Friday, May 30, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 23: Wytheville, VA - New Albany, OH. Friday, May 30, 2014

     I was up at 1:30am again. This was my last day on the road, and I was aching to get home. I also wanted to be sure that I didn’t miss my sister’s graduation party. I was pretty beat, but I had enough adrenaline still rushing through my body to keep me going.

     The Appalachian Mountains were bunny hills compared to the Rockies, but the roads were so foggy that my visibility was limited to about 40 feet. It was also very dark and rainy. I was going too fast for the conditions of the road; about 50 miles per hour. I almost ran off the road several times because I couldn’t even see the road lines. A semi-truck passed me going 70, and I figured that his multiple headlights were far better than my 42 year old single headlight, so I followed him at a distance.

     It was significantly safer going faster and following the truck. I knew when to prepare for a turn because I could see what the semi in front of me was doing. I followed him all the way out of the mountains.

     Miles passed, and I was so weighed down by my exhaustion that I didn’t notice many of the details of the day’s ride. I felt a sense of excitement when I passed into Ohio which woke me up a little, but it soon faded and I was feeling off again.

     I took the remainder of my journey mile by mile, and tried to keep myself excited about home to stay awake. When I reached the southern end of Columbus, my journey started to feel like it was speeding up. I was used to making small trips around Columbus before I left home, but now I was accustomed to travelling hundreds of miles a day through hard rain, mountains, and deserts. Before I really processed the fact that I made it to Columbus, I was already in New Albany.

     Liz gave a loud groan as I pulled into the driveway of my home. I got off my bike feeling only half alive, and pushed her into the garage. I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment making it back home. I just felt overwhelmingly tired. I unloaded my clothes from the duffle and threw them immediately into the washing machine inside my house. I wasn’t taking any chances that I may have taken bed bugs with me from Macon. I didn’t think I had any, but I wasn’t going to risk it. I called my dad, my mom, and my sister, but my grandmother didn’t answer.

     I was so accustomed to living in a cramped tent, cabin, or hotel room that when I entered my house, it felt massive. I couldn’t conceive how I even lived in such a place. Why did we have a whole room dedicated to a TV? Why didn’t my bedroom have a door lock?

     I was just about to take a shower when I heard the doorbell ring. It was my grandmother. Apparently, my great uncle in Britain had been tracking my phone. At the moment I reached home, he called my grandmother, and she made her way to my house.

     We didn’t talk long before I told her I needed to get some rest. I took a three hour nap until my alarm woke me, and I went to my sister’s graduation party with my friend David. At this point, all the adrenaline that had been keeping me going finally subsided. I was left with a shell of a working body, and crashed harder than I ever have before. I was too tired to stay for any length of time, and it didn’t help that David kept telling me that I looked like I was stoned. I went home and looked at myself in my bathroom mirror. I really looked like shit. Then I crawled into bed, pulled up the covers, and passed out for sixteen hours straight.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 22: Beaufort, SC - Wytheville, VA. Thursday, May 29, 2014

     I was up and ready to go at about 3:00 in the morning. I figured that since I had travelled six hundred miles from Los Angeles to Holbrook that I could handle six hundred and fifty miles from Beaufort to New Albany.

     I left the hotel at about 4:00 when it was still dark. I made my way out of Beaufort and into Columbia just as the sun started to peek over the horizon. I wanted to stop for food so I took an exit ramp that took me into the city. The blue signs on the ramp were misleading, because I didn’t see any of the fast food restaurants displayed on the sign and wasted half an hour looking for them. Instead, I stopped at a BP and got gas and food. As I was paying, a man outside was taking pictures of my bike. We had a short conversation, and I got straight back on the highway.

     It was quite hot that day, so I didn’t wear any layers. The ride from Columbia to and through North Carolina was very enjoyable. The sun was out, and I was excited by the fact that I would be coming home that day.

     I had just crossed into Virginia when I decided to take a break at a nearby a rest stop. As I got off my bike and took a seat at one of the sheltered tables, I noticed to my disappointment that the flora was still very southern. The kinds of trees I saw were similar to those in eastern Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama. I was less than 400 miles away from home, but I felt like I was much farther because the landscape was still very different from Ohio.

     As I approached the Appalachian Mountains, it started to become cloudy. The weather couldn't make up its mind about whether to rain or not. It would start sprinkling, then stop, and then start again. Finally, it really started raining so I pulled off the highway and put on my leather jacket. As soon as I got back on the highway it stopped raining again.

     I made it to Wytheville before my I hit a brick wall. I didn't sleep too long the previous night, and it was finally coming back to haunt me. I knew I wouldn't be able to make the last 300 miles to Ohio, so I checked into at a nearby Hampton Inn. Then it started pouring.

     The concierge, like in Kansas City, told me I could move my bike under the canopy in front of the hotel. I went outside and moved it to the sidewalk. It was raining so hard that the two minutes I spent moving my bike, I had been drenched from head to toe.

     I took a shower and changed clothes because I was at my limit with being cold and wet on my trip. It was only 4:00, so I still had plenty of time to prepare for my last day on the road. I spent a couple hours updating my journal, and then I took a short nap. I woke up hungry, so I went to McDonald's for dinner. Luckily, it had stopped raining by the time I left the hotel.

     The McDonald's in Wytheville was memorable for one reason only: it had one of those casino gaming consoles at every table, but they were set to free play. While I was eating, I played a ported version of SameGame. I was pretty McHappy.

The latest in fast food entertainment 

     I was tired when I got back to the hotel, but for some reason I just couldn’t sleep. My mind was still running on pure adrenaline. I spent a good twenty minutes staring at my computer screen. I wasn’t writing or doing anything productive. I was just staring at my desktop while my mind wandered into la la land, like I was in a semi-conscious state without actually sleeping. I attempted to break out of that state by listening to music. I don’t even remember how long I was listening to tunes. It was like I had lost the ability to perceive time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 21: Beaufort, SC. Wednesday, May 28, 2014

     This day was a lazy day. Macon, Georgia was a true test to my spirit and love for the trip. Although that spirit never faded, I felt I needed to recharge before coming home.

     I was up late in the morning at about 10 am. I headed straight to the beach; shoes and helmet off again. This time at the beach, I fully submerged myself in the Atlantic. I was deep enough that I was able to pick up sand dollars off the ocean floor. I threw them like frisbees further from the beach.

     I also climbed the lighthouse. I am deathly afraid of heights, but I think this may have been the only time I made it to the top without being stunned by the height. My trip put me through so much; and I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.

The view of the beach from the lighthouse 

The Hunting Island Lighthouse 

     I went back to the hotel, piled up my laundry, and went to the vending machine room. There were no washing machines, so I went down the elevator and checked the first floor. Still no washing machines. I asked the concierge where the laundry room was, and she said the hotel didn’t have any. There was a laundromat within walking distance from the rear of the hotel, and told me to follow a path that would take me straight there.

     The laundromat was very close, and it only took a five minute walk to get there. I didn’t bring all my quarters, so I thought I could stuff one of the smaller machines with all my clothes. I could barely shut the washing machine door, and my clothes didn’t completely soak until it was already on the rinse cycle.

     The washing machine next to mine was running, and I saw the owner enter the laundromat after I had just started the wash cycle. Since both of us were just standing in front of the machines, I started a conversation with him.

     He had just moved to Beaufort, and he was in the process of building a house, so he didn’t have a way to do laundry. His wife wasn’t with him because she was still a few states away packing their stuff. Our conversation moved to his sons, who were in the military, and then he told me that he was also once in the military. He shared with me some of his experiences.

     He spent six months stationed in a town in northern Kazakhstan in the early 90s, and told me all the joys of the socialist government. The town was held together by mining, but no one was paid for any type of work. Instead, at the end of every year, the government would send the town equipment based on the amount of coal they mined. Actual currency was not involved, and was apparently only used by peasants.

     Then the country decided to form its own currency, the “Tenge”. Citizens were told to take all of their Russian rubles to a state bank, and they would be given in return exactly one hundred tenge. It didn’t matter how many rubles a citizen had: ten, one hundred, one hundred thousand. He would only be given one hundred tenge.

     The climate in northern Kazakhstan was very cold, so there was a coal burning plant seated in the middle of the town that heated and delivered steam to the nearby buildings. After the economy collapsed, there was no heat, no supplies, and no production. In fact, the only thing the town gift shop had for sale was a broken light switch, and it was kept in a locked container.

