Saturday, August 9, 2008

Reflections on a Great Ride

Last summer, on the way back from our ride to the West, I decided to ride to Alaska this year. I didn't know when; didn't know with whom; didn't know what bike--all I knew was that I was going to ride to Alaska.

A year later, the ride is now done. Sad in a way; one of my dreams realized, but right now, no specific riding dreams in the front of my brain. Guess one will drift that way soon. But now, I have no significant rides to do. After Alaska, what else is there to do? Smaller rides, for sure.

This installment is to capture some of the highlights and lowlights of the trip. To try to summarize six weeks in the life of a sixty-year old guy on the road. It will ramble a bit, but it helps me to focus on the important parts of the trip.

First, the bike. The RT is a fantastic piece of machinery for a long ride. It's a bit heavy, and it's a bit too tall for me, but once rolling, it is the best sport touring bike made. It used no oil at all. It got about 48 mpg for the trip, with a best of 53 and a worst of 43. It handles really well and stops on a dime. The ABS brakes give a sense of comfort, knowing that a panic stop will not have to end in trouble. It has very good power and speed; my highest speed was 113 mph somewhere on the Alaskan Highway. Felt solid as a rock and could have easily done more but for running up on Gary and needing to slow down. The bike was perfect!

The gear. The camping stuff worked perfectly. Tent had no leaks and was easy to put up, tear down, and put away. Down sleeping bag was comfortable and easy to pack. The Seattle bag held the camping equipment well and kept it dry. The undies, polyester for easy maintenance on the road worked well and was comfortable. All those things worked as well as anyone could hope. Kenwood radio worked perfectly. It was my first trip using it, and I'm very pleased that it worked just as it should have.

However, the GPS broke and the Sirius radio broke. While getting the tire installed in Seattle, I inadvertently left the GPS turned on for a couple of hours. When I got on the bike, I discovered that the screen was jumping left to right quickly, making all the controls inoperable. It was working, tracking speed, time, etc, but the maps would not display correcly and no routing was possible. One of the earlier GPSs I had owned had done the same thing several years ago and was replaced by warranty (contacted Garmin after getting home, and they are replacing this one under warranty). The Sirius radio itself is good. However, the power lead made intermittent contact with the radio, and the antennae lead broke along the way. So, I had no music from California to home. Will need to replace radio or leads.

Favorite things in no particular order: catching fish in Prince William Sound, the scenery along the way, BIG trees, snow-covered mountains, walking on glaciers, train ride, tour of Elmendorf AFB, Glacier National Park, Icefields Parkway,

Animals seen: moose (real and fake), whales, seals, porpoises, eagles, brown bear, black bear, bison, caribou, elk, puffins, sea lions, beaver, ground squirrel, red fox, and others that I can't recall right now. We saw a good representation of all the critters we wanted to see.

Lowlights--not many. Running out of gas on Gary's bike on the Parks Highway. Whle I knew we'd be okay, it's not a good feeling being that far away from help and needing some help. Flat tire on Alaska Highway. While it turned out to be a minor inconvenience and expense, it could have been bad if the plug had not held. Had the plug not worked, we may have missed the ferry and that would have been a significant disaster, not to mention delays and expenses to get a new tire in the middle of nowhere. GPS and radio breaking. Neither were essential, but each made the ride better. Cold weather in Anchorage. They were experiencing the coolest summer in several years, and it made the stay therejust a little less than perfect. That's about all of the downers for the trip.

Thank yous to many people who helped make the trip great for me. First, Carl and Mae, my next-door neighbors. Since I live alone, and would be gone for 6 weeks, some real things had to be taken care of. My wonderful neighbor, Mae, graciously agreed to get my mail and look through it to check for bills needing paying. Most are paid electronically, but sometimes one comes in needing a check written (happened this time), so I signed a couple of checks and she agreed to pay them for me. She also made deposits for any checks that came in. And she looked inside to make sure the house was okay and that the plants got water when needed. Thank you, Mae. Our hosts in Anchorage. I can't say enough thanks to them. They made me feel at home and looked after our every need. Great food, arranging for tours, arranging for fishing, procuring extra housing for us. I feel now that I have friends in Anchorage due to their great hospitality. Gary, for putting up with me for 6 weeks. I know I'm sometimes difficult, but he somehow seemed to accept my moods without a real problem. I appreciate his friendship very much. My readers, for giving me feedback that they were enjoying the blog. While it's written mostly for me to remember where I was and what was going on, it's written to share my life with family and friends. Thank you for your encouragement. Thanks to the guys who shared their experiences last year and the year before. That helped in planning and knowing what to expect. And, most importantly, I thank God for giving me the ability to do the things I do and for keeping me safe and healthy. Nothing is possible without His help.

