Biking with the boys: Arnn reflects on 2,400 mile motorcycle journey

Biking with the boys: Arnn reflects on 2,400 mile motorcycle journey


There are two things to know before taking a cross-country motor­cycle trip. First, take the back roads, not the inter­state highways. Second, don’t let your motor­cycle break down once you’re on those back roads.

When Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn took a motor­cycle trip from Michigan to Cal­i­fornia this past summer, his group let the second rule slide — three times.

“It was a com­plete dis­grace, it was won­derful,” Arnn said regarding one of the incidents.

Arnn had con­sidered a motor­cycle trip several times in the last few years, but college duties pre­vented him from making the trip a reality. When Hillsdale College Board of Trustees member Bruce Sanborn sug­gested the trip this summer, Arnn was pre­pared to decline again. He ulti­mately decided to go for it to cel­e­brate the 30th birthday of his son Henry, who had never been on a motor­cycle trip before.

The Arnns and Bruce Sanborn were joined by Sanborn’s son Ted Sanborn, Vice Pres­ident for External Affairs Doug Jeffrey, Chief Admin­is­trative Officer Rich Péwé, and Arnn’s longtime friend, Greg Palen.

“A long motor­cycle trip is hard,” Jeffrey said. “You go through bad weather and it’s not always fun. But when you get where you’re going at night, there’s a great feeling of sat­is­faction. And when you’re with a whole bunch of guys like that, there’s a lot of banter along the way that’s funny, amusing, and some­times intel­ligent. It was a manly crowd.”

It was par­tic­u­larly easy to joke around as the crew stopped time after time due to motor­cycle chal­lenges. When Péwé expe­ri­enced elec­trical issues, Jeffrey com­mented, “When you go with anyone driving a Harley Davidson, you’ve got to expect that.”

Palen, Victory Motor­cycles Chairman, was riding the newest Victory Motor­cycle available. When he lost his key fob, which was nec­essary to start the bike, there was nowhere he could go for a new one. He decided to try the alter­native method, a push code, but didn’t know the numbers to press. It was only at Arnn’s urging that he hung up the Victory Motor­cycles hotline and called his old sec­retary there instead, speeding up the process.

While Palen dealt with the key fob, Arnn bought his son a new bike, a more com­fortable alter­native to the cruiser bike he had been using.

“If you sit on these motor­cycles all day long cov­ering a lot of ground with the wind blowing, you need a big bike, and you need the right bike,” Arnn said.

Only the two Arnns stayed for the entire weeklong trip. Although many of them had traveled across the country on motor­cycles before, they still requested certain stops. Péwé asked to stop at Mount Rushmore, Jeffrey wanted to see the Custer Bat­tle­field, and Arnn caught his first glimpse of Old Faithful.

They spent an entire day in the Black Hills of South Dakota enjoying the water­falls, winding roads, and at one point, an ele­vation of almost 7,000 feet.

“When you’re on a motor­cycle, you can smell things that you can’t smell in a car,” Péwé said. “You can see things you can’t see in a car. Your per­spective is dif­ferent. So if somebody’s got a fire in their fire­place, you can smell it. You can feel the tem­per­ature changes. If you’re going down, you can feel the air change, you can feel the mug­giness of it, and you can kind of sense your envi­ronment. And when the roads are windy and the scenery is beau­tiful, it’s almost sublime.”

In addition to the views and the time to think, Arnn enjoyed seeing buffalo.

“Do you want to be a buffalo rancher?” He asked. “’Cause I do.”

He’s seen buffalo several times before, but was still thrilled to be only 30 feet away from one of the “majestic” creatures.

“He was eating a little, but mostly he was just looking. Noticing me was quite beneath him. He snorted one crisp morning and there was a big cloud, and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get one of those,’” Arnn said.

He spent most of his time thinking, but many of the others lis­tened to books on tape, par­tic­u­larly Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove.” A western novel detailing a group of retired Texas Rangers driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana, the book was appro­priate for the trip.

“In a lot of ways, people describe riding a motor­cycle as riding a horse,” Péwé said. “When you’re riding a horse, you can’t let it be in control. If you’re riding a motor­cycle, you can’t be a kind of halfway about it. You have to take control of it and be confident.”

They ate at unique diners and stayed at cheap hotels. When all of the restau­rants were closed one night, they ate gas station food.

“We had a six pack of beer so it was fine,” Jeffrey said.

The weather pro­vides a chal­lenge and as Péwé pointed out, “you gotta like yourself,” since you spend so many hours with your thoughts. Though the 10 hours of driving were long, Arnn said it was worth it for the fellowship.

“I loved all of it — I even liked the prairie, although not while we were doing it,” Arnn said.

“If you have the right people (and these are all friends of mine, won­derful people), it’s hard and it’s funny.”

Despite the chal­lenges, Péwé, Jeffrey and Arnn all agreed it was worth it.

“You’ve got to take care of yourself. If some­thing happens to your bike, it’s bad for everyone,” Péwé said. “You’re kind of exposed to the ele­ments, and there’s a cama­raderie about that.”