By Aaron Amborn
I was in need of a new bike, but wasn’t sure what to buy. I consulted with a high mileage friend for countless hours and literally hundreds of irritating questions. Eventually he helped figure out what I needed and steered me toward big touring bikes. After a lot of research I finally decided on the BMW K1200LT and so the hunt began.
E-bay, Craigslist, local ads were all dissected in an attempt to find that steal. What I quickly learned is at the time these bikes were in pretty high demand and didn’t come cheap. I bid on ten bikes before I finally landed one. Of course it wasn’t in a neighboring state it was in Florida. So, Ft Lauderdale here I come.
Call me naïve. I bought a 1-way ticket to Ft Lauderdale to pick up a bike I’d bought on E-bay after only seeing pictures and sending a thousand dollars in advance. The owner picked me up at the airport and took me back to his house where the bike was. It looked fantastic, and I was anxious to get on the road after being awake for 36 hours. So I paid the owner the balance and started to head home. After an initial 400 miles of rain on an unfamiliar bike, it was a relatively uneventful 2200 miles home.
My latest adventure was to ride to San Diego to see my nephew graduate from Marine Corps basic training. I laid out a trip that was epic in proportion for me. First, I was going to ride from my humble abode in Minneapolis to West Jordan, UT to see a high school friend. From there I wanted to go to San Francisco and finally to San Diego via US 1.
My plan was the first day I would just blast away on the interstate to get west of Denver and grab a room for the night ready for the splendor of the Rocky Mountains the next morning. I got up bright and early Sunday morning; got all geared up and as I backed out of the driveway, the electric cord to my GPS breaks. There I sit until the electronics store opens so I can replace the cord. So after 3 hours of sulking I’m on my way for a meager ½ mile when I realize that my GPS cradle is broken and my GPS is about to fall off my bike. So back to the house to grab the suction cup mount from the car. Now I’m hell bent.
The 3-hour delay has now made my goal of Copper Mountain, CO unrealistic. As I steam through the 95 degree heat and unending miles of corn and semi trucks that are Iowa’s I-35 and Nebraska’s I-80 I can’t help but feel life being stripped from me. I lose my will to live on these sections of interstate and promise to never find my motorcycle and me on them ever again.
So by the end of the day I make it to North Platte, NE with my love for this trip lost somewhere on I-80. I grabbed a cheap hotel room and got to sleep after the longest shower of my life. The next morning comes, and I finally make it into Colorado around 11:00 am. Not much to see for the first 150 miles or so on I-76, but then through the clouds I see some mountains in the distance. My hateful thoughts of I-80 quickly vanish, and I am once again overwhelmed with anticipation. The miles peel off like a prom dress as I start to ascend into the Rockies. I make it to Copper Mountain, and then head south down Hwy 91 to Hwy 24 in Leadville. I took Hwy 24 to Buena Vista and thoroughly enjoyed every inch of this road.
After a pit stop in Buena Vista I head right back up Hwy 24 to catch Hwy 82 for Independence Pass. This was by far the most incredible road I have ever ridden. The views in every direction are unreal to a flatlander like me. At the top there is a large sign stating the elevation is 12,095 feet, and better yet it was 62 degrees. What a view looking down at the roads I just conquered. I felt the weight of the world leave my shoulders at that moment. I basked in it for a while then off I go.
I still wanted to make West Jordan, UT that night and had a long way to go. Now I had the pleasure of descending the pass. After miles of winding and descending, I pop out in Aspen, CO. Its 95 degrees and I’m pouring sweat like an expectant father. So I pull over to peel off some layers. As I push my jacket and riding pants into my back pack, my bike falls over. Apparently asphalt gets soft and the kickstand sinks in heat like this. But, you already knew that. Aspen is a very nice town but, after riding for 10 hours I didn’t feel like shopping when I smelled like a goat and looked like a caveman. So I pushed on. The ride out of Aspen is just some more awesome scenery.
I really enjoyed the evening ride, what I didn’t like so much was the setting sun directly in my eyes for the next couple hundred miles as I was trying to make West Jordan by nightfall. My backside was screaming at this point. I still had the stock seat on my bike, while it’s quite comfortable, I don’t think it was designed for 700 miles day after day. In Glenwood Springs, CO I link up with I-70 and shortly after, cross the Utah state line. A few hours on the interstate and the craving to get off of it wins out. I head up US 6 towards Price, UT. After the beauty I saw in Colorado it was going to be hard to find something that would impress me. US 6 was average at best. Night fell and I really just wanted to get a shower, dinner, and a good night sleep. I poured on the throttle and finally made it to West Jordan around 11:30 pm.
The next day I decide to get my rear tire replaced, which ate hours and $250. So I decided to take it a little easy with a short ride west to the small casino town of Wendover, UT (better known as the staging point for the Bonneville Salt Flats – Ed.). I wanted to throw some cards, eat a good meal, and sleep in conditioned air. I had a lot of fun there; I won a small hold ‘em tournament, which replenished my wallet a little. I felt really good the next day, and was re-charged for another big day.
