"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." – Maya Angelou

10 Life Lessons I've Learned from a Six-Day Motorcycle Journey

There’s more to riding than just the open road

Motorcycling can’t be “told,” it has to be experienced.

Where does one even start explaining the sensation of riding on the open road—the wind in your face, the throbbing engine tucked between your knees— to the uninitiated? It’s similar to attempt describing the eerie silence following a fresh snowfall, the only sound the crunch-crunch of your poles as you cross-country ski along an early morning trail.

Then again, there’s nothing mysterious about motorcycling or skiing. Neither is it all glory and roses. Riding for fourteen hours in non-stop rain with a ballistic nylon suit and full-face helmet is not for the timid. Or your hands going numb as you ski because you can’t say no to going out when it’s minus 36 C with the wind chill.

But motorcycling is so dangerous! Is it? If you live in the US, you have a bigger chance dying of heart disease than of a motorcycle accident. In 2017, in the US, 647,000 people died of heart disease; 39,250 died in car accidents and 5,100 lost their lives in motorcycle accidents. (Extrapolation of the 2015 numbers)

Five years of Adventure bike riding taught me a few things. Come along for the Five-day journey from Manitoba to South Dakota, to attend the Sturgis rally!

10 Life Lessons learned from riding motorcycle:

1 | Riding teaches you situational awareness.

    • Be it bicycle of motorcycle—you have to pay attention to what pedestrians and motorists and other road users are doing in order to survive
    • The majority of accidents are due to motorists who fail to detect and recognize motorcyclists!
    • It’s almost irrelevant whose mistake it is (or was)—you have to be prepared, anticipate, and act accordingly
    • You learn to pay attention and scan your surroundings constantly
    • It should also make you a better writer—learn to “read” people better

2 | Beauty is found in the most unexpected of places

    • I always travel with a camera—this was the more frustrating part: when you stumble upon a beautiful spot or situation—because of the slope of the roads and sand it isn’t always so easy to pull off, stop & park. It’s no easy feat to right a toppled-over adventure bike! (I’ve done it—it’s a little nightmare)
    • #2 goes hand in hand with situational awareness
    • But it’s also about being receptive
    • I know, everybody talks about “enjoying the journey,” that it’s not only about the destination
    • Look around you—really look and discover beautiful and remarkable people and places and tiny things!

3 | Glamorous guarantees nothing. Modest can be grand!

    • Too often we attach value and impact to glamorous and exorbitant
    • My friend Merv Heide (a decades-long rider) told me about Spearfish and its campground for years
    • Until I saw and experienced the cozy town of Spearfish with its camping ground for myself it remained a theoretical entity
    • The best was the ability to put our tents ten feet away from the running brook!

4 | Friends matter—choose them wisely

    • I was so intrigued by Merv and his three brothers whose tradition it was of riding down to Sturgis, that I invited myself along
    • They always stayed over in the campground of Spearfish, 32 km away from Sturgis, avoiding being trampled by over 400,000 attendees with bikes
    • As you’ll see in the images, because I wore different clothing and my bike stood out, it mattered that I wasn’t alone.
    • Friends can shape us, “lift us up,” or “pull us down.”
    • Friendship can only flourish if it is nurtured by both parties—compassion and understanding is vital
    • It matters—family we can’t choose—friends we do

5 | It’s okay to be different—to stand out a bit.

    • This statement got a whole new perspective for me
    • I could just as well have worn a pink leather suit! The majority of riders wore jeans with tufted leather breeches, a leather muscle-shirt with a bandanna as head protection
    • And there I was with my black ballistic nylon suit and full-face helmet and strange looking bike
    • It’s okay—stand by what you believe
    • Stick to your plan—Do your thing—don’t run off with every new idea

6 | Slow down if you need to alter course.

    • I rented the bicycle from the local bicycle shop
    • Here’s the thing—it “was not shop policy” to rent bicycles.
    • It took some negotiation to convince the owner to rent me one for exercise
    • As the sign indicates: due to the sharp bend in the road, it was advised to reduce speed (24 km/h)
    • From time to time we have to alter the course our personal or professional life takes
    • It can only happen if you “slow down”: ponder, plan, then execute

7 | It often pays to mind your own business.

    • I believe there is a time to speak up
    • But there are also times to keep silent
    • The same goes for keeping your eyes to yourself—it’s the smarter choice

8 | The impossible becomes doable if you persist.

    • The one day I rode out to the famous Devils Tower in Wyoming
    • This fascinating solid rock outcrop comprises of gigantic rock “pillars” or columns
    • I walked the circular path around its base—a little over a kilometer long
    • Watching the rock-climbers, it soon became evident—those climbing with one or two others progressed much faster than the one’s venturing out alone

9 | Don’t be afraid to ask—you may just get a yes.

    • And here’s the bicycle which I was allowed to rent, only because I refused to take “NO” as an answer
    • It’s true: If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.
    • Do your research, do the work—then ASK
    • Mike Loomis has an exceptional approach to “ask” influencers. He calls it the three sentence ask.

10 | Doing what is right is better than doing what you can get away with.

    • I had to look twice to believe my eyes: the little dog riding on the gas tank of his owner’s bike!
    • We often do whatever we can get away with
    • As long as I’m not caught is our guiding principle.
    • Do what’s right. It pays in the end—always
    • The German expression, “Ehrlich währt am längsten,” Honesty is best, remains true.

You don’t need to go and purchase a Harley-Davidson (and a bandanna) to learn and apply these truths to your life or arm-press someone into renting you a bicycle. A little while back I had to sell the bike with all its accessories. (But that’s another story.)

Often, you only have to learn to pay attention, be a mindful friend and don’t be afraid to do a big ask.

And this is our journey—whether we walk (or ski) or pedal or ride—it matters what we choose and decide every day! Choose wisely.

Have an exhilarating journey!

Thank you for reading!

Enjoyed this? Want more? Check out some of my other short stories here!

You can also find a FREE copy of my short story, Young Maxime  here. (It is the prequel to my novel, Maxime.)

© 2018 Danie Botha. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Outside the US border post. The one with the yellow bag belonged to me.

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