The total mileage was 12,256 miles for the trip from and back to Gary's was 12,256 plus or minus a few miles. Total mileage, from my doorstep was 12,523 miles. Front tire had a couple of thousand miles on it before leaving; still has a couple thousand miles left on it. Had it not been for the flat, I believe the rear tire would have made it home. But the rear now has only 4,400 miles on it, so it's good for a while.

Some statistics from the ride:
-12,523 miles
-259.2 gallons of gasoline
-47.8 miles per gallon
-$4.56 per gallon average
-17 nites in motels
-15 nites in RV
-6 nites camping
-4 nites on ferry
-Approximate cost of trip: $5,000

Have cleaned up the bike. Took all the plastic off it, cleaned all the body panels, front and underside. Cleaned the engine and all underneath the plastic. Changed the alternator belt (preventive maintenance), cleaned the wheels. Replaced bad Hyperlight (warranty item). Re-gapped valves, changed oil and filter, and re-assembled. Bike looks like new except for the scuffs on the side cases.

What's next? I don't know. Have scheduled a few days for a short ride to West Virginia. The roads there are fantastic, so I may go there before cold weather sets in. And maybe a trip next spring to the southwest. Would like to see that part of the nation sometime. Beyond that, I don't know where I may show up.

For whomever is reading this blog, THANKS! Post a comment if so moved; I enjoy reading what you have to say probably more than you enjoy reading mine.

Until next time....


Day 42, August 4, 2008-288 miles. Home sweet home! We got up, had the continental breakfast, and headed south on I-77, through the mountains of West Virginia. I like this ride; long, sweeping curves ridden at speed. A pretty easy ride, although it was foggy in places and fairly cool. But I knew a few hours away was my home, so the coolness was no problem.

We had about 150 miles to Gary's house, where I needed to stop to pick up some things his wife had brought back for me in her suitcase. Mostly presents for Skyler, my grandson, and a few trinkets for other family members.

Got to Gary's and picked up the few things she had stowed away. Took a few pics to celebrate over 12,000 miles and six weeks of travel safely. Then on the road to Clayton.

The ride from Gary's to home was good. It had heated up, but 90 degrees didn't feel hot compared to the heat we endured in Utah. Stopped at Stemeys BBQ in Greensboro, maybe my favorite restaurant anywere. Got some BBQ and peach cobbler and rode the last 100 miles to home.

Had one close call on I-85/40 east of Greensboro. I was riding in the second lane from the inside, in moderate traffic. A lady and her family was in the inside lane in front of me. She was going a little slower than me, so I came up beside her right rear bumper. Suddenly, without looking or signaling or looking, she moved into my lane! She missed my front wheel by inches and even though I blew my horn (and it's not a wimpy horn at all) and swerved and hit the brakes, and she didn't hit me. But it was the closest call of the entire ride. I made gestures and yelled at her when I got around her about a mile down the road, but she NEVER SAW ME AT ALL! Not at all, even when I was in front of her. She's going to hurt someone or herself and family if she doesn't pay more attention to what she's doing! I pity her.

The rest of the ride was uneventful.

Got home and got off the bike. Felt like kissing the sidewalk, very happy to be home. Looked at the front door, and saw a sign taped to it. It said: "Welcome Home. Missed you! And it had a big yellow ribbon taped to it. I have the very best neighbors in the world, Carl and Mae, who made the sign to make me feel so good. I'll say more about them in the next installment, but there are no better neighbors anywhere than Carl and Mae.

So, six weeks later, over 12.5K miles later, I'm back. Home Sweet Home!

