The Great Adventure
Follow along as our intrepid tour reporters Kevin Hawkins and Dave Kellner journey across the Great Plains of the U.S. to the Pacific Northwest and back in search of motorcycling's Holy Grail.
Together they survived yawning Midwest potholes, gnarly weather, wayward cattle drives, a high speed chase against a police helicopter, and most of all, each other. Based in North Carolina, Kevin normally is a systems administrator with AT&T and Dave is an elephant and rhino keeper for the North Carolina Zoological Society. But on occasion their wives flee as they transform into rabid motorcyclists.
Kevin and Dave's Great Adventure
Part One: Rim Shots
By Kevin Hawkins,
June 6, 1997, Greensboro, NC
Putting It All In Order
The main event is now only one day away. We've been preparing for this trip for six months. Our homework is done, the bikes are ready and all that's left is the preparation of our minds: Traveling over 7000 miles in three weeks is a tough job. Even tougher by motorcycle. But the task seems less daunting as we anticipate the joy and memories that will reward us along the way.
The route for our first three days has been strategically plotted: First Knoxville, next Kansas City, then Denver. Our goal is to reach the Pacific Northwest -- the promised land, Motorcycle Nirvana. Both Dave and I have already experienced much of our country east of the Mississippi, and we are truly blessed with our own beautiful roads here in the great state of North Carolina. But as motorcyclists, the Pacific Northwest beckons, and we are about to answer its call.
Our choice of motorcycles was easy: Dave will ride his Honda ST1100 ABS/TCS while I'll ride my Yamaha GTS1000. Dave's ST1100 has all the standard equipment: Traction control, hard luggage, an enormous gas tank, and Honda's V4 engine that will uproot trees. My GTS1000 sports its own exotic array of standard gear, including ABS as well as electronic fuel injection, hard luggage, RADD front suspension and that bulletproof FZR1000-based engine. We've both added modifications that should make our trip a bit more pleasant, fitting both bikes with VistaCruise throttle locks, Corbin seats and Heli-bars. Anyone who "Does Distance" knows the value of these products.
I've spent the last two months thoroughly prepping my trusty Yamaha, replacing clutch plates that didn't need replacing, oil and filters that probably could last another thousand miles, tires, sprocket, chain. This bike will survive Armageddon. Dave has struggled through his own anal retentiveness in preparing his Honda ST as well. He has fitted a Ventura Pack system to augment his hard luggage while I've chosen "The Bagster" tank bag system.
Some friends loaned us their Chatterbox helmet to helmet communicators that'll allow Dave and I to talk to each other while riding. Also, Dave will have a Sony Walkman wired to his unit and I have carefully spliced a CD player and Passport radar detector to mine. We'll outfit our bones with Aerostitch suits -- Dave wearing a two piece Roadcrafter while I'll slip into a Darien. Both products are unsurpassed in quality, fit and protection. Expensive? Perhaps, but the bottom line is they cost less than a skin graft! Finally, we'll use Arai Quantum/e helmets and Alpinestar Circus Goretex boots to keep the dogs warm and dry. Have I left anything out? I hope not -- I'm not sure we'll be able to carry everything as it is!
Day One and Two: Trouble in River City -- er, Kansas City
Well, should we call this a rather auspicious beginning? Although Saturday morning brought forecasts of rain, our high spirits couldn't be dampened. We were ready! Originally we planned to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway down to Deals Gap, rendezvous with friends then proceed to Knoxville. But if you've ever ridden the Parkway on a foggy, rainy day you know this a mistake not to be repeated. Being wise beyond our years, we decided to superslab down I-40 through Asheville and into the Tennessee Valley. Kind weather gods provided clear passage with only a small sprinkle as we crested the Appalachian range. We arrived early, physically and mentally unscathed, surprising our hosts.
We spent the evening with friends who cooked up a great pot of chili and provided us with hours of laughs. However, we had a 700 mile day ahead of us, so after checking in with our wives and thanking our hosts we retired early.
High hopes rose with the splendor of a rising Sunday morning sun. On the road by 8:00 a.m., we decided to postpone breakfast until we hit Nashville. During this first stretch I calculated time and mileage and knew it would be a long day. With the new elevated speed limits, I figured about twelve hours to Kansas City. Imagine my surprise when we passed a sign announcing "Entering Central Time Zone." I had forgotten all about that. Now we had plenty of time to make Kansas City by dark.
After breakfast, somewhere out there on those long lonely roads, moods set in. If you've toured long distance before you understand. It's those highs and lows that wander through your mind as time passes away while you and your machine drone down the highway. The same songs on the CD playing over and over. If it weren't for my occasional conversation with Dave over the Chatterboxes it might have gotten real bad. This is our payment, the toll charged in order to make it quickly to Colorado. Depending on who calls first, the gas tank or my bladder, its about 120 to 180 miles between stops.
My thoughts shift to my wife. We have only been married a short time, and I struggle with being away from Marci. Our souls have grown close in the past months. I miss her smile, her touch and her love. I wonder how she was doing. Actually I wonder if our credit card had survived my first day away! Most of all though, I look forward to our journey's end in three weeks when I can hold her in my arms again.
