Day: Minus One (-1)
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It's Tuesday, May 13, 2014 and I've started packing up my RT. There will be five of us riding together after the second day. Tomas left early Tuesday morning to get his bike serviced at Lone Star BMW in Austin and will meet up with Ed in Ingram, Texas later this evening. They'll be joined by David who left on Monday from Plantation, FL late this Tuesday. Marco and I will be leaving on Wednesday morning and we're all meeting up somewhere down the road.
We're planning a 12 day ride so that takes up both saddle bags with clothes, and my BMW Soft top case with some of my bulking stuff: heavier jacket, heated vest, more wind protection vests, hiking sandals, my sleeping bag and rain gear. Behind me (as I sit on the bike) is my tent strapped to the passenger seat. I figure I've got about 35 to 40lbs in the top case and about 20lbs per saddle bag with the tent weighing about 15lbs so I'm carrying about 100lbs of essential stuff. My tank bag has my cap, plenty of ear plugs, sun screen, Alleve, Tums, Zantac, sun glasses, extra key, and Hammer Endurolytes from REI to stay hydrated.
I've also got my BMW Navigation V Garmin GPS mounted on a RAM mount which tells me where I'm at, how fast I'm going, direction of travel, how far to destination, and estimated time of arrival along with other pages of information should I need to check my elevation,
Day 1: The Iron Butt
I'm ready by 4am and pull out by 4:30am to head out to Marco's house who will be riding with me this first day. The streets are fairly empty at this hour so it doesn't take long to trek the 14 miles to his house. When I get there his wife has a great breakfast waiting before we get on the road. Our plan is to do a 1,000 miles this day (in addition to the 14 it took to ride over to the first gas station which served as our official "recording" of our takeoff time). So officially, we started our "Iron Butt" run at 5:36am with an odometer reading of 11,185. The Iron Butt award is given to a rider that rides 1,000 miles within 24 hours.
Our first stop at 8:19am was at Love's Truck Stop north of Three Rivers, 163 miles down and only 837 miles to go! We ride through San Antonio and make a quick stop on the NW side on I10 at Cabela's. Marco lost his "Spot" GPS tracking device on Hwy 281 between Alice and George West. We were moving too fast to find it so we looked for a replacement at Cabela's. They were out of stock so we moved on to Kerrville on West I10 as our next gas stop. That was 11:21am and 304 miles down.
We pulled over for lunch at Cooper's BBQ in Junction and by 2:17pm we made it to Ozona, Texas where we gassed up at a Stripes next to our favorite Dairy Queen, 438 miles, almost halfway!
Balmorhea, the tiny West Texas town with the natural spring pools was our fourth gas stop and with 591 miles we finally passed the halfway mark so for the first time it felt like the "Iron Butt" was within reach. It was 4:47pm and I had been on the road for 12 hours.
At 6:23 we pulled into Fort Hancock, Texas. I had wanted to stop at this border community since I heard about it in the movie Shawshank Redemption. That's the place where Andy (Tim Robbins) tells Red (Morgan Freeman) about the Mexican community along the Pacific. When Red catches a bus to the border he asks for a bus ticket to Fort Hancock, Texas. It's a small community right along the border before heading into El Paso. That's 714 miles and now we've got less than 300 to go.
We push through El Paso traffic and in to New Mexico where the speed limits go below 70 most of the time so things slow down for us. Las Cruces, New Mexico looks inviting, but we keep rolling to our next gas stop in Deming, NM. By now it's 9:21pm and we've logged 880 miles, less than 200 miles to go.
The next 120 plus miles seem to take forever as now we're getting tired and sleepy so we slow down and make more stops for coffee and layering up as the temperature drops in the desert night air. We make Willcox, AZ at 12:57am (MST) so it's really 1:57am CST. My odometer reads 12,200 miles on the dot. That's 1,015 miles from Edinburg, Texas and 1,029 from Mission. It's 22 hours after I first got up and 20 and half hours since we left Edinburg. A long day in the saddle as we rode through Texas and New Mexico and part of Arizona. Not a bad day's ride.
