Cars aren’t motorcycles, although they can be useful. When I need to move more than a motorcycle can carry, or when it’s winter and the snow is piling up on the roads or when I must transport a passenger who’s not interested in riding there, a car is a good tool for the job.
But for enjoying the journey, most cars leave me wanting. Sitting behind locked doors and looking out through closed windows, occupants of a car miss clues to the world outside. The fragrance of blooming wildflowers, the sweetness of freshly cut hay, the tang of shade tobacco curing in slat barns, or the bite of salty air near the ocean are masked. Cars even coddle drivers and passengers with the creature comforts of home: climate control, carpeting, courtesy lighting, reclining seats, and more.
In a car, you are indoors looking out. You’re in a cage. On a motorcycle, you are outdoors, part of the environment and its sensory experiences. While I was riding through southwestern Nova Scotia bound for Cape Breton, the shore road didn’t always provide me a view of the ocean, but olfactory clues informed me that the tide was out. I also detected what a meteorologist described as “more of the smell of everything” when barometric pressure drops. Sure enough, the rain came while I had eggs, toast, and coffee in a roadside diner. My riding gear is waterproof, so despite a preference for sun, I didn’t let the rain spoil my ride.
After breakfast I continued east along the shore. Hard, steady rain pelted my helmet, surrounding my head with the sound of popping corn. I pulled into the port town of Lunenburg, a remarkable sight even in the rain, and followed signs to the tourist welcome center where there was sure to be a restroom. Following much needed relief, I looked through the tourism exhibits in the lobby. In the continuing downpour, a sedan drove into the parking lot. Four car doors flew open and slammed shut, and four people sprinted to the building. Two teenaged girls arrived first, complaining about how wet they’d gotten. Their parents, trying to make light of their soaking, joined in the chorus, but one look at me in my wet riding attire made the father feel lucky.
“You must be soaked to the skin!” he said. I smiled and assured him that I was dry underneath my riding gear.
“Really?” he replied. “That’s funny. You’re riding on a motorcycle and you’re dry. We’re riding in a car and we’re soaked!”
I agreed; it was funny. Even the teens appreciated the irony. I pointed out that warm-air hand dryers in restrooms work great to dry clothes, and the girls and their mother disappeared into the ladies’ lavatory.
“Sorry you’re having to ride in bad weather,” the father said.
“There’s really no bad weather,” I replied, “just bad gear for the weather you’re having.” He smiled and asked what it’s like to ride a motorcycle in the rain. “It’s actually a lot like driving a car in the rain,” I explained. “Visibility and traction are reduced, braking distances are increased, and you need to watch your speed. What’s different on a motorcycle is you’re outdoors.” The father nodded and then headed into the gents’ facilities.
A few minutes later when he returned, still waiting for his wife and daughters, he continued the small talk. “So where are you headed?”
“Halifax tonight,” I replied, “then Cape Breton.” That was his plan too. He’d come along the shore road in search of scenic views, but fog and rain ruined that. I asked if he had noticed the scent of salt air along the shore road or felt the change in temperature as the road moved closer to the water, or if he had smelled low tide or detected that smell of everything before the rain came. He admitted noticing none of those things.
“That’ll happen when you’re in a cage,” I said.
“A cage?” he asked.
“Yes, a cage,” he chuckled. “I get it. That’s funny, too.”
His wife and daughters emerged from the ladies’ room with smiles and dry clothes, ready to resume their trip. Silently, I wondered how they would get back to the car without getting wet again. The father’s wry smile revealed what he was thinking: His family would soon be back inside their cage, insulated from the outside world in wet clothes, while the motorcycle guy would be taking it all in, outdoors but dry in his gear.
“Well, enjoy your ride,” the father said with a wave. “I’m sure you will. You’re not in a cage.”