Sunday, December 30, 2012

RTE: The Last Ride of the Year

While reading the LDRider email list a couple of months ago I stumbled on a Ride To Eat (RTE) in Stockton, Alabama. Without even looking it up in Basecamp I knew it was a doable ride. I checked with Reagan and she was interested so we planned it as an overnighter. As the weekend neared we ended up with 2 other motorcycles planning to come along. The plan was simple, ride over to Mobile, Alabama on Saturday and check out the USS Alabama along the way. Then attend the RTE on Sunday and hustle home so we could be at work on Monday. No problem.

When Saturday (December 29th) finally came so did winter. It was 34 degrees at the gas station where we all met at 7am. I had planned our first stop to be for breakfast in Orange, TX which was about 2 hours away. Shortly after 7 we pulled away from the Exxon and headed north on Hwy 59 and then took I-10E out of Houston. This was a super slab trip, we didn’t really have the time to take a more scenic route as the day’s mileage was a little over 500 miles and we didn’t want to get into the hotel too late.

I-10 was I-10. Nothing special there. I did see a Texas state trooper running laser, which I don’t see very often. They usually like to sit comfortably in their cruisers when looking for speeders. I wasn’t concerned about my speed but my trusty Valentine One let me know none the less.

We arrived at Gary’s Café & Family Restaurant in Orange, Texas at 9:15. Just about like I had planned. I was comfortable for the most part as was Gary (not the owner of the café). However, it looked like Reagan, John & Terry were a little cold. Once inside we found a table in back and ordered hot beverages to warm up. Breakfast was OK, just OK though. This won’t be one of my top 10 spots to stop in the future. But if I’m headed through Orange around breakfast time I might stop there if I’m not in a hurry. While we were there a few wardrobe changes were made for Terry.

With breakfast finished Reagan decided she had had enough of the cold and wind and decided the short 2 hour ride home sounded better than the 400 miles or so we had left for the day. That left us with 3 bikes and four people; Gary, John & Terry and myself. We resumed our trip east on I-10 heading across Louisiana.

About 70 miles later, John popped in on my Sena Bluetooth system to say they had had enough of the wind and cold. They were going to turn around and head for the house. It made complete sense to me as they were riding a Harley Fat Bob which didn’t really have much in the wind protection department, and they were riding without heated gear. They were certainly tougher then me. So I bid them a safe trip back and radioed to Gary that they were turning around.

With a little over 300 miles left in the day, Gary and I picked up the pace and started nocking out the miles. We had ridden together before and knew how to get in and out of gas stops quickly. In Baton Rouge, we stopped for gas and I thought everything was good. I checked in with Reagan to see that she made it home. As I was leaving the stop to resume our travels east Gary explained to me that his credit card hadn’t worked at the pump and the lady inside wasn’t able to do anything about it. So we stopped at another gas station where his card did work and I had a chance to visit with another LDRider on a gold wing who was headed to the RTE.

Riding along I-10 isn’t very exciting but the ride was made a little easier for me because I had managed to get my cruise control installed earlier in the week. Oh, how I love my McCruise system. Sure it cost a couple of bucks when I bought it last summer, but with their great support I was able to move it from my 2005 GS over to the 2012 GS with minimal costs.

We stopped again for gas in Moss Point, MS and this time there were no problems at the pump for either of us. So we filled up and kept moving. It was 3:27pm when we completed the stop. I had resigned myself to only getting a picture of the USS Alabama as admission onto the ship stopped at 3pm.

We pulled into the USS Alabama Memorial Park and put the side stands down at 4:07pm. The park was supposed to close at 4 so there wasn’t anyone at the gate to charge us for parking and there weren’t any barricades up to block our entry. So I pulled up as close as I could and snapped some photos. Gary and I decided not to stand around too long though because even with the temperature up near 50 degrees the wind was really making it chilly.

