Cross Country on Our Motorcycles - A Father Daughter Adventure

And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good-
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things

-Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Two days before I was to depart on a journey by motorcycle across the United States, I cracked my oil pan. What was only a classic beginner mechanic's mistake was a dramatically devastating occurrence for me as I faced the countdown to my rapidly approaching trip.

The summer before my senior year of college I was living in New York. I busied myself with classes at Columbia University from May-June, and then worked on a dressage barn through the muggy heat of July. August proposed a free schedule and only some ambiguous desires on my part; I wanted to see my parents back home in Washington and ride my motorcycle. My motorcycle being in New York and my parents being in Washington created a predicament.

After mulling over my endless August options the solution dawned on me, in all its romantic and adventurous grandeur I would ride my motorcycle cross country! This would not only be an undoubtedly epic adventure, but also one which would solve the geographical location of my motorcycle dilemma. I announced the news to my parents and dreamt each night of me, my motorcycle, the open road and highway attractions like the world's largest frying pan, or the country's largest ball of string!

Sometime after my decision my father decided (or more truthfully, my mother elected him) to join me. I only needed to find him a bike; he would purchase a one way ticket to New York and join his daughter's venture. July rolled around and I began shopping for a bike worthy and capable of this trek. The nature of the bikes specifications created complications budget, comfort, mechanical soundness...and located somewhere I could take a train to pick up. I finally found a bike in Brooklyn with potential. I hopped on the train to the city after work and to my dismay discovered the Long Island Express doesn't work as efficiently as one might desire. I finally made it to Grand Central Station and out to some hood in Brooklyn, I found the address and waited for the seller to arrive home. I plopped my sticky self down on a curb and watched the children playing in the wild spray of an open fire hydrant which spilled water into the street in every direction causing medium size rivers to flow down the streets of Brooklyn.

Eventually the seller showed up. He flung a tarp off of a motorcycle shaped object to reveal the product - a 1992 Suzuki V-max, rhino lined black, with metal spikes in the front fender. I tried to have an open mind the bike just needed to get across the country and the price was right. He jumped on the bike and beckoned me to hop on, I warily climbed on the back with this enthusiastic stranger and he gunned the black devil down the tree-lined Brooklyn block, water flying up behind us from the ghetto hydrant-rivers. He energetically explained and demonstrated how the acceleration on the bike was and then slamming on the brakes -how top notch the braking power was. We flew back onto his block and up on the side walk. I got off asked him if he would ride it to Washington State, he said yes and I said I'll take it. A half hour later I was navigating the black devil onto the Long Island Express freeway, struggling with the cruiser style fork pitch and suspension, rolling my eyes at the inconceivable situations I get myself into.

My next task to prepare for the trip was the infamous oil change. I set up my tools and provisions neatly around my shiny blue Suzuki GSX-R, excited the way newbies are when they perform their first task of motorcycle maintenance. At the moment I triumphantly thought 'mission accomplished' I over tightened the bolt and cracked the oil pan. Oil gushing out onto the yard I saw the dreams and plans of this trip washing away with my engine lubricant. 'How could this happen right before the trip!' My father being the ingenious man he is got off the train in New York with a helmet, a small backpack and God's gift to motorcycle riders JB Weld.

With my oil pan JB Welded and oven baked, we were ready to cruise on out. The morning we left I gave my Dad a tour of the barn I had worked at over the last month. Lines of expensive German horses, the smell of wood shavings, and just as we exited the barn to start our adventure the radio station hailed the start of our journey with, Steppenwolf, 'Born to be Wild.' My Dad of course thought the cinema heavens were speaking directly to us, but had to explain the Easy Rider reference to me.

We left New York in an August heat wave and navigating up through the Catskill Mountains we were met with the sporadic, but violent, thunderstorm. We pulled over at Niagara Falls to cool off in the spray of the natural wonder, marvel at my hair sticking straight up from the electric charges and ask some tourists to take our photo. We continued on around Lake Eerie and stopped for a meal at a local café boasting the local flavor of their renowned grape juice.

Sipping on my grape-float I described to my father the goals for the trip, beyond finding Zen and peace inside a helmet. Food and local flavor, I wanted to stay off the interstates and check out the locals, seriously what is in middle America besides Bush voters I'd heard rumors of corn fields and cheese, but we were about to find out for ourselves!

We pushed forward through the heat and thunderstorms. After grapes and the first great lake, we hit Amish county, Cleveland and then the ominous sight of Chicago fortified by its construction clogged highways. Approaching Chicago the tan lines on my back were seared in red and my fragile GSX-R kept 'reminding' me of the inescapable heat by reaching obscene motor temperatures then nagging at me with the check engine light. We headed into Chicago with one motive push through to the other side. The Motorcycle gods had another plan.

After struggling through 5 lanes of traffic in the merciless sun we found ourselves in standstill traffic on a giant overpass, high in the air with zero shoulder room. My bikes temperature ticked progressively higher then I had ever seen it and then conveniently shut off. With semi trucks on my rear and nowhere to go, I helplessly tried to get the bike running, no luck. I was left to push my bike, Flintstone style; I paddled like mad to avoid getting swallowed by Chicago's ruthless traffic. I frantically coasted across the many lanes of traffic, finally descended the ramp and stopped under the shaded mercy of an over pass.

