I got out for two good rides in 2008, a 4,000-miler to Key West and a 4,800-mile loop through the Canadian Maritimes. I wrote up a road report each time, threw in some photos and e-mailed it around to friends. Didn’t plan on doing that when I got back from the 2009 cross-country trek in November but Dana Bishop at Ocean State Harley said, What? C’mon! Write it! Everybody’s got cabin fever!
So here we go…
Iron Piggy & pilot
The 2009 cross-country run took me to the four corners of the United States, or close enough: New England, Seattle, San Diego and Florida. I didn’t do the toe-touch in a certain town or ride on any timetable. Didn’t even have a particular route in mind. Just got on the road one day in August and went.
I knew it would be a long ride so I had Paul at Ocean State Harley in Exeter throw a new set of Dunlops on the bike, so I could get back without changing tires.
As always, I like to travel self-contained, camping along the way and living out of the saddlebags, on oatmeal, baked beans, rice, tuna, pasta, and the food of the gods, Fig Newtons. I get about 1,000 miles per pack.
Stormy… clear… stormy… clear…
Left Rhode Island with 38,512 miles on the bike, got back with 51,062. That sounds like a lot of riding. Over 11 weeks it isn’t, really. I stayed with friends and family in three towns in California (Spring Valley, El Cajon and Bishop) and in Washington, New Mexico and Florida. Took some work and a laptop with me so I could make money and pay bills. I didn’t want the fabulous/dangerous bride of 34 years telling everyone I was goofing off! (Which I mostly was, let’s face it 🙂
I left Rhode Island August 20, got back November 5. Had plenty of 400-, 500- and 600-mile days. My top day rolled 705 miles. The much-abused ’04 Road King Classic took a lot of punishment. Heat, mainly. Had a mechanical issue in California 8,600 miles into the ride. That was half my fault and half the U.S. Border Patrol’s. More about that later.
I’ll try to organize this tale into six mini-treks. I put on some miles between these segments, too, but here are the highlights:
7 days, 3,407 miles
I stayed under a roof twice that week, with friends in New Cumberland, West Virginia and Pleasanton, Kansas. Camped out in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kansas and Utah. It was hot and humid when I left Rhode Island. That made for a punishing first day. I gladly rode 50 miles out of my way to dodge a 14-mile traffic tie-up on I-84 west, in Port Jervis, New York. Hit some rain in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Brutal heat again in central and west Kansas. Stopped in Hoisington, KS, an interesting little town of 3,000 people out in the middle of nowhere. Cooled off from the inside out with an ice-cold Dairy Queen cone, tall and vanilla. The best I’ve ever had anywhere! Rode around and between some big storms raging on the plains that day. The air would turn cool and rough when I got between two systems. High winds knocked me all over the road. Then the air gets still and you start to bake again.
Dig it, Kansas is flat.
Rode through an electrical storm that night without stopping to put on the rain gear. It felt good after all that heat. My day ended at the 560-mile mark, in Goodland, Kansas, near the Colorado line. (I pulled in to Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half past dead…) Opened a can of beans and almost fell asleep chewing. Dead-tired and happy I crawled into my sleeping bag in wet jeans and a wet shirt and was immediately off on the sleep that awaits the truly worn out. No dreams. Just a peaceful oblivion. Woke just before dawn, recharged and eager to ride.
Up next, Utah and Nevada. They were scorching hot and sun-bright but, man, that dry air makes all the difference. I kept the water going in and I was fine.
That shaft of light is an alien tractor beam. Followed me all around the West…
Bought gas on the Shoshone reservation at Ely, Nevada then headed for Tonopah, my next opportunity to fuel up. There are 167 miles of nothing between the two towns. I never saw another vehicle headed my way.
Set the Iron Piggy on cruise, then your hands are free to snap swell pics.
After baking across the Nevada desert on Day 7 I froze crossing the White Mountains into California that night. Climbed some high passes in the 8,000-foot range. Could have used my electric socks and gloves but they were back home. I stopped to tear apart my gear on the side of a mountain road somewhere, to find more clothes, but I couldn’t see what I was doing. That was the last time I forgot to pack my headlamp where I could put my hands on it in the dark!
In Bishop, CA, I stayed with friends Jon and Kathy Peterson. Jon and I took his truck out into the Black Rock Desert northeast of Reno, for the Burning Man art thing. Hard to explain what Burning Man is if you don’t already know. Check it out on the Web. Basically, 45,000 people camp out on some godforsaken dusty playa, a place where an insect couldn’t live, and pretty much anything goes for the next week.
The Man. Before he Burned.
