Pennsylvania to Petaluma

Bike Prep

“These motorbikes aren’t ready,” said Deiter as the bikes were wheeled out of Wade’s barn one by one.

“You don’t think they’re ready for the rally?” said Wade.

“They aren’t even ready to ride around the block.”

Wade owns a barnful of vintage BSA motorcycles and we were taking four of them to be trailered across the country from Pennsylvania to Petaluma California for the 51st Annual International BSA Owners Club Rally — a 1969 Lightning, a 1966 Spitfire, a 1951 Gold Star, and Wade’s newest acquisition, a 1957 Flat track race bike with a rich history. Although they were being trailered, they would be ridden a lot in California, and perhaps even a little along the way.

“We have some work to do.”

Bike Prep

Deiter was visiting from Germany. He was only hitching a ride with us as far as Memphis where he planned to meet up with some American friends who were loaning him a well-sorted Thunderbolt. He and his pals were hoping to ride most of the way from Memphis to Petaluma — an ambitious ride on a vintage bike — but they would be followed by a truck with a huge enclosed trailer — plenty of room for them and their bikes should they hit any tornadoes, windstorms, hail or rain. (All of which I believe they did.) In any case, Deiter wasn’t depending on any of Wade’s bikes for himself and it was purely out of concern for our safety (and for his own piece of mind) that he wanted to make sure Wade’s bikes were running as well as possible. Despite Wade’s previous assurances that they were all ready to go, Deiter — a mechanic by trade — made it known that not a single one of them would pass the strict German MOT. Before long, Wade’s yard looked like a swap meet — full of bikes, tools and parts.

Deiter, looking around at the other half-dozen bikes that weren’t going to California with us, told Wade, “You have too many projects. That’s why nothing is properly maintained. Too many projects,” he shook his head, “too many projects.”

It was true, no doubt. Aside from a dozen motorcycles, Wade also owns a 1967 Chevelle and a 1966 Corvette, both running, but in need of a little attention. Since he splits his time between New York City and Pennsylvania, there simply isn’t enough time on the weekends to keep everything in tip top shape. After all, it takes him several hours just to mow the grass.

“I think,” said Deiter, “that perhaps I should bring a few of these projects with me to Germany.”

Bike Prep 2

Wade was loaning me the Lightning as my primary ride. I’d ridden it before and liked it a lot. In fact, it was part of what convinced me to go along in the first place. It would be a long trip — close to a month — and I wasn’t sure I could afford to take the time away from work, but when I weighed the idea of cruising up and down the California coast on the same model of motorcycle that Hunter S. Thompson rode while researching his Hells Angels book, versus the idea of sitting behind a computer screen pushing pixels to make rent, I couldn’t come up with enough “cons” to keep me from going. Wade was happy to hear it. He wasn’t keen on driving a trailer full of motorcycles several thousand miles all by himself.

1969 BSA Lightning

Tom, a friend of ours who lives about a half-hour from Wade’s place, arrived frustrated to find the bikes in varying degrees of disassembly. He wasn’t going to the rally, but he knew Deiter and wanted to see him while he was in the States. We told him to meet us around 11 AM and that we’d all go for a ride. That was before Deiter had seen Wade’s bikes.”C’mon you guys, put the bikes back together and let’s ride!”

Eventually Tom got into the spirit of things — got bored of standing around, anyway, and wanted to speed things along. He grabbed a wrench and joined us, even allowing Deiter to inspect his vintage Norton, knowing full well, it probably wouldn’t pass muster.

Norton Commando

By mid-afternoon, the bikes were finally buttoned up and we hit the road for a shakedown run.

Being his newest bike, Wade was eager to get on the ’57 Gold Star. He’d owned it for a month or more, but hadn’t had time to ride it any further than around the block. Part of the reason the other bikes weren’t up to snuff was because Wade had been devoting his limited spare time on getting the ’57 ready. Having spent the past 50-odd years as a race bike, at the very least, it needed lights and a license plate in order to put it on the road as a street bike. In the end, I’m not certain he got it it all sorted, legally speaking, but there was a license plate on the bike so I didn’t ask questions. It was a beast to start and took 50 or more kicks to wake it up, but once it was awake, it was truly alive.

B1957 BSA Gold Star

We rode through some nice winding country roads to Boiling Springs Tavern for lunch. After we ate, we said goodbye to Tom, and headed back to Wade’s house to load the bikes on the trailer and do some final packing so that everything would be ready to go early the next morning. We took the same route back from the restaurant, the weather was perfect, crisp and clear, the winding roads were empty. Wade took the lead, cracked the throttle and disappeared up the road. The Gold Star’s throaty exhaust faded slowly as he disappeared beyond a long, sweeping curve. Deiter was behind him on the ’51, and I was bringing up the rear.

