Tag Archives: Favorite Rides

Minnesota Lakes Loop | Favorite Ride

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Skyline Parkway Scenic Byway provides stunning views of downtown Duluth and Lake Superior. Photo by Alyssa Hei.

Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, is ranked 12th among U.S. states in terms of land area but 9th in terms of water within its borders. This favorite ride visits the largest – Lake Superior – and others in a 200-mile loop that starts and ends in Duluth and has Ely at its northernmost point.

This simple day ride has evolved. I’ve ridden it at least once a summer for more than 30 years, starting with a 1978 BMW R100, then a 1981 BMW R80GS, and currently a 2007 BMWR1200R. Just as those bikes have changed, so has the road.

Minnesota Lakes Loop

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It’s not my favorite ride, either. I don’t have a favorite ride, other than the next one. This is because every time I ride, I feel noticeably better. For me, there is nothing like the calming, clarifying effect of self-directed motion, and riding a motorcycle might be the richest delivery system for obtaining this benefit ever devised. So, commute riding to work, or around this loop, it’s all the same. Every ride is my favorite ride.

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Minnesota Lakes Loop
Located at Two Harbors, Split Rock Lighthouse opened in 1909 and sits on a 130-foot cliff overlooking Lake Superior. Photo by Paul Vincent.

Starting from Duluth, at Canal Park, proceed along the North Shore of Lake Superior on State Route 61 to Two Harbors. Turn left and start riding due north on County Road 2. (Alternatively, you can ride farther up the shore, and a few miles past Silver Bay you’ll come to Illgen City, which isn’t actually a city, or even a town or village. It’s just a T-intersection where State Route 1 begins. There you turn left.)

Minnesota Lakes Loop
The largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior covers nearly 32,000 square miles. Riding along its North Shore is a highlight of this route.

The ride is fairly flat along the North Shore, but it climbs as it heads inland, and soon you are surrounded by a second-generation forest of Norway pine, white birch, alder, and spruce. It’s as remote and empty-feeling a forest landscape as you’ll find anywhere in Alaska, Canada, or Siberia.

After heading north for 46 miles, County Road 2 dead-ends at Route 1. Hang a left toward Ely. Wildlife you might encounter includes white-tailed deer, moose, timber wolves, black bears, beavers, racoons, squirrels, loons, blackbirds, bald eagles, and a variety of ducks, geese, grouse, and partridge. Human encounters will be loggers driving big trucks, fishermen carrying rooftop canoes, occasional lumbering motorhomes, and a few Subaru-driving campers and hikers. There’s also a thin smattering of settlers and a couple little roadhouse bars.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
After turning north at Two Harbors, this route enters a vast, empty part of northeastern Minnesota, passing by a few of the state’s 10,000 lakes. County Road 2 is mostly straight, but State Route 1 winds its way gracefully through dense forest that’s home to plenty of wildlife but few people. Keep your wits about you and be prepared for emergencies, because it’s a remote area without many services.
Minnesota Lakes Loop

This old Route 1 has evolved. Back in the 1980s, its asphalt surface was shoulderless, rough, narrow, and already worn out, with plenty of tight 15-25 mph banked and closely linked corners which were fun to try at 30-45 mph. It was like a bumpier, frost-damaged version of the Tail of the Dragon, with enough kinks, tight corners, and expansion heaves to make any hard-ridden bike’s shocks and tires a little warm. Back then, this road was so tight, and for such long stretches, it was a great training area for young riders wanting to improve their skills. The mature forest whizzed by only a few feet from your elbows and knees, greatly adding to the sensation of speed. Boy, was it ever fun. No time to lollygag by looking into narrow clearings flashing by, or across the numerous small lakes, streams, and ponds, hoping to spot exotic wildlife. Nope, I’ve never seen a single moose up there, or a wolf, yet that is where a bunch of them are known to live. Eyes on the road.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Photo by Alyssa Hei

Not much of that fun old stretch of highway remains today. Most of it has been improved and widened to modern standards for the convenience and safety of loggers, fisherman, tourists, and locals. It’s still all scenic and curvy, but now it’s dozens of smoothly linked, higher-speed sweepers, and most of the sides include nice shoulders with decent runoffs. Those unyielding rocks and trees of the primordial forest are now at least 10 to 12 feet away from your elbows. Thanks, MnDOT. Well done. You’ve transformed a hillbilly hooligan-rider’s haven into a delightful sport-touring and touring rider’s experience.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Throughout downtown Ely are 19 different murals, including “The End of An Era,” which celebrates the town’s mining history.

The apogee of this loop is the city of Ely, famous partly for mining but mostly as a jump-off point for canoe trippers wanting to paddle the endless lakes and rivers of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and explore Voyageurs National Park. With a little portaging here and there, you can just about paddle all the way to the Rockies, and in the 1700s lots of hard men did just that to trade with the natives for beaver pelts, which were in great fashion-demand across Europe then.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Ely is a charming little town on the edge of Minnesota’s vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

You can purchase locally handmade moose-hide mukluks, choppers, custom canoe paddles, and all kinds of gallery artwork and camping gear in Ely, so allow some walkabout time. There’s also a park, a theater, camping, motels, and cottages if you are inclined to linger overnight. Delicious sit-down meals are offered at several nice joints. You can choose from two brands of gasoline and even buy the no-ethanol premium most older bikes like best. The vibe is Western ski town without mountains, just an endless, roadless wilderness of lakes and forests as far as you can dream. Or paddle.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Built in the early 1900s, the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge connects the city of Duluth with Minnesota Point on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Photo by Alyssa Hei.

To get back to Duluth, ride west through Ely on Route 1, turn left (south) on S. Central Avenue (County Road 21), and ride about 30 miles to the town of Embarrass. Just to the west, turn south again on State Route 135. Follow signs for Aurora via CSAH (County State Aid Highway) 100, and continue to County Road 4, known as the Vermilion Trail, which was first cut as an overland pack-horse wagon trail into this canoe country. At intervals are several worn little iron-mining towns, a scattering of hardscrabble survival settlers, and a few more always-welcoming taverns. Before you know it, you’re back in the mini metropolis of Duluth.

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Favorite Ride: Vermont Border Run

Vermont Border Run
The landscape around Lake Willoughby is stunning.

A few years ago, Rider published my article about riding Vermont Route 100 from south to north, ending at the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the U.S./Canada border. Someone wrote a letter to the editor asking how I got back. U.S. Route 5 runs along the east side of Vermont, and it happens to be another one of my favorite rides. It has all the elements of a great motorcycle road: beautiful scenery, fine curves, light traffic, and nice places to stop along the way. For this ride, I am again starting at the Massachusetts border and heading north, but it can also be run in reverse.

Vermont Border Run

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I cross from Massachusetts into Vermont just south of Guilford, and the road almost immediately plunges into the woods, curling back and forth around the trees, a preview of what’s to come. First, I pass through Brattleboro. With 12,000 residents, it’s the largest town I’ll encounter today. Downtown consists of about three blocks of century-old brick buildings. It’s a little congested, but as soon as I clear the roundabout at the junction with State Route 9, everything eases up and I’m into rural Vermont in search of coffee.

Vermont Border Run
Just one of the many wonderful curves on U.S. Route 5.

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Putney General Store bills itself as Vermont’s oldest general store. It has creaky floors, good food, and – most importantly – good coffee. Properly caffeinated, I’m on my way, and U.S. 5 reveals its true character: rising, falling, and curving through the landscape. I lose myself in its rhythm.

Vermont Border Run
These petroglyphs are believed to have been carved by the Abenaki hundreds of years ago.

