California by Way of Cleveland, The Gentleman Racer
Note from Editor-in-Chief: As we share our stories, we have been fortunate to meet others along and they have shared their stories with us as well. We are excited to reprint an article from Mike Satterfield of The Gentleman Racer, with his permission, about his cross-country road trip by motorcycle from Ohio to California. (Zanne)
There is something magical about road tripping on a motorcycle, the open road, weather, slowing down and taking back roads through the countryside, it always sounded amazing. My father told me many times about his motorcycle adventure he took in the mid-1970’s and how halfway through his riding partner got homesick leaving my dad to finish his tour of the US by himself. I always wanted to ride across the US on a motorcycle and I had been talking to a small motorcycle company in Ohio, Cleveland Cyclewerks, and we decided that it would be epic to take on of their 250cc Ace Scramblers from Cleveland to California via Georgia and Texas.
Now I have ridden many different kinds of motorcycles but when you are planning a 3,500-mile road trip most people don’t think of a small, nimble, 250cc vintage style motorcycle. But one look at the classic good looks of the Ace Scrambler and I knew it was the right bike for the job. I arrived Saturday morning at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and jumped in an Uber to take me to the shore of Lake Erie where the Cleveland Motorcycle Company is headquartered.
After meeting the team and taking a short tour of the facility (See more from that HERE) I was shown the bike I would be riding all the way to Calfornia, a slightly customized Ace Scrambler, other than the handlebars, mirror, and more highway friendly tires this bike was a stock Ace.The guys thought the custom bars, which are optional from Cleveland, would make it slightly more comfortable for the extended ride. We took a test ride to take a photo at the famous Cleveland sign with the city in the background, we strapped my gear to the bike, and I started heading south.
The first few hours on the road I made my way out of urban and suburban landscape into the cornfields of southern Ohio. Adjusting to the bike and the fact that I packed way too much stuff and how that weight transferred as opposed to riding with just myself on the bike. It was, however, a beautiful day to be carving through cornfields and small country towns. I rode until just after dark when I pulled up my phone and checked the Priceline app to see if I could find a hotel for the night.
The next morning I jumped back on the bike, strapped on my Pacto helmet and hit the road, my goal was to get across Kentucky and into Tennessee by nightfall. The winding country roads of Kentucky are striking and the small towns along the way seem frozen in a different time. It’s far more populated than I expected, in Southwest where I grew up, once you get out of the city it’s mostly desert with large stretches of nothing, but here small farms, villages, and country stores come up every few miles.
My route took me to Lexington, Kentucky where the one-lane roads that wind among the large manner houses and thoroughbred horse ranches remind me of the English Countryside. The weight of all my gear is starting to bother me so I decided to find a FedEx Office and mail the bulk of my stuff home to California. The guy at FedEx must have thought I was crazy as I condensed everything I was going to carry into my small messenger bag. But with the large bag off the back of the bike, I felt more confident in pushing the bike on the twisty roads.
Pushing on down the road Kentucky didn’t disappoint with amazing views, kind people, and great weather, however, I made the mistake of not reapplying my sunscreen and by the end of the day, my nose was glowing red. After finding the only hotel in Livingston Tennessee called the Overton, I headed out to find some aloe and a bandana for my face to protect me from the sun. Tennessee wasn’t going to get any less sunny, but at this point, the new was saying that Hurricane Harvey was looking more likely to hit Texas and soak the south in several inches of rain.
Tennessee was breathtaking and riding along the Piney River which dumps into Chickamauga Lake, coming out of the trees you are greeted by a massive bridge that spans the massive lake. I’m the only one on the road, the sound of the Cleveland’s exhaust echoes off the sides of the bridge and across the lake which is dotted with a few fishing boats. I notice a sign for Cherokee Memorial Park and someone who loves history had to take some time to visit the memorial site, which is a reminder of a dark chapter in our nation’s history, the Trail of Tears. Back on the bike and time to push south and on to Georgia.
I was headed to a small town in Southern Georgia called Rebecca, I had some filming to do in Rebecca the next morning, so I kept heading south around the outskirts of Atlanta. I figured I would get a hotel in the next larger town ahead of Rebecca since there weren’t any hotels in that neck of the woods. The weather was amazing and as I rode towards the city of Perry I found myself riding through a tunnel made of peach trees, with old historic plantation style houses tucked in among the acres of peach trees. The next morning as I headed towards the address where I would be filming, I had to stop and double check the map on my phone, I had a feeling that I had gone too far, and sure enough, the unmarked dirt road was where I was supposed to have turned. The red dirt, swampy forest, and cool morning air really made me happy to be riding the Scrambler.
