Buell - 8402 mile cross country trip thoughts
Hi everyone! I recently got back from an 8,400 mile cross country trip on my Sporty. You might have seen my post in the Top End section about my bike being in rough shape, which was stressful while on the road, but the overall the trip was an amazing time. I thought I’d share some of my experiences with you guys in case anyone is looking to do something similar, or if you’ve done it before you can throw in your two cents. This will be long, but I’ll try to keep it succinct. Here’s a rundown of the trip:
Me: I’ve been riding motorcycles for about six years and I’ve had a handful of bikes during that time. My Sportster is the only Harley I’ve ever owned. I’ve had it for three years. I live in Philadelphia so I’m accustomed to traffic and city riding. The longest trip I’d done before my cross country trip was to Montreal.
My Bike: 2003 Sportster 883 with a Hammer 1250 Kit installed at 5,000 miles. I retarded the stock ignition and run 44 and 180 jets. 12in Progressives in the rear. Biltwell Chump bars. I bought quiet baffles just for the trip.
The Route: I made a concrete schedule for my first two weeks. Portland was my west coast destination and I knew I’d be stopping in Detroit and Chicago as well as Yellowstone, and The Badlands National Parks. I opened a map and pretty much made a line from coast to coast. I’d be camping as much as possible, so I highlighted green spots on the map and connected the dots. Most of my days would be 250-350 miles. I had a rough idea where I’d be heading after Portland, but I left it mostly unplanned because I didn’t know how I’d be feeling at that point(would I be exhausted? Over it? Ready for more?).
My gear: I had one big hiking style bag to strap to the sissy bar. It held all my camping gear and had room for overflow, like when I shed layers or bought snacks throughout the day. I won’t go into too much detail of my camping gear, but it was the lightest smallest packing tent/pad/bag combo I could put together (searching backpacking forums helped a lot here). I had cheapo no name saddlebags that I got off Jafrum. One bag held a half gallon of gas, a quart of oil, rain gear, tools and octane boost. The other bag held clothes. I had one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, five pairs each of underwear and socks, three T-shirts, one long sleeve flannel shirt, thermal top and bottoms and a warm weather army jacket. I had a small backpack which held my camera, maps, charging cords, wallet and phone.
After a couple weeks on the road: I’d definitely realized a few things by this point: my ass hurt but I was kinda getting used to it, my rain gear was complete crap, driving through the Midwest is painfully boring, and my bike was not invincible(I’d never had a problem with it before). I had my first breakdown at the entrance to the Badlands National Park. I got it towed to Rapid City and an indie mechanic put in a new battery and told me it was charging fine and I went on my way. The scenery got interesting fast at that point. I passed through the Black Hills and various mountains in Wyoming. I was really getting in the groove by the time I hit Oregon but I had yet another breakdown. I got it towed to a Harley dealer in Bend, OR and they informed me that my charging system was fried. Ironically, my bike really went downhill after this. It started leaking like crazy and there were all kinds of noises coming from the top and bottom end. I don’t want to focus on the bike too much, so in short, I accepted that it might breakdown at any point and I decided to just ride it as far as it would go.
After a few more weeks: I was doing good. I woke up every morning not knowing where I’d be sleeping that night, and it didn’t bother me. I knew how far I’d be able to ride, how long it would take me. It felt like I’d been gone forever. I remember my roommate texted me asking if he could borrow something from my room, and I drew a blank when I tried to envision not only where it was, but what my room looked like. Between riding itself, thinking about gas, the route, the weather, I was so removed from my everyday life that I didn’t think about anything but the trip.
Finally Home: By the time I hit Oklahoma I was pretty much ready to be home. Oklahoma was so boring to ride through that it just drained me, and when I hit Missouri and felt that east coast mugginess I was over it… I’d felt the dry heat of the west and I’d seen the light… I’d seen Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Redwoods, I stopped in Vegas, Santa Fe, San Fran, Portland, and the entire west was just amazing to me. I’d never been off the east coast before.
What I learned and suggest(riding-wise): I definitely took away a lot from this trip. In terms of the actual riding I’d say OVERpreparing for the weather is #1. I ended up buying extra thick knee-high socks and THREE additional layers of puffer vests/coats while on the road. I bought three puffer vests at UNIQLO in Chicago because I heard that they are warm and pack super small, which they do. They were lifesavers. I was also glad that I brought a baklava for under my helmet, and that I bought a full face helmet for the trip. Keep in mind I did this trip from mid August to the end of September. I’m used to the temperature staying fairly warm throughout the night during the summer, but as soon as I got past Chicago the temps were dipping down into the 50s and 40s, and it wouldn’t get warm until around 10 or 11am.
