Preparing for the Long Ride
In a month and a bit I’ll be launching off on a motorcycle ride back to my roots in Minnesota. I’ve done this before, and in fact a few times, but the last time was 43 years ago. In 1968 rode from Minneapolis to Seattle and back – camping – on a Yamaha YDS 3 250cc 2 stroke. Oddly, I took the identical route Robert Pirsig traversed a year later, including some of the same campgrounds, which he then wrote about in the first half of his famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I repeated the trip in the other direction in 1970 on a Honda 450 Street Scrambler, and then passed through Minnesota en route to Florida on the same bike in 1971.
This time it will be different. A lot. For one, the motorcycle is a 2006 Triumph Speed Triple. It has more capacity and horsepower than both of the other bikes added together – by a considerable amount. I will now have a cell phone, and a charge card with a lot of room on it. I carry with me a tire repair kit, a first aid kit, and an air compressor. Those are the good parts.
Downsides are a body that has endured four decades of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, with some loss of function along the way. I’m now about 60% deaf in my left ear. I have a knee that has been surgically prepared twice. A broken collarbone was surgically mended to such an extent that the only lasting consequence is a really cool scar. Two tendons in my left elbow were completely severed two years ago – cause unknown. And.. I am 67 years old, not 22.
I have gained the caution (good) and fears (not so welcome) that come with advancing age, whereas back then any inklings of what could go wrong never occurred to me, which is perhaps why nothing of consequence went wrong on any of those trips. I suppose the 450 blowing itself up in Florida and reducing its engine to a pile of scrap could be considered a problem. I swapped the remains for a return flight ticket, but even than worked out OK. I purchased a new motorcycle two days after I got home!
From all of this comes preparation in three parts: the usual, the bike, and me.
For the usual, I am ensconced in one of my favorite idle time pursuits. I spend hours poring over maps of each of the states, pondering potential routes. I create lists of things to pack. I think about all the situations I might be in, and how I would deal with them. I have a former student I would like to visit in South Dakota, and I can ponder stopping to see him on the way there, or back. By the time I leave I will have most of the potential routes committed to “mental muscle memory,” (a phrase I think I just invented) which will make nightly route decisions in a motel easier. Motels rather than camping adds ease as well, and does my body the favor of a better sleep than an air mattress.
For entertainment, I am really “old school.” I prefer not to use ear buds or any other technology that brings music or phone calls or anything else into my helmet. I find it tragically ironic that so many of my motorcycle friends rail on about distracted drivers, and then intentionally add to their own distractions with an infusion music and phone calls and other noise in their own heads.
Instead of all that, I simply listen to a few of my favorite songs repeatedly in the weeks preceding such a trip. When I want I can “play” them in my head. Having said that, I appear to have a higher threshold of boredom than some others, and rarely feel the need for any additional entertainment other than the sights and sounds and smells strafing my helmet at all times.
For the bike, the first step was to have it “freshened” after three years of almost no mileage accumulation while I was employed by Ride West BMW, a job that brought with it a “company” bike for 95% of my riding. A trip back to Cycle Barn for the administrations of Scott Zoellers, the only Triumph tech who has ever worked on my bike, cost almost $1,000 and was well worth it. In three weeks it will go back for new front and rear tires, and it will be as ready as it can be. The Ventura rack system with double back packs will go on the back and I should have all the carrying capacity I need, with the added bonus that the front bag, stuffed with softer items like clothes, will provide some back support. In addition, in previous long rides years ago the bike seemed to get slightly better fuel mileage with the packs on.
For me, the preparations are both mental and physical. I’ve taken long rides in the past few years, but none of this length on a bike with no weather protection. I rode over 2,000 miles to Salt Lake City and back in 2010 to spectate at a WSB race with some customers. That was on a new BMW K 1300S that was well suited to the task, but it was only 1,000 miles each way and had a nice hotel at the Salt Lake City end. I also did several three day weekend jaunts, usually camping, on a variety of BMWs. This trip will be about 1600 miles in each direction.
The physical preparations have meshed nicely with my retirement. I now have more time to go to the Y to work out more often. Even though my workouts are not that strenuous, in the past several months I’ve swapped about ten pounds of excess flab for 5 more pounds of muscle, enough that my clothes fit differently and I feel better all the time. Even better, the last few years of such visits have improved the function of my right knee to such an extent that one day, while stretching; I couldn’t remember which the “bad” knee was. Oh yes, the fading scars from the two surgeries would be an indicator. I used to make jokes about needing to not gain weight when wearing $1000 worth of custom fit Vanson leather pants, and now the joke has almost inverted itself, as they are approaching the limit of “relaxed fit” and threatening to simply be… too large. I can deal with that.
Two years ago my left elbow began to fill with fluid. Don’t know what I did. On a trip to Pullman in the car my elbow grew to such proportions as to alarm my physician’s assistant sister in law, and we took a quick jaunt to her clinic and drained out a hefty amount. Back home, the elbow gradually began to “fill up” again, and I had my doctor drain it a second time. He recommended a conservative approach of wearing an elastic elbow brace for a time to see if we could calm down whatever was causing the problem. Over the next 18 months the swelling came and went, but the swings were lesser in magnitude. Then, this spring, my left wrist began to puff up from time to time, and then my hand. Back to the doc, and on to a surgeon and an MRI. Analysis showed that I had severed both of the tendons in my left elbow – somehow at some time. This could be corrected with surgery, but we decided to let it go for now. All operations entail some risk, and the swelling continues to lessen, so….
But, I wanted to test both my elbow and body a bit before leaving, so last Friday two friends accompanied me on a ride over the North Cascades to Winthrop, down to Wenatchee, and back through Leavenworth to home. This approximated a single day or my trip rather well, allowed me to test various infirmities, and see what pace I was comfy with for a full day.
There were variables, of course. We left after breakfast at 8am, whereas on a solo trip I rise early and usually scarf down whatever the motel’s version of a “free continental breakfast” consists of and am on the road well before 7am. Secondly, most of my trip will be on much more open and flowing roads than SR20 to Winthrop. On the other hand, there will be delays due to road construction. On the 3rd hand, Robert and Brian and I spent an hour and a half over a leisurely lunch, which I would not do solo. On the 4th hand, on long solo rides I like to stop from time to time to rest and smoke my pipe and contemplate reality, which I did not do here. On the 5th hand, we stopped for an hour in Wenatchee so Robert could have a wildly unbalanced front wheel attended to.
I arrived home after covering 425 miles or so in about 9.5 hours. All hands considered, that should mean me 8 hours or so on my own, so 400- 500 miles a day should be easy and will get me to Minnesota in 3.5 to 4 days. I have allowed 5 for the journey. I love to get to a motel in the late afternoon and have time to clean the bike, stroll to a nearby diner for food, and perhaps sit by the pool in the evening. I think this is going to work.
Even better, my left elbow, forearm, and wrist did not seem to be bothered at all.
I feel a lot more confident now, in both mind and body, and I have a month left to enjoy thinking about the trip before it even starts.
Copyright 2014 David Preston