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If you're cold and snowed in--- or even if you're not--- a hot-weather ride report from last summer might be just the ticket.
Some of you might also remember a snippet from this ride, posted a while ago here:
But now, as they say, here's the rest of the story...
One way or another, I knew it would be a helluva trip.
Two years in planning, it was to be a long, looping route across the full width of North America and back again, spanning over 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) and taking as much as 6 weeks. I wanted to explore parts of the continent I'd never been able to spend much time in, especially in the Rockies: I planned two full weeks of the trip snaking back and forth across the continental divide just in Colorado alone.
I had a well-plotted GPS route, but nothing else was planned. I'd sleep when I got tired, eat when I got hungry, and generally just make up the details as I went along. (I was bringing camp gear, and planned to vary between camping and staying in cheap motels)
Here's the approximate planned route. (I'll post detailed and as-ridden maps later.)
The trip was also to be a celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary. My wife had no desire to retire yet, and in fact was still working, but the plan was for her to join me for the two weeks' riding in Colorado.
And the trip also was supposed to be a celebration of early retirement, as I'd sold my business the previous Fall and had just about completed the final tasks and details of the transfer. I was still wound pretty tight, and many of you self-employed types will know what I mean: I'd had a hardcore self-imposed work schedule for the last 10+ years, averaging 60-80 hours of work per week. But when I sold my business, it seemed that all the work was going to pay off, and I was looking forward to finally having open, unstructured time for the first time in a very long while.
But things have a way of not quite going as planned, and as the departure date for the trip approached, my marriage--- already strained by the long-sustained insane workload--- fell apart. My wife and I separated, and she said she would not be joining me on the trip.
That cast the trip in a very different light. I didn't know what the future held, and my lifemate and riding companion was gone.
After many long discussions, we agreed to try counseling after the trip, and I headed out alone with decidedly mixed emotions.
DAY ONE (Saturday, June 30, 2007)
I live in New Hampshire, and have traveled extensively in the eastern third of the US, so I wanted to get to new territory as quickly as possible as the trip began. I planned a high-speed run most of the way out to South Dakota, where I'd then slow down and start exploring off the main highways.
I'm no stranger to long-distance riding, having done a couple IBA Saddlesores and a number or other long uncertified rides. So I set Cleveland as an unofficial goal for the first day: about 700 miles. If I still felt good at Cleveland, maybe I'd try for Chicago, about 1000 miles from my home.
The bike: a well-used 2005 Goldwing with about >30K miles on it. I'd prepped the bike as well as I knew how, including new rubber, new battery, fresh fluids, etc., and loaded 'er up with gear.
My suddenly-changing marriage situation affected my finances: With the prospects of a divorce looming, my seemingly-secure retirement suddenly felt decidedly shaky. To help reduce the out-of-pocket expenses of the trip, I worked out a deal with the guy who'd bought my business: I'd make four business stops along the way (Colorado, Seattle, Toronto, and New Hampshire) to perform some work for him. The work would help pay for the trip, but it meant I had to carry office attire and supplies plus what amounted to an entire portable IT-department with me. That hugely increased the bulk of what I had to carry. This would not be "traveling lightly."
Fortunately, the 'Wing has enormous cargo space.
I headed out on a gorgeous New Hampshire summer mid-morning.
The first 8 hours of the trip passed uneventfully as I made time on superslab. I ran the length of the Massachusetts Turnpike into New York at Albany and then headed west across upstate NY. By late afternoon, I was near Buffalo, and skirting an enormous thunderstorm.
As the thunderstorm receded, the sun started to go down and the shadows grew longer.
A while later, I left NY and crossed a corner of Pennsylvania near Lake Erie.
I was just about through PA as the sun set. It was just a week after the solstice, so the days were still very long.It was the weekend just before July 4th, and when the sun did set, several towns along the road set off their fireworks. I could see them in the distance, incandescent chrysanthemums blossoming on the horizons. After full dark, there wasn't much to see, but this initial part of the trip was all about eating miles, so that's what I did: cruise control on, tunes up, and stopping only for fluid exchanges. (gas into the bike, ex-gatorade out of me...) After a while, I entered Ohio. (Darkness meant a slow shutter speed...)
And then Indiana. With a crystal-clear night, it was starting to get cold, so at a pit stop I dug out warmer clothing and closed the vents on my 'Stitch.
