I’ve been reading Andy Goldfine’s Aerostich blog since the first entry. This week’s piece was “The Older I Get, the Faster I Wuz” which he ended by asking “Famously, whatever doesn’t kill you hopefully makes you stronger. What were some of your hardest/fastest/longest rides?”
I’ve had a few hard, long, and moderately fast rides, but my first real street bike trip was probably the longest and hardest of my life. I fully expected to do a search on this blog and find that story to link to my comment’s on Andy’s blog. Somehow, it only sort of got a mention in my review of the Honda CX500 I rode on that trip and another mention (with a trip map) in “Losing the Travel Thing” from 2017. If you thought I was running out of motorcycle stories, you don’t know me very well. I’ve barely touched on my early off-road experiences and mostly grazed over the motorcycle trips and “adventures” that occurred after I moved from California to Denver. Before that period, the only motorcycle writing I did was a couple of short stories and a commuting article for a southern California motorcycle magazine. So, I might start backtracking thanks to Andy’s question.
Like I said in the CX500 review, “I bought my 1980 CX500 Deluxe for $800, cash, from a guy who was suffering the after-effects of divorce and needed the cash in the middle of winter, in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1982.” The bike had less than 500 miles on the odometer, but it had been “decorated” with crash rails and “road pegs,” the foot pegs had been replaced with police-style paddles, and assorted other bits of useless and dangerous chrome. The parts guy at the electronics supply house I frequented bought all of the chrome crap for enough money to finance putting the bike back into stock shape before I left Omaha in late March, 1983 for my new job in California.
Between wrapping up my old job, getting our household stuff ready to ship to California later that spring when the kids were out of school and I had found a place for us, and putting my affairs in some sort of order so I could leave everything behind and get myself organized for my new job, I had no real travel plan sorted out for the 2,000+ miles between Omaha and Costa Mesa, California. After an emotional and stressful goodbye to my family and friends, I fired up the CX and headed south out of Nebraska, hoping to escape before the unpredictably warm spring Nebraska weather turned on me.
My first day out, I pounded about 450 miles between Omaha and Dodge City, Kansas, where I stopped to see my father and step-mother for the evening. The ride between Omaha and Dodge was tough, mostly because I hadn’t been on a bike for a couple of years and I had never been on a fully loaded road bike riding through a 40mph sidewind. My back, neck, and arms were beat to crap by the time I rolled into their driveway. The next day, the weather was so nice I let my father talk me into playing caddy for him while he played a round of golf and I stayed another night. That night that damn wind brought a blizzard, which was just starting to come down and stick when I hit the road early the next day. I’d planned on heading southwest into southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, but by the time I’d put on about 100 miles in that direction, it was obvious that south was the logical escape route.
My next stop was Hereford, Texas, about 300 miles southwest of Dodge. My kids were, sadly, born in Hereford in the early 70’s, something their birth certificates will curse them with for their whole lives, and I had some friends there. First, though, I had to survive the trip. By Guymon, Oklahoma, the snow had turned to ice and the roads were slick and dangerous. I was not even a little prepared for this kind of weather. My rain gear was a bright yellow, rubberized fireman’s suit, which was reasonably waterproof but thermally worthless. In Guymon, I stopped to steal a bunch of grocery store plastic bags that I wrapped my hands and feet in for water-resistance and a little thermal insulation. I stuffed that fireman’s gear with a couple layers of pants and shirts and wore a down vest on top of that. I had to have looked like a yellow Pillsbury Doughboy flying down the highway as fast as I could manage. Semi’s were littering the ditches, after jack-knifing on the iced highway and banging their way through any obstacles between them and the ditch. All of the motels were blacked out due to power failures and full-up even without heat and electricity.
I rolled into a Hereford filling station; frozen, well-into hypothermia, almost delirious from the cold and fatigue. Barely able to move my legs, I half-opened my side-stand, started to lift my right leg over the bike, and they whole mess—bike, gear, and a few pounds of ice stuck to every exposed spot on me and the bike—landed on the ground in a heap. I’d pretty much resigned myself to freezing to death on the spot when a guy in a cowboy had stepped out of his pickup, pulled the bike off of me and onto its side stand, and lifted me off of the ground saying, “Those things get pretty heavy sometimes.” I mumbled something. He asked, “Are you alright?” I mumbled something else and he shook his head and led me into the station where I found a telephone booth (Remember those things?) and found a motel for the night.
