Depending on outlook and how you count it, this is a trip that I’ve been planning between the last five to eighteen years, the idea of riding a motorcycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific and then back to the Atlantic once more. It’s a dream I shared with my father, one that he came up with when he was about 21 and shared with me when I was about 15, I locked onto it immediately – such a grand adventure!
The mistake my father made was setting an arbitrary age in which he would make the trip by, 60 was what he came up with, we were planning it the summer he died at 59. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistake he did, rather instead I would do it as soon as I was physically capable of it. Technically speaking, I have ridden motorcycles all the way across this continent, in the summer of 2008 I rode a worn out KZ1000P from central MA to Phoenix AZ and then in the winter of 2009 I rode dad’s last motorcycle a ’05 Triumph T100 from Phoenix to Indio California. However, I’ve yet to see the Pacific by motorcycle and I’ve yet to do a round trip, I ended up shipping the Triumph home and flying back as at that time my health was too far gone to ride home.
Back in 2012 when this blog was first setup by a friend of mine, I was planning to do a sort of round the continental US trip, but instead ended up doing this somewhat epic trip down to Savannah & back on a 38hp Soviet made sidecar rig. I learned a lot on that particular adventure, completely reshaped the way I think about trips, discovered that for me it’s much more about the actual riding than the destination – the destination has pretty much become secondary to the pure joy of rambling around the country on a motorcycle.
On the map above you can see what my original idea was for this trip marked out in the thin blue, red, and yellow lines – I was going to ride west along a northern route and then drop down the Pacific coast, then cut across back east along a southern route before heading back north to home. As much as I would love to do such an epic trip, right now I’m not even sure I’m physically solid enough to make the Pacific ocean at all, and I’m not convinced that I have the time & budget to do the trip I had worked out.
So instead I worked out what things on this trip are the most important to me, and they are as follows – make the Pacific Ocean, visit one of my best friends who’s now living in Los Angeles, pass through Gettysburg again, and visit another of my best friends who’s a helicopter pilot working in NYC. As such, the thicker red line marks the first leg of this trip, which will pass through Gettysburg and then head straight for LA. I expect that it will take me about 11 to 12 days to do this first bit.
The plan is to stay at KOAs (Campgrounds of America) which were my father’s favorite places to camp when we went on family road trips when I was growing up. The beauty of KOAs are that you get all the regular benefits of camping outdoors but with access to clean bathrooms with showers, there’s a sort of general store selling decent supplies, sometimes a pool, and some have game rooms. Hell, there might even be wireless internet available in the main buildings nowadays, I’m totally guessing on that one though – last time I camped at KOAs was when my friend Steve and I drove to California & back in 2003 when I was 19 and he was 18.
The following list are the cities that I’ll be hitting as I head west, followed by the distance I’ll be riding that day, followed by the total hours of riding time (assuming an average speed of 70kmh/45mph) which’ll be spread out over 8 hour days:
Plattekill, New York – 260km – 4 hours
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – 390km – 6 hours
East Sparta, Ohio – 440km – 6 hours
Batesville, Indiana – 450km – 6.5 hours
Casey, Illinois – 353km – 5 hours
Sullivan, Missouri – 350km – 5 hours
Lawrence, Kansas – 455km – 6.5 hours
Amarillo, Texas – 550km – 8 hours
Santa Fe, New Mexico – 500km – 7 hours
Holbrook, Arizona – 600km – 8.5 hours
Needles, California – 665km – 9.5 hours
There’s a pretty solid chance that the last two days will actually wind up being three days and rather than staying at KOAs the first two will end at hotels. The reasons for that are a combination of the long hours between the nearest KOAs coupled with the fact that I’ll be riding through the desert (including Death Valley) in August and so will be in the extremely rare (for me) state where I’ll want air conditioning during the nights. But mainly because 8-9 solid hours of riding two days in a row might be more than I’m currently capable of.
On the ride across in 2008 I took I-84 to I-80 to I-25 to I-10, it was just a sea of concrete and mostly the only available food was rat burgers at those fast food joints that you find in truck stops along Interstates. Riding all day at 70-90mph while having to deal with speeding cars, tractor trailer trucks, and the occasional stand-still traffic jams that would last a couple hours – it was exhausting, often dangerous, and there were solid stretches without any beauty.
Where as the trip in 2012 I spent pretty much the entire trip traveling via State Highways where the speed limits vary between 45-55mph, the scenery is majestic, passing through so many small towns (I avoided big cities like NYC, Chicago, Philly, etc), and the variety of places to get lunch was absolutely glorious.
Since then I’ve made it a point to only tour on State Highways and this trip will be no different. I’ve budgeted and planned for a month – which I can afford so long as I camp as often as possible, which is my preference anyway. For breakfast and dinner I’ll be eating Boil-in-Bag meals, but for lunch I’ll be stopping at the best burger, steak houses, and Italian restaurants I can find along the way.
I’m going to bring along the GoPro, which I think I’ll set up for time lapses each day which I’ll turn into something after it’s all said and done, I’ll use the camera on the cellphone for pictures taken when I’m not riding – which I’ll post on here mixed in with the trip log.
