Ever have a dream where you walk into a dealership and someone hands you the keys to a new motorcycle and says, “Take it”? I have. I would wake up and realize-- it was just a dream. It's a good dream. It's one I certainly don't mind revisiting from time to time. But can you imagine not being able to wake up from that dream? Would it become a nightmare? Not for me. The reason, I couldn't wake up, is that it really happened. Yeah, I pinched myself, several times in fact. I told myself “this can't be real, this can't be happening to me”. But for as long as it seemed real, I was going with it. I didn't want it to end, and I wasn't about to do anything to jinx it.
This sounds like a good opening paragraph to some kind of fiction novel, but it's not. What I am about to tell you is true, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. There are a million stories in the naked city, and this one happened to me. You know the old saying, be careful what you wish for... you might get it. Well sometimes, for some people, (especially warped individuals like myself), it can turn out to be true paradise.
I received a phone call one morning from a gentleman who identified himself as a department manager of a motorcycle manufacturer. We'll call him Mr. C. He told me, that my friend had given my name to him, as someone who could help him with a project. Mr. C said that they were putting together a test ride and they needed more riders than were available within the company. This was a last minute operation, and needed to be done ASAP. I said it sounded good to me, that I would be interested. Mr. C explained that they needed to put 12,500 miles on a pair of new “98” model motorcycles as a shakedown test for a line of new accessories. They were pressed for time, as upper management wanted it done in six weeks. The plan was to make four trips of 3,000+ miles, changing riders and servicing the bikes between trips. Mr. C then asked me which of the four trips I would like to sign up for? This is where my warped personality took over. I said yes. He said what do you mean? I replied, yes to all of it. Mr. C said you want to do the whole thing! Like I was some kind of nut. Little did he know, ha ha. I reiterated that I would be willing to participate in any, or all four trips. When do I start? Mr. C stated that he would have to get back to me tomorrow about that part.
After the call I was really enthused about the prospect of having the chance to ride for a manufacturer and participate in this test. I figured a week or two of riding around on a new motorcycle with some factory test riders would be a dream come true. Fortunately, I was in a position to be able to get away for this period of time... I would drop everything, and had I been gainfully employed, I'd have quit. So, when Mr. C called back saying, “You got it”. I said, “Got what”? “The whole thing”, he said. I was ecstatic, WOW!!! This is great. That’s where things started to head into the twilight zone. He went on to say that I would get paid, yeah, paid for riding a motorcycle on a touring trip. And get this. I would be reimbursed for meals, as well as my own business class motel room. Now I'm thinking this is too good to be true. I'm being set up as the butt of some sadistic, evil, wicked person’s sick joke. But, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I said, “When do you want me there”? He said Thursday morning for an orientation, and we'll leave Friday. I said I'd be there. This was Tuesday afternoon and I was 600 miles away. Does the phrase, "CHICKEN WITH HIS HEAD CUT OFF", ring a bell?
I immediately began calling everyone I needed to notify of my absence, and anyone else I could think of to tell, as if I'd just won the lottery. And yes, I most definitely called my friend who gave my name to Mr. C. I have to admit, I did expect him to break out in hilarious laughter, tell me it was just one big joke, and he'd put one over on me. That was not the case, and he wanted to know all the details. Now I was really pumped. I'm planning and packing and getting with the program. I thought I was going to have the greatest motorcycling adventure of my life. I was soon to find out that things were to get even more incredible.
I finally got my act together and took it on the road. I arranged to stay with the aforementioned friend, and arrived at his home late Wednesday evening. He lived only 20 miles from the manufacturer’s offices in Southern California. We talked a while about this fabulous situation and turned in. The next morning, when I got to the manufacturers offices, that's when my trip into the twilight zone entered the quickening stage.
