With 99.8% of the population, the conversation goes something like this:
Them: "What are you doing during Spring Break?"
Me: "I am going down to a Motorcycle Banquet in Jacksonville, check out Bike Week in Daytona, and then ride coast to coast in 50 hours."
Them: "There is no way you can do that without killing yourself."
Me: "Yes, I can and can be very safe at the same time. Might even get more rest than you will."
Them - walks away shaking their heads in bewilderment.
But for those in the Long Distance Motorcycling community, it goes like this:
Them: "What are you doing during Spring Break?"
Me: "I am going down to a Motorcycle Banquet in Jacksonville, check out Bike Week in Daytona, and then ride coast to coast in 50 hours."
Them: "The banquet is cool, Daytona sucks, and I guess you're doing the wimpy southern route?"
The 50cc (50 hours to go coast to coast) ride itself is pretty straight forward. Start on one coast and get to the other coast in less than 50 hours on your motorcycle. From Jacksonville Beach, FL to Ocean Beach in San Diego, CA, it is approximately 2,365 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean (depending on how you chose to go around San Antonio, TX). Assuming that you stop midway to rest (typically Junction, TX), the "wimpy" southern route can be done in 2 riding days of about 19 hours each with a lengthy rest period and still have plenty of time to spare. So after the UTAH1088 last summer when Dorsey told us that the MTF (Motorcycle Touring Forum) was going to host the ride again in 2014 in conjunction with the IBA Banquet, my mind was made up to get that ride under my belt.
Getting to JacksonvilleThe IBA Banquet was being held on Friday evening, although I could ride down on Friday morning to attend the banquet, I decided to take advantage of the location to snag a few Big Money Rally locations (mostly county courthouses and libraries) on Thursday and pulled into the Ramada about 8 pm after a very uneventful trip down. On Friday, the Bailey's, myself and a few other friends made our way down to Daytona to try and spend each others money. Not since my one and only visit to the Myrtle Beach Bike Week in 2005, have I been back to a bike week event. Found out that I am not missing much. To me, it seems like such a waste to leave the bike parked to go look at motorcycle things when you could be riding. Sure the people watching can be an event in itself and I did use the time to visit a few vendors to get some ideas as to what my next purchases may be and to sit on a few bikes that I would consider buying at some point. But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to ride again so we headed up the A1A coast line back to the hotel and banquet.
On Saturday, we decided to have an easy day of limited riding. So after an 11 hour sleep, I meet up with the Baileys to scout out the starting gas station in Jacksonville Beach and to acquire our sample of Atlantic Ocean water and sand (yes, you probably should do that on the clock, but it was nice to have that checked off) - plus it was fun to be walking along the beach during spring break in full motorcycle gear while the families were out there in their suits sunbathing. After a successful scouting visit, we head south to a riverside seafood restaurant. There is a quick rider's meeting later that afternoon where a few of the logistics are covered with no real surprises as long as one is familiar with general IBA documentation expectations. It is good to meet the other riders as 9 bikes and 10 riders are making the voyage - including two brave souls that are going to attempt the 100ccc - 100 hours to go coast to coast to coast. After an early night, we all head off to bed around 8 p.m.
Even though this is an IBA ride, it doesn't have to be a very difficult or tiring one. You just need to have the ability and commitment to keep moving west. The route that we are taking is about 2,365 miles. Based on the bike's fuel capacity (225 miles) and my bladder (3 hours), we are figuring a stop about every 3 hours or 180 miles will serve us nicely. Based on those numbers, we are planning on stopping 13 times for gas, at 20 minutes a stop. Plus we want to maximize our rest in Junction to be as close to 8 hours as possible. Therefore, we plan on stopping for 12 hours 20 minutes (13 * 20 mins + 8 hours) during the 50 hour window. So we will have 37 hours and 40 minutes of riding time - which correlates to an average of 62.8 miles an hour to make it across the country. Since the entire trip is divided highways and interstates, it will be really easy to maintain that pace - especially out west where the speed limits are 75 and 80 mph. See, no one needs to speed to be able to safely complete these rides - just keep moving at a reasonable pace and you can do it.
