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Randy O's
VERY detailed account of his Western Circle Tour

The Day Before

(Or, Randy breaks his butt in a day early)
What follows is a report of my first ever motorcycle trip. I purchased my bike in March, 1997, after taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation beginner's class. After reading a few trip reports on the Internet, I had to do it myself. I accumulated around 3,000 miles of commuting and "round the town" riding experience, purchased some saddlebags, whipped out the AAA maps, then hit the road. Be forewarned; I am more of a rambler than a writer. Steven King and James Michener have nothing to fear!

THE DAY BEFORE May 31, 1997

After waffling over the departure date, I finally made up my mind. It was a hectic week, so I decided to put off final packing up until Saturday, then leave around 10:00am Sunday morning to avoid the traffic. Yes, it's true, there is traffic in the Bay Area on Saturdays and Sundays. The freeways here on the weekend are equal to most states rush hour traffic.  

The bike , a black 95 Nighthawk 750 named Vader, received a thorough going over. Lubed/adjusted the chain. Set the shocks to position 3. Added air to the tires to max values. Gave him an early Oil/Filter change (went with Mobil 1 15W50). Vader looked ready for action (the name is appropriate, he brings out my "dark side").

 Eager to start packing, I grabbed the instructions and began installing my new RKA bags. Uh-Oh! Problem!! The straps looked like they were way too short to fit across the seat. No one has ever accused me of being a mechanical genius, but even I could see there was no way in hell of making those straps work!! Fine thing to find out the day before a trip starts. There's nothing like doing things at the last minute to liven up a trip!! Out of options, I called RKA, praying that they were open on Saturday. "Well, not always", they said, but they were this week. I explained my dilemma, and after pulling up the order, it turns out they mistakenly put me down for an older model Hawk, not a Nighthawk 750. Big difference!! They promised to remain open awaiting my arrival (just what I needed, a 3 to 4 hour pre trip ride to break my butt in!).


 LESSON: Order everything way ahead of time then check it all out long before you go. Most people probably do it this way. A few, like myself, do things the hard way. It makes for a more exciting trip!

Somehow, I avoided getting lost on the way, and even enjoyed the ride out to RKA, located in Santa Rosa. A quick check of my bike revealed that even had they sent me the Nighthawk 750 straps, it still would have been too short. Seems I neglected to inform them that my bike had the Honda Luggage rack/backrest (then again, no one asked me). This necessitates even longer straps. Well, when you're at the factory, custom fitting is not a problem. I had the pleasure of watching a professional install the straps and bags correctly. That's the best way to learn something. Watch someone who knows what the hell they are doing! They offered me a beer while I was waiting. Being a new rider, my "under the influence" riding skills are undeveloped, so water seemed a better choice. With the exception of a few raindrops and a slightly sore butt, it was an uneventful ride home. The remainder of the day was spent packing up the majority of the gear, with the exception of the clothes. I was still unsure which type of soft suitcase to pack them in. The decision boiled down to a black canvas military style soft bag, and an "el cheapo" Korean soft suitcase, which was slimmer and appeared to be waterproof. When the clothes were all laid out, the smaller, slimmer bag looked like the best choice.


LESSON: When you are moving clothes around in different bags trying to decide which bag to take, make sure you don't leave something in the bag that you didn't select!! I left my rain suit pants at home this way!!
 

All of my cooking gear was stowed in the right side RKA saddle bag. My little Coleman multi fuel backpacker's stove is a great stove, but it has one problem. It's a little too big to fit into any of the common backpacking pot & pan sets. For protection, it was tucked in a 2 pound coffee can. Next to it was my little stainless cookset. It would have been nice to have been able to "nest" the stove into the cookpot, saving valuable space, but the stove is just too tall. Someday the right cookpot will turn up. I don't want to buy a different stove. Since I was riding solo and planning on cooking only one meal a day maximum, my rations consisted of about 2 lbs of dry white rice, a dozen assorted MRE main entrees, numerous packs of MRE bread, crackers, cheese spread, jam, and peanut butter. Added to this was a little jar of coffee, cream, and sugar, for a complete pantry!! The plan was to augment this with a little fruit purchased on the way, an occasional restaurant meal, and whatever road kill was available (just kidding). Well, I finally got it all packed up, then hit the showers and the pillow.



Day 1

Hayward, California
to
Battle Mountain, Nevada
June 1, 1997

Let's get the show on the road! Woke up, had some breakfast, fed the dog, showered, loaded up the last few odds and ends, then said goodbye to the wife and kid. I purposely avoided saying goodbye to Whitney (the dog). She loves camping, and did not look too happy earlier. Somehow she knows. Dogs are smarter than we give them credit for.

 

Snapped a few photos of Vader fully loaded , and the obligatory shot of Cathy and I. Cathy is my 19 year old daughter. She was probably wondering if she would ever see her goofy Dad again! The journey finally began at 10:30 PST. It felt great to actually be underway. Traffic was non-existant as I passed through Hayward, Castro Valley, then up I-580 to I-680. This is my preferred route when I'm heading towards I-80, a trip I make occasionally when visiting my daughter at U.C Davis. The scenery is nicer, and you avoid the disastrous mess where I-80, I-880, I-980, I-580, and Highway 24 all come together in one gigantic maze. You end up with a huge traffic-weave of cars merging from the right lanes all the way to the left lanes in a short distance to get to the Oakland-S.F Bay Bridge, and cars merging from the left lanes all the way to the right trying to get to I-80 East. If it sounds confusing to you, just try driving it during rush hour! It's a huge revenue source for the local Tow Truck Drivers. It's been a mess ever since the Cypress Structure collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake in October of 1989. I did major damage to my Ford Explorer there a few months ago, and just didn't feel like fighting that mess on my bike. Despite my mere 3 months of riding experience, I don't fear traffic when on my bike. I've been driving for 26 years, and maneuvering a bike through traffic is much easier than wallowing through it in a cage. To me it's like a real live video game. I just didn't want to start my trip in that mess.

I-680 takes you up through the East Bay Area hills, near the Yuppie towns of Danville, San Ramon, Walnut Heights, Walnut Creek, and then up through numerous small cities which are effectively one continous suburb, up to the Benicia Bridge. The view from the bridge is incredible. On a clear day you can see forever. Once you cross the bridge, it's a great ride for an Interstate. Up I-680 a ways off to your right you see a floating boneyard of surplus Navy ships. Rows of old sailors long past their useful life. It's kind of a sad sight. It was the huge military industrial buildup of WWII which was responsible for turning the Bay Area from an agricultural base to an industrial base. It threw together folks from all across the U.S. into one geographic locale. Probably one of the greatest social expierments of all time. The melting pot theory seemed to hold up while the economy was viable, but this area is going through some big changes, partially due to the phase out of the military, but mostly due to the loss of unskilled and semi-skilled manufacturing jobs to cheaper workers overseas. Who knows how it will all play out. I can't picture an economy based on bankers, lawyers, stockbrokers, teachers, and hamburger flippers. Someone has to produce something along the way, or it will all come tumbling down. Well, enough of the sociology babble and back to the trip.

Day one was all interstate riding. There was no reason for me to dawdle around in California. The sooner I left my home state and traversed the deserts of Nevada & Utah, the more time I would have to spend in the "nice areas". The traffic was light passing through the Sacramento area, and it was clear sailing all they way on I-80. The bike had no problem climbing the mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada range. There was only one long uphill stretch where I "ran out of throttle", topping out at around 72 MPH. Not bad considering the grade and length, and the load I was carrying (my 190 and about 110 pounds of gear, food, and clothing). I've had cars that wouldn't do that good. Nearing Nevada, my butt was still feeling good, and with hours of daylight remaining, stopping early made no sense, so I scrapped my Tahoe camping plans and kept rolling East. I Stopped in Sparks, Nevada for gas. Since it had been windy, and I had been riding between 70-80 MPH, my gas mileage was 35 mpg. Normally, my bike averages between 40 and 41 mpg. My first gas stop earlier in Loomis, California was a normal 41 mpg.

In Sparks I passed a couple of worn out Ford Pinto's . There aren't that many left running around in the Bay Area. One of them even had two large round stop lights mounted on the top of the roof. You definitely want people to know that you're stopping when traveling around in a gassed up 73 Pinto. As a former Pinto owner, I never worried much about the gas tank problem, but mine was a 1978 model, and the deficiencies were corrected by then. Apparantly this owner was taking no chances. It's my theory that the Pinto population is probably a good economic indicator. Why pay all those college trained economists? Just count Pintos. The more you see in an area, the more depressed economically it is.

Physically, I was holding up pretty good. My ankle was really my only sore spot. The day before the trip I had slightly sprained it the while putting the bike on the center stand. That was one skill that I hadn't really perfected yet. The other sore spots I was able to alleviate by moving around on the bike. That's the beauty of a standard bike. You can lean back against your luggage and cruise, or slide your butt back and put your chest on your tank bag for a sportier riding position, or go with the usual standard upright mode. Physically, I was doing so well that I decided to try to make it to Battle Mountain before dark. My AAA map indicated a campground there.

Driving across Nevada puts one in a meditative state. You just cruise, and your mind wanders. It is probably one of the few places were it is relatively safe to do that on a motorcycle. You're mostly going straight, and there isn't much of a wildlife danger in the day time. Not much traffic either. You're alone, for all intensive purposes. My mind wandered to all of those who had made trips coming out west in the past, taking weeks to travel distances that we do in a day. No gas stations, no AAA maps, no towns to speak of, just a group of brave souls looking for a better life. Most of them with all of their posessions, their loved ones, everything that they held dear crammed into wagons, braving the weather, the unknown, occasionally running into hostile Indians, who were fighting just as vigorously to hold onto their land and way of life. I wonder how many descendants of those hardy people have the tenacity of their ancestors? Time will tell... I learned an important lesson on I-80 in the middle of Nevada:


LESSON: You don't get near as good gas mileage doing a constant 80-85 mph into a headwind as you think you will.
My bike went on reserve about 30 miles sooner than I thought it would. Damn! According to my map, I was in trouble. There might have been enough gas remaining to reach Winnemucca if I included my little bottle of cook stove gas, but it was also possible that I would be "hoofing it" for a couple of miles. Tucking in to reduce the wind resistance, I slowed to 55 mph. After a couple of miles, I saw a small dirt & gravel road leading to a couple of trailers. Up near the trailers was an old grizzled cowboy sitting in an even older Ford. He drawled, "nuttin to worry about. Got a truck stop about 5 miles up the way in Mill City". Well, I survived my first crisis. When I got to Mill City, I gassed up (only 31.6 mpg). Not wanting to tempt fate anymore that day, I performed a thorough bike inspection. I noticed that I had lost the water bottle which was bungeed to my luggage. A fine pioneer I would have been. Hell, a loss like that a hundred and fifty years ago probably would have turned me into a pile of bleached bones on the desert floor! So, what the experienced folks say is true! Double and triple bungee everything, and never pass up a gas station unless you damn sure know where the next one is!

 

Around 7:00 PM I rolled into Battle Mountain, gassed up (only 32.7 mpg), and cruised around looking for the campgrounds. There was nothing in that town remotely resembling a campground. They did have a small city park, which was hosting some kind of city festival. I was tempted to just pull in and set up under a tree, but the local authorities would probably frown on a dusty biker setting up camp in the middle of their park. I learned another important lesson that day:


LESSON: AAA maps are worthless for finding campsites unless you have their travel book also.
The little campsite indicators on the AAA maps may be nothing more than an asphalt & gravel RV Park (which was all they had in Battle Mountain). You can't pitch a Wenzel "biker's tent" on asphalt (it's not free standing), and you can't sleep on gravel too comfortably! Well, no big deal. After a 462 mile opening day, setting up a campsite wasn't all that appealing. Despite the cost, there are times when a motel looks real good. After a tiring day, even restaurant spaghetti tasted good. One minor complaint-- Why are all of the slot machines in the little towns set to the maximum rip off mode?? Has anyone ever come out ahead playing the machines in small town restaurants and bars?? Not me. However, I am cheap, so losing nickles and dimes steadily only added up to about a 15 dollar loss. I suppose all in all not a bad first day.

 

 


Day 2

Battle Mountain, Nevada
to
Salt Lake City, Utah
June 2, 1997

My day started with a hearty restaurant breakfast. I ordered a stack of three pancakes so large they covered the plate. It would be more than enough fuel to get me to Salt Lake City. You can't find a more cost effective meal to fuel a day's riding. For a measly 3 bucks or so, you can get a cup of coffee to perk you up, followed by enough carbohydrates to keep you going until dinnertime. What a deal. Before departing, I managed to get the bike up on the centerstand and wax the chain without incident, unless you count the little black kitten which walked up, meowed, then walked under the bike to get to wherever it was headed. Not being a superstitious type, I just chuckled and forgot it.

 

The rest of Nevada is mostly desert, despite the elevation changes. It's almost pretty in June, when all of the sage brush is green, and most of the other plants are flourishing. The weather was also ideal. It was cool enough in the morning where I needed my neck warmer and the winter gloves. It didn't really start to get warm enough to remove them until after 11:00 AM. Cruising at 80-85 MPH tends to cool you down a bit. Even later in the day the temperature was mild, probably low 80's.

My first stop of the day was Elko, where I gassed up, even though I had only gone 70 miles. The events of the day before had taught me a lesson, and I didn't want to chance stretching my tank too far. My mileage slipped to 29 mpg. This was a real surprise to me. This being my first trip, I had no experience with sustained high speeds. My assumption was that it would drop a bit, perhaps 35 MPG at the worst, but hey, I'm allowed to be a little ignorant the first time out. The extra weight and the headwinds really took their toll.

