Jul 27, 2023

What 15 Days on a Motorcycle Taught Me This Summer

I’ve been everywhere, man.
— Johnny Cash

Traveling around the world is not my first rodeo. I’ve spent the better part of my 20 years leading ISA by moving around the globe at 30,000 feet. Long before virtual meetings were common place in our industry, I traveled from state to state, country to country, advising university and school leaders on the strategy and trends that they needed to deploy. Over that time — and in my leadership roles prior to running ISA — I have amassed 4 million air miles on Delta, lifetime Titanium Elite status on Marriott (whatever that means), and numerous other measures of travel to over 1200 clients in every state and 25 foreign countries. Travel has always been important to me as it helps me understand people, context, and culture.

When I was a kid growing up in a small town in Central Illinois, all the wealthier kids lived on farms. And, some of my farm friends had dirt bikes. So, quietly — and against my parents will and knowledge — I learned to ride them on occasion when I was between 12 and 15 years old. Fast forward to my college years when I met my now wife and life partner, Lisa, who also owns this company. When Lisa learned of my biking history, she let me clearly know that — if we were to have a future — I would not be riding a bike until our kids were out of college.

Our kids are out of college.

Like many people during the pandemic, I decided to go back to something I once knew and loved: riding a motorcycle. I bought a new bike and got reacquainted with an old friend. There is something about riding: the wind, the smells, the freedom, and the sense that you are deeply connected to the land and communities through which you are riding. It has never actually been about the bike for me. No, it is about the experience and connection with nature. I live in Southern California, where the weather is warm and sunny all year around, which makes it easy to take short trips to clear my head. Each year, I ride about 15K miles on short, three and four day solo rides, mostly to ground me, clear my head, and get away from the digital screen.

I decided to do something different this summer. I had a few clients that I needed to visit in somewhat remote places that would normally require both a flight and a long rental car drive. They also happened to be in the mountain west, a spectacular canvas for a summer motorcycle trip. Combining work and personal pleasure, I took a 15 day, 3800 mile, six state solo motorcycle trip to visit small towns in rural communities, stopping in diners, motels and rest stops on quiet highways. I talked to local people, ate a local places, and tried to be a quiet but active observer of the culture around me. I took the lonelier roads to give myself access to a part of America that I don’t see in my normal travel.

What did I learn on this walkabout? 15 days on a motorcycle helped me learn a few things that I really didn’t know before the trip.

  1. Staying away from a screen and constant tech connection is a wonderful gift to offer yourself. I highly recommend it to anyone.

  2. Rural, sleepy towns in the Intermountain West are not so rural and sleepy anymore. If they have a good mountain view and lower cost of living, wealth and relocation have found them. There are at least a dozen sleepy little towns that I rode through that are in the process of true transformation. And, I am not talking about the resort towns like Jackson, WY or Sun Valley, ID. I am talking about far less known and developed towns in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.

  3. People are tired of political and cultural division. Full stop. The more people I engaged, the more I learned there is a growing distaste for political and cultural division and increasing backlash against the cable news and social media that contributes to that divide.

  4. The future of education is up for grabs. Everywhere I went, the cost of a formal education and its perceived benefits are truly under attack. There is a growing cynicism that the high cost of college is simply not worth it.

  5. Artificial intelligence and augmented reality are scary topics to people. They are really worried about their impact, the potential replacement of jobs by their role, and their infringement on their way of life.

I also learned something really profound about myself. This trip taught me that the quiet and silence of nothing – sheer open roads and quiet spaces – is a blessing in itself. Our hurried lives make us rush through towns and settings that have so much to offer. I pulled over several times on my ride to a quiet spot on the road to wait out a rainstorm or get a short rest. Those moments of pure nothing were the most full of life moments I have had in years.

I will do it again. I think this could be an annual thing.

No Comments

  1. Matt Fowler on July 27, 2023 at 6:50 pm

    So cool. I hope you are correct about that Full Stop. The world is actually in a good place right now, by almost all measures. The people profiting from division are really the problems. Thanks for sharing Ian.

    • Ian Symmonds on July 27, 2023 at 7:42 pm

      Thanks Matt. So kind. I really appreciate it. Always enjoy your perspective. Been a long time since those days at Randolph. Be well, my friend.

  2. Jack Fuson on July 27, 2023 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing your unbelievable experience. What a great way to spend your summer. My hats off to you for having the courage to get out and experience the country away from the way we normally travel. I don’t know if I’ve got that in, but glad one of us still does! Be well buddy.

  3. Tracy Bennett on July 27, 2023 at 9:44 pm

    Wonderful reflections Ian! Your experience parallels my Camino – time alone in nature is truly a gift. I had to chuckle – both my sons had their motorcycle moments and I held my breath until they returned safely. Take care!

  4. Lee Thomsen on August 7, 2023 at 7:13 pm

    I so appreciate and share this perspective. For the first time, I took my summer vacation in one nearly four-week chunk, and it was so invigorating. It gave me meaningful time and distance from the day-to-day, which has helped lend perspective to the "putting out fires" mentality of our work.

Leave a Comment