What I did on my summer vacation

The big ride of 2013: coast-to-coast on a motorcycle

My last “big trip” on a motorcycle was five years ago, and I’ve been looking forward to doing it again, plus it had been nearly as long since I’d had a long vacation. I had just a few more states to ride through to get all of the lower 48, and despite a couple of previous long distance rides I hadn’t reached the Pacific coast yet. I very nearly went on this ride last year, but had some last minute bike difficulties (a sick bike, then a wrecked replacement), so I really made the effort to do it this year. My sweet wife supported me making the trip, and encouraged my buying a new bike to do it with. I bought probably the first new liquid cooled 2013 BMW R1200GS in Pennsylvania – now I just had to figure out how to pay for it all

The week before leaving I rode from my home near Philadelphia to Ocean City MD on the Atlantic just so that when I reached the Pacific I could truly say that I’d been coast to coast.

I decided to stay in motels for the trip for three reasons. While in the long run camping can be cheaper, I don’t make these long trips often enough to make investing in camping gear worthwhile. Plus, hotels or motels are easier to find everywhere you go; I don’t want to be looking for a campground at the end of a long day of riding. And finally, I just don’t like camping. A bed and a shower at the end of a long day – and I’m usually in the saddle for 1-12 hours a day – are definitely a requirement.

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Saturday 25th May 2013
Home to Harrisburg PA, Niagara Falls, NY, then Barrie ON; 525 miles.

After a couple of months of preparation, a new bike, and too much money spent, I was ready to go. On the road at 8:30 a.m.

IMG_1413 IMG_1408 The day was a bit chilly, and there were good winds all day. I stopped for lunch in Williamsport PA, then rode through Corning to Buffalo. I used to live in central New York, so some of the roads were familiar. Riding past Niagara Falls I was tempted to stop and play tourist, but the town was crowded, and stopping to find parking then wandering around would have taken an hour or two. I’m not too good at stopping to smell the roses; I get on the bike and keep riding until the end of the day.

The border crossing at Niagara Falls took nearly an hour with a long line of traffic, and the border guard was strangely interested in the contents of my bags. Hadn’t she ever seen a motorcycle packed for a long trip?

Past the border, through St. Catherine’s, then through late afternoon traffic around Toronto. Finding a Shell gas station north of Toronto, I discovered (or was reminded) that American credit cards don’t always work outside the country – they lack the chip that allows them to be used in automated machines. On to Barrie, my first night’s stop, and the only one for which I made a hotel reservation. Even though I kept pretty close to my projected schedule and route for the rest of the trip, I prefer not having to be tied to a schedule in the event of weather, fatigue, or finding something interesting to stop and look at – though I never do.

Sunday 26th
Barrie ON to Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, then Marquette MI; 535 miles

On the road by 7:30, as I usually don’t get breakfast until later. Beautiful weather today, though a bit chilly again. Northern Ontario was scraped clean by the glaciers of the ice age, and the road north from Barrie to Sudbury passes through a lot of exposed rock; there’s not much soil here. During the last hundred miles or so to Sudbury there were thousands of little piles of rock left by motorists(?) road crews(?) or someone; every rock outcropping was crowned by a little cairn. Some of them were in the form of little men, with two columns of rock for legs, a couple of flat rocks sticking out the side for arms, and larger rock on top for the head. I kept looking for the perfect one to stop and get a picture of, but every time I would see a good one I was already past it and couldn’t turn around to go back.

I stopped for brunch at the Tutti Frutti diner in Sudbury, and had some yummy waffles and banana with a big cup of warm Nutella to drizzle on top. That’ll get your blood sugar up!

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West of Sudbury the rocks diminished and the trees became more numerous. And the bugs, too. Swarms of them. I had to stop every 10 or 20 miles to clean off my face shield, and the bike was covered. By the border crossing at Sault Ste. Marie (with another curious border guard) my helmet and bike were covered with bugs.

