One Old Relic’s Adventure Across America On Another Old Relic Pt.1
Two of my best friends, Fred Walti and Jack Hetherington, who I’d worked with at various ad agencies over the last 4 decades secretly gotten together and gave me a gift: An “old” motorcycle that Jack had owned for years. He’d decided to sell it and he and Fred conspired to get me straddling a two wheeler again since we’d ridden together for years and I had fallen out of the “biking brotherhood”. It had been about 10 years since I’d owned a motorcycle.
My Love Affair with Motorcycles: I’ve owned and enjoyed many over the years, starting in 1964 at the University of Florida when our new little family’s only form of transportation was a tiny single cylinder 80cc Yamaha YZ80. But in 1967, with Susie working one job and me two it allowed us to move up to a “giant” 100cc two cylinder. Either was an awkward mode of transportation for a young couple with a baby.
Then, in the late 60’s, following the move to Pittsburgh for my first advertising job and unconscionable salary (I think it was $8,800 per year), I bought a “real bike”, a 500cc BMW R50. Interestingly, those same years, we also owned a BMW 2002 coupe (which our combined BMW automotive/motorcycle dealer loved!).
Jack Hetherington was working at the same agency and had a new Honda CB 350 in those early days. We young advertising “Mad Men” often rode around the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside together.
In the early 70’s, when my ad agency transferred me across the country to Los Angeles, my Japanese client, Yamaha Motor, felt embarrassed when I showed up on a German bike at their headquarters for meetings. So they graciously loaned me a new Yamaha of my choice every year I managed their account. First was a high tech, dual overhead cam TX 500 2 cylinder, then a XS2 650 which was modeled after the famous old Triumph Bonneville, but totally redesigned, to start and run consistently, not leak oil and have the electrics that actually worked.
Finally I had their largest bike at the time, the TX 750. I’d never had so much power. They were great bikes and a great client.
Sadly, I had to give them all up when my agency moved us back across the country to Washington, DC. Over the next decade we moved back to Pittsburgh, to Dayton, New York, Boston and San Francisco. During all those years, my bike was a very unique BMW R65LS, a 650cc “café racer” styled horizontally opposed twin cylinder.
When I finally ended up in LA again, our agency had originally represented the Honda account. It was there I saw a print ad for what was the sexiest bike I thought I had ever seen: the brand new 1989 Honda Pacific Coast.
It was an 800cc V-twin touring bike, configured just like a Harley, but with a few differences: It was totally “faired”, meaning it had a sleek, thermoplastic body surrounding it so you couldn’t see the engine. Honda had its car division design a fairing that was aerodynamic and amazingly included a built in, waterproof, lockable TRUNK that could hold two helmets or a briefcase or even groceries!
And unlike a Harley, it was whisper-quiet, technologically advanced with liquid cooling, hydraulically adjusting valves, front disc brake, automobile-style gauges and switches (including self-cancelling turn signals) and featured a driveshaft instead of an oily chain.
Honda had created it for the first-time rider Yuppie who had too much money and the desire for a high tech, maintenance-free motorcycle you could just jump on and ride. It was a great concept, but America was just beginning the Harley revival. Most motorcyclists wanted to see, hear and feel the throb of the old retro, totally exposed, and highly chromed V-twin engine that had been around since the turn of the century. Its detractors (usually Harley Riders) often scoffed at the Pacific Coast and gave it derogatory names like “Porta-Potty on Wheels” or “Scooter on Steroids” (Because it would go 105 mph). The PC’s death knell was that Honda didn’t adequately judge the power of the retro bike wave. On top of that, they priced it at over $8600 which was one hell of a lot of money those days. You could buy a car for that back then. So, they originally cancelled the PC’s production after the 1990 model year. But a growing rabid and powerful owner group convinced them to bring it back from 1994 until 1998 when they retired it forever. There has never been a bike like it since.
I was enchanted and bought one of the early ‘89s in white (they only came in one color each model year). I named it “Whitey” and put many miles on it, including a solo trip from Los Angeles to Alaska and many trips with my friend and co-worker Fred Walti.
Naturally, Fred was jealous of my “Adventure Cycle” so he bought a red 1990 Pacific Coast which he named “Ruby”. Fred was an ex motorcycle racer and one hell of a rider. I learned much of what I now know about how to ride from him.
When the Pacific Coast was reintroduced in the 1995 model year in black, we traded our ’89 and ‘90 for two new ones… together on the same day. Over the following years, we took many trips all over the west, to Baja and even camped out on a three week long tour around the entire Yucatan peninsula with our wives visiting the Mayan/Aztec ruins.
Jack Hetherington also lusted after our Pacific Coasts and while he lived in Chicago, he bought a 1989 similar to my first one. In later years when we all lived in Los Angeles, Fred, Jack and I took trips to places like Denver and the Rockies on our three Pacific Coasts.
