Friday, May 25 Cortez, CO to Roxborough Park, CO – 365 miles in 7 ½ hours: This day, I changed clothes several times as I wound my way higher and higher up into the Rockies. At first, the day was clear and sunny, but soon clouds rolled in and it got colder, so I upgraded to sweater and jeans. Up and up and when I reached Telluride, ominous black clouds surrounded me and I began to wonder how “One-Eye” would handle in the snow. With no sun, the temperature plummeted amid the snow covered peaks, so a change of clothes again to windbreaker over my shirt and sweater all under a full rain jacket, rain pants and heavy Thinsulate riding gloves. But then, miraculously, the road veered away from the foreboding front and broke into blinding sunshine.
Here are two pictures taken literally 10 minutes apart. First looking into Telluride Pass and then as the road led me out of impending frostbite into a perfect day. First, Telluride Pass with the storm clouds closing in…
The rest of the trip to Denver was great. I arrived at the Hefners and had a nice chat with Diane’s 95 year young, sharp-as-a-tack Mom, Ruth while George and Diane attended their grand nephew’s high school graduation. After I’d showered and freshened up, George came back to take me to take me his sister’s house for a graduation party.
George looked great and we quickly rekindled our many years of friendship. George was the one of the primary reasons I’d decided on the University of Florida back in 1963 as well as why I became a Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother. His career in building and construction was apparent in their new beautifully finished home.
The dinner celebration gave me a chance to eat some great food that his sister Jill and her husband Jim had cooked up for the family. I know that waxing ecstatically about a “real home cooked meal”, after only two days on the road sounds ridiculous, but it sure tasted wonderful. I had seconds of everything, including desert! My diet took back seat to my desire for gratification after a couple of days of “riding along the razor’s edge on two wheels”. (Sorry, lame rationalization for pigging out).
George is a wonderful, honest and kind friend. And if Diane wasn’t so cute, sweet and funny, I’d worry about her need to have 4 (four) cats roaming the house and sneaking into sleep with me. I had a fun, but much too short visit with them.
Saturday May 26 Denver, CO to Colby, KS – 254 Miles in 4 Hours: My “Northern Route” solution started to fall apart as soon as I left the safety of the Hefner’s. Eastern Colorado shouldn’t really be part of that beautiful state. It became flat, very fast and what started out to be a nice day turned scary. With no trees and featureless prairie stretching to the horizon in all directions, there’s nothing to stop the wind on Interstate 70. Wind? Sorry, hurricane gusts.
I’d noticed online that Hurricane “Bud” was swirling off the coast of West Mexico messing with the Jet Stream.
The advancing edges apparently reached all the way to where helpless little Sam was trying to get home to North Carolina.
Now, if you’re riding a Honda Pacific Coast, one of the cool things is the entire motorcycle is enclosed in plastic. One of the not so cool things is that the entire bike becomes a massive, unyielding “sail” when the winds hit it from either side. Well I-70 goes as straight east as a ruler. And “Bud” was hurling balls of airborne energy at it (and me and “One-Eye”) from exactly 90 degrees on our right side. Now, normally with the Pacific Coast, if you have a side wind, you simply relax, let up on the handlebars and let the bike lean 5 or 10 degrees to either side and simply “heel over” like a sailboat.
I was used to sailing from my days with Daddy on the Chesapeake and Manatee River as well as during the years I owned sailboats on San Francisco Bay. I knew “heeling”.
But this challenge was nothing like that. On bays and rivers, the wind was generally consistent and you’d just heel over to port or starboard and haul ass. On I-70 it was unusual and brutal. It was giant blasts of buffeting… totally unpredictable. One second it would be calm and then a 30 mph air hammer would twist “One-Eye” over to the left… and then immediately let up.
Centrifugal force would instantly overcorrect the bike and we would slam over right in the other direction all within a second. From the rear, we must have looked like a giant “Weeble” doll weaving all over the highway.
Now imagine hours of this. Hands clinched in death grips on the handlebars with your body and bike being shoved all over the highway.
Now, normally, on a four lane divided superhighway this is uncomfortable but it isn’t dangerous. But as I left Colorado and entered Kansas, the first hour they were working on I-70 and had closed it down to two lanes with only flimsy rubber cones separating me and “One-Eye” from the oncoming lane of cars and tractor trailers, all coming toward us at 70 mph. “Bud” kept blowing us toward them. I thought it couldn’t get worse (unless it rained). But after about 3 hours of this hell, the wind actually picked UP (gusts to 40 mph). Then the wind started literally picking US up and sliding our entire 900 pounds 3 feet sideways toward the next lane. There’s nothing I could do but hold on for dear life. I figured it was time to call it a day. Actually during the last 30 minutes that I was hunkered down with my chest plastered against the gas tank trying to lower my wind profile, I honestly was going to pull into the next gas station, take a cab to the nearest airport and have that Motorcycle Transportation Service I’d first looked into come and get “One-Eye” and give it a free ride to Hendersonville…without me.
But, I was looking for adventure, wasn’t I? (And I would have never heard the end of it from Fred). So, after only 4 hours of hell, I pulled off in Colby, KS and found a Choice hotel with a pool so I could soak out the tension frozen into my body.
That night, as I was cozily in bed watching TV, the Kansas Weather Alert System broke into our favorite program “The Big Bang Theory” to warn our county that a 70 mph storm was blowing in from the south bringing blinding dust storms accompanied with quarter-sized hail. We’ll I was safe inside my “Comfort Inn”…until the power went out in the motel and the entire town…twice, for about an hour as the devil whirled and shrieked outside.
I peeked out to check on “One-Eye”…but it was GONE!. The dust storm was so dense, I couldn’t’ see a foot out the window…a tourist attraction Kansas has been famous for since we stripped all her topsoil off to farm.
