The Day before the Ride
Well, it’s the day before I leave on my annual trek from NY to CA and as I look at the national weather, it’s looking like I’ll be heading towards Ohio, Kansas, and Colorado. Temperatures look like they’ll be reasonable and it appears that the worst areas of rain will be in the northern states.
Of course this is subject to change when I actually get on the bike and leave tomorrow morning. One thing I like about getting started on my trip is that I no longer have to think about where I’m going – I am where I am and simply deal with whatever comes along. It’s about the ride, the adventure, and the freedom to go wherever I want to go and change my route at any time without having to worry about a schedule or specific destination. As long as I’m going in the general direction of California, it’s all good.
This will be my 6th trip to California on a motorcycle. This year’s trip will be different in a couple of ways. First of all, instead of a Harley Davidson Electra Glide, I’ll be riding the BMW K1600GTL. Secondly, since I’ve been across the country 10 times (5 times West and 5 time East), many of the places I’ll ride through will seem familiar. I know what to expect as far as the landscape and weather conditions are concerned.
There will be rainy days, sunny days, hot days, cold days, long stretches of endless flat highways, spectacular mountains, and barren deserts. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate all of the amazing places that this country has to offer. When I took this trip for the first time in 2008, I thought of it as a once in a lifetime adventure. Now, it’s become something that I look forward to each year. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to make this trek each year.
Day 1 – 5/30/13
After packing the bike with everything I’ll need for the next couple of weeks, I pulled out of the driveway at about 9:30 this morning. Today was all Interstate riding so there was nothing too exciting. I took I88 to Binghamton and then I86 West to Erie PA where I got on to I90 West.
The first day of the ride always seems like a long day and this year was no different. It takes a couple of days to get used to the fact that I’ve got nothing to do except go for a ride.
The weather was high 80′s and low 90′s all day making the ride a bit on the warm side. Other than road construction, the traffic wasn’t too bad with only a minor delay around Cleveland. I stopped for the night in Ashland Ohio.
Miles today: 567
Total miles: 567
States: NY, PA, OH
Day 2 – 5/31/13
As I left the motel for the second day of the ride, I decided to head a bit south and ride towards St. Louis in order to avoid rain and cool weather to the North. I took I71 South and merged with the 18-wheelers that seem to dominate I70.
The weather was in the mid 80′s and by early afternoon, I started running into light/moderate rain. The rain gear went on and off a couple of times during the day and my gloves got wet and dried out 3 or 4 times. There were a few areas of road construction that slowed traffic down to 50 mph but for the most part, It was a nice easy ride. I did hit some traffic in St. Louis, but I expected that since I went through the city at about 4:30.
About an hour west of St. Louis, the sky turned dark black and I hit some heavy rain so I got off at the next exit thinking that I would sit out the worst of the storm. This exit off of the interstate didn’t appear to have any gas stations or other businesses nearby so I pulled into a parking lot of what looked like a town highway department right near the exit ramp and parked the bike. A couple of other cars pulled in alongside of me and there were cars and trucks lined up along the side of the road on the exit ramp to wait out the storm as well.
As it turns out, it was probably a good thing that I stopped when I did because the wind started blowing and I had to hold the bike to keep if from blowing over in the pouring rain. I must have looked pretty sad just standing there in the wind, rain, thunder, and lightning.
After about 30 minutes, the storm subsided a little and I decided to get back on the bike and on the road. The rain was still quite heavy and visibility was pretty bad so I turned the flashers on and rode at about 50 mph. After about 15 miles of this, I saw that the next exit had some hotels and decided to call it a day and stop for the night in Kingdom City MO. It was only about 6:30 when I stopped for the the night making it a short day. I wanted to get farther west today but road construction, traffic, and weather limited the miles traveled today. Hopefully, I can make up some time tomorrow.
Miles today: 596
Total miles: 1,163
States traveled: OH, IN, IL, MO
Day 3 – 6/1/13
The storms passed through overnight and by the time I left at 8:30 this morning, the rain had stopped. It was 68 degrees with overcast skies when I resumed my western route on I70. Once I reached Kansas City, the sun came out making for a beautiful day for riding. The rest of the day was perfect for riding – sunny and 70.