We left the park and head north to I-165 and then north on I-65 to the Econolodge in Saraland, Alabama. The front desk clerk was sweet as ever and got us checked into our room. Gary and I unloaded the bikes, got out of our riding clothes and into street clothes. Dinner was had across the street at Ruby Tuesday. I was really surprised with their menu. Good stuff! The walk back to the hotel was COLD!!!


Sunday we weren’t in a hurry. Neither of us set an alarm, we just got up when we were done sleeping. It was a little after 9am when we left the hotel and headed up to Stockton, AL. and the Stagecoach Café for breakfast. Gary was planning to head back a little earlier than me so we went inside and enjoyed a great breakfast buffet. My only mistake was eating too much that I wasn’t hungry for the lunch buffet they would be serving a little bit later.

After breakfast we looked around at some bikes and then Gary left at 10:30am hoping to get home in time for dinner. Meanwhile, I kept walking around looking for other GSes and LD bikes to get ideas. I talked with a few folks, one of whom was a BMW dealership owner out of Pensacola. I like talking to dealership owners who are also motorheads and motorcycle enthusiasts.

The crowd was really diverse, there were several LD veterans there like Greg Rice, Eric Vaillancourt, Cleetha Walstrand and John Ryan just to name a few. Then you had the polar opposites with the bar hopping cruiser crowd. Plus every sort of rider in between. I walked around quietly striking up conversations when I could and just looking and listening. People quickly keyed into the “11,000 miles in 11 days” Iron Butt tags and many of the comments were of complete disbelief. Even the “5,000 miles in 5 days” tag for the mini Iron Butt rally generated comments of shock and awe. It was entertaining to listen to people.

As noon approached I noticed the LD crowd seemed to be thinning out and the cruiser crowd was building up. I had planned to stay until around 2pm but as I was starting to get bored I decided it was time to point the bike toward the house. I managed to get out of the parking lot just as a big group of bikers rolled in and blocked a lot of people by paying no attention to the fact they were parking in a lane.

It was 12:06PM when I pulled out of the parking lot. With no one else riding with me I only had to worry about myself concerning gas stops, bio breaks and food stops. The GPS told me I could be home by 7:30. That seemed like a good time so I called Reagan to let her know I was on my way and to start thinking about going out for dinner.

Thanks to a driver who cut me off in traffic, I found a “rabbit” who I followed across Mississippi and much of Louisiana. My gas stops were about every 150 miles as that’s all I can get with the current 5.3 gallon fuel tank. I pulled into my driveway though at 7:07PM having ridden 518 miles from the café.

Not too bad of a ride to eat breakfast. I think I’ll do it again next year, and maybe catch the December 31st RTE down in Florida while I’m out that way. We’ll see.

UPDATE: It looks like I made the YouTube video

Friday, December 21, 2012

End of the World SS1000

Planning for this ride was minimal, other than to decide that I was going to take the day off work and go do it. However, I had lots to do to the new bike to get it ready for it’s first LD challenge.

Rule #5 of the Iron Butt Archive of Wisdom says “Avoid adding accessories or doing maintenance immediately before a trip.” Well I broke that rule with abandon.

I had been piling up all the things I wanted to do to the bike since I was looking for the right fuse block. Finally I found the Blue Sea fuse block that would fit under the seat and I figured out how to wire the bike so it could be split in the event of serious engine/transmission work. So the work began in earnest the 2 weeks before the ride. I fabricated a new shelf for the radar detector, Sena SR10 and Spot. Then I started wiring things up. I simply ran out of time before the trip to get the cruise control installed along with some safety lighting options. I buttoned the bike up Thursday afternoon.

Friday morning I woke without an alarm clock. I got up, checked the weather and prepared to leave. It was just after 5am when I finally made it out of the driveway. I wasn’t in a hurry, I knew I had a long day of riding ahead of me but I expected to be home before 10pm.

I rode down the street to my favorite nearby gas station, topped off the tank and got my starting receipt. The receipt read 5:12AM, I was on the clock!

