Go West Young Man!

32 Days and 5,536 Miles On My Vintage Motorcycle

My name is Trevor Ware and this is my 1974 Honda CB550K. I built this bike from the frame up and lived on it for 32 days and 5,536 miles across the American South-West.

I bought this bike in Iowa for 965$ in March of 2009. I spent 6 months completely rebuilding it, esentially in two stages. I did a piston rering and carb rebuild just to get it running and tooled around Little Rock for a few months popping wheelies and doing burn outs in grave yards. Then I had my first puff off a marijuana cigarette and was spiritually connected to thousands of dead hippies. They told me to see the great American South-West, and also to bring some shrooms.

Seriously, my buddy Justin and I had talked about motorcycle adventures for years. The more I worked on the bike the more road worthy it became and the farther I could ride it. Then in July I got shit-canned from my job and found myself with idle hands. If I was ever going to blow my mind on a motorcycle this was the time to do it. I rolled the bike back in my bedroom for the second time and rebuilt it bolt by bolt, nut by nut.

The top end rebuild shortly after I got the bike

Marking my work (below the primary chain hanging out of the right side engine case).

Coming together, about 2 months after I started the second rebuild and less than a week before leaving for California, the wrinkled raisin state.

Gordy and I hadn't been talking about motorcycle adventures for years. So I was surprised when, after weeks of hounding, I was able to convince him to come with me. We found a 1981 Honda CX500 on Craigslist that seemed like a good candidate. Turned out to be about as good a candidate as Walter Mondale. This thing required some serious surgery to get ready and limited time to do it in. Here we are 2 days before the scheduled leave date putting his motor back in the bike. The stator was bad and required a replacement being overnighted, engine coming out and being opened up, and several huge handfuls of chewing tobacco. The chewing tobacco kept Gordy calm and girls away while we worked.

September 17th

I get up around 9:30 and change my oil. Finish packing and Gord shows up. Neither of us can believe we are doing this. I wonder if I'm better at building motorcycles than riding them and hope I am not. It's overcast and threatening rain, but we drag ass anyways. The bikes are fully loaded, top heavy and unruly. We roll out of my front yard tepidly, relearning how to ride our now underpowered and overweight machines. I look back at my house and know I'll see it differently when I'm coming up the opposite end of the street nearly a month from now.

The ride out reveals something is amiss with Gord's bike. He's averaging around 30 miles per gallon. Considering he'd put only a handful of miles on it after we took out the motor I chalk it up to tuning. We agree to ride on and that we'll fix it in Tulsa, our day one destination.

Interstate 40 revolutionized the way people travel in this country. How many ghost towns did this soulless stretch of road leave in it's wake though? No road trip can involve riding this piece of crap. If anyone has had an adventure on a major interstate highway I'd like to hear about it. Riding i-40 to Tulsa from Little Rock was a necessary evil and none of it is worth remembering.

Finally in Oklahoma we hit the Muskogee Turnpike, pay our toll and ride into Tulsa. We meet my girlfriend in a bar. She's visiting a friend and has arranged for us to stay the night. Gord, me and Felicia share the front room. Out of respect for Gord I don't make sweet, sweet love to her in his presence.

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Jordan and I spent two rotten days in Tulsa. Riding in we knew his gas milage situation was deteriorating rapidly to something like 50 miles per tank! The bike could only muster a ride out of the city limits before depleting its fuel supply. A tow truck got us to Honda of Tulsa, although they were closed. We got the fanciest hotel we could, considering Gord's insurance was footing the bill, and slept until about 10:30 a.m. like a couple of hobos on abandoned matresses. We headed back to Honda of Tulsa for some help in the morning. No assistance to be had at Honda of Tulsa, not all hands are helping.

We hunkered down behind a gas station and spent all day going through Gord's carburetors in the blazing sun. That, coupled with switching his bike to premium fuel netted us about 43 miles per gallon. That'll do pig, that'll do...

