On the Road To Winnemucca!...

There's a Johnny Cash song called I've Been Everywhere, where he sings about hitchhiking along the road to Winnemucca Nevada.  Which road I'm not sure, but there are only a couple that go there.  I just like saying Winnemucca... Winnemucca... Winn e mucca...  Just rolls off the tongue doesn't it?  I don't know  about getting there hitchhiking, maybe he actually went there on some tour bus, but getting to Winnemucca on a motorcycle was an adventure.

The Plan
The plan... what there was of it: Jessica and Me, starting 8/27/16, for two weeks, go from Homer Glen, IL, to somewhere on the West coast.  Over 5000 miles round trip in 16 days max..  I'd be riding my 2008 Bandit 1250S, and she would ride her... (drumroll please) 2002 Ninja 250, that she named  Max.  So here we go.

First, I did need some kind of plan.  And if you know me, I break out the Google maps, pick some end points and then start moving the line around so that it looks as squiggly as possible while still fitting within the time constraint.  Avoid interstates as much as possible and I'm good.

I'd never ridden my motorcycle to the Northwestern states; Washington, Oregon, barely broke into Idaho...  I da ho... Who the ho?  You da ho...  Sorry, I had to do that.  Why have I never made it up to Washington or Oregon?  Just never taken enough time to go.  So, the goal was to try and get to Washington, go down the Oregon coast, into California, then cut across into Nevada, Utah, and into Colorado, visit my daughter and grandkids, and then back across the corn filled Midwest.  
I realized pretty early in my planning process that Google maps wasn't going to do it anymore.  I recall I use to be able to take the route and export it to a gpx file. Still found a way to do it, but it was a lot more complicated than I recall.  Instead, I found the Harley Ride Planning Site, which actually turned out to be way better and exporting my route to a gpx file was just a few button clicks.  What I realized after a while was that  the export comes up in section; anything between two destination points exports as a section...  Yeah, somewhat more complicated than just being able to export it all as one  route.

Anyway, didn't take long to figure out that even with 16 days, following the squiggly lines all the time wasn't going to cut it, especially If we went deep into Washington.   So, I compromise was in order, that looked like this:

That's 2584 miles estimated to take 47.5 hours.  I say, that's 2584... Taking 7 days to get there would be an average of 364 miles per day... whew!  Ok, that may be nothing if you're on a Honda Goldwing couch and traveling the interstates, but this was standard/sport bikes and mostly back roads... Almost 7 hours a day of riding... which you figure with stops is more like 8+ hours per day... double whew!  Officially the longest trip I've taken in my entire 30 years of riding.  But hey, zipping through Illinois and Iowa on I-80 (joy of joys) would help us make time and then committing to I-80 all the way back (double joy) from Colorado would again make some time, giving us more time and fewer miles per day for the squiggly stuff.  

Ok, then what?  Well, realistically I wasn't even sure we could make it all the way to the coast.  So, didn't see a point in planning the return trip in detail.  The rough plan was to go down the coast of Oregon, as far as we had time for, then head back East.  We would just plan one or two days ahead of time as we went.

Next big question.  Where we going to sleep?  Bring the tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads... ah.. I'm brining a pillow...  Although with that much riding, figured depending on where we ended up every night, and how late it was, and how tired or smelly we were, we'd have to grab a motel or hotel occasionally.

Finally, dress for the occasion!  The temperatures in the Wyoming mountains they were hitting mid 30's at night and only 60's during the day.  Brrrrrr...!  We don't have any heated gear, so bring layers, and most importantly the rain suit.  I figured out a long time ago that rain suits really help in the cold, because they block the wind from stripping heat away from your body, it's all about wind chill, and they are way more compact than a heavy riding suit, which you have to stow when you're going through the desert.

