Saturday, October 22, 2011

From South Florida to Texas (and back)

Wellington, FL to the Woodlands, TX

So I thought I'd ride from South Florida to Houston, TX. The problem is that I've only used the BMW K75S bike for local commuting and short (120 mile) trips. Just mentioning the proposed trip to Florida bikers elicited a blank stare; the non-verbal synonym for "You're Crazy". The Texas bikers -- living up to their stereotypical self-reliance -- quipped a taciturn "Just Do It"!

Luckily, I found several sources of inspiration for taking the trek:
  • Friends in Switzerland just biked from India to Switzerland. Yes, you read that right.
  • I scoured the forums in Adventure Rider and discovered the well-written and detailed trip log of a couple from British Colombia who biked to Argentina. Going to Texas can't be that hard. (He says now).
I've planned back roads with the option of hopping on a parallel interstate if I want to make time. The only dirt roads are in Texas to get to my brother's cattle ranch.
Route is available on H-D's Rideplanner

Trip Prep

The Harley Davidson website has some nifty tools for ride planning. (If you know of others, let me know). Their rideplanner lets you create trip plans using drag-and-drop locations and waypoints (plus any notes you make about each point) and save all this to file. Beauty if it could program the GPS with the route? Rideplanner will talk to a Garmin but how do I get that into my TomTom that won't read Garmin files? 2 steps to that trick:
  1. Tell Rideplanner to export the locations to a Garmin-formatted .gpx file. 
  2. Download the free POI Manager software. From the Folders menu you can import the .gpx file you just saved and write the locations directly to the TomTom as POIs (Points of Interest). Now I can navigate to each point along the way.
I also found a nifty "What-to-Pack" checklist of the H-D site. Good place to start.

Bike Prep

Time to check that BMW toolkit and see what other tools I'll need. This isn't off-road, so most generic parts are easy to find. As my brother (BMW F650-driver) quipped, "You could haul a trailer behind you and you won't have that one part you need". Wire-ties and tape to the rescue!
Std BMW tool kit plus pump, leatherman, flashlight, wire, etc.

Tankbag has a clear map holder. TomTom GPS holds route Locations.
Factory panniers have removable soft bags. (7.5 lb Pomeranian not included)

Loaded up the bike for a test drive. I can tell there's an additional 70 lbs but the CG is low so it handles fine. I read these blogs of the guys biking for months with tents, laptops computers, spare bike parts plus personal gear and I realize how much skill they have to ride off-road with that load.

I read one blog where the guy was riding from Texas to Costa Rica and he had panniers like mine. Somewhere in Mexico, the case broke loose and he had gone 70 miles before he realized it. So... reflecting on his experience, I added a small "Safely Line" onto the handle.

No more prepping.. Time to ride to Texas. (Wonder if I qualify for an ADV decal after this trip?)

Day 1 - 611 Miles (984 km)

Off in the predawn to beat any traffic. Or so I thought. Where are all these people going at his time of morning? 15 min later, I'm in the Florida Sugar Cane fields with only the occasional tractor to contend with.

Florida has a fascinating geography that few people seem to notice. Look at a map to see how Lake Okeechobee dominates South Florida. 
 Locks? Yeah, you can sail straight across Florida and the locks here connect you to the Lake and you can sail to the lock on the opposite side.
I always imagine the thoughts of the first explorers on seeing this inland waterway extending over the horizon.

Back on the road, I soon have the first 100 miles behind me and the bike is so smooth I'll just keep going till I get tired. There almost no traffic. Weather is clear, warm. Perfect for travelling. Soon I'm at 200 miles and stop for lunch. What surprises me at this point is how many people said it was crazy to try to bike this far. Why not. I keep going. And only decide to stop when the sun starts to set. The odometer says 611 miles. 

Day 2 - 545 Miles (877 km)

Didn't take any pictures today. Just past the tunnel at Mobile, AL and it started to rain off and on. I knew if I could get to Baton Rouge I'd be clear of any bad weather so I pressed on.

