During his decade as Waco’s city manager, Larry Groth daydreamed of leaving behind the cares of the city for a cross-country motorcycle odyssey.
This summer, he scratched that itch. Riding on a Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited that community leaders gifted him on his 2014 retirement, he set off in late July on a journey hitting the four corner states of the continental United States.
In 11 days, stopping only to eat, sleep and fuel his motorcycle, he made tracks on 7,995 miles of American asphalt before returning Aug. 5 to his country home near Lorena.
“When I pulled up, my wife said, ‘You couldn’t just drive five more miles?’ ” Groth said. “But if you say 8,000, it sounds made up.”
Groth said some friends suggested he might not be quite right in the head to want to drive 700 miles a day through rain and blistering heat. But Groth, 64, a lifelong biker, wanted to take on the challenge while he was still in good health.
“It’s not a destination ride. It’s almost an endurance ride,” he said. “In my mind, I thought it would be fun to do the longest trip I’ve ever done and to catch the four corners of the United States. All the way through, I made mental notes of places I want to come back when I can spend some time.”
Sticking mainly to interstate freeways, Groth started his journey east through the Deep South, then turned near Pensacola, Florida, and headed north along the eastern seaboard to Maine. He ventured west to Chicago and beyond to Montana and eastern Oregon, then wound through California and several mountain states and back into West Texas, where he was greeted with 106-degree temperatures.
In all, he visited 34 states, including many he had never seen. Groth said the view from America’s interstates is surprisingly varied, from the lush green hills of Virginia to the farmland of New York and the craggy landscapes of Montana.
“There are some really beautiful interstates,” he said.
Groth’s wife, Donna Groth, tracked his progress through an online app and waited for regular calls from her husband to make sure he wasn’t in trouble.
She had accompanied him on some motorcycle trips in the past, but she wasn’t thrilled about this idea.
“He asked me how I felt about it, and I said, ‘Honestly, I don’t want you to go but I don’t want to be the reason you don’t go,’ ” she said.
“He’d been talking about it, and if he’s happy, I’m happy. It’s just something beyond my ken, something I don’t understand, like Christopher Columbus going to sea. When I travel, I want to enjoy, not endure.”
Groth also sent occasional selfies to friends, including City Manager Dale Fisseler.
Fisseler said Groth’s post-retirement activities — including this trip and building a log cabin home on his rural homestead near Lorena — are not surprising to anyone who knows him.
“He’s such a workaholic. He’s not able to not work,” Fisseler said. “He seems to be attacking retirement like he did the job.”
Groth said that though his stops were few, he enjoyed several of them. In a coastal Maine town, he managed to find a seafood restaurant so obscure it wasn’t on Google Maps, and he enjoyed his first lobster roll.
In Rockford, Illinois, he stopped to get routine service on his bike at Kegel Harley-Davidson, which at age 104 is the oldest Harley dealership in the world. The staff there nicknamed him “Long Rider.”
He stopped in Sturgis, South Dakota, and was able to ride around a downtown he had only seen during its world- famous rallies.
In the desolate barrens of eastern Oregon, he finally found a hotel just before dark in a tiny town called Ukiah. The Antler Inn, an old hunting lodge covered outside with antlers and stocked inside with taxidermied animals, didn’t have TVs or other modern conveniences, but people were friendly and eager to learn about his adventure.
“That was the best night’s sleep I had,” Groth said.
In Utah, surrounded by salt flats to the horizon, Groth saw his engine light go on and worried he might get stranded. He made it to the Salt Lake City dealership, which found that it was a glitch with a sensor.
“They washed my bike and sent me on my way and didn’t charge me anything,” he said.
Groth said he initially saw the trip as a personal challenge, but he returned to Waco with a new sense of wonder at the world.
“It was really a spiritual renewal,” he said. “Every state had something to offer. I was amazed at the unbelievable beauty all along the way that God created and at how we can enjoy this unbelievable country. It was really refreshing.”