In Bellows Falls, the falls don’t bellow anymore. The river was dammed in 1802 to aid with upstream navigation. Down near the river, a mysterious row of faces is carved into the rocks. The petroglyphs are believed to have been carved by the Abenaki hundreds of years ago. Curiously, a couple of the faces appear to have antennae. Evidence of an extraterrestrial visit? I ponder the question as I head out of town.

Vermont Border Run
The Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge is the longest two-span covered bridge in the world.

U.S. 5 resumes its swooping, twisting, and turning as it tunnels through the trees. Nothing is too tight or unexpected, just a wonderful ride, and I drink it all in. There is a zig and a zag in Springfield before the enjoyment continues to the American Precision Museum in Windsor. It’s housed in the Robbins and Lawrence Armory, where they developed the concept of interchangeable parts in the 1840s. One display in the museum is a belt-driven machine that turns gunstocks. As the blank for the stock spins, the cutters gracefully move in and out. The accompanying video is mesmerizing. In addition to many machine tools, they also have Bridgeport milling machine serial number 001 – if you’re a gearhead, you’ll understand its significance.

Vermont Border Run
The American Precision Museum houses tools from the birthplace of modern manufacturing.

Past Windsor, the road resumes its rhythm as it carves up around a golf course. All along the way, I pass small farms with their quintessential red barns. Some have stands selling fresh veggies, and I pick up some tomatoes and sweet corn.

White River Junction, where the White River joins the Connecticut, has long been a transportation hub. The arrival of the railroad in the 19th century cemented its status. Today, it’s at the junction of Interstates 89 and 91 as well as U.S. Routes 4 and 5. All the amenities are near the highway interchange, and it’s easy to miss downtown, but with several restaurants to choose from, it’s a great spot for lunch.

Vermont Border Run
One of the many small farms along U.S. 5.

A sign in the window at Dan & Whit’s General Store in Norwich declares, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!” Whether you are looking for an alarm clock or beer pong supplies, they have it. The paint department? It’s in a room behind the deli. Keep going and you’ll find a huge hardware section. The variety of stuff crammed into the space is remarkable, and it’s easy to get lost among the hams and hammers and hammocks.

Leaving Norwich, there is a change. The hurry is gone, and I glide effortlessly around the curves, passing by narrow valley farms and through the villages of Thetford, Fairlee, Bradford, Newbury, and Wells River. In Barnet, there is another perceptible change as U.S. 5 parts ways with the Connecticut River and starts following the smaller Passumpsic River. The curves are tighter, the hills are closer, and at one point, U.S. 5 slips between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-91 for a bit.

Vermont Border Run
There is a “North Country” feel here close to the border.

In St. Johnsbury, State Route 5A splits off as it passes the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum and the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium. Both 19th-century edifices were built by the Fairbanks family. Their Fairbanks Scales Company changed how commerce was done, and the family spent much of their fortune locally. Fine Victorian architecture lines both sides of the road here.

After Lyndonville, U.S. 5 cuts through the landscape to West Burke, where I follow State Route 5A toward Lake Willoughby. The lake is the crown jewel of this ride. Nestled between Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor, it resembles a Norwegian fjord. The road runs up the east side, perched precariously between lake and ledge.

Vermont Border Run
With the border just ahead, it’s time to turn around.

Past Lake Willoughby, there is a “North Country” feel. The rivers flow north toward the St. Lawrence River, the landscape is more open, and the trees seem shorter. Route 5A reconnects with U.S. 5 in Derby Center and heads for the Canadian border at Derby Line. There, within sight of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, not far from the border, is a sign that declares “End 5.” Just beyond is Quebec and a large sign that says “Bonjour.” It’s time to head back. Maybe I’ll take Route 100.

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Favorite Ride: Seneca Rocks, West Virginia

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
Behind our bikes is Seneca Rocks, a crag that towers 900 feet above the North Fork River and is one of the best-known natural features in West Virginia. Photos by the author.

It’s not until we exit Interstate 81, run through some gears on U.S. Route 48, and catch a whiff of dew-covered fields that I feel like we’ve arrived. Craig, a friend from college who lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia, has a pass for the weekend, so he came down for a ride with me to Seneca Rocks through “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia. He’s on his 2000 Harley Road King and I’m on my 2011 Triumph Sprint GT.

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Our starting point is Manassas, in northern Virginia, and the fastest route west to the Appalachians is Interstate 66, followed by a three-mile hop on I-81 before we exit and turn onto U.S. 48.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride

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Once off the interstate, everything changes. Time – and our speed – slows down, giving us the opportunity to notice our surroundings. Simple houses have cinder-block foundations and detached garages. Folks out here don’t walk behind wimpy electric mowers, and they don’t put grass clippings in bags. Out here they proudly ride large gas-powered mowers, with clippings flung far and wide across expansive yards. We take in that unmistakable smell of freshly cut grass – it smells like summertime.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
Nestled in the Appalachians, Seneca Rocks is part of Monongahela National Forest.

U.S. 48 is two-lane road with farmland on both sides for about five miles before ascending through the forest and over the ridgeline that serves as the border between Virginia and West Virginia. It’s a quick descent on a 9% grade to Wardensville, where 48 gets a major makeover and becomes a four-lane divided highway. Before the superhighway starts, we divert to Old Route 55 (McCauley Road) and wind our way through the shaded Lost River valley.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
Old West Virginia Route 55 (McCauley Road), which winds along the forested course of the Lost River, is a more enjoyable ride than the straighter, faster U.S. Route 48.

We hop back on 48 just before Baker and make our way to Moorefield, where we head south on Main Street (U.S. Route 220). The road flattens out through more farmland, but mountains on all sides feed our anticipation of future switchbacks. At Petersburg, we continue west on State Route 28 and follow the North Fork South Branch Potomac River, which carved one of the many gaps through the mountains.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride

Heading south, we catch glimpses of Champe Rocks, a pair of vertical crags that emerge from the Champe Knobs in the Allegheny Mountains. Roughly 230 million years ago, rock that was once at the bottom of the sea was pushed up until it became vertical. Softer rock eventually eroded, but the quartzite that makes up the fin-looking outcroppings is much harder and still stands today. The rocks are within the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area in the Monongahela National Forest. Cabin rental advertisements along the road speak to the great fishing, canoeing, hiking, and camping to be found nearby.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
After cresting High Knob and crossing back into Virginia, we descended through a cathedral-like canopy of forest.

Before long, the Seneca Rocks formation – a well-known scenic destination in the Mountain State – emerges from the dense forest of the River Knobs range. The rock walls are popular among climbers, but after our 150-mile morning ride, Craig and I are more interested in eating. We kick out our stands at Yokum’s Vacationland, at the junction of Route 28 and U.S. Route 33. In business since 1923, Yokum’s has a general store, a deli, a motel, cabins, and a campground.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
Yokum’s has been serving visitors to Seneca Rocks since 1923. It has a general store, restaurant, motel, cabins, and camping.

The short-order grill is in the back of the store, so Craig and I walk past all manner of local goods (Traffic Jam catches my eye) and order lunch. Being from Philadelphia, Craig surprises me by ordering a Philly cheesesteak, but the result looks even better than my cheeseburger, which hits the spot. After our meal, we ride a couple hundred yards down the road, park the bikes in a lot along Roy Gap Road, and walk to the river, our eyes focused on the climbers high above on the rocks. We agree that Yokum’s would make a great hub for riding some of the more adventurous routes through the eastern part of the state.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
Downtown Elkins, West Virginia.