After the usual red tape, paper work, and introductions to Mr. E, Mr. J, and Tom the other rider, we went to the personnel department. Here, more of the details of the trip were explained. Mr. J said they wanted to do 300 to 400 miles a day for 4 days, to get to Corpus Christi, Texas. Then do a short day to rest up, and do 3 more full days, and another short day getting back. I'm used to having only two weeks vacation time to travel 5,000 to 7,000 miles, and at that, spending 3 to 4 days at my destination. Three to four hundred miles a day, IS, a short day to me. At this point he’s going on about how they realize that it may take more than 8 hours a day to drive that far. (Didn't anyone tell them the speed limit isn't 55 MPH anymore?) You’ll be pad overtime if you have to drive more than 8 hours in a day. (And I'm not going to be the one to break the news to them.) We don't want anyone to feel they have to break the speed limit, or drive when they're too tired. (Hey, I can be flexible, I can learn to live in the slow lane.) I said I understood and agreed. We were told there would be two bikes, a chase van, and two company employees with us on each trip. A corporate engineer will be going on all four legs, while Mr. C, Mr. E, Mr. J, and Mr. M would be taking turns. Mr. E will be going on the first leg. Let’s see-- short days-- taking turns-- riding, driving, and being a passenger. Who could get too tired? I'm not trying to make myself out to be some kind of superman on a motorcycle, but I, and many of the people I ride with, are used to much more difficult circumstances and calling it fun and recreation. I thought this was going to be a piece of cake, and it was. At this point they handed me a check for $1,000.00 to cover my expenses for the first leg of this biker’s holiday…… I was speechless.
After leaving the personnel department, Mr. E took us to the Technical Services Department, where he worked, and introduced us to the Japanese engineer Mr. Y. We all went into a conference room to discuss the criteria the test ride was to determine. Then we answered some questions for the engineer. Afterwards, Mr. J took us on a tour of the rest of the facility and introduced us to a few more people-- the CEO, and two well-known personalities of motorcycledom. When we returned to the technical services office, Mr. E asked if we were ready to see the bikes. Then it happened! I didn't see it coming, I was totally off guard and blown away. In front of me were these two beautiful, brand new, V twin, heavyweight cruiser machines. With windshields, back rests, saddlebags, floorboards, auxiliary lights and chrome. I mean lots and lots of deep reflecting, see your self from all different angles, blindingly bright, CHROME! There was a green one, with a stock seat and plain saddlebags, and a yellow one. (Ah yes, the yellow one) It had a custom seat with chrome studs around the edges to match the ones on the saddlebags.
I was in love. I didn't want to be. I'm a sport-touring rider. I generally don't get too enthused over cruiser bikes. The words hit me like a ton of bricks, “TAKE IT” he said!!! Huh? I replied. “Ride them down to the bank, cash your check and get the feel of em'”. OK, I'm pinching myself big time now. This was so much like my dream it was almost deja vu. I'm standing there with my mouth hanging open and my knees quivering like a school kid. Mr. E said, “Yeah go ahead, the keys are in them”. Being an experienced motorcyclist and almost downright long in the tooth, I couldn't let on that I was the slightest bit impressed. I said, “Take this new bike, go cash a $1,000.00 check, and you expect us to come back? I'll see you in Matzatlan fella”. Of course I came back.
When we returned, Mr. E stated that we were well ahead of schedule for the day, and asked if I would be able to leave right away. Uh, well, I rode over here on a borrowed bike and I didn't bring my gear with me. But my friend’s house is on the way out of town. So we hit the road with three bikes, a chase van, four people, and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh yeah, this was less than 30 days after Christmas and I was definitely back in the spirit of the season. Talk about your late Christmas presents, this was a doosie. Twenty miles later, we were loaded down with more gear in the van and I was on the green bike headed east for Phoenix, AZ. And it's still only lunchtime. At the first gas stop we all grabbed a burger. Tom and I tried to catch our breath and take it all in. What a morning!
As we left the burger joint, things were still not soaking in. I still felt like this was all too good to be true, and it was. I thought I should confer one more time with Mr. E about speed and distance to the next gas stop, as I was to take the lead. I stopped the bike in the middle of the parking lot, put it in neutral, put the side stand down, and walked over to the van. I took about three steps and heard the most horrific sound a motorcyclist can hear-- while standing on the ground that is. This beautiful new motorcycle, with less than 200 miles on the clock, had rolled off the side stand and fallen on its side! I was mortified. Having turned immediately toward the bike at the first noise, I took a step toward it, stopped, turned back toward the van (with this “What have I done, but I didn't mean it” look on my face) took a step in the opposite direction, then back toward the van, then ran to the bike like my life depended on it. I heaved this 650-pound behemoth towards its fully upright position, without a thought to my totally messed up lower back. Then, just about the time I had it up, Tom and Mr. Y converged on it to help. Thank God it was the green one…… and my lower back was still functional. The damage, fortunately, was minimal-- a scratched front fender and a broken auxiliary light. The factory guys were amazingly nonplused. Mr. E said “This stuff happens all the time on road tests. It's good to get it out of the way early, now we can relax”. The cause of this mishap was that, in my distraction, I didn’t notice the slight down hill grade of the parking lot. The bike just rolled forward off the stand. The remainder of the day was smooth going across I-10.