Through the dead of the night, I crossed a part of Michigan and entered Illinois. At a gas stop, I snapped this memento of the approaching Saddlesore-worthy 1000 mile mark. I was making excellent time, and felt my initial lower spirits start to lift, buoyed by adrenalin and the start of the adventure. Plus, focusing on riding made everything else go away: divorce, iffy finances, and everything except the ride seemed to fade in importance, at least for the moment.
BTW: You can figure out what "tune" means in the above photo, but you may wonder why I have the intercom running if I was alone. It's for the GPS, which is wired into the helmet intercom so I could hear the voice prompts. On the superslab, also kept the CB on to hear the trucker chatter on road conditions, police activity, and the general state of the country and the world. Seems than many trucks think they're Rush Limbaugh when they have a CB mike in their hand....
It got cold in the hours before dawn, but it was clear and dry, with a full moon making the visibility excellent for nighttime riding. At one point, I rounded a turn in the passing lane and found a small herd of deer grazing right at roadside. Fortunately, they were busy munching and made no move towards the pavement.
I snapped this shot of the full moon (white circle in the center) at a truck stop. the yellowish light on the left is a sodium vapor light in the parking lot. I didn't realize I'd snapped a UFO until I saw the photos later....
OK, you know it's not a UFO; it's just an internal camera reflection or refraction artifact caused by the overexposed sodium vapor light.
One thing I really like about night rides is the way scents get stronger. Maybe because there's less visual stimuli, but for whatever the reason it seems that fresh-cut lawns, piney stands of trees, plowed fields, night-blooming flowers in humidly fragrant marshes and, yes, even the manure of dairy farms all seem more pronounced. Combine that with things like the pockets of cool air that gather between hills and in dips in the road; and the way full moonlight paints the countryside with a delicate yet sharp light; and a night ride can be a sensory delight. This one certainly was, despite it being superslab.
The sky was just beginning to show the first traces of dawn as I rode into Chicago, and the commuter trains were still empty, ready for the coming rush hour. I was still feeling alert and good something like 20ish hours into the ride.Once again, the low light meant for slow shutter speeds for my camera, which caused blurring. But I actually kind of like the effect. If you look closely in the next photo, you can see the outline and lights atop the Sears tower:
Sunrise was coming fast as I crossed into Wisconsin. Here (below) it's still dawn twilight, and that's the full moon setting in the west. The darker band just above the horizon is the last of the Earth's shadow, setting. When the shadow band reaches the horizon, it's officially sunrise on the opposite side of the sky.
I'd been on the road for about 22 hours now, and was starting to feel tired. I'd had light snacks and plenty of hydration along the way, and had learned from previous long-distance rides that larger meals can exaggerate fatigue. Still, man can only live on breakfast bars, beef jerky and gatorade for so long, so I succumbed to the lure of a clean bathroom, fresh coffee, and a hot meal. It felt good to sit on something other than a saddle.
I read the local paper at breakfast. Two bits of local color:
1) a local farmer had sculpted a replica of Mount Rushmore from 700 pounds of good Wisconsin cheese
2) a drought had caused the level of Lake Superior to drop by 13" in one year--- an astonishing amount of water lost when you think how big that sucker is. The lake was within 4" of its all-time low, and some ferries had to suspend service because of the shallow water. Some local wags were starting to call it "Lake Inferior."
I didn't know it yet, but the western drought would be a fixture through much of my trip, with numerous grass- and forest fires visible along the way.
Although it was drier than normal in that part of Wisconsin, the local vegetation wasn't yet hurting, and a gorgeous green morning was in full effect as I left the restaurant.
I'd been on the road now for about 24 hours, and I was starting to feel quite drowsy as my blood left my brain to service my stomach.
I pulled off the highway and found a little country road leading to some small business' parking lot. The business wasn't yet open, so I pulled to a far corner of the lot, put the bike on the centerstand, and lay back against my duffle and camp mats for a quick hour's snooze in the Ironbutt Motel:
For me, the trick to catnaps is to time the nap to the length of various parts of my sleep cycle. (There are 5 stages of sleep, and the lengths of each sleep stage vary somewhat from person to person.) I find that if I wake up at one of the natural transition points in your sleep cycle, I feel better. But if I wake up midway though one of the sleep stages, I feel like total crap--- probably worse than if I hadn't napped at all.