A curvy 35-mile ride west through the Alleghenies on U.S. 33 brings us to Elkins, a classic American town with restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops. In the center of town is the West Virginia Railroad Museum and a historic train depot that’s one of the stops on the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, a tourist train that travels through rugged mountain scenery.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad is a scenic train that connects three historic depots in West Virginia.

After returning to Seneca Rocks, we continue south on U.S. 33, which makes a sharp turn to the east at Judy Gap. On the ascending turns I’m tempted to open up the throttle, but I check my urge so as not to miss Germany Valley overlook – a great view of the valley and the River Knobs range just before the crest of North Fork Mountain. Thirty miles later we crest High Knob and cross back into Virginia. On the descent, where the road is straight and the old growth creates a canopy a hundred feet above, it feels like riding through a cathedral.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
Settled by German farmers in the mid-18th century, West Virginia’s Germany Valley was the site of a frontier fort during the American Revolution.

We brave the stoplights and traffic of Harrisonburg before again ascending to Swift Run Gap, where Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive intersects with U.S. 33. Two monuments give a bit of history of the pass, where in 1716 Lieutenant Governor Spotswood and a group of rangers, Native Americans, and government officials set out to prove that an easy path over the Blue Ridge Mountains existed.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
Monuments at Swift Run Gap, where Skyline Drive intersects with U.S. Route 33.

At Stanardsville, we take Business Route 33 through the historic district. We turn north on State Route 230, which eventually ends at U.S. Route 29, where we again turn north. Less than half a mile later we stop at a brightly colored Tastee-Freez to escape the summer heat and wolf down hot fudge sundaes. A local informs us it’s the oldest continuously operated, privately owned Tastee-Freez in America.

Seneca Rocks West Virginia Favorite Ride
Nothing takes the edge off a hot summer ride better than ice cream, and this classic Tastee-Freez near Madison, Virginia, didn’t disappoint.

The mountains fade from our mirrors as we continue northeast toward our starting point. We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can discover in West Virginia, and we’re eager to return.

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Favorite Ride: Bridges of Charleston County

Bridges of Charleston County
Wide lanes and stunning views make the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River a rider’s dream.

Charleston, South Carolina, is a true Southern belle. She turns 352 years old this year and has quite a past. In America’s early days, her importance rivaled New York and Boston. Shipping, as well as rice and cotton production, created extreme wealth. Hurricanes, wars, and bondage brought great despair. Like Scarlet O’Hara, Charleston has persevered, and today she wins “Best City” awards for her food, culture, and history.

One of the best ways to experience Charleston is from the seat of a motorcycle, flying over her many bridges. Charleston’s bridges link more than land and water. They link past and present, problems and answers, people and places. These days, twisting the throttle over Charleston’s bridges provides reflection and hope.

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Bridges of Charleston County

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Since Charleston is located an hour off the I-95 superslab, many riders miss her charms. That’s a shame, as Charleston hits the redline on the motorcycle smile-to-mile dial. For you Northern bikers on a Florida run, this is a fantastic stop-over spot. I’ll bet you a flounder sandwich it will be a highlight of your journey. Lodging is plentiful at all price levels, and the local cuisine is world renowned, bringing together farm, ocean, Southern, and soul.

This ride can be done any time of year, but beware: Charleston is in the Deep South. Summers can be stifling and rainstorms can be intense. Wearing mesh apparel, keeping raingear handy, and avoiding afternoon traffic are highly recommended during summer months.

Bridges of Charleston County
The author and his son, Luke, on a hot dog quest in Mount Pleasant.

From I-95, head southeast on I-26 for an hour. Take the ramp for I-526 East to Mount Pleasant. Cruising high above the salty marsh, in the first 15 minutes you’ll glide over two major bridges – the Don N. Holt over the Cooper River, and the James B. Edwards over the Wando River. You’re riding over the Lowcountry, a sprawling coastal region that’s just above sea level. With the tides shifting four times a day, much of the marshy terrain spends half its time under water.

Take the exit for Hungry Neck Boulevard, then turn right onto the Isle of Palms Connector (State Route 517). Cruising over the estuary, flip up your visor and enjoy the salty air and coastal views. At low tide, you’ll see mounds of “rocks” in the marsh, which are actually wild oysters. Raw, roasted, or in a Bloody Mary shot, they’re delicious.

Bridges of Charleston County
Nattily dressed motorcyclists cruise down King Street during the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

You’ll cross two more bridges before reaching Isle of Palms. When the Connector ends, keep going straight to Front Beach. Biker law says you can’t get this close and not get in the ocean, so this is a great place to kick off your boots and get your toes wet.

Continue southwest on Palm Boulevard (State Route 703). Ride with the breeze along the Intracoastal Waterway until you cross Breach Inlet on the H.L. Hunley Bridge, named after the first submarine to sink a ship in battle. In 1864, the hand-cranked Hunley sank a Yankee ship but then disappeared off the coast of Sullivan’s Island, along with its crew of eight men. It wasn’t found until 1995. Stop at Thomson Park to enjoy the views and learn more about this historic location.

Bridges of Charleston County
The Ben Sawyer swing bridge rotates to allow tall boats to pass on the Intracoastal Waterway.

From the park, hang a left on Middle Street. You’re now riding through “shabby chic” Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina’s wealthiest zip code, and you’ll see bars and restaurants. All are good, but the crispy/spicy Bangin’ Shrimp tacos at Mex 1 Coastal Cantina are my go-to. Salt in the air, beach on your boots, shrimp tacos in your hand, and your faithful steed parked under a palmetto tree. Life is good!

Continuing southwest on Middle Street takes you to Fort Moultrie National Historical Park. This high ground has a long history as a military post, going as far back as the Revolutionary War. The self-guided tour and harbor views are interesting, inspiring, and a great way to stretch your legs.

Bridges of Charleston County
Colonial-era homes along the Battery, a seawall and promenade near downtown Charleston.

Backtrack to where Route 703 turns north and becomes Ben Sawyer Boulevard, a causeway that cuts back across the marsh. Take in the scent of salt, oysters, and tidal “pluff” mud. The Ben Sawyer Bridge is a swing bridge that rotates to allow tall boats to pass through. First opened to traffic in 1945, it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. When the islands evacuated, the tender left the bridge unlocked. When hurricane-force winds hit the bridge, it spun like a top, and one end plunged into the water.

Crossing the Ben Sawyer takes you into Mount Pleasant. Traffic increases through this vibrant area, with plenty of good restaurants and bars attracting the hungry and thirsty. Another bridge on Route 703 crosses over Shem Creek, with boats, kayaks, and bars below jammed with folks having a good time. Fresh local seafood is sold right on the docks. For a closer look, make a left and visit Shem Creek Park.

Bridges of Charleston County
The party never ends on Shem Creek.

Continuing west on Route 703 (Coleman Boulevard), the road merges with U.S. Route 17 before crossing Charleston’s most prominent span, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River. Riding over the Ravenel, you’re at the highest point in the Lowcountry, with inspiring views of Charleston Harbor and the USS Yorktown, a WW2-era aircraft carrier anchored near Patriots Point. The Yorktown is now part of the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, and military buffs can easily spend a full day touring the ship, imagining or remembering the challenging days of our Greatest Generation.

Bridges of Charleston County
The USS Yorktown aircraft carrier and USS Laffey destroyer are part of the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.

After crossing the Ravenel, follow signs for U.S. 17 South to Savannah and take the King Street exit. Turn right onto King Street for a fun, sweeping ride through history, from modern hipster hotels to perfectly preserved colonial-era homes. It’s a great time to reflect on our nation’s past, present, and potential.

