Reflections on the Southern States Tour

How many miles a day did I ride?

I averaged just over 215 miles per day both to Key West and on the way home, counting days off ‘en route’.

Daily Mileage
Daily Mileage

My longest day was 489 miles, a personal record. I had planned my do my first ‘500 mile day’ by riding from Oklahoma City into Taos, New Mexico. However, once in the mountains east of Taos, I came across Cimarron Canyon State Park. Since the weather promised a clear night, I decided to stop there and camp. The result was I didn’t hit my goal of 500 miles.

A large majority of long-distance riders I’ve met travel farther each day than I do. I am cool with that and with my average. I’m engaged in leisure travel, designed to be long in duration as well as distance. Regular days off and short-ish days help me maintain a good attitude over the long haul and helps with scheduling activities ‘off the bike’.

How much does this cost?

I budget $1000 per week for my longer trips. This includes the cost of lodging, food, and fuel, as well as money for recommended services and gear replacement. I camp 10-20% of the time, stay with folks 10% of the time, and stay in inexpensive motels the rest of the time.

To help keep this simple on the road, I keep my daily average spending on fuel, food, and lodging to around $100, sometimes a little more. This allows for roughly $200 – $300 per week to be allocated to maintenance of the bike and gear.

Gulpha Gorge Campsite
Gulpha Gorge Campsite

By occasionally camping, I can put the money saved on lodging that night towards a nice hotel room another night. Not only does that give me an opportunity to “splurge” on myself, but it also provides a more diverse experience.

I occasionally know I will want a nice hotel. Usually in bigger cities, for example, I’ll opt for nicer lodging.

Did you have any close calls?

This question never sits right, but it comes up often. In any case, there was both a little drama and some trauma for the bike.

The drama happened in Texas on Day 24 when I picked up a nail in the rear tire. Here’s what I wrote for that day’s blog post:

After stopping for gas on the peninsula, I noticed I picked up a nail in my rear tire. Turned out it was pretty small and lodge in tangentially. The tire pressure remained good after I pulled out the nail, and I continued on my way.

Note: I did call the Houston BMW shop as well as BMW roadside assistance. I had support should I have needed it. Thanks to Will, my regular Seattle riding buddy, as well, for his support. I also had a patch kit and an electric air pump should things have turned out differently.

As you can see, the drama involved a lot of support calls and texts, a little breath holding, and some delays, but ended happily.

Trauma happened twice. The first time was in the afternoon of Day 51.

The day took an unexpected turn while I passed through the town of Dardanelle. I hit a rock in the road. I wasn’t traveling too fast, about 35mph and the bike remained upright. I could tell the front tire was going flat and pulled off the road quickly.

I saw significant damage to the front rim and, as I thought, the front tire was losing pressure quickly. I was just about 50 feet past an intersection with both a restaurant and a tire service center, so I turned around and got the bike into the service station parking lot.

I recovered the rock I hit from the highway, in part so no one else would hit it. Here’s the rock and the damage it caused.

Front wheel damage from the rock and the rock I hit Front wheel damage from the rock and the rock I hit

Because the bike is still under the original warranty, BMW roadside assistance is available to me. With one call, a tow truck was dispatched from Bentonville, the city with the closest BMW dealer. My next call was to the service department at Bentonville BMW to let them know I was dropping in unexpectedly. They ordered a new front rim so that it could be overnighted from California.

The tow came quicker than expected and soon the bike was loaded up and tied down. The tow company owner, Mark, rides and had many entertaining stories. It was a long ride to Bentonville, and I felt like my motorcycle was just staring at me with an angry look.


We dropped the bike off just after 6pm and Mark drove me to the motel. After some time, I found a nearby hotel with a bar and had some dinner and a couple of drinks.

It was a sad evening, but it could have been much worse. I didn’t wreck the bike, and I wasn’t hurt at all. I went to sleep hoping the bike would still be at the shop when I arrived the next morning.

The morning started with a cab ride from my motel to the BMW dealer in Bentonville, about six miles away.

I met Jerry, the service manager and co-owner of the dealership. The new rim was on its way and the new tire was sitting in the sunlight to warm up a bit (apparently it is easier to mount when warmed up by the sun – makes sense). We would examine the rear tire and rim after mounting the front.

Jerry took my copy of the tire and wheel protection agreement, measured the tread depth, and secured pre-approval for the front tire repairs. Fed Ex arrived and the tire was mounted and balanced by 11am. A test ride couldn’t detect any issue with the rear rim, but after dismounting the tire and putting it on the balancer, a minor imperfection could be detected. The warranty would not cover this damage, however, because the tire’s seal was still good. Jerry was certain that the new defect would not impact tire wear or safety.

Since the rear tire wasn’t visibly damaged, but would need replaced in another 1,000 miles, I chose to replace it now at my expense. A new tire was mounted and the motorcycle put back together

The other trauma was mechanical in nature and impacted my route choices and my mood during Day 57 and Day 58.

In Texas, I was traveling along, occasionally glancing at the fuel gauge, I noticed that it indicated the tank was half empty. A short time later, it indicated it was full. This was concerning because I don’t believe the gods of travel would grant me such a gift. 🙂

When I stopped at a service station a short time later, I found a vacuum built up in the fuel tank. I knew this was unusual and suspected the venting on the charcoal cannister designed to prevent fuel and fuel vapors from leaking to the atmosphere.

I filled the tank since I was at a gas station and continued on my way hoping that this behavior was a fluke. I suspected the charcoal canister was clogged, or perhaps fuel-soaked and that it would clear quickly.

The behavior repeated itself and I stopped frequently throughout the day to release the vacuum. I was still thinking the charcoal in the canister, which is designed to clear itself in the event fuel gets in it, would clear itself.