IMG_1427 I was back in the US after just under 24 hours in Canada, and glad to not be riding much more north of the border because of the expense: gas was over $6/gallon, the single night in the hotel was the most expensive of the trip, and when I got home I had a bill for an extra $48 in cell phone roaming, data, and texting charges for just one day.

The temperature had been in the low 70’s across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, perfect for riding, but as I came down off the hills to the shore of Lake Superior at Munising the temperature dropped twenty degrees in five miles. You tend to notice that sort of change. The UP is gorgeous; lots of green, and some nice twisty two-lane roads. Marquette, where I stayed the second night, reminded me a bit of Ithaca NY where I used to live, a college town on a lake surrounded by beautiful scenery. I found a cheap motel that made up for the higher priced one I had in Barrie the night before.

Monday 27th, Memorial Day
Marquette MI to Duluth MN, Fargo ND, then Jamestown ND; 585 miles

The weather was still a bit chilly, but sunny. A great day for a ride. I followed two lane roads across the rest of the UP, then across the top of Wisconsin. (I would have gone south to visit my daughter in Madison, but she was away for Memorial Day.) Across Minnesota, crossing the Mississippi where is was a small stream, then towards North Dakota. I was worried a bit about holiday traffic, but I didn’t encounter much other than in mid Minnesota where there were a lot of boats and RVs going home, probably disappointed from the cold weekend. Even with two lane roads, though, I didn’t have trouble passing; there was usually opportunity if I was patient for a mile or so, and having a powerful bike made passing simple and safe.

As with crossing Ontario, it was interesting to watch the change of scenery across a few hundred miles. The UP is heavily forested, as is northern Wisconsin, but in Minnesota the forests thin out and start to turn to agriculture, and by North Dakota the terrain is completely flat and all farm fields.

It was very cold again as I skirted the shore of Lake Superior. By the time I arrived in Duluth it was close to 40 degrees. I had already planned on stopping by Aerostich, purveyors of fine long distance motorcycling gear, who were open despite it being Memorial Day, and because of the cold I bought a fleece pant liner. As with all of their gear, the liner was a bit pricey but good quality. A couple hours later, however, after getting some distance away from the lake, the temperature rose so I took the liner off.

IMG_1430 I had planned on overnighting in Fargo, but as it was only 5:00pm when I got there – what would I do for the evening? – so I decided to keep going. I got on the freeway for the first time after a couple days of two lane 55 mph roads, and it took a few minutes to get used to the speed again. Plus there was a pretty strong head wind. I made it to Jamestown for the night, halfway between Fargo and Bismarck.

Tuesday 28th
Jamestown ND to Pierre SD to Keystone SD (Mt Rushmore); 475 miles.

As with the past few days, it was a bit chilly starting out, and windy. I had dressed for rain, but after a couple hours took off that layer; I still had on the inner layer for warmth, though. There was a good head wind on the freeway as I headed west, which turned into a stiff side wind when I turned south on Hwy 83 just before Bismarck. Back on the two lane roads, this time full of big trucks and farm equipment, keeping up speed was difficult because of the wind and the traffic. While the road was straight it was difficult to pass vehicles because the dips in the road cut visibility down to a half mile, plus the hard side wind caused a lot of problems as I went into and out of the wind shadow when passing big trucks. The worst was a double-trailered semi with an over-wide load of hay bales, which took nearly ten miles to get around.

IMG_1431Should I stop?

By now the sun had come out and it was warming up, and when stopping for lunch at Pierre I could, for the first time since leaving home, get rid of my inside layer of clothing. Just south of Pierre I got back on the freeway, and the flat lands turned into rolling hills then into rugged country – I was entering the Bad Lands. I saw a sign marking a river named Cheyenne and I knew that I was in the West.

At a gas stop I gassed up alongside a woman riding a Harley, dressed up almost as a parody of the quintessential biker chick – leather pants and vest, ample cleavage exposed to the sun, bandana instead of a helmet, and lots of tassels and rhinestones bedecking her bike. Loud pipes as she rode off. Cue the eye roll.

