In November of 1996, I purchased a 1997 Harley Davidson Softtail Custom motorcycle in Long Island, New York with a plan to drive the bike back to California when the weather turned nice. The opportunity to make the trip presented itself in May of 1997 following a meeting of the American Law Institute in Washington D.C. This is a report of the trip.
DAY 1 – MAY 22, 1997
I left Manhattan at approximately 4 pm destined for Costa Mesa, California. The trip lasted just a few hours since I do not like to drive in the dark. I stopped at a hotel in Delaware called “The Red Rose Luxury Budget Motel”. It was a real dive. It was located in a bad part of town and my fellow hotel guests gave me pause for concern. I parked and locked my bike right outside my door and got a good night’s sleep.
DAY 2 – MAY 23, 1997
I travelled from Delaware to Charlotte, North Carolina in a trip that was uneventful. I saw some beautiful country along the way. At one of the local restaurants, I purchased an American flag and displayed it on my t-bag bike pack for the entire trip. I stayed that evening at the Dunhill Hotel in downtown Charlotte.
DAY 3 – MAY 24, 1997
This day was somewhat more eventful. Since I now had 800 miles on the bike, I took it to a Harley dealer for the 500 miles service. The dealer was located on Independence Road just outside of Charlotte. On the way to the dealership, I pulled over into the grass median to allow a vehicle to pass and then proceeded back on the highway, heading for the dealership. About 3 minutes later, I heard a siren which I thought was a fire truck. I looked around for the fire truck or ambulance but could not find it. Finally as the siren grew louder, I looked in my rearview mirror and discovered that a police vehicle was pursuing me. I pulled over immediately, not knowing why I was being stopped. As I got off my bike, the two policemen exited from their police vehicle and stood, waiting for me to approach them. They both had very serious, indeed severe, looks on their faces. I actually feared that one of them might draw his revolver. Finally, as I approached them, one of the police officers asked “are you drunk?” I was startled by this question and told him that I was not drunk. He said that they had been following me and noticed that I passed several cars and then weaved over into the grassy area in the median for no apparent reason. They therefore assumed that I was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I explained the situation, which satisfied them. They were curious to know how I planned to ship the bike to California and seemed surprised when I told them I was riding the bike solo to California. They were quite polite, gave me instructions to the dealership and let me go without any citation.
I had the bike serviced at the Harley dealer and was on my way at approximately 2:30 pm. My goal was to make it into Tennessee. I stopped and had a wonderful dinner at a steak house in North Carolina and watched the Chicago Bulls-Miami Heat playoff game. Riding at night, I made it into Tennessee and stayed at the Newport Inn in Newport, Tennessee. This Best Western hotel was quite nice, although it was slightly out of my price range since the charge per night was $69.
DAY 4 – MAY 25, 1997
I have found that, when travelling back to the states from Hong Kong, it takes me at least two weeks to adjust to the time change. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night and having difficulty in getting back to sleep. This trip was no exception. I woke up at approximately 5:30 am and tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep. I had parked my bike in front of my door next to a very large Yamaha touring motorcycle. As I left my room in the morning and packed for the trip, I met the owner of the Yamaha. He and his wife were on their way back to the Washington D.C. area. We had a nice chat and had breakfast together. We had an enjoyable conversation at breakfast. They were both experienced bikers. I left the hotel at approximately 9 am and proceeded west on Highway 40, headed for California. Just west of Nashville, I ran into unexpected rain which forced me off the road since I was ill equipped for bad weather. I made my way to Lenoire, Tennessee and was soaked by the time I arrived at a local restaurant. I found a laundromat, laundered my clothes and waited for the weather to turn. At Lenoire, I picked up a rain suit and wraparound glasses from a Walmart store. This helped a lot. However, since I did not have a windshield or a full face helmet, it was still difficult riding in the rain. The pelting of the rain on my face was really uncomfortable. It rained on me most of the way from Lenoire to Nashville. By the time I got to Nashville, the bottom half of my rain suit was in shreds. I travelled across most of the state of Tennessee and called it a day in Memphis.
DAY 5 – MAY 26, 1997
I awoke at 6 am and was on the road by 7:15 am. (It turns out that I was actually up at 5 am rather than 6 am since I had not reset my watch to Central Time). I had breakfast at the Waffle House, which is a chain of breakfast restaurants that I have wanted to try out. I had a nice conversation with a gentleman riding a BMW motorcycle. He gave me directions to get through town. I felt some pain in my left eye through much of the ride into Little Rock, Arkansas. I think it was a combination of sunscreen that had seeped into my eye causing a burning sensation as well as a lack of sleep. Just outside of Little Rock, I stopped at a rest station and slept for an hour. I then had lunch. My eye felt much better at that point. I rode through Arkansas and Oklahoma, catching rain for a brief period of time in Oklahoma. I stopped in Oklahoma City and visited the site of the Murrah Building that was bombed in April of 1995, killing 168 people. This was very sad and moving. I stayed at a Howard Johnson motel just outside Oklahoma City.