The miles counted down as we approached St. Louis. Riding through downtown the towering, overhead Arch welcomed us in and ushered us out. But here our day would suddenly change. Leaning through a nice left hander, Dave had staked out the left third of the lane while I kept the cage drivers in check on the right. Without notice Dave was knocked up from his seat, coming back down hard. And then I saw it -- the dreaded pothole! Not just any pothole mind you, but a huge rim-bending, motorcycle-swallowing pothole. Dave was a little shaken, but he laughed it off believing the worst had passed. Later, as we approached our dinner stop in Columbia, Missouri, Dave keyed the microphone.
"You or me?" I responded.
Dave thought it was his front tire so we pulled into a parking lot. I noticed he had maybe 10 pounds of air left. The reason? A major bent rim! After dinner we acquired a large hammer and tried to slowly ping the rim back into shape. You're smiling, aren't you? You know this is nearly impossible and, of course, you're right. Dave did the best he could as I clicked away on my digital camera to capture this Kodak moment. We hoped that filling the tire to 40 psi would to do the trick, at least for our remaining 120 miles. I followed closely behind moving left, then right, surveying the situation. Steam began pouring from beneath his bike as antifreeze overflowed and dumped onto the exhaust collector. Jeez, are we gonna make it? After another quick stop to make sure everything was okay, we finally arrived in Kansas City.
We pulled into Anderson's Garage, whose owner Mr. Anderson is the father of a co-worker of mine. He graciously offered us shelter from our storm. We're tired, we're sore, but at least we're here. A quick tally of the damage revealed a badly bent front rim, a slightly bent rear rim, bad front wheel bearings, and a blown lowbeam in Dave's headlight. Some pothole! Tomorrow we'll go looking for parts. With luck, we should be only slightly behind schedule.
Our great adventure has truly begun. What could possibly lie ahead?
Kevin and Dave's Great Adventure
Part Two: Takin' It To The Limit
By Kevin Hawkins,
Day Three and Four: A Man Named Jim
We awoke Monday morning in Kansas City desperate to resolve our tough situation. Dave's ST1100 front rim appeared to be in critical condition, and the local Honda shop quoted us $565 and a week for a replacement to arrive. Internet to the rescue!
I had promised to hook up with my friend Mark Levy for breakfast before we left Kansas City, so I called Mark and notified him of our dilemma. He spoke highly of a local shop in Merriam, Kansas named Cyclops Cycle Products. We loaded up the bad wheel and within 30 minutes were standing in the presence of "A Man Named Jim."
Jim is a skilled craftsman, an authorized Wheel Rite dealer and one of the few people in the midwest who laces spoke wheels. His physical presence was undaunting, but when he spoke, people listened. And when he worked, people watched. In great detail he told us what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. Jim was blunt. He warned us of the possibility of the rim cracking while restoring it to it's original roundness. We appreciated his candor and decided this is a man we could trust. Until we saw his hammer.
Have you ever watched Gallagher, the comedian, perform? Well, Jim uses a device to bang wheels back to shape similar to Gallagher's "Sledge O-Matic." It seemed a to me a little like something out of the Flintstones, but he had our full confidence. We left to find a new set of wheel bearings and when we came back, the wheel was finished! Indeed, it had cracked while Jim applied his Gallagherian technique, but to fix it he simply "V" cut the crack out of the wheel and heli-arch welded new aluminum in its place. A bit of die grinding to shape it up and viola! Best of all it was airtight and true. With a spin balance and quick replacement of the bearings, we were back on the road.
The morning in Hays was beautiful! For once we were able to sleep in due to our short trip today. For good luck I had a "Denver" omelet for breakfast to ward off demons that may be lurking roadside. The first sign we encountered on I-70 read "Denver 335." Piece 'o Cake! Superslab all the way. We meandered on at a brisk 85 mph. Why not? The speed limit was 75 mph.
When we got within an hour of Denver we called ahead to our next host, Ed Guzman. "Gooz" was ready and waiting for our arrival. However, so was a lightning storm. As Saddam Hussein would have said, it was the "Mother of All Lightning Storms!" First, let me explain that I'm a rain rider. It usually doesn't bother me. But this storm bothered me! Rain coming down in sheets while lightning flashes landed all around. We've come 1700 miles for this? I keyed into the Chatterbox and said to Dave: "Tell my wife that I love her." He laughed and it broke up the tension. Finally at 3:15 in the afternoon we made it to Gooz's place in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver. Of course it hadn't rained a drop there!
After all the introductions were made, Gooz made a quick inspection of the damage on Dave's bike and announced that the head bearings were shot. He was right, of course, and we scrambled to located a shop nearby that could take care of us ASAP. Yeah, right! The first dealer said he could get to it by the first week of July. The next had our parts and said they could do it tomorrow afternoon. Not bad, but we were looking for another savior, another "Man Named Jim." We came across Fay Meyers Honda/Kawasaki/Suzuki/Ducati/Husaberg/Triumph/KTM. He sells all those brands, really. The locals call it FayMart. Dave and I called it another miracle. They told us to bring the bike down now. After three different people looked over Dave's ST, shaking their heads, they told us the bad news.
