The Hardest Part About Riding a Motorcycle Across America

I have always enjoyed my alone time. As an introvert, social activities drain me of energy, making it easy to justify spending time by myself. I remember having numerous conversations with friends before I left in June about how excited I was to spend days without speaking to anyone else, free from the distractions of other people. That opportunity to be alone in my own thoughts, experiencing new places and reading as much as I wanted was one of the biggest factors that helped me decide to take this adventure. 

And I have greatly enjoyed having that experience. I have gone days without speaking to people, and weeks without seeing a familiar face. I’ve explored who I am and pondered big questions for hours at a time, free from distraction, as I travel from place to place. Being alone benefits you in many ways, and is crucial for understanding yourself.

But I get lonely. Very lonely. 

I thought I had been lonely before, but there is nothing that compares to the loneliness that sets in after ten hours on a motorcycle. And dealing with that loneliness has been the hardest part of this journey. 

At first, spending hours on the motorcycle was physically and mentally demanding. After a long day on the bike, your legs turn soft, your shoulders ache, and your hands become stiff. Your mind must stay completely alert on the road, analyzing every sound, smell, or flick of movement for potential danger, knowing that at any moment something or someone could throw you from the machine. But your body slowly hardens and your mind sharpens to the hours on the road. What started as a challenge, simply riding the motorcycle for long periods of time, becomes routine just like any other task done every day. 

When your body and mind become comfortable on the motorcycle, your thoughts begin to narrow. And as your thoughts narrow, loneliness sets in.

It first happened when I was traveling across upstate New York. The nature of riding a motorcycle requires living in the moment. It requires constant attention to the road and your surroundings. This focus becomes automatic and habitual, but in doing so, a separation forms between you and everything else.

As the hours passed, I started to feel this complete disconnection from everything around me. I didn’t pass other cars. I didn’t see other people. My thoughts became more and more focussed on simply what I was experiencing at that very moment, but in a perverse and jaded way. I had no past self, no future self, only a current existence that had no connection to anything else around me. And slowly, an overwhelming wave of loneliness started to wash over my body. It was a loneliness that I had never before experienced. The feeling permeated my mind, making the world around seem like a desolate place. 

This feeling has set in many times, but I’m slowly learning to move through those emotions. Leaving a place after meeting new people or visiting old friends only accentuates the feelings, particularly when the next destination seems so far away. It usually comes when I move past a town, the scenery starts to melt away, and the road gets straight and flat. The world starts to fade and I slowly become disconnected with everything but what sits before me. 

But then I see something beautiful. Or meet a stranger at a campground. Or hear from a friend asking me where I am on my journey. These moments clear away the sinking feelings of despair that come when loneliness washes over me. They make me realize that I am not alone, no matter where I am. They pull me out of the fog that keeps me from seeing the wide world around me, and I smile, content again to be in that moment.