Getting away (at an MOA Getaway)

Motorcycling is much more than just riding.  I’ve devoted considerable attention to the joys of garage time, the long-lasting value of pre-ride excitement and post-ride memories, and the impact riding has on our identity, problem-solving skills, mood, outlook, and confidence when we’re not in the saddle.  I’ve also talked about the importance of camaraderie, and how belonging to the riding community can be one of the most rewarding aspects of motorcycling.

All of these apply here.  For example, simply anticipating and getting ready for the MOA Getaway at Fontana enhanced a great deal of my time over the prior few weeks, regardless of anything that might happen during the actual event.  Even better: Once in the mix with fellow enthusiasts completely unknown to me, I have again been impressed with the instantaneous chemistry among folks with a shared passion.

No matter how many times I experience it, I always marvel at the ease and positive energy with which motorcycling strangers engage one another.  Maybe it’s partly a function of my introversion and general tendency to hover on the periphery of groups, preferring the more manageable stimulation level of one-on-one interaction.  This makes me hesitant to jump in at large gatherings, especially when I know none of the participants.  Undoubtedly, more extroverted types find nothing out of the ordinary about launching or joining lively discussions they find purely entertaining and stress-free.  By contrast, people like me (introverts comprise 25% of the population) can feel awkward, self-conscious and apprehensive, making it so we aren’t inclined to do much initiating in social situations.  That’s not to say we can’t do it, or even that we don’t eventually loosen up and really enjoy it, but it’s an initially effortful process fraught with more uncertainty and tension than it is for extroverts.

As we all know, Murphy’s First Law of Touring states that despite a long stretch of perfectly gorgeous weather leading up to a trip, rain will commence immediately upon departure from your driveway.  And so it did as I set out for Fontana.  In the midst of a spectacular spring here in the southern Appalachians, featuring unusually dry, warm, clear days, the weekend of the Fontana Getaway brought dark, leaden skies that really did start releasing their payload right as I pulled out onto the street.

Although they were accompanied by dramatically cooler temps and threatened deluge throughout the scant two hours I spent snaking over the mountains between my home in Knoxville and Fontana Village Resort, the clouds merely toyed with me—I never had to contend with anything more than the lightest showers and a bit of mist.  Still, I was on high alert, having not done any significant riding in the rain for a long time, and certainly not along roads known to be treacherous in the best of weather, like the 318 curves leading to Deal’s Gap, which comprised one leg of my meager voyage.

It was also my first time riding with packed luggage on the F 800 GT I bought last autumn (what a difference a loaded top box makes to the center of gravity!), and the first time I’d be checking out the wet traction of its Pirelli Diablos.  A great bike and nice tires, for sure, but nevertheless unfamiliar to me in these conditions.  It was also my first multi-day outing on a bike in years.

Mark’s F 800 GT outside the main building at Fontana Lodge.

There was a time when I thought nothing of chasing the horizon, rain or shine, on sporting hardware much less appropriate for the task than my GT.  I even rode locally in the rain because it was raining, just for variety and the added sense of challenge and adventure.  Distance riding has been off my menu for over a decade, however, because my stable hasn’t contained a street bike capable of carrying anything more than a small tank bag, no matter how inventive I tried to get with makeshift luggage.  Wet-weather riding on the street lost its appeal over the years as I got moisture aplenty off-road, slogging through deep mud and drenching myself during water crossings.  Granted, my tiny trek to Fontana hardly qualified as “touring,” especially within the BMW community, but it was a way of easing back into motorcycle travel, which was the whole reason for buying this bike.  Even though I’d previously put many more miles on it just going on afternoon rides, there’s a difference in the ride when you know you’re coming home the same day as compared to when you know you’ll be sleeping somewhere else.

Fortunately, I still had comfortably functional gear for my chilly, damp jaunt over the mountains, and my bike and tires behaved flawlessly, albeit with a tad less grace while carrying extra weight high and rearward.  That was yesterday.  Now I’m writing from my room in the lodge as the Real Rain, along with gusty wind, is due to descend on the area today—the day when attendees were supposed to roam the multitude of fabulous roads nearby.  Weather radar shows a gigantic blob of precipitation on a collision course with us, more yellow and red than green, signifying torrential downpours rather than gentle showers.  I know from experience the weather in these mountains is notoriously hard to predict, as fronts get squirrely when confronting the sharply upswept topography.  We’ll see what happens, but I’m in no hurry to venture out.

This begs the question:  What am I doing here?  My trip over was far from terrible, but it wasn’t ideal.  Today may well be a write-off as far as riding goes, and the rain might linger for my return home tomorrow (probably clearing as I reach my driveway).  Given my home’s proximity to this two-wheel paradise, I can visit whenever I like, cherry-picking conditions to maximize my enjoyment and minimize any discomfort or inconvenience.  Why bother coming here now?