After unloading my gear into the motel room, standing in the shower until the hot water was used up, and finding a restaurant where I could get a huge steak dinner, I called a friend who joined me for an after-dinner beer and spent the night recovering from nearly freezing to death. I got up late, loaded up and hit US385 south toward Odessa and, hopefully, out of the ice and cold. I made it about 5 miles when my front wheel started screaming at me. It was pretty obvious that a wheel bearing had failed and I turned back to Hereford where I’d passed a Honda dealership on the way out of town. It turned out that the service department was pretty idle that day, since no rational Texan would be out on a motorcycle in 40F weather, and they got me back on the road in an hour or two. It also turned out that the dealership had been started by two of the guys I worked with when I lived in Hereford a decade earlier. Neither of them were motorcycle guys and they’d spent a small fortune building a new facility, overstaffing it with sales people and understaffing it with service people and had gone bankrupt in a couple years. The guy who owned the place took a great deal of enjoyment telling me about all of that, especially the bits about buying the business for a few cents on the dollar. With new front wheel bearings and some sunlight left, I headed south as fast as I could.
After those first miserable couple of days on the road, sunshine and 50F weather was intoxicating. I mindlessly pounded out the 400 miles between Hereford and El Paso, Texas before realizing that I really wanted to be on the freeway heading straight west, which meant going north (scary thought) to Las Cruces before I could really pound out some miles. Somewhere along the 400 miles between Las Cruces and Tucson, Arizona, I wandered off of the freeway, found a park I remember as “Apache Mounds” and put up my tent for the night.
The next day, I covered the 700 desert miles between my campsite and San Diego, California, hooked up to the 405 and made it another 90 miles to Costa Mesa, California just before dark. The two memories I have of that section of the ride were: 1) discovering that I could lock the CX’s steering and throttle and kick back and relax almost like I was a passenger for a lot of desert miles and 2) pissing off a rough, tough Harley pirate when his big noisy Harley died early on the way up the east side of the Pine Mountain on I8 and my “rice burner” just kept on going while he was stuck at one of the many water barrels at the freeway edge.
I had the idiot idea that my new employer was expecting me when I arrived and discovered that not only was that not true but the place was closed on Saturday and finding an affordable place to stay in Orange County on a weekend was a pipedream. I spent a good bit of time pounding away at motel phone numbers in a phone booth before discovering that I was on my own. I headed south toward some open land that used to be state park territory between Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach and camped for the night on the beach like one of today’s millions of homeless folks do. That night, I also discovered that I’d left my damn billfold in that Costa Mesa phone booth.
The next day, I rolled into QSC Audio Products’ office in Costa Mesa, broke, frustrated and angry, and screwed. At the suggestion of the receptionist, I called the Costa Mesa police and discovered some amazing, decent, sympathetic California had turned my billfold into the police lost-and-found. My money and credit cards were still in the billfold and my life was still on some sort of track. I also still had more than a week of downtime before I was supposed to show up for work for QSC.
First, I hit the 80’s version of Craig’s List, a newspaper called “The Recycler,” found a room-for-rent in a single-family home in Huntington Beach, stowed the stuff I’d been lugging across the country that I didn’t need for a motorcycle trip in my rented room, found a bank for my new life’s financial needs, and hit the PCH for some pressure-free exploration before starting a new life in California. My first stop was Yosemite National Park, 400 miles north, where I explored the hiking trails, fumbled a bit at pretending to be a rock climber, and relaxed for a day in a spectacular campsite, White Wolf. From there, I rode 200 miles to San Francisco and wallowed in a real hippy community that was still sort-of-cool in 1983 and stumbled onto a motel near Golden Gate Park that I’d take advantage of for the next 8 years, every time I was in San Francisco. After a day and a night in San Francisco, I was back on PCH and rode another 200 miles north to Mendocino, California and camped along the Big River just south of town; another location that I’d reused dozens of times while I lived in California.
A couple of days later, I rode 600 miles as close to non-stop as possible back to Huntington Beach and my rented room, unloaded the bike, and settled into my new life as a Californian. A month later, I found a two-bedroom apartment in Huntington Beach for my family, and the solo part of the California adventure was over.