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Almost never

Monday, October 2, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jim Johnson

Years ago, when I began riding, I made a vow to myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those guys who hauled their bike to an event, paraded around for a few hundred miles and then hauled their bike back home. I made it known to my riding buddies that "if you ever see my bike on a trailer, call the police…because someone stole it!"

I made good on my promise…until last fall.

Early last year, while visiting my wife’s sister and brother-in-law, my wife said she wanted to fly to the East Coast (with the in-laws) to visit the Washington D.C. area in the fall and go on a "luxury bus tour." "Luxury" and "bus" don’t usually belong in the same sentence in my mind, but in the interest of avoiding alimony payments I said "Sure, I’d love to go, but only if I can meet you there."

When she didn’t immediately throw an apoplectic fit I knew I had a chance! "I’ll ride my motorcycle back there and meet you, travel together and then you fly home and I’ll ride home." After a pregnant pause, and with her sister and brother-in-law (aka: witnesses) looking on she agreed.

I immediately grab a map and start planning MY part of this trip. My wife (Monica) and the in-laws are equally busy considering tour bus options and other accommodations. They settle on a few days of independent travel before the week-long bus tour begins and a few days of independent travel after the bus tour ends. The ONLY thing I have to keep in mind is that I MUST meet them at Dulles International Airport with a rental car when they land. Piece of cake!

I plug the airport pick-up date into my phone calendar and then go back to the map. I pick out a tentative route to the east coast with some stopovers in some places I’ve been to and some other places I haven’t. When the wife part of the trip is over I plan on riding down to Florida and returning to California along a southern route. I can’t believe I’ve actually pulled this off! Now the work begins on the details.

In July, I attend the MOA Rally in Billings, Montana, with a bunch of buddies. While there I speak with Bob Henig, owner of Bob’s BMW in Jessup, Maryland. I explain to him that I’m going to be riding back to the East Coast in the fall and inquire about having my bike (a 2014 R 1200 GS) serviced at his facility and possibly storing it there while I travel with my wife and in-laws. Bob is accommodating and gives me his service manager’s information. My plan is shaping up nicely!

My timeline for the trip is five weeks. I’ve been retired for over seven years now, but work on Saturdays as a greeter at Herwaldt Motorsports, the local BMW dealership in Fresno, California. The owners are generous with regard to allowing me to take off just about any time I want, so I’m not overly concerned about how long the trip takes. I’m not even sure they’ll know if I’m gone!

I wonder if I know anyone else that would want to take the trip with me. Several years ago, I took my young adult daughter on a trip up and down the West Coast on my bike and we had a blast! I even wrote a story about it, "The Rides of March," which was published in the Owners News magazine. (FIND THIS ARTICLE) I wasn’t sure if she’d be interested in another trip, but I asked her anyway. She’s got a job, so I knew she wouldn’t be able to be away for five weeks. I suggested that she might be able to meet me in Florida and that I could pick her up from the airport and we could ride down to the Keys. She checked her schedule, put five days together, and made it happen!

Now comes the NEVER part of the story.

My friend Jack Harwood, the previous owner of the BMW shop, hears that I’m going to ride back east and says he might want to go along, but he has an errand to run on the way. His R 1200 GS is at his brother Robert’s house in Texas and he has an R 1200 C that he needs to trade out with him. Jack doesn’t want to ride the C all the way to Texas and plans to put it in his truck, haul it to Texas and swap it out with Robert. Then he and Robert and I can ride our bikes to Tybee Island, Georgia, where we will split up and I’ll head north to meet my wife.

I’ll have to put my bike in the back of a truck, something I was never going to do! Oh well, what the heck!

The day before we leave, Jack stops by and we load the bikes into his truck (Geez, I hope I don’t see anyone I know!) We have a problem, though - the cylinders of both bikes make them too wide to fit into the truck. We put my bike in backwards. I think this is a great idea because no one will see my license plate and they won’t know it’s my bike in the back of a truck! I pack my gear that night and we’re off at 6 am the next day.

We reach Conroe, Texas, two days later and unload the bikes at Robert’s house. I’m sure none of my other friends saw my bike in the back of a truck. While taking the bikes out I notice that the inside of my left mirror and the inside of my windscreen have been collecting bugs because the bike was backwards in the truck and the mirror and top of the windscreen were hanging out in the wind. Never had THAT happen before! We drink a few beers and get a good rest before heading out in the morning.

From Conroe, Texas, to Biloxi, Mississippi, is about 600 miles. Not a bad trek on a GS, but Robert on the C model is pooped! I offered to trade bikes with him for part of the trip, but he wanted to tough it out. I didn’t know Biloxi is a casino town, but I do now. I’ll have to take some more money to throw away next time I go there.