     I dropped my clean laundry off at the hotel, and went out for dinner. I had a particular place in mind. Almost every time my family and I went to Beaufort, we stopped at 11th Street Dockside. The restaurant was right on the water, and neighbored a shrimp boat dock.

11th Street Dockside seen from the dock 

     Like my father, I go to seafood restaurants to order a steak. I’m that guy. I don’t generally eat fish unless I catch it and gut it myself. It’s not that I don’t trust the way restaurants prepare fish, it’s just fish always tastes better when it’s my catch. The sirloin was delicious, and it was starting to get dark. I headed back to the hotel.

     I was in the middle of packing up my gear for the next day so I could save time on my leave. I noticed something sticking out of the back pocket of my wallet, and pulled it out. It was the business card of the adventure motorcyclist I met before passing into Albuquerque.

     His name was Andrew Pain, and his occupation was a journalist. There were five different ways to contact him listed on the card, and I checked his website. He wrote a lot of adventure touring books and had an active blog. As far as adventure tourers go, this guy was king.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 20: Macon, GA - Beaufort, SC. Tuesday, May 27, 2014

     As soon as the clock struck 9, I called Capital City Cycles and asked if they could fix my bike. They said that they had worked on older bikes with my kind of tension bolts before, but they always had issues with them. Then I tried calling D & A Cycles. The call kept dropping, but I finally managed to get ahold of them.

     The shop said that they could fix my bike, and that they would call me back a half an hour later. 26 minutes passed (not that I was counting), and they called me back. They said the tow truck was picking up two other bikes first, and that they would pick me up at 10:30.

     I had an hour to wait for the tow truck, so I had a chat with two middle aged men outside the hotel who were visibly uncomfortable with the location. As expected, they were forced to stay in the hotel because their vehicles had broken down nearby. No one stays in the Palm Tree Inn Extended Stay by choice.

     The first man was crazy. He was the type of crazy where he had at one point lived a normal life, but then stress ripped him apart. He talked in a heavy Chicago accent. I could tell his memory was fried because he kept asking me how I managed to end up in Macon Georgia.

“So what brings you here?” 

“I’m on a cross country tour of the United States, and my bike broke down”.

     Fifteen minutes later:

“So how did you end up at this hotel?”
“I’m on a cross country tour of the United States, and my bike broke down”.

     Another fifteen minutes later:

“So really, why are you in Macon Georgia? It’s ok. You can tell me”.
“I’m on a cross country tour of the United States, and my bike broke down”.

     As the many conversations repeated themselves, they would always close with the following statement:

“Yeah, I’m originally from Chicago. I was there for 32 years and I did security work, but there were a lot of problems. I moved to Florida to live with my mother, but there were a lot of problems, so I moved to Kansas for five years... But there were a lot of problems”.

     From what I gathered, he had an old green chevy pickup truck that had a dead battery, and he couldn’t get it started. The closest, cheap place he could find was this dump of a hotel. He was also originally from Chicago.

     The second guy seemed much less nervous, maybe because he was a bit more sane. He talked like Boomhauer from the T.V. show King of the Hill. That is, he talked very quickly with very little sense. I could make out most of what he was saying though, and at least I was having different conversations with him. His late model Dodge Charger was having engine issues, but luckily, it was still under warranty. He just had to wait for a tow truck. He asked me if I had enough money to get home. I said I did. Both men told me that they had social security checks coming within a few days, so they weren’t going to be stuck in Macon for too much longer.

     At exactly 10:27, the tow truck arrived, my bike was fixed to the trailer, and we headed to D & A Cycles. I didn’t have to wait too long at the repair shop to get my motorcycle fixed. There were plenty of “gun on premises” signs which made me feel safer. At least none of the gang members from the hotel would be here. The shop owner informed me that I simply needed a new chain, and the sprockets were fine. I was soon on my way.

     The ride to Beaufort was short and sweet. It was just over 200 miles away and the weather was nice. I hated the Georgia roads that messed up my chain length in the first place, but once I was in South Carolina they became silky smooth.

     I was feeling very nostalgic once I reached Beaufort. My family used to have a summer home down there which I visited every summer. This was the place I learned to ride a bicycle, got my first scar, learned to fish and drive a boat. Beaufort was jammed packed full of old memories which I still carried with me.

     The last time I was here it was my 18th birthday. My three best friends and I were celebrating our graduation from high school and enjoying our time together before we went off to college. It was the last time I was in that house before my family sold it the next summer. It seemed only fitting that I finish the biggest accomplishment of my life in this small town, next to graduating high school. But I celebrated that down here too.

     I found a Hampton Inn in downtown Beaufort and got a room for two nights. I really needed to get myself in order, and catch up on food and sleep. I figured that if it took me two days to get from Beaufort to Columbus, I would arrive Friday morning. Friday evening I would make it to my sister’s graduation party. I dropped off my gear, and changed into a swimsuit and a short sleeve shirt. My clothes were dirty, but I would wash them when I got back. I really wanted to touch the water.

     I wasn’t going to make the same mistake touching the water with my boots like I did in California. I rode my bike half an hour to Hunting Island Beach without my boots and the only time on my trip I rode without a helmet. The breeze through my feet felt amazing. It was a sensation I had never experienced before. I made it to the state park and parked my motorcycle, and took the familiar path to the beach next to the lighthouse.

     The sense of accomplishment I experienced at that beach was even greater than the one I felt in San Francisco. Sure, San Francisco was the goal of my journey, but going coast to coast was an even larger undertaking. I finally got the satisfaction I had been looking for my entire journey.

Hunting Island Beach

     I wasn’t at the beach very long. I called my family to tell them I had officially made it coast to coast, and then left. I was going to come back to the beach the next day, so I would have plenty of time to enjoy the water. I made a quick stop at a Chic-fil-a after changing my clothes at the hotel. Chic-fil-a was my favorite fast food restaurant. The nuggets are fried in peanut oil and always tasted delicious. Chic-fil-a is also one of the few places that had waffle fries. I finished dinner quickly and headed back to the hotel for a night’s sleep.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 19: Macon, GA. Monday, May 26, 2014

     I went outside in the morning to get some fresh air and check that no one had stolen my bike overnight. Liz was still there, so I went to the gas station next door and bought some beef jerky. Then I went back into the hotel, locked my door, and prepared for a day of sitting in front of my computer. I would leave this room only one other time that day to stock up on more beef jerky. Beef jerky isn’t nutritious, but it was the closest thing I was going to have to a real meal.

I called my dad and described the hotel I was staying at. He laughed, which made me feel a bit better since he didn’t seem to be too concerned with my safety. I didn’t really give him all the details of the hotel until after I returned home, which completely changed his perspective. At the time, his reassuring words were all I needed.

     Before my trip, I had a serious addiction to the PC game Farming Simulator. It was a game that, you guessed it, simulated being a farmer. It was actually an extremely boring and repetitive game, but it was terribly addictive. The CD was already loaded in the tray of my laptop, and I pulled it up for the only time during my journey. 

     I made it just past the title screen before I felt a sharp anxiousness. It was the kind of anxiousness you feel the day before a big test, and you are still procrastinating. All this time I had kept myself busy; eating and drinking, sleeping, riding, and gas stops were the only part of the equation up until this point, with the exception of a few isolated hours during the previous day. I felt like I was wasting time, even though this was the only opportunity I had to truly relax. I still couldn’t do it. I had to be doing something productive, so I pulled up my online journal with the unreliable internet service and wrote as much about the trip as I could remember. It ended up being the smarter decision, because I wrote late into the night and was able to double the size of my journal. Writing didn’t really dissolve my fears over the situation that I was presented with or make time appear to move faster, but it did give me something to do while waiting to get out of that prison. It really was a prison. I was stuck in that room because I was overconfident with my lacking mechanical abilities, and now I was serving time for it. This analogy is only further proven by the felons that inhabited the hotel.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 18: Cartersville, GA - Macon, GA. Sunday, May 25, 2014

     I woke up extremely tired at about 5:30 in the morning. I couldn’t budge. Beaufort, South Carolina was only 350 miles away, so I figured the ride was short enough to tackle with a few extra hours. I just fell back asleep.

     I got up again at around 8:30. This time, I had just enough energy to crawl out of my broken tent and pack my bike. I went to the camp office to make sure my late registration was kosher. The manager told me that the tent spots were actually under renovations, and so I wasn’t going to be charged for the night. Sweet.

     Along my way, I pulled up next to an older motorcyclist who had a 1978 BMW r80/7. It was in great condition, but we didn’t talk too long before the light turned green.