DAY 6 – MAY 27, 1997
I awoke at 5 am and forced myself back to sleep until 6 am. I had breakfast at a MacDonalds and was on the road by 9 am, headed for Texas. The trip through Texas was uneventful, and I arrived at the New Mexico border in the late afternoon. I gave my bike a bath in Texas. New Mexico was my favorite state. It was very beautiful and scenic. I spent the night at a Best Western motel in Santa Rosa which was very nice. I had a really great plate of Mexican food at “Joseph’s” mexican restaurant. I then returned to my room and made a number of telephone calls. I finally got to sleep at 2 am. I was ahead of schedule and now planned to be home by Thursday. The bike had run beautifully.
I awoke at 6 am and made some telephone calls. I was thinking of detouring through the Grand Canyon when I arrived in Flagstaff. If I did this, I would then cut across to St. George and proceed home through Nevada, stopping in Las Vegas to catch up with my wife and her friend, Pat Pearson. I had breakfast at the Silver Moon Cafe in Santa Rosa-pancakes, sausage, eggs, hash browns and coffee. It was delicious. I really liked this city and state. Santa Rosa is located along the original Route 66, which is a highway that connected Los Angeles and Chicago. Arizona was not as scenic until I arrived in Flagstaff. Flagstaff was an interesting and very pretty city. I stayed at the High Country Inn, which was a real dump. The room smelled awful, the bed was lumpy and the carpet was bright green and dirty. I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant which was good. I also had the best night’s sleep of the trip.
DAY 8 – MAY 29, 1997
I awoke at 6 am and forced myself back to sleep for another hour. At breakfast, I was told by the waitress that the trip to the Grand Canyon is approximately 1-1/2 hours. I decided to make the trip. The trip north on Highway 180 to the Grand Canyon was quite beautiful and enjoyable. I toured for a short while at the Grand Canyon and took many pictures. I found the trail leading up the West Rim of the Grand Canyon that I had hiked several years earlier when Tom Kettering and I rafted the Colorado River. Our raft trip ended at Phantom Ranch, and we hiked up the West Rim of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. This was the most difficult and grueling hike of my life. Finding this trail brought back some fond memories of the rafting trip so many years ago. I stopped at a gas station to purchase a camera and suffered my first mishap of the trip. After stopping the bike and turning off the engine, I proceeded to set it down on the kickstand. Unfortunately, I had not fully extended the kickstand and the bike fell over on its side. No damage was done, except to my ego.
After my tour of the Grand Canyon, I proceeded back to Highway 40 and was back on the highway by 12:40 pm. I decided not to try to catch up with my wife in Las Vegas since I did not think I had enough time to get to Las Vegas before she and Pat left for home. At one point, traffic on Highway 40 slowed down because of road construction and the highway narrowed to one lane. The other lane was blocked by highway cones. I was proceeding behind some trucks at a very slow speed and decided to ride as close to the cones as possible. My foot kicked over one of the cones, and I looked back to see what happened. At that point, I ran directly over another cone. I went back to pick up the cones and replace them. In the course of trying to pick up a cone, my bike leaned over on its right side and hit the pavement, leaving some small scratches on the Harley Davidson decal on the gas tank. This made me sick.
I proceeded through Arizona into Needles, California. By the time I stopped in Needles, I was personally overheated since the weather was over 100 degrees. I stopped at approximately 4 pm in Needles. I drank several glasses of ice tea at a MacDonalds restaurant and then went to a pizza parlor and had several glasses of beer and water while I watched an NBA playoff game. It took me several hours to cool down. At approximately 8 pm, I left Needles and proceeded to Ludlow, California, where I stayed at the Ludlow Motel.
DAY 9 – MAY 30, 1997
As I was packing my bike, I met two lawyers who were on their way to a family reunion with their two small children. They were both classmates of Tobin Lippert of my firm’s Los Angeles office, and I promised to give him their regards. The ride from Ludlow to Costa Mesa was easy and enjoyable, and I arrived home in the early afternoon.
This was a very enjoyable cross-country motorcycle trip. The bike performed beautifully, and the trip was free of any major mishaps or harrowing experiences. The trip was more difficult than my 1995 trip to North Dakota on my Honda American Classic. It was difficult because I covered a lot of miles during the day with very little sightseeing and with little company except 18 wheelers. Since I was driving with a half helmet and without a windshield, wind was a big factor.
I feel truly privileged to have been able to enjoy this experience and come out in one piece.
William M. Burke
June 17, 1997
Click here to view photos from this trip.