Heading West

BURNING MY BUTT OFF, Part 1 Ė New York City to Sturgis in 36 hours

The Start:
My plan calls for an 8:00 AM departure from the Mobil Station at exit 13 on the Major Deegan Parkway. Iíve told my friends Iíd get there around 7:30, but I donít arrive until 7:45. Loading the bike took a bit longer than usual, and I overslept as usual. Iím so crazed with thoughts of packing and gear and this BunBurner that I donít even realize Iím actually leaving for Alaska. Itís drizzling slightly as I load the bike. Is this a sign of whatís to come?

Last week I sent an e-mail to a few friends in the New York area asking them to forfeit their Sunday morning to come see me off and witness my start. I was only hoping for a couple of people, but four special souls show up. Juan and Zoraida Olvera, Dahlia Dean, and David Coke are waiting for me as I pull up to the pumps. Itís very nice to have some friendly faces around as I head out to the unknown. Juan and David are motorcyclists as well, and we all went for a ride out to the Upper Delaware Water Gap two weeks ago. As itís still raining slightly and Iíd have to rush to start at 8, I decide to wait around another Ĺ hour and spend some quality time with my friends. After all, I wonít be seeing them for quite some time. At 8:25 I fuel the bike and go inside to get my receipt. The paper says 8:28 AM and the clock is running. Iím out of here.

I cross the George Washington Bridge and look left towards the city, shrouded in clouds and mist. Itís an eerily beautiful sight, but the rain keeps me from filming it with the video camera. As I cross I-80 through New Jersey, I count at least six freshly killed deer along the road. They look like Mac trucks just struck them, sometime during the rainy night. I enter Pennsylvania, paying the two-dollar toll at the Delaware Water Gap, and continue east. What little traffic there is thins out after the Pocono exit. Iím making good time, a little ahead of schedule, but my speed is killing my fuel mileage. The reserve light comes on early, around 165 miles, and Iíve still got at least 40 miles till I reach my first stop at exit 27.

Gas Stop #2:
As I approach exit 28, I wonder if Iíll make it to the next exit, about eight miles further. IĎve been running on reserve for awhile now. Sure, Iíll make it, I say to myself, as I see the Citgo sign go by. I pass the exit and swing uphill around a curve. Iíll make it, right?

The bike begins to sputter, and I know I wonít make it. Iíve run out of gas! I pull over to the side of the road, just past the entrance ramp. Turn the bike around, I hobble up the on-ramp the wrong way and coast into the Citgo station. That was way too close! Iím lucky it didnít happen a mile further on. They say the official fuel capacity of this motorcycle is 6.3 gallons, but it really only has a usable capacity of 5.5 gallons, after the fuel pump and filler neck are taken into consideration. Even with poor mileage I should have made the 206 miles between the start and exit 27. But I didnít. Iíve been going much faster than planned on this first leg, trying to get ahead early. And as a result I almost blew the whole thing!

I run through my fuel-stop checklist and make sure to do everything I need to do. Right now, Iím lucid and awake, but 800 miles from here things wonít seem so clear. The checklist helps me keep things straight.

1.Stop the bike
2.Put bike on centerstand
3.Remove helmet
4.Remove earplugs
5.Fill tank
6.Reset odometer
7.Get receipt, check it, and write mileage on it
8.Store the receipt
9.Go to the restroom
10.Eat something
11.Drink something
12.Shoot some video
13.Insert earplugs
14.Put on helmet
15.Go, Go, Go!

The bike takes on 5.226 gallons of gas. I guess I had a little left, but it wasnít in the part of the tank I needed it in. The temperature has been dropping as Iíve been heading west, so I put on my heated vest. I hoped the wet stuff would be over by now, but Iíve been running through a light rain which has a cooling effect on my arms. After 15 minutes of stop time Iím back on the road.

Just past Corsica, Pennsylvania, near exit 12, I run into some very dark clouds. I mean very, very dark. The light disappears completely and suddenly itís night. The bikeís instruments and GPS are glowing in the blackness. Then the skies open up and the rain slams me. Itís coming down so hard itís actually hard to see, and I have to use all my powers of concentration to stay on the road. Then, just as quickly as the rain came, it goes away. A few miles later it lets up and my mind drifts to other thoughts. Iím so excited to finally be underway, to be on my way to Alaska. After months of planning itís all coming true. This is really happening and Iím really doing this. It feels great.

Past Clintonville, a pack of Harleys comes up behind me. Ten very loud bikes, riders with pudding bowl helmets, lots of leather and Harley Davidson clothes. Road construction forces us all into one lane, and Iím surrounded. I feel like a sheep in a pack of wolves. The Ohio state line comes Ĺ hour ahead of schedule.