Sunday May 27, Colby, KS to Blackwell, OK – 354 Miles in 5 ½ Hours: The next morning, “One-Eye” looked like it had been left out in an old field for 40 years. It was covered stem to stern with a thick coating of fine Kansas dust. Every crack, seam and switch, the seat and windshield were all brown. I was too shocked to even take a picture before I used all my motel’s clean towels to coax it back to “Honda Pearl White” from “Kansas Prairie Nightmare Brown”.
My smartphone weather still warned of high winds, but I was an “Adventure Motorcyclist”. So I persevered, suited up and took off. More hours along I-70 proved to be just more upper body isometrics trying to keep old “One-Eye” going in a semblance of a straight line and avoid both of us playing a game of “Chicken” with a 53 foot Wal-Mart truck.
Finally I gave up. I figured if I turned due south, directly into the wind, it should be better. So, half way through Kansas I took a 90 degree right on a secondary road heading for Wichita and then mercifully Oklahoma. (My wind-addled mind convinced me the wind would magically stop at the Oklahoma border.)
The rest of the day was a godsend versus the last day. The Pacific Coast was designed in a wind tunnel to be aerodynamic. And as long as the wind was coming from the front, it was. Once out of the fury, I thought back to my high school English and thought of Joyce Kilmer. Why?
“I think that I shall never see a poem so lovely as a tree”.
Trees, they make all the difference when there’s wind. They provide a needed barrier to it and make the trip much easier. Kansas has NO trees. I’m not sure what that barren state’s redeeming value is, but if it has one, I didn’t find it. My night was spent was just over the border, safe, in Blackwell, Oklahoma.
I had kept Larry and Sally Gordon up to date on my progress as I made my way toward them in Kansas City. I had already informed them I was going to be a day late when “Bud” slowed me down in western KS. But when I turned south and gave up on Kansas, I had to admit I couldn’t make it to eastern side of their fine state and what would have been an enjoyable time together. At least we’ll be able to see them in January back in Bradenton.
Monday May 28 Blackwell, OK to Conway, AR – 354 Miles in 5 ½ hours: Well, the wind didn’t stop completely in Oklahoma but it was much, much better and I started to enjoy the trip again. What impressed me about Oklahoma were the sparrows (or swifts or purple martins). As I sped through under every overpass, swarms of birds would swoosh out from their night perches and zip back and forth in front of me. Not wanting a new ornament for my helmet, I had to duck down behind the windshield as I went under each one. Man, there are a lot of overpasses in Oklahoma. I made it to Arkansas just outside of Little Rock that night.
By the way, why do they pronounce Kansas “Can’s Ass” and Arkansas “Ark Can’s Saw”? Why not “Ark Can’s Ass”? The things you occupy your mind with as you trek for hours across the country by yourself can be often be surreal…and stupid.
Tuesday May 29 Conway, AR to Lebanon, TN – 402 Miles in 6 ½ Hours: OK, now I’m making good miles once more with no wind. I’ve gotten just east of Memphis and am getting excited about seeing Jill and being home again.
But one of my benefactors Fred is upset with me because he thinks differently about motorcycling. He and Karen just finished a 9,000 mile trip on their BMW motorcycle around South America through 7 countries.
But to him, I’m just a wuss just going through 7 states on nice highways where everyone speaks English (mostly) and where gas, food and beds are easy to find.
He suggests I stop in Memphis to “See the King” and then on to Nashville and down to New Orleans to “Hear the Blues”.
I just want to get home to my loving wife and warm bed where there’s no wind.
On leaving Conway, I finally get on I-40 (which I could have taken a few miles from Peter’s in Arizona and avoided all the drama.) Remember my brilliant plan to avoid “Hot” southern routes like I-40? But I would have missed all the fabulous motorcycling and scenery in the west and the Hefners…and the neat near-death experience. Oh well, it was supposed to be an adventure, wasn’t it?
Wednesday May 30 Lebanon, TN to Hendersonville, NC – 278 Mile in 4 ¾ Hours: I wake up to dense fog. Once again I can hardly see the bike outside the motel room. Wait an hour for it to lift. It does a little, so I get on the bike and head back up to the Interstate. My visor immediately fogs over so I lift it. Bad idea. My glasses then fog over just as I’m getting to the I-40 ramp. So I slam the visor down and luckily it clears up just as I’m merging with traffic off the ramp. I guess I was too anxious to get home.
The fog lasted about an hour, but wasn’t dangerous because all the cars were taking it easier. The thick curling mist gave way to a beautiful day and perfect riding weather.
Tennessee’s Interstate 40 all from the Arkansas border in the west to the North Carolina border in the east has the smoothest, best road surface I experienced the entire trip. I soon learned how they probably financed it.
In all the previous states, I had seen 3 cop cars. As soon as I entered Tennessee at Memphis to the eastern mountains, I counted at least 30 local and state patrol cruisers picking off tourists like aardvarks pick off ants. Well, it was Memorial Week and there might have been a special bounty. But it sure kept me under the speed limit on my last leg of the adventure.
As I entered North Carolina, I honked “One-Eye’s” horn and yelled. The lush green mountains and rolling mountains welcomed me home. I took the long way over the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway. And in a few hours I was hugging Jill who had balloons out for my return and my favorite meal waiting for dinner. I parked faithful, trusty “One-Eye” by the lake and went inside to collapse.
A special thanks to my long time and very extraordinary friends Fred Walti and Jack Hetherington for your generous gift and making your old motorcycling buddy feel young again.
You are great pals and both important parts of who I am today.
Sam Hershfield, Senior Adventure Cyclist
Lake Rugby, Hendersonville, NC June 2, 2012