Article and Photos By: Charlie Weisel
Originally Published In The May 2019 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
I had the pleasure of speaking to a fellow long-distance rider and chopper enthusiast by the name of Bob Marshall last week on his podcast called American Road Runner. American Road Runner is also the name of the book he recently published that chronicles his experience during a race across America called the Stampede, a race that sadly no longer exists. Many of you may remember this event, but for those of you that don’t, it was a no holds bar, highly illegal chopper race from coast to coast. The rules were fairly straight forward; your motorcycle had to be a true chopper, meaning hardtail, rigid mount motors, no windshields, no saddlebags, and no chase vehicles. There were some other basic rules beyond that, but these were the heavy hitters. During our recorded conversation, which, by the way, I still find the concept that anyone thinks I’m worth listening to very strange, we discussed not only the book, which you all should buy and read, but we also discussed the overall idea of high speed choppering and what that means to us. We both agreed that it is certainly not the most practical way to do long-range travel, nor is it the most comfortable, but is, without a doubt, the most fun.
What do I mean by “high speed choppering”? I mean putting yourself and your bike through the paces by accomplishing what most think is impossible on bikes like ours. One specific example is the always classic 1000 in 24 marks…1000 miles in 24 hours. Another more brazen milestone is 1500 miles in 24 hours, a challenge I’ve yet to take on but look forward to doing. What’s the point of all this one might ask? This certainly is a valid question and one that will make people question your sanity if you choose to tackle these challenges. This topic came up the other day among a group of my friends as we were discussing ridiculously long routes that we could turn into a race. Half of us were up for the challenge while the other half didn’t understand why we would even want to do such a thing. They agreed that leaving early and meeting up at a campsite would better suit their desires. The rest of us love the idea of seeing how far we can push ourselves, leaving the real question… why??
I think at the end of the day, all jokes about being masochists aside, we’ve come to understand the benefits of daring to achieve the near impossible. It is in the moments along the way when your back and arms are screaming in agony, when all you want to do is pull into a rest area and sleep or when you’ve overcome your tenth breakdown, and it seems like the world is against you that you find yourself being forced to either succumb to the pain and quit, or grit your teeth and push through. It is the pushing through, the mental gymnastics taking place in our sleep deprived and exhausted brains, where we find a level of peace and calmness among the screams. I’ve had these moments, and it is a very strange place to be, almost spooky. Everything in your being is screaming at you to stop; everything hurts, you start to think logically about the very real level of risk involved, the safety issues that are quickly becoming a priority to mitigate. These are legitimate concerns that should not be taken lightly and adversely are possible to defeat. The trick is to dig through the mental muck, claw through the part of your mind that is telling you to quit and find that quiet, more subtle voice that is telling you to dig deep and press on. It is typically the quiet voice in the corner that has the right answer, not the loud mouth screaming at the front of the room; the same goes for the thoughts in your head. Find that peaceful, soothing voice that is subtly convincing you to keep going and bring it to the forefront of your thoughts, let it speak and let yourself listen.
Doing this will then allow you to focus on your body, focus on the pain in your shoulders and your hands and just sit with it, be ok with it. Pain is a part of the process and, I think, the most important part. I find that spending my time focusing on the pain, each particular body part that is on fire, to be meditative. I start with my hands, wiggle my fingers a bit to get the blood flowing and loosen the joints. I then move up to my elbows and shoulders by lifting one arm at a time above and behind my head, letting my hand hang behind my back. I’ll then roll my head around to loosen my neck, often simply turning my head side to side to stretch out the muscles that have been fighting the wind for hours. From here I will focus on my legs, lifting one leg at a time from the floorboard and rolling my ankles and bending my knees. This is a routine I will go through nearly a hundred times throughout a thousand-mile day, sometimes I will go through it quickly, and other times, when the road allows, I take my time and enjoy it. In between stretches, I will focus on sitting still and calm, nearly the opposite of stretching. I focus on each body part and try to relax it. I focus on not moving anything and allowing the pain to wash through me until it is nearly soothing. This, I found, is truly meditative, when you can make everything go quiet, if only for a moment. The mind is at rest, the body at ease. This is the moment of pure bliss.
It is these routines that keep me going and keep my mind and body active while simultaneously sitting stagnant atop a motorcycle at 80 plus miles per hour, mile after mile. I’ve learned almost to enjoy the pain, primarily because I know that the mental strength I will gain from it is something I can apply to all aspects of my life, making me a more confident and resilient person. This is also the reason why I so often preach the benefit of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and stepping into the unknown. Whether that challenge, for you, is a 1000-mile day or your first solo three-day weekend ride, there will be a valuable lesson to be learned. More often than not you won’t know what the lesson is until it is presented to you in an often jarring way. Today is your day, go out and push the boundaries, seek the unknown and live to learn more about yourself.
Bob Marshall understands this almost more than anyone I know. He’s been there and done it, and his new book goes into great detail about the trials and tribulations of such lofty endeavors. He’s been through the paces and pushed himself through one of the most difficult races a person can take part in. If this sort of thing interests you, a guy like that is worth stopping to listen to. The fact that he loves to share his experiences and is excited to hear about yours presents the perfect recipe for a stimulating and motivating conversation. Want to learn more about high speed choppering? His exciting new book, website, and podcast is geared almost specifically to this style of riding. I highly advise you check it out. Furthermore, after you have pushed yourself to the limit and want to share the story about your experience, you can do so on his website at americanroadrunner thebook.com. On this website, you can also purchase his new book and listen to his podcast. Follow Bob on Instagram @americanroadrunner as well to stay up to date with his whereabouts. As always, you can also stay up to date with my travels on Instagram @ charlietravelingchopper