Posted By Bill Wiegand,
Wednesday, November 05, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015
I met raised eyebrows and puzzled expressions whenever I said I’d be riding an R nineT from Los Angeles to St. Louis following the July press launch. “Wearing a full-face helmet I hope,” some said. “Gonna strap a pillow on that seat?” said another. I questioned my decision.
It would have to be a quick trip. With the press event ending Friday and setup for the MOA National Rally beginning the following Monday, there wouldn’t be any time to deviate from my route to photograph any of the sites I’d be passing. I’d be covering nearly 1,900 miles in three days on a bike not built for long distance travel.
Still, it was an adventure, and I was all in.
The press launch gave me two days to get used to the naked R nineT, and after mounting my Zumo and figuring out how to mount my tail and tank bags in the lights of the hotel parking lot Friday night, I was ready. Only the fuel gauge made me nervous. Lacking a visual fuel gauge, the R nineT uses a low fuel light and counter that adds miles once the reserve was being tapped to tell the rider that he’d better find gas fast. Web forums told me that 50 miles was about all you could expect once the light came on. More than that and you’d be walking.
Traffic was nonexistent as I pulled onto the 101 at 4:30 Saturday morning. The chilly morning air and coffee combined to wake me up, and I soon realized I should have gotten gas the night before as the reserve icon came on just a few miles into the ride. Luckily, the bright lights of a Shell station stood out like a beacon in the darkness.
As I reset the trip odometer, I calculated the 4.8 gallon tank at 40 miles a gallon should give me a range of about 190 miles. I was quickly back on, working my way east.
Growing up a Midwesterner surrounded by corn and soybean fields, it was hard to keep my eyes on the road as I rode through the California desert with the sun beginning to rise over the distant mountains. Thoughts of the movie On Any Sunday ran through my head, and I pulled off the road to take my first photographs. I could almost hear Steve McQueen and Malcolm Smith racing through the sand. This was going to be an awesome ride.
Passing Barstow, California, it was good to see the world’s tallest thermometer working again and only reading 90 degrees. It was a good choice to bring vented gear and ship the heavier Streetguard jacket back home.
As I droned on, I passed a couple on a packed RT and soon realized I should have fueled up when I passed Barstow, as the low fuel indicator had come on. Miles accumulated and I remembered the warning about not riding more than fifty miles with the light on. In the distance I saw a towering GAS sign and relief poured over me. But like a desert mirage, the sign was for a station closed long ago; plywood covered the windows and doors. I said a quick prayer and pushed on with nothing but empty interstate ahead of me.
With the counter reading 32 miles, a road sign told me I had eight miles to go to Baker. It was going to be close, and after pumping 4.5 gallons into the 4.8 gallon tank, I realized just how close I had come to walking. I reset the trip odometer to 0 and my fuel number to 100. Lesson learned, that’s when I’d begin looking for gas. Again on the road, I soon saw another mirage. But this time it was the Las Vegas kind.
I had forgotten just how bland Las Vegas is in the light of day. Without the fountains of the Bellagio, crowded sidewalks and neon lights, the glitz and glamour of Sin City appeared tame. After 20 minutes and a few photographs, again it was back on Interstate 15. I had a long way to go and a short time to get there.
As I pumped gas in Mesquite, Nevada, I knew I was hot, but I didn’t know how hot until a brainiac in a Lexus yelled “You gotta be hot with all that stuff on! It’s 106 degrees out there!” I realized the futility of trying to explain the reasons for wearing protective gear when riding and yelled back that I was trying to lose some weight and that wearing all this stuff melted the fat away. “I read it on the internet,” I continued. “Really,” he said, “I never knew that.” I quickly slipped on my helmet to avoid any further questions from this MENSA member and got back on the road.
