This is a true story of adventure and perseverance with a friend from the United Kingdom.
David Whittaker and I met working together on the Thames Tideway Tunnel project in London in 2010. We were both program delivery managers and worked together through 2014. David was born in Canada, but his parents were from the Isle of Man; and his home is in Ireland. David’s sister (Lorraine) and brother-in-law (Graham) live on the Isle and support the motorcycle (MC) race(s) on the island. Discussions with David of my long-held desire to attend the Isle-of-Man TT (Tourist Trophy) Race led to Lorraine and Graham’s invitation to visit them during the TT Race. I had a great time, rode the TT course, and cemented my friendship with David around motorcycle adventures.
Our first MC adventure together was in June 2013 when David and his family visited Linda and me in San Diego, and the two of us rode Highway 1 from San Diego to north of San Francisco while his family and Linda enjoyed the warm beaches of SoCal. After a 2-day stop for the Moto GP (Motorcycle Grand Prix) at the Laguna Seca racetrack, we returned through Tahoe and the Sierra Mountain roads to San Diego. We had a great time and decided to try more motorcycle trips in the future. Trip mileage: 1,872.
Our second MC tour in August 2018 was to attain David’s bucket list item and attend the Sturgis Rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We met in Denver and rode a big loop through the western states visiting Sturgis, Yellowstone, Dinosaur National Monument, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Trip mileage: 2,429.
Our third adventure in July 2019 was to check off my bucket list item with a MC tour of the Italian/Austrian/Switzerland Alps. We rented a Villa on Lake Como, Italy, for 2 weeks for our families; and David and I spent the first week riding the mountains while the family enjoyed the Villa. The second week was spent touring northern Italy with family. MC trip mileage: 1,050.
But this story is about our latest motorcycle adventure and reaching another of David’s bucket list items. We decided to attend Bike Week in Daytona, Florida, during the first week of March 2020. David would fly to Atlanta; and I would drive from Carlsbad, CA, trailering my motorcycle and meet at the MC rental shop in Marietta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 7. I had originally planned to ride my MC from Carlsbad, but checking on the weather along the route changed my mind.
Fortunately for me, I have good friends who live in Marietta; Rick and Alyse Hirsekorn from the good old CH2M Corvallis days. I contacted them to find a place to park my Jeep and trailer while on the MC adventure. They found a parking spot and graciously asked me to spend the night with them before and after the MC tour. They would store my extra gear in their house until I returned.
Monday, March 2 I left Carlsbad, CA, after having my Jeep Wrangler fully serviced by the local Chrysler dealer including replacing rear axle seals because there had been slight seepage from both seals. My departure was delayed until mid-day as I needed to complete paperwork to become the administrator for my younger brother’s estate because he had died in early January. I was looking forward to a fun activity after a poor start to the new year. As soon as I got to the CA desert and into Arizona, I met very heavy rain and windstorms and was happy that I had decided to not ride my motorcycle to Atlanta. The washing of my Jeep, trailer, and motorcycle before I left had been a waste of time. Everything was now covered in caked-on dirt due to dust storm following rain. Bummer.
I stopped the first night in western Phoenix, AZ, not realizing that Major League Baseball training league was in progress; so I paid a very high bill for 5 hours of rest. The second day I drove to Tucumcari, NM, with dirty vehicles but no rain nor wind. I sent a message to Rick Hirsekorn that I was headed his way and gave him a last chance to leave town or move before I arrived.
Wednesday, March 4 As I left Tucumcari, I noticed a junkyard near the highway that had what looked like an early 1950’s Henry J setting in the yard; and recorded the mileage marker planning to stop on the return trip to CA. My first car was a 1951 Henry J that I bought in 1959, and I have always dreamed of making one into a hot rod. So much for old guys having too much time.
Midafternoon I stopped in Shawnee, OK, to get fuel and noticed axle fluid “pouring” out of the left rear wheel. Fortunately, I had stopped before major damage had been done. So much for the Chrysler dealer’s shop work. The new axle seal had only lasted 3,000 miles. The local fuel station manager told me about a local repair shop that she trusted and directed me to it.