The Black Rock Desert might as well be the moon with a little extra gravity. The atmosphere is dusty, as fine as flour and full of good things like arsenic and cadmium, all the heavy metals that have accumulated in the Great Basin for eons. As for the event itself, it’s gonzo squared. Makes Woodstock look like a Kiwanis Club luncheon. You will absolutely submit to the desert environment, there’s no escaping it. Keep a lot of water going in! Expect to breathe, eat and drink the dust. After eight days at Burning Man and a few more back in Bishop, I loaded up the iron piggy and rode south for San Diego.
5 days, 1,924 miles
After staying with my sister-in-law, Karen, in Spring Valley, CA, I rode the Pacific Coast Highway north.
Kite surfers! Looks like fun!
Camped in California the first night and rode over the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset on Day 2.
In Oregon I had the best halibut and chips on Earth at The Sea Hag, in Depoe Bay. I got the meal to go and ate while sitting on the seawall on Main Street. Beautiful town! There was a whale breaching out in the bay, don’t know what kind.
North of the Columbia, dark and empty, had the road to myself.
I rode on and crossed the Columbia River Estuary into Washington that night, across the long, dark Astoria bridge. Rode about 75 more miles to Willapa Bay and camped there. Got my tent set up and crawled in the sleeping bag at 20 minutes before midnight. Then a heavy rain fell. I had set up in a low spot in the dark, woke up in a puddle.
It’s hard to judge the lay of the land when you set up in the dark.
Forgot to mention: I rode through a swarm of bees on Day 1, got stung at least twice just above my left wrist. My forearm really blew up. I could have gotten an anchor tattooed on it and told people I was Popeye. The stingers were still in there, I think, driven in at speed. I scraped around for them, not sure if I got them out or not. Two days later I thought it might be a good idea to stop and get the arm looked at because the swelling had spread up behind my elbow. Decided to give it another day and see what happens. The next morning it looked a lot better, swelling was going down.
On Day 5 I rode up to the southeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, to see friends who have a camp on Lake Cushman. No roads to the camp, you get there by boat. Jan left a two-way radio for me in his truck, at the landing, so I could call the camp for a ride over.
This is all the house I need! Simplify, simplify, simplify…
Rode to Seattle after that. The love of my life flew in for a week and we split our time between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. Hadn’t seen her for five weeks.
My bride flew in to see this sun-baked scruffy type with the road miles on him.
Gig Harbor, Washington, from the deck of a restaurant where we had lunch.
4 days, 1,800 miles
When Pam flew home, I did an oil change on the bike at Jan’s, then headed for New Mexico. I wanted to visit Pam’s aunt and uncle there, in Navajo Dam. So it was back across the Continental Divide, west to east this time. From Washington I wanted to loop around east and south, through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, but we were getting into October and the nights were cold already, low 20s. I went through Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona instead. Camped at Mount Shasta on my way south, on the southern edge of the Cascades.
Big burns everywhere.
U.S. 395 took me into Nevada for a bit. There were tremendous winds that day, especially around Reno. Cops were pulling semis, RVs and trailers of all kinds off the highway. Everyone else, proceed at your own risk. Not the worst winds I’ve ever ridden but close (North Carolina still holds the record on that).
Don’t know why I’m taking pictures, just gonna freeze a little colder crossing the mountains in the dark.
At dusk that day I stopped for fuel in Bridgeport, California. I was fairly beat up by the wind and the day had turned cold. Too cold for what I was wearing. Got some hot coffee there, told the guy at the register I was headed to Bishop for the night. I’ve got what, 60 miles and one more mountain pass? He said 100 miles and held up three fingers for the passes. Ay, god, Woodrow… here’s where we find out if we was meant to be cowboys…
I went outside, dug through my pack and put on everything I owned, even rain gear. It was seriously cold up in the passes that night, and coal black, and I rode them a lot faster than I should have, but, man, what a great feeling to come out of that last curve, stand the bike up and roll onto a long, straight grade where I could look down and see Bishop 20 miles away, its lights twinkling on the floor of the Owens Valley. The air got warmer every mile.
Stashed my gear at Jon and Kathy’s, rode around town without the windshield,
soaked up the sun.
Stayed with Jon and Kathy for a few days, rode around town in shirtsleeves, then set out again. Between me and New Mexico there was one night in Death Valley National Park and another in Williams, Arizona, a Route 66 town.
Okay, saw it, I’m outta here.
There was a big wildfire on the west side of Williams, Arizona when I rode through but it was just down on the ground, not up in the treetops. It got cold that night, down to 24. I emptied my water bottles before crawling into the sleeping bag but forgot to dry the lids. They were frozen tight the next morning. Stopped and saw the Grand Canyon on my way north and east across Arizona. Rode some bad rez land there. Desolation itself. Okay, Injun, go out there and dry up, please, genocide complete. The Hopi rez was the worst I saw. That part of Arizona felt a little dangerous here and there. Never had any problems. I mind my own business, get gas, ride on.
A frosty October morning in New Mexico. Time to head back to sunny San Diego.
