This story is dedicated to my wife Jerre Ann who, after 41 years of marriage, allows me the opportunity to pursue my passion in motorcycle touring.
The plan is to leave Portland, Oregon, on May 20th, heading for New Cumberland, West Virginia, for the 34th Moto Guzzi National Rally and the 27th Big Country Rally. I allowed two weeks to do the ride with the intention of doing most of it on the two lane roads that once were the main arterials of east west travel. Hours went into planning the routes and timed stops with support from the AAA trip ticket planner, Mapquest, and AAA paper maps.
As I leave my home in Tigard, Oregon, I head across the I-205 Bridge and get onto Hwy 14 East on the Washington side of the Columbia River. This is one of the favorite routes of the Portland/Vancouver riders as it has many turns, vistas, and small towns to entertain the riders; it also affords a desirable alternative to I-84 on the Oregon side. This road terminates at US 395 where a right turn sends you down an interesting sweeping set of turns to the Columbia River, across the bridge to Oregon and I-84. Turning SE I ride the slab through Boise to Mountain Home, Idaho. Nice choice of motels with attached restaurant. Upon check in I always ask for cleaning rags. Motels are grateful to supply them so their good towels don't get used to clean bikes and gear. 504 miles moving average 63 MPH.
In the morning I clean the bike and head east on US 20 for Arco and Idaho Falls. I am having difficulty holding the ear phones on my XM satellite radio so a stop at Radio Shack solves the technical problem with a set of earpieces that hook over the ears. Wow! That makes all the difference. The radio performs beautifully in remote areas where normal reception is non-existent. Also no commercials. That is the end of that pitch.
I now head east on US 26 toward Jackson and run into a Harley club at Swan Valley. They seemed to welcome a Goose among the Hogs. I told them I was heading to Casper for the night. They gave me some local knowledge but I blew the first turn sending me south on US 89 along the Idaho Wyoming border. A nice ride but not what I had intended. Good fortune prevailed over poor planning. I couldn't possibly have reached Casper so I got to Little America and turned east on I-80 to Rock Springs for a good night's rest, clean bike and good meal. 508 miles at moving average 67 MPH.
With my change in plan a new route had to be determined. I chose to take US 191 north for 41 miles, then east on WY 28 to US 287 continuing on WY 220 to Casper. This route affords some beautiful vistas, winding roads and red soils with rock formation. It is worth a few photo stops. Continuing east on US 20 I enter Nebraska. At Crawford I turn south on NE 2 to Alliance. It is about 6:00 PM and I am told there are no motels for about 5 hours. This looks like a good place to bunk in with a restaurant in the center of town.
I check in and proceed to the recommended diner. The owner was fascinated with the Guzzi, never having seen one like that before. "Noticed you ride thru then turn around and go back to the Motel" he says. I now became aware of the flavor of Middle America. This is a good feeling to be accepted in the heartland. 495 miles moving average 65 MPH.
The next morning I am up and heading east on HWY 2, a part of Nebraska that includes the Sand Hills. My only exposure to Nebraska was on I-80, this is by far the better way to see the beauty of this state. The coal trains are 120 cars long, hauling coal to the east and I passed several. I had scheduled a stop in Lincoln to visit a friend with a business similar to ours. It was great to visit Paul at his business; The Tool House is in a building that was constructed in 1869. What a master of organization to operate a modern distribution business in this facility. After a nice visit he pointed me to US 34 east toward Iowa.
I crossed the Platte River at Plattsmouth on a great old toll bridge then into the farm land of the heart land. I stopped for the night in Red Oak, a nice community named for its beautiful oak trees. Gasoline is cheaper here than on the West coast because they spike it with corn cobs. The 10% methanol gives a 15% drop in mileage so I don't get it unless they are desperate to get rid of agricultural waste. 466 miles moving average 65 MPH.
I head east on US 34 picking up I-74 in Illinois toward Peoria. I choose this route to avoid Chicago. It was my intention to continue on US 24 but a weather condition to the north pushed me to the slab toward Indianapolis. As I entered Indiana two Hwy patrolmen gave me the wave, must be a Guzzi thing. I intended to stop in Indianapolis but had forgotten it was race week and I had to travel 50 miles west to Greenfield to get a motel. I noticed the population, roads and towns all getting a lot closer. I am not used to all of this bunching and look for an alternate that may give me some open space.
The three I's (Iowa, Illinois and Indiana) are all tight. I ran into a Gold Wing rider in Iowa and we shared stories as we bought energy bars at a local grocery store. My stop in Greenfield was most welcome as it was dark and I was tired. 574 miles moving average 64 MPH.