As I crossed the Missouri River, it looked like it was on the verge of becoming a real flood risk. It was muddy and in some spots, it appears to have overrun it’s banks.
The majority of the day was just a matter of setting the cruise control and battling the wind. For most of the day, there was a moderate to strong crosswind that had to be dealt with. While not the worst wind I’ve ridden in, it was enough to ensure that I was always holding on to the handlebars and making corrections as the gusts came and went.
The BMW K1600 handled the wind at 80 mph quite well – much better than the Harley. At times, it almost seemed as if it was leaning into the wind all by itself with minimal input from me. Other than the fuel mileage dropping from the high 30′s down to the high 20′s and low 30′s, the bike had no problems pushing through the wind as I cruised along in 6th gear. This bike is definitely better in the wind than the Harley.
As far as comfort is concerned, the Electra Glide is more comfortable for me on these long rides. The foot position on the BMW gets to me after a while. Even with the highway pegs, my legs feel cramped and I don’t seem to be able to find a good comfortable position that lets me just sit back and relax like I could on the Harley.
After riding through Missouri, Kansas, and eastern Colorado I finally spotted the some mountains on the horizon as I left I70 and turned on to route 20 towards Colorado Springs at around 6:00 pm. It was nice to get off of the interstate highway and ride on some secondary roads. I arrived in Colorado Springs a few minutes after 7:00 and found a room for the night.
Tomorrow, I’ll spend the day enjoying the BMW riding through the Colorado mountains.
Miles today: 727
Total miles: 1,890
States: MO, KS, CO
Day 4 – 6/2/13 It was a great day for riding today. The weather was warm and sunny even in the higher altitudes (11,000+ feet). Of course, the Rocky Mountain scenery is spectacular and never fails to impress. For the most part, the roads are in good condition and traffic is generally not a problem.
I took some scenic routes through the mountains starting from Colorado Springs. My route today was Rt. 24 West to Buena Vista, 285 South to Poncha Springs, Rt. 50 to Gunnison where I stopped for lunch, then Rt. 149 to South Fork, and finally, Rt. 160 to Durango.
The BMW is a joy to ride in the mountains. Clearly, this is what the German engineers had in mind when they designed and built this bike. One of the annoyances when riding in the mountains is dealing with slow moving cars, trucks, and RV’s. The BMW’s power makes passing quick and easy, just drop down a gear or two and before you know it, you’ve passed the slow moving vehicle. I was never real comfortable passing cars and trucks on the Harley, it took too long to get around them to make passing safe.
I got to Durango at around 5:30, got a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and called it a day. Tomorrow I’ll head up Rt. 550 through Silverton and Ouray.
Miles today: 420
Total miles: 2,310
Day 5 – 6/3/13
I love riding in Colorado. I left the hotel this morning and headed North on Rt. 550 through Silverton and Ouray. This stretch of road is known as “The Million Dollar Highway”. It is one of the most scenic rides anywhere in the US. I did this same ride a couple of years ago and have wanted to go back again ever since. It can be a scary ride because it’s a narrow road with sharp turns and no guard rails to stop you from going off of steep cliffs. However, the scenery is absolutely spectacular. It’s a ride that I’ll do again someday.
I ended up in Montrose CO at around 11:00 am just as the hot weather started to settle in. By the time I got to Grand Junction at about 2:00 it was a little over 90 degrees so I took look at my road atlas and decided to head farther North to Colorado State Highway 139 towards Rangely CO. This is another great road although it’s nothing like Rt 550. Rt 139 goes through what I would call desert canyons. It was however, much cooler. For most of the 90 min. rid, it was in the mid 70′s to mid 80′s making it a very pleasant ride.
From Rangely, I headed West on Rt 64 and stopped for the night in Vernal UT at about 5:00 pm. A short day, but I was tired and Vernal was a convenient place to stay.
Now for a few random topics …
Haircut: Short hair is good. It’s nice not to have to deal with a tangled rats-nest of hair after a long day of riding.
