Solo Soul Searching with Ron LiebackMotorcycles are typically associated with freedom for some, speed for others. But above all, the one association that’s a constant – even if underlying – is that motorcycles create the perfect platform for one’s therapy.
With a mix of major changes in life, along with the 80+ hour work weeks, therapy of the mind, and more importantly, the soul, is a must. And so begins my only stretch of 10-consecutive days to travel in 2014.So what’s one to do? It’s obvious for me – take a motorcycle cross country. Yep, 10 days. Miles wise, it’s likely a bit more than 7,000. The travels all fit into a short novella I plan to write one day, titled “Solo Soul Searching.”Of course, plans are in disarray as I prepare last minute. I want to pilot the best motorcycle to and from my hometown of Mountain Top, Pa., to Plain, Washington, to participate in the Touratech Rally.Calls are made, plans are solidified. But then my contact who had hooked me up with a long-term test bike calls it quits with the OEM. This leaves me without a ride – two weeks ahead of the trip.Time is pressing, and things simply don’t line up.This all turned out to be a blessing, though. Why? After one single email, my friends at Kawasaki hooked me up with a 2014 Kawasaki Concours 14. I had tested their speed-savvy Ninjas over the years, but never actually rode the Concours…aka “Conny.”My normal sport tourer is a 1998 Honda VFR800F with much work done, and about 50K on the odometer. I trust my Viffer to take me anywhere without issue; I took it down south loads of times, including one maniacal trip to VIR for Aaron Stevenson’s Corner Speed school; I traveled there, stripped the bike to the essentials, track-readied it, did two days on VIR, re-installed all parts, and in one long ride took the nearly 800- mile trek back home.But now I was on a 2014 Concours 14 with 600 miles, the machine barely broken in. Plus, it looked more touring than sport-touring. Man was I wrong…The trip begins with my lateness. Ten days on the road? Yep, I started prepping three hours ahead of departure. That didn’t work out so well, considering Conny has no ease of access to round handlebars for mounting electronics, nor accessible hard wires. I wasn’t about to slice into a the electronics of a machine I didn’t own, nor did I want to.Plus, I had to quickly familiarize myself with not only the Garmin, but also a SPOT GPS device that my wife bought me. The latter turned out to be the best investment considering I could track my daily routes (pics of the tracked route will be included at the end of this blog once the trip is completed).So I had a slew of issues due to GPS and tracking units, not to mention re-familiarizing myself with all the GoPro setups and the Nikon D2H I had just received back from the shop; I broke the latter during my honeymoon just a day before touring the Ducati Factory. Ugh.Pissed, with the clock nearing 8 p.m. on my planned opening day, I slept on all of these problems. With a fresh mind, everything went smooth the following morning with a fresh mind. I rigged the GPS I was testing – a Garmin 590 LM that my friends at Touratech-USA sent – and figured out the most optimal way to secure my Nelson-Rigg Dry Bag.After making breakfast for the wife and I (and a scrambled egg for my dog Bostrom), the Klim Badlands and Shoei Neotec were on, and I was ready to take on new challenges. I traveled back-and-forth across the states with a good friend many times via car in my early 20s living via a Kerouacian lifestyle, and always wanted to complete it on a motorcycle. And part of the dream was doing it solo. Alone on the road is when I work things out best in my head.The time finally came. As people say “Time Flies,” well the first day of my travels did. And here starts the blog, which I will update every night while traveling, contingent on sleep.Saturday, June 21 – Day ISince my original plans were plagued by attempting to set up electronics – things I never used while traveling on previous trips throughout the states – I gave up. Simply gave the hell up.The wife told me to sleep on it. I never heed advice well, but since I did marry her, she obviously has much say. So lack of day, and me defeated, I slept. The next morning, freshness bloomed. Breakfast, mentioned before, and some re-thinking. Yep. Fresh minds speak wonders; the bike was now set.After the typical kisses before planting the helmet on the head, the Conny cranked with smoothness. The 1352cc engine warmed up within minutes, its inline four calming to a relaxing idle. Two fingers on the clutch, I eased the Conny from the house for the first time. I also checked the brakes heading down the driveway, the “K-ACTS” (aka ABS) doing its part on my misty-morning driveway.Grabbing I-81 south from I-80, I needed to make up some time. Unfortunately, the Conny only had a bit over 600 miles. I believe in hard break-ins, but then again, I didn’t pay the over $16,000 MSRP for this bike. So I kept her below 7K as I stormed down I-81 towards Winchester, Va.Once there, I cut west on state Route 50. It had drizzled, but once I found some rhythm on the Conny, and got used to its hard-diving linked brakes (especially the rear I usually use only to scrub off corner speed; hit that thing hard mid corner and the front dives, which quickly upsets suspension and could be catastrophic!), the rain began. And it hurt, even through the Klim gear.But before this, I was able to enjoy pushing the Conny through some twisties on 50 West, including some sweepers before and after the little town of Capon Bridge. I shot a few pictures, and began trekking west. My hopes were to make it to somewhere around Louisville that night, but I spent a few hours in hardcore fog and drizzle. Even though I trust pushing the Bridgestone BT-021 tires in slick conditions, it’s hard to do when visibility is less than a bike length ahead. No joke…and thankfully Kawasaki equipped the Conny with four-ways; I’m sure a speeding mail truck would have taken me out if not.Then the gas light came on. I had planned a gas stop, but when arrived the station only had 87 on tap; that’s it. This is when Miss Garmin really impressed with it’s easy-to-find gas station knowledge, the little lady in the electronic speaker piercing my Scala Rider Q2,She saved me, and I was refilled. But here came the rain again. I decided to ride around it, and though the road appeared straight and easy up to a major highway, it was far from it. On an adventure bike the flooded road would have been beyond fun. But a 688-lbs. sport tourer. Um, no.I went north to Oakland, Maryland, which dumped me back into West Virginia via route 7 and then the Brandonville Pike. On the GPS it looked fun, but it was a rough road with flooding at points. To give you an idea of how bad? The 11-mile stretch took nearly 40 minutes. But finally, I jumped on I-68 west to I-79 south to get back on route 50 west.When I hit the Appalachian Highway in Ohio (50/32, which I recalled the Guintoli/Bostrom highway due to my racing heroes), I was practically alone, and able to throttle through to just south of Cincinnati. My goal was a Comfort Inn in Seaman, Ohio. Once I was near, I stopped at a gas station for a bottle of red and some cold beer. I was able to put it between my lap and ride to the hotel.But when I got there, they were booked. Lesson learned- always check in before buying booze that simply