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Updated on March 14, 2011

305cc Honda Super Hawk



It was 1962. I had been in Los Angeles two years, having come from Miami.

I was out of a job. It seemed like a good time to go back to Florida and see my family, but my BSA was seized up. It was a basket case. But a dealer in Mission Hills, Warren Wilson, agreed to take it as a trade in for a new Honda 305cc Super Hawk.

Back then, Japanese products still suffered from the “made from beer cans” reputation. Many folks thought they were mostly poorly made “Japanese junk”.

Should I trust one to take me all the way from Los Angeles to Miami, a journey of nearly 3,000 miles?

I decided to go for it. It would be an adventure, particularly because I have less than zero mechanical ability. But what the hell - trust in luck.

That little Super Hawk didn’t let me down. I followed Highway 40 across the country, seeing Oklahoma City, Little Rock and Memphis. I camped along the way - no motels for me in those days. The weather was fine and the bike just hummed along. I had no luggage rack so my gear was stacked up behind me about as high as I was, strapped down by lots of bungee cords (a wonderful invention).

After a couple of weeks I was eager to get back to California and look for a job.

But it was raining. In those days you could look in the newspaper and find someone that wanted a car driven cross country. So, I looked. And I found a car that needed to be driven to Austin, Texas. I managed to get the Honda taken apart enough to jam in into the trunk.

In Austin, I had to find a shop to put the bike back together. I could figure out how to take it apart, but no way could I put it back together.

I ran out of gas in New Mexico, about 20 miles east of Albuquerque. I wasn’t stranded long before help arrived in the person of a Harley rider (driving a car). He offered to take me to town to get gas and bring me back. Pretty nice. But I was worried about leaving the bike sitting alongside the highway with all my gear on it.

We decided to push it off the road about 20 yards where it wouldn’t be seen, and to pile some rocks on the road shoulder to show us where it was. We got the gas and my new friend walked out into the desert with me to make sure the Honda was going to start. It did, and he said goodbye. But when I let the clutch out the back wheel just spun - and spun - and spun, and dug a deep hole in that New Mexico sand. I took all the load off the back fender and pulled and drug and revved until the bike broke free and I could get it out to the road. Good thing for me that bike was such a lightweight.

When I got to Arizona it started raining. Now the part of Arizona I was in gets maybe 7 inches of rain a year, and I had to be there when most of it was happening. I’d come half way across the country with my bike in the trunk of a car just to avoid riding in rain, and now I had to ride all the way across the state in the rain. It didn’t stop until I got to the California border. I felt like the character in the Lil.Abner comic strip who always had a black cloud over his head.



KAWASAKI H2 750cc, 3 cylinder, 2 stroke like the one I had.



My next long ride was on a Kawasaki. It was, as I remember it, a 1972 model, a 750cc 3 cylinder two stroke. It was one of the fastest bikes on the road at the time, but, like the Honda, it wasn’t designed with touring in mind. This time, I had a buddy to accompany me part way. Jerry was riding a Yamaha 500cc single - another bike not intended for touring. He was going to North Dakota to visit his relatives.

We rode from Los Angeles together as far as Four Corners, Colorado, where four states meet. I was sorry to lose the company - and my security blanket if anything should go wrong. I headed on to Wyoming, where I was surprised at how many antelope you could see from the highway. From there it was westward to Seattle where I stayed with my buddy Jerry's uncle who had a big home overlooking Puget Sound.   My plan was to take my bike on the ferry to Juneau, Alaska to see Mike Radner.  But the uncle, who was a maritime attorney told me I wouldn't be able to do it because the ferr6y boat workers had just gone on strike.  Unlucky timing for me..  So it was back down the coast, more or less, to Los Angeles.. It was a good trip but nothing outstanding to remember. The Kawasaki performed faultlessly.


The next trip went through Arizona and on up to Colorado. This was in 1999 on a ‘79 Yamaha XS1100. I bought it from a buddy of mine who kept it like brand new. It only had about 8.000 miles on it when I got it from him (I wish I had kept it, but that’s another story). I had owned a two other XS1100s before this one and I considered them about as bullet proof as modern motorcycles get.

But there was one thing I hadn’t counted on. My other ones were touring models with nice 5 gallon tanks, good for rides where gas stations are few and far between. But this one was the sport model, with a smaller tank, about 3 gallons or a touch more.