The Bike: The clock on the BMW automatically adjusts as I cross into new time zones. This is really cool. It also has a travel timer that tracks moving time and non-moving time.
Toyota Prius: I saw a bright red Toyota Prius with a white racing stripe that went from the front bumper, over the roof, and to the rear bumper. I’m guessing that the owner just has a sense of humor and doesn’t really think that a Prius is a “cool car”.
WTF???: Just when you think you’ve seen it all… I’m driving down Rt 550 this morning (a 2 lane highway) and I see a car trying to pass a dump truck and it quickly becomes obvious that there’s not enough room to make the pass. Now, a normal person would hit the brakes and pull back behind the truck but this genius decides that the proper way to deal with a potential head-on collision with a motorcycle is to simply flash their headlights to make sure I know that they’re in my lane so that I’ll get out-of-the-way. Fortunately there was a nice wide shoulder on the side of the road and I saw this problem coming (before the headlight flashing) and had time to slow down and move toward the shoulder. The car pulled back into its own lane maybe 100-200 feet in front of me. That’s a little close for comfort when both directions of traffic are travelling at 70 mph.
Tomorrow, I guess I’ll be riding through Utah. Not sure where I’ll go but I’ve always enjoyed Utah so it should be a good day.
Miles today: 327
Total miles: 2,637
States: CO, UT
Day 6 – 6/4/13
Another fine day of riding today.
I left the hotel this morning and headed West on Rt. 191 toward Helper UT. As is typical of this area, there were long straight stretches of highway leading to mountain passes. It was sunny and 70 degrees making it an enjoyable ride. From Helper, I took Rt 10 to Rt 31. Rt 31 goes up over the mountains with the summit at about 9,500 feet. At the summit, there were quite a few patches of snow remaining and it cooled down a bit to 59 degrees. The end of Rt 31 is in Fairview UT where I stopped for gas.
From Fairview, I took Rt 89 to Salina and then went West on Rt 50. Once I hit Rt 50, the day’s ride became a simply matter of going miles across flat straight desert roads to get to my next stop in E,ly NV where I stopped for the night.
Tomorrow, I’ll head across Nevada towards Sonoma, CA. Most of the day will probably be long boring flat roads but I’m looking forward to going through Sonoma Pass late in the afternoon tomorrow.
Miles today: 465
Total miles: 3,102
States: UT, NV
Day 7 – 6/5/13
There are so many ways I could start today’s post …
A “Can-Do” attitude combined with a healthy dose of testosterone and machismo will only get you just so far (approx. 300 yards in this case)
Find another route when the GPS tells you to go up a dirt road
Pay attention to signs that say “This road is not maintained, drive at your own risk” and avoid these roads
A big touring bike such as the BMW K1600GTL is not made for off road use, trust me on this one
As you can probably tell, I had a difficult start to today’s ride. As I left the hotel with the destination entered into the GPS, I came to a dirt road about a mile from the motel. At first look, it appeared to be short dirt road maybe a 1/2 mile long that connected to Rt. 6. I went back and forth half a dozen times looking at the road and then back at the GPS to verify that it really wanted me to go this way and decided, “What the heck, I can handle a short dirt road”. As it turns out, this was a really bad choice.
For the first hundred yards, it wasn’t too bad. However, it soon started getting a lot worse. The hill got steeper so I started looking for a place to turn around. I didn’t want to lose any momentum up the hill because of all of the loose dirt and rocks so I kept going nice and slowly. Then, it got really bad, The road turned into a trail that I can only describe is meant to be used by people with 4×4′s. I’m screwed now and I’m all but certain that I’m going to drop the bike.
After successfully negotiating a few huge ruts (thing 12″ deep ruts) I came to a spot where a second trail branched off of this road so I stopped and started backing up to turn around. As I slowly back up, I loose my footing in the loose dirt and rocks and the bike slowly goes over on its right side and hits the ground with a dull thud as the plastic side bags flex to absorb the energy of the fall.
