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Long Rides

by Tammy Lee Cook

Tam lowered the BMW’s electric windshield slightly and opened her helmet’s visor to try and see better through the thickening fog. She switched off the cruise control and dropped the K1200LT’s speed considerably from the 87 mph she and her distance riding buddy, Steve, knew to be optimum for their ride from New Smyrna Beach to Baltimore.

Why is it on this same stupid stretch of road between Jacksonville and Savannah I always hit a wall of fog or a blinding rainstorm. Years before at the dawn of her riding career Tam had acquired the universal biker habit of talking to herself when she was riding solo. Of course it was broad daylight then. I’m still amazed at how well the bike handled at over 100 in the rain, must have been the new tires. I could even see better than at 65 because the wind pushed the water off my visor. That was fun, this sucks. Our average is screwed for the whole trip unless this fog lifts. This is getting freaky, I’ve never ridden through fog like this.

The fog soon muffled the powerful twin beam headlights of Steve’s Valkyrie Interstate that had been in tight wingman formation right behind her. Tight formation riding wasn’t safe in fog this thick.
He’s gone! I hope nothing happed to him. Mechanical problem? Forget the mirrors, right now it’s all I can do to keep from running over a car. I’ll never find him in this stuff anyway. He’s too a good rider to run into me, even in thick fog at night. All I have to do is keep a steady speed and do everything nice and easy.

Long rides always posed the problem of maintaining average speed. Slowing down for the Georgia fog before covering the first two hundred miles would make a very long day in the saddle. Worse it could mean riding through heavy traffic just outside Baltimore at dusk when she would be exhausted and sore. As it was they would need four fuel stops since her pal’s Valkyrie was a total gas hog only able to run about 230 miles on a tank of fuel. Her KLT, with its huge gas tank and thrifty engine, got 45 MPG at 80 mph if she kept the adjustable windshield low and used the cruise control. Alone she could make the nearly one thousand mile trip with three fuel stops. Still it was way more fun to ride with someone on this kind of trip.

Steve and I push each other pretty hard. When I’m alone I’m constantly thinking of excuses to get lazy and take longer stops. Usually that’s cool but not on rides like this. On long rides I try to be totally hard ass.

“Tam do not light that third cigarette.” Was one of Steve’s favorite sayings at fuel stops when she tried to sneak one more without his notice. Every minute wasted at a rest stop meant more than one mile lost on the road.

“At least you’re not waiting for me to finish stuffing my face with that junk you eat while sucking down soda “ she would say. How can he eat that stuff? Yuck!

Bathroom breaks were only allowed at fuel stops. Bladder management versus hydration was a big concern on long rides especially if it was hot. Tam only allowed herself only one half cup of coffee or half a bottle of water to go with her two cigarettes. Food was another problem, her diet on long rides consisted of sliced apples and maybe half of a grilled chicken sandwich during the third fuel stop. Cold weather presented its own problems. After eating blood rushes to the stomach to digest leaving an otherwise warm rider very cold. Either way neither rider would complain about longer stops in mid afternoon.

The fog grew even thicker and Tam slowed even more hoping Steve would catch up. If I go much slower I’m going to be flattened by a truck. My wrist is hurting already. I wonder if the cruise control works at thirty?

Her concerns for the moment were piling into the rear of a car lingering in the slow lane and being run over from behind by a fast moving tractor trailer. She was also becoming very worried about her riding buddy. Lagging this far behind was not like him at all...
Just one day earlier they had spent their afternoon in a tiki bar on the beach drinking Daiquiris with ten others from their riding club. Steve bought her a third drink and leaned in close so as not to be overheard.

“Tam let’s you and me ride back together, just the two of us. I know we can make really good time” he said. “These other people will just slow us down.” From the gleam in his eye, she instantly knew what was on his mind but not in his words. She and Steve had talked before about riding the 960 miles in twelve hours. She gently worked on her Daiquiri and considered his proposal. Why not? He’s as good or better than any other rider I’ve been with and I trust him totally. Its forty miles short of an Iron Butt, but I don’t care about the badge and the ride should be very do able. I hate riding 95 north alone, all 960 miles and eleven turns of it, and large groups really do slow you down. If I’m going to be sore I may as well be able to feel that I’ve accomplished something. Heck, this way I’ll be way less sore than 18 hours of slowly droning along with the club.

She liked the way Steve rode from their very first ride together. He rode a brilliant wingman, always one length behind and half a lane width away. In thousands of miles together he had never missed covering her lane from the tight precise formation she loved about pairs riding. He was always focused on what the road would bring next and his intense three mile gaze spoke volumes to her about active versus passive riders. Best of all, riding with him was fun. He rode with a flare that only comes with confidence, and he was not at all shy about using the throttle or leaning his Valkyrie far enough into turns to drag its under parts on the road. Steve was one of the few she trusted to ride high speed leap frog with her, inches apart in heavy traffic with her lead holding lanes open to his wingman. She thought they were better together on the road than Fred and Ginger ever were on the dance floor.
Tam looked up from her Daiquiri, propped her chin on her left hand and studied the lines around Steve’s eyes while he finished his beer. When he turned to meet her gaze he found her eyes sparkling with eager anticipation.

