Last Tuesday night I decided to catch up with the rest of my family down at OBX. The catch was, OBX is around 600 miles from here, and generally takes 10-12 hours to reach. Since I’ve been riding for a good 4 years now, I decided to take my bike down. Now there are many things which out and out scream – do not take a 500cc Kawasaki on a long road trip, such as a 2.9g fuel tank (150 miles max range) and a seat that was designed by satan to steal life from anyone who sits on it for longer than an hour. Still, I decided to throw caution to the wind and get going.
The first thing I came to realize, is that while the bike can keep up easily with interstate traffic (90+ mph on average), the gas mileage drops significantly (from 50mpg to around 36mpg) – so while I can go faster, technically its a wash because I would have to stop more often for refills. So I brought the speed back down, and slowly other issues cropped up – mainly comfort. The bike itself isn’t all that uncomfortable, but the seat isn’t exactly made for long rides. Shifting back and forth in line with the varying levels of discomfort helped – but what I eventually tried was to plant my feet on the rear pegs and lean forward on the bike (like a sport bike). That took most of the load off my rear end, and allowed me to relax my arms and legs. Each time I did this I’d have to adjust the mirrors so I could see whether or not anyone was coming up from behind (NY bike, riding south, was waiting for the eventual ticket…).
As the ride progressed, I came to realize that everyone speeds – and at least during the time I rode – they speed a lot. This helped make some good time once I was off the interstates, if a pack of traffic was doing 70mph through a 40mph zone, I just kept up with them. Most of the ride was pretty un-eventful on the back-roads, but my general practice of ‘wait to get passed, then keep up with a decent gap’ worked pretty good. At one point I was running very low on fuel, I ended up stopping off in Virginia at a closed gas-station which kept the pumps online. Was a little creepy but got the job done. I had tried to wire up a 12v port on the bike before I left, but all I managed to do was fry my cellphone charger. So my primary source of navigation was a short direction list stored in my seat-bag. I only managed to goof once or twice, like getting on route 12 in Kitty Hawk instead of staying on 158. Also discovered that having a crosswalk button nearby is a great asset when stick at a light that isn’t configured to support a motorcycle.
I made a point at every stop to take a little extra time to stretch my legs, re-hydrate, and check that everything on the bike was still working right. All in all, the ride down took about 14 hours including stops and waiting for the ferry to Ocracoke. The best way to go on a trip like this, is to leave with the sun up, travel through the night, and arrive for sunrise. The next day I took a few power-naps to partake in the absolutely glorious weather without collapsing. I ended up deciding to head back early Sunday morning. Since weather reports showed rain on the horizon for the coming week, and I had no desire to ride 600 miles soaking wet. The ride back was a little more than I bargained for.
Starting with the wait for the ferry, the bike wouldn’t fire up when it came time to actually board. After putting the kick-stand up I was able to get it started. My best guess was that the kickstand safety switch which is designed to stop the engine if the bike is put in gear decided to start working (it never has). Once back on the mainland, I made a point to stop for ear plugs (a dozen hours of wind noise and open exhaust can get a little rough). I also stopped at an Ace Hardware store in Virginia to get a Leatherman – it felt a bit like going to Radio Shack and asking for a specific type of resistor – the kid who tried his damn-est to help me didn’t even know what a Leatherman was. I ended up finding a knock-off in the outdoors section. I removed the switch and re-attached it so that it would always be open. This appeared to work for a short time, but eventually the bike wouldn’t turn over again. I’d say at least 50% of my stops required pop-starting the bike. Made me start to wonder how hard it would be to install a kick-start on it.
The next problem with the ride was the heat. It was about 75F for the ride down and I didn’t have much trouble staying hydrated. For the ride up, the average temperature was around 100F (a real-feel temperature indicated the temp felt more like 123F around Cape Charles, VA). At each stop I’d pound two of those $.99 Arizona cans, but by the afternoon I started to get a headache and feel the dehydration starting to take affect. The clouds began to roll in around Delaware, so I took a long stop at a Waffle House ($10 T-Bone Steak & Eggs… can’t beat it). That helped me get my bearings as I continued back up through NJ. I stopped on the turnpike for gas, there were some pretty long lines – one woman decided not to wait and drove around the lines to the other side of the pump. To my amusement – they refused to fill her tank and told her to get back in line. Between exits 6 and 8 I hit some massive slowdowns due to construction zones (although I couldn’t see a single bit of construction being actively performed). This tacked another hour onto the ride, I had hoped to make it back without stopping again, but as the sun went down after that long wait I decided to get off of the highway and take some familiar back-roads home.
Heading up 206 through Flanders, I had to detour due to an accident. Apparently a bike clipped a car, and the passenger on the bike was killed. Gave me pause… I stopped to top of the tank and just sat there, astonished that I had gone over 520 miles at that point without a single problem and these folks who made the mistake of stopping at a 7/11 for whatever have had their lives destroyed. I always ride like anything with 4 wheels is out to kill me, and thus far that has kept me safe… still, its only a matter of time before your ticket gets punched… if you’re lucky, you walk away, if not… Damn.
Managed to make it home around 10pm last night, 14 hours. Looking back, I’m glad I took the trip. I wish I could have stayed longer (seriously considering driving back… lol), but as far as long trips on a motorcycle go – I don’t think I’ll ever take another on this bike again. That accident last night really shook me, moreso than the dehydration, soreness, and wear and tear on my mental faculties the 1200 mile round trip took on me. Perhaps some day I will get a bike designed more for long trips, until then I’ll stick to cruising locally and commuting. Seeing the world on two wheels is entirely different. The sights, smells, sensations… After awhile I got the sensation that I was flying over the road…no longer a passenger, but part of my bike. Next time, I’m driving!