To 250 or Not to 250, That's the Question... 
This is a question Hamlet struggled with, and as the day of departure started getting close, serious thought was given to the sanity of Jessica doing this trip on a 250, and ...what slings and arrows of misfortune we may encounter if we chose to do that...   We had taken it down to North Carolina, about 1700 miles round trip in 5 days, and did run into a couple issues; straining to get up the hills, and the thing started dying on her while stopping from high speeds.  Apprently when you run them at high RPM's for extended periods of time, the valves get out of adjustment, which I adjusted when we got back from the trip, along with a little tweak of the carbs, and indeed it ran like a champ.  But the prospect of higher RPM's for longer periods of time, steeper hills, more gear, and higher elevations, really had me wondering.

On top of that, Jessica is about 5'7", maybe 145 pounds, and she's only been riding for just over a year.  The 250 is a handfull for her, but we weren't sure if getting something bigger, heavier, that she's not used to, before a big trip, would be more trouble than gain.

Well, a week and a half before the trip I felt compelled to started purusing the used bike adds to see what's out there.  If we could get a deal on something, the right bike, then it was meant to be. I did a spreadsheet comparing several different bikes... ya... I'm an engineer... ok?... from the Ninja 250 to the 500, some 600/650's and stuck in my 1250 for comparison.

Ninja 250 Ninja 500 SV650 Ninja 650 Katana 600 Bandit 1250 Honda 600 hornet
Seat height 29.3 30.3 31.7 31 30.9 30.9 31.1
Cylinders 2 2 2 2 4 4 4
Weight 355 430 410 440 500 550 456
Wheelbase 55.1 56.5 55.9 55.5 57.9 58.5 55.9
hp 36 60 70 71 78 95 97
hp/weight 0.101408 0.139535 0.170732 0.161364 0.156 0.1727273 0.212719

I had put the Hornet in there because I had found one on Craigslist.  The thing had 40k miles on it, but it was well taken care of and from CA.  The guy was a mechanice and had the full service record.  I took it for a ride and it was smooth. It produces just as much power as my 1250, weighed 100 lbs less, but if you keep the revs in the low end of the range it was a pussy cat.   But, Jessica wasn't impressed by it. 
Got to be 4 days before leaving and we found a 2006 Ninja 500... looked in mint condition, original owner, infamous Kawi green, with 640 original miles on it and a very good price.  Ding ding! The sirens and lights went off and we arranged to go see it.

How do you own a bike for 10 years and only put 640 miles on it.  I don't know.  Clearly the only reason this bike existed was so that we could buy it used 10 years later... :)  sometimes it just works out like that.   Although, it wasn't a slam dunk.  The gas in the tank was actually cloudy and the bike didn't idle all that great.  It started fine but settled into this viby idle, like a small Harley or something, seemed to have some issues pulling off the line, but when you got the revs up it made really good power and all the right exhaust noises.   Delema... could just be the gas and carbs... no big deal... or could be someting related to it's age and lack of use.  Would suck to find out on the trip it was something complicated.

I hoed and hummed for a while, haggled with the guy.  He was firm on price, but he did throw in a matching helmet.  Hoed and hummed some more.  He seemed honest enough.  Boom, a deal was made, hands were shook, money was exchanged, and I was riding it home while Jes followed in the car.   What did I get myself into?  One thing for sure, it needed some work before the trip.  That night I pulled it into the kitchen (apartment..., three days before the trip, how else could I work on it day and night if I needed to).  I also arranged to take that Thursday off, again to work on it, and make sure I had enough time before we left on Saturday, to deal with any issues.  So, this is kind of how it went (parts all over the apartment):

I checked the valves, clearances were fine.  Clearly the gas had seen it's better days (I probably shoudl have drained it, but there wasn't much in there) and the carbs needed some cleaning, but everything seemed to be in order.  One full day, one night, and we were squared away.  Thursday night I took it out for a test ride and though it still idled a bit rough it seemed fine. [Note: weeks later I still didn't like the way it idled, so I took the carbs off, drilled out the Idle Jet plugs, and found that one of the screws was almost completely to bottom... wtf... from the factory? Sure, it idled rough... one of the cylinders was starving for gas. Anyway, took the jets out cleaned it all out, put everything back together and it idles way better.  ]

Also figured, Jes shoudl probably take it down the block seeing as she's about the spend up to 16 days on it and hasn't ridden it at all.  I followed her around the block and I could see the "getting used to it" process going on.  At one point I saw she locked up one of the wheels, figured she just hit the brake too hard.  But turned out she had downshifted too low and just let the clutch out.  Yeah, it's got a bit more engine braking than the 250.  I explained it needed a whole different level of smoothness and picking your gears vs the 250, which had no engine braking to speak of.   That was it for the excitement and she was liking the feel of the extra power.  Only thing left was to sell that 250 soon as we came back from the trip.

