5 Tips for your first long distance ride
It's not long after your first roll on the throttle that many riders begin dreaming of tackling a multi-day ride across uncharted territory. This is the story of how the state of Alabama tried to kill me 3 times, and it was maybe a little bit my own fault...
1. Careful diet choices Part 1
For those who don't know me, I operate on an unusually high caloric intake. I'm a glutton for punishment, and for pizza, potatoes, steak, burgers, milk shakes and anything cured. That's why the hardest part of a long haul is diet control. It's amazing what an immediate impact diet can have on your mental acuity, dexterity and energy. The basic rule of thumb is to eat light and avoid chain restaurants.
After dragging my pipes through the Smokey Mountains and eating real brains in Georgia, I crossed time zones into Alabama and was ready for lunch. (I had been on the road for 4 days at that point.) As a New England native, casino's are a novelty to me so I was pretty excited to check out the first one I saw over the boarder. I took my time and had a long lunch at the buffet. Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, the works! (Silly squid! You knew better than that!)
Upon completion of my regal meal, I got back on the bike and hit the highway. (still ahead of schedule.) One exit down the interstate I let out a deep sigh, followed by a yawn. Two exits later my eyes were heavy. By the third exit, not 15 miles from the casino, I wobbled just enough to force an executive decision. Time to stop and catch my breath.
My body just couldn't process all that delicious food without a solid nap. I lost 2 hours recovering in an air conditioned Mobil station. I was lucky they had tables and chairs where I could put my feet up and digest. This was the first time Alabama tried to kill me and it was really kind of my own fault.
2. When God said to Noah it's gonna rain... He wasn't bluffing
Look, I consider myself an experienced rider. I ride into winter and through most any weather. I average about 1,000 miles a month and that's not including vacations. I'm able to do so in large part because I rarely leave the house without being prepared for anything. Rain gear, tire plug, wrenches, you name it - I pack it. This brings us to the second time Alabama tried to kill me.
Like I said, I'm a New Englander so I was raised to underestimate mother nature. I'd been on the road for a few hours since lunch and the weather was great for a mid-day ride through Alabama in July. That's when somebody flipped a switch and the rain began. No problem, right? I just pulled over at the next overpass and got the rain gear out. Along I went, and down came the rain. Nature and I established a mutual respect. It wasn't long before the rain became inundating. I've seen a deluge like this only twice in my life on the road. Safety aside, this was just uncomfortable as the water rose up around my feet!
I decided to grab the next exit. Visibility was down to maybe 10%, speedometer down to 30 mph on the freeway, and SUV's were crashing waves over me as they passed on the left. I was eager to get off the road. No exit appeared before I had to cross a mighty large bridge. This bridge reminded me of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, it was a mile high if not a foot, it was long as the day was wet, and the side walls were barely 4 feet! Add the rain to that equation and we've darn near extended the limits of my own nerves. That's when it happened...
BANG! CRASH! FLASH! along with the rain came the Thundah & Lightning! Not just any lightning though! These great beacons of divine malevolence were beginning their path to earth not 100 feet above my head and crashing down all around this hellish bridge! Forget nerves, I was citing every profanity available in my lexicon! I had two options - pull over and wait to be struck down by the hand of god, or keep going and hope for the best. I chose the latter and made peace with my mortal limits. Best case scenario all I had to do was make it over this bridge and get off the first exit.
After what felt like hours, the end was in sight and I could see an exit not more than 2 miles away! Lo and behold as I crossed the threshold from bridge to land, the rain snapped off, the clouds parted and the sun came beaming down like only the sun can. By the time I got halfway to that oasis of an exit, all the water had wicked away and I was dry as a bone. I kept going, and in my head I re-lived those lightning strikes over and over wondering why I was still alive. This was the second time Alabama tried to kill me, and it was maybe a little bit my own fault I guess.
