Now that it’s over, it feels like the whole trip was just a dream! This cross-country journey was something that had been manifesting as a retirement goal in my head for almost a decade. I saved money, researched sites and roads, made reservations, contacted people, and basically made preparations for a couple of years. And now, it’s an incredible, cherished memory. I have had so many questions about this trip, I figured I’d try to answer them now.
Q: Weren’t you scared to travel so far alone?
Nope! After so many years of riding, and much of it singly, I felt very confident embarking on this journey alone. This trip was always intended to be a solo one. I enjoyed having people join me for small segments of this journey, but I love the flexibility, and freedom, of riding unaccompanied. Perhaps I’m selfish, but I like not having to consult, or compromise, with someone else about what to see, how long to stay at a place, how often to stop, and where to spend the night.
I took steps to mitigate the risk of solo travel as much as possible by having select friends and family track me real-time (via Garmin InReach satellite tracking and Family 360 app), regular digital check-ins with them, all medical issues addressed prior to departure, multiple sources of funds and identification stashed in different places, emergency contacts updated and-on-my-person, as well as going through the mental exercise of working through different contingencies. I also did not post real-time about a place, I’d wait at least a week or two after leaving a location before describing it online. Probably the most important aspects, however, were maintaining situational awareness, not putting myself in avoidably risky situations, trusting my instincts (about people and places), and knowing just enough about bike maintenance to feel confident, and be consistent with, doing pre-ride inspections and general maintenance on the road. Educating myself about motorcycle accident statistics helped me to avoid high-risk situations (e.g., riding between dusk and dawn or through big cities when it could be avoided). Plus, having a few knowledgeable folks on speed-dial for mechanical and medical issues was key!
I’m happy to report that there were no vehicular accidents, tickets, assaults, or hospitalizations during this trip! Other than the bike break-down and having to ship the camper home, it was smooth sailing 😊
Q: Did you know where you were going to spend each night ahead of time?
Sometimes. Since I had planned to stay in National Park campgrounds during the busy season (i.e., Memorial Day thru Labor Day), I had to make reservations for those dates months in advance, though I sometimes altered plans en route. After Labor Day, it wasn’t so hard to get a hotel or cabin reservation, so I was fortunate that I didn’t break down (and abandon the camper) until just before the end of the summer busy season. Out of respect for Bunk-a-Biker hosts, I would try to contact them at least a couple of days ahead of time with a homestay request, but typically, for the post-Labor Day part of my trip, I usually wouldn’t know where I was going to spend the night until that morning.
Q: How often did you stay in hotels compared to camping or with homestays?
Q: How did you decide where to go/what to see?
Last winter, I had started putting places and sites I wanted to visit on an outline map of the U.S. Some, I had always wanted to visit, others I discovered through several Facebook groups to which I belong (e.g., Long Distance Motorcycle Riding, Minimalist Motorcycle Vagabonds + Campers, Bunk-a-Biker USA, and Bunk-a-Biker’s Adventures), others were from books (e.g., Moon’s Road Trip USA, National Geographic’s 50 States 5000 ideas), and some were associated with events I wanted to attend (e.g., Babes Ride Out, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association National Meeting, and the Dream Roll). Once I started to connect the dots between all these sites, a route started to emerge and I looked up other interesting sites that were along the way. Phone apps like Pocket Atlas of the Obscure, National Park Service, Recreation.gov, and Ultimate US Military Campgrounds made finding things to see, and places to go and stay easy. The most effective method of discovering places to see and stay was by getting recommendations from locals! Just about everyone I encountered, and certainly everyone I stayed with, wanted me to see the best that their town/area had to offer, which resulted in me experiencing many places I would’ve bypassed, without even knowing it, if I would not have gotten that local perspective.
Q: How much did you deviate from your original plan?
I hadn’t originally intended to circumnavigate the contiguous United States or to visit the “four corners,” it just kind of turned out that way (though the timing of Hurricane Ian knocked out Key West for this trip). The plan changed quite a bit once I cancelled my 4th of July party and decided not to come back to NC for a break just a month into the trip. I adjusted the route based on conditions at the time (such as weather or wildfires), lodging availability, and changing interests. For example, I had intended to take Route 66 from Santa Monica, CA to Chicago, IL on the last part of the trip. However, I ended up riding the Illinois portion of Route 66 earlier in the trip, which helped me to realize that I prefer to visit National Parks and family along the way over Route 66 attractions. Riding through big cities reminded me how much I hate riding through them (and how dangerous they are), so I completely cut out Seattle/Tacoma, San Francisco and Los Angeles from my journey, even though there were many sites and people in them that I wanted to see. It was so liberating to change plans on the fly!
Q: How did you pack for such a long trip?
