Touring On A 2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S To Seize History

A story 15 years in the making.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S on road in foggy forest.
The 2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S.Aidan O’Dowd

“A man sometimes gets homesick for the loneliness that he has at one time or another experienced in his life and that is a part of all life in some degree, and sometimes a secluded and half-mournful yet beautiful place will suddenly revive the sensation of pain and melancholy and unfulfillment that are associated with that loneliness, and will make him want to seize it and recapture it; but I know with me it is a passing want...”

- –E.B. White

It was one of those cold, foggy mornings that plague Upstate New York summers and inspire people to ask, "You looked outside your window this morning and decided to ride your motorcycle on a day like this?"

I encountered this very question—accompanied, as usual, with that half-bewildered look of disapproval we motorcyclists are so used to receiving—from a man smoking outside a café in the once-bustling, but now long-forgotten resort town of Sharon Springs. I'd already been on the bike—a 2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S—for a few hours, shivering my way to what I hoped would be a warm breakfast and a hot cup of coffee.

I must have been a pitiable sight as I rounded the corner to see a “Closed” sign in the café door. But as luck would have it, the man smoking out front was the café’s owner.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S riding on road in front of field.
The new-for-’19 Multistrada 950 S adds a TFT display, Ducati’s Skyhook semi-active electronic suspension, and a quickshifter to the base model 950.Aidan O’Dowd

“We’re not open yet, but I just brewed a pot of coffee,” he said. “Why don’t you come in and have some and I’ll make a breakfast sandwich for you too, if you want.”

Invitation kindly accepted and coffee consumed, the sun began to shine, and I remounted the Ducati and headed north to Lake Placid on drying roads. This trip was more than just a good excuse to test out the Multistrada’s touring capability. It was about unfinished business.

I rode these very roads to the Adirondacks 15 years ago during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. But instead of the upright ergos and comfortable seat of a Multistrada, I rode my then-new 2004 Suzuki GSX-R750, which was sadistic in its own right, but my refusal to ignore my aesthetic preferences meant I wore a one-piece race suit—which also doubled as my sleeping bag and mattress. Since I didn't want to spoil the lines of the Gixxer, I left the rear seat cowl in place, limiting my luggage capacity to the contents of my backpack: a Twinkie-colored one-person tent, a set of my dad's XXL rain gear, and a copy of This Side of Paradise. Asceticism for the sake of aesthetics.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S on road in front of forest.
Not pictured: copious black flies.Seth Richards

That summer I was stocking shelves at the local grocery store and disappointingly had no summer fling to cast a romantic light on what was quickly becoming, in my mind, a purposeless season. I was discontent, impatient, and suffering from that youthful variety of melancholia descended from myopia and self-centeredness. I think I’d been reading too much Fitzgerald.

I thought a motorcycle trip to the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, about 300 meandering miles from my home in the Finger Lakes, would be just the thing to change the storyline.

The Adirondack Park, established in 1892 in northern New York, encompasses some 6 million acres of public and privately owned land, where hidden cottages nestled on still lakes sit in quietude beneath the 46 high peaks with their sheer rock faces and velvet green woods.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S, cloudy sky, mountains, forest, and field.
The clouds gather over Marcy Field in the Adirondack High Peaks.Seth Richards

After a mostly rainy trip, I set up my tent, ate some granola bars, and watched the sun set above Heart Lake as I rested my aching knees. Ridden with intention, a GSX-R is sublime; ridden over distance with the throttle seldom pinned, it’ll test the commitment of even the bodily young. A humid day gave way to a cold night, and in spite of my 1.1mm full-grain leather sleeping bag, I froze my ass off. Sometime in the middle of the night, I decided I’d had enough. I was exhausted, cold, and I dreamed of a home-cooked meal.

For a diffident youth in an aimless summer, there’s nothing more lonely than a solitary motorcycle trip. Amid the families of campers who’d skipped the weekend’s soccer tournament to play at being outdoorsy, and the young couples dreamily paddling canoes to quicken the beats of their hearts, the world seemed to have gone and made plans without me. At first light, I packed my backpack and called my parents to tell them I was coming home.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S in front of Cascade Lakes on Route 73.
Cascade Lakes on Route 73.Seth Richards

My dad, who had wanted to ride with me and escape the tedium of his own job said, "Reconsider cutting your trip short. I tell you what: I'll pay for all your gas, meals, and hotel rooms if you write a story about your trip and submit it to Cycle World."

Feeling particularly self-pitying, I said, "Dad, there's no way Cycle World will ever even read what I send. I'm just a kid. What's Mom making for dinner tonight?"

