Beginning to End – Highway 78, a Google Earth story


Note: I am a decent photographer. I am a decent rider. I am terrible at stopping to take pictures while on a ride. As I wrote this post, I realized it was going to end up long and that pictures would definitely add something. Because I didn’t take even a single picture, I decided to use screenshots exclusively from Google Earth. Cheating, I know. Try to enjoy anyway.

A few years ago I rode the Ortega Highway from Palm Springs to San Juan Capistrano. I didn’t know it at the time, but when planning later rides I realized that I rode Highway 74 over its entire length.

The concept of riding a road from beginning to end is, I think, pretty cool. I like to know that I covered every mile available on a finite stretch of road. I wonder how many people have travelled the 10 freeway from beginning to end, or the 40, or the Northern Highway 2. I have looked and begun planning a number of rides that will start and end at the highway terminus.

Highway 78 spans about 220 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Oceanside to its end at the 10 freeway just west of Blythe, at the border of California and Arizona. The stretch between Oceanside and Escondido is a boring 4 lane freeway typical of many in Southern California. From Escondido it shrinks to two lanes and stays so for most of the remainder of the trip. It winds through the mountains to Julian and then straightens as it passes through arid Ocotillo Wells. Near the Salton Sea it briefly joins Highway 86 and picks up another lane in each direction. East of the Salton Sea 78 continues with two lanes and winds through agricultural areas, the Glamis Dunes, more rocky desert, and finally more green agriculture afforded by the close proximity to the Colorado River.


I spent four years between the ages of 13 and 17 living in Oceanside, CA. It was a great place to be during that time of my life and I seem to head that direction when I go for rides without a lot of pre-planning. It’s because of this that the ride from my house in Westminster to Oceanside was very familiar. I did make one stop to adjust the shield on the Goldwing but it consisted mainly of cruise-controlled speed at a constant rate through San Clemente, Camp Pendleton and finally Oceanside.

Just before the Oceanside/Carlsbad border, I exited the 5 freeway. The changeover has two dedicated lanes for the 78 so I transitioned onto the 78 without a stop. This part of the ride was the one I least looked forward to as the four lane section of road between Oceanside and Escondido has the potential to back up for no reason even at odd hours. Fortunately, traffic was light. I only spent a short time riding before the four lanes ended in downtown Escondido.

Highway 78 works through Escondido but only after making several 90 degree turns at sparsely marked intersections. I checked my progress against my GPS to be sure but found I was where I intended to be. A truck with garden nursery markings skidded to a stop next to me at a traffic light. I intended to be the first off the line but was concerned that he might be in such a hurry that he would drive dangerously behind me just because I was there.

I lazily pulled away from the light while the nursery truck sped away. I was right. He was driving way too fast for a company truck and even though my lazy pace was probably faster, I didn’t want to chance being rear ended by him when he overshot a corner. I stayed safely behind him.

A few miles later, we came to a red signal light with two lanes proceeding straight ahead. In the left lane was a Corvette. I chose the right lane for the same reason as before. The Corvette, though, had no intentions of going fast. When I pulled away from the intersection he held up the nursery truck and 100 yards up Highway 78 two lanes merged into one.

I had a blocker behind me and no traffic in front of me so I picked up the pace and enjoyed the curves by myself all the way to Ramona. I encountered no other traffic going in my direction and only a few coming down the hill. I never saw the Corvette or nursery truck again. I assume they both turned off somewhere.

My experience with the town of Ramona was limited to football games. The way the schedule worked, I only played one game in Ramona. The other two were played at home. El Camino played freshman games at El Camino but at the time all of the varsity games were played at Oceanside High School. The single game at Ramona is memorable because just as halftime ended I was stung by a bee in the throat. I’m not allergic to bees so it wasn’t life threatening but we started on defense and I was playing defensive tackle. On the third play from scrimmage I was involved in the tackle, felt light-headed, and then the lights just went out.

I remember falling but don’t remember hitting the ground. A coach told me later that the bee was still attached to me, stinger still in my throat just below the Adam’s apple, its lower body pulsing. My shoulder pads had trapped it so it couldn’t escape.

I woke up quickly and was carried off the field. I found out later that one of the first things they did when checking me out was loosen my pants so when I was helped off the field my pants were around my knees.

Ramona, at least at the time, did not have a strong football program. Every game El Camino played against them in the early 80s ended up in a blowout. Many games were shutouts. I always felt sorry for them. They belonged in a league with other small schools and had to endure losing seasons year after year.

This time, though, Ramona was just a small town I passed through. A few cars going each direction were on 78. One was a County Sheriff patrol car that looked me over but must have deemed me safe, because he didn’t even follow me out of town.

The ride to Julian was similar to the Ortega Highway – fun to ride at a quick pace with an occasional peg scrape, but much slower than an actual sport bike would ride it.


The further up the hill I got, the less farming and agriculture I saw. Julian is known for its apple pies and, I supposed, locally grown apples. I saw stands and pie stores but no orchards. Highway 78 very quickly transits through Julian and in just a few minutes I was back in the forest on curvy roads.


I knew that the backside of the Palomar Mountains would very rapidly turn to desert but it actually happened even faster than I thought it would. I hadn’t descended the mountain for more than a few minutes when the color changed from green to brown and grey. I no longer rode into and out of shade created by the overhanging trees. The landscape consisted only of rock and sand formations.

Small sections of Highway 78 after the Banner Grade appeared to be carved out of rock formations. The walls are obviously cut away to allow for the road to be graded, but instead of being cut in a relatively straight line, the cutaway section curved left and right for a few miles. On the map they appear to follow a natural creek path.


Shortly after Sentenac Canyon the road becomes even less travelled, mostly straight, and the surroundings are very desolate. At one point, for several miles, I had to make almost no steering corrections. Gentle nudges on the tank sides with my knees were all that was required to keep the Goldwing on the road.


Signs designating camping and legal off-road riding areas popped up occasionally. In one of the straighter sections I passed a parked Border Patrol vehicle that was partially hidden behind a dilapidated structure. I was doing 75-80 mph at the time. He didn’t appear interested in me at all but I slowed down just in case he was to let someone know I’d be coming towards them. I made an effort to keep count of the number of vehicles I’d seen per mile and estimated that the Border Patrol vehicle saw less than 20 cars in the hour surrounding the time that I passed by him. I’d have another brief, casual encounter with the Border Patrol later.

I ran into Highway 86 at the Salton Sea and turned right onto the four lane road that was made up of the concurrently run Highways 78 and 86. Westmorland was the next town I’d run through and I decided to take a break.

When I put this ride plan together nearly a year ago, I planned to stop for fuel at the Shell Station as I entered Westmorland. My main tank was down to ¼ full, and while my auxiliary fuel tank meant I didn’t need fuel yet, I did have to pee.


The Shell Station is the first store and fuel stop that drivers encounter when they drive into Westmorland and, therefore, is very busy. The gas islands were constantly dispensing fuel and people were shuffling into and out of the store. It took a few minutes for the bathroom to empty. I exited the bathroom with plans of getting right back on the road but I was getting hungry and I feel guilty any time I use a business’ restroom without conducting some kind of business there.

The refrigerator had fresh looking apples so I grabbed one with the thought that a $1 apple was worth a one-minute pee. When I turned around to pay for the apple I saw the hot box. Most convenient stores have a hot box with hours old hot dogs or sausages rotating on the roller grille. This Shell Station had handmade burritos wrapped in foil.

A proper burrito can’t be eaten right after assembly – to do so ruins the concept of a meal wrapped in a flat, flour-based, mostly-sealed, container. The ingredients have to have a chance to flow together, mix and congeal before eating. This takes time. An hour or more in a hot box is ideal. Anything less is Taco Bell.

I proudly grabbed the one up front with “Pollo” written on the foil with a black Sharpie. I knew that freshness protocol demanded that the newest burritos would be placed to the rear. I wanted the oldest.

