Those of you that have followed along will know I am a biker. Beyond that, or to qualify it really, I am a new biker. Or newer… Anyway, if you see someone riding a motorcycle, even someone half my age, you can be pretty certain they have been riding longer than I have. So, I crash-coursed myself, literally.
But, in my own peculiar fashion, having ridden for just less than three years, I decided I would surprise my mother on Mothers’ Day. She’s a mom, and she deserves it. It’s not a big deal when I say it like that, but I should tell you my mother lives in a small paradise her and my father have built in Virginia. I live in sunny Florida. By the road-ways, that’s 640 miles, give or take 10 or so. But hey, I ride everyday, to and from work, rain or shine (also, Florida drivers tend to be the most biker-friendly bunch of fellow motorists), so what’s the big deal. At least that’s what I thought.
I decided to make the trip in two days, both ways, and to save money, I would camp. Plenty of campgrounds out there that are far less expensive than motels or hotels sprinkled along the I-95 corridor, and I didn’t need much. A tent, sleeping bag, portable stove, coffee pot (or some means of making coffee), a couple of reservations, and I was set.
Now this is, by every definition, a long-haul ride. So I did my research, and there are plenty of websites out there that can guide you, give you tons of advice, and tell humorous stories of their long-haul rides. As a scientist, I am wont to collect as much data as I can, find similarities, and follow the advice most often repeated. Sound logic will make it work out alright. The only advice I did not keep was riding to Virginia alone. Bad idea, folks, but again, it worked out alright. That, and I am a little nuts.
I stacked my bike with oodles of gear, too much gear it turned out, but I didn’t know what I was doing. Take life by the horns, right? I promise, it didn’t hurt much or for very long. I climbed aboard, kissed the wife, and rolled out to the 417 here in Orlando heading north.
If you look closely at my pack-out, you’ll notice ol’ Glory there. I intended this to be my Mothers’ Day gift once I got there. My family is very patriotic, and as such, my mother has flags around their house. Only this flag would be special. This flag would have travelled with her hair-brained son 640 miles in the open air to be with her.
Fifteen minutes after reaching speed, the flag decided to lay over, and wobble like mad. I knew if I didn’t stop and fix it I would lose it, so I did. On the side of one of Florida’s major highways, at the foot of a hill (yeah, we have some hills in Florida), I stopped to fix the flag. I ended up using plastic tie-ties to fix it to my sissy bar, and their it stayed for the rest of the journey.
Now, as you can tell in that picture, I don’t ride a small bike. This thing is a beast (maybe only to new bikers), and weighs in at 840 pounds wet (filled with fuel and oil), and boasts a 103 cubic inch engine, and six speed transmission. It is also one of the most comfortable bikes I have ever ridden. With all of that, it gets about 42 miles to the gallon, and carries 3.7 gallons. That’s about 120 to 130 miles between fill-ups. I figured I would have to stop every two hours, or a total of 6 times to reach my destination.
What I didn’t figure on was how physically demanding this was. The first stop was early, just north of Jacksonville, because no matter how far the bike could go on a tank of gas, I, on the other hand, had to take time to empty my own. This was not counted into my math, figuring I could hold water for two hours without a problem, it immediately put me behind schedule. But then again, and the best advice I can give concerning a long-haul ride, I didn’t have a specific schedule. I worked a whole day extra into this trip. The problem here is, a bike like this, even as comfortable as it is, tends to shake the kidneys dry continually, and you have to stop. Well, if it’s not raining, you have to stop. I, regardless of rain, do stop.
After the first stop, things fell more into the rhythm I expected. Now my bike has floorboards instead of pegs, which allows one to shift position while riding. This is incredibly convenient on long-haul rides. It allows you to shift your butt on the seat, alter what part of your body isn’t getting blood flow for a while, things like that. At the extreme, you could actually lift up and sit on the passenger seat. This causes you to lean forward more, but it allows for that all important blood flow. Still, I can’t explain how stiff and sore my legs actually got on a long-haul ride. I mean, once you’re in top gear and zipping along with all of the other motorists, you’re not even using your legs.
I stopped for lunch in Georgia, one of my favorite states, and almost tipped the bike over because I was not ready for how wobbly my legs would be. I spent an hour there, at a Dairy Queen, having lunch and stretching my legs. The food was Dairy Queen quality, but in Georgia fashion, the ladies there called me ‘Hon’ and such. So politically incorrect, so endearingly warm. Georgia rocks.
I did notice that my flag, my gift for my mother, was becoming quite tattered. A solid inch had become thread bare and even knotted. I thought it added character to the gift, but was concerned I might be handing my mother a stick when I got there. Anyway, here is the bike in front of the Dairy Queen, and you can see here how tattered the flag had become.
Here’s to hoping she makes it…
My next leg I lasted the whole tank of gas before pulling over, just before the border of South Carolina, and where I had made a reservation at a KOA camp ground. I found a parking lot next to a gas station that was empty. The Mexican restaurant was closed, so no cars there. I took a lengthy rest here, drinking water (good advice from one of the long-haul blogs) and talked to my wife, Lisa, on the phone. My phone charger, a recent addition to the bike, was holding out and doing it’s job wonderfully, so I had GPS (Waze, of course) and I could call Li-bird at every stop.