Since the route follows the gulf shore there is not much change in topography except there are more wetlands in the Louisiana area. Soon I reach Texas and it look remarkable similar to central Florida, cows and farms. Before the sun sets I arrive with 545 miles today. 1156 total miles. It's easier and more fun than I thought.

Days at the Ranch - 107 Miles (172 km)

When I mention Texas, people think of tumbleweed and prairie. But this section, near Buffalo, TX is hilly and heavily wooded with a low scrub oak and several isolated sections of pine.

We took advantage of the remote location to do some shooting. My cousin builds flintlock rifles from scratch, many based on variations of the Pennsylvania (German) rifle developed in the early 1700's. A superb hunting rifle, they were first used in the Revolutionary War with devastating effect; their downfall being the slower speed of re-loading. This handcrafted example was almost too pretty to shoot, but the superb workmanship showed itself in the accuracy of a single 45 caliber rifled ball; amazing even by modern standards.
This shooting stance is correct for that period.

Return Day 1 - 572 Miles (920 km)

Planned to take all Texas back roads from Buffalo, Crockett, Lufkin, Jasper until picking up the Interstate in Baton Rouge. Back roads in Texas are excellent; wide, well-maintained with speed limits of 65 to 70 mph. I had no plans for a set distance, weather was clear but cold; only a few degrees above freezing. Thank BMW for heated grips.

Approaching the Louisiana Border on route 190 in the town of Bon Wier, TX, I caught the distinctive aroma of freshly baked bread. On a bike you seem to perceive every scent; all these things that pass motorists blindly by. But WHERE? Suddenly the road hooked left and I had my answer. Hit the brakes hard and pulled into the Three Flags Restaurant and Truck-stop. Fresh sweet yeast bread just out of the oven. My favorite. Lunch came with the bread and for $6.50 the friendly waitress presented me with a plate full of smothered pork chop, purple-hulled beans, rice, yams, coffee and freshly baked Carrot cake. I asked for an extra roll.

Lured here by the aroma of freshly baked sweet yeast rolls.
I rode until I got cold so I stopped just shy of the Florida border.

Return Day 2 - 658 Miles (1059 km)

I didn't PLAN to break the 1000 km distance for a single day. It just turned out that way. Just past Pensacola, Florida I got off that Interstate and onto my beloved back roads. I kept riding because it was just that pleasant. Blue skies and at times zero traffic. Small, quaint towns with a single traffic light. Coming south from Perry, FL, I marveled at how I was on a 4-lane divided highway with no one else on it. I thought I'd just ignore that 65 mph speed limit and see how fast this bike can go... I mean it's empty RIGHT? What a good place for a speed trap. And no sooner did I think that than I saw the two cops in the center median probably cursing to themselves as a lone biker passed them at 65.0 mph.

Coming into Lakeland it's dusk and I see a parcel of feral hogs feeding on the side of the road. It was bad enough keeping an eye out for that errant doe wanting to dart out. Time to stop for a coffee and figure out what to do. I still had 170 miles to go. But, I wasn't tired, the sky was clear, the moon was full and thankfully, back in Florida, it was WARM again. I was home in 3 hours.

Trip Statistics

    1156 miles Wellington To Woodlands. Day 1 = 611, Day 2 = 545
    144 miles Woodlands to Ranch including local tours
    1230 miles Ranch to Wellington, Day 1 = 572, Day 2 = 658
    Total trip 2530 Miles (4072 km)
    Total Fuel 55.4 gallons (210 liters)
    Fuel Burn = 46 Miles per Gallon (5.15 L per 100 km)

And was it FUN? More fun than I imagined. Easier than I predicted given that 80% of the those surveyed said I'd never make it.

Yes, the route followed the gulf coast so was flat everywhere. OK, I'll plan the next ride in the mountains. My dream trip??? Norway to Spain following the West coast. Just how do I get a bike there?