The Ride ItselfThe only bad thing about staying at the IBA hotel in Jacksonville was that it was a good 25 minutes west of the official starting point for the ride. So all of the riders were up at 4 a.m. and out the door by 4:30 a.m. to make our way over to the Gate gas station in Jacksonville Beach in time for a last group photo and send off a little after 5:00 a.m. The ride over is simple and traffic-free (of course, why wouldn't it be at 4:30 on a Sunday morning). The group of 9 pose for a quick picture after getting some well wishes from Ray King - our official start witness. A quick splash of gas at 5:13 a.m. officially starts the clock and I now have until 7:13 a.m. (ET) or 4:13 a.m. (PT) on Tuesday morning to get to San Diego.
The route is simple enough. Take A1A south to FL202 west to I-95 north to I-10 west to I-8 west and once in San Diego, I-8 turns into Sunset Cliffs Road where the Shell station is located. Yes, you execute more turns in the first 15 minutes of the trip than you do for the rest of the 48 hours. The morning starts off beautiful. The night sky is clear with a giant almost full moon laying low in the sky immediately to our west. Once the city of Jacksonville is in our rear view mirrors, it is time to settle in for a little ride. For this trip, I am doing it with the Bailey's, so I am mostly content to settle in a few hundred feet behind them and just ride. About an hour into the ride, we see our first signs of wildlife as a few deer are grazing on the side of the interstate. Fortunately, they pay us no mind as we zip on by. The first gas stop is in Tallahassee, FL as day breaks and it is a quick one as we continue head west.
Just before 9:00 a.m. CT, we are east of Pensacola, FL and a light rain starts to fall. We knew that this was ahead of us, but I was still secretly hoping that the forecasts would be wrong. But to our chagrin, the forecast is correct and the light rain slowly gets more heavy until we are riding smack in the middle of a spring thunderstorm. We back off the speed slightly as we cross over Escambia Bay near Pensacola. The winds are tossing us around slightly but we keep pressing forward into Alabama. The rains continue well past Mobile Bay and we slowly weave our way through the maze of interstates, tunnels, and ramps in Mobile and pop up into Mississippi. Fortunately throughout the rain event, traffic remained light and my water resistant gear lives up to the promise of keeping me warm and dry. So I am not at all uncomfortable from the storm, but certainly am glad that it is behind us.
Shortly after noon, we cross into Louisiana and head to the nearest exit for some gas and a chance to get out of some of the layer of clothes that we won't need anymore since we believe that the rain is behind us. The stop drags on a little longer than planned - partially due to the crabbiness of the cashier who was more interested in eating her banana than trying to figure out how to get me a "good" receipt that shows the city and state that we are now in (Sidell, LA). We are now about 7 hours into the ride and have already covered 540 miles. Even with the gas stops and rain, we are averaging about 64.8 mph - ahead of schedule and feeling good.
The "feeling good" part is short lived as we enter Baton Rouge, where the combination of spring break traffic and just piss poor interstate design creates a 5 mile congested bottleneck. It takes us about 40 minutes to get through it and we lose all of our time savings. So by the time we stop of gas stop #4 in Welsh, LA, we are now down to 61.0 mph and 725 miles completed. There is not much at the edge of town over there in Welsh, but we still seem to find the break that we need.
Back on the bike, we cross over the Sabine River and into Texas and immediately see the ever famous Exit 880 for the Visitors Center. Yes, we are about to be on I-10 for 880 miles and Texas alone corresponds to over 1/3 of the entire trip. Texas is one big state!
We enter the outer ring roads of Houston shortly after little after 6:00 p.m CT (about 14 hours after the start) and because it is Sunday night, the traffic is non-existent. As I travel through the center of Houston, I can understand why people in the LD world never speak pleasantly about Houston and it's maze of HOV lanes and what I suspect would be a very busy rush hour. But since we don't have to worry about it, we zip through the city quickly and am amazed as to how sprawling the city goes on and on to the west. Shortly after leaving the outlet malls in Katy, we decide it is time for another quick gas break in Sealy, TX.
The stop in Sealy shows that we are more hungry and cold than we at first realized. We are 15 hours and 940 miles into the ride and still have about 4 hours away from Junction and our hotel room. So we decide to take another 15 minutes or so and grab a quick burger and coffee at the McDonald's across the street. In general, McDonald's sucks - but I do like their coffee and at this point I really don't care. The burger goes down and we hope back on the bikes towards San Antonio.