As I came around the bend, I heard Wade’s bike before I saw it. It’s beautiful exhaust note morphing into an evil banshee’s wail. As I rounded the curve, I saw why: the ’57 was on it’s side, smoking, screaming, and pissing fuel. Wade was in a ditch. A truck, heading towards us from the other direction, chirped it’s tires to a stop. In the time it took me to pull over and get off my bike, Wade got up, shut the bike down, and began limping it to the roadside. Deiter ran over to help. The woman driving the truck got out of her vehicle, shaking her head. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re standing up! You rolled and bounced all over the place, I was about to call 9-1-1. God was with you today, God was with you.”

“Shit, are you okay?” We checked Wade for damage. He was dazed and full of adrenaline, which can easily mask more serious injuries. “Look at me,” said Deiter, holding Wade by the shoulders, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I think so.”

Scraped and bruised, Wade got on the back of the Lightning and I rode him to the house. Deiter stayed with the bikes until we returned with a pickup and a ramp. Wade’s mind was spinning. “I’ve taken that turn a million times,” he said as I drove the pickup back to the scene. “I wasn’t going that fast . . .a little faster than usual, maybe . . . the bike didn’t want to turn . . .it went into a tank slapper, the next thing I knew I was down, that woman said I bounced, but I only remember sliding, headlight glass flying by my face . . . did I bounce? Did you see any of it? Was it my riding? Was something wrong with the bike? What did you see?”

“You were in a ditch by the time I arrived. All I know is that you’re lucky that truck didn’t squash you, or that you didn’t meet up with a telephone pole by the roadside . . .a million possible scenarios. Consider yourself lucky”

Trailer

We spent the evening deconstructing the accident over drinks — maybe it was this, maybe it was that. All in all, our plans to leave bright and early the next morning were revised.

Wade’s brother, Korbin, joined us the next day, having made the decision to come with us in one direction. Driving across country in one direction and flying home is a good way to go if you can swing it. The ride out is always exciting, full of surprise and wonder, but going home is just going home.

Life as a flat track racing machine left it’s mark on the ’57 Gold Star. It’s gas tank was dented, it’s paint was chipped. A few new dings, dents and scrapes weren’t anything to cry about, but the accident bent the shift lever and foot peg and ground off the throttle cable, leaving the bike temporarily unridable, with no time to fix it before we left. Wade was bruised and scraped, too, and in no rush to get back on the horse until he had some time to heal. As a result, our plans of stopping to ride along the way were in limbo.

We loaded up the Flat tracker onto the trailer, counting on the fact that there would be about 500 BSA motorcycle enthusiasts at the rally to help with enough parts, tools, time and advice to get it up and running. The other three bikes, tools, a few spare parts, a cooler, riding gear, camping gear et cetera and so on, were strapped down and double checked, and we were on our way, ready to begin our grand adventure in earnest.

I’ll let the pictures take over for a while:

Fireworks
I don’t remember where this is. Somewhere between Cuba and the North Pole, apparently

Loafing

Cafe

Roadside BBQ

Arkansas
A roadside barbecue joint aptly named, Roadside BBQ

Cadillac Ranch
“Cadillac, Cadillac, long and lean, shiny and black . . .” Long and lean, graffiti covered and half buried, anyway.

Cadillac Ranch 2

Star Trek
Incongruous Star Trek shirt in Amarillo Texas

New Mexico Gas

Stopping for Gas in New Mexico.

The crosswind was so strong at one point, that we were only getting four miles per gallon. We ran out of gas twice. It seemed as though each time we pulled out of the gas station, we needed to turn around and fill up again. I asked the guy working behind the register if it was always this windy. He just shrugged and grunted.

New Mexico Train
New Mexico

Atlas Tire
Seligman, Arizona

Atlas Tire 2
Seligman, Arizona

Atlas Tire 3
Seligman, Arizona

Snowball, Seligman, AZ
Seligman, Arizona

Grand Canyon
Rt. 180, on the way to the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, Arizona

Dancing, Barstow CA
Barstow, California.

The car conked out in Barstow, California. It was my turn to drive, but when I turned the key, nothing happened. When the tried and true method of banging on the starter with a hammer didn’t fix it, we called for a tow and spent the morning killing time on Barstow’s main drag. In an antique store, Wade bought a street sign riddled with bullet holes, and a few Army surplus boxes he planned to use for storing tools. Bulky items, but still “plenty of room on the trailer.”

Perhaps I should have already known by all of the motorcycles and motorcycle paraphernalia that fill Wade’s barn, but it turns out that Wade is a bit of a shopaholic. The car and trailer were slowly being filled with all kinds of things picked up along the way. “There’s still room on the trailer” became a familiar refrain.

A Chinese restaurant seemed like an odd choice for breakfast, but a sign in the window advertised a bacon and egg special for $1.99 so we gave it a shot.

Our waiter was operating on little sleep and was groggy, but affable. He had driven eight hours the day before and wasn’t happy about having to work, but the place was owned by his grandfather so it was more than just a job, it was a family obligation. “You guys drove here from New York? Fuuuuuuck. I was complaining about driving eight hours.”

He took our orders and stood around bullshitting with us until our food was ready. He noticed Wade’s pile of antique-store purchases. “What the hell is this shit?” he said.

Korbin and I burst out laughing.

“Yeah,” I said, “that’s what we’d like to know.”