Take King Street until it ends at Oyster Point overlooking the harbor. The views are spectacular, but Charleston is more than just her pretty petticoat and parasol. She’s beautiful and strong, old and new, happy and sad. Like America, she’s not perfect, but she’s authentic and awesome. This ride makes me proud, and hopeful for what’s over the next bridge.

Bridges of Charleston County
A gathering of bikes at Oyster Point overlooking Charleston Harbor.

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Favorite Ride: Des Moines River Loop

Des Moines River Loop
The author and his BMW R 1200 RT at Ledges State Park.

There are some great roads in central Iowa around the town of Boone, which is about 45 miles north of Des Moines. This ride crisscrosses the Des Moines River on a series of county highways and backroads, offering a nice selection of curves and scenery. I’m on a BMW R 1200 RT today, but these roads are friendly for just about any kind of motorcycle. This 124-mile loop minimizes straight sections and takes a few hours, so let’s go!

Des Moines River Loop

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First things first: this ride is in rural farm country, so be alert for deer, farm equipment, and debris on the road. Our starting point is in downtown Boone. We follow Mamie Eisenhower Avenue (the former First Lady was born here) east to the junction with Highway R27, where we turn south and ride along the west side of Boone Municipal Airport. Like all the roads on this ride, the pavement is in good condition and meanders easily; you can see through the curves, so they’re fun to ride at any pace.

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Des Moines River Loop
Ledges State Park is named after the sandstone bluffs that run along the Des Moines River. Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office.

We cross U.S. Route 30 and continue south to Highway E52 (250th Street). Turning right (west), we continue to the upper entrance of Ledges State Park, where sandstone ledges tower 100 feet above the Des Moines River. The scenic park offers hiking, picnicking, and camping, and we’ll return to it at the end of the ride.

We backtrack to R27, turn right, and head south again until R27 ends at the junction with Highway E57 (270th Street). We turn right (west) and cross the Des Moines River, enjoying the first of many scenic river views. Past the river is a sign for Camp Mitigwa, and we turn left (south) on R26, also known as Magnolia Road. We follow the twists and turns on excellent pavement down into the Des Moines River valley, and then turn left (east) on Highway E62 (325th Street) and soon arrive at the junction with State Highway 210.

Des Moines River Loop
The Des Moines River is a 525-mile tributary of the Mississippi that runs through the heart of Iowa and its namesake city. Crossing and riding along the river gives this ride a curvy character most people don’t associate with the Hawkeye State.

Looking straight ahead, you’ll see the High Trestle Trail Bridge, a former railroad bridge over the Des Moines River that’s now a biking and walking trail. After enjoying the view, we turn around and ride E62 and R26 north again to E57. We turn left (west) on E57, then right (north) on R18 (L Avenue) toward the small town of Moingona.

We cross U.S. Route 30 and turn right (east) on Highway E41 (216th Drive), which is part of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway and crosses the Des Moines River. After a twisting climb out of the river valley, we see a strange-looking shale mound on the left, a reminder of Iowa’s once-booming coal industry. We enter Boone again from the west, picking up Mamie Eisenhower Avenue and then turning north on Marion Street.

Des Moines River Loop
Part of the route follows the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway.

After crossing the train tracks, we turn left on Highway E26 (12th Street) and make a few more turns as we follow E26 along curvy pavement and cross back over the Des Moines River. We exit the river valley on a wonderfully smooth and winding stretch of road followed by a short straight section.

We turn right (north) on Highway P70 (H Avenue), which runs along the western edge of Don Williams Recreation Area, which has a lake, camping facilities, and a golf course. We continue north to the junction with Highway E18 (130th Street), and turn right (east) toward Pilot Mound, a small town with a sense of humor that you’ll notice as you ride by. We cross the Des Moines River once again on E18, and then turn left (north) on Highway R21 (Nature Road).

Des Moines River Loop
In addition to the scenic, wooded areas along the Des Moines River, there are several nice parks on this route that offer recreational opportunities.

We pass through another very small town, Ridgeport, which isn’t on most maps. We stay on R21, which twists and turns a few times until it becomes first Chase Avenue, then Stagecoach Road, and arrive in Stratford. We turn left (west) on State Highway 175, and quickly turn right (north) onto Highway D54 (Bellville Road), a real treat that heads steeply down into – you guessed it – the Des Moines River valley. There can be a lot of gravel at the bottom of this road, so stay sharp.

Des Moines River Loop
A Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad locomotive painted in old Chicago North Western livery. This excursion train and museum is a must-see for railway buffs.

Exiting the river area, the road straightens (and becomes 330th Street) until we take a sweeping left (onto Racine Avenue) into Dayton, a small town with fuel, eateries, and rodeo grounds we see on our right as we leave town heading south. We’re back on Highway 175, which curves to the east and takes us over the Des Moines River, our sixth crossing! When Highway 175 curves north, we continue straight ahead and turn right (south) on Washington Avenue. After an interesting set of curves, we return to R21 (Chase Avenue/Nature Road) and continue south to Boone on Division Street.

Des Moines River Loop
A trail bridge in McHose Park on the south side of Boone.

At 10th Street, you can turn left (east) to visit the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad. This excursion train was started by volunteers and has grown into a fine attraction with an excellent museum. We continue south on Division Street, crossing 3rd Street (Lincoln Highway) and coming to a four-way stop at Park Avenue.

We turn left (east) on Park Avenue and ride through the Honey Creek ravine and enter McHose Park, a great place to stop and stretch your legs. We turn right on Francis Mason Drive and wind our way south through the park, exiting near U.S. Route 30.

Des Moines River Loop
A stone bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in Ledges State Park. Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office.

We head east briefly on U.S. 30, then turn right (south) on Oriole Road toward the Boone Speedway. Oriole Road meanders its way toward the Des Moines River and the lower entrance of Ledges State Park. The road is smooth and deceptively fast because, before you know it, the speed limit drops and there’s a chicane to slow you down before entering the park. Check out the sandstone ledges, enjoy the park, and then head back to Boone for fuel, food, or a hotel room. Me? I’m ready to gas up and ride another 120 miles to get back home.

The post Favorite Ride: Des Moines River Loop first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Favorite Ride: Colorado Front Range Figure-8

Front Range Figure-8
The Rocky Mountain Front Range is a rider’s paradise. Photos by the author.

As we sat in the crimson hue of the Colorado Front Range sunset, the stone walls of the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre echoed with familiar lyrics. David Crosby’s face was laced with as many crevices as the surrounding sandstone spires, but his vocals gave no evidence of the octogenarian’s age. As he was joined onstage by Jason Isbell for an incredible version of “Wooden Ships,” the last lines sparked anticipation for the next day’s ride: And it’s a fair wind blowin’ warm out of the south over my shoulder / Guess I’ll set a course and go.

Front Range Figure-8
Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, offers amazing views.

The next morning, that course was indeed set. Our route would be a figure-8 exploration of the eastern slope of the Rockies, flanking the Denver urban corridor. As we packed the side boxes on the Yamaha Super Ténéré with water and a few extra clothing layers, that fair wind rustled the leaves in the trees around our vacation rental in Golden. Thumbing the starter, the big parallel-Twin quickly settled into a smooth idle. I shifted into gear, and my wife, Cheryl, and I were off.


Figure-8 routes have always intrigued me. It may well go back to my youth watching the insane style of racing at the state fair. Anyway, I mapped a ride leaving Golden to the northwest and tracing that general direction to Estes Park, the northernmost point on our planned ride. The return route would traverse different roads intersecting that path on the way back south.