The next day we ride the rest of the way to Tybee Island, 500-plus miles, where Jack and Robert’s other two brothers meet us for dinner and more beers.

The weather for those two days was great and we’d stayed off the interstate for most of the trip, enjoying the local scenery. Jack and his brothers have brother stuff to take care of and I have to make sure I’m at Dulles with a rental car when my wife and in-laws show up, so I’m up and headed north on I-95 early the next morning - in the rain. It rains the rest of the way through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and most of Virginia. I make it to Jessup, Maryland late in the afternoon and check into a motel a few miles from Bob’s BMW.

Mid-morning the next day I roll in to Bob’s and speak with Darryl, who fixes me up with a service order for a new front tire and finalizes the storage of my bike for the next few weeks. I strip the stuff off the bike that I’ll need for the next two weeks and stack it in front of the shop. There is no good (read "cheap") way to get from Jessup to Dulles, so I call an Uber for the 55-mile ride to Dulles. My driver is Johnson, newly arrived from Nigeria, and he picks me up four minutes after I place the call and I’m at the car-rental counter at Dulles one hour later.

I’ve given myself a three-hour cushion to make sure I’m not late picking up Monica. The car is rented, I’ve got my snacks and I drive to the cell-phone waiting area to catch up on some newspapers, do a few crosswords and maybe take a nap. Then Monica texts me to let me know that their plane will be delayed a little more than five hours! I certainly don’t have to worry about being late to pick her up!

About eight hours later they arrive and we’re off to meet her nephew and his family in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where we all stay in a rented Victorian-style house for three nights. We have a great time visiting and then travel back to D.C. to meet up with the luxury bus.

The bus experience with Trafalgar Tours was actually really nice, and we had a great time seeing all the sights, overeating and over-shopping. As it turns out, "Tour Guide Bill" has a day job with Butler Maps, and much to Monica’s chagrin nearly every free moment is spent talking with Bill about great motorcycle roads.

Tragically, after only two weeks off my bike, Monica and the in-laws had to fly back to California. They took me back to Bob’s on their way to the airport and I pick up my bike and head south.

I’d gotten a rather late (for me) start that day. My intention was to ride through the Smoky Mountain area and to stay at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort on Highway 129, aka The Dragon. I enjoy a great, mid-week ride through nearly deserted, perfectly maintained roads. As I’m kinda-sorta headed towards Deals Gap, I start to wonder if I should call ahead to check on a room. When I finally do call, I’m told that there are only two rooms left, both of them two bedroom units, and that they will be closed by the time I get there! However, they will leave the door unlocked, with my key on the bed and that we can settle up the next day. That would never happen in California! The lodging cost, even for a two bedroom, is less than I’d been paying for a single in other parts of my trip, so I give them my credit card number and tell them I’ll see them in the morning.

I really miscalculated how long it will take me to get to the motel and when I arrive it’s almost 10 pm. I also discover that I’ve ridden The Dragon in the dark! I thought those last few miles were a little twisty! I’m also really glad I put on Clearwater lights before leaving on this trip! True to their word, the motel staff has left the door unlocked for room # 2 and my key is on the bed. I unload my gear and step outside to talk with a few other motorcycle junkies in the parking lot. I ask them if there’s any place nearby to eat and they direct me "up the road a-ways," where I find the Tapoco Lodge still open and serving dinner. I get a meal to go and buy beers to take back to the motel. It’s been a long day!

I get back, eat a great sandwich, drink some beers and tell some motorcycle lies to the other motorcycle liars still awake in the parking lot at the motel. I finally go to bed around midnight while the other liars are still drinking more beers and telling more lies.

At about 4 am the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard crashes overhead and it begins raining - a lot. The thunder abates, but the rain continues. At about 7:30 am I wake up and look out the window. The rain has stopped and the sky appears to be clearing. I grab breakfast at the motel and buy a bunch of shirts, cups and stickers to prove I was there. I walk outside and take a picture of the Tree of Shame where the crashers among us have donated bruised motorcycle parts collected along the 318 turns on the 11 miles of highway 129. No donations from me today.

The next stop is in Raeford, North Carolina, where I spend the night with my nephew Adam, his wife and their two young daughters. Adam is a sergeant in the Special Forces and has been to Iraq and three or four of the ‘Stans. He is currently a SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) instructor at Ft. Bragg. He took me along with him to school the next day so I could see what he does. I’m pretty sure he gets paid good money to make brave people cry.