Consider what follows a partial plug for these Getaways—“partial” because I’m only going to cover a couple of the reasons they’re worthwhile.  You might think the main attraction is the riding, and maybe you’d be right.  This is my first Getaway, so I can’t speak for the others, but they seem to be purposely located amidst excellent roads and pretty scenery in their respective locales; this one certainly is.  The MOA is a motorcycling club, after all.  What’s left when the riding is ruled out by genuinely awful weather?  I mean, riding through some rain is one thing, but traversing mountain passes in the middle of a cloudburst with powerful wind gusts isn’t an experience anyone craves.  Well, the Fontana weekend is allowing me to answer the aforementioned question.

Although I sat alone at an empty table upon my early arrival in the event hall while it was still sparsely populated, I was soon joined by a cadre of delightful cohorts as the place filled up.  Because we started with the knowledge we had something very important in common, and because we all love talking and hearing about that same something, conversation flowed easily and exuberantly from the first minute I had company.  The context of motorcycling released me from my usual reserve and—as it has always done before—gave me the chance to live like “the other half” (really, the other 75%) and be an extrovert for the evening.

On the road, loaded down and headed for Fontana.

It’s amazing how little we actually learned about the details of each others’ personal lives. We packed our discussions with talk of bikes and rides, lessons learned the hard way, humbling moments at riding schools, funny and harrowing surprises in the saddle, and lots of wish-list items—some of which we got to learn more about from each other.  While I can’t tell you anyone’s last name, their family composition, what sort of work they do, anything about their relationship history, or their affiliations with other cultural sub-categories, I’m confident I got a meaningful glimpse of their psyches in their motorcycling stories.  We left the table as new friends, having felt both interested in, and interesting to, one another.  I think part of what happens when riders get together is they realize it’s finally okay to discuss what we’ve wanted to talk about, but had to squelch, in our routine interactions with “everyone else.”  (Introverts aren’t the only minority here; motorcyclists are one, too.)  With this sense of permission, the strained floodgates open, and there’s no room for other topics.  We’re all grateful for the release and want to take full advantage of it.

I’m also enjoying another benefit of coming here, despite the weather and truncated riding opportunities.  I’ve been dealing with the countless hassles and chores of moving for weeks now, and I’m still far from finished.  No matter how much I accomplish, any attempt to rest is plagued by a relentless parade of “shoulds.”  I should be packing more boxes.  I should be touching up the blemishes around my old house.  I should be making arrangements for some element of the transition, and on and on.  Coming to Fontana Village, where there’s zero cell service and barely a Wi-Fi signal to be found, I can’t do anything I should be doing.  No packing, no spackling, no arranging.  I slept better last night than I have in a month, and I can feel the absence of weight on my shoulders.

In psychology, we refer to the illusory “geographical cure,” the common belief that if a person just relocates, they’ll escape their problems.  Of course, people almost always carry their problems with them, so changes in scenery tend to produce only fleeting, if any, relief.  Relief, transient or not, is still relief.  Plucking ourselves out of our day-to-day struggles and obligations doesn’t make them go away, but it does allow us to tackle them more efficiently and effectively.  The reprieve not only feels good, it helps us regain perspective, restores our stamina, and encourages a better attitude for returning to the salt mines.  All this is even more true when our break is spent plugged into the invigorating energy of fellow riders.

Even without the riding, MOA Getaways are highly recommended.  I will be doing more motorcycle traveling—definitely!


Epilogue:  Although it rained most of the day, the predicted monsoon never arrived.  One part of my forecast came true, however: The sky’s threats continued until right after I got home, when the sun burst forth as if on cue.  Really!  After writing the above story, I joined a different group for lunch and we talked up a “storm” while waiting out the literal one over the course of the afternoon.  The evening’s festivities were more of the same.  This Getaway—for me, at least—was all about communing with kindred spirits.  I can ride anytime, but how often do I get to make a bunch of new friends and jabber about motorcycling for hours on end?  Having completed the rest of the weekend, my recommendation for the Getaways is even more enthusiastic.


Editor’s Note: To learn more about the MOA Getaways, visit the MOA website at bmwmoa.org and click on “Events” in the menu. Select a Getaway and start deciding which ones you want to attend!

Mark Barnes, Ph.D.

Mark Barnes is a clinical psychologist and motojournalist. To read more of his writings, check out his book Why We Ride: A Psychologist Explains the Motorcyclist’s Mind and the Love Affair Between Rider, Bike and Road, currently available in paperback through Amazon and other retailers.