West 2019

My riding season consists of several things: taking the 1st 70 degree day off work, taking in a bike show or two, a local charity ride or two, a bike night or two, riding to work, and one big trip. Having gone to the Smokey Mountains in ’15, ’16, ’17, and ’18 I wanted to do something different this year. My sister (a crazy person) moved to Idaho, and I had the beginnings of a plan.

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Just a 4,000mi trip I'm taking in August

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I knew I wanted to avoid the “Sturgis Scene”, but the timing worked out to be hitting South Dakota as Sturgis was closing out. I talked to people who had been and I was assured that Sturgis was mostly over by this point and finding a place to sleep wouldn’t be a problem. With the beginnings of a route in mind, I put out the call for riders: the timing was bad, work was too busy, the distance was too far. Only one rider could make it work: good ole Wingnut Dave.

Gear

Since I had only recently moved over to a 2019 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse, I was still in the process of outfitting the bike and trying some new gear myself. As I approached doing 5,000mi service on Black Sunshine, I added a few things:

  • Kuryakyn Highway Pegs – need that alternate leg position
  • Alaska Leather Sheepskin Buttpad – I was skeptical that the “Gunfighter” seat new to the 2019 Chieftain line would be good enough for touring and wanted a little softer seat. I turned out to be more than right…
  • Indian Aftermarket ThunderTrunk – $1k for a trunk with Corbin Backrest vs. $4k for the oem trunk? Worth a try.
  • Kuryakyn Tank Bag – I liked the idea of having clear glasses, flashlight, sunscreen etc. close at hand.
  • Cardo PackTalk Bold – Wingnut Dave had long used a CB system on his ‘Wing, but I thought this would be an easier entry to road communication. This meant in addition to my usual half helmet I’d be bringing a modular helmet.

 

Day 1: Motorcycling is Mindfulness

My family, Wingnut Dave, and myself were all attending a conference at the Kalahari in the Wisconsin Dells. I was speaking on my favorite topic: mindfulness meditation. As the conference wound down, the siren call of the road was too powerful to ignore, and we left with a first day goal of reaching Fairmont, MN. Heading West on I-90 is just as straight, flat, and boring as you can imagine.  After reaching the hotel we picked up some of the necessary supplements for traveling together: microbrew, bourbon ( I had accidentally left my flask at home ) and some Fireball. Dinner that night was great at the Bean Town Grill.

Day 2: Fairmont to Keystone

The weather attempted to make it exciting by providing some of the worst headwinds I’ve ever ridden through: leaning at a 45 degree angle just to keep from being blown off the road at 80mph. We did see at least one bike down headed East. For the entire day we didn’t pass nor were we passed by a single bike headed West, but we did see hundreds of bikes going East presumably headed home after Sturgis.

If you’re heading out here, a National Parks annual pass might be worth it. It would turn out that I spent more money on park entrance fees than I did on beer this trip. As for Badlands National Park, I’ll let the video speak for the beauty.

Bed for the night was the excellent and biker-friendly Powder House Lodge.

The restaurant here was pretty good as well, serving me the first of many bison meals on this trip. I had a fantastic view, and once I went back to my room for the night I was completely overcome by gratitude. I was on an 8 day trip (with padding for weather), I was on a new bike with all the gear I could want, my wife was at home taking care of the kids, I was seeing one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I recall feeling so grateful I could just sit and stare.

 

 

 

Day 3: Taking It All In

Today was the day I got to see why people return to the Black Hills area again and again.

The motel was directly on the Iron Mountain Road so we were able to do most of this completely by accident as we made our way to various other attractions. First up was Mount Rushmore, which I had not seen in at least 30 years. I stared at the mountain, I thought about how lucky I am to have been born in America, and I don’t have anything new to say about Mount Rushmore.

Next up we went to the Needles Highway. This both contained some of the most technical switchbacks of the entire trip, and yet also failed to live up to the hype. It was a bit like the Tail of the Dragon: while technical the views are largely limited by trees and too many cars. We followed a truck hauling watercraft that I dubbed “Captain Canoe” for most of the road.

While I’d been obsessing over some parts of the trip for months, I went into the Crazy Horse Memorial knowing nothing about it other than a little about the historical figure, Crazy Horse. From the photos, it’s hard to get a feel for the scale, but all of Mount Rushmore would fit on his forehead. When finished, it will be the world’s largest sculpture and include a University for Native Americans. The story of the treatment of Native Americans by the US Government is… unflattering. For the second time on this trip I was completely overwhelmed. We took a bus down to the base of the mountain, and our guide suspects they might finish the sculpture in another 70 years. As of 2019, they were working on the knuckles of his hand. We had some ‘meh’ tatanka stew and an excellent microbrew and headed for deadwood.

I expected Sturgis proper to still be a complete shitshow, but since I’d recently been watching the HBO series I wanted to see Deadwood, SD. There are various plaques an callouts to the town’s history, but otherwise if you’ve seen one town overrun by bikers, you’ve seen them all. At a different time, on a different trip, I could see myself spending a couple of days here enjoying living music and people-watching, but the clouds rolled in and I’m not a big fan of treacherous mountain roads while they’re wet.

We did catch a bad lightning storm: it has to be pretty bad for me to wait one out at a gas station but this one did it. We got back to the Powder House Lodge cold and hungry and some Elk steak put me back into the right frame of mind.

Day 4: Boring and Amazing

Day 4 was going to put us within striking distance of what I was most excited about: Beartooth Pass. I’m sorry to say that Wyoming is … mostly terribly boring to drive through. The last time I had come out West, there was a point where I could no longer get 91 octane gas, yet somehow had good luck until I was nearly home. Getting closer to the end of the day we finally had some nice scenery at Big Horn Pass. I’ve only ridden in the Smokey Mountains before, which I now feel like “aren’t real mountains” compared to the Rockies. I was not ready for the 30 degree temperature swings as we went up and down in elevation. The views were spectacular though. At the top of BigHorn pass, we met some folks who had flown in from Australia and rented bikes to do the Black Hills area.

