Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Riding a Royal Enfield across the West

Brian Wittling photo: riding into a Texas sunset.
Part Two

Brian Wittling planned to ride his Royal Enfield Bullet across the Western United States and back to Missouri in only 10 days. Doing this would mean 10-12 hours a day in the saddle every day and it would demand reliability and endurance from a motorcycle renown for its quirky nature.

Royal Enfield fans he contacted on the Yahoo message board urged him to reconsider. He went anyway. On Oct. 8, 2003, list members learned what had happened in a post Wittling labeled "I Left My Arse in Tucumcari." He added "I haven't seen the 'twig & berries' since Day 9."

Wittling meant to complete an official Iron Butt Association challenge: the National Parks Tour Master award. The rider must visit 50 national parks, memorials, preserves, etc. in at least 25 different states in one year. Visits are documented by using the National Parks Passport program, in which a book is stamped at each place visited. This trip, Wittling hoped, would give him up to 30 stamps in 10 states. But getting the stamps added complexity to his route and timing. Here are excerpts from his earthy account of his adventure:

"Barely, in one piece. Let me relate to you the sequence of events:

Day 1: Rode for 16 HOURS straight (from St. Louis), and didn't even reach Oklahoma City.

Day 2: No alarm clock in the hotel, so I set the alarm on my PDA, which suffers some sort of fatal error, does not go off, I don't wake up till 10:30 when the maid knocks on the door, and the batteries are totally drained. I loose all my phone numbers and addresses for the trip, so cannot electronically record my trip data. Get lost through Oklahoma City, miss stamp for Oklahoma City memorial. Get hit by a car in small town west of Oklahoma City trying to stay on old Route 66. No damage to me or bike, but still sucks.
An hour or so later I'm riding along Route 66 and the seat suddenly drops a couple inches. Find the front seat bracket broken in half from some sort of metal fatigue. From this point on I'm sitting on a crooked seat, with the front bit digging into my Johnson, cutting off circulation. Now I'll probably get nut cancer or something.

Get to Washita Battlefield right as they are closing, beg gift shop lady to let me in so I can get the stamp. Proceed to Lake Meredith NRA in Texas, get there way after dark, wander around various marinas looking for stamp. No one has a clue. Probably in the visitors' office, only open 8-5 Monday through Friday. Bollocks! Get newspaper, go to visitors' office, and take picture of myself and my bike, holding newspaper to prove I was there on that day. Hope the IBA accepts it.

Only get to Amarillo, Tex. this day; should be in Albuquerque by now. Stay at crappy motor-court, but the proprietors are formerly from India, and absolutely have about a meltdown that I'm there on a Bullet. Funny.
Day 3: Crash bike rather harshly in dirt/rock "road" after pavement SUDDENLY ends on I-40 service road trying to get to Tucumcari. Attempted to ride it out, but the bike does a big hula-dance thing under me and finally the front wheel slides out. Busted windshield, bent foot peg, something in shoulder torn. Crash and detour/back-tracking delay me a couple hours. Get to Albuquerque at sunset, finally get room and meet up with friends Cletus and Michelle for dinner. In bed EARLY. Thankfully Cletus is able to TIG weld my seat bracket. It's now probably the most solid object on the whole bike.

Bullet at El Morro National Monument in New Mexico.

Day 4: Made it to Petroglyph, El Morro, El Mapias, and Painted Desert/Petrified Forest. Forced to ride for hundred miles or so on the interstate however. Jackrabbit was CLOSED during normal business hours - result: I ran out of gas and had to PUSH the Enfield one mile or so to a truck stop in Winslow. No girl in a flat-bed Ford even slowed down to take a look. A few hundred other good 'ole boys in trucks with probably big cans of gas in the back flew by, though. None stopped to help. Made it to Flagstaff.

Day 5: This is the Point of No Return. I make it to Oatman, Ariz., see some burros and have to turn north and start coming home. No way I'm making it to LA and back in time. Riding down from Oatman into the Mojave Valley is like riding into an OVEN, even at night. I continue to Las Vegas, and get purposely run off the road onto the shoulder by a trucker wanting to do 80-plus."
Giving up his plan to make it all the way to California did not mean it was all downhill from there. Wittling's biggest challenges were still ahead.

Next: Hot, cold and wet.

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