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The Long Way Across Ontario on the Trans Canada Adventure Trail

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Snowmobile trails become motorcycle trails during the summer. (Photos by the author)

After months of planning and a morning of pavement riding, we arrived at a section of the Trans Canada Adventure Trail near Huntsville, Ontario. Our plan was to ride about 900 miles of the TCAT, which stretches 9,000 mostly off-road miles from Newfoundland in the east to British Columbia in the west (see sidebar “TCAT 101” at end of the story).

Our group was a fairly diverse threesome of riders. Dan, who had some dirt-riding experience, was concerned with how his Yamaha Super Ténéré would handle some of the tighter, more technical parts of the trail. Greg’s KTM 790 Adventure was probably the most off-road capable bike on this trip, but with almost zero dirt-riding experience, he didn’t know how he would handle the rigors of the trail.

I had the most dirt-riding experience, and with my new-to-me, BBQ-black enamel painted Kawasaki KLR650 – easily the ugliest bike on the trip – I was probably the least concerned with dropping my bike.

Related Stories:

Dirt Naps and Wet Boots

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Dropping a bike in soft sand is a rite of passage.

Within minutes of getting on the TCAT, we were faced with a fairly steep hill to climb with good-sized rocks and ruts. I made it to the top, but Greg lost momentum and fell, breaking his left side mirror. A broken mirror only five minutes into the off-road portion of the ride was not a great start. After the required photo, we righted his bike, Dan made the hill, and we carried on. 

A few miles up the trail was the first deep, long water crossing with a pond on both sides. Greg again stumbled and got caught in a rut. In one scary moment, Greg fell, getting his bike twisted around and aimed directly into the pond we were crossing. One inadvertent twist of the grip and his bike would still be in that pond today. Getting it out ensured that both his and my boots were soaked, as waterproof boots are only effective when the water is not up to your knees. 

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Greg heading the wrong way through a pond.

After Greg had another fall in some deep sand, we decided we should start looking for a spot to camp. Our plan for this ride was to camp on public Crown land (see sidebar) as often as possible to add to the adventure and reduce our costs. There promised to be a lot of Crown land up north, but we knew it might be harder to find where we were at that point. 

While looking for a camping spot, Dan led us through a puddle that looked on the surface like every other one we had recently splashed through. But this one was different. As Dan rode into it, his front wheel disappeared into the water, followed by the rest of his bike nearly up to the seat. He quickly hit the kill switch to avoid sucking water into the airbox and was stuck deep in the muck. After the requisite laughter and photos for posterity, Greg and I pulled him out backwards using a tow strap we had brought for such occasions. Now Dan was a member of Team Water-Soaked Boots.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Dan’s Super Ténéré deep in the muck. It took two of us, a tow rope, and water-filled boots to pull him out.

Related Story: A Solo Journey on the TransAmerica Trail

Trans Canada Adventure Trail? Or Zombieland?

Exhausted and fearful of future bike-sucking puddles, we left the trail and camped in an area with several abandoned RV trailers and a bus, left to rot away in what appeared to be an unofficial RV graveyard. 

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Camping at an unofficial RV graveyard the first night fueled our zombie dreams. Photo by Dan McPhee.

After a night filled with zombie RV nightmares, we found the TCAT again. The trail turned from an abandoned, pulled-up rail line to a narrow one-lane “road,” to a two-lane logging road, followed by a highway near North Bay, then back to an old rail line again. The variations of the route ensured that we remained focused, monitoring the terrain for rocks, potholes, and water. After what seemed like forever along an old rail line, heading west directly into the setting sun, we camped in my aunt and uncle’s backyard, which is a bit off the trail on a beautiful lake near Sudbury.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Crossing a bridge along an old rail trail between North Bay and Sudbury.

In the morning, we continued along the TCAT to an old rail bridge that we were not brave – or stupid – enough to cross. It seemed about 450 feet long and at least 100 feet high with no side rails. Many rail ties were missing, broken, or burned. There was evidence of snowmobile tracks on the bridge, but we agreed that trying to ride our bikes across was a terrible idea, so we backtracked and got on the highway toward Sudbury.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
We crossed many bridges on the Trans Canada Adventure Trail, but we deemed this one too risky. Photo by Greg Fabris.

Once back on the TCAT north of Sudbury, we were totally alone. The road turned into a single lane with trees on each side. If two cars were to meet here, they would have to negotiate a path to allow each other to get by. We didn’t see any cars though – or anyone else. A stop near a river gave us a chance to enjoy the natural beauty and sounds of a seemingly endless supply of rushing water. The isolation was a rarity for us, and the peace of shutting our bikes off in the middle of the trail and hearing nothing but the gentle breeze through the trees never got old. 

The TCAT offers some alternate technical sections that roughly parallel the main track. One section we took follows a power line cut through the woods and offers up some decent challenges, including rocky ascents and descents. Several water crossings gave us some difficulties and wet boots, but we eventually made it through.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Having friends along for the ride means blunders are well-documented and help is available when you need it.

‘It’s log, log! It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood!’

Once off the technical section, the track had us on a road where the only traffic was logging trucks. There were three tire tracks in the gravel, and we tried to stay on the farthest right one, especially around corners, because the trucks use up the two left tracks and then some.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
The lead dog stays dust-free on a logging road south of Shining Tree.

We almost choked in the dust thrown up by the trucks. One time, after two trucks went by in a row, I could hardly see the road in front of me and had to slow down for fear of going off the side. 

We found a nice camping spot just off the road with an outhouse, which, at this point in this isolated part of the province, was a luxury for us. 

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Our campsite near a logging road. Dust hangs in the air from the trucks roaring by a few yards away.

After making it to Shining Tree the next morning, we bypassed the 60 or so miles of logging road the TCAT follows that would’ve taken us to Timmins and instead got on Highway 560 toward Watershed. The track again took us on a logging road toward Chapleau, where we stocked up on groceries, knowing that the next stretch would keep us away from civilization for more than 24 hours along some snowmobile trails toward Wawa.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Some bridges on the old rail trail have been updated and are easily passable for vehicular traffic.

Leaving Chapleau, we rode on gravel roads for a while, and we started searching for a camping spot. Our goal was to find a spot that was roomy with plenty of space for a fire, as well as water nearby for swimming and collecting our drinking water. In this part of the province, there is a ton of Crown land, but our standards meant that we had some trouble finding a good spot that day. We finally found a seldom-used boat launch where we set up our tents as the sun was setting. We had a great fire on a beautiful sandy beach, listening to the calls of the loons on the otherwise deserted lake under the glow of the nearly full moon.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
A beach campfire by an isolated lake makes for a great ending to a great day.

The next day our gravel road turned into a snowmobile trail, wide enough for a truck but with a lot of rocks, sand, and hills. Trails that are smooth and easy in the winter on a snowmobile can be treacherous in the summer on a motorcycle. 

Hello? Anyone Out There?

Isolation was our constant companion. We had seen only a couple of people since the previous afternoon in Chapleau. As we were riding along, a black bear suddenly darted out about 20 feet ahead. He quickly vanished into the bushes, but the shock of it stayed with me for a while, so I slowed my pace. Hitting a bear was not something I was keen to do. 

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Another well-maintained bridge on the trail to Wawa.

Shortly after the bear sighting, we came across a clearing by a lake where someone in a truck camper had set up. Needing our morning coffee, we stopped and asked if he minded if we made our coffee by the water. Dan had a swim while I made the coffee, and we had a chat with the man, who said he loves the area and comes up every summer from Michigan with his canoe and ATV. He gave us a few pointers about the type of route we had ahead of us.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
We had coffee with a fellow from Michigan who visits Northern Ontario every year.

We arrived at Halfway Haven Lodge, which coincidentally is located about halfway between Wawa and Chapleau on the trail. It’s mainly a hunting camp and snowmobile lodge and was closed for our summertime visit. In the winter months, it has fuel and a few cabins for rent. A neat place in the middle of the Northern Ontario wilderness.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Halfway Haven Lodge, along the snowmobile trail between Chapleau and Wawa. Photo by Dan McPhee.

We continued on the sometimes rocky and challenging trail, which again followed a power line. It is safe to say that the power line portions of the northern Ontario TCAT are some of the most challenging sections. They are also the most interesting and offer some of the nicest views. Eventually the track turned back into a small road. It was another hot day, so we took advantage of a great swim spot on the side of a gloriously refreshing river. 

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
Riding along a power line north of Sudbury.

As we approached Wawa and the end of the TCAT portion of our trip, we came across a small box in the road with a handwritten note on it saying there was a washout ahead and the road was not passable. A man in a truck confirmed that the washout indeed made it impossible for us to get through. We considered going to check it out for ourselves, but Greg had reached his limit for gravel and trail riding, so we declared the end of our TCAT journey and made our way back to the pavement of Highway 11 and eventually home.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
The sign that signaled an end to our TCAT travels – at least for now.

The section of the TCAT from Huntsville to Wawa was everything we had hoped it would be. If you crave isolation and remoteness without being more than a few hours from civilization and challenging adventure riding, the Ontario portion of the TCAT will reward you. We’ve already begun planning our next TCAT journey.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail Sidebar: TCAT 101

Trans Canada Adventure Trail

The Trans Canada Adventure Trail is a 9,000-mile route across Canada from the east coast of Newfoundland to the west coast of Vancouver Island. It started out as a concept in 2007, took five years to map out, and was put together with the help of many volunteers. Most of the route is gravel or dirt, with some pavement sections where necessary. If a rider is looking for more of a challenge, there are some alternate sections that are more technical than the standard route. Visit GravelTravel.ca for more information and to purchase the GPS tracks of the TCAT for $25.

Much of the TCAT in northern Ontario goes through Crown land (what Canadians call public land), and it’s important to obey rules about what you can and cannot do. Camping by Ontario residents is free for up to 21 days at any one site per year. Nonresidents must pay a fee of approximately $10 per night, and permits can be purchased online. For more information, click here.

The post The Long Way Across Ontario on the Trans Canada Adventure Trail first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

A Solo Journey on the TransAmerica Trail

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
There were beautiful views along the spine of the Ozark Mountains. Photo by Rick Koch.

“You realize that we’re moving to mandatory evacuation,” the park ranger told me as I pulled up to the campground kiosk to check in. It was August 2020, and Hurricane Isaias was bearing down on the East Coast just as I was about to start my “Adventure of a Lifetime.” The storm was expected to make landfall right where we were standing at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

A month earlier, my KTM 500 EXC-F had been loaded on a truck in Louisiana, bound for Outer Banks Harley-Davidson. I had flown into Norfolk, Virginia, with plans to pick up my bike and spend a week at the beach with friends before starting my solo journey on the TransAmerica Trail.

