In travel, planning is quite important, along with its closely related cousin, foresight. But I believe that adaptability trumps planning any day of the week. You can plan your two-month roadtrip for a year or five, but things are going to go wrong at some point, and the ability to adapt will determine whether your trip transforms into an adventure or a disaster. Adaptation is always painful by its very nature: you must give up something you wanted, to get something you need.
The link between planning and adaptation is, of course, preparation.
I haven’t planned any of this trip. I definitely didn’t plan to still be on the road November 5th. I had a vague goal to reach the coast of North Carolina, visit National Parks that I was passing by, and work on my photography and videography skills. That’s my whole trip “plan” right there. And we’ve seen how that lack of planning has hurt me – by not knowing about the danger of venomous snakes in the south, or running into extremely inhospitable winds in the Rocky Mountains. Those were problems that could have been entirely avoided by better research and planning. Snakes in New Orleans? No problem. Wearing my motorcycle gloves, using a stick to look for snails, using a better flashlight than my phone, and my left third fingertip (or fourth if you’re not a cellist) would still have sensation.
I got by anyway. Because: preparation and adaptability. I took the paramedic course. I knew what to do when the snake bit me. I had planned to go through the Rocky Mountains, but I knew how to adapt and change course when the route turned more dangerous than I would prefer.
With my first aid kit, my extensive tool kit, my camping gear, my riding ability, my paramedic’s hands and rudimentary mechanical ability, I am prepared for most things. And I have always been strong in the art of adaptation.
Why am I rambling on about this? Well, it’s related to where I’ve been the last five days.
October 28th, I left Boulder and rode a little ways. I wrote my blog entry in a Dennys, tried to post it, got no internet, so I rode west until I found a closed Starbucks with an open wifi connection. I camped that night behind the starbucks. In the comfort of my tent, I was still close enough to reach the wifi, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of this before. Morning brought hot chocolate and a cream cheese bagel. Note to self: camp at starbucks more often.
After the previous day, I had little patience for more setbacks, or riding in general. Truth be told I dreaded getting onto the bike, but even more I dreaded staying another day bringing myself one step closer to winter. So I packed up my camping gear and had a short conversation with my motorcycle. It went something like this: Dorothy, girl, I can’t ride today. This is all you. Don’t let me down.
She followed the good samaritan’s route, taking the I-70 into the mountains. I watched the elevation rise steadily, and I was afraid. Soon enough I found myself at 10,500 ft.
While it was windy, it was not overly so; it was nothing I hadn’t ridden in many times before. I waited for the dangerous gusty storm to come in, but it didn’t. A steady bright sun provided moral support through the bitter cold, and my electric vest did the rest. I wore electric glove liners too, purchased back in Missouri when I’d also replaced my rear tire. Under my thin motocross gloves, I couldn’t feel the heat of the liners, but I knew they were working because I could still feel my hands.
I stopped in Glenwood Springs for gas. It was beautiful and my spirit was on the rise. I didn’t dare stop long enough for food however. I had to keep pushing to get out of Colorado. The snow that had been clearly visible on the mountain tops was now present along the side of the road. The sun kept shining on and I pressed westward. Finally I was out of the pass!
My relief was palpable, and I wanted to stop and celebrate with a hot meal, but I kept riding. The leaving-Colorado sign was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
The change in Utah was immediate. The land stretched out, with flat cliffs rising on either side. The air was warmer and the environment less treacherous. Even Dorothy was happier in Utah: the big motorcycle seemed to fall into the curves more readily.
Arches National Park was a little over an hour’s ride away, and sunset was approaching quickly. I have been learning landscape photography throughout my trip, and one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s almost always shot during sunrise or sunset. It’s referred to as the Golden Hour. If you pick up a copy of the National Geographic, likely every single landscape picture will be during golden hour … and the photos aren’t of the sunset per se, it’s just that everything looks so much better in the altered sunlight, that it’s pointless to shoot at any other time.
So I put on the gas to make sure my golden hour would happen at Arches. I made it in time to get off a few hurried shots, but without being able to do a location scout, many of my shots missed.
No problem, I thought. I would stay there the night, and do my sunrise shots there. This trip I had managed very few sunrises, however: I’m not exactly a morning person.
