by Paul Berglund
By 1999, I had been riding motorcycles for over 20 years. I had owned more than a dozen bikes, but I had never ridden more than a hundred miles from my home. Then my friend Sev told me he was riding down to Georgia to work a check point for the ButtLite 5000 Rally. I had never thought about doing such a thing even though I had a 1992 Kawasaki ZX1100 at the time. I had added a taller windscreen and Givi hard bags, plus I had all the gear. I just hadn’t used it on a real motorcycle trip. To my own surprise, I asked if I could tag along. He said yes.
The plan was to leave three days before the event. Two days to ride to Georgia, and one day to organize the event. This meant two six hundred mile days. I was confident my bike could do it, but I was’t sure about me. I made a list of things to bring and changed it constantly. I tried packing the bike and found I had way too much stuff on my list. My anxiety increased as my list got shorter. Eventually the bike was packed. I reminded myself that there are several stores between Minnesota and Georgia if I forgot something. Sev showed up and off we went.
Two days and 1200 miles later, I was standing by a giant wooden chicken in Marietta Georgia, eating a Crispy Cream donut (still only a legend at the time in Minnesota). The only problem on the trip down was sharing a room with Sev. He snored louder than a howler monkey with a chainsaw. It turns out that traveling by motorcycle is enjoyable. We worked the rally and the following day we mounted up and rode north. The real fun was about to begin.
We stopped for breakfast at Waffle House. OMG. You must make the pilgrimage to Waffle House. There are none in the north. They are strung across the south like jewels on a necklace, so it requires at least a days ride from the Twin Cities. Find one on a map, get on your bike and ride. Just do it. I’ll explain why in another article, but don’t wait for me.
Back to the trip, after waffles we rode north to Deal’s Gap and The Dragon’s Tail. Then up along the Smoky Mountains, Cherokee National Forest and mile after mile of motorcycle nirvana. We crossed into Kentucky at night fall and it started to rain hard. Road construction went on for miles. Fresh black tar had been laid in large strips with no regard for motorcycles. It was a black void with edges to fall off of and only the rain and road cones visible in my headlight. We finally found a motel just before midnight.
The next day was warm and sunny. We rode into Ohio and attended AMA Vintage Days at the Mid Ohio Race Track. We saw bike races, a motorcycle show, a huge swap meet that contained Bill Gelbke’s Road Dog. The largest motorcycle monstrosity I had ever seen. Sev was beside himself with joy. He was even allowed to sit on it while I took his picture.
We were back on the road the next day. No Waffle Houses on our route, but we stopped at a sandwich shop in Indiana. One of the cutest women I had met brought me a sandwich and told me she wished she could climb on the bike behind me and join our adventure. That gave me something to think about as the miles melted away under our wheels. On the freeway by Joliet Illinois, Sev’s BMW caught on fire. We pulled over and I put the fire out with a bottle of water I had in my tank bag. Right about then a fire truck pulled up and out jumped what had to be the world’s largest fire man. I gave Sev a ride to the next town and we rented a U-Haul truck. We put the bikes in and drove ourselves back to St. Paul.
Sev’s insurance paid to have his bike fixed. My wife was very happy to see me. I told her all about my trip, except the sandwich shop incident. And the orange cones that I mowed down in Kentucky. I left a few things out. She doesn’t read motorcycle magazines, so I think I’m fine here. My point is, one of the few rules of a motorcycle road trip is this, if someone questions how many road cones were destroyed, or to what extent speed limits were broken or why someone’s motorcycle would burst into flames at 75 miles an hour, the only correct response is; You weren‘t there man. (Warning: this response is not accepted by most wives).
We all have a list of things we would like to do in life. Prior to my 1999 road trip, my list was rather short. Once I ate at Waffle House, road on twisty mountain roads, saw a giant motorcycle and a giant fire man, my list got longer. There are so many more things to do in life than I was even aware of. Many of them are best seen and done while riding a motorcycle. Your wife or husband may worry about you when you ride, but trust me, you can only get into real trouble when you are off the bike. The riding part is safe. And don’t forget that you can not be held responsible for what other people think or say in sandwich shops. You only ordered a sandwich.
In my first twenty years of life on a motorcycle I had owned many bikes and didn’t ride much. After my great awakening in 1999 and the following years, I didn’t own as many bikes but I rode much more. It became less about the bike and more about the riding. I have taken many more bike trips with my friends and on my own. I got over many of my fears about riding in the rain or at night. I proved to myself that I can ride better and farther than I did years ago. Sev’s bike survived burning in Illinois to explode in Colorado and short out in Iowa. I got past my fear of the South brought on by Burt Reynolds movies and have now eaten real southern cooking. BBQ, fresh peaches, chicken fried steak, you may think you’ve eaten chicken fried steak here in Minnesota, but you have to try it in a small town diner in Oklahoma.
The internet is filled with endless debates about what’s the best bike. If you own a bike, that’s the best bike to take on road trips. Start out with riding for pie a few towns over and work your way up to Crater Lake in Oregon. See things you’ve always wanted to see. Read about strange or fascinating places in magazines and then ride there. Pick a big bike event like a race or a rally to attend and celebrate motorcycling with like minded individuals. Bike museums, friends and relatives, scenic wonders, all these and more can be visited on your motorcycle.