I was up before dawn and heading west. I was just starting to hit the grove when my bike flamed-out in Clinton, OK. The bike died just as if the ignition switch had been cut-off. I coasted down from a 90 MPH in the fast lane to a dead stop on the shoulder. I unpacked my cell phone and called MTS (Motorcycle Towing Service). As I waited the hour plus for the wrecker to arrive, I scanned through a list of HD dealers along my route. The HD website lets you plan a trip and print out all the dealerships along your chosen route. Looking over the list and maps I figured Harley-Davidson World in Oklahoma City would be the most convenient and within the MTS budget. By the time the wrecker had arrived my battery had recovered enough to turn the engine over one or two revs before the relay started clicking. This meant the problem was in the charging system. After much spontaneous engineering (the flatbed didnít have correct straps to lash down a motorcycle) we headed back to OK City. The driver recognized the street address for Harley-Davidson World and thus was able to leave me at a motel one exit west from the dealershipís exit.
Out came my shop manual and my Radio Shack pocket volt-ohm meter. Sure enough, it was a bad stator. The motel manager lent me an extension cord so I could trickle charge my bikeís battery in the parking lot. I had packed a charger just in case. Nine oíclock AM rolled around the next morning and I called HD World. I explained my situation and inquired if they had a stator in inventory. They indicated in the affirmative. In anticipation I had earlier unplugged the headlamp. My Harley roared back to life with a light push of the go button. HD World had me first in line. I like they way dealerships treat tourists in trouble. It turns out that a magnet had worked loose from the rotor and lodged itself in the stator. There were bits of magnets all over the inside of the primary case. The rotor, stator, and primary chain were replaced. I expressed interest in keeping the primary chain with the idea of making it into a belt. HD Worldís manager "Wing" cautioned me that primary chain belts were illegal in Oklahoma City. Beginning in July 1, 2003 Oklahoma began recognizing Alabama pistol permits. So itís legal for me to stuff a loaded .45 in my pants while illegal to hold them up with a primary chain belt. Go figure. By one oíclock I was on the road again.
The dust bowl days became real to me as I rode through the panhandle of TX. For some 15 miles the horizontal blowing dust reduced visibility to only a few tens of feet. I felt sorry for the guys that I saw riding without any helmets. I bedded down in Albuquerque, NM. Upon waking I tuned in the local news in search of weather data. The temps were in the high 40s and breezy with gusts up to 50 MPH. Back in AL 60 MPH gusts are catagorized as GALE FORCE WINDS.
I plugged in my electric vest and gloves I leaned my scooter into the wind and took off for AZ. The sun came up and had broken the chill by the time I made the AZ border. My bladder control was waning so I stopped at the AZ welcome center. The full-face helmet that yesterday had saved my face from being sandblasted in TX was replaced with a do-rag, cheap sunglasses and sunblock. My sweater and electric vest were also doffed in preference to cooler togs.
The scenery west of Williams, AZ was spectacular. For some 60 to 70 miles I saw no traffic. I mean not another single living human being. Beautiful scenery, road all to myself, melodic throb of the V-Twin, you just canít have more fun with your clothes on! Unbeknownst to me, this was a sign of things to come.
The atmosphere started to seriously heat up after leaving Kingman, AZ and descending down into the desert. How hot was it? I didnít fully realize the situation until stopping in Needles, CA. There I bought my first MTBE laced California gasoline at over two-dollar per gallon. Duct-taped to the air-conditioned window of the convenience store was a thermometer. At 5PM the mercury read 1070F in the shade. After taking a couple swigs of water its off to Barstow.
I spent the nite at the El Rancho, the "original motel" (motor hotel) in Barstow, California. The motel was faithfully restored down to its residends. The state of California has a vested interest in the tourist industry. So the state pays the lodging and a stipend to house some resident derelicts and alcoholics in its effort to restore period ambiance of the motel. I didn't want to stand out as a country hayseed from Alabama. So I rode my motorcycle down the sidewalk and chained it to a post outside of my room's picture window.
Next morning its up early, through Bakersfield, up I-5, turn off onto US-101, next stop Sunnyvale, CA and hello silly cone valley.
After two weeks of work, I started to think about my egress from CA. Now we were into June. I did not want to go back through the Mojave Desert. The San Jose Harley-Davidson dealer warned me against riding through the Mojave desert during the heat of the day. They personally knew of blowouts caused by riding on the 1800 road surface. Someone suggested US50.
