The Southwest Solo-Tour of 2013, Part 5

Three years ago I took a solo-tour around the American Southwest and chronicled the trip in the posts on this site. @chaneytweeting once told me how he enjoyed the posts and asked when I was going to finish it up. I've now done fact part of this post was written three years ago.

As I plan the new father-son moot-tour across the country from California to South Carolina slated for next month, I'm reminded again the joy of the open road. Ride Safely!

Day 11 – Cypress, CA to Lompoc, CA


After two restful days, my belly full of breakfast, and my bags packed with clean clothes, I departed my sister’s house in Cypress and joined the throng of Orange County commuters north along I-405 (Sand Diego Freeway). Commuting in Southern California can only be described as a nightmare. And because of my aversion to lane sharing (filtering), I feathered my clutch level hundreds of times while waiting to clear Los Angeles County.

By the time I got into Malibu via US-1, I was ready for a break and stopped at a Starbucks to get a little nibble as well as some real coffee. The two days I spent with my sister, an avowed Irish tea kind of girl, I subsisted on Via packed, the instant microbrew solution I’d come to appreciate over the past two weeks.

Traffic cleared to the point where I could gain a cruising speed and I made my way north into Ventura County, a beautiful, monied place that is a good alternative to the hustle and bustle of the L.A. Basin. The air if cleaner, saltier, and a lot cooler. The RT was happier and so was I.

A few miles north of Malibu US-1 (Pacific Coast Highway) detoured north to become one with US-101 and I rode along encountering Carpenteria,  beautiful Santa Barbara, Goleta,  and miles of some the most scenic coastlines in the world. The total mileage for the day wasn’t much at just under 200. But I wanted to get into Lompoc early and spend some time closing out the trip in my mind.

I knew that the next day would be my last on the road and then I’d be back at work and entrenched in the routine that I’d come to abhor. I was both glad and sad to be nearing the end of my solo-tour. Full of mixed emotions and thoughts, I veered off of US-101 and rode US-1 the short but scenic downhill ride through the mountains to Lompoc.

The Motel 6 didn’t have a vacancy and so I booked a more pricey room at the Holiday Inn Express. It was my last night and the upgrade did hurt, plus it was directly across the street from a Starbucks Coffee and I enjoyed an afternoon cup there as well as breakfast the following morning.

Day 12 – Lompoc, CA to Rio Del Mar, CA


Just as the ride into Lompoc was thorough the mountains, so was the ride out the next morning. After a morning coffee and veggie breakfast sandwich at Starbucks, I rode north along US-1.

When I encountered the Big Sur coastline, the road was a bit more challenging for the RT. I didn’t expect the hairpin turns and the 15-20 mph speed limit that the RT was able to perform ride them.

I stopped at the Big Sur Coffee establishment for a midday espresso and was soon joined by a foursome of BMW riders from Southern California. We chatted for a while and they before I  eventually headed northward toward home.

The ride from there gets a little murky in my memory but I do recall the joy of getting into Monterey, Seaside, Watsonville, and finally Rio Del Mar. I decided to finish the tour where it began, at the Starbucks on Trout Gulch Aptos.

As I look back at the solo-tour I leaned a few things about the bike, about riding, about the southwest and about myself. Though it’s been three years since that trip, I’m giddy with excitement and more of the same trepidation that others have no doubt felt about an undertaking as ambitious the cross-country trip in June.


The New Bike vs. Used Bike Internal Debate

1977 Suzuki GS400, the only new bike I’ve ever purchased

Something Old, Something New

Of the four motorcycles I’ve owned, only one was purchased new from a dealer. Ironically, it was my first bike, a 1977 Suzuki GS400.

I purchased it from a Suzuki dealership in Tujunga, California that was later the target of an arsonist...rumor had it at the time that it was the owner who torched it. But it was only a rumor...

Rumors aside, that bike was my first experience with daily riding. It was brilliant, even if I was an untrained and minimally skilled street rider. I purchased it in the spring and rode it all the time that summer, back and forth to work, to my girlfriend’s house, absolutely everywhere in Southern California in the late 70s.

I drove a 1968 Chevy Camaro, a classic muscle car by today’s standards, for my daily transportation until the day I purchased the bike. From then on, I led a life on two wheels.

In the winter of 1978, life on two wheels got real as the snow level on the San Gabriel Mountains dropped to 1,500 feet. These were the days before the widespread and relatively affordable extras such as heated grips and heated gear that kept you warm during cold rides.

As luck would have it, my Camaro was sidelined for some mechanical problem I can’t recall now. I was forced to ride the Suzuki 120 miles each day in frigid temperatures without and real protection.  Like I said, I was untrained and minimally skilled…and after that winter, not very cold-weather riding friendly.

The Recurring Debate

I have this debate running in my head pretty much all the time. Because motorcycling is a passion, it’s never too far from my consciousness.