"I afraid we won't have it ready before noon tomorrow."
Day Five and Six: In the Groove
We knew it had to happen. After four days of ups and downs riding the flat sections, we finally had a day riding the ups and downs. This is awesome country!
For the first time in five days, the sky was a perfectly clear Carolina Blue. Our plan was to first check in at Fay Meyers Motorsports to pick up Dave's ST. We showed up an hour early, asking the service guy for local ride recommendations. He handed us a copy of "The Roads of Colorado Motorcycle Tour Guide." We went over several ride plans outlined in the book and when we offered to buy it, they simply said "Take it. It's on us." He must think we're some kind of famous moto-journalists or something, I thought to myself. Why are they doing all these things for us? I guess I'll have to say that Fay Meyers Motorsports is clearly the nicest shop I've ever done business with.
As promised, Fay Meyers had us on the road by 12 noon and we headed west toward Golden, Colorado, attempting to complete the "Central City / Mt. Evans Ride." This loop starts by going up Golden Gate Canyon Road, a beautiful sweeping piece of smooth macadam that winds around to the town of Black Hawk, a converted gambling town that's just plain ugly. An abomination in the middle of paradise that I couldn't leave fast enough. We followed Route 119 to the I-70 freeway, then to Route 103. All fabulous, relatively unoccupied roads that lead to Route 5, the glorious road to Mt. Evans. Crossing over 14,264 feet, it's the highest paved road in the United States. Simply breathtaking, and I mean that literally! The oxygen levels at that elevation are greatly reduced and you have to be careful not to get light-headed. Elk and mule deer could be seen near every ridge and valley. This is their territory, their kingdom. We stopped several times along this route to take pictures, finding very friendly mountain goats who will walk right up to the road to inspect your ride. They didn't seem to care about cars, but were keenly interested in our motorcycles. After hanging out with the wildlife, we retreated back to Denver and more oxygen-rich environs.
The last two days have been incredible, all of my senses heightened. Mother nature rains her beauty down upon us as my soul reaches up to meet her offerings. I can't remember ever feeling this way. The day to day grind at the office has dulled my senses and placed blinders on my eyes. This whole trip has been a refreshing revelation that I hope will change the way I see things in the future.
It is with great sadness that tomorrow we depart Denver. We're headed for Jackson, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. From there it's north to Montana and beautiful Glacier National Park.
Day Seven and Eight: The Body Doth Protest
Did you know that the sun rises at approximately 5:15 am in Denver? Man, that's early. I guess I should be grateful since we have 560 miles of riding to Jackson, Wyoming. I knew it was best to get an early start but my body wasn't cooperating. Among the many surprises experienced so far, I'm amazed at how physically demanding this has been. I'm sore from head to toe. Ibuprofen has become my best friend.
We rode north out of Denver on I-25 through Ft. Collins, jumping on Route 14 toward Poudre (pronounced POO-DER) Canyon. Poudre Canyon is simply one of the finest rides I've ever taken. The elevation of the road doesn't vary much, but it winds and twists and winds. The road parallels the river, sitting deep within towering walls of rock. It's close quarters in there and at one point the road actually passes through a huge rock with a hole cut through it.
Midway through this canyon we pass a sign that announces "Cattle Drive Ahead." We had no idea how far ahead they were but we established our ETA by the freshness of manure that lay in the road. Sure enough, as we rounded the bend there they were, at least a hundred heads being eased along by cowboys (and cowgirls, too). This being a narrow two-lane road with canyon walls maybe six feet to either side, we were forced to proceed at three mph in the oncoming lane while I laughed my ass off! Needless to say, we enjoyed the remaining miles of Poudre Canyon with smiles on our faces.
Trouble lay ahead though, as we approached the community of Riverside, Wyoming. Watch Out! The speed limit drops immediately from 65 mph to 30. Why, I haven't a clue. To accommodate a town that for the last half mile has no visible residential units? Or people for that matter? As Dave and I followed a local logging truck into town I keyed the Chatterbox and warned "This smells like a speed trap." We geared down to 30 mph and put a little distance between us and the logger. Suddenly, boom! A local cop in a Chevy Blazer comes from behind a row of bushes and jumps between us and the logger. Busted! Not us, thank God, the logger. Seriously, he wasn't doing more than 35. Can you say Revenue Generation? Well, this Barney Fife of Riverside obviously can! How can these people sleep? I guess it's not hard when your pillows are stuffed with $20 bills.
The rest of Wyoming was, well, pretty flat prairie land with little else. The road doesn't reach mountains until you approach Grand Teton National Park, and you have to ride 400 miles through the prairie to get there. We went non-stop for 235 miles in one stretch, a range my GTS1000 isn't supposed to have. Of course Dave's ST1100 was asking for more. And so we ended our day as we pulled into the Flat Creek Motel in Jackson, Wyoming, the mighty Tetons towering overhead. A tantalizing glimpse of what lies beyond. But man, those prairie stretches -- whew! -- where the hell's that ibuprofen?