I guess getting through Wyoming was worth it.

We ended the day at the Bear Tooth Hideaway in Red Lodge, MT. In all my travels, by bike and otherwise, this was the first hotel hot tub that was actually hot. Nothing like heat & jets to soothe a biker’s ass after a thousand miles of travel on a new seat. At the recommendation of hotel staff, we ate at Foster and Logans pub and it was fantastic. In one of the awesome coincidences that happen on the road, two folks sat down next to us and we started talking. They were both from Wisconsin.

This was such a cool place, I can see coming back for the Beartooth Rally some day.

I got up the following morning and followed the sound of running water, literally 15ft across the street from the motel. This is what I saw:

RedLodgeWhiteWater.jpg

This place will spoil you for views. Every little bit you see a scene worthy of a calendar or postcard. Why does anyone choose to live anyplace less beautiful? It’s complicated.

 Day 5: The Big Event

I had been dreaming of going over Beartooth Pass on US 212.

It did not disappoint.

This is the best road in the mainland USA.

Beartooth pass is technically a good road: meaning there are technically difficult switchbacks, great sweeping turns, and tons of elevation changes. What really makes this the best road in the US are the views: majestic Rocky Mountain views around every corner. One second you’re focusing on leaning the bike and looking as far through the corner as you can to avoid a stray elk or errant cager, the next moment you’re confronted with a godlike vision of the landscape … and then you need to focus on negotiating that next turn. What good are guardrails if your bike stops and you keep going over the handlebars just in time for a 7,000 ft hill roll?

This repeating rote of joy –> life-or-death moment –> beauty –> life-or-death moment –> gratitude –> life-or-death moment is why we love motorcycling. What better way to appreciate the value of every heartbeat and every conscious thought of life than to risk it in a dangerous yet controlled experiment? What better assertion of your skill and confidence than to challenge the mountain to kill you and walk away with your life the victor?

In “The Life of David Gale”, Kevin Spacey’s character tells us we’re never happier than when we’re thinking about future happiness, and the Art of Manliness tells us that Anticipation is a powerful source of dopamine, but after months of anticipation I feel like I was perfectly happy in each moment climbing Beartooth Pass, and then I was happy in each moment descending since I got to experience the same level of scenery but also be warming up foot by foot.

The top is around 10,900 ft in elevation which was enough for me to have a little trouble breathing. I’ve been as high as Pike’s Peak (14k ft) and this isn’t that bad, but you notice.

 

As we went through Yellowstone, I was thrilled to see tons of buffalo, one of them 5ft away on the side of the road. Wingnut Dave got yet another earful of my incredible vocabulary through the intercom: “Holy fuck, fuck fuck fuck, a buffalo, right fucking there!”

Yellowstone might be the hardest part of the trip for me to describe. I have been here before, but it’s been a good 30 years. I felt a lot of gratitude rolling through Yellowstone, this time for my parents. My folks took us kids on a ton of epic road trips when we were younger, and I’m sure that’s a part of my wanderlust and my appreciation for these landscapes today. Yellowstone is just … so big. It’s not just mountains, it’s tremendous plains, far away are tremendous mountains. There are rivers, waterfalls, sulphur springs. The air is so clean you can see forever, it’s impossible to know if you could reach the mountains across the plains in a day, or two weeks.

Maybe you can get a little taste of Beartooth Highway and Yellowstone with these videos:

 

After we were a ways into Yellowstone it was time to separate from Wingnut Dave for a day and a half. I was going to see family in Idaho, and he was riding the Sawtooths and other awesome roads in Northern Idaho.

Day 6: Family and Rest

After Yellowstone, I road down into Central Idaho and spent some time with family in Pocatello. I did not get the adventure that Wingnut Dave got, but I can tell you for sure that Idaho is a well-kept secret. It has a little bit of the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies, and the alien landscape of its Southern neighbor Utah. It has more river frontage than any other state except Alaska. Idaho requires a lot more exploration.

I was mauled by nieces and nephews I seldom see, and I ran out exploring  Pocatello for a while. The small city hosts at least two micro breweries and a lot of one way streets. I got lunch and a lot of samples at the Port Neuf Brewery in old Downtown. Arriving, I parked next to an ancient Kawasaki touring bike that turned out to belong to the owner or manager. He mentioned that some other bikers had been through recently: nice folks from Australia who went a long way towards drinking the place dry. Based on my description, and the unlikelihood of multiple Australian parties in the area, it had to be the same folks I met at the top of BigHorn.

We drank beers, and grilled stakes, and watched Aliens and did the things that families do. I stayed up too late, but still met Wingnut Dave on time the next morning.

Day 7: Back Roads into Steamboat Springs

The goal today was to make tracks for the small Skiing town of Steamboat Springs, CO. We could get there by avoiding the freeway which meant some more time in Wyoming, and to my pleasant surprise, Utah.

Wyoming is so sparsely populated, this was the only place I was legitimately worried about running out of gas. Up until this point we had remarked that we had pulled into whatever local joints looked good and not had a single bad meal. I won’t say we had a “bad” meal, but the food and service at the Badlands Lanes Saloon wasn’t great either.

I had recently done a family reunion in Southwestern Utah, and immediately realized I had to come back on the bike. The landscapes are amazing: red rock mountains, black volcanic rock, bizarre sunsets. Being in Utah makes you think you’re on Mars. We hadn’t planned it, but our 2-lane roads took us into Utah for a while, and I was not disappointed.

Despite having ridden thousands of miles with Wingnut Dave, I do not recall him having an obsessive bike-cleaning habit before now. My bike had collected so many insects, he was begging me to clean it, or even let him clean it. I let the bugs stay until the next time we hit rain.

Steamboat Springs is a typical Colorado Ski town: food, stores, and hotels that a town this size couldn’t support without the powdery slopes. Despite not being ski season, it was fairly busy. We stayed on the East end of town closest to the Rockies, and had some great barbeque and local microbrews at the Steamboat Smokehouse.