It was getting rather hot now, and water was important, so I drank about a liter before leaving. You don’t actually ‘feel’ the heat when your riding, especially at 80 to 90 MPH, but trust me, you lose water and sweat the whole way. Water is important. Begin to dehydrate, and your reaction time slows, you become sleepy/groggy, and you barely notice it coming on.
I rested an hour, and left, destined for my first campsite. I had to stop once more, fewer times than I thought, to reach the site, but 320 miles into this journey, I was worn out. Turns out 320 miles was about all I was ready to do. I know all those out there with an Iron Butt certificate are laughing, but I don’t care. I wasn’t trying to earn one, just surprise my ma.
For those who are not familiar, an Iron Butt certificate is awarded to those bikers who can prove they rode 1,000 miles within 12 hours. Those that do, and are certified, receive a certificate and a license plate bracket for their bike. I didn’t think much of it until I tried this journey, and all I can say is… wow. If you have the certificate, you earned it, brothers and sisters. I can wait for a while before getting mine. So, ride on you crazy diamonds.
I made it to the KOA at about 6:00 PM, and confronted two things: the first was riding my bike in sandy loose soil. The other
was the unbelievable exhaustion. Those that know me on a more personal level will know I wrecked really, really bad in sandy soil. We’re talking about broken bones, surgeries, metal plates, and all the trimmings that come along with it. So the soil made mostly of sugar-sand was rather intimidating. I did, however, bring a kickstand puck with me ($4.99 on Amazon), and was ready to drop the leg and park for a while.
However, I was too tired to setup a tent I had never setup before, and although the weather had been just ducky the whole day, rain was threatening to make an appearance. I had a bike with 50 pounds of crap strapped to it, and no time to get settled before the rain. To a biker, rain’s not a big deal, but to a worn out old man like me, I just needed to crash and keep my gear dry.
The wonderful staff of the KOA campground accommodated me, and allowed me to upgrade to a trolly cabin. It was a little expensive, more than I wanted to spend on the trip, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I could wrestle the Li-bird over the extra expense, which actually is a lot of fun… One of the ladies working at the KOA even called me “doll-baby” like my grandmother used to, so she made the sale, I bought the upgrade, and de-geared the bike into a literal trolly car parked next to other cabins. It sounds a little strange, I know, but I really didn’t care at the moment. It had air conditioning, cable television, and even Wi-Fi internet access with a respectable speed.
I got up early, packed the bike, dropped off the key, and headed out. One thing I hadn’t thought of was the puck. With the gear and me on the bike, I couldn’t reach the puck, and had to leave it behind. The blog sites and fellow bikers told me to use a smashed tin can as a puck, but I didn’t listen. I rarely do. There went $4.99.
My next stop was a campsite almost in view of my parents’ house. I thought I would get there today (Saturday), rise early Sunday, and ride the 7 miles to my parents’ house to surprise my mother.
However, I knew that after the day before, and having a much better understanding of the term ‘saddle sore‘, I decided to just ride the whole way in, and arrive Saturday. I was rested but tender, and frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to the coming day’s ride. In an odd turn of events, though, the second day was a much better ride than the first. I wasn’t as nervous about the other motorists on I-95, and had learned to respect things like the 18 wheelers and their draft, which tends to both push you off the road, then suck you in towards the tires as you pass them. Day 1, terrifying, Day 2, not so much so. And boy was the traffic hauling. I hit 95 that day, the fastest I have ever gone on a bike. I know, I know, but remember, I am a new biker.
I arrived at my parents house at around 5:00 PM. Now I hadn’t seen my parents or sister in about 3 years (my sister longer), and I had lost some weight, and added some rather scraggly looking facial hair, but when my mother realized who had just pulled in on that noisy contraption, I heard her squeal of delight from outside the house, and one story below.
My father was also glad I made the trip. Probably not all that excited I was on the bike, but all the same, glad to see me. He even took the tired white bike out for a short ride. A couple of laps around the block, but in rural Virginia, that’s about 2 miles. It’s odd how he can look cooler than me on my own bike, but there you have it. Can you believe he’s a great- grandpa now?
The return trip was terrible, but I made it. It started out with a wreck in the parents entirely too-long of a driveway when I hit a patch of wet green moss, something we don’t see often in Florida, growing in the middle of a road. This delayed me a day, destroyed my exhaust, my windshield, and gave me boo-boos all over. So I left the following day.
One turn-signal stopped working on the way home, which for someone as anal as I am when riding, was a nightmare. My cell phone charger even gave up the ghost, but in the end, I was home, tired, and entirely full of myself.
Three months later, I am looking forward to doing it all over again, but perhaps on a bigger cruiser, something with a fairing and a passenger seat my wife will ride in, and so go with me. It’s a big, beautiful country out there, and you can’t see it the same way in a car as you can on a bike.
2014 Harley Davidson Dyna, FLD Switchback