The next stop was at Wall Drug in Wall SD, apparently originally a drug store that then evolved into souvenir shop and is now a full-fledged tourist attraction. Give them an A+ for effort; for a hundred miles there were billboards every mile urging me to stop there. So I did. I met two other groups of motorcyclists parked in front of the store: One was three guys from New Jersey who were also going cross country but were then going to ship their bikes and fly home due to limited vacation time. The other was a retired couple from London who were on a ten month ride; they shipped their bike to New York, had been to Florida and were now on their way to Alaska then down to Argentina. That’s quite a ride.

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I arrived in Keystone SD, at the entrance to Mt Rushmore, by mid afternoon, so rather than waiting for the next day, per the schedule, I went into the park today. I’d only been there once, nearly 40 years earlier as a teenager with my family on our one and only family vacation.

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The place had changed a bit from my memory; the new, quite nice, parking facility and plaza made the visit quite convenient, and somehow the sculptures looked smaller than I remember.

I took a few pictures, bought a couple of small post cards, and walked down to the Sculptor’s Studio, then relaxed and watched tourists. After the visit I rode back into Keystone and got a motel room, then walked around town a bit before and after dinner. I was struck by how empty the town was – the week of Memorial Day, and a couple of motels were not yet open (or permanently closed), and the sidewalks and restaurants nearly empty. Either the season is late starting, or the tourist industry here is in bad shape.

Wednesday 29th
Keystone SD, through Custer State Park, Devil’s Tower, to Billings MT. 450 miles.

A rather eventful day started with my discovering a new favorite motorcycle road, Rt 16A entering Custer State Park south of Keystone. The entrance to the park is several miles of twisties climbing up a mountain through forests. After going over the mountain the scenery opens up as you enter large meadows.

I should note the existence of several signs along the road warning against approaching the buffalo, as they can be dangerous. (Why would the forest service call the bison buffalo? Probably because that’s what they’re more popularly known as.) The first herd I encountered were quite a ways off the road, so I had no qualms about stopping to take a picture. The next herd just a mile further was closer to the road, but still far enough away for comfort.

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P1000410  Around the next bend, however, a herd was standing right on the road and on both sides. As with the other hers there were mama bison and their babies. (Sorry, no picture, for reasons that become obvious.) What to do? I was now 20 miles from any place to go back to, and I needed to get through. I approached slowly, thinking that they might clear the road, which for the most part they did. A couple stayed in the road however, and I noticed that it was because the babies weren’t moving and the mamas were staying with them. This was an extremely dangerous situation; motorcyclists have been killed by bison before. So I stopped and waited. Mama approached me, and I pushed the bike backwards about ten feet to show her that I was retreating. But I had no reverse gear, and trying to turn around at this point would expose me to her; at least the front of the bike was between her and me, and I was wearing full riding gear. I couldn’t go around, as that would put me closer to baby, and would also expose my side to her. Then she charged, at least for a few feet. Maybe a bluff. I had no way to move so I held my ground. Then baby decided to walk away, and mama followed, keeping between me and the calf.

I had been thinking earlier that morning that this was part of the trip where I wished my wife was with me as she would enjoy the scenery. But at this point I was glad that she wasn’t, as I don’t know how I would have been able to protect her.

Happily riding away I went through the rest of the park, going through wide meadows then climbing into a hilly section called, I believe, the Needles with cathedral-spire rocks.

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By now it was time for breakfast, which I hoped to get in Deadwood, but all that I find there were casinos and hotels. There was a bit of a historic downtown, but I couldn’t find a diner, so kept riding.

Devil’s Tower wasn’t too much further, after a bit of freeway then several miles of two lane. A few good picture opportunities along the highway, then pay at the park entrance, ride past the prairie dog city, then around the monolith to the parking lot. That’s quite an impressive hunk of rock.

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IMG_1451  In the parking lot I chatted for a few minutes with a couple, each on their own Harley. As we left the park it started to rain, and I saw them pull over and don their bandanas – great protection in the event of a thunderstorm. The rain didn’t last long, and I finally found some lunch in a small town just north of the Tower.