Gas Stops & Accumulated Mileage for Iron Butt Run
Three Rivers: 163
Fort Hancock: 714
Deming, NM: 880
Willcox, AZ 1,029
Day 2: PIMA Air & Space Museum
We all rode out of Willcox on a short ride to the Air & Space Museum on the outskirts of Tucson, AZ. It's also home to the Davis-Monthan Airforce Base known as the Aircraft Bone Yard which houses hundreds of retired air planes.
The PIMA Museum has a main entrance where you can pay your entrance fee and buy any souvenirs and that leads to about four hanger type buildings which house all types of planes. It's worth the stop and there's lots of aviation history there from WWII days to more modern days. There's an outside area with plenty of planes as well.
From the PIMA we loaded a bus for a tour of the Davis Monthan Airforce base to see the hundreds of planes parked and in mothballs. Some of them can be reactivated and put into service should there be a military event which would merit their activation. Some were being ripped apart by a backhoe on their way to probably our next beer can.
Our tour and museum took most of the day and we ended the day by Phoenix in Scottsdale with just under 300 miles for the day. A very short riding day compared to the 1,000 miles the day before.
We roughed it in Scottsdale and stayed a downtown resort where Marco had earlier attended a medical conference. We managed out-of-season rates and were able to enjoy the evening at a nearby bar and grill.
Day 3: Palm Springs California
We left Scottsdale, AZ and kept headed West towards Los Angles, CA. This was another 300 mile day as we stayed on I10 crossing between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. The weather had been mild the two previous days, but this day it started to get hot quickly. Highway I10 isn't in very good condition and it seems like it's an endless stream of tractor trailers making their way between El Paso and Los Angles. If the interstates in Texas are a "10" then these in Arizona are about a "6" at best.
By the time we hit a rest stop the temperature was in the high 90s. There aren't too many rest stops and this one didn't lend much shade, but it was packed with weary travelers. We took about a 20 minute break here before heading out.
Even though the ride was not that long the heat made it tiring so we pulled off the interstate into Palm Springs, CA for a rest stop. By now the temperature guage on the bike read 113 degrees. I thought that it was probably reading the wrong temp, but the other guys were reading the same 113!
Palm Springs was once the play ground for many old time movie stars like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Lucille Ball and the main street is lined with sidewalk embossed stars celebrating these old time stars. Apparently, it's still an "in" town as there were lots of people walking up and down the main street. We parked the bikes close to a frozen yogurt shop and settled there for about an hour before moving around to check out the sites. We figured that we could move on to LA as soon as the sun went down when it was bound to cool off.
After sunset it was a cool 107 degrees so we decided to spend the night there and ride into LA in the cool morning air with the sun at our backs. We stayed at a Best Western just a block off the main drag and ate across the street at a cool seafood bar and grill.
Day 4: Mulholland Drive LA to PCH
We left Palm Springs early and meandered our way through the Wind Farms in the canyons along highway 111 as we made our way back to I10W. This is a scenic little ride and a welcome relief from I10W which we'd mostly been on since San Antonio, about 1,250 miles of interstate slab, too much to call an enjoyable scenic ride. After about 14 miles we were back on I10W headed to our second "bucket list" destination, Mulholland Drive, the first being the Bone Yard back in Tucson, AZ. Mulholland Dr starts out in LA and heads out to the coast. It runs from Hollywood to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and runs through the San Monica Mountains and Ventura County. It's the scene for countless movies and a great motorcycle ride.
It was slow going through the urban portion of Mulholland Drive, but once we made it through the fancy homes of the stars the rural portion, called Mulholland Highway, the going was much better. We made a quick stop at the iconic Rock Store, a famous motorcycle cafe along the route.
We made our way from the Rock Store to the PCH where we stopped at a small state park so David who had been on the Atlantic coast on Monday could now dip his hand into the Pacific Ocean. He had ridden over 2,800 miles within six days.
Santa Barbara for a late lunch was nice after a visit to the local REI Store where I got a water resistant bag for my tent. When Marco realized that this was Ronald Reagan's home town he had to step away for a quiet moment as Reagan was his favorite US President.