I'd like the record to show that I am not a tourist. I don't like lines and I don't like crowds. I'd rather ride a quiet mountain road than see most tourist attractions. So I just thought I'd qualify my opinion before I state that to me, Yellowstone sucks! The park is a huge disappointment. I abhor extreme commercialization of mother nature. Even Old Faithful herself seemed tired of it all. The roads are pathetic, in places turning to dirt for miles. In all directions RVs, campers and minivans block clear passage. The saddest part is that the forest is bare. It seems that the National Forest Service adopted a "let it burn" policy relating to fires started by lightning strikes. If it's an act of God, they let it burn and allow nature to recover on her own. Well - it's ugly. Period. We could not leave Yellowstone soon enough, so we bailed and headed north toward the great state of Montana.
Montana was a welcome sight, home of "reasonable and prudent" speed limits. Montana-Bahn, yee-ha! I don't know about you, but when I hear this I'm thinking a buck and a quarter, hell at least a hundred! Of course I didn't say we rode at those speeds, just thought about it (grin). Our actual average speed was around 80 and it felt very natural. Montana was exactly as I expected -- beautiful, rolling hills and huge mountains with big sweeping curves. Route 89 between White Sulphur Springs and Great Falls was almost a dream. We'd ride for miles without seeing a soul in either direction. Thankfully, Montana restored our flame that Yellowstone extinguished. We're pumped. Glacier National Park is dead ahead, a couple hours ride from Great Falls. We've now traveled 3,200 miles, and with our bikes running well and our spirits soaring, we're ready to take it to the limit in search of that perfect road!
Kevin and Dave's Great Adventure
Part Three: Over the Hump and 'Round the Bend
By Kevin Hawkins,
Day Nine and Ten: Glacier and The Cascades
We planned to stop for breakfast in Browning, Montana on the Blackfeet Reservation, about 123 miles away. Less than an hour and a half later, we were there. Remember, this is Montana-bahn!
All over these rural routes we've been encountering these small, six inch rodents that dart constantly into our paths. I haven't squashed one, but I know I gave one a haircut this morning with my right footpeg. Another troublesome factor riding these roads is the "free range cattle." We witnessed one bloody aftermath and it makes me wonder what a "Close Encounter of the Elsie Kind" would be like on a motorcycle. I shudder to think about that.
We headed east to Glacier National Park to find out if the Road to the Sun and Logan Pass were open. These roads are not to be missed, but due to unpredictable mountain weather, they aren't usually open until mid-June. Still, since everything was going our way lately, we figured we'd give it a shot. Damn! Wouldn't you know it, on the way to the entrance for Logan Pass my GTS felt weird. I keyed the mike on the Chatterbox and hollered "Houston, we have a problem!" It seems in the turns the back of the GTS wants to trade places with the front.
After a park ranger told us that Logan Pass hadn't yet opened, we parked the bikes for an emergency examination. I pushed on the rear tire with my thumb and found the problem -- it's going flat! I put the bike on the centerstand and spun the wheel until I discovered the culprit - a rock. That's right, a rock! Not a nail, not some sharp, protruding piece of metallic road refuse, but a simple rock. With Dave's leatherman tool and two flat repair kits in hand, I extracted a long, pointed piece of gravel. Dave, who usually doesn't pay much attention to my multi-media activities, suddenly turns and grabs my camcorder, my digital camera and my 35mm camera and starts clicking away.
"It's your turn now buddy!" Dave exclaims. Now wait a minute. I believe I was very sympathetic to his bad fortune. Okay Dave, you win, I'll smile -- "cheeezz."
With a plug securely in place and the spit test complete, we were back on the road. Since the Road to the Sun was closed, we took Route 89 from East Glacier to West Glacier, then Route 2 west to Bonners Ferry, Idaho where we called it a day. We'll miss Montana, vowing someday we'll return.
Does anyone care to guess what time the sun rises in Bonners Ferry? 4:15 a.m.! What's up with that? Well, Dave and I were up with that and on the road by 5:45. We had a lot of miles to cover today, so we started with a breakfast run to Kettle Falls, Washington, home to 1255 friendly people, one grouch and 1992's Miss America.
You know, on these long cross-country trips, introspection is unavoidable whenever the mind and body are pushed to the limits. If any aspect of your life bothers you when you began your journey, it becomes magnified along the way. You start doubting yourself and some of your choices, including the decision to take this trip. Whenever I fall into this pattern, I concentrate on my riding: technique, smoothness, shifting, braking. It helped that we were heading into some nice twisties, so I work on peg pressures and body steering. Outside peg, inside peg, counter-steering, it's very effective once you learn how each movement affects the bike. Even one as large as the GTS.
Before we realized it, we were near the Washington Pass Overlook gazing at some pretty incredible sights, not the least of which was that large object on the opposing shoulder -- a moose. As we passed by, she darted back into the woods. It seems she was as scared as we were!
After cresting the Cascades and descending into Seattle, we decided to stay on Route 20 and take the ferry from Keystone Landing to Port Townsend. This would put us in great position for our run down the Pacific Coast on Route 101. Tomorrow we begin our much anticipated journey south toward Northern California.
