Easy riders travel the scenic route on motorcycle Couple have ridden their bike across country HOWARD COUNTY SENIORS

October 27, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

With the wind in their hair and enough clothing for five to seven days, Walt Hammond, 59, and his wife, Alda, 58, love to hit the road on their maroon Honda Goldwing motorcycle, leaving their West Friendship home far behind.

So far, the odometer of the 10-year-old bike registers 90,000 miles. The couple's longest trip was a 6,400-mile, 12-day trek to California a decade ago.

In June of this year, they logged 607 miles per day during a weeklong trip to the western states, including Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

"We lost about 15 minutes under a bridge waiting for the rain to end," recalled Mr. Hammond, who retired six years ago from his job as a field engineer with the IBM Corp. "We've never lost a whole rain day."

They have been riding together since he was 16 and she was 15, raising three children along the way, all the while retaining a love for the open road and the rumble of a well-tuned motorcycle engine.

The attraction is "the feeling of freedom and being next to nature," said Mr. Hammond.

But their seemingly care-free jaunts require planning and logistics worthy of a military campaign.

For instance, since they don't want to leave on a trip in bad weather, the cyclists spend about three weeks before a trip studying weather reports.

"Our neighbors have asked us why we can't always leave on the planned departure date," Mrs. Hammond said. "They don't understand that our vacations are governed by the weather."

To keep abreast of conditions while on the road, the Hammonds take along a digital thermometer and a scanner to help them track storms. In case of rain, they are prepared with rubberized rain suits.

And, sometimes, the weather forces them to change the itinerary en route, which happened during their seven-day trip to the West in June.

"We were planning to go to Fargo, N.D. -- the last of the contiguous 48 states we hadn't ridden to -- but temperatures of 47 degrees aborted that and we came back home," Mr. Hammonds said.

In addition to weather watching, their preparations include planning the various routes and the overnight stays at motels.

"We try to find a motel that has a laundry," he said. "You can't be afraid of a little dirt or water; the first thing you do after traveling all day is to wash your face and try not to look at the washcloth."

Packing has become some what of an art for a couple who must fit all their travel clothing, including two pairs of spare shoes, into two compartments, one on the motorcycle's rear and the other at its side.

For warm weather, Mrs. Hammond packs enough clothing for seven days. She wears light-colored cotton pants and tops, and black tennis shoes, because white shoes get too dirty when she is riding.

Her husband wears jeans, a T-shirt and motorcycle boots that nTC protect his legs from stones that kick up from the highway.

When temperatures turn cold, the Hammonds wear double layers of jeans and sweat pants, with layers of newspapers in between to provide insulation. And during the winter months, they wear leather pants and jackets.

A Girl Scout "ditty bag" -- a 6-inch by 8-inch bag with a drawstring -- serves for toiletries, sunscreen, medicine and cosmetics.

For emergency maintenance, the Hammonds carry spark plugs, a clutch cable and a small tool kit that came with the vehicle. "We've never had a breakdown on the cycle," Mr. Hammond said.

Although the Hammonds buy most of their food along the way, Mrs. Hammond keeps a plastic bottle of distilled water within easy reach. She also stashes snacks in a pouch around her waist to "keep awake."

But she admits that during long trips she occasionally snoozes on the back of the bike. When that happens, the clang of her nodding helmet against her husband's jolts her awake -- and lets Mr. Hammond know that it's time for a break.

Because of her diminutive stature, the 5-foot, 1-inch Mrs. Hammond never drives the motorcycle, which weighs around 1,100 pounds, including the two of them and their luggage.

"My feet don't touch the ground," she laughed.

After each trip, the Hammonds keep a detailed account of the journey on computer, including travel time, routes and mileage on each leg.

In September, they rode through Pennsylvania, New York, New England and New Jersey. They sometimes stick closer to home for outings, such as the recent 185-mile day trip to Martinsburg, W.Va., to view the fall foliage.

"It's a great way to do it," Mrs. Hammond said. "There are no car windows or roofs to obstruct the view."

Other trips include visits to their daughter and their son and grandson in Maryland, and to their son and grandson and granddaughter in Connecticut.

Having learned to love the carefree lifestyle, Mrs. Hammond makes sure she is ready to roar off at a moment's notice.

"I've let my hair stay gray," Mrs. Hammond said. "I always keep it short so I can tuck it under a helmet and away we go."

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