The Joys of Not Roughing It
As much as I like camping, as much as I enjoy the back-to-basics delight of cooking over an open fire and the novelty of stumbling out of my tent in the wee hours to relieve myself, really and truthfully, I’m a sucker for a hot shower and a soft bed. Particularly after a long day on a motorcycle.
In the five years that I’ve been Rider’s Road Test Editor—a milestone that I hit last Tuesday, in fact—I’ve traveled to 16 foreign countries, to 17 U.S. states and extensively throughout California, and I’ve stayed in hotels in nearly every instance. Sure, we had a staff camping trip last spring and I camped during press launches for the Triumph Tiger 800 and BMW R 1200 GS, but 99% of the time, mercifully, I’ve stayed in hotels.
On my desk is a stack of hotel key cards from places I’ve stayed while on assignment for Rider, and at last count I had 89 of them, and that doesn’t include more than a few places where I’ve stayed that had actual metal keys that had to be returned upon checkout. There is absolutely no point to collecting all of those key cards, other than having something to write about in this paragraph, but once you start collecting something, it’s a hard habit to break.
Not only do hotels provide the aforementioned shower and bed, they provide free soap. (Having mastered the art of pilfering complimentary personal care products, I haven’t paid for my own soap in years, and I’ve got more shower caps than I could possibly use in a lifetime; that I’m bald is beside the point.) And, if you’re lucky, free coffee and free wifi. I say lucky because if you happen to being staying at a fancy, luxurious hotel, you get a big fluffy bathrobe to wear along with the privilege of paying extra for the coffee and internet access. Perhaps that’s how those hotels got to be so fancy; they’re experts at separating guests from their money. It’s the less flashy, value-priced hotels and motels that keep you caffeinated and connected to the world, with their compliments. Some of them even throw in a hot breakfast!
Later this year I’ll hit another milestone, the Big 4-0. As the precipice draws near, my memory seems to be deteriorating at an alarming pace. Thank goodness my iPhone saves me from having to remember all those phone numbers, or perhaps it is such laziness that has accelerated my memory loss in the first place. Nonetheless, I’ve got some rather indelible memories of hotels I’ve stayed in while traveling on a motorcycle.
Like the rambling old Armour’s Hotel, built in 1924, in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, a town that was once a popular wellness destination due to the mineral-rich water that bubbles up from the ground. On a Tuesday back in 2005, I was the only guest there while on my first-ever solo motorcycle tour, a 10-day loop from New Orleans, Louisiana, to the Honda Hoot rally in Knoxville, Tennessee, and back home again. My mind, body and spirit were restored with a deep-tissue massage, a hot soak in mineral water that smelled like rotten eggs and a high-calorie, home-cooked breakfast.
Or La Fonda Hotel and Spa, just north of Ensenada in Baja, Mexico, where my brother and I spent Christmas in 2006. We rode down from Los Angeles, and it was my first-ever trip south of the border (I had moved to California from Louisiana earlier that year). After hours on the bike, we decompressed with massages (I try never to pass up on a good massage), and then proceeded to eat too much greasy Mexican food and drink too many Tecates and tequila shots, watching the sun sink into the Pacific from the hotel’s clifftop deck. Feliz Navidad!
Or the Pioneer Motel in Carson City, Nevada, where I stayed during the first night of my first tour test for Rider, a week-long journey aboard the just-released three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder. After riding all day across the Mojave Desert and then north alongside the majestic Sierra Nevada, I pulled into Carson City just as the sun was setting. The Pioneer had that essential quality of every good motorcycle-friendly hotel: it was next door to a bar and grill, a place where I rewarded myself for a successful day on the road with a juicy hamburger and a frosty adult beverage (or two). And it had that other nearly-as-essential quality of every good motorcycle-friendly hotel, or perhaps motel: being able to park the bike (or trike, in this case) right outside my room, making it easy to schlep gear to and fro.
Or Two Wheels Only Motorcycle Resort and Campground, a rustic gathering place in Suches, Georgia, on one leg of the renowned “Georgia Triangle,” one of the best riding areas in the Southeast. It opened in 1982 and closed in 2011. I stayed there in 2009 with my brother, Yamaha’s then-PR guy Kevin Foley and a friend of Kevin’s, during a tour test of Yamaha FJR1300s. For dinner, we rode to the Dahlonega, the nearest town, to have dinner at the incomparable Smith House, where they say “country cookin’ makes you good lookin,'” and then back to TWO in the dark on very tricky Route 180. Good thing I was keyed up on sweet tea.
Like motorcycles, when it comes to hotels I’m not especially brand loyal. Why limit yourself, ya know? But a few years ago I stayed at three different Best Western hotels in Canada—in Edmonton, Jasper and Banff—during a press ride co-hosted by BW and Harley-Davidson to feature their partnership in the Ride Rewards program, as well as Best Western’s Rider Friendly hotels. I like racking up reward points even more than I like stockpiling tiny bars of soap, so every chance I get I stay at Best Western. The rates are reasonable and breakfast is included. There are over 4,000 Best Western hotels in more than 100 countries, each independently owned and operated. I’ve stayed at Best Westerns throughout California while on tour tests, photo shoots and press launches, as well as Best Westerns in Scotland and Switzerland, while sightseeing before press events. But for some reason I keep referring to the hotel chain as West Bestern.
Probably the coolest place I’ve stayed during my motorcycle travels is the Shooting Star Drive-in, a retro resort just outside of Escalante, Utah, where guests stay in customized Airstream trailers. Each trailer has a deck with Adirondack chairs and a gas grill, and all of them are decorated with retro Hollywood themes, such as Ann’s Cabana (Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas), The Kid’s Hideout (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and Sugar’s Shack (Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot). The Shooting Star has an actual drive-in movie theater, and guests get to choose from a variety of vintage cars to sit in while they watch old-school films, munching on throwback candy and soda. I stayed there last August during the Victory Motorcycles Strip 2 Chip Ride, and our moto crew got a special screening of The Wild One.
Camping is nice, but I’ll take a hot shower and a soft bed any day. And a few mini soaps for the road.