Every other year I take a long trip somewhere, this is one of those trips.
This solo coast to coast road trip would start and end in Tampa, FL
The motorcycle in this case is a 1991 Suzuki GSX1100F Katana outfitted with soft luggage from Emgo and Fox
Packed with all the necessities including a two-man tent. Full compliment of tools and all the requirements for a major service in route, this would include six quarts of my brand of oil. A mini kitchen with breakfast and dinner for three weeks and of course all the clothes and gear needed to travel wet or dry in temperatures ranging from 25°f to 120°f.
On trips like this I like to leave early and get a good start on the journey.
Up at 3AM I load the Kat then pause for a minute trying to think of anything I might have forgotten while "Born to be wild" plays on the home stereo. I’ve been packed for three weeks now with nothing else on my mind so I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
The Kat Warmed up I make my way to interstate 75, the morning is cool and the skies clear. I’m getting that warm and fuzzy feeling.
A hundred miles down the road it’s still dark and the driver in front of me is dozing off only to jerk back in line. I bean him with the high beams but this proves to be only a temporary wake up because shortly thereafter he runs off the road then tries to correct, too late. He does a nice spinning ‘Dukes of hazard’ maneuver in the median before coming to a stop, well I’m sure he’s awake now and I motor on.
At the Georgia state line dawn is near and I change to a smoked visor after filling the tank. The interstate is behind me and the fun starts.
Georgia roads are probably the best maintained roads in the country and the Kat settles in to her sweet spot of 90 mph as we glide though the sweepers and low rolling hills.
Nine hours after pulling out of my driveway I arrive at Two Wheels Only, a motorcycles only campground, I set up camp, fill out my daily log book and visit with the locals
Darkness falls and I kick back next to a fire reading an American Motorcyclist magazine having eaten my dinner and checked out the Kat For the next day feeling my body winding down after a 600 mile day.
7 AM, I’m breaking camp over a steaming cup of coffee. The morning is cool, the sky's clear and somehow the brew just taste better in the mountains. I’m excited at the prospect of polishing up the sides of the tires today with a good 500 miles of twisties.
I start out taking Wolf Pen Gap, the perfect road to get the hoops up to operating temperature.
The road just gets better and better the farther north I get. Hwy 209 in Virginia should be closed off and turned into a racetrack with banked turns and serious elevation changes I go coocoo for cocoapuffs. The Kat has the suspension dialed in and handles the load well as I touch the pegs down in every turn. Life doesn’t get any better than this.
635 miles later I arrive in Columbus Ohio at a long time friend’s house with a silly grin that just won’t go away.
My buddy imports a hearty breakfast and informs me he’s too sick to go to work and will be escorting me out of town.
By 8 AM we’re off on a cool morning and clear blue sky. He runs lead as far as the Indiana State line and bids me farewell. My destination by day’s end is another friends house in Viola Wisconsin so with miles of flat, straight roads ahead of me I settle into the Kat’s sweet spot, set the cruise control and wait for the tank to run out.
706 miles and I’ve arrived but nobody’s home, maybe I should have called. Oh well, I saw a wayside back a couple of miles so I backtrack to the mini park and set up camp.
The nightly routine follows, dinning, checking the Kat, log book, etc…
The bike is loaded and I make a last check of the highlighted route on my map before heading out. The morning is cool and the skies clear, I could get used to this weather and it’s the reason I always take these trips in September.
Just as I pass the state line out of Wisconsin I run into a fast moving front and have to don the rain gear, it’s light and soon passes.
In no time I’m into southern Minnesota and the road straightens out, it’s time for the Kat to stretch her legs.
I dial up the wick and buzz along at 140 mph, the Kat is stable and eats up the tarmac as I try to catch the horizon.
The end of the day draws near and I need to find a place for the night. Gassing up one of the locals gives me directions to this nice place to camp. Following his directions I turn off the main road at the West Bend sign and start down 9 miles of dirt road. 5 miles of dirt riding and I’m starting to have second thoughts, it’s dry, arid and totally devoid of shade.
Nearing the end I crest a hill and a different world opens up.
I make camp right on the Missouri River. The river was so wide at that point I couldn’t see the far bank and slept with the sound of surf that night as small waves crashed on shore.
During the nightly ritual I noticed a tight spot in the chain, strange it only has 5,000 miles on it. I give it a little extra lube and it seems better. Time will tell.
Another 608-mile day and I sleep like a baby.
The day starts out cool and cloudy as I break camp and head west. In Pierre, SD I refuel. I don’t really need any yet but it looks like a long ways to the next town. The wind is picking up.