Filming wrapped it was time to head west, I had three days to get to Austin Texas for a race at the Circuit of the Americas, if I could make by Thursday they said I could take some hot laps in a Radical racecar. But with Harvey already hitting Southeast Texas, I had to look at alternative routes, as my original plan for New Orleans and Houston were now out. Georgia had been kind to me with regards to weather, but Alabama was already getting rain from the hurricane. The rain was unrelenting, I was completely soaked, tired, and found an Econolodge in an Army town somewhere in Alabama. I figured I could do some laundry and wait out the storm. The next morning the rain hadn’t stopped and according to the news the storm was stalled over the entire region of the south I needed to ride through, it was decision time, wait it out, or risk riding through the tropical storm.
Never being one to want to sit around, I found a local Walmart and picked up a waterproof camping bag, some bungee cords, and a rain suit. I wasn’t going to let Harvey slow me down, and so long as my phone, camera, and drone could stay dry, I figured I would be ok. I repacked my bag into the waterproof one and slipped into the rain suit in the Walmart bathroom. The rain was driving, no one was on the road, the news advised large trucks to stay off the highway due to tornado warnings thanks to the rest of Harvey moving northeast. About two hours into the ride the rain was coming down so hard I could hardly see, the wind was so intense that I started to feel the water soaking into my clothing, I simply figured that the rain was just pouring into the suit, when I stopped I discovered that my rain suit had been ripped to shreds by the wind. I pulled out my pocket knife and cut the rain suit belt from around my waist and tossed the whole thing in the trash. I was already wet and I was in the middle of nowhere, so I decided to just keep riding towards Mississippi, with the goal of crossing Mississippi and stopping somewhere in Lousiana for the night.
That afternoon the rain had become intermittent and the Mississippi border had come quickly. Highway 84 in Mississippi is beautiful when it’s not raining, green, with small farms, carved out of patches of dense woodlands. The state of Mississippi is only about 350-miles wide so I planned on tucking in and hauling ass to Lousiana, with a goal of making it to Alexandria by nightfall. The weather had other plans, with on-again-off-again driving rain slowing my progress down, but at about 9PM I made it soaked to the bone to the Holiday Inn Express in Alexandria. I tried to book ahead of time on my phone, but my waterlogged fingers wouldn’t work well on my iPhone’s touchscreen. I got some change for the dryer and as I peeled off the layers of soaked clothing it felt like I was removing a suit of armor from the weight. Plus the indigo from my jeans had dyed my legs a pale blue and my Autodromo string back gloves had dyed my hands a light gray.
Getting up early I knew I would make it to Austin by the end of the day, but I was going to be too late to get behind the wheel of the race car. So I decided to take my time, I needed to stop for oil and to adjust the chain again on the bike anyways, so I found a local AutoZone and topped up the oil, the chain was still within spec, then it was back on the road. As I approached the Texas border there was a roadblock, at first I thought I wouldn’t be able to cross due to flooding or damage to a bridge, but it turned out they were just limiting the number of cars on the bridge at a time. The water was level with the bridge. Almost every other truck and SUV that was headed into Texas was towing a flat bottom boat, I stopped for gas and spoke to a few guys who were from Lousiana and were on their way to Houston to help rescue people, it was amazing to see this small convoy of strangers rushing to help strangers in another state.
Once in Texas I started making my way south, towns were already running out of gas and I was sure to keep my tank topped up. At least until I could get to the track, one nice thing about race tracks is they always have some kind of gas station that is on the property and no open to the general public. The sun was out in Central Texas and the heat was intense. I was looking forward to my few days at the Circuit of the Americas with the team from Radical Sportscars and Gulf Racing Fuels. I met up with the guys at the track and then followed them to the hotel on the northwest side of Austin.
With a pit parking pass I could ride the Cleveland pretty much anywhere in the paddock, so I tooled around, everywhere I would stop with the bike someone would ask about it. It was by far the coolest pit bike at the track. The Pirelli World Challenge, Radical North America Series, and Porsche Owners Club were all racing that weekend and I ran into many of my friends from the world of motorsports who were driving, working as media, or working in the paddock. If you have never had the chance to visit the Circuit of the Americas it is one of the most beautiful tracks in the world (See more from my weekend at COTA HERE).