I had left my gloves back on the Goldwing and nearly burned the palms of my hands trying to hold the burrito, but at the same time, keep the apple cool. I paid and walked out to the bike. A gold Buick that I had passed when I turned onto the 86/78 section was parking next to my bike. A man, probably in his late 70s, exited the driver’s side while another man, probably his twin brother, got out of the right front door, walked to the trunk, pulled out a walker and walked it to the passenger in the back seat – a woman, probably 120 years old. The brother got a wheelchair and wheeled it to the walker. The woman used the walker to support herself so that she could shift her weight over and plunge into the wheelchair. The efficiency in movement was impressive. They had obviously done this before. None of the three spoke. Just before all three entered the store, the men signed something to each other. The other agreed with a head nod.

I had just finished the apple when the three came out of the store. The other brother was pushing this time but all three were still silent. I began to eat the burrito – it was still about the temperature of the sun – and caught the eye of the driver just before he closed his door. He smiled, pointed to the Goldwing and gave me a thumbs-up. I spoke to several hearing people throughout the day. My quick conversation with him was the best one.

The burrito was awesome.

I thought later about what a poor choice I’d made. At the furthest point I’d be about 350 miles from home. I could have gotten home really late and have to use the excuse that I was forced to make regular breaks on the side of the 40 freeway with the Goldwing shielding my bare ass as I abandoned portions of the burrito. Fortunately, at least at the Shell Station in Westmorland, CA, food preparation hygiene is important in the Imperial Valley.

I mounted the bike and continued through Westmorland. The 78 broke away from the 86 to the left and shrunk back to two lanes. For several miles I drive through large, corporate farm fields. I regularly encountered large semi-trucks and trailers. The trailers loaded tall with hay produced a large powerful wake that pushed the Goldwing to the right shoulder every time I crossed paths with one. Some trucks appeared as large but produced almost no side wake. Weird thing, aerodynamics. Car traffic was almost non-existent. I was the only person heading east as far as I could see in front and behind me.

I had opened the auxiliary fuel tank valve to gravity-feed gasoline into the main tank but after several miles, the fuel gauge did not indicate that the fuel level in the main tank had risen at all. The level didn’t drop, either, though, so I kept heading east. I believed in my Quicktank.

The farms ended fairly abruptly with a last water canal that formed a geographic, as well as topographic, border. Once beyond, there was nothing but brown desert again. Signage increased for the Imperial Valley Dunes Recreational Area. A long stretch of razor straight road led into the actual dune areas. Some of the dunes within sight of the road were several stories tall but tiny in comparison to some I’ve seen to the south. The width of the Glamis dune area off Highway 78 is only about five miles. It took only a few minutes to cross.


The road curved and dipped east of Glamis. I approached the intersection at S34 and had a moment every rider dreads. I was coming up a slight hill at 55 mph and saw, via my GPS display, that an intersection was ahead so I released the throttle to coast. When I had almost reached the intersection I saw the top of a white truck in the left turn lane. I could see the truck but wasn’t sure if the truck saw me because I could only see the top half, not the entire cab. I worried that the driver would make his turn into my path. I started looking for escape routes. Neither the left or right was perfect but if I had to, I was going left. The driver was looking to his left, not at me. I applied brakes as hard as I could without skidding. At the last second, the driver made eye contact with me. I could see the nose of his truck dip as he braked to a stop and waited for me to go through the intersection.


I tipped my helmet and waved to him as we crossed paths. I noticed another car approaching from the right on S34 and was glad I decided to go left if I had to. He would have complicated things.

A few miles later I came upon an isolated Border Patrol Station. It is designed to only stop traffic travelling towards Blythe. I slowed and worked my way under the shade cover. Two agents and a German Shepherd dog waited for me. I stopped and waved.


I had earplugs in and hoped I would be able to hear them well enough that I would not have to remove my helmet and take the plugs out.

“Good afternoon, Sir. How are you today?”

“Good,” I yelled. Hopefully it was just loud enough that they could hear me but not so loud that I would deserve secondary inspection and get to meet Fido.

“Sir, are you citizen of the United States?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Sir, would you take off your glasses?” I was wearing a pair of dark Oakley sunglasses. I pulled them away from my face and looked at him. My pale skin and hazel eyes confirmed my non-accented English.

“Thank you, sir. Have a nice day.”

“Thank you,” I said.

I released the clutch lever, waved, and continued on. They looked disinterested. I was just some oddball out in the middle of nowhere wearing hi-viz orange on an expensive touring motorcycle.

More desert. More undulations. A few turns. The scenery began to turn green again and I could see on my GPS that I was near the Colorado River. The road went through the middle of Palo Verde and Ripley – both small towns. They must be ungodly hot in the summer. They were comfortable in mid-October. Blythe wasn’t very far away. Highway 78 would end with the overpass at the 10 freeway.

Four ninety-degree turns following agricultural canals in the farms west of Blythe marked the only real turns for miles. Each was marked at 15mph and all had signs of drivers who went in a little too hot, got on the brakes too late and ended up in a canal or field. I didn’t speed through them.

Highway 78 begins without fanfare in a neighborhood in Oceanside. It ends equally as bland at the 10 freeway a few miles west of Blythe. A simple, small sign reads “78 End.”


So, I found myself in Blythe in the mid-afternoon of a mid-month Monday. Trucks were travelling on the 10 freeway in both directions. The decision I had to make was to either head west on the 10 and run into rush hour traffic once I reached the Riverside/San Bernardino area or go east for a few miles and exit at Intake Boulevard and use the 95 north to pick up the 40 west at Needles. The 10 freeway was the shorter route but I figured I would crawl through the Inland Empire. I estimated I’d make it home about 8pm, maybe a little earlier if traffic was lighter than usual. The long way, to the north, would give me a chance to ride another 100 miles of two lane, then almost 300 miles of Interstate and would put me home before 10pm. The choice was easy.

I exited Intake Boulevard, fueled up, and took a pit stop at the Mobil station near the freeway exit. My Quicktank still had 2 to 3 gallons remaining. I refilled both tanks, drank a bottle of water, emptied my bladder and got back on the road.

Highway 95 is another road I’d like to ride from beginning to end at some point in the future. Its entire length – from the US border town of San Luis, AZ to the British Columbia, Canada, city of Golden – is over 1700 miles and consists of primarily two lane roads. Today I’d only be covering about 6% of the total length.

Highway 95 provided a very quick escape out of Blythe. Within a few minutes I went from small town to farm fields to desert landscape. Several times the 95 comes close to the Colorado River and when it does, all plant life is greener. Several signs advertised vacation spots on the river. In many cases it appeared that construction had begun and then was abandoned or completed, used for a while, and then left to rot.

The road condition was good and I was able to make good time, near Interstate speed. I passed a number of cars and trucks when the lane stripes indicated it okay to do so. I was passed by a few. I recognized the intersection at Highway 62. I had crossed the 95 while going east on 62 a few years ago on a trip to the Phoenix area. A ride report can be seen here:

The 95/62 intersection has little commerce – remnants of a long closed gas station, a sign for a café that is completely gone, an Agricultural Inspection Station for the State of California, a still open gas station, and a more recently closed restaurant with a For Sale sign in the window. 100 yards further, the desert takes over again.

Long, straight sections of the 95 vary from small hills to huge open washes that the road surface bisects. To mark the ending of one long straight, stretch of highway, the blacktop curves to the right and then back to the left to go through and around a section of rock formations. They seem to mark the end of the previous wash and the beginning of a different type of topography. For several miles the road ripples along, allowing the trip to feel like an early wooden rollercoaster. Small foothills pop up everywhere. They are a sharp contrast to the low flat area only a few miles away.


Highway 95 was the highlight of the trip. I didn’t see a single Highway Patrol vehicle on the road the entire 100 miles. I was able to maintain a speed, while above the suggested limit, that did not exceed good sense. The amount of curves, waves, straight sections and changing sceneries kept the ride interesting. Very little traffic meant very little turbulence to ride through making the ride smooth, quiet and relaxing.


