There’s always the urge to just hit the open road on your bike, embarking on a two-wheel version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. And there’s no reason not to do that if you’re able to, but if you don’t have an open-ended amount of time and maybe have some grown-up responsibilities you’re running away from — temporarily — then planning ahead might make for a better experience.
Not to mention that sitting up late pondering the places you want to go is a lot of fun in its own right. But when riding the imaginary bike while still at home, be realistic about your riding ability and stamina. You don’t want to plan out a route that ends up being a day-in, day-out effort to get through. That’s not much of a vacation. Pick a realistic mileage total for each day and roads that might be a challenge, but not a grueling grind.
Another question right off the bat is: am I going solo or riding in a pack. Are there friends you want to ride with and share the experience with? Obviously, that will require some serious discussions about a route that works for everyone. And you’ll probably want to stay in contact while riding, so researching and deciding on a Bluetooth headset system that you can use to communicate while riding is worth the effort. And once on the road, it’s good for everyone in the group to have the day’s plan with them at the start of the day, just in case you get out of range of your communication system.
The biggest issue might be not trying to do everything. Stringing together long days in an attempt to tick off too many “must see” places and events isn’t going to end well. Tempers will fray, body parts will rebel. And you’ll want to build in time for some “what the hell, let’s get lost” moments or the ability to change plans on the fly because something has piqued your interest. Don’t plan every day down to the hour.
Want to camp out under the stars? Go for it! That’ll require carrying some extra gear and, if you’re planning to stay at a national or state park, might require advance booking for campsites.
But camping might be better on the front end, not the back end. After a bunch of days in the saddle, a bed might look pretty good and win out over the sense of adventure that dominated things at the start of the trip. If you’re traveling in a popular area during a peak tourist season, then you will want to do enough planning so you can make sure you have rooms booked in advance. Riding around at dusk in unfamiliar territory looking for a “Vacancy” sign might not be the kind of fun you’re looking for.
Likewise, having an idea of where you’ll find gas before the needle is resting on “E” is worth the trouble. With a cell phone you’ll be able to use the Internet to look up things on the fly, but don’t depend on having cell coverage in really rural areas. Then there’s always the possibility of getting lost, even with good maps — whether physical or electronic — so having a GPS along for the ride is a good safety valve. Some Bluetooth headsets come with a GPS feature.
There are a number of resources on the web at your disposal. Butler Motorcycle Maps provide a whole host general and customized maps and other merchandise. Harley-Davidson has its own ride planner website. Other sites include Motorcycle Road, which lists not only suggested rides in the United States, but upcoming motorcycle events that might be of interest; Edelweiss Bike Travel, which offers tours worldwide; and MotorcycleRoads.US, which provides detailed suggested routes for the entire United States. There are many more such sites on the web.