In long-distance riding, fatigue actually can work in your favor because the long "getting drowsy" and initial falling-asleep stages pass very quickly: When I'm beat, I close my eyes and I'm out like the proverbial light. That means you can get to the beneficial stages of sleep much faster than otherwise. I find that a quick 20 minute "power nap" will dust off the cobwebs and restore some physical energy, and a longer nap that includes one complete 40-60 minute sleep cycle (including one period of REM sleep) is deeply restorative; not as good as a full night's sleep, of course, but far more regenerative than you might think. My roadside snooze this morning lasted just about an hour, and I felt great afterwards. (Want more info on this kind of napping? See http://ririanproject.com/2007/09/05/10-benefits-of-power-napping-and-how-to-do-it/ )
Energy restored, I headed out onto the farmlands and prairies of Wisconsin.
I knew I was getting close to the touristy Dells when I saw signs like this:
... and rock formations like these:
As the sun climbed higher, a nearly cloudless, warm summer day unfolded:
Crossing the Mississippi is as much a psychological landmark--- roughly halfway across the continent--- as it is a geophysical one. Here, I've just left Wisconsin and am entering Minnesota:
Near this town (next photo), I saw signs for a State Park overlooking the Mississippi, and I thought it'd be worth a detour.
I was instantly glad I'd gotten off the slab.
And it just kept getting better.
The Park is on high bluffs and did indeed offer a wonderful view of the river. Here, I'm looking back into Wisconsin.
These would be the last hills I'd see for a while. The next several hundred miles of road would be very, very flat.
The road out was soft dirt, always a challenge on a fully-loaded 'Wing with street tires, but I was still enjoying the change from slab.
I started making my way back to the highway.
After a day and a half on the Interstate, even a mild lean felt really good.
Did I mention it was getting really flat?
As the day wore on, I droned across Minnesota until fatigue again caught up with me. When I finally called Uncle, I was near the town of Worthington on the far western edge of the State. I pulled off to find a cheap room, a hot shower, and a comfortable bed. A cheesy Super 8 would do just fine, thank you.
When I finally stopped, I'd been on the road around 35 hours and had covered over 1500 miles. It was definitely time for dinner and a good night's sleep.
(The trip odometer only records to 999.9 and then resets; the above is actually showing 1517.1 miles. Not bad for a straight-through ride.)
Tomorrow: The Badlands, Rapid City, a close encounter with a Buffalo, and other amusements.
And if you prefer an alternate view, here's a 4 minute slideshow that covers the first 1500 miles...
Thanks for the repost, Fred! I'm looking forward to reading/seeing your Badlands day 3 report
Thanks, Fred. I really enjoyed the trip report. Looking forward to reading the next one. Your timing couldn't be better. Some of us are getting major flare ups of PMS. LOL
And geez, 1500 miles in 34 hours - that could have been another IBA certificate. :-)
Great report! Thanks for posting.
A perfect day to be reading about your "Long Way Across" adventure. I am looking forward to the next segment. Keep em coming, this may just help me make it to better weather :)
Thanks for sharing with us!
The good news was that Day Three dawned warm and clear.
The bad news is that my overnight stop, the Worthington Super 8, really, really, really sucked.
It's not that I had high expectations for a budget motel like a Super 8. I just wanted a cheap, clean room. But that was asking too much, it seems.
First, it wasn't cheap: There was some kind of auto race going on at a nearby speedway I didn't know was there until the unmuffled engines prevented me from falling asleep for a while. The race fans had occupied almost all the room, and driven the prices out of the "budget" category. They wanted about $90. But, after riding 36 hours straight, I was too tired to argue.
Second, it wasn't clean. I had companions like these in my room:
Give me a freaking break. $90 for noise and bugs? Grrrr.
I was glad to see Worthington in my rear view mirrors the next morning.
Worthington is almost at the corner where Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota come together, so I took a very short detour just to be able to add a small slice of Iowa to my list of "places visited" on this trip.
This was where I encountered the first really large plantings of the approximately 43 trillion corn plants I'd see on this trip.