I was reminded that I was in the middle of nowhere by having to dodge two coyote carcasses that both had been hit shortly before I got there. Both were in the middle of my lane and both forced me to divert to the right or left to avoid them. Both times I was glad they didn’t have the opportunity to dart in front of me while still alive.

I saw glimpses of the Colorado River again as I approached the town of Needles. I also saw the 40 freeway to the east even though I had several miles to go before I would transition onto its surface.

Needles Airport is smaller than I anticipated. The prevailing winds justify two runways set 90 degrees apart. The runway surface is paved. The terminal building, ramp and hangers are small but appear modern.

Needles is one of the lucky towns. When Interstate 40 was built and cut off many smaller towns from receiving east-west desert traffic, Needles kept traffic from both the 40 and Route 66. For a short time before entering the town proper, Highway 95 is part of Historic Route 66. My kicks on Route 66 ended after ½ mile when I exited Highway 95 and started west on Interstate 40.

Halfway between Blythe and Needles I opened the valve on my auxiliary tank when ¾ of capacity was left in the main tank. I had put some thought into my experience earlier when I waited until the fuel level in my main tank was very low before switching over. I thought if I opened the valve earlier in the process, while the fuel pickup was still covered by several inches of fuel, I would be able to allow the fuel pump to pull fuel from the Quicktank until it was dry. If gravity was stronger than the pressure in the tank and began raising the fuel level too high, I could always turn off the valve and wait for the fuel level to get lower before opening the valve again.

The fuel level in the main tank remained exactly at ¾ full all the way to Needles and remained there until just before reaching Barstow.

I really like travelling on Interstate 40. Although it runs just to the south of Interstate 15, it is a completely different experience. The drivers racing to and from Las Vegas on the 15 are non-existent on the 40. I haven’t ever travelled on the 40 during a holiday weekend rush when people are coming from and going to Laughlin and the Colorado River and I would guess that those days can be difficult. In my experience, the 40 presents more truck traffic that is moving at the same speed. For the most part, truck drivers are professionals who know that maintaining their Commercial Driver’s License is necessary to maintain a livelihood.


I was able to set the cruise control at 75 mph in Needles and didn’t turn it off until I reached Barstow. The desert between the Arizona border and the Interstate 40 terminus at the 15 is beautiful. The elevation varies along with the terrain. The tones of desert brown vary from light tan to an almost-black chocolate brown. Some areas are heavy with vegetation while other are filled with consistent, smooth, wind-blown sand.

I rode into the sun and fought glare for the hour before the sun set, but as I neared Barstow and the sun was setting, everything cleared. Traffic was light and I maintained a good speed. The fuel gauge, which had been frozen since the halfway point between Blythe and Needles, began to settle downward. When I stopped in Barstow for some dinner I had just over ½ tank full.

My ear plugs had dulled the sounds around me for the past three hours so when I arrived at Chipotle and removed them, it felt like waking from a dream. Behind me two young women were exiting a filthy compact SUV with North Dakota plates and talking to each other about a third woman who was not there. A truck driver exiting the 15 freeway used his engine brake to slow down before turning. Another couple, this time a man and woman, appeared to be arguing. I heard only the last few words before the driver’s door of their BMW closed and the loud conversation became muffled.

My legs were stiff. My back ached. I bent over and stretched my legs, back and neck before entering the restaurant. While I hadn’t noticed much bug activity to my face shield, the entire nose of my bike was covered in dead bugs. The Goldwing was clean when I had left a little after 9 o’clock in the morning.

I was really hungry and didn’t consciously choose Mexican food a second time. A Chipotle bowl just sounded good and I figured it was a slightly healthier choice than a burger. I was stared at by a number of patrons in the restaurant. A 6’3” man wearing armored gear stands out. I had two distinct ribs running the length of my head from my helmet. No amount of rubbing removed them from the top of my head.

I ate dinner quickly and got back on the road. I reused my ear plugs but one refused to seal. I dealt with quiet in the right ear and extreme wind noise in the left for a few miles before deciding to stop and refit my ear plugs. I pulled off the 15 freeway at Hodge Road. There were no street lights and the moon hadn’t risen yet. The only ambient light I had was the reflected light produced from my headlamp off of a street sign. Ahead, less than 100 feet away, a pair of eyes glowed. I turned on my high beams and saw a young fox. It was feeding on something and when my lights illuminated him more brightly, he ran into the darkness. I removed both plugs and allowed them to expand before rolling them and placing them back into my ears. I waited for them to completely seal before putting my helmet back on.

The young fox returned to its meal. It must have decided that I wasn’t enough of a threat to turn off its drive to feed. I turned back to the onramp and sped back into traffic but travelled at a conservative pace. I calculated about 120 miles to home and with my Quicktank empty and main tank at about ½ full, I decided to see if I could make it home on my remaining fuel.

Every few miles I would mentally calculate my remaining range and fuel and it wasn’t until I was down the Cajon Pass that I really thought I could make it home. I’d driven and ridden the route from the high desert to home dozens of times. Traffic was light and I didn’t have to take the Goldwing off of cruise control at all down the pass, and onto the 210 and 57 freeways. The slower speed improved my mileage just enough that I began to think I could make it. I decided that as long as the fuel light did not come on before I reached the 91 freeway, I would be good.

The light remained off, and the cruise control on, until I exited the 22 freeway at Beach Boulevard. Almost simultaneous with the brake application that turned off the cruise control for the first time since entering the freeway at Hodge Road, the low fuel light blinked once and then stayed on. I rolled into my driveway just after 9pm. The ride total was 665 miles in about 12 hours’ time – not a Bun Burner Gold pace, but not bad for a relaxed-pace tune-up ride. The ride from Blythe to home, after the second fill-up, was almost 400 miles. The Quicktank nearly doubled my fuel range and worked flawlessly.

It was a good ride. I finished with minimal soreness and was fresh for work the following morning. The Goldwing ran without a hiccup and averaged 40 miles per gallon over the length of the trip even though for most of the ride I didn’t attempt to get good mileage. The newly installed Windbender shield proved to be a great addition and the Quicktank has turned out to be everything I’d hoped. All in all, a great Monday.

Your spirit is the true shield

Before I enjoyed long rides I actually owned two bikes very suitable for all day riding.  In the early 90s I rode a BMW K100LT and then in 2009 I rode a 2006 Kawasaki C10 Concours.  I rode both of them on long rides before I knew how to do it really well.  I just needed to be someplace a long distance away and rode instead of drove. Both had oversized, non-stock shields on them, and neither of them exhibited any signs of head-shaking buffeting – an uncomfortable airflow over the bike.

It wasn’t until I flew up to San Francisco and bought and rode back a 2006 Suzuki DL1000 VStrom that I even realized firsthand what buffeting was. The DL1000 is a fantastic bike.  It has good power, stable handling and is a good blank canvas for almost any type of riding one would like to do but it takes a lot of modifying to turn it into a long distance capable bike.

What it needed more than anything else was an effective shield to manage the airflow over the rider.  The stock shield was too short to be useful but just long enough to cause air to come cascading over the top edge before curling up in a fit of turbulence.  Unfortunately, this occurs at head level for most riders.  I spent the afternoon riding from the Bay Area back to Orange County in agony.  About 60 minutes into the ride my head began throbbing from the constant beating it was taking from the confused, turbulent air slamming into my head.  In addition, the seat, when I bought it, was the stock seat.  Suzuki did not bless the VStrom line with good seats.  By the time I got to Los Angeles, my butt and head were fighting about which one would give in first.

After trying several different “sure-fire” aftermarket shields and fixes for buffeting on the VStrom, I finally found the Cal-Sci shield in extra-tall.  It was the answer I needed and I used the Cal-Sci almost exclusively until the day I sold it.  The buffeting was gone and the ride became calm and relatively quiet.