can’t fit in your already stuffed luggage. Luckily, the next hotel was only a few miles west in Winchester, Ohio. Unpacked and showered, the liquid spirits calmed the inner spirit that could have kept me roaming through the night. But sleep was needed after nearly 14 hours of travel, and I was beat.Day one miles – 685.Sunday, June 22 – Day IIAwakening was easy – the energy for the road burned in the soul. After simply reloading the bike thanks to Conny’s easy bag setup – and my Nelson Rigg Adventure Dry Bag and vintage Cortech tank bag that I’ve used religiously since 2000 – I was off.I trekked out a beautiful route through the Ohio/Kentucky backcountry, hoping the K-ACT ABS (Kawasaki Advanced Coactive-Braking Technology) would not dampen my spirited ride. The first road – Russeville Road – allowed this. I was able to see what the Conny can do – and it pleased.Following a few long-ass sweepers, I headed on 62 West towards 8 in Kentucky, traveling along the Ohio River. I was impressed by the river’s size, and the amount of workforce the river can bring to such small towns throughout. I passed over the river in Ripley, Ohio, and crossed over to Kentucky; this was the first time I throttled anything in the “Bluegrass State,” home to 2006 MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden.I expected the stereotypes associated with it, and many proved true. But one thing I didn’t know was the beauty the Kentucky backcountry can deliver for a biker. This all occurred to me while riding up 8, snaking the Ohio River north. But it really woke up when I made a left on 2228 (Foster Road), and ascended up a twisty section towards 9.I then settled on a non-planned route that took me throughout various roads from route 177 to 421. The roads are intense; there are no guardrails, and if you misjudge a turn, you’re simply crashing. The roads are all elevated above their side counterparts. Simply put – there’s no room for error…or bicyclists, for that matter. And look out shirtless people donning mullets in the middle of the road; I encountered five that were just walking in the middle of the road.After testing the true limits of my loaded Conny, I planned to trek down to Louisville. But within minutes of riding I-71, I knew this wouldn’t happen. Instead, I stopped for lunch at a Subway at the first exit I saw (ahead of Pendleton), and remapped my plan. This took me on another intense ride as I headed north on 421 towards Indiana. And again, I crossed the Ohio River and entered another state; this time Indiana on 56 west.The town was Madison, and the boating community was flourishing. Photo opps were there, regardless of the 90-degree temps. I headed down towards the river, and enjoyed a huge barge taking something east. It reminded me of the Mississippi, a river I fell for many times in my youth. Those days, a great friend and I had wanderd around the country a few times via a beat Saturn, a budget of pennies, Ramen noodles and sleeping bags.I continued on 56 towards 60 west and finally 50 again. In my youth I was also a lover of James Dean, and wanted to head north to his birthplace of Marion, Indiana. But the roads were too smooth and quick, and I was making miles turn into seconds. I now understand why Dean enjoyed speed, unfortunately a love that assisted in his death; you can scream across Indiana with full visibility – something needed for the American speedster.At this time the mind was relaxed, and I was not stopping, hoping to sleep near St. Louis. I pushed and pushed, but I had to stop a few times due to the beauty of the road. Two memorable stops – a railroad scene in Olney, Illinois – the “Home of the White Squirrel,” where a man actually stopped and asked if I was OK. And another – the General Dean suspended bridge over the Kaskaskia River that feeds into the Carlyle Reservoir, which is Illinois largest lake.But sleep was in order after riding nearly 13 hours. And my initial reservations at a clean hotel fell through due to me booking it the wrong date (duh!). So I was forced to settle for a little place on the east side of St. Louis.A quick glance at the people I encountered at this place? I’m stretching, ready to take a quick jog to witness the Mississippi. Then some man or kid or guy – ahhh – asked me if I had any cigarettes. Then he tells me he is saving money for a new bike, and that Harley has these “Buell” bikes with “coolant” in the frame, and these huge “rear” brakes that “surround the tire.” Poor guy. The sad part? He kept wiping the drips from his nose, and, even sadder, he had his daughter with him of about 12 or 13.Here I am, taking a trip to capture a spiritual existence on American roads, and the sadness continues. But I did see them in the morning, and things looked OK…Day two miles – 459Monday, June 23 – Day IIIAhh, the fresh work week for most, but not for me. I awoke after a horrible night of sleeping with a fresh mind.A mile or so towards the St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, my Scala Q2 blew out. I was sort of happy, considering the speaker piece annoyed me, feeling awkward on my ear. Relying on the visuals of the Garmin, I made it downtown. I stopped at a Starbucks to fuel on Espresso, and headed to grab some pictures of the Arch.But traffic was heavy in the 90-degree heat, and instead I headed towards to the Casino Queen in Illinois. It had the best vantage point, and I was going to capitalize on it. I wanted to stop, and maybe throw a hand down or two, but those always turn into an entire afternoon – or night – of gin and loss of money. Yep, I’ve grown up…After taking a few photos, riding the Conny on a sidewalk spot I’m sure would be loaded with tourist any other time than Monday morning, I headed towards the highway, wanting to burn some quick miles before getting on 50 west again.On I-44, I did what I always did when wanting to make time up. I traveled a bit above the speed limit until someone came up on me fast. This ride was a rusted-out Dodge Ram – a huge gas-guzzling 1500 pickup. I let him pass, and trailed, keeping the usual 8-10 seconds following distance. I followed him all the way to 50 to 54 in Jefferson City. Right before I got off the exit the driver slowed down, giving me a thumb up. I nodded, and realized I just rode nearly 150 miles.I fueled Conny in Jefferson City, Missouri, grabbing a sandwich and a zero-calorie Red Bull – a drink not offered in Kentucky or Ohio in zero calories until I hit this city. From here, I traveled 54 to Wichita, Ks.Can I explain fun? I was filling up every 170-200 miles. After roaring through 54 west, the low fuel warning was highlighting Conny’s dash at 130 miles. Yep…full leaning-off-the-full-sport-touring-bike fun.This ceased all late-afternoon stops, until fuel ran low ahead of Kansas. I was forced to stop in Fort Scott, where famed Life magazine photographer and director of Shaft Gordon Parks was born.While filling the Conny at a gas station on East Wall Street, the nerves set in. Until now, I left everything on the bike, trusting the true American lifestyle. But here, my eyes never left the bike as I went in for a cold bottle of water. While inside, the worker whispered to her friend about the “guy with the side-ways/back-wards hat” not being allowed in the store any longer.Why? He stole some candy bars the previous night. Yes, candy bars. And he was by my Conny. My trusted Conny. Thankfully, I had a three-day