“For what is adventure, but inconvenience rightly considered?” (G.K. Chesterton, paraphrased, often attributed incorrectly to other writers.)

” An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered: an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered” G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered, 1908. (Often attributed to others, but it seems to be originally his)

Khalil Gibran wrote, “The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master”. It has long been one of my principles that a person has to get cold, wet and miserable sometimes so we can appreciate what comfortable feels like.

Everyone’s definition of an “adventure” is somewhat different, but most seem to have in common some aspect of pushing out of the comfort zone. I heard a speaker on the subject of “trust” talking about “a comfortable relationship with the unknown” and that seems equally applicable to the concept of “adventure”. For some, it can be extreme and most of us like reading the accounts of people who do extraordinary things in exotic places. But we know we won’t leave everything behind to follow those dreams. And that is a good thing, since if everyone did it, then it wouldn’t be extraordinary and those exotic places would get really crowded. Many of us never get far outside of our home area. We can embrace adventure travel, all of us, in some form between the extremes.

Recently I heard an advertisement recently for a “scheduled and scripted adventure”. It seemed to me to be an oxymoron

Stories about a trip where everything went well don’t sell books, so we hear about the mishaps and overcoming adversity, leading to a successful conclusion. And then too, stories don’t get written by the guy who quits in the first two weeks. (One American writer admitted that his round the world trip ended in the first few days after colliding with a bus in Mexico). In 1912, Carl Stearns Clancy and another rider began what probably was the first ever round the world motorcycle trip. Clancy’s companion wrecked his bike on the first day of the “round the world trip” and soon thereafter decided this adventure wasn’t for him and went home, leaving Clancy to finish it alone. Some want it more than others.

On the “Adventure Rider Radio” podcast, ( one can hear a wide variety of accounts, from the McGregor/Boorman no-expense-spared excursions to the Englishman who started out on a little coddiwomple and returned home 14 years later. He used no maps,(in South America, he said he “just kept the ocean on me right”) spoke no foreign languages, and “made do” with his skills and whatever came to hand, including meals made with roadkill. I particularly like the segments with Graham Field, a fellow who travels the world on an old KLR 650 and is brutally honest in his misgivings and, mistakes.

In my younger days, the later 1960’s and into the 70’s I would go out on my 250 (several different ones, at various times) and find a trail that meandered off into the woods in eastern Kentucky or West Virginia or Ohio and just take it to see where it went. In those times there weren’t many fences blocking roadside trails and the power lines and gas lines were wide open, unfenced and mostly unused. It was easy to go for miles across counties without ever touching pavement except to cross a road. I realize now that I was “trespassing” for the most part. But then, no one seemed to care as long as the rider left little evidence of his passing. ATV’s as we now know them didn’t yet exist, there were few people with 4WD vehicles used just for fun and not many motorcyclists of that time in my area cared to do what I was doing. There was no formal concept of “dual sport” motorcycles then, one just rode what one had, for whatever purpose seemed to be a good idea at the time. So the trails were not overused, the landowner was not confronted with hordes of machines tearing up the ground. One skinny teenager every now and then was not a great problem. When I did encounter a farmer or pipeline worker, the typical reaction was bemusement, wondering just how did this kid get way out here on that thing?

“Adventure” to me then meant seeing what was down a road or trail I didn’t yet know.

Now, after nearly 60 years in the saddle, I have motorcycled in all but two of the continental US states (not sure how I missed Nebraska and Louisiana) and in 16 foreign countries, eastern and western hemispheres, above and below the equator, often with my wife Brenda on the back or in a sidecar. We have had a lot of fun, a few mishaps (usually my own fault), but we have barely made a dent in the “places I’d like to go” list.

In the present, “adventure bikes” are a huge slice of the market these days, a segment that didn’t exist as a named category until the 80’s, when BMW came out with the GS series, bikes roundly criticized at the beginning as being too big for off road use and too tall and too slow for sporting use. The 800cc bikes, weighing a bit over 400 pounds, proved to be excellent for just going anywhere a rider wanted to go. Though the category is now one of the largest in motorcycle sales around the world, the genre has morphed and stretched into inclusion of anything with styling that reflects an idea of the originals, even if the resulting motorcycle is unhappy on anything more challenging than a well-graded gravel road. Many are now heavier and with more horsepower than what we used to consider as big road tourers.

In my experience-based opinion we, motorcyclists and the non-riding general public, place far too much emphasis on the size of the motorcycle in establishing its “legitimacy “ as a “real bike” for travel and adventure.

World traveler Austin Vince, who knows a thing or two about adventure, says “You’ll never wish you’d brought a bigger bike “. After picking it up for the fourth time in an hour on a remote trail or dirt road, lots of horsepower and the latest style doesn’t seem so important. Lois Pryce, as she has recounted in several excellent books, has been on the road for years, all over the world, with a Yamaha 225cc dual sport. (See her TED talk, “In Praise of Vulnerable Travel” here.

Most of the world travelers and writers agree that over planning and over packing are the things to avoid. You don’t need most of what you think you need and if you really need it, chances are you can pick it up on the road. Most of what you think will go wrong, won’t, and when something does, you can handle it. You can. Trying to adhere to a rigid schedule and route means you miss a lot of what serendipity can offer.

I still adhere to the old notion that the best adventure bike is the one you have. No bike is “too small” to travel as far as you want to go. Get on it and go somewhere, out of your comfort zone. It will be fun. Just try not to hit anything big and you’ll do fine

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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