For dinner I went to a Dennys, taking over a power outlet to charge my burgeoning supply of electronic devices. I soon found myself surrounded by a group of inquisitive youngsters, and by youngsters I mean people around my age. They played with my devices and asked where I was going.
“On my way home now,” I said. “Adventure’s nearly over.” Was that really true?
They were eightfold; seven guys and a single girl, roadtripping across the country, having met as servers working at a restaurant in Yellowstone National Park that summer. They were piled together in a van piloted by a gentle-eyed young man named Sam who reminded me of a purple-haired advrider I’d met back on the Dragon. Sam smiled wistfully toward my motorcycle, explaining that he’d once had a bike and wished he could do a journey like this.
They were a laughing and playful group, drinking alcohol and smoking weed. They’d just reached Moab and were planning on spending a few days there to hike around.
“You can stay with us if you like,” Sam said. “We usually stealth camp, but tonight we’ve got a motel across the road.”
I was rather tempted. Not because I preferred a bed; actually, the first night of my new sleeping pad had been great. But it was so unusual to see a group of young people traveling around the US. It seems like the great national parks of America are reserved for young families and the retired. Solo adults in their twenties and thirties is far more unusual, and I’d never seen a group of eight before. I wanted to hear about road disputes settled and not, hear about their different personalities and their goals and desires. I could try to video it and make a compilation video as I’d done for a group of riders back on the Dragon.
But I shook my head no. I packed up my bike as the last of them trickled out, found a secluded area to camp. I set up my tent slowly, wondering why I hadn’t gone with them. I don’t drink or smoke, but the presence of it doesn’t bother me. I had been curious. Maybe I just wanted to have a quiet night under the Utah’s sky, certain to get a good night’s rest.
In the morning, after I slept in past the sunrise, I regretted my introvert’s ways. I folded my tent and went back to the motel. I saw a van with stickers plastered all over it, hippie-style. It must be theirs. I looked in the breakfast room for my new friends, but there was no one. I asked the front desk man if there was a young man named Sam checked in, possibly to two rooms, possibly with a large entourage, possibly having caused commotion the previous night.
“There’s no one like that here,” the front desk man said. He seemed like he wanted to help me.
I went to breakfast and then back to the motel. Still they were gone. It was around 9 or 10am. The van was still there. I wondered if I should leave a note on it.
I decided to go to the gas station, and on the way, outside another motel, I saw two riders suiting up beside an orange KTM and a white Honda XR650L. Their bikes wore luggage and I wondered if they were going down any trails I could possibly follow. Moab is a small town surrounded by national parks and other wild area famous for great hiking and offroad riding. I had seen many other adventure and dual-sport motorcycles since arriving.
I pulled up to the riders, easing Dorothy onto her kickstand. “Hey guys, where are you headed?”
The two men were in their early thirties, with slender builds and pretty serious adventure motorcycle jackets. One of them was messing with a camera on a tripod; as I looked closer I realized it was a Panasonic GH4, which is the successor to my own camera. I’d never seen one in person, they were just released this year. “A GH4! Wow!” I hurried off the bike to get a closer look.
“You know this camera?” the other man said to me, his voice heavily accented. Not Russian, but something similar. Ukranian maybe, I thought. He had dark hear and a dark pointed beard.
“I have the GH3,” I said proudly. Then in a more honest afterthought: “I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
“The GH4 is really nice. We’re shooting in 4K.”
“What are you shooting for?”
“I’m a filmmaker, recording my travels. We came from Turkey, across Mongolia and Russia, to California and are now headed to Vancouver to pick up my main bike which is being shipped overseas. We are traveling around the world.”
My head was close to exploding. “Vancouver! I’m from Vancouver! You’re a filmmaker? Can – can I see your work?”
So he did. And it was beautiful.
“I’m Tolga,” said the filmmaker. “This is my cameraman, Calgar. Do you want to come with us Vancouver? You could help us shoot.”
I felt lost. Arches seemed like it might be the most beautiful national park I’d seen yet. I wanted to return that day, and spend the following day in Canyonlands. And this was supposed to be a solo trip. I didn’t want to ride with anyone else. But on the other hand, could I really afford to say no to traveling filmmakers on adventure bikes with the same camera as me?
“I’ll go with you,” I said.