LESSONS FORM THE ROAD
BY: SCOTT BRADLEY
Taking a large scale motorcycle trip is an incredibly formative experience for any rider. Being on the road and outside of your usual routes presents the opportunity to create the experiences we only dream of when scrolling through our favorite motorcycle hashtags. It also teaches us valuable life lessons in self-reliance and how we respond to the unexpected challenges we never plan for. I learned an incredible amount and grew tremendously as a rider during my recent one month, 8,000 mile-long ride through the Canadian Maritimes. In the nature of the tight-knit motorcycle community we love, I’m happy to share these experiences with you.
First and foremost, taking a long trip by yourself is something I recommend any motorcyclist do at least once in your life. It’s one thing to go on a quick weekend jaunt, but being out on the road for weeks at a time brings about compelling experiences. One of the most significant aspects is not being beholden to anyone else’s schedule.
There’s never a worry about a less adventurous riding partner stifling your itinerary or keeping you away from an impulsive detour. You’re entirely untethered to go wherever you want whenever you please. Being far out in unfamiliar territory without a friendly face can be a bit alienating at first, with no sort of comfort zone to fall back on. But completely breaking free from the natural forces some self-reflection.
Some of my best memories were on the Cote-Nord Route, riding the undulating curves of the coastal St Lawrence with nothing to think about but the next apex as the pine’s scent mixed with the salty air. When there’s nothing to remind you of home, even the slightest sensation is an experience. Beyond each bend is an entirely unfamiliar place. The urge to consume the next moment is a driving force of discovery. It also pushes you to confront your anxieties of “what if” with nothing to fall back on but yourself.
Things will go wrong
With all the planning and preparation at your disposal, things will still go south, and there’s little you can do about it. One of the high points of my route was to take the Cabot Trail and bask in its ocean-hugging mountainside curves. However, when I finally made it to the highlands’ foothills, the skies opened up with constant rain and fog, refusing to yield more than a few feet of visibility as I climbed the mountains.
After cautiously making it through, the only descent was a section of construction on a 12% grade of soupy mud. What usually would have been thrill-inducing hairpins became a veritable soil skating rink. Fortunately, my off-road experience kicked in. With some judicious braking and gentle throttle, I dropped out of the fog bank into one of the most stunning vistas in all my 75,000+ miles of riding.
My two takeaways from experience were as follows: if we can’t control the situation, we can control how we react. We don’t ride because it’s easy to ride for the challenge and reward. When faced with something overwhelming or unsettling, we have the power to choose how we react. Once I hit the mud, there was no turning back. Keeping calm and confident is what gave me the ability to fully utilize my skills and navigate the treacherous situations. Also, challenges like these are inevitably part of the riding experience. If we recognize them as teaching moments, we can greater appreciate our accomplishments and save the worst moments as remarkable stories to tell.
Anywhere can be a Campsite
During longer adventures staying on budget is critical to sustaining the trip, especially regarding lodging. Thankfully I learned quickly how exceptionally easy it is to make your own camping arrangements with some necessary discretion. One of the best finds was a half-hour east of Baie-Comeau on a whale-watching trail, where a half-mile dirt tracking opened up to a cliff side clearing overlooking the water. The spot was dead flat, cost zero dollars, and the only noise at night was the St Lawrence crashing against the rocks!
From boat launches to picnic areas, just about anything can be fair game as long as you’re not trespassing or imposing on a public space. When in doubt, asking the locals can be exceptionally helpful. In the village of L’anse St Jean at the base of the Saguenay fjords was an absolutely stunning rest area on the shores, but right next to a fire pit was no camping signage. After going into town for dinner, I cautiously asked the waitress with some gestures and broken French, only to learn there were no police within an hour and a half radius. Even if they were summoned, Canada doesn’t issue citations for intrepid campers! Speaking of talking to the locals…
Be friendly with whoMever you meet
I’ve always heard about the notion of Canadian hospitality, and it absolutely rang true. I crossed the border into Quebec just as the sun was setting, and needed to figure out where the hell I was going to sleep. As I pulled into a McDonald’s’ parking lot, I heard the familiar drone of boxer engines in the distance. Two older Quebecois pulled up on their BMW’s, and after seeing my GS, they started excitedly chattering about what I assume was moto talk if I comprehended their French. After the language barrier became blatantly apparent, they offered to take me on a ride to light up some local “greenery.” I declined, as having a place to rest my head was a priority, but their kindness was heartwarming!
Fortunately, I ended up with a roof over my head in Montreal, thanks to a Facebook Page called Bunk-A-Biker. It connects you to a network of fellow motorcyclists who are happy to open their home to you for a night. Jacques was a member of the local rider’s club, and couldn’t wait to show me how the smooth idle of his Honda Valkyrie wouldn’t disturb a coin placed on its flat-6 engine case. He was in recovery from a pretty severe leg injury thanks to an incompetent left-turning driver, but I promised to keep in touch so he could live vicariously through the coming adventure.
The page came in handy yet again when I linked up with a rider named Sebastian right out of Quebec City. I outlined the route I had planned, and he gave me some exceptional redirection. My original plan was to take the most direct route out to the Fjords, but he instead guided me to the road through Grands Jardins National Park, and his advice was right on the money. Route 381 rose from the shores of the St Lawrence and shot up into the mountains rife with exceptional curves and dirt trails.
Don’t become fixated on “getting there”
When we plan our trips, there is an inherent tendency to focus on a specific destination, be it a city or even a particular road. But getting too caught up in the sense of urgency to arrive can make you miss out on enjoying the experience. If you spend the whole time booking it on the highway, you’re liable to miss an unmarked dirt trail or the hidden gem of a back road yet to be overrun.
On my way back across Newfoundland, I was faced with a choice: either slough across the Trans Canadian Highway (the only major thoroughfare) for the night or take a 3-hour detour each way to a Hostel in the town of Twillingate. The detour proved to be one of the best decisions of the trip, and I was greeted to a fiery display in the sky as the sun set behind a storm rolling over the Atlantic Ocean.
Earlier on in the trip, I was so eager to get onto the Cabot Trail that I decided to deal with the rain instead of waiting for a break. With time to kill before the ferry to Newfoundland the next day, I decided to make a second run at the highlands. As I got closer, the mountains were once again shrouded in an impenetrable bank of fog. In a spur of the moment decision, I fueled up and turned right out of the nearest gas station parking lot onto what I learned was the Cabot Coastal Loop. In my opinion, the Coastal Loop was better than the whole Cabot route, with incredibly thrilling stretches of tarmac dancing along a rocky precipice. There was even a stretch of technical double track out to the tip of White Point Island, which brings me to my next point.
Know when to turn around
When exploring new places (especially off pavement), it’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement and curiosity of what’s over the next hill or down a mysterious trail. But it’s exceptionally important that we listen to our gut and know when to pump the brakes. Knowing the limit to your skills and letting logic override brash exuberance can be the difference between thrilling adventure and a debilitating setback.
As the trail out to White Point got narrower, I was passed by a fellow rider on an F800GS, who was turning around after it got too treacherous. Although I was eager to see the top of the cliffs, a photo op wasn’t worth the risk of falling onto a rock bed and sending a shard through my engine case.
This trip was full of so many firsts in my 5 years of riding. It was the longest trip of my life in both distance and time, and the experiences had will stick with me forever. It taught me how the adventure isn’t just about miles logged and scenery consumed, but the unexpected opportunities it presents that expand your horizon of experiences. Open up to the uncertainty of the road, and you’ll return home with some amazing experiences of your own.