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AM I REALLY QUALIFIED?
by Douglas Chasar
When it comes to long distance riding there are a number of qualified sources that will tell you exactly what to do and perhaps more importantly what not to do. For instance, I can come up with over a half dozen do's and don'ts just off the top of my head: Dress in layers, plan your route, wear plenty of sun screen, ensure your bike is properly maintained, don't drink and ride, don't overload your bike, don't ride recklessly, and don't forget your cell phone. While I whole-heartedly believe in these tried and true guidelines, through apathy or negligence I somehow either forget or ignore the best of them.

For instance, one Saturday in October of 2001, Wendy and I decided the bright Arizona sun was growing warm enough to justify a trip north. Pushing 100 degrees and not yet mid morning, the last thing on my mind was a jacket. I left wearing nothing more than a t-shirt in addition to my customary boots and jeans, Wendy, always cold, wore a long sleeve shirt. As we wound our way up Highway 87 to Payson the air grew considerably comfortable, in my opinion. Heading east and climbing some more, the temperature dropped and dropped, and dropped. Wendy was lucky enough to have me as a wind screen, but I had nothing but to endure. If I was smart, before I left the house, I would have been thinking, Phoenix is just over 1000 feet in elevation, the Mogollon Rim is over 6500 feet. Change in elevation, change in climate, I should at least bring a coat. As it was, I shivered, pebbled with goose bumps, between Forest Lakes and Show Low and beyond until we reached the Salt River Canyon where the steep twisting road descended to the canyon floor, and the temperature climbed back to the proper 90 degrees.

Though I'd like to think I've learned my lesson, I still find myself leaving the house without a coat on a beautifully warm April afternoon only to head home with the sun beyond the horizon taking its warmth as it travels further west. Though stopping in a convenience store to pick up a gaudy sweatshirt for a little warmth is always an option, it is an option I have always declined.

Believe it or not, I do plan my longer trips with a good amount of detail. Between the trip planning software, atlases and Internet maps, I'd think my bike could make the journey without me, sometimes I think it would be better off.

This past summer, Wendy and I rode up the Pacific coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. I had planned this trip literally for years. As the days drew nearer, I spent every other thought planning and anticipating the day the ride actually came. Based on my research, I had written out the itinerary for every day including, how far we would travel, where we would stop, how long we would be on the road, and precisely, which highways and interstates would trace the scenic coast. Unfortunately, my planning didn't include which highways cut through towns congested with traffic. So at one point (don't let me fool you, this happened more than once), we strayed from my original plan and jumped on the interstate to avoid traffic. Several miles later, according to my atlas, we would be able to veer from our detour and reconnect with the highway. What the atlas didn't reveal was that the road was a residential street lined with schools, and the inevitable, stop signs and cross walks, cul-de-sacs and loops. An hour later we found ourselves at a dead end with no choice but to turn back.

A GPS is one of those handy items on my list of things I need before my next long ride along with a windshield and perhaps a lobotomy. But no matter how bad I'm burned, I keep on trying. Literally...

Early June is a fine time for riding. The days are warm, but summer hasn't had enough time to really take hold. I had owned my Valkyrie no more than a month. I was making the transition from being an avid hiker to an avid biker and decided to mix the two. On separate occasions, I had done both in Sedona and Flagstaff and all over central Arizona. I had had my eyes on the Chirichauas for some time. I was fascinated by the rock spires created by volcanic activity and thousands of years of erosion, and still am. A scenic stretch of I-10 traces some equally fascinating stone formations, between Tucson and Benson. Of course, I was only wearing a short-sleeved, t-shirt, jeans and sturdy hiking boots suitable for riding. At the time, my planning was far from accurate and I figured the Chirichauas were just a few minutes outside of Tucson. Well, I was wrong, but I was determined, and after more than four hours on the road I reached the national monument. Knowing it would be at least another four hours to get home, I opted out of the 11-mile hike and chose the easy 3-mile loop. The hike was good, very easy, but the real interesting formations must be on the longer trail. The overcast afternoon, unfortunately, seemed to wash all the color into a muted smear of dull browns, greens and gray. At this time I wasn't thinking about the five plus hours of sun exposure I'd had, and it took another three before I became concerned. When I reached the a service station in Tucson, I made sure to buy a quart of water and Gatorade, but, despite my red, all-but-blistering skin, I never thought to buy any sun screen. It was more than a week before the last few shreds of dry, sun-burned skin peeled away.