The VStrom, while a good bike, is not the best choice for a long distance bike.  Mine, as good as I could make it, was still light enough that it was blown across lanes in strong crosswinds.  Fuel range was only adequate.  The tank was relatively large, at 5.8 gallons, but I rarely got more than 180 miles before the low fuel light illuminated.  Lean fuel mapping caused the bike to run poorly unless a tuner was used to properly enrich the lean spots, but while that improved the way the bike ran, it also limited range.


Loaded with equipment and with a Russell seat my Strom saw me through my first documented Ironbutt ride.


Lightened up, it was a respectable sport bike for a slow, middle-aged rider like me.

Back to shields…..The VStrom taught me that with my height and long torso, I required a tall shield in order to get smooth airflow.  For the year that I owned my Kawasaki 1700 Voyager, I ran an extra tall 7JURock shield and was pleased with the comfort it afforded me.  Air management on the Voyager was very good.  I’ll save the rest for another entry.

I had hopes that my Goldwing would be perfect for me right out of the crate but I also knew that wasn’t likely to be the case.  On delivery, I was handed the keys to the bike with the shield in the lowest position.  I wore a Shoei RF1000 helmet that I’d had for several years and was the benchmark in my mind, for how quiet helmets should be.  The airflow off the shield was smooth but the ride was loud – louder than any of the bikes I mentioned above.  I hadn’t started wearing earplugs yet, either, so my first impression of the Goldwing was that it was a nice bike with poorly positioned handlebars and a really loud ride.

After I got home I raised the shield and went for another ride.  In the highest position the ride was much quieter but I felt buffeting about equal to the VStrom before the Cal-Sci shield was installed.  I was disappointed in my new Goldwing and I hadn’t even made the first payment.

Research indicated that I had even more choices in shields for the Goldwing than I had to choose from for the VStrom.  Some people swore by the Tulsa X-Tall shield, others the F4, still others the Windbender, and some swore by the V-Stream.  I determined that a shield would be my first purchase for the Goldwing, followed by having a Russell seat built for me.

I over-researched the shields mentioned above and found myself completely confused.  Following the formula for success that I’d had after several failures with the VStrom, I bought the biggest, tallest shield available for me – the F4+4.  It is a monster of a shield – four inches taller and two inches wider than stock.  It offers a hardened surface that is very difficult to scratch and can be cleaned with almost anything short of sandpaper.  The optics are very clear and it offers excellent airflow over the rider and very complete wind protection.  The model I ordered had the stock style vent in place to allow some air to the rider and to partially fill the area of negative pressure behind the shield that causes buffeting in the first place.  It is a very expensive, very high quality shield that is not adjustable up and down.


The F4+4 – not my bike, but this shows how big the F4 Customs shield is.

I ran the F4+4 for almost two years and was very satisfied with it unless the weather was hot.  Above 80 degrees ambient resulted in a hot, stuffy ride behind the big shield.  I thought it was the price I’d have to pay to have a smooth, quiet ride.

Shortly after I bought my new shield, I decided to address the fact that the stock bars on the Goldwing were too low, short, and too far back to be comfortable for me.  I would experience middle back and shoulder pain after only 45 minutes on the bike.  The answer seemed to be a set of bar risers or Heli-bars.  Heli-bars are a work of art.  They are adjustable over three different planes and should be able to offer anyone comfortable control placement.  I installed mine over the course of a Saturday morning and found the perfect, most comfortable position possible.  My bars were now taller, straighter and further away from me.

Unfortunately, at near full lock, the bars contacted the side edges of the shield.  On the right side, enough contact was made that it put significant pressure on the brake lever.  A sharp left turn at parking lot speeds would result in unintended brake activation and probably put the bike on the ground.  An adjustment to the bars was made to prevent bar contact but that put the bars in a position too low, too far back and too swept back to be as comfortable as I wanted.

I rode the bike that way for almost two years and eventually forgot about the bar setting I wanted.  The F4+4 continued to offer good, relatively quiet wind protection.  Clean up was very easy.  Rain protection was pretty good.  In hot weather, though, it was way too warm to sit behind.

At the beginning of summer 2015 I considered putting the stock shield back on, set it in the lowest position, and keep it there until the weather cooled down.  Instead, I spent a Sunday morning cutting a second vent opening above the existing hole and placed a spare vent assembly from another shield that was almost an identical match for the F4 vent which was almost an identical match for the stock Goldwing vent.  I felt that it would increase the amount of air making it to me which might allow for a cooler ride.

Unfortunately, I also noticed when I was in very quiet environments that I had a constant ringing in my ears.  30 years of riding without adequate ear protection had resulted in tinnitus and some minor hearing loss.  I had always thought that being behind a shield or wearing a full face helmet was enough noise protection.  I’d found out that it wasn’t.  I had concerns about ear plugs blocking the sounds around me and thought that I’d be missing out on important things like traffic or sirens and so never wore them.

On my double-vent F4+4 shield shakedown ride, I put in foam ear plugs.  I found out that I could still hear everything I needed to, including music from my in-helmet speakers.  The wind noise, however, was completely blocked.  Completely.  I didn’t realize how much less fatiguing it would be without the wind noise – even the abbreviated amount I was subjected to behind bikes with full fairings and shields.

The amount of cooling breeze that I received behind the shield was increased significantly.  Although the vent doubled the area that allowed air to my torso and face, the result felt as if it was more than twice as much.  I considered cutting down the sides of the F4+4 shield in order to make room for the Heli-bars to be used in the most comfortable position but avoid hitting the shield sides.

I also wanted to add an auxiliary fuel tank to the Goldwing. Realistically I could ride 220 miles on the stock Goldwing fuel tank which isn’t terrible, but not the range I wanted for some of the rides I’d planned.  I had added a 5 gallon tank to my Voyager 1700 and nearly doubled the fuel range.  I looked at ways that I could build a new mount to use my Voyager set-up on the Goldwing.  The only issue with doing it was that it would interfere with the opening of the top box because the Goldwing box is hinged to open forward.  The top box would only open an inch or two before making contact with the fuel tank.  The Voyager top box opened to the side so the tank could sit less than an inch away but not affect the way that it opened.

Dayle Martin at Firecreek Accessories manufactures “Quicktank” auxiliary fuel tanks for the Goldwing.  It is a low profile 4.7 gallon fuel tank constructed of stainless steel that mounts above the pillion seat yet allows for the top box to open normally.  He is also the manufacturer of the Windbender windshield.  I spoke with him about placing an order for one of his tanks and was struck by his knowledge, his enthusiasm and professionalism.  He made me give a second look to the Windbender shield.

The reason I didn’t buy a Windbender in the first place was its looks.  I was used to a one-piece shield that complements and flows with the natural lines of the fairing.  The Windbender is made from two overlapping pieces with a gap between them.  The gap, along with a flip along the top edge of the upper shield  combine to form a stream of high speed air that flows over the rider and a second slower speed stream that flows air to the face and torso of the rider.  I had heard mixed reviews of shields with a flip on the trailing edge.  I’d read many accounts of the flip actually creating more problems than it fixed by actually encouraging turbulence to the rider if the mix of shield and rider height was not ideal.


The Windbender on my bike in the high position – perfect for high speed open highway riding.  I still look several inches over the top of the shield.


In the low position – great for staying cool at speeds under 50 mph.

The ride with the Windbender is very comfortable – the flow of air that would cause turbulence and buffeting is deflected well above the helmet of the rider.  Without ear plugs, wind noise with the Windbender is higher than that of the F4+4.  With ear plugs wind noise volume is identical and the amount of air cooling the rider is better with the Windbender although only slightly better than with my F4+4 with two vents.  It’s been said that sitting behind the Windbender is like sitting on a park bench in a moderate breeze. That’s an accurate description. I’d also add that the amount and type of breeze behind the Windbender, once the optimum position for the rider is found, is similar to riding a naked bike at 30 mph.

