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The article below has been contributed by my friend Leonard. As best as I can recall, I originally met Leonard on the Vulcan Owners Group forum in 1995 or 1996. We had different Vulcan models, but we connected in the ways in which we enjoyed riding. We stayed in touch by email, and in '98 when Leonard & Judy came to Canada on their annual motorcycle tour, we met up and shared the road for a day or two, and enjoyed a night of camping together. Leonard has a vast wealth of touring and motorcycle traveling experience, as well as a very charming wit...

Leonard - Motorcycle Touring contributor

White Knuckle Rides

I guess I made my first big touring ride when I was 18, back in the summer of 65. My buddy and I had purchased new Honda CB 160's and decided to see some of the country. We didn't know we were touring, we just wanted to see some places we had learned about. Since then, I've owned many bikes and ridden thousands of miles. Most of the trips have been to places you, the reader, have also been to. And our experiences are probably about the same as yours. So, instead of talking about the "been there-done that" trips, let me fill you in on some of our white knuckle rides.

Black Canyon of The Gunnison Judy, my Navigator, and I disagree on which ride was worse. For me, the ride in the fog, towing the little trailer, while crossing Vermont at night was the worse one for me. We were south bound on U.S. highway 7, having left Rutland in the early evening. The Rutland skies were clear, showing the Vermont stars and the fall air was warm. Perfect for the next 40 miles or so, until we reached our destination, just outside of Perkinsville. Climbing the low mountains on State highway 103 was pleasant enough. This was new roads and territory for me, and I was thankful for the clear weather. Right after rounding a curve some where, we ran into fog so thick, that I could only see a few feet in front of the tire. With all the curve signs, no visible cabled guard posts and no visible terrain, we were forced to creep at 10 mph. I had to stop the bike several times to walk the road ahead to determine how to take the next curve. It took us about 3 hours to ride the last 30 miles or so. Our writer friend's farm lights never looked so inviting. A few days later, while reversing our route on the same roads, under bright sunny skies, we were surprised at how wide the shoulders were on the curves. Wide enough in most spots to park two motor homes side by side.

Judy's worse ride was the mountain road going south, along the east rim of the Black Canyon Of The Gunnison, just south of Crawford, Colorado. Also known as Colorado State highway # 92. This was a clear day ride with perfect weather. We were towing the little trailer and had stopped for a road side lunch. A guy in an old beat up truck stopped to ask us which direction we were going. We pointed down the road and he shook his head and said, "good luck." What the heck did that mean we asked our selves. We repacked our food supply back into the trailer and proceeded down the road. We soon found the road to be very narrow, very steep, with tight outside curves, placing us on the "over the cliff" side of the road. To make matters worse, there were no guard rails, the shoulders were to narrow to pull off and a logging truck was descending upon us at an uncalculated speed. I yelled back to Judy, to keep low and become one with the bike. We did make it through all the curves, often looking down into the canyon floor and river, 1800 feet below us. The logging truck blew by us on the left with his brakes smoking and his horns a blowing. In the high mountains, riding the brakes heats them up and then the brakes fade, meaning they no longer are brakes. This is the same for motorcycles. On some mountain descents, the State Patrol will have check stations and will use a device to measure the brakes temperature. If they are to hot, the State boys will not let you proceed until the brakes reach an acceptable degree. So, like truckers, when in the high mountains, use those gears and the engine to keep your speed in check.

Thousand Island Bridge One ride had us crossing the "Thousand Islands" at night from Upper New York into Ontario. As always we were towing our little trailer. We didn't know the night air over the St. Lawrence river was full of mist. The road maps didn't show us that the bridge had a steel road bed. Pulling a trailer up a steel, wet on ramp with two Semi trucks behind us made me nervous. As I tried to speed up to give the trucks a break, the rear tire would start to slip and spin. So, I would have to reduce my speed and stay in a lower gear. I'm sure the truckers were not going to buy me a cup of coffee that night. We finally reached the level top of the bridge and things relaxed a little bit. We couldn't see any lights on the river or anything else for that matter, but we were at our ease. That is, until we started down the steep, steel off ramp into Ontario. Now we had to change to a lower gear and let the engine slow us down, because, when the brakes were applied, the bike again wanted to slip and slide. That's fine if you are on a dirt bike and on a dirt track, but not good on a steel floor bridge. And once again, the two truckers were probably cursing and fuming at having to slow to a mere 20mph. At least we didn't get the New Yorker one finger salute when they passed by.

Peter Lougheed Park Shortly after moving from Iowa to Colorado, we were able to take a short tour through Alberta and Saskatchewan. On the way North to Calgary, we took an unplanned side road. It was Provincial highway 541 / 40 going west from Longview, through Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. It was a nice road, with only a few filled pot holes. Lots of pleasant curves and the scenery was breath taking. I would say we were about at the half way place for this highway when we rode into an opening in the trees. We got hit by a cross wind so strong it was the only time in all my trailer towing, that I actually felt the trailer skitter a tiny inch. We leaned at a precarious angle for a few minutes before passing back into the trees and out of the wind. Needless to say, my heart took a few extra beats.

There are other white knuckle places to explore such as US Highway 18 along the top of the Fort Randall Dam, west of Wagner, South Dakota. Wrecked semis and motor homes litter the side of the dam, indicating occasional stronger than usual high winds. The Mackinac Bridge between Ontario and Upper Michigan is another very windy place with a few occasional extremes. It is currently the third longest suspension bridge in the world, at five total miles in length. The days we have crossed these places were windy, but not terrifying.

Mackinac Bridge It's always best when touring far from home, to have good tires, with adequate rain tread and the best brake pads money can buy. A person can never know what kind of weather or roads are ahead during a tour.

Leonard R.

More of Leonard's articles: Two Wheels by the Campfire

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