Four Old Farts on a Ride of a Lifetime

I've been trying to get my wife to go with me on an extended "rideabout" on the LT. She and I have traveled quit a bit on the bike. We've been to Colorado three times, Nova Scotia, and the Southern states, but I was looking for a real cross country adventure. Well, she never was quite up to it so when a Harley riding friend threw down the gauntlet, I jumped at the chance. He sent out an email last December to a few of the guys that ride together once in awhile. It went something like this:

"I am retiring next summer after 34 years at Kodak. I'm thinking one day for each year and 300 miles per day would make a great bike trip. Anyone interested?" He didn't have to ask twice. Three of us left on May 17 and one of us left ten days later and caught up with the forward contingent in Gunnison, Colorado. We had traveled 4,000 miles in 13 days and he had traveled 2,000 miles in just 3 days.

Interestingly, we never got together to discuss the route or plan the trip, as it was all done by email. We had agreed on a general route that hit the major highlights we wanted to visit. We used Google Maps to determine the approximate mileage so we'd have a pretty good idea if we were ahead or behind the tentative schedule. The only  Mountains and Motorcycles 
Mountains and Motorcycles real issue was that we had a pretty firm drop-dead-date for the return since our initiator had one more week of work before officially retiring.

We pretty much slabbed it to Nashville, Tennessee and then rode the entire length of the Natchez Trace. The Trace follows an historic 200 year old road that is still visible in some places. There are access and exit roads, but no stop signs or traffic lights for the entire 400 plus miles. The speed limit is only 50, we set the cruise at about 58 and just rolled along enjoying the solitude and countryside. The LT got 58mpg! After the Natchez Trace we stayed on two lane roads almost exclusively until the last couple of days when we were back in the eastern sprawl and used the Interstates. We traveled thousands of miles on the two lane roads and encountered very little traffic. We usually had the road to ourselves.

We met a lot of interesting people and had only great experiences with everyone we met. On the top of Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado at almost 11,000 feet, we encountered a bicyclist who had ridden from Brooklyn, NY with a guitar strapped to his bicycle. He figured he was the first person to pedal to Wolf Creek Pass with a guitar and he wanted to record it for posterity. So we used his video camera and recorded him singing a song he wrote. If we ever hear of a new hit titled "Iris," we'll remember where we first heard it...

We all learned a few things on the trip.

  • Texas is big!
  • The Colorado mountains are fabulously beautiful
  • Utah is amazing, all the parks are very different
  • The Grand Canyon is big, but not as big as Texas
  • California has many roads that rival the Tail of the Dragon, but they go on for 30 or 40 miles not just 11
  • It's exciting to get to the Pacific Ocean
  • This is one GREAT country. I absolutely enjoyed every mile, even going diagonally across Nebraska.
  • The old two lane highways are in great shape and are much more interesting to ride than the Interstates.
  • There are some very interesting people out there on the roads and in all those little towns.

I am ready to go again. If my wife would come along, that would be great. If she won't, I think I'll try camping next time.

SUMMARY STATS:

The bikes:
2000 BMW K1200LT (starting mileage; 88,590, Ending mileage; 99,452)
2007 Harley Davidson Ultra glide (approximately 17,000 miles at start)
2007 Harley Davidson Ultra glide (approximately 10,000 miles at start)
2004 Yamaha FJR (approximately 22,000 miles at start)

Maintenance:
All bikes changed oil once. All used synthetic
Both Harleys had new rear tire at about 8,000 miles
LT and FJR did not change tires, although FJR was getting pretty thin. Might have had problems if it had rained the last couple of days. The LT's rear tire can go another 2,000 miles

Mechanical problems/issues:
One of the Harleys stalled four separate times. It just stopped running. After flipping a few switches and hitting the starter button, it started again and ran fine. We never did find out what was wrong.

My K1200LT needed a new radiator cap. After the engine was heated above its normal range, not over heating but hot enough to have the fan come on, it began spitting coolant out of the overflow reservoir. After several days of adding Honda coolant, I decided I needed to get a new radiator cap. One problem with BMW is that dealers are few and far between. I had to travel 150 miles to get to a dealer. That was actually not too far; there were many times we were not within 500 miles of a dealer.

Daily mileage:

  • Averaged 320 miles per day
  • Longest day: 614 miles, Indianapolis to home, smelled the barn
  • Shortest day: 125 miles around San Antonio, stopped to see the Alamo
  • 33 Days, 24 States, 10,562 miles

Weather:

  • Mostly fabulous.
  • Only two days of rain.
  • We were just ahead of or just behind floods and snow storms, but we rode on in pleasant sunshine
  • Hottest day; 104 degrees in shade at Big Bend National Park
  • Coldest morning: 28 degrees in Jasper, Wyoming
  • Worst conditions: Sand storm crossing Mojave Desert

Lodging:

  • Stayed in motels
  • Most expensive: $198 at Grand Canyon
  • Least expensive: $46 in Williams, AZ (found a local motel after rejecting a $115 Best Western)

National Parks visited:

  • Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
  • Big Bend, Texas
  • Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
  • Mesa Verde, Colorado
  • Capitol Reef, Utah
  • Bryce Canyon, Utah
  • Zion, Utah
  • Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • Sequoia, California
  • Yosemite, California
  • Redwood, California
  • Grand Tetons, Wyoming
  • Yellowstone, Wyoming
  • Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

—David Granzin, Penn Yan, NY