My injured knee was repaired the last week of July. The surgeon found what he expected and repaired a torn meniscus and patellar tendon. The day of the surgery everything went quickly and I was home in bed by mid-afternoon. I scheduled 2 – 3 days off work and took it easy.
I was given crutches to use but I didn’t have any restrictions for weight-bearing the repaired knee so I only used them sporadically the first and second day then began walking. The incision sights didn’t give me much trouble and the swelling and stiffness were worse than the actual pain of the surgery.
A few days later, pain and cramping started in my thigh that was significantly more painful than the actual surgery itself. It would lock me up completely and the thigh hurt so much that attempting to rub out the cramps actually made the pain worse. Fortunately, by the ten-day mark it was manageable and by three weeks it had gone completely.
Walking became easier and easier and only standing still on the knee produced swelling and pain. Ice and pain relievers took care of that.
By the two-week mark I began very carefully throwing a leg over the Enfield and was able to ride.
As Labor Day came and went I had to decide how I would ride the Fall Equinox. The ride had to be a Saddlesore 1000 to match the other three celestial event rides I’d performed over the last nine months but the format and location were still a mystery. I drew up several ride plans – a coastal ride if the desert was still 100 degrees or hotter, a desert ride if it was forecasted to rain on the coast but cool in the desert, etc. I planned a really long SS1000, actually a BBG if I rode all the way home, a SS1000 if I ended the ride early and spent the night in Las Vegas, that covered all seven of the Nevada Tour of Honor Sites. I didn’t think it would be practical, though, because Alex had a football game the next day and I wouldn’t miss that.
While I had been riding the Goldwing on my repaired knee, the longest ride I’d taken since before the surgery was about 90 minutes. I would be entering the Fall Equinox ride in no better riding shape than the super-hot Summer Solstice ride in June that I bailed on an hour after reaching the 1000-mile mark.
I settled on a ride into Northern Nevada again, this time covering the four most northern TOH sites, including the Ironbutt memorial in Gerlach, NV – a place I’d wanted to go to but hadn’t yet. In addition to Gerlach, the ride included stops in Carson City, Fallon and the Nevada State Monument in Imlay. I’d have two pit stops in Bishop, CA for gas – once on the way north and again coming home. The ride total was 1380 miles, almost exactly the same as the Summer Solstice ride. I knew the weather would be better and hoped I was, too.
The weekend before the ride, a few days before my 50th birthday, I woke up and used the toilet. When reaching around to wipe, I felt a pop in my middle back to the right of my spine and twinges of pain started and continued throughout the day. The following morning the pain was worse and I experienced stiffness and a pulling sensation when moving to my right. It hurt to lift. It hurt to walk. It hurt to bend over. It hurt to twist my torso.
The pain didn’t get any better and didn’t improve with the Aleve I still took most days for my knee. This was going to suck.
On Thursday I began taking Ibuprofen instead of Aleve. The pain lessened. I was able to load the Goldwing with the things I’d need and prep my cooler and hydration system and place them in the refrigerator. Temperatures were forecasted as low as the low-40s and as high as the mid-70s and I got together riding clothes to match those temps. I would be layered up early but strip down significantly by the late morning.
I didn’t experience any pre-ride sleeplessness, got to bed early, and woke up on my own ten minutes before my alarm would have gone off at 0300. I took a quick shower, brushed my teeth, dressed, and was on the bike to my release gas station. After resetting everything, fueling, taking pictures of my receipts and odometer, I viewed my first timestamp. I entered the 405 freeway a few minutes after 0336.
The weather forecasts the day before the ride looked like I’d leave very pleasant conditions that would get cooler the further north I rode. I planned the ride to stop for fuel at the 295-mile mark in Bishop. Temperatures there would be climbing slightly after an overnight low in the 30s.
The air got cooler travelling north. I was able to make it almost to Olancha before the sun came up. The days were already significantly shorter than three months ago. Traffic was light and I made good time, arriving in Bishop a few minutes earlier than the ride plan.
I pulled into the gas station and filled both tanks. I pushed the button to print a receipt but nothing came out of the printer slot so I left the Goldwing in front of the pump and walked inside to use the restroom and get my receipt from the cashier. The man working the counter was about my age and wore engineer boots, jeans, an orange t-shirt and a black leather vest.
My ear plugs were still in so it was difficult to make small talk. I asked for a receipt on the pump I had used, he printed it, looked at it, then frowned. “This can’t be right,” he said. “It’s almost ten gallons. Thirty dollars.”