The first really stunning sight of the trip appeared as I crested the mountains and got my first glimpse of Wendover, Utah, and the Bonneville salt flats. What a sight!! White as far as your eye can see. When I was boy of 10, we rode through here in my parents car, but my memory of the trip was sketchy at best. More than likely I was fighting with my brother, or whining about something, or whatever else 10 year olds do to annoy their parents.

It is hard to imagine the stark beauty of the salt flats until you see it yourself. No picture can do justice to the sight of land that flat and that bright a white for as far as you can see (I took some anyway).

After a pit stop (30.7 mpg) I headed out across the salt flats. I discovered an art form taken to new heights. Salt Flat Graffitti!! It seems that even the lack of buildings or overpasses to deface does not deter the creative human spirit!! If nothing else is available, you can always deface mother nature. All along I-80 you see names, pictographs, hieroglyphics, JR Loves SM, whatever, spelled out in rocks. After a while the white gives way to brown and white, then off in the distance you see Salt Lake City. It was here that I realized how poor early memories can be. All I remember of Salt Lake City from my childhood visit was that it was hot. My mind pictured desert, and of course I had no memory whatsoever of the lake itself. I remember my Aunt's house, my cousins, and getting stung by a bee (always did hate that!!). I vaguely remember being intimidated by my cousins, who were all either Utah State skate board champions or piano virtuoso's, and I could barely stand on a skate board, and was proficient in playing only chopsticks. What I didn't remember was how beautiful that city is. Perhaps I was just too young to appreciate it, or maybe it was really ugly back in the 60's, but it's a fact that it is one of the prettiest cities I have seen. Another plus-- the traffic!. Although it was rush hour when I rode into Salt Lake City, it seemed like Sunday afternoon in the Bay Area. No Problemo!! Even saw a few SQUIDS sans helmet and protective gear zipping around on sport bikes! Ahh, the ignorance of youth! Most surprising to me was the kid with spiked hair. It appears not everyone in Utah is a Mormon and listens to their parents (Won't Dennis Rodman be amazed to hear that!).

Locating my Aunt & Uncle's house was no problem. They live in what is without a doubt the finest neighborhood in Utah. Around the corner from her is Larry Miller's (owner of the JAZZ) soon to be completed opulent palace. In the other direction is Karl Malone's house. She is surrounded by wealth (good thing they bought the place years back when it was affordable). The view from their deck has to be seen to believed. You can see the entire city, the Great Salt Lake, the mountains on the other side of the city, pretty much the entire Western U.S!! They told me stories of dazzling lightning displays, and of seeing ball lightning travel around and knock out power to the entire city!! We barbequed some steaks on the deck, had dinner, then drove down to the city center. I wanted to get some photo's of the Mormon Temple. It's hard to picture how those folks built that imposing structure back in the 1800's. It's worth the time if you're in the area. There wasn't enough time to take the tours or go inside, but it was great strolling around the grounds. Lovely shaded gardens and plaza's, and the architecture is something to see. Stopped off for some frozen yogurt, then back to the "heights", or whatever the rich people call their neighborhood. The low point of the day was when we tried to log on and send e-mail. My aunt has the misfortune of being on AOL. It seems that she is rarely able to even get on line, and when she does, it's a 2400 baud connection!! ARE YOU LISTENING A.O.L??? YOU SUCK BIG TIME!! That is why I and zillions of other subscribers dumped you or are going to dump you! Get your shit together!! After explaining to her how easy it was to get a decent Internet provider, we decided to call it a night and try sending e-mail in the morning (she told me they ARE able to log on around 5 or 6 AM, how convenient!!!).

 


Day 3

Salt Lake City, Utah
to
Wilson, Wyoming
June 3, 1997

Morning arrived to the smell of coffee and the hum of my Aunt's computer. She woke up early to log on. I sent some e-mail, downed some Java and breakfast, then installed a few programs on her system which I had carried across the desert . A quick bike inspection was uneventful. I added a bit of Mobil 1 (@ 1/10 Quart), received instructions on taking the scenic route out of town, did the goodbye thing and headed out. It's nice seeing relatives, but hard to say goodbye when you only see them every 10 or 20 years. You never know if you will see someone again. If you ever get the chance, take the time to visit. It's worth it.

Tuesday morning traffic leaving Salt Lake City was light by Bay Area standards. The road construction slowed things up a bit, but only for a couple of miles. Salt Lake City is undergoing a major infrastructure facelift in preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics, so road construction was a fairly common occurence. I-15 through Northern Utah and into Idaho is a pretty drive for an Interstate. I toyed with the idea of getting off on smaller roads, but decided to stay on the Interstate as long as possible, knowing I'd be getting lots of twisties a little later in the day. Besides, this was meant to be more of a "Tourist" trip than a "Sport Touring" trip.

Damn pretty country all through Northern Utah and Southeast Idaho. Some of those valleys are right out of a book. Farms, rivers snaking through, everything a lush green, quite a sight to see. If it weren't for the winters, I would move in an instant. There was one particular valley between Ogden & Willard around the 357 mile marker that was incredible. The surrounding mountains were capped with snow, and it looked more like a painting than reality.

I gassed up in Garland and stretched my legs. My gas mileage was up a bit to 34 for the last leg. Nearing the Utah-Idaho border, I passed a flatbed truck carrying cement grave liners. Normally I'm not a superstitious person, but I can't recall ever seeing one of those on the road before. I upped my vigilance level a notch. A few hours later, in Pocatello, damned if a truck didn't pull out right in front of me, and the bastard was pulling out of a parking lot in front of a store selling head stones & monuments. Geez!! If I had been the least bit superstitious, I would have turned around and headed home!

Undeterred by the bad omens, I proceeded north through the Fort Hall Indian reservation. This was rather uneventful. I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to be attacked by Indian war parties, considering the earlier omens, but there was only nice scenery and miles of road to grind out. While gassing up in Blackfoot (32.8 MPG) I witnessed a humorous scene. A group riding Harleys had pulled in shortly before me, and most of them were working on their bikes, tightening stuff, wiping oil off, checking to see if their kidneys were still in place, the usual Harley routine. One of the guys was pushing his bike over to the phone booth. He had a sheepish look on his face, and put up his hands and said, "Piece of Shit Harley, what are you gonna do?" I'm not sure which model it was. Maybe a "Fatass", or a "Shovel-it-under" , or perhaps a FLXS#!*@. I'm not good at identifying them.

I pressed on, branching off of I-15 to 26E in Idaho Falls. This was the beginning of the "good stuff". Highway 26 follows the Snake River, and takes you into the Targhee National Forest. It branches at Swan Valley, where you can choose to stay on 26 through the Alpine pass or go farther north on 31 and take the Pine Creek pass. Originally I had planned to take 26 through Alpine and into Wyoming, but while in Utah my Aunt informed me that another Aunt was living in Wilson, Wyoming. I also learned that the Alpine pass was still closed. That made the choice of routes easy.

I won't even try to explain the beauty of the Targhee National Forest. Great roads, stunning scenery, what a ride. Most of the twisties are marked 25 mph or faster, and would probably bore all of you sport bikers, but for a Newbie on a Nighthawk 750, it was riding heaven!! I pulled into Swan Valley right behind an Idaho State Patrol Car and gassed up (30.9 MPG). Departing the gas station, my eyes took in Swan Valley. What a pretty little town and valley! The ride was absolute perfection until about a mile outside of Swan Valley, where I came upon the State Patrol car again. DAMN!! There I was, looking at about 30 miles of twisties, and I was stuck behind the Law!! My only option was to back off the throttle and enjoy the scenery. All the way to Alpine I was stuck behind 3 cars, two RV's, and Idaho's finest (that's right, ALPINE!-- dummy here was so caught up in the scenery he took the wrong turn out of the gas station). In retrospect, it worked out for the best. The sedate pace was perfect for viewing all that pretty scenery , then I got to turn around and backtrack like a bat out of hell. What a thrilling ride that turned out to be. It was worth the lost time!!

Eventually I made it back to Highway 31 and was surrounded by scenery even more stunning than the previous two hours. The scenery was such that it was difficult to remain focused on the riding, but I forced myself to stay alert, and it soon paid off! Coming around a 25 MPH curve I almost hit a tourist in a huge Winnebago who was straddling the centerline and READING A MAP LAID OUT ON HIS STEERING WHEEL!!! Give me a break!! I swerved to the right, cursing the whole way (thanks MSF, the training and practice paid off). I just hope that someday when he pulls that crap again he meets a logging truck instead of a bike. Maybe swerving his "Highway Hilton" off the road and down the side of a mountain will cure his stupidity!!

My heartbeat subsided to normal by the time I rode into Wilson, Wyoming. Since it was already 5:30 PM, I gassed up (41.3 MPG) and called my Aunt. Nobody answered, so I left a message. Armed with an address and a description of her Log Cabin, I figured I could find it in a flash. Wrong. After spending almost an hour cruising up and down that little town and asking people for help, I was ready to just give up. The cabin was no where to be found, and nobody was familiar with the house number either. Eventually I pulled into a little gravel road off-shoot of a Post Office parking lot which was near where the house should have been and saw a group of college age kids sitting on a porch. They weren't familiar with that particular address either, but since it was almost the same as their house number, they thought it might be the log cabin out behind their place. There it was! It had to be! There wasn't an address visible, but it was the only log cabin in sight. I rode up quietly and parked the bike. I walked up to the door, knocked a few times, and waited. No answer. They were probably out shopping, and that couldn't take too long in a small town, so I sat and waited a few minutes on the porch. After about 15 minutes my concern shifted to finding a place to stay. Motels seemed to be in short supply in Wilson, and I definitely didn't feel like riding on into Jackson. Pitching a tent in the trees surrounding the place was another option, but I really didn't know for sure if it was her house. None of my options seemed appealing. One thing I knew was that nature was calling, so I quietly went into the trees along the side of the house, unzipped, and heard a noise. My head whipped around, and I saw someone in the window who looked more surprised than me! While zipping up quickly I said "Hi, didn't think you were home", or something silly like that, then walked around to the front. She came out the front door and said, "Do I know you?". Well, after quickly explaining who I was, all was fine. She had been told that I might stop by on my way to Yellowstone, but the last time she had seen me I was a skinny little blond haired 10 year old. My appearance has changed a bit since then. She was watching television, and didn't hear the phone or the knocking on the door. In all honesty, I really hadn't wanted to spend my time seeing relatives. Maybe that sounds a little callous, but I was just all keyed up to see all of the wonderful sights, and couldn't wait to get to Yellowstone. Somehow though, the unplanned parts of a trip turn out to be the best parts. I hadn't originally planned to stay with my Aunt in Salt Lake City either, but at the last minute did, and it was great. My stay in Wilson was only one evening, but it felt much longer. This Aunt was the family "Brain". A bona fide doctorate in mathematics, author of textbooks, and she's probably read everything worth reading. She took me on a walking tour of Wilson (another beautiful town slowly being taken over by rich yuppies). The majority of her day had been spent sandbagging. It had been a record winter, and the massive snow melt had their little creek running like a river. There were numerous spots where the water table was seeping through the ground. Even the Log Cabin had 3 inches of water in the crawl space. Being a city boy, I had no idea that you could get flooded at elevations that high.

She took me down to the creek and showed me where my cousin lived. This cousin was my age, and I remembered her as one of my "over achieving" cousins from my boyhood trip to Utah. I'm sure the intimidation I had felt as a boy was unwarranted. It's hard enough growing up, and when you're not very athletic or overly gifted in any other way, and you meet relatives who seem to be experts in everything they do, it's a bit overwhelming. Despite my boyhood trepidation, I do have vague memories of running all over their neighborhood having fun, so I'm sure my earlier uneasy feelings were some sort of sibling rivalry or juvenile jealousy.

After the stroll through the town, we went back to the cabin ,

had some dinner, then watched "Fargo". OK by today's standards, but I didn't really see any Academy Award performances. Must have been a weak field this year.

The cabin interior was fascinating. Having had a normal suburban upbringing, my concept of a log cabin was somewhere between "Lincoln Logs" and the Hollywood renditions of Daniel Boone's house. This one was quite luxurious, with two levels, and a library to die for!! Some day I hope to own one as well stocked. Eventually, I ran out of steam, and hit the sack. Instead of a tent in the trees, I got the guest room. What a deal!

 


Day 4

Wilson, Wyoming
to
Yellowstone National Park
June 4, 1997

After coffee, breakfast, my cousin came by to say hello. She hadn't changed a bit! Even though she was now 42, I would have recognized her! Still as pretty now as she was at age 10! Most of us don't age that well. I guess I'm still a little jealous! After a bit of catching up on family news with my cousin and Aunt, I repacked. It was time to lube the chain, so I tried to get the bike up on the centerstand. I still had not perfected this, and it was complicated by the fact that my ankle was still a little sore and that the bike was on a dirt & gravel road. Despite the nagging pain in my ankle, I managed the task, then added a little bit of oil and was on my way.

.

The ride through the Tetons is too beautiful to describe, so I won't even try . You have to make the trip to appreciate something like that. The scale and majesty of this country is something most people do not experience. Those that do usually do it in a car with rambunctious children distracting them, or surrounded by their "mobile motels". Few experience it on a motorcycle. Traveling in a car will never be enjoyable to me again. My desire to stop every couple of miles to take pictures was outweighed by my wanting to have lots of time in Yellowstone, so I settled for just a couple stops. I have never been too happy in the past with photos I have taken of mountain scenery. To do it right, you need to spend days there getting the right lighting, and looking for good vantage points. At one of the photo stops, I returned to find my bike windshield covered with flies. What a sight. A close inspection revealed that the little cannibals were chowing down on the remains of their recently departed cousins. Leaving them alone, I gently eased the bike out of the parking lot. Scientific studies are lacking in the area of fly gripping power, so I was curious to see how much speed it would take to get the last one off. Those little guys are tough. The last fly was finally whisked of at 73 MPH! The miles quickly passed, and before I knew it I was digging around for my entry fee at the Yellowstone entrance. My first stop was of course, Old Faithful, where I planned to get the number one tourist picture out of the way, then enjoy the rest of the day.