Day 11 and 12: Rounding the Bend
Port Townsend, Washington is a charming little seaport. The motel we sacked out at appears to have once been used as barracks. Each room is equipped with two twin beds and a bathroom. Spartan, but after having ridden for twelve hours, it was all we needed. We slept until 8:00 in the morning, ready to hit the road for destinations South.
Today is hump day, the 11th day of a 21-day journey. We've traveled 4,113 miles in ten days, including the down time in Kansas City and Denver. We saw no reason to do anything different today, so as usual we rode a few hours then stopped for a breakfast break. Afterwards we headed out towards Route 101 for our scenic ride down the coast. I couldn't help but notice that I think this trip is starting to get to Dave. Riding along in a one lane construction zone, Dave, for some strange reason, heads the wrong way at a Y in the road. Instead of proceeding with traffic, he darts into a parking lot, turns around and rides along the shoulder towards oncoming traffic. I'm speechless but I follow blindly. One of the construction flag ladies gives chase to spank him, and Dave obligingly slows until she's about ten feet away. Then he hammers the ST in the direction we want to go.
Of course, having no mind of my own, I follow along. I didn't think much about it at the time, until we reached the next construction zone. As we passed the last flag lady, Dave thrusts out his leg and knocks over an orange cone, speeding away again. I'm left to deal with the stares and mouthed words that I can't hear over my helmet speakers. Dave has become a hooligan - period. We are now fugitives on the run, wanted by the Washington State Department of Transportation for crimes against construction cones and flag ladies. We've since learned that Alan Walsh of America's Most Wanted visited our families, asking for photos.
Without fail it seems that cities and states we visit roll out their best for us. Kansas City served prime rib, St. Louis offered potholes and now Seattle bestows upon us a very generous offering of its famous rain. Not just a few showers like we've seen in other states, mind you, but a cold, windy, constant downpour. We hunkered down, zipped up and made a bee line for the I-5 freeway. Shelter was just a couple hundred miles south in Vancouver, Washington at Mike and Kerry O'Leary's, old friends from Greensboro. Soapy rags and fresh Mobil 1 awaited our bikes, while a micro brewery and restaurant awaited our bellies. Tomorrow we continue on to the redwoods, Crater Lake, and other sites of Oregon and Northern California.
Our next rendezvous is with friends in Davis, California, about 570 miles away. We decide to split this ride into two parts so that we can take in some of Oregon's beautiful scenery. With this in mind, we leave Vancouver and head out Route 14 to The Bridge of the Gods, a steel truss bridge over the Columbia River that joins Washington and Oregon. As we ride along the river, east on I-84, we can't help but notice a vintage WWII B-29 Bomber flying slowly alongside. Dave and I are awe struck and we try to keep up. The flying fortress floated effortlessly in the sky as it traced the river's curves.
Our first stop is Mt. Hood. Is it possible to get tired of seeing beautiful mountain peaks? Not if you're on a motorcycle. We have seen many and Mt. Hood is up there with the best. We ride up and down the passes, experiencing temperature ranges from 80 degrees in the valleys to a frigid 35 degrees along the high mountain ridges. Our Aerostitch suits handle the temperature variances with aplomb.
At our first gas stop we receive the usual stares from the locals. Some nod with approval while others glare in disgust. If you're a motorcyclist, you've seen these looks before. "Murder-cycles" I believe is the phrase. But that couldn't be farther from the truth. Murder takes life and motorcycling gives life. Few things I have ever experienced match the exhilaration of riding a motorcycle. I have to laugh at their ignorance as I ride away, knowing that few things they do will match the fun I have on my bike.
Next up on the destination list is Crater Lake, a 2,000-foot-deep lake formed in the crater of Mount Mazama, once an active volcano that subsided 4,000 years ago. Our views along here are amazing, with the water a deep, deep blue in color and twenty foot snow drifts lining the rim.
I can always tell when Dave is near the end his riding limits. Today's clue was easy -- he exited a Port-a-Pottie with toilet paper sticking out of the waist of his Aerostitch pants. Dave's fried, so we ride down the range to Cave Junction, Oregon, near Grant's Pass and decide to call it quits over dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Full of refried beans, we retire to a nearby hotel.
Day 13 and 14: The Social Experiment
Next day dawned with our regular routine, on the road by 8:00, breakfast somewhere down the road. Dave's especially excited about today's agenda because he's a tree hugger. Ewel Gibbons has nothing on this boy when it comes to the appreciation of nature.
We reached Northern California's coastline within an hour. Even with a slight haze, it's still magnificent. Being from the east, I can't get used to the mountainous beaches. Back home, the land flattens out hundreds of miles before the sand appears. Sorry Easterners, but I'll take the mountainous Pacific Coast shoreline any day.
South of the Klamath River we jump on Redwood Scenic Byway. It offers a better view of the majestic redwood forests. These giants must be seen to be appreciated. One, known simply as Big Tree, is over 1500 years old and towers above the rest. Redwood trunks as wide as a farmer's silo are common. Remember "Return of the Jedi" where Luke Skywalker rode his space bike through the trees? We felt like Luke, riding our motorcycles through the forest. Still, not being totally satisfied with the Byway, we turned onto the "Avenue of the Giants." Phenomenal!