beard and looked like a mad Italian when I walked out the door. One glance, and there were no issues.BS aside, I headed west again, and remained on 54. The towns diminished, and suddenly 54 became a platform for pure speedism – a disease most fall for when space and visibility are present.Throttle cracked, I continued through until having to stop for gas – this time only 170 on the tank!I could have continued towards my ultimate goal of Dodge City – home of Wyatt Earp – but decided to plant myself in Wichita, Ks. Why? Because it’s my time alone, allowing my mind breaths to finally breathe…But tomorrow – especially after some great California Cab – has some high points, including Dodge City, and, of course, Pikes Peak. It is qualifying tomorrow for the closest race to the Isle of Man TT we will ever have as Americans. That’s until they open the roads to pure madness for the rider’s life, um, people that just want to cross the country for endurance of the mind and soul…Day three miles – 480Tuesday, June 24 – Day IVAs I typed Day IV, I realized the significance of IV – intravenous. This is what I thought I would need after my first encounter with the true spirit of severe Bread Basket weather that turned into a tornado warning. But more on this in a bit…Following a serious seven-hour sleep in Wichita, I was ready to visit Dodge City – the cow-buckling town where one of my father’s – and also my – heroes Wyatt Earp once roamed as assistant marshal. This was before Earp rode his horse – the closest thing to a motorcycle in the midwest of the 19th century – to Texas for gambling purposes, where he met the legendary John Henry “Doc” Holliday.The humidity intense, I rode out of Wichita on 400 west with one mission – to make it to Dodge City in record time. My goal for the evening was Cheyenne, Wyo., and I planned on settling the body and soul before 10 p.m.Miss Garmin told me the journey would take a bit over two and a half hours; I made it there in under two. As stated in yesterday’s post, space and visibility allowed me to fuel my Speedism condition. As for the Conny? A bit more heat was felt at the thighs, but other than that not one single issue.After getting sidetracked for a gas stop, I rode the 155-mile trek straight through, enjoying the openness of the midwest. The fresh air embraced the soul until I came up on some farmlands where 1000s of cows roam and chew before the inevitable.There was one quick stop in Mullinville where 400 and 54 disassociate themselves. This was to view M.T. Liggett’s Political Sculptures that created the best roadside art show I had ever witnessed…can I say ever again? For a cross-country traveler, especially one charged by political madness (unlike me), Liggett’s creations are a must see.When I finally reached Dodge City, it was exactly as I imagined – the smells of manure and trucks loaded with cows traveling west and east. At the Love’s gas station, I met a fellow rider who was traveling back to his hometown near Louisville, Kentucky. One glance at the Conny and he said “that must be a bullet.” Yep, I agreed, looking at his bug-covered Gold Wing. I explained where I rode in his state, discussing the madness of the roads in Northern Kentucky. He agreed, and promised he will come out to Pennsylvania someday to ride the beautiful roads I sometimes forget about.Two riders heading in two separate directions making conversation. Only on the road can one truly experience the soul of America.But I had to get my soul moving, and after hydrating myself with yet another Red Bull and two bottles of water – which definitely played a major part in me missing a wicked storm later due to having to stop and use a bathroom – I headed to Wyatt Earp Boulevard.When I came up on Central Avenue of East Wyatt Earp Boulevard, I was amazed at the huge bronze statue of this O.K. Corral legend – so amazed that I pulled the Conny right on the curb and starting shooting pics. Nobody – even the local state trooper that drove by – seemed to care. Ah, the freedom of the midwest.After grabbing some pics, I pulled the Conny under a tree, allowing the shade to comfort her inner soul. Across the street at some boot shop, I noticed a dog continually barking. The poor guy was in the back of a jacked-up pickup truck. It appeared his paws were burning in the black-colored bed of the truck that soaked up the Kansas sun. And though he barked and barked, tossing his paws above the edge of the truck’s bed, he couldn’t get out.Poor guy. While eating my apple, I noticed nobody exiting the boot store near the truck. I took my last cold water, cut the lid off with the trusty knife my father gave me years ago, and walked over, giving the dog some water. I also “accidentally” spilled some in the bed of the truck, hoping to give him some comfort from the hotness.I suited up, and that poor dog just stared at me, likely wanting to jump on the Conny and flee Dodge City. If the Conny only had a sidecar, I’d surely be bringing him home…After a quick stop at Boot Hill, a museum that preserves the old scene of the town, I began throttling towards Pikes Peak, where I planned to meet some Kawasaki associates, and another one of my heroes – Guy Martin, the 15-time Isle of Man TT podium finisher who was in America!But things were about to change – drastically. Due to the water I drank, I was forced to stop off at a rest station on 400 as the Santa Fe train I passed a few minutes ago rolled by. I then helped an elderly gentlemen into his car. Apparently, he slipped and was sore on his travels back to Ohio. This kindness turned into a conversation, which burned up much time. Precious time, considering a storm was brewing just north of us.But this act of charity – along with my full bladder – just may have saved me. While passing through Garden City, a storm roared towards 400. Always able to dodge storms in Northeast Pennsylvania, I thought it would be no issue. But man was I wrong.First, the cold sets in; the ambient temperature gauge on the Conny went form 83 to 58 degrees in the matter of seconds. And the wind picked up as these devious-looking clouds continued towards me. I pulled over, again thankful for the Conny’s four-ways, and began zipping up all vents on the Klim gear.Only on my second of eight zippers, the red, white and blue lights were flashing. But it wasn’t due to my sickness of Speedism; rather it was due to kindness. “Sir, I advise you to turn around quickly, and get back into Garden City,” the state trooper said.I told him as an East Coast rider, I made it through many storms. “These are no Pennsylvania storms,” he said. “You can continue, but I really don’t want to see your body splattered across this highway. That would surely ruin my supper.”I concurred. The kindness was unprecedented; he kept his lights on, and positioned his truck behind my bike, helping to slow traffic down. Without finishing my zip ups, the rain began violently hitting every surface, the entire scene appearing like scenes from Dante’s Inferno.And I was no Virgil; I started the Conny, stood up on the pegs and crossed through the grass median, heading east back towards Garden City. The winds were getting serious, and somehow my mind kicked into overdrive; I found an empty shopping-cart cover in the parking lot of Menard’s, and parked the Conny under it, wanting to save this beauty from possible hail or any other thing that would float its way.Immediately, the