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Southern Rail: Downsizing

By Robert Filla

I recently left for an extended trip out of state, away from the comforts of my native Lone Star residence. To arrive in a timely fashion, I flew our friendly skies. Before departure, I was in need of a replacement piece of rolling luggage. My bride made the selection, a monstrous hunk of fabric and reinforced plastic, with telescopic handles and multi-directional wheels. It was made by Jeep. Yeah, that Jeep. And as is the norm, the more packing space you’re offered, the more crap you inevitably decide is vital for your very survival. I felt obligated to fill it to capacity and was soon saddled with every conceivable electronic device I own.

Although I always take my Canon EOS 50D as carry-on when flying, I do pack a throw down camera, an efficient Canon D30 that has seen action for the last 10 years. I now tote a Toshiba notebook when I know in advance that I have decent Wi-Fi access so I can conduct business in a professional manner, along with a wireless mouse, a flash drive and various USB cables and the gamut of power adaptors and cords. At Christmas, I received my first MP3 player. It also has a completely different power cable along with two or three sets of ear buds. For my birthday, I was blessed with a Nook Color, an e-reader. Pretty neat little gadget, with its own proprietary set of power lines and bullshit. And then, of course, there is my camera bag stuffed with a flash, batteries, several lenses to fit both cameras, notepads, pens and credentials. The balance of my cargo container was filled to the brim with a helmet, jacket, camera tripod, riding boots, toiletries and clothes for a week.

Upon my arrival at the airport, I was told by a grim-looking counter worker that my Jeep steamer trunk was two pounds overweight of the maximum 50-pound limit. First bag was $25. A second one would cost me $35. No way that was gonna happen. So I pulled my jacket out of the Jeep, ripped off my sports shoes and swapped them for the heavyweight riding boots inside, and grabbed a handful of magazines that I had stashed in the event I couldn’t figure out the Nook. Sorry, the Nook Color. That lightened the load enough for me to head to security where, once again I was allowed to remove my footwear and reaffirm that I’m one of the good guys.

After picking up a new Harley Switchback at my destination, I checked into my room, made certain the camera was fully charged and took to the Tennessee hills. And I had a blast—some of the finest motor-sickle riding I’ve experienced in years. I did turn on the notebook computer thingy a few days later to check my bank account. And I fired up the MP3 player once at the hotel’s gym during a morning workout. But I never used the Nook Color at all (although I did finish reading every magazine that I’d brought). The tripod was never removed from the Jeepster, as weren’t half the clothes I’d packed. But damn… they were there if I needed them.

The bagger craze is currently in full swing with every available cubic inch of motorcycle being reconfigured and stretched, adapted to accommodate the hauling needs of a gadget-friendly demographic. Audio entertainment, communication devices, video, GPS, momma’s mobile pedicure station and the family pooch all have a designated spot, a high-impact plastic stockroom, a Naugahyde cache for frivolous elements. All there if you need ’em, just in case.

Getting used to my stripped-down Shovelhead over the last year has been a relearning experience. After putting more than 100,000 miles on my 2003 Road King, I’d gotten comfortable with fiberglass bags and oversize luggage racks; ample space to carry far too much gear. With the bare-bones Shovel, if I can’t strap it in a grip to the sissy bar or carry it in my pockets, it’s probably gonna stay home. When riding the Shovel, I find myself challenged by the sheer rudiments—one camera and one lens. Unless it’s more than a few days, the clothes I’m wearing are probably the only ones I’m packing. (There may be an extra T-shirt and pair of socks but that’s about all.) As far as the rest of those electronic wonders, not a chance they’ll be hitching a ride aboard that old rigid. Don’t think their delicate innards could handle the vibrations anyway.

So now, for a lot of rides, it’s back to the basics for me. A jacket lashed to the forks along with some goggles and gloves, a sandwich-sized nylon baggie with socks and a toothbrush strapped to the sissy bar, and a camera slung around my neck. I do carry a handful of wrenches in the bike’s tool kit and a cell phone for when the breakdown is more serious. Other than that, I try to go with the flow and take what the highway throws my way. Besides, if I really wanted all the comforts of home while I was on the road, I’d just stay home.


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