A few miles out of Pierre and the wind is making riding interesting, I’m going straight but with a 10° lean.
I dial it up to its sweet spot, a little velocity seems to make it easier to handle the wind.
83 miles from Pierre and 110 miles from Sturgis (read middle of no-where population...me) the engine revs freely.
In that instant three things happened. I let off the gas, pulled in the clutch and thought "I blew the tranny" then I observed my chain going down the road without me.
I had used a rivet link and in hindsight the lube it came packed in was to prevent rust during its shelf live, it had little lubricating qualities.
Using an old ignition points file I happened to pack in the tool kit for the first time it took me two hours to file the heads off the broken link and install my spare clip link using a couple of drops of synthetic oil for lube. (*mental note* pick up some grease and re-lube later)
I had to work with my helmet on because anything two feet from the ground was laced with sand from the wind.
Now on to problem number two.
When the chain broke it smacked the clutch actuator rod that passes in front of the countershaft sprocket and bent it. This piece needs to be straight or the clutch will hang up not to mention leaking oil from the engine side where it can no longer seal.
Across from where I’m parked is a cattle guard, this is like a dozen small rail road tracks bridging the gap to the road. Cows are afraid to walk on these so they stay confined without the use of gates.
Ideal for use as an anvil.
I use my vise grips as a hammer and smack the bent rod, better but still bent.
Smack, better yet, almost there.
Smack, %^&@*!! Now I have two pieces.
The whole time I’m working there only one car came buy and I could swear they sped up so I’m on my own. I can’t go clutchless, something has to plug the oil hole.
I found a solution. Using the wire cutters on my Visegrips I measured and cut the adjustment arm on my camera tripod. It works and oil loss is minimal.
I roll into Sturgis having lost ¾ of a quart of oil and found a hotel right next to a motorcycle shop.
Sharing my story with the hotel manager he suggest I park the Kat in the breezeway, nice guy.
I order the $3 part second day air but it can’t be ordered until the next day, not bad all in all.
That night I was more tired than any other even with a short 223 mile day.
I got up late, watched some cable then headed out to visit the local motorcycle museum.
It’s interesting how they did things in the old days
I’m at the bike shop before they open and the bike is apart just waiting on the part.
It comes in along with other parts and the counter guy says "don’t worry about the shipping, I’ll charge it to the other order". Cool.
Within the hour I’m on the road again. It’s a little chilly this morning at 45°f but I expect it to warm up quickly so I don’t bother with the electric vest.
In Wyoming on hwy 450 when you come up on Thunder Basin National Grassland it looks like another planet, all the trees disappear.
Passed the Grasslands looms Ten Sleep Canyon and the contrast is the same in reverse.
Arriving in Hyattville, WY I asked about a camping place on my map and was directed to take a dirt road for 18 miles. This area has allot of granite chips everywhere and they look pretty sharp. I’ve never gotten a flat from a rock but I’ve read about people who have so to err on the side of caution I backtrack about 10 miles to some open range country I passed on the way in.
I find a dirt road leading off the main road to the top of a hill about 100 yards away.
Parked I look around being higher than anything around and notice what a fine view this makes for a campsite.
I start to unload and a breeze picks up from the west, looking in that direction the sky is black with lightning, not a good time to be the highest thing around.
As quick as I can I go a little farther off the main road down the hill and work feverishly at getting the tent up and my gear inside before the rains get here.
Not gonna happen.
With the tent 80% setup a violent gust of wind rips my tent pegs out of the ground breaking one of the two fiberglass poles, I catch the tent on the flyby and it drags me like an open parachute.
I manage to wad it up and make my way back to the bike where I would sit holding my bike up against the wind for the next 45 minutes.
Then as quick as it came, it passed. Blue skies are back.
Now everything is wet so I decide to go to the next town and get a room.
I’m not on dirt but clay, it’s wet and I have to climb a hill with a loaded 600 pound bike.
To make matters worst only the top inch of soil is wet and it sticks to the tires so that after ten feet of forward progress the front tire has picked up and wedged enough clay, straw and granite chips under the fender to lock it up. The rear has clay mud oozing out of the sides and the chain is bow string tight as it crunches the granite chips. Every 10 to 20 feet I have to manually remove the clay
I burn up about 50 miles worth of fuel to make the 150 yards back to the main road leaving me close to empty, this bike has no reserve.
Back on the road the chain is sounding bad but getting better as the larger pieces fly off.