The local shop was an old two-bay filling station owned by an old timer and run by his son, Butch. The Grandson (19) also worked there, but I never saw him do much. Since it was late in the day, the son and his mechanic, Tim, could not get parts and make repairs until the next day. I unloaded my motorcycle and found a restaurant and motel for the night. Fortunately, I had purchased the book, Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, at the first Oklahoma rest stop when I entered the state; and I had something to read while waiting for repairs to be finished. It is a book I highly recommend. I related to it because my family was from southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma.
Thursday, March 5 The Grandson and I spent time talking; he wanted to know where I was from and where I was headed. He had never been far from Shawnee, OK, and wanted to see more of the world. He asked if he could go with me to Daytona Bike Week. I think he was mostly interested in bike chicks and beach girls. He also wanted to see Southern California. I suggested that, if he joined the Navy, he could be stationed in San Diego and see the world. I did not suggest the Marines or Army as I did not think it would be a good fit for him.
The Okie “shade tree” mechanics found that the Chrysler mechanics had not installed the left seal properly. By 1:35 p.m., they had completed the left wheel seal repair, checked the right wheel seal, other drive train seals and fluids (serviced by Chrysler), and test driven the Jeep. The repair bill was very reasonable compared to CA, and I thanked Butch and Tim for their quick work. I told the Grandson I was sorry, but I was leaving without him and reminded him of the Navy choice if he wanted to get out of Shawnee. I then drove to east Memphis and stayed in a terrible motel for 6 hours of rest.
Friday, March 6 I was on my way to Atlanta and reached Rick and Alyse’s home in Marietta by 3:00 p.m. Great evening dinner prepared by Alyse; wine provided by Rick; and fun discussion about kids, CH2M, Corvallis, Sid, and other past co-workers. We had a great night remembering and laughing about the “good old days.” I parked the Jeep and trailer, washed grime from my motorcycle, packed saddle bags, laid out MC gear for the morning, and was ready to go. David messaged that he had arrived in Atlanta, and we set meeting at MC dealer for 9:00 a.m. when they opened.
Saturday, March 7 I met David at EagleRider MC shop where he rented a Triumph Bonneville, and we departed at 10:00 a.m. for Douglas, GA. He had arrived on a half-full flight from London Friday night due to COVID-19 issue in Europe. It was a great ride through the farm country of Georgia for 250 miles with cool temperature and no rain. We planned details of our ride that night.
Sunday, March 8 It was a very cold morning with fog/haze, so we waited until 10:00 a.m. to leave for Daytona. The ride was through a poorer part of southern Georgia and northern Florida with many different designs/types of add-ons to mobile homes. There was great hospitality from the locals when we stopped to eat and refuel. We stopped on the edge of the road to take a picture of David under the Dublin, GA, water tower; and immediately a young man stopped to see if we needed help. They were very friendly folks.
We arrived in Daytona at 3:30 p.m. and checked into Hampton Inn near the Racetrack. During check-in, an American Airlines attendant was complaining at the desk about HD (Harley Davidson) motorcycle noise during the night, so I offered her some of my ear plugs. She then spent some time talking to me about her life and limited opportunity to ride a motorcycle and how it would be fun to have a ride again. It has been a long time and I am a bit slow, so David rescued me and explained that she was trying to pick me up. Oh!
Monday, March 9 Linda’s cousin, Dan, arrived that morning to ride with Dave and me. We went to the largest HD dealer north of Daytona to view sights and shops. I got the “finger” from an older (60s) bike chick for wearing my BMW hat. Otherwise, it was a very friendly crowd. But it was VERY crowded. We rode back to the speedway and walked through all the manufactures’ displays. We viewed BMW’s new 1800 cruiser concept bike. We spent some time talking with a Yamaha national rep who was from Cherryville, KS. He had been a high school teacher and was surprised that I knew Cherryville, which is near some of my cousins’ farms. He would not admit that he knew any of my second cousins as I think he was trying to protect them!
