Every road trip, regardless of the destination or mode of transportation, requires a certain level of preparation. Not that long ago, we took a trip that required much more foresight, conditioning and focus than any other trip memorialized on our proverbial biker passports.
This ride covered 1,000 miles on a Harley Davidson Road Glide in less than 24 hours. We fought through exhaustion, tornados and requisite mechanical issues and concluded our ride on the Tail of the Dragon.
Mapping, packing, conditioning, and nutrition
The preparation to ride that far in such a short time period can not be taken lightly. Failure to be attentive for as little as a minute could lead to injury or death. No details could be skipped in advance of the big day.
Our preparation included four elements: 1) mapping, 2) packing, 3) conditioning, and 4) nutrition. Mapping a 1,000-mile route with the intent of avoiding traffic, construction and unexpected delays requires avoiding large cities along the way. The bigger the city, the greater the congestion. We also wanted a great destination. We picked a route from Boston, MA to the “Tail of the Dragon” in Tennessee.
The Tail of the Dragon is an 11-mile strip of road boasting 318 turns and is the destination for countless riders looking to test their skills on a very technical piece of asphalt. This destination road is surrounded by many other strips including the Cherohala Skyway, Moonshiner 28, Devil’s Triangle and other spots tailor-made to sling sparks off your floorboards.
Packing for 1,000 miles may not seem difficult, but to accomplish this properly it’s important to store everything in a very organized fashion. When sunglasses, sunblock, lip balm or caffeinated marshmallows (yes, this is a thing) are needed, you don’t want to take the time to stop. When rain is on the horizon, it gets a little too cold, or you need to switch out your ear plugs, a quick stop is best. We planned to take 10 stops to fuel and refocus. Time frames were tight and we didn’t want to miss the 24-hour cutoff.
Conditioning and nutrition are areas most overlooked by bikers. We never would have thought about these aspects of preparation until I read about Will Barclay, winner of the famed Hoka Hey 10,000 mile motorcycle challenge. Will and others completed this challenge in under twelve days, riding day and night without use of GPS or digital navigation in order to win a very substantial cash prize.
We had to make sure we were in fighting shape to stay focused on the ride. This meant eliminating one sacred nutritional source – caffeine. Around three months in advance of the ride we cut coffee and all other forms of this wonder drug from our diets. That was harder than quitting smoking, but the benefits of weaning us off it would be welcomed on our start day.
The goal was to take advantage of as much daylight as possible, so the two of us kicked up our stands at 4:30 AM. We knew we would need most of the 24-hour window to complete this and an early start would avoid the following day’s rush hour in Knoxville, TN. To our surprise, much of the ride was uneventful until we hit West Virginia. After about 600 miles, we were dropped into the most terrifying ride of our lives.
The skies immediately turned from blue to a nuclear glow outlining the shapes of cars in our path. Then, without warning, a sheet of rain with marble-sized droplets blocked our view. Cars disappeared and rain turned into water and golf-ball-sized hail that pelted us from every direction. Our glasses were rendered useless. Hail battered the plastic frames and moved them to spots blocking our vision. Without warning I was on top of a gray sedan. I braked hard … skidded to the left, then right and then back to the left, narrowly missing the dull flickering of the taillight. All traffic ahead was at a standstill, but behind us it was still moving at a 70 mph clip. If we went forward, we risked hitting parked cars. If we stopped, those behind us would crush us. The situation didn’t look good.
Reacting quickly, we threaded a needle between two parked semis, quickly jumped off the bikes and covered the tanks with our leather jackets to prevent further hail damage. Then we sprinted underneath the 18-wheeler to our left. Had the trucker moved, we wouldn’t be sharing this story today.
We heard trees cracking and saw lightning all around us. Armageddon was happening and we had a front row seat!
After what felt like a lifetime, the storm sped past us and we jumped out from under the bed of the Mack truck. Luckily the driver took note of our impromptu shelter and waited until we were safely out of the way before releasing his airbrakes.
We rode to the next exit and found a gas station where we took inventory of our damage, caught our breath, and planned the rest of our ride. As we collected ourselves, we listened to the local radio station detailing the damage from a tornado that missed us by less than one mile. We dodged a major bullet – the bike gods were smiling on us that day.
The rest of the trip included more rain, some sun and a lot of energy drinks to keep our minds sharp. We arrived in Knoxville, TN 20 hours, 30 minutes after we departed Boston. Pancakes and scrambled eggs filled some gaps left in our stomachs from the stress of the trip.
The next day we set out to ride the Tail of the Dragon… several times. After a hard day of riding we finished the day at Deals Gap, located at the end of the Dragon.
The day concluded by planting ourselves in front of a bonfire alongside a dozen newfound friends. We celebrated the accomplishment of a 1,000-mile ride through a tornado and reminded ourselves that the uncertainty is what makes this life so special!