Since the thunderstorms in Alabama, we have never completely escaped a fairly consistent crosswind. However, now that we are in Texas and there is not a lot of trees lining the interstate to break up the wind, the crosswinds can really be felt. As we head west, the bikes become more and more slanted as we zip down the highway. It is not a terrible cross wind, but one that is fairly constant and tiring. As dark starts to fall on us in San Antonio, we make our way through the city. We wanted to stay on the interstate as much as possible since there was very little traffic to deal with - even though Route 1604 is slightly shorter. The GPS does not like our choice and continues to try and put us on 1604 it regardless of what we try to do. By the time I-410 rolls around, we are tired of fighting with the GPS and follow her instructions. With the exception of the tractor trailer truck barrelling down the ramp and squeezing us over the shoulder, I-410 is an easy loop road that drops us on I-10 just north of the city. From there, it is another gas stop before the hill country and deer take center stage.
Deer in West Texas is a known threat and most riders schedule their ride through the area to minimize possible deer sightings. We pass several as we head up and out of San Antonio, but fortunately, they are quite content to continue to graze on the shoulder grass and don't make any sudden moves towards the travel lanes. We crest into Junction shortly after 11 p.m. CT and pull up to the hotel ready for a break. The check-in process is quick and painless and once the desk clerk hears that we left Jacksonville this morning, he quickly mentions that one of our buddies is also staying here. We are in the room at about 11:45 p.m.. The day ends quickly as I note that we have traveled about 1210 miles in 19 hours and 40 minutes. So we are averaging 62 mph including stops. Although we are slightly behind schedule, we are still making great time and most of the high traffic corridors are now behind us, so we are feeling good about our ride into San Diego come Monday morning.
We set the alarm for about 6.5 hours after checking in and it certainly feels like a quick nap, but come 6:30 we are back on the bikes, getting fuel and looking for breakfast. We fail on the breakfast quest, but land at McDonald's which is fine. Come 7:15 a.m. CT, we are back on I-10 heading west and the sun coming up over the hills behind us.
The winds and storms from Sunday seem to be a distant memory. The sky is crystal clear, the air feels still (as still as it can feel when you are zipping down I-10 at 80 mph), the temperature is hovering at freezing, and the sun is slowing peaking it's head over the hills. About an hour into the ride, we meet up with Wendell who is also making the trek but doing us one better by attempting the 100ccc (100 hours to go coast to coast to coast). He will ride with us for the better part of the morning. While we are making great time, the sustained speeds in the low 80's in west Texas are killing our gas mileage so after getting into El Paso we decide to keep it closer to 75. After a quick ride along the US/Mexican border we make our way out of the tale-end of the lunch rush hour traffic around El Paso and we cross into New Mexico at 1:30 p.m.
The goal is to make it to Deming for the next gas/rest break but coming out of Las Cruces proves to me that my bladder won't so I race ahead of the Baileys and take the next exit for our only stop in the entire Mountain Time Zone. Back on the bikes we head into Arizona and our final time zone at 3:00 p.m. PT. and 1880 miles into the ride. What at first was just going to be a quick gas stop, we decide that we are more hungry than we thought since the McD's breakfast was burned up many, many miles ago, so we accept a gas station Subway as our last major meal until we get into San Diego. While we are there, Wendell makes his way into the station. He is a little worn but in great spirits even though his phone which was also his GPS system has stopped working and he is routing stop to stop using a Truckers Service Station guidebook. Old school or not, it contains all of the information that he needs and is simple to follow. He wishes us well as he heads on over the visitor center in search of a map.
Back on the road eager to get through Tuscon traffic before rush hour. We leave Wilcox a bit too late for that and wind up in Tuscon right at 5 p.m. but it moves without major incident and we are running at full speed just before 6:00 p.m. without much in time loss. While traveling through the town, Barbara sees an In/Out Burger just off the highway and for a quick minute I thought she was going to make a run for it!
Turning off I-10 and onto I-8 signals that the ride is slowly but surely coming to an end. I-8 is pretty desolate and I remark how little development lines the interstate. I later find out it is because we are smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Without cars and trucks zipping by and the setting sun among the fields of saguaro cacti, it is by far my favorite part of the trip. The environment is so unlike anything that I have ever ridden through or have lived in. Although I am anxious to have the trip over and the 50cc checked off the bucket list, this evening is one that I am truly trying to savor and capture. After about an hour, we emerge back into civilization and pull into the Love's just out the Monument for our last substantial break before San Diego. At this point we have traveled over 2,085 miles (a successful SS2000) in about 34.5 hours for an average speed of 60.5 mph with the gas/rest stops. Just about on target for what we wanted to accomplish. We know that we will be finishing slightly behind what our schedule said that we would, but finishing is more important so we don't worry about the lingering that happens before jumping on the bike as the sun disappears over the mountains ahead of us.