Between rain storms I arrived in Montana, the last of the 48 states that I had yet to visit in my life, though not the last to have ridden in. Heading west I stopped for gas in Broadus, then saw this ahead of me:

IMG_1453 Hmm… I wonder what this is going to be like? The rain started slowly, then got worse and worse, and I started to see lightning. Visibility diminished to a hundred feet or so. I can still handle this, I think, but then a side wind started blowing me around. That’s it; that’s all I’m going to handle. I looked for a place to pull over, but there’s no shelter anywhere. I found a turnoff, got off the bike, and pulled the bike cover out of the side bag and huddled under it like a poncho. I was a bit afraid of standing next to the bike because of lightning, but didn’t think that sitting or squatting would be much better. I was out in the middle of the plains. After about twenty minutes the rain calmed down a bit, so I got back on the bike and started riding again. The next town was only about ten miles further, but to add insult to injury the last two miles were under construction and were gravel and mud. I pulled into Ashland looking for cover, and could find only an awning over the entrance to a grocery store, where I parked for an hour until the rain calmed enough for me to want to proceed.

IMG_1456 Calvin’s dad would say that this all builds character. Yeah, now I know that I can deal with anything. And at least the downpour had washed away all the bugs that I picked up in Ontario.

At the junction of the two lane Hwy 212 that I was on, and the I-90 freeway is Little Big Horn, which was probably worth a quick visit, but it was ten bucks to get in to see a plaque and a flagpole, and after having paid for Mt Rushmore and for Devil’s Tower I thought that I could skip this one. I made it to Billings for the night, 12 hours and two life threatening experiences since starting out in the morning.

Thursday 30th
Billings MT to Lewiston ID; 560 miles

On the road, as usual, by 7:00am. The day started out with bad weather, drizzly and cold. My original plan was to head north from Billings to catch Hwy 12 across the state, but because of the weather I decided to stay on I-90 across the state to Missoula. The wind picked up immediately after I left Billings, and got steadily worse as I got further west. Within an hour the crosswinds were so bad it was nearly impossible to keep the bike on the road. Between yesterday’s deluge and today’s wind I was starting to think about cutting the trip short, but at this point, in the middle of Montana, where else was there to go? I stopped for breakfast in Livingston, just north of Yellowstone Park, and the online weather map showed the weather to improve as I got nearer to the Idaho border, so off I went back into the wind.

I stopped in Missoula for lunch and to go to the local BMW dealer to replace my “waterproof” gloves, which weren’t, with a better pair. The location of the dealer, factory coded into the GPS, was wrong, but fortunately I had carried with me a list of addresses of BMW dealers so was able to find them.

Just south of Missoula is Lolo, the start of Hwy 12 into Idaho. This is my new most favouritest motorcycle road anywhere. Yesterday in Custer State Park I had a great time, but this road went on forever with long sweeping corners at highway speeds, gorgeous scenery, and little traffic. First it went up over a mountain, then had a long descent of a hundred miles following the Lochsa as it grew from a small stream into quite a large river. (I noticed some properties for sale on the Lolo side of the mountain and thought that this would be the perfect place to retire because of the great roads — but not in the winter.) I passed a twisty roads sign saying “next 99 miles”. Can you believe it? I didn’t get a picture of that one, but 50 miles further I noticed one in time to stop and get a shot.

IMG_1460 This is the road that the gods invented motorcycles for. There was occasional rain and a touch of wind, but nothing like the previous day or this morning, and the scenery made up for it. There were dozens of perfect pictures I would have taken if only for a safe place to pull over on the side of the road.

IMG_1459 Too often motorcycle roads are marred by too much traffic, but I pretty much had the road to myself, and what little traffic there was was easy to pass given the occasional straights and having a quick bike. The only other issue was the lack of gas stations along the route; from Lolo to Lowell, over 100 miles, there was no gas. I didn’t know this, but fortunately had filled up in Missoula.