Its early Saturday and Iím up and off to Sacramento and the western terminus of US-50. The first sign on US-50 puts Ocean City, MD at 3037 miles. Cool sign. US-50 was commissioned in 1926 along with US-66. US-66 was de-commissioned in 1985. US-50 still mostly follows itís original route. It is one of the few remaining coast-to-coast US highways that hasnít replaced by an Interstate. This is due partly by the efforts of the environmentalists in preventing the widening of the highway through the Sierra-Nevada Mountains.
I crashed some sort of poker run at the Hangtown Harley-Davidson in Placerville, CA to buy some rubber grommets for my saddlebags. The attachment points had pulled through on I-80. My left saddlebag was left dragging along the highway barely attached. While I was making the repairs on the shoulder, a California Highway Patrol Car pulled up and turned on her lights blocking traffic on the shoulder. That put to rest my concerns about becoming road-kill for a cager. I appreciated the thoughtfullness of the CHP.
The superslab petered out into a two-lane double-yellow-line road east of Placerville. Every few miles a sign would pop up indicating a passing lane was only 14 or so miles away. Traversing the Sierra-Nevada Mountains in June was spectacular. There was still a considerable amount of packed snow remaining at the higher altitudes. Lots and lots of places to buy tire chains. Frequent signs designating places to pull over and put on or take off tire chains. Guess I wonít take this route in the winter months since no one stocked chains for motorcycles. Lake Tahoe was overflowing with monster casinos and traffic including lots of motorcycles.
I motored on through Carson City on the way to Fernley. In Fernley one can buy an "Official Highway 50 Survival Kit". And now for some background. Life magazine did a hatchet job on US50 calling it "The Loneliest Road in America". Life cautioned motorists to be up on their "survival skills" before attempting to traverse this desolate stretch of highway. The Nevada Commission on Tourism had fun with this and erected "Loneliest Road in America" signs and offering "Survival Kits". These kits contain a cartoon map of the road from Carson City to Ely with an attached business reply card. Travelers are to have their map and card stamped in Fernley, Fallon, Autin, Eureka, and Ely respectively. Once stamped, a traveler mails in the card to receive a pin, bumper sticker, letter and certificate. The letter and certificate sport the signature of the Governor of Nevada. These "official" documents welcome the traveler to "the ranks of the proud elite" for having survived the "Loneliest Road in America" and to the travelerís "elevated status in life". The bumper sticker gets you free admition to any casino in Nevada.
From Fernley itís off to Fallon and Austin. Along the road is the remnants of a Pony Express Station (circa 1860). Of course I have to stop and take a picture of my steel pony in front of this collapsing structure. No need to concentrate on what a cager might do as there arenít any! At least not for stretches of 20 to 30 minutes at a time. That frees up a lot of extra clock cycles to enjoy the shadows cast by the setting sun while listening to the hum of the motor.
It had been dark for while when I pulled into a motel in Austin, NV. I had arrived in time to refuel. The gas stations close at 10 PM and reopen at 7:30 AM. I would leave before they opened the next day. AAA rates hotels by diamonds. I rate motels by fleas. To my way of thinking a 1-diamond rating is equivalent to a 1-flea. And I am searching for 4-flea motels. You know ones for under $25 a night with at least half the plumbing fixtures working. I usually had to settle for 2 or 3 fleas. I wouldnít find a 4-flea motel until Raton, NM but Iím getting ahead of myself.
Up before the sun and off to Eureka, NV. "The loneliest town on the loneliest road in America" or so the sign says. Eating at the Owl Club and Casino is a must do. I ate breakfast at the club with a westbound Harley rider. He claims he makes this trip each year from Pennsylvania. I can understand why. Breakfast was followed by another Zen-like day of scenery, engine hum and absence of angst caused by dodging cagers.
A stop at Ely was necessary to get the kit stamped and take on some fuel. I began noticing quite a few westbound Harley riders. It turns out they were making their way back home from the "Ride to the Wall". Ely is where US6 crosses US50. Those headed for Southern CA split on US6 while those headed for the Bay Area stay on US50. I struck up a conversation with one of the Vietnam Vets. He explained that he had been a senior in Engineering with a college deferment when Nevada failed to meet their quota of warm bodies. To meet their quota for that year Nevada revoked all deferments. He was subsequently jerked out of engineering school and sent to the rice paddies. I told him I had had just the opposite luck. I had had a single digit draft number with only Medical School and Seminary deferments being offered. I told him that because guys like him had done such a good job Tricky Dick didnít need my help and so no one was drafted that year or any other year that has followed.