The ride out of the high desert of Arizona into California is upon us before we know it and Yuma, AZ goes zipping past as quickly as it came into sight. As we cross over the Colorado River and enter California at the immigration check point, we team up with another rider - Marty doing the 100ccc. We know that we don't have enough fuel to make it all the way to San Diego so a quick stop was going to be necessary. That gets accomplished in El Centro, CA. Upon getting gas I realize that we are about 40 feet below sea level and then it dawns on me I don't think I have ever been below sea level before - I don't feel any different, but it is cool to note that.
Getting out of El Centro, we have accomplished 2,250 miles and realize that we have only about 120 miles to go. What seemed to be so daunting just a week ago has turned out to be a very manageable challenge and one that I am optimistic that I will complete in a little over 2 hours. Shortly after getting back on the interstate we notice hundreds of very consistent red blinking lights up on the horizon. For the next 30 minutes the rhythm of the blinking seems to be calling us in to it's fold. We finally reach the lights as we climb out of the valley and notice that it is the red lights on the windmill farm.I have seen large windmill farms before, but I think this is the first time that they have blinked in unison. It was kinda of creepy.
Now that we are pulling ourselves out the valley, we will be experiencing the San Diego mountain winds that so many have told us would be the final challenge to face on this trip. As sure as we enter San Diego County, the cross winds start up. I am riding about 200 feet behind the Baileys when a cross wind hits and (I swear) picked up their fully loaded Gold Wing from the left travel lane and place them down in the middle of the right shoulder. It was the most surreal thing that I have ever witnessed to happen to another bike. Fortunately, Rick piloted the bike masterfully through the crosswinds and we show up on the downward facing mountains a little after 11:00 p.m. PT. Looks like a 11:30 p.m. Pacific Ocean arrival will be in the cards.
Traffic on I-8 at 11:00 p.m. on a Monday night, is very light and the ride into San Diego is relaxing and allows me to reflect on what I have just did. It is nothing that spectacular as compared with what people had to endure 150 years ago when they traveled coast to coast, but it still is an accomplishment and I know that I am one of only a thousand or so riders who have done it with he necessary documentation to be recognized as a finisher by the Iron Butt Association. I-8 ends and turns into a surface street about 1/2 mile from the ocean and finishing gas station. I pull up to the pump at 11:36 p.m. and stick my card in and call it done!
The only thing remaining is a quick run over the the beach to gather our sand and water. Even though it is just about midnight, the beach has quite a bit of activity on it with people walking, the homeless making camp for the night, and a group of people doing who knows what inside a VW camper van that we pull up next to. Well, I do have an idea as to what they were doing based on the sweet smell that is hanging in the air coming from the van.
A rouge wave almost takes Rick out when he is getting his sample, but like the trip, the stop was uneventful and we both are excited about heading to the hotel, completing the paperwork and start the trek back east in the morning. On the way away from the beach, we pass by the Shell ending station again and see that Wendell has just pulled in. It was great to see that he made it as well.
We touch base with the ride witnesses and tell them that we will meet up with them in the a.m. to go over our paperwork. That is fine with him so we head to the hotel for some much needed showers and rest.
Getting HomeAt the hotel, sleep does not come easy so I decide to put together all of the receipts and necessary paperwork now instead of the morning. Fortunately everything comes together and by 2:00 a.m., I am ready to drift off. We are up at 8 and heading over to get all of the paperwork delivered so we can find some real food (since it was Saturday's lunch the last time we have) and head back east. The witnesses are happy to see us and informed us that everyone made it and the two that are doing the 100ccc are already back on the road home.
The plan for the road home is a simple one - Hit Sedona, AZ, the Grand Canyon, White Sands National Monument, and Huntsville, TX - all the while picking up Big Money Rally bonus locations and staying off the interstate as much as possible.
