While filling up his motorcycle at a gas station in Canada, Gainesville resident David Waldrip became aware of the sound of thunder filling the sunny summer afternoon. He and his friend looked around to see 50 to 80 Hells Angels approaching.
“One guy pulls up to me, touches his tire to my rear tire — which is not a normal practice,” Waldrip said. “I turn around and he has Hells Angels tattooed across his forehead.”
Waldrip, unaware of the motorcycle club’s classification as an organized crime group by the U.S. Department of Justice, thought it would be fun to take a picture with them. His friend, whose nickname is Bear Claw, thought otherwise.
Bear Claw spoke through a helmet-to-helmet communication system to Waldrip, telling him they should leave.
The two men drove off without incident. His friend, who is a Connecticut police officer and wished not to be identified, later told Waldrip they were in a tight spot on their BMW motorcycles.
“I didn’t feel scared, but we were definitely outnumbered,” Waldrip said. “These weren’t the friendliest-looking guys ever. Who knows, they may have been great folks.”
This was one of several experiences Waldrip encountered during his 38-day motorcycle trip from Gainesville to Alaska during summer 2016. And this was from one single outing. Waldrip has more stories to tell.
“This was my sixth adventure,” he said. “I just get on my bike and I go in a certain direction with no plans and see where it takes me.”
Waldrip’s 86-year-old neighbor, Carolyn Burt, inspired him to head toward Alaska. The woman who was a military wife previously lived in The Last Frontier state and encouraged him to make the cross-country journey.
“I thought Alaska is a long way away and that is a rough, tough piece of land to go to alone,” he said.
He still went, but detoured to the Empire State first.
In late July, Waldrip set off on his 2016 BMW GS adventure motorcycle for a BMW motorcycle rally in Buffalo, N.Y. From there he trekked north into Canada and then west to Alaska.
A friend rode with him for several days from Buffalo, but Waldrip made most of the trip alone.
Waldrip said he always travels solo, because it’s hard to find others who can take off for months at a time. He said he also meets more people when he’s traveling alone.
When Waldrip sets off on these adventures, he always wants to take his dual-sport bike.
“I like the bike because it puts you in the elements,” he said, pointing out the advantage is it can easily switch to an off-road trail. “You just really experience things totally different and I think it’s the most freeing way to travel in the world.”
But someone else described a motorcycle trip better than he could.
“Somebody once said the difference between riding in a car and on a motorcycle is in a car you’re watching a movie, but on a motorcycle you’re staring in the movie,” he said.
Waldrip said traveling on a motorcycle allows people to interact with him more. And meeting people along his routes is one of his favorite parts.
He said when people see his Georgia tags on his muddy bike on the West Coast, they ask if the 32-year-old rode there. Then they hear his accent, he said, and will tell him they used to ride a bike, or will when their kids grow up.
“You have those interactions wherever you go and that’s fun,” he said. “The people are the best part.”
Waldrip started riding motorcycles in 2011. He was looking for a motorized scooter to get him from his home to downtown Gainesville office when a co-worker suggested he look into a real motorcycle. After some thought he took a course, researched dual-sport bikes, earned his license and bought a used bike off Craigslist.
But for him, exploring the world is why he rides — not a need for speed.
“Going fast is scary,” he said. “For me, adventure touring is more for seeing things — the sights, places, trying new food and meeting people.”
Burgers are Waldrip’s favorite food, and on the road everyone does things a little differently. (But in his opinion, the best local burgers are at Collegiate Grill or Luna’s Restaurant in downtown Gainesville.) Colorado has “yummy” bison burgers, North Carolina has barbecue and Canada has french fries and gravy.
With his friendly nature, people he meets on the road will even invite him to stay with them or join him for dinner. He said those kinds of interactions are normal on his adventures versus regular trips or vacations.
But Waldrip does maintain a safety plan while on the road. Throughout his trip, he checks in with his parents, friends and co-workers as cell phone coverage allows. Sometimes it was days between messages, especially while traveling in the Yukon Territory. But he uses a satellite tracker to keep track of his location for safety.
David’s father, Jack Waldrip, thinks his son is brave, young man.
“I think he’s doing things that he loves to do and I’m proud of him that he has the courage,” Jack said. “He’s getting to do what most people will never do in their lifetime and that’s see the country, and also see it in a way, on back roads and areas that most of us will never get to see.”
David sends photos and videos of his trips back to his parents, which sometimes makes Jack nervous. Jack said the images are unbelievable, but sometimes show him driving down narrow gravel roads without guard rails and with 5,000-foot drop-offs.
“One wrong move could end his life,” Jack said.
But still David follows his passion in adventure touring, especially since he can go as fast as he likes on the motorcycle. Getting up every morning and knowing all he has to do is ride a motorcycle is another favorite part of his trips.
David said he’s thought about going to the BMW rally, which will be in mid-July in Utah. If he’s too busy with his job as an investment real estate agent at Waldrip Properties, it may be 2018 before his next adventure trip.
“They say that adventure will kill you. I say routine will kill you. The feeling of freedom is very special. It’s pure freedom and I like that.”