When Kenai's Kevin Eldridge set out July 12 on his 2003 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle, the machine was nearly brand new. By September, the bike and Eldridge had rolled for more than 17,000 miles, passed through 28 states, cruised both coasts of the continent and returned back home to tell about it.
"I took a new Harley and made it old," Eldridge said last week from his Kenai home, fresh off a motorcycle odyssey that more than qualifies as a long, strange trip.
There was the time near the Colorado River, when 105 degree temperatures pushed Eldridge close to the red line.
"I kind of got a mild case of heat stroke," he said. "I started to get sleepy, get a headache. I was like, 'oh crap.'"
Eldridge had to get off the bike, which he estimated was making his temperature in the seat rise to 130 degrees, and cool himself with water and some rest. He learned his lesson about riding too long in the sun that day.
"I had a system where I'd ride for 60 miles or so, then get off for 10 or 15 minutes," he said. "That one time I went for about 90 minutes and I almost paid the price. I didn't do that again."
The reason Eldridge was braving the mid-summer heat is one familiar to anyone who rides motorcycles: the lure of the open road was just irresistible. But for Eldridge, it was even more. He wanted not only to take a big-time tour of the United States, but to accomplish a feat few can claim to have even tried.
"I wanted to go from the northern end of the pavement to the southern end of the pavement," he said.
His trek began in Kenai. From there, Eldridge trekked north to Livengood, where the northernmost section of paved highway in the country is located. From there, the plan was to follow the road all the way to its southern end, more than 5,000 miles away in Key West, Fla.
Eldridge took the Alaska Highway south through Canada, where he met up with some riding buddies from Alberta. He hung with the Canadians for a while, exploring the mountain states of Montana and Wyoming. He passed through Yellowstone National Park, then moved on through Idaho, Washington and into California.
In California, he helped a friend build an art studio. Then he headed back west for Montana but not before swinging through New Mexico and Utah on the way.
"It was so close," he said.
In Montana, he planned to meet up with three friends from Valdez and head to Sturgis, S.D., for the annual bike rally there.
"We had one coming from the north, south and west, and we were all going to ride east. It was like a bad western," he said.
Those dramatic plans got a bit sidetracked because of the weather, but Eldridge and his friends did manage to all meet up in time to ride into Sturgis along with 450,000 other riders.
"It was wild. Just wall-to-wall bikes," he said.
After spending four days at the rally, Eldridge was back on the road, heading for points south.
It was during this portion of the trip, when he may have come the closest to losing sight of his goal. Well, for a while at least.
"We kind of got lost there for a little bit," he said.
He and his riding companion, Doc, had decided to take some back roads that ended up being a little more backwoods than anticipated.
Eldridge put 17,208 miles on his Harley Davidson Ultra Classic during the ride.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"The roads were overgrown with trees, and it was really humid," he said. "We just kept trying to keep the sun on one side and eventually we ran into the interstate."
Getting lost didn't bother Eldridge, though. He said the occasional unexpected side trip is part of the lure of taking a long-distance motorcycle tour.
"It was kind of enjoyable. The people were really friendly, and I like being off the main roads anyway," he said.
When he finally did get his bearings, Eldridge pushed on through to Miami, where his wife, Neisa, had flown to meet up with him. Once in Miami, Neisa hopped in the Harley's sidecar and the couple headed out to the Florida Keys, eventually stopping at the end of the road, just 90 miles from Cuba.
"We rode up and touched our tire to the end of the U.S. pavement," he said.
Now that he'd made it to the end of the road, was Eldridge's quest complete? Not hardly. There was still the small matter of getting back home to Alaska.
He and Neisa spent a day in Florida, then roared north through the central portion of the country. Their next stop: Milwaukee, to pay tribute to the machine that made the trip possible.
As luck would have it, Eldridge's trip coincided with Harley-Davidson's 100th birthday celebration, one of the biggest parties to ever hit the motorcycle world.
"People were standing on rooftops," he said.
Eldridge said he wanted to be in the big parade of motorcycles during the party, but entry into the parade was limited to 10,000 bikes. Only those riders lucky enough to have gotten a ticket were allowed in. Eldridge said he had resigned himself to watching the parade from the sidewalk until he ran into an old buddy who had a ticket but no bike.
That's when having a sidecar came in extra handy for Eldridge.
"He hopped in the sidecar, Neisa hopped on back, and we were in the parade," he said.
There were even more stories after the big parade, although Eldridge said his memory is a little foggy when it comes to the details.
"We had a lot of fun," he said with a grin.
From Milwaukee, he and Neisa continued to ride north. In Alber-ta, they stopped to see friends and stock up on some much-needed gear for the final leg of the journey.
"We got some long underwear, and boy did they come in handy," he said.
It didn't take long to make the final leg of the journey, not with the Eldridge's cruising for as much as 500 miles per day. Under that kind of stress, you might expect a motorcycle to crack under the pressure. But Eldridge said his Harley held up almost flawlessly.
He went through four rear tires and "countless" oil changes, but said the only real problem came near Haines, when his bike's security system decided the bike was being stolen.
"As soon as you touched the bike, it went off. It went into a really serious lockdown mode and it wasn't moving," he said.
However, a couple minor adjustments and some "percussive maintenance" and the Harley was up and running.
Eldridge said the bike is in need of a good tune-up, but other than the 17,000 miles, the Harley is as good as new.
"It treated me real good," he said.
As for Eldridge, he's gone back to work on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in Valdez, the coast-to-coast motorcycle trip just another adventure in the rear view mirror.
But he's not dwelling on miles already past. In fact, he said he's already looking forward to his next trek, a planned run to the sunny shores of Baja, Calif. He's not sure when that trip might be, as it's not easy to take so much time off work just to ride a bike.
If he had a choice, though, Eldridge said there's no doubt when he'd like to get riding again.
"If I had my way, I'd still be on the road."
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