In yet another example of the great people you meet on the road, we met some folks in the hotel hot tub who do off-road riding in Utah.

If you’re in an area without too much light pollution, the night sky in Colorado is worth the trip. Another great day.

Day 8: Rocky Mountain National Park

The idea for day 8 was to conquer Rocky Mountain National Park, have lunch in Estes Park, CO, and part ways until next time.

Do you want to know the definition of being spoiled? Seeing this kind of scenery and thinking “Yea but Beartooth was better…” Rocky mountain national park is epic.

Of course there’s some video as well.

As we descended, I had to remind myself that the rest of the way home would be solo. I thought about the last time I had to say goodbye to Wingnut Dave, and it seems unreal that it’s really a year in between these big trips. We both had long, boring, high-miles trips across the plains to get home, but first one more local restaurant. This one just said “Restaurant” on the side, which is usually a sign you’re entering a greasy spoon that might make you wish you’d found a George Webbs instead. Once again, we got lucky, and the “Restaurant” was an excellent spot called Bird & Jim. It’s a reminder of how the Internet has spread things like “Food culture” to every corner of the world. Here we are in Estes Park, CO, and the first place we find has an eclectic menu including some gourmet hipster chili-cheese dogs with house made chili and 4 cheeses.

Yes, I ate them both.

After we parted ways, I had about 30 minutes of gorgeous mountain roads, then a couple of hours of getting through smaller cities north of Denver: 99 degrees and “it’s 2pm on a Thursday whythefuckisitsobusy?” traffic.

Helmets: I had been wearing a modular/full helmet up to this point to use the Cardo Packtalk. When we parted ways I switched back to my half helmet. I hate to admit how much I like having my ears & face uncovered: it’s far less fatiguing from a noise perspective, and your connection to everything around you is so much more real. I have to admit that wearing a half helmet is pretty damn close to not wearing a helmet.

As I rolled through Nebraska, I had the 2nd close call with gas this trip. I stopped in a true shithole gas station that only had 87 octane, and used my Octane Booster for the first and only time this trip. Obviously modern engines have anti-knock technology, but the last time I was in SD I put a few takes of 87 in my Victory and I felt like it “wasn’t quite right” until the next tune up, so I carry octane boost with me.

My target was to make it to Grand Island, NE this day. I had found a hotel that looked pretty close to the river, and had a local BBQ joint in the same parking lot. I barely beat a wicked looking lightning storm in, only to find a mixed bag of luck: the local BBQ joint had closed, the Arby’s in the gas station was still open, and the hot tub was open until 11pm. I swallowed my “no chain restaurants” pride and got a snack at Arby’s. I sat in the hotel hot tub with a can of The Banquet Beer and reflected on my trip so far. This hotel was the only one that would let me park under the front pavilion, so I finally got a picture to match my favorite shot of Red Sonya under the pavilion in Kentucky.

… and a good thing too! I had barely beat the storm, and it did pour that night. Not a big deal, but it does take some work to dry out my sheepskin butt pad.

Day 9: Freeways home

Every time I take a trip, it seems I leave myself with a 600-700mi last day and a grind getting through Chicago to get home. This Friday morning, the Indian Ride Command gps said 645mi to home and the weather showed a couple hours riding through rain right away in the morning. I hate wearing rain gear (I probably just have uncomfortable, shitty gear) so when I’m not in danger of getting too cold, I prefer to just roll through it and dry out on the road.

It was 10am in Nebraska, I had my half helmet on, my music on, and I was doing 80mph through the rain. Yes rain hurts your face at 80 but it wasn’t raining super hard. I was sad that my trip was nearly over, but excited to see my wife and kids. All of a sudden, I realized that this rain on the freeway was going to massively clean up all the bugs I’d accumulated on this trip, and how happy that would make Wingnut Dave. I started laughing uncontrollably, and my mood went through the roof. I was singing along with my music at the top of my lungs, passing cars, and loving life. I can only hope there were dinner table conversations that night “So this biker was getting rained on and absolutely plastered with road water by the big rigs but was smiling and singing, I’ll bet he was taking the drugs!” Every day above ground is a good day, something bikers understand better than most.

I stopped for dinner and didn’t get home until about 10pm. My great trip of 2019 over, it was good to be home safe.

No photo description available.

3,400 miles, though I had planned just over 4,000. What a great road trip.

Gear Performance

So how did all the new gear perform?

  •  Kuryakyn Highway Pegs – I should have just taken these off my previous bike before I traded it in. These pegs are great and adjustable enough to try different things. One wrench and some allen wrenches I’d be carrying anyway and they’re easy to adjust on the road.
  • Alaska Leather Sheepskin Buttpad – This was a big help, since the stock seat sucks for touring (see below). I do feel like it lives up to the promise of helping keep you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cool as the 30 degree mountain temperature swings proved. It does get wet and collect overnight dew easily, so be prepared with a cover or to have dry hotel towels to dry it off in the morning.
  • Indian Aftermarket ThunderTrunk – I feel like it “bounces” a little bit during travel, but this was a great $1k spent, especially when you consider that an Indian brand sissy bar is $900, and this is a much nicer backrest + storage + luggage rack.
  • Kuryakyn Tank Bag – I like this, it’s super convenient, and the exotic magnets stick this so firmly to the tank I have no worries of it ever falling off, yet also no worries of it scratching the tank. It’s about the right size to hold extra sunglasses, flashlight, iPass, sunscreen, etc. In addition it has a see-through top section that I could use for hand-written directions if I wanted. My only complaint is that it’s too tall with the stock handlebars: meaning if I’m backing the bike around a parking lot sharp turns will hit the hand controls: radio volume on the left side and electric windshield on the right side.
  • Cardo PackTalk Bold – This took some getting used to. Installation is key: make sure when you install this that the speakers are RIGHT under where your ears are, even if your ears do not quite line up to the “ear holes” in your helmet – otherwise volume will be intolerably low. On balance, being able to call to each other to block a lane, “watch out for that pothole”, “Hey dude there’s no left arrow don’t go yet!”, was a net positive over the increased noise fatigue and loss of peripheral vision that came with wearing the full helmet. Road noise would indeed have made the system useless, so you do need a helmet that can shield the mic or a tall enough windshield that there’s not any actual wind in your face. We even discussed on a larger ride that it’d be useful just having 2 people with this system riding lead & sweep to block lanes, etc.
  • Sedici Modular Helmet – Good helmet, versatile, but it made me really appreciate my half helmet after 2500 miles. I guess I should admit that my half helmet is very close to not wearing a helmet.
  • GoPro – I was worried about not having enough storage, so recorded video in 1080p instead of 4k. This was a mistake, it could be the GoPro, or it could be YouTube, but even though I don’t have a 4k TV, the 4k video looks outrageously better. I need to keep working on a better GoPro mount, and always do 4k in the future.

