The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part I
A word of caution! This will be a lengthy series of reports on my recent motorcycle ride to Minneapolis and then back to Bothell. I am writing this series because this ride will be a plot component of the novel I’m working on. For that reason most it will be notes for my own use rather than spine-tingling creative writing. You’ve been warned!
This ride was homage to rides I did over 45 years ago. As reported previously, several times, I rode from Minneapolis to Seattle and back in 1968 on a Yamaha YDS3 250cc two stroke motorcycle, equipped with one of the very first Vetter fairings ever made. I think mine was #43 and it would probably be worth some serious money if it survives, which I doubt. Rather than the later “Voyager” fairings which made Vetter famous, and rather wealthy, the earliest fairings were essentially wrap around road race fairings with taller windshields. When fitting it to the bike the lower fender stay could not clear the fairing, so I removed it, which made the bike look even more like a road racer. This did not hurt my ego at all. Best moment was one day when I was waxing it (again) and a fellow on a BSA stopped to ask if I would be entering the road race that weekend. Cue swelled head… Good news: the fairing had been removed when I arrived at my Dad’s house in Bellevue after moving West, so it was not damaged when I launched the little Yamaha into a ditch the next day, breaking my shoulder in the process. Bad news: I gave the fairing with the badly bent bike to the guy next door for $100, and lost track of all of them.
Ensconced in Kirkland I began my teaching career and renewed motorcycle ownership with an almost new Honda 450 Street Scrambler, due to the wildly generous loan requirements of the teachers’ credit union. If you had a signed annual contract (for $7322) they would loan you money for virtually anything at reasonable rates. I once asked them how they could keep their rates so reasonable and was told they had never had a default on a loan!
I rode the Honda to San Francisco and back at Christmas of 1969 (probably my most ludicrously optimistic trip) and then from Seattle back to Minneapolis and return in 1970. In 1971 I went for a ride from Seattle to St. Petersburg, Florida. The intent was to ride back, but the Honda broke its cam chain and devoured its own self in Florida. It was traded to a dealer for almost exactly the cost of a plane ticket home.
In the 14 years I worked in the motorcycle business I led many three day rides with customers, and one trip to Salt Lake City that encompassed about 9 days and over 2,000 miles, but it had been over 40 years since I had the opportunity to take a really long ride – alone.
As seems to be my tradition, I used a bike most would consider ill-suited to the task – my 2006 Triumph Speed Triple. This is perhaps an unlikely touring bike, but less so than a 250cc two stroke or a 450cc street scrambler. For the Triumph I have a Ventura rack system with the optional double bag, giving me essentially two large back packs sticking up behind me. I also use a Nelson-Rigg tank bag (I’m a big fan of tank bags). I have a Triumph tank bag which is larger, but the Nelson-Rigg is easier to use at fuel stops (by a lot) and, if I may be so vain – looks better.
I wore my custom fitted black Vanson leather pants, my Rev’It! boots and textile jacket, one of two pairs of Rev’It! gloves depending on the temp, and my puke neon green Arai RX Q helmet. All of these are exemplary products and worked perfectly. I also took some Olympia rain gloves, but never needed them, even though I rode through rain at some point almost every day of the trip. This was wryly ironic, as back in 1971 I managed to ride from Seattle to Georgia without ever getting rained on once. This time no such luck, but it was all good except for making the motorcycle less pristine in appearance than I prefer.
Day #1 – Sunday, August 20th
My initial route was intentionally boring by most standards, but with good reason. In the past 40 years I’ve ridden almost every great road in Washington – several times. In addition, vast forest fires were closing off most of the northern routes I might have chosen. I elected to beat feet on I-90 and get to Montana as efficiently as possible, where I’d be on roads new to me or at least roads I do not have virtually memorized.
After several days of weather predictions for perfect conditions, as usual with Seattle the day turned out to be more problematic, with off and on sprinkles and some rain. I left just after 6:10am and stopped at the Indian John Hill rest stop on I-90, as I always do, and settled into a pattern. I would ride 50-70 miles and either stop for fuel or a rest stop.
The first lesson of the trip was that my one health sin of pipe smoking has some real advantages. When riding alone, it is all too easy to get into a paralysis of road riding and simply refuel, ride, stop, refuel, and ride. If you’re not careful, the ride will be over and you will hardly have experienced it. By stopping at rest stops and forcing myself to sit down and smoke my pipe, I slowed down the trip and did a much better job of looking around and thinking about what I was seeing. I also took a small notebook, pen, camera, and a digital tape recorder for pictures, notes, and comments, and those also helped me to slow down and experience the ride.
I made use, as I have in the past, of the practice of finding a “rabbit” to follow – in this case a Honda Ridgeline that was cruising at 85-92mph. Once in Montana I was greeted by a 75mph speed limit, which meant I could cruise pretty much ticket-risk free at an indicated 85mph or a bit more. I did not get any performance riding awards for the entire trip, which was lovely!
I stopped after 490 miles in the late afternoon, and that is when I remembered about time zone changes. It was now 4pm, not the 3pm the instrument panel claimed. My preference for these trips is to find 2nd or 3rd rate motels, not only to save money but because, for reasons I am not sure I understand, I think they’re more fun. I found a place called the “C’Mon Inn,” and with a name that silly assumed it would be inexpensive. Wrong! It was a large and posh place, and the $128 room was in no way worth the expense. I did not really need more than one of the five swimming pools and spas on offer. Lesson learned.
One concern not present decades ago was my physical well-being. Recently diagnosed with two torn ligaments in my left elbow, cause unknown, I have occasional tweaks in my left arm that result in swelling in my elbow (some swelling is always present), or wrist, or hand. This can make clutch actuation difficult, so I was concerned. One of these tweaks the second day resulted in a swollen left wrist for a bit, but overall my left arm got progressively better throughout the trip. I also had a crick of some sort in my upper right shoulder, and that too went away over time. Want to feel better physically? Go for a long motorcycle ride.
Dinner at the C’Mon Inn followed my usual practice – a short hike to the gas station across the street for a wholly unmemorable roast beef sandwich, chips, and two beers. I find that a beer or two at the end of the day helps the fade the intense focus needed when riding, even on a freeway, allowing a good night’s sleep. While it rained…
Part II: The ride gets more interesting.
Copyright 2014 David Preston