tornado sirens went off, a sound that drowned every possible thought.Talk about serious fear; I’ve only feared death twice in life due to crashes (both car and motorcycle), but this was the first time it arrived from natural occurrences. You simply don’t mess with nature; it can quickly create unbalance for the loved ones.The essentials already in my pocket (wallet, SPOT, phone), I quickly dashed towards Menard’s, the staff opening the door for me. They hurriedly brought me to the middle of the store where about 40 people were under a section further constructed of protective metal, something one would not notice if simply shopping. But tornadoes are serious killers, and safety resides on these types of structures.Here, I attempted to call the wife, but the 3G didn’t come through. I began talking with some locals, and soon I could barely hear their voices due to the heavy rain and hail pounding off the metal roof. I was hoping the tank bag would remain secure on the Conny, and my Garmin wouldn’t go flying across the parking lot. I did test the Cortech bag with six bottles of wine packed away back in 2001 at speed, but again, this was nature, not a handful of throttle.Luckily, everything remained, unlike the full sheet-rock slabs that were flying across the parking lot, a few becoming chalk dust on the hoods of cars.Nearly an hour passed, and the tornado threat was over. But the winds were still wicked, and the rain continued. I decided to wait it out until I saw some clear skies. Just over two hours from my first encounter with the most serious sirens ever, I geared up and was about to continue my journey.But a string of storms followed, and I was forced to pull over once again at the same spot where the state trooper advised I return to Garden City. I wanted to continue, but the fear remained. I turned back, stopping at a the Hobo Travel Stop where owner Danny Patel was inside, attempting to get service on his phone.He offered me a cigarette, and though I don’t necessarily smoke (except for cigars and a few cigs when guzzling booze in the backcountry), I accepted his offer. Not a Kansas native, he told me stories about getting stuck in a similar storm while riding a quad near Garden City. He said even that thing was almost pulled to the sky. He then said, “you can’t $*%& mess with mother nature.” Again, I agreed.Also bitching about the lack of service, Danny was able to finally bring up the latest radar. Red and yellow covered most of the area I was riding through. And like the state trooper, he advised I stay. “Remember, these are not East Coast storms,” he said, giving me a quicker route towards the hotels.Helmet back on, I headed towards downtown Garden City. The rain had stopped there, allowing for a great photo pop at the Kwik Stop where a lady had no shoes on and was pumping gas while the flooded parking-lot water covered her ankles. I pulled the Conny on the edge of the floated water, and the lady walked over, offering to take a pic of me in the water. When hospitable in life, such as my giving that Dodge City-dwelling dog water, the favors seem to return. But there was an issue; my camera was turned on Shutter mode, and the pic was well under exposed. Another lesson learned – check camera settings before each shoot, especially when a few hundred miles are completed.Not caring now about booking a hotel room via phone, or the missed photo opp, I did it old school. And the first place I saw? The Clarion Inn. More importantly, there was a Samy’s Spirit & Steakhouse there. I was finally going to have my first hot meal since leaving home on Saturday.After a shower and a 12-oz Ribeye down washed down with some Petite Sirah, I was able to finally relax and write – something needed to release the fear I witnessed during my first – and hopefully ever – tornado warning.Writing – like riding – is therapy; sometimes I confuse which is which. And this is what the road is all about.Day four miles – 237 Wednesday, June 25 – Day VYesterday’s fear vanished following a night of good food, wine and writing. I allowed myself to sleep in a bit, getting nearly seven hours.First order of business was the Weather Channel; severe thunderstorms were possible, but during the late afternoon. I could deal with this, considering I knew I’d be in Colorado before they hit this never-ending flat land.Following a few hours of work, I packed things up and got back on the road around 11 a.m. Late, but OK with me considering my plans were completely altered due to Mother Nature sounding the alarm Tuesday.Glancing over Google Maps, I realized I wouldn’t make it to Plain, Washington, in time for my Friday ride at the Touratech Rally. Essentially, my number-one goal was cut.It was possible to make it there and ride with the Touratech-USA crew Saturday, but having to be back in Pennsy for Tuesday would make the trek home beyond exhausting. I’m always ready for madness, but not that much – two days and over 2600 miles via motorcycle would drive any rider to his breaking point. My longest journey so far was nearly 1000 miles straight. But my mind breaths were in disarray for a few days following that ride, along with my right thumb.Speaking of the latter, my thumb was in pain the first few hours of Wednesday’s trip. Why? I tore up a bunch of the ligaments during a 25-mph street crash back in 2008. The injury creates numbness, along with constantly having to switch hand positions on the throttle after a few hundred miles. But it’s a futile issue considering what motorcycling does for my soul.Following the tornado warning in Garden City, Ks., Mother nature slowed down the usual mad miles of my daily journeys, but I believe all happens for a reason. What that reason is I’ve yet to figure out. But it will surface shortly, I’m sure.So packed and ready to finally get to Pikes Peak, I gassed up the Conny and headed west on 50 – the route that fed me more freedom than any other in my life of solo traveling. Since leaving Missouri on 50, I was riding along the great Santa Fe Trail “Mountain Branch” that followed the Arkansas river towards the prairie lands of Colorado.After leaving the hotel in Garden City, I reached the same point where I was forced on Tuesday to turn back not once, but twice, due to the storms. But this time clear skies with temps around 85 kept me throttling along. Due to visibility, I was again able to keep the Conny around 4500-5000 rpms between towns, enjoying the power and comfort of such a great travel companion.As I neared the Colorado border, the terrain was slowly changing from endless fields of grain and cows to a mix of sand and horses. When I reached the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign, I assisted a young couple from Indiana who were shooting some pics. They were driving to Utah, and enjoying the openness of the road. The guy also looked like a young Layne Staley, one of all-time favorite songwriters from Alice in Chains who unfortunately succumbed to his own “Sick Man” ways.While taking photos, a mother and daughter also pulled into the area. They were from Texas, and traveling west to no particular location. Ah the road…nothing can beat it for any type of situation, whether solo via two wheels, riding as two young lovers, or intensifying the bond between parent and child.Southern Colorado was not what I had expected. I traveled the northern part in my 20s with a great friend while making mad dashes