Gas Stop #3:
Iím back on the plan as I pull into the Shell station in Youngstown with 400 miles on the GPS. The weather has gotten quite cold, below 60 degrees, and I put on another layer to fight the chill. An hour down the road, near Strongville, the sun comes out and it feels good against my helmet. The temperature increases about 20 degrees and suddenly Iíve overdressed, but thereíll be no stopping. On the Ohio Turnpike, the traffic has increased too, and I have to pay full attention to the road and vehicles.

Out of nowhere, I hit a wall of exhaustion and I have to fight to stay alert. I canít believe Iím this tired, this early. Iíve still got 2 and Ĺ tanks to go until Iím supposed to sleep, and Iím seriously wondering if Iím going to make it. Should I make a stop right now? Probably. A quick stop might wake me up a bit, but there arenít many rest stops on this road, and there is no way Iím going to exit through a tollway, and then re-enter again. But why am I so tired? Maybe itís because I havenít gotten much sleep during the past few weeks. Planning a motorcycle trip to Alaska takes a lot of time, and last night I tried to get a good nightís rest, but it was impossible. Kids, do not try this at home. Attempting a ride like this on little sleep in not a good move. Okay, I admit it.

Gas Stop #4:
After 20 minutes of battling exhaustion, I get a second wind, and Iím feeling much better. Iíve made it to the Sunoco station at milepost 21 on the James W. Schocknessy Turnpike. Thereís a Hardees here too and I realize Iím not only hungry but I could use the extended stop. Besides, Iím still running slightly ahead of schedule.

As Iím getting ready to leave, a Harley rider pulls up on a bike just like Chuckís Ultra-Classic. Heís from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on his way to Milwaukee. We talk about our rides for awhile and I get ready to go. Iíve got to pay an $8.30 toll a few miles down the road. Itís kind of a rip-off considering Iíve only been in Ohio for a couple of hours.

Traffic lightens up again as I enter Indiana. Itís early evening and people are home from their weekend, getting ready to watch Regis and the Millionaire show. The GPS tells me Iím passing Sturgis. Wait a minute! Sturgis? Iím still 700 miles from South Dakota. And then thereís an exit for Bristol and Goshen. Connecticut? Where the hell am I? Somebody needs to write a letter to the governor of Indiana. They need to come up with some of their own names for their towns.

There is a big backup at the tollbooth near the end of the Indiana, where I-80 continues west and I turn northwest up I-94 and I-90. It takes me 10 minutes to go 2 miles, even as I weave through traffic. I desperately watch the time wash away, minutes ticking off my lead. And without a cloud in the sky, riding into the setting sun is harsh. I didnít plan on that, but you canít think of everything. I reach the Chicago Skyway, and thereís more traffic, but itís moving fairly well. The Chicago skyline is a welcome sight, and I feel like Iím actually getting somewhere.

Gas Stop #5:
The planned stop has me taking an exit in a congested part of the city, but thereís a little daylight and a little fuel left so I keep going. Iíve been getting better mileage with a more consistent speed. At 820 miles, I pull into the Mobil at the Des Plaines Oasis, just near OíHare Airport. Iíve now ridden more in one day then I ever have before. Yeah, baby! My body is a little sore, but this is the Iron Butt Association, after all. And Iím feeling a little tired, but nothing like I did back in Ohio. The gas price shocks me awake: $2.40 per gallon! Youíve got to be kidding! Congress should investigate this.

Itís dark as I continue along the Northwest Tollway. I knew this would be the hardest part of the whole ride, as itís night and Iím tired. But I didnít plan on these tolls. I have to stop 5 separate times to pay $0.40. This is worse than the Garden State Parkway! At least stopping for the tolls provides a little distraction from the boring night ride.

Gas Stop #6
Iíve made Wisconsin Dells, and fuel up at the Citgo. Iím ready to sleep, but none of the motels around have parking spaces right in front of the rooms. I donít want to have to haul gear too far from the bike. Itís 12:15 in the morning, and I ring the night bell at one place next to the gas station. A cranky clerk comes to the door and tells me she doesnít have any singles, and then closes the door in my face! Without even asking about a double, I ride across the street to the Best Western, but the bike is sputtering! What the hell? Oh, Iíve committed the BMW R1100GS cardinal sin and overfilled the tank, then put the bike on the side stand. Fuel has overflowed into the charcoal canister and the bike canít breathe properly, I think. I stumble into the lobby, and ask for a room. One is available, but itís a long walk from the parking lot, and the tab is $83. That seems excessive, considering Iíll be leaving in a few hours, and Iím really concerned about the bike. I need to ride it some more and burn off the extra fuel. I can hardly believe it when I pass on the room, get back on the bike, and continue north.

15 miles away, I pass a sign for the Alaskan Motel in Mauston. This must be fate. I wake the night clerk who doesnít seem to mind. $38.98 is more like it. I have some serious problems opening the door to the room. Am I really this tired, or is this key messed up? I finally get in and discover the room is filled with mosquitoes, as the screen is knocked off the open window. IS THIS SOME KIND OF SICK JOKE! I know itís called the Alaskan Motel, but this ridiculous!