Tuesday, March 10 We didn’t worry about primary elections results as nothing should interfere with a MC ride. I rode to NASA Space Center with David and took a tour of the facility. The crowd was light at the space center (COVID-19?). The trip reminded me of a family trip to the Center in 1990 when you could drive to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and walk around the Saturn 5 rocket display. You can do that no more.
We went to Main Street in Daytona to view shops, motorcycles, wet t-shirt contest (David’s thing), and old people trying to recapture their youth with their tattoos and outfits. Basically, they looked silly.
Wednesday, March 11 We rode from Daytona Beach to Savannah, GA. We stopped in St. Augustine to view historic downtown and mail a post card to mechanic Grandson in Shawnee, OK. The picture was of biker beach chicks I met at the beach. I hope that inspires him to travel and join the Navy.
I need to come back to St. Augustine with Linda and spend some time.
We stayed at Best Western in downtown Savannah and toured historic park(s). This is another place I need to return to with Linda. We had a great dinner at the River House on the riverbank (highly recommended) and great oysters for an appetizer. David would not try any and does not know what he missed. We discovered Chatham Artillery Punch prepared for President George Washington’s visit to Savannah in 1791. I got the recipe, but I need to reduce the amount from 8-10 gallons to something more reasonable in volume for the home. This reminded me of how punch mixtures were developed at various Army Officer Clubs! Or, college dorms! Do not ride for 48 hours after drinking punch.
Thursday, March 12 After a very quick 48 hours, we rode through back country from Savannah to Clemson, SC. We saw rural country with fields of timber, cotton, and a few other crops. It was an extremely poor area for most of the ride with an occasional old large manor house. North of Augusta, there were great motorcycle roads along lakes and through hills. We stopped at a local cafe in downtown Aiken, SC, for a great lunch sitting at a table on the sun-drenched sidewalk. We took our time to enjoy the town and lazy lunch.
Rain was expected at 4:00 p.m., and it did arrive right on schedule. We were 25 miles from our motel and got drenched! It rained hard; you could not see, and so we stopped under Union Bank ATM drive-through awning. Because I have a fairing on my BMW, I opted to not put on my rain suit pants. David was smarter as he did not have a fairing on the Triumph and put on all of his rain gear. When the rain lessened, we headed for Clemson; and within a mile ran into a two-foot-deep pond on the four-lane street. Although most cars were going slowly, several blasted through the water and sent a wave that went over my helmet. Needless to say, I wished I had put on my rain pants. I used the motel hair dryer to dry my pants, coat, gloves, headgear, etc. and I-phone. We noted that students were gone, and there were limited restaurants open in Clemson. We had dinner at Tigers bar in the Best Western Conference Center and planned to ride on the Dragon the next day.
Friday, March 13 We rode the Dragon’s Tail. This is a famous twisty road for motorcycles, Highway 28, through the Smoky Mountains south of the National Park. We had the road to ourselves, which was unusual because of the early time of year and spreading news of COVID-19. It was great ride with no traffic to slow us down, but wet with a few light showers. The ride was fun but not as technically challenging as our previous year’s ride in the Alps. We had lunch at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, bought souvenirs, stickers for our helmets, and checked out “The Tree-of-Shame” for MC riders. I received a message from Rick Hirsekorn about concern over COVID-19.
We stayed in Gatlinburg, TN, and walked the streets of the tourist area. There were many people in the street with no concern about COVID-19.
Saturday, March 14 We left Gatlinburg early at 7:45 a.m. in the dark and cold for Atlanta as David needed to check-in his motorcycle by 4:00 p.m., and we wanted to get as much mountain riding as possible. We rode back east through Great Smoky Mountain National Park and encountered a herd of Elk on the highway. It passed by slowly. My experience has taught me you can never trust animals to remain in one location when you pass them. A big female elk cut right in front of me when I passed her.