I am tall enough that I am able to look over the top of both shields – just over the top of the F4+4 and several inches over the Windbender in the optimum setting. I can also say, that when using the Windbender on a long ride, even in my optimum position, several inches below my view line, bugs splatter onto the shield en masse. None, though, make it to my helmet shield. The airflow carries them well above and behind the helmet of the rider.

The Windbender, because it is narrower on the sides, allows me to adjust my Heli-bars exactly where I want without contact between the controls and anything else.  It took me a while to adjust the base and top shields before I found a setting that I really like.  The result was a smooth ride up to triple digit speeds.  The Windbender, because it is slightly smaller, also offers less wind resistance in all directions and has given me back a mile or two per gallon in fuel mileage and my bike is less likely to be blown around by frontal and cross winds at highway speeds.  It is the best shield for my Goldwing with me as the rider.

The look, too, has grown on me.  When I visualize my bike now it is always with the Windbender. It just looks normal to me now.

Have Fuel Will Travel

I can ride about 200 miles on my Goldwing before I start to feel discomfort.  In most cases this is about three hours.  Sometimes all I need to do is shift my toes backwards onto the passenger boards to take the weight off my tailbone and stretch my upper legs.  Other times I shift forward and place my boots on my AeroPeg highway pegs.  This seating position mimics the feet forward position that cruiser based touring bikes use.  This allows my knees to straighten up a little but is only good for me for about 10 minutes before the weight on the tailbone is too much.  Regular position shifts are the key, however, and so even when I begin to feel discomfort, I can continue to ride until something else forces me to stop.

Usually that something would be fuel.  I constructed a mounting system to add five additional gallons to the fuel capacity of my 1700 Voyager. I noticed long distance riders usually carried additional fuel on their bikes.  Before fuel injection became the standard, carbureted engines made adding additional fuel a relatively easy project.  An auxiliary fuel tank could be added above the level of the main fuel tank and a simple ¼ turn valve could be utilized to allow gravity to flow fuel to either the tank or to the carburetor feed line directly.  Carbureted bikes became super-tankers.  Some purpose built long distance machines had nearly 20 gallons of onboard fuel.

Fuel Injection made things a little more difficult because fuel needed to be moved to injectors under pressure and tanks began to be sealed tight with evaporative emissions equipment and non-vented caps.  Purge valves and charcoal canisters became the norm in an attempt to keep raw gasoline vapors from the atmosphere.  Auxiliary fuel systems had to evolve, too, and became more complicated.

Some used fuel pumps to transfer fuel to the main tank.  This allowed for a greater range of fuel tank placement since the tank didn’t have to be above the main tank level.  Most were still mounted behind the rider – over the pillion seat, in or on the top box, or on a trailer hitch platform in a tail-dragger configuration.

Not having to stop for fuel doesn’t mean not having to stop.  Bladder sizes are limited.  Dehydration while on a long ride is a danger and the constant hydration necessary to combat it comes with regular pee breaks.  Eating and drinking can be done while on the move.  Peeing can’t. I’ve found that frequent fuel stops that include bathroom breaks start to include meals and next turn in to 30+ minute stops.  LD riders can’t make good time with long stops every 200 miles.

The Voyager auxiliary fuel system was relatively simple to develop but it happened in two stages.  I wanted to mount the tank and pump above the pillion seat but at first couldn’t figure out a way to fit the tank and have a mounting structure in place that would fit in between the rider and the top box.

The first version involved removing the top box and building a bracket that would bolt to the top box mounting threads that a 5 gallon spun aluminum tank could be mounted to.  It resulted in a bike that looked like a bagger with a pony keg on it.


Fuel was pumped out of the keg tank by a Facet fuel pump controlled by a rocker switch mounted in the fairing.  The circuit was very simple because the Facet pump operates on only 2 amps or so. It included an accessory power circuit fed through a heavy duty, waterproof, lighted rocker switch.  No relay was necessary.

When the ¼ turn valve was opened and the switch activated, the pump would send fuel through a ¼” fuel injection fuel hose that led to the fuel return port on the fuel tank.  When the main tank displayed full on the gauge, the switch was turned off and the ¼ turn valve closed.  Because the fuel return port is high on the fuel tank neck, there was no back-feeding into the auxiliary tank.  If I were to do it over again, I would have chosen a Facet fuel pump with a built-in check valve.  The pump I used did not have one but the ¼ valve, when closed, acted like a check valve.

The system worked well.  I performed a few short day rides to test the system and then used it on a Bun Burner Gold (1500 miles in less than 24 hours) ride.  My fuel range increased from less than 200 miles to more than 300 miles and the system worked perfectly.  My riding partner on that ride, John Paolino, could only go about 200 to 220 miles between fill ups, so I would typically transfer my fuel and about 30 minutes later we would be stopping to refuel his FJR1300.  I would refill the keg tank and put a splash in the main tank at our fuel stops.  I think the details of that ride are located in another post.

The auxiliary tank idea worked well but on that ride I didn’t have a top box to store things that I needed regularly so I wore a back pack.  I didn’t like wearing the back pack and didn’t like the idea of having a touring bike without adequate storage so I rethought the idea of the tank in front of the top box but behind the rider.  I found that if I removed the passenger backrest padding and shifted the top box back about two inches the tank would fit and, as a bonus, act as a backrest.

I began work on a new mounting bracket that was rectangular in shape and constructed of square tubing.  The main bracket would bolt to the top box mounting platform using extra nuts below the bracket to prevent stressing of the top box mounting platform threads.  The top box would bolt on top of the new bracket two inches further back by using existing holes in the square tubing.  The fuel tank bracket would bolt to the main bracket in four places.  The only stressful part of the build was tack welding the brackets while it was bolted onto the bike.  I covered everything I could in wet towels to prevent splatter burns. I worried about burn damage and the possibility of fire but everything turned out okay.

I finish welded everything off the bike and then bolted the components together.  It fit properly and was comfortable as a backrest.  I took everything apart and sent it for powder coating.  Once it returned, I finished it off by plugging the square tube ends with plastic plugs.  All hardware was matching stainless.  The system looked good and worked well.





I put a few rides together with the fuel setup without issue.  I performed one Saddlesore 1000 (1000 miles in less than 24 hours) solo and was able to refuel at 300 miles.  Stopping only twice for fuel and a splash 100 miles from home made a big difference.

It was while riding home after abandoning a later BBG attempt that I realized that the Voyager wasn’t the bike I really wanted. The bike I should have bought was a Goldwing.  The Voyager, while pretty well sorted out for distance work, wasn’t a Goldwing.  Less than two weeks later I put the Kawasaki back to stock and traded it in on my current Goldwing.

The GL1800 is the finest touring bike ever produced.  Even though I made a few changes to make my bike mine, there is no other bike, at any price, I’d want for the kind of riding I ride.  The BMW line of touring motorcycles are fine machines and even though I could have gotten one for about the same price as my Goldwing, I didn’t want one.  I’ve ridden the Yamaha FJR1300 and even though it is a much faster, better handling bike than the GL1800, I didn’t want to spend 24 hours or more on one, even with a shield and Russell seat. The H-D touring bikes have the same limitations as the Voyager. I never could come to grips with sitting primarily in the feet forward position.

I initially thought I would build a new mounting platform to put the keg tank behind me for my new Goldwing.  While it could be done and would fit behind me, the forward hinging Goldwing top box would be prevented from opening.  I learned with the Kawasaki that having a top box was almost a necessity and didn’t want to give up the easy access to things I’d need.  My keg tank, at least over the seat behind me, wasn’t going to work.

Dayle Martin of Firecreek Accessories builds a fuel tank specifically for the GL1800.  It is very low profile, 4.7 gallons, constructed of stainless steel and tig-welded together. It bolts to the passenger grab handles and is very easy to remove or install on the bike so it doesn’t have to be on the bike at all times.  The fuel tank mounts high enough that it is advertised as gravity feed (more on that later) so no electrical additions are necessary to run a fuel pump.  The Jiffy-Tite quick connect and disconnect fittings allow for no fuel loss during transfer and no leaking when the fuel tank is not mounted to the bike.  The suggested fuel line for plumbing is #6 AN with leak-proof fittings for safety.