to San Jose and back home, but here the land was loaded with ranches that never end.Within five miles, I stopped four times. My favorite was near this lonely tree amid all the land. While shooting, two horses ran towards me, simply not afraid.I walked towards them, and instead of running, they had their huge heads over the small fence consisting of four simple cords of wire. The beauty of free-roaming animals is unique, something I don’t see much in Pennsylvania. I was wishing I had an apple or two to feed them, but all I could do was offer some petting.If I had the day to burn away, I would have sat down near that tree and those horses and read the only book I bring with me on the road – Walt Whitman’s Leave of Grass. The book had always offered peace while traveling, and the same copy tugs along with me on all my solo travels, along with a knife my father gave me engraved with my initials, and a motorcycle angel pin from a former girlfriend’s mother.I will not ride without that angel pin; once while heading to Blue Ridge Parkway I realized about an hour into the trip that I had forgot the angel. I immediately turned around, trekked home, and grabbed it. While traveling back, about 10 miles from the point I turned around a crash had the right lane closed down. Who knows if I would have been involved…After enjoying the company of the horses I silly named Cody and Neal, I continued my ride, this time not blowing through miles as usual. I was in a absurdly slow comfort zone, my soul needing only time on the road for pure relaxation.Before Lamar, Co., I caught up to the young couple I had met at the border. I passed them, and would later see them passing me in the same town as I was entering the Hickory House. I was ready for some food. And regardless of the 88-degree temps in town, I sat down to a great meal of minestrone soup and a huge salad.Back on the road, I was anxious now to get to Pikes Peak. But I had to turn around and stop at a vintage shop called the 1st Street Emporium in La Junta, Colo., where I peered through the vintage books looking for anything to my liking. I found three, but realized I only had a few single dollars. The ATMs were near, but my soul’s drive for Pikes Peak was nagging me. I made a promise to return to that store, and I will surely have cash on hand to purchase some of the DH Lawrence original printings I leafed through.Riding along, dark skies were rolling towards me. Now completely out of flat country, no maddening threats were present, and I wasn’t about to zip up my gear’s vents or put on rain gloves; if it rained, I was continuing. I only had 70 or so miles to go.As I neared Colorado Springs, the Rocky Mountains began appearing, growing larger by the mile. I remembered the time this happened when my friend Jay and I first traveled I-70 to California; that same amazement returned, but it embraced the soul on a much larger scale due to being on a motorcycle. Cars bring enjoyment, but two wheels trump all.I passed through Pueblo, picking up I-25 north, heading quickly towards Colorado Springs. The speed limit is 70 mph, and due to the amazement of scenery, I found myself actually abiding to the law. I grabbed zillions of GoPro pics and video, and for the first time since traveling I was excited to not be on the motorcycle and simply gawk.I said goodbye to I-25 when I took exit 142 to West Colorado Avenue into Manitou Springs. This area is known for its spiritual healing. The springs have natural-healing abilities due to the minerals they provide. Many had traveled here since the 1870s in attempt to cure various diseases, such as tuberculosis, a disease that plagued thousands in the 19th century. During man’s big shift west, many relied on the spring’s healing abilities that the Ute Indians had been drinking and relaying on health for decades.Continuing on Business 24, a unique culture unfolded. The small shops and hotels were plentiful, and the streets were filled with people smiling. I stopped at a welcome center – a quaint building overshadowed by the huge mountains – but it was already closed.Luckily, the gardener was out front, picking weeds from the yellow flowers, and though she moved here five years ago, she knew little of what I was acquiring about – the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC).This made me realize how much more attention PPIHC needs, especially when riders like Guy Martin are town – a 15-time Isle of Man TT finisher. The event needs more national press, but, more importantly, more international press. This is the Isle of Man TT of the Americas. Plus, I want to race Pikes Peak, and this must happen; it’s a promise I made to myself two years ago.The gardener then reached into a little wooden box near the entrance of the welcome store, and handed me a tiny brochure of all happenings in Manitou Springs. Minutes later the Conny was started, and I headed west towards the Pike Peaks Highway, which stops accepting travelers at 6 p.m. (and you must be off the mountain by 8 p.m.).The Conny tracked beautifully up 24 towards the Pikes Peak Highway. En route, you also see “North Pole – Santa’s Workshop.” The shop’s signs tattoo the side of the road as you ascend towards the Pikes Peak Highway. I had never associated Christmas with Pikes Peak. But I can promise you one thing; from now on when Christmas arrives, I’ll wish I was stopping there.There’s a toll to get on the road, and with 15 minutes before it closed, I didn’t want to take the trek up the mountain that I know will become part of my obsession. Anyway, I waited in line to talk with the gentlemen collecting tolls. I told him my situation, and he gave me some brochures and said the practice begins at 4 a.m. sharp on Thursday. I already knew I wouldn’t be there at 4 (hoping for at least 7 a.m.)Following a conversation with the toll man, I descended the mountain on 24, stopping at a liquor store. There, I supported local wineries by purchasing some Woody Creek Cellars wine.Next was a hotel. I stopped at one place were fellow journalist and Pikes Peak competitor Don Canet (Cycle World) was staying, along with some other Pikes Peak racers. But they were all sleeping, and since I wanted to write outside and am ferocious while banging my MacBook’s keyboard (thanks for reminding me, wife), I decided to explore other lodging where I wouldn’t bother anyone.This brought me to the Timber Lodge, built back in 1939. Ironically, this is also where Daniel Fernández of Medellin, Colombia, was staying. He’s piloting a Kawasaki Versys 1000 at Pikes Peak, and he’s the first Colombian to ever compete there.The situation? I’m testing a Concours 14 and am near a Kawasaki racer. Also in the plans is an interview with the American IOM TT competitor Jeremy Toye, who is taking on Pikes Peak aboard a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. This will make Kawasaki proud, considering I’m touring through the states aboard a Conny, and two riders are racing Team Green machinery at America’s second oldest race (Indianapolis is the first).And Timber Lodge – room 21 – is exactly where I needed to stay in Colorado, considering tonight’s den is a cabin along a tiny stream. And there are no mosquitoes or nasty buggers bothering you. Right across the stream is Amanda’s Fonda, where I experienced the best Mexican food and salsa on my travels.Plus, the distance sound of Mexican music while writing this blog helped further