The restaurant was part of an old hotel. Our waiter’s father lived in one of the rooms, and a few others were used for storage, but otherwise the hotel was empty. The bathrooms were located in the hotel’s hallway. It was a cool old building and when I returned from the bathroom, I asked the waiter if they ever gave any thought to reopening the hotel.

He shook his head and laughed. “No way. I can’t charge people money to live with my grandpa.”

Chabott Engineering
Chabott Engineering, Asuza California.

Room on the trailer was at a premium by the time we made it to Chabott Engineering in Asuza California, but Wade made a deal with a friend of ours to pick up a racing engine, a couple of wheels, and a set of forks and bring it back with us to New York. It took a bit of time to figure out how to fit it all. While we were at the shop, the shop’s owner, legendary custom bike builder Shinya Kimura took time to look over Wade’s Gold Star flat tracker, to see if he could fabricate a solution to the bike’s damaged throttle. The handlebar linkage looked like a miniature block of grated cheese. With the cable reattached to the makeshift throttle, we each took turns climbing on the bike, which remained tied down on the trailer, and kicking it over in the hot LA sun. When it wasn’t my turn to kick, I wandered Shinya’s shop.

Chabott Engineering

The shop, Chabott Engineering, is a wonderland of massive industrial machine shop tools, storage bins, vintage engines, gas tanks, wheels and pipes, cut steel, bent aluminum, photographs, posters postcards, and of course, beautiful custom made motorcycle such as the 1957 Triumph-powered steampunk rocket ship known as “The Needle.”

The Needle, by Shinya Kimura

Sonoma Ride
Sonoma Coast, California.

Sonoma Ride
Sonoma Coast, California.

Sonoma Ride
Sonoma Coast, California.

1957 BSA Gold Star
Once in Petaluma, the 1957 Gold Star finally starts.

Just as Wade had hoped, the collective enthusiasm of dozens of rally attendees, overpowered the ’57 Gold Star’s reluctance to start and before long, Wade was offering pony rides.

Wade talks to Dick Mann
Wade talks to the legendary Dick Mann

A presentation by
Dick “Bugsy” Mann
was one of the rally’s highlights. Wade roared up to the tent where the talk was being given, and cornered him with his motorcycle just a few minutes before he was scheduled to speak. Dick was unperturbed by Wade’s show, and kindly spoke to him about his bike. He remembered the rider who used to race it in the ’60s, Michael Esposito. “He was good,” he said. It made Wade’s day. Made his trip, in fact.

Jeff Smith, Jim Rice, Dick Mann
Legendary racers Jeff Smith, Jim Rice and Dick Mann

California Highway
California Highway

Tioga Pass, Yosemite
Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park

Tioga Pass, Yosemite
Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park

Mono Lake
Mono Lake, Mono Lake County Park

Mono Lake
Mono Lake, Mono Lake County Park

Auto Repair, CA

California-Nevada Border

Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway, Rachel, Nevada

Aleinn, Rachel, Nevada
Aleinn, Rachel, Nevada

I asked the bartender here, how she wound up living in a town with no gas station that’s a good 50 miles from anywhere to buy groceries. “I don’t know. I just came here one day, and decided to stay. I guess maybe don’t like people,” she said.

“Bar tending might not be the right career for you, then.”

“No, it’s not that I don’t like people. I travel around a lot. I’m kind of a gypsy. I lived in New York for a little while, I’ve spent time all over. I travel around, get my fill, and come back here to chill out. I like it here.”

Aleinn, Rachel, Nevada
Aleinn, Rachel, Nevada

Rachel, Nevada is the closest town to Area 51, and a fair amount of U.F.O. fanatics come through town looking for whatever it is that U.F.O fanatics look for. Proof? Mostly, though, the place gets curiosity seekers simply looking to take a photo at the Area 51 gate.

“It’s a military installation and they don’t fuck around,” the bartender warned us. “If you want to go, just go, take a photo and leave. Don’t hang around too long, and most of all, don’t cross the fence. There are signs that tell you they are authorized to use deadly force, and I’m not saying they will, but you don’t want to find out. At the very least, you will get arrested and they will take you to a jail 100 miles in one direction, and tow your car 100 miles in the other. With limited cell service you’ll be shit out of luck. I’m just warning you. A lot of people don’t believe me. A film crew got busted there recently. They each got fined 500 bucks or something like that. Needless to say, it will fuck up your trip.”

We finished our drinks and got in the car. “What do you think?” said Wade. “Do you think she’s telling the truth?”

“Well, she was right about one thing,” I said. “No one believes her.”

Dairy, Bluff, Utah
Bluff, Utah

Dairy, Bluff, Utah
Bluff, Utah

Monument Valley
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Mesa Verde Visitors Center
Mesa verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde
Mesa verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde
Mesa verde National Park, Colorado

New Mexico Highway Sunset
New Mexico sunset

Southwest Cycles, Albuquerque, NM
Southwest Cycles, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Southwest Cycles, Albuquerque, NM
Southwest Cycles, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Missouri
Missouri

The World of Already