SS1000 Miles – USA


Rob and I had been planning an attempt on a 100CCC from San Diego, California to Jacksonville, Florida and return for about a year.  But things can happen on a ride that can trample on the best of plans, that’s just part of being an Iron Butt rider.

Rob and I met up at Motoquest in Long Beach, California about 9am on day zero. I’d had my GS1200S for a few days and only needed to bolt a RAM mount for my Etrex onto it. Rob was scared to see me with a spanner in my hand, with good reason I have to admit.

Rob had a seat, footpegs, bar risers, phone holder, SPOT, an electrical farkle harness and tail bag to affix to his GS. While he was doing that I noticed that one of the pannier bracket welds on my bike was cracked so we took some extra time waiting while Motoquest organised it to be welded back up. We got hungry as time passed so we went to the nearby Golden Eagle Diner for brunch. While lined up to order a lady asked if we were firemen, mistaking the bulletproof KLIM suits for fireproof ones. We set her straight and it was time to order. I ordered a bacon and egg roll, they didn’t know what that was but worked with me until we arrived at bacon and egg on a hamburger bun without the chips and sides. Just like home so Rob ordered the same, although they still came with chips! While eating Rob realised he’d left his toiletry bag at Motoquest so we went back there to get it.

Then we left Long Beach and decided not to return much later after Rob realised he’d forgotten it again during the unpacking and repacking involved in retrieving it.

We took the freeway then tollway south to San Diego, it was a short ride and Rob was leading us to the Shell “Gas” station in Ocean Beach that was suggested by local IBA riders for our start. It was a short hop to the Ocean Beach Hotel where we checked in.

Ocean Beach Hotel

Ocean Beach was pumping, people everywhere and a real party atmosphere. The place is full of bars and restaurants full of people having fun.  The waterfront was busy

and there was a market with stalls selling all sorts of street food. Neither Rob nor I could resist taking a photo of bacon wrapped hotdogs

bacon wrapped hotdog

or eating one

We also did some shopping at a Drug Store. I needed to grab some Ibuprofen and Tylenol that I thought might help manage a hip issue that developed running the London Marathon a few weeks before. Rob needed some lube for his ear plugs. They didn’t have any special ear plug lube so Rob opted for an alternative which was the butt of a few jokes at the checkout. The staff didn’t laugh though. It was either Aussie humour lost in translation or perhaps two old bikers buying lube and pain killers was just par for the course in California.

The rest of our time there we set about getting our heads right for the upcoming ride. Of course it’s not a coast to coast without getting onto the sand after a walk over the ocean, this end was the Pacific, on the pier.

Dinner was healthy at a Japanese Restaurant but the beer tally stayed very low. We turned in early hoping for a decent sleep to be bright eyed and bushy tailed at 2am for a 2.30am start.

Ride Day

15 minutes before our planned waking time we discovered that the walls of the hotel were not thick enough to mask the sounds of a bed pounding against them along with the cacophonous shrieks, moans and gutteral grunts of an enthusiastic couple engaging in an entirely natural act, I hope, in the room next door.  Resisting the urge to cheer them on we decided to get up and start the ride. It wasn’t long before we were back at the Shell preparing to fill the bikes and collecting starting dockets. The cashier refused to let Rob into the shop to grab a snack so I gave him a cliff bar from my stash.  Getting fuel in the US with Australian cards is a pain in the proverbial. We had to prepay with a card or cash then fill up then go get our change. I’d discovered in the preceding days that trying to pay by card at the pump was a waste of time.  So we did the fuel dance and and with the paperwork and photos done we were on our way.

We missed the nearest ramp on to Interstate 8 but managed to get back to it soon after and we were finally heading east.

The night was a little cooler than expected and we struck some light showers in the mountains east of San Diego. No dramas, we are used to rain. We were riding on Interstate 8 (I8) and it was a case of just following our noses until it joined with the I10.

Our first fuel stop was in Yuma Arizona after nearly 3 hours on the road. During the fuel pump dance the lovely Mexican cashier noticed our accents and asked where we were from. After setting her straight she asked “What language to you speak in Australia?”  I said, “Um, English..”. She looked shocked and said that she thought we might speak Australiano or something, not English. Weird.  She had apparently learned English at school, not Americano.

The speed limits on the Interstates varied a little, in this part of the ride 75mph was the limit (I think), but as I’d discovered if you cruise right on the speed limit you’d better beware of trucks and cars whizzing past. Cars in the US don’t have blinkers, their tail/brake lights flash to indicate turns and lane changes so you need to resist the urge to brake when only one is flashing.

The next fuel stop was Gila Bend, still in Arizona and not too far from the I10 that if all went well would take us pretty much all the way to Florida. Pushing on to the I10 our next stop was Tucson Arizona. It was funny visiting towns and cities I’d heard of on TV and never really had any clue where they were.

Things were going very well, our OA was being bashed about a bit due to the additional time doing the fuel dance but it was still close to 100kph (60mph) and we were heading towards higher speed limits. Rob wanted to grab a pic of a Roadrunner Cactus so we had a quick break.

We crossed into New Mexico and our next fuel stop was Deming. Still cracking along. Riding down the hill and over the Rio Grande into La Cruces with the city in front and mountain backdrop was spectacular. If we weren’t on the clock that would definitely have been a photo worth taking and I regret not taking the time.

Along this road somewhere there were signs telling us that zero visibility dust storms were possible and what to do in case of one.  Pull over, turn the engine and lights off…. I hoped we didn’t come across one because the next tip about sitting in the car and waiting it out didn’t seem too easy on a motorcycle.