I get to the next town, My gas gauge parked on "E" for a while now only to find out the town consist of a bar and a closed down post office.
Nothing else to do, I motor on. Realizing I probably won’t make it I keep my speed at 50 mph to get as far as possible. If it run’s out I’ll just make camp as best I can and deal with it tomorrow.
I make it to the next town on fumes filling the tank with a tenth of a gallon more than it’s rated capacity then make my way to the self serve car wash to get as much mud off as I can.
The local motel manager and fellow rider gives me the weary biker discount and I settle in for the night with all wet items hanging from bungy cords streched across the room.
The news that night claimed a fast moving storm came through with recorded winds gusting to 96 mph, I couldn’t disagree. A rough 417 mile day.
First thing I did was to remove the countershaft sprocket cover and excavate all the leftover mud.
On the road again, chilly and cloudy on this fresh day. Who knows what adventures lay ahead for this day.
I arrive at the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park and WOW!! The scenery is breath taking.
In this place the Buffalo still roam and while it’s best to keep one’s distance I couldn’t help but do the commando crawl to get a close up of the beast.
Past Yellowstone I rode into Idaho’s Lost River Range
Arriving in Arco, ID I found a campground and settled in for the night. Finally a good and trouble free 511 mile day.
It’s cold. 28°f and there’s ice on the seat, I would later find out there was six inches of snow some 30 miles north of me. Fortunately I was headed west than south with my electric vest cranking.
Idaho had a lot of picturesque mountains but none of the roads seem to go through them.
I got in some nice twisties along hwy 21 and 75 before arriving in Vale,OR.
I stopped for fuel. After shutting off the motor I could hear a hissing sound.
Agh #^%*&!! There’s a pyramid shaped rock sticking out of my back tire. I pull the rock out and put two plugs in to stop the leak. I’m about to cross no-man’s land and I’m not doing it with a big hole in the tire so I find a local campground an make plans to backtrack to Ontario, a town about 18 miles back. Still it was a good 350 mile day.
I get to the bike shop and they have one tire that will fit on my rim, it’s one size smaller and made for a Gold Wing but I take it.
10 AM and I’m finally ready to make tracks. Southern Oregon is flat so cruising at 150 mph was easy.
I make a pass by Crater lake, I’ve never seen water this color. Sort of a turquoise blue.
Coming down from Crater lake is a nice twisty road and I was flowing though at 80 mph when my radar detector went nuts. I jumped on the binders and dragged the flagship down to the 25 mph speed limit just in time as I rounded the curve and the deputy waved at me, being the solid citizen that I am I waved back. I wondered if he noticed how rough my engine was running, it does that when I force it to run at 300 rpm’s below idle. The detector just paid for itself, I downshift all the way to second and motored on.
I cross into California and get into the Klamath National Forest where I find a campground. I set up my tent then realize, I’m tired. The log book would show 540 miles for the day, not bad for such a late start.
The campground is on the Klamath River and offered a nice sunset.
I woke up to the sounds of birds singing on a warm clear morning.
I started out hwy 96 and right into canyon carving, the scenery is awesome but doesn’t change so once I got an eye full I went into the zone.
The traffic was stopped due to some construction, I was held up for a couple of hours so I left the Kat in line and went exploring.
The river borders the road and it’s a long ways down. Throwing rocks out as far as I could I still couldn’t put one in the water.
Finally te road opens up and I'm mobile again.
On the back I had a military style metal canteen for quick access to water. It worked loose and fell to the road. I saw it fall and tried to make a quick stop to retrieve it but the back tire rolled on top of it and locked skidding to a stop. The canteen was shot with a hole worn into it, my notes would say,
"The canteen died today, it was a proud death".
At the end of hwy 96 I take hwy 36 east. This road is like a paved motocross track with Redwoods right up to the edge of the road.
Soon I turn off on hwy 3, this road is pure adrenaline fun with tight curves and switchbacks.
Out of the mountains I run along the PCH. This road can be dangerous. There’s a lot to distract you at times when you can’t afford to be distracted.
Along the beach are large boulders like monuments to ships long since past.
I find the Green Acres campground near the beach and it looks like a no-nonsense kind of place, tailor made for me
After the evening rituals I go down to the beach and mentally review the awesome 421 mile day I just had with 300 miles of gnarly twisties as the sun sets.
This morning would be warm and humid but the sky is clear and I foresee another fine day.
Heading out hwy 20 I quickly climb back into the mountains and soon find myself above the low morning clouds.
