I guess I've been on the road long enough to have encountered some frequently asked questions.
Q: What is that?
I am riding a 2009 Vespa GTS 250. It's a modern Vespa, 4-stroke, 244cc, fuel-injected, liquid cooled, dual disc brake, CVT, all the fanciness. No oil and gas mixing, no shifting (I miss shifting), no carb. Power of a small motorcycle, parking with the mopeds, handles like a scooter that outgrew its clothes.
Q: How fast does it go?
The rev limiter kicks on at an indicated 90mph. I believe the speedo is 10-15% off. It keeps up and I've heard people hold it all day at WOT without hurting the engine, but I tire of getting beaten up by the wind at high speeds.
Q: Do you need a license?
Yes. A license to kill.
...Okay, yes you need a motorcycle license. In Rhode Island, you're required to complete a motorcycle safety course to get your rider's license, which covers the same topics as the MSF safety course. It was a lot of fun, and I felt more confident on a bike afterwards.
Q: What is your range, mileage, and cruising speed?
The GTS has a two gallon tank, and with typical use (for me) gets around 70mpg. On the Blue Ridge Parkway, going around 45-50mph without stops, I consistently hit 80mpg. On the interstates, maintaining 70mph, in heavy traffic, or with a strong headwind on wide open ground, I see closer to 60mpg.
If I run it dry I should be able to get 140 miles to a tank, but I start looking for gas around 100 miles. I'm carrying a spare gallon gas can with a little Sea Foam in it for when I'm in more remote areas, which I hope will give me around a 200 mile range.
I like to cruise around 55-60mph, but it depends. On straight open stretches, I find the needle at 80 more often than I like to admit.
Q: What/how do you pack?
Here's a diagram!
Q: Where do you stay?
Here's a pie chart!
I have the National Parks Annual Pass (you can purchase one here or when you walk up to any of the national parks), and I also use online resources to find overnight accommodations. My go-to's beyond just a local Google search are ADV tentspace, freecampsites.net, Couchsurfing.com (here's my profile!), and Airbnb.com.
Q: What do you do in the rain?
Put on gear and keep riding, if I need to get somewhere. Or wait, if it's passing and I'm not in a rush.
Q: How did you start riding?
Hey, I have a post about that. Another way to put it: Bicycling around Providence wasn't quite enough, but a car meant payments, insurance, and service for something I didn't want or use for much more than going to my martial arts school and picking up groceries. But a scooter... I saw the local scooter club tearing down the street one Wednesday night and thought, "I could do that." The idea receded into the background for years, until my local scooter shop was liquidating (RIP Javaspeed). I bought a red 50cc Genuine Buddy up front. From there, it was a rapid descent down the rabbit hole.
Q: Where are you ending up?
I don't know, that's part of the point. My stuff is in storage in RI, so I have to fetch that eventually, but I don't plan on moving back there.
Q: Are you independently wealthy/are you a teacher?
Nope, and you don't have to be to travel. I work as a freelance illustrator for children's books, and I happened to be at a point when I had a more relaxed schedule and decided to take my work on the road. I've also reduced my belongings and packed them into storage. The gist is that instead of paying rent, I pay for campgrounds and bike maintenance.
I must admit, I've been lucky in my illustration career. I take odd jobs as they come, but the large chunk sums from book advances (and subsequent habit of budgeting) has been the most reliable funding for this trip. It's an ever-present worry for the day book money dries up, but it was like that before I hit the road.
Also, I count myself extraordinarily fortunate to find support in family (available in emergencies), friends, and friends made along the way (especially on ADV forums). I ride alone a lot, but I don't feel like I travel alone. The generosity and stability of other people has been a huge part of the journey. I daresay it would be impossible without you guys!
Q: Isn't it lonely/scary traveling alone?
As a freelancer of several years, I both like and am very used to the freedom of making my own schedule. I have been described is fiercely independent. But in all fairness, sometimes I think it would be nice to share the day-in-day-out with a travel partner. On long rides, I hold many people in my thoughts. So yes, I do feel lonely sometimes, it just isn't enough to stop me. I'm happy exploring and letting paths cross for a while. Also, I share my experiences here online, and have met many people to share the journey with just by posting.
Regarding scariness, I like to think there are two kinds of fear. There's blind, irrational, and paralyzing fear. And there's fear that sharpens your senses, makes you check twice, and weigh the risks and consequences. Fear isn't inherently negative, it can spur you to evaluate a situation more closely.
So yeah, it's lonely and scary. It really sucks is when I get hurt or sick. It's just a tradeoff I accept, because it's also awesome, amazing, beautiful, heartwarming, and a million other feelings in the human emotional spectrum.
