On Feb. 16, I left hearth, home and Airedale for a cross country trip on my KGT. My only real concern was weather in west Texas and eastern New Mexico as it had snowed there the week before I was to depart. Armed with a full Gerbings set up, a good riding suit and a paid up American Express, I actually added a couple of extra days to lay-over for weather just in case as I had several business commitments along my route.
The first portion of my ride was along that lovely byway called Interstate 40. I had to follow that to the Asheville, NC area where I picked up The Great Smokey Mountain Expressway taking me to the Nantahala Gorge. Not far into the gorge, I stopped for lunch at a little spot along the river that primarily caters to kayakers, rafters and canoeists and had a nice lunch. After that, US 74 meanders along the river giving me a good opportunity to test the new Pirelli Pilot Road 2 tires with very little traffic to spoil my ride. Liking the tires almost immediately, I gave them another good work out over in Tennessee when US 74 took me through the Ocoee River section, where the kayaking portions of the ’96 Olympics were held. I made it to Chattanooga by 5:00, completing a great first day of the almost month long trip.
On Sunday, the Weather Channel promised rain with the possibility of severe weather in the Birmingham, Alabama area. Great, that’s where I’m going! Though overcast, the streets of Chattanooga were dry when I took the elevator down to the parking garage. By the time I loaded the bike, the oil had been washed off the street by a heavy downpour. I buttoned up the Darien suit, put on the claw-like glove covers and headed to Birmingham via I-26, US 72 and several country roads, riding part of the Trail of Tears Motorcycle Remembrance Ride we’ll do in September. Near Stevenson, AL the rain and wind got pretty intense and I considered pulling over but I was out of it as soon as it had begun. As soon as I arrived in Birmingham, the sun came out on me and the filthy BMW found the hotel with no problems, thanks to the zumo GPS. Actually, that weather front did spawn a couple of tornados about fifty miles south of Birmingham
After completing business commitments on Monday, I had two days to get to Houston for more work so I could pay for this trip. Unfortunately, my time frame dictated routes and I had to do the interstate blast all the way to the Republic. I did my business in Houston before proceeding to the Dallas/Fort Worth area for more of the same. By Saturday, the 23rd, I was heading for Big Bend under clear skies but cold (32°) temperatures. By the time I got to Alpine, the weather had warmed substantially and promised to be clear for the next several days. I had a great time in the almost deserted national park. Riding down to Castolon, I met a dual-sport rider who lives just over the Tennessee line from the infamous “Dragon,” US 129. She was riding that back country alone! That tough lady was smiling from ear to ear. I continued on, taking FM 170, US 63 and FM 17 up to Fort Davis where I stayed at the Hotel Limpia. What a great old hotel!
The next day, Monday the 25th, was crystal clear but high wind warnings were out. The weatherman was right! Taking FM 118 up to the Mt. McDonald Observatory was lots of fun. I really enjoyed the “white knuckle” trip up the mountain, passing a two up Gold Wing along the way. When I got to the observatory, I was afraid to leave the bike in the parking lot. The arriving Honda crew told me their weather radio said the wind gusts were over 60 mph. I decided to move on and took FM 118 to 166 to 505 down to US 90 near Valentine. The blast was coming out of the west and, besides staying upright, my main job was to dodge tumbleweed! I made it up to Van Horn and took I-10 through El Paso and on to Las Cruces, NM. On the interstate, I was heading directly into the wind and got the worst mileage of the trip: 34 mph at 80 mph. Actually, that turned out to be a good thing because the Department of Public Safety was out in force. Tuesday morning proved to be very windy again but I made it to Tucson via interstate for another round of business there and in Phoenix. My business schedule got very hectic and I was in southern California for the rest of the week and part of the next.
Actually, that weekend was where my trip took an interesting turn. During my planning, I asked for touring advice for southern California routes over to Death Valley. A gentleman from Manhattan Beach replied and, after a little correspondence, Craig graciously invited me to ride with his friends for their 33rd annual ride to the national park. What a nice thing to do! As I had a touch of free time on Saturday/Sunday, March 1st and 2nd, he recommended CA 243. I took that great route and finally ended up in Palm Desert Saturday evening.
