We rode from Vegas, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon before settling in six miles off the pavement in the desert south of Sedona, Arizona. Tomorrow we would ride to Santa Fe. Following my impromptu photo shoot, mountains in the background, we called it a night. I pitched the tent, she started the fire, and we settled into our camp chairs to take a deep breath. That was the moment. The bike was parked behind me, within reach. I turned to look at it, smiled, and punched the left pannier. What. A. Bike! Weeks of riding—twisty roads, dirt, sand, rocks, solo, two-up—and the bike nails it, all of it, with confidence.
Wait. Let me back up.
Each year I take a trip on the bike. It is typical for me to weave work meetings and other tasks into these trips, and this year was no different. It was precisely these meetings that made the trip so long and epic. Meetings in Chicago, Las Vegas and Dallas stretched my route and timeline. Throw in a meeting at the annual MOA rally in Billings, Montana, and it’s a giant pile of HELL, YES!! I would visit friends in Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. In between, I would camp, preferably on forest service or land bureau property.
Much of this trip was done solo, but my then-wife joined me in Vegas and departed from Albuquerque a few days later. These solo trips can seem lonely, but they can also seem heroic when you accomplish something. No matter what, they are a community effort. I was the one piloting the bike on the trip, but I had the support and encouragement of a village. The Chief Operating Officer of my company, my two favorite independent BMW mechanics, my favorite local dealer, my local BMW chartered club, and my friends and family all pitched in. Their contributions ensured that I was safe, had a place to sleep and a job to come back to when I returned. I am truly grateful for that.
My friends threw me a going-away social at a wine bar near our condo in Arlington, Virginia, on Friday night. The wine bar staff even took part, giving me tips on places to stay and things to see in the parks. Saturday I launched early and made the 800-mile trek to Chicago to begin the trip. I will save the play by play, as motorcycle publications are rife with those kinds of ride stories.
This trip was transformative for me. Trips like these are like building a tower with blocks. Each destination is another brick in the structure. In the beginning, it seems small and futile. The trip feels like a joy ride, but two weeks in, the trip has substance, context, history and a future. During all that helmet time, one can see the final structure being erected.
Naturally, some blocks are better than others, and a couple of blocks stood out for me. A colleague and former GS rider in my office told me about a great wine spot in Moose, Wyoming, called Dornan’s. He told me to stop in, talk with Dennis and pick up a bottle of left bank Bordeaux. Once the wine was in the panniers, I was to ride up a dirt road to the top of Shadow Mountain. Above the treeline, I would have a clear and epic view of the Grand Tetons. Despite being run off the road by a Jeep, I executed the plan and was rewarded with one of the greatest camping spots of my life. Sitting at the top of Shadow Mountain enjoying my wine, I wrote in my journal, “…I am grateful for this moment…” Then I texted pics to my friends back home, you know, for safekeeping. Quiet, devoid of noise or light pollution, we witnessed a stellar light show rivaling any planetarium presentation. That evening I wrote in my journal “…I am grateful for the freedom to travel…” I promptly archived my pictures from the evening on my friends’ mobile phones.
Ultimately trips like this are a gamble one almost always wins. There are a few key things that play a role in success and enjoyment of a trip like this.
- Know your bike. This doesn’t mean you have to be a motorcycle mechanic, but you need to know fail points. For instance, while I seldom clean my GS, I keep the fork seals and the final drive areas clear to look for signs of leaks or failure.
- Own the correct gear. Bring layers. Ensure fit and versatility in your gear. Despite my trip being in the middle of the summer, I experienced temperatures ranging from the low 40s to 112 degrees.
- Loosen expectations. On a day-to-day basis, let go of your hard objectives. It is good to have goals, but the nature of long trips is fluid. You need to be, too.
- Share. If you brought some whisky, pour a round for your fellow campers. Bought a bottle of wine at Dornan’s? Offer a glass to the nearby hiker.
- Most importantly, have an open mind. Go places that you are afraid of, talk to strangers at campsites and try the local food.
All that said, I did everything wrong. I had a major service, two recalls, new tires, a new helmet, new riding pants and a new riding jacket. Everyone knows you don’t switch this stuff up before a long trip. It worked though; the gear, the bike, the tires, all of it worked perfectly, and the bike held true. This trip lasted 30 days, and I rode 7,800 miles through 22 states. I rode through, saw, or slept in Grand Teton National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yellowstone, Zion, Arches, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Palo Duro Canyon, the Ozarks and more. I slept on top of a mountain, in the middle of a desert, in the bottom of a canyon and even on a giant pyramid. I rode over bridges spanning the Shenandoah, Potomac, Mississippi, Missouri, Colorado and Snake Rivers. I hiked canyons, rode bicycles through the Kokopelli, and chilled poolside in Vegas.
There is much more to see, who wants to join me for the next one?