2 days, 819 miles
Back across the Divide again, headed west.
I was a bit cold that first day on the road but I got down out of the mountains south of Flagstaff and pitched my tent in the desert, toasty warm in just a t-shirt. Well, not just a t-shirt, I’m a good citizen, I observe the international Wear Your Pants in Public Treaty. Next morning, checked my boots for scorpions, one of your basic desert Best Practices. Headed south and west through Phoenix and Yuma, crossed the Imperial Valley in typically high-wind conditions. There’s a never-ending dust storm raging there. Heat that day was tough, tough, tough. In the Tecate Mountains 26 miles east of El Cajon I got jammed up at a random Border Patrol checkpoint. Traffic was backed up for a mile. I’m facing uphill on a grade, 4 percent or better, moving too fast for neutral and too slow for first gear. After a while the bike got hot. Seriously hot. The lash on the push rod in the clutch basket expanded just enough to let a ball bearing pop out of the ramps on the throw-out mechanism. So the clutch sticks, disengaged. All of a sudden I’ve got neutral in every gear position. But on the plus side, I’m only 26 miles from where I’m headed. I made coffee on the side of the road while my brother-in-law, Kevin, hooked up the trailer and drove out from El Cajon to haul me in.
At Kevin and Janet’s I took the transmission and primary covers off, released the clutch, took everything apart for inspection, saw that nothing was broken. I put on a new cable since the old one was original and had a stretch in it. I set the free play in the push rod a half-turn out this time, so I wouldn’t get excessive clearance again. Knew I’d get stuck again at a Border Patrol checkpoint! Which I did, several times. Before this little mishap I had always adjusted on the loose side of the Service Manual spec, one full turn out. I would have been fine with a little less free play there.
Pam flew in to San Diego for a week, so that was our second mini-vacation together in a month. When she flew out for Rhode Island I got thinking about heading home myself.
The long trek home, maybe 4,000 miles on the route I had in mind.
It was sneaking up on November and cold everywhere north of Interstate 40. It was snowing in Denver. I had done a lot of cold mountain riding and had no desire to go anywhere near elevation if I didn’t have to. I figured on a southern route home to New England, through Yuma, El Paso, San Antonio, Houston, then along the Gulf Coast. Simple plan: ride to Florida and hang a left. Except when I got to Florida I went right instead.
5 days, 2,518 miles
It was blisteringly hot in Arizona on Day 1 but I made 468 miles to Benson, AZ, camped there for the night.
I’ll ride those mountains again someday.
Rode to Van Horn, Texas on Day 2, with a big weather front moving in. Quite a wind raged overnight. At dawn I looked up at an angry gray cloud bank that ran north and south to the ends of the Earth. East and west it looked to be about 40 miles wide with me right in the middle. I got suited up and scooted fast for daylight at the eastern edge. I wasn’t too far down the road and the rain came.
Need to start looking for a place to sleep.
Ran into a bit of sleet at elevation later that day when I came down out of the hills (7 percent grades) onto the central part of Texas. Crossed the Llano River that afternoon, found nicer weather down low. A big rain had come through San Antonio before I got there. It sent all the waterways up over their banks. It was drizzling when I set up my tent near a creek that had flooded a road that ran along it.
Headed for Houston and points east at sunrise.
Ay, god, Woodrow… another weather front up ahead.
Next day I was on I-10 before dawn, riding east in the dark into yet another weather front. Hardly saw any sun that day. Camped in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that night. Next came my big-mile day (not my biggest ever but tops on this trip) 705 miles across Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and the Florida panhandle to Port Orange, Florida, south of Daytona. Friends of mine there were going on vacation so I offered to house sit. That got me off the road for a few days and I got some work done, paid a few bills.
3 days, 1,410 miles
On my way north I ducked off the I-95 slab in Saint Augustine and stuck to the coastal roads for a thousand miles, all the way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, my home town. I covered 494 miles that first day out of Port Orange, camped in Shallotte, North Carolina.
Working my way north on the back roads of South Carolina.
Stuck to U.S. 17 mainly, through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Picked up U.S. 13 in Virginia Beach at sunset, then rode a long, cold night on the Delmarva Peninsula.
The bird didn’t care.
A 614-mile run on Day 2 got me into Philly late at night. I visited my sisters there, saw two new babies in the family. Their dads, my nephews, served two tours in Iraq with the Marines. Good to have them back home in one piece!
A half-day’s ride out of Philly and I was home, too, 11 weeks and 12,550 miles later.
Don’t let the smile fool you! She’s thinking, Oh, no! He’s ba-aaack!
Zuzu, the girl cat, sniffed and sniffed and sniffed at every bit of gear I dragged in and dropped on the floor. Many strange scents of faraway mountains, rivers and deserts. All just a memory now. Until next time.
Cranston, Rhode Island, USA
January 22, 2010