I’d grown accustomed to the beauty of the desert, but the Virgin River Valley in northwestern Arizona offered such an entirely new level of awesomeness that I couldn’t get off the highway fast enough. Then, while stepping backwards to set up a shot, I was brought to my knees by the excruciating pain that could only be the result of being bit in the back end by a rattlesnake, scorpion or other large-fanged and angry predator. I instinctively ran like a school girl, only to turn around to see a cactus protecting it’s territory. I spent the next 30 minutes pulling Buckhorn Cholla thorns from my rear end, and after struggling to capture a few images, I gingerly mounted the bike and moved onward. Damn, I wished I had more time to photograph that area.
After fuel and food in Cedar City, Utah, a road sign indicated a National Scenic Byway was just ahead. Perfect! Great images right along the road, and after winding through Parowan, Utah, another sign pointed left toward Second Left Hand Canyon. Intrigued, I turn left. I thought to myself, this is going to be great!
Soon the asphalt road turned to packed gravel. Riding through a shallow stream crossing the road, I soon found myself on a road better suited to a GS with knobby tires. But my need to see what was around the next corner got the best of me, and my GPS indicated an intersection ahead. Dirt bike riders coming down the mountain waved and shook their heads, and I wondered what the boys at the Motorrad would think if they knew where I was riding their bike. Alas, the intersection I had hoped would bring a paved road was actually only the intersection of another dirt trail. Do I continue to travel the unknown? Thinking my luck was all used up at the gas station, I retraced my route back to the highway and got the hell out of Dodge. Though it isn’t the bike’s strongest attribute, I can personally attest to the off-road capabilities of the nineT.
Back on the interstate and with the sun low on the horizon, the neon light in Beaver, Utah, flashed VACANCY. I was too tired to argue.
Sunrise in the mountains is a magical time as the sun breaks the horizon and reveals the topography of the terrain. Again, I wished I had more time there but pushed on, knowing I’d be back in September. I promised myself I’d allow time to explore. With that in mind, passing roads leading to Capital Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks was a little easier.
As the midday sun played hide and seek behind fluffy clouds, I felt the cold of elevation as I moved across the Rockies. Snow still remained on some of the runs around Beaver Creek and Vail, and a saloon sign in Minturn, Colorado, provided a photo op. After another fuel stop, I was back on Interstate 70 when suddenly traffic came to a halt 30 miles from Denver. Taking an hour to travel less than five miles, the heat coming from the engine worried me. After repeatedly stopping and starting the engine, the open shoulder of the road beckoned me. Should I?
A mile of idling down the shoulder in first gear a Colorado State Patrol Hazardous Waste officer blocked my path. After screaming at me for what seemed like five minutes, he pointed at the ignition switch, and I turned the bike off. He began yelling again. What he didn’t know was that I was wearing earplugs and couldn’t hear a single word he was saying; I could only see the animation in his face. When I opened my helmet and explained I couldn’t hear him, his anger escalated. I removed my helmet and ear plugs as he screamed “Don’t let me see you again” and got back into his truck. I got back in line. Two hours later, traffic loosened to reveal construction a few miles outside Denver as the reason for the backup. A long day two in the nineT saddle came to an end as I neared the Kansas border, and, now behind schedule, I knew an even longer day three awaited.
Again on the road at 4:30 a.m., I realized I’d left the mountains behind and was greeted by Kansas prairie. The sunrise provided a final photo opportunity as I had to make it to St. Louis to hand the bike off to Ken Engleman who’d ride it to St. Paul, then back to BMW NA in New Jersey after the rally.
The smell of freshly cut grass filled my helmet only to be replaced by the pungent odor of road kill then with something worse, and the road stretched out in front of me for miles, uninterrupted by hills or curves. I passed Topeka, then Kansas City and entered Missouri.
Finally, five hours later I was in St. Louis at the MOA office. I felt like I’d never be able to walk again after sitting on that 2x4 of a seat, but I made it. All that remained was a trip home and a ride to the rally the next day aboard my GS. What a great ride!
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