Now I was doing battle with cars and RVs trying to outrun a hurricane. My KTM was overloaded with an expedition’s worth of gear plus a now-pointless beach towel, umbrella, mask, and fins, making it as unwieldy as the rattletrap jalopy of the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. I made my way north along the Outer Banks and felt lucky to snag a room at an overpriced roach motel in the ominous-sounding village of Kill Devil Hills.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
First day of the TransAmerica Trail: baptizing the bike in the Atlantic Ocean.

I had heard that the pavement ended just north of Corolla and from there you could ride on the beach into Virginia, so I got an early start and baptized my knobbies in the Atlantic brine. The plan was to ride west to the Great Dismal Swamp and drop down to Sam Correro’s TransAmerica Trail from there (see “TAT? Which TAT?” sidebar at end of story). It was a gorgeous day in one of America’s most beautiful places – the calm before the storm – and as soon as I was off the beaten track, I thought to myself: I’m doing it. I’m actually riding coast-to-coast on a dirtbike!

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
The lush mountain scenery of North Carolina (missing only the sound of flowing creeks and the wet, minty smells of the ferns and forest).

I rode west across the causeway to mainland North Carolina where it got really hot, really fast. My riding gear became a soggy wetsuit. I pulled into a state park to re-sort my gear and camp for the night. Just as I entered the parking lot, my bike skidded, and I almost toppled over. My heavy load had pushed the rear fender into the exhaust, melting a strap, which had rolled up into my sprocket, as well as one of the turnsignals and the license plate mount. The state park was closed because of Covid, so after re-shuffling my gear, I was back on tarmac. It was still hot, and black clouds trailed behind me. 

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
The Tail of the Dragon is not just for sportbikes! Photo by Killboy.com

Suddenly a bird hit my thigh, bounced into my chest, and flew over my shoulder. Wait, that wasn’t a bird, it was my phone! After a tedious half hour of tacking back and forth down the road, I spotted it – functional but with a cracked screen. When I climbed off the KTM to retrieve it, I felt woozy and was no longer sweating. I held onto a telephone pole to keep from fainting and succumbed to a bout of rib-wracking dry heaves. I was on the verge of a full-on heat stroke. Nearby I saw a kudzu-covered shack that turned out to be a juke joint-cum-country store where I sucked down three Gatorades and laid down over the top of the old-school ice box. Had I not dropped my phone, I wouldn’t have stopped riding and might have died. 

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
A slick, rail-less board bridge in Mississippi is still better than a muddy river crossing.

Hurricane Isaias caught up with me near Appomattox, Virginia, and I ducked into a gas station overhang to put on my raingear for the first time. It fit rather snuggly over all my off-road gear, and when I tried to swing my leg over the enormous pile of kit on the KTM, I fell over, my legs splayed akimbo with the bike and bags toppling on top of me.

I hadn’t even put a wheel on the TAT yet. Was I in over my head?

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Impending rain and nightfall on a desolate part of the TAT in Virginia meant it was time to find gas and shelter.

A Decision is Made

If I bailed out, I’d still have to get my KTM back home to Louisiana. Shipping it home would be expensive and take a month. The 500 EXC-F is an enduro, the last thing you’d want to ride on the freeway, so I’d have to take little secondary roads back down south. That pretty much sounded like the TAT.

I decided I was unlikely to make it all the way to Oregon as planned. The TAT dipped into central Mississippi, and from there it was only about three hours to my house. The revised plan was to put Oregon out of my mind and just focus on getting home.

Removing the pressure to complete the entire TAT lifted a heavy weight from my shoulders. The storm had passed, and it was a beautiful day with blue skies and cooler temperatures. Virginia is lush and green, and the rain brought out flowers and butterflies. Narrow lanes and gravel roads weaved between red barns and fields of mowed pasture, eventually climbing into cool, dark forests. I could sense the temperature and humidity changes around each dip and turn. I could smell little creeks, pines, and vegetation, the very earth itself.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
A picnic shelter makes for an ideal hammock camping spot.

I veered off the TAT to have a hearty lunch at the Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewpub. With the views, live music, and great weather, I could have spent the day there, but instead I mounted up and crossed the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I stopped briefly at the farm where Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper that led the United States to feed the world. In the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, I camped in a clearing next to the trail, just me and the bike and a million stars.

Soft Mud Makes a Hard Slog on the TransAmerica Trail

By the time I blazed my way through Virginia, North Carolina, corners of Georgia and Alabama, and into Tennessee, I had perfected my packing and loading system, felt at home behind the bars of my KTM, fought less with my GPS, and really began to enjoy myself.

Tennessee was a turning point. Some dear friends rode their Harley down to Lynchburg to join me for dinner and offer encouragement. Just off the trail in Counce, I had breakfast at the home of TAT founder Sam Correro, and he personally adorned my bike with one of his TAT stickers on my front fender. And a buddy in St. Louis contacted me and said he’d meet me in Arkansas so we could ride together for a few days. It was settled: I was back on the TransAmerica Trail to Oregon!

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
A proud moment with TAT progenitor Sam Correro in front of his house in Counce, Tennessee. Why isn’t this man in the AMA Hall of Fame already?

But it wasn’t easy. For many, the hardest part of the TAT east of the Mississippi is the myriad of water crossings in Tennessee. The two worst ones – which you see most often in YouTube videos of TAT-ending epic fails – occur the first 10 miles after you enter the Volunteer State, one right after the other. The gracious host of the motorcycle-friendly Lodge at Tellico lessened my anxiety by sharing some strategies on how to manage them. “Worse comes to worst,” he said, “it’s not too far to hike back here, and I can get ya out.”

In Mississippi, the remnants of Hurricane Marco darkened the skies, and rain turned the TAT into retreat-from-Stalingrad, diaper-full-of-diarrhea sludge. I found refuge in the college town of Oxford, where I checked into a hotel, ordered a steak for dinner, and enjoyed a rest day waiting for things to dry out. But I couldn’t dally because yet another hurricane threatened to make a bad situation worse.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
“If it gets too rough, I can always turn around.” Not always easy to do on a steep, rocky trail.

The thing about being in way over your head is that you usually don’t realize it until you’re actually in way over your head. At the southernmost part of the TAT in central Mississippi, I turned down a damp red-dirt road and headed east. The red clay grew more viscous as I followed the ruts others before me had made. In places the muddy track grew wide where folks attempted workarounds to what looked like permanent sludge holes. There came a series of undulating rises through a canopy forest tunnel with the road getting increasingly soupier. I thought about turning back, but it would have been a long detour well off the TAT.

Well, this is where the ‘adventure part’ begins, I thought. Slowly and surely wins the race. Take it easy, stay focused, and we’ll get through this.

One little hill had me spinning my wheel in a red rooster tail of muck going up, then sliding sideways out of control to the bottom, my tires coated like frosting on a Krispy Kreme donut. Now I really had to stick with the trail because there was absolutely no way in hell I could make it back up the slime track I just slid down. I lasted only about a minute more before my KTM became completely stuck up to the rear sprocket. When I dismounted, there was no need for a kickstand because the bike was cemented in place. I walked down the road to scout ahead. Slipping and sliding in my moto boots, each one weighted down by pounds of Mississippi clay, I peered over the rise and saw … more muddy hills, an endless procession of them to the horizon and beyond.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Stuck up to the swingarm in the Mudpit of Despair at the southernmost part of the trail in Mississippi.

The hot, humid air was thick, and I felt nauseous. I took off my helmet, gloves, jacket, boots, and even my pants and sat down on the side of the road. A black butterfly landed on my bike, then flew over and sat on my knee. We looked at each other for what seemed like an hour. I just sat there, hot and numb. I did not know what to do. Another storm would come that evening – maybe that afternoon – and no way was another vehicle coming down this road. Not today. Maybe not ever.

Thoughts of living the rest of my life in the woods like Grizzly Adams soon dissipated along with my stock of water. Scrolling around on my Garmin, I saw a little spur a few miles back that looked like it might lead to pavement. I stripped the bike of all the gear and scraped off as much clay as I could. With no other choice, I backtracked, dragging the machine sideways over the hills and making multiple trips to retrieve my gear. 

Back on blacktop, I stopped at a store and downed a water, a Gatorade, and a Mountain Dew. I was in Bobby Gentry country, and the lyric “Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge” played in my head as I thought that maybe what Billy Joe tossed off the Tallahatchie Bridge was a mud-encrusted KTM.

That night the hotel’s fire alarm went off just as I began a relaxing soak in a hot bath. Guests were summoned to the lobby because the hurricane was kicking up tornadoes in the area.

Was I cursed? Had my karmic debt finally come due?

I took a day to visit Graham KTM, a dealership in Senatobia, and the great guys there changed the oil, adjusted the brakes, and installed a trick tail piece that better supported the weight of my luggage. While they were power-washing pounds of clay off my bike, I asked the shop fellows what strategy locals used to ride those gooey roads. “Man, we never ride in that shit.”

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
The Graham KTM team in Senatobia, Mississippi, replaced my melted turnsignal/license plate carrier with a trick (and much lighter) rear cowling and power-washed away several pounds of red clay. Their advice for riding through the Magnolia State’s tire-sucking mud: “Don’t.”

Beyond Big Muddy

Arkansas is a special place. Its mountains are not part of any other continental ridgeline, and the culture – equal parts Southern, Southwestern, and Midwestern – is unique. Ozark people know the TAT, and hospitality and homemade signs of encouragement prevailed along the trail.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
My buddy Rick Koch rode down from St. Louis to join me for the Arkansas portion of the TAT.

In addition to the beautiful vistas and bountiful barbecue, Arkansas highlights included a gentleman who serves TAT riders iced tea from his back porch while photographing the different motorcycles and recording them in his ledger, the little TAT Shak that’s open and free to anyone who wants to stop, and spending a few days riding with Rick Koch, an old college buddy who had come down from St. Louis.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Percy Kale, who lives just off the TAT in Marvel, Arkansas, documents motorcycles that pass through.

I had no preconceived expectations about Oklahoma, yet it provided some of the best memories of the trip. Intermittent rain and challenging mud made for slow going, and I slid from town to town to take shelter through countryside that I otherwise probably would have blasted though.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Use of a little trailer in the woods is free to all TAT riders in Central Arkansas.
TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Most of the Arkansas TAT rolls through “dry” counties, so stock up on beer when you can!