Mid-Ohio Superbike Races

Days 40 and 41, August 2-3, 2008-404 miles. Two relatively easy days with little riding. Our motel, in Mt. Vernon, OH, will be our base for the races. We got into town Friday evening and had an easy night walking downtown for dinner and then fairly early to bed.

Saturday morning, we got up, had the Deluxe Continental breakfast, and got on the bikes for Lexington, OH, to watch the motorcycle races at the Mid-Ohio track. The ride to the track, about 25 miles, was very easy.

Got to the track, bought tickets, and went inside the gates for the day. First stop is usually the vendors, to see if there are any bargains to be had. I was looking for some new summer gloves to replace some that had worn out. In particular, I was looking for the Held man from North Carolina. Held is famous for its gloves, so I wanted to check them out first. However, he did not show up at the event this year. So, I didn't buy anything.

The races were not especially good. I like races that are somewhat close, with some passing in the front. However, the leaders jumped out and ran away with the first race. The second race was marred by 3 red flags--when the track is unsafe, they stop the race until the problem has been corrected. Then a re-start from the starting point gets them going again. In that race, the flow of the race was marred by the frequent stops, and my man, Miguel Duhumel, fell twice, so it was not very good.

After the races ended, we rode back to Mt. Vernon and the motel. Actually, we went to our usual Saturday night place, Jake's, for dinner first. I got lasagne, which was very good; Gary got chicken, which he said was old and no good. Then back to the motel.

Sunday morning, we got up and packed the bikes again, now pretty good at doing it. We then rode back to Lexington and Mid-Ohio.

The Sunday races were better, more competitive, except for the Superbike races. The usual duo of Maladin and Spies ran away from everyone and made it a boring race. But at least the other 3 were good.

When the races were over, we got on the bikes and got out to the highway pretty fast. Gary is very aggressive when leaving a parking lot, so it is usually a fast ride to the road. Today was no different. If the traffic was stopped, he just finds a place to move forward and keeps moving towards the front. In spite of the fact that we were in the very back of the track, we were out to the highway in probably 5 minutes, while I'm sure some were there for an hour or more.

We rode south, towards West Virginia. Traffic was not too heavy, and it was not too hot, so the ride was pretty pleasant most of the way.

We rode to Berkley, WVa for the night. A good day.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Nevada to Ohio; a Blur

Days 37, 38, and 39, July 30-Aug 1, 2008-686, 629, and 711 miles respectfully. Not much to write about these three days except heat and riding. As I write this on August 2, they are mostly a blur of roads, small towns, and scenery. And HEAT.

We left Ely, NV and headed east, still on Hwy 50. Our goal was somewhere on the east side of Denver, CO. The main thing I remember is how hot it was riding across Utah. The scenery was beautiful, with rock formations of varying colors of yellow, red, orange, beige, and other colors. The scenery was stunning in some places. But the heat was the dominant sensory factor. I have a thermometer mounted on the mirror of the bike. It reads high when the sun strikes it and it reads high when it senses heat from the engine. Most of the time in Utah it never got below 110 degrees, with 114 being more of an average, probably. At one point we rode through a cut in the rocks and the heat we experienced was almost stifling. The thermometer jumped to 118 degrees! It felt like the heat you feel when opening an oven at home! My gear covers almost all of my body surfaces except for a small area at the top of my neck. The heat striking that small patch of skin felt like pointing a hair dryer on your face! It was actually much cooler to ride with the face shield down, not allowing any of the heat to reach my face.

We endured the heat; there was really no choice but to ride if we were going to get to Ohio by Friday night. So, we did it.

Found a cheap hotel and quit for the day.

The next morning we got up early and were on the road by 7:30am. We had decided to get on US 36 and try it, based on the advice of a friend who had recommended it. And, it was a good choice. A mostly 2 lane road, with a very good road surface, and 65 mph speed limit. The very occasional "towns" were very small, usually crossroad villages, contained a store or two, a post office, and maybe another small business, and a few houses. Not where I'd like to live! But the road itself was great. Scenery was mostly huge fields of varying crops-millet, wheat, or corn as far as you can see. HUGE!

We rode to Cameron, MO for the night.

