Modern Day Explorer: Hailey's 20,000 Mile North American Road Trip
While searching the web, as we often do, we came across a headline "North America by Motorcycle." It turned out to be an incredible story about Hailey Hirst and her boyfriend Jesse traveling through 27 states, six Canadian provinces, 44 national parks and a whole lot of miles. Not to mention it was all on a motorcycle, which automatically made this story even that much cooler! So naturally, we had to reach out her and get a firsthand account of her incredible journey.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
I’m a writer, designer, aspiring photographer, novice motorcycle rider, and Idaho native obsessed with ponderosa pines, alpine lakes, and hiking. I spend as much time outside as possible, often with a camera in hand and my fiancé, Jesse, by my side.
I work part-time in customer service for a small electronics company in Boise, and I also do freelance writing and graphic design alongside my day job. This summer I started interning with She-Explores as a content editor, while working on other writing/design projects as they come.
WHAT MADE YOU GUYS DECIDE TO HIT THE ROAD?
Jesse and I decided to set off on this journey together when he bought his motorcycle two years ago. He is Canadian (living in Kelowna, BC) and I’m American (living in Boise, ID) so our seven-year long-distance relationship was built on a foundation of constant travel. After we both finished school, we embraced that. Instead of going back and forth between our homes to visit, we began traveling together. We’re both adventurous, and we share the mutual desire to experience more of the world and see what comes of it.
For this motorcycle trip, that meant exploring both of our home countries, and we ended up traveling through 27 states and six provinces and really got to know the landscapes and idiosyncrasies of both our ‘homes’.
WHY ON A MOTORCYCLE?
Both of Jesse’s parents ride Harley's, and we liked the idea of that experience. It’s completely different from traveling by car. You take the back roads, you travel fewer miles in a day with more breaks between, and you take very little with you. Of course it’s more dangerous in some ways, but it connects you more closely to the landscapes you’re traveling through, along with pointedly encouraging you plan a trip for the ride instead of just the destination.
HOW DID THE TWO OF YOU PREPARE FOR YOUR TRIP?
When we set off from BC two years ago, we only planned to go as far as San Diego. Clearly there wasn’t a ton of forethought there since we ended up going from San Diego across the country to Atlanta, then from there to St. John’s, Newfoundland and all the way back to BC.
A lot of our preparation was in the way we gradually built our lifestyles. Jesse is a mining engineer and lives in remote Northern Canada while he works a two weeks on/two weeks off schedule. He has minimal living expenses so we funneled that into our ‘travel fund’ and used his schedule to our advantage. My work is flexible, and I was able to take a lot of it on the road with me.
We planned our route by trying to hit as many National Parks as we could, linked together by small highways and curvy roads, avoiding freeways and large cities (which are both rough on a motorcycle). The whole trip was sectioned into eight legs over two years as we found time off work. Between trips, we left the motorcycle in storage units. Before each leg, we looked at how many days we had, how the seasons were changing, how far we might be able to get with less than 300 miles a day, where to camp, what was absolutely worth seeing and how to get there.
Did you face a lot of critics? If so, how did you overcome them?
I never felt necessarily criticized, but I did feel my lifestyle choices were misunderstood. About our trip, we got a lot of “get that out of your system” from people who could not fathom why we would abandon the traditional "work now, travel when you retire pattern." People worried about our safety (and maybe about our sanity). About my non-traditional job and partial self-employment, most people didn’t think I even had a job, at least not a “real” one. I felt insecure about that for a long time. Sometimes I still do. I think it’s just been a long process of letting go of expectations and doing what feels right, regardless of whether or not it’s what I’m “supposed to do” for both work and travel.
In a world of RVs, sprinter vans and VW Vanagons, a motorbike seems very challenging! How did you two manage to pull this off?
It was definitely a challenge to fit everything we needed, and ourselves, on two wheels. We had two panniers and one luggage box, and strapped on another duffel bag and backpack on top of the panniers. We had bike supplies, camping gear, work supplies, cameras, and minimal clothes and toiletries. We pulled it off mostly by wearing the same clothes over and over (we were in riding clothes a lot anyway) and washing them at Laundromats or in motel sinks. It was a lot of strategic packing and cutting down to the bare essentials.
Not only limited for gear, we also had limited personal space. Sharing one motorcycle and a tent with the same person for months is an extreme test in closeness. We dealt with that by sharing tasks and learning to read each other’s moods when we needed some extra space. Having the trip broken down into sections helped that too. FATIGUE.
How was your overall experience?
It was incredible, exhausting, challenging, fulfilling… We saw so many unbelievable places (Redwoods, Grand Canyon, Blue Ridge Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Cape Spear) but there were also days that were mind numbing boring, days when our moods clashed, days when it was 105 degrees and some when it was 28 degrees, when nothing went as planned. Days that I questioned why we were doing this. But that’s life. It was a condensed experience.
We got used to the transient lifestyle, rarely spending more than one night in a place. The routine of packing sometimes felt like a drag, but as we moved there were always things to look forward to.
Working on the road was challenging, but possible thanks to occasional wi-fi and strategically using downtime like waiting for ferries or during bike services!
The people we met along the way really made our trip what it was. Bikers band together, and it was a treat to be part of that community. While we didn’t always fit in with the leather-clad biker crowd, riders are always quick to ask each other where they’ve been, where they’re going, and share whatever tips they can. Everywhere we went - gas stations, cafes, campgrounds, national park visitor centers, street corners - people weren’t shy to strike up conversations. That doesn’t happen on regular road trips. Being on a motorcycle let us into this unique supportive group of strangers. People were willing to lend a roll of duct tape, let us check into hotels early when it was snowing or stay past checkout for rain to let up. When we were in Odessa, Texas, getting a new rear tire, the owner of the bike shop even took us to lunch with his friends.
What did you learn from this journey?
I learned that it’s possible to live with practically no belongings. That in general, people are kind and curious and helpful when things go wrong. I survived the physical danger of motorcycle travel, the elements, the emotional uproot that comes with ‘life on the road’, a near break-up with Jesse halfway through, and I practiced having the self-discipline to work no matter where I am in the world.
What advice would you give someone who is dreaming of taking a journey like yours?
Just go. There will never be a perfect time to travel, and it’s too easy to find excuses not to, so stop wasting time and just do it. Also, no matter how much you plan ahead, the route will change, the weather will change, so be open to making decisions on the fly and let the road unfurl before you. It’s beautiful and difficult and surreal and uncomfortable, and worth all the trouble.
Favorite place visited?
Yosemite and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
A motel off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia that was full of creepy dolls (we left immediately and found a beautiful cabin instead).
Riding two hours on a scarcely worn out tire while it slushed/snowed on us between Marathon and Fort Stockton, Texas. Gear soaked through, numb feet, hands, wet and cold to the bone, and our rear tire was patched with gorilla tape.
Where to next?
I just got my own motorcycle so together we’ll continue exploring the western US and Canada. Jesse and I are getting married next summer and we’re experimenting with planting roots after years of constant movement.
Lastly, what does exploring mean to you? And why is it important?
Exploring means going into the world with the intention of discovery - self-discovery, scientific discovery, whatever - it’s a process of curiosity, going beyond your comfort zone, and digging deeper. It’s important because it makes you more aware of the world and your place in it. Even if you’re somewhere you’ve already been, you can pay attention and gain something new.
To find out more about Hailey, make sure to check out her blog! Where she documents her explorations alongside her boyfriend Jesse. You can also follow along on her adventures by visiting her Instagram.