As you’re reading this, I am doing something I haven’t done in about 10 years, not officially anyway: being on vacation! That’s right, I’m motorcycleless up in the eastern Sierra Nevada of California, possibly half-heartedly attempting to catch a trout, clambering around over boulders, soaking in hot springs, emulating fine beer commercials, probably humming to myself David Bowie’s final musical vanishing trick, “Look up here, I’m in Heaven.”
Make that 15 years: The last time I took a week off was when we took the kid to Rosarito Beach down in Baja. He was about five. I mean, I’ve had longer stretches of not working in the intervening years, but it’s hard to be jaunty and carefree when you’re unemployed. I guess that’s because being a “motojournalist” generally feels so little like work, I’m a little ashamed to take time off from it. Then again it may be the opposite; it’s best not let them see how well they get along without you. Then I realized, after reading another one of those stories about how much more the typical American works than the rest of the First World, that I was actually cheating my employer and fellow employees by not giving them the chance to shine without me, and not utilizing the excellent software that replaced the nice lady in the HR Department who tracks time off. I kid, we have excellent software and a nice HR person.
The biggest reason I don’t take normal-people vacations, though, is because it means time without motorcycles. I get withdrawal after a few days not riding. I’m not good at relaxing. I mean, I am good at it, but only if I can hop on a motorcycle every couple of days too. I remember going slightly stir crazy in Mexico with nothing to do but lay on the beach and drink $1 Negro Modelos with my fellow slothful Boomers. The only thing that saved me was riding ATVs to the turtle breeding compound; the kid got a big kick out of that too. I feel bad about not taking the fam more places, really, but I know I’m not alone when it comes to being one of the many “middle-class” Americans who just can’t afford the once-typical family vacation. Hey, at least we live in California! The beach is that way, buy yourself a hot dog!
Another big part of the problem is that work has provided me with a few of the best possible vacations for a motohead – new motorcycle launches in Spain, the south of France, Sicily… When I started in the business, we downplayed the graft, but now that everybody else celebrates those junkets on social media and in print, what the hell? The cat’s out of the bag. Ethics shmethics. I guess we at MO can at least be happy that we haven’t completely jumped the shark yet, since we don’t run stories with manufacturers’ bylines on them, and we don’t yet have an in-house marketing department to sell the products we review like some of our competition. The slope is increasingly slick, though. Many great car and motorcycle photographers have been rendered obsolete by digital photography and Google image search. How far away can the digital motojournalist be? There really aren’t even that many phrases to program anymore, and the bar-tab savings alone would hugely boost the bottom line of any OEM.
Anyway, I didn’t invent the current “new bike launch” system, I am but a small counterbalancer cog in the machine. And how could I complain? Wake up in a fine hotel, slide through the white-linen breakfast buffet, hop on one from a row of shiny new MV Agustas or Yamaha R1s, and roar off into the exotic hinterlands. Motorcycles get you off into the little villages where tour buses don’t go, where you see beauty and history but also are reminded that every country has its problems; an impoverished-looking 10-year old kid gathering sticks in Spain for the hearth, like something straight out of Don Quixote, has been stuck in my head for years.
The worst thing about those fantastic trips is the guilt you feel at not being able to share them with your loved ones, though I have to admit to being in love in a strictly manly way with a few of my longstanding motojournalist friends. The best part of those trips is that things like speed limits in most of Europe are mostly observed in the breech, and the routes laid out to showcase new motorcycles provide consistently jaw-dropping rides. It’s hard to find flaw with the motorcycle when you’re so loving the road and the place. Sometimes they even turn you loose on Circuit Catalunya or Misano (where part of the new Ducati launch – was it the 996? – involved spinning a couple laps on Carl Fogarty’s championship-winning Duc).
Then, back to the (open) bar at the five-star hotel for debrief…
Where was I going? Oh right, camping. How is camping out (I like how Jim Gaffigan says “pretending we’re homeless”) supposed to compare to that? I get that it’s all about being in nature, which I’m down with, but I think I’m spoiled by flying through nature at about 80 in a nice leather onesie where no bears or mosquitoes can ruin it for me. There’s always motorcycle camping, but frankly all the packing and unpacking gets old, and the person I’m going with this time happens to be captain of a large Chevy Tahoe with built-in wifi, which is in little danger of toppling over and needing to be picked up again. Waterproof, bear-resistant, climate-controlled, sleeps two. Last time I was up around Lee Vining, I was surprised to find out how easy it is to get to great fishing and camping spots not all that far down nicely graded dirt roads which most tourists fly right past. Why gird for combat when you’re going for a stroll in the park?
I pretty much already know how it’s gonna be though: I’ll either be suffering in silence in the passenger seat while we do the speed limit in the left lane, or trying to tune out the blood-curdling screams and the loud clunks of the load shifting as I careen the ’Hoe down delicious, deserted backroads wishing I was on an FZ-10! Or a Multistrada! Or an NC700X!
I already can’t wait to get back to work.