Safety Is Job One!

Hello!       Before you take on the long ride, please read this.  It may safe your life.

It might be good to check your travel plan, so there are points built in for decisions about heading back. If it’s a long ride and if some are not used to it, they’re going to be getting tired. It’s not a safe plan to be on the other side of a continent and then decide you have to race back, long hours in interstate traffic (which will get heavier and crazier as you progress toward “back East” ) at high speeds, especially if it means riding after sundown; that’s asking for accidents.

My wife and I “trained” before we spent most of September last year riding across and back. From Spring to Fall, we took rides of various lengths but gradually working up to about 1800 miles. Also, it’s a good idea to start getting a little more exercise than usual if you don’t have a job or hobby that is fairly physical. Riding a couple of hundred miles on a nice day is one thing, riding all day including heat, hard winds, rain, etc. is something else. It’s easy to find yourself getting a little stupid at the end of long days, and that happens faster and deeper if you’re not in as good shape for endurance exercise as you might be. IF you like to get a little more sleep time, that’s good, but I’d suggest you do not say “ and we’ll just put in more miles around sundown.” Just figure on taking a few “light duty” days along the way, and don’t get into competing with each other to not be the first one to admit being tired. Besides, if you’re planning to camp, that means breaking down and packing the rig in the morning, and then having to set it up again at the end of the day. That’s a lot less fun after sundown, flashlight in your teeth, fumbling for stuff in the dark, not able to judge how much the place slopes until you’re into the sleeping bag and then figuring out you’re lying with your head downhill sliding out of the bag and have to redo it all to be able to sleep… don’t ask how I know about that!. Try estimating NOT what AAA or some travel service tells you it takes to drive the route in a car, but figure you’re likely to run around 350-450 miles a day – and resist the temptation to say, “That old guy is a wimp, we can do twice that”. Yeah, you can – for a day or two. After that, if you’re not “Iron Butt Association” members who train for riding huge distances without seeing anything but the pavement and gas stations, you’re either not going to keep that up, or one of you is likely to need that policy you took out with MedJet, the one where they fly whichever of you crashes first from the boondocks to some trauma hospital. Yes, there’s a service like that for motorcyclists, and it can be worth thinking about.

 If you’re used to using motels, don’t forget the extra time to set up and take down camp. Go do it on your driveway, the whole camp set-up and take-down/re-pack, and time it, add ten percent for stuff going wrong. Add another fifteen to twenty minutes for the daily stop you should make after an hour or less to walk around the rig tightening and checking and adjusting things that come loose – something WILL come loose, just factor it into the plan. So, your traveling day will be shorter than in a car or van. Plus, you can’t give someone else the keys and catch a nap, you have to do all the driving. Therefore, camping translates into less miles per day on average if you’re going to enjoy the trip.

 Weather radios are good, the kind that get the NOAA broadcasts. If one of you has a laptop, or has a really fancy phone with internet capability, you can get all sorts of weather in whatever detail you like, especially if you’re equipped for WiFi. Many states have a highway information system that includes weather as well as construction news, etc., most of these can be dialed on your cell phone with “511” and working your way through a voice menu to find out about the route you want to travel.  Check out which on your itinerary have this, and for those that don’t, contact their state highway department and ask about ways to check on their roads while you’re traveling there; most have a way for you to get information – and that will include things like asking about high passes that may or may not get snow or ice even in summer,  & heavy wind advisories ( Once you hit the west slope of the Colorado Rockies, Utah, Nevada, you’re likely to find days when the winds will leave you feeling like you’ve spent the day wrestling a bear trying to keep the bike in the lane you want to drive in.). A lot of states print a list of planned construction and road repairs with dates, some even include which lanes at what time of day,  Ask them for this early in the year so you can figure it into your planning, same time as you ask them to mail you the state road map and some tourist information literature. If you’ve got a GPS unit, great… take maps anyway. It’s good backup, and they’re easier to plan with in the evening than all standing around the bike squinting at a little screen.