What About the Bike?

What about the Indian Chieftain?

All in all, I’m still super happy with this bike. The infotainment is fantastic and the GPS is extremely helpful on a trip like this. The bike is torque-y, good-looking, and has awesome storage. It proved it’s handling chops a thousand times over on the mountain switchbacks. My complaints are few and all fixable:

  1. Indian has to fix the Ride Command app. It crashes 100% of the time when I load my 4,000mi route. Since I started planning my next ride I notice it also breaks terribly when planning routes that involve Canada. You can only adjust your route on a full desktop/laptop computer, not a phone, and no one is carrying a laptop on a roadtrip like this. Indian needs to keep investing in this app.
  2. The “gunfighter” seat standard on the 2019 Chieftain models seems woefully inadequate for touring. I dare say I have a narrower-than-average ass, and the seat is still too narrow to provide long-haul support. I can tell from my multiple-IronButt experience that I could ride basically forever on this bike with a better seat.
  3. The bike is a torque monster, but when trying to pass at highway speeds… the claimed 79HP stock is just not enough. I don’t want to ride a GoldWing, but I also don’t want to be embarrassed by a GoldWing in passing maneuvers. I’m going to spend some money (hopefully not as much $$$$ as the 116 kit) to see if I can get some more HP without sacrificing that delicious torque.

I got so many compliments on this bike. The adjustable windshield, the audio, the storage, the ground clearance – it was all so excellent on this 3500mi trip. I just need to do a little more to make it perfect.

 

Breaking In New Boots

In 1995, I bought a pair of Doc Martens boots. Made in England, highest quality, and also a symbol of punk/goth/industrial music fans. This was a tremendous event in my circle of friends: $125 at that time is about a billion dollars today adjusted for inflation. Docs were known to be bulletproof footwear, and built to last forever, a true product of craftsmanship in a world that was already leaning towards cheap alternatives and short-term thinking.

By the end of the 2015 riding season, I had to admit that my Docs were dead. 20 years is not a bad run for your favorite footwear. It would be three years before I could bring myself to replace them. You see, they had succumbed to the pressures of globalization and started assembling their iconic boots overseas. Quality suffered. Their worldwide reputation suffered. Eventually they introduced the “Made in England” series which made it clear to the buyer that the craftsmanship and materials were the same ole same ole.

Interesting thing about breaking in boots: You break in boots by stressing and stretching the leather using your feet. The process works because the boots are made of dead leather, and your feet are made of living tissue. Your feet heal and come back to re-stress the leather. The leather does not heal, so eventually your feet win. It’s good to be alive.

Riding After a Vasectomy

With two healthy children that we love, a newfound Joy of sleeping in on the weekends, and being able to go out for a date night, my wife and I wanted to make sure we didn’t have more kids. there are, of course, quite a few options for achieving that goal with extremely high chances of success. My sense of Honor guided me in this direction and my wife agreed. if you’ve ever been involved in childbirth (in any way) then you know it’s very intense, takes a toll on your body, and is embarrassing and painful not only on the special day but for quite a while after that as well. I felt that here at last was something I could do that, while certainly not approaching childbirth in any of those aspects, was certainly going to be awful. Yes, you read that right: in a fucked up sort of way I did something I knew was going to make me miserable partly to show my wife that I’m a team player.

Medical specialists tend to be busy, so even though it would fall in riding season I booked the first day that worked: four months out. Having a line in the Sand made it far less likely that I would lose my nerve. As it turned out, we know someone our age have an Oops! right before my procedure, the exact thing we wanted to prevent.

What They Tell You

  • You’ll be wicked sore, in some pain, and should do nothing for 2-3 days
  • No lifting more than 20lbs for 10days
  • There will be bruising and swelling

What Can Really Happen

  • Bruising=The color will make you worried they are about to fall off
  • Pain: I had a lot more pain for a lot longer. Day 8 and I’m still hobbling around like a sneeze will be enough pain to knock me out.
  • Some people get complications that can last for weeks or months.

If you don’t heal on the schedule they give you (and I suspect far more men don’t than they let on) you’ll start having thoughts that you’ve made a huge mistake and you’ll never be normal again. Generally speaking, the euphemism of “getting snipped” makes everyone talk about it like it’s no big deal but you should prepare for getting surgery.

What’s the Pain Like and When is it All Better?

I wrote the above 20 days ago, not knowing what real recovery would look like. The pain is not like “blue balls” or anything you’re unfamiliar with, simply the exquisite pain of getting kicked in the junk.

  • It was 12 days before I felt I could safely do a push up.
  • It was 17 days before I could take BJJ class, and 25 days before I could fight.
  • It was 15 days before I felt like I could lift Red Sonya off the kickstand and see what riding felt like. I rode 300 miles that day and it was ok.
  • At 30 days it’s still not 100%, but I suspect I’ll be completely healed soon.

Keep in mind I went into this as a fairly fit dude. I’m not fragile and I’d like to think my training makes me pretty familiar with all kinds of pain.

I’m not trying to talk amny man out of doing this, but just to be aware that recovery may be quite a bit longer than the pamphlet they hand you says. If I had a more physical job I’d be completely fucked. Make sure to do the follow up, it’s nice not worrying.

