Have you ever considered doing a long ride? I've always wondered what it would be like to ride day after day after day. I guess in my mind the most difficult part is setting aside the time. All the stars came into alignment in June of this year and the ride actually became a reality. My good friend Jay Kuhns and I decided to do a Southern California Motorcycle Association USA Four Corners Motorcycle Tour. The rules are fairly simple. Visit the four corners of the continental US in 21 days, in any order, and provide a minimal amount of documentation from each corner. It is not required to complete the fourth side of the box. For example, we started from Madawaska, Maine, then on to Key West, Florida and San Ysidro, California, and finished in Blaine, Washington. The rules do not require a return to Maine. The full rules, registration, and fees are available on the SCMA website at http://www.usa4corners.org.
I considered writing a travel log, including the usual went here then went there, but in reality it was mostly a routine ride. Jay and I averaged about 600 miles per day for 19 days. We were on the road during the summer solstice, so we easily did these miles all during daylight hours. We typically started about 7:00 a.m. after eating a light breakfast at the motel, stopped for a light lunch mid-afternoon and then rode into the early evening until we felt like stopping. Our ride was basically the Aerostich motto "Ride, eat, sleep, repeat." We took one day off to tour the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL. If you are unaware of it, this museum is a fantastic destination. Expect to spend a full day there.
We had a couple of planning meetings before the ride and mutually agreed we had both seen most of the tourist sites along our route. We have both also traveled most of the fun, twisty roads near the route. For us the decision was to avoid the northeast seaboard and stick to Interstates as much as possible. We covered 11,000 miles and 30 states in 19 days. We were on the actual Four Corners Tour about 6,800 miles and took 12-½ days to complete the official ride. It took us four days to reach the starting point in Maine, via Canada, and two days to return home to Colorado Springs, Colorado, after leaving Blaine, Washington.
This would not necessarily need to be the style of your ride. If you used the full 21 days and did not vary from the route, you would only need to average 325 miles per day. That leaves some time for sightseeing or visiting people near the route. Remember, however, that 325 miles per day needs to be moving down the road, so there's not a whole lot of time to do other activities along the way.
I thought it may interest some members if I can provide insight in regard to the nuts and bolts of a trip like this. There are certainly MOA members who have ridden far more miles than Jay or I. But I also know many members have ridden less and have questions about the logistics of long rides. First, keep in mind that an 11,000-mile ride is not monumentally different than a shorter ride; it's simply more days in a row. Long distance riding does, however, have a few differences that will become major issues or even a trip-ending event if not taken seriously.
Your bike needs to fit you. The relationship between the seat, handlebars and foot pegs must be comfortable for hours on end and in all kinds of weather. If you get a backache or your hands go numb or you get a pain between your shoulder blades after a few hundred miles on your bike or after a few days in a row, it will become excruciating pain on a long distance ride. For example, Jay and I both have custom seats. Search the forums to discover the major vendors and above all find a seat that fits your "contact area." Many riders have strong feelings about their particular brand of seat, including stock BMW seats, but keep in mind they don't have your tush.
Jay rides a K1200GT and I ride a R1200RT. Both bikes got almost identical gas mileage and both were well suited for the ride. We both started with fresh tires, fresh full tune up and fluids. Coincidentally, Jay is a meticulous BMW mechanic. We returned home with the same tires and both bikes have a few thousand miles of tire wear left. We had no mechanical problems on the trip attributable to BMW. Jay had a minor electronics glitch in an aftermarket wiring harness he had fabricated and I inadvertently left my ignition on one evening for about five hours, which killed the battery and required the use of my MOA Platinum Membership towing coverage for a free jump start. We did not do any other maintenance on the trip. We do both use ester-based synthetic oils in our bikes.
I feel the next important piece of kit is your riding suit. I'd say the same thing about riding suits as about bikes. It needs to fit, for long days and all kinds of weather. If it chafes your neck, doesn't provide enough ventilation, leaks at the first sign of a cloud or binds anywhere when seated on your bike, it will become your worst enemy on a long ride. Dry, well fitted, broken-in boots are also mandatory. On a long trip you will walk quite a few miles in your riding boots and blisters would take a lot of fun out of a trip. Most long distance riders will agree it's a bad idea to start a trip with anything other than proven, broken-in gear both for yourself and your bike. You won't want to delay your trip to shop for gear or bike repair or replacement parts. My camera died in Madawaska which, due to my personality, required hours of internet research to choose the best replacement within my budget. We spent time the next day locating and stopping at three stores in various towns to eventually find a box store with the replacement camera in stock. The camera was a necessity to document our ride. For some, shopping may be fun, but we would rather have been riding.
Here are a few more random tricks I've learned along the way. Jay and I stayed in lower end motels. Usually if a motel's paint and repair look good and they have some well maintained landscaping, the place will be OK. Mom and pop independent motels are usually cheaper than any chain motels. I believe we averaged about $70 per night, which we divided by two. Our highest priced motel was $125 in Key Largo, which is to be expected in the Keys. We considered camping, as we are both proficient at motorcycle camping, but felt we would lose a couple of riding hours per day finding a camp ground and setting up and tearing down camp. Also, most all motels these days have some form of continental breakfast, which saves both time and mitigates some cost compared to camping and going to a restaurant for breakfast. A motel trick I just learned on this trip is to turn the sheets down half way in the morning to assemble and pack my gear on a white background. Almost all motels use multicolored bed spreads to hide ...well I don't want to think about what they may be trying to hide, but it's easy to lose gear when packing on those camouflage bed spreads!
Jay and I never had a discussion about who was going to lead or follow. I guess actually that's a bit unusual. It just seemed either of us would pull out of a motel, gas station or restaurant and would lead. It seemed to work out about 50/50, and since our riding style and speed are very similar, it simply wasn't something that ever was discussed. Along those lines, you need to choose carefully your partner for a multi-week ride. You will be with this person 24/7 for the duration of the trip. As I mentioned before, any issues that are a minor annoyance on a short ride will be magnified exponentially after weeks on the road.
If a long ride is on your bucket list, I can only offer this. Plan it and do it! That may sound simplistic, but I believe the only difference in dreaming and wishing for that "trip of a lifetime" and having completed the trip is getting out a calendar, marking the dates, and then set about making the dream a reality.
If you have an interest in our exact route, questions about our specific equipment from bike farkles to socks or any other trip questions or comments, I have posted a thread on the MOA forum in the rides section titled: USA Four Corners Ride.