Let’s face it—times are tough right now. Huge wildfires in the west, hurricanes and tropical storms in the south and southeast with wind damage and flooding, and a viral pandemic has made many aspects of everyday life very abnormal.
Many people have either had their work hours cut or lost their job, the economy has taken a gut punch, and people have taken to the streets to protest issues of social and racial justice in numbers not seen since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Throw in rough-and-tumble presidential politics and you have a non-stop Rolaids moment. Taken together, it can be a lot to handle, even if you are not directly affected at the moment.
So, how about some good news for a change? It’s out there and it’s probably just out your door and down the road.
As I write this, it is the first day of fall. For those who treasure the change of seasons, this is probably one of the favorites for motorcyclists. Fall color rides often offer stunning, relaxing, refreshing breaks from the bad news of the day.
Let’s take a break and go to some peaceful places where it’s possible to take a deep breath, look out and see something beautiful and relaxing.
A fall color ride, in groups or solo, is a great stress reliever. Get off the interstate highway on the lightly traveled state, county, and town roads, slow down soak up the vivid the colors, see the small towns and unwind. Take advantage of the opportunities for rest stops and picture-taking at small parks with lakes, rivers, and panoramic vistas at the township and county level that often have no fees, unlike some state parks.
In the northern reaches of some states, colors are already changing from green to gold, yellow, red, orange, and brown hues of fall. When that happens varies depending on locale, altitude, and weather in the area, and the further north you go, the sooner it happens.
Keep it safe both on and off the road
There are some important things to keep in mind if you decide to get out there, both on and off the road.
Adaptable, protective riding gear: Fall weather can change dramatically in the course of a day’s ride. It can be cool in the morning, warm, even hot afternoon and pretty cold in the evening. Having adaptable riding gear that allows for ventilation when you need it and none, when you don’t, is a great idea.
Armored mesh riding jackets with zip-out full liners are great as well as textile, leather or hybrid riding jackets with closable vents can be handy for changing conditions. Leather or textile riding pants with similar features help maximize riding comfort.
A helmet that has closable vents is handy, as well. Don’t forget good, well-fitted gloves, riding boots, and rain gear, too—getting caught in the rain can be bad enough; a cold fall rain is worse. Protection plus comfort equals a great combination.
Shorter days, longer shadows: In the fall, the sun is at a lower angle in the sky, shadows are longer, darker and occur earlier in the day in much more of the riding area than during mid-summer. That not only contributes to cooler air along the way but can cause poor visibility of road surfaces and hazards. This is particularly true if you wear dark sunglasses during the ride. Wearing only lightly tinted shades or a helmet with a retractable sunshade or even a photochromatic shield can help improve vision into those dark shadows.
The shadows can have another dangerous effect. On those lightly traveled back roads, overnight frost or precipitation can linger on the road surfaces later in the day when the other parts of the road that get more sun are dry.
Frost and dry leaves on pavement can be as slick as ice and wet pavement offers less traction as well, so watch road surface conditions in the shadows. Surprisingly, experts say dry leaves are slicker on pavement than wet leaves—personally, I wouldn’t want to try a hard stop or sharp turn on either.
Another motorcycle safety consideration unique to fall riding is wildlife activity, particularly large animals that tend to become more active in autumn as a result of mating, migration, or foraging.
Whitetail deer, for example, can pose particular hazards as they stand at the roadside, watch you approach and then decide to charge across in front of you at the last moment. I hate it when that happens. Dark riding glasses can make things in the shadows difficult to see; a deer, dog, fox, coyote, black bear—you name it—in otherwise plain view may be all but invisible.
If you see them, throttle down, cover your brake and be prepared to take controlled evasive action or hard stopping. Check your rear-view, too to make sure a hard stop won’t result in a rear-end collision. There is no way to predict what wild animals such as deer or bear may do—they don’t know themselves until they do it.
In farm country when riding along fields being harvested, be particularly vigilant. Harvest operations can drive deer and other animals that have bedded down in the field at a head-long run out of the fields and across the road in front of you. This is a real hazard in cornfields where the crops are tall enough to completely conceal the animal until they break from cover right next to the road.
In areas with lots of blind hills and curves take a little speed off at this time of year to give you more options in case you encounter a tractor, combine, grain truck or harvester that comes out of nowhere on the road. I never cease to be amazed at how machines as huge as some of those things are can be completely concealed by roadside view obstructions or a swale in the road.
Last but not least, follow the COVID-19 safety steps that apply wherever you are if you are in proximity to a number of other people. Of course, if you head for the wide-open spaces, and get out there far enough, your social distancing may be measured in miles, not feet.
Where to get the latest information on fall colors in the upper Midwest
To help you plan for some fall color riding, state departments of tourism have set up some websites that can help you know where the best chances of seeing full-on fall colors are and when to go. Stay safe and get out there and see the sights!
- Michigan Fall Color Tour Guide
- Wisconsin Fall Color Tour Guide
- Minnesota: https://www.exploreminnesota.com/
- Illinois Fall Tour
- Indiana Tourism
- Iowa Scenic Byways