Front Range Figure-8

View Front Range Figure-8 ride route on REVER

After a little GPS-assisted navigation out of Golden, Coal Creek Canyon Road (State Route 72) was a relaxed warm up. Wide sweepers cut through treeless grassland at the lower elevation, and with the rise in elevation came a gradual increase in vegetation. Soon, it was clear that this was truly going to be a mountain ride. Near the tiny community of Pinecliffe, the ever-tightening corners coiled into a beautiful series of cliff-lined hairpins at an elevation of 8,000 feet. The fun had really begun.

We approached Nederland, which marked the intersection of our figure-8 route. The quaint town is due west of Boulder and sits near the picturesque Barker Meadow Reservoir. After rolling through the town, we resumed our northern trek on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway (State Route 72). The Peak to Peak is a famous ride in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that is considered one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the state.

Front Range Figure-8
Golden is a bustling Colorado town just west of Denver with a clear emphasis on outdoor adventures. It’s also home to Coors Brewing Company.

Not a dozen miles into this leg, I spotted something moving in the woods to my right. A moose was standing in the middle of a tiny pond drinking. As we parked the Yamaha and strolled to get a better vantage point, the creature raised its broad, dripping snout and regarded us with supreme disinterest. I did not blame her. After more motorists discovered what we were watching, the shoulder became an impromptu parking lot. It was time to head out.

Front Range Figure-8
Cheryl is of no concern to a hydrating moose.

Back on the bike, we continued the curvaceous route on the Peak to Peak toward Estes Park. Intermittent sprinkles met us along the way. There were patches of very wet tarmac, indicating that we had the good fortune of arriving just after a few downpours. It was becoming clear that, despite the rough winters in this region, the road condition was remarkably smooth and consistent.

The Peak to Peak Scenic Byway lived up to its majestic reputation, and every mile was a joy. Mountain peaks flanked the road on both the near and far horizon. The long morning of riding had us more than ready for lunch as we rolled into the outskirts of Estes Park, which is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and was bustling with tourist activity.

Front Range Figure-8
Spanning 55 miles from Central City/Black Hawk at the southern end to Estes Park at the northern end, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway runs through the Front Range and is one of many on the list of great Colorado roads.

We pulled into the first diner we saw. After our patty melts arrived, the owner stopped by for a chat. When we told him about the moose sighting, he was genuinely impressed. He said we were in the middle of the elk rut, so seeing those behemoths butting heads would not be that unusual. However, he said that folks who had lived in the area for years have not seen the elusive moose. We felt uniquely lucky.

Front Range Figure-8
The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park is an intriguing place to spend an hour or two or a long weekend.

After finishing our lunch, we made a brief stop at the Stanley Hotel, a stately 140-room Colonial Revival hotel built in 1909. It was the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining and the 1980 film, and it served as a filming location for the 1997 TV miniseries. The Stanley was also the setting for the fictional Danbury Hotel in the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber. You can stay in the hotel, drop in for a tour, or pick up a variety of “REDRUM” souvenirs from the gift shop.

We could have spent the rest of the day in the Stanley’s historic lounge, which has an elegant carved wooden bar, a pressed-tin ceiling, and an impressive selection of whiskeys. But the road was calling, and it was time to finish our figure-8.

Front Range Figure-8
The Whiskey Bar & Lounge in the Stanley Hotel.


We rolled southeast out of Estes Park past a few golf courses and lush green hills. U.S. Route 36 proved to be another fantastic motorcycling road in the Front Range. Gray granite outcroppings laced with a variety of conifers lined the winding road. The riding was enjoyably devoid of traffic, and the threat of rain had thankfully subsided.

At the town of Lyons, U.S. 36 started the southern curve back toward the intersection of our figure-8. We were back in the grasslands and rolling hills for several beautiful miles, and then 36 straightened out on its southern line toward Boulder. Of course, the closer to the city that we got, the heavier the traffic became. When the 36 morphed into State Route 7, we were fully in the Boulder suburban area.

Front Range Figure-8
An impressive welcome to the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

When we made the western turn onto Boulder Canyon Drive (State Route 119), we were more than ready to climb back into the foothills of the Rockies. When a motorcyclist hears the word “canyon” in a road’s name, it’s like music to ear-plugged ears. Again, the Front Range did not disappoint. The road snaked through tunnels, beside evergreen-lined rivers, and beneath gray rock formations on its route west. It is a truly spectacular motorcycle ride.

When we were approaching the now familiar town of Nederland, we rolled along the banks of the Barker Meadow Reservoir that we previously saw from a distance on the first half of the figure-8. South of Nederland, Route 119 took a decidedly southern bend toward our next planned stop. In our pre-ride mapping, we discovered a pair of historic gold mining towns that have since undergone a metamorphosis as gambling destinations.

Front Range Figure-8
Central City is a well-preserved remnant of the roaring past.

We were greeted in Central City by historic buildings and narrow streets. Saloons, shops, and restored hotels graced the brick architecture. We saw the quaint and colorful history, but not the gambling, and that was just fine with us. We stopped at a brewpub on the town’s main street and had a nice chat with the bartender. The gregarious barkeep graced us with a few painfully corny jokes before answering our myriad questions about the town.

The treasure trove of local knowledge told us that the town of Central City and its close neighbor Black Hawk were hotbeds of the Gold Rush after a huge local gold strike in 1859. Later in the 1800s, the towns were connected to Denver by rail, and the boom continued. However, as they say, all good things must end, and the towns both declined with the dwindling of the mineral wealth in the 1900s.

Front Range Figure-8
The Yamaha Super Ténéré proved a worthy mount for the Rocky Mountain ride.

After a few more wonderfully bad jokes, our raconteur brought us to the current state of the area. In the early 1990s, Colorado passed limited-stakes gaming in the state, and the tiny towns picked up on the idea. He said the towns have become the gambling heart of the state, accounting for nearly 90% of Colorado’s gaming revenue. Noticing our quizzical looks after scanning the small smattering of video poker machines and one-armed bandits in the pub, he said with a smile, “Wait until you ride south.”

The merry jokester was prophetic. As we left the quaint ambience of Central City, we rolled through a bit more history before it became clear. High-rise casinos and hotels rose like specters as we rounded a corner. The dichotomy that has been created in this area emerges most distinctly in the town of Black Hawk. Juxtaposed with 150-year-old brick buildings are massive, engineered tributes to modern man’s lust for a quick buck. The irony is more than evident. Gone are the starry-eyed miners, only to be replaced by glassy-eyed gamblers.

Front Range Figure-8
Clear Creek flows through Golden and is a magnet for anglers and water sports enthusiasts. The label of Coors beer says “Brewed with 100% Rocky Mountain Water,” and this creek is its source.

We motored out of the unlikely Rocky Mountain “Vegas” and back toward our starting point. The last portion of the ride was a great mix of all that we had experienced on the figure-8 ride into the Front Range. The road was smooth and well maintained, and the scenery was spectacular. We dropped from thick forest, to grassland, to the bustle of Golden.

While not a full exploration of the Colorado Rockies, our tour was a nice overview of the roads and ecosystems of the area. The 40-degree swing in temperatures and the varied precipitation on the ride made it clear that gear choice and preparedness is vital in the Rockies. Because of the elevation, this is strictly a late spring to early fall ride. That said, we would love to return for the spring bloom or the fall leaves to explore the Front Range further.