The funny thing about all this is, when we were in Utah, on our way back, there was a guy on the highway that had a small scotter, a bunch of stuff hanging off it, and he literally had to move over because he couldn't keep up the higway speeds.  But clearly he was headed somewhere further than down the block. Bet you he's got a story to tell.

Day 1 Illinois and Iowa
Friday 8/26/17 we packed up and I put the tent and sleeping bags on the bikes, to have as much of it ready to go as possible Saturday morning.  Morning came and so did the rain.  Well, that's one way to start a 15 day trip, riding in the rain, and for Jessica on a bike she's barely ridden.  Luckily it was just intermittend drizzle and even if it kept up we would ride through it going West.

Luckily it didn't take but a few miles away from home when the rain started slowing down the highway started drying up... yeeeeha!

Well, the rain stopped, but it got really windy, and Jessica started falling behind.  I can't remember exactly how fast she was going but it was slow.  Cars and trucks were passing her and it just wasn't safe.  We stopped and I explained that she needed to pick up the pace.  The bike was more stable when it was going faster anyway.  

About two hours away from home and we had our first issue.  Jessica's speedometer wasn't working.  We pulled over on the side of I-80 and I went to it.  At least with her Kawi green bike and my dayglow shirt we were highly visible!   Ah, yes, always bring tools on a long trip; wrenches, sockets, rachet, allen keys, vise grips...

The speedometer cable had just unscrewed, but it was tough getting it back on because it was tucked up under the fairing, and I wasn't about to start disassembling the fairing.   I little help from Jes and we were on our way again... On The Road Again...[insert Willie Nelson Tune].

I made it into Iowa that night without any further complications, and by about 7:20 pm we had set up camp.  Not the best site, kind of in the middle of a small town, but there was plenty of grass and shade and no ther campers or RV's.  I forget what it cost me, like $12, honor system.  We took a site close to the washroom/shower house.  Lit a small fire, but we were way tired to actually stay awake and burn it for any signficant time.   At night some idiot kids must have come into the camp site and turned on all the water spigots to full blast, cause they were running in the mornig.

Sunday the 28th, we were up and at'em.   Just after 9:00 am we were on the Nabraska border... Yay!.. Go Nabraska Cornhuskers...?  Hey, Nabrasks is beautiful and green, but could we put some curves in the roads... At least it's got a leg up on some of the desert states, where the roads are straight AND there is NO green...  

And here we have the lovely Jesicca with her slightly used, relatively mint condition, Ninja 500, entering the Arbor Day state...  Ahhhh... the good life...

And the milage on that bike was nearly doubled by now!

Don't Tip the Ninja!

So... a funny thing happened on the way to Souix City Iowa... We were going up 75 and there was a roadside scenic rest stop, so figured we'd stop and take a break... I pull in [gravel] and I see there's a sidwalk just past the parking area, which lead to the scenic area.  Well, no one around, I just went past the parking spot and followed the sidewalk... thinking Jessica would follow.   Well, it seems the gravel freaked her out and she didn't notice the concrete stops in the parking spaces until the last second.  She slammed on the front break and promptly dumpped the bike.  Of course I didn't know this, because I was just going down the sidewalk and stopping at the scenic spot, taking photos... until she came over.  She was fine, but she wasn't a happy camper...  Talk to the haaand cause...

So, we went over there, I helped her pick the bike up, and  it wasn't too bad; shattered turn signal, some dinks and scratches on the exhaust, the end of the grip, a little scratch on the upper fairing.   Good enough, could have been worse if she plowed over the concrete barrier.