So yea, count on 2-3 weeks out of the saddle if you do this, and remember that if you’re not totally healed just lifting your bike off the kickstand might be too much.

An Interview with a First time Road Tripper

As I mentioned in the last article, one of the folks I just traveled with had never done a multi-day bike trip. I thought it might be fun to ask a few questions. The responses were lightly edited for grammar.

Q: What did you first think when I approached you with the idea of this trip?  A: Honestly I didn’t give it much thought as it wasn’t likely my wife would give me a pass. Once she did I was excited for the most part, but things didn’t sit in until a week prior. With my job change this trip was a need to have so getting to go was wonderful timing.

Q: How did your family react when you told them you were taking a 5 day motorcycle trip?  A: My wife has many trips a year for her own personal reasons. When asked she immediately said go for it you need it. My mother in-law said I deserve it!

Q: What gear did you buy for this trip that you hadn’t previously thought of?
A: I bought a cell phone external power source, a towel, a jacket, rain gear, highway pegs, & sunscreen

Q: Was any of the new gear surprising for you?  A:I hadn’t thought of the power source, my bike has outlets, but it’s still a good idea if your not near your bike or power and need it.

Q: Do you wish you’d gotten anything else, and was anything you got a waste of money?A: I really wish I would have bought a proper mount for my phone and water bottle, they are both now in pieces at the side of the road or in the garbage.

Q: Were you nervous about turns, speed, mileage, expense, anything?
A: Most certainly turns and speed were the largest frustration of this trip. While the boys I was with have 10’s of thousands of miles on two wheels I have had more miles on a bicycle than a motorcycle. I was constantly cursing to myself: “Why do we need to go 20-25 mph over the speed limit in a work zone?”, along with white knuckling the turns trying to keep up. So much so my fitness watch said I’d completely my daily workout by 10am (heart rate and what not).

Mileage wise I discovered my comfort point is 100 miles at a time before I need to stretch my legs and move about off the bike to feel fresh for the next leg. There were 1 or two times we did 130 or so and I was in rough shape after those.

In the beginning of the trip I was worried about the biker stigma of “you’re not tough” or “your a pansy” but the guys kept telling me to “Ride my own ride”… If I really did that they’d be waiting an extra hour at the destination for me to catch up lol.

Q: You lost a saddlebag north of Indianapolis, what was going through your mind those first few minutes, what about the next day after you’d had some time to think about it ?A:The first few minute were “flight” feelings and “I just want to go home”… After realizing we were safe, and especially after finding my ID, and credit cards, I had started joking about it as if it was meant to happen. Overall I’m just pissed HD wont do anything to help in the matter.

Q: Thursday you went through the tail of the dragon, the moonshiner 28, Oscar Blues brewery, and we ended the day at a B&B, in front of a bonfire, telling stories. with beer, bourbon, and fireball. Can you share what some of your thoughts and feelings were at that time?  A: The Tail of the Dragon was honestly, well, disappointing. I grew up in some of the most beautiful parts of this country in New England. We have quite a few twisty and turny roads similar. Maybe not as dangerous, or consecutive, but anyway. Mostly I felt like I was in my back yard with a bunch of idiots going too fast for their britches, surrounded by photographers to make sure they caught you being an idiot to post for public shaming. I’d still like to go back and do it a few hundred times just so I get to know it and gain more confidence in my skills, but it’s a bit overplayed if you ask me.
Moonshiner 28 on the other hand, this is a hidden gem for Motorcyclists. This 103 mile stretch is wonderful. It is calm, technical, and not overplayed. This was by far the height of the trip for me.
As for the stories and brotherhood, this reminded my of many nights with my fraternity brothers back in the day or a camp-out with good friends. I enjoyed not worrying about the next day’s plans or really any worries that night.

Q: As a husband, friend, and father: what did you learn about yourself from this trip? What surprised you most?  A: It has been a while since I’ve been able to hang out with complete strangers. I miss being able to do that as if we’ve been friends for decades. In terms of learning most certainly I’ve learned I need to work on my technical skills and confidence in riding prior to taking another one of these trips. From a family standpoint I’m glad to have such a loving family at home willing to let go for a few days so I can relax.

Q: What advice would you give to veteran riders, during trip planning and during a trip, to make a newer rider feel welcome?  A: Pick a small technical part of the ride and let the newer riders lead to get an idea of their speed and comfort. Perhaps not to ruin that part of the ride for the veterans, just to give an idea.
Get an idea of comfort over breaking the law with speed limits in and out of work zones.

Q: What advice would you give newer riders when contemplating a 5 day trip?
A: I don’t think the 5 days is an issue, it’s 12 hours on and off a bike for 5 days. A newer rider should do at-least one of these prior (100+ miles 8+ hours.)

Q: What are your plans for future multi-day trips now that you’ve had this experience?
A: It’ll be a while just due to work and family commitments, but I’m looking forward to what ever is next!

Q: Anything else you want to say?
A: Thank you to the boys that pushed me and gave me a great experience!

Moonshiner 28 and Tail of the Dragon 2018

On Tuesday, July 17th, 2018, an adventure began. Two men left Milwaukee, WI after work and saying goodbye to their families. One of them was a veteran roadtripper and Iron Butt rider, the other had never gone 300 miles in a day. Before they returned home, they would join two other riders, survive mechanical failures, rain, tornadoes, and buffalo.

Day 1

Day 1 began simply. I had convinced a former co-worker, Wyatt, that it was in his best interest to accompany me to the Tail of the Dragon and Moonshiner 28 for a 5 day trip. Wyatt was in the middle of changing jobs, so I didn’t give it much of a chance that he’d come. I had three veteran rider friends whom I thought would certainly come drop out due to work and health issues. As I mention in Planning Group Rides, the circle-back is key – keep pestering people to see who’s coming.

I met Wyatt in South Milwaukee and we rode to Lisle, IL to meet up with Harley Mark. You may remember him from my last trip to the dragon’s tail. We did this to get around Chicago and try to make the next day an easier trip miles-wise. I’ve never had rider friends not get along, but just in case, we went to a nearby watering hole to get this new friendship started.