“Don’t sell yourself short,” he encouraged. “How many of your college buddies are touring on their sportbikes right now?”

“C’mon Dad, I’m the only 19-year-old I know who even rides a motorcycle. Let alone a 150-horsepower sportbike.”

"Exactly. And I bet—especially because you're 19 and you have opinions about, well, everythingCycle World might want to hear what you have to say. Peter Egan wasn't always Peter Egan, you know."

Like any teenager, I thought I knew better than my dad. I sped home that day and was back stocking shelves two days later.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S in front of the Essex Inn coffee shop.
The Essex Inn in Essex, New York, overlooks Lake Champlain. The best motorcycle trips are full of surprises, like this coffee shop in a tiny town south of EssexSeth Richards

They say the sense of smell is the most powerful vehicle for remembering, but it has nothing on riding a motorcycle. Taking the Multistrada out of Sharon Springs on Route 10, I wander through the dilapidated ruins of memory. It could have been 2004 and I could still be a moody stockboy humming Jeff Buckley in my helmet.

Unlike in 2004, however, I wasn’t craning my neck to see the scenery. What I love about the Multistrada is that it does 400-mile days without blinking and carves the corners like it doesn’t know it isn’t a Panigale. With up-to-the-minute tech and thoughtful design details, it’s a four-star accommodation when I’m used to motels. And Twinkie-colored one-person tents.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S on the Loj road.
The Loj road.Seth Richards

Turning off Route 73, I stood on the pegs and put the Multi in Enduro mode as the road turned to gravel as it approached the Adirondack Loj. The Loj, incidentally, was once owned by Melvil Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal system, and a proponent of spelling reform (“loj” for “lodge,” “letis” for “lettuce,” etc.) He was also a sexual harasser, racist, and anti-Semite, so butchering the English language was the least of his offenses. A real dik hed, this guy.

Rather than sleep in a tent off the side of the road near the Loj like I did 15 years ago, I opted to stay in the Loj’s 12-bed attic room. Not exactly luxe living, but I could watch the sun set over Heart Lake and I didn’t have to sleep in my riding gear.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S in front of sunset over Heart Lake.
Sunset over Heart Lake.Seth Richards

I was reading some E.B. White essays by the lake, accompanied by the smell of pine and campfires and the sounds of vacationing families. I indulged in that old familiar loneliness creeping in to choke out the day’s simple pleasure of a beautiful day spent on a motorcycle.

But like White, returning to that place of loneliness is a passing want. Over time, there are increasingly fewer turns to take as we reach the ultimate destination. The daunting unknowability of the future has become for me less overwhelming as the big picture is drawn—marriage, fatherhood, job, mortgage. At a certain point, it seems like there are only details left to fill in, but those are the most satisfying brushstrokes of all. While the unforeseen always threatens the hope of immutability, contentment can be found in resting in what is.

My trip wasn’t about a desire to glimpse the 15-year-old loneliness long extinguished by the feeling of having found my place. I took this trip to write the story my dad thought I should have written back then.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S riding on road in front of forest.
Fast, comfortable, and just as competent as the 1260 S.Aidan O’Dowd

I lost my dad in a motorcycle accident 12 years ago. When you lose a loved one, memories that would have otherwise seemed inconsequential instead take on special significance. I’ve long regretted dismissing my dad’s offer.

But I've made good on his hope for me; I've been writing for Cycle World for a couple of years now. It's my dream job. And I think it was his dream for me too. My dad would be beside himself with pride (and a little bit of envy) that this is what I get to do for a living—that I have a garage full of testbikes (like the Multistrada 950 S), a spare bedroom full of riding gear, a passport full of stamps from test riding motorcycles on the best roads in the world.

So, this story is 15 years overdue. And it’s a story much different than the one I would have written at 19. In this story, I don’t cut my trip short because I’m overwhelmed by the loneliness of unfulfillment. In this story, I return home to my wife and my 1-year-old son who’s named after the grandfather he’ll only know through tales like this one.

2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S riding on road.
Returning home.Aidan O’Dowd

Detailing my every route and describing every sight would seem to consign both trips to the past, rather than letting them survive eternally in the roads and fields and mountains where I can revisit them again and again. This journey was never about merely finishing a chapter or tying up a loose thread left fraying in memory. It was about finding beginnings in endings.

It was one of those cold, foggy mornings in Upstate New York—the kind where you wake up, look outside the window, and think, “What a great day to ride a motorcycle.”