I'd also like to believe I'm diligent about maintaining my bike and inspecting it before every ride. Frankly, I tend to ignore the admonition about checking tires, fluids, mirrors and lights every time I ride. There's nothing more satisfying than simply swinging a leg over the saddle, cranking the engine to life and catching some wind on the open road. Besides, everything was working just fine when I rode yesterday, right?

On a long trip, this is another story, though. I don't want to be stuck out in BFE looking for a shop capable of fixing my bike and getting me home safely. I consider a long distance road trip a vacation of sorts, a break from the stress and worries of every day life. I don't need more while I'm on the road. That's why I always take my bike to a certified technician and order a complete tune up and inspection before I take a long trip. I trust the experienced eye of a professional who knows what to look for and what he's doing much more than I trust my amateur skills. That's how it took me by complete surprise when my alternator died one week before we left for a 4000 mile road trip shortly after getting it back from the shop. I had no time to schedule an appointment with a technician, so I would have to do the work myself. It's nothing I haven't done before, though I'd rather have a professional do it. I build and configure computers for a living, and they're machines just like motorcycles -- only a misplaced jumper or improperly seated RAM is not likely to cause me to break my neck. Scrambling around, I finally found a replacement that wouldn't cost an arm and two legs just days before we hit the road. The next day, after several hours sweating, covered with grease and grime in a garage heated by the July sun, struggling to replace the alternator (it seems the factory attaches the alternator to the engine, then drops the engine into the frame), I was delighted to hear my bike roar to life, and thrilled to watch the volt meter steady as the alternator's built in regulator kicked in. In my elation and relief, I failed to check the tread on my tires. That's how I found myself stuck out in BFE looking for a shop capable of fixing my bike and getting me home safely.

Ironically, a week earlier, Wendy and I decided to call it day early in the afternoon and took a ride out to Cave Creek to look at some potential property. Having long anticipated the weekend, we both headed towards the garage with smiles on our faces. Wendy's cell phone rested on the counter in the hallway. As we passed it, its tone signaled and incoming call. Instinctively Wendy reached for the devise, but pulled her hand back as if recoiling from a hot stove or a hissing cobra. We were both off the clock, so to speak, so Wendy left the phone where it lay until it signaled a message had been left. Deciding whatever it is could wait until Monday, we left the phone on the counter and walked out the door. That was the day my alternator kicked the bucket. Unshaven, in a black t-shirt, wearing a bandanna and dark sunglasses, I never realized it would be so difficult to flag down a driver with a cell phone.

So am I really qualified to speak as an authority on the subject of long distance travel? Over the years, I've read a number of books and articles on how to prepare for and endure a long distance road trip, and I've talked with just as many seasoned riders on the subject, but somehow, I always find a way to overlook common sense and experience. My sunglasses are no bigger than bottle caps, which shade the pupils of my eyes from the sun and do nothing to keep the wind from making my eyes water and blurring my vision. I never remember to wear my earplugs. If I use sunscreen, I neglect a second application after a long day in the sun. Alternatively, I can never seem to pack enough clothing to stay warm. So, am I really qualified? When I have a few more years and a few miles behind me, perhaps I'll have the knowledge and experience to tell others how to prepare for a long distance motorcycle trip. Maybe then, at the very least, I'll be able to take my own advice.

Ride safe, ride often...hell, just ride! - dpc



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