     I was about 80 miles outside of Atlanta, Georgia in Macon when my motorcycle started vibrating again. Georgia roads are the worst in the country. The vibration wasn’t too bad, but I felt it could still use some attention. I pulled off to a Shell station, and check my chain. The manual called for ¾” of slack, but I had about 1 ¼” of slack.

     I thought it would be a simple fix. I just needed to adjust the tension bolts on the back of the bike, except I should have had it on the center stand because there was too much load on the rear tire. As a result, when I went to tighten the chain (which I did too much) the wheel popped far back so the chain was under extreme pressure. The load was so strong that I bent the tension bolts as I was trying to turn them to get it back in working order. My bike wasn’t going anywhere.

     I searched up every motorcycle repair shop in Macon, but they were all closed on Sundays. Tomorrow was Memorial day, so nothing was going to be open for another two days. I painstakingly pushed my 500 pound bike with 75 pounds of gear under heavy chain pressure to the hotel next door and parked it near the entrance of the hotel. I couldn’t push it uphill to an open parking spot by myself since the pressure on the chain was just too great.

     I tried to buy a room for two nights at the Palm Tree Inn Extended Stay. All of my information was in the system, but when I reached for my wallet, it was gone.

     I went back to the gas station, but it wasn’t in the parking lot. I asked the gas station attendant if anyone brought it in, and she said no. Finally, I saw a black rectangle in the street. I picked it up, and sure enough, I had my wallet back. I kicked myself for putting it on the seat of the bike instead of securing it in the tank bag.

     I paid for the two night stay and checked in to my room. It was dirty and in desperate need of a renovation. There were some holes in the wall. The grubby, old air conditioning unit struggled to keep the room cool. The sheets were stained and there were dead bugs in it. There was even a tube television. I haven’t seen one of those in a while. The carpet was also stained and dirty. The fire alarm had been removed and was on the desk. The bathroom was moldy and there were no towels of any sort. I wasn’t going to shower here.

The crappy room I lived in for two days 

Only the best at the Palm Tree Inn Extended Stay

     I’m sure at one point when the hotel was a Motel 6 that it was half decent, but now it was a mess. Cigarette butts lined the floor of the “nonsmoking” hotel. There was trash everywhere. I was thankful I couldn’t smell, but the air still made me dizzy.

     I brought out a dirty cart to my bike, unloaded my stuff, and brought everything in. The first thing I did was check on my computer to see that the hotel had Wifi. The concierge didn’t mention wifi, so I really hoped that I would have access to the internet. I was going to be here for a while.

     Nope, nope, nope. The hotel didn’t have Wifi, and I went through all of the hot spots in the area, but they were all secured. I tried to use my phone as a 3G hotspot for my computer, but I needed to purchase an extension from Verizon. Finally, I tried accessing my journal on my phone, but the file was too large to transfer through 3G. I really shouldn’t have uploaded the pictures until I was done.

     I made one last ditch effort to check the local hotspots again. I tried the Wifi of “Motel 6”, and to my surprise, popped up on my open browser. Thank you, Motel 6, for living on after the hotel staff killed you long ago. Since I had so much time, I crawled in to bed and took a four hour nap. Like I said before, time is a luxury and I only eat and sleep just as much as I need to to function.

     Of course when I got up, I was really hungry. I walked about a mile and a half by the side of the road to a Longhorn’s Steakhouse. I ate a 16 ounce prime rib in no time, and then walked another mile and a half back to the hotel.

     I witnessed a drug deal just outside the motel on my way in. If there were as many mechanics here as there were drug dealers, I would have been in good shape. I wasn’t that lucky though. Since I had so much extra time, for the first time during my journey, I actually spent time relaxing. No racing the clock to the next campsite. No talking to strangers. No worrying; at least that’s what I told myself.

     I was a bit concerned when one of the patrons even asked what my colors were. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was asking what gang I belonged to. Apparently, there was a gang staying in this hotel a few rooms over. Whatever, I had no beef with them.

     I looked up online at the reviews for this hotel. They started to scare me, so I just closed my browser and pretended everything was fine. I was really scared though. I don’t think I had ever felt that unsafe in my life.

     I considered leaving, but I wouldn’t be able to push my bike up the hill to get it out of the parking lot. It was stuck here, and I wasn’t going to leave my motorcycle. I called my sister, because she usually helped me feel better. The conversation only made me feel worse, as my bike breaking down could mean that I miss her high school graduation party.

     At the very least, I found it easy to fall asleep. It had been a long and terrible day.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 17: Memphis, TN - Cartersville, GA. Saturday, May 24, 2014

     It was still dark when I was packing up my tent, and I was feeling kinda groggy. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I broke one of the tent poles. I was having a really rough morning. I didn’t care. I had dealt with way worse problems on my trip, and this was only a minor inconvenience. The sad thing was that it had only just paid for itself in savings versus a cabin, but I would have liked to have a cabin all the other times I used a tent. I should have bought the two person tent so I could actually sit up in it at the very least. Before long I was packed and ready to go to North Carolina.

     I only made it 50 miles northeast of Memphis when I changed my mind decided to stop in Birmingham, Alabama before reaching Atlanta, Georgia by the end of the day. I had never been to Mississippi, Alabama, or Louisiana, but Louisiana was too far south to include in the day’s trip and still reach the east coast on time.

     It took me about 4 hours to get to Birmingham, but I didn’t see anything interesting. It was really surprising; how uninteresting the city was, in a bizarre kind of way. It was a great looking city, but something seemed out of place.

     I was almost on my way back on the highway when it hit me: the streets were vacant. I have been to a lot of cities; LA, San Francisco, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis and other smaller towns and villages. Some were large and some were small but all of them had at least some traffic. Birmingham didn’t have any traffic. It was rare to see a car on the road. Maybe I was missing something.

All the streets of Birmingham were empty 

     Between Birmingham and Atlanta, the scenery reminded me of South Carolina. I couldn’t put it in exact words, but the trees, grass and just the feel of the environment was exactly like South Carolina, except without palm trees and water.

Alabama and Georgia scenery 

     I put in effort to see Atlanta before I reached Cartersville. I’m not sure why I did. By then I should have known that cities are just as exciting as the country unless I have a reason to be there. The most the city did for me was provide a place for me to take a picture as proof that I was there.

Atlanta: famous for providing places for people to take pictures of the city

     I was at the campsite fifteen minutes before closing time, but I found the office doors locked. I considered going to a hotel nearby, but I didn’t want to spend the money. I filled out a late registration form for a tent spot, dropped it in the registration box, and went to one of the few tent spots that weren’t reserved.

     Since I didn’t get the info packet from the office, I didn’t know what the Wifi password was. I really wanted to catch up on my journal, so I asked an older man who just outside the cabin next to my tent spot. He said they never told him what it was either. Since I had nothing better to do, I started a conversation with him. I was really glad I did.

     I told him about my trip, and he recalled memories of his time after he came back from the war in Vietnam. He and five friends bought motorcycles, and went on an 8 month trip around the entire United States. They saw absolutely everything the country had to offer, from the redwoods in California to the east coast and everything in between. When he wasn’t riding, he gambled and acquainted himself with every woman within reach. He told me the best times to gamble were Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Monday was when the casinos got their money back. I’m not a big gambler, but it was nice to know if I ever went to Vegas.

     Today, he was camping with his sons. He lived in Florida but had a sister who lived nearby. He had a lot of siblings growing up in New York, but none of them stayed there. One lived in Maine, another in Arkansas, one in Phoenix. He said he was going to go camping again because he hadn’t seen his sister in Colorado in a while. We wished each other good luck and I started a fire in what looked like a makeshift fire pit. None of the other tent spots had a fire pit, so I didn’t know if the previous camper just made one and left it or not. I didn’t care if I was allowed to start a fire. I could always say that the pit was there when I set up, so I had a pretty good excuse. I ended up seeing one of the campsite staff and got the Wifi password: “happycamping”. I updated my journal late into the night before setting up my broken tent.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 16: Sallisaw, OK - Memphis, TN. Friday, May 23, 2014

     I was shocked to see that it was bright outside when I got out of bed and opened the curtains of the cabin. I checked the time: 7:00 am. I was so used to being up earlier that it felt like most of the day was already gone. I wasted no time packing my motorcycle and was out of the campsite by 8.

     I only had about 300 miles to the next campsite on the Arkansas side of Memphis, so I wasn’t really that concerned about getting there on time. I did want to fit in my last oil change of the trip as well as a desperately needed wash for my motorcycle, since those things always take a lot of time.

