The joys of solo touring – By Phil Hall
A considerable percentage of my nearly 40 years of riding has been done touring the eastern states of Australia. I did my first tour of northern NSW and southern Qld on my trusty 500/4 in 1981 and found that getting out into the country had an allure that simply using the bike for commuting and blatting around just didn’t have.
Since then I have put many thousands of kilometres under the wheels of my various bikes. I’ve done short tours and long ones and in-between ones. I’ve done group tours, MotoGp tours, Snowy tours and Oxley tours. I’ve ridden many kilometres with my brother since he got back into riding about 10 years ago and I’ve done lots of solo tours.
All of these various types of travel have their attractions, but, as my title implies, there is something about riding by yourself that I find most appealing. And there are some pretty compelling reasons for me saying so, in my opinion, anyway.
For a start, solo touring means that you are totally in control of the tour. Taking aside the vagaries of the weather and other factors outside of your control, solo touring means that you can go when you want to, stop when you want to and as often as you want to and make snap decisions about things without having to consider the needs and wants of others with whom you are riding. Now that may sound very selfish, (motorcycling is, by its very nature, a selfish and hedonistic pursuit) but it’s not.
One of the main reasons for riding a motorcycle at all is a philosophical one; it has to do with freedom and head space. Behind the bars you are alone with the universe. Worries and cares are largely left behind. Things that loomed large in your imagination and in your thoughts shrink to their correct size as you view them, vanishing in your mirrors. It’s all about perspective and riding a motorcycle restores the perspective. It puts you in touch with the elemental things of life, the things that matter. The smell of freshly-mown hay in a farmer’s paddock as you ride by; the sudden change in temperature as you drop into a dip in the highway at dusk; the delicious aroma of a fresh shower of rain on a hot bitumen surface; the shriek of an eagle, soaring somewhere above you, unseen but palpably there and free, just like you are. Again, without being negative, these, and many other sensations, are completely absent from the situation if you are touring in a car.
Nowhere is this freedom more apparent than when touring and it becomes even more apparent when touring solo. You see, and maybe it’s just me, when you are touring with a group, no matter how big or small it may be, you are always looking out for the others in the group, wondering how they are, thinking about the worries that they shared with you over dinner last night, wondering if the rider behind you is going to turn when you do or continue on and lose the group. All of these and a myriad of other factors crowd in on your mind and the ride becomes a concern rather than a pleasure. Note that I am not saying that we should not be concerned about our fellow riders, of course we should but, when that concern starts to infringe upon the head space, then it is probably time to get on the bike, point it in some direction and go, all by yourself, and let the road and the freedom restore your equilibrium.
Also note that I am not saying that group tours cannot be fun because, patently, they can. But for really clearing the head and getting back in touch with the basics, touring by yourself has it beaten hands down.
So, rather than concentrate on the potential down sides of group touring I want to focus on the advantages (as I see them) of travelling by yourself. And, as I said, the first one is that you control the timetable.
You find yourself in your hotel room at 0400 and you’re wide awake, the brain is running at 100km/h and you want to ride. Cool, you can get dressed, pack and hit the road without a care. You want to stop at a picturesque spot to take a photo or two? You can. You feel the need for a coffee and some raisin toast? Go ahead, the only person you have to please is you. You are feeling a bit weary and you are still 100km short of your intended destination? No problem. Stop at the next town, find a room and continue your journey tomorrow. Your fuel tank will let you go 340kms before it hits reserve? Good, you can plan your fuel stops accordingly.
In each of the above scenarios, and many more that I could enumerate, there are constraints within the group touring situation that mitigate against that degree of freedom, and, remember, it is the freedom that is our primary concern when we hit the road.
I have rarely found any situation that promotes more clarity of thought than when I am on my own, touring some back road on my bike. And, funnily enough, there is NO situation in which I have found myself that makes me appreciate my home and my family more than when I am on my own, riding through some country scene. That sounds bizarre, I know, but I think it has to do with that perspective thing to which I alluded before. Alone on the bike with just you, it and the road is elemental; it strips away all the trappings and gets down to what really matters. And it helps the mind to focus on what really matters as well and, surely, nothing matters more than the loved ones to whom you will be returning when the ride is over?
So there IS a joy, a freedom, a release, that can only be experienced when touring solo.
Of course, just as there are disadvantages in the group touring situation, so there are in touring solo, they are just different ones. Help is not easily available if you strike trouble when you are on your own, and don’t expect car drivers to stop and render aid, they have expunged the Good Samaritan gene from the human DNA over many generations. Accommodation, while usually easier to find if you are by yourself, can be more expensive as you are unable to divide the costs of a room between a number of people in your group.
Then there is the “Gee whizz” factor. The joy of being able to instantly share with others in your group something wonderful that you have seen is missing. Yes, there is a permanent memory of that sunset or that amazing scene for YOU, but you can’t share it with anyone because there’s only you there. In a similar vein the social aspect of the group tour, shared meals, shared coffee breaks, bench racing at the hotel at the end of the day and the “What happens on tour, stays on tour” moments that will enliven forum and Facebook discussions for months to come is missing.
But, you know what? I can live with that. For all of the enjoyment that I have had riding with my friends, the times that I treasure the most have been the times when it HAS just been me, the bike and the road. There is something about that combination that transcends it all.
The Canberra folk group, “Spindlewood” did a song years ago called, “Longing for the freedom of the road.” I really couldn’t have put it better.