So, I dismount the fallen bike, take my helmet, jacket, and gloves off and assess the situation. I dropped the BMW in my garage once and was able to lift it back up but this is different. Now I’m on loose dirt with the handlebars sitting a bit below the wheels so I’ve to to lift it more than 90 degrees. I flipped the kickstand down so that it wouldn’t go over the other way when I lift it up.
My first feeble attempt to lift the bike hardly budged it and merely rocked it back and forth across the large rocks and dirt that the bike was resting on. I regrouped and gave it another try and got the bike up to about a 45 degree angle before my feet started spilling in the loose dirt so I gently let the bike back down listening to the plastic bodywork again grind into the large stones. My next two attempts ended up about the same. There was simply no way that I was going to be able to get the bike upright by myself so I sat down to rest a bit before heading down the hill to look for help.
When I got to the bottom of the hill, I stopped in a highway maintenance shop to see if anyone was around. No one was there so I walked to the next building which happened to be the Ely Town Hall. I went in and the first door was the County Treasurer’s office. I explained my situation to the woman that was working there and she went to find someone to help. One of the court Baliffs came downstairs and I told him where I was and what had happened. He smiled and said that I wasn’t the first person who had made this same error in judgment – it apparently happens frequently.
We got in his truck and headed up the hill. As we approached the bike, he had to stop and put the truck in 4 wheel drive to get through the large ruts and up past the bike. We got out and started lifting the bike. Even with the two of us, it was quite a challenge to get the bike upright but with some grunting and straining, we got it back on to the kickstand. The way the bike was positioned, it would not rest on the kickstand without falling over so my new best friend held the bike while I went to the other side and got on the bike.
After quite a bit of engine cranking, the bike finally fired up. We threw my gear into the back of the truck and I carefully negotiated my way back down the hill. At this point, I’m totally exhausted and all but certain that I’m probably going to drop the bike again but somehow, I made back down the hill to the pavement. As I stopped, I realized that I had been so focused on getting the bike back down the hill, that I had not taken any pictures. Oh well, I still have a good story.
Upon inspecting the bike, the only thing that broke was the right-side highway peg that is attached to the engine guard. The mirror swings away when it hits the ground so it just popped back into place. Of course there are also some good sided scratches/gouges in the plastic, but all-in-all, it’s not as much damage as I had anticipated.
I thanked my Baliff friend (I never did ask his name) and we discussed alternate routes to get to Rt. 6 that were comprised of paved roads. I got back on the road at about 9:00, only about an hour after today’s adventure began.
The rest of the day went pretty well. I headed West on Rt 6 to Tonopah with a full tank of gas because, it’s a long way between gas stops. In this case, the next services on Rt 6 were 167 miles meaning that there would be no gas stations for quite a while.
I reached Tonopah at about 11:30, stopped for gas, and headed towards Sonora Pass. I had wanted to got across Sonora Pass a few years ago but decided to to to Yosemite instead. Sonora Pass has some spectacular scenery. The road on the eastern side has very steep grades and hairpin turns. Much of the ascent up the mountain was 1st and 2nd gear making it a rather challenging ride.
Somewhere at around the midway point of the ride through Sonora Pass, it started to rain. Not a lot of rain but enough to make the roads wet and to put my raincoat on. The second half of the ride across Sonora Pass was nice easy winding roads which I found relaxing.
By the time I got to Sonora CA, I decided to call it a day. It was only about 4:30 but I was exhausted from this mornings “Adventure” and a few hundred miles of riding so I found a hotel and stopped for the night.
States: NV, CA
Day 8 – 6/6/13
Well, I made it to Kaydee and Steve’s house and will be spending the weekend with the kids. Today’s ride was mostly freeways making it a nice easy rode for the most part.
It was around 80 degrees outside when I left Sonora this morning as I headed South towards Los Angeles. The first hour or two I rode through some nice hills and agricultural land with little traffic. I had to follow a detour around a train derailment, but other than that, it was a nice easy ride. By around 11:00 I got to the freeway (Rt 99) and began the long ride to LA.
It got pretty hot near Fresno with temperatures in the high 90′s for a couple of hours. About an hour past Bakersfield the temperatures went down to the mid to high 80′s as I passed through the mountains and merged on to I5.
