This is a story about a guy that loves to ride but does not have the time take a long vacation to travel around the US. It’s a story about my journey around the USA, broken down into 15 different one-way trips. I have logged 30,000 miles in 45 different states on my 2004 R 1150 RT over the past few years and feel blessed to have seen the splendor and glory of our country.
I have done all of this travel in the span of approximately 70 days – while taking less than 20 days of vacation time to ride. I did that by using a simple process.
- Travel from one destination to a new destination.
- Find a safe spot to store your bike at the next destination.
- Fly home.
- Fly back to your bike and repeat steps 1-3.
I book early morning flights to start my trip and later flights coming back home, which helps reduce the number of vacation days taken and the number of days you need lodging.
This process came about because necessity is the mother of invention. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the riding season lasts from approximately mid-April to mid-October. Once the leaves fall and the snow arrives, my fellow Minnesotan riders are putting their bikes in storage. The issue I had in the fall of 2014 was that I ran out of storage space in my garage. I was thinking of renting a storage locker in Minneapolis, but then I thought why not ride to a storage locker in a southern climate where I could keep riding my bike in the winter months.
My journey started with a spectacular three-day run down the Mississippi River. I headed east to Louisville, Kentucky, and dropped the bike off at storage locker near the Louisville airport, took a cab to the airport and flew home to Minneapolis. Three weeks later I flew back to Louisville on the back end of a round-trip ticket, picked up the bike from the storage locker and rode it over another four-day period to Austin, Texas. Since then my R 1150 RT has taken me to (and been stored in) Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Red Lodge, Montana, Memphis, Tampa Bay, Miami, Washington D.C., Boston and Denver.
I won’t describe all of the beautiful places I have been able to see by using this one-way technique because it would fill a book. A one-way road trip gives you a special feeling of freedom. It feels good knowing you don’t need to travel back to where you have just left. I have learned that this type of travel develops and feeds a wanderlust in me. Frankly, I have become addicted. I now favor a one-way journey over its more restrictive round-trip cousin. You sense how much more country and miles you are covering by simply heading to a new destination.
I have been blessed to meet so many people from all over the world while going on this journey. People are seemingly inclined to reach out and talk to you. “Have you ridden that bike all the way from Minnesota to here?” is usually the opening salvo from strangers. I met a bunch of Germans in Key West, Florida, that were riding rented Harleys. They liked the American riding their German horse and they loved the look of the old R 1150 RT at the beach.
People are inclined to provide assistance if you need it. There was the off-duty cop on a Harley in Virginia that helped me avoid a two-hour traffic jam by guiding me on some of the most scenic back roads in the Shenandoah valley. There was the Chinese citizen that I ran into at a rest stop on my way up to Acadia National Park in Maine. He was using a work visa to travel the lower 48 states on a 2015 BMW K 1600 GT and documenting the journey online. I knew the guy less than 10 minutes, but felt comfortable offering to share my room in Acadia that night because he had no lodging. Only folks on motorcycles can have a bond and trust to do such things for each other.
If you want to do this type of travel you need to understand and be comfortable with storing your bike away from home. Boredom warning: I am going to be giving practical tips in the following few pages so you can start dreaming of traveling around the US and storing your bike in any city.
The three types of places I have stored the bike are: a storage locker, motorcycle dealerships, and friends’ places. I have found that the storage locker provides me the most flexibility and the lowest total cost in most locations. The following is a list of tips to think about to make your storage the most trouble free.
Storage Locker Checklist
- Figure out the size and profile of your bike to determine the size of the locker that you need. Before you go on a journey, ride your bike to a storage facility in your home town to get a feel for how it will work. This local tryout will reduce anxiety on your first drop-off location away from home. If you have a wide bike you might need a wider locker, which will lead to higher pricing. I used to curse the side mirrors that detach off of my RT, but now they are a blessing. When I detach the mirrors and the side cases from my bike, I can get it through any external door on a 5-by-10-foot locker.
- Find a locker near the airport of your destination. Sparefoot.com is the hotels.com for storage lockers; essentially a storage locker concierge for the United States and they have helped me immensely on my journey. I look for a spot on their website by typing in the ZIP code of the airport. You may want to pay a little more for your locker to be close to an airport to avoid higher taxi or Uber rates. I strongly urge you to call Sparefoot once you have done your search to help you find the most appropriate location. I have always talked to somebody before I have booked any locker. They are not paying me to say this, they have just giving me outstanding service.