soothe the soul. But now it’s time to enjoy that distance sound as I regroup and plan for tomorrow’s adventure. The only concrete plans are some observation of practice at Pikes Peak Hill Climb, and a hopeful great conversation with the Kawasaki racers, and, of course, Guy Martin. I may even shave my six-day beard into chops just for a great photo opp.Besides that, who knows where I’ll crash tomorrow night. Or what I’ll see. This is the road, and not knowing where you will end up is part of the excitement…Day five miles -303Thursday, June 26 – Day VIMy most peaceful night of writing turned for the worse Wednesday shortly after posting my day’s blog. Remember I said there’s a reason I wasn’t supposed to go the Touratech Rally, and I’d soon find out?Well I did. Sadly, one of my close childhood buddies passed away of natural causes Wednesday. His viewing is Sunday, and all of my close friends will be present; I simply can’t miss that.This created an immediate need to head back East at a rapid pace, which included nearly 500 miles today.A rapid pace was something I would have done anyway once I left the Touratech Rally on Saturday. But thankfully, no 900-mile days are in store. Instead, I can do some touring en route back home, something I’m sure my late friend would want.Sleep was great at the Timber Lodge, and I almost unfolded the sleeping bag on the porch last night. No mosquitoes would have nagged me, but the body was begging for a clean bed and some pillows.I awoke, completing some work, knowing I would miss the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb practice, which begins at 4 a.m. This also meant my chances of meeting Guy Martin were slim, and I still haven’t met him. But I needed to ride that mountain, which further solidified my wanting to race there.Saying goodbyes to the friendly owners of the Lodge, I trekked through Manitou Springs on 24 up to the Pikes Peak Highway. I paid my $12, and begin gunning up the mountain. I stopped near the starting line for “The Race to the Clouds” after mile-maker seven, and began the 12.42-mile ascend towards 14,115 feet above sea level where the race ends.Pikes Peak is simply no joke. These riders have balls, and even while riding the Conny at a conservative pace, danger was always present.Between loose rocks and sand blowing across the road to the edges that will surely toss one towards the end, racing Pikes Peak is completely insane. Even riding the mountain without any lean becomes threatening, especially when you reach mile-marker 14 where the tree line stops. From there to the summit, one mistake and say goodbye.And for some reason, this is the part that excites me. I love circuit racing, but my ultimate passion resides in the Isle of Man TT. And over the last few years, I become more and more attracted to Pikes Peak, considering it’s a much more obtainable – and much cheaper – goal than competing at the Isle of Man. Hopefully, I do both, but I know after experiencing Pikes Peak, racing there will happen. It now has to happen.Climbing Pikes Peak at pace takes every bit of energy of the mind and body, especially when piloting a full-loaded touring bike such as the Conny (and dodging the amazing bicyclists conquering the mountain). Ascending the Peak puts all negativity to the side, though I still couldn’t shake the thought of my friend passing.Once I reached the top, I was a bit light headed from the elevation. I was also cold – at the bottom it was 83 degrees, and at top 48. It took much energy just to walk at that elevation, so after taking some photos I was relieved to start my descent down. I couldn’t imagine having to wait up there while racing or qualifying. From the stories racers tell, the wait nags at the soul. Just think about it – after putting in every effort to get to the top as quickly as possible, you must wait for the others too. And at that elevation, healthy feelings are not in their prime…for me, anyway.On the way out of the dirt-parking lot of the summit, I watched a girl drop her bike and offer helped, but she was OK. I then had some fun for the first three miles towards the bottom, though you have to watch because brake fluid boils quickly at this elevation. There is also mandatory brake check en route down, but the the Conny presented no issues.The fun quickly turned to slowness as I closed up on a group of bikers and cars. Soon, we were stopped just after the tree line. Earlier in practice, Unlimited Class rider Mike Ryan crashed on a left hander, and his No. 777 Freightliner dropped about 50 feet down an embankment. Luckily, Ryan was not majorly harmed. But this caused a traffic backup of about 40 minutes. Then, all the cars were grouped up and the descend was far from fun.Once at the bottom, I had plans of riding straight to Denver to capture the spirit of my cousin who sadly passed away there in October 2011. I won’t get into details, but he suffered from addiction and fled from Pennsylvania to the Rockies to win the battle. But with all the news of my friend passing, I wasn’t ready to visit Denver yet. So I bypassed it, routing out a beautiful route northeast through Colorado.The route took me through Kiowa on some back roads where I witnessed maybe 20 cars in two hours. This dumped me out on 76 East, where after a short stint down the boring highway I picked up 34 East, and had some fun.Again, visibility was never ending, allowing me to push the Conny. I was making great time, but forgot that I was going to lose an hour in Nebraska. And after refueling in McCook, I was ready for bed. But I didn’t see any hotels worth staying in, and was planning to keep going to Hastings.Soon daylight diminished, and I was rolling through the Nebraska countryside. After passing a fellow biker, I encountered my first deer. This upped my attention, and I began going through the drills I have sketched out for a safety book I’m working on.The constant scanning began from at least 15 feet off each side of the road, along with searching for the bright eyes and slowing the machine down. Also, I finally found a nasty quirk with the Conny besides the lack of cruise control – the blue light that lights up the dash when the high beams are on is a huge distraction. So much, in fact, that I was forced to pull over and cover it. How? I had no tape, so I chewed a piece of gum and covered the light; all those years watching MacGyver had paid off.While stopped, I checked the Garmin for the closest hotel, and it had me going to Lexington off Interstate 80 – a highway I’ve come to dread since traveling it so much via car back and forth across the country in my younger days.The quickest way there took me up 283, which had me my emotions on edge during the entire ride of over 30 miles. Two more deer, a raccoon, and some flying bird all dashed before me.To make matters worse, there is absolutely zero lighting on the road, and I counted just 11 cars and one tractor trailer. I rode the entire way with two fingers covering the brake, and the eyes constantly scanning. This took more energy than the ride up Pikes Peak, and I actually felt less safe than I did ascending that mountain.But finally, I arrived at the hotel just after 11 p.m. I was beat, and the eyes were weary, but I had to write to truly relax. Besides riding Pikes Peak, the only other thing that went absolutely smooth was the weather. A storm chased me from Mountain Springs to Lexington, but I stayed