Well, it didn’t clear itself so …

I did some research after dinner to better understand how the charcoal canister works. The fuel tank on the bike is a plastic, and a vacuum can cause it to collapse inward. It also can damage the fuel guage, a float inside the tank, as well as cause engine performance. I decided that I would have to have the bike looked at and planned to stop at either Colorado Springs or Denver the next day.

I knew it was going to be a difficult day trying to get the bike serviced. First, it was Tuesday – always the busiest day at a BMW shop. Next, it was spring and everyone thinks about getting their bikes serviced in the spring. Finally, there are a lot of bikes on the road and that means break downs are more of the service emergencies that shops have to schedule around.

Long story short, the Colorado Springs shop was incredibly busy and I was not confident of their ability to diagnose the issue and represent it as warrantied, if necessary. So I traveled to Denver BMW, where last year I had my 12,000 mile service performed. To make better progress, and avoid numerous stops every few miles, I rode with the filler cap cracked open. I finally arrived in Denver about 1pm.

Though I had a few travelers ahead of me, the experts at the Denver shop found the issue to be a clogged vent hose off the charcoal canister and corrected it at no cost to me. I can’t praise the team at Denver BMW enough for getting me back on the road quickly.

It turned out that my friend Jed was at the shop that same day getting his bike serviced. We were done at the same time, and Jed invited me to stay with him and his wife.

I’m thankful both these traumatic events had a soft landing.

What stood out as special on this trip?

Among the roads I’ve ridden, the northern half of the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) and where it passes through Big Sur stands out as special, as does Hwy 33 south of Pine Mountain (CA), Hwy 170 through Big Bend State Park (TX), the ‘Twisted Sisters’ (TX), the Blue Ridge Parkway, Tail of the Dragon, Cherohala Skyway all seemed very fun and totally worthy.

Hanging out with old friends from Santa Cruz, friends that have moved away from Seattle to Huntington Beach and Key West, a virtual friend living in Ft. Lauderdale, and friends I’ve made on the road is a highlight of this trip.

Organ Pipe Cactus Natl Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus Natl Monument
Camping at Organ Pipe Catcus National Monument in Arizona, Henderson Beach State Park in Florida, and the Willville motorcycle-only camp in Virginia were all very special and very different.

Breakfast in Calexico, croissants at the Blue House Bakery in Carlsbad, Ahi tuna tacos for lunch in Key Largo, appetizers at The Olde Pink House in Savannah, steak dinner at Red Steakhouse in Oklahoma City were some of the meals that were especially yummy.

Looking through a telescope at the sun while at Kitt Observatory was super exciting, as was visiting Carlsbad Caverns, swimming in the giant spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park, yoga on the beach in Key West, visiting Cape Canaveral, and the Barber Motorcycle Museum were some of my favorite activities this trip.

Did you get lost often?

Not lost, exactly, but a few times I encountered the unexpected. Here’s one example.

On Day 16, I followed roads on the Butler Map that were supposed to be super fun but that led me to a dead end, or so it should have been. 🙂

The route I followed dead-ended at the West Gate of Fort Huachuca, a military base. I honestly thought when I looked on the map that this was some sort of nature preserve or historical site. Instead, I end up at an automated, highly secured gate with cameras and everything. 🙁

It was after 6pm, and the sun was falling fast. I don’t like traveling at night on the motorcycle and I started to feel a bit panicked. There was a call button, so I pressed it hoping for the best.

Someone answered and I told them I was lost, I was trying to get to Bisbee before dark and I didn’t want to retrace 60 miles of what was mostly crappy country roads. I guess they took pity on me and after presenting my driver’s license to the camera, they let me pass through the gates and cut through the base.

Of course, I got lost on the base because none of the roads are straight and there are no road signs on how to get to the East Gate. The first person I asked, apparently a German officer there for training, had only been there two weeks and wasn’t helpful. He did say that he owned a 1983 BMW motorcycle and loved it (everyone has a motorcycle story).

The two enlisted soldiers I asked about 10 minutes later seemed very intimidated and didn’t know whether they should salute, stand at attention or parade rest, who I was, or anything. Eventually, one of them gave me some pointers.

Anyway, I finally found someone who pointed me in the right direction at the gas station. I filled up and took off out the East Gate. It was now 7pm and almost dark.

This story was hilarious to tell Carson and all turned out well, thanks to decision of the person who controlled access to the base (thanks!). I really got a kick out of the reactions of the soldiers, especially the young enlisted men who seemed really scared someone without a recognizable rank was talking to them.

What was different about the design of this trip?

This trip was farther and would take longer than any trip in the past. So, knowing that I started to burn out towards week seven of the last trip, I organized this one around a full week off the bike while staying in Key West. With that design, this trip really became two trips – one out and one back. That really seemed to help me get a second wind and avoid most of the burnout.

Aren’t you worried traveling alone?

I really enjoy traveling throughout the US on these long trips by myself. I am always asked about this while traveling, and most folks don’t believe me when I say that this is enjoyable and preferable. Besides, how many people have friends who ride who can also take off two months or more from work?

En route, my plans are more flexible when traveling alone. I can plan the next day’s route the night before or the morning of and still change my mind part way through the day. I can wait longer to make motel reservations.

At stops, I’m very approachable – being alone and generally smiling. People say hello and sometimes volunteer their stories or their questions that start a short conversation. Other riders will ask where you’re heading, etc..

At mealtimes, I tend to eat at the bar or counter where locals tend to gather. Being by myself, I can usually find a place and I have to talk to others if I want to be social. In this way, I’ve met loads of folks and often we have a good time swapping stories.

I strongly encourage folks who haven’t traveled alone or done so in a long time to try it. You’ll find yourself forced to engage others in a way that I suspect you’ll find very rewarding.

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