Welcome back to
In 2017 I decided that I needed to go big or go home. The goal was ambitious and very possibly outside of my skill set – so I had only one option really – go for it! At the time, I lived in London, Ontario (up in Canada for my fellow Americans) but I’d grown up in South Carolina and my parents currently reside in Arizona. On top of that, I had a good friend of mine that was finally tying the knot and they also lived in Arizona… so the dominoes started clicking and a plan emerged. I was going to ride my 1984 Honda CB450SC Nighthawk (Mauls) from Ontario to Arizona, then from Arizona to South Carolina because a visit to my stomping grounds was a must, and then from South Carolina back up to Ontario. A big, awkwardly shaped loop of the United States.
I gave myself 15 riding days and a total of 3 weeks to complete the trip. Could I do it? I didn’t have a clue, but knew Mauls was essentially bulletproof so we were only riding on my ability to hold back the stupid and ensure I do the basic things she needs to make it over 12,000 kilometers.
Mauls made a huge trip the year before. We left Ontario and headed to South Carolina down the Blue Ridge Parkway and it was a brilliant shakedown for her. There were a number of items that needed to be addressed after that trip, before I could embark on yet a more ambitious one. Those things ranged from straightening the forks to replacing the clutch. Simple mistakes along the way may or may not pop up later in the trip, but that’s for me to know now and you to find out later.
An early trip issue to arise was the windscreen – it was new in my arsenal and I wasn’t sure about using it. In the preceding weeks, I had done my best to fit the screen and test it out on the road, but in hindsight never tested it out with the bike fully loaded and my seat modified. During the trip, I elevated the seat a few inches with foam which is a pretty obvious oversight when trying to fit the screen beforehand. You’ll quickly learn I’m not the brightest bulb, just stubborn as hell. Long story short, the windscreen messing both with the steering and loads of buffeting on my helmet – headache central. Before the end of the first day, that thing gets removed and sits under the netting for the rest of the trip.
I learned something valuable that day – I like the wind. It makes me feel more connect with my bike and with the countryside around me. Windscreens have a benefit, but to me it’s not worth the cost.
After the basics before leaving London – top up the tank and rotopax with fuel, coffee and air in the tires – we are good to go and on the road. Early morning fog makes for a brilliant ride and really helps me get into the mode for the long haul. This is a lonely experience and something not to be taken lightly – so having views like these reminds me why I’m doing this. The fog does eventually turn into light rain, something I’ll be riding in and out of for a majority of the first day, but it’s not heavy and makes for a nice, cool ride.
In no time at all I get to the US/Canadian border. No cameras allowed here, but it was relatively painless. Going bright and early had me beat most of the traffic, so there wasn’t a ton of stilling around on hot tarmac waiting for the line to move.
If reading isn’t your thing, be sure to check out Day 1 in video format right here!
The initial impressions of Michigan were very similar to Southern Ontario. Relatively straight roads, though quite narrow from what I just rode through in the morning. I’m using a fantastic navigation and planning app called Kurviger, and cannot recommend it enough – Kurviger finds and takes me on a number of back roads that really break up the day and keep the riding interesting. From fast, windy roads to slower dirt tracks. The sun is shining and I’m drying up from the rain showers earlier.
Michigan lets its trees get much closer to the roads around here, not so good for large trucks but great for riding a bike. Granted, you have to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, but the close proximity of the leaves and branches makes a slow pace feel really fast – and a fast pace feel fantastic.
I learned tons on this trip, both as a filmmaker and a motorcycle enthusiast. On my first ever roadtrip, I basically tried to record every second of the trip – and to this day I have yet to get through that footage because… it’s just daunting. 2018 showed much maturity on that front, but I still had lots to learn. On the first day or two, I would burn through the batteries so quickly – and though charging on the way is an option in some situations, its never optimal and almost always problematic on a 30+ year old bike created long before LED lights and USB chargers… but footage concerns aside, after a good 5 or more hours on the road, I did find a quiet spot to hop off, stretch my legs and snap a few photos.
I’ll slowly learn to take shorter clips for memory space but also to conserve battery power. It’s a tough price to pay, risking you might miss something but in the end it makes for more time to enjoy the ride and less time to pull hair out in the editing room.
The smooth, wider roads aren’t hearing a complaint from my back and ass at this point either. The worst part of the trip for being saddle sore was these first few days – before any real mountains were ridden into. Once you hit the mountains, the roads have you moving around plenty on the saddle and you can go all day not feeling what 1 hour on a flat road does… but flat, bumpy roads can still be a fantastic ride.
Each day of this ride I attempted to record some ‘on the road’ narration. The audio quality is questionable at times, but really glad I recorded what I did. Years later, it helps bring me back to that moment and what I was thinking and feeling. If you’re interested in checking some of those out, each day contains some and a separate series of “Road Ramblings” is available for your viewing pleasure.
One aspect of rural travel and avoiding highways and cities is… they tend not to build railroad over and under-passes nearly as frequently. Of course, it gives Mauls and myself a few minutes to rest our legs and stretch before continuing on our way.
Another aspect of rural road trips is the abundance of unexpected road closures – sometimes its construction, sometimes its flooding, and usually a bike can find a way around – but it sometimes means asking a local what the best work around is and setting a new course. It adds miles to the journey sometimes, but affords some interaction with people that relying solely on GPS would have me lacking. On this particular occasion, the gentleman was fishing by a small creek and his spunky guard dog greeted me as I interrupted his quiet day for some navigation advice.
As night descends, I’m well into Illinois, but far from Bloomington – where I was originally aiming. Pushing 13 hours on the bike, I needed to stop and driving much in the dark was just not on my list of things to do this trip. I made a basic rule for myself, ride during light, and I was already breaking it on day one. Cutting down the distance, I find a motel in Gilman, just north of Champaign, Illinois and call it a night.
Thanks so much for joining me on Day one of this journey. A total of 15 riding days and some downtime in Arizona makes for quote the trip I’d love to take you all on.