On a wing and a prayer: Alabama Gold Wing Association motorcycle riders on trip of a lifetime

On a wing and a prayer: Alabama Gold Wing Association motorcycle riders on trip of a lifetime
More than 100 Alabama Gold Wing Association riders headed out on the highway for the 10th annual '40 to Phoenix' cross-country tour. Riders are enjoying the sights, including snow in New Mexico, according to Danny Baker, state officer for membership enhancement for the Gold Wing Road Riders Association. The motorcyclists will visit Mexico and see the Pacific Ocean before heading home to their families. (Chris Brown/Alabama NewsCenter)

There’s nothing like riding the highway, the sun on your face, the wind at your back … just you and your buddies:

“Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way …” – Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild,” 1967

More than 100 members of the Alabama Gold Wing Association, including cyclists from other Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) chapters, are taking the ride of a lifetime.

On March 25, the Gold Wing motorcycle enthusiasts met in Wilmington, North Carolina, for the annual GWRRA cross-country tour. Some Gold Wingers came from as far away as Iowa, New Mexico, New York and Quebec, Ontario, to join in the 2,776-mile trek from Wilmington to Chula Vista, California.

Ten years ago, GWRRA’s four original bikers rode from Wilmington to Phoenix in only four days.

“We’re on our “40 to Phoenix’ trip,” paralleling I-40 from Wilmington, North Carolina, all the way from Arizona and into Phoenix,” said longtime Alabama Gold Wing member Danny Baker. “We’ll take 10 days, though.”

During the journey, club members will sleep in eight states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Dave Whortman, a rider from Elizabethton, Tennessee, said the trip is part of his “bucket list.”

Motorcyclists ate at Yo Mama’s Grill in Socorro, New Mexico. (Danny Baker)

“There’s a lot of camaraderie in the club,” said Whortman, who retired from Edward Jones Investments after 35 years of service. “One of the items on my list was to do some type of long-distance trip on my Gold Wing. I was reading about last year’s trip in the GWRRA magazine and I thought, that’s my ‘in.’ I knew that people in GWRRA are good, nice people, and I knew I’d be with others in the event that I would have a break down or whatever.

“I get to see this beautiful country of ours, one day at a time,” the former investments counselor said. Before leaving the Volunteer State, Whortman had a complete tune-up on his Gold Wing motorcycle to make sure it could handle the mileage.

‘Heavy metal thunder’

Riding about 5,552 miles on a cross-country motorcycle tour isn’t for the faint of heart. Indeed, Whortman agreed that stamina, endurance, sheer guts and determination are required.

“It’s fun, but you need to be mentally and physically prepared,” he said, with a laugh.

On March 28, the motorcyclists spent a grueling eight hours on the road, logging 410 miles on the first leg of their journey, on the way to Conway, Arkansas. The only stops: breakfast, lunch and breaks for “a quick snack, Coke or coffee” on the road. Most of the bikers pull heavy-duty, air-ride trailers loaded with soft drinks, bottled water and high-carbohydrate snacks for brief road stops.

“The longest day we had was last Thursday, when we left from Barber Motorsports in Leeds to ride to Conway, Arkansas,” Baker said. After the long drive, club members wound down with a barbecue cookout at a Day’s Inn, where many stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, talking about the trip.

“It’s been a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing for me,” Baker said, recalling his excitement at reaching snowy Moriarty, New Mexico, on March 31. “I had on my winter Thermosuit. I was prepared for the cold.”

Riders converged in Phoenix, Arizona, on April 3 for a tour of GWRRA International Headquarters. GWRRA has more than 72,000 U.S., Canadian and international members, with more than 800 chapters that foster safe, enjoyable riding. Alabama has 14 GWRRA chapters.

After a day of sightseeing, club members rested at a Days Inn. On April 4, they’ll be “hugging the road” to Chula Vista, with plans to enjoy a beach weekend.

Baker plans to “dip his toes in the Pacific Ocean” and fill a couple of bottles with sand and salt water.

“I’m going to make a little memorial for my Dad,” said Baker, 68. “He saw the Pacific Ocean, but never got in.”

They’ll visit Mexico on April 5, with more beach time planned for April 6. Finally, on April 7, riders will begin the journey home to their families.

Alabama Gold Wing riders look for adventure, find it on cross-country odyssey from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Safety on highways and byways

“This ride is a dream come true for many of us,” said Baker, a member of the Hueytown chapter of GWRRA for more than 30 years. He bought his first Honda Gold Wing in 1986.

He enjoys helping teach the community to ride safely. GWRRA has more than 72,000 U.S., Canadian and international members, with more than 800 chapters that foster safe, enjoyable riding. Alabama has 14 GWRRA chapters.

“We promote a positive image of cycling,” said Baker, GWRRA’s state officer for membership enhancement. “I’ve rode pretty steadily since 1985. It’s therapeutic. You become almost one with the road.”

Baker has devoted much of his spare time through GWRRA in helping educate people about the importance of motorcycle safety. The GWRRA’s rider education program, Riding Safely and Sharing the Road, helps keep motorcycle riders and drivers cognizant about possible road hazards.

Baker, who sports bright, neon yellow and green clothing while motorcycling, shares safety tips with his riding buddies. To prevent traffic congestion, the bikers are riding in groups of seven, leaving at staggered times.

“Every morning before we leave, we have a little discussion on how we’re going to ride safely during the day, based on any route we want to take or anything we’d like to stop and see,” Baker said. “I say a prayer before I get on my motorcycle.”

“We look out for each other,” he added. “We have a good time together, being safe and enjoying good company while riding. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.”

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