We made one more stop for gas, and sailed on in to Phoenix, except for an early freeway exit and a stop for directions to the motel. We ate at a nearby restaurant, conversed getting to know each other, and hit the sack. It was a couple of hours before the rush of the day’s events subsided enough for me to drift off to sleep.
I am not an early riser, but when that wake-up call came at 6 AM I was rarin' to go. We wanted to get an early start. One, to get out of town before rush hour traffic, and two, to make it to Tucson by 9AM when the local dealer opened. Arrangements had been made to service the bikes, and I needed to take care of a slight helmet problem. In my rush and excitement when leaving the offices the day before, I fumbled the helmet. It slipped out of my hands, bounced off the foot peg, and I caught it. (how often does that happen) I thought I had saved it from any damage, but the face shield mechanism on one side had been broken. This allowed the face shield to come loose on that side and flap around. Even generous amounts of duct tape couldn't keep it in check. Parts were unobtainable, so I was now the proud owner of a brand new helmet. I was determined not to let anything spoil things for me. The trip was pretty well planned, route plotted, reservations made, etc. But it was not written in stone. We had leeway to take side trips, add miles, or change the destination to avoid the weather. Ever hear of El Nino? It was in full swing. But not even El Nino was going to rain on my parade. The rest of Day Two went smoothly as we cruised the freeway to Las Cruces NM.
We got there early enough to visit the local dealer before closing, ate dinner in Old Town, and went to bed early. It still wasn't any easier to get to sleep. The pinch marks were adding up, and my face was sore from smiling all day long.
We were at it bright and early again on Day Three, to beat the traffic, and make it to the El Paso, TX dealer by 9 AM. A little manufacturer to dealer business done, some showing off of the bikes, and we were on our way to San Angelo for the night. So far, all we've done is drone down the interstate. But the interstate doesn't go to San Angelo. Shortly after Fort Stockton, where we stopped to take pictures with the giant roadrunner that is the town landmark, we got our first chance to do some winding around on secondary highways. Highway 67 is dotted with a few small towns and is mostly straight with an occasional zig zag though some hilly areas. We're not talking genuine twisties here, but it was a nice change of pace. These big V twins are intended for a steady diet of interstate concrete, but they are amazingly nimble at slow speeds, and moderately windy roads. They maintain their neutrality until the ground clearance is all used up, and the suspension isn't unduly upset by rough pavement. Once I got used to the feet forward, and high wide handlebars, I could feel confident in leaning it right to the limmit. Countersteering, pushing the bar, give the best feel and response. Especially at the very limit as it starts to oversteer a bit. A condition most manufacturers build into the handling of all but the all out sport bikes these days, as it tends to bring the bike back upright. In comparison to other cruisers in this class they're considerably better. You're not going to impress any of your sport bike buddies, but they won't be able to run off and leave you as easily either. I found it to be much more comfortable on the long ride than I feared. Although we stopped frequently, by my standards, about every 100 miles as this was about the range of the main tank. 4.1 gallon capacity and 40 mpg, you do the math. After three days I was not feeling any butt soreness. A pleasant suprise indeed.
We decided to head out early again on the fourth day in hopes of getting to Corpus Christi in time to watch the big game. Yep it was SUPER BOWL SUNDAY. We were slowed occasionally by a little drizzling rain. But it never got bad enough to require rain gear. We took highway 87 into San Antonio where we picked up interstate 37 into Corpus Christi. We arrived at the motel about 20 minutes before kickoff. Just enough time to get a twelve pack and order a pizza. I was the only one foolish enough to bet on the Broncos, so my beer and pizza were free. I went to bed feeling like I was the luckiest SOB in the world. A few beers was just what the doctor ordered to put me right to sleep.
Day Five, being the short day, we headed out a little later. That gave me a chance to go to the convenience store on the corner where we bought the beer the day before. I picked up a Texas lottery ticket while the others were picking out the beer. Wouldn't you know it, I hit it for $120 bucks. What a life! We headed east on highway 44 to 83 then north to Uvalde where we picked up highway 90. Once out of Corpus Christi City limits there were only a few small towns to break up the monotony of the Southwest Texas desert. We made it to Del Rio in time to do laundry and clean up the bikes more thoroughly. We wiped them down after the rain, in fact, we wiped them down every day, but they needed more at this point. We also installed a replacement auxiliary light set that was shipped ahead to Corpus Christi. (Yeah, the one I broke).
