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Living High on the Hog
A modern-day Easy Rider lays down the rules of the road. By Robert Young Pelton


Illustration: Robert Young Pelton
BORN TO BE WILD: Robert Young Pelton fulfills his two-wheeled destiny.

A few years ago I was riding in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally through South Dakota's Black Hills. Peter Fonda, the original Easy Rider, was leading the pack. Behind us was a gang of roughneck guys in leather who looked like they just broke out of a prison yard. They were sporting colors, though I couldn't tell which. Hells Angels? Pagans?

"No," their leader responded. "We're ophthalmologists."

I should have known. These days the guy on the rumbling Hog next to you is more likely to be a dentist than some Brando-esque Wild One. And though I miss the romance of methamphetamine-crazed biker gangs, I don't miss the prospect of encountering them on my annual rides.

At least once a year I slip on my weathered leathers and head out solo on my 1991 BMW K1 bike. And while I've ridden great touring routes all around the globe, from dirt tracks in Baja to hairpins in the Alps, I can safely say that the best roads in the world are right here in the U.S.

In this kinder, gentler era of motorcycling, you may just find America to be the most exotic and undiscovered destination on your travel list. Here are a few tips that'll send you straight to Hog heaven.

START YOUR ENGINES.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a special bike to go touring. I've ridden Harleys. I've ridden sport bikes. Whatever you choose, just make sure it's running smoothly. If your mechanic has any doubt (yes, have it checked beforehand), consider a rental. EagleRider rents Harleys (U.S. $455 a week; www.eaglerider.com) nationwide.

When planning your trip, my advice is to stop planning. Just pick an area and go. Don't bother with booking hotels; they'll just weigh you down. Instead, I show up to nonchain hotels (think Yellowstone Lodge) just as reservations are being given away, usually the early evening. If that fails, I spread my bedroll out at a nice, cozy pull-over in a national forest and sleep gratis under the stars.

ROLL LIGHT AND FAST.
Go for the Gold Wing (the RV of bikes) if you like, but if you ride in the States, the birthplace of 7-Eleven and Wal-Mart, you won't need much. For my solo rides, I pack a T-shirt, socks, underwear, and a toiletry kit into a small duffel that I bungee to my backseat. On top of that, I pile my rain gear and a bedroll. And then I don the most underrated piece of equipment in bikerdom, a good sturdy jacket.

I prefer leather (black, of course) because it won't shred in a skid. Others prefer nylon with Kevlar body armor, which works as well. Besides being tough, a quality jacket also has to be warm. Even on a hot day, windchill can plunge a rider into mild hypothermia. Senses dull and accidents happen.

RIDE TO LIVE.
How? Take a safety and racing course from CLASS Motorcycle Schools (U.S. $279; www.classrides.com). Instructors will show you how to power through an emergency rather than hit the brakes (and crash) and how to ride on the edge of adhesion for quick defensive moves. Over the course of a day, I learned more about riding than I had in two decades on the road.

Minor breakdowns are inevitable on a bike, so I always carry spare lightbulbs, a bottle of extra fuel, and a tire repair kit. If that doesn't do it, I break out the big guns with a phone call to AAA (prices and coverage vary by state; www.aaa.com). Or I just sit tight. There are plenty of bikers masquerading as working stiffs who will not only drive you into town, but probably buy you dinner and share their own roadside sagas. Who knows, they might even discount your next eye exam!

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Illustration by Asaf Hanuka


Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, May 2005

The World's Best Hikes: Author Peter Potterfield's top trail picks
Point, Shoot, and Know When to Run: NG photographer Carsten Peter's incredible life
Pelton's World: A modern-day Easy Rider lays down the rules of the road
"Life's an Adventure" Reader Photo Album: See readers' photos and submit your own


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May 2005



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