The post Favorite Ride: Colorado Front Range Figure-8 first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Favorite Ride: Los Angeles Aqueduct

Trails and service roads on the aqueduct
Near the desert town of Mojave, trails and service roads lie on top of the underground aqueduct. (Photos by Rob Day & Rob Glass)

The Los Angeles Aqueduct is an engineering marvel, a 233-mile channel that carries Sierra snow melt from California’s Owens Valley into the San Fernando Valley. Its five-year construction, completed in 1913, changed the face of Southern California. Without it, there would be no Los Angeles.

But because of it, there was tragedy. Draining the Owens Valley destroyed an entire farming region and turned to dust a lake once grand enough that steamboats crossed it. Building a dam to hold the stolen waters resulted in the second deadliest disaster ever to strike California when the dam collapsed.

Los Angeles Aqueduct
Los Angeles Aqueduct ride route from Pearsonville to Santa Paula, California

Click here to view the route above on the REVER app/website

Much of the aqueduct is open waterway, but the rest is a covered concrete channel. And most of that channel functions as a public road. We took a trio of Harley-Davidson Pan Americas and tried to see how much of it we could ride.

It was a hot May morning when we set out from Zakar, a compound that serves as base camp for RawHyde’s adventure motorcycle training school in the Mojave Desert. We wanted to beat the worst of the heat, so shortly after dawn we dashed up State Route 14 to U.S. Route 395 and exited at 9 Mile Canyon Road to catch our first leg of the aqueduct.

Aqueduct pipes
German-made steel plates were fashioned into massive pipes for this section of the aqueduct.

On maps, it’s called “Los Angeles Aqueduct.” Under our tires, it was a crunchy, crusty roadway, often covered entirely in sand and gravel, that followed the contours of the lowest reaches of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We had to leave the hills after a few miles as the aqueduct went underground, running in tunnels through the foothills. (The aqueduct includes 142 such tunnels, comprising 52 miles of its total length.)

Back on the slab, we stopped for cold drinks at Robber’s Roost Ranch, and again at Jawbone Canyon Store, the “Mad Max” meets “Motocross Zombies from Hell” waystation popular with the off-road bike and buggy crowd. Further south, we were able to pick up the aqueduct again from Pine Tree Canyon Road. From there, we had a spirited 13-mile run of sand and concrete climbing high above the flat desert floor before dropping us down into the town of Mojave.

This store, located on Route 14 near the Jawbone Canyon OHV area, is a favorite of desert off-roaders.

The aqueduct left the mountains, taking us with it for a higher-speed run across the Antelope Valley. From Oak Creek Road we accessed the aqueduct again, then barnstormed our way through wind farms, skirted past Willow Springs International Raceway, crossed Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, and ran across the desert for 30 miles of flat-out fun.

It was a good chance to test the new Harley-Davidson off-roader in a desert setting. I had been impressed on previous rides by the bike’s behavior, but in the sandy sections I came to admire it even more (especially with the optional knobby tires). So did my colleagues. By the end of this stretch, even those of us who own GS or GSA machines agreed the Pan America handled the sand better than our beloved BMWs.

Aqueduct concrete roadway
Portions of the aqueduct, which originally had a rounded top, now function as concrete roadways – where the sand hasn’t buried them.

Along here we also got to see several different types of aqueducts. There were sections with a flat concrete top, older sections covered in curved concrete ribs –the standard before someone figured out you could use the top of the aqueduct as an access road if you flattened it –and even a mile-long section of above-ground pipe, built from massive 12-foot-diameter rounds brought in by mule teams.

At State Route 138, we stopped at the Neenach Cafe and Market for a cold drink. From there, we rode tarmac into the foothills, through the towns of Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake, past the legendary motorcycle stop The Rock Inn and into Green Valley and San Francisquito Canyon.

San Francisquito Canyon pumping station
Water ran through the aqueduct to a huge pumping station in San Francisquito Canyon. Hundreds of lives were lost when the dam broke, but some of its 100-year-old turbines still operate today.

It was in this canyon that William Mulholland and the brain trust behind the mighty aqueduct decreed that Los Angeles’ water should be stored. A concrete gravity dam –virtually identical to the Mulholland Dam that still holds up Lake Hollywood –was constructed in a narrow section of the canyon. The St. Francis Dam was completed in 1926. Two years later, and only hours after Mulholland had inspected the dam and deemed it safe and stable, the structure gave way.

Just before midnight on March 12, 1928, a wall of water 180 feet high surged down the canyon. More than 12 billion gallons of water left the dam within the next hour. Entire communities were engulfed and swept away. At least 431 lives, and perhaps many more, were lost.

Aqueduct pipes in the mountains
Emerging from the hillsides, the huge aqueduct pipes carry water overhead as it traverses mountains.

We rode our Pan Americas along a dirt path toward the original dam site. Beside the trail were massive chunks of concrete, some as big as a Winnebago, remnants of the fallen structure. Returning to the road, we continued down the canyon to Power Plant 2, where aqueduct water runs through turbines to create electricity. We’d only intended to admire the exterior of the building. But a building superintendent, noticing our bikes in the parking lot, let us in for an impromptu tour of the remarkable facility, which still uses the same turbines that were installed more than a hundred years ago –some of them recovered after the disaster from miles down the canyon.

Our interest wasn’t only in the disaster. There was a motorcycling purpose to our visit, too. The last person to see the dam before it blew was a motorcyclist named Ace Hopewell, who heard rumblings above the noise of his engine and stopped to listen before riding on.

There were motorcycle heroes, too. State Motorcycle Officer Thornton Edwards and Santa Paula Police Officer Stanley Baker were notified of the dam’s collapse, and at great risk to themselves raced from street to street in Santa Paula sounding the alarm. The two riders are credited with saving hundreds of lives, as the people they woke from sleep were able to escape being swept away by the rushing waters.

Statue in Santa Paula
This statue in Santa Paula honors the two police officers who rode through the night to warn residents after the dam had collapsed.

To pay tribute to these men, we rode south from Power Plant 2, across Castaic, past Magic Mountain, along the part of State Route 126 that was once home to the motocross track known as Indian Dunes, and into the town of Santa Paula. To fortify ourselves we stopped at Rabalais’ Bistro for strong coffee, hot beignets, and plates of gumbo, red beans and rice with andouille sausage, and shrimp and grits.

At sunset, we stood near the old Santa Paula train station and admired local artist Eric Richards’ metalwork statue entitled “The Warning.” It depicts the two valiant motorcycle officers, one astride an Indian and the other a Harley, as they made their rounds that deadly night. As dark began to suggest itself in Santa Paula, we headed back, making as quick a trip as possible on pavement to return to our starting point. We’d ridden 180 miles to get to the statue of the two heroes, 50 of that on sandy aqueduct. It took us 100 miles of high-speed pavement to get back to Zakar.

Wind turbines in the Antelope Valley
Water pumped through the aqueduct powers electrical generators, which now get assistance from wind turbines in the Antelope Valley.

The post Favorite Ride: Los Angeles Aqueduct first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Favorite Ride: Lapping the Appalachians

A Father and Son Tour the Appalachians
Father and son on the the Tail of the Dragon, Tennessee. (Above photo by 129photos.com; other photos by the author)

Dad’s first sojourn through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia needed to be grand. Dad is a desert dweller from southern Arizona and has never ridden east of Texas. We agreed on a short list of must-haves: Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Tail of the Dragon. Everything else – the fall foliage, the swollen creeks and runs, the rural country roads, the morning fog – would be an added bonus.

There would also be pancakes. Lots of pancakes.

