It’s funny, I write this blog entry on an airplane heading from New York to Texas. It sort of reminds me of another trip I took from New York to Texas. And although I am not sitting in First Class, this one is a pretty easy trip, comparatively speaking.
The summer of 1980 was one of the hottest summers on record, but I escaped the heat, heading north to New York. My folks had returned from Italy and my Mom opened a small restaurant. I went up for the summer to work for her and help run the place. But in my heart of hearts, I knew I did not want to go back to riding the Austrian Puch Newport Moped when I returned to college in the fall. It was just too small and slow and besides I could not get a date riding that thing to save my life. So I decided to upgrade to a full-blown motorcycle. I took a look around at the 2-wheeled landscape in New York and with my meager budget, had so settle for something small.
I ended up with a Honda CB400F. This was a small café style motorcycle with low slung handlebars and a very cool four-into-one exhaust. It had a great classic look.
In my infinite wisdom, I decide to ride that bad boy from New York to Texas. On a Honda CB400F, a very small motorcycle with a 392cc motor. What was I thinking? I had a plan to equip it for the journey. I bought a tank bag that strapped to the top of the gas tank. Inside I placed my rain gear and a CB-Radio. Yep, “Breaker-One-Nine”. I bought a microphone and headphone for my helmet and would run the cable out of the tank bag and run it up my jacket where it would poke out for the last few feet into the helmet (giving me range of motion). I installed cruise control. You twisted the throttle and when you got to the speed you wanted, you flipped down a lever that held the throttle in place. Need to slow down or speed up? Un-flick the lever, adjust the throttle and reset the lever. Pretty low tech, but it allowed me to ride one handed, giving the other hand and arm a break. I also bought a sissy-bar (but a low one, tall ones looked stupid on a Honda CD400F). On one side of the sissy-bar where the passenger would sit was a huge back pack from Italy that carried most of my stuff and on the luggage rack behind the sissy-bar was the rest of my stuff. Yep I even had boots, gloves, a denim jacket and rain gear. Man I was prepared. No tools though, thank GOD I would not need them!
On the first day of my trip, I hugged my Mom and Step-Dad good bye and headed out. I know there were tears in my Mom’s eye as she figured that she would never see me again as I would no doubt be killed on this long journey. But she said that I had to learn these lessons on my own and begrudgingly let me go. The first part of the trip was brilliant and the weather cooperated. I headed south down the New Jersey Turnpike, went through Philadelphia and skirted our nation’s capital before I turned southwest and headed through Maryland. Once off the Interstate I picked up major secondary roads and made pretty good time.
The one thing that I noticed was that the longer you rode…the more tired you got. The small motorcycle vibrated constantly and after a while (like 45 minutes) your butt started to get really sore from the stiff seat and the constant vibration of the small motor. Plus the riding position (a low café style with low slung handlebars) was not optimal for long distance riding, but shorter distances of 10-20 miles followed by long periods of rest. So my wrists and arms were getting sore too. The small motor really buzzed, sending up a constant high-pitched vibration to your hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, shoulders, neck and head. This was going to be a long trip.
Midafternoon found me being overtaken by a huge Harley gang. I got nervous as the engulfed me, passing me on both sides. But they all gave me the low wave salute of fellow bikers and one got close enough to me to holler over the thump of his huge V-Twin and the whine of my inline 4, saying I should ride with them for a while. I did and we rode for about 100 miles together until they went a different direction and I had to stop for gas. It was great, that feeling of flowing along as part of a huge group, they were pretty cool.
Stopping to fill up (which I had to do every 150 miles or so), I saw the clouds start to gather and judging by their color; turning from white to gray, figured rain was on the way. So I changed into rain gear and headed back out. About 50 miles later the rain hit. Sheets of rain, buckets of rain, torrents of rain, a boat load of rain. I soldiered on trying to ride against it, but after I filled up the tank one more time, I ran out of steam. It was getting dark and I tried to find a motel. Finally out of the gloom of the rain, I saw a rainbow up ahead; a crappy motel. I was saved. Checking in I noticed that they had a diner attached. Thankfully I would not have to venture out to eat. After I checked in I went to my room and peeled off my soaked clothing. Even though I was wearing rain gear, I was soaked like a drowned rat. Called my folks to let them know where I was and that I was okay, I made it down to the diner where I ate a very meager dinner and went to bed.
Outside the main part of the storm crackled and roared as rain lashed the motel. I had found a place under an overhang to park my bike, so at least it was dry. The next day, the storm continued to rage outside. I sat on the bed and held my head in my hands; I could not believe how crappy this trip was turning out and thought that maybe I had made a mistake undertaking so long a journey on such a small motorcycle. But I could not turn back; I had no choice but to ride on. Watching the local news, they predicted…more rain. I could not stay, I needed to keep moving, so I put on dry cloths, rain gear and headed back out into the pouring rain. There is nothing as bad as being wet and cold while riding a motorcycle. It was hard to see and I had to battle the spray of trucks. I was soon soaked to the bone again and I heard the constant CB-chatter from the truckers feeling sorry for me and alerting others to be on the lookout for one lone motorcycle. It felt like it would never end. But it did…
Crossing the West Virginia / Kentucky border the clouds started to break, revealing gaps, the sun and a promise of a beautiful day. I stopped under an overpass and peeled off my rain gear, stowed it and waited a while for the roads to dry a bit more before setting off again. As the day moved on towards afternoon, I swept down the road, the day getting better as I rode west. The beauty of Eastern Kentucky, the air crisp, the Honda CB400F buzzing beneath me, I felt pretty good as I rode into Lexington. I stayed a few days and guess what? I called a gal I knew in high school, telling her I was in town for a few days while riding my motorcycle from New York to Texas. She agreed to go out with me on a date. Oh yes, upgrading from the Austrian Puch to the Honda CB400F was already paying dividends.
In one day, I rode 620 miles from Lexington to Little Rock and almost fell off the motorcycle when I stopped for the day, I was so exhausted. The first motel would not rent me a room. I must have cut a dashing figure; motorcycle garb, sweaty, dirty and dusty, bugs splatted on the helmet. To this day, I will not stay at that chain… I went to another motel next door and they gladly rented me a room. I still use that chain sometimes.
I rode the sections from Little Rock to Dallas to Austin on some of the hottest days of the summer. Breaking my own rule and peeling off my denim jacket, riding with just my short sleeved shirt. Arriving in Austin, my arms and hands were wind burned, the tan lasting well into the late fall before it faded. I owned that bike for a while before my folks gave me their car (a FIAT Strada, but that is another story). They finally decided that they did not want me riding a motorcycle anymore and who could blame them. Besides, I was ready to get back to 4-wheeled transportation.
Until next time.