On August 1, we got up early again, and were on the road about 7:30am. Still on Hwy 36, but headed to the Interstate roads to make the best time we could manage. As in the previous 3 days, all we did was ride. Luckily, the day started with moderate fog and heavy overcast skies. Mercifully, the overcast skies stayed with us all day, and the heat was not bad at all. We needed that after the heat of the earlier days.

Nothing outstanding to report on the day. I guess the only thing is the scenery changed gradually from farming to rolling hills to the scenery getting green, indicating more moisture for things to grow better without irrigation.

At about 8pm, we rolled into Mt. Vernon, OH, our destination for the night and our camp for the race, which is actually in Lexington, some 25 miles to the north. Not a bad day of riding since the temperatures were much more moderate.

So, we made it, 2,600 miles from California to Ohio in 4 days and survived. Not easy, but doable.

No pics to post; we didn't take time to stop for pics any of the 3 days. Sorry....

Tomorrow-Superbike racing at Mid-Ohio!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Across California and Nevada

Day 36, July 29, 2008-601 miles. A long day of nothing but riding.

We got up before 7am, got our riding stuff on, had a Continental Breakfast at the hotel, and started out. Before leaving town, I stopped at a local car wash and sprayed the bike. I got most of the nasty crud under the engine and transmission off the bike. One inch thick cakes of mud, gravel, and calcium chloride came off the bottom of the motor. Most of the rest was just road grime. Not clean, at all, but not nearly as gross, and the corrosive stuff was now gone. Gary did his the night before, so both bikes look better.

We headed south on Hwy 1 just a few miles and then turned east on Hwy 20. It is a road that cuts across California, with lots of twisties and elevation changes. Fun. Except lots of places were under construction, and lanes were closed in several places. So, the progress was extremely slow. We probably lost over an hour due to construction delays and slow traffic. Although vehicles holding back other vehicles are required by law to use pull-outs, several drivers weren't courteous or following the law.

We had decided to try US 50 instead of I-80. US 50 is labeled as "The Loneliest Road in America". We wanted to see how desolate it is.

So, we got on US 50, and after a couple of towns, found that it is a very lonely road. In about 300 miles, there are 3 or 4 small towns or communities, and nothing else but rocks and sagebrush. Desolate to the 10th degree!

The road, itself is great. Smooth, good lanes, and sight distances measured in double digit miles, speed limit of 70, it was great to ride on. The road would go up into a mountain range, wind up and through the mountains, and then down the other side, and then have maybe 20 miles of broad, flat valley. Repeat this procedure maybe 5 times, and you have a flavor of what the road is like. Gas was available in 2 places along the way. Not a good place to run out of gas or have a breakdown.

And it was HOT! The thermometer on my mirror was at 118 degrees when we started. The air temperature was not that hot, but it was probably near 100 degrees.

When we neared Ely, a small gambling town near the Utah border, the temperature plunged to 66 degrees, much cooler. Not cold, but quite a change from the beginning to the end.

A good day, overall, with lots of riding.

Oh, and to clarify, we're going to Lexington OH for the AMA Superbike races this weekend. Only 2,600 miles from Ft. Bragg, CA to Lexington OH. With 600 miles done, only 2,000 miles to go in the next 3 days. Lots of riding...

Tomorrow-ride all day.


Day 35, July 28, 2008-263miles. What trees! Basically, we did very little but go to groves of trees to see the amazing trees. I won't try to say much about them, except that they are magnificent!

We saw the Big Tree, and the Giant trees, in different parks. We saw trees so huge that you can't imagine their size. Even a tree with a bathroom in it! WOW!

We did a loop off of Hwy 101 to Ferndale to get on the Hidden Coast Road. It was a narrow, two lane road that went over several mountains and by the ocean over about 35 miles or so. The road surface was pretty poor, with lots of patches and a number of areas with gravel, but it reminded me more of the roads in the Italian Alps than any roads I've been on since our tour there 3 years ago. Up and down, curves, hairpin turns uphill and downhill. Great riding; the most fun of all the roads so far. We even got on a bridge over a river that was wooden and had the areas where the wheels travel raised above the middle, making for a stressful passage over the river. A sudden gust of wind make it even more trying, but I managed to keep it on the raised path. FUN!