She smiled and spoke softly in his ear “What time do we leave?”
Barely two hours into what they had hoped would be a twelve hour ride and with an hour to go before the first dull gray light of sunrise, Tam pulled off on the only lit exit ramp she had seen, switched off her bikes engine, and set the bright yellow flashers. She flipped open her visor in hopes of hearing the roar from his Valkyrie’s engine.

I’ll wait here fifteen minutes. If he doesn’t show up I’ll catch the exit south and start back tracking. It’ll be spooky riding around looking for him and I really don’t want to end being an organ donor. Butch up girl, you can’t leave him out here alone. You can do this. Damn this fog is wet. I’m soaked and freezing and can’t see crap through this windshield.

Back tracking could mean hours of looping back one exit at a time through heavy fog while dodging the tractor trailers that loomed from the night fog like fast moving steam ships. The behemoths were traveling at least seventy and a tiny mistake or hesitation in their path would leave her and her bike splashed across the road like the poor deer whose remains she had barely dodged ten miles ago.
At nine minutes into her wait she heard the Valkyrie’s engine and shortly after saw it’s dual headlights emerge from the fog. Pulling up along side her and shaking his head Steve looked as spooked as she felt. Without speaking a word they agreed it was time for their first fuel stop.

She was shivering so badly her teeth were chattering. After fueling her bike, visually checking the tires for debris and wiping the dripping dew from the headlight and windscreen, she tried to button the collar of her soaked denim jacket. In the 72 degree clear dry 4:00 A M Florida air her jacket over a tank top had been plenty, in 60 degree wet 5:30 AM Georgia fog it clearly wasn’t.

She looks really cold, hope she doesn’t need to stop and warm up. “Here dummy didn’t you wear anything over your neck?” Steve said. He removed the fleece lined leather bib from around his neck and tossed it at her.

At least he’s starting to look a little less shell shocked. His being an idiot is a good sign. I’m gonna need you big time in the next few hours babe. “You scared the heck out of me. Can’t you at least try and keep up?” she said. She was way too cold for another flippant retort and more than a little angry with herself for being a wimp. “Thanks” she said while fastening the bib around her bare neck “We need to make a plan to ride through this. It won’t lift before nine o’clock and by then we need to be in South Carolina.”

Steve nodded in affirmation, Now that’s my Tam. This was what Steve liked best about long rides with her. Unlike most she never whined and never gave up. Near the end of the day when he was bleary eyed and lagging from fatigue and soreness she would push them both relentlessly. I’ve got to watch her for white line fever. Together over a half cup of very hot coffee and Tam’s two cigarettes they worked out a plan to attack the fog.

She said, “I’ll go first with my flashers on in the slow lane so you can see me. When a truck comes along I’ll pull in behind him and ride far enough back to still see him. I’ll stay just far enough away to stop if he crashes. I’m sure this’ll work and its way better than sitting here ‘till day break.”

He added, “ If he’s going too fast or the fog closes in just let him go and drop into the slow lane. I can see your flashers great. We’ll just catch the next truck that comes along. Tam remember, keep your fingers on the brake.” This is a whole lot better than losing hours waiting for the fog. I just hope she doesn’t get too carried away. Steve recalled when they went around Jacksonville earlier that morning. Tam left her cruise control set at 87 mph while leaning the big BMW down to its foot pegs in the turns dodging potholes. She had never once hit the brakes.

Two hours, and a dozen trucks later, with Larry covering the passing lane Tam pulled out from behind the last truck and led them into bright warm South Carolina morning sunshine. Once at a rest stop, a driver told her ”Lady there ain’t no slow roads in South Carolina”. When they passed a South Carolina Trooper standing next to what looked like a highly modified Camaro parked in the median, three pairs of dark reflective sunglasses sized each other up with unflinching glares. Another trooper, an exact replica of the first, was parked a mile further along and waved a greeting to their 87 mph pace. Tam and Steve both returned the salute. Tam switched her CD player to ”Radar Love” and quickly moved her clinched left fist up and down over her head.

Now that we’re past both of ‘em, lets rock! Come on Stevie babe tighten it up, and light the afterburners! We’re going to Baltimore! Their second fuel stop came deep into South Carolina soon after the ever watchful Steve spotted her dozing from white line fever and blew the Valkyrie’s dual horns.
Tam snapped up straight in the saddle and jerked her bike back to its proper lane position.
“They’re loud enough to wake the dead !!!!” both thought at the same instant.

WHOA! That was close! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Steve I am sooooo sorry. What an idiot I am, its only 9:30 and I’m dozing already. I’ve got to clear my head. I’ll open my visor, turn on the stereo and sing my heart out, Three Door should do it. I’ll turn off the cruise control. I promise I’ll never do that to you again babe, I could have killed us both.