Behind the gas station

Back on the road we hooked up with state highway 412 and ripped across central Oklahoma like wildfire. We met a nice fella on a rare Suzuki GT550. That's a two stroke tripple! Very strange bike. Seems kind of useless for the highway considering it was a two stroke, but it looked fantastic. At a stop for gas Gord frantically tells me he has knocked both bikes over as I fill up my water bag. Luckily my bike broke his bikes fall. Then within a couple hours my tach needle jammed and while thumping the housing I break the glass. We are stumbling out of the gate.

We make it to Boiling Springs State Park just outside of Woodward, OK and the states panhandle. We learn how to pitch up our tent in the dark and are harassed by a Raccoon. Somewhere on the way my stun gun got stuck in the on position and depleted itself, presumably shocking my pillow and three bottles of Ensure for hours. The raccoon suffered no punishment for his rude behavior. Man how I would have loved to taze him.
Our first night in the tent. Camping as an adult is so much better than as a kid. Its funny how imprisioned you feel as a kid being forced to go camping. I always felt that way. It's uncomfortable, like being in your underwear at your grandparent's. I slept solidly and am glad Jordan and I sprung for decent sleeping pads, bags and the dome tent. In the morning I lay in my bag and hear a dad yelling at his kids a couple sites over to "keep your damn shoes out of the tent" and see his teenage daughter texting furiously.

The Oklahoma panhandle is beautiful. Millions of acres of knee high grass blur the horizon and hide the curve of the earth. We're now two days from home and it feels like a real trip. Texas lingers below us by only twenty miles at points and we pass just North of a large storm and see it roll by in it's entirety. Jordan and I take turns buzzing eachother and alternating lead position. I feel like we're the only people on the road. We make it to Boise City late in the afternoon and the sky bruises as the sun sinks below the horizon.

Crossing the border into New Mexico Jordan pumps his fist triumphantly in front of me. The grassland crosses the border but the plains heave up scattered rocky plateaus now. It's dark at this point and cold for the first time. This is the first time we've ridden without at least city lights to guide us and I see a great beast lumbering along the side of 412. My heart races and I get goose bumps. Gord and I stop at a gas station and I ask "Did you by any chance notice that huge unidentifieable creature coming in?" which he did. After some deliberation he setteles on a baby buffalo (seriously) and I am split between bear and a man sized wolf.

We reach a KOA campground and are disgusted. This is where camping comes to die. The place is expensive and full of gray hairs. We bail for nearby Clayton Lake State Park, about 12 miles outside of town. Riding in we get lost and end up on a washed out service road in the middle of the park. We finally turn back and find the campsites. We build a big ass fire and my freaked mind is soothed while we stare up at the most unpolluted night sky I have seen in my life. There are more stars than space.
In the morning we find the landscape has changed dramatically from last daylight and our trek through Oklahoma, although we've covered few miles. I now understand a little better how they carved up this country and established state lines. Jordan climbed the rocky bluffs sourrounding our site to snap a few pictures. We pack up and nab a quick shower up the hill near the visitors center. About an hour and a half elapses and the weather turns so fast I imagine there are Indians nearby dancing and begging for it.

We ride out for Taos, our planned destination for the day. Highway 412 peters out as we approach i-25 South, the main artery that connects i-90 and i-40. The weather clears as we roll West.

Having ridden highway 412 for much of our journey we reach Springer, New Mexico and the wider swath of i-25. We stop for expensive gas and fruit at a small grocers. We're ramping up the Eastern edge of the Rockies and the weather hits you physically. The grey sky is claustrophobic and the cold numbs your body. Two girls at the grocer tell us about Cimarron Canyon, a severe pass en route to Taos. I catch glimpse of a thrift store and duck in to buy a large coat, but it's all Disney movies on VHS and bridesmaid dresses. Jordan and I ride up the i-25 onramp and realize we can't make it. There is most likely snow in the canyon and certainly in Taos. We head South for Santa Fe and looking over our shoulders at the cloaked mountains do not regret the decision at any point.

