By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Westborough – When the odometer on Michael Fitzpatrick’s new Harley Davidson motorcycle hit 10,509 miles, he had checked off a big item on his bucket list: cruising cross country and back and then some. Fitzpatrick, 53, left his home in Westborough July 29, and returned 36 days later.
“I saw a lot of things I hadn’t seen – touching the road, smelling the states, feeling the temperature change with the elevation – it was an amazing personal experience,” said Fitzpatrick.
There were many physical and emotional challenges along the way: heat, rain, fatigue, issues with his hands, back, neck and hips, and the memory of his brother, who died in a motorcycle accident four years ago. There were also potential dangers such as equipment failure, road conditions and other drivers.
“I wanted to make a run for it while I could,” noted Fitzpatrick, a graduate of the prestigious North Bennet Street School in Boston and a master furniture maker.
He and his wife, Jean Keamy, an ophthalmologist, had planned a trip to California in August, and he wanted to go to the annual motorcycle rally that month in Sturgis, S.D.
Fitzpatrick bought his first Harley in the spring of 2014, and moved up to a bigger bike in June. With the help of two “consultants,” including a former truck driver, and routes recommended by HOG Magazine (Harley Owners Group), Fitzpatrick mapped out a general route, to the north out west, and the south back. He used a large map to mark spots where he would stop to visit family and friends, and see sites.
On day one, with road temps reaching 110 degrees, Fitzpatrick rode to Scranton, Penn. The next day, he shipped home 20 pounds of gear, and continued toward Lake Erie. By day six, he reached Sturgis, having already hit the 2,000-mile mark on his trip.
Out west, where the speed limits are 75 to 80 miles per hour, Fitzpatrick clocked two days riding more than 600 miles. On day nine, near the Wyoming and Montana state line, he first smelled fire.
What he was smelling was the massive outbreak of fires throughout the west that affected people in 10 states and burning more than one million acres.
He saw the smoke over Wyoming, but did not have to reroute his trip.
“I did smell smoke from Washington to San Francisco and washed soot off my face every day in California,” he said.
Day 19 proved to be the most challenging of his trip. Having ridden 630 slow miles over 17 hours, Fitzpatrick found himself at 11 p.m. riding through a redwood forest with no place to stay. His only company were the screeches of wild animals.
Twice, Fitzpatrick said, he swerved around a skunk, almost losing control of his bike. He knew that he had to stop and find shelter. His only option was the small cab of a bulldozer on a road constriction site. Fitzpatrick grabbed an hour-and-half of sleep before dawn, and then circled back to see the redwoods that he missed in the dark.
After a weeklong vacation with his wife in the San Francisco area, Fitzpatrick was back on the road, heading south on the California Coastal Highway. On his Facebook page he observed, “All reservoirs are very low, acres and acres of farmland [are] dead, signs everywhere declaring emergency.”
On the way home, Fitzpatrick rode through the Mohave Desert in 120–degree temperatures, and got caught in a torrential rainstorm in Arizona. He toured the Grand Canyon Skywalk, and visited the Four Corners Monument. He saw the country flatten in Kansas City, then arrived in Indianapolis to visit his brother, with a huge blister on his head from his helmet. Fitzpatrick said the once you get east of Pennsylvania, “it’s like someone waves a checkered flag and drivers drive crazy.”
Although Fitzpatrick said the he did not feel changed by the trip, he’s ready for his next adventure.
“I want to ride from the Canadian border down along the Mississippi,” he said.