Neil Pert, in his book Ghost Rider, said that for “the ‘armchair traveller’, it’s only the vicarious, pristine experiences they want to share … not the unhygienic, exhausting reality … the solitary traveller is frequently invested by others with an aura of romance, myth and desire.”
I read this in a $30 a night hotel room in Wolesley, Saskatchewan on a day when I’d come face to face with some of that “exhausting reality”. Freezing cold had brought me to a stop in a small prairie town I’d never heard of until I saw the snow-covered sign announcing its existence.
Sitting in the bar for an hour or so, waiting for the hotel owner to arrive with the key to my room, I watched and listened to the local patrons. It was so predictably … dismal: small-town gossip and talk of the weather. I prayed for clear, snow-free roads on to Winnipeg the next day.
There is something about travelling alone. It is impossible to defer or hang your emotional state on anyone else. You must ride each emotional moment on your own. The stimulation of a challenging ride in bad weather is contrasted with the boredom and loneliness of being stranded by yourself in a hotel room without a TV or phone or connection to anything to care about.
A moment later you are swimming in bliss, the sweet pleasure of Southern Comfort and grapefruit juice drunk from a Nalgene bottle paired with a meal of Swiss cheese and strawberries.
When you travel alone, you don’t have a built-in companion of similar tastes to share with, to support and be supported by. When you travel alone, you must reach out to strangers, to your environment. You must open up and use all of your senses or find yourself isolated in a lonely world.
Talking to strangers, at the beginning of my trip, I found myself downplaying my ride.
Meeting up with people, particularly other travellers, left me with feelings of mediocrity when I find myself alone again. My adventure never seemed quite as dramatic or profound as theirs, or as those of the author of my book, Neil Pert, riding mud-slicked roads and nursing the pain of the death of his wife and child.
Sometimes, I even felt a bit like an imposter – not a real motorcycle adventurer at all.
As weeks passed and the trip ripened, I realized I was not so different. I was experiencing the first adventure since my teens, that I had embarked upon totally on my own. Mediocrity of self-criticism soon gave way to confidence as I grew used to my independence.
I chose my routes, who I talked to, the stories I told and how long I rode. I gathered the experience of knowing my riding was strong as I passed other groups, obviously less skilled.
I relaxed with who I was inside and in that place, I began to feel spectacular.
That is not to say that the whole experience was not fraught with messiness – cold days and lonely nights. But with that “unhygienic, exhausting reality” I also found my desires fulfilled in that I had become the myth and I had begun a romance with myself.