Plumbing the tank to the bike is easy but does have one moderately difficult step.  Dayle has instructions on his site so I won’t go into a lot of detail about how I installed it.  The fuel sender plate must be drilled in a precise location to mount the fuel feed. If not, the sender will not fit back onto the fuel tank.  I chose to use JB Weld Marine to secure the #6 AN bulkhead fitting to the sender plate.  I felt that once it was cured it was less likely to leak at some point in the future than rubber seal washers.

The AN fittings allow for fuel-tight joints more reliable than simple fuel injection hose and clamps.  While I followed Dayle’s directions exactly, I believe that in the near future I will change a few of the fittings around to minimize the number of sections comprised of fuel hose.  It’s nothing that’s absolutely necessary, but I can think of two areas I’d do differently.

I installed the tank on the bike, connected the fittings and filled the Quicktank with a five gallon gas can.  It did not leak.  The main tank on the Goldwing was almost empty and was nearly full fifteen minutes after the ¼ turn valve was opened.  Everything checked out good during the garage check.  I removed the tank and stored it until I would use it on a shakedown ride.



I decided to test the tank out for real on the Highway 78 ride.  The details on the ride are in another post so I’ll just limit comments about how the tank did on the ride.

The week before I left I called Dayle at Firecreek and we talked about the Windbender shield and my new tank.  I told him I would be trying out the tank on a real ride and explained that I’d be in the Southern California desert for the day.  He told me that in hot weather he’d had a few concerns from owners about the tank not wanting to fill due to pressure build up in the tank.  He explained if my tank didn’t want to fill I could pull over and open and closed the gas cap to release the pressure in the tank and then it should work properly.

I planned to ride from Westminster to Blythe via Highway 78 without stopping for fuel.  When I reached the 180 mile mark the fuel gauge indicated I was about 1/8 full so I opened the valve to allow fuel to flow into main tank and continued on.  The fuel level slowly raised one mark but didn’t go any higher.  I continued to ride into very sparsely populated two lane desert and was a little worried that the fuel level wasn’t going up.  It wasn’t going down, though, either so I knew I was getting fuel.  I made it to Blythe with a few gallons to spare in the Quicktank but the main tank fuel level gauge didn’t rise more than a single mark.

I decided that for the second fill-up I would ride for approximately 50 miles then open the fuel valve on the Quicktank.  I felt that if I kept the fuel level above the fuel sender and bulkhead fitting the Goldwing fuel pump would suck fuel from the Quicktank along with fuel from the main tank.  In theory, if the level didn’t rise, and it didn’t during the first tank, the fuel pump would suck the Quicktank dry and then pump the rest of the fuel from the main tank.  The fuel level should stay at ¾ full for a long time.  When it finally started dropping, I’d know the Quicktank was empty.  If the level rose I would just reach back and turn off the fuel valve.

I had ridden 50 miles, about halfway between Blythe and Needles, when the gauge read ¾ full.  I reached back and opened the valve from the Quicktank.  I rode on and the fuel level didn’t rise or fall.  In fact, for 175 miles the fuel level stayed at ¾ full.  When I reached Barstow and stopped to eat I looked in the Quicktank with a flashlight and saw that the tank was nearly empty.

I ate at Chipotle and got back on the 15 freeway.  Midway between Barstow and Victorville I noticed that the fuel level had begun dropping.  I calculated that I had just enough fuel to reach home but dropped my speed 5 mph to be sure.  On the second leg I rode almost 400 miles at speeds averaging 75 mph without fueling.  Not bad at all.

The Quicktank works differently than the keg tank did on my Voyager.  Rather than drain the main tank first, it appears that I can run on the Quicktank earlier in the cycle between fuel stops.  It is very high quality, made from premium stainless steel, is baffled, light, extremely low profile and fits well.  It’s so light that I can’t tell that it’s behind me.  It doesn’t make contact with any part of my body.  It doesn’t rely on anything more than simple fittings.  No electrical.  No pump.  No switches.  To say I’m pleased is an understatement.

What’s next?  Well, the keg tank is still in my garage on a shelf waiting to be used again.  I figure I can buy a trailer hitch with a vertical receiver for the Goldwing and build a mounting platform for the keg tank.  I should be able to wire and plumb the keg tank to feed the Quicktank.  16 gallons.  600+ miles between fuel stops.

I gotta go.  I hear a chop saw and welder calling me.

Origins and Relations

Apparently the last name ‘Lipps’ has as one origin a shortening of the family name ‘Phillips’ or Philipps’ depending on the source language and country.   My grandfather explained to me that our family name was changed at one point from ‘Lips’ to ‘Lipps’ to differentiate between two families in competing businesses in the same neighborhood in Chicago.  Both were said to be in the upholstery business and there was confusion among their customers about who was who.  Because my familial line was the better one, we got the extra ‘P.’

Another story was that the name was longer and reduced to ‘Lips’ during the immigration process.  I’m not sure if either is 100% factual but both make for a good tale.

In any event, the name ‘Lipps’ is not very common.  The name ‘Todd’ ‘Lipps’ is even less common.  I know of one other man with our name.  He is the semi-well known banker I refer to in my introductory post.

I don’t know him but he has reached out and tried to contact me.  As an intro, he asked me, “What was it like growing up with the name Todd Lipps?”  I answered him, but the answer I gave him was a sarcastic response about growing up in a rich and influential family who spent summers in luxurious vacation spots, private schools, gated communities and jetting to a home in the Hamptons.  None of it was rooted in truth.  In fact, the truth was completely opposite.  I didn’t mean anything rude by it.  At the time I didn’t think much about it, and didn’t consider that receiving that from someone he didn’t know would come off as incredibly dick-ish.  In time I realized that it did.  He didn’t reach out again.

From everything I can tell, he’s a lot like me – about my age, a professional in his field, has a family and kids, may like some of the same things I do.  Sorry, Todd.  You were the better man.  I wasn’t very nice.

Louis Lipps played wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He’s probably the most famous Lipps.

There is an island in Antarctica named Lipps Island after researcher Jere Lipps.

My wife is Lisa Lipps.  But not that Lisa Lipps.

There is the unincorporated community in Wise County – Lipps, Virginia.

German philosopher Theodor Lipps was an influential university professor who inspired Sigmund Freud.

Lipps, Inc.?  Funkytown?

There are some Lipps’ in directory listings in a number of areas.  There are a couple of us in the FAA pilot license database.  There are three of us in the Ironbutt ride database – all Americans.  All riders.  We’ve never met.  We may or may not be related.  One rider stands out above the rest.  Earlier this month Erik Lipps finished fourth in one of the most difficult motorcycle events in the world – the Ironbutt Rally.

The IBR is held every other year on odd-numbered years, usually attracts close to 100 of the best long-distance riders in the world, and the top finishers usually ride about 13,000 miles over 11 days.  There is some confusion that the rally is a race – a two-wheeled version of the Cannonball Run – but nothing is further from the truth.

The riders have a set starting point, two staging locations about 1/3 and then 2/3 of the way through the event, and a known finishing point.  This year the start, the end of stage one and the finish were all in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The end of stage two was in Kingsport, Tennessee.

There is no pre-established route for the riders.  The IBA gives every participant a list of bonus locations.  Each location is worth a specific number of points.  The riders individually decide on the most efficient route to scoop up as many bonus points as they can.  Faraway locations may carry big points, but several closer ones may have a larger cumulative point total.  There are several catches, though.

The riders have to check-in via phone at specified times or they are docked points.  The riders have to check-in at each stage-ending checkpoint during a two-hour window – not making it in time means a DNF.  It’s after this check-in time – usually less than 10 hours – that riders eat real food, shower and sleep for more than a couple hours at a time.  On the road the riders are in the saddle for 20+ hours per day over the 11-day event.

