I love these long hauls, love looking at the beauty, and occasional ugliness, of this great nation, love stopping at all the historical markers along the way, thinking about how this country came together over the past 240 years. Anybody who thinks that riding from coast to coast would be boring is lacking in imagination.
Here is the background. In 2015, I was asked to head-up Rider’s annual Americade assignment (the rally has been going on for 33 years), which is to give away some $7,500 worth of goodies at the opening celebration and serve as a featured speaker one night. Always fun.
At the last moment I decided to fly in a few days early and see some friends in New England, and asked our contact at BMW, with its headquarters in New Jersey, if he could get me a bike on short notice, one which I could ride back to California. “Sure,” said Roy, “not a problem. It won’t have any break-in miles, but we can arrange for a break-in service while you’re on the road. You’re an old boxer fan; how about an RT?”
Done deal. Flew in, picked up the bike, a brand new R 1200 RT with all the frills. Including the optional keyless ignition. “Do not lose that fob,” I was told. This is the umpteenth generation of the RT, which first appeared in 1979 as the R100RT. For 2014, major changes were made to the chassis and the engine (see Rider, July 2014), an overall improvement to the previous R 1200 RT that ran from 2005 to 2013.
Unfortunately, after a few months a glitch appeared in the bike’s Marzocchi rear shock absorber used in the electronically adjustable suspension, and BMW grounded all RT ESA models for several months until the shock was redesigned and all made well. That problem is in the past.
A trifle daunting are the numerous controls on the handlebars, as well as the audio buttons down on the left side of the fairing. I would hazard to say that it might take a thousand miles or more before the rider is fully at peace with them. The most interesting is the Multi-Controller wheel on the left grip, which will twiddle one through the countless options on the two menus viewable on the dash. Everything from tire pressures to temperatures to resetting tripmeters, along with advice on what stocks to buy…Joke!
Fob safely stashed, I headed east to Cape Cod to see friends, then dawdled west to be at Lake George, New York, the site of Americade. I got into a mildly vicious rain storm crossing Whitcomb Summit on Massachusetts Route 2 and found myself well-protected by the fairing and adjustable windshield. Long, long ago I did cross-country rides on bikes without windshields—have not done that in more than 35 years. OK, call me a wimp, but I am a lot more comfortable when shielded from the wind and rain.
Three days at Lake George, 700 miles on the odometer, and I headed south 50 miles to Troy where Max’s BMW would do a slightly belated break-in service. Service done; time to put some miles under my butt. I got on Intestate 88, which is marked on the map as a “scenic highway” and actually is, rolling through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, with red barns and silos dotting the rural countryside, a very pleasant hundred miles. Not what one usually expects from such a freeway.
I arrived in Hammondsport, New York, too late to visit the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, which I had been to some years before. The little town of Bath, alongside Interstate 86, had three modern motor hotels, where you have to go through a lobby to get to your room. Not to my liking. The rest of my nights on the road I found genuine old-fashioned motels, pulling up right to the door in front of my room, which is the way it should be.
Map out. What next? A long freeway boogie, to get beyond Chicago, with one enjoyable side trip to Port Clinton in Ohio. After going through Cleveland on Interstate 90, I stayed along the coast on Ohio Route 2, crossed Sandusky Bay and rode onto the peninsula. The place drowses most of the year, but come summer, the mainlanders flock there and boats go out to the islands in Lake Erie, all the way to Canada.
I was watching boats come in slowly to Port Clinton harbor—big NO WAKE signs—and a couple of locals advised me to go up to the Jolly Roger Restaurant for a perch sandwich. Very tasty fish, I must say.
Crossed the Portage River and headed southwest toward the Ohio Turnpike, getting there a little before 3 o’clock with Chicago 250 miles away. It would be 4-5 hours of trucks, cars and numerous drivers texting, phoning or brushing their teeth. Traffic was jammed on the Reagan Memorial Tollway (Interstate 88) in Illinois. Exiting Interstate 80 at Morris, I found a classic motel, a ’50s place that had not been upgraded in 20 years, run by a delightful old fellow named Ben Ho. Peace and tranquility, with a Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast a 5-minute walk away.
