For 15 straight years, my dad and I have taken a weeklong motorcycle trip, during which we have ridden 32,000 miles, visited 31 states, and been chased by The Wolfman of New Hampshire.
We have ridden onto 17 ferries, through 11 National Parks, and over the highest paved road in North America.
We’ve seen the Wild Horses of Corolla (above us, standing on sand dunes), a humpback and her calf (alongside us, 50 feet from our whale watching tour boat), and mountain goats (below us, as we rode the highest paved road in North America).
We’ve seen the Platters in concert. A bear ride a Segway. The world’s oldest edible ham.
In Alabama, I crashed my motorcycle while driving down a gravel road toward the Key Underwood Coon Dog Cemetery, which is a cemetery for coon dogs. When I got up, my dad said “Um, I can see your arm bone.”
In Kentucky, we walked an insanely long way through a cemetery in 90-degree temps. “Where are we going?” my then-82-year-old dad kept asking. You should have seen the look on his face when he realized our hike was to see the grave of Colonel Sanders.
This year, we didn’t take our annual cross-country trip.
We couldn’t justify the COVID-19 risk for an 85-year-old on a trip with hotels and sit-down restaurants.
Then, in August, I tore up the tendons in my right hand after a wicked crash during an intense mountain bike race.
And by “intense mountain bike race” I mean “family Lime scooter ride.”
By mid-October, I hadn’t ridden my motorcycle in six weeks.
I have a simple map of the U.S. on my desk, just a black-and-white sheet with outlines of the states. I have, during each of the past 15 years, used a blue highlighter to fill in a new state, usually more than one, where I’ve ridden my motorcycle.
I didn’t want that streak to end. In mid-October, the weather broke. My hand seemed healed enough to ride.
I couldn’t stand it any more.
So, in what would be the most socially-distanced trip possible, I loaded my motorcycle up with our pup tent and a sleeping bag rolled up in a tarp.
Also, I packed a blow-up air mattress and my favorite squishy pillow.
I plotted a course to the nearest, unhighlighted-on-my-map state—Nebraska. Took $200 out of my poker fund.
I would leave the next morning.
I had no plans for my trip to Nebraska.
That’s life on the Harley, I figured. I’d just let Momma Wind carry me wherever that ol’ girl wants to carry me.
Often, when I take these kinds of trips, people ask things like “Your wife doesn’t care if you just take off like that?”
Here’s something: When I dramatically reminded my wife that I was leaving the next morning—how I’d be winging it for a “few thousand miles by myself”—she said “Oh. That’s tomorrow? I thought that was next week. Have fun!”
When I left in the morning, it was 40 degrees. My Lime scooter hand, which was required to twist the throttle, hurt much more than I had hoped.
I headed to Albert Lea, where I saw a sign for—then followed—the Jefferson Highway Scenic Byway south into Iowa. Then rode west where I saw a sign for—then followed—the loop for the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway.
Also, and this is a warning if you travel with me, I can’t help but stop at every Historical Marker on the side of the road. Why, this very field is where Augustus Ringling’s sons put on penny shows in the 1860s! We’re looking at the very plot of empty land that may have been the start of The Ringling Brothers’ Circus!
It took me the entire day to get to a campsite—the Lewis and Clark State Park just off the Missouri River. $11 per night! Almost no one else was there! Mostly because it was a 50 degree weeknight in October.
The next morning, I drove west into Nebraska, then followed the Missouri River north along the Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway to South Dakota.
Then, on a whim, headed south to Missouri. Carry me with you, Momma Wind!
I ate every meal outside, sitting on picnic benches outside tiny takeout places.
Visited only outside entertainment spots. Stopped at the burial spot of Charles Floyd, the only man to die on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Drove through the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge (and saw a campsite of Lewis and Clark). Hiked in the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (and saw another campsite of Lewis and Clark).
Slept outside. Found another $11 a night campsite on the Missouri River. Wondered aloud to myself about the earliest you can legally go to sleep at a campsite.
The next morning, I rode across to Kansas then north to Iowa along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway. Detoured across the Western Skies Scenic Byway. Jumped on the White Pole Road Scenic Byway.
I talked to almost no one the entire trip.
I did, though, text my dad constantly.
I sent him pictures of my meals. Pictures of my campsites. Pictures of Historical Markers.
“Wish I was there with you,” he wrote.
Although he said that right before I went to bed, on the ground, at 8 p.m.
The next morning, with $17 left, I packed up and headed for home.