IMG_1461Friday 31st
Lewiston ID to Yakima WA, Mt Rainier, Astoria, then Forest Grove OR; 550 miles

Another 12 hour day, with, for a change, gorgeous weather all day. My original plan had been to cross into Washington state then ride down the Columbia River Gorge to Portland, where I would visit a friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in 35 years. But that route would have gotten me into Portland by early afternoon, and my friend wouldn’t be home until 5:00pm, so I decided to take a longer route.

From Lewiston the highway crosses eastern Washington agricultural areas into Walla Walla (love the name!), then to Kennewick then Yakima. I was missing the previous gorgeous scenery again. There was a fair amount of traffic around Yakima (love that name too), but from there I exited te freeway onto Hwy 12. I was intending to take Hwy 12 all the way across to I-5, but serendipitously missed a turn that took me instead up 410 which goes up the side of Mt Rainier through some gorgeous scenery, tight twisties, and a few feet of snow at the top.

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This was another opportunity for multiple perfect pictures, given the possibility of safely pulling over. The temperature was about 40 degrees at the top, and a few hardy souls on bicycles were going over the mountain pass. I rode back down off the mountain, then through the forest to rejoin Hwy 12, then back to the freeway.

My original plan, again, was to stay with my friend near Portland tonight, then tomorrow go to Astoria to complete my coast to coast trip, then ride down the Oregon coast. But I still had time, and tomorrow was Saturday when coastal traffic would probably be bad. New plan: go to Astoria this afternoon, then tomorrow head south. So after taking I-5 south to the Oregon border I exited at Kelso, crossed the bridge over the Columbia, then headed for the coast on Hwy 30.

I reached Astoria at last. 3615 miles from home, and after one week on the road. I found a boat ramp where I could park the bike near the water and take some pictures. The barking of some noisy sea lions resting on the pier behind me completed the scene.

IMG_1475 Yes, I understand that Astoria is only at the mouth of the Columbia, and that the ocean is a few miles further, but after riding through town and turning south I was along the coast in just a few minutes. I rode a few miles along 101, occasionally glancing at the ocean, then took Hwy 26 back to Forest Grove, where I met Cissy and her husband Dave, went to dinner, talked, and stayed the night. Thanks for the hospitality guys!

Saturday 1st June
Forest Grove OR to Salem, Bend, Crater Lake, Klamath Falls, Weed CA then Susanville; 600 miles.

As I was now a half day ahead of schedule I decided to make it a long ride in order to get to nearly a full day ahead of schedule. Rather than going back to the coast and fighting weekend traffic, or spending more time in the Oregon mountains I set a goal of Reno, which I knew would be difficult. Or at least Susanville, which was possible.

The weather was great for the day, starting out cool but warming up quickly. I took off the inner layers that I’d been wearing since Montana – a good thing that I didn’t need them any more, as the thermostat for my Gerbings electric jacket liner had quit yesterday. But on the other hand (or both hands, actually), the switch to my heated grips was stuck and I couldn’t turn them off. After being switched on for a week straight the switch had decided to stick. I eventually figured out that each time I stopped then started the bike up again the grips would cycle between off, high, and low (so obviously a software response to the hardware switch being stuck), though not reliably enough for me to use this pattern to turn them off. I was plagued by this problem until Salt Lake City when the switch finally popped back out – prying it with the tip of a knife hadn’t worked.

I took the freeway through Portland then to Salem, then the highway up into and over the mountains to Bend, then from there to Crater Lake where I hadn’t been since the fifth grade summer that our family spent in Oregon. The water in the lake was unbelievably blue and clear, with a thin sheen of ice on the water and a perfect reflection of the mountains on the other side. There was a good amount of snow at the top, but not as much as at Rainier, and as before some die-hard bicyclists riding up the steep roads.