The riders are not without sleep.  The IBR organizers offer bonus points for sleeping between checkpoints — usually more points than a rider could have gotten had he or she ridden on to other bonuses.  Because it is not a race, speeding and dangerous riding is not encouraged.  If a rider gets somewhere too fast it can mean trouble with the organizers.

At the finish, riders have drained the adrenaline that’s gotten them through the last days, out of energy, sore, just plain exhausted.  Most have endured in the same riding clothes for several days and because the IBR is held in any weather, most are suffering from some form of rash caused by wet conditions and dirty clothes.  None compete for a cash prize.  There isn’t one.  The winner gets the biggest trophy.  Other finishers get smaller trophies.  All finishers get an IBR license plate frame and a three-digit IBA number.  To put into perspective how difficult the event is, consider that a little over 500 riders have finished the rally in its history.  About eight times as many have summited Mount Everest.

A rider receives the bonus list near the start of each leg and begin route-planning.  As stated above, each location earns a rider a specific number of points.  Proof that a rider has been to a bonus location is usually established via photo – the rider must snap a picture of his or her towel with their competitor number on it at a specific location like a sign or sometimes with an obvious landmark in the background.  Sometimes a receipt with a time and date stamp is necessary.  Group photos in a very tight time window that earn points are peppered throughout the rally.  Some locations only reward a rider points during daylight hours.  Far off bonus locations carry big points – Key West, Prince Edward Island and Alaska are typically available, and all are probably doable mathematically.  The question will come down to the max number of points per mile ridden, however, and so riders may stretch their legs over great distances, or stay within a days’ ride of the next checkpoint, in an effort to get a max number of individual bonus locations.

Each year the IBR has a theme that ties most of the bonus locations together.  This year it was National Parks.  In order to be credited as a finisher, each rider had to gather points at a minimum of 50 different bonus locations in at least 25 different states.  Riders went as far south as South Padre Island, Texas, and some ventured north into Canada for the points available there.  For the most part, bonus locations encouraged routing east of the Rocky Mountains and very few riders picked up points in the western states.  On the last day of the event some riders were still 1100+ miles away.  Most rode through the night continuing to collect points, finishing shortly after dawn on Day 11.

The motorcycles all start out as bikes that are used as vanilla commuter or touring bikes every day.  Most are then highly-modified to suit the needs of the riders.  Most have some form of custom seat that is comfortable hour after hour, day after day.  Most also carry additional fuel up to the IBR max of a little over 11 gallons.  Auxiliary fuel can be as complex as remote tanks that feed the main tank via an electric fuel.  Some tanks are gravity fed.  Some riders carry extra fuel in the form of a plastic gas can that can be purchased for $20 at Wal Mart.  Most bikes have multiple GPS units, some radar detectors; some are so electronic-laden they rival a modern jet.  Almost all have additional lighting to give better viewing of the road and to make the riders more visible at night.

Recently the Yamaha FJR1300 has been a consistent high finisher.  Honda’s Gold Wing is well represented.  BMW is a popular bike though recently a number of mechanical failures on BMWs contributed to DNFs.  A number of Harley Davidson motorcycles are ridden each rally.  The winner this year, Eric Jewell, rode a Honda ST1300.  He arrived at the finish with a failing fuel pump.  Had it completely died, even a few miles from the finish, he could have DNF’d.  Many of the bikes complete the rally on the same set of tires they started on.   Some rears get changed after the end of one of the legs.  Most go without an oil change over the course of the rally.

Some years the “Hopeless” class is packed.  These bikes, usually older, or smaller, have a much greater chance of failing to finish due to mechanical issues.  In years past, a rider finished higher on a 250cc scooter than he had in a previous attempt on a Gold Wing.  This year Kurt Worden finished 37th on a Kawasaki 250 Ninja with 90,000 miles.  As I understand it, he rode on the stock seat.  This class, though not competitive with the top riders, is very interesting just because almost every rider on one will have some bike-related difficulty to overcome.

Al Holtsberry, 79 years old, is the oldest finisher of any IBR.  2015 was his fourth rally finished and he rode nearly 1300 miles during his last day in order to make it back to Albuquerque in time.

Erik Lipps, one of the three Lipps’ on the IBA finisher list, was a rookie in this year’s event and because he is an experienced rally rider, was expected to finish well.  He was not expected to finish as well as he did, however.  He ran a fantastic Leg 1, finishing third in points.  His second leg was a bit of a setback and he dropped several spots after the points were totaled.  His third leg was extremely efficient, extremely quick, and by the time it was over, he had finished in fourth.   Rookies don’t generally place anywhere near as high.  Erik spent much of early 2015 prepping a newer FJR1300 for the rally when his old bike’s reliability began to be an uncertainty.

Are Erik and I related?  I have no idea.  Was his family name derived from something else or changed when they came to America?  Did his family compete with another for upholstery business in a Chicago neighborhood shortly after the turn of the century?  I don’t know.  Related or not, we are brothers.  Congratulations, Erik.  You did well.

See additional Rally Reports and photos by viewing: .


Alex is a Deep-Snapper. He’s pretty talented and as a sophomore he snapped for his high school on the Varsity squad. I taught him what I could – I was a deep snapper in high school, too, but I found that the technique used today is very different than the technique used 30+ years ago, and I had to pass him along to others to allow him to get really good.

He’s good enough that he’ll likely have a chance to snap for a college team in two years.

Because he excelled, and because football is a big part of our family, it has taken priority the last few years. We’ve attended camps and Alex has played in too many passing league and 7-on-7 tournaments to count. It has been worth every minute and I won’t ever regret any of the time invested in youth football. It is, however, one of the reasons I allowed myself to sell the Excalibur.

There were other reasons, though. Tommy, a liveaboard on the gangway I used to slip on, would regularly come up to me and say, “Todd, so many people come down and take a look at your boat and when I come over to check them out, they say, ‘What a pretty boat.’ Why don’t you sail it more?”

It was hard to justify the expense of keeping her in the water in Southern California without enough regular use. I liked the fact that I could go down to her and relax in the cockpit and watch the sun set. The marina was rarely really hot even when the temp inland was triple digit. Alamitos Bay is not well known but it is a beautiful place to slip a boat.

It still cost a fixed amount every month and every spring I had a number of things to freshen and update. Occasionally something would break. The sails, fresh, bright, clean and new a few years ago, no longer looked virgin white. The lifelines needed attention. Interior wiring, even as simple as it was, needed to be redone. I wanted to build a self-bailing drain in the motor well, and even though I knew what I wanted to do, it never seemed like I had the time to do it.

So, in July 2014, I found myself earning smaller, then even smaller, paychecks than I’d made in a while. I was still able to afford to pay the slip fees and keep up with the maintenance. My bills at home continued to get paid and I still put some away for later. The cushion that I demanded for myself was getting smaller and smaller, though. I told myself that the car business tends to work in cycles and that I would likely see a rebound into a more comfortable position before too long, which I have.

But a voice told me to put the Excalibur on the market and see what happens. I knew I shouldn’t. I resisted the voice through July and into August and finally drafted a Craigslist ad. I received a number of inquiries, showed the boat to a few people, had a sail with a few other potential buyers, and thought I had it sold once. By the time Mark came along, I had almost changed my mind. He was looking for a first sailboat and the Excalibur and Mark made a connection.

He, a friend of his, and I went out for a sail into Long Beach Harbor on a nearly windless day. We made slow progress towards the Queen Mary and eventually tacked back and crept into Alamitos Bay. A few times Mark asked if she sailed faster than the 2 knots or so we were drifting but every once in a while I found a little puff and we’d begin to accelerate. I thought the ride was slow enough that he might decide to back out.

He didn’t. He made the transaction very easy. He paid in full for the boat, three months of slip fees, transferred the ownership immediately and had the boat insured. There was no backing out.