     The weather that day was fantastic. It was just warm enough that I wouldn’t have to wear any layers including my leather jacket, but it was cool enough that I wasn’t spending much time pulled over by the side of the road for Gatorade breaks.

     I was hoping to see the city of Little Rock, but the interstate took me around it. It was just another city to me, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on too much. I pulled over at a rest stop and had a small chat with a truck driver. He said that he had finished the 72 ounce steak in Amarillo. The secret was to cut the steak up into tiny pieces to the point at which he could eat it with a spoon. That way the steak takes up less room in the stomach. I finished off a bottle of Gatorade and heading back on the road.

     I had had a lot of conversations with truck drivers, and my journey gave me a high respect for them. I knew what it felt like mile after mile in complete isolation, and only sparing time to eat and sleep. The road can really get to you after a while. It can make you crazy, and the only socialization that you get is short small talk with random strangers.

     About 50 miles before I reached Memphis, my motorcycle started rumbling terribly. It was vibrating so strongly that I didn’t think I would make it to Memphis. I knew it was the chain just because of the way the ride felt, and I was worried that by the time I reached a mechanic that my sprockets would be toast. Most shops don’t carry sprockets for a 1973 CB750, so if they were shredded, my trip was over. Even if they had to replace just the chain, I would need it readjusted 500 miles later.

     I went straight to a Honda dealership on the Tennessee side of Memphis. I had them do an oil change and tighten the chain. I waited anxiously for an hour and a half in the dealership lounge, but I had to calm myself down so I talked to another motorcyclist. He was a heavy, older man, who said he had a Honda VTX cruiser and was getting it serviced. Whenever the weather was good, he would take it down to Mississippi for a day.

     I told him about my journey, which he found amazing but somewhat hard to believe. Maybe it was the way I phrased it:

“I’m from Columbus, Ohio, but I made a quick stop in San Francisco before coming here to Memphis, Tennessee”.

     I told him I was just a teenager, and he said that they should make a documentary about me. I said I had a journal, which he thought was a great idea. Our conversation didn’t last too long before his bike’s oil change was done. At about the time that he left the dealership, a representative called for me.

“Your oil looks very good. It’s not sludgy or burnt, so your engine must be in very good shape. As for the chain, it was very loose, but we tightened it. Both the sprockets and chain look good.”

     I let out a major sigh of relief. Labor and parts set me back about a hundred dollars, but I was so glad that I would be back on the road.

     I went to the campsite, but not before stopping at a gas station and having a freak out moment where I thought I lost my credit card. I found that I had put it behind my driver’s license when I left the dealership, but I really didn’t need any more scares for the day. I ended up talking to an older gentleman for 15 minutes who had a custom motorcycle shop, and wanted a picture of my bike since he hadn’t seen one in a long time. He said if I ever wanted to deck out my motorcycle, I could bring it to his shop. After he took a few pictures, I headed out of the gas station parking lot.

     When I reached the campsite half an hour away, I bought a tent spot, unloaded my luggage, and headed straight back to a car wash next to the dealership where I had my bike serviced. I wasn’t worried that anyone would steal my stuff. There were other motorcyclists camping near my tent spot. I trusted that they would make sure no one took anything.

     Memphis had the most cops of any place I have ever seen. They were everywhere on the highway, and there were five parked across the street from the car wash. I even saw a guy being arrested as I was waiting for my motorcycle to cool.

     I couldn’t immediately wash my motorcycle because the engine was still too hot from riding on the highway. To pass the time, I sparked up a conversation with a guy who was detailing the wheels of his clean, late model, black Dodge Charger.

     He noticed my bike, and said that he used to ride a similar bike when he was little. His dad once bought a beat up old motorcycle and spent 3 weeks welding parts together to rebuild the frame and get the thing running. I said that there was a lot of money in building custom motorcycles, asked if his dad ever thought about it. He said that at one point his dad did own a custom shop, but he had several strokes that prevented him from continuing, and now he was living in Mississippi on social security checks.

     He said that he had a late model Honda VTX cruiser, but he didn’t ride it too often. People in Memphis have no regard for motorcyclists on the road, and it was kinda dangerous. I told him about my lane sharing experiences in LA, to which he told me I could do it in Memphis but it wasn’t legal. He asked if he could get a picture with my motorcycle because, like the gentleman at the gas station, it had been so long since he had seen one. He gave me his phone and I got a few good shots before giving it back to him. Before he left, he gave me a free salad coupon good at the Wendy’s nearby. He said he was a manager at a Wendy’s that was further than the one up the street, and if I went the extra distance and mentioned to the staff that he sent me, they would take care of me. I really appreciated the offer, but I was in the mood for some Memphis ribs. 

     I cleaned my bike, but not before getting a bill stuck in the wash vending machine and going around the corner to a laundromat for change so I could use the coin acceptor instead. My motorcycle looked fantastic after the wash, and I went to Leonard’s Pit BBQ.

The outside of Leonard’s Pit BBQ

     Leonard’s Pit BBQ looked pretty ordinary from the outside, but it all ends there. Inside the restaurant there was a 1940s or 50s era truck smack dab in the middle of the dining room, with 50s style decor on the walls.

The dining room of Leonard’s Pit BBQ 

     Memphis is known for its ribs, so I ordered a slab of dry ribs. As I was waiting, I saw two people stop and check out Liz, including a police officer. I don’t think any kind of Harley could attract as much attention as my bike did that day. When ribs arrived at my table, I found them to be even better than the ribs I had in Kansas City from Jack Stack BBQ. They were incredibly tender and spicy, but not overwhelming so. I don’t think I’ve ever downed a slab of ribs as quickly as I did at Leonard’s.

     I passed the police officer on the way to the restroom. I was still wearing my shorty gloves (the kind that only motorcyclists wear), so he knew the bike belonged to me. We had a short conversation about the bike. He couldn’t believe it was in such good shape for its age. He told me he had a Victory motorcycle, but not one of the big touring bikes with all the fairing. It was a stripped down, naked sportster. He also said he wasn’t a police officer. He was a security guard for the restaurant. The crime rate in Memphis was even worse than I thought. Even as I went back to my table, I saw the waitress with a security device, and she was about to reach for my wallet to put it behind the front counter. She told me that I clearly had never been to Memphis before. I won’t make that mistake again.

Even better ribs! 

I went back to the campsite just outside the city. To no surprise (even in Memphis), no one had touched my stuff. I set up my tent and got inside, but I struggled to fall asleep.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 15: Amarillo, TX - Sallisaw, OK. Thursday, May 22, 2014

     I woke up at 3:00 am feeling ready for the 400 mile journey to the campsite along the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. I cleaned out my water bottles and packed up my motorcycle for the day’s trip. Yet only an hour into my ride, I was overcome with exhaustion.

     I thought for the longest time that my exhaustion was due to dehydration. That certainly was the case when i was crossing deserts, but I was now in the plains. I had been feeling very tired every day since I left Ohio. I was getting enough rest, so it couldn't be sleep deprivation. I was eating plenty of food, so it couldn’t be lack of energy, or so I thought.

     It wasn't until I pulled off the highway at an abandoned gas station and reached for a stick of beef jerky that I realized why I was getting so tired all the time. Beef jerky; Calories: 120. I scanned the nutrition facts label of my Gatorade bottle. Gatorade; Calories: 80. I had been eating a lot of food only to realize now that there was no energy content in anything I was eating. I was taking more breaks than I needed to and suffering exhaustion needlessly because I was eating the wrong foods.

One of the many abandoned gas stations in the west 

     Simple problems have simple solutions. I took my bike 10 miles up the highway to a gas station that wasn’t abandoned. I looked at the nutrition facts label of a few different foods when I came upon 250 calorie skittles. I grabbed a handful, paid, and munched down two of them.

     Within two hours, I was feeling on top of the world again, and better than most days on the road (except for the days I had a high calorie McDonald’s meal or a 72 ounce steak). The remaining 150 miles to camp was a breeze.

     The terrain changed in Oklahoma from the dry, desert looking atmosphere to the greener, tree covered, Ohio feel. It definitely felt more like home. The only unwelcome change was the bugs. There were no bugs in the west, but they were everywhere here. I didn’t care though. I was just glad to be somewhere that reminded me of home.

     I stopped in Oklahoma City. From the highway, it looked like the most average city in America. If I googled “City”, I’m sure the first result would be a picture of Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City: The most spectacularly average city in the United States

     I stopped in a parking space downtown and checked my phone. I was craving a good burger, and found Bricktown Burgers just down the street. Bricktown Burgers was well decorated inside, with various vintage signs covering the walls. I approached the counter, ordered a burger, and waited until they called my name.