There are not a lot of choices for roads in this area of the country. You have interstate, ranch roads or a US highway that has no towns and no traffic. And, what I didn’t know, no gas stations, but you already knew that. After getting bored on the interstate again, I turned south on Hwy 305. My gas tank showed ¾ full, so I finally made a smart decision to fill up before leaving the interstate. I sped out into the middle of the desert, with no water and no food, but a full tank.
I didn’t see any other vehicles for over 4 hours while heading south on 305 then west across Hwy 50. This is the definition of the road less traveled. I finally found a tiny little town where a 1 pump station was open. Good thing cause my bike and I were on fumes. I learned my lesson; I bought five Gatorades and a bunch of grub in case there were more roads less traveled ahead.
The next day I had no particular destination. Just ride in the general direction of San Diego till I’m tired. My GPS routed me on Hwy 395 south then to Hwy 14 south towards Mojave, CA. The wind kicked up on 14 going into Mojave like I have never experienced in my life. The wind was so strong that it blew my large red back pack off my bike. The only thing holding it on was the single bungee strap secured to the luggage rack. I pulled over resecured my pack and white knuckled it the rest of the way. There were times when the bike was leaning so far, that I swore the wheels were about to come out from under me. I reached a hotel in Mojave and asked if there was a storm coming or was I just in one. The young lady behind the counter stated that this type of wind in this area is completely normal. I asked her how hard the wind is blowing and she said “Oh 45-50, not real bad actually”. That’s enough wind where I’m from, for people to seek shelter. I got a pizza grabbed some sleep and planned on going to Santa Clara the next day and take US 1 down to San Diego.
I woke up around 8:00 am and it was already 90 degrees. I was getting rather tired of the heat, but kept reminding myself that in a few months I would be begging for this back in Minnesota. Now I was on city highways and Interstate, Yuck! I hated the clutter of these roads, gridlock, horns, traffic jams, exactly what I wanted to avoid. But, I needed to make time so I stayed on them and made the best of it.
I didn’t quite make it to Santa Clara. I wanted to avoid Los Angeles so I jumped off I-15 and got on US 76 towards Camp Pendleton/Oceanside area. I spent a little time here myself back in the late 80’s and wanted to see if there were any old memories I could bring back. The area has changed incredibly; it’s much bigger and much more cluttered than I remember, pretty sad actually.
The ride down US 1 was really scenic but really slow as well. Town after town meant crawling at 30 mph tops for mile after mile. Needless to say it took a while to get there, but I did. I checked into my room and wanted to celebrate the halfway point with a couple beers. I went up the street in Old Towne San Diego and found a Mexican joint that had plenty of Corona is stock. After lightening their supply and my wallet I wandered back to my room, sat down on the bed and woke up 2 hours later to my cell phone ringing. Apparently I was tired. I made it an early night as the next day I needed to be up early for my nephews’ Marine Corps graduation.
The graduation ceremony went well, but everyone (especially my nephew) was in a hurry to get going. My next destination was Las Vegas. I had a room reserved and was looking forward to hitting the hold ‘em tables.
The quickest way to Vegas is I-15. So I jumped on it, rolled the throttle back hard. I made the best time I could. When I had to stop for gas I just fueled up and took off. At 3:00 pm the heat in the Mojave Desert is unbelievable, 116 degrees for over 3 hours. In my excitement to get there, all my previously learned lessons were forgotten. No water and no desire to stop were going to bite me hard.
I get into the southern outskirts of Vegas and am feeling weak, tired and dizzy. I get to the Golden Nugget Hotel, go to the registration counter and essentially pass out. The only thing keeping me on my feet was a well placed back pack and a firm grip on the counter. The employee behind the counter ran and got me 2 very small bottles of water; I poured 1 on my head and the other down my neck. I felt a little better but wanted to get to my room and take a cold shower.
After the shower I was good, and it was time to hit the tables. I actually did well and made a few bucks on the hold ‘em tables and it only took me until 5:00am. 6 hours of sleep later and I’m off hoping to make it east of Denver. I make it across Utah in record time, get in to Colorado and as I come into Eagle, CO just west of Denver and Vail I need to fill up. As I’m topping it off, a Colorado State Trooper pulls up and asks where I’m heading. I told him home to Minnesota. He asks if I’m staying on I-70. I said yeah. He then strongly suggests that I get a hotel room and call it a night. He went on to say that Vail is at 10,000 feet, its only 35 degrees up there now and only going to get colder. The weather is unpredictable and there are lots of elk, moose and deer around the area.
What am I going to do, argue? So I check into a hotel, but soon realize I will need to ride 1100 miles the next day to get home. I get up at 6am to 37 degrees and my bike covered in frost. This was going to be a day from hell. I rode for maybe 45 minutes before I went numb and decided a warm breakfast was in order so I stopped and thawed out for 45 minutes or so. After breakfast it was a balmy 55 degrees. I knew that was the last meal I would have until I got home. The one thing I swore I would not do is go back across I-80, but that’s exactly what I had to do to get home that night. All other routes were simply going to take too long.
I rode and filled up, then rode and filled up and so on. At 11:30pm I pulled in to my driveway safe, sound, but very weary. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about motorcycling on this trip. Always have food and water, know your route and what’s out there in the way of services, and you better like yourself if you’re going alone. Next time I will ease up on the pace and take time to smell the desert. Actually the desert doesn’t have a smell, but you already knew that.