MX Bob Bike Collection - Book 12
1980 Kawasaki KZ400
The Epic Journey of 1983

This was my first pure street bike. I bought it at Old Dominion Kawasaki, in Norfolk, Virginia, about five months before I got out of the Navy. It was used, pretty basic, but in good shape. The only accessory I bought for it was a windscreen that bolted onto the bars. Even though the screen was relatively cheap, and looked it, I would later be extremely thankful that I made that particular investment.

The time to exit the Navy was drawing near. A few months before that strongly anticipated date, I drove my van, with nearly all my earthly possessions, back to Minnesota. At this point, all my earthly possessions consisted of my dirt bike, riding gear, tools, and spare motorcycle parts. Since I never lived off of the ship, I had no reason for furniture, dishes, mementos, or nice clothes (OK, the clothes may have been from being thrifty). I flew back to Norfolk with the plan to drive the motorcycle back to Minnesota, using one large suitcase for everything I had left.

After counting down the days for well over a year, the glorious day finally arrived where I would leave the USS Emory S. Land for good. Since I had been on the ship longer than most of the people currently stationed on it, and certainly longer than the guys doing the watch that day, I had them announce my departure as a Shellback and Plank Owner.

The shellback part was true. I was on the ship when it crossed the equator and went through the initiation, the details of which Iím sworn to secrecy. Not really, but I donít want to get too off topic (Editor Ė Since when?). I came aboard a few months after the ship was commissioned, so I was not a Plank Owner. I snickered to myself at the little joke that only about one or two other people on the ship would understand.

The first leg of the trip was a ride up to Warwick, Rhode Island, to visit my friend, Art Law (that was his real name, not a field of study). We had gone to A School together, and after he figured out that submarine school was not for him, ended up on the same ship that I was on. We worked together for almost the whole time he was on board. We also shared a disdain for navy life, and a healthy gallows humor to get through it. He had gone with me riding or racing several times and took photos. Most of the ones I have from that era are from him.

Art got out a few weeks earlier and went back home. I was going to go up there and visit for a while. I had not been to New England since second grade. In hindsight, I most assuredly underestimated the difficulty level of the journey. At this point, I had no job, no home, and no bank account. I was riding "Then Came Bronson" style, except of course with a Japanese bike, which would negate any other similarity.

I was concerned about carrying a lot of cash, so I came up with a brilliant plan, all on my own. I would get a bunch of money orders at 7-11, and then redeem them at other 7-11s as I needed cash. The flaw with this plan, and Iím sure the more clever readers have figured it out already, was not that there were too few 7-11s, but that money orders were not the same thing as traveler's checks. When I went to another 7-11, I was told that they were not a bank, and they did not cash money orders, not even their own. Despite my attempts at convincing several different cashiers to do something they'd probably be fired for, I finally came to conclusion that the money orders were essentially worthless to me at the moment.

But I had to press on regardless, now very aware that my cash supply was dwindling, and that I probably did not have enough money to make it to Warwick, or turn around and go back to Norfolk.

I cut every financial corner possible. One of the ways I saved money was not eating. Finally, I made it all the way to East Rutherford, New Jersey, tired, hungry, and nearly out of gas. I had about $20 left, and decided that I'd stay overnight, then in the morning, go to Western Union and try to have money wired to me from my parents.

Even back in 1983, $20 didn't get you much of a room. I went to a flea-bag motel, was a few dollars short of their "nightly" fee, and begged the woman at the front desk to let me have it for a few dollars cheaper. She had pity on me and gave me a room that must have been considered the "lucky to get anything" room. Although, I really needed one, the shower was way to gross to use (and this is from someone who just finished living on a Navy ship). The bed was a little sketchy also, so I think I just slept in my clothes on top of the bed spread.

Next morning, I was able to get about $50 or so wired, which was enough to eat a big breakfast, gas up, and continue on to Warwick with cash reserves. I got going a bit late, and it took longer than I thought to get there, so it was getting dark as I was approaching Warwick.

Right around twilight, I must have been driving by an inlet or river. The windscreen started slowly turning black. There were large swarms of bugs, so I tucked down behind the screen, which I was now very thankful for having. It was when I had this somewhat tenuous grip on the bars that a bird struck the wind screen. It wasnít very big, but at highway speed, it was enough to trigger a very scary speed wobble. I just barely maintained control. The fate of said bird remains unknown to this day.

I found Art's house and was able to unpack and have a nice clean room to stay in. He made a delicious dinner, but I donít recall much about it, because at some point, I passed out. I figured that it was a combination of the lack of good sleep, being on the road, and the summer heat and humidity.

Art had a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, and his first try at business was an ice cream truck. What made this one different was that it had a soft-serve machine in it, not just novelties. The next day, he was going out on a run, and I tagged along. We didn't get very far when the truck broke down and wouldn't start.

As his brother was trying to get it going, the neighborhood kids started lining up, not used to an ice cream truck in "this part of town", but very excited about it. Art was busy selling ice cream, nearly running out of the mix. Finally, the truck fired up, and we limped it back home.

After staying there a few days, I rode back to Norfolk. I was able to cash in all my money orders at Artís bank and just carried a bunch of cash the rest of the trip. Even though it was the same distance and route, this trip went smoothly, except for my continued set-up issues.