After years as a Pacific Coaster, much to Fred’s dismay, I traded my PC for a sleek, powerful, very fast new Triumph Trophy 1200 four cylinder. But after I bought it, my years living in Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai and New York, left me little time for motorcycling and finally I sold it and ended almost 35 years of motorcycling…or so I thought.
Fred never forgave me for leaving the Pacific Coast family and still owns his “Black Beauty” to this day. Neither are particularly pretty or in good shape, but they’ve stayed loyal to each other. Here’s proof.
Jack kept his PC until after he retired to Scottsdale, AZ and rode it occasionally. But this 23 year old bike only had 10,575 miles on it when Jack finally decided to sell it. He called Fred and me and asked what we thought it was worth. A few months later, to my shock and excitement, they went in together to give me a gift in my 67th year, Jack’s Pacific Coast. All I had to do was to get it from Phoenix back to in Hendersonville, NC where we spend summers at our cabin. So finally, here’s the adventure you’ve be patiently waiting to read. First, the details of everything that went into making this journey.
WTF? My first reaction was to be astounded by such an expensive and thoughtful gift from my two dear old motorcycle buddies. The second was concern that it had been such a long time since I’d ridden and I feared my stamina and reflexes weren’t what they’d use to be. So I looked into having the bike shipped from AZ to NC. It wasn’t bad (about $500) door to door. But Fred got angry at me and shamed me into riding it all the way.
The Passengers: Jill and I may have dated in high school, but we lived most of our lives separately with others for 40 years. So she never saw or was part of my motorcycle life. And over the years, she’s never been a motorcycle rider.
I think this was one of the only times she was on a motorcycle. Our friend Bill Mullis loaned us one of his Harley’s for a short NC ride. When I told her I’d decided to ride the bike back, we confirmed it wasn’t something she’d be comfortable with as a passenger. But she was wonderful and encouraged me to go alone. A supportive wife, especially in an adventure as potentially dangerous as this trip is something I’m so thankful for with Jill. So I was going alone…until I told my daughter Annie about it. (Remember the little baby on the Yamaha on the first page?)
Annie’s now 45 and going through a “mid-life adventure phase”. She literally jumped through the phone at the chance for a “Travels with Daddy” adventure on the back of a motorcycle across the U.S. We both got excited…for a while.
After a week, I started worrying about what would happen to my beautiful daughter (on the right), her partner Betsy, and my grandchildren Cooper and Sadie if we had an accident and something happened to her. If I survived, I’d feel horribly responsible. So I called her and apologized for getting her excited only to dash her hopes of a chance to see the Grand Canyon for the first time plus the unique chance and way for us to spend time together.
But, after parts of this trip, I called her and told her how happy she should be she didn’t come on an “adventure” that turned out to have a few very uncomfortable and dangerous days…I hope she forgives me.
The Route: So I started planning my trip. Google Maps said it would be just 31 hours to ride it the most direct route straight back from Phoenix on Interstate 40. Now, in my younger years, I’d done as much as over 1,000 miles in one day riding straight from Seattle to LA at 85 mph on Interstate 5. But that was LONG time ago when my body was much younger. So I decide to take it easier and safer. If I could stand 6 hours in the saddle, I might make about 400 miles per day. The PC has a 4.2 gallon tank and gets about 50 miles a gallon. But, in deference to my aging back and ass, I planned to fill up, re-hydrate (and, of course, de-hydrate) every 80-100 miles.
Also, it was summer and wasn’t it just too damned hot on the southern routes like I-10 and I-40? And on top of that, I wanted to ride in the Rockies again.
So, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant way to avoid the heat. I planned a big detour going straight north from Phoenix and then east, adding almost an additional 1,000 miles to the trip.
But, as a plus, I’d get to visit my old high school, college and fraternity pal, George Hefner and his wife, Diane south of Denver. Further east, I could visit another high school friend, Larry Gordon and his wife Sally outside of Kansas City, Kansas.
This turned out to be a BAD decision given the unique weather patterns that were hitting the US and Mexico the week I took off…More on that later.
The Accommodations: I decided to pick one motel chain and get frequent sleeper rewards. I nether needed nor wanted to pay for Ritz-Carltons each night when all I required was a shower and a bed.
So I chose Choice Hotels, an account my agency Grey Worldwide had represented. It had many different brands to chose from (Econolodge, Quality Inn, Comfort Inn, etc.) guaranteeing me a room in most towns.
My goal was to stay in the $70 range. As I learned, depending on the brand and age of motel I stayed in, the quality of my actual accommodations was wide. Nothing scary, but some rooms had definitely “been ridden hard and put away wet”. But some were quite nice with big screen TVs, pools, hot breakfasts, business centers and fitness rooms (no, after 8 hours riding each day I didn’t work out, even though I packed my gym clothes… with good intentions).
Read Part 2…
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