And here's something else we noticed: Northern California is the largest free range zoo I've ever visited. Not the animals, the people. With the tree huggers fighting the loggers, this place is a social experiment gone wrong. Filling up the GTS at a local gas stop, every man in the station is either bald or has hair down to his shoulders. I didn't dare take off my helmet.
Not yet having his fill of redwoods, Dave eyed a sign along the side of the road that read "Drive Through A Tree!" He keys the Chatterbox and mentions he saw this one night on television and that we've got to do it. I agree, although I have my doubts, leading the way to a small homemade park and a booth. It costs $1.50 per bike. We smelled a tourist trap. Sure enough, as we round the bend, we see a redwood that has a hole cut through hardly large enough for our bikes to fit.
"You saw this on television?" I complained. "You owe me a buck-fifty and we're not leaving this cheesy park till I get it."
Dave just dances his ST1100 around me like I'm a flag person on a construction sight. Poof, then we're gone! We hang a left on Route 20 and enter God's oven, the Valley. Temperatures rose 30 degrees in 20 miles as we descended past Clear Lake and into Wilbur Springs. Wilbur needs a spring there, it's hot! Although I start to feel like a Thanksgiving bird in the oven, I refuse to remove my Aerostitch. With all the vents open and moving along at 70 mph, it's tolerable. Around 6:00 p.m. we arrive in Davis, visit a micro-brewery down the street and enjoy a few laughs over dinner. Tomorrow's our day off. I'm buying a new rear tire for the GTS and visiting some friends via the Net. We've needed an off day for a while. Saturday we'll begin the road back east.
I awoke at 8:00 in the morning from the best night's sleep I've had since our trip began. Hey, no leg cramps. I guess I won't be needing the ibuprofen today. I take a ride to buy a D205 rear tire at full retail (ouch!), but at least I am in and out the door quickly. A fair trade, and I'll feel better heading back east with new rubber. From the inside I inspect the plug I put in the old tire and find that it wasn't going to last much longer. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and bench racing before heading to dinner. We feel rested and ready for the trip back home. Tomorrow we'll visit Yosemite National Park before threading our way to Lake Eufala, Oklahoma for Honda's Sport Touring Association "Rendezvous '97."
Kevin and Dave's Great Adventure
Part Four: Splitsville and the Road Home
Day 15 & 16: Yee Ha, Yosemite!
Our trip home started with a nice surprise. Two friends, Don and Beth McClellan. joined us for the day and lead the ride through Yosemite. They too have Chatterbox communicators, so now we wouldn't miss a thing. The fun began while riding down Route 4 towards Copperopolis, California. A Highway Patrol plane flew above, but Don spotted him long before he got close enough to clock us. We were doing a nominal 70 mph in a 65 zone, but we backed off to 65 anyway. The police officer flew in-line with the sun to try and hide himself. Copperopolis was coming up in two miles and we knew the routine -- the Sheriff would decide who'd been naughty and who'd been nice. As we approached town, it looked like a parade with all the flashing lights. As we passed, a patrolman sitting in his Mustang GT hit his lights. Just as we were waiting for him to make his way up to us, a car pulled over to get out of his way, and the patrolman pulled in behind him. Not ones to let a window of opportunity slam shut, we were out of there!
Once we arrived in Yosemite, we found the park in rare form. The sun shined brightly overhead with not a cloud in the sky. El Capitan was speckled with rock-climbers and Yosemite Falls was powerful. We've seen so many of Mother Nature's offerings in the past two weeks that we've become a bit jaded, but Yosemite is as beautiful as anything we've seen. The roads are fun to ride and the sights are spectacular. Approaching Yosemite Village, Dave was almost served up for lunch by a young lady turning left from the right lane. Tourist areas are dangerous, especially on weekends. After lunch we say good-bye to the McClellan's and go our separate ways.
After a long winter, Route 120 west through Tioga Pass was finally open. We seized the opportunity to ride a great road with a great reputation, and it didn't disappoint. Heaven lies 50 miles before Benton, California. Tioga Pass is a roller coaster -- up, down, up, down -- for miles. We were weightless over the crests and pulling heavy G's through the bottoms. I've never ridden roads like this and couldn't have designed anything more exciting on a clean sheet of paper. Without a turn to be found, it felt like we were riding on the back of the Loch Ness Monster. We weren't merely laughing, we were screaming. If you ever get a chance to ride this road, do yourself a favor, don't pass it up.
Outside Tonopah, Nevada, we witnessed several "Dirt Devils," or dust twisters, in the distance, along with one totally demolished Honda Accord. The locals were loading it onto a flatbed after it had left the road and flipped multiple times. Dozing off at the wheel is probably a common occurrence on these roads, since the flat, arid environment is extremely conducive to drowsiness. Tonight we'll stay in Tonopah, tomorrow we'll travel through the southern part of Utah. This isn't exactly a part of the trip I'm looking forward to, but just as we think we've hit a lull, our journey never fails to amuse us.