The bike didnít have saddle bags or anything, so I had this large suitcase attached to the back of the seat with bungee cords. Because of this, I was confined to one very small portion of the seat. Between that, and it being only a 400, I got very sore riding long distances, particularly my rear-end and my throttle hand. I would stop for very long breaks, seemingly feeling better, but then feel just as sore 10 miles after starting up again.

Once back in Norfolk, I stayed with friends and a few of us went to a Foghat / ZZ Top concert. I think I may have just completely slept through some of those days. I was feeling pretty drained from the trip.

From there, I was headed west, finally making progress towards Minnesota. I stopped in North Carolina and saw a high school friend who had moved there a few years earlier. My next stop was Loretta Lynn's Dude Ranch and the Amateur Motocross Nationals. I had heard it was about 50 miles outside of Memphis, which I estimated to be about 450 miles. This would be a long, painful ride, but I figured once I got there, I'd have a few days to recover.

It turns out, it was about 50 miles away from Memphis, but the opposite direction than I thought, making it over 550 miles. The Smoky Mountains by the Carolina, Tennessee border were the most beautiful part of my whole trip. I may not have enjoyed it as much as I could have. I was already kind of sore by then, not realizing that by the time I reached my destination, it would be so much worse.

Once at "the ranch", I had thought that I'd have to pay a nightly fee to camp, so I set money aside for that. But when I rode in rather late that evening, there was no one at the entrance and I just drove right in. I had not told anyone that I was going, but knew my one friend was going to be there. Tired and riding through a sea of people in a sprawling campground, I somehow spotted Scott Haraldson (from Chapter 1) almost immediately. He led me back to their campsite. There really wasn't any room anywhere at this somewhat late hour. I was so tired that I just slept on a picnic table.

The next day, Scottís friends awoke to this homeless looking guy snoozing on their picnic table. I didnít know it at the time, but Scott, who was quite a teller of tall tales, and had included me in many of his stories. Since I was off in the navy, and never seen, they just assumed that I was a fictional character. When he told them who I was, that this Bob guy is the one arriving with a street bike after dark, sleeping on a picnic table, dead to the world despite all the noise around him, they had to re-think the validity of Bob's activities in Scott's stories. They were genuinely surprised that I existed.

The races themselves were good. I got to see Bob Hannahís future buddy, Keith Bowen, absolutely flying on his YZ250, Donny Schmit and Jeff Stanton go at it in the 100 class, and Danny Storbeck win three classes, shortly before the current limit of two classes was added to the rules. Tom Fendler was competing in the 500 Expert class, riding with the 6n he had earned the previous year, and getting another top 10 finish this year.

The three days I spent at Lorettaís were quite comfortable. There were showers in the campground to use, concessions to eat, and there were some Minnesotans who had a car with a large back seat that I used as a bed (much more comfortable than the picnic table). It was very hot and humid, and there were times I would sit down under the shade of a tree, away from the track, and kind of nap for a while. I never did get charged admission.

The Fendlers offered to take my suitcase back, so I was just going to wear the same clothes for what I thought would be a two-day ride back to Minnesota. Being able to move around on the seat was really nice, but I was not feeling good, and my throat was quite sore. I still thought it was from being out in the heat so much. I stopped a little early the first day than I had planned and stayed in a hotel for only the second time this trip.

The next day I was going to ride the rest of the way, but started feeling dizzy and faint. I pulled into a hotel in Wisconsin, about 200 miles short of my destination. Although I still felt sick, the next day, I managed to make it back to my parent's house. In total, it was a 30-day, 2500-mile odyssey.

When I arrived at my parent's house, I discovered that they were off to Europe. This was during their post-retirement, World travel, period. I think I slept most of that day and into the next, and felt somewhat better, rested at least.

My sister invited me over to the house she was living in, and we had a very nice home-cooked meal. Unfortunately towards the middle, I didn't feel so good and passed out on the couch (nice soft landing). They were concerned, but I felt better and made the short drive back home with no trouble.

The next day, I went with a friend to a shopping center. He was going into a store to look at something, but I didn't feel good, so I sat on a bench next to the entrance. When he came back, I was passed out on the bench, apparently quite pale, with an older woman looking at me with grave concern. Luckily he was driving, so he took me home.

Iím not sure why I didnít do this earlier, but I looked at my throat in a mirror and saw it was filled with white splotches. In retrospect, untreated Strep Throat explained everything. I found some expired penicillin in the bathroom, guessed on the dosage, and stayed in bed for several days. It was only then that I finally stopped napping inappropriately.

That fall, I enrolled in electronics school. I was there for two years, and because the van I had in Virginia fried the clutch when I got home, it sat there idle. I used the motorcycle for basic transportation. In the winter, I took the bus, and relied on the kindness of strangers. In all the time I owned it, this motorcycle never let me down. I did regular oil changes with good oil, kept an eye on the chain and tire pressures, and that was pretty much it. It was a good reliable bike, just not too well suited for going hundreds of miles in the same day.

Once done with electronics school, I had decided I couldn't handle Minnesota winters anymore, and was going to move back to Virginia. I sold this at the same time as the next bike on the list, using the money to get my van fixed, and to have money to buy another motocross bike

Previous Bike   Bike List   Next Bike

Revised August 2019