One of the hardest things about the sale was seeing her sitting in the slip and knowing she wasn’t mine anymore. I regularly rode down to Alamitos Bay just to look at her for a while. One day, towards the end of December, she was gone. Eventually another sailboat appeared in the slip and my rides down to Alamitos Bay halted.

I wish I hadn’t sold her. It was a dumb, rash decision and I miss her.

Another Excalibur won’t replace hull number 75.

So, to the people that have commented on this mostly idle blog, I’d say to enjoy your boat. You have a sweet sailing boat that’s just better than others — I don’t need to explain further. You know.

I regret selling the Excalibur but I don’t regret how I’m spending my time. Please visit the site. If you are an owner, let Charles know. I’m sure he’d like many more names on his owner registry.


I’ve waited a while to write and post this entry because I wanted a little time to process what I did.  The long and short of it is that I don’t own the Excalibur 26 anymore.  I sold her.

She hasn’t vacated her slip yet and I have driven down to Alamitos Bay to check on her.  The new owner, a man named Mark, was enthusiastic about the purchase and I believe she’ll be in good hands with him.

Like many boat owners, I was unable to find enough time to spend on the boat and in the water.  Like many automotive Service Managers, I was without the required energy to spend a day on the boat on the few days that I actually had time.  So, for the first time in a number of years, I am without a boat of some kind.

It’s tough to gybe in a howling wind if you don’t have a boat.

I do still have my Goldwing, though, and have a number of half-day, full-day and 24 hour rides on the horizon.  I’ll be posting about those here.

My riding partner and I last completed an Iron Butt ride in April 2013 – a ride of a little over 1500 miles. 

When riding that distance in a short a period of time, the long stretches of miles in which nothing happens is completely erased from the mind.  What sticks out are the highlights that make the ride memorable.

We left in beautiful Southern California weather but two hours later were fighting 30+ mph headwinds in the Central Valley.  Our planned fuel stops were abandoned because the wind cut the fuel mileage on each of our bikes by 10-15 miles per gallon and added an additional, unplanned stop on the north leg.

North of Sacramento, with the winds finally dying down, I was startled by a pop from between my legs.  My fuel tank had buckled inward from the vacuum created when a pinched vent line let no incoming air into the tank to displace the fuel that was being sucked out by the fuel pump.  A fuel stop planned for 15 minutes doubled in time as I removed my fuel tank at the filling station and corrected the vent line routing.  (For those of you astute enough to know that the fuel tank on the Goldwing is plastic and located below the rider, preventing such an occurrence, I was on a different bike for this ride.  Fortunately, some carefully applied compressed air to the tank popped out the dent after the ride was completed).

We experienced our first cold weather while climbing on Interstate 5 on the way to the summit of the mountains west of Mount Shasta.  My grip heaters and extra layers helped, but we shivered all the way to Grants Pass nonetheless.  Once there we calculated our time and found that we could still be back in Westminster on time since the wind would either be reduced or on our backs on the way back.

The return trip began well.  We made it 250 miles before I led us into a radar trap and we were both detained and ticketed by two California Highway Patrol troopers.  They were initially preachy, but mellowed considerably when both our papers checked out and they realized that we weren’t a threat to them.  Both officers had questions about the ride but mostly just shook their heads.  That seems to be a pretty common response.  It’s the only ticket I’ve gotten while on a motorcycle.  The last one in a car was over twenty years before then.

The last six hours had few highlights.  We stopped for gas a couple times.  I fought sleep in the southern part of the Central Valley, we hit traffic after midnight on the grapevine and a complete freeway closure six miles before the end of the ride.  We had ridden 1509 miles in 23 hours 40 minutes, beating our goal of 24 hours by 20 minutes.

I’m asked why I ride these rides.  Usually the person asking is almost angry because they don’t see the point.  They see no reward for the amount of risk.  I can only tell them that I ride these rides because I can’t play football anymore.  There is no league for out-of-shape 47 year old Service Managers.  My knees and back and shoulders couldn’t take it anymore.

I do, however, miss the physical and psychological challenges in lining up across from an opponent and beating them.  Sometimes you beat an opponent by being stronger or faster.  Sometimes you beat an opponent by being smarter.  I get the same level of satisfaction beating the clock on a tough ride that I used to get playing football.

I really enjoyed the time I spent with the Excalibur.  Owning it allowed me to become acquainted with Charles Olcott and Neil Fletcher and Neil Porter.  I traded e-mails with Webb Chiles.  I learned a lot about the history of sailboat manufacturing in the 60s in Southern California.

I’ll likely own another someday.

I was never a poor weather sailor, though.  I never intentionally took the Excalibur out into storms and searched out frothing blue water to crash over the bow.  I never literally sailed through a turn with gale force winds on my stern.

‘Gybing in a howling wind’ has always been a metaphor.

Everyone should find their wind to gybe in.  Risk gives meaning to what you do.  The level will vary from person to person.  What I do scares the members of my family sometimes.  Things other people do regularly terrify me.  What it is doesn’t matter.  How benign or extreme it is doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that is raises your heartbeat and takes your breath away….temporarily, of course.

‘Gybing in a howling wind’ will remain the title of my blog as it transitions from a sailing blog to a riding blog.  Imagine, instead of a sailing boat, a lone rider, leaning into a desert wind that is pushing across the highway, the rider struggling to remain in his lane, riding westbound, while the sun settles down into storm clouds only minutes before being enveloped in the darkness of a night without the moon.

The Galley Is Out…..

For the last two years I have been trying to finalize the cabin configuration I wanted in the Excalibur.  I don’t consider my boat to be anything other than a day-sailer or weekender.  I’ve never used the icebox.  I have a cooler.  I don’t need the sink but it does work nicely to hold cleaning supplies.  The drawers are useful, but as I found out today, most of the things in them aren’t really needed for the kind of sailing I do.

So, I’ve thought it through and settled on the following design for my new cabin layout:

Dinette -- Cinverts to Single Berth

I’ll build a convertible single berth in the place of the quarter berth and galley and add storage shelves to both sides along with a dedicated radio and electrical panel on the starboard side.  The far forward section of the single berth will include a removable rack to hold my cooler in place even if we’re healed over.  The hanging locker will have three shelves added to it for my tools, extra hardware and rigging gear, and the life preserver bag.  In front of the hanging locker will be a small magazine rack to hold my document book.

Alex and I went down to the boat with the tools I’d figured I needed early this afternoon and got right to work.  I planned to use my Dremel tool with wood/fiberglass/plastic cutter to cut the fiberglass strips holding the galley to the hull while Alex held the shop vac as close to the working area as he could.  We were prepared with masks and glasses but I figured we’d still get enough fiberglass to make things uncomfortable.

This worked well….for about five minutes.  I had cut about 10% of the area I’d need to cut when the Dremel started blowing out smoke and seized up dead.  Even after we unplugged it it continued to smoke.  It wasn’t coming back.

Because I didn’t have a back up plan for a not so old Dremel that died prematurely, we had to run home and get my grinder with the thin cutting disk.  We returned to the boat and continued my plan.  It worked pretty well but there were several areas that were glassed in that I couldn’t see previously and that I couldn’t get the grinder to, so we improvised.

I used the radial saw to cut the face and aft side off the galley and then we literally pulled it apart.  There was a quite a bit of termite damage to the areas that were made of plywood rather than hardwood and some of it literally fell apart.  We found some live termites and killed them before removing all of the wood from the boat.  Some of the plywood in the aft quarter berth is pretty soft, so it will have to be removed and replaced as well.  I will be sure to glass in any wood I use that isn’t termite resistant hardwood to prevent this from happening again.

When we left the house I told Alex that we wouldn’t be leaving the boat tonight until the galley was out of the boat.  As it turned out, we were done well before it got dark and actually got to walk around the marina a little before we left.  Alex decided we could sell our house and cars and buy the 50’ Beneteau slipped in the big boat section.  I gave him a choice between the Beneteau or In-N-Out Burger for dinner.

I had a double-double.