So, we're all togther ready to pull back out onto the street and she notices that her oil light is on...  I trun the bike off.  My immediate thought is something got lodged in the oil pump when it fell over, maybe I can dislodge it by tilting it in the other direction.  I do that, we try again, oil light still on, and I can see through the oil level window the oil level is not dropping like it should.  No, there is no oil pmping.  Great...  While we're staing at it and discussing some people come along, we explain the situation, and a couple offers to put the bike on their pickup truck and take it to the nearest city and motorcycle shop.  I consider it, then I call my insurance company... I can't really tell them where we're at cause I don't know.  They can't find us on the GPS and conversatoin ensues ... we're on 75 north of... blah blah blah... ya ... not helping... Finally I just give up with them and take up the couple on their offer to truck the bike. Another guy comes along.  Now the only question is, how do we get a 450 lb bike on the back of a pickup truck like over two feet in the air... So, the guy pulls into the weeda with the tailgate poniting out of the ditch and the three of us manage the strain and make up the difference... Whew.  Talk about sweating our asses off.

We strap the bike in... Ok, now where?  The couple was headed to Omaha, but Souix City is closer, and from what we can figure on our phones there's some bike shops, of course, it is Sunday.   They had just come  from there, and they are willing to go back, so off we go, me following on my bike... We should have gone to Omaha... To make a long story shorter, after gooing to a couple bike shops, we end up with our bikes in the guy's parents garage and arrangements to get a tow truck to take it to a bike shop first thing Monday.  In the mean time we got a local motel.

I wish I knew the couples name, I lost their contact information.  Them and their whole family were so accomodating.

Anyway, sitting in the motel room, I'm like what is the deal with the bike.  So, I start scowering the internet for information and guess what I find?  Apparently if a Ninja 500R tips over, the oil pump looses prime (no... really... I'm not kidding... awesome design!), and the way to get it back is crack the oil filter open, start the bike, let it run a few seconds until you see oil come gushing out, and tighten the filter again.

I'm like, nooooo way!  We just spend a whole day dealing with this and all it take is losening the oil filter?  Way to go Kawasaki...  How about putting a sticker on the tank that says if you dump this bike, here's what you need to do...   I immediately call the people who have our bikes, explain, and let them know I'm coming over to see if this works.  They were nice enough to give me a small pan, and some rags, and sure enough, that's all it took... oil pressure back.   I thanked them profusely for all their help and we went back to our motel, with both bikes.  Yay...

Monday 8/29

So, I'm writing this over a year later so I can't  quite remember the details, but based on the time on the pics, we rode that day until past 6:00 PM and made it through the Badlands, then after that to some motel, so close to 400 miles that day.  And did I metion that Jes dropped her bike again... Doh!  Yes, no pressure again.  We were in this one horse town with a cenvenient store with a potholed graveled parking lot, and there was just enough slope, and gravel, that as she was backing out, foot slipped and over she went.  After rushing over to help her lift the bike and make sure she was ok, I lost it... sigh... Need to stop dropping the bike, or it's going to be a long trip...  Luckily there was an auto repair shop just down the road, and they let me borrow a plastic drain pain to place under the oil filter, to burp the poor baby again... couldn't get the filter loosened, so back down the block to get an oil filter wrench... ok then back down the block to give them their suff back and wash up in their garage... in 100 degree + mid day sun... with long thick firehose pants on...   and  On the Road Again [Insert Willie Nelson Tune..]


Tuesday 8/30

The unfortunate events of the previous days were forgotten and we went to visit the presidents at Mount Rushmore.  My second time there and I'm still amazed at how difficult the government makes it to just stop and take a picture.  Where we stopped along the road clearly said no stopping! Everywhere within eyesight of the mountain is says no stopping.  I'd have to go park in a designated parking lot and pay $1,000,000 dollars per minute...  give me a break.  But anyway, sunny, slightly chilly, beautiful day... and no rain since we took off.