I met some of the nicest people of the whole trip, and I visited the little town of Beaver during the World Championship Cow Chip Throwing Contest. 

The Way-out West

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Oklahoma is the bridge between the Midwestern Plains and the Western Prairie.

New Mexico and most of Colorado passed by too quickly. I set back the clock another hour and entered the Pacific watershed after crossing the Great Divide. It was weird to see patches of snow after almost passing out from heat stroke earlier in the trip.

In a little bunkbed bungalow in Sargents, Colorado – a haven for hunters and off-road enthusiasts where I feasted on elk meatloaf – I awoke to shrill whistles and shouts of “yip, yip yip!” Local cowboys were rounding up the herd outside my cabin’s back window.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
The Tomichi Creek Trading Post is a last-chance gas jumping-off point for adventurers, and its cafe serves elk meatloaf and craft beer. I awoke here with frost on my bike amidst the whistles and shouts of a full-blown cattle drive.

After weeks of temperatures in the 80s and 90s, it was 30 degrees outside, and I scraped frost off the map pocket of my tankbag. The dip in temperature tripped the aspen trees, and just like that, almost all of them went from pale green to vibrant yellow.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
It froze overnight in Colorado, and the aspen trees all popped at once!
TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
The beginning of the San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Riding high in the Rockies, I went over Black Sage Pass (9,725 ft), Tomichi Pass (11,962 ft), Los Pinos Pass (10,509 ft), and Slumgullion Pass (11,529 ft) and then zig-zagged down switchbacks into Lake City, said to be the most isolated town in Colorado.

Continuing west to Ouray meant going over Engineer Pass (12,800 ft), which is surrounded by barren tundra that reminded me of the Karakoram Mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Gale-force winds brought a blizzard and total whiteout seconds after taking this picture.

It was freezing cold and extremely windy at the summit, and it was a struggle to keep my loaded bike from falling over as I took off my gloves for a quick selfie. Snow started blowing sideways, and soon it was a complete whiteout. Fog on my goggles turned to frost, and the grade was so steep I was reluctant to move my hands from the handlebars to wipe them. Slinking down the precipice was all the more unnerving because I had to contend with Jeeps and side-by-sides coming the other way. A strip of mud and trickling water on the inside track became gravel-covered ice, forcing me to move closer to the outside ledge.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Colorado’s high-country tundra reminded me of the Karakoram Mountains along the Afghan/Pakistani border.

I never felt comfortable on those steep switchbacks. My bodyweight kept trying to put me over the handlebars, and I couldn’t scoot back because of my loaded luggage. I washed out my front tire on one gravelly switchback, and a passing motorcyclist going up the hill stopped and helped me right things.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Straight up-and-down canyon walls in the San Juan Mountains, through which 50-mph wind gusts are typical.

After arriving in Ouray, a long soak in the warm mineral waters of the public hot springs was just what I needed to close out an incredible day that featured sunshine, gale-force winds, a blizzard, freezing rain, and more than a few pucker moments.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Taking a break in Trinidad, Colorado. Many TAT riders get a tire change nearby at Topar Racing.

My Dear Imogene

From Ouray, there were several options. Sam Correro’s route would send me south on the Million Dollar Highway, one of the most beautiful roads in America. Instead, I opted for the more adventurous Yankee Boy Basin route over Imogene Pass (13,114 ft) to Telluride.

The weather the next day was probably the single most beautiful day of the trip. I was in top TAT shape, the bike was running great, and my gear was dialed. The autumn leaves were vibrant, and there were many natural and historic things to see along the way. At one overlook, I met a young guy from California in a new Jeep who had stopped to let some air out of his tires. He was on his honeymoon, and the couple had planned for more than a year to drive this road, which is a bucket-list destination for many off-roaders.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
Crossing the Great Divide was a major milestone, but higher, steeper passes were still ahead.

Even though it was a Tuesday in late September, there were a lot of vehicles on the road, especially side-by-sides, not all of which yielded the right of way. One of the trickiest technical bits – a staircase of rock and shale that plummeted down to a precipice below – required a careful study of the approach. The trail devolved into a giant rockface about 100 feet wide that had shale-like “stairs” of varying widths and heights. You must go up the stairs diagonally, pick a shelf to straighten out on, and then go back down diagonally again. On two wheels, this is a feat that requires just the right mix of momentum, balance, skill, and luck to avoid falling off the cliff.

Just as I decided on a route up and hit the gas, two side-by-sides came across from the other direction, forcing me to scramble up the stairs higher than planned. They squeezed by without mishap, tooting and waving as they passed, but I was stuck at the top of the staircase, holding myself to the cliff with just my right leg and about two knobs’ worth of tire. I perched like that for some time, a few Jeeps passing by closely without acknowledgement. When my knees began to shake and I wasn’t sure I could hold on any longer, I launched myself down, kicked off the ledge, and skipped down the stairs, just catching the lip of the trail.

Shaken, I knew backtracking was no longer an option. I was committed to summitting, come hell or high water.

Next I came to a deep, narrow stream filled with softball- to bowling ball-sized rocks. I was at the top of a waterfall that poured into the canyon below. With a cliff on one side and a house-sized boulder on the other, there was no workaround. Before fear got the better of me, I gunned it, and my front wheel skimmed the top of the water toward the far bank. The strong current and slippery, unstable rocks caused me to slip sideways, and I started to fall over, but somehow my boot caught a rock and I bounced back upright as I gassed it over the finish line.

Soaking wet and hyperventilating, it took me awhile to regain my composure. I rode around the big boulder only to find that the little stream I crashed through was but a small tributary of a larger stream that now roared before me. The trail required me to ride up a 6-foot-high steep, mossy waterfall and then hang a sharp left up a switchback. Um…

Remember when I said that you don’t really know you’re in over your head until you’re in over your head? I was stuck between two streams I could not cross. I shut off the bike, took off my helmet, and sat for a long while, feeling demoralized. It was getting dark in the crevasse I was tucked into, and I had to make a decision. It wasn’t like I could establish residency in the shelf between the streams and have my mail forwarded there.

So I put my helmet on and gave it a shot. I closed my eyes and let out a scream as I popped the clutch, laying on a fistful of throttle. The weirdest thing is, I have no further memory of the incident. Suddenly I was on a wide, flat bit of dirt road farther up the summit, out of earshot of the water, but I don’t recall how I got there. It’s like God’s hand reached down and delivered me. One moment I’m crashing into a waterfall, and the next I’m back in my body, calm and relaxed and tootling down the trail, none the worse for wear.

My idyll didn’t last long. In full view of the barren summit, I now faced the final stretch and what for many is the hardest obstacle of the trail. Blocking the final approach to the summit was a large boulder. There looked to be a little ramp around it on dirt, so I took that route, but near the top of the boulder, just around the corner out of view, there appeared a 4-foot ledge. I came to a sudden stop, sliding up on the tank. In trying to turn around on the steep slope, I lost my balance and fell over.

I was above 10,000 feet, short of breath, and my arms felt like wet spaghetti noodles. I was too weak to lift my bike, so I started unloading my gear. Just then, California Honeymoon Jeep Guy came up the trail and said, “Hey, Louisiana KTM Dude!” He put my bags in the back of his Jeep and promised to drop them off at the summit. We then pushed and pulled my bike over the ledge, and I served as spotter for his careful crawl up the face of the boulder.

Near the summit, several vehicles were stacked up at the base of the steepest incline I had ever seen. After Jeep Guy left, I faced another 3-foot stepup to continue on the trail. I was exhausted and again unsure of what to do. The only other bike I had seen was a mangled BMW in the back of a pickup truck.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott

Just then a side-by-side pulled up next to me, driven by a tour guide. “You look stuck,” he said. “Are you alright?” He told me he was a KTM man himself and that he often enjoyed this trail with his enduro friends. The ledge looked vertical but actually had some angle to it, he said, so the trick was to hit it head on with enough speed to make the next righthand switchback and up the shale slope.

“Don’t worry what line you take or how sloppy it gets,” he said. “Just stay on the gas. Don’t let up. You can do this!”

His enthusiasm was encouraging, and being relieved of my luggage was liberating. After a few false starts, I recommitted and used my “waterfall” technique, screaming as I accelerated into the ledge. When my front tire hit, it lifted straight up into the air. The impact knocked my body back, but I held on with vice grips of adrenaline and gassed it. After going aerial, somehow I touched down where I needed to be.

Maintaining momentum, I threaded around some other vehicles, made a sharp right at speed, and went up into the scree, fishtailing sideways and throwing rocks everywhere, clawing my way up the steep slope. My engine howled wonderfully like I’d never heard before. “Woohoo!” I heard from below, and I thought, I’m doing this! Up and up I went. Just as my front wheel lurched onto flat ground, with my spinning back tire not far behind, the KTM died.

WTF?! How? What? Why?!

My forward movement stopped, and for a moment I was in suspended animation, half on and half off the slope – like Wile E. Coyote when he first runs off the cliff, and then looks down…

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
In view of the Imogene Pass summit sign, I crashed at just over 14,000 feet.

Pulling in the clutch, the KTM restarted first pop. But I felt the sickening feeling of going backward. Squeezing the front brake lever just caused the front tire to skid. Locked up and sliding backward, I became disoriented.

Instinctively, I put my right foot down to arrest my slide, but the incline was steeper on that side, and my boot touched nothing. My body shifted to the right, causing me to whiskey-throttle into a sideways wheelie that knocked me backward at an awkward angle. As I landed hard, I felt a crunch below my right knee – what turned out to be a tibial plateau fracture – and I heard my coach shout, “Oh no!” from below.

Within sight of people taking selfies at the Imogene Pass summit sign, the KTM and I tumbled to a halt on the slope, bringing my TransAmerica Trail journey to an end – for now.

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott
A celestial vista (and a happy pill) gave me a smile before the gurney strapped to the back of a side-by-side took me the long way down to Ouray.

TransAmerica Trail Sidebar: TAT? Which TAT

TransAmerica Trail part 1 Dave Scott

In the mid-1980s, dual-sport enthusiast Sam Correro began scouting and mapping a mostly off-road trail from Tennessee to Oregon, which he called the TransAmerica Trail. Correro’s TAT now includes a main trail that runs west from West Virginia to Utah, north to Idaho, and then east to Wisconsin. Spurs extend the TAT to the Atlantic, the Pacific, and along the Rockies.

Correro continues to ride the TAT and updates it regularly. At TransAmTrail.com, he sells maps, rolls charts, and GPS tracks. He also provides his phone number and email address to those who order his maps. While on the TAT, I texted Correro to let him know how much fun I was having, and he invited me for breakfast at his home, which is just off the trail in Tennessee.