From Santa Barbara we Paso Robles on and off the PCH where we planned to stay for the night. Paso Robles was just starting a wine festival so every hotel room was booked. We kept moving NE to Kingsburg near Fresno to spend the night with Ed's Aunt and Uncle. It was about 1am by the time we made Kingsburg and had logged approximately 450 miles that day with plenty of slow riding through Mulholland Drive and the Pacific Coast Highway.
Day 5: Sequoia National Park
Kingsburg is a small community right in the heart of what I think is the Central Valley. Lots of grape vineyards, peach and other fruit orchards throughout this area. It's really a nice ride through all the beautiful fields. We left Ed's Aunt and Uncle about 10am and headed out to Sequoia National Park which is only about 60 miles from Kingsburg. You always hear about how big those sequoias really are, but until you see them it hard to image such huge trees. We debated whether the sequoias were bigger than the red woods until we discovered that the sequoia is a type of red wood.
We had planned a short ride into the park, but managed to spend most the afternoon there checking out the trees and hiking a couple of short trails.
We left the park and headed NW again and ended the day in Merced, CA. Merced is the city with the downtown strip where American Graffiti was filmed back in the early 70's. So we ended day without too many miles riding, about 200 miles total.
Day 6: San Francisco & the Golden Gate Bridge
We headed west again taking some backroads to Santa Cruz so we could get back on the PCH. Santa Cruz seems like a real hip town with lots of young people all looking unemployed, but driving Mercedes Benz cars. Go figure.
We made our way up the PCH on a leisurely pace stopping every now and then to enjoy the view.
As we made our way up into San Francisco it surprised me that the road up to the Golden Gate Bridge is just a busy urban city street with lots of stop lights along the way. It took a while to eventually get to the bridge. Once we got on the bridge it also surprised me how short it was or at least that's what I thought while I rode on it, but it's actually over three miles long from abutment to abutment. On the north side of the bridge there's a pull over lane that takes you into a scenic overview parking area. It, obviously, was jammed packed with tourists including us.
We moved north of San Francisco and headed back east through the lower part of the Napa Valley and into Sacramento, the state capitol. We stayed right across the street from Sacramento's historical district and enjoyed a fine meal at one of its area restaurants.
The one thing we did plenty of this day was lane splitting (riding between lanes in heavy traffic). It's legal in California and so is riding in the Car Pool Lane. Technically, what we were doing was not lane splitting which is riding between lanes with moving traffic on both sides of you, but "filtering" which is riding between lanes while traffic is stopped or nearly stopped due to traffic congestion. We probably saved a couple of hours in filtering through the high volume of traffic north of San Francisco during rush hour. Of course, it helps to be riding my BMW RT with my auxiliary riding lights that must have made me look like a CHIPs Officer. They ride RTs as well. It seemed like the road in front of us just opened up as we approached. In my book, much more courteous than my fellow Texas drivers.
This day's ride was also short, but loaded with lots to see. We totaled approximately 300 miles and rode almost in the perfect shape of the letter "C".
Day 7: Yosemite National Park
We ended up spending all morning in Sacramento. First we visited the A&S BMW dealership http://www.ascycles.com/. We always order stuff from A&S so it was neat to finally see the dealership for real. It's not too much different than other beemer dealers, but they have a lot of internet presence. A&S is also a Ducati dealer and Marco wanted to see if they could check out a leaking front fork on his bike. As it turned out it would have taken too long to fix and the guys there told him he could ride it that way without any problems. So he did. Ed was having trouble with his trailer hitch so he located a local welding shop. The guy there was an older (about our age!) harley rider and said he wouldn't leave us stranded so he reinforced the hitch and got us back on the road shortly after 12 noon.
It was about this point that we decided that we should turn the bikes around if we planned to get home by Sunday so we dropped any plans to go further north. Yosemite National Park is SE of Sacramento and north of Sequoia National Park, yes we were going in circles, so we headed to Yosemite.
We stopped in Sonora for a late lunch after staying on highway 49. Sonora is a great little town with a lot of history. We ate at a great Thai Resturant.