In contrast to the beauty of Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone shows an ugly side. I had forgotten about the previous fire which decimated major portions of the Park back in the 80's. Arguments have been made endlessly on both sides of the issue, but my personal opinion is that it was gross negligence and incredible stupidity to allow something like that to happen. A controlled burn here and there is one thing, but those responsible for allowing that fire to rage on and on should have been burned at the stake, or at least fired! The park service is now doing their best to convince all of the visitors that what occured was a natural and healthy thing. They tell all the visitors how periodic fire is a natural occurence, and healthy for the environment, and even needed for many species of flora and fauna to thrive, and that's true, but damn, people, this is a National Treasure here!! Do it on an area by area basis, say a few percent a year, and do it like the logging companies do. Hide it!! Leave a few hundred yards of pretty green trees bordering the roads and major tourist sights intact. Then, everyone is happy!! The tourists see beauty from their car windows, and the eco-freaks can hike in to see their "natural environment", complete with charred tree stumps and ash covered meadows. Since the "natural" fires had been suppressed for decades and decades, it stands to reason that if left unchecked, nature was going to catch up with a vengeance!

As soon as I rode into the parking lot for Old Faithful, I knew I was in "tourist land". There was hundreds of cars, the huge Yellowstone Lodge, and gift shops!! There appeared to be a major exodus underway, so I correctly guessed that the geyser had just spouted (my usual timing). This gave me about 75 minutes to walk around, buy a hat (it was hot), and just "chill" for a bit. Too lazy to unpack my tennis shoes, I spent the next couple of hours walking around in my cheap engineer boots, almost causing a couple of blisters.

Finding Old Faithful itself was no problem. It is ringed by a huge wooden plank walkway, with rows of benches ringing it. There are also numerous signs in the "forbidden zone" telling the tourists to stay on the walkway. I could have taken lots of pictures of idiots standing right next to those signs having their pictures taken. If people weren't forced to keep their distance, you would have at least a couple of dozen scalding deaths a year, and Old Faithful would probably belch beer cans with every eruption!

The geyser was running a few minutes late, then there was a minute or so of "pre-eruptions" that quickly fizzled. One precocious little boy asked his father "Daddy, maybe it ran out! Are we too late?". That brought back memories of earlier vacation trips with my daughter. Sure do miss the zillions of questions I had to answer. Old Faithful eventually lived up to its name, and I popped off a dozen or so photos. (In the interest of saving precious Server space, you only get to see one)

Despite my sore feet, I managed to beat the crowd back to the parking lot, mounted up, then rolled off to find a campsite. Madison campground seemed close by and appealing, so I picked a site, quickly set up, then ventured out to see a bit more of the park before it got too dark.

One of the nice things about Yellowstone is the wildlife. You have a much better chance of getting a good view here than in many other parks, because despite the best efforts of the park service, the critters here are fairly used to humans. We've been camping and hiking there for over a hundred years. The most impressive sight that first day was a couple of crows on the side of the road. Those suckers were huge! With the constant traffic, they never run out of road kill. They looked big enough to eat any coyotes that might contest them for the meal!

My plan to hit Yellowstone in the middle of the week paid off. Except for a small backup caused by road construction, the traffic was extremely light. The top speed limit in Yellowstone is 45 mph, so you sport bikers will go nuts, but I enjoyed the easy pace through the park. My quest for souvenirs took me out the West entrance to the town of West Yellowstone (curious name?). Tourist heaven! Gift shops, restaurants, curio shops, hotels, motels, camping supplies, just about anything you could possibly need. I gassed up (46.5 MPG), bought a few patches and stickers (can't fit much else on a loaded Nighthawk), and headed back in to the park.

After four days on the road, my camping gear finally got unpacked! Out came the supplies, and soon a culinary masterpiece was heating up on my little Coleman multifuel mini stove; white rice and an MRE entree of escalloped potatoes and ham. After dinner, I stuffed everything in a bear locker, made a few phone calls to report my safe arrival, then headed down to the "amphitheater" for the nightly ranger show. We got the usual park service B.S. about the fire, and how it was good for Yellowstone; some bear horror stories to encourage everyone to use the bear lockers, and a zillion mosquito bites. A lovely evening otherwise. Ranger "Holly" even read a poem that she authored about bear safety (don't quit your day job, Holly). Not wanting to ruin her evening, I withheld the fact that I was the only one using the bear locker in my area! After the show, I climbed into my tiny little bikers tent, zipped up my cramped little sleeping bag (next time I'll get the X-Long size), and dropped off. About an hour later, I was rudely awakened by some heavy footsteps outside my tent, and some snorting sounds! Frozen with fear, I just layed there as quiet as can be, waiting for the claws to gut me. Not much else you can do in that situation. There wasn't any food in my tent, so I assumed I was safe, but it's still not a very comforting feeling just laying there with absolutely no options. I wonder how many people actually violate the National Park Service "no firearms" policy? I would have felt much better with a Colt Anaconda or S&W Model 29 under my pillow! After an hour or so of terror, I drifted off to sleep.

 


Day 5

Yellowstone National Park
June 5, 1997

I woke up early, anticipating a busy day. The morning was quite cool. Apparantly it was too early for the Highway Hiltons to fire up their generators, because it was amazingly quiet. I stretched a bit to get moving, then fired up the little stove for a bit of coffee. Just gotta have that morning jolt. Suddenly, I heard some noises, turned around, and about 20 feet away was a huge bison!!

Behind him, scattered amongst the tents and motorhomes was a herd of 20 to 30 of those shaggy beasts. What a photo op! I shot a dozen or so (pictures, not bison!), cursing myself for not bringing a faster lens. It's hard to get good pictures with a 200 mm F4.5 lens in the early morning light. With 1/30 & 1/60 shutter speeds, it's difficult to get sharp pictures. That's the only downside to bike camping. You can't bring your big lenses without leaving something else behind. Even so, I managed a few decent shots. Even got a couple of an amorous Bull attempting to mate.

click here

His intended obviously had a headache, and kept pushing him off!! Poor guy was so frustrated. He went over and head-butted a young male, just out of spite. They grazed for a while, then wandered off. Most of the campers slept right through it. Most of them probably can't hear anything in those rolling Holiday Inn's anyway. I can't figure out why anyone would want to travel in one of those. I was surrounded by RV's, some so large they even had expanding rooms! The one behind me had a little 250 Honda Rebel on the back, so I gave him credit for a little class, but in my opinion, unless you"re retired and living in the damn thing, leave it at home! I think it dilutes the experience to carry all that stuff, and to be wrapped in your "house" while roaming around. Where's that old "Pioneer Spirit" gone? Maybe I'm over reacting. Perhaps they're just the 20th Century equivalent of the Conestoga wagon?

After a breakfast of bison steaks (just kidding, actually MRE toast with MRE peanut butter and apple jelly), I hit the road. I spent the entire day seeing the sights, hiking, and taking pictures.

If you want to see Geysers with less tourists, try the Norris geyser basin. The geysers there are less well known, and not as regular as Old faithful, but the area is much less "touristy", with lots of different geothermal activity. Despite the wood plank trail, it seems like a more natural environment.

I was sitting there waiting for Steamboat geyser to erupt (it is supposed to be 4 or 5 times higher than Old Faithful), when a ranger came up and mentioned that the last time it erupted was 1991, and it was due again anytime between now and around 2040 AD. I did still have about 3 weeks of vacation time on the books, but I decided to pass it up this trip. I did see one sight which underscored the need for the signs and walkways at Old Faithful. Seems there is a small geyser located by the Visitor Center at Norris called "Minute Geyser". It used to spout almost once a minute. Unfortunately, after years of tourists and other assorted idiots THROWING COINS IN THE GEYSER, it now hardly ever erupts!!

I came around a bend in the Geyser trail and came almost face to face with a pregnant female elk. What a sight. I backed away quickly and managed to get a few nice pictures before she wandered off.

The highlight of the day was Yellowstone Falls. The falls is in the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone"(1), with an Upper Falls and a Lower Falls (2) section. The Lower Falls (3) is stunning. After a loooong downhill trail you come to a platform with a view of the falls from about 20 yards away (4). If you travel down a bit further you come to a platform right next to the falls. It is impossible to describe the sound of all that water. The power is unimaginable. Zillions of gallons cascading down every minute (5)!! I can't wait to get to Niagara Falls! The downside of visiting the falls is the climb back up the trail. That's one hell of a climb when your at 8,000 feet elevation! On the way up, I met an old timer who told me 'Hell boy, this climb ain't nuttin! Try the Uncle Tom's Trail down the road a bit. You'll git a great view from the other side of the river, but you might not make it back up that trail."

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Well, that sounded like a challenge to me, so I took it. He was right about the difficulty. It is a well kept trail, but it goes down a long way, with one section consisting of about 350 steep metal grate steps.

The view from the other side was worth the effort (6 above), but the old ticker sure got a workout on the hike back up those steps. I'm in pretty good hiking shape, since I take my dog on 3 mile hikes in the hills 2 or 3 times a week, but it's a different ball game at 8,000 feet. I spent the rest of the day just rolling along enjoying the scenery, stopping now and then for photos. I splurged and had a buffalo burger for lunch. Not bad, but it will never replace a real hamburger! I gassed up at Yellowstone Lake (52.5 MPG!!). It's amazing what backing off the throttle will do for your gas mileage. But who wants to ride at 45 mph all day long?

I decided to head back up and take a shower at Mammoth along with visiting the Mammoth Hot Springs. After two hours of sweeping curves and scenery, I arrived at the Mammoth Hotel, where I enjoyed a 3 dollar shower. Sure felt good. It was getting late, so I only spent a short time at Mammoth Hot Springs, but the little bit I did see was interesting. Lots of little multi-colored mineral plateaus, with hot water cascading down. The smells there are fascinating, mostly sulphur (rotten eggs), with another odor that I can't describe to you (unless you have tried Korean Corn Tea).

I noticed the sky was filling up with ominous looking dark clouds, so I put on my rain gear (It was here I noticed that I had left my bottoms at home). Turns out I didn't need the gear that day after all, only a few drops hit me on the way back to the campsite. Shortly after I pulled in, a group of about 7 or 8 Goldwings pulled in, complete with wives and trailers. Those monsters were sure smooth and quiet (the bikes, not the wives). I don't see the need for stereos, heaters, and all the other bells and whistles, but I sure did envy their storage space! Of course I get better gas mileage, can park without a reverse gear, can pick up my bike when it falls over, and I can buy three Nighthawks for the price of 1 Goldwing, so I guess everything is relative.

I fired up the stove and had another wonderful MRE meal (Potatoes and Ham again, with a pack of MRE hot dogs tossed in too). Mmmmm. Hey, what can I say! I'm a culinary genius!

The ranger show that evening was about getting away from the tourist attractions and hiking out to see the best parts of Yellowstone. Sounded great, but I didn't have the time. We got another spiel about bear safety. I asked the Ranger for the ratio of people killed by bears to people that died of heart attacks at Yellowstone. It wasn't even close. Heart Attack wins hands down! Most folks don't think about the rigors of life at high elevation until it's too late. OK, that's my last warning. All you beer bellied Harley riders better start walking your dogs before you make this trip!

Just before bed I was talking to my neighbor with the Rebel 250 strapped to his Highway Hilton. He and his wife were traveling with the Motorhome couple across from them all the way up to Alaska! OOOH, was I jealous. Some day!! They were retired Firefighters from Arizona, with lots of time on their hands. I intend to make an Arctic Circle trip someday. Anyone want to go?

I managed to get through the night without being eaten or trampled!

 


Day 6

Yellowstone National Park
to
Gillette, Wyoming
June 6, 1997

No bison dropped by for breakfast this morning. After a quick cup of coffee, another MRE toast and jam breakfast, I packed up, then started rolling east. Shortly after leaving the campground I came up over a small rise and had to quickly hit the brakes. A dozen or so bison were just standing in the road. They weren't going anywhere, or even eating. Just standing there blocking the road. There's not a whole hell of a lot you can do in that situation. The ditches on both sides of the road prevented me from going off-road. My little "Meep Meep" horn didn't seem to impress them whatsoever. Even that guaranteed cow mover, the old "rev it up to 7,000 rpm" manuever was unleashed, but nothing would budge those brainless beasts. Much to my embarrasment, the rescue came in the form of a Highway Hilton! Seeing my dilemna, they went around me, then slowly drove right through the herd. Needless to say, I remained glued to their rear bumper. That land yacht parted those hoof-burgers like the Red Sea. Bison seem to move only for something bigger than them or something with sharp teeth. Just before leaving the park I stopped for gas at Yellowstone Lake again (50.7 MPG), then headed out the East Entrance. Next on the agenda was a stop in Cody for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, followed by simply cruising across Wyoming until dark.

