. My maiden voyage was a violation of all of the above, albeit luckily it wasn't enough to detract me from continuing on. Be wise, give yourself time to practice shorter weekend trips before embarking on the main experience, know how to use your gear and read the weather, practice working on the bike and know how to maintain it, and don't push yourself - always leave room and space to stop and let the storm pass, or simply to rest and collect yourself. You will meet individuals along the way that will be welcome distraction so give yourself time for those experiences. The biggest mistake ADV riders make is to plan or attempt to rack on too many miles - remember, it's not necessarily all about getting to your destination. Enjoy the ride!
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