To Smell A Place

Most adventure motorcycle riders will tell you that traveling by motorcycle is a different experience than traveling any other way. Whether it’s in your own country or passing through countries foreign to you, part of the mystique of adventure riding is wrapped up in the persuasion that you’ll experience something different from our 4-wheeled traveling counterparts.

It differs in many ways. Some very obvious and some much more subtle. I myself am just beginning to experience them for myself and am by no means an expert. Despite that, I think it’s worth sharing some of these with you. For those of you that ride hopefully you’ll think to yourselves, “yes, that’s it.” For those of you that don’t ride hopefully it will shed some light on why we choose to ride 14 hours each way, which turns into 20 with traffic, when we could easily purchase an airline ticket and arrive in a much more reasonable 2.5 hours. To be fair, travel to and from the airport makes the air travel time more like 6 hours each way, but many would still argue that you could much more easily ensure arriving for that out-of-town wedding on time, in one piece and far less wrinkled by choosing air over motorcycle travel.

I won’t bore you with the obvious ones – like when it rains you get wet or the fact that there isn’t quite as many position changes available to you when fatigque sets in behind the bars as there are behind the wheel. But rather, I’ll try to share some of the lesser obvious, as I discover them myself.

Crack your helmet face shield on the road at 80 mph and air rushes in on your nostrils like they’ve become the ram air intake on a Yamaha VMAX. This increased airflow can have a refreshing, exhilarating effect on you. Strangely enough, it also seems to magnify the scents of things and places along the way. I suppose this actually makes sense since having more air pass over the sensitive smell receptors in your nose would naturally allow you to smell more things. But you might be surpised how much so.

When riding in a car you don’t get this effect. When standing still the scents become much more subtle – if not disappear altogether. But when you are on a motorcycle things and places have strong, recognizable scents. I began to notice this on our ride this past week. For example, New Brunswick, NJ smells distinctly of Indian spices. Some places smell green, some of wildflower perfume. Others like sawdust or potting soil. It’s intoxicating. Of course, with this increased sense of smell also comes an increased awareness of the garbage truck you just passed or the skunk that recently met it’s end on the side of the road. And not all places have pleasant smells. Not to name names or anything, but the whiff of Philidelphia I got was none too pretty.

On the road you smell everything – pavement, fresh spring greens, the red van ahead that’s taking mary jane for a ride…. Experiences you would otherwise miss are magnified riding a motorcycle.

Not wanting to leave the theory untested I began making particular note of the scents of places to see if they would indeed smell the same on the way back. Sure enough, I cought that hint of Indian spices passing for a second time through New Brusnwick. Other things smelled the same – too many to name and some much more subtle. I’m sure the seasons will change the smells as well. As summer waxes on I’m sure that the scents of spring wildflowers will be replaced with more summer appropriate smells.

They say that olfaction is highly connected with memories. Perhaps riding motorcycles across country becomes that much more vivid for us because of that increased sense of smell when going 80 down the freeway. Oops, did I say 80? I meant more like the posted 65.

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