Passing through Glenn Haven I spot a bike shop and take the opportunity to replace the front tire, it doesn’t need it yet with only 10,000 miles but I’ll be in no-mans land the next day and welcomed the piece of mind. While they were replacing the tire I made good use of the time by changing the oil/filter.
Strange I thought I would noticed more of a difference with five quarts of oil out of the saddlebags but every thing else just swelled up and took it's place.
Turning south at Lake Tahoe on hwy 89 I can see where the department of commerce makes good use of the picturesque surroundings with the jet ski rentals and other tourist traps. On the south side of the lake is more to my liking, natural beauty.
Turning down hwy 4 I start to get that warm & fuzzy feeling again heading toward Ebbetts Pass as I read the warning sign,
"WARNING vehicles over 20 feet in length and trailered vehicles prohibited"
This road would turn out to be the closest thing to an Alpine road as I can find. Tight, narrow and steep.
Parking the Kat on the road to get a picture I had to leave it in gear or it would creep back against the side stand
On the way down the far side I left the tranny in neutral and coasted to speeds of 70 mph between hairpins, what a blast.
Motoring on I hook up with hwy 49 and find the Chinese Camp campground and it’s time for a valve adjustment. I stripped down the Kat and wait for morning when the engine is cold.
This was a packed 454 mile day. Hwy 4 dominated my dreams that night.
With the engine cold it’s time to service the Kat.
Halfway through the service I look up and notice the buzzards are circling, I’m hoping they don’t know something I don’t
Serviced, loaded and caffeinated I’m ready for the days events.
The road up to the Sequoia National Forest is choked with traffic and it turns out it’s because of an oversized Winnebago holding up the show.
After every turn I pass two or three cars and finally make my way to the front, around the Winnebago and off I go.
This is an uphill curvy road with switchbacks and I’m scraping pegs with full throttle launches out of the turns. All of a sudden I come out of a left hander to find an official looking type standing in the road with his hand up to stop me, my first thought? BUSTED.
I pull up next to him and shut off the motor and he says,
"Way to ride, dude!"
Turns out he’s a part time high school student directing traffic through a one lane tunnel ahead and had been watching me climb the mountain.
The Sequoias have a way of making you feel really small, these trees are huge beyond description. I visited the park two years earlier on another road trip and took pictures but this time I was just passing through.
On the east side of the park I stop for gas and pick up a salt & pepper shaker for my wife’s collection. Pulling into Lone Pine to top off the fuel and water. I switch to desert gear, don the Camelbak Drinking System and head east for Death Valley.
Turning onto hwy 190 I spot a group of rider’s on TDM 850 Yamahas, it’s a French tour group. Hearing them converse in French I started talking to them while I changed maps.
One of them was checking out the Kat and said,
"I did not know we could ride one of these" thinking I was part of the group.
Not to burst his bubble I said,
"All you had to do was ask" and took off in a full power launch.
Panamint Valley, the prelude to death Valley shows less and less vegetation. I stop to get a picture when a passing deputy slides to a stop and walks towards me with his hand on his pistol.
"Oh crap! Now what?"
Nothing, it seems he thought my tripod was a rifle.
Death Valley is hot, 118°f in the shade. It’s a dangerous heat because it doesn’t feel hot. Your skin feels hot but you don’t. Every 5 to 10 miles is a large tank of water in case your car overheats.
On my last trip I camped in Death Valley, there’s no better place to view the stars. There are so many of them the sky looks milky.
Into Nevada and I run out of daylight, pulling off the road about 100 yards I set up camp and prepare the evening meal before the ritual that has become habit now.
Another 420 miles and a good day.
Warm morning and a crisp blue sky holds the preview for the day.
With breakfast out of the way and strong French coffee working it’s magic I’m off.
Turning down the Avenue of the UFO’s hwy 375 I dial up the wick once more and eat up the ground at triple digit speeds.
On this road there are birds the size of sparrows that hang out in flocks waiting until the last moment to take off, their version of extreme sports I guess. What they didn’t take into account was my speed, I tagged three. Bounced one off the windscreen, one off my shoulder and the Kat ate the third. I would find him wedged between the body panel and frame when I returned home.
Hwy 12 in Utah, there’s a point when you round a right hander and the world opens up with so much space as to make it hard to breathe. In the distance you can see Mt Pennell reaching 11,320ft and Mt Hiller at 10,650ft.
Later on the radar detector would pay for itself again on hwy 24 when the sheriff hiding in the ditch scanned me but not before I dragged the Kat down from 100 mph to the 55 mph limit.