The ride on Tuesday was pretty uneventful since we all were quite tired. Riding back on I-8 we got to see everything we missed the night before and turn up the Imperial Valley. Riding through the farmlands that are all below sea level and irrigated by the Colorado River makes you wonder and understand how massive the business of food really is. From the Imperial Valley it is up into Arizona cutting our way northeast on US-60, AR-89, and Iron Springs Road (an amazing back road) into Prescott. From Prescott, it is through the Black Hills mountains and down into the Verde Valley. It is getting late, but the descent down the mountains with the setting sun behind us is breath taking beautiful - especially Jerome which is a small city literally built into the side of the mountain from it's old copper mining days. We briefly get separated coming out of Cottonwood into Sedona, but quickly catch up at the Sedona Library and make our way to the motel and a dinner at a local microbrewery.
The next morning we head out around the Trinity Site on the White Sands Proving Grounds (closed to the general public with the exception of the first Saturday in April) to the White Sands National Monument. The brightness of the gypsum sand is incredible and as we are riding into the park, the number of families that treat the area in the same way one treats a snow park is quite evident. Because of the ever present winds, the dunes are continuing moving around and people sled down the dunes on the sand like it was snow. Younger kids seem to take great joy in running through the sand in their bare feet. We get back to the main parking lot, snap a few pictures, run up the dunes once (and then carefully down) and then hope on the bikes to head over the Lincoln National Forest. The ride over the mountains and through the forest is an incredible contrast to the desert that we have mostly been riding through over the past couple of days. The smell of pine is a welcome change but once we get on the eastside of the Sacramento Mountains, the winds pick up again and really start to throw the bikes around. After about 80 minutes, we make our way into Artesia, NM at the start of their short rush hour. Artesia has an abundance of very large bronze sculptures sprinkled through the town commemorating various events that have occur in town and their dependence on the oil/gas industry. It also crazy about high school football based on the size of the high school stadium and the proud list of every title ever won painted on the side of the water tower.
We turn south on US285 and head our way to the hotel in Monahans, TX. US285 is jammed pack with oil/gas trucks making various deliveries to the fields and pay us motorcyclists no mind as we now have to fight them and while continue our battle against the wind as we head through Carlsbad and another BMR library bonus. Just inside Texas, we pass the Gas Card fueling station in the middle of nowhere that we used to ensure our trek along the back roads between Kermit and El Paso last summer happened us fuel to spare. No need to stop on this trip. We head in to Pecos for a quick Mexican dinner before making it into the $150 a night hotel room (thanks oil boom) after a quick detour off I-20 due to a terrible crash that occurred earlier in the day.
The plan of Friday is pretty simple, get to Huntsville while nabbing a few courthouses along the way. It is an very uneventful trip first through the oil/gas fields of West Texas, than as San Angelo appears we start into the hill country and farmlands that we really haven't seen since Sunday. Based on the number of dead deer we see on the side of the road, this is not a place we want to be traveling through at night. We make our way east through farm fields, cattle ranches, and small towns as we thread the needle passing between Waco and Austin over to I-45 and down to Huntsville. It is nice to share in the hospitality offered by Chris and eating a home cooked meal is a special treat after 11 days on the road and of course, who doesn't like to sleep in a real bed.
Saturday morning, we head out to get back to Tuscaloosa. By the time we get to Vicksburg, Rick and Barbara have decided that they don't need to repeat the BMR locations they have already gotten earlier this spring, so they head home as I ride into town. Traveling through Vicksburg was an unexpected surprise, the hills and older homes made the side trip very enjoyable even if it has started getting a little warm in all my riding gear. I snap the required pictures of the library, courthouse, and Battlefield and head east into Alabama for the last couple of stops before arriving at the Bailey's safe and secure.
Unfortunately, the last 250 miles of the trip looks like it was going to be a difficult one with heavy rains forecasted for Sunday all the way into Athens. I bid Rick and Barbara good bye early Sunday morning and head out in a steady drizzle that turns into a heavy rain by the time I am in Birmingham and at the Barber Motorsports complex. I am staying dry but I really don't want to deal with this. Fortunately, by the time I get into Georgia, I am sufficiently ahead of the heaviest rains and it is only a light drizzle. As I travel through downtown Atlanta, the rain is now completely behind me and I am actually riding in the sun by the time I reach my garage - with plenty of time to make it to the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby finals.
As I unload the bike, I check the odometer and find that the trip was a little under 6,000 miles during the 10 days or so of riding. A great start to the 2014 riding season!