Another resource is gpsKevinAdventureRides.com, which offers digitized TAT maps as well as GPS tracks. Much of gpsKevin’s main TAT follows the same route as Correro’s, but he offers alternate spurs from Tennessee to New York and from Moab, Utah, to Los Angeles.

Whereas the TAT runs mostly east-to-west, Backcountry Discovery Routes (RideBDR.com) run south-to-north in individual states, and some parts of BDRs in western states overlap with the TAT.

For my trip, I bought maps and GPS tracks from Correro, gpsKevin, and BDR and put together my own trip, mostly following Correro’s route. Since I’m a history buff, I incorporated some of America’s original routes: the Trail of Tears, the Cimarron and Santa Fe Trail, the Mormon Trail, and Lewis and Clark’s Route of Discovery. And as a fan of American culture, I included parts of music trails through the Appalachians and Ozarks and sought out the best local barbecue and regional cuisine.

There are many planning resources available online. Do your homework, prepare yourself and your bike, and go for it! – DS

Listen to our interviews with Dave Scott in the Rider Insider Podcast, Episode 46 and Episode 48.

This article originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of Rider.

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Gina ‘Brooklyn’ Neumann | Ep. 49 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Ep49 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast Gina Brooklyn Neumann

Our guest on Episode 49 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Gina “Brooklyn” Neumann, a member of the Leather and Lace MC, an international women’s motorcycle club founded in 1983. Although Leather and Lace MC is a patch club, it is by no means an outlaw club. It’s a family-oriented MC whose mission is to promote sisterhood among its members, to ride together, and to work as a club to raise funds for charitable organizations that support children and families. Neumann is a member of Leather and Lace MC’s Midway Crue, which includes members in Virginia and Maryland. In October, the Midway Crue hosted a poker run, and the proceeds went to Bethany House of Northern Virginia, which provides a safe haven for victims of domestic violence.

In this episode, we discuss the history of Leather and Lace MC, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2023, and we talk about the stigma that faces patch clubs, the profiling of motorcyclists, and the importance of sharing knowledge about protective gear, riding etiquette, and safety to new riders.

LINKS: LeatherAndLaceMC.com, LeatherAndLaceMC on Instagram, LeatherAndLaceMC on Facebook

You can listen to Episode 49 on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends! Scroll down for a list of previous episodes.

Visit the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast webpage to check out previous episodes:

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A Tale of Two Brothers and a Deal for a Harley-Davidson

Exhaust note Harley-Davidson deal
The author and his brother (right) weren’t always this close. But time –and a Harley-Davidson –heals all wounds.

Thirty years after the fact, my older brother still likes to remind everyone that I managed to blow a full-ride scholarship my first semester at college even though I was supposedly “the brains of the family.” I think he enjoys telling the story because, at the time, he believed it was a flaw in my armor, a chip in the chrome plating. But even then, he must have thought I would do well for myself. Otherwise, he might not have made a deal that ultimately brought him to my doorstep with a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail in the spring of 2018.

Along for the Ride, A Few Lengths Behind

In my office, I have a framed picture of my brother, age 5, and a chubby 2-year-old me. We’re wearing matching striped railroad overalls with thick leg cuffs, holding hands, and I have a big smile. I’ve always looked up to my brother. He was the epitome of cool – as soon as I knew what “cool” meant – even if he wanted nothing to do with his younger, dorky brother as we got older. If anything, that made him cooler.

Even in our teen years, when he was getting in trouble and I was getting straight A’s, I watched him admiringly from behind my textbooks, wishing I were as fearless and willing to take risks. 

A few years later, I ended up following him to the local college. With my grades, I could’ve gone somewhere more prestigious, but in my senior year of high school I had started hanging out with my brother and his friends. I was welcomed into his fold. We were friends again, like we hadn’t been since childhood.

I followed him onto the ski slopes – down mogul hills and over cliffs I probably shouldn’t have. When he got into motorcycles, starting with a Yamaha V-Max, I followed him there too. My first bike was a Honda V65 Magna. It’s a miracle I didn’t kill myself, but maybe I just didn’t have it long enough. I only owned the bike a little over a year before I had to sell it.

Here’s where the details get fuzzy. But it was college after all.

In my recollection, around this time my brother offered me a deal: Whoever could get himself a Harley first would then get the other brother one when he could reasonably afford it. The benefit of this deal was each of us eventually having at least one bike, either bought ourselves or gifted to us. But if we were both successful, we would each ultimately have two bikes.

When he bought a Sportster 1200 – and started doing pretty well in the business world – I got excited, especially as I was still screwing around somewhat aimlessly (this was after blowing that scholarship). Certainly my bike wouldn’t be far off.

Then he got a Fat Boy, and I thought, “Wait a minute.”

Turns out, my brother remembered the deal differently.

Deal or No Deal

By his own admission (when I called to tell him about this article), my brother proceeded to customize probably five other Harleys.

Several years and motorcycles later, after a few beers, I asked him about it.

“That wasn’t the deal,” he said. “It was that we both get one for ourselves first and then one for the other brother.”

“What if one of the brothers never ended up being able to afford one for himself to begin with?” I said, still living paycheck to paycheck at the time.

We continued to debate the finer details of a deal made about 15 years earlier. At the end of the night, I didn’t think I convinced him I was right – that kind of victory over an older brother is rare. But in 2018, after selling his business in a lucrative deal, he called me and said, “So, do you want a Jeep or a Harley? But whatever you pick, I get to choose the style.”

Who was I to argue?

I chose the Harley, and a month later, he showed up towing a 2004 Heritage Softail Classic with just over 8,000 miles. Talk about feeling like a kid again. Or at least that carefree 20-something-year-old. It was a dream – and a deal – come true.

Sometimes I wonder if my brother made that original deal because he felt bad that I had to sell my motorcycle. He says he just thought I would hit it big before him and things would’ve gone the other way. Funny how life works.

Whatever his reasons, he came through. These days he doesn’t ride anymore. After selling his business, he moved to Hawaii and traded his jeans and riding jacket for a wetsuit and fins. But after all these years, he is still the epitome of cool.

This article first appeared as the Exhaust Note feature in the October 2022 issue of Rider.

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Northeastern Backroads of New Jersey and Pennsylvania | Favorite Ride

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
The empty expanses of the rolling, twisty New Jersey County Route 650 beckons riders from the tri-state area and beyond. (Photos by the author)

Greenery, blue skies, and sunshine were bursting forth upon the land like an invitation from Mother Nature to fire up my machine and go forth on a ride on some of my favorite northeastern backroads. I accepted her call and began my cruise a few miles north of the New Jersey border in Pine Island, New York.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

Negative depictions of the state in film and television cause some people to think New Jersey is covered in urban sprawl, oil refineries, and clogged “highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive,” as Bruce Springsteen put it.

Although true for some parts of New Jersey close to the metropolises of New York City and Philadelphia, it’s called the Garden State for a reason. Northwestern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania are blessed with farmland, forests, lakes, rivers, state parks, small towns, country churches, and most importantly, great roads to ride. Those blessings make this loop route a memorable favorite ride.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
If you had to guess, would you think this scene was in New Jersey? With farms, forests, and few people, it lives up to the Garden State name.

Check out more of Rider‘s Favorite Rides

With the sun warming my face and the sweet fragrance of greenery filling my lungs, I rumbled south on my Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT. I had sold my heavy Vulcan 1700 Voyager, and although I missed all its bells and whistles, I enjoyed the backroad nimbleness of the much lighter 900.

On Glenwood Road (County Road 26) just north of the New Jersey border, the Blue Arrow Farm has an impressive replica of a western Plains Indian village. In New Jersey, Glenwood Road splits, and I turned west onto the rolling, serpentine County Road 565 and stopped at the unique Farm at Glenwood Mountain. Encompassing 170 acres, it sells grass-fed, free-range beef from Scottish Highland cattle, free-range chicken, eggs, turkey, and pork, as well as local honey and organic fruits and vegetables. They also host private farm-to-table dinners and weddings.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
A “wooly bully” at the Farm at Glenwood Mountain stares down the author.

Rolling southwest toward Sussex takes you along the border of Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, which runs 9 miles along the Wallkill River (one of the few rivers in the U.S. that flows north) and protects 5,100 acres of land. Wildlife abounds in this area, including waterfowl, raptors, coyotes, deer, and bears. Throughout my years cruising through rural New Jersey, I have been lucky enough to spot several bears, as well as red foxes, a coyote, and numerous great blue herons.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge is an ideal place for quiet nature walks.

After crossing over State Route 23, I passed The Village Smith and Cycle Works, a motorcycle repair and blacksmith shop where you can get new tires for your motorcycle and new shoes for your horse. Naturalist writer and gadfly Henry David Thoreau said to “simplify, simplify” your life. In rural New Jersey, we say “diversify, diversify” your life to succeed.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
A rider and passenger cruising one of New Jersey’s empty country roads on a spring day.

Continuing on 565 to rustic Plains Road, I connected with U.S. Route 206. Cruising north toward Kittatinny Mountain, I saw some interestingly named eateries, such as Jumboland Diner and Firehouse Bagels, which has a real firetruck as part of its decor.

Passing through part of Stokes State Forest, which encompasses more than 16,000 acres, I turned onto County Route 560, sailing toward the Dingmans Ferry Bridge, one of the few remaining privately owned bridges in the United States.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
The author’s Vulcan 900 soaks up some rays in Pennsylvania next to the pristine water of the Delaware River and the Dingmans Ferry Bridge.

Opened in 1900, the bridge is 530 feet long and crosses the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Riding high above the river on a motorcycle over its wooden planks is quite the experience. This rustic bridge lies within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which spans 70,000 acres in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A boat-launching area next to the crossing has views of the bridge.

Two impressive waterfall areas are nearby: Dingmans Falls and Childs Park. Both are worth a stop. Dingmans Falls is reached by a short, flat stroll on a boardwalk through the forest and alongside the stream. Childs Park is more challenging, with stairs going both up and down and a rugged walkway.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
The author’s Vulcan rests proudly on one of the many curving roads that grace this rural ramble through New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

After a brief respite by the river, I fired up my machine and took State Route 739 to Silver Lake Road – a winding, rolling traverse through state forest land, lakes, and hidden gated communities. With areas of huge trees and forests lining the road, you get the feeling of motorcycling through primeval times. Route 402 north is much the same but is a faster-paced ride.