- Usually you can get half of the first month storage free, but you will likely have check-in fees. Keep your lock for future use. Most companies require you use a certain lock, and I have two different locks. I have usually paid $45-60 per month for storage depending upon the city. Ask if the monthly fees are prorated, because some facilities prorate and some do not. This factor could affect when you might want to fly back and go on your next journey. The fees in San Francisco have been the priciest at $139 per month.
- Ask about the business office hours of the facility and plan at least a half hour for checking in at the storage locker office. The longer the operating office hours, the more flexibility you will have with your flight back home. Plan another half hour to put the bike in the locker and get things sorted. There is nothing worse than ending your trip in a rush to get to the airport. I generally try arriving at storage facility two to three hours before flight departure, depending on the locker’s proximity to airport. Also ask about the access hours for the gates once you have checked in the locker. Sometimes you can get 24-hour access to give you more flexibility.
- Have your registration and proof of insurance with you and always on the bike. You will need these to check in. Do not buy insurance from the storage company. Your insurance on your bike should cover you in case something happens to it in the locker.
- Keep your battery charged if possible. Ask for a locker with a light and bring a light socket converter to plug in a battery charger for your bike. Make sure it has a three-prong adapter if your charger requires it. If there is no light in the locker, then ask where there is an outside socket so you can charge your battery upon your next arrival if you need to charge your bike. If you are gone for a long time without a charger, consider disconnecting the battery.
- Download the Uber app for an easy way to get transportation to and from the locker and airport and have the storage location entered on your navigation devices to easily find the facility on your arrival.
- Remember to leave your riding gear in the locker. There’s no sense bringing all of this stuff back home unless you think you’re going to be riding another bike.
BMW Dealerships for Service and Storage
Some dealerships will offer you short-term storage if you are getting enough service on the bike; others have simply charged me an extra storage fee. Remember to look up the operating hours, as they likely will be more limited than using a storage locker.
Many of my journeys ended on a Sunday or Monday when dealerships are closed. If you use a dealership, you will need to spend more time planning your arrivals and departures. Another disadvantage with the dealership is that you will need to lug back home any gear that you cannot store on the bike.
Friends or Fellow BMW Owners
The issues that I have had with storing my bike at friends’ houses revolve around personal guilt and pricing. Most of my friends live a long way from airports; my taxi costs can eat up any savings on locker fees. Your friend might be willing to drive you back and forth to the airport, but then you have the same guilt issues. I am usually pressed for time on my normal morning flight arrivals and evening departures and feel it is rude for me to essentially store my bike and run to the airport or leave for my next destination.
I have not tapped into the BMW owners’ network as a means for storing the bike for similar reasons. Frankly I would be happy to pay whatever fees I would incur to a BMW owner close to an airport and would probably feel less guilty because the fellow Beemer owner would know that I wanted to get heading down the road on my arrival. Heck, maybe the owner would join me on the trip for a bit.
Final Tips and Notes
I have never really worried about booking a room anywhere along these trips, and I have never had trouble finding lodging at a moment’s notice. Lodging at popular National Parks on busy holidays and in the summers are exceptions, though. Frankly, many times I’m not sure what city I’m going to end up in by the end of the day. My standard technique for acquiring lodging is to ride until the sun sets and find the closest city. I go to a restaurant, order dinner, and start searching for lodging. I prefer cheap motels with an exterior room door. If the town is small enough, I may just ride around and look for lodging.
I am an Iron Butt Association Rider and have done 2,000 miles in two days. During this journey, I was able to acquire the National Park Tour Master Traveler certificate by going to 50 different National Parks or Historic Sites in 25 states in one year. It was my favorite Iron Butt certificate that I have earned. Look this award up because it will open your eyes to some places you never thought you would go. It also helps you get on the roads less traveled, which is what wanderlust is all about.
One final note: I have found that is good to sometimes do a few round trips out of one city/locker. When you develop a familiarity with a region, you start to have more time to find some hidden backroad twisty treasures. I have found a love for the topography in Arizona and Utah and have left my bike in Phoenix or Las Vegas for extended stints for a number of round trips from each location. My Beemer is currently in Phoenix and I am planning three different round trips out of the same locker over the next couple of months. I know that soon the wanderlust will strike me and I will be heading down another road traveled to another destination somewhere.