     The burger they handed to me was just like Oklahoma City itself. It looked very ordinary. But when I took my first bite, I was transported to a world of juicy and fatty heaven. This was no ordinary burger. It was handcrafted by artisans of the highest skill, and I had the privilege of experiencing the greatest burger of my entire 19 year old life. I finished the whole thing almost before I could even taste it. Maybe Oklahoma was the same way. Ordinary from the outside, but full of hidden treasure. I just wish I had the time to experience it.

     That burger fueled me to the KOA campsite in Sallisaw, but I almost left the campsite in anger. I was there early at about 4:00 and went into the office. The owner was talking to another guy for a whole ten minutes while I was just standing in front of the desk where he was standing. After he had finished, I said at least three times that I wanted to pay for some detergent with my cabin, which he forgot. Then the phone rang and he was talking on the phone while his daughter of about 8 years rang up my detergent. To finish it all off, he forgot to give me my cabin key. I made it to my motorcycle when I remembered seeing the keys on the counter. I went back in, took them, and left.

     At the very least, after the phone conversation was over and he was giving me the usual camp instructions, he said firewood was $5. Then he realized he had pretty much ignored me for the last ten minutes and said:

“I don’t normally do this, but you can use the cut down trees in the nature walk for free firewood”.

     Damn straight.

My small masterpiece 

     The rest of the night went by much smoother. I did my laundry, then went to McDonalds (because you can never get tired of McDonalds when all you eat is beef jerky, candy bars, and Gatorade), worked on my journal, and built a fire. I took my first shower since I was in LA. The showers weren’t the nicest I had ever seen, but it never felt so good to be clean. I didn’t even care that I had no towel.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 14: Grants, NM - Amarillo, TX. Wednesday, May 21, 2014

     Maybe it was because I overslept, or I ate too much. Maybe the road was finally getting to me. Whatever it was, this day felt like the worst day of the trip. I had about 10 hours of sleep, the most of any day so far (not counting the 5 hour nap I took the previous day). I also had the most to eat this day. I stopped at two McDonalds and also ate more bags of beef jerky than I can count. My biggest problem seemed to be that there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

     Time was a luxury that I never had enough of. I thought at the beginning of my trip that I would have more downtime than I would know what to do with. That was why I brought my laptop. Now, if I wasn't on the road or sleeping, which usually took up the entire day, I could be doing laundry, showering, cleaning my bike, helmet, or water bottles, updating my journal, or a host of other things to prepare myself for the next day.

     On my way to Texas, I stopped at a gas station. That is, what was left of it.

Guess I’m not getting gas 

     Abandoned gas stations were common in the more western states of the U.S.A, but I had never seen one eaten by an inferno. I was really hoping to fill up on Gatorade because I was completely out, but the next gas station in an actual town nearby worked the same.

     Traffic in Albuquerque actually wasn’t too bad. I really didn’t know I was passing through the city until I was ascending the mountain just east of the city. The steep climb up the mountain didn’t last too long either, and it quickly flattened out. As expected, the higher altitude chilled the air, and I stopped at the same visitor’s center where I met the man from Wisconsin who travelled South America. I really wished I hadn’t lost his business card. I filled up my tank and continued through New Mexico.

     The desert in eastern New Mexico was warmer on the return than it was when I first crossed it. The first time I went through it, the temperature was fifty five degrees. Now it was a pleasant eighty degrees. I was still feeling inexplicably tired and down, though. I thought Amarillo was a really small town. Coming from the east on back roads, I only saw a small section of it. Coming from the west on the Interstate Highway, I could see the entire city. It really was a city, not a town. Medium sized office complexes, tons of restaurants and things to do; I missed it all the last time I was here. By the time I reached camp though, I was so tired from the ride that all I could do was go to sleep. It was rather windy, so I took another cabin.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 13: Holbrook, AZ - Grants, NM. Tuesday, May 20, 2014

     I didn’t really sleep the night before. Even after my strange rattlesnake experience, I forced myself up at 5:30 in the morning. I only had a few hours of sleep. It was just enough to get me going, but only for a while. I was riding on borrowed energy, and it was about to run out.

     I passed the same gas station where I bought the magnet for my gas tank, and bought another one in case I lost the first one, as well as a Route 66 mug. I like collecting mugs for some reason. I love coffee, and having lots of mugs is convenient. I didn’t have room to carry the mug on my bike because it was delicate, so I went across the street to the post office to ship my spare magnet, mug, and the rain jacket that I never used back home.

     I made it just over 150 miles to Grants, New Mexico before my body told me that it had reached its limit. My brain was absolutely fried. I couldn’t think, and I could hardly keep my eyes open and on the road. Grants was a one horse town, but it was nice that I didn’t to have to deal with traffic and the city of Albuquerque. I checked into a cabin at the local KOA, pulled the equipment into my cabin, and slept very deeply for 5 hours straight. I really needed the rest.

     It was 6:30 pm by the time I was up, and I was really hungry. I was craving BBQ, so I searched up the only BBQ restaurant in the town. When I got there, it looked like it had been closed down for years, so I went down the street to the burger joint “Badlands Burgers” and ate there.

“Badlands Burgers” where I had dinner

     The inside of the burger joint was empty, except for the owner and two of his kids. Since there weren’t any other customers and he noticed that I was alone, He decided to start a conversation with me that lasted through dinner.

The inside of “Badlands Burgers”

     We talked about the Pacific Coast Highway. I asked him if he had ever been on it. He said he went most of the way in his truck. He also used to live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and has seen most of I-40. I probably should have asked him what brought him from a large city in North Carolina to a place like Grants, New Mexico, but the burger was so good that I got lost in it. We didn’t talk too much about my trip before I headed out; my sense of taste overwhelmed my sense of sound.

     Back at camp, I had just pulled out my laptop when an older, nicely dressed man smoking a cigar stopped and looked at my bike. He spoke in a deep German accent.

“Is this your motorcycle?”
“Yeah. I’m on my way cross country across the United States.”
“It’s interesting. I don’t see a lot of Americans going coast to coast”

     He was certainly right. The only American I met going coast to coast was the motorcyclist I met just outside of Kansas City. He continued:

“It’s great that you are doing this. Many things will happen to you in life; but no matter what, no one will be able to take this experience away from you. So what do you do for a living?”

“I worked at Kroger for 5 ½ years before I went on this trip. I’m a student”.
“What are you studying?”
“Business. I want to be a fund manager”.

“Ahh. I do a lot of that sort of thing. I’m looking at several companies now, but I think the market is going to fall soon. I might sell my stocks and go into commodities for the time being”.

     With that statement, a light bulb turned on in my mind.

“Well, wouldn’t that be a bad idea? Even if you were 100% sure the market was going to collapse, if you sold now and it took a year or two for the economy to follow, you would be losing capital gains and dividends in the process. When it finally does collapse, you don’t know if the stock prices will fall enough to offset capital gains taxes and brokerage fees you will incur from selling. I also wouldn’t go into commodities unless I was the producer of a commodity. Say I bought some diamonds in South Africa. What stops a diamond mine from flooding the market tomorrow and devaluing my holdings?”

     I think he opened up a little after I said that. Maybe it wasn’t something he was expecting a teenager in a leather jacket to say at a campsite in the middle of nowhere. We then had a long discussion about the global economy and the stupidity of derivatives and banks, as well as different investing strategies. I could tell this guy was pretty well off, and not just because he told me he downsized from a million dollar home to a $400,000 townhouse for extra investing money. He had the mind of a true value investor, and he had the knowledge to back it up. A commodities discussion took us into salmon fishing, and he told me that the sonar system Alaska uses to track the fish population is accurate to the hundreds. Fishing is regulated so there is just the right amount of fish along the coast to reproduce. I absolutely loved the conversation. I checked the reviews for “Badlands Burgers”. I wanted to know why the restaurant was so empty, as there is usually a very good reason. Nope. It was a very highly rated restaurant, and everyone seemed to have a good experience. The food, as I experienced myself, was fantastic. I was actually baffled that the restaurant wasn’t as busy as it should have been. Maybe it was just an off day for the restaurant.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 12: Los Angeles, CA - Holbrook, AZ. Monday, May 19, 2014

     I was so tired the night before; I forgot to take the luggage cart back downstairs before going to sleep. I don’t like to inconvenience other people, but whatever. I wanted to leave later in the day so I could take the Mojave Desert in the evening when it was cooler. I was in the middle of packing my bike when one of the hotel managers saw my bike. He said that he used to have a CB750 just like mine decades ago, and we talked about my bike. He now has a Honda VTX cruiser, and also informed me that the desert is supposed to be cooler today.

