Honda Goldwing GL1800 - The Great White Whale And The Trail O' Tears Tour

Riding The First Airbag-Equipped Gold Wing Cross-Country Made Me Feel All Warm And Fuzzy. Very Warm And Very Fuzzy.

Even before the paramedics burst into the room, things had not been going according to plan. I'd hardly eaten for three days, I felt sick to my stomach, and it was getting worse. That morning, under the heading "Ugly Thoughts," I scribbled in my notebook: "If I continue to feel like I have the last couple of days-moments away from puking or blacking out-I'll just park the bike and lie down. In the shade, I hope. Someone will summon an ambulance, and I can go home."

The fierce, relentless July heat had been trying to kill me for days, and it was winning. Did you know the sun's rays can penetrate a helmet's sophisticated composite shell, EPS liner and comfort lining until it feels like your hair is on fire? Me neither. Until now.

I'd left Colorado Springs that Tuesday morning, the fifth day of the trip, hoping to make it to Durango, some 300 miles away. But at less than half that distance, I knew I was a goner. In Gunnison, after barely managing to check into a Holiday Inn, I asked the poor, frightened young woman behind the counter to call a doctor, quickly, please. I staggered to my room and fell face-first into bed. The phone rang, and a voice said doctors don't make house calls in Gunnison.

"Fine," I said. "Then please call an ambulance."

As soon as they arrived, the paramedics stabbed an IV in my left arm and started what appeared to be a saline drip. Some four hours later I left the Gunnison Valley Hospital emergency room after taking on one-and-a-half additional liters of fluid. That saved my ass and made it so I could ride the next day-not that I felt any less like Death on a Ritz.

This was supposed to have been simple: All I had to do was watch the world's first airbag-equipped Gold Wing released to any publication being built on the Honda of America Manufacturing assembly line in Marysville, Ohio, then ride it back to Los Angeles. (Note to readers: You cannot pick up a bike at the Marysville facility. It is not possible; don't even ask.)

You'd think riding cross-country on a GL1800 wouldn't be a death-defying experience. And you'd be right-normally. To the contrary, it should have been dead easy. Just point the nose of the Great White Whale-the Wing's logical (to me) nickname-westward, twist the throttle and go. With roughly 2500 miles to cover, five 500-mile days should do it, right? There'd even be time to take some happy-snaps. Get home, spend a couple of days relaxing and doing laundry, then saddle up a sportbike to ride to the USGP at Laguna Seca. What could possibly go wrong?

That's why on Friday, as I was getting ready to leave Marysville, the only things on my mind were how far behind schedule I was, how many miles per day I'd have to ride to make up for it, and, gee, it sure is hot. Despite leaving stupidly late, the Great White Whale and I made good time, more than 500 miles to the college town of Columbia, Missouri, by 8 p.m. How? First off, I was so freaked out about being late I stayed on the superslab, U.S. 70. And second, because you people out in the Heartland haul ass, running 80 to 90 mph where it's posted 75, I could run 100-plus without attracting any undue attention.

Incidentally, the Whale didn't show the slightest sign of distress at such speeds, despite having been assembled only a couple of days before. In fact, except for needing about a half a quart of oil on the seventh day, the bike shrugged off such abuse as if it were nothing.

As an aside, I have to say the people in America's Heartland seem a bit conflicted about their morality. Many times on Highway 70 I passed a billboard that read, "Do You Know JESUS?" And then, within a couple of miles, there'd be another with an altogether different message, such as "BIG ADULT VIDEO SALE NEXT EXIT!"

Even so, I have nothing but praise for the drivers I encountered in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Being in a big, overheated hurry meant the Whale and I passed a lot of cars, and in those three states drivers invariably pulled over to let us sail by. As soon as we reached the Show-Me State of Missouri, however, that courtesy came to a screeching halt. One can only imagine the cars' inhabitants were too busy showing each other something to notice a Great White Whale bearing down on them, lights-a-flashing.