“No, that sounds right,” I said, trying not to mumble or yell out loud, the earplugs making it difficult to hear my own voice.
“How?….No bike has a ten gallon tank.”
“It’s got two tanks,” I said. “It’s right.”
He started to walk out from behind the counter to take a look at my bike but noticed that a line was forming behind me. He frowned again, realizing he wouldn’t be walking to the front door, and handed me my receipt.
“Have a safe ride,” he said.
I thanked him and headed out the door. I grabbed my phone and took a picture of the receipt and my odometer in the same frame, bagged the receipt, swallowed some Advil with an electrolyte drink, placed part of a sandwich in my cupholder, and rolled the Goldwing off the center stand. I put on a heavier pair of gloves because I was cold and I wished I would have stretched out for 60 seconds or so before getting back in the saddle. My middle back spasmed a few times as I rode out of Bishop, but I noticed it less and less as my speed increased.
The temperature got cooler and cooler. It was noticeable every time it would drop a few degrees and I pushed the INFO button on the dash to check the outside temperature. It dropped into the thirties, then the mid-thirties, and north of Mammoth it made it into the twenties briefly. Fresh snow was spread thinly on both sides of the 395. It had snowed the night before.
I hadn’t layered for temps this low and began to shiver.
The temperature rose a bit by the time I got to Mono Lake but I was still cold until I passed into Nevada at Topaz Lake. The temperature had made it back into the forties but it felt a lot warmer.
I ran into a traffic stop for road construction and had to wait for a pilot car to escort us through. I was near the front of the line and put the Goldwing on the center stand and ate some more of my lunch, took my vitamins, and hydrated. The line of traffic coming the other way was long and it took a good ten minutes before we moved.
Traffic was heavier the closer I got to Carson City but I was still more or less on time, so I wasn’t worried. My first TOH stop, in Carson City, was a 9/11 Memorial with a piece of a surviving I-Beam from the north tower. My GPS directed me into Mills Park from the west entrance but I was unable to get all the way through the park to east side where the memorial was so I had to backtrack out of the park, get back on William St. and enter from the east. I rode through the parking lot and saw a large display that I assumed was the memorial. When I got there, I realized that while it was a display memorializing firemen, and while a lot of firemen were killed when the towers collapsed, it wasn’t what I was looking for. I looked around me to the front, right, left but couldn’t find the piece of I-Beam.
I made a decision I was okay with in the end, but at the time, I was very angry with myself. I decided to ride on, scrap the TOH site ride plan, visit the Ironbutt Memorial and use it as a turnaround point, skip the Imlay site, still go to the Fallon site, and continue south, more or less still on plan but with about 115 miles less than my original ride.
In checking later, I realized that had I looked behind me, I would have seen the I-Beam. I rode right past it looking to the left at the firefighter site, instead of to the right where I passed it from about forty feet away.
I exited Mills Park and rode to a gas station to use the restroom before travelling north to Reno, then northeast to Gerlach. I have a rule that I won’t use a business’ restroom without conducting some kind of business so I bought a 5-Hour Energy in case I’d need it later in the day. I was good now, and after severely restricting myself from caffeine after the Summer Solstice ride, hoped I wouldn’t get tired enough that I’d need it later.
Dark clouds in the sky in the direction I was going meant I might be getting wet in Reno, but other than a few showers, I avoided any real rain. I did ride on wet freeway surfaces a number of times, though.
I exited Interstate 80 at Wadsworth and began the two-lane trek north to Gerlach, NV, site of the Ironbutt Memorial and, less importantly, a quaint get together known as Burning Man. Highway 447 travels north, to the east of Pyramid Lake, and, at least on Friday, September 22, was almost devoid of travelers. I moved at a good pace north but a newer, blue F150 truck caught up to me a few miles out of Wadsworth. I thought he might be a tribal police vehicle and slowed down. He eventually turned onto a secondary road and I was completely alone for as far as I could see.
Highway 447 undulated in a wave pattern, falling below the desert surface, then rising above it for a short time. As I reached the peak of one of the waves, I saw traffic ahead a few rises away. It was a newer Dodge pickup pulling a modular trailer – a temporary classroom or office workspace. I dropped down into the next depression and when I reached the peak, the truck was not in sight. I went down again, and when I rose, the truck was stopping on the far-right side of the road, the trailer on its side, its contents scattered all over the road in front of me.