3. Ride your ride
It's easy to get excited as you begin to eat miles. There's nothing that brings me bliss like an empty 4 lane interstate. It's a place where we can all reflect on where we've been, where we are, and where we're headed. Mile by mile, you establish a bond with that steed of steel and chrome. Your bike becomes an extension of your body. Sometimes it even surprises you by what it can really do. Performance and maneuverability are important characteristics of your bike. Don't underestimate the importance of becoming intimately familiar with your bikes limits.
There were plenty of times when other riders would catch up with me. We'd nod to each other and cruise peg to peg for a bit. Other times, I'd find myself trying to keep up with superior machines. That's when I had to remind myself "ride your ride bro". Nobody cares what your bike can do but you, and that means you shouldn't be pushing it past its limits. If she shakes like a chihuahua after an ice bath, odds are you're pushing the limits. If you're not confident on the twisties, don't race through them - take your time. Move over when you can do so safely for other bikes to pass, but don't try to match yourself with more experienced riders who are likely on differently tuned bikes. The only reflection on your skill that matters is your command over your own limits, and respect for the growth and learning process.
4. Suns out guns out is for the beach
After taking the long way down, ducking through NY, VA, TN, NC, GA, and across to NOLA, it was time to earn some milestone patches. 500 miles in 12 hours was the perfect target. I hit the road from NOLA on Friday at 4:00 AM. I was Kentucky bound. I was making killer time, and it was a gorgeous day to watch the sun rise from the freeway as the sounds of Frenchmen Street rang in my head. I was crushing the clock and eating miles like jelly beans. I had cleared about 450 miles in 7 hours by the time I decided to stop for lunch. This is when I realized for the third time that week Alabama had been trying to kill me all day. I got off the bike in a city with a rocket proudly mounted in the center: Huntsville, AL. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and Alabama sure ain't cold in July - the heat index was apparently at 107. I walked into the first local food option I spotted. I looked down and noticed my arms were looking worse for the wear. In fact, my shoulders were completely blistered!
Now we're not talking little doozies from a bad burn here, I mean the entire surface area of my deltoids was covered by one monster blister on each arm! As a New Englander with naturally olive skin I had never seen anything like it. I didn't think much of it because I had been drinking a lot of water all day and felt fine otherwise. I sat down ordered a buff chx salad and 5 glasses of water. By the time the food arrived I had gone from famished to peckish at best. I took two bites, drank a ton of water, paid the bill then threw my leg back over the saddle.
I didn't make it 20 minutes out of Huntsville when it hit me. I was fading, and fast. Hands fumbled on the controls, vision blurred, my whole body doubled in weight. I was in real trouble! So I pulled over and hastily started looking up hotels and motels, anywhere I could get some shelter - all the while debating in my mind whether I needed a hospital. The only option that I was confident I could successfully ride to was a real gnarly No-Tell Motel. $40 (cash) for 4 hours to get out of the sun. I entered my $10/hr room, it smelled like sex and dollar store disinfectant. I took the TV off the low boy dresser and laid down on that with the A/C blasting and the curtains drawn. I didn't get back on the road until 8 PM, and I had missed my milestone by 30 miles.
What should have been a 14 hour ride to KY took 22 hours. Lesson learned, respect the elements, cover yourself from the sun regardless of how hot you think you feel. That was the third time Alabama tried to kill me and it was definitely mostly my own fault.
5. Careful diet choices Part 2
So remember when we decided to eat light? Yea don't forget to include carbohydrates. As it turns out, living on meat and vegetables is all well and good if you're one of those juice cleanse folks. On a motorcycle ride this diet choice is a quick path to a metabolic shift. By day 8 or 9 I was coming back up through Pennsylvania and the first bathroom break of the afternoon came a knockin'. Then the second, and the third, and so on. These weren't just bathroom breaks, these were emergency bathroom breaks. The kind of urgency that feels like life, death, or ruined trousers. What's worse is I was just coming back into densely populated parts of civilization so I couldn't just pop off into the breakdown lane and jog into the woods.
I had to stop 15 times from PA to CT that night. I must have lost 3 - 5 hours by frantically searching for a public restroom. Lesson learned: Eat light, eat local, include a sandwich.
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