by Liz Jansen
Sharon Hunt started riding in April 2013. This year, she booked a trip to Alaska with MotoQuest Tours —her first group tour. After listening to Kevin Hagerty’s interview on the Wheels to Wisdom podcast, Sharon offered to share her perspective as a new rider, to the same questions I asked Kevin, because, “At 61, we don’t have a lifetime to learn all these things the hard way.”
Here in Sharon’s words, is her perspective.
This was an adventure! I did things beyond my comfort level. It was an unknown risk. It included the unknown of the territory, the people I’d be traveling with, the bike I’d be using, and the culture. I knew I’d have to adapt to a 4-hour difference in time zones and 24-hour daylight.
- Use a checklist. You don’t know what you don’t know but you find out quickly when you’re on a group tour. In preparation, I took the (Liz’s) online Get Started with Solo Motorcycle Travel course and found the checklist “golden.” I also appreciated the advice to get experience riding in the rain, riding on gravel, increasing the distances you’re comfortable riding in a day, and practicing riding under different conditions.
- Sharpen your skills. One of the smartest things I did was take a Ride Like a Pro class before leaving. I learned a lot that can apply to my every day riding. I would have benefited from an off-road training as well, although it’s not where I ride at home. I had no idea how a bike felt in gravel.
- Expect a bike that’s different than your own (unless you’re a BMW rider). I ride a Harley-Davidson Switchback which is low and heavy. The BMW 700GS felt more like a bicycle in terms of the handlebars and the ability to turn it. It was lighter and more agile, but also had a higher seat which took some getting used to.
- Arrive a day early and get orientated. I did this to help adjust to the time zone difference and the perpetual daylight. In retrospect, I wish I would have connected with MotoQuest the day before to see the bike, get oriented and maybe go for a little spin around the block.
- Research your gear and test it before you leave. I had a new riding suit and new helmet, but didn’t know how to evaluate gear for the conditions I’d be in. One of our longest days was 270 miles in the driving rain and my “waterproof” boots leaked, so I had wet feet all day. We all got Schuberth helmets and I loved mine.
- Organize your packing. I was pleased with the clothing I brought, but wish I’d packed in smaller packs within my luggage. It would have been a lot simpler than rearranging a suitcase every night. Also take extra plastic bags in case something leaks.
- Prepare for changing road conditions. This was an all paved tour but when you hit a sign that says, “Construction and loose gravel for 18 miles,” you’ve got to do it. In the rain this loose gravel was mud and potholes. But I did it and called it my biggest accomplishment.
- Bring extra wipes—of all sorts. This is remote country. There are a lot of bugs, so I learned to clean my face shield whenever we stopped. I didn’t think about being out in the wilderness and at some of our stops the bathroom was a port-a-potty. Luckily I carried extra hand wipes with me, which everybody used, but at some of the places I wished I’d had a bit of extra toilet tissue.
- Choose electronics wisely. I took a GoPro camera which I was not familiar with—a mistake. I took my iPhone to receive e-mail but I wish I had taken my iPad or my laptop. Even so, because of the remoteness, reception isn’t a guarantee.
- Get a visor with a pin lock. I learned the value of having a pin lock when riding in the rain and humidity. As soon as I got home I put them on all my helmets.
- Make your own flight reservations, even though the tour comopany offers the service. You can save yourself some money and make connections that are more suitable for you.
- Travel with your gear. MotoQuest recommends you ship your gear out ahead of time to make sure it arrives, but that was costly. I would do whatever I could to get a direct flight and keep my gear with me.
- Get experience in group riding. As a newbie I ride mostly solo or with two or three other people. I wasn’t used to group riding. Make sure you understand the rules the group is riding with before you start. You’ll find that the riding experience and life experience within the group can be diverse.
- Get to know others. I appreciated that MotoQuest set up a Facebook page for our group so you could get to know the women before you got there. For some of us who aren’t FB savvy, we had to get up to speed very quickly.
- Utilize the support vehicle. I loved the support vehicle. That’s the only thing that made me think twice about traveling solo. You didn’t have to worry about your accommodations, where you were going to eat, and everything was prearranged. And if you had a problem with your bike, they were able to help.
- Expect to adapt to group riding. I like to ride by myself and my comfort pace is different than the group. At home, I go on twisty back roads at 45-55 mph. Because Alaska is so wide open, the speed limit is 65-70 mph everywhere outside of urban areas. Traveling at that speed in the rain was beyond my comfort zone, but I did it.
I used to be a fair weather rider. If it wasn’t 50+ degrees or if there was a probability of rain, I just didn’t go out.
At the end of the tour I said if I had known what this tour was really like before signing up, I probably would not have gone. But having done it, I’m so proud of myself. It really stretched me, I learned a lot, and I felt that I could fly after that. It really built my confidence level, not dangerously so, but in a good way and now I’m ready to go!
MotoQuest is putting together a southwest tour for us. We’re going again! And I’m anxious to take my bike down the east coast.
Liz’s Note: Sharon, you deserve a gold medal. You pushed your comfort zone and kept on riding right through it. We are proud of you too!