I grabbed my brakes and down shifted in order to come to a quick stop. Both passengers in the truck were just getting out of the cab and each had a “what-the-hell just happened” look on his face. The trailer appeared to have swerved, entered the shoulder to the right, swerved back again, spreading gravel and dirt across the highway, tipping on its side when it became unattached from the tow vehicle. Papers, furniture, ceiling tiles and fluorescent lights were thrown from the trailer when the walls broke away from the ceiling.
I flipped up my shield and asked the man, I presume a Paiute-member based on his appearance, if he was okay. He nodded a “yes.”
“Do you need me to call anyone for you?”
“No,” he said. “We’ve got a phone.”
“Need anything else?”
“No. We’re okay.”
I continued on. It wasn’t until I was typing this post that I realized how lucky I was. Had I not slowed down for the blue truck, or had I not taken as long at any of my earlier stops, I might have just come over a rise and been hit by an out-of-control modular building. Yikes.
I continued on for almost an hour without seeing another vehicle in either direction. I was, truly, in the middle of nowhere.
While my ride plan had me stopping in Gerlach for fuel before the Ironbutt Memorial, I decided on the fly to visit the memorial first. I didn’t need fuel. I was getting hungry. I had to pee. I needed more Advil.
I rode only a couple of miles outside of town before the turnoff at Guru Road. The memorial is uphill slightly, overlooking the Playa, on a quarter mile long dirt road with a few whoops but nothing too difficult for an oversized dirt bike like the Goldwing. I tried to determine if it would be best to put the bike on the center stand or not. The soft dirt made the decision for me. I fished around for a flat rock to put the side stand foot onto so that I could get into the top box for the larger stand base. Had I tried to use the center stand, it would have dug in and been very difficult to get out.
It was surreal actually seeing the site for the first time.
The pictures I had seen of the memorial made it seem to be on flat ground. In reality, it is angled into the base of the mountains to the west and overlooks the lakebed to the east. There were more names in the ring of honor than I remembered and I recognized some of the names that I didn’t know were there. In spite of what one would think, as the IBA is a motorcycle organization, most of the folks memorialized there did not die as a result of a traffic accident. Like the general population of riders and non-riders, most succumbed to illness of some type.
I ate my lunch at the table. It was quiet; a few puffs of breeze scraped across the ground around me. A truck or two passed by on the road below. The cloud cover kept the sun at bay and the cool air worked its way into my jacket sleeves and around my torso.
I picked up my trash and lay down flat on the table, not to simulate sleep, the metaphorical reason it’s there, but to attempt to get my middle and upper back to crack. I got a few minor pops, felt a bit of relief, and walked back down to the Goldwing.
I straddled the seat and carefully arranged the bike to face downhill and motored back over the whoops to Hwy 34. I looked over my left shoulder for traffic and felt a pull in the right, middle area of my back. The Advil was doing a good job of keeping my back pain at bay, but not completely winning the battle.
I almost immediately entered Gerlach and stopped at the Shell Station for fuel. An RV was just finishing up when I pulled in. I tuned off the engine and walked the Goldwing up to the pump. A kid, towhead blond, about 4 or 5, came walking out of the garage area of the station with a finger on his right hand sticking out in front of him.
He said something to me but I couldn’t hear what it was. I did what I did when that happened. I flipped up my shield, smiled and gave the kid a “thumbs up.” He repeated the same thing again and this time pushed his outstretched finger closer to me.
This time I heard the word “spider” and looked closer at his finger. Stuck to it was a piece of web and a dead spider swaying back and forth as he moved. He took a step closer after I put the bike on the center stand.
“Good looking spider,” I said.
“What’s that,” the kid asked? He pointed to my beaded seat cover.
“That’s so my butt doesn’t get sore.”
He reached out and touched the beads closest to him. He rolled one over and over.
“What’s that?” He pointed to my GPS.
“That’s my map so I don’t get lost.”
His Dad walked out of the shop and told him to get back in the shop and leave me alone.
“He’s fine,” I said.
30 seconds later the kid returned. He was playing with a bead again.
I had finished fueling the auxiliary tank and was about to begin on the main tank when another vehicle pulled up to the other side of the pumps.
One of the men, they were both hunters, got out of the truck they were in and walked around to my side of the pump. I acknowledged him with a tip of the helmet. He walked into the office area of the Shell station.
When I finished filling the main tank I asked the kid, “Do you want to sit on the seat?”
“No,” he nodded, but didn’t seem committed to his answer. His Dad came out and stood behind the Goldwing.
I got my receipt, logged the miles, and took a picture of it next to my odometer.
I asked the kid how high he could reach and motioned upwards with both my arms. He reached up as high as he could stretch and I picked him up and placed him on the seat.