 You don’t need to take winter clothes just for the times you’ll hit cold air. You will almost certainly need something rainproof; just make sure it’s able to fit over your other riding gear. A windproof/waterproof layer over a sweater and your riding gear will pretty much do the job, though it’s good to have a heavier pair of gloves at altitude. If it’s really cold put on both pairs of pants you take along. I ride “armored”, have for a long time; my wife was stubborn about that for a while, but for the long trip she caved in and wore “armored” nylon mesh jacket and pants, as did I. She’s now a believer!  If it’s cool, wear your jeans under it; if it’s blazing hot (and you’re likely to do some of that in August), leave the jeans in the saddlebag and wear shorts under the mesh, it’s a big difference. I quit using regular underwear for long trips in the saddle; the modern “wicking fabric” sports-wear stuff really does work, and it will keep you cooler at high temperatures (better evaporation of sweat when air flows through your riding gear) – and it will literally save your butt compared to good old cotton, which can retain perspiration, chafing, and heat, and turn into a nightmare of saddle rash and sores. Again, don’t ask how I know, it’s not a pretty story!  There is a cost (besides the higher price) for wearing this stuff, though. Remember, it works by pulling sweat away from your skin and evaporating it off. You’re going to be riding in hot weather, much of it in desert air, and the efficiency of the wicking fabric means that you will have to replace more fluids than you’re used to. Make yourself, and each other, consciously remember to drink every time you stop for food or fuel, and don’t drink alcohol or a lot of caffeine in the daytime, either of which take fluid out of your body at a faster rate. Dehydration leads to fatigue, which leads to mistakes you don’t want to make on two wheels.

 Farther west, you have more space and less people, and not so much traffic outside towns and cities. That’s a great ride – but after a couple days of that, it can be a little disorienting to ride into a city, even a small one, and suddenly realize there is a lot more traffic than you expected,  that sign you thought would mark the turn isn’t visible, maybe behind a tall truck just when you need to know if this is the turn or whatever (another “don’t ask”!).  Don’t cuss the traffic or the town, and don’t try any desperate maneuvers across traffic to fix it. . Stop as soon as you safely can, and hold a powwow on the solution, then all solemnly vow that for the rest of the trip you will think ahead before you start any engines, and spend a couple of minutes talking about how you’re going to pass through this or that town, whether you change highways or maybe take a short piece of bypass road, etc., and how you’re going to deal with it if (when) somebody makes a wrong turn and gets separated; The answer will change depending on each day’s planned route.

 That’s most of the bad stuff. Highway 50 is a lot of fun – a nice road to ride (fabulous through the eastern Rockies ), a lot of interesting places and geography and people. Keep your pace easy enough to look around as you go, and you’ll  find it’s a great show, changing all the way. The superslabs are great for going fast, but the ride is generally long stretches of dullness punctuated by occasional moments of fear. Still, even those have some rewarding views. Campgrounds, however, tend to be away from them, which is a little less convenient if you really want to camp most of the time. Wulf’s suggestion of national parks is good. The state parks are pretty good also, and if you don’t need vending machines and laundries and electric everything, the Forest Service and Corps of Engineers “primitive” campsites are great – quiet, very few people with huge generators running all night,  and almost always spaces available while the KOA or national park is filled up. While they don’t all feature hot showers, they have drinking water and restrooms and just plain beauty. One caution on those, though – if you’re not used to riding unpaved roads, check ahead to see if you have to navigate a bit of unpaved road to get in and out of the more ‘backwoods” campgrounds.

 What else? My wife and I decided it worked better for us to take a long lunch break and have our main meal of the day with some walking around after, and just grab something light at the end of the day like a fast-food chain salad. Easier than checking into a motel or campsite, unloading, then getting back into riding gear to go off searching for a restaurant. We liked the day’s ride, but found we purely hated that “extra ride” looking for a meal at sundown. You may feel otherwise.  Gas prices will likely go up again, can’t do much about that – but once you hit the desert states, Do Not Pass Gas - stations, that is, unless you know for sure there’s another one well within your range. Your planning should show you there are some loooong stretches here and there – and if your machine doesn’t like “Regular”, tucking a cheap can of octane booster in your kit may save you when the one station as you go dry turns out to not have had anything but 87 octane for a week or so, sorry, mister! One more thing – figure out how you will deal with the fact that for half this trip you will be riding straight into the sunset every day, and the other half straight into the sunrise. Every day, half of it with the sun straight in your face. Down around 30 degrees from the horizon, it gets your attention. A stripe of electrical tape across the visor doesn’t look elegant, but it beats riding blind!

 May the road rise to meet you, and the wind be always at your back –

See you one the road someplace!

 John and Sue House,  March 2008