IMG_1481 IMG_1480 After Crater Lake it was a long, though mostly beautiful ride the rest of the day. After more than a week in the saddle my butt was getting sore, which would plague me until I got home. I don’t know why manufacturers don’t equip their bikes with better saddles, especially for bikes that are meant to be ridden long distances. Previous bikes I’ve owned were good for no more than a half day in the saddle, but I’d been putting in 10 to 12 hours a day, and was starting to hurt. My knees were hurting a lot too, getting cramped from my long legs being folded in the same position for hours on end.

Sunday 2nd
Susanville CA to Reno NV to Provo UT; 645 miles

I’d been dreading this day since the planning of the trip. It was supposed to just be Reno to Salt Lake, but not being able to reach Reno the night before made the day an hour and half longer. The first part was not bad, and I reached Reno in time for some breakfast, but then the trip across Nevada was horrid. I had been debating whether to take Hwy 50 (“the loneliest highway in America”) or the Interstate; the former would have been more scenic, and while they were exactly the same length I-80 would be quicker. I debated until I hit the exit for Hwy 50, when I decided to stay on the freeway and get across as quickly as I could.

The temperature was steadily rising, eventually reaching into the low 90s after my riding in the 40s to the 70s the entire trip. My heated grips wouldn’t turn off, and my butt and knees hurt. Rather than just staying on the bike and getting it over with, as I would have preferred, I had to stop every hour for a break to get off the bike and stretch my legs. It was a long and miserable day. To top it off, there was no scenery to make the ride worth it. Some people think that the desert is beautiful, but not me. Reaching the Utah state line felt like some sort of accomplishment, but there were another couple of hours of desert to go, first across the Bonneville Salt Flats, blindingly bright in the sun, then past the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake where the wind picked up to almost Montana-like levels for a few miles. But I was looking forward to three days off the bike, visiting family, so persevered.

Monday to Wednesday
Rest days; 100 miles

I spent three days visiting family in Utah. I don’t get to see them very often, and I was certainly due for some time off the bike after 5000 miles of riding in nine days – the last few days I’d been riding for 10 to 12 hours a day.

I did ride a bit on Tuesday. The bike needed its 6k service, so I rode to the BMW dealer in Sandy UT, where they were happy to fi me into their schedule. I also inquired about a new rear tire as I wanted to be sure that I could make it home without a problem, but this was a new model bike with a new tire size which they didn’t have in stock yet and which would take several days to get in. I couldn’t wait that long, so hoped that the tire would get me back home, or at least to the next dealer in Denver or in Kansas City. On the way back to my parent’s house I rode the Alpine Loop, a road over and behind Mt Timpanogos and past Sundance, Robert Redford’s ski resort.

IMG_1499Thursday 6th
Provo UT to Vernal, Steamboat Springs, Denver, then Burlington CO; 635 miles

On the road again, and now only two things to accomplish: my last state (Missouri, tomorrow), and getting home again. While heading east the first thing on the morning the temperature was a bit cold so I stopped to add layers. The scenery in eastern Utah then the first part of Colorado was sparse but nice; a few reservoirs, cattle land, and a few mountains. Once I hit Steamboat Springs I started climbing the Colorado mountains. Just past Steamboat is Rabbit Ears pass at 9426 feet, which is not too much considering that I’d been at 8000 feet all morning. Later after Winter Park is Berthoud Pass at 11,315 feet, the highest elevation I’d ever ridden — or probably driven for that matter. It was beautiful, of course, and not as cold as I expected. Approaching Berthoud I had seen some storm clouds and was dreading what might be at the top, but the weather remained clear. Coming off the mountain was just as fun, then I joined back onto I-70 which I would follow the entire way home. Descending further into Denver I could look out eastward across the plains, and knew that I was leaving the mountains behind and had nothing ahead of me but a flat couple of thousand miles. Colorado is known for its mountains, but there’s 150 miles ahead of flat land before the Kansas border, which I reached that night.