Zion Canyon is a must see sight, it has a sort of lunar landscape feel to it.
Into Sterling Utah I would find a campground for the night. A rapid 602 mile day.
Time for the ritual and lubing the chain….the chain! Oh crap I forgot about the link.
The safety clip is gone. I take it apart, put another drop of oil and reassemble using a bread tie for a clip.
This day starts on the cool side with puffy clouds and I’m looking forward to crossing over the Rockies again.
In Manti Utah is a bike shop that gives the term ‘one stop shopping’ a new meaning.
Into Colorado and the Grand Mesa, there are clouds on the horizon and I think a front may be chasing me.
A close call on a mountain road when I failed to spot gravel the same color and texture as the road. The Kat goes into a side slide that I would recover less than a foot from going over the edge. These I like to call ‘Pure moments’.
Someone once said "there’s nothing like the feeling of getting shot at and missed"
I think I know what he meant.
Once again the day expires on me and I hold up at the Steven’s Campground just west of Gunnison. Another great 555 miles day.
Cold morning that I attribute to the altitude, I could use the vest but I’ll tough it out. I’m sure it will warm up quickly.
Now most of the good roads are behind me and I get out of play mode and into a traveling rhythm.
The radar detector would pay for itself twice more this day and once on a long straight with the cruise control set at the ‘sweet spot’ I would notice some cars in the distance. After the last two close calls I kick off the cruise and let the speed drop until I know who’s coming.
I see one of the cars making a pass and I think "no one passes a cop".
I return to my traveling speed before I realize it was the cop who made the pass, doh!
I crossed a black unmarked Caprice at 90 mph and he never looked back, whew!
The day is running short after 569 miles of travel and I pull off the road about 30 yards and make camp.
I disassemble the master link again for inspection and it’s beat showing some serious wear, I just have to try and limp it home, 1,500 miles to go.
The morning is warm and muggy, the front has caught up to me and there are occasional rain drops. I won’t use the rain gear yet, I think I can ride out in front of the weather.
On the road in front of my camp is some local Kansas wildlife.
On the road again I cross into Missouri and all of a sudden there’s red lights in my rear view, busted.
He was coming down a side road and saw me flash by then paced me.
He was concerned that I might be running drugs since I was travelling parallel to a perfectly good interstate and asked if he could look through my bags.
At this point I figure I have two choice. I could say no but then I’d have to wait until he brought out a drug dog, interpreting some aspect of the dog’s behavior as an excuse to tear everything apart anyway or I could take the high road and be overly enthusiastic about it.
I went with option two.
I started pulling everything out and giving a detailed explanation for each…..
"this is the piece of chain I broke and this is the tool I fixed it with and these are the shakers for my wife’s collection and ……"
I could see on his face he was thinking "this guy’s been alone way too long"
He lifted the top of my open tank bag and saw all the camera equipment then I explained to him that I travel only back roads in search of wildlife shots.
I’m down to the last pocket and he’s bored now, hands my license back and says
"slow it down a some, 80 in a 45 is a bit much"
He got back in the cruiser and left.
Whew! That last pocket held my pistol. Close one.
Arriving at the Hobo Campground at the end of a 570 mile day and feeling velocitized.
Warm morning and the front is still behind me, the sky is cloudy but looks good.
A relaxing day through Missouri and into Tennessee. A newbie driver turned a little too early and parked her car in the ditch,
Nice sweepers, just enough to break up the monotony. I get to the Tim’s Ford Campground in Tennessee with plenty of light left after an easy 462 miles day.
While I’m setting up my camp some of the local wildlife scampers by.
Cool morning and a light drizzle, it seems that pesky front caught up to me again.
I ride south with thoughts of home, the temperature is rising along with the humidity but at least I’m past the rain now.
As soon as I cross into Florida I can tell the difference, the love Bugs are swarming and before long I have to stop and clean the shield. Nasty creatures and smell bad too.
I start to feel the pull to get home but that would make for a marathon day and decide to make camp after 524 miles.
I find a campground at Lake Talquin and I’m surprised to be the only one there, maybe it’s because there’s no hot water as I would find out when I took my shower.
There was a nice sunset across the lake with the front well north of me now.
In the low light some of the local inhabitants came out to hunt.
Last day and as expected it’s been an adventure. A lot more Love Bugs, a lot more traffic but its good to get home after 333 miles.
Mileage = 9,471 miles or 498 a day
Total cost = $878.99
Gas cost = $316.64
Food = $31.83
Maintenance = $372.81
Housing cost = $157.71 or $8.30 a day