We picked up Dad’s Triumph Tiger Explorer at a motorcycle dealership in northern Virginia, where he had it shipped from Arizona. We rode south and entered the Blue Ridge Parkway west  of Lynchburg. The parkway is aptly named, with smooth, graceful curves, well-manicured roadsides, and plenty of parking areas to admire the view. A word to the wise, as I learned as point man: pay attention to mile markers. I missed the country road that the kind ladies at Explore Park said would lead us to Mount Airy, North Carolina, our first stop for the night and the birthplace of actor Andy Griffith.

A Father and Son Tour the Appalachians
Lush valleys provide a stunning backdrop to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia.

Dad’s Explorer has heated grips and a larger fairing than my Triumph Sprint GT, so he was better prepared for the chilly 40-degree temperatures during our ride. For most of the morning, we enjoyed relative seclusion, clear skies, autumn colors, and beautiful farm country. In one short span, the view of the valley below on my left was stolen by a patch of trees and granite outcroppings only to be returned over my right shoulder. It was a literal tennis match of competing landscapes – valleys of farm country on one side and ridgelines stretching to the horizon on the other.

Traffic increased the farther south we traveled, and overflowing pullouts often prevented us from stopping, so, we leaned back and enjoyed the ride. We left the parkway at Asheville, having decided on Maggie Valley for our overnight stay.

A Father and Son Tour the Appalachians
The author’s father posing with their motorcycles on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A steady downpour and tornado warnings nixed riding the second day, so we covered the bikes and took a taxi to Wheels Through Time. While walking through the museum – home to more than 300 interesting and rare motorcycles – Dad shared stories of his older brother’s 1950 Harley Panhead and their shenanigans on it back on the farm in Iowa. One involved the bike, loaded with three riders, being chased by a dog that gave up the hunt after my uncle retarded the spark for a spectacular backfire. Dad hunted the base of many a cylinder barrel, searching for a stamp that would identify the same year as his brother’s, but to no avail.

Tourist traffic in the lush Great Smoky Mountains National Park slowed our progress. We found a place to park the bikes at Newfound Gap, a 5,049-foot pass on U.S. Route 441, allowing us to stretch our legs. Traffic in the park paled in comparison to the carnival of tourism we saw in Gatlinburg, where we found the Little House of Pancakes.

Dad tucked into a stack of blueberry pancakes, and I gorged on sweet-and-spicy apple pancakes. Between bites – and doing our best not to drip syrup on our map – we sketched out an alternate route back to Maggie Valley. We tested our pioneering skills on Tennessee State Route 32 in search of secluded switchbacks. Any concern about traffic was dispelled by a large red diamond-shaped sign that warned “Do Not Enter, Your GPS is Wrong” a few miles into the alternate route.

Littered with wet leaves and twigs from the previous day’s storms, Route 32’s pucker factor was off the scale, especially when I felt the front wheel push over some wet leaves at the apex of a turn. I rarely engaged 3rd gear after that. Pavement turned to hard gravel at Davenport Gap, where we crossed back into North Carolina on Mount Sterling Road. We found blacktop again at Waterville Road along Big Creek, and after a few miles, under cavernous trees and crags, we came upon Interstate 40 and our path back to Maggie Valley.

Compared to Route 32, the Tail of the Dragon’s 318 curves in 11 miles were not as technical, nor as precarious. The roads in this part of Tennessee, which arc around the southern side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, plunge into valleys, rise to bluffs overlooking man-made lakes and hydroelectric dams, and hug the steep sides of tree-blanketed mountains. After a full day of Appalachian curves, we stopped for the night in Middlesboro, Kentucky, just a stone’s throw west of Cumberland Gap.

A Father and Son Tour the Appalachians
Another sweeping view along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

With our bellies full of pancakes, we rode east on U.S. Route 58 through southwestern Virginia under crisp, blue autumn skies, with ridgelines on our left marking the border with Kentucky. We continued northeast on U.S. Route 19 for our next overnight in Princeton, West Virginia, and we awoke the next morning to find frost on our bikes. Despite the cold, the scenery from Princeton to Elkins on U.S. Route 219 was a moving feast of fields, pastures, valleys, woodland, creeks, rivers, and quaint towns.

A Father and Son Tour the Appalachians
This route map is available on the REVER app in the Rider Magazine community.

Link to Appalachian tour route on REVER

A section of U.S. 219 we traveled along is known as Seneca Trail. A pleasant surprise around one bend was Indian Creek Covered Bridge, which was completed in 1903 at a cost of $400. The rest of the morning was spent passing farm after farm, including writer Pearl S. Buck’s birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia. For pancakes, we recommend Greenbrier Grille and Lodge, overlooking its namesake river in Marlinton.

Our last day involved riding from valley to ridge to valley. We followed curves along various creeks and branches of the Potomac River that snaked their way through the Appalachians. Eventually we had to leave the winding roads behind and hop on Interstate 66 to complete our multi-day loop. For Dad’s first ride east of the Mississippi, he was proud to see his tripmeter roll over 1,504 memorable miles.

A Father and Son Tour the Appalachians
The Indian Creek Covered Bridge on West Virginia Route 219.

The post Favorite Ride: Lapping the Appalachians first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding Wisconsin’s Waumandee Valley River Roads

Where Motorcyclists Roam
Riding Highway 88, aka Black Lightning. Photos by Kathleen Currie

Buffalo County, Wisconsin, is a hidden gem for motorcyclists. Located in the northwest part of the state, its southern border is the Mississippi River, which is the dividing line between Wisconsin and Minnesota. This is rural farm country, and the entire county has only one traffic light.

Buffalo County boasts dozens of fantastic motorcycling roads that twist along river banks, climb steep bluffs, dive into coulees and steep ravines, and cling to the edges of sandstone ridges. Numerous creeks and small rivers flow through the Waumandee Valley on their way to join the Mississippi, and they influence the shape and slope of these roads.

Where Motorcyclists Roam
Buffalo County appears to have the most curvy road signs in Wisconsin.

The best starting point is the town of Mondovi, located in the northeastern corner of Buffalo County. A quick fuel and food stop is recommended, as gasoline stations, restaurants, and other amenities are sparse as you head south. After a bite at McT’s Diner we follow County Roads (CR) H and ZZ south to a hook up with State Highway 88 at the Buffalo River.

Known as “Black Lightning,” Highway 88 has approximately 130 corners and curves in 40 miles as it runs from Gilmanton to the Mississippi River, making it one of Wisconsin’s highest-rated biker roads. It gives riders — and their brakes — a real workout as they ride the ridges and slash through a sandstone cut north of Praag.

Where Motorcyclists Roam
This tour route is available on the REVER app in the Rider Magazine community.

Link to Waumandee Valley River Roads tour on REVER

At CR U, we head east until we reach CR C at a crossroads just north of the village of Montana. CR C dishes up a variety of steep climbs and hairpin curves as we work our way south along Swinns Valley Creek, on our way to State Highway 95 just west of Arcadia. A short jog going west on 95 takes us to CR E, which heads northeast through Pansy Pass and Glencoe to Waumandee. CR E east of Waumandee has such steep hills that many homeowners have large angled mirrors mounted on posts at the foot of their driveways to help provide a view of any hidden oncoming traffic.

The village of Waumandee — Chippewa for “clear and sparkling water” — is worth a stop. It dates back to the 1850s, and Waumandee House, which was built in 1879, is still an active inn and restaurant. Every September the village hosts the Waumandee Hillclimb, a unique event for sports car enthusiasts. A two-mile stretch of Blank Hill Road west of Highway 88 is closed for a day of timed runs up an 18-turn hillclimb road course.

Where Motorcyclists Roam
J & J BBQ in downtown Nelson is a favorite biker stop.