Here U.S. Route 6 runs parallel to I-80, but is a quiet two-laner, going through small towns and the occasional county seat. At times I could see the semis, doubles and triples off on the Interstate in the far distance. Little towns have their own personalities, each one a bit different, each one worthy of a cruise down Main Street. In Princeton, Illinois, I found folk on this workday setting up for cooking lunch in the central park, overlooked by the county courthouse. I spoke to the fellow who appeared to be in charge, from the local Chamber of Commerce, and he said this was just a community picnic, with free eats for everyone and local people getting to know each other. Nice place to raise kids.
Then it was off to history, taking Illinois Route 78 north to Fulton, where George Wyman on his California Motorcycle Company motor bicycle crossed the Mississippi in 1903. He was the first person to take a motorized vehicle across this continent, as I am doing, albeit in the opposite direction and I’m traveling a good deal more rapidly. Eighty miles west is Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Wyman stopped at the Hall Bicycle Company to fix his machine. The shop still exists, though the Hall family is long gone and the building has changed, but outside is a plaque commemorating the Wyman trip. That was an adventure!
Then it was west on U.S. Route 30, the old Lincoln Highway, to spend a night in Denison. In the morning I detoured into the Loess Hills for a bit of curvy riding. But way in the west was a very large black cloud—crossing the Missouri River into Nebraska I found myself in a downpour that lasted 50 miles. Good raingear! And I was thoroughly appreciative of the ABS and Automatic Stability Control as I slipped the bike into rain mode.
At Grand Island, I left U.S. 30 and went south, over I-80, about 20 miles to catch U.S. 6 again—remember, these even-numbered U.S. routes are all heading west, where I’m going. The landscape is gently rolling, the Great Plains, stretching all the way from the Missouri to the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, once home to millions of buffalo and many Native American tribes. Then came the white man, some explorers and hunters, later settlers looking for a piece of land to call their own. It was the railroad that really opened up these lands, as farmers and ranchers then had access to major markets. In Holbrook, I stopped to look at a log cabin and old plough that had been brought to the town park; farming these plains was a hard way to go a hundred years ago.
U.S. 6 took me into Colorado, where I spent a night in Fort Morgan, then got on Interstate 76 to skirt around Denver. After the Mile-High City, the RT and I basically had to follow Interstate 70 over the Rocky Mountains—which is way more scenic than Interstate 88 in New York. I took lots of little detours to entertain me and the RT. Avoiding the Eisenhower Tunnel, I crossed the Continental Divide via Loveland Pass—always amazing.
Seventy miles along is Glenwood Canyon, created by the Colorado River over the past umpteen million years. The canyon is 12.5 miles long with walls 3,000 feet high. In 1887, the Union Pacific built a railroad alongside the river, and around 1906 a single-lane track for wagons and the soon-to-be-arriving motorcycles and cars was built. This became a paved two-laner in 1938, and an Interstate in 1992. A week after I went through it was closed for the better part of a day due to heavy rains and a rockslide.
I-70 eased through Grand Junction, entered Utah, and I took Exit 212 onto State Route 128, which goes past the quasi-ghost town of Cisco and then follows the Colorado River south toward Moab. That popular little town apparently survives solely on the tourist trade, with lots of motels and eateries. But I was headed farther south to Blanding, which is as bland as the name implies, with a couple of motels and one restaurant—no beer with my burger, as it is a dry town. I wanted to sleep there because the next morning I planned to ride down the Moki Dugway.
Moki? Dugway? Moki is derived from a word the Spanish explorers used in referring to the local Pueblo Indians, and a dugway is an old expression to describe a road cut into the side of a sheer cliff, with tight hairpins and all the complications. This dugway is dirt and drops 1,200 feet in three miles—delightfully gnarly. It is even more impressive if the cliff is approached from the south, with this massive wall in front and no visible sign of how one is going to get up it.
Leaving the dugway behind, it was a semi-final buzz for the barn, picking up Interstate 15 in St. George and heading southwest. At 7 p.m. I arrived at Baker, California, where the Worlds Tallest Thermometer is located next to an old Bun Boy restaurant. At 134 feet tall, it has been refurbished and was reading 102 degrees. Time to stop. Only one motel remains operational in Baker, the Wills Fargo Motel. Sixty bucks for a room, with clean water in the swimming pool. And the Mad Greek restaurant is just down the road, with a good Greek salad.
Next day I was home in Atascadero in time for a late lunch, with 4,212 miles on the odometer. Good trip. The tires held air, I didn’t lose the fob and the engine always started. I’m happy.