Maybe it’s bikers, or maybe it’s just decent people, but despite not having seen Harley Mark for two years, it was no big deal.

Day 2

We set out with the goal of Maryville, TN – within striking distance of the tail of the dragon, some 577 miles. “Today is the day we earn it“, I told everyone. Someone forgot their new Harley gloves at the gas station and immediately started joking about being “that guy”. We started working on nicknames for the new rider involving gloves and u-turns. Our second mishap involved me fat-fingering google maps and heading to Kankakee, IL instead. I always think of Willie Nelson’s “City of New Orleans” song when I go by. Anyway, we went a little out of our way and this should serve as reminder that letting google think for you comes with hazards. We got back on track and headed towards Indianapolis.

When leading, I (obviously) check my mirrors constantly for the state of traffic and my riding crew. I also gawk, though, and sing along to music. Imagine my surprise when Wyatt comes cruising up to tell us to pull over. He pointed down and his bike was… missing something. His right saddlebag had come off on I-65. Shit.

When it comes to vacation, I’m an optimist. I figured we’ll recover the bag, ride back to the Harley dealer we’d seen 10mi back or so, and have lunch while they fixed it. Not so. Keep in mind, at 75mph by the time something happens, and then you get your group’s attention, more than a mile may have gone by and it was a busy day. As I made a freeway loop from +1 exit to -1 exit from the accident, I found not a Whiskey Amber saddlebag but debris from what had once been a bag. So we road back to see if there was any salvage.

Miraculously, we recovered: a phone bent in half, his ID, his cash, his credit cards, and rain gear. All would come in handy in the future.

As we talked Wyatt into continuing on the trip, we noticed that his left saddlebag was also in danger of falling! We fixed the pins and set out in search of food. I secretly began thinking of nicknames involving lost saddlebags and gloves…

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iPhones do not stand up well to semi trucks

We had all agreed to completely wing it on this trip in terms of food and sleep. One of the great joys of road trips is the random discoveries you make. Looking at a list of nearby restaurants and craving Mexican food, I led to us to “LA Cafe”. It wasn’t Mexican. I peeked in and the hostess saw me and asked “Are you looking for the cycle shop around the corner?” Huh? Looking around, I saw my mistake:

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It was a biker bar. Not “The Cafe”, but “The LA Cycle Cafe“. Nice random find for bikers on the road! Good food too!

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Note the missing right saddlebag on the middle hog…

We found a Verizon store and got Wyatt a new phone. We hit the road. Indiana is, honestly, my least favorite state to ride through. It’s just as boring as Illinoise, but with the addition of (in my opinion) some of the worst drivers east of the rockies and the worst roads. I-65 was, naturally, completely closed north of the city (as it has been on and off for years) which made the I-465 a hot stop-and-go mess. Still better than a day at work.

As I mentioned, the goal was a 577 mile day ending in or around Maryville, TN. By the time we got just around Lexington, KY Wyatt was showing signs of serious fatigue. This was a pretty eventful first roadtrip day for anyone, so we got rooms and crashed right away. There was a “bourbon bar and grill” on the grounds, and a classic car show going on in the parking lot. We did all right.

Day 3

We were miles from the dragon, but got up early and ready to rock. I had previously arranged to meet Wingnut Dave right at the mouth of the dragon. Wingnut Dave would be riding up from his new place in Georgia, and you may remember him from my Bun Burner Gold trip. Maybe it’s bikers, or maybe it’s just decent people, but despite not having seen Wingnut Dave for a year, it was no big deal. We picked up where we left off.

While waiting in the parking lot at 129 Harley near the West end of the tail of the dragon, I had the first of several fortuitous meetings. I saw two Harleys with 3 digit stickers on their saddlebags. Loaded for camping. Paper directions clipped to their bars. Holy shit! The Hoka Hey is going on right now and did they make this part of the route? Sure enough, I asked and they were two patch holding brothers from an Arizona MC on the Hoka Hey. I didn’t take pics of them or their bikes out of respect, but it was amazing to see a small part of something I’ve been reading about for so long out in the world. The fact that I happened to be wearing my Hoka Hey tanktop that day made me me smile.

We got through the tail of the dragon and regrouped on the other side. I had planned to ride US 129 West to East and East to West, but they were mowing the entire 11 miles and blowing grass all over the road. In my experience riding on grass is like riding on slick snot, so we instead headed to the Moonshiner 28. Not before I met two more Hoka Hey riders, though. One of them saw my shirt and said “Yo! Yo! Yo!” and I enjoyed the hell out of that. See my future article: “Some Day, Hoka Hey!” Again, I didn’t ask for pics out of respect for their time and the vision quest they were on.

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We started South Carolina 28 right at the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. While I don’t think there’s a single turn as difficult as the switchbacks in the dragon, it’s 103 miles and still very technical. There are parts that are a straight 55mph road, and parts where the road narrows viciously and you’re likely to meet camper trailers in the worst turns. This was the most important part of the trip for me, since I got rained out last year. It did not disappoint. Not only was the riding amazing, but it’s right through an incredible national park with glorious scenery and waterfalls throughout. This is a magical place worth visiting via any transportation.

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SC 28 ends in Walhalla. From there, my plan was to see an Oscar Blue’s brewery outpost there, and find a place to stay. Oscar Blue’s did not offer tours, but otherwise was close to what I expected. Tons of taps, a band playing, a custom food truck and of course beers to go.

I found beds that night by randomly looking at a map and picking a place that didn’t sound like a chain. I called the Pines Country Inn and asked what they had. The answer? Mountain views, a bonfire, and a country breakfast cooked by the proprietor’s mother. Inexpensive, local, charming, and awesome: this is the kind of find you hope for when traveling without firm plans.

While they gave us wood, it was wet and starting a fire would be up to us. I was glad I carry a hand axe, a tactical flashlight, emergency fire starting materials, and thermacell with me when I travel. My “just in case we get stranded sleeping at a rest area” kit came in handy.