For the first time on our trip the weather turned bad. It started raining as we got close to the park and the temperature dropped quickly. Riding was slow and at the entrance to the park I asked the Ranger if Tioga Pass was open because our plan was to cross the mountains and end up on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. The Ranger said that it was closed due to snow and ice that fell during the night. He said we had three choices: (1) go back about 13 miles to a little community called Groveland and try to find a motel room for the night; (2) ride through the park and head directly south to Fresno; or (3) go southwest and spent the night in Mariposa. He recommended the third option as he said it had plenty of hotels and good places to eat. By now it was raining harder as I showed him my National Parks Pass he said, "well that's good for all five of you, you'll be climbing to about 10,000 feet then decent onto the valley floor so it's going to get colder, wetter and more slippery on these park roads. Ride safe and keep the rubber side down." I thanked him and we entered the park.
By the time we made Mariposa it was already dark sometime after 9pm. We checked into a hotel and hit a pizza pub. That ended our short day seven with approximately 220 slow miles, but with a fantastic view.
Day 8: Camping At Lake Mead by Hoover Dam
We rode 500 miles from Mariposa, CA to Boulder City, NV on this day. We wanted to make some time as we headed back SE and then NE all due to the fact that the passes over the Sierra Nevada were still closed due to ice so we headed south to Fresno then SE to Bakersfield and we slowly started to make a NE turn toward Las Vegas. It seems like a really long way around and considering that we were on the wrong side of the Sierra Nevada, it was. It was a long day as we hustled to make it to Lake Mead by Hoover Dam before nightfall so we could get our tents up with some daylight.
We covered lots of different terrain on this day as we skirted the green mountains then into the hot valley between Fresno and Bakersfield and finally the dry Mojave Desert as we headed NE on I15.
We made it to Lake Mead right as the sun was setting and we were able to get our tents up before nightfall. It was the first day we actually got to use our camping gear after towing it along for so many miles. We really enjoyed that evening and we were up at daybreak which was about 5:30am or earlier. We broke camp and made it into town, Boulder City which was the city created during the construction of Hoover Dam. It's about 20 or so miles from Las Vegas.
Day 9: Hoover Dam
Since we got an early start we were able to make it over to Hoover Dam before any of the big crowds. I'd been to Vegas a half dozen or so times with my wife, but we had never visited Hoover Dam. It's really an engineering marvel and a testament to those committed to constructing it. I doubt we'd see such vision today.
The dam is massive as are it's turbines which provide electricity for the whole multi-state region. I guess the most impressive thing I learned is that a massive network of air conditioned pipelines built to aid in speeding up the cement so it could be poured as quickly as it was. It was said that the cement without the aid of the AC would have taken a 100 years to full harden.
The bridge in front of Hoover Dam was just opened a couple of years ago and it now handles the traffic that would cross on the dam. We crossed that bridge on our way from Boulder City to Arizona.
After taking the tour of Hoover Dam we went into Las Vegas to the local REI Store and then to the Las Vegas BMW Motorcycle dealership http://www.bmwoflasvegas.com/. Tomas had worn out his rear break pads and needed a new set. That took a couple of hours so we headed out of Vegas and headed east by mid-afternoon.
Other than the outskirts of Vegas we did not go into downtown or the strip nor did we enter any casino. So we kept a fair distance from Sin City and escaped without losing any money or having any "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" stories. We didn't mind that.
Day 10: Williams AZ
We left Vegas and rode about 200 miles to Williams, AZ which is just south of the Grand Canyon and west of Flagstaff. It was late, about 10pm when we finally rolled into Williams so we didn't do anything that evening except have dinner in the hotel. A couple of beers to help sleep for the night didn't hurt.
In the morning we ate across the street at a McDonald's, the second one we had stopped at with the first one being the second morning in Willcox in southern Arizona. The ride was nice and cool into Flagstaff, but there was a bit of smoke in the air from some forest fires south of Flagstaff that week. The forest fires prevented us from heading south to Sedona so we kept headed east on I40 to Holbrook then south on 180 and 191. It was slow going, averaging 50mph through the Apache National Forest which is huge. Eventually we entered New Mexico in Luna and kept going SE to Silver City, NM. That day we logged about 355 miles, but it took us into sunset at Silver City.