The Yellowstone East entrance (or exit, in my case) goes through the Sylvan pass. Before long I found myself stopped behind a line of about 20 cars, a tour bus, a couple of trucks, and a dozen or so Highway Hiltons. They were all held up waiting for the "guide" vehicle to return. Seems we were facing about 17 miles of one way travel on bad asphalt, dirt, gravel, etc. Following that bunch for 17 miles was not an appealing scenario, so I slowly rode past the caravan to the front. You wouldn't believe some of the angry stares! Most folks don't realize the dust that they kick up. Hell, I didn't used to notice either driving my car. It didn't seem all that important until I started breathing other people's dust. After a 15 or 20 minute wait the guide vehicle arrived, and my "off-road" formal education began. I quickly learned that whether you are in gravel, dirt, or a combination of the two, the trick is to ride in tire tracks whenever available. Crossing from 1 track to the other can be a little iffy, but as long as you are under about 35 MPH or so, control is not a problem. Going faster than that was not an option, since it's probably a moving violation to pass an escort vehicle. With the exception of a couple of driveways, I've never ridden on dirt or gravel, so it was good learning experience for me. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

That entire 17 mile stretch was being upgraded. Frankly, I don't see how they ever keep it open. All along the pass there were spectacular displays of Mother Nature's power. There were sections that were washed away, and sections that were going to wash away. There were many areas where they weren't working yet where you could see water cascading off the mountain like small waterfalls down onto the roadway. Probably a few years of that and they will end up replacing those sections too! There were a few spots where it looked like the river itself was actually being re-routed to prevent future erosion damage. In addition to the major work, there's the task of repairing pot holes and surface damage that's uncovered every year when the snow is scraped off. Looks like lifetime employment to me. My concentration was too focused on my dirt riding to really enjoy the scenery, but what I did see was impressive. Yellowstone borders the Shoshone National Forest. Once there, the roads improved dramatically, and I was able to divert some of my attention from the road to the stunning scenery. There were some spots where I rounded a curve and came upon rock formations that were beyond description. The sun was too high for decent lighting, so the camera stayed in the bag. You'll have to go see it yourselves. It's definitely a place to spend a week or two camping and hiking. Wyoming in early June was beautiful. Not only do you get the stunning rock scenery, but everything else is a lush green. It probably gets brown and ugly later on like my own Hayward Hills. The SF Bay Area has a 3 or 4 month period during and after the winter rains where everything is lush green, then the rest of the year is brown, yellow, and ugly (IMHO).

Arriving in Cody I was more than ready for a break. My intention was to spend about an hour in the Buffalo Bill Museum. Wrong! I'd never been there before, so I had no idea how extensive it was. My boss had returned from a vacation trip a few years back with stories of a museum in Cody that had a fantastic gun display, but I never imagined this! Let me tell you, that museum is "gun nut heaven"!! They have every firearm imagineable on display. You name it, they probably have it. Matchlocks, Flintlocks, Wheelocks, Gatling Guns, Harquebus's, Blunderbus's, derringers, revolvers, old guns, new guns, machine guns, gun factory machines, just about everything ever made that is worth displaying. All of them in excellent shape, with many captions and stories. Also on display was much of the factory equipment used to make guns, and just about every form of ammunition ever devised. And that's just the gun section of the museum. There was also a large Native American display with artifacts and art from the various Plains Indian tribes, numerous displays of 19th century daily life, a large section devoted to the life and times of William Cody (Buffalo Bill), and the Whitney Gallery of Western Art. What a fascinating place. It pained me to leave after only a couple of hours. They can count on my return. Next time I'll be armed with a dozen rolls of high speed film and a whole day to devote!

While getting myself back together to leave, the belt section of my leather chaps came off. My waistline seemed the same, so it must have been the workmanship. After securing my trusty steed in front of the local trading post (Walmart), I purchased some safety pins and a couple of T-shirts (to delay laundry day a bit more). Next time my travel gear will include a small sewing kit. Live and learn! I continued East on Hiway 14/16, gassed up in Greybull (36.9 MPG) and kept on rolling. From Greybull to Dayton is a long uphill stretch, so I gassed up again in Dayton (41.4 MPG), then headed down to Sheridan, where I transfered to I-90. The entire ride on I-90 was uneventful all the way to Gillette. The miles roll by quickly at sustained speeds in the high 80's. There was quite a bit of headwind, and the skys were ominous looking in my rear view mirror, but fairly clear ahead. The miles were taking their toll on me, and since it was getting dark as I pulled into Gillette, my urge to camp was gone. Old Vader had run full gallup on the last stretch, and his fuel consumption proved it (28.9 MPG). We both deserved a motel! Two days of camping had given me an urge for a gourmet meal, so I headed for the Pizza Hut right across the parking lot. It was Friday night and the joint was hopping. Service was a bit slow, but this was more than compensated for by the friendly, lovely waitress. My beer and salad were half gone when the waitress came over and apologized for the delay. They were out of the small crusts, so she said she would bring a medium for the same price. Since it was taking so long, she also brought me a half pitcher of suds "on the house" to make up for it. Not wanting to offend any local customs, I finished everything. Feeling stuffed, and with a slight buzz, I floated back to the motel. After an hour or so of TV, and a few minutes with the maps, I drifted off to sleep.

 


Day 7

Gillette, Wyoming
to
South Dakota, then back to Wyoming
June 7, 1997

Breakfast was nutritious and free (motel donuts and coffee). I did the chain wax thing, added about 1/10 quart of Mobil 1, and headed East on I-90. My original plan was going to be Devil's Tower, Mount Rushmore, then up into North Dakota. I'd toyed with the idea of visiting Minnesota too, so the whole day was going to be sort of an "undecided and flexible" day. Adding a swing out to Minnesota on this trip was probably too optimistic a plan, and I was starting to have second thoughts about that. My desire to "see it all" was tempered by the knowledge that Glacier National Park would require at least a full day of my time, and I was unsure of the time necessary to traverse Washington, not to mention the Oregon and the California Coast. Always a procrastinator, a firm decision was reached to delay the decision until after Mount Rushmore.

Just outside of Sheridan I left the superslab for Highway 14. The scenery improved dramatically, with miles and miles of pretty farms and lush green ranch land. After little more than an hour of travel, I saw Devils Tower off in the distance. It is quite startling to see it just sticking up there above the surrounding scenery.

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was one of my favorite movies, and I was thrilled to be able to visit the "tower" in person. Since it is a National Monument, there is an entrance fee ($3.00 for a bike). If you make the trip yourself, keep your eyes open! Shortly after you exit the toll booth there's a sign that you may never see anywhere else. It is basically a standard yellow diamond shaped highway warning sign, except that instead of "deer xing", or "school xing", it says "prairie dog xing", with a prairie dog silhouette. Initially I assumed it was some kind of a joke, but soon, off to my left, there they were!! A large expanse of prairie dog mounds. Fascinated, the next 30 minutes were spent watching and photographing the little critters.

I'd read articles about their behavior, and it was really something to watch them close up like that. They really do make a little high pitched squeal that sounds somewhat like barking. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of that sign. Someone please e-mail me a JPEG of that sign someday. Sure would appreciate it.

The Tower itself is worth the trip. As far as I know there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. It's the core of an ancient volcano, basically all that's left after eons of erosion. Most of my photography efforts here were disappointing. The late morning lighting was very plain from my vantage point, and I didn't have the time to waste to hike all the way around to the other side. Despite this, I was glad to have made the trip.

Exiting the Monument, I returned to 14, then stopped in Sundance and gassed up (36.8 MPG). My map showed a small state road existed which would save me some time, so I turned on SR 585. The rumbling of my stomach was reminding me of my earlier unsatisfactory breakfast, so I stopped in a tiny little town called Four Corners. The proprietor's of the little general store there promised the best hamburger for miles around. There's no way I'm going to pass that up. It was good, and I suppose they were right, since there was apparantly no other place to get a hamburger for "miles around". In their restroom they have a sign posted with an itemized list of the cost of sinking a well and pumping the water up to the bathroom, in an effort to remind the city folks not to leave the faucet running needlessly. I never realized that it could cost upwards of 20,000 dollars just to flush and wash. Makes my 35 dollar a month water & sewage bill look reasonable by comparison.

From Four Corners I went down Highway 85, then turned East on Highway 16. This turned out to be one more in a long list of beautiful scenic roads. Hiway 16 goes through the Black Hills National Forest and into Custer, South Dakota. In Custer, the roads go off in 5 different directions. After a gas (35.6 MPG) and stretch break I was back on 16, then followed the signs to Mount Rushmore. Normally I avoid major tourist attractions on the weekend, but there was no way to avoid it today. Arriving at Mount Rushmore around noon felt like pulling in to Disneyland. There were large parking lots (5 bucks to park), and more under construction. The pictures you see of Rushmore don't show you the ugly tourist side of the place, complete with huge granite steps, gift shops, restaurants, the whole package! You can even take helicopter rides to get close. It won't be long before they have roller coasters going through Jefferson's nose!

 

 

With patience and the right equipment it is possible to get some decent photo's without the surrounding structures or crowds, so I snapped around a dozen and made my exit. I don't think I'll ever go back. It turned out to be my least favorite stop on the trip.

At this point the decision was made to alter my plans. Abandoned was any thoughts of heading further east to Minnesota (I'll pass that way someday on my way to Niagara Falls). Also eliminated was the rest of South Dakota and all of North Dakota (nothing personal, Dakotans). My new route would take me through Sturgis (I know, it's way too early to visit Sturgis, but I didn't want to see 50,000 Harleys anyway), then passing through Wyoming on I-90 again on the way to Montana. This route would take me through Billings & Great Falls, plus, Little Big Horn. It would also eliminate a day or two of basically flat interstate riding. Seeing the Badlands would have been nice, but I'm sure I'll do it again some day.

Somehow I managed to take the wrong road, and ended up going through Rapid City. No offense to the people there, but it's a dump, even in June. What a depressing place to live in. Must be a real joy in Winter! I'll bet even the snow is ugly there. I reached Sturgis around 3:00 PM and pulled into the "World Famous International Motorcycle Museum". Another disappointment! There are some interesting classic Harley's, and a small sample of other makes and models, but all in all not that much to see. Worst of all is the condition of the bikes. Most of them look like they just came out of someone's woodshed or backyard. Not much restoration going on there. In their defense it's probably expensive as hell to restore that Classic Iron, and they probably don't make a whole hell of a lot of money except during that one period in the Summer when the plague of Harley's descends on the town. I didn't spend any more time in Sturgis. After the museum, Vader and I headed out of town.

Cruising into Spearfish, SD, I started feeling a strange vibration from the front end. I couldn't pin it down. It felt like the highway surface was the cause, but changing speeds or lanes didn't seem to help. Off to my left I saw a Honda dealer (They're everywhere!!). I took the next off ramp (which immediately cured the vibration problem), gassed up (45 MPG), then pulled into the dealership. Seemed like a friendly place to take a small break. Besides, I'd had been toying with the idea of installing a throttle lock or anything else that would accomplish the same task.

Ergonomically, the Nighthawk 750 seems to have been made for me. Everything is in the right place, the seat seems designed for my slightly wide 42 year old butt, and the distances to the pegs and bars is fine, but even so, riding long distances day after day takes its toll. I don't know where everyone else gets sore, but for me, the right wrist and the upper back and neck areas are the worst. All of the other sore spots were alleviated by moving around on the seat, leaning back against the clothes bag and cruising, or leaning forward on the tank bag and sport riding, or just plain sitting straight up, but the one pain I couldn't shake was my right wrist. You can't get around the need to have the right hand on the handgrip. It seemed to me that with a throttle lock, I might be able to ride forever. The friendly folks at Spearfish Honda/Yamaha couldn't find a wrist rest that would fit my grip, but they did have a throttle lock laying around. They informed me that some dealers won't install these because of the liability (damned lawyers), but I promised I wouldn't sue them (if I hit something with a locked full throttle I probably wouldn't be around to sue anyway). They put it on for just $27.95, including parts & labor. What a deal. While the installation was in progress, I had an opportunity to ogle all of the new Honda's (my favorite pastime), and B.S. a little with the owner. He was amazed that I hadn't been rained on. Me too. It seemed that I was always just ahead of the bad weather. Except for some vicious headwinds going through Wyoming earlier in the week it had been perfect weather so far. After a 3 second class on the operation of the little gizmo, I said my goodbyes and was back on the road.

Once back on the interstate, I immediately set that sucker at 85MPH and tucked in my right arm. It sure felt good. Since it was only 5:00 PM, I planned on riding all the way up into Montana. The miles pass quickly at 85 mph, and soon I was back in Gillette for a gas stop (31.3 MPG). The Sky was getting dark ahead. It sure looked like my luck was about to run out. Always the optimist, I told myself "a little rain never hurt anyone" and pressed on. The distant skys grew darker and more ominous, and off in the distance were dazzling lightning displays, but surprisingly, no raindrops. I toyed with the idea of stopping and spending the night in Buffalo, but couldn't see stopping while still dry and light remained. Besides, I kind of like thunder and lightning. About ten miles west of Buffalo my luck ran out. The wind kicked up big time, the thunder and lightning grew closer, then the rain gods took aim and unloaded on me. I would have been fine if I had my raingear lowers, but they were sitting in my bedroom back in Hayward. The next hour was fun in a sick sort of way.

Maybe I'm a little strange, but I tend to view those few really miserable moments in life with a sense of humor, something to laugh about later when you're dry and cozy. My chaps, butt, and gloves were soaking wet. My helmet held up OK. It's not full face, just a 3/4 with a snap on visor, but it was modified for wet weather. The first week on my bike I'd rode home in an unexpected storm at night, and was damn near riding blind due to the gap between the helmet and the visor. Water in your face sucks when you wear glasses. so I cut a piece of foam pipe insulation to fit in the space, cut some holes for the snaps, and it provided instant waterproofing. Didn't even need glue.

