SENSE-ational Chopper Trip
Shortly before leaving on our 3-week, 5,000-mile chopper trip, I was sent a message on Instagram: “If you had to lose one of your five senses, which would you choose?” In the moment, without much thought, I responded with “smell”. However, this question continued to plague my brain throughout the course of our adventure. With every canyon I saw, raindrop I felt, ice cream I tasted, pine tree I smelled, and rushing river I heard, I contemplated if I made the right (hypothetical) decision.
Sense of Touch
There’s this small range of the perfect temperature. For me, it’s about 75-80 degrees while riding. I can wear my Kevlar riding pants, boots, and leather jacket, and feel comfortable. Problem is, it’s rarely ever 75-80 degrees!
This trip, we rode Beartooth Highway— known to be referred to as “the most beautiful highway in America”. It is a 69-mile stretch of some of the most zig-zag switchbacks I’ve ridden, and reaches an elevation of over 11,000ft. This pass is only open for a few short months each year, as it is snowed-in through much of the Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons. This highway was truly one of the most incredible rides I have experienced. Though, I should caution, this route is not ideal for those afraid of heights. The tight turns were not lined with railings and were along cliffs thousands of feet high. The canyon views are absolutely remarkable and unlike any place I’ve ever seen. I do have to add: it was also the coldest day of our trip! I always bring two sets of gloves with me: one thick pair for cold or rainy weather and one thin pair for the warmer days. For some reason, I grabbed my thin pair that morning when we were pulling out of Cooke City. It’s a good thing this ride was so breathtaking because I could feel every single bone in my hands. Have you ever been so cold your body is overcome by a numbing ache? Well, that lasted for much of that 69 miles. At one point, I tried sitting on my left hand to try to warm it up a bit… it really didn’t do much. We were riding above glaciers! On all sides of us, as we looked around, ICE; It was chilly willy to say the least.
And then we got to experience the complete opposite: extreme heat! Triple digit temps riding through Utah, Arizona, and into Nevada. The day we rode from Richfield, UT to Las Vegas, NV was my least favorite day of our trip. It was 105 degrees for nearly all 300 miles that day. At one point, I ran into the gas station convenience store and purchased a bag of ice. I initially strapped it to my handlebars to act like an air conditioner, but ended up shoving it directly into my jacket. No amount of hydration could have prepared my body for the amount I sweated that day. At one point, we had to pull off because I was beginning to feel light-headed and nauseous—time for some Gatorade (I don’t think a Gatorade will ever taste as good as it did that day). The heat just really takes it out of you.
“Does your butt hurt after riding a hardtail chopper all day?” YES! I have a seat pad and a backrest (thanks to my sissy bar bag), but boy oh boy does my butt hurt at the end of a long day of riding. Once I get up and walk around a bit, it fades pretty quickly. But, sitting in one position for 9 hours a day is going to hurt your butt no matter what bike your on—a hardtail just makes it start hurting a little sooner.
All-in-all, there are a lot of pros and cons to the sense of touch on a motorcycle trip. In the end, it’s not only a sense to appreciate, but it truly is necessary. I need to be able to feel my bike; when you’ve been riding your bike long enough, the feeling of the motor can tell you a lot about how it's doing. When my motor feels hot and overworked, I can feel that. It rumbles slightly different; the vibrations aren't quite as smooth. There are many ways that your bike is in constant communication with you, but feeling is a very important one.
One of my favorite things to do while traveling: eat. I do my best to test out the local foods, the family-owned diners, and most importantly, ICE CREAM!
I eat an ungodly amount of ice cream on our motorcycle trips. Firstly, because what is better after a long, hot day of riding than an ice cream cone? Secondly, because it’s my favorite food group. For some reason, almost every town we visit, no matter the size, has an ice cream shop—I am not complaining! I like to try out unique flavors like Huckleberry in Montana and Black Cherry in Colorado; always in a fresh waffle cone.
The reason that taste isn’t even going to be discussed as a possible answer to that tricky question: ice cream. End of story.
Do you have something that recharges you? Maybe it’s working out or watching a trashy reality show? It’s that thing your body just seems to crave? For me, it’s the mountains. Maybe part of that stems from living in Los Angeles and my body’s thirst for nature. I get a lot of the ocean, which is wonderful don’t get me wrong. But there is just something so medicinal about mountain air for me.