Sunday, bright sun and warm temperatures followed me through Joshua Tree National Park, Twenty-Nine Palms and down to the Banning area where high winds and low clouds encroached, encouraging me to find a hotel in Ontario. On Monday, once again, business took over and I negotiated L.A.’s freeways for a few days. Finally, business was concluded and, at Craig’s recommendation, we met at the Flintridge exit and he took me on a spirited ride on the Angeles Crest Highway up to Newcomb’s Ranch. I’d read about this California motorcycle Mecca for years and enjoyed a few cups of coffee while Craig showed me routes up to Morro Bay. Taking the barristers sage advice, I headed off for CA 33. This great road took me through the area devastated by wildfires last year. What a shame! The road was in good condition and there was very little traffic. I ended up taking Soda Lake Road even though my KGT isn’t too fond of dirt. This proved to be a well maintained fun route to take over to CA 58 even though I crossed a little water generated by run-off from the mountains. CA 58 was a beautiful ride and I made it to Morro Bay wonderfully exhausted. Craig’s good friend/spiritual adviser, Clem, who lives nearby, told me where the locals dine so I walked down to Dorn’s Original Breakers Café and had a great piece of grouper and more than one martini. Watching the sunset over Morro Rock was a nice way to end the day.
Thursday, March 6, broke clear and cool and I had a brief ride to meet Clem. Following him over to Arvin, just south of Bakersfield, we meet Craig for lunch. Sustained but $3.69 gasoline and $12 Mexican fuel, we headed east with our sights set on Kernville, where an internet picture of the sheriff’s car clearly states, “We’ll kick your ass.” (I sure was looking forward to that!) For a few miles after Arvin, the road was arrow straight and Craig and Clem clipped along at a merry pace broaching the century mark. I thought their in-laws must be chasing them so I held on and tried to stay with ‘em. CA 178 took us on a path that paralleled the Kern River for several miles with only a few cows in the road comprising the only real traffic. They seemed to have cared less at the interruption. Intersecting with CA 155 at Lake Isabella, we had a short ride to Kernville where the compliment of my new best friends was congregating. This group had been riding together for years and so graciously took this southern neophyte under their collective wings. These friends went out of their way to make me feel part of the group and, after a few beers in the hotel parking lot, I told my wife (via Ma Bell) that this bunch was just like the riff-raff we usually accompany in North Carolina. I felt right at home.
On Friday, after a lazy morning of recuperation, we got started around 10:30. The group was of a size that could have been unwieldy together so everyone broke into smaller groups with a lunch stop scheduled for a café in Olancha. Rory, Bill, KGT and KS pilots respectively, and I were tooling along US 395 when a CHP officer activated her radar. We had noticed the “sampling” signals from our radar detectors and were within the acceptable range so we proceeded unimpeded.
Everyone assembled for lunch at the Ranch House Café and congratulated each other with our good fortune with the California Highway Patrol. This perpetrated more stories of past Death Valley rides when law enforcement, replete with road blocks, won the day. After topping off, it was on to Death Valley. Stopping to take pictures along the way, I soon found myself riding alone. As I approached the national park, I noticed a lone headlight behind me in the distance. Matt was with our group and riding at his normal rate, quickly overtaking me. I followed him to our accommodations in Death Valley.
More great company, meals and many miles later, Sunday morning came all too soon and my countdown clock was activated. It was time to head east. I had said my good-byes and thanks the prior evening and left Death Valley around 5:30 AM with my destination being Phoenix. Taking mostly US routes, I made it to Phoenix feeling pretty good so I continued down the road, finding a hotel in Tucson. Unfortunately, I had to do an interstate blast because I was trying to make to back to Alpine, TX. After El Paso, I noticed the Texas troopers were working hard, zapping me with radar five times on I-10 on my way to Van Horn. As soon as I took US 90 at Van Horn, I was zapped again just barely out of the city limits. Figuring I was safe on that lonely road, I cranked it up to 85 mph in the 70 mph zone. I’d been at that velocity for maybe thirty seconds when my Valentine chirped a couple of times. I figured it was the trooper I’d just past but I was wrong. I was stopped for 78 mph but the officer gave me a warning and released me without the dreaded high-speed driving award. I behaved all the way to Alpine, logging well over 600 miles that day.
The next morning was a little cool but I had bright sun for my ride across the Republic on US 90. I stopped in Sanderson for fuel before head to Langtry to visit Judge Roy Bean’s courthouse. Appropriately, I met several law enforcement officers there who were passing through the area from Dallas. They were heading over to Big Bend and were nice enough to tell me where to watch for speed traps. I got “hit” seven more times that day on the way over to San Antonio. After that, I’m afraid I had stay on the Eisenhower system all the way to Birmingham, AL, spending a night in Baton Rouge, LA along the way. I stopped and had an emotional experience at the Barbour Museum before heading on to Chattanooga. That is one place every motorcycle rider needs to see. It’s mind-boggling and I can’t wait to go back.
I got up on the last morning and repacked my duds as I’d done every morning for the past month. Actually, I was glad to be heading home. As I loaded the BMW in the hotel parking garage, a gentleman commented that riding looked like a lot of fun. Obviously, I agreed and he told me about his college days on a 350 CB and what fun he’d had. Familiar story, huh? As he walked away, he turned and said, “Man, that’s the only way to travel.”