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Southern Rail: The importance of getting lost

By Robert Filla


During this year’s Daytona Bike Week I had the opportunity to ride Victory Motorcycles’ 15th Anniversary Cross Country Tour Limited Edition. An excellent machine, I’d first ridden the bike several years ago during a press launch from Utah to South Dakota and was eager for some more saddle time. And once again the bike was just as enjoyable as my first outing. All except for one new feature that was intimidating, menacing and downright foreboding. And it couldn’t be ignored, right in your face, hanging off the handlebars right near the clutch perch, just daring me to touch it, “Go ahead, just touch me old man.”

I recently read an interview with the author of Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon. For those of you hiding under a derby cover for the last 40 years, in 1973, despite having absolutely no experience riding a motorcycle (and certainly no motorcycle endorsement on his drivers license), Simon made the bizarre decision to circumnavigate the globe by motorcycle, a Triumph Tiger. After four years, 54 countries and numerous hardships, Jupiter’s Travels was the resulting record of his journey and ordeal—an excellent volume that has inspired many hardy souls to undertake their own herculean two-wheeled adventures. And then, in 2001 at the ripe old age of 69, Mr. Simon retraced his ride. This time ’round he was better prepared, with an updated dual-sport bike and proper gear for RTW travel. Odd thing is, he found his GPS unreliable for his purposes and was actually happy when he accidentally misplaced it. In the interview he delivered one of the most astute quotes ever offered by a motorcycling hero: “All these gadgets that tell you what to do and save you from trouble mean the less often you have to stop to ask for help and directions and the less interesting your journey becomes. Ideally you want to have a bike that breaks down all the time and [you] have no idea where you’re going. Then you will have a terrific time.” Sage advice, indeed.

I love technology. I much prefer double-ply over corn cobs, cable over rabbit ears and my MP3 player over the out-of-tune rhapsody of my campfire harmonica (never could get the hang of that thing). But like many riders, especially those over the age of 45, I wax nostalgic for certain rudimentary aspects that established our motorcycling heritage. Something about leather just feels right. Springer front ends and hardtail frames still evoke an instant air of outlaw. Kickstarting a bike is damn cool, PBR is still the preferred biker breakfast and girls in skimpy clothes will simply never go out of style. And the subject that Ted Simon touched on in that interview, that part about getting lost, resonates with me as part of that legacy. It is at the very core of why I became so passionately involved with motorcycles in the first place. But I see that concept taking a backseat to today’s need for instant contact, the safety net of 24-hour roadside assistance, the security blanket of a GPS. When I rode away from home, I left momma and don’t need a nanny watching over my every move. Plus those little damn screens are simply daunting to a person who has spent almost half a century navigating by map and compass.

The Cross Country Tour LE was a pleasure to ride. And it attracted plenty of attention for the few days it was in my possession. But as for that one piece of technology dangling off the left handlebar, I waited until the timing was right. Behind a locked gate, in the back of the house in Daytona Beach, away from prying eyes, I made my move. Nervously checking to be certain I would not be interrupted, I pushed the ON button. The screen leapt to life, displaying a Victory Motorcycles logo before asking me if I needed directions. No, but I did need a beer. Back outside with beverage in hand, somehow (?) I accidentally requested my location. A colorful map appeared pinpointing the house address along with longitude and latitude coordinates. It was creepy thinking that somewhere, miles overhead, a satellite had paused long enough to put me in its crosshairs and then relay the information to a little black box affixed to a Limited Edition motorcycle in my backyard. So I did what any self-respecting rider my age would do—I turned it off, hopped on the bike, rode to the nearest store and bought a paper road map. A proper map that couldn’t talk and one I’m sure would take me just far enough to get lost and have a “terrific time.”

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