Friday 7th
Burlington CO to Greenville IL; 725 miles

From the Colorado/Kansas border, to just past St. Louis, there’s not an awful lot besides miles. Across Kansas every town seems to have a museum; I suppose that without scenery there’s not much else to attract people to stop for a visit. I decided to pass on the place with the world’s largest prairie dog and a five-legged cow, and I passed as well on the Eisenhower presidential library. I seriously considered the Oz museum outside of Topeka until I discovered that it was twenty miles off the freeway. My wife would have been interested but I had miles to do.

For the towns without museums, there’s always the name of a famous person who was from there, which strangely was often an astronaut. What’s with that? Maybe it’s because capable people leave their small town and go elsewhere and accomplish big things, whereas if there was something to do at home they wouldn’t have had to leave. Other towns without museums or famous former residents had to resort to nifty slogans: “A nice place to live” or “A nice place to visit”. Yeah, that makes me want to stop and stay a while. Or, “The gateway to [something I’ve never heard of or wouldn’t be impressed with if I did]”. There was a town with the slogan “Gateway to [something or other] Rock” – and I had just been through the Rockies.

Kansas City straddles the border of Kansas and Missouri; the latter was my 48th state. I wanted to stop at the border and take a picture, and maybe do a happy dance (which I look stupid doing), but when I crossed the border I was in heavy freeway traffic with no shoulder, and then immediately after the freeway was closed and all traffic diverted onto side streets. I was another hour before I could get out of the jam and back on the road. The traffic was fairly heavy across Missouri to St. Louis, which I hit in the evening then rode past before stopping for the night.

Saturday 8th
Greenville IL to home; 820 miles

At this point there’s nothing to do but get home, with 800 miles to go. There was a fair amount of traffic, and a lot of road construction across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. I had no reason to stop other than for gas; I stopped for lunch but skipped dinner. My butt and knees, which had recovered after three days in Utah, were now hurting pretty badly, but I pressed on. Crossing into Pennsylvania felt like getting home, but there were still 300 miles to go. Western Pennsylvania was quite scenic compared to the plain states that I had been through, and I enjoyed seeing trees and rolling hills again. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, for which I was paying a toll, had in spots the worst quality road surface of my entire trip; shame on you, Pennsylvania DOT.

After 13 hours on the road I made it home by 9:30pm, very tired, happy to be home, and happy to have made the trip. I rode 7181 miles over 12 days, with 45 fuel stops and numerous other stretch and food breaks.

I really enjoy riding in the west, and love the scenery and the roads out there, but the next time I ride in the west I think that I may ship the bike to a starting point; there’s no reason to waste three or four days at the beginning and end of a trip just to have a few days of good riding out there. A possible future ride to the top of Alaska would probably begin and end for me on the west coast.

Of course a better saddle is at the top of the list of enhancements for the bike; I would have done so earlier but custom seats take a few weeks to have made and I had just purchased the bike six weeks before leaving. The rear tire made it home without any problem, with tread still visible (rather than worn flat or – much worse – cords showing through), but will obviously need to be replaced right away.

Other than the bad switch for the heated grips the new 2013 BMW R1200GS-LC ran flawlessly. It’s a very light, quick bike with plenty of power for passing – acceleration in sixth gear! – and stable in bad conditions. The seat was bad, and I will over time adjust some of the ergos, but I really love the bike.

An issue with taking not just a new bike but a new model of bike on a trip like this is the availability of parts. The dealer in Salt Lake wouldn’t have been able to get a replacement tire for a few days; what if I had had a tire failure? Or what if some other part on the bike needed replacing? Would anyone have anything in stock? I was fortunate to get one of the first batch of Touratech bags, but other accessories (such as foot peg lowers) are not yet available.

Thanks to my wife for supporting my taking this trip and encouraging me to buy a new bike. The next trip is for you, Sweets.

My equipment: 2013 BMW R1200GS-LC, with factory auxiliary lights, engine guard, and GPS; CalSci windscreen, Touratech hard bags, Wolfman tank bag, Ortlieb dry duffle, First Gear Kilimanjaro jacket, RevIt pants, Aerostich Combat boots, and Schuberth C3 helmet.

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About pininforthefjords

I'm pinin' for the fjords. That's all.
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