There are lots of Harley-Davidsons being ridden in the US and all motorcyclists more often than not wave to passing bikes of any brand or size. It’s easy over there when you are travelling on the right side of the road, drop the left hand off the bar and make a peace sign. Riders don’t seem to have some of the stuffiness and brand phobias that you see sometimes in Oz and like most of the drivers we encountered they are friendly and courteous.

Then we rode into Texas. 85mph speed limits seemed to mean that the speeding cars got closer to 100.  I formed the opinion that many people speed and being booked is like winning the lottery. It happens rarely no matter how many chances you buy. That’s deep.  There was no point riding the GS’s that fast, they were burning through enough fuel as it was and riding for economy seemed wiser than stopping more often.

Riding on the I10 through El Paso in a roadworks area Rob’s rear tyre was punctured. We pulled onto the shoulder in a rather precarious position (through lack of options), Rob had a puncture repair kit and compressor ready for the task. The first plug went in too easy so rob put a second in. All sorted and not too much time lost

Not too far down the road, near Fabens, though the tyre was flat again.  Rob made it to the Shell servo there, re-plugged the tyre, and let it rest before putting air in it. $1.50 to use the compressor in the servo! It was getting hot and fixing the tyre didn’t help so Rob spent some time in the aircon while I cleaned lights, visors, fuelled up and kept busy.  We lost a big chunk of time there but if the tyre held we were still on track.

Resting in Fabens for a while gave plenty of drivers an opportunity to approach us and chat about bikes.  The usual first question was “Where you ridin’ from?” We were approached nearly every time we stopped for fuel during the whole trip and there was no point discouraging it, the people were just so nice and friendly.

The day continued to heat up and they tyre seemed OK for the next 70 miles (110kms) when I noticed it was losing air again. Rob pulled over, the plug was gone. It was time to try three plugs, a last ditch attempt.

While that was taking place a couple on a H-D Ultra who we’d seen a number of times in the last few hours as we passed each other pulled over and offered assistance.  We had everything under control and chatted about what we were doing and what was going on.  Glad we were OK they asked it it would be alright if they prayed for us. It was surreal, standing on the side of an interstate in Texas praying with strangers for our shared safety and the puncture repair.  The man gave Rob a coin with a number on it that could be called during daylight hours anywhere in the US if we needed help and someone from their Christian motorcycle group would answer. Amazing people!

We decided to ride the remaining 20 miles to Van Horn, check the third repair and take stock of the situation. We pulled into the McDonalds and Rob checked the pressure. Perhaps a slow leak it seemed and the plug, while it was holding OK, didn’t really look very solid and certainly not safe enough to take on three more 1000+ mile days without a tyre replacement. It was a big hole. Rob trimmed the plug a little more, I just looked at it hoping it didn’t blow back out. Googleing revealed that a replacement tyre for a GS1200 wasn’t going to happen near Van Horn after hours. Lynne the Pillion in Australia was watching our SPOT and messaging us to see if everything was OK and was also trying to find potential fixes close by.  Thanks Lynne, you are a gem!

With things looking lost for the tyre Rob, an IBA legend, naturally suggested I go on alone to complete the ride. Time was tight but it was still doable. I’ve been left on the side of a road and I’ve left others on the side of the road in similar circumstances in complete agreement with the other riders involved.  I knew Rob would not think ill of me if I did keep going. But on this occasion I preferred to stick with Rob and decided to abandon the 100CCC. Mateship trumps certificateship, and I use the non-capitalised trump with no pun intended. While it didn’t really play into the decision at the time we were also aware of flooding rains in Florida causing sink holes, road closures and the forecasted continuance of same right through the next few days.

While we ate some form of burgers and diet drank coke refills I suggested that we could attempt something else less difficult over the next couple of days when a new tyre could be fitted. Rob suggested that given we’d already ridden 847 miles of the 1000 we needed to complete an IBA ride today and we still had plenty of time left to do it that we should cross our fingers the repair would hold long enough to bang out the extra distance for an SS1000. He was dead serious and I agreed. We didn’t have much to lose and Rob had some more plugs. At that moment a passing heavy storm dumped water all over our bikes, gloves and helmets outside.  That had to be a sign we should do this.

The plan was to continue east until we were far enough away from El Paso to get a docket turn and finish the ride at El Paso with over 1000 miles for the day. The first gas station we saw was just short. The second was in a perfect spot but it wasn’t lit and we missed it. It got dark, there were some storms and showers and some impressive lightning displays about that we caught the edges of from time to time but it was quite pleasant riding in the cooler evening.

The next opportunity for a docket was a turn into Balmorhea but the gas station was unattended and the fuel dance at the pump saw all our cards rejected. It wasn’t just us, there were some locals there who couldn’t get their cards to work either. Back on the I10 we found the Uncles Valero Fuel Travel Stop and Saloon open.

We fuelled up got receipts and turned west. The unintended extra distance we’d ridden east meant we didn’t need to go all the way back to El Paso. Van Horn was painfully just short of the 1000 miles and we found ourselves back at the Shell at Fabens finishing it off with 1074 miles (1728 kms) or so and despite the stopped time an overall average of 52.8mph (85kph). It’s pretty easy to keep the MA up on those interstates.

The tyre had held up, perhaps because it was cooler, who knows. Rob and I had bumped off an eventful, if not painfully inefficient SS1000.  Then it was time to check in to the Fabens Motor Inn, staffed by a nice Indian lady who wanted to chat about the cricket (including the recent cheating and crying episode) and then try to find something to eat.

The restaurant at the Shell was shut, the diner and the Wiener place across the road was shut. The MacDonalds down the road was shut so we ate some beef jerky I had stashed in the bags I’d bought a few days before near Death Valley.   Luckily it was really good. Tomorrow we’d get a new rear tyre and become tourists.

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