The lightning ceased to be fun. I was the tallest thing out there, and it was getting closer. You're supposed to be safe in your car, but I wasn't sure if the same holds true on a bike. Since overpasses were non-existant, my only course of action was to keep moving. A moving target would be harder to hit. After about 45 minutes of high winds and driving rain, I pulled into the first available gas station in Sheridan. What a mess! My chaps were soaked, and my jeans were even wetter. I stayed there commiserating with the clerk until it let up a bit, mopped up my puddle, then made a quick dash through town to find a cheap motel. After checking in, I unloaded everything to see what if anything was wet. My RKA bags held up well. Everything inside them was dry. They'd received two coats of Scotchguard, so that didn't surprise me. My cheap soft suitcase turned out to be much less waterproof than it appeared. Most of the clothes inside were wet, but they were all dirty, so I didn't care. It was laundry day anyway. A short search turned up a laundromat, and while the laundry was going, I dashed across the parking lot for a little Chinese food. I had misgivings about eating Wyoming Chinese food. The SF Bay Area is the greatest place in the entire universe for aficianados of Asian food, so I am picky. My fears were justified. Although the food was prepared decently, the type and variety was limited to your basic "American Chinese Food". The usual bland stuff; Chow Mein, Fried Rice, Egg Foo Yung, and the ever present hot garbage called Chow Mein. Being hungry, I ate it anyway. It was a welcome change from pizza, fast food, and MRE's, but my palate prefers spicier food.

Shortly after my return to the laundromat, the sky really opened up. It rained buckets for around an hour or so. When it eased up I threw everything back on the bike and went back to the motel. I drifted off to sleep to the accompaniment of a steady drip, drip, drip from a few roof leaks.

 


Day 8

Sheridan, Wyoming
to
Cut Bank, Montana
June 8, 1997

Sunday morning found me waking a bit late, so I skipped breakfast, gassed up (28.5 MPG) and made my way into Montana. You gotta love a place with no speed limits on the Highways. Unfortunately, it was Sunday, so my desire to open it up was offset by my need to conserve fuel. A major portion of the ride today would be on a 220 mile stretch of state roads between Billings and Great Falls, and there wasn't any way to predict how many open gas stations I would find.

Entering Montana on I-90 immediately places you in the Crow Indian Reservation. It's a large reservation, and there isn't much for the traveler to see except for the Little Big Horn Battlefield.

That's a solemn place, as it should be, being a reminder of what almost always happens when vastly different cultures clash. Without a doubt, the majority of Native Americans, along with the Settlers and Pioneers, all wanted the same thing. In fact, I firmly believe that the majority of humanity all wants the same thing. Just a lifestyle sufficient to raise a family in reasonable comfort, a little time off now and then, and a enough culture to provide a little mental stimulation and recreation once in a while. Unfortunately, there is a small percentage of humans in all cultures who are not satisfied with the simpler pleasures. A few want to dominate everyone else, a few want to own everything, and a some get off on violence and inflicting pain. If it wasn't for the greed of a few, despite their dissimilar cultures the Native Americans and the Settlers could have for the most part coexisted peacefully. There would have still been isolated problems in some areas, and of course many of the Native Americans would have succumbed to new diseases, but not nearly as bad as what eventually unfolded.

The majority of the pioneers and settlers just wanted a plot of land to farm with a little grazing area for a few head of livestock. The real problems arose with the greedy few who were determined to control vast stretches of land to graze thousands of cattle. Vast herds of bison compete with your cattle for grazing land, and diminish your profits, so you have to get rid of them. You can't really blame the Native Americans for fighting the influx of the "white man" under those circumstances. When you're faced with the destruction of your entire way of life, you either fight or become extinct. It's not the first time in human history this has happened, and it sure as hell wasn't the last either. As bad as it was, at least there still remains some large reservations under Indian control, and there is still a substantial population in this country. But what does all this have to do with a bike trip? OK, I'll move on.

One marker picqued my interest, and a close inspection revealed a familiar name. I wonder if the National Park Service will be erecting a similar sign in Waco, Texas?

I stopped for a late breakfast and gas on the reservation (35.6 MPG). Damn fine blueberry pancakes. The waitress was a lovely, delightful Native American girl, probably high school age. She was surprised that I finished the pancakes, since they were so huge. While sitting there enjoying the coffee my mind flashed back to the Kevin Costner movie, and after a bit of solemn reflection, decided my Indian name would be "Dances with Syrup". After breakfast, I talked a bit with an elderly couple on a 1200 Goldwing towing a trailer. He was fairly small, and knowing the older models didn't have reverse, my curiosity led me to ask him how he handled backing that sucker up. He said he never backed it up, even when he didn't have the trailer! If there wasn't enough space to circle and park the bike pointing out of the parking area, he just went somewhere else! Now that's a creative solution!

Leaving Billings, the shortest route on the map towards Glacier National Park was State Road 3. These roads are always a gamble. You get more of the local flavor, but the road conditions vary wildly, as I soon found out. Major stretches of this road were being rebuilt, with mostly hard packed dirt and many loose dirt and gravel sections. My only difficulties arose when an oncoming truck would approach, which forced me to move over one track. That was always a bit dicey, but I never did take a spill. This had me feeling pretty good about my newly acquired dirt bike skills until---Don't tell anyone, but at one point I was actually passed by a lady in an old Volvo! How embarassing! There are those few isolated times when four wheels are better than two.

Passing through the alleged towns of Acton and Broadview confirmed my earlier suspicions. Neither had an open gas station (actually, I think one of them didn't even have a gas station). the next town, Lavina, did have one station, and it was open. The bike didn't really need gas that bad yet, but it would have been foolheardy to pass up any stations on this stretch. After topping off (31 MPG), I went East on Hiway 12, just cruising along at 85-90 MPH, enjoying the wide open view. It is obvious why Montana is called "Big Sky Country". That's pretty much all you see. I was looking forward to seeing the night sky in this area. Although the map showed towns named Slayton, Ryegate, Barber, and Shawmut, I don't recall seeing them. Perhaps I blinked or something. Harlowton had a large gas station with food, so I fueled myself as well as the bike (32 MPG). My mileage had improved a bit despite the speed due to a stiff tailwind. I won't bore you with every little town or stop the rest of the day. The remainder of the day took me north on 191, then 87 to Great Falls, followed by I-15 to Shelby. The majority of the time was spent between 85 and 90 mph whenever the road conditions permitted. That entire strectch came in at 29.4 mpg.

The gas mileage on the entire trip really surprised me. I normally commute at 70-75 MPH with 80 % of my mileage being Highway, and I usually average 40-42 MPG. I never realized how much of a penalty that extra 10 to 15 MPH cost you. Then again, my previous traveling machine, a 91 Ford Explorer, was a real gas hog at any speed, so who cares!!

Game 4 of the NBA playoffs was coming up soon, so I checked into a motel in Cut Bank. Had a fantastic fried chicken dinner, a couple of beers (honest officer, just a couple), then back to the motel room for some basketball. Normally, I am not a hoops fan, but the NBA finals are fun. Given the choice, I prefer watching Women's basketball, mainly because their game is more at my level. It reminds me of the old high school games. Passing, layups, no dunking. The men's game is so far evolved that it's hard to conceive of playing at that level. However, it's not often you get to see an athlete as gifted as a Michael Jordan, and there's no telling how many more opportunities there will be in the future. Also enjoyable was the spectacle of Dennis Rodman vs. the entire state of Utah. Where else but in America??

After the game, I went outside to see the night sky, but it seemed a bit overcast, and there was too much lighting in the area, so I gave up the stargazing, went back in and studied the maps a bit, then called it a night.

 


Day 9

Cut Bank, Wyoming
to
Glacier National Park
June 9, 1997

Had another wonderful pancake breakfast at the motel, then got rolling. First on the agenda was a stop at the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning. I had no idea what was there, but it looked like a cool place to stop on the way. They had just opened as I arrived. It's not a very big place, nor as "refined" as the Buffalo Bill Museum in Wyoming, but it is free, which is worth many extra points in my book. There were many displays of clothing, utensils, religious objects, and the other items used in the daily life of the various Plains Indian tribes. Along the walls behind glass were intricate dioramas depicting "normal village life", "moving the village", "a war party", etc. One room contained a small gallery featuring works by Native American artists, some for sale, some not. For those with room to pack things, the gift shop was well stocked with beautiful Native American crafts, and last but not least, a decent selection of books. After an hour of browsing I continued on to Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park is just as scenic as Yellowstone used to be, but it's much less visited. Unfortunately, my visit was about a week too early. The "Going to the Sun Road", which takes you right across the heart of the park, was still undergoing snow removal. I was able to drive up a ways, but too far back to do any viewing of the glaciers. Jackson Glacier was supposed to be visible from the road, but when a glacier is covered by snow, it doesn't look any different than the surrounding areas that are also covered by snow, especially from 5 miles away. Many of the campgrounds were still closed. The Rising Sun campground had only 1 of 4 camping loops open, but there was still room for me.

In Glacier Park, unlike Yellowstone, motorcyclists can use the hiker/biking campsites, for a reduced rate of $3.00 per night. My wallet contained only Twenty dollar traveler's checks by this time, so I stuffed $2.97 in nickles, dimes, and pennies into the envelope. It was so fat I barely managed to cram it into the collection box slot. Guilt overcame me the next morning on my way out, so I dropped 3 "recently discovered" pennies into the slot.

My stay in Glacier was limited to just driving around and enjoying the scenery. Hiking was allowed on the Going to the Sun Road up to the point where it was blocked off, so I trekked up, watched a bit of the snow removal effort, ate a quick lunch, then hiked back down. Not too exciting, but the exercise was welcome. Sure don't want to end up needing a Harley Fatboy.

After a full day of sightseeing and pictures (unfortunately, I lost this roll of film), I fired up the cookstove and heated up some water to warm up a couple of packs of MRE "Chicken with Rice". For those of you who have never eaten MRE's, they are actually pretty good. You can usually find a dozen or more entrees on the market at any given time. Mine were mail ordered from an outfit in Utah and one in the Midwest somewhere a few years ago. The normal shelf life is 7 years, but they will last longer if you keep them cool. The oldest that I have consumed was in a friends closet for 6 years followed by 4 years in my desk! It was still tasty and didn't make me ill. They are not freeze dried, they are ready to eat (MRE=Meals Ready to Eat). They can also be eaten cold if you have no cooking equipment. Not only can you buy entrees (usually between $1.00 to $1.50 each), but side dishes, bread, crackers, cheese spread, peanut butter, cookie and brownie bars, powdered drinks, fruit packs, and various other condiments are also availabe from time to time on the market.

After dinner I did a little exploring, trying to locate the river or creek that was running nearby. Turns out the sound was coming from the Rose Creek.

It had temporarily rerouted itself through the Campgrounds, which explained why most of the loops were closed. There was no way to get across it without getting wet, so I gave up any further exploring.

Since there was no Ranger show, I did a little reading, set my alarm for midnight, then hit the sack.

The alarm jolted me from a deep sleep, but I bundled up anyway and went outside. Stretching out on the picnic table, I just layed there and enjoyed that vast star filled sky. The last time I'd seen that many stars was on a Boy Scout camping trip about 30 years ago. It's easy to forget just how impressive the sky can be once you get away from the air and light pollution. It sets your mind wandering and pondering when you're able to view the vast ocean of stars and galaxies that clearly. I'm sure that if you could take everyone in the world, stick them out in Montana, then have them watch the night sky for a week or so, it would improve things dramatically.

 


Day 10

Glacier National Park
to
Yakima, Washington
June 10, 1997

The morning ride leaving Glacier underscored the need to always carry your winter gear. It was damned chilly. For a California boy, the weather was one of the most surprising things on the trip. I'm not used to freezing my ass off in June. I left wearing a sweatshirt under my leather coat along with a wool neck warmer and winter gloves, and didn't start removing items until after 11:00.

Since "Going to the Sun Road" is the only way across Glacier National Park, I was forced to circle the Park to continue eastward. The Park is bordered by both the Lewis & Clark and the Flathead National Forest, so it's a lovely ride. The northwest corner of Montana is almost exclusively National Forests or Indian reservations, which guarantees you're going to be surrounded by picturesque scenery anywhere you ride.

Highway 2 continues westward for the remainder of Montana, across Idaho, then down into Washington. I made gas stops at Kalispell & Libby in Montana, and LaClede in Idaho (36.7MPG). Not a lot stands out about this stretch. Most of the towns are fairly common small Pacific Northwest towns, with logging based economies. Probably great to live there if you're into the outdoor lifestyle, AND you enjoy the snow. Personally, I would find it frustrating to have to stick the bike in the garage for 5 or 6 months out of the year. Besides, I discovered years ago that I'm not a snow person. Once you get past the initial thrill of a snowman or two, a couple of sled rides, and a few snowball fights, you realize that it's cold and wet. I'll pass, thanks.

One of my annoying shortcomings is an amazing ability to miss a turnoff. If there is a fork in the road, I will invariably take the wrong one. My plan was to join Highway 95 in Sandpoint, then taking that to connect with I-90 in Coure d' Alene, Idaho, but -- I missed the Y, and ended up staying on Highway 2. There wasn't any particular reason for wanting to take 95 except to experience a bit more of Idaho, so I didn't back-track, and remained on Highway 2. That little error cost me at least an hour. The majority of that stretch of Highway 2 was undergoing repairs, and the traffic was bad most of the way. The other problem with Highway 2 is that it forces you to drive through the entire city of Spokane to get to I-90. I have nothing against Spokane, but I'm sure that even the residents will agree -- that drive sucks. Mucho traffic, and nothing to see except miles of business district.

After gassing up in Ritzville (33.1 MPG) I fearlessly downed a couple of convenience store burritos. During that banquet, my itinerary changed once more. I scrapped "circling" the Olympic Penninsula, since I'd been there before a few years back in my Ford Explorer. A more southerly route would give me the opportunity to see Mt. Rainier before it blew up (you never know), and a chance to revisit Mount St. Helens on my bike.

