Riding 1000 Miles On A BMW R100

Chasing the 1,000-mile day on an old airhead

BMW R100
I wanted to run, crank on the throttle, and cover the miles I was due.Joost Stokhof

There’s no law against it. No one will stop you at the state line and ask your business—why you’re 1,000 miles from where you were at dawn. They won’t go looking into your bloodshot and bleary eyes for answers to what you’re running from. Not yet.

The bike was a gift. There’s no other way to say it, belonging as it did to a friend who found himself staring down cruel days with no time for an old R100. “Ride the hell out of it,” he said. I’d have to in order to make up the time I lost. There were the wildfires that ran me off some of the best roads in Washington; a voltage regulator in the Dales; a rotor, diode board, and battery in Portland; the clutch-adjustment bolt I nearly lost somewhere on I-84; and the goddamned hailstorm outside Salt Lake that turned the highway into a terrifying and cold river of slush.

I wanted to run, crank on the throttle, and cover the miles I was due; to get something clear between me and that BMW: We aren't the sitting-around kind. Somewhere between Evanston and Cheyenne, it clicked, the airhead finding its groove near 90, those goofy cylinders out in the wind, and the sky wide and blue for the first time since I left the coast. We were taking the country in gulps, at last.

It’s a miserable way to ride, hunkered down over low bars with no windscreen, passing the same semis time and time again, their wash catching the panniers and shaking the bike. But by the time I stopped outside Lincoln, we’d made better than 750 miles since dawn.

I wasn’t gunning for a piece of paper with my name on it or a patch on my coat. I wanted 1,000 miles under me in one long day because I needed to know we could do it. That we could push back against inevitability, against the ever-growing chorus of aches in my back, the entropy in the machine beneath me, and a world intent on saving everyone from themselves. That there are still places and things that will give you enough rope to hang yourself.

The last 20 miles were the worst. I caught a dark, brawling Missouri thunderstorm, the drops like hornets through my gloves, and the lightning so close, I could hear it sizzle over the clatter of that dauntless engine. I’d made my 1,000 and kept riding through the dark farmland and the rain, on to a clean, dry bed a lifetime from where I woke up.