Wednesday 8/31

Somewhere along this route, there were some amazing roads we didn't take pictures of, because they were really twisty and there was noplace to stop along the road safely. I'm guessing route 16 and 16A in SD.  When Jes came out of them and we stopped at a straight section immediately after, she had tears in her eyes.  Yes, powerful, desolate... talk about feeling small and voulnerable... out in the middle of nowhere just us and the bikes...  only infrequent cars passed us when we were stopped.

I do know we went through Bighorn National Forest, again some beautiful roads.  4:47 PM we were in Yellowstone, and stopped at a KOA outside of West Yellowstone.  Now that was noteworthy.  Really well aid out, with a big grill where they cooked your meat to order, with corn on the cob and beans... food never tasted so good.

That's a lot of space... talk about feeling small.

That's a lot of sheep... anywhere you looked.  While approaching up the road I couuldn't figure out what it was.

Why sit in the middle of the road?  Because you can...

Thursday 9/1

I remember that was a cold morning taking off from the KOA.  Went about a mile or so down the road and it was time to put on the rain gear and some layers to stay warm.  The wind and the moist air just cuts through you.  

In the mountains, cold, needed to find a washroom somewhere.  Pulled off into what seemed like a ranger house, which actually turned out to be a private home.  The lady there was nice enough to direct us down the road to the lake and this parking area which had facilities.  

The above was something I'd never seen before.  The land is this dark stuff, all jagged and buckled, like at one time it was blacktop and then someone scrunched the surface.  It really looked like a different plant.  Who'd have guessed, in Idaho.  This is through southern Idaho.  Northern wold have been more scenic, but we were trying to conserve time. Besides, after the road we had just been through we figured we weren't going to miss much in order to gain the West Coast.

I say, heloooo... anyone out there... [chirp, chirp, ... squawk..]

Ok, these photos are in here backwards... lol... but you get the idea.   That night we ended up in a town  just near the Oregon border.  It came to decission time, do we keep heading up to Washington or just cut across.  The weather forecast in Washington wasn't good, so opted to just cut straight through the center of Oregan and go down the coast.

Friday 9/2

Don't quite remember where those mountains were, but I think they were call Three Sisters.  I guess it was pretty deep into Oregon, heading into the last mountain range before coming down into the coast.

It's getting fuzzy!  Could have sworn we stayed in a town in Oregon, but that is the Oregon coast!  Got there just as the sun was setting, and using my cell phone and the GPS I found us a hotel near by.  Turn out to be a resort, which was out of season, so not a lot of people and the rooms were inexpensive.  After riding all day, through cold and some rain, we couldn't get in the room fast enough.

Saturday 9/3

Well, the next day we made our way down the coat, and into California.  And I was having an issue.  The chain on my bike was basically throwing off orings, so it wasn't going to last the return trip.  And I could feel the roughness in the drive train, I think because the chain was inconsistent.  Did some searching and found a Honda shop along our route in California.  Got there about lunch, and they were nice enough to get right on it and mount me up a new chain.  Luckily they had one that fit, but it was shorter then my stock one, so they had to screw the chain adjusters almost all the way in.  The sprockets were still in decent shape, so that helped.

Nedless to say the coast of Oregon and California was beautiful, though at one point the wind was just unrelenting.  I don't know how strong it way,  but we seriously though about finding shelter.  Jes didn't have a lot of experience with crosswinds, but she was getting some!

Beautiful along the coast.  Sunny but still chilly enough to need the raingear on.

Once we got a ways into California, another decission... keep going south, cut east, or maybe northeast.  Decided to take a northeast course through the northern part of california, through more of the redwoods and back into Oregon.   We rode all day again.  The problem was finding a camp site.  We thought we had one but a slow ride through the place we saw some shady looking characters around so we opted to continue.   We ended up in what was an old KOA campground at one time, but when we got there, at sunset, there was noone. The old guy who took care of the place took our $30 and showed us around.  I think one other couple came later in the evening.   I put the tent up just as the sun was going down and sat down to east some sandwiches bought along the way.  Man it was dark that night.  You could not see your hand in front of your face.