Our next day's objective today was to make it through Utah and into Colorado. We were in need of a long-distance day if we were to make it by Tuesday evening to Lake Eufala, Oklahoma. Twenty miles out of town we pass the Tonopah Missile Test Range and notice a few craters left by some of the wayward missile launches. A little farther down the road we enter Kaiyobi National Forest. Puzzled, Dave and I just glance at each other as there are no trees within a hundred miles of this place. It should have been labeled Kaiyobi National Shrubbery.
Entering Ely, Nevada, we came across at least twenty Hum-V's (Hummers), participating in an off-road rally. We never did find out who won, but it didn't really seem to matter as everyone had a beer in their hands. Guess they all won! Dave and I spent the rest of the day uneventfully traversing the terrain of Utah. With a landscape similar to Arizona, this is an underrated state for motorcycle riding. We followed canyon after canyon, with roads running along the rim then falling into the valleys. I wish we had more time to explore this area.
A major catastrophe was narrowly averted when I happened to notice the masterlink clip was missing from my chain. Have you seen the damage a chain can cause when it cuts loose at 70 mph? It would've quickly put an end to our trip. We make a quick run to a local auto-parts store and requisitioned some safety wire. I'm lucky: I should have secured the chain this way when I first put it on. Using Dave's leatherman tool, I remedy the situation. Pulling into Grand Junction, Colorado, we call it a day. Tomorrow we'll head towards Dodge City, Kansas, following some very nice backroads along the way.
Day 17 & 18: Hello Honda Star '97
We left Grand Junction this morning with no real destination in mind other than riding Southeast. We'd have to cover another 600 miles before sunset in order to make an early arrival tomorrow into Honda's Star '97 (Sport Touring Association Rendezvous) at Lake Eufala, Oklahoma. We made a wrong turn somewhere, ending up on Route 92 east. But our wrong turn paid off. Now close your eyes and imagine the finest twists, turns and sweepers imbedded inside the most beautiful mountain scenery. That's where we were, riding through the Grand Mesa and Gunnison National Forest. For hours we rode one mountain pass after another through aspen forests, mountain lakes, streams, dams and snow peaks. Of all the states we visited, Colorado is an easy winner when it comes to everything motorcyclists desire. Having passed through this state twice now, it simply offers it all!
Well, it happened again. We rode through two cattle drives today, and found it's not that hard to navigate a path through a sea of future Whoppers and Quarter Pounders. You approach cows very slowly as you watch the red meat sea part. The only trick is to keep an eye on the bulls and remember not get between a cow and its calf. If the calf cuts to the right, give mama plenty of room to go along.
Near Pueblo, Colorado, the terrain turned, flat helping us make time. Still, we prefer mountains -- after what we had just rode through, who wouldn't? Our stop for tonight is Dodge City, Kansas. That's right, we're in Kansas again, the land that made "flat" famous. Dave hasn't started his Bob Dole impersonation yet, but it's only a matter of time. Tomorrow, we'll get the hell out of Dodge.
The morning hurts. My body protests, with only 6 hours of sleep after having rode another 600 miles. It's almost a miracle that Dave and I haven't become sick somewhere along the way. To ask this much from the body and mind for 18 consecutive days is too demanding. But there's a light at the end of the tunnel -- this afternoon we'll arrive at Fountainhead Resort and enjoy a day off before heading home.
The Oklahoma plains were not kind this morning, pestering us with steady winds and gusts up to 40 mph. If this had been a tail wind, the boost in fuel mileage would have been nice. Instead it was a crosswind. Through Oklahoma, the winds were so vicious and constant that we had to lean our bikes 25 degrees from vertical for 200 miles. After the first 25 miles you kind of get used to it, but your body takes a beating. Your head struggles against the blast and your neck gets really sore. At times the wind would suddenly drop, leaving you heading straight for the ditch. Just as soon as you make a correction for this, the next gust hits you full blast and you start over. Needless to say, it was a long, tough day.
When we finally arrive at Fountainhead, we are treated by Bob Higdon and Mike Kneebone to a slide show about their 1994 attempted journey to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. My own aches and pains are small change compared to what these guys went through. They're the Iron Butt Rally veterans, and they wouldn't blink twice at the prospect of a 1000 mile day. It was the perfect ending to a hard day's ride.
Day 19 & 20: And Then There Was One
I think my friend Ray Nielson said it best when he remarked that vacation usually ends a few days before the trip does. I find these final days a bit anti-climatic after having seen so much and traveled so many miles in so little time. At this point the trip is a blur and I'm looking forward to its end. I think it was for this reason that Dave headed home a day ahead of schedule. He said something about his wife getting pregnant and him wanting to be there for it. I understand, but I'm now left to complete the last 1000 miles of this trip alone, and I'm not exactly looking forward to it.