Now it was over the Sacramento pass at 7154 ft. and onto Utah, which now lay only 63 miles in the distance. Along with the customary "Welcome to Utah" sign was a sign with "next services 83 miles". These signs just happened to be in front of a solitary Texaco station. It was mid day and this was the only refueling station along the 146 miles between Ely, NV and Sutherland, UT. And it was open! I took full advantage of my good fortune and refueled. It was Sunday in Sutherland, UT. The gas stations were closed except for pay-at-the-pump with a credit card. I had made so many previous refuels that my card was swiped-out. I guess the Oil Company figured my card must have been stolen since no one makes that many refueling stops in a day, at least not in an automobile. I motored on to Scipio, UT for a total of 142 miles to before finding a fuel stop operated by humans. This is where I first noticed my rear tire had only ghost treads remaining. The kind of tread you can only see if the lighting is right. The closest Harley Dealer was some 200 miles away in Grand Junction, CO. I figured the weight, speed and road temperature had joined forces to accelerate tire wear. So I slowed down to 55MPH in hopes of nursing the tire home. From then on I checked the tread wear at each stop. If I had seen any hint of cords I would have stopped for a new tire. That or any precipitation greater than a sprinkle Thirty more miles brought me to Salina, UT and the junction of US50 and I70. This time the sign read "next services east 109 miles".
US50/I70 snakes through the canyon lands of Utah between Salina and Green River. Once again I entered the Zen State caused by viewing this even more fantastic scenery with out the penalty of worrying about a potentially ill-fated maneuver being perpetrated by a sleep-deprived tourist. I-70 and US50 split company in Green Rivers, CO. as I headed on towards the Continental Divide and Monarch Pass.
The western approach to the Rocky Mountains was equally breathtaking. However no Zen State possible this time as the highway traffic was quickly becoming interspersed with gawking tourists. My carburetored V-Twin was handling the altitude quite well I thought. But then I was only riding at speeds of 35-50 MPH along these steep highways. This was due in part to the slow moving RVs and in part to the shoulders being replaced with precipitous drop-offs without guardrails and also in part to the road surface being salted with small-stone gravel. Once cresting the Monarch Pass at 11,312 ft it was all down hill to sweet home Alabama. The eastern side saw a lot of road resurfacing activity. This was the gravel over tar routine. While talking to myself I expressed great concerned that a rock would get kicked up onto my drive belt and cause severe damage to the drive belt and pulleys. Since that never happened I must conclude HD had well engineered their belt guards.
By the time I arrived in Texas Creek, CO I was famished and thirsty. I dropped into their only café and downed four big glasses of unsweetened Red Zinger tea with out as much as taking a breath, or so it seemed. I had let myself become more dehydrated than I should have. By Pueblo, CO the terrain had turned into monotonous prairie. I said goodbye to US50 and headed south on I-25 to Raton, NM. There I found a $25/night Motel. I checked in at 8:45PM and went out to get a bite. About 9:30 I returned to find the heat didnít work and no one in the front office after 9PM. The in-room TV brought in the weather channel so all wasnít lost. I felt a moral victory. I had finally found one of the mythical 4-flea motels.
Up early and head out on the highway US64 to Clayton, TX for breakfast. From there I caught up with I-40 in Amarillo, TX. Next fuel stop was Shamrock, TX. There I saw two storm chaser vans with Colorado plates taking on fuel. The sky was dark to the east. I feared I was speeding into severe weather conditions with possible tornadoes. They reassured me the weather was clear all the way to Little Rock, AR and they were headed southwest.
I estimated the time I lost by nursing my rear tire was about equivalent to the time required to stop for a new one. What I didnít expect was the savings in gasoline. For the entire trip I kept track of each and every fill-up by writing the miles traveled, gallons bought and their quotient in a notebook. I had recorded as little as 29 MPG when riding 85-90 MPH into the wind on I-5 in CA. Now I was now seeing 50 MPG while cruising the prairies of OK (at 55 MPH).
The most frequently asked
questions (FAQs) about my trip have been: how could I stand to make that
trip alone and how could stand to do it without electronic music. There
are definite advantages to traveling alone. One doesnít have to negotiate
motels or diners or highway speed. One can extemporaneously opt to ride
160 miles between stops (as I frequently did). Any music would have drowned
out the well known and well loved deep-throated melody of the Harley-Davidson
big V-Twin at speed. If I have to explain things any more you wouldnít
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