Blooming Grove Road (County Road 4004) and Well Road (CR 434), meander past country stores, rural homes, and forests. I felt like I was riding through a simpler era in America. At U.S. Route 6, a scenic byway that traverses the northern part of Pennsylvania, I roared toward Milford, a touristy town with several good restaurants.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
The stone edifice of the St. John Neumann/Good Shepherd Parish stands stoically in the aptly named Lords Valley, Pennsylvania.

After a late lunch at the Apple Valley Restaurant, I cruised across the modern Milford-Montague Toll Bridge with great views of the river back to Jersey. County Route 650 serpentines back through Stokes State Forest, which is a favorite of riders who love to challenge its rolling curves or just cruise along serenely. Traveling Routes 519 and 23 to Sussex, I headed northeast on State Route 284 to Bassetts Bridge Road, Lake Wallkill Road, and Glenwood Mountain Road.

Northeastern backroads New Jersey Pennsylvania
Riders returning from the Pennsylvania/New Jersey hinterlands while appreciating the roadside scenery.

As my Vulcan weaved through the countryside to Routes 565/517 and back to Pine Island, I reflected on what an enjoyable ride it had been. It was one I was destined to repeat.

The post Northeastern Backroads of New Jersey and Pennsylvania | Favorite Ride first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Dave Scott | Ep. 48 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Ep48 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast Dave Scott

Our guest on Episode 48 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Dave Scott, who made a solo journey on the TransAmerica Trail. This is Part 2 of a three-part interview. We spoke to Scott in Episode 46, where he told us about the logistical challenges of just starting the TAT – dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, having his KTM shipped from Louisiana to North Carolina, and riding his luggage-laden KTM through a hurricane and on wet, mud-slick trails. In Episode 46, Scott had gotten as far as the Mississippi River. In this episode, we pick up where we left off, and Scott shares his adventures in the Ozarks, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountains, where he faced his biggest challenge of the trip. This is another freewheeling, uncensored conversation full of humor, tangents, side stories, and insightful observations about what it’s like to ride solo across America on a dirtbike. Stay tuned for Part 3, where we hope Scott will finish telling us his epic tale of adventure! And look for Scott’s story in the adventure-themed November 2022 issue of Rider.

You can listen to Episode 48 on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends! Scroll down for a list of previous episodes.

Visit the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast webpage to check out previous episodes:

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Evo Sportster | End of an Era

2022 Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster left side
Is this 2022 Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster one of that last air-cooled Evos? (Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson)

Few motorcycle brands are as legendary as Harley-Davidson. You won’t find the Hells Angels on Gold Wings or Panigales, after all. Within the brand, the Evolution (Evo) Sportster is truly iconic.

Born in 1957, XL Sportsters were the smaller performance models for more spirited riders. Originally equipped with 883cc and 1,000cc Ironhead engines, they were updated in 1986 to the Evo that produces the sound that many associate with Harley.

1957 Harley-Davidson XL Sportster right side
1957 Harley-Davidson XL Sportster (Photo by Jeff Bowles, lic. CC-A 2.0 G)

Development on the engines started during the notorious AMF years in the 1970s, and the original Evo was a 1,340cc variant, which replaced the aging Shovelhead in 1984. They are air-cooled with push rods, overhead valves, and enough vibration to remind you that it’s no Japanese cruiser. There’s nothing quite like an Evo.

Sportster: Old School with a Cult Following

2022 Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster right side
2022 Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster (Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson)

The 1986 Sportsters got 883cc and 1,100cc Evo engines that hardly changed over the next 36 years. The 1,100cc Evo got bumped up to 1,200cc in 1988, fuel injection was added in 2006, and a 5-speed transmission replaced the 4-speed in 1991. And that’s about it. We live in a very different world today where European emissions standards are strangling anything that runs on gas.

Harley’s old-school Evo rumblers just aren’t clean enough, so a new breed of Sportsters is taking their place. The Sportster S and Nightster (a recycled Evo Sportster name) have the latest Revolution Max engines first seen on the Pan America adventure bike, while the Milwaukee-Eight powers the Softail and Touring models.

Sportster 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S right side
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S (Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson)

The Revolution Max is a liquid-cooled V-twin with a lot more power, but it lacks the character of the admittedly obsolete Evos. Harley has finally axed the last two traditional Sportsters – the Iron 883 and Forty-Eight (1200) – with production slated to end in 2023. They were discontinued in Europe in 2020 due to Euro 5 regulations.

Related Story: 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S | First Ride Review

Evo Sportsters have a cult following for a reason – they have infinite character. Riding an Iron 883 in 2022 is similar to riding its 1957 counterpart, which is truly special. They’re also incredibly customizable – you can build an entire Sportster from scratch with aftermarket parts. It’s a tinkerer’s dream, and few Sportsters end up alike. So many have been punched out of the factory that they’ll seemingly live on forever in the preowned market.

Sportster 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster right side
2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster (Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson)

Related Story: 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster | First Ride Review

Are there any equivalents from other brands? Can you buy a new bike that’s comparably old-school? You certainly can, and we’ll start with a brand that’s even more old-school than Harley.

Royal Enfield

Sportster 1951 Royal Enfield Bullet 350 right side
1951 Royal Enfield Bullet 350 (Photo courtesy Bonhams)

Harley-Davidson was founded in 1903, but Royal Enfield started in 1901. In fact, it’s the oldest motorcycle brand with continuous production. Originally an English company, it produced a model as iconic as any Sportster: the Bullet. Launch in 1948, it beats the Sportster as the oldest motorcycle design in history. Both the Bullet and Royal Enfield names come from the same place, as the original company was a subcontractor to the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, London, which produced military rifles and swords.

Sportster 2002 Royal Enfield Bullet 500 right side
2002 Royal Enfield Bullet 500 (Photo by Samihasib, lic. CC-A 2.0 G)

Like Harley, Royal Enfields were instrumental in World War II, used extensively by the British Army and Royal Air Force. The Indian Army began using Royal Enfield Bullets in the late 1940s and opened a factory in Madras. By 1955, 350cc bullets were sent as kits to Indian factories and production of complete motorcycles soon followed under license. The legendary 1955 Indian Bullet remained relatively unchanged, unlinking itself from the British counterparts that were updated in the late 1950s.

Sportster 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 right side
2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 (Photo courtesy Royal Enfield)

Related Story: 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 | Road Test Review

The British company fell into disarray in the early 1960s and was shut down by 1970, but India’s arm endured and produced the 1955 Bullet for domestic riders. Success was not infinite, as superior Japanese bikes almost wiped out the brand in the 1990s. India’s Eicher Motors bought the near-bankrupt company, and the long-running Bullet received significant quality improvements, while additional models were also developed.

Sportster 2022 Royal Enfield Classic 350 right side
2022 Royal Enfield Classic 350 (Photo courtesy Royal Enfield)

Related Story: 2022 Royal Enfield Classic 350 | First Ride Review

Today, there are two primary engine displacements – 350cc Singles and 650cc Twins. Smaller than the outgoing Evo engines but with no less character. All have fuel injection and emissions equipment to pass Western regulations. In fact, the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 became the best-selling 125cc-and-above motorcycle in the U.K. In the American market, the Bullet name was recently dropped in favor of the Classic (and Meteor) 350, while the Continental and INT 650s, Scram 411, and Himalayan 411 adventure bike are relatively new models.

Sportster Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 right side
Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 (Photo by the author)

All of them remain old-school and true to their roots, and you won’t find anything closer to bikes from the 1950s and 1960s. I dare say the Classic 350 is even more “vintage” than the Sportsters, while the new 650cc parallel-Twins are classically designed as well. Royal Enfields are designed in England and built in a state-of-the-art factory in India, and they’re half the price (or less) of new Sportsters. For old-school enthusiasts, they’re tough to fault.

BSA and Norton

BSA stands for Birmingham Small Arms Company, which began manufacturing firearms in the 1860s. in 1905, a bicycle with a small Minerva engine was built and motorcycle production became inevitable. The versatility of BSA was very evident during World War II when 67 factories supplied millions of rifles and machine guns, along with 126,000 M20 motorcycles.

Sportster 1956 BSA Gold Star Daytona 500 right side
1956 BSA Gold Star Daytona 500 (Photo courtesy Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles, lic. CC-BY-SA-4.0)

By 1950, BSA was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. From 1938 to 1963, BSA’s Gold Star became an icon for the brand and was among the fastest bikes in the 1950s. It was called “Gold Star” after a Gold Star badge was awarded to Wal Handley in 1936 for running the Brooklands racing circuit at over 100 mph on a BSA Empire Star. Gold Star bikes had single-cylinder, 4-stroke engines in 350cc or 500cc displacements, and each came with dynamometer results to confirm horsepower.

BSA merged with Triumph and Norton to form Norton-Villiers-Triumph in a desperate attempt to save all three in the 1970s, but none could overcome the rising dominance of Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha. Triumph made a successful comeback in the 1990s with models reentering the U.S. market in 1995. The rights to Norton were bought in 2008, and the famous Commando was again produced in England, but the company fell into bankruptcy in 2020.

Sportster 2023 Norton Commando 961 right side
2023 Norton Commando 961 (Photo courtesy Norton)

India’s TVS Motor Company subsequently bought Norton, and expensive hand-built performance bikes are now being produced. A pair of 2023 retro Commando models were also just announced, the 961 SP and 961 CR (the latter with clip-ons), which follow the very limited 2019 Commandos. Prices are high, starting at nearly $19,000, and the 961cc parallel-Twin only pushes out 76.8 hp. That leaves BSA, which is currently under Indian ownership (sound familiar?) and reintroducing the Gold Star.

Sportster 2022 BSA Gold Star right side
2022 BSA Gold Star (Photo courtesy BSA)

The 2022 Gold Star has a 652cc single-cylinder engine that provides old-school character as thumpers tend to do. It makes 45 hp and can reportedly do the ton (100 mph), which is the same as the original 500cc model. Thankfully, the bike remains basic without ride modes, other electronics, or a fancy digital display. Like the 650cc Royal Enfields and even the new Commando, there are twin analog gauges for us Luddites. It’s ultimately a modern-ish bike with an old look and feel (like contemporary Triumphs) and certainly a very classic badge.

Wild Cards

Sportster 2022 Janus Halcyon 450 right side
2022 Janus Halcyon 450 (Photo courtesy Janus Motorcycles)

There are some niche brands selling old-school designs that are genuinely intriguing. Janus Motorcycles is an American company based in Indiana, but it doesn’t have a historic pedigree. These are simply new bikes with old-school charm. There are three models, but the Halcyon 450 has the biggest engine (445cc) and is the one to get. It reminds me of a 1920s James Flat Tank 750, minus the V-twin, and the single-cylinder thumper is sure to have character. Most onlookers will also think it’s a 100-year-old antique. With a top speed of 90 mph, it’s viable for highway rides, although I’d keep them short. The bikes are only available in the U.S. (but not California), and prices start at $14,995 for the Halcyon 450.