No clue what this is:This part of Iowa and the nearby parts of South Dakota were really, really flat. Fortunately, that meant that pretty much everyone ignored the official speed limits. When you're riding on a billiard table in dry, clear conditions, a "safe and prudent" speed can be somewhat up there. But that flatness also meant the winds blew without obstruction, which led to some interesting moments. Here's an example, from when I pulled off the interstate in search of gas: Check out this little 10-second video clip. The wind was very strong and steady from my left. Watch what happens when an approaching truck passes: First, the bow wave of the truck hits me, pushing me right. Then the body of the truck blocks the prevailing wind, which I'd been compensating for; the bike moves sharply left. I correct, and then the wind pick up after the truck passes, pushing me right. And remember, this is with a fully loaded bike, probably weighing about 1300 pounds total. That wind was strong. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmHq_7V_FNQ When I found a gas station, I was surprised to see I'd the wind had almost blown a soft pack off the bike. It was saved only by some extra bungees I'd used. Freshly gassed, it was back to the flatness as the morning wore on:
It got very hot. When I stopped for lunch, I'd gone through probably close to half a gallon of gatorade. (OK, not the actual brand, but an inexpensive mix-it-yourself electrolyte-replacement drink.) This roadside rest area had water, bathrooms, and shaded picnic tables.
Note the "flagging" of this tree at the rest stop (below), with the branches skewed to the left. The tree's growing off-center due to the prevailing wind, which is from the right in this photo.
It tasted better than it looks: A low fat, high protein, tuna salad lunch. Once again, I prefer light food on long-distance days. By the end of the trip, I'd have eaten so much tuna I could practically use my fingers as mercury thermometers. After lunch, it was more rolling prairie.
Yes, I deliberately choose to ride across the flatlands, which may make you wonder why. Well, there was a good reason:
Let me get just a little geeky on you for a minute:
You may already know that parts of that region are flat because they're the beds of ancient seas. You may also know that those warm, shallow seas were a veritable living stew, thick with life.
But take a look at this critter: a carnivorous fish as large as an SUV; the 16 foot (5 meter) xiphactinus; . Go ahead, click the link. Ponder the dentition. That toothy wonder swam over what is now the quiet mid-continental flatlands, along with other impressive creatures like the 60 foot-long (18 meter) mosasaurs and 50-foot (15 meter) ichthyosaurs.
Ancient seas are interesting enough, but those same plains and flatlands also contained the remnants of the floors of much more recent ice-age glacial lakes such as Lake Agassiz and Lake Missoula; freshwater lakes so large (hugely larger than all the current Great Lakes combined) that when they drained, they actually cooled the ocean and triggered worldwide climate change. We're talking gigantic lakes, here.
So the flatter parts of middle and western North America can actually be fun to ride through: The low traffic and straight roads mean your mind can wander just a bit, imagining the forces and timescales that shaped the current landscape.
After a few hundred miles of geologic reverie and a bit further west, the land began to show a little more topographic variation.
And then I approached South Dakota's Badlands:
This was worth a stop, so I go out to hoof around for a while in the Badlands National Park, in the near 100F heat:
The road I'd picked would take me off the superslab and right through the Badlands formations, descending rapidly to another plain on the far side of the Badlands. I headed out:
I could begin to see the lower plain I'd soon be crossing:
With a last few outcroppings, the Badlands faded away into rangeland and farms.
The road was almost deserted, and I had some fun on the very, very long straight stretches.
Of course, I would never break the law (cough, cough) and would never start recording a video like that at 70 MPH (113 KPH) accelerating to 118 MPH (190 KPH) before my heavily-loaded 'Wing (with unaerodynamic duffles and bags sticking into the wind) started to show instability at about 45 seconds into the clip; and I'd never then back down, finishing the video at a steady 105 MPH (170 KPH) cruise; with the speeds verified by GPS. Nope. Not me. Never. It's a friend's video clip. Yeah, that's the ticket--- a friend's video.
Anyway, I made very, very good time heading northwest across South Dakota.
After a while, hills and changing vegetation told me I was getting closer to the Black Hills region.
I planned to stay in Rapid City, but took a short detour into Black Hills parkland to to a little sightseeing.
I explored some roads around the Pactola reservoir.Got caught in a light shower; hence the rain spots on the windscreen You can see the virga in the next shots.
Then it was into Rapid City, racking up about 500 miles for the day; and 2000 miles total for three days. But the pace was about to change. I was now in the region I wanted to see more of, so my daily mileage would start to go down as I spent more time exploring the area and riding slower roads. By the time I reached Denver in a day or two (I had a business meeting there) I'd be at a purely-local pace.