just ahead of it and didn’t see one drop of rain. We always need to find those positives on days like these, and I’m hoping tomorrow is loaded with positivity.My plan is to find some serious curves en route to Chicago, where I hope to wake up Saturday morning after a belly full of pizza. But like life, plans sometimes get altered; I guess we’ll see what happens.Day six miles – 481Friday, June 27 – Day VIIFollowing yesterday’s somber outcome, I had one mission for Friday – burn through the American highways. And this is just what I did for 571 miles, riding through the afternoon and early evening hours.With the thought of my friend’s death boiling inside, my spirit again had another awakening moment; it reminded me that life simply can’t be wasted. Not one second of our time here should be taken for granted…ever. No excuses.With this in mind, I wanted to push myself to get to Illinois. The well-visited Chicago was not were I wanted to be, but rather Galesburg.Why? Chicago has decent pizza, but Galesburg was the birthplace of Carl Sandburg – the working man’s poet. This is also the town that tradition says the theater Marx Brothers first received the “o” extension to their names, such as the most famous brother Groucho Marx.But little did I know the great Galesburg Railroad Days was happening. And after 571 miles, the last thing a rider wants to here are those words: “There are no rooms left in town.” Lesson learned; I don’t book rooms because plans always seem to change. But when nearing a town I should start calling in advance.But more on that later…Before getting to the room in Lexington, Nebraska, last night, I was chased by storms rolling northeast. Luckily, I missed them. But while fast asleep after writing my blog entry, a tumultuous thunderstorm came through, waking me up. With all the saddening news in the forefront of my mind, I thought maybe it was a sign from someone or something. Who knows.Due to not being able to quickly fall back asleep, I achieved a mere six hours of night nights. But there’s something about the road that keeps me constantly refreshed. My wife says when I get home I’ll crash hard, but I never have before. Well in my 20s, anyway, so we’ll see.After a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausage, and two hours of work, I loaded the bike up and headed east again. It always feels awkward heading east since my most passionate riding directions reside south and west.Wanting out of Nebraska quickly due to the straightness of the roads, I burned up nearly 200 miles on I-80 east, that dreaded highway that somehow always surfaces in my plans.I rode just past Nebraska’s capital of Lincoln, and jumped onto Route 66.I like seeing unique things that most don’t experience, and the Plattsmouth Bridge that connects Cass County, Nebraska, to Mills County, Iowa, was one. Plus, it gives a truly unique view of the great Missouri River.The plan was 66 to 34, and all went smooth…and quick. The roads offer some fast sweepers, and 34 passes through many small small prairie towns, including Plattsmouth, which was home of another famous writer who lived their for a bit in his youth, Raymond Chandler.At the Plattsmouth Bridge, the lady collecting the $1 (for bikers) toll said she recognized my accent, and it was “refreshing.” Why? She and her husband were originally from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital. I never thought I’d meet a fellow Pennsylvanian at such a unique location. I asked why she was there and not in Pennsylvania, and with a smirk she said “I’d rather not say.” I left it at that.After shooting a few pics of the bridge, 34 in Iowa offers wide-open two-lane flat land roads, then others rolling through the hills, then long and straight highway situations.This continued as I burned up the miles through Iowa until I was able to cross my beloved Mississippi once again over a suspended bridge in the river-rich town of Burlington.I was planning to stay there, and have some catfish at Big Buddy’s on the river, but I thought heading to Sandburg’s hometown was the better decision regarding my soul’s fulfillment.Seriously, who else could think in his poetic ways while discussing Illinois’ famed Chicago:Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders.But regarding my plans to solidify another artistic reasoning of the soul, man was I wrong. No fault to Sandburg, but rather to the Railroad lovers’ top event of the year, which was occurring this weekend. Using the Garmin, I found a Choice Hotel (15% AMA discount!). Smiling while taking the helmet off because I’d be writing soon, the lady told me they were booked, along with every other place in town.Aggravation set in for about two seconds, but I remembered how bad things could truly be, even if I did just ride nearly 600 miles. On the way out of the hotel’s office, another blessing occurred; I talked with three elderly gentlemen who have met at the Railroad Days for over a decades.After discussing the Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” with a bearded fellow, he told me that there was a place smack in the middle of town. “Simply put, it’s beat. Really beat. But there are always rooms.” I asked if they knew of any other places, and they told me about a hotel a few miles out of town in Knoxville. I hurriedly got back on the highway, and when I arrived at the Super 8 they mentioned, there was one room left. And it was mine.Also, the AMA offers a 10% discount on Super 8 hotels. The room was on the second floor, which sucks for the motorcycle traveler, but, again, I took it as a blessing. Plus, the store for wine and food was within a half mile.After getting the easily-removable Conny bags, Nelson Rigg Dry Bag, sleeping bag and my trusted Cortech tank bag into the room, I emptied the tank bag and immediately rode to the store. Purchasing a bottle of Cab, a turkey and swiss half-hoagie and some salami, I headed back to the Super 8.The shower was great, as was the food and spirits. And now I’m set for yet another night of sleep in some part of the states I have never rested thy soul in. The alarm is set, and this time I will get my eight hours.As for tomorrow, I have a great trek planned that will take me through the rest of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio via twisties.So far I plan to stay off route 6 near Lake Erie, but I know once I hit Pennsylvania – regardless of the miles traveled – I’ll want to burn the American Highway once again.If it happens, at least I know that I’ll be sleeping next to the wife and my dog Bostrom, both of whom I miss much after the last week of riding that will register well over 4,000 miles on the Conny.Many more miles were planned, but sometimes the unknown intervenes. This causes me, like others, to rapidly alter plans. This is just what I did, and need to be there supporting my good friends as we mourn the passing of a childhood buddy.Until tomorrow…Day seven miles – 571Saturday, June 28 – Day VIIII went mad and totaled 870 miles in 13 hours, which included a bit over an hour touring norther Illinois. Total mileage? How about 4,036 in eight days. And the Conny did not let me down.But it’s nearly 2 a.m., and I just walked in the door. Time for a shower and sleep; blog will be updated after some sleep…(Update follows)Finally – a great night of sleep with no awakening storms! I awoke refreshed, and was ready for the longest ride of my trip. How