For the most part, everything I needed for camping was packed in the camper, while all my clothes and toiletries were packed on the bike. One motorcycle saddlebag was dedicated to emergency and foul weather gear, the other saddlebag to clothes and toiletries, and the trunk for shoes, jacket and miscellaneous items. Before the bike break-down, all my clothes fit in the one saddlebag. The saddlebags on my old bike (Streetglide) were much roomier than the ones on my new bike (Heritage) though, so after switching bikes, some of my clothes had to go into the trunk, which was also smaller on the Heritage than on the Streetglide.
Emergency and foul weather gear
- Battery jumper pack (USB rechargeable)
- Tire inflator (USB rechargeable)
- Tire plug kit
- Spare batteries for key fob
- Spare fuses
- Tool roll (specific to my bike) with repair makeshift items (bungee cord, baling wire, lock tight, duct tape, etc.)
- 1 Rain suit (jacket, pants, boot covers)
- 2 pairs of gloves (summer and winter weight)
- 2 neck gaiters (summer and winter weight)
- Headlamp (with spare batteries)
Clothes carried (used packing cubes while on Streetglide, had to switch to vacuum packed zip lock bags to accommodate limited space on Heritage):
- 2 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of shorts
- 4 long-sleeve shirts
- 4 short-sleeve shirts
- 1 sweatshirt (shirts and sweatshirts rotated as I bought new ones, mailed old ones home)
- 1 thermal undershirt
- 1 swimsuit
- 7 sets of underclothes (underwear, bras, and socks)
- 1 set of winter pajamas
- 1 pair of boots
- 1 pair of athletic shoes
- 1 pair of flip-flops (not enough room after abandoning camper, so mailed back home)
- 1 towel
- 1 riding jacket
- Quarters and laundry detergent sheets (to wash clothes whenever facilities were available, i.e., campgrounds, hotels, and homestays).
- Phone charging cord
- Battery pigtail-to-USB converter (for charging/powering phone while riding)
- Chrome book laptop computer
- Road atlas
- Tank bag with water bladder and hose (to stay hydrated while riding)
- National Parks pass
- Garmin InReach satellite communicator
- GoPro (which I found too cumbersome and technically challenging to use, so I mailed it back home not long into the trip)
- “Thank You” cards to leave at homestays (my momma raised me right 😉)
Q: How much did the trip cost?
Thanks to automated spending analysis with my banking institutions, I was able to run some numbers on basic categories. Before you use the following numbers to gauge if a trip like this is doable for you in the future, know that I saved money for YEARS to take this once in a lifetime, retirement dream trip, and I did not approach this with a thrifty mindset. If I really wanted to do, see, eat, or experience something, cost did not stop me (for the most part). I could have definitely done this trip for a LOT cheaper if I had chosen to.
- Average cost per day (for lodging, food, gas, entry fees, tours, souvenirs, gifts, and misc. for the whole 139 days on the road): $194.00
- Cost range for camp sites: $15 (non-electric in a National Park) to $136 (electric & water at KOA near a National Park in peak season)
- Food: Average of $42/day, but this includes buying a few dinners for hosts and friends along the way, as well as a handful of ridiculously expensive seafood meals 😊
- Gas: $2030 for the whole approx. 18,000-mile trip ($3.44/gallon in Leon Springs, TX in October was the cheapest; $6.96/gallon in Lincoln, ME in June was the most expensive)
- Gas mileage: Average of 39 miles per gallon with the H-D Streetglide towing the camper; 51 miles per gallon with the H-D Heritage without the camper
Q: Didn’t you get tired of being on the road?
Not really! I enjoyed looking forward to seeing a new place, learning something I didn’t know, meeting new people, reconnecting with friends and family, and basically whatever experience was going to present itself that day. Each day felt full of potential and was met with excitement! I periodically would mentally check in with myself, and contemplate if I would be happier at home at that very moment. My answer was always “If I were at home, I’d be reading about a place I wanted to visit and yearning to go there,” so I kept on going. I didn’t really get mentally or physically “tired” per se, but my hips and shoulders did not hold up well to so much time in the saddle. Keeping my mileage to no more than 350 miles a day, with only a handful of 400-mile days thrown in, helped keep joint pain from pre-existing military injuries manageable and the trip enjoyable. If I were to do it again, I’d build in a lot more off-bike days in order to recuperate en route.
Q: Was the weather or elements an issue?
Of course, it was, but I just adapted. If there was a light rain, I’d put on rain gear; if there was a downpour, I’d wait it out. If it was cold, I’d put on more snivel gear; if it was REALLY cold, I’d wait it out. There was smoke, fog, glare, extreme heat, wet cold, swarms of bugs, traffic, endless road construction, loose gravel, soft sand, deep dirt, bottomless potholes, and sometimes awful livestock/dead animal smells.
