4 Corners USA
By Craig Littlefield
"Now let me understand this." Jan was having a little trouble with my latest proposal. "We pay $75, we drive for 25 days, 11,000 miles and then they send us a T shirt." "Yes, that is the way it works. Sounds fun doesn't it?" I replied. I even managed to keep a straight face. Not sure why she agreed but she did.
Our check went off to the SCMA and in the mail we got 4 envelopes. We were to mail one from each of the 4 corners of the USA, Key West Florida, Madawaska Maine, Blaine Washington and San Ysidro California. At each corner we had to find the phone number of a specific phone booth, get a time and dated gasoline receipt and take a picture of us at a local landmark. We had 21 days from the first corner to the last corner. The official time and date were from the postmarks of the letters.
We have a blue BMW K1200RS. It is completely stock except for bar backs and a Eurocom communicator mounted under the seat. We have the stock bags and a luggage rack. We keep most everything in the bags but tied duffel on the rack with our extra coats and shoes. We have owned a lot of BMWs and were real pleased with the K12. We were anxious to see how it did on a long trip. I think this qualified as a long trip.
We left Tucson on June 1st. Our intention was to take 5 days to get to Key West where the 21-day clock starts. We usually try to stay on back roads as much as possible avoiding the superslabs. The first day took us through Las Cruces on I10 and then up to Alamogordo and onto US 82 into the mountains of New Mexico. That is a great road with nice curves and little traffic. We spent the first night in Artesia, New Mexico. Our plan was to motel it every night. We usually looked for a Best Western or a Hampton Inn. We had reservations in only 3 cities where we knew we would have problems getting a room.
The second day took us across Texas on US 180. This parallels I20 about 20 miles to the north. We got through Dallas that night and on US 80 to Jackson, Mississippi the next. Then we turned south through Mobile, Alabama and to Panama City, Florida. Our plan was to skirt the west coast of Florida to Fort Myers and then across Florida and out to Key West.
This was our first trip to Key West. We loved it. We compared it to Catalina Island, very isolated, tropical climate and full of tourists. It was Gay Celebration Week but that caused us no problems. The streets are full of rental Scooters. I hate to think of the accident rate of all these inexperienced Scooter drivers in a small town.
So far the weather had been hot. Across Texas we were in the middle of their heat wave and all through Florida they were having record heat with high humidity. We handled it quite well but we stopped often to cool off and to refill the Camelback. Putting one Camelback on my back that we can both drink from worked real well. We also had cooling neckbands. I wore my First Gear Scout jacket the whole trip and Jan wore a Levi jacket.
We choose the Key West post office for our first photo. We pulled the K12 up on the sidewalk in front of the post office sign. We were to repeat that ritual at all 4 corners. We found our phone number, got the gas receipt, dropped the letter in the mail and headed north.
We left Key West on Sunday morning. We spent the day going up the east coast of Florida. Driving through Miami Beach on a Sunday afternoon was a ball. Nothing but heavy traffic, bicycles, motorcycles and bikinis. They have done a great job restoring the art deco South Beach area. The next day we continued north to St Augustine. The summer forest fires were just starting but other than a little smoke and motels full of firefighters the fires were no problem for us.
Our next stop was in Savannah, Georgia, one of our favorite towns. We had a nice room in a B&B downtown and enjoyed kicking around the town and eating a nice dinner. The next morning we went west and north up through Augusta Georgia and into the mountains. We spent 3 days in the mountains when we could have gone up I95 in one day. We stopped in Spartenburg, SC to visit the new BMW factory. They have a nice museum with many BMW motorcycles and cars of all vintages. We came out of the museum to a downpour. It was our first rain and our first break from the heat. It felt good to put on the rain gear for a ride over the mountains into Asheville. This was our first winding road since New Mexico. Asheville is a great little town tucked in the mountains of western North Carolina. We could have spent several days in that area but we had been there before and we were on a mission.
The next day was great riding. We spent 400 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some call it the Blue Hair Parkway because of the numerous motorhomes going at a snails pace, well under the 45 MPH speed limit. It was a weekday, early in the summer with patches of rain and there was little traffic we managed to average well over the limit without offending anyone. We spent the night in Charlottesville Virginia. The next morning we went west, going the wrong direction, back over the mountains just to take old highway 11 up the Shenandoah Valley. Jan and I both think this is one of the prettiest valleys in the east with small towns and narrow tight roads. I was worth the detour.