Twenty minutes later Steve pulled along side pointing at his gas tank and they pulled off for fuel, junk food and hot coffee. A now totally awake Tam sliced an apple with her folding road knife and started on two cigarettes. How can he eat that stuff? Yuck! If I check my tires I know I can sneak one more smoke.

Is she lighting another one? “Tam do not light that third cigarette.”

Closing with the North Carolina border they finally found their road rhythm. Every lane change, every truck and every car they passed fit perfectly into the tempo set by two pairs of wheels. When the traffic became heavier after the border crossing they really began to show their stuff. When they needed to pass from the slow lane, Tam forced herself into a gap between the cars in the fast lane and slowed down just enough for Steve to squeeze past inches from her throttle hand. Then he slowed down just enough to widen the gap for her to accelerate and slip past him by the same inches and resume her usual place in the right side of the fast line. When the driver of the car ahead spied their blinding halogen headlights in the rear view mirror and cleared from their path, they would blast toward the horizon in precise formation, Steve exactly one bike length behind and half a lane to her left. Even the truckers acknowledged the quality of their performance by blowing air horns in applause. It was pairs riding at its very best.

I am born to do just this and he was put here so we could do this together. This is turning into one sweet ride. Come on Stevie babe let’s light it up. I’d love to try a thousand miles of back road on my sport bike in a day. That would really be a challenge. I wonder how fast I would have to go?
At the third fuel stop just north of Fayetteville North Carolina, Tam discovered from the BMW’s computer that their road average had recovered to 73 MPH. This meant she could drop her speed to 80 mph and still hit the elusive 76 MPH average she had calculated the night before. If she added in 4 twenty minute rest stops they could still do it in under fourteen hours.

“Hey Stevie we can slow down a little we’ve almost caught up from the fog.” Tam was halfway through her third smoke while he was busy ingesting junk food from a seemingly endless pile of plastic wrappers.
“Good” he sputtered still chewing. “I’m using a lot of gas at the speeds we’re running.”
What the heck, just let her smoke it I need a break.

He’s right; the last stop came at only two hundred and twenty miles. Too bad about the fog. Still this isn’t too shabby. How can he eat that stuff? Yuck!

Tam busied herself with her stretching routine. She did this every chance she could get on a ride. Standing with toes on a curb and her boot heels over the gutter, she stretched her calves and knees followed with a full body stretch with hands over her head. She pulled every muscle out to its maximum for at least thirty seconds. Tam also had a stretching routine that she did while riding for her
calves and neck. She would set the cruise control at whatever speed they were traveling, raise the windshield and stand up on the pegs to stretch. As the day wore on hundred mile stretches became forty mile stretches and after ten hours forty mile stretches became twenty mile stretches. The BMW allowed her to set the cruise control, put her calves on the crash bars and lean all the way back with her head on the passenger backrest. She could, with stereo at full blast, fold her arms across her chest and depending on traffic body steer the big bike for up to five miles without touching the handle bars.
“Steve I’m going to make our next stop just north of Petersburg. If we stop there will you have enough gas to get home?” she asked knowing it might be a close for call for him. The BMW could easily make the distance.

“What’s wrong afraid of the sniper?” he said referring to the sniper that was still terrorizing the DC area.
Why does he always get so grouchy this time of day?

“He’s gonna have to be a really good shot to get me” she said. He’s tired and losing track of his fuel mileage. I’m glad I pushed us so hard early when we were fresh. The traffic is getting pretty bad and that’ll slow us down quite a bit. I’ve got to start being careful with the speed. At least I know he’s awake when he’s grouchy.

Just north of the 95 split at Petersburg they stopped for the final time, every bit of ten hours sore and tired. Stop four was made in now accustomed routine; fuel, engine oil, then the tires. Being extra careful not to step too hard on each others feelings, they paused long enough to talk about the great ride across South Carolina and about the fog in Georgia. Over 800 miles were in their past and about 150 in their future before they would split up at the D.C. Beltway. Steve waited for Tam to finish her third cigarette before hugging her good bye.

“Great ride lets do it again” He spoke loudly over his Valk’s engine.

“ Let me know” she replied while dropping the BMW into first gear. Tam arrived home in late afternoon after 960 miles in just over thirteen and a half hours including rest stops. Without the fourth stop she could have done it in thirteen and maybe twelve without the fog. That was easy. If I can take an hour to stretch at twelve hours and if I stayed in the rhythm better, I could go a lot farther. I wonder how far it is to Maine?

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Story copyright© Tammy Lee Cook, All Rights Reserved





































From Tam:
"The third story from Recipes for the Road is Long Rides." Tam spends more time riding than posting, but you can visit some of her favorite forums,
Women Riders International (WRI), Harley-Davidson Women Riders (HDWR) and Women Who Ride.

WHAT YOU NEED to Know! Cyclechex Motorcycle History Report.
Motorcycle History Report - What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Used Motorcycle.

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