I headed south on Hwy 59 and immediately my temperature gauge was flashing 35 degrees. It seems the BMW instrument cluster does that for temps below 36. I guess it’s the Germans’ way of telling me to watch out for ice on the road. I was expecting the temperature to warm up so under my Klim suit I had on my gerbing electric jacket and beneath that just my normal LD Comfort base layer. I wasn’t even wearing my heated socks, just the new coconut socks I bought this past summer.

Near Hungerford, TX the speed limit climbed to 75 and I raised my cruising speed according. The farther south I went the colder it seemed to be getting. By the time I passed El Campo I was starting to wonder if I should put on my electric pants liner. But the thought of taking off my pants, to the put the liner on seemed more chilling then just toughing out the cold. Besides, I was expecting the temperature to rise when the sun came up.

When I pulled into Goliad, my gas gauge was telling me I would likely not make it to Beeville, so I whipped into the Exxon station which I thought would be a quick gas and go stop. No such luck, the pump was out of receipt paper so I went in for a receipt. Upon filling out my log, I noticed I had only travelled 133 miles while consuming 4.3 gallons of fuel. Hmmmm, my plans to go 160 to 180 miles per tank wasn’t looking so good. Now I had a few extra gas stops to contend with. I put things away and got moving again.

The temperature was now down to 30 degrees as I left town and the sun was coming up. I felt a little chilly but with the Gerbing on high and the heated grips on high I was still OK. The speed limit in south Texas is pretty much 75 everywhere so I kept the speed up at the expense of fuel mileage. I figured I just had enough to get down to Laredo for my next stop.

As I approached Laredo I decided I’d take the loop around town to avoid a traffic jam that my XM traffic was reporting. I stopped in at the Shell station on Hwy 59 at Loop 20. Fueled up and got my receipt. 5.097 gallons and 154 miles. My miles per gallon was hovering around the 30mpg mark. Definitely not what I wanted with only a 5.3 gallon tank. A quick dash inside for a bio break and I was back on the road.

While cruising on Loop 20 I tried to pull up Del Rio on my Zumo 550. As I went to search for City and spell the name, the GPS would reset. I tried it a couple of times before giving up. Apparently there’s a bug in my firmware or a problem with my maps. I’d have to deal with that later.

After a quick ride up I-35 toward San Antonio I was back on 2 lanes heading northwest on US 83. Traffic was minimal and the posted speed limit remained at 75mph. The temperature had finally started to climb out of the 30s into the 40s.

In Carrizo Springs I picked up US277 and saw my first mileage sign to Del Rio. According to the onboard trip computer I had just enough fuel to make it. So I kept the wheels turning.

When I got to Del Rio I stopped on the east side of town for fuel as my trip computer had said I was out of fuel. I’ve learned with this bike that when it tells me I’m out of fuel I can usually get another 20 to 30 miles out of it. Well I put in 5.131 gallons so I didn’t have much left in that 5.3 gallon tank. I recorded the stop and headed through town. I knew from my notes that I had 210 miles to go until I reached Ozona where there would be fuel. With the sort of mileage I had been getting on this trip I needed to stop before I got to Dryden to top off the tank.

Comstock, TX was the filling station I had in mind so just 33 miles after leaving Del Rio I stopped again and topped off the tank. This put me closer to the 170 ~ 180 mile range to get to Ozona. A few miles down the road I realized I could have stopped at the station near Judge Roy Bean’s place which would have definitely insured I made it to Ozona. As it was I figured I’d be easing up on the throttle anyway when I headed north from Dryden so I’d be fine.

I had planned to get a receipt in Dryden to mark the corner of my route but as I rolled into town it was pretty much deserted. The station said it had gas but I didn’t see any pumps nor did I see a large fuel tank around back. The place didn’t even look like it was open. So I turned north on TX 349 and kept going.

The speed limit on TX 349 is 60mph. And I opted to stay closer to that for a few reasons. First of all I was saving a little fuel. Second, there were deer, lots of deer. Third, no cell service in the area and very few people traveling on the road. The whole time I was on the road I only passed 1 vehicle. So I kicked back and enjoyed the twisties at a moderate pace.

