Big country, big miles
“How’s your day going, sir?” asked the cashier in the Subway. “Pretty good,” I replied. “I hit a deer and didn’t crash.” He nodded, like everyone passing through did that. “Guess you cover the ground pretty fast on that motorbike,” he said.
I have been covering the ground. Uncomfortably quickly. When I got up two days ago, I was in Phenix City, Alabama. Just over 1500 miles away. It’s been quite a ride since then – even without the deer.
My first stop after Phenix City was the Barber Motorsports complex on the edge of Birmingham (that’s pronounced BirmingHAM, by the way… not how we pronounce it in England). That was a relatively modest 135 miles away – mostly pretty dull apart from the superb highway 25 from Vincent to Leeds. That could have been lifted from the lower slopes of the Vosges, complete with the hairpins…
The attraction at Barber is the museum with the largest collection of motorcycles in the world. It’s fantastic – though taking pictures of the exhibits for commercial purposes is forbidden, which I suppose includes blogs like this, so I can only show you my bike parked outside… However, if you ever get a chance to visit, you should go. It’s quite eclectic – there are some lovely and fascinating bikes, but also some mundane ones. I couldn’t see a guiding principle at work: a couple of Suzuki GSX-R600s, but no game-changing K5 GSX-R1000; a BMW S1000RR but no carbon HP4; quite a few old race bikes, mostly from American series, but no Foggy bikes, no Doohan, no Rossi… not even a Hayden or Spies or DuHammel that I could see… A huge collection, but strangely scattergun.
Wandering round the museum exposed the problem with the trip I’m doing: nobody to talk to as I went round. I could only imagine what it would be like walking round the exhibits with my old colleagues Si Hargreaves and Mufga (of the Front End Chatter podcast); or my riding buddies at home, Martin, Jamie, Little Andy, Hoody, Rich… When there’s a group of you, every exhibit would spark some kind of anecdote or banter. As Billy No Mates, I sauntered round pensively, got an overpriced drink from the vending machines at the bottom level, then hit the road.
From Barber I struck out north-west, with no real plan. My aim, again, was to cover ground until I found a campsite. I’d make a plan when I got there. I stopped along the way, continuing to enjoy the friendliness of the riders in the South. I took a poll about my route options for getting to Colorado. Comments included: “I’ve been through Nebraska and Kansas. There’s nothing there…” and “We call them fly-over states for a reason…”
I was still mulling this over as I crossed into Mississippi, heading towards Tennessee, when the weather bit me. Again. I dived into one of the curious drive-in banks they have over here and put my waterproofs on. I quickly found the cheapest motel I could, about an hour ahead. But fifteen miles later, the sun was out and I was boiling again. Waterproofs off… Filling up a few miles before the motel, the sky looked black. I went 50-50: waterproof jacket, but not trousers. As the sat nav said “one mile to go” the heavens opened… My jeans were so drenched in that one mile, they were still wet the next day. Mind you, if I was water, I wouldn’t have got out of the jeans in that motel: it was like staying in a recently cleaned crime scene.
Next day I got up and made a decision: I was on the road at 7am – too early for the Gibson factory in Memphis and the Graceland ticket price had provoked the war-cry of the Yorkshireman (“How much?!”) so I set about covering as much ground as possible. As quickly as possible. It was still nearly 1200 miles to Colorado Springs so that meant getting onto the Interstate and staying there.
This was a long, long, long and very dull day. The scenery was pretty much unchanging. I had worked out some slightly more interesting routes (the run through the Ozarks did look good) but when you get right down to it, I actually wanted to do a massive blast across a big chunk of America. This is part of the tradition, from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road to Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher, covering vast distances and stopping only for gas, grub or to stay in a roadside motel is part of the culture.
Frankly, I figured I’d be missing less if I sacrificed Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas to this cause. I don't think I was wrong. So I did 750 miles yesterday, from Mississippi to MacPherson in Kansas. There were place names to conjure with – Dodge City, Abeline, Broken Arrow, Tulsa – but the landscape was flat enough to keep me rolling. Today was a relatively easy 430 miles, from Kansas into Colorado.
I’d expected Colorado to be instant mountains but in fact it was just as flat as Kansas. Long, straight roads over very gently undulating prairies with virtually no traffic once I got off the interstate for Highway 40. Which was good, when a deer launched itself at me.
I had a half-second to see it appear, eyes rolling in its head as it saw me and panicked. It was a big one: its head was higher than the Z1000SX’s mirror. I opened the throttle and veered away from it – no way was I letting it get under the front wheel. Then it hit me, hard, on the right bicep. The bike shimmied and leant further over but I just kept the taps open and tried to stay loose, while I waited to go down. But I didn’t: momentum saved me, as I’d hoped it would. The bike returned to being upright and going forwards. I was still looking down the road, where I wanted to end up – not at the grassland to the side. My arm hurt like hell but I could tell nothing was broken: it was just like breaking a good tackle on the rugby pitch, but no worse. My heart rate was through the roof, though…
About a mile later, the sheriff was waiting for me. Well, not for me. The road was closed. I got off and had a drink from the bottle in my Givi topbox. “I just hit a deer,” I told him, still shaken by it. “What happened to it?” I couldn’t answer: I have no idea. I didn’t even look back. I was just glad to have got through without falling off. I reckon I’ve done about 750,000 miles on bikes over the past 30 years and that’s the first time I’ve had a deer attempt to jump in front of me. Let’s hope I go 30 years before having another one try it…
When the road opened, I set off to find lunch. The first town I came to was Kit Carson (named after a soldier and frontiersman). A one-horse town where the horse was probably a goat and, if it isn’t dead already, it’s lost a leg. There was a trading post promising to be a restaurant but when none of the staff seemed to have seen the 6ft 5in motorcyclist in the white jacket after 10 minutes, I left and rode 20 miles to Subway instead…
From lunch, it was just 130 miles to the end of the day – and that now seemed like nothing. Barely worth mentioning. Again, though, my weather-jinx struck. Coming over the final hill to see Colorado Springs before me, I couldn’t really see it. To the left, blue skies; to the right; blue skies; behind me; blue skies; dead-ahead, black clouds. I couldn’t even see the mountains. I dropped into the edge of town, filled up again, put my waterproofs on again, got the phone out and fired up Booking.com again. Of course, now I’m comfortably in a motel, the rain has stopped and the sun’s come out again… But at least I’ll get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s fun. Because tomorrow, I ride Pikes Peak.