There was one additional motive for the change. Earlier while rolling through Utah, I decided that if I was going to be a Bike tourer, any souvenirs I collected would need to be small. You can't fit a lot of coffee cups or paintings on a CB750. My other requirement was that whatever I decided to collect would have to be cheap (College tuition is expensive you know!). Thus began my collection of those tacky tourist window stickers, and patches also. Each National Park or Monument visited would be an additional opportunity to add to the collection. Judging from the sizes available, the sticker manufacturers had cars in mind, not bikes. I'll need a new windshield after one more trip. (Sure, it looks tacky, BUT-IT'S MY BIKE!)

Well, after days and days of visual overload, I finally received a bit of nasal stimulation! I-90 through Washington turned out to be the most fragrant stretch of road I've ever been on. It was mile after mile of farms, and every field had it's own unique smell (they were all good, no fertilizer odors). Quite an experience. Many of the farms on that stretch of Interstate also post signs informing you of which crop they are producing. That's a nice touch! My daily commute has it's odors too, but most of them are bad. On the freeway I get your basic diesel fumes, gasoline, and the fumes from those folks burning oil, then near home an occasional skunk, cow manure, and on rare occasions a fragrant tree or shrub. By far the worst is the smell getting off the eastern side of the Dumbarton Bridge in the summertime. Only those who have been there can appreciate that stench.

Just after turning south on I-82 the bike went on reserve. Refueling in Yakima would be cutting it close, so I backtracked to Ellensburg. I gassed up (29.9 MPG) and downed a cup of coffee (standing up, of course). Since it was getting late, I asked the clerk if there was a decent place to camp in the area. She wasn't sure, but thought there was a county campground or two on state road 821, which parallels I-82. Although she wasn't a biker, she said if she was she would ride that road every day! That sounded like a good recommendation, so I took it. Folks, don't miss that ride! Except for the occasional fallen rock or two, it is the perfect ride, one you won't forget. Mile after mile of twisty canyon roads paralleling the Yakima River. There was also two small campsites. I stopped at the second one, and set up for the night. It was tough getting my little tent pegs in. The campsites were just a layer of sand on top of a layer of rocks. I eventually managed it, had a bit to eat, then just sat there enjoying the Yakima River (it was all of 15 feet from my tent).

After dinner, a Suzuki GSX1100 pulled in. The rider was from Ellensburg, and said that the canyon was his favorite spot, and he rode it as often as possible. Not hard to understand why!

Shortly after drifting off to sleep, I was rudely awakened at around 11:30 by 3 cars pulling in with stereos blaring! Turns out that the local high school had just graduated, and some of the kids came out to down some suds and build a bonfire. I lost a couple hours of sleep, but what the hell. We were all young once. I sure hope they made it back O.K. I shudder to think of 3 carloads of tipsy teens negotiating those roads.

 


Day 11

Yakima, Washington
to
Wilsonville, Oregon
June 11, 1997

Woke up to the sound of the Yakima River rushing by. What a peaceful location (since the kids pulled out). I stayed in the sleeping bag enjoying the solitude. It was soon disturbed by the sound of a generator firing up. Damn. Seems the folks in the Winnebago (the only other campers in the area) were early risers. Oh well, the peace & quiet was nice while it lasted. After a quick cup of coffee it was time to do a bit of maintenance. A heroic struggle ensued, but I was victorious, and the bike was up on the center stand (I actually pulled a neck muscle slightly tugging on the handlebar). My chain was getting loose, but not bad enough to make we want to attempt moving my axle bolts with the stubby little OEM wrenches. I'm going to throw together a better tool kit eventually, with a breaker bar long enough to do some good. I did a thorough visual, cleaned some of the dirt off, then noticed the crankcase breather tube. Oops, I'd forgotten that little item. When the cap came off it gushed!! My tires looked decent, although the rear was just starting to erode the wear indicators.

The saddle bags seemed a bit closer to the pipes than they were on day one, so I cinched them up a little bit. I managed to pull one of the internal d-rings out of shape. Must have been a bad one, since the others stood up to the same tugging. That's the only thing that went wrong at all with the RKA bags (RKA sent me a new one). They worked great for the whole trip. I highly recommend these bags for any bike. They are easy to put on and take off, hold volumes of stuff, and have an internal support strap system which keeps everything snug, and helps keep the bags in place when fully loaded. Really well designed bags.

After repacking I eased through the thick gravel parking area, then headed south through the canyon. I hadn't noticed the night before, but there was a rail line on the opposite side of the river. A long freight train was snaking through the canyon. Sure did envy the engineer. What a great job, rolling through the countryside, day after day.

There weren't any upside down cars on the road, so hopefully the kids made it home without incident. As the parent of a recent high school grad, I always worried when the kid was out. You know that once in a while they're going to do something stupid, even the best of kids. It's a part of growing up. It's just so sad when one or more of them pay with their lives for one mistake.

Turning east on Highway 12 took me to Naches, where I stopped for gas (45.9 MPG) and breakfast. While chatting with the waitress, I mentioned my plans to visit Mount Rainier. She informed me that SR 410 was not always open, even this late in the season, and recommended that I remain on 12.

Highway 12 was another incredibly scenic drive. There's enough lakes, campsites, and parks on that drive to keep you outside for decades. Sadly, I never did get a really good close up view of Mount Rainier. I had seen it clearly from the interstate nearing Ellensburg the day before, but there was just too much cloud cover today. Much of the ride near the mountain was cold. The roads had been recently cleared of snow, and there were still substantial snow banks on both sides.

I just drove around a bit, stopped in at a visitor center, then headed out the southern side of the park. Mount St. Helens was probably out or range, so I continued on to Ashford, gassed up (50 MPG), then backtracked 3 miles and turned off on a small state road which returned me to Highway 12. These small state roads are fun to ride. Not so much for the road types or conditions, but for the views of "Americana". Living in a major urban area like the SF Bay Area, you lose sight of the true West. It's amazing how many small farms and ranches are out there. Seems like many more people have achieved their "40 acres and a mule" than you realize. Quite a contrast to the plague of condo's & townhouses contaminating California. In the SF Bay Area the only affordable dream is 3 bedrooms, a postage stamp backyard, and a weedwhacker.

Nearing Mount St. Helens, the weather turned colder and wetter subjecting me to a constant drizzle with occasional periods of substantial rain. My prior visit to this area was back in August of 94, but it was a totally different experience this time. The mountain still looked like the aftermath of a nuclear war, but on this trip there was a lot of snow on the ground. The last trip it was hot as hell, and now I was freezing my buns off. The visitor center provided an opportunity to warm up, grab some coffee, and buy a few souvenirs.

Hoping that the rain would stop, I sat around, but eventually gave in and hit the road. My map was a little confusing, but Route 503 through Cougar, Amboy, and Battleground, with a final stop in Portland looked like a good plan. My gas stop in Cougar was encouraging (49.6 MPG!). The entire ride was wet. 503 is a rural stretch, with numerous twisties interspersed with small valleys populated by small farms and ranches. There were many times when I could barely see, yet the locals were zipping by me in their SUV's, their wipers flapping at Warp 7. They sure must know their roads well. I'm not used to seeing cars taking mountain curves at 10-15 MPH over the posted speeds in a driving rain.

The first real break in the weather was Vancouver, and it held up for the rest of the day. Wanting to see game 5 of the NBA finals, I pulled into a motel in Wilsonville, Oregon. The smorgasbord restaurant next door forced me to stuff myself shamelessly, then I waddled back to the motel for the game. The game was fantastic (although I would have rather seen the Jazz win that one), then I did a bit more map studying, and dropped off.

 


Day 12

Wilsonville, Oregon
to
Crescent City, California
June 12, 1997

Eagerly anticipating today's ride, I woke early. All my previous trips to Oregon had been by car. Oregon is a beautiful state, and today's route would take me through areas I hadn't seen yet. Crater Lake was going to be the highlight. I've seen a few pictures of it on the Net, and eagerly anticipated the ride around the rim. Briefly, I toyed with the thought of riding Highway 1 down the coast, but decided that California would probably provide more than enough of that. It was also real cloudy, and the coast would probably be a real wet ride. Sure didn't need any more of that!

As it turned out, the inland ride down I-5 wasn't much better. Mile after mile of constant drizzle. Occasionally, the sun would peek through the clouds, but not often enough to make a difference. I gassed up in Albany (45.3 MPG) and continued on down I-5. Not a lot to report. The interstate in Oregon is a prettier ride than most states, but it's still just interstate. In Roseburg I stretched a bit after gassing up (36.4 MPG). An employee at the BP station told me he'd ridden CB750's in the early 70's, and loved them. He thought the Nighthawk 750 was an excellent version of the same bike, except in his opinion it was just a little too "sporty" looking for his tastes. You know, as much as I love my bike, I also prefer the way the early CB750's looked, but things do change, and I'm told the modern versions handle and stop better, and there is less maintenance involved with the newer models, so it's an acceptable tradeoff. Still, many of those 60's & early 70's Honda's sure did have a special look to them.

138 out of Roseburg goes east towards Crater Lake. That was the beginning of the most memorable portion of the entire trip. The weather even cleared up for a while, and the scenery was incredible! For most of that stretch 138 follows the Umpqua river. It's hard to concentrate on the road when every curve you round brings you one breathtaking view after another!

As I neared Crater Lake, the sky started to cloud up again. The closer I got, the colder it became. Rising in elevation, I started seeing patches of snow on the ground. Soon it started to drizzle a little but I didn't get too concerned initially. Then, entering the North entrance to Crater Lake, my concern level rose. It was obvious that they had just recently opened up the road, since the snowbanks on either side were pretty high. It was getting cooler by the minute, and I was looking at quite a cloud cover. It was beginning to look like it might snow! Hard for me to even consider that in June! It didn't take long for the inevitable to begin. It was snowing! Now, don't get me wrong, it's not the first time I've been snowed on in my life, but never on a bike! It was light at first, and kind of pretty, but it didn't take long for the thrill to wear off. Soon, it was snowing so hard I couldn't see 10 feet in front of the bike. The windshield was iced over, and it took a constant backhand to keep my visor even marginally cleared. It got to the point where my only guide was the snowbanks on either side of the road, and those weren't all that visible. My only choice was to keep going. Sure didn't want to stop in the road with that kind of visibility. Even if there had been a place to stop, no telling how long it might be snowing. Knowing that the Lodge had to be no more than a couple of miles ahead, I just kept on rolling and shivering. Before long I discovered that my "Winter Gloves" were not quite up to the task. My hands were getting colder by the minute. The rest of me wasn't doing much better. The last mile or so found me shivering pretty good. I actually experienced a bit of teeth chattering! Korea was the last time I'd been that cold. The lodge parking lot was sure a welcome sight. Stopping as close to the door as possible, I dashed inside to warm up. Needless to say, I was on the receiving end of a few stares.

There's nothing like a little lunch and some hot cocoa to warm you up. Not wanting to push my luck, I delayed my departure until the snow stopped by killing time in the extensive gift shop. A few more tacky tourist window stickers joined my collection, along with a couple of patches. The snow stopped, so it was time to brave the elements. It's possible I saw a glimpse of the lake through the mist, but I'm not sure. Oh well, maybe next time.

By the time I left the park, the snow had turned to a light drizzle again. That sums up the remainder of my stay in Oregon---a light drizzle. In retrospect, even though I froze my buns off, it was fun in a perverse sort of way. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to ride through a snowstorm on this trip. Moments like that add "character" to your vacations.

I gassed up in Grant's Pass (50 MPG), then headed down Hiway 199 towards the Golden State. Crossing into California left me with mixed feelings. Weary of traveling, yet not really wanting it to end. Although I missed the wife and kid, my enjoyment of solo touring was equally strong.

Highway 199 is normally a decent ride, but the drizzle lessened the enjoyment. Nearing the California border, the weather slowly improved. In Crescent City, the sun was shining, as if to welcome me home (albeit with a few hundred more miles to go).

Stopping at the first cheap looking motel (although cheap is a relative term in California), I checked in, then rolled over to my room. Just down the row from me was at least a dozen Harleys. They all looked bright and shiny, so I surmised that they'd been there a while (at least long enough for the owners to wipe the oil off). One couple actually waved as they came out of their room. They must be new Harley owners, and haven't yet learned to ignore non Harley riders. Their riding buddies will break them in eventually. Everything wet was suspended near the heater vent, then setting that sucker on high, I opened the windows and left for the Mexican restaurant down the street. For the next two hours I stuffed myself, had a few brews, and enjoyed the newspaper. Perfect way to end an evening. After a little boob tube, it was off to bed.

 


Day 13

Crescent City, California
back home to
Hayward, California
June 13, 1997

Well, here it is, the last day of the trip. Some say it's tempting fate to finish a trip on Friday the 13th, but as I've said before, I'm not superstitious! My day began with a rude awakening at around 7:00 AM from the most God-awful racket imaginable. Seems the Harley bunch all decided to fire up their bikes and leave. There was at least 15 minutes of backfiring, popping, rough idling, and a lot of cursing at the ones that wouldn't stay running (no exageration). Wonderful ambassadors for the Bike-touring brotherhood, eh?? I skipped breakfast, made a little motel coffee, then went to check out. The clerk looked surprised and asked me, "How come you didn't leave with your friends? Is your bike broken?" After clearing up the fact that I wasn't with that group, we agreed that the morning blast off was just about the rudest stunt either of us had seen in a while. They woke up everyone in the motel. The motel is a u-shaped structure with the parking lot in the middle, so you can imagine the racket with the echo effect. She was quite upset about it, and said that she would prefer not to rent to bikers in groups like that, but that it was hard to refuse them.

