Taking a trip around the country on a motorcycle definitely offers a different view – and a different smell – of America.
Just ask Gary Lewis of Huntington, who just finished an epic tour of the country on his Harley-Davidson.
We wrote about Lewis last month when he left on what is called the four-corners ride, a trip that takes you to the most distant four corners of the continental United States. Its a ride that can be as long as 10,000 miles, and more people have climbed Mount Everest than have completed the ride.
A lot of motorcyclists have contacted me, wanting to know more about Lewis ride and whether he did complete it, so I contacted Lewis for a look back at his trip.
What he told me is that he experienced some of the scariest times of his life, some of the nicest, some of the friendliest and some of the smelliest.
One of his first experiences was at the border crossing between Canada and Maine. Hed ridden through Canada because it was the quickest way to get to the first corner at the tip of Maine.
Even the customs man knew what we were up to, Lewis said. He said, Youre on the four-corners tour, and after that everything was different. Lewis said the agent, apparently a motorcyclist himself, said he wished he could go with them.
Before long, though, Lewis realized the trip was going to be more dangerous than he ever expected.
I saw more cars than I ever imagined, said Lewis, who is used to rural areas. He points out Im in corn and beans and can get to Fort Wayne in three stop lights.
On the East Coast, though, People were doing so many things in their cars besides driving, he said.
On one occasion, Lewis found himself on a four-lane interstate highway jammed with traffic traveling at 70 mph, and he looked over to notice one guy talking on his cellphone with one hand, working on his computer with the other and driving with his knees.
Lewis realized that if anything happened, hed be done.
The trip, though, also gave Lewis a view of people hed never had before.
In 15 days I saw what goes on in the world. I never saw so much change, he said.
In New Hampshire, he said, people were nicely dressed, and they were all about business. In Key West, everyone seemed to be dressed for a party. Texas was full of just plain hard-working people, he said, and in Oregon, everyone was really laid-back. They even pumped your gas for you, he said, the result of a state law that keeps alive a tradition that many young people have never seen.
He said he was warned by some husky, tattoo-covered Harley riders that one stretch was particularly hazardous. After dark, he said, six men in a truck might decide theyre going to take your motorcycle if they want it, and nothings going to stop them. The lesson: ride during daylight.
There was one stretch of desolation through Death Valley in which he rode 403 miles and encountered only three isolated convenience stores along the entire stretch.
California, home to Hollywood and who knows what else, stunned Lewis because of the amount of agriculture taking place, something he never realized.
And fish farms stink, he learned.
I couldnt help but wonder, though. After riding 600 miles a day in temperatures up to 115 degrees, would he do it again?
To be honest, when he reached the end of the ride near the Canadian border in northwest Washington, Lewis said, he pondered turning around and doing the whole ride again in the opposite direction. But he had family at home waiting for him. Once would have to be enough.