After visiting with relatives in Baltimore we took country roads through eastern Pennsylvania, through the Pokanos and on to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. We had spent several days playing tourists now and it was time to start putting some miles on. The next couple of days took us across Massachusetts and the length of Maine on old US 1 to Madawaska. The postal clerk in Madawaska greeted us. He had been there several years and had many stories of riders who had come through on the 4 Corners ride. His best story was of the BMW rider that went to each corner on a different BMW. Between each corner he went home and got a different bike.
The size of Canada is deceiving. It is about 3300 miles across Canada. We choose that route rather than across the top of the USA as it covered country in Quebec and Ontario that we had not ridden before. We learned after 3 days that Ontario puts Texas to shame as far as having miles and miles of nothing. We spent one night in Texas and 3 nights in Ontario. I like trees but after seeing the first million you have seen them all. This combined with the worst weather of the trip and very long muddy construction zones made for a hard 2400 miles in 4 days.
We were really starting to appreciate the K12. It has sufficient power to pass and pull any hill without any strain even fully loaded and at high elevations. Even for a heavy bike the handling is rock steady and the suspension and brakes outstanding. The best feature has to be the lack of noise and vibration. At any speeds there is no vibration and you can really not hear of feel that the engine is running. The engine pulls like an electric motor. All of this makes long days less tiring and more enjoyable.
After the plains of central Canada, Calgary and the Rocky Mountains were a nice site. The roads through BC are great for motorcycles. We continued to stay off the main roads and followed old Canada 1 into Vancouver instead of the new Canada PV 5 multilane highway. It was a relief to drop down into the USA and to the border town of Blaine, Washington.
We have been to Washington and Oregon many times on the motorcycle and as always it rained through both states. We stopped in Grants Pass to visit friends, staying one extra day. We stayed with other friends the next night in Santa Cruz, California.
The next day was the hardest day of the trip. We left Santa Cruz down California Highway one. We wanted to stop at Napenthia, a restaurant in Big Sur for breakfast. It was one of our favorite hangouts when we lived in California. It did not disappoint us. It was still a beautiful and serene spot. The coffee was up to $5 and the rolls to $8 but that was to be expected. What we didn't expect was the mess that El Nino had made of Highway 1. We must have spent 2 hours sitting at a dozen traffic control lights for highway construction. The lights would turn and with a little careful passing in no passing zones we would have a few miles of beautiful curves before being stopped by another light.
We arrived in LA on our way south 4 hours late and in the worst of the I505 Friday evening traffic. We had 3 hours of stop and go traffic. With a stop for a Ruby's Hamburger and shake we did not reach San Ysidro until 10 p.m. We took our photo of the 4th corner in the dark and arrived in El Centro at 12:30 AM. It was a tiring 700 mile day. A wakeup call for 5:30 a.m. got us home to Tucson before the heat got too bad.
We had gone 11,000 miles in 25 riding days. We had no problems with the bike at all. When we left it was using a quart of oil every 1000 miles and the last 5000 miles were covered with one quart. We had put a new set of MEZ4 tires on before we left and when we got home cord was showing on the rear tire. Perfect timing. I was concerned about fuel consumption but it was acceptable. Over the trip we averaged 42 MPG. I had tried to get an Aeroflow windshield for the trip but one was not available even for testing. While the protection is acceptable with the stock shield it is not an RT either. I think a taller shield will be on for the next trip.
We bought the Eurocom communicator for this trip. It is very expensive, over $400, and we were expecting perfection. While it worked okay when it worked, it started cutting out before noon of the first day. They sent me a new unit to my motel in Key West and it become intermittent the first day as well. Only after a stop in their shop in Albany, New York and the installation of a third unit did our problems end.
There have been a lot of comments on the riding position and ergonomics of the K12. I don't understand that at all. Both Jan and I think it is the most comfortable bike we have owned and we have had many BMWs and other makes. After repeated long mileage days we got off tired, but never complaining about the riding position or the seat. I was concerned about buying an early model of an all new BMW but with 18,000 miles in 6 months the K12 has proven to be the very reliable.