So, it was a Sunday afternoon with splendid weather. I pulled into a gas station-general store at a crossroads in Arizona called Shiprock, named after a rock formation there. I was headed for Page, Arizona where I wanted to kick back at Lake Powell. I asked in the store how far it was to Page and was told by an Indian that it was about 60 miles. This was his territory, I figured he must know. I rode about 60 miles - through wide open spaces - and came across another cross road where there was a McDonalds and a gas station. Since I had only been riding about an hour, there was no point in stopping. I figured my range was at least 100 miles and Page ought to be coming up soon.

I rode about 40 more miles before I came to the turnoff for Page and Lake Powell, but the bad news was a sign indicating it was about 60 more miles. I knew I didn’t have enough gas to get that far, so I figured I would just ride till I ran out, then camp by the side of the road and hope for some good samaritan to come along, like the guy that helped me when I ran out of gas on the Honda 305 (If you are thinking running out of gas was getting to be a habit with me, you are right. My bad)

I rode along about ten miles when I came to a gas station. I was overjoyed. My problem was over. Not so. It was closed. It was a large lot, gravel covered, and way in the back an Indian lady was raking. She came over and told me the station was closed. She said all the stations in that part of Arizona close on Sundays. She said there was another station about seven miles toward Monument Valley, but he was probably closed, too. And that was out of my way. Heading that way could make my situation even more precarious because there was probably less traffic going to Monument Valley than to Page. If you have ever seen any of those John Ford westerns, you probably can imagine how desolate a place it is.

But the lady recognized my plight and took pity on me. She refused to turn on her pumps, but said she might have some gasoline in a can. She did, and she gave it to me - no charge. I had to be on fumes when I rolled into Page because the tank took 3.4 gallons.

So, I finally learned my lesson - never pass up an open gas station when you are a long way from anywhere. Never trust a stranger for directions. And, if you are going to travel across country, it is a good idea to ride a bike with a large gas tank.


Yamaha XS1100

Kawasaki Concours



The next year, 2000, I took off on a ride that turned out to take 40 days, cover 22 states, and clocked about 10,500 miles. I hated to part with the Yamaha XS1100 I bought from my buddy, but this time I was taking no chances on running out of gas again, so I traded it in for a brand new Kawasaki Concours with a 7 gallon tank.

Many times over the years I had fantasized about riding all over the country when I got old - but I never thought I would really do it. But I did. At age 66, I said goodbye to my wife and set off for the longest ride of my career - which goes back to 1955. In fact, I called it DON’S LAST BIG RIDE when my book, OVER THE HANDLEBARS, was republished in 2006.

I kept a journal of the ride, and I want to share a taste of it here. It is too long for this space - 60 pages - but I would be happy to email it to anyone that wants to read it. Just email me at


So, let me begin on day one of my big ride:


DAY 1. May 30,2000

It took about 5 miles before I changed my tentative route. I left home about 8:30, planning to ride down the I-5 to San Juan Capistrano, take a quick look at the mission and then ride over Ortega Highway, a favorite with Orange County bikers, to Highway 15. But there was a light rain falling – which is unusual in Southern California this time of year (a bad omen?) – and that meant the inevitable gridlock. I decided to pass up the joys of the Ortega Highway and instead took the 210 freeway toward Pasadena.

I rode south and picked up Highway 79 into Julian. It was still cool when I left Highway 15 for Highway 79, but the sun was starting to break through. The scenery began to get more interesting, too – gently rolling hills with some interesting rock formations.

Julian is a cute little town. Touristy, but cute. Full of quaint little shops, restaurants and bed & breakfasts. It was founded in 1869 when gold was discovered there. The founder named the town after a cousin rather than himself - and the cousin, Julian, never saw the town. Julian is only about an hour and a half from San Diego, and I guess because apples grow in the area, is famous for its apple pies.

Since I had forgotten to pack a book with me, and figured one might come in handy when I stopped at night, I was happy to see a used book sale going on, mostly in a gazebo, in a lovely old home. So, for $1.35 I got a novel that lasted me throughout my whole trip.