     Everyone I met along my journey who was old enough to remember the CB750 had one. I recall a conversation I had with a truck driver on Route 1. He said that back in the old days, motorcycles were not specialized. They didn’t have sport tourers, superbikes, commute bikes, touring cruisers, and many other different specialized categories. In the 70’s one only had a choice between a Harley (if he was crazy, since they were super low quality and leaked all the time), or a Japanese or British bike (which is what everyone had). Even the dirt bikes at the time were just modified versions of a street bike.

     As a result, when one bought a motorcycle, they bought an all-around, balanced bike. The CB750 was the world’s first superbike or sports bike. It was the fastest motorcycle in the world with a 125 mph top speed. It could easily carry as much luggage as one could feasibly fit on it. It could go off road (the manual under the seat even said it had “limited off road capabilities”). It could even climb steep mountains, including the streets of San Francisco. It could do everything, and do everything very well.

     I left the hotel at about 11:30 am, and stopped at a gas station to fill my bike for the day’s trip. I saw another motorcyclist who seemed to be having engine trouble with his custom chopper. I talked to him for a while, and he showed me a gas leak that seemed to be emanating from the air filter. There had to be something wrong with the carburetor. He started it up, and it was running really rough. I put my hand near the end of the exhaust pipe. The exhaust out of one of the pipes was hot, but the other was stone cold. He was only running on one cylinder.

     I asked if he had replaced the spark plugs recently, but he told me it had been a long time. Those needed to be replaced. I can’t smell, so I couldn’t smell for excess gas indicating a flooded engine from the carburetor. Either way, he also had to get the carburetor looked at.

     He told me it runs better when he has the choke on, but I said if he tried to get it home with the choke on, it could damage the engine. I let him borrow my phone, and he called a friend to pick him up. I didn’t want to stick around too long so I wished him luck and headed out.

     I took Interstate 40 through the Mojave Desert again. My phone told me that it was about 100 degrees, but it didn’t feel like it. Maybe I was just getting used to the heat, and this time I knew what I was doing. I stopped in the same places for gas as I did before: Ludlow and another isolated gas station. Before I knew it, I had passed through the desert, and was on my way to Flagstaff.

     It was around this time that I really started to feel the failing bushings. It made my motorcycle a little harder to control, but it was still pretty stable at higher speeds. It was concerning, but I had no choice but to carry on.

     I stopped just outside the desert at a rest stop to make a reservation at the campsite. I knew I was going to get to Flagstaff at night because I left the hotel so late. Unfortunately, all I got was the answering machine, even though the camp office didn’t close for another 2 hours (it was 6:00 pm by then). I found another KOA campsite another hundred miles east. It was going to be a hike; my total distance for the day was going to be around 600 miles. I figured that the trip had put me in good shape, and I was prepared for it. I made a reservation further east in Holbrook, Arizona.

     My biggest mistake of the day was getting so caught up in the ride and the distance that I had to travel that I forgot to eat. If one doesn’t eat, his body produces less heat in order to conserve energy. Perhaps this is why the desert didn’t bother me so much. As soon as I passed the desert and into the mountains, I regretted neglecting meals. It was in the low 50s, but my body was completely starved of energy. As a result, I was as cold, or even colder, than I was when I passed into Dodge City, Kansas.

     It was a rough evening, and I was extremely tired. I can only remember doing one thing that kept me going on the road. Whenever I reached a point where I felt I could go no farther, I would glance up at the stars. There weren’t a lot of people living in the mountains, so the sky was completely clear of city lights. I saw ever star, even the smallest ones. The night sky gave me a feeling of hope, and even my motorcycle gave me comfort.

     Elizabeth is a very different machine. Most new motorcycles are fuel injected, which essentially means that they behave exactly the same from the moment they are started up until the moment they are turned off. They are extremely robotic. Liz is carbureted, which means that her behavior depends very much on the humidity, temperature of the air, temperature of the engine, and other factors.

     As a result, Liz has the gift of a personality. She hates waking up in the morning. She will behave sluggishly and depressed until she gets fully warm. She acts in a similar way when it's hot, or if it's rainy. Her mood changes depending on how nice the weather is.

     In a strange and almost mystifying way, this personality seems to transcend into the supernatural. There were a few times when I was close to my destination, exhausted and hungry, and the weather was far from perfect. She would run very strongly, almost as if she knew that we were almost there. I'm not one to believe in extraneous forces, but I was sure she was looking out for me, especially that night.

     I took breaks in a few gas stations on the rest of the ride to Holbrook, but I didn’t seem to warm up at all. I had a long conversation with a gas station attendant late at night. All I remember was that he was a medical student, and that he used to have a sportbike. I was too tired to remember too many details about the conversation, or even that day. When I reached the campsite at two in the morning, I ate all the beef jerky I brought with me. It warmed me up a little, but not much. Then I set up my tent, which was extremely painful given how tired I was. I needed a real meal, but I was too tired to go anywhere. By 2:30, I was fast asleep.

     I woke up in the middle of the night to hear a strange hissing noise. I opened my tent and took a look. I saw very vividly rattlesnakes moving around outside my tent on the other side of the gravel driveway. The hissing was quite loud, but I decided to inspect the area anyway. As I moved closer to where they were, they got bigger. I shined my flashlight on one, and it vanished, as did the others when I moved my light. There were a few sprinklers on which were causing the hissing, but there were no snakes. I must have pushed myself too hard that day, because I realized that I was having very vivid hallucinations. I didn’t have any strange gas station energy pills, but lack of sleep, lack of food, and riding 600 miles through the Mojave Desert and the Rockies with no windshield was taking a serious toll on my health. My body was starting to shut down.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 11: San Francisco, CA - Los Angeles, CA. Sunday, May 18, 2014

     I didn’t take most of Route 1 on the way to San Francisco, so I wanted to be sure I could see everything I missed on the way back to LA. Traffic wasn’t too bad in San Francisco, so I didn’t have to lane share to get out of town.

     Before I got on the Route 1, I stopped at a gas station and talked to some other motorcyclists. There was a middle age man who said he had been riding motorcycles since he first got a dirt bike when he was 9. He was now 49. He said he had never been east of Nevada though.

     There was another motorcyclist in her 30s or 40s who was with him. She had just recently picked up riding a year and a half ago. She didn’t seem to know too much about how her motorcycle worked. I told her I had six months of riding experience on her, and that I was crossing the country, which the two bikers found hard to believe until I showed them my Ohio plates.

     I’m really glad I traded the fast route for the scenic South Pacific Highway. Most of Route 1 hugged the coastline, especially in the northern parts of the road by the mountains. I took the most pictures here. The view all along the highway was breathtaking, and the highway, I’m glad, was very long.

A view just off Route 1 

The view on top of a mountain by the water 

Another view from the mountain. My bike was behind the white truck and just barely visible. 

The highway went on for many miles, as visible in the picture 

     It was nice that there were so many clearings by the side of the highway to stop and take a picture. Some views were better than others, but all of them were picture worthy.

Liz parked in a clearing off the highway

     There were so many elevation changes and winding roads that it began to wear me out, so I took more breaks than usual for food and water to perk me up. Northern Route 1 was beautiful, but it was also in the middle of nowhere. There weren’t many gas stations or shops, and I didn’t have cell service until I was halfway to Los Angeles.

     Speaking of getting worn down, I wasn’t actually getting fatigued anymore. Every time I felt weak or tired, it was usually because I was hungry, thirsty, or just needed to stretch my legs. I was riding from sun up to sun down over 500 miles a day, and it was nice to be fully awake to see the South Pacific Highway, among other places. I was getting in good shape from my distance riding.

     I stopped in a small tourist area which hugged Route 1. Everything was expensive. Burgers were almost $7. I decided that it wasn’t worth taking a break from my gas station diet for a 7 dollar burger, so I got a Starbucks priced coffee which I felt I really needed.

     I met an older motorcyclist who said he was from the Midwest. The conversation started when I saw him looking at my CB750 on his CB1100, which was the modern version of my bike. He didn’t travel on his motorcycle; he was RVing his way across the country and had his motorcycle stored in a “toy box” on the RV. I said that I was really interested in purchasing a CB1100 when I finished college, and asked him about it. He said that because the engine was so large and forward, it put a lot of weight on the front tire. As a result, tire changes were frequent. The engine also didn’t have a lot of power for its size. My engine was much better tuned. I decided that if I was going to spend as much money as that motorcycle cost, I would find something with a little more power. We didn’t talk too long before he parked it and went into tourist area, and I continued riding.