Thoughts of a cracked oil pan seemed petty now! Had I blown my engine right here in this Chicago heat wave

My father and I fiddled around with this and that, to no avail. Finally I went into the city to call a tow truck and find a shop. We dropped the bike off just as the shop was swinging its gates closed for the night. We enjoyed the unexpected layover in Chicago, exploring downtown, walking along the water and eating at a rather questionable Persian joint. The next morning we both piled on my Dads bike, me half perched on top of them luggage and nervously rode to the shop.
To our utter relief my bike was fine, a little gunk in the kill switch assembly had prevented it from starting, but other than that the old Suzuki was sound. My father was eyeing the windshields in the shop like candy after being blasted by wind a third of the way across the country and ended up purchasing one. After installation of the windshield we got back on the freeway. Anyone who has drove Chicago knows not only are the freeways plagued with traffic and construction; in addition ill-placed toll booths act as giant speed bumps and catalysts for more traffic jams.
One of these toll booths, I got the toll money out of my tank bag and as I sped away from the booth, realized I didn't put my wallet away -I caught sight of my pick wallet flying away behind me. Determined not to lose my money, identity and credit cards to this city seemingly determined to destroy me, I screeched to a stop and ran back to my wallet on the side of the freeway. As I jogged up to my wallet, I saw it flying up in the air as cars sped over it sending my cards and cash spinning up into the air. I half laughed and half cursed at the idiocracy of the entire scene as a dashed onto the road during a break in traffic. I collected everything I remembered having in my wallet, which I guess anything forgettable isn't worth having.

By this time my father, unknowing of the entire situation had exited and passed by me going the other direction. Seeing I was in one piece and getting back on my bike, he had to go through the tolls 2 more times to get back on track. Irritated, we finally rendezvoused and got back on the road together, leaving the windy city once and for all.

The next few states were pleasantly peaceful. Throughout Wisconsin we kept seeing signs for 'custard' a delicacy I have never experienced. Unfortunately every time we came across an establishment with custard it was either 7am or we had just ate, so custard remains the elusive edible item of our trip.

Minnesota surprisingly stole my heart. The twisty roads, green mountains, misty valleys and country lifestyle were alluring and beautiful. One night we stayed in 'Winona' a bit of a haul off the road we were following, but worth it. That night we poked around in our tank bags, both out of clean clothes we decided to find a laundry mat. Wearing our night gowns and flip flops we cruised down to the local laundry mat. As our laundry tumbled dry we enjoyed some 'authentic Italian pizza' from Minnesota's finest and then rode back through the quiet summer air.

As we entered the Dakotas, we started noticing a very visible phenomenon, Harley groups, like locust, seemed to be getting thicker by the minute. We realized our trip fell on that hallowed Harley meet in Sturgis and began to develop our inside jokes as it seemed each viewpoint or cultural attraction we stopped at groups of men in leather giddily requested we get a group shot.
Our trip had been pretty free spirited, for weather reasons we wanted to stay North, for quaintness we stuck to small back roads, but there were two destinations I had to see, a twisty road called 'Spearfish Canyon' and Yellowstone. Spearfish Canyon because it stuck out on the map as a twisty motorcycle haven and Yellowstone to catch a few geysers. Ironically Spearfish Canyon was minutes away from Sturgis and since we were already headed there, we figured we'd go into town and check out the meet.

Sturgis was a spectacle, I was an odd ball on a sport bike, but it was worth the look around. As we reached the far end of town we took off for Spearfish Canyon, without needing a map as a clear flow of bikes flocked toward it. The entrance to the canyon is marked by Deadwood, a town made all too famous by Hollywood and it was an adult Disney Land full of casinos, entertainment and fatty food. We enjoyed some fatty food and left the rest, as we cruised down the twisty road along a glittering river.

Leaving North Dakota we entered Wyoming, on track to hit Yellowstone in a day or two. Unsuspectingly, Wyoming dazzled us with some of the trips most amazing natural wonders and settings. One evening we found ourselves descending a small mountain range. As the sky grew purple the bluffs which reached up into the heavens contrasted in glowing shades of orange. Sporadic frail pines struggled out of the rocks adding to the unearthly wonder we were witnessing. Mouth open wide I looked from side to side taking in the sight, nearly running off the tightly twisting road a few times, which jolted my adrenaline and focused me back on the road.
Once down in the valley we pulled into 'Ten Sleep;' population 287. We stopped for fuel and while fueling a teenage boy raced out of a beat-up old pickup to gawk at my bike. He wanted to chat about the bike and ask the normal questions, I guess sport bikes are not that common in Ten Sleep. As we parted ways he exclaimed, That's just a sick-ass bike. I gracefully thanked him as my father marveled at the linguistical refinement of this sleepy town.

The next day we entered Yellowstone. After a day of cruising around lakes, up and down mountains, exploring thermal pools and geysers, and even riding through a herd of buffalo, the hype over Yellowstone was clearly obvious. We moved north toward Montana, where the Rocky Mountains slowly became a visual reminder we were approaching home. The mountains loomed in the distance for hours on end, they signified the light at the end of the tunnel and our imagination climbed up and over them to our hometown which resided on the other side.

We took a northern route over the Rockies and Idaho boasted its finest of glittering lakes and god-like mountains. As we descended into Eastern Washington we had around 4hours to go which left us alone in the flat desert to reflect on our adventure. As we raced down the highway, Dads face shrouded with stubble and my hair able to break any brush that dare near it, there was a strange sense of accomplishment. Memories of the muggy heat of New York and Chicago, however embedded in our shirts, seemed distant and now the explicit details of our adventure were being replaced with more implicit lessons and memories.

In today's instant society, we have facts and documentation outlining nearly every aspect of our life. It's difficult to really find adventure, to seek out the unknown. While riding cross country you may not discover an uncharted sea or continent, but undoubtedly you'll feel the excitement and wonder of complete mystery around each bend. The more we learn and accomplish in this life you see that it's not the destination that matters it's the journey, but with a journey of this proportion you also realize that; it doesn't matter where you go, it's who's beside you that counts.