The racing was exciting and having a hard card meant I had amazing access to the track and paddock, getting right up close to all the cars, drivers, and crews. But as the race weekend drew to a close the worry about gas shortages was being driven into a frenzy by the media and soon most gas stations around Austin were out of gas. I planned to leave Sunday morning after the first race, plus I planned to fill up at the track before I left for the vast expanses of the American Southwest. Also just in case I picked up a small gas can since I had no way of knowing how far west the gas shortage was running in Texas. After gassing up I headed over to the pits and said my thank yous and goodbyes, it was time for the final stretch, two days to cross West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and then home to California.
Soon I would be off the backroads, the western states are very different than the eastern, settled later, they are spread out and mostly dictated by the interstates. That means that past Fort Stockton I would have to ride the Interstate, from Austin to El Paso is nearly 600 miles, it was going to be a long, hot, day.
There isn’t much to see in West Texas, thankfully I picked up that gas can as the first small town I stopped in was out of gas. I had enough to make it to the next town, but along the way, I saw a fellow biker stopped along the highway, he had run out and the gas I had was enough to get him to the next town where we would both hopefully find gas to fill up. He was grateful and he filled my tank when we made it to the next town with gas. After that he waved and took off towards Marfa, I was pushing on to El Paso. It was dark when I made it to the outskirts of El Paso, as I ride into town I can see the lights of Juarez and the neon glow of El Paso’s countless gentleman’s club that welcome westbound travelers to town. I find a hotel near the airport and settle in for the night. Today was nearly 600 miles, but tomorrow would be a big push, over 750 miles to get home without having to stop for another hotel.
Within a matter of minutes I am at the Texas/New Mexico border and pulling over for a quick photo, my time in New Mexico will be short as it’s not too far to the Arizona border. The bike is holding up well, but this is the longest hottest stretch of the whole trip across the desert. I put on a long sleeve linen shirt, strap my jacket to the back of the bike and head across the desert.
Casa Grande, Tuscon, Phoenix, it’s hot, my head is baking in my helmet and I am stopping more often for water than gas. But still, at every gas station, someone comes up and asks about the classic looking bike. At my gas/water stop in Tucson, a Border Patrol Agent comes up and asks “What year is it? Did you restore it or buy it done?” his jaw hits the floor when I tell him it’s a brand new bike, he is even more surprised when I tell him where I have ridden from and that the bike is a 250cc. But that is the great thing about these kinds of adventures, you meet some really nice people. Just about everywhere I stopped along the side of the road to stretch, take some photos, or just to inspect the bike, someone would stop to check on me, make sure I was alright or see if I ran out of gas.
The California border was the most exciting one of any state line yet, it signified that I had made it home, 10 other states had come and gone, but California was the goal and myself and the bike made it back. This little 250cc bike assembled in Cleveland, Ohio had proven itself and kept me smiling the entire way home. As the sunset, I pulled over to take some photos of the bike in California before it got too dark. Everyone had advice, I should have had a full face helmet, I should have had a bigger bike, I should have parked and waited out the storm, I shouldn’t have ridden so many miles per day, but that advice was from people who didn’t understand why I wanted to do this trip. I wanted to take a retro bike, a classic helmet, and some back roads and travel back to a different time, I wanted to experience the freedom so many of my generation are afraid to taste and visit the America so many ignore. The Cleveland was my time machine, for a few weeks it was more like 1977 and less like 2017.
What else I took along for the ride:
Helmet: Pacto Vintage Racing Helmets
Tee Shirts: Morgan’s & Phillip’s Speed Shop
Jeans: Bullet Blue
Boots: Banana Republic
Bag: American Eagle
The Gentleman Racer™ was started in the early 2000’s by Mike Satterfield as a place to share photos and stories from his automotive adventures. Over the years and many redesigns later the site has grown into a lifestyle brand centered on cars, motorcycles, travel, and more. Mike is also an entrepreneur and designer who has collaborated with a number of brands including Mazda, Coach, Fiat, Sony, Vanderhall, and many others.
For more The Gentleman Racer, check out https://www.thegentlemanracer.com/