Riding across America, letter by letter

August 28, 2013

Optometrist Wes Molenaar, OD, sees the USA as part of Harley-Davidson ABCs of Touring competition.

The natural beauty of Badlands National Park, SD, provided a scenic backdrop for Dr. Molenaar’s recent road trip. (Photos courtesy Wes Molenaar, OD)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the biggest challenges of Dr. Wes Molenaar’s life was tackling his fourth Harley-Davidson’s ABCs of Touring Contest, where he rode his 2004 Sportster Custom 1200 motorcycle 30,000 miles in 50 days. He visited 26 different cities, 25 different counties in 48 different states, 10 Canadian provinces, Mexico, and a variety of other locations. On one day, he traveled 1,100 miles, from Portland, ME, to St. John, IN, his hometown.

Dr. Molenaar, who practices optometry in Lansing, IL, wasn’t interested in the $500 grand prize or consolation prizes that were offered to the contest’s 1,000 participants who had earned enough points. He was in it simply for the experience, the thrill of it all.

“You look for excuses to go riding,” he said. “The contest bug bit me when I read about the annual ABCs of Touring in Harley’s HOG (Harley Owner's Group) magazine. I thought it would be interesting to have a challenge, an objective, when riding.”

Road rules

According to the contest rules, participants had 1 year to visit U.S. cities and counties so that, based on the first letter of each destination’s name, bikers would create an alphabetical itinerary of America. Participants could earn one point for each location documented with a photo, up to 26 points for cities and 25 points for counties (there isn’t a county in the country whose name begins with the letter X). Additional points could be earned by traveling to each of the 50 states; Harley-Davidson facilities; national parks; different countries; national forests; Canadian provinces, and the Annual HOG Rally-both U.S. and international. The biker with the most points won.

Although there’s a brotherhood among bikers, Harley put some safeguards in place. In order to qualify for points, participants had to submit photos of their bike-with an issue of Harley’s HOG magazine clipped to the bike’s seat or windshield-next to each county, city, and state sign.

“I drove to the easy locations first,” explained Dr. Molenaar. “My hometown is St. John, so that took care of the letter S. Then I drove to Lansing, where my practice is, which took care of the letter L. Then I found five or six towns a little farther away to take care of more letters.”

Proof positive that Dr. Molenaar visited Indiana.

 

One time, Dr. Molenaar was preparing to snap a photo of one city sign, but his magazine was nowhere to be found. He suddenly realized he had clipped it to the back of his bike’s seat when he stopped to shoot a photo in another town, 100 miles away. Apparently, he had driven off, completely forgetting about the magazine, which probably wound up laying on some dirt road or divided highway.

In his first three ABCs of Touring competitions, Dr. Molenaar earned between 36 and 79 points. Then, he decided to go all out for first place in 2009. He spent 3 months planning his 50-day adventure. He earned 150 points that year, enough for the $500 grand prize.

“I was about 200 miles from home. So, I found a State Farm office, asked the secretary to go online and print a picture of the Harley magazine’s front cover, and used that printout for my entry photo-which still counted,” he recalled.

Heat, hail, and stamina

While riding on the open road is one way to reduce stress, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate and sometimes has other plans.

When riding in New Mexico, Dr. Molenaar, who usually travels alone, met two riders on the highway. The temperature ranged between 55 degrees and 100 degrees as they drove up and down the winding mountain roads. After coming out of one mountain stretch, the three riders were suddenly trapped in a hailstorm. Marble-sized hail dropped from the sky. Visibility was zero. They were forced to pull over to the side of the highway, as did several 18-wheelers.

“I wanted to hunch down beside my bike so I wouldn’t get pummeled with hailstones,” he said. “But, I couldn’t let go of my bike because the wind would have blown it over. I had to stand there and get pelted for about 10 minutes. Then the sun came out. About a half mile ahead, I noticed a bridge we could have used for cover. But the storm hit so quickly that we had to stand there and endure it.”

At age 72, Dr. Molenaar appreciates that he still has the endurance to ride. He recently completed a road trip that started in Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore, both in South Dakota. From there, he was off to Estes Park, CO, to ride Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, the highest continuous paved road in the United States, which rises to elevations of more than 12,000 feet.

Dr. Molenaar still enters the Harley-Davidson ABCs of Touring Contest every year, however, at a more casual level. He’s not out to win first place again, but just for the fun of it.  Future competitions may be a different story, though. Dr. Molenaar has crisscrossed the U.S., visiting towns he had never heard of before and meeting people he will probably never see again.

Future road trips, however, will likely be simply for pleasure. After all, he explained, “How many times can you climb Mt. Everest?”ODT

Author Info

Wes Molenaar, OD, is in private practice in Lansing, IL. Contact Dr. Molenaar at drwes41@aol.com or 708/514-4211.

I wanted to hunch down beside my bike so I wouldn’t get pummeled with hailstones. But I couldn’t let go of my bike because the wind would have blown it over.

Wes Molenaar, OD