Should I buy another used bike or should I splurge on a brand new bike?

I don’t think I’m alone in this debate either. I’ve talked to other motorcyclists that I know well and they, too, have a similar, non-public dialogue battling it out in their heads.

After returning to motorcycling (two ex-wives and four grown children later), I purchased my beloved BAZZA I (all my bikes since the Suzuki have been named), a BMW F650GS.


Like the three BMW's I've purchased since BAZZA I, all have been a located via the online clearinghouse, I paid $3,400 for the bike and it was worth every penny.

I purchased the bike from a local guy here in Santa Cruz. He and his wife were expecting a baby, and even though they’d shared many wonder experiences on the bike and were incredibly sad to see it leave their nascent family. The woman cried when I arrived to pick it up.

It was bittersweet moment for both parties. They were losing a family friend that had taken them on many adventures, having made the decision to reduce risk and focus on their family. Conversely, I was gaining a new friend, having arrived at the point where risk was no longer a chief concern as my family, through kids growing up and leaving home, had been downsized to only me and my youngest son.

Wanting more power and bigger engine for a solo-ride I was planning around the Southwest, I traded BAZZA I for BAZZA II, a ’00 BMW 1100RT. (Not very innovative on the naming, I admit.)

It’s still an impressive specimen

I Did My Homework Each Time I bought a Used Bike

I’ve been pretty careful when it comes to pursuing bikes that carry less risk. The trade for the R1100RT for the F650GS was example.

I got the R1100RT from Brent, a stranger the day we met, but now someone I trust as well as a friend. His knowledge of BMW engines and mechanics is unbelievable.

I actually talked him into the trade of the F650GS for the R1100RT. After seeing the bike, he gave me a choice of different bikes to choose from, each had their unique aspects and all were in a state of needing some sort of rebuild. I was reasonably comfortable that the R1100RT I chose and was confident that after some time spent wrenching it into shape, it would get me around the American Southwest in 13 days.

I rode from Santa Cruz to Las Vegas, Southern Utah through Zion National Park, across northern Arizona to New Mexico where I visited Santa Fe for three days. My journey back tool me straight across the Mojave Desert an up the coast of California.

Brent is a former Apple Computer engineer who now runs a used Mac refurbishing business and is a BMW mechanical savant for fun. Together, (he much more than me) we replaced the clutch in the RT, inspected and lubed the final drive, and then replaced the tires and front rotor bobbins.

We’re currently looking at options to fix my 1150GS which we suspect has a blown exhaust valve. But regardless, his first-hand knowledge is trustworthy and I learn tons about my various bikes each time we interact.

I've always been able to get a sense about a seller's motivations. To date, I've not had a regrettable experience when it came to purchasing a used bike. I attribute this is to rider-to-rider trust and my ability to see beyond the words and phrases of an ad.

To Be Honest, I Fantasize About New Bikes All the Time

My dream bike, a BMW R1200GS
My dream bike, a BMW R1200GS

As fantasies go, it might be pretty lame, but having a shiny, new bike is a a really great feeling. Even though my 1150GS is also a used bike, it felt like new when I bought it.

It wouldn't matter if it was a KLR or an R1200GS, a new bike is a new bike.

There is something about the reality of having a brand new bike with less than 20 miles on it that makes you stand back and admire at it for hours; carefully getting to know each nuanced detail, each little scratch or dimple, as well as every potential part that could be worn or in need of attention.

I think the dedication to cleaning and riding the bike gently at first is born from this need to know the bike as intimately as possible.

But for me, the affordability of owning a used bike is what drove each of my choices. I really love new bikes, but I really don’t like having a bike or a car payment. That’s why I own a 1996 Jeep Cherokee and two BMW motorcycles that all were made in 2000. One payment was required for each of these fine machines.

So when I fantasize about a new bike, it doesn’t take me very long at all to come down from the motorcyclist’s high and instantly recall what it felt like when I had a car payment. I really hate being in debt, especially secured debt. It just drives me nuts.

Perhaps one day in the not too distant future I’ll take the plunge on a new bike.  Or maybe I’ll save a ton and buy one or two of Brent’s more recent rebuilds and put some cosmetic improvement into them.

But then I get into the the other debate that also runs on tracks in my head, the debate over one bike vs. two bikes. Thus far in my motorcycling journey it’s been handy to have more than one at my disposal. But the minimalist in me responds that I’m duplicating things by keeping two.

The debates rage on. 🙂


A Tale of Two Passions

My 2000 R1150 GS
My current ride, a 2000 BMW R1150 GS with custom seat and exhaust

Motorcycling & Writing

I first knew I’d be a writer of some kind as a fourth grade student. It was as if  all the dark space in my brain was illuminated with the power of an aircraft searchlight revealing this one truth.

