Just Mighty & me V: 500 mile days

How many miles can one man ride in one day?
Published July 22, 2011
I: O, Fortuna II: 25k to Shasta III: Oregon, best of IV: Lost in Washington V: 500 mile days

There wasn’t much sense to staying in Seattle proper, but it sounded cooler than the East Side where all of my plans were rooted. I slept in and stumbled out of my hotel barely in time to grab lunch with a couple of old coworkers that transplanted to Redmond. One of the transplants boasted of a weekly weekend gathering of wealthy tech industry folks showing off super cars. I was a car guy before I found bikes so I’d love to see it, but that Wednesday the most exciting thing on the East Side of Lake Washington was my eye-grabbing motorbike and obnoxious-loud pipe.

July 21, 2010

After the miles of dirt riding through which I’d put ol’ Mighty, I worried my chain might suffer. I’m not clever enough to bring chain cleaning and lubing supplies on the road, so it’d just run tortured for a thousand miles, out of sight but never out of mind. (I tend to worry myself over undone maintenance and, on occasion, imagined mechanical maladies. My penchant for procrastination doesn’t help the anxiety.) Instead of ignoring the chain until I got back to San Francisco, I looked up a motorcycle service shop near my Seattle hotel. Fritz Scooter Repair came recommended by college kids bound to cheaply-fueled wheels and the stellar staff accommodated me on exactly no notice. A full chain service later and my mind should’ve been rested, ‘cept Fritz-or-whatever pointed out a few other things that needed tending and parts I couldn’t get until home. (Sometimes the maladies aren’t imagined.)

I had to be back on the East Side for dinner con amigos, but evening traffic clogged my way. Californians–such as myself, for example–take lane splitting for granted. It is my right, as a motorcyclist, to stuff my two wheels into any small space where they’ll fit. Unless I’ve crossed a border. I was willing to play nice with state law until 90-degree air and the northern sun microwaved me through my leathers. I split, in two senses of the word. (I felt the stink-eyed stares of commuters, whether real or imagined.)

July 22, 2010

There wasn’t much sense in rushing back to San Francisco, with time in excess and me still cheerily away from home. Michael, fellow frequenter of the Bay Area Riders Forum, had invited me to stay at his Oregon coast campsite before I’d set off for Seattle. And that sounded groovy save for the fact that the site’s in Bandon and Bandon is nearly 500 miles away from Seattle. Too close for two days riding, too far for one. Except to those that lack sense. I believe I’ve made clear my relationship with sense.

I felt optimistic to have pegged Bandon as the goal for the day. An early departure nudged optimism closer to reality, but also subjected me to surprising biting cold. In the sucking chill of morning, I-5 has the appeal of dysentery on the Oregon Trail; I’d really rather not, but understand it comes with the territory.

Portland marked the end of my I-5 hell, and I found smaller, bendier roads to guide me westward. I aimed for Tillamook, remembering how beautiful it was the year before. Stunning sky and green green hills didn’t let me down. Traffic patterns were less ideal. Cars ahead took miles to eventually reach the 55 mph speed limit of coastal 101, and without fail each time we hit the limit we also hit construction, which brought speed to not. And then the speed limit ticked down 10 mph at a time as the train of autos crept into towns, resetting the progress to 55. Over and over.

And still my optimism overlapped with reality around 6:30 PM. Michael and his wife Judy welcomed me to their camp site and I set up my tent in a corner of the lot before hopping back on the bike to find seaside seafood in downtown Bandon.

Over a nightlong conversation of everything motorcycles, I learned Michael is a fascinating man. We shared enthusiastic reports of our favorite rides and roads, and casual mentions of noted motorcycle press brought out personal stories from Michael. The man knows every hidden road I’d thought I “discovered,” read Dan Walsh more than I, shot photos for big US motorcycle magazines and claimed Oregon’s got, on the whole, better roads than California. Anything I thought I knew Michael knows better, and everything I didn’t he does. At some point I gave up jealousy and just admired the man’s experience.

July 23, 2010

There wasn’t much sense in creeping out of the camp site in the dark of early morning but I hate awkward goodbyes and mine are always awkward. Instead, I left a note: “Sorry I’m out before you’re up. It was a pleasure meeting you both.” Before dogs Bailey and Boomer could muster a sleepy groof in protest and wake my gracious hosts, I pushed the bike to the edge of camp and thumbed the starter far enough that my dumb exhaust couldn’t disturb a soul.

Though I’d got an early start, I wasn’t confident I’d knock out the 500 miles between Bandon and San Francisco is a single go. And again it was nippy in the wee hours of dawn, though the Oregon coast was more stimulating than the previous day’s slog down 5. The sun was still low to the east, the dim sky scarcely able to light the sea, the waves crashing against dull rock forms like black water colors sloshing imprecise ghostly shapes.

Didn’t dare stop ’til California, crawling into Crescent City for gas and the heavenly pleasure of hot water on my chilled-stiff hands. A decision begged deciding: Abandon the cold and get home early by following the 101 to San Francisco, or senselessly cling to the coast, headlong into low-hanging clouds and unnecessary extra hours of Highway 1.

All morning, my brain stuck looping half-remembered verses of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” I’ve no idea what the lyrics intend to convey, but at the moment they were about riding my motorcycle swiftly down the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Decided.

Could’ve frozen my hands and chest, could’ve suffered sore muscles, could’ve felt weary from riding so many consecutive miles for so many consecutive days. But it was the best damn ride of my life.

The world and my little motorbike harmonized like never before, the ride a perfect hurried flow that rushed southward in relentless syncopation. Bandon to San Francisco, 500 miles exactly, twelve hours in the saddle. I was happy and I was home, and I was I happy to be home.