As it turned out, we were in luck because Silver City was just beginning its Blues Festival that day so we got rooms at the historic Murray Hotel right in the middle of downtown. The Murray is one of those famous art deco hotels like the Menger in San Antonio, the Holland in Alpine, the Gage in Marathon, and the Paisano in Marfa which were all built during the boom era. For Silver City it was the copper mines that brought it fame early in the 1900s. The city was packed with bikers from the area and nearby Arizona. It was a great night to be in Silver City.
We enjoyed a great dinner, some wine, and music which could be clearly heard as we walked through downtown. After a good breakfast in a bakery and restaurant, a converted house right around the hotel, we hit the road.
Day 11: Back in Texas
We rode from Silver City to the new BMW dealer in El Paso to check out the inventory and kept heading east to Kerrville, Texas (really to Ed's hill country house in Ingram, Texas next to Kerrville). It was another long day with 650 miles that day.
Just west of Ozona we hit some severe weather and for only the second time on this trip did we need to pull out the rain gear.
Behind us, it was clear and sunny, but ahead a storm, void of light, rolled up from the Northern mountains of Mexico and it was crawling across Interstate I10. Ed and I pulled over at a rest-stop that was an arm's reach from the storm, about 36 miles west of Ozona, Texas to finish putting on our rain gear. As soon as we pulled into the rest-stop two guys, each with an RV pulling trikes, came up to us and said we'd better wait it out because there's hail up ahead. One of them said that's why the temperature is dropping so fast. It was in the high 80s, but now was about 70 and dropping more. It made sense to wait it out and as we waited, a lady came up to me to show me the storm on her Galaxy phone. She said, "I just live about 20 miles east of here and I just got off the phone with my daughter and says there's heavy rain and hail."
The Weather Bug App on my phone showed just what we saw, but it was more stationary than we thought because it looked like it was just on top of I10 with no interest in moving out of the way. About 15 minutes later the rest of our riding buddies approach us, but they are not pulling over. That's a mistake. Marco, David and Tomas just keep going into the blackness like a moth to light. Ed and I figure we should try and stay together so we get on our bikes and pull out not far behind them.
Within four or five miles we begin riding into the rain, at first, only huge drops fell, but it wasn't long before it became a real frog choker. Cars and trucks starting pulling over to the side of the highway, but we kept moving. We caught up with the guys after a short while and it was then that I said to myself, "Wow, that was a big rain drop that hit my left hand". Of course, it was hail. Soon I could hear the hail hitting my helmet as it made a distinct 'clack' as the hail hit. Unlike Marco who was on a Ducati, the BMW RT has a great aero-dynamic design and only my hands and helmet were getting hit by hail. I figured it was between dime and nickel sized hail as we could clearly see it hitting the pavement and accumulating on the sides of the highway.
By now all traffic, or so it seemed, had pulled over to the side of the highway or crowded under the few overpasses that cross I10. The overpasses looked like a crowded DQ on a hot summer night. I can imagine what they were saying as five motorcycles passed by. We pulled over once, but it was worse without the aero-dynamic protection so we pressed on.
About seven or ten miles from Ozona we finally saw a sliver of light on the eastern horizon. We were almost through. We kept our gaze fixed on the light as it kept getting wider and wider. Within a few miles of Ozona the rain stopped and we had made it through. Another rain cell was moving in from Mexico so we quickly filled up and kept pushing east towards Kerrville. We rode over 500 miles that day from Silver City, New Mexico to Ingram, Texas, but only about 20 miles of it was one for the story books.
We rolled into Ingram about 9pm Saturday night.
Day 12: Texas Hill Country
We made it to Ed's house in Ingram and relaxed for the night. In the morning it was raining hard, but once there was a slight break we made our way out and headed into San Antonio. Tomas and I left the group as I headed over to see my grandkids who live right off of Broadway close to the Zoo. After some pancakes we were on the road and met up with the guys at the Love's Truck Stop in Three Rivers. From there we each said our good byes as we were not stopping until we reached home. We rode about 330 miles this last day!
I made it home by 4:15 on Sunday. It was a great ride and ended up about 20 miles shy of 5,000 miles. I got to ride in California for the first time and must say that it's a beautiful state with lots to see and much to do. Next time we'll hit the red woods in Northern California!