I’d also suggest reconsidering style over comfort. Whether it’s your super slim seat, or your ape hangers, or whatever cosmetic change you’ve made without regard to comfort, think about riding with it for 6-8 hours a day and through any weather. My bike is fairly stock except for the mirrors. I like the look of round mirrors, and I wanted them to be low profile, so they’re small, maybe 3’’ diameter. I have to kind of bend my neck and move around to see anything. It never annoyed me before the trip, but after a few thousand miles I wanted nothing more than to have a mirror that I could simply glance at and get a good view. I was so glad that that I got a full face helmet too. I’d ridden with an open face up to Montreal and the wind noise and force was exhausting and painful. That sensation of the helmet wanting to fly off your head, thus pulling your head back doesn’t happen (as much) if you have a face shield. I went with a Bell Bullit and it was great. Also, it might sound crazy but I feel like the stock shocks might have been better for the trip. My progressives have always been so stiff. I don’t think I would have minded those old bouncy things. No matter what your setup, you’ll encounter TONS of old head Harley guys with full dressers and windshields, and I guarantee they won’t make fun of your little sportster. They’ll be impressed.
Also, ear plugs, wear’em, simple as that. Take rests. Sometimes I could ride 90 miles no problem, sometimes I’d be at 25 and my ass would be numb for no reason. Stopping and eating or drinking or just walking around makes a world of difference. Don’t worry if you didn’t get as far as you wanted to, or if a rain storm messed up your schedule. I was fortunate enough to have no restrictions in terms of time (quit my job to do the trip), so plan for the unexpected. Give yourself wiggle room.
What I learned about this country: This country is huge. Huge and diverse. I couldn’t believe Utah. Route 12 passes through the most un-worldly land-forms I’ve ever seen. Also, The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, The whole Pacific Coast, it was all amazing. And the small towns. In case you’ve never been to the Northeast, it’s just one big connected mess. Cities taper off to suburbs which can sometimes turn quaint but soon enough your back in a city and so on. As soon as I got out of Chicago, I didn’t see anything resembling the world I know until I circled back all the way to the D.C. area. There were 100 mile stretches in South Dakota and Oklahoma where there’d either be nothing but farmland or nothing at all. I’d see distance signs for upcoming “towns” and I’d pass through them in less than a minute. There wouldn’t even be any traffic signals. Despite the nothingness I never had to use my spare gas jug. I think I’d bring it again though, it was reassuring to have. I ran into some other bikers who suggested a siphon as its smaller and lighter and any car can fill you up.
I see lots of posts on here that go something like “can I ride my sporty XXXX miles?!” And the truth is yes you can. I’m not the first to have done it but I was in the same boat. I was unsure how I’d feel after a week or two weeks on the road. You get used to it. By the last couple weeks of my trip I was riding from 7am to 5pm every day. The main goal of my trip was to see the landforms and the vastness of this country, and when I was passing through the Tetons, or the Redwoods, or anything as impressive, I didn’t once think about my stiff neck or my numb ass. There were points in the ride at which I didn’t feel like going anymore, but if you just take a rest, hop back on and pull the throttle you’ll keep going. A “long” ride for me used to be going to the Jersey shore. My friends and I would ride 90 or so miles each way. And when we got home, we’d be all sandy and covered in sunblock and almost every time, we’d dump our gear in the house and go out and ride some more. I figured that’s how it would be when I thought about doing this trip. And that’s how it was. No matter how much I ride my bike I just want to ride more.
There’s plenty more to share but this is getting long so I’ll leave you with some quick info…thanks for reading!
Total Distance: 8,402
States Passed through: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana(hardly), Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware
Notable wildlife sightings: black bear, moose, elk, rattlesnake, roadrunner, armadillo, coyote, antelope
Most twisty turny fun roads: Route 21 out of the Sawtooth mountains in Idaho (150 miles of twisties without another car on the road), Pacific coast highway (there was lots of traffic but crazy turns), Route 12 through Utah (mainly for the scenery), Route 192 through the Daniel Boone National Forest KY.
Most Impressive states: Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, California, Oregon.
Most boring states: Oklahoma, Ohio
Letdowns: Yellowstone(too crowded), San Fran (tons of homeless), the Midwest (boring af)
Pleasant Surprises: Detroit, Sawtooth and Big Horn National Forests, Santa Fe, Blue Ridge Mountains
I forgot to mention my sleeping/living situation… I was fully prepared to “stealth” camp; in fact I thought I would have no choice but to pitch a tent on the side of the road at some point. I didn’t once. I stayed in motels maybe 10 days out of 45, and that was mainly because of the breakdowns or getting rained on. Lots of National Parks and or Forests are free or cheap. Paying 8-20 bucks for a camping site isn’t too bad and it’s less stressful than being on private property. There’s also the option of hiking and camping in parks, which is almost always free. That’s just hard when all your gear is strapped on the outside of your vehicle. Take checks with you if you plan to use park-n-camp sites. There aren’t rangers a most campgrounds but they might come to see if you paid. I’d usually aim to get to campsites between 2 and 6, depending on the park. Popular parks fill up fast and it wasn’t uncommon for all the campgrounds to be full. I cooked rice and lentils over a camp stove for most of my trip. I only ate out in cities. Most mornings I’d buy bananas and nuts or jerky at a gas station and that would last until dinner.