Each year, we like to ride through Canada. However, due to COVID restrictions, we weren’t allowed to cross the border. We decided to get as close as we could and cut across the top of Washington, which led us to the Cascades. I had heard of the area but had zero expectations. Riding from Burlington, WA to Colville, WA ended up being my favorite day of our entire trip. The Cascades were absolutely beautiful. The tree-lined mountain roads with gently sweeping turns were my idea of heaven on Earth. At one point, we decided to pull off at a viewpoint for a quick photo and were met with the most beautiful view of a lake we had no idea even existed: Diablo Lake. I walked to the edge of overlook and took it all in. Closed my eyes, took in the fresh mountain air, and appreciated this moment with my family.
Problems with having a sense of smell on a motorcycle trip?
Cow $h!t: America has a lot of farmland and with that comes all the smells that go along with it.
Body Odor: you know that 105-degree day I talked aobut? Well, I didn’t even want to smell myself after that.
Trucks filled with livestock: this one not only smells bad, but get behind a truck filled with chickens and you’ll also be showered in feathers.
Three words: Gas. Station. Bathrooms.
Like touch, sound is another sense that is vital on a motorcycle trip. I am constantly listening to my bike. Some things are more noticeable, like the time my front pulley insert came loose and a bolt went flying through my primary; that made a very loud, very disturbing sound. And some things are more subtle, like the time one of my push rods blew and the bike was only running on one cylinder.
And then there are times where the problem is: the bike isn’t making any noise at all. This occurred at a gas station in Montana. Everything was going great; we were going to have an easy day and hoped to find a river to camp by and enjoy for the evening. We pulled into a small town, town is used lightly—it was pretty much just a gas station, to fill up. I pulled up to the pump, turned my bike off, got gas, and went to turn my bike back on. I have an electric start, so it's usually just an easy turn of the key. However, I went to turn the key and… silence. Uh oh. I told my parents through our Sena Bluetooth devices that something was wrong. Since my bike had been doing so well, I assumed a wire came undone or something just as simple. We pulled my seat off, checked all the wires, checked the battery, re-wired the ignition switch; everything looked good. But still, no sound. We spent 10 hours at this gas station… TEN HOURS! We finally had to call a tow truck because we weren’t even near an auto parts store or motorcycle shop to be able to try changing out parts. We were 50 miles to the next town. The next morning, we took my bike to the local motorcycle shop called the “Hog Pen”, put in a new battery, and she fired right up! Sounding healthy as ever!
I mentioned our Senas: these are Bluetooth devices that allow us to communicate while riding. They’re extremely helpful and add an additional level of safety to our trips. It allows us to warn each other about obstacles in the road, when it’s safe to change lanes, and even request a bathroom break! On the contrary, there are also times when you really don’t want to hear anyone else. I accidentally took us past the road we were supposed to turn down and told everyone we needed to turn around. When we pulled off and I needed to double-check the directions, I had too many voices happening in my helmet. I quickly pressed the power button, the equivalent of hanging up on someone, and motioned for everyone to follow me. I cooled off a couple minutes later and connected to the group again, but there are definitely times you just want to be alone with your thoughts in the silence of your helmet.
On this trip was my mom, dad, brother, and myself. My brother, Eric, was not able to use a Sena because he has the LOUDEST pipes I’ve ever heard and he couldn't hear us over the the excessive roaring occurring directly next to his right ear. We not only couldn’t verbally communicate with him, we also made him ride in the back so we wouldn’t have to hear his bike. When he’s in the back, the sound is forced behind us and we barely hear him. The moment he comes up alongside one of us, you can’t miss it! My own ears were ringing, I can’t imagine how his felt at the end of the day! I’m sure if I were to have asked him which sense he would lose during the trip; he definitely would have chosen his sense of hearing (which he probably lost some of anyways)!
At the end of the day, what is better than sitting and listening to the sound of a stream, birds chirping, a slight breeze ruffling the leaves in the trees above? To go from the blazing sounds of our engines for hours straight to the serene tranquility of enjoying the sounds of Mother Nature, is pure bliss. Sound is not only important for mechanics and safety, but also a peaceful mind.
I can already tell you that the sense of sight was not even on my radar for being a possible answer. I treasure all of the incredible places we get to see along throughout our adventure.
These pictures say it all:
I guess, when it really comes down to it, I'd have to stick with my original answer. I just can't give up seeing the beauty that is Earth, feeling the sunshine on my face, tasting all the ice cream cones, and hearing the sounds of Mother Nature. I'd have to give up my ability to smell the pine trees in the mountains and fresh bakes cinnamon rolls wafting from the local bakery... and gas station bathrooms.
I'd love to hear what your answer would be!
Comment with which of the five senses YOU would give up!