The bike was due for chain maintenance after all that snow and rain riding, so once again I tackled that damned center stand routine. My ankle was still pretty sore, so it was tough. I gave it a good tug on the handle bars, then my right foot slipped, and before I could stop it, the bike fell to the right. Murphy's law being what it is, I was parked next to a brick planter. CRUNCH!!! My gas tank instantly went from 4.8 down to 4.7 gallon capacity. Wouldn't you know it? After 12 days of incident free riding through 4,500 miles or so, through the dirt, mud, mountains, valleys, rain, snow, buffalo's, buzzards, black cats, evil omens, you name it--- I screw it up putting it up on the center stand in a motel!!! (Sure am glad the Harley riders weren't there watching). Now, just so I don't get 10,000 e-mails telling me how to do it properly, I want you all to know that I have finally figured it out, and now have absolutely no problem getting Vader up on the center stand! Damn, it's so easy when you do it correctly!

Well, I did eventually get rolling. The California coast has got to be in the top 10 rides of all time. It's mile after mile of stunning beaches, redwood groves, and twisties, broken up by the occasional straight sections and towns.

Highway 1 is actually part of Highway 101 from the Oregon border until you get to Fernbridge, where it divides. The 101 section goes through various Redwood Parks. What used to be State and National Parks have all effectively merged into one bureaucratic entity, though thankfully the parks themselves haven't moved. I'm sure the government will figure out a way to do that, then move all of the trees into one park and raise taxes and fees to cover the costs of the "improvement".

One mile south of Klamath is a sign pointing to a "Coastal Road" which is apparantly part of the Park System. I took it just to see where it went. It circled the peninsula, offering views of the ocean, with many sections canopied by the tree cover. Great ride! There is also a historical landmark on that road. During World War II there was much fear about the Japanese invading California, so radar sites were built up and down the coast. What made these sites unique was their camouflage. They were fake farms! The radar equipment, communications equipment, and generators were housed in the "farm" buildings, and the antenna equipment was hidden in the trees. The Klamath river site is the only one that remains. That must have been real tough duty. I'll bet those G.I.'s were all upset that they weren't slogging through the swamps of Bataan instead! I took one smaller road that branched off from the main loop, then turned back after reading a sign stating that I was about to enter some sort of prison area and was subject to search. After snaking my way back to 101 I continued south.

I've read many Newsgroup posts from bikers which contained disparaging remarks about rude car drivers that they've encountered on Highway 1, but I never had a problem the entire day. Everyone was more than happy to let me pass, with many pulling right to make it easier for me. The only animosity I encountered was a biker on a (believe it or not!) Harley. I was doing 75 on a straight stretch of 101, traveling in the left lane, and he was doing around 72 or 73 in the right lane. As I went by, I gave a little friendly wave. Perhaps in my ignorance I flashed some kind of enemy biker gang signal, or maybe it's a secret code with them for "screw you, my bike is cooler", or some silly thing like that, but before I got 50 yards past him, he gunned that sucker big time, and went by me with his bike vibrating like a bad washing machine and his pipes blasting away. I watched him round a curve, barely holding his line, then he slowed up a bit. Passing him again I refrained from waving. That did the trick. No response this time. My theory about the gang sign must have been correct. Either that or he was suffering acute kidney pain from the shaking, I'm not sure which. Now, if I'm coming off here as some kind of Harley hater, don't get me wrong, I'm not. I actually like the way some of the models look, and I enjoy the sound of the pipes on some of the "unmodified" ones. The greatest bike image ever was Arnold (or his stunt double) tooling around on (help me here, was it a Harley Fatboy?) in Terminator 2. What turns me off is that a good portion of the owners think that they are riding around on some kind of magical machine which turns them into some kind of invincible, mythical, bad-ass biker dude. Give me a break! Most of them are funny to look at. A large portion of them can barely handle their machines (I know, I know, I dropped mine in a parking lot, but that will never happen again). Many are just Yuppies toying with the "image", who probably put all of 1000 miles a year on their machines, all the while talking about how great their bikes are, and how nothing else comes close. My bike was bought to ride. I will probably ride it 100,000 miles or more and wear it out within 6 or 7 years, keep it for parts, then buy another. It is smooth, has decent power, handles great, and I don't give a damn if I don't look "cool" or "bad" while riding it. Plus, I can buy three of them for the cost of one overpriced Harley.

I did the obligatory ride through the Avenue of the Giants. I've made that ride twice in the past, but never on a bike. Riding a bike through the giant redwoods took me back to Return of the Jedi. It feels like the chase scene on the Forest Moon of Endor. After a gas stop in Weott (45.4 MPG), I did a quick stroll through a couple of souvenir shops (no tacky stickers, but I did find a patch), then continued on down to Fernbridge.

The route from Fernbridge to the Coastal Highway (1) is the twistiest road I've ever been on. It's not often you find a road with that many corners marked at 10 & 15 mph. What a thrill. My line through the really tight corners was poor until I figured out that I was using too much brake. Reverting back to MSF basics corrected the problem (do all your slowing before the turn, then accelerate into the turn--duuhhh). That did the trick. From then on I was able to attack the curves more aggresively. It made the entire ride more enjoyable. Hell, I even managed to scrape my peg on a couple of uphill right 10 MPh curves. That's the first time I've ridden to that extreme. I'm sure you sport riders take your Ninja's, Duc's, and XYZ1000000's around those curves at 95 MPH, but this Newbie was happy to make 5 to 20 over the marked speeds. I won't be attempting to increase this in the future, it's not why I ride, but at the time it was fun.

The amount of bike traffic really surprised me. Groups of bikers (mostly Harley's) were migrating north the entire stretch of 101 & 1. It's a good thing most of them don't wave. My arm would have fallen off. I must have seen at least 700 to 1000 on my ride down the coast. Later I learned that the "Redwood Run" was underway. Being new to the game, I'm not familiar with the Redwood Run, or what it entails, but it is definitely a Harley magnet. Is it the world's biggest wet t-shirt contest? Is it a contest to see if your bike can make it in one piece? Are there prizes for the loudest pipes? The most tattoos??

Mile after mile of twists and turns makes one appreciate the straight sections. I never realized how much more work the twisties are. Two hours of that had me more than ready for a break, so I stopped in Westport for gas (42.3 MPG) and lunch. The local gas station was the local everything. General Store, Restaurant, you name it, they had it. The ladies there had the same twisted sense of humor that I had, and after a few macabre jokes about bikers, ptomaine poisoning, and other wonderful subjects, ordered one of their sandwiches. I ate it sitting on my bike and enjoyed the surrounding scenery. My upper back was getting a little sore in the shoulder area, along with my neck, so I just sat around for about 15 minutes and stretched it out. It was a refreshing break, and had me more than ready to tackle the remainder of the coast.

The rest of the ride down the coast was uneventful. After a while, it's a routine; curve, curve, straight, curve , curve, pass, curve, sure is a nice view, oops, slow down, curve, curve, etc. I stopped again for gas in Gualala (50.4 MPG). Believe it or not, there were two more broken down Harley's at the gas station, trying to get some help via telephone. We're not talking about 10 year old Sportsters, or old pieces of junk here. These were a couple of expensive looking, fully dressed, touring bikes. I can't see the loyalty to a company that for years has sold $18,000 bikes that leave you stranded on a percentage unmatched by any other manufacturer except for perhaps URAL.

Well, once again my incredible sense of direction took over, and I completely missed the fork in the road just south of Valley Ford. You're supposed to veer to the right to stay on 1. If you don't see it and keep going straight, you end up on Valley Ford Road, which takes you in to Petaluma.

Growing more weary by the mile, I wasn't about to back track. This route would still allow me to finish the trip crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and pick up Highway 1 again in San Francisco, so it wasn't a big deal. I was happy to be nearing home, so even the Friday evening traffic didn't bother me. The ride across the bridge was typical. Strong wind gusts, lots of traffic, and a beautiful sunset. The ride through the city wasn't as intense as I'd expected. It was getting late, so the main commute was finished. Of course, that still makes it worse than prime rush hour in most places, so my concentration level was still set to maximum. In S.F., not only do you deal with the traffic, but also road hazards. You never know when a shopping cart is going to come rolling out, and the potholes are everywhere. I can't believe the residents put up with the road conditions. With the amount of taxes those folks pay, the streets should be paved with gold!

The sky was beautiful from the city all the way to Half Moon Bay. I stopped for gas (46.6 mpg), snapped a few sunset photos, then turned east on Hiway 92. By this time it was getting dark, and my vision was beginning to be a problem. It was a getting foggier by the minute, adding to my difficulty. Wiping my visor only made it worse. I didn't want to stop on the side of the road, since the traffic through the mountains there moves at a good pace, so I just did my best to follow the dim tail lights ahead of me. When I finally got through the mountain sections, it was a little easier to see, but not much better. Approaching the San Mateo bridge, I pulled over, EXCHANGED MY SUNGLASSES FOR THE REGULAR ONES, and voila!! Instant VISION! Perhaps I was more tired than I thought! I've been wearing glasses since I was 6, so having them on my face is as natural to me as having a nose is to you. I guess I've done it all now. How many of you have gone night riding in the fog on a twisty mountain road with your shades on? I probably drained my karma bank account on that ride! I finally pulled into the garage just before 10:00 PM, hugged everyone, and unpacked. My dog had multiple orgasms the minute she heard the bike arrive. I was told she just layed around looking depressed the entire time I was gone, barely eating. Hopefully in the future she'll remember that I returned, and won't be so anxious. Who knows? The best thing about dogs is that you can forget to feed them, leave them alone for days, treat them bad, yet when you finally come back, they are overjoyed to see you and all is forgiven instantly. Women? That's another story. If you could only put a Labrador brain in a women's body? OOPS. Sorry, I keep forgetting this is the 90's!

 



Equipment Review


The Bike

 I will try to give an impartial review of the Nighthawk 750, although it is difficult to remain objective when it's your first bike. Sort of like your first girlfriend (OK, OK, boyfriend too. I hate all this PC crap).

Mine is a 1995 model, purchased new in February 1997. There is fundamentaly no difference between any of the 1991 through 1997 models. I have the following options:

  • Center Stand -installed by the dealer.

This makes routine maintenance easier. (Attention Newbies: This can be troublesome to operate for some people. It was for me, but now I know the secret!) 

  • Hondaline Windshield- installed by me.

It was extremely simple to put this on. It offers great wind protection for anyone under 6' 1". I think if you're taller you can just install it a little higher! The only downside is that it increases the level of buffeting. I have ridden a Nighthawk with a much smaller fairing, and the buffeting is gone, but then you get wind in the chest, so everything's a tradeoff in the wind game.  

  • Engine protection bars- installed by me.

They look much bigger in the Honda Product Line manual than they do on my bike. Must be the photo perspective. In any case, they do work. I have tested them a couple of times!  

  • Hondaline Luggage Rack/Backrest- installed by me.

This was a tough installation for me. I am not a mechanical genius by any means. The instructions were just average. I discovered that I had the rear lock cable routed incorrectly. They warn you about this after it's too late. Those of you with experience probably have the sense to read the entire instruction sheet before you start! Pay particular heed to the part that says to use a piece of plywood when you drill. I used a piece of cardboard, figuring I could control my drill. Well, its a good thing I have a tap set, because I marred a few threads on the shock absorber mounting nuts. Honda recommends that you do not exceed 6 pounds of weight on the luggage rack. I think that the Product Liability lawyers are running amok at Honda, because it's sure built better than that!! I had at least 20 pounds on it during the trip, and it's still as solid as a rock.

  

  • The Bikes Performance

I had no mechanical problems at all on the trip. Of course, when I started it barely had 3,000 miles on it, so I really didn't expect to have any problems. The Nighthawk is a chain driven bike, but the chain maintenance is no big deal. I used a spray on chain wax and just sprayed on another coat every 2nd or 3rd day, depending on the mileage. I never did adjust the chain slack on the trip (I didn't want to mess with the 24mm Axle bolt using the dinky kit tools. It had about an inch and a half of slack when I got home. There were no apparent ill effects from letting it go that long. I have 10,000 miles on the bike as I am writing this, and the chain wear indicator is right on the line between the red and green zones. The sprocket still looks good, and there is no obvious chain damage, nor any evidence of "chain slap" anywhere else on the bike. Never having owned a bike before, I don't know if my not adjusting the slack for a couple of thousand miles has adversely affected the chain life. I'm not sure what the normal chain life would be. The bike used about 1/2 quart of Mobil 1 15W50 during the entire trip. That's not bad for around 4,900 miles of mostly high speed riding. Gas mileage varied from 25 to 55 MPG, depending on the speed and wind conditions. In the future, I will only bring a small container of oil. A full quart takes up too much valuable space.

I found it to be a comfortable bike to ride on long trips. It would be even better if the handlebars were about an inch higher and an inch farther back. I've just been told that this type of handlebar is available for around $25.00, so that will be my next modification. The handlebar size and shape necessary for individual comfort of course varies from person to person, so the stock version may be perfect for you. It wasn't bad for me, I just think I can improve my long distance comfort with the new one.

The bike had no trouble with the extra weight, and handled all of the twisties perfectly (in my opinion). The seat seems fine for me. Of course my butt got sore now and then, but I just moved around a bit, and that seemed to do the trick. My right ankle was more of a problem, but I would just rest it on the peg with the toes pointing down for long stretches to alleviate the stiffness.

Vibration was not a problem. My hands never experienced a buzz. The Nighthawk is smoooooth. At 75 MPH the bike is turning just under 5,000 RPM, but since it is so smooth, it doesn't seem that high. This is a bike that will run all day long at 80-90 MPH comfortably. I am planning on changing to a 16 tooth countersprocket in the near future, and that should lower the Highway RPM's a bit, at the expense of some low speed quickness, but that's what I prefer anyway.