We finally got on Hwy 1 to cross from Hwy 101 back to the coast, some 35 miles or so away. At Leggett, we found another tree through which you could ride, so we did that tree as well. So neat. Again, this tree seemed to be quite healthy in spite of the huge hole through it. Amazing!

Hwy 1 was also a lot of fun, with a very good road surface but hundreds of turns and elevation changes. Most turns were not especially challenging, but some were 10-15 mph turns that we did at about 25 or so. Fun! Maybe the best road of all so far?? I liked both the Hidden Coast Road and Hwy 1 to the coast.

The weather today was good, but variable. The morning was cool and misty/foggy. Shortly, it warmed up and most of the day was good with only a shirt under the bumblebee. After we got on Hwy 1, however, it got COLD as we got closer to the coast. It was misty/foggy and the temperature when we stopped for the night was 55 degrees!

We stayed in a Travelodge in Fort Bragg, California. Weird to have a Ft. Bragg on both sides of the continent, but it's true. The one in California, however, is a coastal resort town rather than a military installation. Neat!

Tomorrow—south to San Francisco or east towards Lexington, OH? Stay tuned to find out....

Monday, July 28, 2008

California and Big Trees

Day 34, July 27, 2008-252 miles. Not many miles today, but boy what trees!

We got up, walked for the day, and got on the road before 9am. We stopped at Florence to get gas and to get a bite of breakfast at Fred Myers. The gas was cheap ($397) and the sweet roll was good along with the coffee.

However, I spoiled the morning by dropping the bike at the gas pumps, scarring the left sidecase to match the scarred right one. Damn!! I had left the helmet on top of the gas pump and reached over to pick it up. My mistake was forgetting that I had raised the kickstand before realizing the helmet was still on the gas pump. It just tipped over, making me mad and embarrassing myself in front of strangers. Gary had already rode off to go inside the store, so he didn't know it had fallen.

The gas station attendant and I picked it up. I got on it and rode off. Mad at myself.

We had breakfast and headed south. The morning was beautiful; not cold, and bright sunlight. Beautiful!! The road was also very good; it rode mostly right along the water's edge, on cliffs high above the surf. The sparkling sunlight, coupled with the blue skies and blue-green water, made the scenery stunning.

After noon, we crossed into California. Actually, we stopped for pics on the border first. Then south on Hwy 101 to Crescent City. There, we had a snack for lunch and got directions to the BIG TREES. The park ranger advised us to ride a 11 mile dirt road through a grove of the giants.

We rode to the road, and I can't begin to describe the trees we saw. Redwoods reaching to the sky. A small one is 6 feet in diameter. There were trees probably 15 feet in diameter. The trunks, with deep, grooved bark, reached sky-high before any branches were growing. Awesome trees! We took pics, but I know the pics will not show the majesty of the trees. And ferns growing everywhere. Big ferns, brilliant green with moss covering most everything else. And quiet. Almost silent. Beautiful!

When we emerged from the grove of trees, we headed south towards Klamath, where we had been told there was a redwood tree through a car could pass. We both wanted to see a tree so big you can drive a car through it.

We stopped in a bar and asked for directions to the big tree. Turns out it was only about a mile away, so we sped on to the tree. A toll of $2 per car was required, so it was paid and we rode about ¼ mile down and up an asphalt driveway to the tree. Magnificent! Just as advertised, it was huge, and a hole had been cut large enough to drive a car through it. Amazingly, the tree is still alive, and appears to be healthy. I don't know how it manages to be healthy with a 7.5 foot slice cut through it. We took pics of ourselves and several cars and motorcycles.

By now, it was getting late, so we started thinking about dinner and a place to stay. The people at the bar had told us about a place, the Steelhead Lodge at the end of the road several miles away. So, we went in quest for the Steelhead Lodge.

Exactly as told, we found it, went inside and inquired about lodging and dinner. The dinner was very good; we ordered a small rib plate, and they brought out two slabs! Way too much food! With salad, rolls, baked potato, and ice cream, we left stuffed. But it was good.

In the end, we stayed at the lodge as well. The room was fairly spartan, but did have a TV and kitchenette. Used mostly by fishermen searching for Salmon, it was adequate.

Tomorrow—more California and big trees.