Campfire Talk

Finally, on day 3, we had gotten some sleep the night before and there was enough distance from The Saddlebag Incident that everyone was ready to open up and talk in good spirits. Wyatt was named “Lefty” for having only his left saddlebag and I think that’s going to stick.

It’s an important thing for men to be able to talk with other men. We live in a world where men of a certain age still think , or at least were raised to think, that honesty and vulnerability are signs of weakness. This is not to say that any friendly rider wouldn’t be welcome on a trip with me. Sometimes it just takes hundreds of miles and a little adversity to feel comfortable with people. The bond shared by band members, sports teams, or any other group “on the road with a mission” must be similar.

We talked. We talked about our second lucky find in this B&B, about my hilarious packing list that included a packing list and a tactical flashlight.We talked about Wyatt’s newfound understanding of the freedom of the open road. Other stuff. We stayed up too late and drank too much. It was perfect.

Day 4

My goal for the next day was to start working slowly towards home. A couple of the guys had not seen the Cumberland Gap Tunnel on TN 25E, so I wanted to hit that and then do the Buffalo Trace Distillery tour before stopping at my usual haunt in Shelbyville. We knew there were big storms coming but figured we could beat them. We were wrong.

As we reached Southern Lexington, it was clear that the horizon had turned into a hot mess of weather. Wingnut Dave pulled me over to talk some sense into me. Harley Mark pointed out that he’d seen a Hooters sign a few miles back and the radar seemed to say we could wait it out. We headed back and barely got inside before the sky unleashed hell. Buffalo Trace would have to wait. We spent hours at the restaurant as the weather winded down, and the parade of emergency vehicles ran around afterwards. We bought bourbon nearby. We made hotel reservations nearby.

As we rode towards the hotel, I noticed something. Light pollution is so jarringly ever-present in our cities today that you notice it when every house and street lamp is dark. I knew before we got there the hotel would not have power. I was right. We “had rooms” reserved online that they could not let us in to until they at least had power. We settled in, opened a deck of cards, I started sewing on my Moonshiner 28 patch (the shittiest stitching I’ve ever done), and opened the day’s haul of bourbon. It wasn’t long before I pointed out “Guys, even if power never comes back we can’t possibly ride out of here…”; a bottle of Buffalo Trace was already looking badly used. We were committed. Not long after power came back we had another surprise: a tornado had been spotted a mile away and the hotel manager was herding everyone into the stairwells. So here we are, four drunk bikers passing around bourbon along with crying children and all kinds of families. Eventually the coast was clear, we took a dip in the pool, and then settled into the hotel lobby for cards and more bourbon. We talked again. We stayed up too late. We drank too much. It was perfect.

Day 5

The morning of Day 5 we parted ways with Wingnut Dave, heading to Buffalo Trace for the early tour. Dave was on the way to the Devil’s Triangle and we had to get home. These partings pain me, since I can only take so much time for motorcycle trips and I don’t know when I’ll see people again. We made it to Buffalo Trade and had a great tour.

I couldn’t help but think (maybe I planned it this way?) that this was a fitting end to the trip, but also a sharp contrast to last year where Four Roses was my consolation prize for missing the Moonshiner 28.

We got absolutely shit on by weather on the way home, but luckily we had saved Lefty’s rain gear from the lost saddlebag. There’s not much else to say. I came home, I hugged my family, and I sat down peaceful and content.

With that, “Moonshiner 28” moves from the “Some day” to “Been there” column on the Rides page. What’s my next adventure? Stay tuned…

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Back to the Dragon in 2018

In about two weeks, myself and between 2 and 5 other folks will be heading out of Milwaukee towards the Smoky Mountains. This route has become a sacred journey for me.

Last year, I set out from the Wisconsin Dells with the intent of making yet another trip to ride the 129 and the Moonshiner 28. This was the trip that I made instead of going to Devi’s Tower with Bart.

Tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico pushed enough rain up into the Southeastern US that I got stranded in Knoxville, TN. I’m not a fair weather rider, rain is a part of life on two wheels. I pack rain pants and I don’t bitch about wet boots. But… There’s a difference between “I got wet” and “I can’t see my front wheel let alone the cars in front of me…”. I finally pulled over to the side of  75 north of Knoxville, I scooted Red Sonya in front of half a dozen cars that were already on the side of the road with their flashers on because it’d be less likely that I got mauled by a semi who didn’t see my bike. When I put down the kickstand, the water on the side of the road was running hard and up to my calves. This is what happens on a road trip, and the good and bad of having no plans and no reservations: I clearly wasn’t going to make it as far as I’d hoped but I’m fine sleeping on a picnic table in a rest stop or riding overnight on a decent road. I waited until I was feeling bored and checked out the radar: when it looked like I could scoot out in between thunderstorms I got ahead of the rain and stopped in northern Knoxville.

This was an important night. I found a motel and a restaurant. I came back to the room and I started thinking about how different life would be if Bart was still alive, the toll it had taken on me in just two months. I started thinking about the right and wrong ways to deal with losing a brother. I thought back to some Psych 101 level techniques and realized that writing letters to the dead would be perfect for this situation. The headspace of two months and 1200 miles finally let me fill in some gaps in my thinking. I sat on the balcony in my underwear, swilling 32 oz cans of local brew while local couples got into fist fights over who took the last cigarette and tried to imagine a future where I could take trips like this and not miss my brother; where I could heal by writing letters that living people would perhaps read, but the primary recipient was beyond reach.

The next day, it was clear that a 300mi wide storm was going to keep me from getting through the Moonshiner 28. Maybe if I’d gotten up an hour earlier, but it was still dicey. I did not have my tent and my MSS with me, so the idea of being stuck somewhere between Deal’s Gap and Walhalla, SC on roads that are treaturous in the best weather was not appealing. Maybe I should have tried: what’s better than a story of camping on your bike in the middle of nowhere? Still, I was not in a “level” frame of mind, and I knew I had friends in Nashville I could see. I turned West, and still had treacherous rain storms all the way to the music city. I had lunch with a good friend, stayed the night in Shelbyville, KY and toured the Four Roses distillery the next morning. I had nearly 2000mi of solo time and I am better off for it.