The gas mileage was lower than I thought it would be, but that's probably because I had unreasonable expectations. My experience was that the Nighthawk 750 will give you the following cruising ranges with one rider and a full load of gear( around 300 lbs total):

  • Worst Case: 115 miles range, doing a constant 85-90 MPH fighting a headwind.
  • Best Case: 230 mile range, doing 45-55 MPH.
  • Average: 190 mile range, doing 65-75 MPH.

This is a sufficient range for most touring. If you're traveling to the Arctic Circle, then strap on a couple of collapsible gas tanks!

Noise is a factor on most bikes, and the Nighthawk is no exception. I wear a 3/4 helmet with a visor, and with the bike constantly running around 5,000 RPM's, and the wind rushing by at 75-90 MPH, you can quickly ruin your hearing. Plus, all that noise tires you out faster. This is easily cured by wearing earplugs. I used the little disposable foam cylinders that you roll between your fingers to reduce the diameter, then stick them in your ears. The foam expands and blocks out noise. They do not block out all noise, so you can still hear traffic, horns, etc., but they reduce it to comfortable levels. Being thrify (cheap), I don't dispose of mine until they look pretty bad, so I get about a weeks use out of one pair.

I have read a couple of negative posts on the rec.motorcycles Newsgroup about the springs and shocks on the Nighthawk 750. Here is my experience. As I said before, I weighed about 190 at the start of the trip. I had around 90-100 lbs of stuff loaded on the bike. My leathers, boot's, and helmet are probably 15 pounds together, so we're talking "hefty load" here. I moved my shock pre-load from the normal #2 position to the #3 position at the start of the trip. I increased my tire pressures to 35 front and 41 rear to compensate for the extra weight. I only bottomed out the rear shocks ONE time the entire trip (at least that I felt). That was when I didn't see a pothole the size of a moon crater on a tree canopied (scattered shade) road that was in real bad shape. That was the only time, and I was on every imaginable road condition. Perhaps over time they will weaken a bit and I may need to improve them, but for now I think they're acceptable.

For those of you who are wondering about riding 2 up, I think it is feasible on the Nighthawk, but you would have to limit your luggage quite a bit, unless you are small. If you stay in motels and eat at restaurants, then you'll be fine. If you want to camp out with your wife/husband, and bring all the goodies, and pull a trailer-tent, then by a Goldwing Luxo-barge.

Heat was not a problem on the trip. The weather was fairly mild everywhere. I don't think the temperature exceeded 85 anywhere, so my experience may not be typical, but I never felt cooked even sitting in traffic on warm days. The motor on the Nighthawk 750 doesn't seem to run all that hot. I guess the oil cooler is effective.

Is the Nighthawk 750 the world's greatest motorcycle? Probably not. Will I buy another one after this one is all used up? Yes. Why? Because, dollar for dollar, it is the best motorcycle value out there, period! Sure the BMW's get a bit better gas mileage, and you have hard bags, and no chain maintenance, but they cost two or three times as much. Triumph's & Motoguzzi's aren't as reliable, and cost too much also. URAL's won't go around the block without falling apart, so don't even think about a long trip unless you have a support van with parts. Harley's are way, way, overpriced. Plus, with the exception of the huge touring monster that has a rubber mounted engine, I've been told those Harley V-Twins will shake your teeth out when going over 75 MPH. The only small Harley is the Sportster, and frankly, it's not even in the same league with a Nighthawk. Harley owner's will counter with, "We have the best resale value! I can sell my bike for more than I paid for it!!"

Oh yeah, right! Try riding it for 80 to 100,000 miles, then see if you have any thing left to sell. I suspect if you added the cost of the parts and maintenance required to run a Harley that many miles, your actual resale value would be negative. If you want to buy a bike just to putt around on and show off and then park it in the garage 95% of the time, go ahead. I bought mine to ride! In 6 or 7 years, when it has over 100,000 miles on it, if it's worn out, I'll just save it for parts and get another. Hell, for the price of 1 overpriced Harley, I can get 3 Nighthawks.

The other Japanese manufacturer's don't make a standard 750 that I know of. Suzuki makes a Bandit 600, but that's too small for comfortable long range touring. Everything else is either a cruiser or a sport bike. The cruisers can be made into touring machines, but they limit your seating options, don't handle as well, and are now at a price premium. The sport bikes would be harder on my wrists, upper back, and neck area on a long trip, and I'm average sized, so it probably affects most people that way, especially those of use who are over 40. Standards are the best overall bike, and the 750 is the perfect size for solo touring, or freeway commuting, all things considered.

The final area I considered is weight. The weight of a bike is always a compromise. A heavy bike is a bit more stable in the wind, but hard to manuever off road and in town. Did you ever watch someone in a 650 to 800 pound cruiser trying to make a u-turn at an intersection? It's painful to watch. Ever watch someone on a full dress tourer or a big Harley try to back out of a parking space that tilts the wrong way? It's not a pretty sight. Maybe Arnold can pull it off, but most of us can't. A smaller bike is easier to handle and manuever, but if it's too small the wind affects you more, the engine RPM's wear you out, and you don't have the capability to carry much. At 463 pounds, the Nighthawk 750 is the ideal weight. I had no trouble on any road surface. I rode in some vicious winds, and lived to tell about it. The bike was heavy enough to be stable, yet it is still very nimble and quick.

Well, I guess you can't finish rating a bike unless you talk about style. I'll be honest, the Nighthawk 750 is not about styling down the road, it's about substance. When I went bike shopping, I looked at everything in its price range (and that ain't much folks). It came down to the Yamaha Virago 750, the Kawasaki Vulcan, the Suzuki Marauder, or the Nighthawk 750. I thought the Marauder and the Virago looked the best, but I didn't really want the handling of a cruiser, the seating position, nor the added maintenance requirements of the Virago. I didn't like the way the Nighthawk looked in any photographs I had seen, and wasn't even going to consider it, but when I sat on one, and looked at it in person, it looked better. The more I look at it, the better it looks. Kind of like a modern version of the old CB750. That's probably because it is a modern version of that old wonder bike, the CB750. If it was a car, I suppose it would be a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla. Not the fastest (but faster than anything else in its class), not the sleekest, not the most luxurious, but an honest, reliable, well made machine.


Luggage & Storage
     
  • Saddle Bags

I purchased a set of RKA soft saddle bags expressly for this trip. I ordered the standard black 47 liter saddle bags. The only problem I experienced on the entire trip was a stretched metal D-ring. RKA saddlebags have a pair of internal straps in each bag, which cinch up the load inside the bags. This helps the bags maintain their position when fully loaded. These internal straps pass through a metal D-ring. I was energetically cinching one up when the D-ring stretched. It was still useable. I squeezed it back together with my Leatherman multi-tool pliers (folks, don't leave home without one of those in your tool kit). It stretched out again later, so it had apparently lost its temper (strength, not anger, for you non-metallurgists out there). Even stretched out it was still functional.

The bags have a great mounting system. The straps are custom sized to fit your bike. They are on your bike very securely, yet are easy to remove. The bags experienced no leakage at all during my trip. Whether this is due to the Scotchguard I applied or whether the bags themselves are inherently waterproof, I'm not sure. I do know I gave them one hell of a checkout during a 45 minute downpour at 80 MPH in Wyoming. I also had it parked outside the laundromat the same night, and it rained heavily for at least an hour and a half, yet the insides were still dry.  

  • Tank Bag

I used a Wolfman magnetic tank bag. In it I carried my camera equipment, a tiny little Sony AM/FM/SW radio, extra gloves, a small towel, a thick leather 6" x 8" leather planner, some small snacks, and whichever pair of glasses that I wasn't wearing at the time. It did experience a little leakage, even the map compartment, but nothing too serious. I didn't treat this with Scotchguard, but it might not have made any difference. I think the leakage was through the zippers. It did have a tendency to lift up in the front just a little at freeway speeds when placed on top of the gas tank, although not enough to make me think it was going to come off the bike. When I moved it down just little closer to me, then the magnets held it down flush on the tank.

  • Windshield Bag

I installed a small "bicycle type" handlebar bag on the front, fastened to the Hondaline Windshield mounting rack. I used this bag to hold a 2 cell maglite flashlight, a tube of sunscreen/insect repellent, and a small handheld 40 Channel CB. This little bag worked great, and filled up some wasted space. The only problem with this setup was that it was interfering with my view of the speedometer. There was about a 1/2" gap between the bottom of the windshield and the top of the headlight, which allowed quite a bit of air to rush in, pushing the bag up a little bit. The top cover of the bag was riding up and over the instruments. I kept pushing it back, but that got old after a while, so I sealed the gap with a strip of duct tape, then used another piece to strap the bag top down a bit. That did the trick. It looked a little tacky, but I don't care about that anyway. Improvisation is the key to low-bucks touring. 

  • Rear Seat Bag

I used a cheap, soft suitcase to hold the majority of my clothing. It was about 10" x 18" x 24" in size. It rode on the passenger seat, fastened with a couple of bungee cords around the backrest. I fastened its strap handles to the handles of my cylindrical sleeping bag cover/bag with a couple of bungees, which added stability to the load. I found out that this bag wasn't waterproof either. Luckily, by the time I found that out, almost all of the clothes were dirty anyway! After doing the laundry, I put the clean clothes inside a small trash bag, and from then on I just stuffed the dirty ones in the bottom of the softbag. I have since acquired a Wolfman rear seat bag. It's great, with lots of room and extra pockets galore. I will use this next time. 

  • Misc Items

I had a small G.I. canvas tool bag on the luggage rack. As it turned out, I didn't need 90 % of what I brought in that bag, so I will delete much of the contents the next time. I put my tent on top of the tool bag, then put the cylindrical bag which held my sleeping bag, mat, mini camping pillow, and first aid kit on top of that, then bungee'd it all down.

In the RKA bags, I carried my cooking stove (which was inside a 2 pound coffee can for protection), a pot & pan set, a few dishes, all my food, a 2 quart soft canteen filled with water, a small red fuel cylinder filled with unleaded gas for the stove (or the bike if I ran out somewhere), the bike cover, a quart of oil wrapped in a few rags, a folded plastic tarp (for the tent), and a candle lantern. I had a few other miscellaneous items in there also, but I can't remember them all.  


The Tent

 

My little Wenzel biker tent is one incredibly small package. It is about the size of your average thermos when packed up. It is the perfect size for one person. I was able to put my clothes bag, boots, tank bag, and leathers inside with me at night, and still had enough space to move a bit in my sleep. It is a little awkward getting in and out of due to the low height, but not too bad. The only problem I experienced with this tent was one that can't be cured. Condensation! After just a couple of hours, the insides of the tent walls are WET! If you touch them or shake them, the water gets on you and your sleeping bag. There is a small vent at the foot of the tent, and you can leave the front doors open and vent through the front screens also, but even with it fully vented like that, condensation is still a big problem. Keep in mind that the temperature was in the 45-55 range at night. Perhaps it's better on warm nights, I don't know, but as much as I liked the size, next time I will take my little pop up 3 person dome tent. It is a bit bigger, but it will still fit on my bike. The roof is fully vented on that tent, and I don't ever remember having a condensation problem before.


 Clothing & Apparel

I am just as thrifty with my apparel as I am with everything else. My jacket was given to me by my youngest brother (I guess that makes it a "hand me up"). He is now a lot bigger than me, so it didn't fit him any more. It was custom made years ago by Leather Odyssey, located in Hayward, CA. It is tough as nails, comfortable, and fits me fairly well. It has genuine Indian head nickels pressed on as snap covers! It also had about 3 to 4 inches of metal studs hanging down from the zipper pulls. That was too "Harley" for me, so I cut those way back. This is a $500.00 jacket, but since I got it for free, it's in my price range.

My chaps were purchased at Leather Odyssey for $100.00. I can't imagine touring without them. I had some bugs smack into me that I know would have hurt like hell had I been wearing only jeans! They also offered some protection for my legs against the rain, since I left my rain suit bottoms at home. The leather is excellent quality, but in my opinion the stitching was just so-so. The belt portion came off in Wyoming. Leather Odyssey said they stand by their merchandise, and will repair it any time something goes wrong. They did. I suspect that some of the stitching performed while altering the length will not last. We'll see.

My boots are "engineer" style, purchased from Sportsman's Supply (a mail order outfit). They cost me around $50.00. They have oil resistant soles and steel toe protection. They are cheap because they are made by slave labor in China! Sorry about that all you Union folks. I didn't know it at the time. I will buy American next time (except for the bike). The only negative on these boots other than the source is the fit! The ankle and leg sections are too loose to offer any real support. The straps & buckles don't cinch them up tight enough. I suppose it's tough to get a good fit by mail order. As soon as I get some extra cash, I will start trying on some decent boots. Until then, they do offer more protection than tennis shoes!

I bought both pairs of gloves at my local Honda Dealer. The thin gloves are comfortable, but anytime the temperature is below 60 degrees F my hands get cold at freeway speeds if I ride more than 20 minutes. Since they are short, they don't ride over my jacket sleeve, and the wind travels up the sleeve chilling my arms. My cold weather gloves (also made by Chinese slave labor I suspect) are about 1 size too small (my hands are big, it's all I could find), but they offer great protection. They kept my hands functional while riding in the cold in Washington and Oregon (except for the blizzard). They keep my hands toasty warm on my night time commutes. They also extend past my sleeves on the jacket, so the wind is not a problem. Except for the size, they are perfect. I have had them soaking wet 4 times. I dried them 3 times in a dryer, and once just hanging. They still fit the same, and are still supple. They are actually a bit of "overkill" for my evening commute, so I am in the market for a third pair, something a little less bulky.

That's all there is folks. I enjoyed the writing almost as much as the trip. Hope you enjoyed it too. Now---go make that trip of your own before it's too late!!