I’m going across on the ’12 Ural 750 Retro which when brand new looked like this:
The most important modifications made since getting it include a Dart flyscreen which keeps the wind off my chest at speed and a sprung gel padded saddle – both visible in this picture:
As well as the installation of power outlets in the toolbox below the seat, these were installed primarily with a trip like this in mind, I’ve got a European type 12V socket, US standard 12V socket, and two 12V USB ports (on a toggle switch because they have a small LED light which as it turns out will drain the battery if power is left to them while the bike is off):
As a result of these I’ll be able to keep my phone & the gopro charged on the road – so not having access to electricity at the campsites won’t matter in the least!
For this trip specifically I decided that because I’m going to need to pack a solid amount of camping gear, spare fuel, some amount of bottled water, tools, more changes of clothes than I’d normally take on a road trip, and a variety of jackets (the hot weather Belstaff, cool weather classic Belstaff, and the Vanson leather jacket as a spare foul weather coat) as well as the flannel lined waxed cotton Belstaff rain pants, and a spare set of boots (the Redwings I wore for 15 years) – as well as this computer, my journal, a bottle of ink, and the fountain pen.. but like those three jackets combined are worth a couple grand – so I want to be able to lock up all my gear in a way that’s just not possible with the stock sidecar tub. Also all of that stuff is going to wind up being pretty heavy and to stick it all into a steel sidecar tub would add quite a bit of weight to the machine which would effect fuel milage.
As such I decided that I’d swap out the sidecar tub with an aluminum truck-bed toolbox that a friend left in my garage 5 years ago and then sold the truck it was used with.
In this first photo you can see the sidecar frame, the stock tub, and the toolbox:
Then with these two you can see the box mounted:
This setup gives me a water/sand proof box that I can lock everything up in which is also significantly lighter in weight than the stock tub – and as such, when fully loaded, shouldn’t weigh too much more than the stock tub would empty. Before I leave I’m going to paint the top, front, and maybe the back of the box with some red Rustolium that I’ll pick up from the hardware store tomorrow afternoon. I’m doing this so that reflected sunlight doesn’t blind me or other people on the road. I’ll leave the sides aluminum. I’m not going to put a lot of effort into it, but I will tape the edges so that when it’s done it at least looks pretty sharp.
While at the hardware store I think I’ll also buy an electrical box cover with a waterproof sprung cover – like this –
which I’ll install on the inner outside side of the box – opposite the accessory plugs under my seat – and then I’ll make a pouch out of Gorilla tape inside the toolbox. That will allow me to have a secure place to keep the phone & GoPro while they’re charging with the cable going from the sockets through the plate hole and into the phone/camera while whichever is sitting in the pouch. Aside from being waterproof the other main reason I want a sprung lid rather than just making a hood that would block wind & weather is that I’m going to be passing through areas with spiders that can really hurt you and I don’t want to make any way for them to be able to get into the box where I’m keeping all my stuff!
Finally, I picked up some new camping gear for this trip which I’m exceedingly pleased with.
An inflatable pillow which when deflated fits in a tiny pouch,
A decent plastic plate, collapsable bowl, and some silverware,
A nice little LED headlight that’s dimmable so that I can setup camp at night if need be as well as being able to read & write in my tent after dark,
I also decided to finally replace the classic Coleman camp stoves that we’ve been using for generations – and I mean that, one of them was my grandfather’s and is at least 60 years old, those look like this:
As glorious as they are, they take up far too much space for rambling on a motorcycle – even with my big alloy trunk. I replaced them with a fantastic little stove that will boil a quart of water in something like two minutes and will do it in any weather – and the burner and gas can all pack into the pot with a nifty collapsable handle and lid. According to what I’ve read a single fuel can should last me the whole way across, so I bought two, if I need a third I’ll be able to pick it up along the way. The pot has a vented hood that drops down over the burner to protect it from wind & weather – and it’s designed to hold exactly as much water as is needed to cook one of the boil-in-bag meals. So what you do is boil the water, then empty the contents of the bag into the pot of water, stir it up, let it sit for 4 minutes then stir again, then four more minutes and you’ve got yourself a meal! I’m thinking about making a ring that’ll be mounted to the top of the toolbox that comes up about 1/2″ that the fuel canister would be set down inside of – that way in windy weather I wouldn’t have to worry about the thing blowing over.
I’m also going to pack my banjo-ukelele and one of the books that has the fingering diagrams and a number of folk songs because this would be an excellent opprotunity to get some really solid practice in on it – and I bought it for the ability to have something to play at campsites on motorcycle trips exactly like this one.
Right, I think I’ve covered everything worth covering for now, in the next couple of days I’ll likely post a few pictures detailing the prep-work still needed to be done on the bike. Depending on how things go, I’ll either be leaving on Wed morning or else I’ll leave Thursday – it all depends on how much I can accomplish Tuesday as well as the fact that I’m still waiting on one of my medications to be refilled – one of the ones I can’t leave without.