I hit some traffic going through Los Angeles that had traffic backed up for miles. At one point, I had a red flashing light on the dash warning me that the bike was very hot. Luckily, We got moving and it quickly cooled back down to a normal temperature. Lane splitting is legal in CA but I found it to be very difficult to split lanes on the BMW. The side bags stick out quite a ways and you need a fair amount of room between cars. On the Harley, I would hit the throttle and make some noise so that cars would move over and give me enough room but that doesn’t work on the nearly silent BMW. My attempts at lane splitting were really more like weaving through traffic cutting people off. I probably pissed off quite a few CA drivers.
It took me almost 40 minutes to get through two major traffic backups in LA. I ended up getting to Kaydee and Steve’s house just after 4:30 pm. I’ll be offline for a few days as I visit with family.
Day 13 – 6/11/13
I left Kaydees’ house this morning and headed north past LA and found the Angeles Crest Highway. What a great road for motorcycles. It’s about 60 miles of twisty roads through the San Bernadino national forest. After the Angeles Crest, I rode on Rt 18 past Big Bear Lake and this was also a great ride.
The next destination was Las Vegas. It was over 100 degrees for a good part of the ride today with the highest temp at 109. I reached Las Vegas at around 7:30 and stayed at the Golden Nugget right on Fremont St.
Day 14 – 6/12/13
Today’s ride was hot. As I left the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, it was a little over 90 and the temperature quickly rose to 100+ degrees as I headed North on I15. Just past St. George Utah, I turned East and rode through Utah and Arizona on Rt 89 and Rt 160. The heat wasn’t quite as bad and dropped t to the mid-high 90′s for most of the day.
I always find the mesas and rock formations in Utah and Arizona interesting and enjoy the scenery in this part of the country. The roads tend to be long and straight so the ride can be long and boring leaving plenty of time to look around and enjoy the landscape.
I had intended to get to Durango Colorado but about 40 miles from Durango, I decided to stop for the night in Cortez CO. After riding it the heat all day, I was hot, tired, and hungry.
Miles today: 489
Total Miles: 4,979
States: NV, AZ, UT, CO
Day 15 – 6/13/13
Leaving Cortez Coloroado, I rode on Rt 160 for a good part of the day through the mountains on my way North towards I70. The weather was pretty good with temperatures on the low 90′s for the most part.
The oil level in the bike was a little low so I told the GPS to take me to a BMW dealer. The BMW Nav IV GPS has all of the BMW dealers listed as points of interest. The closest one was in Colorado Springs so that’s where I went. I was a bit confused when I arrived to find that the GPS had taken me to a Harley Davidson dealer. As it turns out, the BMW dealership had moved across town about a year ago so I got the updated address and off I went. About 15 min later, I had found the BMW show and got a quart of oil.
From the BMW shop, I took Rt 24 East to I 70 and got on the Interstate. It was very windy, the sky was dark, and I could see lightning in the distance. I thought that the last couple of hours of riding would be through heavy rain storms so I stopped and put on my rain gear to prepare for the downpour. However, I seem to have stayed about 5 miles behind the storm so I never really hit any rain. There was heavy wind, but nothing more than a few light sprinkles.
I stopped for the night in Colby Kansas.
Day 16 – 6/14/13
It was just a long ride across I70 today. Nothing much to write about as it was mostly straight Interstate highway riding. I did a little over 800 miles today and should be home sometime tomorrow night. The weather was good with temps in the high 80′s and low 90′s and I didn’t hit to much traffic. The areas of road construction that I rode through moved along rather nicely.
I stopped for the night in Cloverdale Indiana, about 40 miles from Indianapolis.
Day 17 – 6/15/13
I made it home Saturday night around 8:40 pm after one final 800+ mile day. The weather was perfect for riding and traffic was never a problem.
As I reflect on this years ride, I have to say that the Electra Glide is more comfortable for me than the BMW for those long stretches of Interstate highway that need to be traversed in order to get out West. However, once i got to the mountains, the BMW was fabulous. The power, handling, and brakes are great especially for a bike this size.