Ah, yeah, backwards pictures again...

Sunday 9/4  The Road to Winnamucca!!!


The last couple of photos were well on the way to Winnamucca.  We had filled up with gas in a small town and soon as we got on the road the sign said next gas station 100 miles.   Ok, so it was just about 200 to Winnamucca, but it was late in the day.  Seemed that at that gas station there was also a motel of some kind, so that looked like it would be the stop for the night.  Until we got there.

This was a lone place in the middle of nowhere.  There was no gas to be had, and far as I could tell there was no one around.  Tried the door to the place but it was locked.   Peeked in the windows and there was someone in there.  I just banged lightly until the woman came out and explained they are out of gas and closed for the day.  No, can't stay for the night.

Tried to explain that it was late, we're in the desert, it's going to get cold, and I don't think we have enough gas to make it another 100+ miles, which is how far the next gas station was.  So, after I finished playing fetch the stick with the dog that was watching the place, between searches on Google, it was off into the great unknown.

First let me say that it was chilly during the day, hence why we were still wearing rain gear.  Any time a cloud would come along and block the sun it would be noticeably chillier.  We piled on more layers, and stopped a couple times in the sun if there was a break in the clouds.  But we kept riding.

Now is a good time to say that it was beautiful in it's desolation.  And those plateaus in the distance had an amazing rode that went up the side.  Squiggly curves one after another.  I was almost affraid to take my eyes off the road to look at the expanse below us, going higher and higher.

And it just kept getting colder.  We considered just stopping and pitching the tent in the sand and tumbleweeds, but figued we had to go on.  We tucked ourselves behind the fairings best as we could, I put one hand on the engine to suck some heat off of it, and off into the night.  

At one point we stopped to warm up a little and I told Jess we had to slow down to cut the wind chill and to conserve gas.  We started going about 45-50 and it seemed like crawing through the darkness.  Only a couple cars passed us, one turned out to be a state partorl, and with my gas gage flashing at me I considered chasing him down to see if he had some gas.  But the slow speeds seemed to help with the gas milage so I figured we could make it.

At one point had to make a decission to head North, out of the way, to a gas station that was a few miles closer or carry on.  But what if there was no gas and it didn't seem like much of a town.  We would definitley be stuck out in the cold desert.  So we went on toward Winnamucca.

At just a little before 10:00 pm and just over 200 miles on the tanks, we finally came to a gas station.  It never looked so good.  We filled up and then went inside, shivering.  Turns out they were just about to close when we got there so we snarfed down some microwave soup bowls and I had a huge hot decaff to get some heat in my body, and then we had to go.

There was nowhere to stay in the area and we had to continue to Winnamucca.  Cold, tired, and like another 20-30 miles to go.  No idea what the temperature was butdid I mention it was cold.

We finally made it! Rode over 12 hours that day, don't even know how many miles. Turnd out to be a gambling town, kind of a small Las Vesgas.  We got a room, skipped the gambling, and crashed.

It's quite a memory.  Two motorcycles in the night, flying into the space made by the piercing headlights, beyond that nothing but darkness. Gas gage flashing.   

Monday 9/5  And from Winnamucca On to Utah!

Coming into Salt Lake and the Boneville flats over a rest in a highway, it's like you just landed in a different world.  First time I'd been there.  
Actually this was where we saw that guy on a moped all loaded up, struggling to get up the hill.

Talk about bright.  Sunny day, standing on the white salt.  

Took the above picture at 7:30 pm.  Yeah, another long day, opted for a motel so we could get a good rest.

Well, there was more to the trip after that. The beautiful Colorado roads of course, seeing my doughter and Grandkids, a big rainstorm on I80 where we literally could not see any more, so pulled over and found the nearest motel... drenched... stuffing newspapers into our boots to dry them off.. but my camera ran out of charge and I didn't bring my charger...

But we'll finish of with this... Eating breakfast at some McDonald's these three guys road by in their motorized wheel chairs...   You want to ride somewhere, get out there and do it, before a wheel chair through a shopping mall becomes the only remaining option...