     It was surreal travelling on Route 1 for hundreds of miles. It was so beautiful for so long that I began getting tired of it. I knew it was a road that I would rarely ever see again, but I can only enjoy the same thing for so long before it starts to feel normal.

     I didn’t see a whole lot of other motorcyclists taking Route 1. Those who were I spoke to, and most of them were Germans who didn’t speak a lot of English. I guess Americans really aren’t that adventurous. I saw most of Route 1 but it was starting to get late. I left Route 1 at the point I made it to when taking the highway north, and followed 101 to Los Angeles. Along the way, I saw an amazing town seated on the beach.

A view of the town just off 101

     I don’t know what the town was called, but it was very clean and well maintained. I only stayed around long enough for gas, but it was neat that the gas station was right next to the beach. As a matter of fact, everything was next to the beach. The whole town was a beach. The sand even made its way onto the streets. 

     I carried on as the day turned into evening. I stopped at a vista point. Vista points in California were essentially rest stops, except they are accommodated by fantastic views. I wish Kansas had rest stops like these.

A view from a vista point 

     It was dark by the time I reached LA. There wasn’t much traffic, so I was happy I didn’t have to lane share again to the hotel. I had done enough lane sharing for one lifetime. Strangely though, my journey felt rather incomplete. I had already seen so much of the country, but something was missing. I figured that I had made it as far as the west coast, and that I should reach the east coast before I got home. It might have been because my good buddy David joked that I was on a halfass cross country trip without reaching the other coast. I knew he was kidding, but it still struck something deep. Peer pressure all the way.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 10: San Francisco, CA. Saturday, May 17, 2014

     San Francisco was a neat city. Traffic wasn’t as bad as LA, but it felt like absolutely no thought went into layout of the streets. Maybe the civil engineers weren’t paid enough. The city was a maze. In some places, the roads went up at such a high angle that I thought I was going to fall over backwards on my motorcycle.

     My first stop was at a Starbucks. I had a craving for a white mocha frappuccino early in the morning. Then I went to a motorcycle shop since Liz really needed an oil change and new spark plugs, but they were closed. After a little research on my phone, I found another shop just a mile away.

     R.C. Engineering in downtown San Francisco was as good of a shop as the “Cafe Racer” in Kansas City. It was significantly smaller; the width of the shop was about as wide as a small alleyway, but the staff was extremely knowledgeable. They inspected my bike and found deep crevices in my tires, so I decided to save myself the risk and get two new tires. I asked one of the shop owners out of curiosity if they had a replacement turn signal lens for my bike, and to my surprise, she gave me a straight “yes”.

     She took me upstairs to a small room filled to the brim with hundreds of spare parts. It was mostly a mess, but we went through a few boxes of turn signal parts and found the lens I was looking for out of the assembly of a turn signal for a different Honda. I took it back to my bike, and it fit perfectly.

     I had two hours to kill until the mechanics finished servicing Liz, so I went for a walk around the city. I stopped at the bike shop where I was originally going to get my bike serviced. I really needed a windshield, but they didn’t sell them anymore.

     I passed into a BMW Motorrad dealership (Motorrad is German for motorcycle), and saw an R 1200 GS Adventure. This was the bike I would have used on my trip if I had all the money in the world. It had a surprising amount of features that would take away all the touring issues I was having with my bike. It had a larger gas tank that I didn’t have to fill up every hundred miles, It had plenty of cargo space, and twice the horsepower. I was still a pretty heavy Honda fan though, and Liz was my bike for life.

     After a conversation with the BMW salesman about several models of BMW motorcycles, he told me I could go into the lounge for a Coke before I headed out. It was hot, so the coke was extremely refreshing. I walked down the street to another motorcycle shop with the same question, and still no windshield. This shop was neat because is sat on a small road, and there must have been fifty or sixty vintage bikes in varying conditions across from the entrance of the shop. With just a few minutes left on the two hour service, I went back to R.C. Engineering, paid $590 for parts and labor.

     I discovered further proof of R.C. Engineering’s competence when I had a small chat with the mechanic. He said that when he changed my motorcycle’s oil, the metal gasket between the spring on the housing and the filter was gone. As long as I have owned that motorcycle, I have never seen it and no one had ever mentioned it to me before. He said that most people throw them away, and of course he had a spare that he put in the filter housing. The mechanic also mentioned that my bike needed new rear fork bushings, and I asked him if my bike would be able to make it back to Ohio. He was unsure, but I didn’t have time for him to order the part. With that, I left the shop and shot up the street on my refreshed bike.

     Elizabeth was riding nicely again, but my phone battery was low on charge. I lost the external battery which charges the phone at the hotel the night before, and I only had the charger for the external battery. I wasn’t going to go back to the hotel to get it. It was a piece of junk. I decided to go to the apple store a few miles away for a car charger adapter, but traffic was really heavy. A little lane sharing solved this problem. I got the adapter for my iPhone and saved my battery just in the nick of time

     I really wanted to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, as it was really my only reason for coming to San Francisco in the first place. When I first saw the bridge, I found it hard to believe that this massive feat of engineering was completed in the 1930s. When I crossed it, it seemed to go on for miles. It probably did.

     On the other side of the bridge, I turned around and took an exit before crossing the bridge again. I went uphill and found an excellent spot to take a picture.

The Golden Gate Bridge 

     This was the only picture I took in San Francisco. It wasn’t that I didn’t find anything else interesting, it was just that the purpose of my journey was Golden Gate, and that was all I was really concerned about. I spent another hour looking for a hotel for the night. There was a major event of some kind going on in San Francisco, so all of the hotels in the city were booked. I found a Hampton Inn in Livermore about half an hour from the city. I rode there, and spent the rest of the day updating my journal.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 9: Los Angeles, CA - San Francisco, CA. Friday, May 16, 2014

     Traffic, Traffic, Traffic. I thought even though it was about 9 or 10 am before I hit the road that I would avoid rush hour traffic. But in LA, rush hour traffic lasts all day, and LA is the most congested city in the United States. My GPS told me I would reach the other side of LA to Route 1 in 3 hours. My time is precious, and this was unacceptable if I wanted to get to San Francisco 500 miles away. I started riding more aggressively; changing lanes often and weaving through traffic. However, traffic was still at a crawl. Then I saw another motorcyclist lane sharing, and it was at that moment that I realized I was in California, where lane sharing is legal.

     For those who are unfamiliar with lane sharing, lane sharing is the dangerous act of passing cars between two lanes of traffic. In any other place in America, I wouldn’t have done this, but I cannot describe just how bad the traffic was. I was passing between stopped cars at 40 mph with just inches of clearance on either side. If a car was pulled out too far for me to lane share, I would pull up behind him and pass from the other side. I wouldn’t lane share if there was any doubt as to whether I could pass. A good combination of lane sharing and traffic weaving got me to the other side of LA in heavy traffic in about 30 minutes.

     I made it to the southern end of Route 1 and parked my bike at a park that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. It was here that I saw the west coast for the first time.

My first view of the west coast

     Route 1 was supposed to be one of the most beautiful roads in the country. No. It was the most beautiful road in the country. Lots of small shops ran along the road until it was just the coast and fresh air. Hugging the very edge of the country, this road went on for hundreds of miles. I pulled off to the side of the road just after reaching Malibu to get to a coastal access point. I walked down the steep steps by the side of the road until I reached the beach floor which was nothing but large pebbles.

     It took me twenty feet to reach the water. I didn’t just touch the water. I let it soak me up to my knees as the waves pushed in. I knew my boots would still be soaked by the end of the day, but I didn’t care. I went up the steep cliff again, got back on my bike, and followed Route 1 for another hundred miles

     Unfortunately, I had to leave the Pacific Coast Highway for a more direct route on 101 because it was starting to get late. I would see the rest of the road on my way back from San Francisco. 101 took me through wine country, and it turned out to be a nice passage to San Francisco. Even though I wasn’t on Route 1, the view was still fantastic. I stopped halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco at a rest stop and talked to some Mexican bikers. Only one of them spoke English, and they were trying to figure out if they should head north or south to get on the Pacific Coast Highway to get to San Francisco. I told them that if they went north, they would almost be in San Francisco by the time they reached the highway, so they should head south for 30 miles before taking a back road to Route 1. I had a short Gatorade break and carried on.

