Slaggy's Last Ride
Slaggy's Last Ride was a fifteen day, 5062 mile ride, that covered eleven states.
This west coast ride was supposed to happen summer '05 as the sequel to "Operation Clam Chowder" But, because of hand surgery and a 3600 mile move, it was postponed for two years.
Day One - Oklahoma City, OK to Amarillo, TX. 250 or so miles. Pretty weak by our standards. The first day was a day of prep and recovery. With our hectic work schedules prior to the ride, My bike never got prepped for the ride. New tires were shod on the bike only 6 hours prior to our scheduled take off time. I finished the oil change with only 15 minutes to spare. I was still extremely jet lagged and we had an afternoon take off. We decided that Amarillo would at least get it started. I always get the jitters moments before a long ride. I can't explain it really, I guess its the fear of the unknown. We put decals on the bikes noting this very website. I remember noticing the decal on the 'Busa as we were stopped for our first gas fill up. Suddenly the jitters lifted away and I thought to myself, "If anybody can do this..it's us". We rolled in Amarillo easy enough. We crashed at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.
Day Two - Amarillo TX to Truth or Consequences, NM. First stop of the day was at the pop culture icon "The Cadillac Ranch'' it looked different that I expected . Most of the day was boring, straight, high speed roads. We stopped in a cantina in Williard, NM. We befriended a couple of fellow motorcyclists (Jill and Mike) while they were enroute to Grand Junction, CO.
Making our way southeast, we found ourselves at the VLA , I had seen it in a couple of movies, but in real life, it looked nothing like I thought it would. I was hoping this wasn't going to be a trend for the rest of the trip.
Ginormous was recently added to Websters Dictionary. Taking advantage of my first opportunity, These things were freakin ginormous!
State line pictures taken: New Mexico
VFR battle scar #1 Lost license plate bolt
Day Three - Truth or Consequences, NM to Tucson, AZ. From experience, we predicted that we would have some hard days. This was one that we thought would be easy, it wasn't. Leaving Truth or Consequences..(it's a real town, look it up), We realized that there would be no easy way to get to Tombstone, our goal of the day. We had to ride through Gila National Forest, which plagued us with mile after mile of 15 mph switchbacks. Fun, but very time consuming, and the clock was against us. As we traveled down a long stretch of desert road, dust devils sprang up around us, like mini tornados trying to bully us as we cross their turf. One actually hit us on the highway. It would be the first of many near crash experiences we would have on this trip. We came to a border town called Douglas AZ. Now, I wanted from the beginning of the trip, a picture of a sign that said something to the tune of "You are now entering Mexico or Leaving the US'' etc. In Douglas, the border isn't determined by the Rio Grande, but simply by latitude. 31 20'00.00 N, The border ran right thru a residential neighborhood. More strangely, it backed up to a Mexican neighborhood and was separated by a fence. Funny, I thought, a kid with a good swing could home run and cause an international incident. Needless to say, there was no sign.
We arrived Tombstone about 45 minutes late for the reenactment of the infamous gunfight. But, in a lucky break, we had forgotten that Arizona doesn't do daylight savings time. We were just in time. Tombstone is my all time favorite movie, we rode over 600 miles out of our way just to stand on this ground. Pretty cool stuff.
We walked around the streets of Tombstone, I loved how my alpinestars riding boots made the right sounds on the wooden walkways. We then took off north towards Tucson. We caught the rush hour. It was 108 degrees in Tucson, rolling along at 15 mph, I spent an hour constantly checking myself for symptoms of heatstroke. It was a pretty uncomfortable experience.
State line pictures taken: Arizona
Day Four - Tucson, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ. 265 miles, seemed easy enough. One small problem, it was 104 degrees in Tucson when left..at 9am! We had to stop every 50 miles or so wet our t-shirts just to stay cool. We stopped in Phoenix for lunch. It was 114 degrees in the midday sun. Brutal. 265 miles should've been gravy, but the heat dragged us down more than one would expect. About fifty miles south of Flagstaff, we because to climb in altitude. I watched as my temp gauge plunged from 114 to 86 degrees in a matter of fifteen minutes. I began to feel a thousand times better..like I could ride another 400 miles. We got in to Flagstaff and celebrated surviving Phoenix with a few beers.