All of that was balanced out with many days of favorable conditions. I encountered countless gloriously sunny days, that often started and ended with sunrises and sunsets that set the sky ablaze with other-worldly hues of blue, gray, red, orange, and pink. I often experienced air filled with the pleasant fragrance of honeysuckle or lavender fields, fresh water lakes, salty sea breezes, fresh mowed grass, fields and pavement covered in fresh rain, as well as apple, pear, dates, and other fruit-scented orchards. Many times on this trip, I would round a bend, crest a hill, or just look out ahead to the horizon and see scenery so magnificent that it caused me to gasp and catch my breath. I can’t tell you how many times I was so moved by the beauty of what I was seeing that tears welled up in my eyes. It oftentimes wasn’t solely the beauty that stirred such emotion, it was the totality of the vastness and the vibe combined with the aesthetic.
One of the reasons motorcycle travel is so satisfying to me is that you participate in the scenery, not just admire it through the frame of a window or windshield. This journey engaged all the senses, combining both favorable and unfavorable environmental conditions to facilitate visceral memories of every mile.
Q: What was your favorite part of the trip?
The people! This trip really restored my faith in humanity. So many people went out of their way to share knowledge and stories with me, to house me, to feed me, to help with mechanical issues and mishaps, and, most meaningfully, to share the gift of their time with me. I connected with so many old friends and family, acquaintances I now call friends, and just random people who flowed in and out of my life each day, leaving me feeling comforted by the fact that we are indeed all interconnected. I certainly had interactions with people who were rude, curt, or were just people who I would not care to spend much time with, but the number of those folks were far eclipsed by that of the kind souls I met.
Q: What were your favorite places?
I don’t really know how to answer that! Do I base it on scenery, weather, people, food, road conditions, vibe, etc.? I visited 59 National Park units (24 of which were Parks) plus so many other museums and rides that they are all starting to run into each other in my memory already (which is why I’m so grateful that I documented everything in this blog as I experienced them). If I were forced to pick overall favorites, here’s my attempt through the lens of hindsight, based on the time and conditions in which I experienced them.
Q: Surely you had some misadventures along the way?
Yep! Just to make sure y’all don’t think I totally have my $hit together, I’ll share with you some of the foolish things I did and the mistakes I made. Obviously, there was the bike breakdown in Montana. I’m very conscientious about performing scheduled maintenance on time and performing pre-ride checks, so I don’t know what I could’ve done to avoid the breakdown. I started having electrical issues that coincided with extreme heat in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, followed by engine knocking. The mechanic backlog in the area in which I broke down was over a month to even take the engine apart to troubleshoot it, so I made the decision to trade-in the Streetglide for the Heritage in order to continue on my trip in a timely manner. Might it have been a simple top-end issue that could’ve been resolved for cheaper than getting a new bike? Sure, but I’m still happy with my decision to use that incident as an excuse to move on to the next bike in my life 😊
Fortunately, I’m pretty good at learning from my mistakes, so I only made most of these once. I rode off without my gas cap at a fueling stop (discovered before I left the station parking lot), which prompted me to start putting my gas cap in my windshield conch bag instead of on the top of the gas pump. I left the keys to my bike and camper sitting on top of the camper storage box in a hotel parking lot. Fortunately, the nagging feeling that I forgot something prompted me to go down and check on my rig about an hour after settling into my hotel room, where I discovered my forgetfulness before anything bad happened. I dropped my Streetglide twice on this trip. Fortunately, both drops occurred where I stopped for the night and there were people around to help me pick it up. Even though I dropped the Streetglide while I was tired, that experience prompted me to downsize my bike when the time came (my Heritage Classic is over 100 pounds lighter than the Streetglide).
The common thread to all my misadventures was that they occurred at the end of long riding days when I was tired and unconsciously getting complacent, which prompted me to shorten the length of my riding day so I would be more alert at the end of it. Those mistakes happened early in the trip and fortunately, I didn’t make them again once I incorporated lessons learned.
One other random hiccup I experienced is worth mentioning for those of you who use the VA for medical care. The “OneVA Pharmacy” program was initiated a few years ago to allow travelling veterans to refill, and even get new, prescriptions on the road. After multiple phone calls and an in-person visit to a local VA medical center (in Wisconsin), the program did not work for me and I had to go through my civilian physician to get my medications from a Walmart pharmacy, outside of the VA system. If you’re going to be on the road for more than 90 days, I’d keep a non-VA option available for prescription medication needs.
Q: Was it worth it?
Absolutely! In retrospect, this trip occurred at the right time of the year, and at the right time of my life. The weather conditions were as close to optimal as I could get for a trip like this, and this season of my life helped me to be open to the adventure and vulnerability required to make this trip as meaningful as it was. Physically, I’m paying for so much time on the road, but I still feel like it was worth it 😊
Well, that’s the wrap-up. I truly hope that you enjoyed taking this journey with me as much as I enjoyed taking you along. One of the added benefits of recording my experiences on this blog, is that I now have a ready-made photo album/ journal to print!
Thank you for riding along with me and for providing encouragement and support throughout this epic journey, it meant the world to me!