, Salem, MA

July 11, 2013

Motorcyclist riding cross-country for a cause stops in Beverly


---- — BEVERLY — Bob Burlison called his decision to buy a motorcycle about 10 years ago an “epiphany.” His wife used another description.

“She calls it a midlife crisis,” Burlison said.

Whether inspiration or desperation, Burlison’s determination to become a motorcycle rider ultimately brought him to Beverly this week as part of a charity ride that will take him to 48 states.

Burlison, a 60-year-old lawyer from La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., pulled up at the Cummings Center on his 700-pound BMW bike to attend the regular meeting of the Kiwanis Club at Acapulcos restaurant.

Burlison is more than halfway through a ride of more than 12,000 miles across the country and back — a ride he hopes will be recognized by the Guinness World Records. The ride is designed to raise awareness and money to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus, a preventable disease that kills nearly 60,000 newborns a year, mainly due to inadequate immunization in developing countries.

“I decided I wanted to do something that had some significance to someone that wasn’t me,” Burlison said. “And I love motorcycle riding.”

The cause is a joint effort between Kiwanis International and UNICEF. Burlison, a member of his hometown Kiwanis Club, is traveling to clubs in 48 states, often staying for the night in the home of a fellow Kiwanian. The Kiwanis Club of Beverly has pledged $21,000 to the cause.

Burlison’s trip started on Memorial Day in La Cañada and has thus far gone through 27 states. According to a website devoted to the trip, his daily rides have ranged from a high of 462 miles (from St. George, Utah, to Rock Springs, Wyo.) to a low of 41 miles (Washington, D.C., to Baltimore).

In Kansas, Burlison was greeted by a cheering crowd of 90 people. He has been given motorcycle escorts into towns by various organizations, including the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group.

His BMW bike goes for $35,000 and offers a comfortable ride. Burlison has cruise control, GPS, satellite radio, a Bluetooth phone that allows him to talk while he’s riding, and an iPod with 10,000 songs.

“This bike has everything but birth control,” he said.

The ride is so relaxing that he almost fell asleep at one point.

“It’s exhausting, not so much the actual rides but the meetings (with Kiwanians) and packing and unpacking all my stuff,” he said. “Mentally I’m excited. I like talking to people. The two things I didn’t anticipate would happen is that I would be so tired at night, and that after 33 years of marriage how much I would miss my wife.”

Burlison said he’s been awed by the big blue sky in states like Wyoming and Kansas. “You don’t see that in California with all the haze,” he said. He’s had no accidents, no breakdowns, and one speeding ticket.

Burlison was headed to Standish, Maine, after his Beverly stop and planned to spend the night there. His ride is scheduled to end Aug. 28 back in California.

His 85-year-old mother will ride with him on one of the final legs of the trip, from Seattle to Reno.

“She doesn’t like motorcycles,” he said. “We’ll have a car with us in case she changes her mind.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or