Tokyo to Los Angeles, the Hard Way | Part 2

Moose Glide

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

The bike was an afterthought. This trip was all about cars: Suzuki's Kizashi (bless you!) sport sedans celebrating “Tokyo to Los Angeles, The Hard Way.” Each two-man car crew carried iPods, iPads, GPS, SPOT tracker, special maintenance mats, comprehensive tool rolls, electric compressors, industrial first-aid kits and satellite phones (plus the obligatory weapons, ammunition, clinical opiates and prophylactics).

“Will I have a flat-repair kit?” I asked, over a dinner of sablefish and The Macallan. They told me not to worry. The tires on the DL650 were new, and specially chosen.

“Uh, is there any luggage on the bike?”

They pushed a small envelope across the glossy tabletop. I counted it, looked up.

“What should I do for emergency communications?”

They looked at each other, then passed over another envelope. Looking inside it made me feel much better prepared, but when I walked out to the bike the next morning, it was fettled for a 4000-mile highway tour with Continental TKC-80 knobbies. And a cable lock.

The Wee-Strom proved a capable trotter. Even on Specially Chosen Tires, 500-mile days would slip by fairly easily if I kept an eye out for special test sections, woombahs and wabbles.

At speeds over 95 mph, my knees gently patted the tank sides. The wabble, which went thunk… thunk… thunk-thunk-thunk, was a serviceable speed governess.

Woombahs were road features, sometimes marked with cones, sometimes not, as befit the playful caprice of highway crews. On asphalt mixed from permafrost and prayers, “frost heaves” are consequential. At 83 KIAS, the bike would pump up and down, preparing to take flight. Gathering herself at the penultimate hump, she would crest the final peak, temporarily—and, it must be said, with evident joy—shedding the fetters of gravity to soar with aching, mechanical heart toward yonder rainbow. Whoomp… whoomp… whoomp… Woom-Bah! Go toward the light, little bike…

Special test sections are best enjoyed by sailing around a corner at Alcan Cruise Speed, helmet screwed down tightly over a speed-stupored grin, only to find the asphalt ended in a straight cut across the road.

The mother of invention is pant-squeezing fear. De-clutch, grab all the brakes while dropping three gears, then let out the clutch as the front drops in, stand up and gas it. It’s kind of fun, once you get used to it.

In Glenallen with just 188 miles on the tripmeter, I bought 5.3 gallons of regular. I repaired to The Freeze, a burger shack where two boys bragged to their big sister or maybe their mom. When the days get short up here, it can be hard to tell.

“A trooper shot it, but he didn’t get it, either,” said the towhead. “It was a bear.”

“What’d you do to it?” She sounded bored, checking her eye shadow for seismic fissures.

“Shot it,” said the other kid. He chewed his fries thoughtfully. “It got all mad.”

Those boys were maybe nine years old.

I’ve dreamt Alaska dreams for so long; making it hard to excuse myself for never visiting in the nearly half-century I’ve lived in the upper left Conus.

Having waited 46 years to see it, I left Alaska after one day’s ride, entering Yukon Territory at 20:30 with magic light firing the golden leaves of aspens and the temperature reading about 50 degrees F. For 90 minutes I’d navigated a refractive funhouse of rainbows.

This glory wash was mitigated by lurid, two-wheeled slides when my fascination with the horizon overcame my attention to morphing road surfaces. Those tires hunted a little on dry roads. In the wet, they secretly planned to kill me.

Rounding a 90-mph sweeper (kindly devoid of woombahs), I noticed the bike scrithering. A lil’ slide is one thing, but no motorcycle should scrither. The problem with two-wheel drifting on pavement is that just as you sort it out, the tires catch and launch you like a SCUD.

This is often considered suboptimal.

Owing more to fatigue-level reflexes than mastery, I stayed in the throttle and rode it out, waking right up and yodeling into my helmet. The helmet remained inexplicably unimpressed by my bravado fortissimo—it was, in its defense, a Shoei, and thus inscrutable.

A pressing need was conceived. The North Country maintains appropriate traffic density: one vehicle every six to 15 minutes head-on at closing speeds averaging 160 mph, and a vehicle or two overtaken and passed every 20 minutes to an hour when you’re pacing the road confidently.

Hearing nothing, I unzipped to salute the road with everything I had in me. It took quite a while. No family drove by to be scandalized.

Shortly thereafter, the highway turned to dirt and my knobbies came right into their own. Beating the cars into Beaver Creek by nearly an hour, I followed a rainbow of particular intensity straight to our motel.

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