Q: Do you feel your martial arts training helps with tamping down fear?
There's a difference between martial arts training and combat training. I've dedicated years of study to Shaolin kungfu, sanshou, Muay Thai, and Brazillian jiu-jitsu. Self defense and fitness is part of that, but mostly I stuck with it because that's a lifestyle works for me, not because I'm preparing for combat. Perhaps that does give me an uncommon level of familiarity with my own physical abilities, but it's not the only way to find confidence or manage fear. Much like my bike, I'm regularly underestimated, so I watch carefully for other warning signs long before I find myself in a situation where I'd rely on martial arts training. I simply don't want to make that call. As always, your mileage may vary.
Q: But a single young girl needs to be careful out there!
That's not a question. Also, this attitude is a disservice to men and women I meet along the way. It's difficult to articulate why this rubs me the wrong way without using hot-button phrases, but I'm going to have a crack at it.
Some people are amazed I do this "as a woman", to which my first thought is, "How on earth else would I be doing this?" Scratching deeper though, I realize it's not necessarily a question of others doubting my ability, but about perception. It's true, a solo male traveler would be received differently, have different stigmas, and be open to different opportunities. For instance, even as a strange woman I'm unlikely to be considered a potential threat.
Dangers from inappropriate presumptions are real, and many women (myself included) have faced their share without even leaving home. This article (in spite of its cringeworthy title) sums up the dilemma female travelers face in what is arguably a man's world. To paraphrase: Having adventure requires the traveler to say yes, but society dictates that for her safety, women need to say no. Solo travel is entirely possible, but safety may require a more 'underdog' approach depending on your context; gender, race, or otherwise. For that matter, it's too simple to write off my boldness as a direct function of my background in martial arts – if anything, being physically capable merely illuminates what is beyond my abilities, and therefore where I need to take up the slack with other travel skills. Think traits like observation, character judgement, awareness, and effectively sizing up a situation.
In the end, I can only tell the story from my perspective and I only assume as much risk as I'm comfortable with. Is it more difficult to "do this as a woman" due to the blindness that male privilege affords? Is having an answer to that somehow supposed to make me feel better, like Nah nah nah it's harder for me? No? Then zero fucks are given.
People make all sorts of assumptions, and almost always it's a reflection on their past, not me personally. Just ask, and listen when people talk. Overwhelmingly, strangers have been exceptionally kind, if not slightly befuddled at this whole undertaking. I don't operate under the belief that I'm a victim, bait on two wheels. So far humanity has supported my case. Big thumbs up for humanity!
Whew, that was a long answer.
Q: What inspired you to take the trip?
There are a number of books I read that fanned the flames of wanderlust.
Q: Sure, books, by why are you doing this?
The complicated question. I guess, Why not? isn't quite going to cut it.
When I found riding, I found something that resonated deeply with me. The freedom and independence of extended and long distance travel was especially engaging. The only thing I really didn't like was the return trip. It always seemed like an unfortunate inevitability, like being gassy after eating edamame (is that just me?). Then it crossed my mind, what if I just don't come back? I feel like I've completed Level: Providence already, what if I take a trip where I just keep going? How can I make that happen?
And thus, my quest was born.
Q: Where are you ending up/Are you going back to Rhode Island?
I don't know, but I'm not planning on moving back to RI.
Aside from just a love for riding as a means of exploring the world, I think there wasn't much left for me in Providence. Don't get me wrong, it's a great town, but if I'm going to get a bit personal here... in the 7 years I lived there, I already found everything I wanted from Providence. I supported myself in a 2-bedroom apartment, where I turned the second bedroom into my work studio. I learned the domestic game, and made it a comfortable nest. The apartment came with a great, structurally sound, clean, locking garage (a gem in New England), which housed my bikes, tools, and accessories. In my neighborhood, I was within walking distance of anything I could need in case of bad weather - post office, groceries, pharmacy, banks, cafes, even the train and bus stations to get out of town. I made friends and boyfriends, and was involved in roller derby and martial arts communities (I miss them all!). I could have coasted for years, accepting whatever books came my way, training in hopes of a match that may never happen, riding within a 400-mile radius in good weather, fleeing to Hong Kong in winter, and complaining about the same things year after year. The same variations on a theme, a holding pattern in a little city.
So, obviously, I had to explode it. My current job is deliberately location independent. I'm debt free, land free, spouse free, kid free, and healthy (even pet free since Wicket went to the big Habitrail in the sky in Feb 2014). Scoot is running great. The time was now, or quite possibly never. Kick complacency to the curb!
I hope this will become a new theme. Now I can complain about new things!