Big and small considerations for a successful trip
by: R. Bruce Thomas
With all the border restrictions finally removed it is likely that people are finally looking at heading south of the 49th to ride some of the many great roads in the United States. Perhaps you have a hankering to tackle Logan Pass (2,026 m / 6,646 ft) on Montana's Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park and experience the amazing scenery this route offers. Maybe you've heard of the challenging switchbacks south of Red Lodge, Montana on the way up to Wyoming's 3,337 m (10,947 ft) Beartooth Pass followed by the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. Lolo Pass (1,595 m / 5,233 ft) on the boundary between Montana and Idaho on US Hwy 12 is also an enjoyable ride though I prefer the lesser-known St. Joe River Road between St Regis, MT and St Maries, ID. The North Cascades Hwy 20 in Washington is a scenic route that people should tackle if they haven't ridden it yet. These routes are all close and don't require big trips but I can recommend plenty of other roads, including the Pacific Coast Highway, Blue Ridge Parkway, or Talimena National Scenic Byway, if you've got the time for an extended ride.
As usual, when planning a trip you need to make sure that you and your bike are in good working order before departing. New tires take the worry out of reaching your destination and getting back home, plus save you the hassle of looking for a shop while on vacation. Highway riding doesn't take the same toll as city riding and synthetic oils can also save a rider from looking for service on the road. I've put on over 20,000 km in a month on the road and the oil has tested OK upon my return (your mileage may vary so check things out to determine what you are comfortable with).
A big consideration has to be Medical Insurance as health care down south is very expensive. Check what coverage you may have through your employer or what is available from one of your Credit Card companies or even Costco Travel. A requirement for anyone participating in the Iron Butt Rally is Medical Evacuation Insurance such as Medjet, which even has an option to bring your bike back home.
In addition to those big items that most people should be thinking about when heading to the USA there are many smaller things to consider.
Make sure your passport is valid or, better yet, get a NEXUS card to speed border crossings.
Speed limits are not as bad for Canadians heading South as for Americans coming North. If you forget to convert from KM/HR to MPH you would be going slower instead of way over the limit. Either option is not safe. With digital dashboards it may be possible to change your bike to show distance in miles and speed in MPH or your GPS or smart phone may allow you to change the units on them to keep you within the limits.
Filling up with gas can sometimes be a challenge in America as some pumps want you to enter your Zip Code before authorizing a credit card purchase. What has historically worked is creating a faux-Zip Code using the numbers in your actual Postal Code. If you are prompted to enter your 5-digit Zip code, use the numbers in your PC and add two zeroes at the end. For example, if your PC is T5J 2R7 you would enter 52700 when prompted for your Zip Code. Somehow this seems to keep the gas pumps happy.
Another challenge can be when you are required to pay ahead inside before you can fill. “How much do you want?” “I want to fill it.” Since we're used to filling with Litres and Canadian Dollars it can be tough to determine how many US Gallons you need or how many US Dollars that will require. It took me a few trips to figure out an easy solution to this. My Honda ST1300 has a 29 litre gas tank. This equates to 7.7 US Gallons but I had troubles doing the conversion when put on the spot by a cashier. Then, I realized an easy answer was right in front of me. As seen in the picture, my fuel gauge has eight segments which neatly correspond to the gallon capacity. If I've only got two bars on the gauge I can reasonably assume I need about 6 US Gallons of fuel and then it's simple math to multiply by the price per gallon. See if you can figure out a shortcut for your bike.
Finally, a satellite tracking device and a service like SPOTWalla make it possible to share your adventure in real-time with family and friends while you are on the road. Not only is this a fun, addictive, distraction for people (“Where is he/she now?”) but it can provide peace of mind for your loved ones and could save your life, or at the very least make it easier to locate your body, should you ride off a road somewhere, as each plotted dot includes GPS co-ordinates. As an example of the fun of watching, I am taking off on June 2 for a 16 day trip down East during which I'll be riding some great roads, visiting many National Parks, and tackling a big Iron Butt challenge. You can follow along and see the value of Satellite Tracking with this link - https://new.spotwalla.com/trip/8781-d174eeb-d273/view