The road south toward I-8 must be a favorite of San Diego County riders. It winds and twists through a lovely green forest at about 4,000 feet. Evergreen trees and oaks are interrupted from time to time by lovely green meadows. Rustic ranch houses are nestled in the woods with many having views of a scenic lake.

My tentative plan called for stopping at a place called Live Oak Springs. But, as I learned all through my trip, you can’t tell what a place will be like from a name on a map. Unless the name is in dark letters, the place could be a village of 20 people or a small town up to maybe 10,000 people. Live Oak Springs was the former. All it was was a resort with a gas station, restaurant and about a dozen cabins you could rent. A small lake for fishing adjoined the property.

Not only did it not strike my fancy as a place to spend my first night on the road, but it was only about 2:30 in the afternoon – much too early to stop for the day, regardless of how many miles I had covered.

I decided to push on for awhile – a pattern I ended up following my entire journey. But first I needed to top off my gas tank. One of the main reasons I had selected the Concours was its gas capacity.

At seven and a half gallons, it is probably the biggest tank on any bike, or at least one of the biggest. I wasn’t on empty yet, but heading out across the desert, I didn’t know how long it would be before I’d encounter another station. I almost choked when I saw the price they were getting for gasoline - $2.19.99 a gallon. I understood they were off the beaten track, but that seemed outrageous. I thought it would probably be the highest I’d pay for gas on the whole trip – and it was.

When I crossed the San Diego County line the temperature was very comfortable, probably in the high seventies or low eighties. But as soon as you cross the line the elevation drops off rapidly. Soon I was in 100 degree heat, and, as it turned out, would be for several more hours.

I left the I-8 again as soon as I could and took a back road past Calexico. The road goes by the town without actually entering it. I stayed on the road. So whatever charms Calexico may possess, I’ll have to see them another time.

I kept riding till I got to Yuma. On the outskirts, I stopped and took pictures of their unique sand dunes. The desert there looks like movies of the Sahara Desert. All sand, nothing green. Before I got back on the bike to ride the 16 miles into Yuma I took my shit off and soaked it. It’s a trick I used many times on the trip. It cools you off nicely for a few miles.

When I got off the bike in Yuma I felt light-headed. The desert heat sucks the moisture out of you. I needed to rehydrate. I had three glasses of iced tea to quench the huge thirst the dry, hundred degree weather causes.

There is a fort there, and a museum that should be interesting. The manager of the restaurant where I had the tea told me that it had once been considered the toughest prison in America. I’m somewhat interested in history and that would be something to see. But now it was after 5 o’clock and it was closed. Should I stick around and visit it the next day? I was already way ahead of my schedule.

Nope, I decided to push on. What was the hurry? I don’t know. By then I had already ridden more than 400 miles. Maybe Yuma would have been a pleasant interlude. Maybe they had good restaurants.

Or a bar with pretty ladies. And, later, an air conditioned motel room. Whatever – I pushed on.

I was pleased to realize I was getting about 40 miles per gallon.

Not bad considering how fast I had been riding. I started out riding at 70 mph on the interstate I had been following, but soon I was up to 80 and even 85 occasionally. Traffic was light, I saw no police, and the bike was running very smoothly. With that full fairing and no wind, I could easily have run 100. Anyway, to my mind, one may as well go fast across the desert. It is monotonous, unchanging, and for me, it is relentlessly ugly – or at least unappealing.

About half way between Yuma and Gila Bend my gas gauge was showing empty so I got off at an exit called Roll. I rode north for at least a mile but saw only a few houses – no busineses. So I turned back toward the interstate. I stopped in front of a Catholic Church where a couple of Mexican men were chatting and asked directions to a gas station.

At the station, which turned out to be on the frontage road to the interstate, a grey haired lady about sixty was working behind the counter. After gassing up, I decided it was time for another drink – and perhaps a bit of conversation. The name on her smock was Chris. She advised me that the huge 44 ounce size drink from the ubiquitous dispenser, like the ones I found all over America,

was actually the cheapest. Go figure! So I took her suggestion and went for the biggest – and cheapest – drink.

Chris was a personable, friendly sort and I realized she must know everyone in this small community. While I lingered with my drink, she talked to everyone that came in. Stuff about their families, their babies, their children. Quite a contrast to Los Angeles, where most people don’t talk to each other.