U.K.-based Wardill Motorcycles is similar to Janus, but it has a history going back to 1927. The modern incarnation is owned by Mark Wardill, grandson of the original designer, so there’s direct family involvement as well. The new Wardill 4 is based on the 1927 Wardill 3, which was revolutionary at the time with a patented 2-stroke supercharged engine (Kawasaki’s H2 wasn’t the first).

Sportster Wardill 4 Prototype left side
Wardill 4 Prototype with Mark Wardill (Photo courtesy Wardill Motorcycles)

Although a lot of positive attention was received, Wardill only produced prototypes and was soon forgotten. The Wardill 4 looks even older than the Janus Halcyon 450, with triangular girder forks, a longer tank, ridged frame, and 250cc single-cylinder engine. It puts out a paltry 17.3 hp but will allegedly hit a top speed of 90 mph. There are also drum brakes front and rear, so those looking for something old-school have struck oil with this one.

Brough Superior is a French brand with an English history going back to 1919. This was a luxury brand through and through, not unlike Duesenberg or Rolls-Royce, and was a favorite of Thomas Edward Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia. In fact, he died riding one in 1932 (model GW 2275). The brand ceased production in 1940 to focus on the war effort and was unable to resume operations afterward.

Sportster 2021 Brough Superior Lawrence right side
2021 Brough Superior Lawrence (Photo courtesy Brough Superior)

It was founded by visionary George Brough and recently revived by Thierry Henriette, and the first new model based on the famous SS100 from 1924 was unveiled at the EICMA show in Milan in 2013. There are several models to choose from today, from the SS100 to the Lawrence Original, and all are hand-built luxury bikes with price tags to match. They really capture the early style of the originals while employing state-of-the-art engineering throughout. The 997cc V-twin of the new SS100 looks a lot like what Indian has in the Scout models, but these are very different beasts. It’s respectable in the power department, with 102 hp and 64 lb-ft of torque. 

Triumph and Kawasaki

Technically, all the bikes mentioned are modern classics, but brands like Royal Enfield and BSA maintain classic designs that compare well to the Evo Harleys. Bigger, more popular brands have capitalized on this vintage trend as well with thoroughly modern, retro-styled bikes. Triumph is the most recognized with the 1960s-inspired Bonneville line. Named after the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the original model launched in 1959 and had a 650cc parallel-Twin, while later models were upgraded to 750cc.

Sportster 2023 Triumph Bonneville T100 Meriden Blue right side
2023 Triumph Bonneville T100 in Meriden Blue (Photo courtesy Triumph)

Related Story: Triumph Announces New Colors, Names for Select 2023 Models

Although shuttered in the 1970s, Triumph made a triumphant return in the 1990s. Yes, pun intended. Today’s Bonnevilles look very similar to the mid-century originals but are modern, high-performance machines. The 1990s bikes started with 800cc parallel-Twins, later upgraded to 865cc, and today there are speedy 900cc and 1,200cc models. Performance is superior to Harley Sportsters, but that Harley character is missing with the smooth liquid-cooled engines. Bonnevilles have better starting prices than Sportsters, however, so enthusiasts can get a retro British thrill with money left over for accessories.

Sportster 2023 Kawasaki W800 right side
2023 Kawasaki W800 (Photo courtesy Kawasaki)

Triumph isn’t the only brand pushing out modern classics. Kawasaki has the W800, based on the 1966 650cc W1 (and even the 1949 BSA A7), Moto Guzzi has the 850cc V7, based on the 1971 V7 Sport, and Ducati has the Scrambler, loosely based on the 1962-1976 models. And so on. However, when comparing modern bikes to Harley, one brand can’t be overlooked.

Indian Motorcycle

Harley and Indian were the two great American brands during the first half of the 20th century. The first Indian prototype was finished in May 1901, beating Harley by a couple of years. Public sales began in 1902, and a year later, Indian’s Chief Engineer Oscar Hedstrom set a motorcycle speed record at 56 mph.

Sportster 1953 Indian Chief 80 right side
1953 Indian Chief 80 (Photo courtesy Mecum)

The first V-twin debuted in 1905 as a factory racer and hit production models in 1907, and Indian was producing 32,000 bikes annually by 1913. During World War I, the company focused on the war effort and exhausted its civilian supply, which drained inventory and forced many dealers to abandon them. Indian never fully recovered, and Harley became the bigger, more popular brand. The Scout and Chief V-Twin models, introduced in the early 1920s, are iconic and live on today as modern interpretations. Competition and mismanagement led to Indian’s demise in 1953, leaving Harley as the primary U.S. motorcycle manufacturer, but the brand came back a couple of times in the late 1990s and early 2000s, only to repeatedly falter.

Sportster 2022 Indian Scout Bobber right side
2022 Indian Scout Bobber (Photo by Kevin Wing)

Related Story: Harley-Davidson Sportster S vs. Indian FTR S vs. Indian Scout Bobber | Comparison Review

In 2011, Polaris acquired Indian and successfully revived the brand. There’s a smorgasbord of models today, including the performance-oriented, flat-track inspired FTR 1200. The Scout models are the closest to Harley’s Evo Sportsters but equipped with modern, more powerful liquid-cooled V-Twins. The new Revolution Max Sportsters are now appropriate comparisons. Under Polaris, Indian has become a modern performance-oriented motorcycle manufacturer, but the bikes still provide an old-school, nostalgic ride thanks to classic looks and outstanding V-Twins.

Evo Sportster: The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Sportster Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200
Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 (Photo by the author)

This is not an exhaustive list of Evo Sportster alternatives, but it demonstrates a broad commitment to classic designs for those of us that prefer vintage-inspired rides without lots of angled plastic, bleeding-edge technology, and race-ready performance. Traditional Sportsters are a rare breed, a throwback to the past, but they’re certainly not alone. Although they’re soon to be dead, new kings will rise. Royal Enfield, BSA, Moto Guzzi, Triumph, Norton, and even Kawasaki remind us that a host of brands have very interesting histories and aren’t ready to close the door on vintage models. And that’s a very good thing.

The post Evo Sportster | End of an Era first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Veteran Takes a 15,000-mile ‘Ride for Light’

Ride for Light
Former Army paratrooper Perry Steed with his 2013 BMW R 1200 GS on the Ride for Light. Steed departed Wilmington, North Carolina, on May 20 and returned home August 14.

In his intro video on the Ride for Light Facebook page, former Army paratrooper Perry Steed says there has been something he has been unable to do for the last 10 years – an obstacle he hasn’t overcome.

“That obstacle has been going to collect one of my very best friend’s ashes,” he says with solemnity in his voice.

On April 24, 2012, Sgt. Kristopher Cool took his own life. Steed says he has known several people who died by suicide both before and since Cool, but his friend’s death has been “the worst one for so many reasons.”

I can relate to Steed’s struggles. I’ve never been any good with death, whether it was from old age, a tragic accident, or suicide. But it’s a little harder in the case of suicide because of the conflicting feelings for those left behind. In 2014, a good friend of mine who was a veteran took his own life, and I still get choked up thinking about the pain he must’ve been feeling and the times we haven’t been able to share since.

Ride for Light
Steed with Sgt. Kristopher Cool’s father, Mike Cool (left), and uncle Paul Cool (right).

According to the website for Steed’s nonprofit, Operation: Purpose, veterans are 50% more likely to die from suicide than those who haven’t served, and what started as a mission to retrieve his friend’s ashes in Minnesota and take them to Fort Bragg to spread on Sicily Drop Zone became a “rally cry for support.” On May 20, Steed departed Wilmington, North Carolina, on a 2013 BMW R 1200 GS for a 48-state trip covering more than 15,000 miles. He returned home August 14.

Related Story: 2014 BMW R 1200 GS Adventure Review

“This ride is meant to provide Kristopher a final resting place,” the Operation: Purpose website states, “while also illuminating the issue of veterans’ mental health.”

When I first contacted Steed in June, he had made it to my neck of the woods in the southeastern corner of Utah.

“None of us can save the 22 that died yesterday,” he told me, referring to the Veterans Affairs statistic that 22 veterans take their own lives each day. “But if we can save one today, maybe they can help save two tomorrow. And then we can get this thing under control.”

More Than a Promise

Steed served as a forward observer in the Bravo 1st Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division from 1994 to 1997. He met Cool at the 82nd replacement. Steed was coming from jump school, and Cool was working the change of quarters desk. “We got to chitchatting about music, and we had similar tastes.”

The two men served together in the 82nd Airborne Division. Cool left the service a year before Steed, but the two stayed in contact over the years, including a stint when they lived in the same town.

“For a long time, he and I were pretty much inseparable.” Steed paused, and his next words were heavier. “Those were good times.”

In April 2012, Steed got a call he said he was expecting. “But I couldn’t hear it. My friend had died by suicide.”

The news hit him hard, and he formulated the plan to gather the ashes.

Ride for Light
Seneca, Missouri, on the Oklahoma border.

“But every time it came around for me to do it, I just couldn’t seem to make it happen.”

Steed said he struggled with his own instabilities for several years, and when he heard the news about Cool, he was trying to focus on his family.

“In fact, when I got the call, I was waiting for my wife to come home so we could go to childbirth class for our middle child,” he said. “So I focused on trying to be there for them. But I haven’t been there for myself.”

But the tragedies kept “building and building,” he said, including the deaths of more than two dozen family members and friends from various causes.

“They’re not all old people that had lived a full life. A lot of these people were cut down in their prime, and there have been a few suicides.”

He tried to keep motoring on, but everything came crashing down when his father-in-law died of cancer in 2019.

“He was the glue keeping me together,” Steed said, “because I had been focusing on getting him to his treatments, to his doctor’s appointments – just being there and doing things.”

Earlier in our interview, Steed said he had left from Fruita, Colorado, that morning, taking U.S. Route 191 and visiting Arches National Park, one of five national parks in Utah, and was talking to me from one of his father-in-law’s favorite spots in Mexican Hat, Utah, on U.S. Route 163.

“I’m actually sitting in the motel that he talked about for years and years, and wanting to come back,” he said. “I’m here to spread some of his ashes tonight. I carry him with me everywhere. I was raised by a good family, but when I met this man and asked if I could marry his daughter, he turned into my dad.”