The rest of the day was simply riding through the desert, We stopped for a few minutes at the Hoover Dam and then on to Las Vegas. We met our old enemy the heat again. It was 108 degrees while we were stuck in the Las Vegas rush hour.
I met Evan and Gina, (friends of Tracy) Really nice folks. The four of us went out to eat and we crashed at their place.
Day Six - Las Vegas, NV to Paso Robles, CA. Evan broke out his Suzuki DR and escorted us to the world famous "Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. I had to have that picture, after some strange bike maneuvers, we were able to get the picture (on your left). We then crossed into California. We made two pretty cool stops. Blackwells Corner...which was the last place that James Dean was seen alive and the intersection of highways 41 and 46, where he had his fatal crash.
We videotaped a bit at the "James Dean Memorial Junction" sign. A California highway patrol pulled in behind us. He asked "which one of you has the gun?". I shrugged my shoulders "Huh?" was my basic response. "I got a report that you guys had a gun." He said. I smiled and quickly pulled out my boom mic that was on my video camera, "You think it might be this?" I said. "He laughed and said "People are so stupid, I got a call you guys were waving around a machine gun, that looks more like a d!ldo than a gun!" We ended up BSing with him for a good fifteen minutes about motorcycling across the country.
We soon made it to Paso Robles. The hotel we were staying at was having a free wine tasting. It was a well earned victory. From the beginning, we predicted that tomorrow, the trek on the PCH to San Fran, would be our hardest day. We drank our wine without thought to it.
State line picture taken: California
Day Seven - Paso Robles, CA to Sacramento, CA. This was the day that would end our westerly progression. Rolling out of the parking lot about 8:30 in the morning, we headed west towards the Pacific Ocean. After a twenty-five minute ride, my normally landlocked VFR had now officially had seen both coasts of the U.S. We then spent the next few hours on the curves of the legendary Pacific Coast Highway 1. We stopped to eat at the Whale Watcher Café in Big Sur. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but, it has to be mentioned for later part of this story.
Our original plans were to go up thru San Francisco and then head to Sacramento. PCH 1 was crowded, cold and extremely…extremely windy. The road was fun, but tiring. A decision was made, to give up the Golden Gate Bridge and Redwoods, leaving them for another day. Around Monterey, we peeled off and headed to Sacramento. The day that we thought would be the hardest, suddenly became manageable. The traffic was horrible on the way up to Sacramento. Because we were moving East, I had a feeling we were on the downhill.
Day 8 - Sacramento CA to Carson City NV. A few days earlier, Trace and I realized that we had miscalculated the amount of days in the ride. There were two extra days to burn that we didn’t know that we had. I later figured out exactly how the mistake was made but it is much too long winded an explanation within the confines of this forum. Today was going to be one of those burn days. We were going to goof off at Lake Tahoe, then the ride took an unexpected turn. While riding in downtown Sacramento, The VFR inexplicably died in the middle of the road. The battery was dead, not just dead, but acted as if it was non-existent. We pushed started the bike and went on our way.
The fear of the bike not starting kept us from stopping for photo-ops in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains. Rolling into Lake Tahoe, the bike decided to die again in the parking lot of a Harley dealership. Actually it was more like a Harley clothing store. I went in and asked if they knew of a Honda dealership. One more push start later and we headed to Carson City, NV. In the parking lot of MCW, we performed an emergency battery transplant. It was eerily familiar to the MotoScavy. I checked the charging system and it tested good. The bike started up like a champ and ran better than it had since we started, all seemed well. We locked up the bikes and hung out at a bar that we were the youngest people in. They had live music, a guitar player who belted out the oldies. We spend the evening drinking beer, another day down.