When I got into Sheffield, I saw a sign pointing to the right for Ozona but the GPS told me to go left. It turns out the sign was for a route on 290 which would have cut out a couple of miles while the GPS wanted to take me up to I-10. I followed the GPS.

The trip computer told me I had plenty of range left on this load of fuel so I cranked up the speed and enjoyed the 80mph posted speed limit. I stopped at the Chevron (a.k.a Stripes #269) in Ozona and fueled up. 4.87 gallons and 170 miles since the last stop. I was now back into the 35mpg range.

My next planned stop was going to be Kerville, TX. So I motored down the road. By now my radar detector was giving me problems due to the excessive bouncing it was suffering. It turns out my new custom made shelf needed a little extra bracing to stiffen it up. So I turned off the detector and kept going. It wasn’t like I needed it any way with an 80mph speed limit.

As I rolled through Junction, I paid particular attention to my speed and watched to see what sort of exotic traffic enforcement vehicles the city had this time. I didn’t see any, I guess they were on break.

When I got to Kerville, I decided to try an east bound Exxon on the west side of town. It’s at exit 505. Pay at the pump didn’t work. I had to go in just to get them to turn on the pump. That was one line to wait in. Then after I finished I went back in to pay. That was another line to wait in. Finally I get my receipt and I leave. I won’t be using that station again, it’s a serious time suck and the receipt is sketchy at best. It shows the city and state, but no address.

By now I was starting to get hungry. It was around 6pm when I was getting to San Antonio. I’d had 2 cliff bars, some juice and a couple of carrots. I was thinking a quick dash into a McDonalds would be in order when I got to the other side of San Antonio. Traffic was horrible, in the other direction. I was lucky and sailed through town without much effort. I was going to take the short cut through San Antonio by jumping onto I-35N over to I-410S to I-10. But as I approached the exit I saw cars backed up on the exit ramp so I stayed on I-10 all the way through town.

I called Reagan to let her know that I’d be home around 9pm. She said she was going to see a friend and would be home a little bit after me. When she asked what I had to eat, I knew I was in trouble. She reminded me to eat something.

When I left San Antonio a surge of energy hit me. I was in the home stretch. I only had 1 more fuel stop. I figured I’d get something to eat then. So I watched my trip computer and kept going. When I got to Schulenburg I stopped for my final gas stop. The only problem, no McDonalds. Nothing fast to speak of at all. As it was 7:38pm and I knew I’d be home by 9 I just kept going and planned to eat when I stopped.

The traffic between San Antonio and Houston is always on the heavy side and this evening was no different. I just kept the bike moving and tried to stay relaxed. When I made it to the greater Houston area I-10 opened up to plenty of lanes and it was smooth sailing to the BeltWay 8 toll road and then back around to Hwy 59 and to my start/stop gas station.

When I got to the Exxon I just put in a small amount of fuel to get an end receipt, I expected to take the tank off the next day to work on some electrical items. The receipt read 9:00PM. I had completed 1,074 miles in 15 hours 48 minutes. Not bad for a ride with 8 gas stops. I went across the street to the Taco Cabana to celebrate.

As I mentioned there was lots of farkling done to this bike to get ready for this shake down ride. Here’s a list of what worked and what didn’t.

- Sena SMH10 Headset, went 16 hours w/o needing a recharge
- Sena SR10, worked w/ the Valentine 1 radar detector except for a ground loop

- My custom shelf over the instrument cluster, needed more bracing
- Bicycle water bottle mount (my juice holder), left the bike @ 85mph on I-10
- Highway pegs, need to be extended outward and angled in

Of course, I need to get the auxiliary fuel cell built to extend the range a bit. But this ride showed me that when I’m out west with higher posted speed limits I’ll be limited to a range of 330 miles with the extra capacity. That of course is still better than the range I had on this trip.

Here’s the link to my Spotwalla page for this ride.