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Lessons Learned: Motorcycle Touring With Your Best Riding Buddy

How to stay friends on the road and ensure a safe, fun trip

By Veronica Ryl, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
9/28/2017

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As I write this, I'm in the middle of a 10,000-mile motorcycle journey with my best friend and fellow troublemaker, Dan. Beginning in Alberta, Canada, we are meandering our way down the west coast of the United States, and across Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. 


lessons learned motorcycle touring with your best riding partner
Dan and I in front of the original Starbucks at Pike Place Market in Seattle. I’m riding a pearl white 2004 Harley-Davidson Sportster and Dan has a black 2006 Honda Shadow 750.

At the moment, my buddy and I have stashed our bikes in a storage unit and are flying from El Paso, Texas, to Mexico City to see Radiohead in concert. After our adventure, we’ll fly back and continue through the Midwest on our motorcycles to get back home. Our total trip time will be about seven weeks.

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This trip was originally built around a week-long workshop we’d be going to in Colorado. I am the kind of person who has an idea, decides it’s going to happen, and then figures out the details later. Dan is the kind of guy who is very open-minded and will entertain my ideas and figures out how to put it together. In this way, we work very well together.

lessons learned motorcycle touring with your best riding partner reno
Dan and I posing in front of the Reno, Nevada, sign. Before this mammoth of a motorcycle trip, the furthest distance I had ridden on my bike had been 5 1/2 hours to southern Alberta!

My first long ride had initially dissuaded me from long-distance touring. Most of the riding was at night with a lot of fog, cold, and deer. I had also just run a 27-kilometer race wearing a 50-pound backpack and I was so tired that I had to stop for an hour to nap in a ditch on my way home. Needless to say, I had the wrong impression that long-distance travel on a motorcycle was always painfully uncomfortable. I challenged that notion on this trip.


lessons learned motorcycle touring with your best riding partner highway 1
There is a calming presence that settles in when moving from one place to a completely new destination each day. Here I am taking in the scenery on Highway 1 just north of Fort Bragg. There is a continuous awareness that one needs to have to function on a motorcycle, and this is what keeps me in the moment to enjoy it and relish being alive.


lessons learned motorcycle touring with your best riding partner arches national park
Our motorcycles loaded to the hilt in Arches National Park, Utah.

This long cross-country ride experience has taught Dan and I both a lot about how to manage each other’s daily emotions, grumblings, and needs. There are a lot of moments when one or both of us is tired and stressed, sometimes in huge quantities, and this is when it is crucial to know each other’s limits and what each requires in the moment. I definitely lean more to the introvert side of the scale and require complete sensory deprivation and alone time daily in order to keep my personal balance.


lessons learned motorcycle touring with your best riding partner veronica ryl
Here I am reveling in Taos, New Mexico, being true to my cowgirl roots.


lessons learned motorcycle touring with your best riding partner guy on bike
Dan soaking up the California coast sunshine. He needs his alone time but can manage to get his fill while I’m physically around. Figuring this out was trial and error, but also came to light with some honest conversations and setting boundaries.

Dan and I have learned that a sense of humor is paramount when touring together. Things will go wrong, but it's all of part of the journey. Riding across the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and down the west coast of Highway 101 in Oregon was met with rain downpours, fog, and heavy traffic. We had to change our plans and timeline to allow for more breaks.

lessons learned motorcycle touring with your best riding partner highway
Interstate 70 in Utah, just west of the Colorado border. Wind gusts were being clocked at 60 mph!

In southern British Columbia, my rain pants had failed to protect my shoes so my feet became thoroughly soaked, and in turn I became mildly hypothermic. While I warmed up with coffee, Dan went in search of dry wool socks and improvisational plastic bags with elastics for me. Compassion and taking care of each other goes a long way. This also goes for ensuring each other’s safety on the road. We keep an eye on each other’s bikes for potential issues and signal each other when we see a potentially dangerous situation.

While on the road for days on end, a sort of rhythm ensues. Dan and I quickly figured out roles and what we liked to do more in terms of setting up the tent, preparing food, etc. We even have a system for securing our loads together. This has helped us monumentally with efficiency when we need to get stuff done.

Of course, we bicker and have tense moments with each other. In these testing times it has been helpful to remind each other of our personal thresholds, pet peeves, and different communication styles. When I’m upset, I need time to defuse on my own, whereas Dan is more verbose and likes to communicate through the misunderstandings. Compromise and awareness in these situations helps to expedite the process. And typically, when the situation is resolved, we realize that irritability and tension arose due to fatigue, hunger, or accumulated stress. A balanced body is a balanced mind.

I’m sure this journey is just the beginning for many more long-distance motorcycle treks in the future. South America, Europe, Southeast Asia ... the possibilities are endless. I foresee a good riding partner for these trips too, as shared moments are synergistic in value.

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