Springer, NM

I'm an old school mechanic like your grandpa. I swear by oil changes and whatever the circumstance I change mine when I've reached the bikes service limit. For this trip I've set the old Honda on an accelerated maitenence schedule. Every 1K miles for oil changes, two hundred miles for chain adjustments. In Las Vegas I picked up a couple quarts and some Ensure at the Wal-Mart and prepare to service the bike in gale force winds. Draining into a torn grocery sack becomes an especially offensive disaster considering the green times we live in. Gord thought this scene was hilarious.

"I"m not going green, I'm staying the same". - T. Ware

The ride South is no picnic and Jordan suffers for not having a windshield. I spend much of the time with my hands hidden beneath my gas tank, gathering warmth from my cylinder head.

It's dark in Santa Fe. I expected little from this town, maybe something of a truck stop. Turned out to be a wonderful, cultered city that I wish I could have seen more of. Hungry from being blasted South out of the mountains, Gord and I set out for an Arbys. Back home an Arbys receipt has an offer of a free roast beef sandwich if you take a short questionaire about their service. Jordan has dragged one of these free meal tickets all the the way from Arkansas with him, saving it for some special occasion I guess. Inside he orders and tries to trade in the coupon. They don't take them here, a thousand plus miles from where he got it. Who'da thunk? He has a nervous breakdown, yelling 'Goddammit!' at the counter and braindead teen dad. It was absurd.

After eating we aimed for a state park and, praise the Lord, never made it. I catch the word "Hostel" in bold letters and swing us around before making it out of the city. Hostels are so cool. I'm such a hippy (not really, I hate hippies.) But I really dug the hostel experience. The staff actually seemed concerned for our well being as the state park was at over 8,000 feet and treated us great. We got a private room, good conversation with other travellers and clean beds for 17$

Here's a real kick in the head, totally stocked kitchen!

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Having sailed around the cape, Jordan and I did our hostel chores and said our goodbyes. Highway 550 (rad!) would wind us back up and around the more treacherous geology towards Farmington, Shiprock and out of the great state of New Mexico. Only 199 miles today.

Riding a motorcycle costs you something. The really good things in life do. In this case its an assault on your endurance. You twist the throttle harder and everything in front of you comes at you harder. It's a trade off. I have a bum wrist that bothers me at points during the day. The cold makes it worse and I decide to try out a little toy I picked up before the trip, a throttle lock. It's a device that locks your throttle tube while riding long straight stretches no-handed. Its an unwieldy device and I get vertigo with the thing, twisting the gas in the wrong direction. I panic, actuate the clutch lever and rev the bike almost 2K rpm's above it's redline. My insides throb and I actually feel sick. I pull over and snap this lovely picture of the painted hillls folding over themselves like drapery.

This little guy shows up. The bike is wounded and Death has come to claim her. He attracts creepy crawlers. We speed away from his boney grasp and the bike is fine. A well built motor can stand a little abuse.

In Farmington we arrive before dark, which has become rare. I hate riding in the dark and it's not worth the extra 60 miles you can gain from two hours riding in it. We tool around, get a little lost and stop for directions to nothing in particular. Locals suggest Farmington Lake for camping. We find it not far from the main strip. It turns out to be less of a lake and, more precisely, the towns water reservoir. Looks fantastic for camping.

Satisfied we've scrounged up safe camping, we head into Aztec for dinner. A retro A&W beckons us from the cold and we sit at a booth. I already know I want a chili wanger dog and wait for a waitress. Finally I realize that each booth has a telephone hardlined to the kitchen. I assume I'm supposed to do my best Big Bopper, pick up the receiver and say "Helllllloooooo Baaaaby!"

They send out our weiners and I spy this gnarly tattoo while Gord phones home. He said it represented pain. Personally I don't see it.

We stop for a much needed flashlight. My idea. When we get in the store Jordan picks his out and I decide one is enough and put mine back as we head to the checkout. I am a piece of crap. Back at Farmington lake we ride our bikes through the loose dirt and washed out hills gathering dead limbs. A fantastic fire warms our blood and we sleep like we're dead.