Chris was from New Hampshire. She and her husband had moved to Arizona for his health 20 years ago. He had since died but she stayed on because she knew the people here. She said “I’d rather have the sun than dig out from the snow.” She turned out to be typical of many folks I met in the sun belt who had moved from harsher climes. Which is one reason the area’s population is growing so fast.

The bike had only taken about 4.5 gallons of gas – a situation I repeatedly encountered on the trip. I realized then that the bike’s gas gauge shows empty long before the tank is. Which is good for me. I have been known to put off getting gas only to run out. Later on the trip I discovered that even after I put the reserve on the bike still has about two gallons left! If the tank holds seven and a half gallons, and if I can average about 40 miles per gallon even when I’m running quite fast, the true range must be about 300 miles.

I made it all the way to Gila Bend, Arizona that first day. That was my planned stop on the second day. I was already a day ahead of schedule.

In Gila Bend I stopped at a Best Western Motel. The rate, including tax, was $58. “Too much”, I said “I’ll look around”.

I went back down the road about a mile and found an independent motel, the “El Coronado”. It advertised a pool that turned out to not be working. But the rate was $22. Quite a difference from that and the fancier Best Western just up the street.


The moral of the story: You don’t need to stay at national chains if all you want is the basics. Shop around and you can save a lot of money. Cheap motels would be my pattern most of the trip. First, because I wanted to save money, but mainly because all I wanted each night was a bed, a shower, a TV and air conditioning. I didn’t want to pay for a fancy place or an advertised name.

This first night I did need the air conditioning – the manager told me the temperature then was 106 degrees! No wonder I had been cooking on that motorcycle. And no wonder I didn’t feel like pitching a tent and sleeping on the ground.

By the way, the manager was from India. That too, was a pattern that would repeat itself all across the country.

I went to bed tired but pleased with the Kawi’s performance. In that remarkable heat the temperature gauge had never passed the half way mark. The liquid cooling system was really doing its job.


My first stop was the Gila Bend Visitor Center, where I met a personable gentleman named Steve. He was small, wiry, about sixty. Steve said he had moved there 19 years ago from a small town in Maryland. So he was used to small town life. The main drawback, he seemed to feel, was romantic involvements, because everyone in town knows what you are doing.

But there are benefits, too. A twenty-minute walk often takes him an hour because he knows everyone in town and often stops to chat with people. A friendly, laid-back lifestyle.

The first thing he told me was that the name is pronounced the Spanish way, “Hila”, not “Gila”.

Steve said the mayor has the temperature measured from the courthouse lawn, where the grass and sprinklers keep the temperature down about 5 degrees. The actual temperature that day, and often, was more like 110 degrees! It is often the hottest spot in the nation. People seem to come to Gila Bend because it is a crossroads, about half way between Yuma and Phoenix.

I had a light breakfast at the local McDonalds where I talked to Doyle, a World War II veteran who had served in the Merchant Marine and later in the Army. He lived up the road about 40 miles.

In Ajo (pronounced Ah Jo). I asked him why he lived there and he said because his wife had inherited property there. Originally from Oklahoma, he had lived in Canada for 20 years before moving to Arizona (quite a change). He advised me to be sure to check out the mining museum in Ajo.

The road from Gila Bend to Ajo was flat and straight and I encountered few vehicles in either direction. I was tempted to really let the bike run and see what it could do. It was a good thing I didn’t because atop a small summit there was a highway patrol car half hidden, waiting for speeders.

Ajo turned out to be a small but clean and scenic city. The museum Doyle had referred me to was closed, but there was a pretty little town square and a picturesque white Catholic Church.

They had a nice little arcade and a library where I stopped and gave the librarians business cards and used their restroom to soak my t-shirt against the 100 plus degree heat.

I headed for the next spot on the map, which was called “Why”. I’m sure there was a story about how it got that name, but I didn’t stop to ask why Why was named Why. They may have just responded to such a question with “Why not Why?” It was a very small community and looked to be all Indians.

The next place was Sells, on an Indian reservation. In this super hot, and super dry country, I didn’t feel hungry but was always thirsty. And, even with my prostate problem, I never had to pee. So I drank a 20 ounce Gatorade, filled my gas tank, and, for the first time that day – which was bad - applied sunscreen.