As well as making sure the bikes were properly tended to, the engineer Mr. Y would ask us questions about the bikes, and generally solicit our input from time to time. By this time it was all starting to sink in and feel more like reality. I think it was the laundry; I never dream about doing laundry. I still felt though, like I was in seventh heaven.
We decided to take the scenic route, highway 90 to 385, on the sixth day. Back roads, a stop in Langtree the home of Judge Roy Bean, and a side trip through Big Bend National Park, before we reached our day’s destination of Van Horn. There was one stretch that had just one small hole in the wall town in the next 75 miles. We had already traveled 100 miles to a town that had dried up and was in the process of blowing away. NO GAS! The range on our gas tanks was only 120 to 150 miles, depending on gas mileage, and how far we wanted to push the reserve capacity, and we weren’t sure we’d find a gas station in this next small dot on the map. We had gas with us in the chase van but decided to chance it and continue on till we ran out or found a station. To our surprise we not only found gas but the best Tex-Mex café for lunch. It was a rundown ramble shack of a building with still working gas pumps from the fifties, but the place was crowded with cars and trucks, and packed with people. So we took a chance on eating the food. It was great. Marathon Texas is in the middle of nowhere so we were surprised to find such a lunch crowd. Unless it’s on your way to somewhere it’s a long way to go for lunch, but that can be just what the doctor ordered for a motorcyclist with winter cabin fever. After cruising through Big Bend National Park, 385 to 170 and then 67, and a stop in Ft. Davis, we found the neatest, twistiest, and hilliest thirty miles of road in the whole state of Texas.
It’s route 118 between Ft. Davis and Kent, on I-10. And right in the middle of it is the McDonald Observatory. This road alone is well worth traveling to this part of Texas. The Observatory is a must see while you're there. In Van Horn we found a nice restaurant, good home style cooking and a classic car museum all in one. It was a great way to end a great day.
Day Seven was a bit arduous. We decided to head north into the high country of southern New Mexico, highway 54 to 62 into Carlsbad, just as the weather decided to turn cold. But the scenery was beautiful, and the weather was clear. It was enjoyable, nonetheless. Taking 285 to Roswell, then 70 back to 54.
Even the foot or so of snow on each side of the road near Ruidoso was not entirely unwelcome. The warmth of Alamogordo was greatly appreciated though. We spent a few enjoyable minutes at the Air and Space Museum before heading on to Wilcox, AZ. back on I 10.
It all made for a long day, but a very satisfying day. Especially after one of the best rib eye steaks I have ever eaten. Oh yeah, we ate well-- I still have the extra 15 or so pounds that I gained on the trip to prove it. One bit of advice though, skip the karaoke bar. We stayed at the Best Western Motel just south of the East Wilcox exit from I-10. There are only 2 exits East or West. The restaurant is part of the motel.
Day Eight was simply enjoyable, typical of an average day on a biker’s holiday. It was a bright sunny day, warm but not hot, rolling along the back roads of southeast Arizona. South on 191 to 80 and back up to I 10. We spent a fair amount of time walking the streets of Tombstone, like typical tourists, before heading on to Yuma for the night, via I 8.
Day Nine was a short run through the San Diego area and back up to the corporate offices via interstate..
With the time zone change we got there just after noon. One down, three more to go. This trip racked up 3,500 miles. About 300 more than scheduled for this leg, due to our side trips. The longest day we put in was a respectable 575 miles. That mark though, became an unofficial contest between the department heads. Future legs would push that mark to 680 miles. All in all, one of the most enjoyable motorcycle trips of my entire life. I can think of only two others to rival it, but that was due to the female companionship, not the ride itself. But that's another story best left unprinted!
Day Ten it rained. The bikes were being serviced, inspected, and prepped for the next leg, while I had the day off. Unfortunately, this was the end of the trip for Tom. I really felt for the guy, I know I didn't want this to ever end. I was going to be lucky enough to be going on three more such trips. I felt that we had become friends, and would do almost anything to help him go on the next leg. But I wasn't about to give up my seat. I'm warped, not crazy. We put on a total of 12,800 miles in five weeks. And that yellow bike? At the end of it all, I was able to park it in my garage. Oh I had to pay for it, but I got a very good deal and a bike with a very unique history. Besides I just love riding it. I discovered that cruisers were not an inferior and undesirable type of motorcycle as I had so short sightedly believed until then. It was a whole other dimention to motorcycling that I had ignorantly overlooked. Even when I bought it I was thinking I would ride it for a while and sell it when I got tired of it. Well I still have it and I don't think I'll ever get tired of it. It's like music, you're just riding to a different tune. And poor Tom, he’s got the green one.