Today provided a much needed rest. My body was still recovering from the beating issued yesterday by those vicious Oklahoma winds. I slept until 8:00 in the morning, then was joined by fellow Carolinians Mel and Janet Downing for breakfast and a ride to Winding Stair road. Mel and Janet live only a few miles from me but I only seem to hook up with them at these HSTA national rallies. They're both in their fifties, sportbike fans and excellent riders. We arrived back at the Star '97 event lodge around 6:00 p.m. and hurried to get ready for the banquet. As usual, it was entertaining as our fearless leader Moose Parrish had us in stitches most of the night. Keynote speaker for the evening was AMA president Ed Youngblood, who spoke about pressing issues facing motorcyclist in the coming years.
Tomorrow I plan on covering another 600 miles to somewhere in Tennessee, between Nashville and Knoxville. There are no more destinations for this trip, only home.
Late last night I packed and organized everything so I could make a quick getaway. Like a homing pigeon released from its cage hundreds of miles from home, I sprang from the hotel lobby ready to take flight. The yearning to be reunited with my lovely wife has grown since the day I left. I'm tired, but nothing can stop me now. I have to temper my eagerness before it reaches my throttle hand and remind myself that this highly successful trip would go for naught if I didn't make it home safely.
The first 400 miles go quickly as I only stop once for gas at the 200 mile mark. A two mile construction backup delays my passage through Little Rock, but Memphis and Nashville are clear. I quickly calculate that I could be home by 1:00 in the morning if I ride straight through, but realize the foolishness of such an attempt. Instead, I find a nice hotel in Harriman, Tennessee. With only 300 miles to ride tomorrow, the Great Adventure draws to a close.
Looking back at our journey, I view it first as a great personal accomplishment. It would be impossible to explain completely the amount of mental and physical effort required to plan and execute such a trip. By reading our ride journals, you might start to understand. Our pre-trip planning proved to be excellent, as we had everything we needed with us. We were prepared for almost all foreseeable situations, carrying tire repair kits, strobe lights, a cellular phone, first aid kits and various replacements for parts and pieces that might be prone to failure. Everything worked fabulously.
What we couldn't possibly prepare for was the physical and mental demands that would be placed upon on us. I felt that mentally I was ready for anything, but my excitement clouded reality. Physically, I'm in pretty good shape and thought that I could take it as it comes and deal with any problems along the way. I'd been on many trips with my GTS before and knew what had to be done to make myself comfortable -- Heli-bars and a Corbin seat made this bike ready for long days -- but many 400-plus mile days in a row are rough even if spent on a plush couch of a motorcycle.
Of all the states we visited, Colorado stood out as the best for motorcycling. Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, and Wyoming were also impressive. Some thoughts that still stand out strongly are: A Man Named Jim, ugly Yellowstone, the fabulous Cascades, Glacier National Park, the Grand Tetons, Poudre Canyon, Yosemite, photographing my speedometer at 120 mph, the Tioga Pass out of Yosemite and Star '97 .
Several questions have been posed to me since returning from The Great Adventure. I'll try and address some of them here.
Was 21 days too short a time to cover that many miles?
Absolutely! 8,650 miles in 21 days is craziness. We could have spent all 21 days in Colorado alone.
How did you and Dave get along during such a long trip?
I couldn't imagine having a better riding partner for this trip. Think of it, 20 days together day and night, night and day. We never had one disagreement and we always supported each other. This type of trip is not for one person to try alone. Thanks Dave!
Did you feel you could have used more rest between 700 mile days? Maybe next time, trailer to Colorado, park it, then ride and trailer home?
We simply needed more rest days, period. The 700 mile days weren't too bad, really. It was just the repetition of doing high mileage day after day that got to us. It certainly would have been more practical to trailer the bikes to Colorado and ride from there, but when you're doing a 21 day motorcycle adventure, it just sounds better that we did it all on the bikes. I guess you could say our egos got the best of us in this case.
Wife still love you?
Of course! Marci was a trooper during this trip and I can't imagine that many other wives would have let their husbands run off for three weeks just one short month after their honeymoon. She taught me that not all angels have wings.
Different bike next time?
I don't think so. The GTS1000 offered a wonderful balance of comfort and performance. A little bit more range on the gas tank might have been nice, but my GTS and I are perfect together. I don't care for the larger sport tourers and smaller bikes, even if equipped with Givi hard luggage, don't offer the safety of ABS or the reliability of fuel injection.
What is your background in motorcycling?
I started riding just six short years ago when I lived in Frederick, Maryland. My first bike was a '91 Honda Nighthawk 750, soon followed by my Yamaha GTS1000, '95 Ducati 900SS, and '80 Honda CM400T (my wife's bike). I've ridden approximately 80,000 miles in those six years -- a good bit of riding but by no means huge. I've attended the beginner and advanced training classes offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, as well as six of Reg Pridmore's CLASS sessions. Knock on wood, I've also never had an accident on a motorcycle, but realize this is blind-ass luck and just a matter of time. I wear an Aerostitch Darien riding suit that prepares me for the fateful day, but hope to never put it to full use.
Motorcycling has added joy to my life and will no doubt continue to do so. If you already ride a motorcycle, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, you might want to consider giving it a try. Contact the Motorcycle Safety Foundation or inquire about riding courses through your local bike shops. It could be a move that changes your life, and sets you off on your own Great Adventure.