He sat there for a second not knowing what to do. His Dad smiled. He rocked his legs forwards and backwards and reached out towards the bars but came up over a foot short of both the bars and the pegs.
After 15 seconds or so, he got a shocked look on his face and looked down as if he was trying to get down off the bike.
“I forgot,” he said. “I’m not supposed to talk to people I don’t know.”
“You’re okay, buddy. I’m here.” He turned around and saw his Dad.
One of the hunters walked around to the back of the bike and said, “Cool. Long ride.” My license plate is LNG RDE.
He asked about the tank and why I needed it. He wanted to know how far I could go without refueling. I told him I could go as far as 500 miles if I always travel the speed limit, but at the speeds I usually maintain, the range is closer to 400.
I told him that I had left Los Angeles a little before 0400 and I was heading back. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know how you can sit on a bike that long.”
“It’s something you get used to over time. You have to stop and take a piss. You stretch at every fuel stop. I’ve got a really comfortable seat and move my legs around a lot.”
“I couldn’t do it,” he said.
As an aside, the seat seems to be a good bonding agent for people that approach me at stops. With the way I dress, and being well over six feet tall, I stand out. A lot of people may feel intimidated when my shield is down and they can’t see my eyes. The tank, the Clearwater lights, the beaded Russell seat are all conversation starters for people that don’t know much about motorcycles.
I’ve offered my seat to a lot of people at these kinds of stops. With the bike on the center stand it’s stable enough that it’s not going to tip over if someone climbs aboard. Some decline, but a lot have tried it out. Kids, even though like this kid they can’t reach the bars or pegs, love it. Young adults with some type of developmental disability really get excited about it.
At one stop, a family with a male teenager walked over while I was taking a few bites of my sandwich. Their son’s body language and stare indicated that he was likely autistic. His parents explained that he saw the bike and wanted to take a look. I introduced myself and asked if they had any questions. The teenager touched the well-worn grips and began pushing buttons. He saw the quarter-turn valve for the fuel tank and touched it. I didn’t interfere.
His parents asked where I was coming from and going to and I found out they lived in Orange County, too. After talking a while, I asked if he’d like to have a seat and get a picture. He needed assistance figuring out how to straddle a leg over the Goldwing but I showed him where to place his left foot and gave him my hand to steady himself. I didn’t think anything of it, but he reached out to me and swung over and onto the seat. His hands grabbed the grips and feet fell naturally to the pegs. I walked around back, out of the picture frame, to let them take a cell phone camera picture. His Mom told me to get back in the picture and so he and I took a picture together in a gas station near the coast of Central California. We both smiled and got a picture.
His parents thanked me and explained that he didn’t like being touched by most people. When I reached out to help him, they expected a problem. When it didn’t happen, they were pleased. The seat allows these types of interactions to occur. I’m happy to share it.
I rode south out of Gerlach. My ride would divert east on Interstate 80 for a little while in order for me to ride another section of highway 95, that I haven’t ridden, south to Fallon rather than taking the more direct alt-95 route. The ride between Gerlach and Wadsworth was uneventful. Traffic was light until I reached Pyramid Lake but only increased a little when the road ran closest to the lake. The water level appeared low in spite of the wet winter we had.
Wadsworth came and went and I managed to get off the reservation without receiving a speeding ticket in some of its ridiculously slow 15 and 25 mph zones.
Interstate 80 seemed like rush hour in LA compared to the 447. The speed limit was 80 mph and many, many cars were going 90 or more. I set the cruise control at 82 and motored leisurely in the right lane, only moving out of my lane long enough to pass trucks. The twenty minutes or so I spent on the interstate went by very quickly.
I exited at the northern junction of highway 95 and turned to the south. I passed a caravan of volleyball players in two vans from Wisconsin and made good time to Fallon. I splashed some fuel in the tank to gather a receipt in Fallon to prove I was there, took a quick piss, and got back on the road.
A Churchill County Sheriff patrol car followed me to the edge of town and then turned around. 70 miles of open desert and farm land was the only thing between me and the next city I’d run into – Hawthorne, my turnaround point on a Saddlesore ride earlier this year.
A Subaru BRZ was keeping a fast pace ahead of me and while I probably didn’t need it, he made a good rabbit. When the road was open he’d speed up to 90 or 100. I’d catch him if he was held up by slow traffic that he couldn’t pass but eventually he’d get around the traffic, with me right behind him, and he would pull away again, creating a nice buffer between myself and the radar-equipped troopers ahead.