Back on the road the next day, I’m headed to Orlando, where I’ve got three days to kill before picking up my daughter Jordan at the airport. On the way there, I notice more and more and more bikes, mostly Harleys. As I approach Daytona I see thousands of motorcycles parked at the Rossmeyer’s Harley-Davidson dealership next to the highway and hundreds of bikes exiting to join the party. What the heck? I’ve already impugned my integrity by trucking my bike, I may as well complete the sin by attending (what happened to be) Biketoberfest!

I pull into the parking lot, ATGATT on my GS, looking for all the world like a Martian in a sea of tank-topped, sun-burned, helmetless bikers. I find a place to park and start walking through all exhibits and vendors. I’m starting to get into the spirit and fleetingly consider trading the GS for a Fat Boy, getting a tattoo and surprising Monica when I get home. I don’t often get my fun and suicide mixed up, but this would have been one of those times.

Common sense prevails and I make my way back to my GS and I jump back on the road to Orlando.

After checking in to the hotel I scan my email and notice that the American International Motorcycle Exposition (AIMExpo) will be happening in Orlando at exactly the same time I’m there. I make a call to Josh at Herwaldt Motorsports and ask him if he is sending anyone to the Expo; he tells me he and his wife will be attending and that he’s leaving the next day. I ask him if he wants me to represent the shop too and he arranges for me to pick up my credentials at the Expo the next day.

The first two days of the Expo is open to industry folks only, and there are lots of workshops to attend if so inclined. I attend a few of the workshops on behalf of the shop and then spend most of two days perusing the Expo and all it had to offer. I had the fortune of speaking with Wayne Rainey for a few moments about his new race series (MotoAmerica)and thank him for all he’s done. I also get to meet with the Borden family of and speak with Sandy about their trip and forthcoming stories. I even get to speak with motojournalist Greg White! In all, the two days I spend at AIMExpo is outstanding.

The next morning, I meet Jordan at Orlando International Airport. She’s packed lightly and is carrying her helmet. I stow her gear in one of my boxes and carefully ride straight to a local Cycle Gear store and pick up a new nylon ballistic jacket and some new riding boots for her and then hit the road for the Keys, and find a Key Lime shop on the way and share a piece of pie. We make it all the way to the end/beginning of Highway One. Key West is a HOOT!

I decide not to try to complete the Duval Crawl (look it up!) out of deference to Jordan. We’ve spent a total of five days on the road, managing to take in a visit to a Dolphin Rescue Center, tour Cape Canaveral, take a ride on a flat-bottomed air boat in the Everglades and visit an alligator farm before depositing her back at Orlando International for her trip home.

Now I start my ride home. My original plan was to stop for a few days in San Antonio to visit some old friends, but Hurricane Priscilla makes me decide to travel on Interstate 40 instead of Interstate 10. I find out that my son Geoff will be at a convention in Atlanta, so I start heading that way.

I find my Geoff’s hotel in downtown Atlanta and even more importantly, a safe place to park overnight. He’s busy that evening, so I find a nearby fine dining establishment …okay, it was a "Hooters," but it was right there and it was fine. After dinner I walk back to his hotel to couch-surf for the evening. We share a great breakfast the next morning and he gives me a guided tour of the Atlanta Convention Center before I jump back on the bike.

After looking at my map I realize I’m not far from the Barber Motorsports Museum. I detour slightly and spend three hours in motorcycle heaven looking at all of the bikes I’ve owned, all of the bikes I’ve dreamed about and a whole bunch of bikes that would surely cause a divorce!

Back on the road I make it to Memphis as it’s getting dark and beginning to rain. I crash for the night at a convenient Holiday Inn Express and wake up to more rain in the morning. The only consolation is that it’s raining a whole lot more south of me on Interstate 10. It rains almost all the way to Amarillo, Texas, my next stop for the night. The next morning the rain has thankfully stopped. I figure on making one more stop on the way home. I have a niece and nephew with a brand-new baby to visit in the Phoenix area. Hurricane Priscilla is now history, so I head south to spend what ends up being two nights in Phoenix before heading back home to Fresno.

After leaving Phoenix I stop for in Yuma for breakfast with a high school buddy that I hadn’t seen in years. Fortunately, he suggests we meet at a Cracker Barrel so I can get one more dose of proper chicken-fried steak before entering California (there are no Cracker Barrels in California). The rest of the trip home is uneventful. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed after five weeks away. I pull into the driveway and get a warm greeting from the three dogs. Monica even says "I’m glad you’re finally home. The garbage cans need to be put out." Yup – I’m home!

I’m NEVER going to haul any of my bikes in a truck again…well, ALMOST never!


Editor's Note: We tried to track down the Jim Johnson who wrote this article, but failed, as there are a number of Jim or James Johnsons in the MOA, none of whom we contacted by email claimed to have written this article. If you know the Jim Johnson who wrote this, please drop the webmaster an email. Thank you!"

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