Ride for Light
Steed’s wife, Liz, and oldest child, Ella, greet him at the welcome home event, which included a police escort, 60-70 other bikes, and two news crews.

Once his father-in-law died, “everything spiraled out of control for my family and me. And then Covid hit.”

He said the pandemic felt like a reset for a lot of people, himself included. He started using VA grief counseling tools and “put in a whole lot of work to get myself to where I could honor the promise I made when Kris passed away to go get his ashes.”

Before Christmas 2021, Steed spoke with his wife, who encouraged him to do it. The idea of the trip got him thinking about a friend in Oklahoma he had served with and who had been difficult to reach for quite a while.

“People don’t pop into my head for no reason,” he said. “So if someone pops into my head, there’s a higher calling for me to reach out to that person. I’m going to find them and I’m going to call them and I’m going to check on them.”

At that point, the purpose of the trip evolved.

“It’s me checking on battle buddies, guys I served with, friends of guys I served with, complete strangers.”

Over the course of reaching out to people, Steed reestablished a connection with a friend he served with who lives in San Luis Obispo, California.

“I told him, ‘Hey man, I’m getting ready to do this crazy thing. Hell, I might even come to California.’”

When Steed explained the impetus for his trip, the friend asked if Steed would also retrieve the ashes of his brother, Specialist David J. Howard.

“I haven’t physically seen this guy in California in over 20 years, and he still thinks enough of me to trust me with some of his brother’s remains knowing that I’m going to do exactly what I told him I would do and spread those ashes on Fort Bragg.”

Ride for Light
The Pacific Coast Highway, near Big Sur, California.

The Pros and Cons of 15,000 Miles of Helmet Time

Steed has been riding motorcycles for about 13 years. While the 1200 GS is his chosen mount for this mission – a bike he said was a holdout for him, even with the rave reviews – it’s not the only bike in his stable. His first motorcycle was an ’84 BMW R 80 RT.

“I spent a ton of money getting that thing right,” he said. “I still have it.”

He also owns an ’81 Yamaha XS 650, an ’84 BMW R 100 RT, a ’74 Moto Guzzi Eldorado, and a 2015 Suzuki V-Strom 650XT. A full stable indeed.

After more than a decade in the saddle, he’s no stranger to helmet time, but the Ride for Light provided more of a challenge. For one, it was longer than any rides he had previously taken.

“I did a mini trip last summer,” he said. “I rode 2,500 miles, just around North Carolina and Virginia and those areas, to see if I could even handle being in my head that long.”

Ride for Light
On U.S. Route 26 in Oregon approaching Mount Hood, which Steed said was huge. “I rode for a long time, and it didn’t look like it got any closer.”

Steed originally planned on doing the trip solo, but he was joined along the way by various friends and family. When he set out from North Carolina, he had a friend who is also a veteran ride along with him for the first five days and then split off in Georgia, at which point Steed was joined by a cousin who rode with him about 1,100 miles to the Oklahoma state line.

“He’s been riding for a long time,” Steed said of the cousin, “but as far as long stretches in the saddle, that’s the longest he’s ever done.”

In addition to the distance, his cousin had also never ridden with anyone else, which provided Steed some opportunities for coaching and helped break up the monotony. But more than that, Steed was glad for the cousin to come along because he is a veteran as well.

Ride for Light
New River State Park in North Carolina. Steed camped for about 80% of the trip, which allowed him to be alone, regroup from each day, and do a mental check-in. He said the camping setup and takedown routines were comforting.

“He downplays his military service, but he still signed a blank check. He’s a good dude.”

And Steed ultimately connected with that friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They rode together to Fort Sill, where Steed had completed basic and advanced individual training. The two rode about 700 miles together.

Besides the camaraderie, the other advantage to having someone else along is in case of a mishap. After riding the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee with the friend who had been with him from the start, Steed separated a rib doing some off-roading on a forestry road. At that point in the trip, he had become used to having someone tag along. He felt like he could push himself, take a few more chances, and do a little more off-roading. When his friend split off, that changed.

Ride for Light
Another 20 yards down this trail, just off the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, is where Steed had the accident that separated his rib.

“All that stuff was gone,” he said. “I had to come to grips with no guarantees of anybody doing it with me.”

When you get used to someone being around – even if just for a short time – it makes it harder when they’re gone, like when a good friend comes to visit and you feel a little bit lonely when they leave.

Or when a friend you’ve known for many years takes his own life.

In the late 1970s, psychiatrist Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk started working with Vietnam veterans. Interestingly, his first patient would ride his Harley to bring himself down from moments of rage brought on by his trauma.

“The vibrations, speed, and danger of that ride helped him pull himself back together,” Van Der Kolk wrote in his 2014 book The Body Keeps the Score.

Van Der Kolk’s original work took place before post-traumatic stress disorder was an official diagnosis. These days, his contributions are considered pivotal in the field of trauma. He says one area of difficulty shared by those dealing with trauma is the inability to live in the moment. This capacity is the foundation of meditation and the somewhat recently coined term of “mindfulness.”

Ride for Light
The scenic Mount Washington Auto Road off New Hampshire Route 16.

Personally, I appreciate the fact that when I’m on my bike, I’m only on my bike. Preoccupied with operating the machine, there isn’t much room to think about a troubling situation at work or home. The past and the future don’t matter nearly as much as the present moment.

For Steed, that wasn’t always the case on this trip.

“I’m stuck in my head and in my helmet all day,” he told me in June. “It’s like when you’ve got two kids who don’t get along, you lock them in a room together and say, ‘You guys are going to be getting along before you walk out of this room.’ That’s me, man. Some days my biggest fights are with myself.”

But this was a battle he was determined to win.

“Just today, I got in my head this morning,” he said. “I didn’t want to ride. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was fumbling around getting ready, and I was awake almost all night for no reason.”

Steed said that as men, we try to find out the rationale, to get to the “why” for everything.

“But it’s just me,” he said. “It’s how I am. It’s how I’m wired. A success for me is going to be if I can get out of this trip being able to live in my head better.”

Steed said he could’ve chosen to fly to all these places to retrieve the ashes, maybe checked in on friends that way, “but I have things I also need to work out.”

“I need to be a better person for myself. I need to be a better husband for my wife, a better father for my children. I need to be a better friend, a better brother, a better son. With all these demons lurking over me, I’m out here trying to just pay all the kindness forward that I can, check on these folks, talk some stuff out with people I haven’t seen in a long time, and try to have some fun of my own.”

And there have been good times.

Ride for Light
The temps were so high near Badlands National Park that Steed’s GPS on his phone stopped working. When it cooled off, he snapped this photo.

When you hit 48 states on a bike, you can’t list all the spots, but there are some eye-poppers worthy of mention. Although Utah is definitely beautiful, it was hot when he came through my home state, with temps in the triple digits. People in the Southwest like to say, “but it’s a dry heat,” to which Steed replied, “The only difference between a wet heat and dry heat is that with a dry heat, you don’t know you’re dying. Even though this GS is a waterhead, it was still not liking it.”

I can’t imagine Amarillo, Texas, was much cooler, but he has some great pics and videos of his stop at the Cadillac Ranch on his Facebook page. He rode in some “hellacious storms” along the way, and he stuck his feet in the Gulf of Mexico – “with my riding boots on.” There was a spark in his voice when he spoke of riding the Tail of the Dragon. After a couple days’ rest following his off-road crash and waiting out the rain, he rode it again. 

Ride for Light
Itasca State Park, the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Then there are the people, of course. Beyond visiting friends and family, he’s met a slew of strangers.

After a mishap with his bike in Oklahoma, Steed stayed an extra day and got to meet some friends of his buddy who were also veterans, some of whom had pulled “some pretty serious duty.”

He also mentioned a 20-year military veteran who was particularly inspiring. Steed said the man, who had been hospitalized twice for mental issues, had been rudderless until he started volunteering in a VA nursing home after retiring from the service. 

Ride for Light
On the shore of Iona’s Beach at Lake Superior.

After seeing the lack of attention paid to a couple of soldiers who had died under VA care, the man went to school to become a mortician and a funeral director, Steed said, with the mission of giving veterans the best burial they deserve.

“That is a fantastic thing to do for someone,” he said. “That really touched me. Because it’s not just Iraq and Afghanistan veterans I’m trying to help. A huge segment of our population that never received any kind of help were Vietnam vets.”

He said that, 50 years later, Vietnam veterans are still trying to figure out their place in this world.

“They were spit on or ridiculed when they got home. A lot of the veterans that end up committing suicide are from that theater of conflict and age demographic. Veterans often feel like they can’t help anybody and all they’re doing is hurting other people, so that’s why they do it.”

Ride for Light
Steed’s GS on July 2 in Madison, Minnesota.

Steed said the people he’s met kept him going.

“Every positive reaction I get from telling people about what I’m doing makes me want to talk to somebody else,” he said. “This has been an exercise in me stretching my capabilities as far as reaching out to folks.”

Then there were the people waiting back home, namely his wife and three kids.

“If it wasn’t for my wife and children, there’s no way I could do this,” he said. “My wife has been the biggest cheerleader I’ve had.”

He said when he was having a difficult day, one that started with depression or anxiety, his wife was his support.

“It puts a lot of pressure on her, and I feel terrible about it sometimes, but if I’m having a rough day, I have to call her. She’s the one who has kept my head right for so long.”

Finally, he said he believes he’s getting help from those he’s lost over the last 10 years.

“Somebody’s watching out for me,” he said. “Of all the people I’ve buried that meant so much to me, I think they’re all having a huddle upstairs and saying, ‘Dude, we gotta get this guy straight.’”

Ride for Light
Steed and Staff Sgt. Paul Tower at New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery.

The Road Keeps Rolling

In the 1994 movie Shawshank Redemption, two of the main characters reference a choice: Get busy living or get busy dying.

Steed’s mission will be over at some point. As of this writing, he has ridden 48 states and rolled back home to his family, and plans are in the works to spread the ashes of Cool and Howard at the Sicily Drop Point. But he’s determined not to make that the end of the road. This wasn’t just a trip about death; it’s about life.

Steed said that while he has been helped by the VA in many ways, he also recognizes its deficits. He has been researching various organizations that help veterans and is working on his 501(c)(3) status for Operation: Purpose, as well as accepting donations on his website.

Ride for Light
Battlefield Cross sculpture at Veterans Monument Park, Andover, Connecticut.

“The real disconnect is placement for veterans in crisis and their families,” he said. “Who do you call? What do you do? Everyone knows the suicide hotline, but what happens after that? The goal is to create an education program for families and veterans.”