VFR battle scar #2 New Battery
The Bikes, Michael's Cycle Works. Carson City, Nevada
Day 9 - Carson City, NV to Elko, NV. Day nine would be a test to see if our theory about the battery was correct or, if we would die in the desert. Passing the Honda dealership in Reno, I knew we wouldn’t be close another one until Salt Lake City. We stopped every 30 miles or so to check if the bike was going to die or not. It didn’t. We reached a point of negative return, we were going to be exactly between the dealerships in Reno and SLC. Stopping at a gas station, Tracy said to be the most wise thing I think I ever heard him say. “We have to get home..there is no option. Our fate is out there, the only thing we can do is go out there and meet it.” That was all I needed to get on my bike and just ride. We stopped in a town called Winnemucca. After eating lunch we took off north to take out one more new state line, Oregon. We stopped in a tiny border town, on the ground there were thousands upon thousands of these disgusting crickets. We had missed the Nevada sign a few times before. At the Hoover dam, we blew off the sign because we knew that we would see another one. At Lake Tahoe, the sign was about 14 inches across and there was no way we could get our bikes close to it. This would be our second to last opportunity to get Nevada. In a span of 10 minutes, we got two more state line pictures. We then headed back south ,then west and stayed in Elko, NV.
State line pictures taken: Oregon, Nevada
Day 10 - Elko NV to Jackson Hole, WY. This day was easily the most interesting, stressful and dangerous of the trip. We rolled out of Elko at about 9 am. Our first stop was the Utah state line. Mind you, I already had two different Utah state line pictures. But we are so used to stopping for the photos that we thought "what the hell? you can't have too many" Wendover Utah, The mouth of the Bonneville Salt Flats. Many months prior, I suggested to Trace that we take a detour to see it. He was open-minded, but seemed a bit disinterested. No surprise really. It was off the highway and would eat time, Tracy's worst enemy. But, he entertained the thought and it turned out to be the highlight of the ride.
We rode out to the flats, the road ended in what could be described as a cul-de-sac, that with a rough ramp entering the salt. The ramp was rough and treacherous. I had to get a picture of my bike on the salt. For the safety of the plastic, I was a sissy and pushed the bike down on the salt. I took pictures of it a mere 50 feet off the pavement. But hey, it looked cool right? A pick up truck came out of the distance. A guy got out and said "Are you guys going out there?". "Naw," I said, "Its too soft" the salt was loose and rough where were at. "Well, out there, the salt is hard packed" he said. Moments later, two guys on BMW tourers rode up. "By way of motorcycle.com" One of the guys said "I saw this bike parked at the whale watcher cafe on the pacific coast highway!". I laughed "Holy cow, small world," I said. At that point I called my wife, "guess where I'm at?" I asked. "I'm in the middle of the Bonneville salt flats!" "Cool" she said. We talked for a few minutes and a weird feeling came over me, how can I say I'm in the middle of the flats, when in reality I was a few feet from the safety of the asphalt. Hell, I didn't even ride it onto the salt..I pushed it. I wanted to move my bike so that could get more pictures without the BMW's in the shot. This time, I rode it..about 30 yards or so. The salt was rough, but this could be done. I walked back to get my helmet. Passing by Trace, "Get your stuff dude, we're going out there!" Tracy in his always easy going style, shrugged his shoulders and said "Ok dude". Kickstands up, and we were rolling. At first, I moved at 30 mph, trying to acquire a feel for the salt, I built up steam slowly and suddenly the actual speedway appeared. The salt was as smooth as any pavement I had ever been on. This was a surreal experience, because I could still feel and hear the loose salt hitting the bike. We hit triple digits and took turns leading down the speedway. About eight miles out, the groomed salt ended. We stopped to take in the moment. Getting off the bikes, It felt like we were on a different planet. There was no sign of civilization, our bikes were the only modern day objects as far as the eye could see.
There is a line in the movie, "The Worlds Fastest Indian" in which Anthony Hopkins says "I'm telling you Rusty, this place is holy ground mate..holy ground." Being a guy that is into machines that go fast, I have to agree with that statement. The salt radiated the heat and it was 106 degrees where we were standing.
It was time to head back. The way back it was a spirited ride moving at the ton plus a school zone. I've been asked since why I didn't top my bike out. I'm not a guy who likes excuses. Truth is, my bike from the factory will do 150 miles an hour. I would guess that with all the gear I had on board, she would've topped out at 140, or less. I had about six grand worth of camera equipment and was 1300 miles from home. I didn't feel the extra 15 mph up top was worth the risk. Now with that said, if I would've been out there with my CBR1000RR... I would be writing a different story here.