I leave Greenfield heading for Lima, Ohio. I was told there were Amish in or near, but that was a best kept secret as the locals had no clue where they lived. I had lunch and got on to US 30 east toward Canton and the NFL Hall of Fame, a must stop on my flight plan. As I motor along I notice a rider on a familiar mount. Meeting a Guzzi rider on the open road is about as rare as anything I can think of. We stopped at the next gas station. It was John of Helena, Montana, last year's long distance rider. He was proud as his machine just rolled over 59,000 miles without a hiccup. Try that on your "US made popular cruiser". John was heading straight to the camp ground at New Cumberland, so we waved off at Canton where I found accommodations and instructions for a NFL Hall of Fame visit. 343 miles moving average 54 MPH.
This morning I took time out to visit the NFL Hall of Fame. It is impressive the way all of the great teams and players are honored. To be the best at anything deserves its place in history and this shrine brings that honor to those who brought dignity and talent to their sport. The ride continues to New Cumberland through some of the most scenic roads and towns in the area. The history is marked with plaques in the squares of these towns. Hwy 30 is known as the Lincoln Highway and is the first east to west road. Route 66 was immortalized in song and is now broken up into remnants of the old road. Highway 30 has endured time and offers a trip through history for the motorcycle traveler. A cross country trip traveling the 30 sounds like an adventure for another time. I know the western end terminates at Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River.
I arrive in New Cumberland, WV, a small community along the eastern bank of the Ohio River. This is an area of scenic overload framing the setting for the Guzzi National Rally. Here is where the best riding machines are gathered for a period of appreciation and fellowship. Due to the small number of bikes imported to the US it is still the best kept secret in motorcycling. Durability, style and outright character mark the Guzzi and most of its riders. Typically these riders are distance riders, respecting the brand for those qualities that have endured through many changes of ownership. Thanks to a loyal following the standards will be maintained.
Riding 2600 miles to reach this place I searched for the real reason to take the adventure. It wasn't really the character of the motorcycle although as a recognized gear head I acknowledge, the machines and the ride are not all bad. The real reason was revealed during my stay in the area. The giving heart of the Appalachia is in the soul of its people. Everywhere I was greeted warmly by complete strangers. An elderly couple in a Kroger's parking lot, showing me kindness and wanting to talk about the rally. A young girl entering the local tavern/restaurant sharing that she was leaving in a few days for Florida where she hoped to find work. She had that inward happiness that comes from having eternal hope. The lady cleaning my room at the Holiday Inn, whose husband had a motorcycle and would take their grandchildren for rides. When the couple rode together, it was "his toy and her peace of mind". At the end of the Poker Run, I was getting gas and trying to figure the best way to get back to the Rally site in New Cumberland. A man offered his help by saying "follow me, I will show you the way." The memorial to Bucky Bush, a man from these hills that had for 27 years organized this Big Country Rally. I had never met the man but from what was said he captured the soul of the giving heart of this region. We were a parade of motorcycles celebrating Memorial Day with the assistance of the Fire and Police Departments. A young woman riding two up with a large bag of candy throwing the candy to the children lining the street of the parade. It is not about what you have but what you give. Why did I make this ride? It was to experience the giving heart of these people. If this culture could be exported the world would be a better place.
Sunday arrives with a break in the weather and I start the ride home heading for Holland, Michigan to visit a friend that spent some time in Portland where we did several local rides together. I chose to ride the slab as I had 446 miles to travel and I did not want to delay with sightseeing. Rest stops and gas stations afford little opportunity for conversation; it's just take care of business and keep on trucking. Good thing the Goose has long legs as the freeway demands speeds that most cruisers do not appreciate but this machine seems quite comfortable. It must be due to the California Highway Patrol specifications, as the bikes served the Highway Patrol for several years. I arrived in Holland late afternoon and found my friend Paul's family lake house, a pre-1900's structure that holds several generations of family memories. After the 10 cent tour of Holland we dined at the marina area and put our travel plan together. Paul had planned to ride a couple of days with me to the Upper Peninsula and another piece of Americana that I had not had the pleasure to visit in my youth. We proceeded north to the Mackinaw Bridge at the headwaters of US 2 which will wind its way across the northern tier of the US to Everett, Washington. Paul and I rode together to Escanaba where I replaced my headlight bulb, the only mechanical problem I experienced with the Goose. Paul returned to Holland while I headed west on the 2.
The Upper Peninsula, framed by Lakes Huron and Michigan is a vacation paradise. This extends into Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. As Minnesota flattens out to the west it is followed by North Dakota. Again the choice to follow the US routes will afford an opportunity to see what America is all about. A little note about North Dakota; watch for the dark clouds. At Minot I avoided a hail storm while fueling. I thought I might stay the night but a voice told me to push on to the next town. When I checked into my room, the weather channel revealed a tornado touched down about 30 minutes after I left Minot. Whew! Rain was beating on me so I decided to drop down onto I-94 and accelerate the trip home. I stayed the night in Missoula and fortunately there are a number of restaurants that deliver as I was not going anywhere in the prevailing storm. The last day I wore the rain gear until Coeur d'Alene, where the sun broke through and held all the way to Portland. I arrived home at 7:00 pm, covered 5790 miles in two weeks and would gladly do it again on this fine Italian cruiser.