My back and neck bothered me almost constantly making it uncomfortable for most of the ride. I suspect that some changes to the seat and/or handlebars will be necessary to resolve these comfort issues. I wasn’t prepared for this because I never experienced this with my local rides. It could also be that the new helmet that I started wearing a week or two before this ride contributed to my neck pain. It’s also possible that the additional hour or so between fuel stops is just too much time between stops. The 7 gallon gas tank typically has me riding for 3-4 hours between fillups compared to 2-3 hours on the Harley. Once I figure out the cause of this back/neck pain, the BMW will be perfect.
The BMW was surprisingly good in the windy conditions riding across the plains. It handles the wind much better than the Harley. The windy conditions still push the bike around, but it doesn’t seem to affect the BMW as much. When there’s a string headwind, the BMW just pushes right through the wind, The Harley often struggled to keep its speed when driving into a headwind.
When you get to the mountains, the BMW head and shoulders above the Harley. This is where the BMW really shines. The power of the 6 cylinder motor allow you to pass slow moving vehicles very quickly. Passing slow vehicles with the Harley requires more planning and distance. The BMW goes around corners so much better than the Harley and powering out of one corner toward the next one is a blast on the GTL I still haven’t come anywhere near the limits of this machine. I still haven’t scraped the footpegs and there’s still about 3/4″ of unused rubber on the sides of the tires so I know there’s more lean angle than I’ve been willing to use.
I rode must of the way from NY to CA with the throttle set to rain mode and the suspension set to normal or comfort. When I got to Kaydee’s house, I took all of the bags off, and switched to Dynamic and Sport mode and the bike transforms into a machine that just begs to go for a spirited ride on the Ortega Highway. Twisty mountain roads are where this bike really shines.
I’m probably an average rider and more cautious than I need to be because I really don’t want to crash and hurt myself. I’ve ridden the Ortega Highway on the Harley and always felt that simply keeping up with traffic was a bit scary and pushed myself and the Electra Glide pretty near its limits. However, the BMW is just so easy to ride in the twistys that the cars seemed slow and I was excited to blow by them anytime I got a chance to do so safely. Passing power is amazing and actually requires some restraint because the acceleration is amazing on this bike.
Another great road that I rode on was Angel’s Crest Highway. I was fortunate to ride this road on a weekday when there was very little traffic and for the most part, I had the road to myself. This highway is about 60 miles long and has very few straight roads. It’s almost all winding mountain roads with everything from 10-20 mph hairpin turns to nice easy sweeping turns. There were a few sections where there were rocks in the road but for the most part, it was a nice smooth road that is easy to have fun on. I’ll definitely ride this road again.
One of my biggest worries about the BMW was tire life. I’m pleased to say that the Michelin PR3′s did just fine. With a bit over 7,000 miles on them, both the front and rear tires still look pretty darn good. I should be able to use them for at least a couple more weeks commuting back and forth to work. I’m pretty sure that they’re good for another 500-1,000 miles.
I also traveled with motorcycle pants, jacket, gloves, boots, and a full-face helmet this year. In the past, it was basic jeans and t-shirt along with a half-helmet and gloves if my hands got cold. I have to say that riding with all of the gear wasn’t all that bad. It got hot when it was 95+ degrees but even in jeans and a t-shirt it’s hot so there really wasn’t much of a difference. Another benefit is that since I was basically covered from head-to-toe, I didn’t need multiple applications of sunscreen to protect my bare skin.
This was my 6th trip to CA and I visited some familiar places although riding the BMW made this years ride different – more enjoyable in some ways, but less enjoyable in other ways. For general Interstate travel, the Harley is more relaxed and comfortable. However, if you happen to hit slow traffic, the Harley is just miserable due to the excessive engine heat. The BMW never really gets uncomfortably hot even in stop-and-go traffic. Once you get to the mountains, there’s simply no comparison – the BMW wins by a large margin.
Total miles for this year’s trip was 7,213. For next year, I hope to have the comfort issues worked out. If I can do that, the BMW will be the ultimate long distance bike.