We came back up to the turnout, and there were a few harley guys watching us. They were still on the asphalt. They looked at us like we were the heroes of the day. I was so full of bravdo that I rocketed up the ramp that I was too scared to ride down. I felt worthy of my Evel Knievel tribute helmet.
The rest of the day was pretty ordinary. We got caught in traffic in Salt Lake City. The VFR started acting up again at a gas station in Idaho. I was furious, but thankful she didn't break down in the middle of the flats. We came through the teton pass at night. This pass is scary during the day with 10 degree downgrades and only a tiny guardrail to keep one from riding off the moutain. I had the clear faceshield, so I lead the ride. My faceshield was covered with bugs. At one time a car was coming at me with the brights on. I squinted a bit to avoid the light. At that very point, There was a large, female moose standing in the roadway. I didn't see her until I was twenty feet away. I scraped by with only inches to spare. We got to the got to the condo, Trace pulled off his helmet and said, " I have a two questions! What was the temperature?...and what was that in the road? I laughed a bit, still pretty spooked, "It was 41 degrees and that was a moose!" I said. "I hit that damn thing with my sidebag!" he exclaimed.
The condo was a welcome site
Day 11 - Jackson Hole, WY. Nothing really to report here, We simply did the tourist bit in Jackon. It was a day off from riding.
VFR battle scar #3 Unexplained crack in right mirror
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Day 12 - Jackson Hole, WY. Yet another day without serious travel. I say travel, but not riding. Because we actually accomplished a relatively important riding task. You see, back in 2004, I had a crash while on the Teton pass. See Yogi Bear II. I had spent the last 3 years telling myself that it was the bike and not me. I had to prove my theory. Those jitters were back; I was going to take the same ride I did on that Harley. If I crashed again, I would probably give up riding. Trace and I rode up there without incident. I pulled off on the turnout and rode on two wheels up to the sign. Getting off the bike, I had a sense of conquering. We took our pictures at the Idaho state line and then crossed the street and took a few in Wyoming. Mission accomplished.
Day 13 - Jackson Hole, WY to Conifer, CO. Our stay in Jackson was over. We made the long boring trek through Wyoming. I-80 had been closed for over a hundred miles. Forced to detour on the backroads, we were slowed down considerably. A dark cloud seemed to loom towards the direction we were heading. I donned the rain gear as precaution. I had used this stuff for about twenty minutes on day one and had been packed ever since. The rain came, all of a sudden there were string of parked cars along side the roadway. "The rain isn't that bad,'' I thought. "What is their problem?" Since we didn't have a radio that announced weather reports, we had no idea what was coming...
Hail, marble sized...lucky for us, most had already fallen and we were so padded up with gear that there was no danger from impact. It was still a white knuckle experience..We rode through while all the other motorcyclists waited it out. We made it to the Colorado state line. Tracy got a new picture. The sun came out and we made our way to Jen's place just west of Denver. She took us to get mexican food. Another day down.
Day 14 - Conifer, CO to Amarillo, TX. This simply a day of riding. I had weird feeling of sadness that the ride was coming to a close. We were in the middle of nowhere, so every other motorcycle we saw was out to ride. That's the beauty of the middle of nowhere. The squids and trailer queens tend to stay closer to the cities. We passed hordes of bikes heading West, I couldn't help but wonder, "Where are they going?, Where they in the first days of their ride? as we were a few days ago....Or do they just live west of here and are making the trek home?" We pulled into a gas station and had to do an emergency chain adjustment. The O-rings were destroyed and the chain was done. I would have to baby her home. We pulled back in the Big Texan. It had been only thirteen days since we had last been in this parking lot, but we had been through so much, that it seemed like months. Kev had planned to meet us, but couldn't make it. We ate our steaks and drank beer knowing that this would be our last night away from home.
VFR battle scar #4 Destroyed chain
Day 15 – Amarillo, TX to Oklahoma City, OK. We got of to a late start due to the generous amounts of tasty beverages we enjoyed the night before. There wasn't a sense of hurry, we realized that in 250 miles it would be all over and we would be back to our everyday lives. We spent a bit over four hours on the road. The rain hit us about 30 miles from OKC. I didn't bother with putting on my rain gear. We rode into the driveway a bit after two o'clock. Opening up a bottle of champange and saying our goodbyes to the camera, we put the bikes to rest.