We turned southwest to ride the special highway section Cherohala Skyway. It is a great ride with sweeping curves and along the narrow ridgeline. We stopped for coffee to warm up at Mickey Ds in Bryson City, NC, and dropped my heavily-loaded bike on a steep hill of a parking lot. This has happened with a loaded bike on uneven surface when stopped only three times in 18 years. No damage, but embarrassing! I am glad David was there to help pick it up. We headed for EagleRider MC shop in Marietta, GA. We rode through beautiful country in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and watched a very dark cloud forming ahead of us. We stopped to put on rain gear, with pants this time, and rode through 30 minutes of a very cold heavy rainstorm. There was no time to stop and remove rain gear to meet David’s scheduled bike return and Lyft ride to airport. We arrived at EagleRider only 15 minutes late, but very hot in sunny conditions because we could not stop and remove rain gear.
Later Saturday I watched David leave in a Lyft car, and I headed to the Hirsekorn’s home arriving at 5:30 p.m. When I got there, Rick had placed all of my travel gear in his garage. His mother was staying with them; and the concern regarding COVID-19 was increasing, so I did not enter their house. Rick had arranged a local hotel room for me, which was very considerate; but I decided to load my bike and get as far as possible toward CA. I am grateful for their great hospitality even though COVID-19 changed our plans.
David made it to the airport and reported that he was on one of the last flights going to London. There was only one other passenger at the check-in desk. He had the whole rear of the airplane to himself on his flight and could sleep across the middle seats. I believe that Heathrow shut down to external incoming flights not long after he arrived home.
I made it to just east of Birmingham, AL, for my night stop. I had dinner at a genuinely nice new buffet-only restaurant (probably no longer in business). [Ask me sometime about meeting the Birmingham Mayor’s wife and children in Kansas on a road trip in 1964. But that is another story.]
Sunday, March 15 I was up early at 5:30 a.m. to continue my trip home; but I missed the turn to I-22 in Birmingham and travelled non-interstate roads through Starkville (MSU) arriving at my cousin’s farm home near Columbus, KS, by 9:00 p.m. My cousins don’t worry about COVID-19.
Monday, March 16 I made an appointment to meet a headstone carver in Parsons, KS, for designing a headstone for my brother’s grave. I needed a mask for the meeting but could not find any at Walmart or Walgreens drug store. Finally, I checked the farm supply store; and they still had a few industrial masks. I met the stone marker salesperson, designed the headstone, paid for it, and made arrangements to have it installed in May. Then I drove to Amarillo, TX, through the northern Oklahoma country described in the Killers of the Flower Moon book.
Tuesday, March 17 I left Amarillo at 6:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. PDT) after eating breakfast in a Styrofoam box provided by the motel. There was no open food nor seating available in the motel food court area. COVID-19 precautions were fully in evidence. I drove the first 3 hours in fog and drizzle and stopped with over-the-road truckers at a rest stop when visibility was just a few yards in front of the Jeep grill.
I remembered to stop at the junkyard east of Tucumcari, NM, to check the car that looked like a Henry J. Yep. It was a Henry J, but the yard was closed. No one answered the phone number listed, the guard dog was too big to climb the fence to do a better inspection, and it was cold and rainy. It has been there awhile, and I might stop the next time when travelling through.
McDonalds in Flagstaff was only serving drive-through, and quick-stop stores expected people to be wearing masks. I lost the Jeep gas cap after Gila Bend, AZ. I had not secured it properly probably due to fatigue. I reached home in Carlsbad, CA, at midnight. It was good to be home with no mask requirement.
All the way home, I felt that COVID-19 was chasing me!
Total miles travelled – 6,530
Motorcycle miles – 1,755
Jeep miles – 4,775
Average miles/day – 408
It was a great trip with David; although, I might consider flying and renting a motorcycle next time. However, I enjoy using my own BMW 1150RT.
Reconnecting with Rick and Alyse Hirsekorn was an added plus to the trip.
My next MC trip with David is scheduled for June 2021 to complete the Figure 8 Ride through the United Kingdom. It is on my bucket list!