long? When I parked the bike in the garage at 2 a.m., I had ridden 870 miles. This is quite the challenge on both body and mind.My original plan was for about 550-600 miles on route 6 towards Pennsylvania, but I was so refreshed I immediately made the decision to again burn the great American Highway. The main reason? I was not going to miss my buddy’s viewing. But first, a bit of touring in the state that was home to Abraham Lincoln.My trek took me on route 34 through the northeast section of the state. Back home, the huge complaints about Pennsylvania’s roads are pot holes. We have zillions of them, and regardless of how much PennDOT works on filling them, after winter the annoying pockets in the roads return.But you can ride around a majority of them. As for Illinois, there are no potholes, but just extremely rough road conditions – even for the comfortable Conny.I first noticed this when crossing the Mississippi River near Burlington, Iowa, Friday night as I headed into the state. There were even signs that said “Rough Road Ahead,” but I was so burnt at that point I barely noticed.Not being burnt out Saturday morning, the constant humps along 34 jarred my GPS unit a few times, and my zip-tied setup was coming undone. Regardless, after crossing through a huge windmill farm outside of Galva, some wickedly sharp corners arrived. Yep, I was nearing the East Coast again, and couldn’t wait to get on some twisties.My original plan was to complete 300 miles on the dreaded I-80, and then grab route 6 somewhere and have some fun. But this changed after my second gas stop near Toledo, Ohio, as I just missed storm after storm; someone was surely watching out for me . I was doing 200-mile clips, and with complete comfort. I did move around a lot, and found six different positions to sit on the Conny.I burnt through Illinois and Indiana, and was worried about Ohio; a majority of times I traveled through the “Buckeye State” I was pulled over by state troopers in that state for speeding. But luckily not this time. In fact, riding I-80 through Ohio was my favorite part of the ride; you can really hammer down though there. After a quick stop for a hoagie at a Subway just outside Toledo, I did some stretching and got back on; I knew I was about to challenge myself and ride straight through.Following another stop for gas outside Youngstown, Ohio, the sun was beginning to set. I always had a passion for riding at night, but it’s obviously dangerous. And with just under 300 miles to go, I had to keep a fresh mind to make the long haul safe. Red Bull was once again my savior, and when the sun began setting I pulled over near the Pennsylvania border and began regrouping. Again, I had to have a fresh mind for such a challenge (at speed).A calmness overtook my body when I finally hit Pennsylvania, though the state is a PITA to get through on I-80, usually due to the vast amount of state troopers patrolling the highway. But luckily, there is no roving radar in Pensy, and riding this highway so many times, I knew exactly where I could and couldn’t push it.Once the darkness arrived, the temps dropped down to around 65 degrees. I waited to find an exit and pull over to zip up my gear; you don’t want to pull over on the side of the highway at night. Many of the night’s tractor-trailer drivers are the mad ones who burn through the night. Some are extremely focused, others not so much. And being on the side of the highway with the latter is just plain stupid.I got back on the road, and was able to utilize the Conny’s heated grips, which work flawlessly. The easy-to-reach dial allowed me to find the perfect amount of heat for my night ride.Things were finally starting to get sore, especially my behind, and my right thumb that I tore apart in a street accident in 2008.To help relieve the pain, every time I hit a construction zone, I would stand on the pegs, and do squats. This actually became a game as my mind was getting a bit loose from an eight-straight day of non-stop riding.I could only imagine what drivers traveling the opposite direction were thinking. Here’s this looney standing on a bike, squatting. But it’s no hooliganism, rather a smart way to keep the blood flowing when trekking long miles.One more gas stop near State College, and I had a mix of emotions. Yes I was happy to get home, but not for the usual reasons, such as seeing the wife, sleeping in your own bed, etc. Rather, I knew Sunday I had to visit with friends and go to a dreaded wake. No matter what, viewings and funerals are just awkward; I’m sure everyone agrees on this.With these thoughts in my head, plus the nearly 13 hours of riding bringing pure madness to the mind, I slowed the Conny down a bit, and enjoyed my last ride of this trip. When I finally got to my house, it was nearly 2 a.m. I checked my overall miles – 4,036 in eight days. By far, this was my longest solo journey, and allowed for much soul searching. Though dampened by the loss of my friend, this trip will never leave my memory.And I consider it a memorial to my late friend, one who never rode but had a love of the adventurous. Will I do it again? Hell yes. But next time better not feature any tornadoes or death; it’s just too much to handle when riding solo across the country.I only took the essentials out of the bags, and my wife was greeted by a madman with an eight-day beard and bloodshot eyes. Ah, road burn – it’s a term my friend Jay and I used many times when making long treks across this country that drive one insane. I once drove 27-hours straight (via car…thankfully!) from Las Vegas to Nashville. Youth; I was 23, and my friend and I lost all of our money in Vegas. We had just enough for gas and one hotel. I used to miss those days, but not any more. Great experience, but wore the soul thin. Now it’s motorcycles are nothing. They heal and soothe regardless of what type of ride, and have already helped me deal with my friend’s death.Speaking of that, following an extremely long sleep – something like 10 hours – I spent time with the wife and dog, and got a few stories posted on the site. I then traveled via car (so awkward after riding for eight days) to my buddies house where a few of my closest friends met. We had a few drinks and some of my friend’s homemade lonza, and all went together to the viewing. Sad, but ironically brings many closer together. Once back home, the only thing that could calm my brooding mind was memories of my trip.And so ends the blog of my eight-day journey across the huge United States. Now it’s back to the 80+ hour work weeks, and riding my favorite roads here in Northeast Pennsylvania. In fact, I’m heading out for some sportier riding aboard the Conny in a bit – that is after I clean her; she’s a mess.For travelers out there ever trekking through Northeast Pennsylvania, get in touch (email@example.com). I know thousands of different rides, short and long, that can quickly give you a snapshot of what my local back country offers.And as always, stay clicked to UltimateMotorCycling.com for the latest in all things motorcycles. I’ll be posting a review of the Conny – a very positive review after such mileage – and will also write a touring story for our gorgeous magazine.Until then, ride safe, and hope you enjoyed following my solo journey across – well almost across – the USA.Stay Twisted; Throttle yr Soul – Ron LiebackDay 8 Miles – 870Total Trip Miles – 4,036 in Eight Days