     I pulled into a gas station about 175 miles from San Francisco. It was here that I met two members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. Like everyone else, I struck up a conversation with them. They were riding from Utah on a scenic route to Phoenix. It seemed kind of strange that they were this far west, even with the snow in the Rockies. One of the Angels was interested in my bike. He said a friend of his had an old CB750 “four-banger” like mine. We didn’t talk for too long and wished each other good luck before heading in opposite directions.

     I was about 50 miles outside of San Francisco when I made my last stop for gas at a Chevron station. I saw a beggar just outside the front door selling flower pens for a dollar, but he looked strangely clean. After filling my tank, I parked my bike to let it cool. I asked him about his story. He said he was from Idaho and did roofing for a living. A friend hooked him up with a guy who had a big project in California. Unfortunately, when it came time to receive pay, the guy ditched him and left him in the middle of California with no money. It sounded like a story straight out of Casablanca. I was feeling really good at that point, as I was about to complete the largest feat of my life. With very little thought whatsoever, I offered to fill up his tank.

     His eyes lit up, and he asked if I was being serious. I said I was, and to pull his car over to a pump. As I was filling his car up with gas, he introduced himself. "Phil". Sure enough, his beat up old green Dodge Neon had Idaho plates. He asked me if I wanted any marijuana. I told him I couldn't risk taking drugs on a bike. We then told each other good luck and he sped off north on 101. Maybe he was telling the truth, maybe he wasn't, but I didn't care at that point. I felt good, and that was all that mattered.

     It was dark by the time I reached San Francisco’s city limits, even though I took 101. I was on the highway, and I got a moment’s glimpse of the city from above before I passed into it. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Thousands of lights illuminated the streets and buildings below, and it covered the land as far as the eye could see. I was so overcome with joy that I started crying. My tears made it hard to see, but I wiped my eyes as I went downhill. When I got just outside the hotel, I called my family: my sister, father, and mother. It was the biggest accomplishment of my life. Most people I called didn’t answer, since it was 1 am Ohio time. I hugged my motorcycle, and checked into the hotel. They only had a room for one night, so I would have to find another hotel tomorrow. Worked for me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 8: Flagstaff, AZ - Los Angeles, CA. Thursday May 15, 2014

     The temperature was in the 30s when I woke up early in the morning, so I waited an hour for it to hit the 40’s before I packed my bags and headed out. I wasn’t going to risk any chance of hitting ice. I passed the time by adding more details to my journal. I filled up at the Shell station just outside the campsite, and I saw an interesting old VW bug parked near the pumps. The Indian-hippie owner was smoking next to it, so I asked him about it. He said he converted the passenger seat into a makeshift bed, so he always had a place to sleep. The muffler was gone, so he took 3 tin cans and put holes in them and attached them to the exhaust, and the engine was out of a Honda scooter. The gas line fell off a while back, so he jerry rigged the windshield fluid line to work as the gas line. He told me that he was on an endless journey travelling the country, and his entire life was in that car.

The VW Bug

     In order to fund this trip, he sold bead necklaces for $30, but he didn't stop there. He tried selling me everything from a heavy leather trench to marijuana. He said if he couldn't make ends meet, he always had a $700 social security check to live off each month. He said his brother always asks him how he manages to live alone endlessly travelling, and his response is always that he meets people along the way. I can relate to that.

     There was a quick transition from forty two degrees in Flagstaff to eighty degrees by the time I reached Route 66 off of I-40. I took that old highway because I always wanted to travel on it, and the view it gave me was unprecedented. I stopped just outside an area that looked very touristy to get a picture of my bike next to the Route 66 sign, and then I went to check out the town. There were gift shops lined all along a short stretch of the old highway, and I stopped to get a Route 66 sign reproduction.

I felt bad for the tourists, as much as one possibly could. They saw only as much of Route 66 as they could through the window of a greyhound bus while I was enjoying the full, uninterrupted experience on my motorcycle. Maybe I didn’t feel that bad. I don’t like tourists.

View of the mountains from Route 66 

Liz next to the Route 66 sign 

     Another 25 miles later, I took a Gatorade break on a clearing by the side of the road just as a Harley pulled in with me. I introduced myself, and we discussed motorcycling stories. He was even kind enough to take a picture of me on my bike, right before I was about to take off my last layer as the temperature was quickly increasing.

Me on Route 66 with Liz

     A short ride later and I was back on the interstate. I didn’t want to go through the Mojave Desert on Route 66 road because if I broke down again with no service, I figured that would die. I was learning quickly that death and dehydration are real problems in the desert. By the time I reached the desert, it was over one hundred degrees and I was drinking all my bottles of Gatorade every hour (72 ounces, or .6 gallons). Luckily, there was an isolated gas station in the first third of the desert. Everything was incredibly priced (premium gas itself was $5.49 a gallon) but I had absolutely no complaints. This was the middle of the desert.

     I filled my bottles full of Gatorade and bought a tank of gas before sitting at an outside table to catch up on fluid. I met another motorcyclist who was travelling on a Harley Davidson. We had a short conversation before he went over to his motorcycle and pulled two cans out of a cooler in his trunk:

“You want a beer?”
“Umm… I’m nineteen…”

He just kinda looked at me.

“Yeah… ok”

     Alcohol is the last thing I needed when riding a motorcycle, especially when battling dehydration in the middle of a desert. Yet surprisingly I felt very sharp, and the beer only did so much as to help take the edge off the heat. I just had to be a little more careful that I didn’t get dehydrated.

     The funny thing about the desert is that I crossed it without ever getting thirsty. That’s right. I was losing so much water so quickly that I experienced the effects of dehydration long before I would ever get thirsty. Tell-tale signs of dehydration are dizziness, dry throat, and the one that affected me the most: sleepiness. Since I was losing so much water so quickly, I can imagine that by the time I actually got thirsty, I was as good as dead.

     Every twenty five miles I would start to feel a little sleepy. I would pull off to the side of the road, and be taken aback by how much Gatorade I consumed (usually a bottle and a half). Water was a bad idea, because at the rate I was consuming liquid, if I drank water I would die of losing too many electrolytes.

     At the same time, the desert was gorgeous. It was peaceful and quiet, which seemed to balance the danger of the location. At one point I pulled over to take a picture, and the next motorcyclist who saw me slowed down and was about to pull over. I gave him the O.K. hand gesture, and he nodded and continued.

     That’s the thing about motorcyclists. So few people ride motorcycles that we have developed a strong community that supports one another. In fact, the motorcycle culture is the only group I know where one is instantly recognized as a member, and others in his group couldn’t care less about his age, race, gender, socioeconomic background, or beliefs. It is even considered rude and strange if a motorcyclist doesn’t acknowledge another motorcyclist when passing him, even if the two motorcyclists are going in opposite directions. I would certainly have stopped for the motorcyclist who stopped for me, although I would also do the same for a car out here.

A view of the Mojave Desert

     Having said that, I did see a semi-truck carrying luxury cars pull over onto an off ramp that went to nowhere. I saw the owner get out. Knowing how dangerous the desert is, I decided to pull over and see if he was ok. I pulled up next to the truck, walked around a bit, and then saw him get out of one of the cars he was hauling. He introduced himself and said he was ok; that he was just taking a break from the ride. He said that he worked for Nationwide Autogistics, and that he only transported vehicles from Vegas to Ohio. I told him I was from Ohio. He told me that he appreciated me stopping and gave me his business card. He went on to say that if I broke down in the desert, he would haul my bike back to Ohio for $250 dollars. I sincerely thanked him, and got back on the highway.

     The fear of my motorcycle overheating was also very real. I could tell she was struggling, and I was only going sixty miles per hour. Traffic was rushing past me, but I didn’t care. Even with insurance back to Ohio, I didn’t want to risk breaking down. Above sixty miles per hour, my bike started to groan and the acceleration was sluggish. I was taking no chances.

     I passed the “town” of Ludlow, which was really just an isolated Dairy Queen gas station in the middle of the desert. I even looked it up at the end of the day; Ludlow: Population: 10.

The entire town of Ludlow, in one picture

     As usual, the price of gas was expensive; $5, but again, I wasn’t complaining. Of course I had to stop in the Dairy Queen for an M&M blizzard. It was absolutely delicious. I topped off my tank, bought loads more Gatorade, and headed out. As the evening passed on, it got slightly cooler, so I was pushing sixty five. I arrived late at the hotel at about 8:30, so I wasn’t able to get a good view of the city. I was so exhausted that by the time I reached the hotel in Los Angeles, I only had the energy to take a shower and go to bed.