My dear, departed mother — bless her soul — was a fountain of wisdom. In every situation in life, distressing or otherwise, some old saying, expression or proverb would find a way out of her mouth. A big regret of mine is that I hadn’t started paying attention to her vision earlier. There was a lot of insight and experience wrapped up in that wonderful woman. One of my favorite expressions of hers was “this too shall pass.” That phrase has done more to make my life as a long-distance motorcycle traveler much more rewarding.
Long distance riders willingly expose themselves to inconvenience, discomforts and dangers that are not factors in the lives of other travelers. It’s simply part of the game, a part that makes the pursuit particularly appealing to me. I take a certain amount of pride in taking on challenges that most folks would never consider. These days I meet all the challenges with the words, “this too shall pass.”
Unless you’re the type of rider who does little more than take short rides close to home on nice days, you are going to be faced with situations that are going require you to call upon all the physical and mental strength and endurance you can muster. If you expect to deal with hardships, you’ve got half that battle won already.
The usual culprits
Near the top of every serious tourer’s list is probably weather. Not every day on the road is going to be bright, sunny and offer perfect riding temperatures. Some days are going to be downright miserable. These are the perfect days to remind yourself that “this too shall pass.”
In nearly four decades on two wheels, I’ve found myself in a whole lot of nasty weather. Seasoned riders know that storms are generally intermittent and scattered in nature. It always confounds me when I see a group of bikers huddled under a highway overpass waiting for moderate rain to stop falling. Ride on, folks. Chances are you will ride out of the storm in a lot less time than you might spend hiding from it.
Prepare for it
I took a wonderful 10-day trip last year from my home in New York. It took me through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. By the time I returned home more than 3,000 additional miles had piled up on the odometer.
Day one was spent entirely on the interstate system — something I try to avoid at all costs. My days of doing 800-plus miles of superslab are long behind me at this point in my life. Being “semi-retired,” I am no longer faced with the necessity of getting back home quickly to take care of my business. My first stop on this trip was Columbus, Ohio, some 600 miles from home. Six hundred cold, wet, rainy miles.
My mission was twofold on that first day. First: put as many miles behind me as I could from the concrete jungle of metropolitan New York. Second: dispose of as many of the rainy miles as I could as quickly as possible. I’ll often (reluctantly) take to the major highways to leave bad weather in my rearview mirrors. After having a lovely dinner in Columbus with a dear old friend that I hadn’t seen in years, I retired to the comfort of my hotel room. The next morning the real road trip would begin.
The plan was to enjoy nothing but rural back roads for the rest of the trip. I awoke, again, to falling rain and a weather forecast that looked grim for the entire day. I knew it was coming. The weather forecasters had called for it, and they were right for a change. I put on my rain gear and headed southwest under dense storm clouds through the Ohio farmland and onward to Kentucky.
Funny thing is it didn’t bother me at all to have to make the trip in nasty weather. I knew it was coming, and I was prepared for it with the right foul weather gear. More importantly, I was prepared for it mentally. I knew, the day before, that this was going to be another cold, wet ride. I also knew that the upcoming miles in a few days would be ones for the record books. I wasn’t going to let a little rain dampen my spirit today. “This too shall pass.”
I spent the better part of the first four days of this trip in rain for at least a portion of the day. Hey, April showers and all that. As an ardent long-distance rider, you’ve just got to recognize that every day is not going to be a gem, but four bad ones in a row wore me down. I’m happy to report that by the time I reached the foothills of eastern Tennessee, I had seen the last of the rain that I would see on this trip. The wind? Well, that’s a whole separate story. Too much to cover within the confines of this feature.
I spent three days in eastern Tennessee enjoying spirited rides around the Tennessee Valley and along the Foothills Parkway. Taking the back way out of Maryville, through Townsend, to Gatlinburg I got to thoroughly enjoy Little River Gorge Road. Not only is this a motorcyclist’s dream road technically, it offers beautiful scenic views of the river and has the added benefit of sneaking you into Gatlinburg “the back way” without having to contend with the horrendous tourist traffic. If you’ve never ridden this road, get out there and experience it. When you reach Gatlinburg, treat yourself to Bar-B-Que at Delauder’s, some of the best in the country. You’re welcome.
Leaving Tennessee, I hit U.S. 129, the famed Tail of the Dragon, on my way to the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge in Stecoah, North Carolina. It was here I would meet up with my friends from the Long Island BMW Riders Club. We spent the next two days enjoying the Cherohala Skyway, Moonshiner 28 and dozens of other fabulous roads. After a week of great riding, it was time to start heading back north along the Blue Ridge Parkway. By this point, I had completely forgotten about the four rainy days that marked the beginning of this adventure. The words “this too shall pass” crossed my mind.
Some adversity you don’t see coming. There are not always weather forecasts and weather radar apps to give you a heads up about trouble looming on the horizon. One of my least favorite episodes is dealing with a flat tire. I’ve led a pretty charmed life in this regard. I recently ended a 25-year streak without experiencing a single flat tire. Then I had two within a month’s time.
It’s not fun, but guess what? “This too shall pass.” Get off the bike, kick the tire and shout out a few choice expletives. Then get to work plugging the punctured tire. A tire repair kit and a portable air compressor are items every serious touring motorcyclist should be carrying on their bike. Ten minutes later, you should be back on the road. An hour later, you’ll have forgotten all about it. Yes, “this too shall pass.”
Traffic — what I hate most
If you follow me on the RoadcraftUSA.com website, you know that I live on Long Island in a congested suburb just 30 miles from the New York City line. Awful traffic is a way of life for us here. It’s the reason I rarely ride at home and can usually be found carving up some mountain roads hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Patience is not one of my strong points, though I’d like to think I’ve mellowed a bit in recent years. When it comes to Long Island and metropolitan New York traffic, the words “this too shall pass” don’t carry too much weight. Traffic can be horrendous 24-hours a day here, but I always keep in mind I’ll be putting the New York City horror story in my rear-view mirror in short order. I concentrate on the wonderful miles that are ahead of me, not the ones I’m forced to endure while making my escape.
Your brain is your nemesis
There is only one thing in life that we, as human beings, have absolute control over — our thoughts. I can’t tell Mother Nature not to rain on me. I can’t keep a random nail from finding its way into my tire, and I have no control over the abominable New York metro area traffic congestion, but I can tell myself how to mentally cope with all of it.
Decades of riding have taught me that whatever challenge I’m currently experiencing will soon be behind me. There’s no point in making yourself crazy over it. Force the tension to leave your body, and you’ll be feeling better about everything in short order.
You already have possession of the single most important tool required to deal with every contingency. You carry it in your helmet every time you throw a leg over the bike. It’s your brain. It’s yours to control. Control it. Don’t let it control you. Every time you have any kind of unpleasant encounter, remind yourself that “this too shall pass” and ride onward to the good stuff. Beyond every challenge, every threat and every inconvenience, wonderful miles await. There’s a rainbow waiting for you after every storm.
Michael ONeill is the author of the best-selling travel book, “Road Work: Images and Insights of a Modern Day Explorer.”