But I need to get back.

The weather in Robbinsville, NC shows thunderstorms every day for the next 14 days. I have to hope these are “spotty”. I’m coming back and I don’t intend to be defeated. I want to buy land in Western NC some day and I need to start scouting. Less than two weeks, I’m coming back.

2016 Bun Burner Gold

On Saturday, October 8th 2016 three men set out from a Kwik Trip in Waukesha WI with the goal of riding at least 1500 miles in less than 24 hours. If you’re not familiar with IBA certified rides, check out when I previewed this ride a few days ago. Riding were myself, my little brother, and my friend Wingnut Dave.

Our planned route had us taking highways 90/94 to Wall, SD and back. We knew there was some construction and the potential for serious cold but we wanted to hit ‘gold’ and didn’t really have a backup plan.

Some planning always has to go into a ride like this, but it’s also October in the North Central US, which means weather can be an issue. Wingnut Dave had just done a 2-up trip to Seattle and back, so he was good. My little brother rides a VTX 1800. With no heated gear, fairing, cruise control or hard lowers, the IBA might call this a hopeless class ride for him. Not that it couldn’t be done, but, damn. He went and rented a 2016 Road Glide Ultra, which also happens to be the bike he’s been lusting for. For my part, I got the rest of the heated gear I started putting together last year.

I tend to get excited before a trip like this. A long ride is great for clearing my head, but my head’s not clear yet so my mind messes with me. “Hey buddy, really important that we get sleep for this ride right? Ok cool, I’m just going to run non-stop with random stuff until about 2:30am…” To combat this, I employ a variety of sleep aids. This particular evening my sleep aid of choice was a healthy Glencairn glass of Knob Creek small batch. Not the tastiest bourbon, but my mom always told me to try new things.

It was in the low 40s as we set out West. As we got near LaCross, WI it plunged down to 33 degrees. At 75mph, that’s cold. During the first gas stop we all added extra layers, glove liners, etc.  There’s also a reality check: Are we really going to be able to do this? Put a few dudes together and the testosterone goes up exponentially. Of course we’re doing this.

I have driven up to Minnesota before, but it must have always been at night. As we crossed the Missouri river as saw Lake Francis Case I was already regretting the fact that we had zero time for sight seeing. If I do any more endurance rides, maybe I can justify it to myself as a way of finding places to go back and spend some time.

I had not been through South Dakota since I was a kid. My parents were serious road-trippers, and originally gave me the name Road Runner as a CB handle when we would talk to truckers on long trips. In my head I was thinking “We are going to Sturgis”, but heading out to Wall, SD in October isn’t like that at all. There’s a lot of the typical tourist road-side attractions like you would find all over the American West, and you get just enough glimpse of the beauty of the landscape from I-90 to make you want to come back. Be aware that actual Premium fuel is hard to find out there. I know modern engines have knock sensors, but my gas mileage went to hell until I had run a tank of 93 through the bike.

But, again, this was a timed endurance ride. Stops were gas, piss, kickstands up as much as possible. I was a little jealous of Wingnut Dave’s cup holder, he was sipping hot coffee. For me, though, a big part of being on the bike is Doing Without all the Stuff. Sometimes a fully loaded Gold Wing starts to edge a little close to being a two-wheeled car for me.

Other than the cold, the only issue we encountered was stench. Part of SD, all of MN, and again part of WI were bathed in a non-stop stench that defied explanation and was a marvel in it’s continuity. I’ve ridden through tons of farmland, so I know what pig shit smells like. I know what pesticide and non-shit fertilizer smells like. I know what skunk smells like. This was all of it, and it was constant and bad enough I started worrying about blowing chunks into my balaclava.  Most of the last 500 miles smelled like a diaper full of rotten Thai food that had been made with raccoon vomit. Or maybe there is a “baseball bat open season” on skunks I haven’t heard of, or maybe it’s an inside North Woods joke that deer hunters shoot skunks and then throw them on I-90? I don’t know but all of us on this trip have logged a lot of miles and agreed this was a singular phenomenon. We were getting damn close to the end point before I could breathe again and I pity the poor souls who live in those areas.

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Obviously, being alert is a constant concern on a ride like this. We didn’t do ourselves any favors with the time of year we chose. The cold takes a lot out of you. Even though we’re on a trip “for fun”, safety has to be a constant concern. I realize I’m talking to myself a lot “Be alert. Get home safe, you have a family to take care of.”

Other than these thoughts, though, I got exactly what I needed out of this ride: a brain reboot. I generally have a lot of trouble telling my brain to shut the fuck up and give itself some peace. I’m also a natural introvert and people like me can really recharge from alone time. Sure I had two guys with me, but you’re alone with your music and your thoughts 99% of the time.

Being mentally chill is so rare, that every single time it happens after a ride it still shocks me. When I was finally back on my brother’s couch having a bedtime (5am) sip of bourbon and talking about the ride, my ears ringing, it hit me again. My head is empty. I tried for a second to worry about my house or my job and it just wasn’t there. Do this right now: sit down and think about what you were thinking about yesterday. Can you do it?

The Aftermath

I don’t feel old most days. I use a bead rider seat, my fairing and shield keep most of the wind off of me, and generally never have much to complain bout after a ride other than sunburn. Holy shit was I sore today though. The cold and the miles took a toll I didn’t realize until I’d slept and tried to move. There are people who can do 1,000 mile days for a week. Kudos to you, you’re in a lot better shape than I am.

My little brother (by nearly 2 years) is a big boy, but I still can’t believe he did this without heated gear. Just some layers and a leather jacket. I suspect that the power of his epic beard may behind it, and so for now I’m giving him the road name “Der Bart”, the German word for “beard”.

I haven’t submitted to the IBA yet but obviously I know the GPS and the paperwork is in order, so I am looking forward to adding a couple patches to my vest. You can see the full route here.