The Places We Travel and People We Meet
By Dale Spangler
Now that I'm older, I often look back with a sense of nostalgia at my past experiences because of motorcycles. I feel fortunate that I've lived a life dominated by motorcycles while making a career out of working in the powersports industry. And as a result, I've had the opportunity to travel and see so much of this amazing country we live in and even spend a few years in Europe. Along the way, I met many kind and fascinating people, some I'm still connected with to this day, others just memories. Regardless, I look back with fondness at these memories and feel lucky that I've been able to experience so many places in the world and meet so many great people along the way because of motorcycles.
When I think back on all of the travel in my life, I'm amazed at how many places I've been to. A quick look at a map of the United States tells me I've been to nearly every state in the union except Alaska, Maine, and North Dakota. In some ways, I blame all of this travel for my love of geography and the study of maps. As a teenager, I would break out our U.S. Road Atlas on the way to the motocross races and spend endless hours studying maps and wondering what it was like in each small town.
Today, I still do the same thing, except now I use Google Maps, and I can walk down the streets of those small towns, albeit virtually. Map, maps, and more maps, it seems like I can never get enough of them. It's something I do before every vacation so I can get a lay of the land. If I'm watching television or reading a book and a town or country is mentioned, I have to hop online, research that place, and learn about it. It's a rabbit hole that often leads to hours of lost time. I've spent countless hours studying maps and geography, and I believe it all began because of dirt bikes and traveling to races across the country at a young age. Reading maps was the perfect thing to keep me occupied on long drives in a time when smartphones, iPads, and the internet didn't exist.
In 1997, I had the opportunity to spend a few years in Europe due to a job in the powersports industry based in northern Italy. Mind you, it was the late 90s, pre-EU, when Europe was a bit crazier, and border crossings still existed. In my first week there, I traveled as a work associate to the town of Brno in the Czech Republic for a World Championship Grand Prix road race. Everything was going fine until we approached the Czech border and were stopped for questioning by armed guards. One of the machine-gun-wielding border agents said we owed "duty taxes" to enter the country because we had goods in our van that they thought we were selling. Luckily my co-worker and mentor Davide knew what to do. He calmly went to the back of the van, compiled a hat and t-shirt care package for each guard, and passed them out. Imagine that! Our passports were quickly stamped, and we were off and on our way. Come to find out, the border guards knew there was a race going on that weekend, and upon seeing our van emblazoned with logos, they simply wanted free stuff. Davide knew what they wanted and what started as a large sum of taxes due for entering the country ended as a hat and t-shirt bribe! And that's just one of the many experiences I had during my few years spent in Europe.
Stories like the one just told may seem like stuff out of movies, yet it really did happen. Without my friend and mentor Davide, I never would have gotten through my European experience. He taught me how to maneuver through the complications of European travel, how to be creative, and how to think on my feet. I often tell people I never worry about getting lost in the United States after traveling for two years in Europe—with nothing but a road atlas. The experience permanently changed my outlook and opened my eyes to other cultures, food, ways of living, and even how to do things. It made me want to understand and appreciate other cultures, regardless if they differed from mine.
But something I will always cherish as a result of my life's travels are the people I met along the way. Countless individuals and families were kind enough to allow me to stay with them in their homes, camp on their property, ride on their practice tracks, or simply just share a meal with them. In Europe, these people were proud to show me their hometown and explain its rich history while speaking to me in my native language "because they wanted to practice and get better at speaking English."
My list of travel memories and people I've met along the way is extensive, and the older I get, the more I cherish those experiences. Whether it was a homemade southern recipe fried chicken dinner with a family in Georgia, a crawdad boil with Louisiana natives at a race in Texas, or a birthday lunch in Venice, Italy, I've met so many kind and generous people as a result of motorcycles. As a fellow motorcyclist, I hope you take the time to enjoy the places you travel and the people you meet along the way as much as I have. For those of you I have met along the way, I thank you for the memories and experience.