My afternoon route took me through a corner of Tucson, then on to Benson. At Benson, I pigged out at a KFC buffet, and from there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Tombstone. It turned out to be only about a half hour’s ride, but this was interesting because I had asked the counter girl how far Tombstone was and she didn’t know. She thought it was an hour and a half drive. Now how could someone live out in the middle of nowhere and not know how far it is to a famous place just up the road 30-35 miles? This was not the first time this had happened (remember Shiprock, Arizona on my previous ride?). And it wasn’t the last time. And even when people had an idea of how far someplace was in time (“depends on how fast you drive”), they often had no guess as to miles. I even encountered this lack of basic knowledge from a highway patrolman.

Tombstone was fun. Very touristy, but fun. But I had hoped to see a reenactment of the famous gun fight and it turned out they only do that once a day –at 2pm. And it was after 5 when I got there.

I didn’t want to see it bad enough to wait till 2 the next day. But for $2.50 I got to go through the OK Corral where the fight had been, and the adjoining museum. The “corral” is a small, dirt square surrounded by old buildings. Not my idea of a corral at all – but that’s what they called it, and that’s where Wyatt Earp and his brothers and Doc Holliday fought it out with the Clantons.

The place also had a “crib” like the prostitutes used. Prostitution there in those days was big business. Even Wyatt’s girlfriend was a former whore. There were different levels of prostitution, from the fanciest brothels down to street walkers who sold their favors for as little as 25 cents.

A walk on the wooden sidewalks a couple of blocks, past souvenir shops and bars, mostly all closed at 5:30 on this weekday afternoon (wrong season?), and a few open saloons with few or no customers in sight, took me to “The Bird Cage”. This was once the most active spot in town – a combination bar, night club, casino, and brothel. In the theater section, ladies of the night used to sit with their clients in boxes like opera houses have. When the customers got amorous, there were curtains they could draw around the boxes for privacy. In the basement were card tables for gambling.

A popular song from the turn of the century – not that many years after the gunfight – was “Only a

Was this song was linked to this night club? Some say that was the case.

My destination for that day was Douglas, on the Arizona-Mexico border. Actually, thanks to my unplanned long ride the first day, if I made it to Douglas that evening I’d be a full day ahead of schedule – and that notion pleased me.

A pleasant surprise on the way was the copper mining town of Bisbee. Tucked into a narrow canyon, you had to make a sharp turn and drop down a steep road to enter this very picturesque little town.

It was only about 6pm, but like Tombstone, all the businesses were closed. Perhaps the town now relies on tourist business, and this being a weekday evening in the summer, maybe it was just the

time when the merchants knew there would be no business.

One business that I didn’t expect to find here of all places was a motorcycle museum. But, unfortunately, Hartman’s Motorcycle Museum, like most of the businesses in town, was closed.

I needed gas, and there was no station right in the downtown area which you enter as soon as you drop off the highway. So I rode further into the town and found a station. There was a Harley rider lounging there and I introduced myself. His name was Mike Bronson, like the Bronson TV show of several decades ago. When I told him my name, he recognized it from my days of writing for Cycle Guide and other motorcycle magazines and said he was “honored” to meet me. That made my day.

Mike was a Vietnam Vet. He didn’t live in Bisbee, but rather in the nearby town of Mont Vista.

And he works for Hartman’s Museum. He explained that “Red” Hartman was an old time Harley dealer who had had a falling-out with Harley, and who now ran this museum.

On the hilltop above Bisbee is a huge excavation. A plaque tells you this was once one of the world’s largest copper producing areas. More than 20 companies were mining here, and in 1905 Bisbee boasted the largest population in the Arizona Territory.

Bisbee is above 5,000 feet. I had been gaining elevation ever since I left Tombstone. I was happy to see the dry, brown, mostly treeless desert that I find uninspiring giving way to more and more trees and greenery.

I figured to take a motel in Douglas. I was already developing a preference for motels rather than camping. I had told my wife I would be camping at least half the time, more likely 2 nights out of 3.

But I was discovering this early in the trip that after a few hundred miles –or more – in the saddle, at the end of the day I didn’t feel like looking for a camp site, pitching a tent and trying to sleep on the ground. I wanted a motel. I wanted a bed, a TV, a shower, and in the Arizona heat I wanted air conditioning.