The further south I rode the colder the air got. I rode through a few minor rain showers. The mountains to the southwest of Hawthorne looked threatening and I knew that if I went up in elevation at all I’d probably be in snow. I had to decide whether to continue to the south-east on the 95 outside of Hawthorne until I met up with the 6 at Coaldale or ride my plan and cut between Hawthorne and Mono Lake on highways 359/167 (359 in Nevada, switching to 167 at the California border). Google maps had said that the 95 to the 6 was the shorter route but I really wanted to ride the 359/167 rode even though it would be the colder of the two routes.
I rolled through Hathorne and lost the BRZ. He continued to the east, I cut to the west. The ride was worth it. I was able to maintain a fast pace and saw a total of three cars in either direction on the 60 miles between Hawthorne and Mono Lake. It was cold again. The temperatures dropped into the upper 30s. My grip heaters were cooking.
I turned to the south at the 395 and slowed through Lee Vining. An Alaska airlines DH4 was landing at the Mammoth Lakes airport as I passed. His landing lights were by far the brightest things in the area and it was cool to watch him descend as I approached. We intersected at the mid-field point as he was slowing to a stop.
I planned for my last stop to be at Bishop but was getting good fuel mileage and was feeling good so I decided to push it a little further to Big Pine, now completely in the dark. I re-fueled, ate, used the bathroom, and walked past the coffee machine. Back at the bike I decided that a coffee sounded good. I didn’t feel I needed it, but a hot cup sounded really good, so I went back in and bought one, set it on the auxiliary tank and almost immediately knocked it to the ground, spilling it on the gas station concrete pad. So much for hot coffee. So much for caffeine. I had the five-hour energy buried in the top box if I really wanted it.
I headed south, every mile carrying me closer to home. The GPS projected I’d be home about midnight.
As much enthusiasm as I have for highway 395 in the morning and during the day, it’s not any fun at night. It is absolutely dark and other than lane reflectors, it’s tough to know anything else about the surroundings. When I could, I’d switch on the Clearwaters. They would illuminate the road and shoulder like it was day. Problem was, though, as soon as I had oncoming traffic or I was overtaking another car, I’d have to turn them off. Then it was like riding into a cave and it was very easy to outride the low beams.
I hit some type of roadkill in the middle of my lane after having hardly any time to avoid it as it came from out of the dark. Either a small coyote or really big rabbit, I bounced directly over the top of it. It forced me to slow my pace.
It made for a long leg and by the time I reached Mohave, I was getting tired. I did everything I could think of to stay awake and alert. I was yelling/singing in my helmet, opening and closing my face plate, dangling my legs and exercising my core, and doing push-ups off the bars.
The busier LA traffic forced me to move around from lane to lane and I was happy when I entered the 405 – my last freeway change before the end of the ride. Less than an hour later I was exiting at Westminster Blvd. and checking off the clock at the same station I used to start the ride.
I put $1.00 worth of fuel in the tank and printed the receipt. It read 2336 – exactly twenty hours to the minute.
I’d finished the last of my four seasons rides. Nine months ago, when I rode the first one – to Tucson and back – I didn’t think the next three would go off without some type of difficulty. The previous three had been certified and this ride looked good. All of my documentation looked good and I couldn’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t get this one certified.
The four-seasons Saddlesore is not a particularly tough series of rides. I’ve gotten 1000 miles down to about 16 hours without much difficulty. The problem is, they can only be performed on one specific day each quarter. Weather poor? Too bad, ride it or try it again next year. Bike problems? Too bad, get it fixed, and try it again next year. Too sick to ride? Too bad, ride it, or wait until you get well. And try it again next year.
The biggest wildcard in earning a four-seasons certification is luck.
It did, though, force me to plan multiple rides to divert me away from weather, if necessary. Rain to the north? Head east. Hot in the desert? Go up the coast. I also had to take better care of myself to try to prevent illness that might be bad enough to cause me to cancel a ride. The bike had to be perfect so I couldn’t overlook anything.
Even though it doesn’t have to be, I was determined to execute it in four consecutive celestial events, not one this year, two next and a final one the year after that. It seemed purer this way.
So, I prepped my paperwork and submitted everything for review. A few days later I received an e-mail from the man himself, Mike Kneebone, IBA President, letting me know that my ride had been certified. A few days ago, I received my certification
What’s next? Bun Burner Golds. A bunch of them. I also think a two-day ride from San Diego to Jacksonville sounds good. Maybe another couple of days back.