I'd stayed inside during recess to write a summary of a biography on Francis Scott Key, a young man with revolutionary patriotism and author of what would later become the national anthem of the USA, The Star Spangled Banner.

What ten year-old kid, who isn’t ill, stays inside during recess? Only one with a solitary focus and a new-found passion that he’d never felt before. It was to be the beginning of a life-long passion with writing, writing poorly, and gradually increasing my skills.

In later years I’d become a reporter and editor of my college newspaper, publishing in trade journals and small presses. I’d later write non-fiction books, blogs on varied topics, and start a life-long habit of journaling to discover new areas of life and how I felt about them.

Life on Two Wheels

Bruce, past and present
Bruce, past and present

I first learned to ride a motorcycle when I was fifteen years old. Legendary motorcycle raceway announcer Bruce Flanders lived across the street from my family in Southern California and it was he who planted the seed that later blossomed into a life-long passion for motorcycling.

It was as instantaneous a conversion as my introduction to writing had been. One ride on a Honda 100 enduro bike and I knew was hooked for life. The experience was like none I'd ever known.

Later in the summer of 1972, I attended Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, courtesy of the Flanders clanwho served as stewards at the event. Bruce manned the announcer’s booth at the starting line and also rode for Pops Yoshimura’s Kawasaki team, setting a world record for the stock tuned KZ-1000 at 141.703 m.p.h.

It was on these arid salt flats that I was quickly convinced that motorcycling was a way of life and not just a hobby. My eyes were are big as saucers as I wandered through the pits and inspection tents looking at bikes altered for speed and talking with people who knew something of life beyond the 9-5 home-to-office-and-back grind.

I felt as if I were walking among giants. Craig Breedlove was their testing his rocket car, The English Leather Special. I met Pops Yoshimura who only spoke Japanese and wasn’t a fan of the heat nor the environment and Bob Braverman, an astute designer and mechanic.

I quickly made friends with another teen and we rode everywhere we could on motorcycles for a week. The salt would cake up our knobby tires and the soles of our boots, but we didn’t care. We were on two-wheels and experiencing more freedom that wither of us thought possible. When the wind was above 10 m.p.h, speed trials were suspended and we’d have to make our own fun; that usually involved hanging out near the starting line or just commandeering a couple of bikes and taking off.

This was a time long before portable GPS units were commonly found on the handlebars and we were damn lucky we didn't get lost out on the endless flat and featureless landscape of the salt flats.
1975 Honda 400f – a four-cylindered beast of a bike

Later when I was 18, I flew on my own to England and lived near the Scottish border in the centuries old town of Hexham in Northumberland. It was there I pubbed around with new biker friends riding Nortons, Triumphs, and Hondas racing around the narrow lanes of Northern England. The entire experience of living in the UK in 1976, at age 18, completely immersed in a culture that revered motorcycling was pivotal in my development as a young adult.

Returning to Southern California, I quickly bought a new Suzuki GS400 and it quickly replaced my ’68 Camaro as my main source of transportation. But I was an unlicensed and untrained rider. Sure, I’d spent time on the motocross racetrack at Irwindale on Saturdays with Bruce learning how to corner and survive woopdydoos, but I was largely untrained and unskilled on the streets of Southern California.

I kept the Suzuki for a few years and sold it when I got married and moved away to attend college. That was to begin long drought in my riding experience; at times I wondered if I’d ever get back on two wheels again.

1977 Suzuki GS400
It wasn't until I'd been away from riding for two decades, raising a family and making a choice to minimize risk, that I decided it was time to reignite the passion that burned silently for a long time.
I was hooked on the GS dual sport model with this bike, an f650 GS
Still love the look of this bike, an R1100 RT

I purchased a 2000 BMW f650 GS and took the MSF’s Basic Rider Course at a local community college. I gained my M1 endorsement on my driver license and a year after, purchased another BMW – this time a former police bike, an R1100 RT that I rode on a solo tour the American Southwest in 2012.

But I wanted another GS and found a great deal on a pristine bike (the beauty at the top of this page), a 2000 R1150 GS that had been meticulously cared for by a BMW shop in Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

When I can’t ride, I feel like a part of me is missing. It’s much like the feeling I get when I don’t publish to the web on any given day. I don’t like driving the Jeep Cherokee so much. In fact, for his 18th birthday, I gave my son Jay the Jeep for his use. I only use it when I have to and always with permission. :-)

My life on two wheels makes me feel more like I'm doing my part for the environment and the added benefits of using the commuter lanes on highways and the ability to park almost anywhere make the experience even better.

My two passions are inextricably linked. I’ll be writing until my arthritic hands can no longer type. Likewise, I’ll be riding my motorcycles until I can no longer swing my leg over the back of a bike.

And even then, where both passions are concerned, it will take some convincing. 8-)