While riding around Douglas looking for a cheap motel, I found myself right on the border where a fence about ten feet high was intended to keep unwanted aliens out. There was a Border Patrol officer with a Ford Explorer about every couple of hundred yards, keeping watch.

I couldn’t find for a cheapie independent motel, so I settled for a Motel 6. Now this may not be most folks’ idea of extravagance, but it requires a larger investment than a cheapie dump motel, and a lot more than camping would.

This was only my second night out, but another consistency that would stay with me all across the country was present: those running the motel were from India.

Day 3

Douglas didn’t impress me. I decided not to linger. I went into a Burger King for a quick breakfast.

Across the street was a building with a large fence. I thought maybe it was a utility, perhaps the electric company building. There were a few men on the roof looking like they were just idle, waiting to start work. I finally asked another customer what the building was. It was a jail.

I headed northeast toward. New Mexico on Highway 80. I had been noticing lots of historical markers, but when I would slow down to see them, often I couldn’t even spot them. But this time I did. Perhaps because there was a turn-out and the monument was about 15 feet high. It was dedicated to the great Apache chief, Geronimo. This was the place of the last Indian surrender, in 1886.

I had also been noticing something else that I was not used to. Along the roadsides there were frequently crosses marking graves. At first I thought perhaps these were places were people had died in automobile accidents. But they came along too frequently for that. Apparently, it is the custom of poor Mexicans or Indians to bury their dead right next to the road rather than in a cemetery, probably because they couldn’t afford formal burials like most people are accustomed to.

By lunch time I was in the little farming community of Animas, New Mexico. My waitress, Tia, was from Los Angeles. She had moved out to this little dot of a town on the high plains some 20 years ago to raise her family. She had met her husband when he was a marine stationed in California.

She said she never missed L.A.

There were several posters for dances. That is apparently a big part of the social life in Animas, which is the agricultural center for the county. The nearest place to shop for groceries or see a movie was Silver City or Tucson, both a couple of hours away.

Phelps Dodge had a copper smelter here, but it closed down last September, putting 450 people out of work Lots of people had moved away, but the town would survive because of their strong agricultural base. They grow cotton and alfalfa here. Nearby is a very large ranch that Ted Turner was supposed to buy, but instead a large corporation bought it.

I had my first scare of the trip here. I had inadvertently moved the kill button on the handlebars. The bike wouldn’t start. This little place didn’t even have a motel or gas station. It might be very difficult to get help way out here if I were broken down. But before panic set in, I discovered my problem.

I had planned to stay on the southern-most route, right along the Mexican border. But I went out of Animas the wrong way and by the time I realized my mistake, I thought the hell with it. I’ll just go north and see what Truth or Consequences is all about. I stayed on Route 152 through Silver City and talked to a pretty lady who was manning the flag for a road construction crew. It was still very hot, but I was gaining elevation and it was getting more tolerable – and prettier.

I rode through a mountain range on Highway 152 that was a motorcyclist’s dream. Winding, twisting curves that take you up to 6,000 feet of cool green forest.. At the top I met a couple of young men, Charles and Jeff, who are waiters at Los Arcos, which they proclaimed the best restaurant in Truth or Consequences. I asked them about the unusual name. They explained that back in the fifties radio personality Ralph Edwards had a nationally syndicated program of that name, and in a national contest offered to come to any town that would adopt the name every year and put on a festival. Their town, which had been called Hot Springs, took him up on the offer, and Mr. Edwards has come back every year as he promised. They said he is now 85 years old and still comes every year. Incidentally, locals refer to the town as “T or C”.

This was just the beginning.

The story so far only goes through day 3.    The trip lasted 40 days.  If you would like to read the rest you can order my book, OVER THE HANDLEBARS.  It is available for just $2.90 from as an ebook and can be read on an Amazon Kindle, or on your computer, or even on a IPAD or an IPHONE.  If you prefer, you can order the book as a paperback, also available through

If you like to read about motorcycles, and if you are into nostalgia, you might like my book, OVER THE HANDLEBARS, which is available through It is a collection of 24 short stories and articles, most of which were first published in motorcycle magazines in the 1960s, primarily in CYLE GUIDE.  I also have written two other books about motorcycling availalbe from  You can read them on your computer for just $2.99.  Go to


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