Crossing Highway 88 we take a shot at Blank Hill Road, which is as challenging as advertised. Take care along the section of road that clings to the side of a cliff and has no guardrail. At CR N, we head north along Alma Ridge, which has some white-knuckle descents on its way to the Buffalo River at State Highway 37. A short jog up Highway 37 takes us to Highway KK on the west side of the Buffalo River.

Where Motorcyclists Roam
The lunch crowd heading down Great River Road (Highway 35) to Nelson.

Want a taste of riding the Isle of Man TT? Much like the famed road circuit, the CR KK south of Modena has climbs and descents chiseled into the sides of ridges with few guardrails, testing our binders and our nerves as we plunge down to CR D.

CR D winds west through rolling farm country to its junction with State Highway 35, which is known as the Great River Road and hugs the northern shore of the Mississippi. Overlooking the river, the town of Nelson has several recommended dining stops. On the day of our visit, J & J Barbeque and Nelson Creamery are overwhelmed with two-wheeled customers. We find an empty table at Beth’s Twin Bluff Café, and enjoy the best lemon pie we’ve ever tasted.

Where Motorcyclists Roam
Picturesque farms are everywhere in Buffalo County.

We headed north on State Highway 25 along the eastern edge of the Tiffany Bottoms Natural Area. At the village of Misha Mokwa, we turn east onto CR KK and complete the circle at the junction with CR D. Twists and turns command our full attention on our way to the village of Modena. Visit the general store in Modena to see two large motorcycle sculptures made from scrap metal, and pick up some cheese curds for a snack. We continue east on D until it dead-ends at Highway 37, then we follow the Buffalo River north and return to Mondovi.

The roads on this 110-mile loop are challenging, but most of the pavement is in good condition (be mindful of gravel in some corners). Part of what makes Buffalo County a great riding destination is the traffic — except for Highway 35, there is none! On a full day of weekend riding we encountered two tractors, two pickups, seven motorcycles, and one corn picker, which was blocking a narrow farm road. The only thing missing for a perfect riding weekend is a motorcycle class at the Waumandee Hillclimb so we can clock our time going up Blank Hill Road!

Where Motorcyclists Roam
Snaking roads and incredible scenery in the Waumandee Valley.

The post Riding Wisconsin’s Waumandee Valley River Roads first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Rim of the World Scenic Byway

Rim of the World Scenic Byway
California Route 38 follows Mill Creek Canyon as it climbs into the San Bernardino Mountains.

There are rides we’ve ridden only once and they became favorites, and then there are favorite rides we’ve ridden over and over again. This ride falls into the latter category. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve ridden Rim of the World Scenic Byway, but I’ve done it on pleasure rides, solo tests, comparison tests and press launches, on cruisers, sport-tourers and adventure bikes.

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Rim of the World Scenic Byway

Click here for the REVER route shown above

This route is entirely paved, but it goes through California’s San Bernardino National Forest and provides easy access to many unpaved forest roads and OHV routes. And although I describe the route from its eastern end in Redlands to its western end at Mormon Rocks, it’s just as enjoyable when ridden the other direction. The route is about 100 miles and can be ridden in just a few hours, or it can serve as the main artery for a weekend of adventure, from camping and hiking to boating, fishing or relaxing in mountain communities like Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway
Most of Rim of the World Scenic Byway is above 5,000 feet, so snow and ice are common in winter and early spring. The road is plowed regularly, but shaded sections can be dicey.

Redlands is part of the Inland Empire, a vast metropolitan area east of Los Angeles that covers parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. State Route 38 begins in Redlands, at the junction with Interstate 10. Rim of the World Scenic Byway begins as Route 38 starts to climb into the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. The escape from civilization happens quickly as the road starts to gently curve its way up Mill Creek Canyon, with slopes rising steeply on both sides of the road.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway
Rim of the World Scenic Byway offers panoramic views of the valley below

Following a 180-degree, constant-radius sweeper, the road begins a much steeper climb into the mountains. Now we’re talking! Route 38 winds its way through beautiful mountain scenery on its way to 8,443-foot Onyx Summit. Due to the high elevation, snow and ice are common during the winter and early spring, so proceed with caution. On the flip side, the thinner air makes this route a wonderful escape from broiling heat down in the valley during summer and early fall.

The Pacific Crest Trail passes just east of Onyx Summit, and beyond that high point, Route 38 begins a gradual descent with sweeping views of the desert valley to the northeast. As you begin to see residential areas, be mindful of posted speed limits. Route 38 takes an abrupt left as it becomes Big Bear Boulevard and heads west. After the intersection with Greenway Drive you’ll be on Route 18 (Route 38 turns off to the north) and travel through a heavily trafficked area. Some folks who work down in the valley live up in Big Bear, and it’s a popular weekend destination with many rustic cabins available to rent. There are plenty of options for gas, food, supplies and lodging.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway
Bear Valley Dam was originally built in 1884

Route 18 roughly follows the southern shore of Big Bear Lake, an expansive blue reservoir. (Route 38 runs along the northern shore and typically has less traffic.) After navigating your way through town and a tight, winding section of road through trees and big lakeside houses, you’ll see Bear Valley Dam. There’s a parking area where you can stop to check out the dam and snap photos of the lake.

From Bear Valley Dam to Lakeview Point, Route 18 hugs rugged cliffs and offers up a delightful — and at times challenging — series of curves. Beware of rockslide debris and fine gravel used for traction in the winter, and commuter and tourist traffic can add their own hazards. Lakeview Point (7,100 feet) is a scenic overlook with great views of the mountains and a peekaboo view of Big Bear Lake off in the distance.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway
A view of Silverwood Lake from an overlook on Route 138

What follows is a tight, technical section that will put your riding skills — and the limits of your cornering clearance — to the test. After passing through the community of Arrowbear Lake, you’ll come to the town of Running Springs. Pay attention to the road signs and stay on Route 18, which follows an off-ramp to the right. It’s easy to end up on Route 330, an absolute blast of a road that winds its way back down to the valley; it’s a fun down-and-back-up spur if you want to extend your ride.

West of Running Springs the route offers up some of the most scenic views on the entire byway, as Route 18 follows the spine of the mountains. There are many turnouts where you can enjoy the view, particularly Red Rock Scenic Overlook, but from the westbound lane be careful crossing the eastbound (valley side) of the road on blind corners.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway
A majestic juniper stands sentry near Onyx Summit. The Pacific Crest Trail passes nearby.

As Route 18 starts to make its way down to the valley (another fun one), at Mount Anderson Junction you’ll turn onto Route 138 (another off-ramp to the right) toward Crestline. Roads are well marked, so if you’re paying attention or following the route on REVER, you’ll be fine. After winding your way through tall trees and densely clustered cabins, Route 138 becomes a rollercoaster of tight turns, hairpins, dips and rises. This is my favorite section of the entire route, but it’s also the most challenging.

As you come out of the forest, the road opens up as it approaches and rounds Silverwood Lake. No more hairpins, just big sweepers, a few rollers and some straights through sandy desert landscape. After crossing over I-15 and railroad tracks at Cajon Junction, you’ll see Mormon Rocks, a dramatic wind-eroded sandstone formation, rising up in the distance.

That’s the end of the scenic byway, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your fun. Right across from Mormon Rocks is Lone Pine Canyon Road, a lightly trafficked back road that goes to Wrightwood and Route 2, better known as Angeles Crest Highway, a legendary favorite ride.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway
The Red Rock Scenic Overlook was built during the Great Depression, with masonry work by Donald S. Wiesman

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