Steed knows some therapists willing to donate their time, and he is working with someone to apply for grants for Mental Health First Aid training, which helps someone who encounters another in a mental health crisis.

“You have skills available to talk them down, calm them down, and get them somewhere where they can think more rationally, or you can get them help without them harming themselves.”

Steed wants veterans to feel like they have another option besides ending their lives.

Ride for Light
Sgt. Kristopher Cool’s headstone at Fort Snelling Veterans Cemetery, Minnesota.

His long-term goal is to ultimately create a multiuse space similar to those seen on military installations, but in the immediate future, his first step is to create a database of key people in his area. He compared it to the military term “interlocking fields of fire.”

“I’ve got guys who are spread out in the greater Wilmington area, and it’s a network of people who know the veterans,” he said, adding that there are a lot of retired or ex-military in Wilmington, as well as several military bases in North Carolina in general. “We know a lot of people. We can be there for each other. We can be the ear and the shoulder and can offer redirection if that’s feasible.”

This support is what Operation: Purpose is all about.

“We may wake up tomorrow morning and the VA won’t be there anymore, but we still need to help each other. We didn’t have the VA when we were in [the service], but we had each other, and I need to reestablish that line of thinking, to bring the camaraderie and the unity and help each other get our dignity back and a hope for a better day.”

Ride for Light
The New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, New Hampshire. The week after Steed’s visit, he learned that the state is creating a monument recognizing the issue of veteran suicide.

For more information, to make a donation, or to buy Operation: Purpose merchandise that supports veterans in crisis, visit OperationPurpose.net.

This article first appeared in the October issue of Rider. All photos courtesy of Perry Steed. Paul Dail joined the Rider staff as Associate Editor in June. This is his first story for the magazine. He also wrote the Exhaust Note for the October issue.

The post Veteran Takes a 15,000-mile ‘Ride for Light’ first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Veteran Takes a 15,000-mile ‘Ride for Light’

Ride for Light
Former Army paratrooper Perry Steed with his 2013 BMW R 1200 GS on the Ride for Light. Steed departed Wilmington, North Carolina, on May 20 and returned home August 14.

In his intro video on the Ride for Light Facebook page, former Army paratrooper Perry Steed says there has been something he has been unable to do for the last 10 years – an obstacle he hasn’t overcome.

“That obstacle has been going to collect one of my very best friend’s ashes,” he says with solemnity in his voice.

On April 24, 2012, Sgt. Kristopher Cool took his own life. Steed says he has known several people who died by suicide both before and since Cool, but his friend’s death has been “the worst one for so many reasons.”

I can relate to Steed’s struggles. I’ve never been any good with death, whether it was from old age, a tragic accident, or suicide. But it’s a little harder in the case of suicide because of the conflicting feelings for those left behind. In 2014, a good friend of mine who was a veteran took his own life, and I still get choked up thinking about the pain he must’ve been feeling and the times we haven’t been able to share since.

Ride for Light
Steed with Sgt. Kristopher Cool’s father, Mike Cool (left), and uncle Paul Cool (right).

According to the website for Steed’s nonprofit, Operation: Purpose, veterans are 50% more likely to die from suicide than those who haven’t served, and what started as a mission to retrieve his friend’s ashes in Minnesota and take them to Fort Bragg to spread on Sicily Drop Zone became a “rally cry for support.” On May 20, Steed departed Wilmington, North Carolina, on a 2013 BMW R 1200 GS for a 48-state trip covering more than 15,000 miles. He returned home August 14.

Related Story: 2014 BMW R 1200 GS Adventure Review

“This ride is meant to provide Kristopher a final resting place,” the Operation: Purpose website states, “while also illuminating the issue of veterans’ mental health.”

When I first contacted Steed in June, he had made it to my neck of the woods in the southeastern corner of Utah.

“None of us can save the 22 that died yesterday,” he told me, referring to the Veterans Affairs statistic that 22 veterans take their own lives each day. “But if we can save one today, maybe they can help save two tomorrow. And then we can get this thing under control.”

More Than a Promise

Steed served as a forward observer in the Bravo 1st Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division from 1994 to 1997. He met Cool at the 82nd replacement. Steed was coming from jump school, and Cool was working the change of quarters desk. “We got to chitchatting about music, and we had similar tastes.”

The two men served together in the 82nd Airborne Division. Cool left the service a year before Steed, but the two stayed in contact over the years, including a stint when they lived in the same town.

“For a long time, he and I were pretty much inseparable.” Steed paused, and his next words were heavier. “Those were good times.”

In April 2012, Steed got a call he said he was expecting. “But I couldn’t hear it. My friend had died by suicide.”

The news hit him hard, and he formulated the plan to gather the ashes.

Ride for Light
Seneca, Missouri, on the Oklahoma border.

“But every time it came around for me to do it, I just couldn’t seem to make it happen.”

Steed said he struggled with his own instabilities for several years, and when he heard the news about Cool, he was trying to focus on his family.

“In fact, when I got the call, I was waiting for my wife to come home so we could go to childbirth class for our middle child,” he said. “So I focused on trying to be there for them. But I haven’t been there for myself.”

But the tragedies kept “building and building,” he said, including the deaths of more than two dozen family members and friends from various causes.

“They’re not all old people that had lived a full life. A lot of these people were cut down in their prime, and there have been a few suicides.”

He tried to keep motoring on, but everything came crashing down when his father-in-law died of cancer in 2019.

“He was the glue keeping me together,” Steed said, “because I had been focusing on getting him to his treatments, to his doctor’s appointments – just being there and doing things.”

Earlier in our interview, Steed said he had left from Fruita, Colorado, that morning, taking U.S. Route 191 and visiting Arches National Park, one of five national parks in Utah, and was talking to me from one of his father-in-law’s favorite spots in Mexican Hat, Utah, on U.S. Route 163.

“I’m actually sitting in the motel that he talked about for years and years, and wanting to come back,” he said. “I’m here to spread some of his ashes tonight. I carry him with me everywhere. I was raised by a good family, but when I met this man and asked if I could marry his daughter, he turned into my dad.”

Ride for Light
Steed’s wife, Liz, and oldest child, Ella, greet him at the welcome home event, which included a police escort, 60-70 other bikes, and two news crews.

Once his father-in-law died, “everything spiraled out of control for my family and me. And then Covid hit.”

He said the pandemic felt like a reset for a lot of people, himself included. He started using VA grief counseling tools and “put in a whole lot of work to get myself to where I could honor the promise I made when Kris passed away to go get his ashes.”

Before Christmas 2021, Steed spoke with his wife, who encouraged him to do it. The idea of the trip got him thinking about a friend in Oklahoma he had served with and who had been difficult to reach for quite a while.

“People don’t pop into my head for no reason,” he said. “So if someone pops into my head, there’s a higher calling for me to reach out to that person. I’m going to find them and I’m going to call them and I’m going to check on them.”

At that point, the purpose of the trip evolved.

“It’s me checking on battle buddies, guys I served with, friends of guys I served with, complete strangers.”

Over the course of reaching out to people, Steed reestablished a connection with a friend he served with who lives in San Luis Obispo, California.

“I told him, ‘Hey man, I’m getting ready to do this crazy thing. Hell, I might even come to California.’”

When Steed explained the impetus for his trip, the friend asked if Steed would also retrieve the ashes of his brother, Specialist David J. Howard.

“I haven’t physically seen this guy in California in over 20 years, and he still thinks enough of me to trust me with some of his brother’s remains knowing that I’m going to do exactly what I told him I would do and spread those ashes on Fort Bragg.”

Ride for Light
The Pacific Coast Highway, near Big Sur, California.

The Pros and Cons of 15,000 Miles of Helmet Time

Steed has been riding motorcycles for about 13 years. While the 1200 GS is his chosen mount for this mission – a bike he said was a holdout for him, even with the rave reviews – it’s not the only bike in his stable. His first motorcycle was an ’84 BMW R 80 RT.

“I spent a ton of money getting that thing right,” he said. “I still have it.”

He also owns an ’81 Yamaha XS 650, an ’84 BMW R 100 RT, a ’74 Moto Guzzi Eldorado, and a 2015 Suzuki V-Strom 650XT. A full stable indeed.

After more than a decade in the saddle, he’s no stranger to helmet time, but the Ride for Light provided more of a challenge. For one, it was longer than any rides he had previously taken.

“I did a mini trip last summer,” he said. “I rode 2,500 miles, just around North Carolina and Virginia and those areas, to see if I could even handle being in my head that long.”

Ride for Light
On U.S. Route 26 in Oregon approaching Mount Hood, which Steed said was huge. “I rode for a long time, and it didn’t look like it got any closer.”

Steed originally planned on doing the trip solo, but he was joined along the way by various friends and family. When he set out from North Carolina, he had a friend who is also a veteran ride along with him for the first five days and then split off in Georgia, at which point Steed was joined by a cousin who rode with him about 1,100 miles to the Oklahoma state line.

“He’s been riding for a long time,” Steed said of the cousin, “but as far as long stretches in the saddle, that’s the longest he’s ever done.”

In addition to the distance, his cousin had also never ridden with anyone else, which provided Steed some opportunities for coaching and helped break up the monotony. But more than that, Steed was glad for the cousin to come along because he is a veteran as well.

Ride for Light
New River State Park in North Carolina. Steed camped for about 80% of the trip, which allowed him to be alone, regroup from each day, and do a mental check-in. He said the camping setup and takedown routines were comforting.

“He downplays his military service, but he still signed a blank check. He’s a good dude.”

And Steed ultimately connected with that friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They rode together to Fort Sill, where Steed had completed basic and advanced individual training. The two rode about 700 miles together.

Besides the camaraderie, the other advantage to having someone else along is in case of a mishap. After riding the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee with the friend who had been with him from the start, Steed separated a rib doing some off-roading on a forestry road. At that point in the trip, he had become used to having someone tag along. He felt like he could push himself, take a few more chances, and do a little more off-roading. When his friend split off, that changed.

Ride for Light
Another 20 yards down this trail, just off the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, is where Steed had the accident that separated his rib.

“All that stuff was gone,” he said. “I had to come to grips with no guarantees of anybody doing it with me.”

When you get used to someone being around – even if just for a short time – it makes it harder when they’re gone, like when a good friend comes to visit and you feel a little bit lonely when they leave.

Or when a friend you’ve known for many years takes his own life.

In the late 1970s, psychiatrist Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk started working with Vietnam veterans. Interestingly, his first patient would ride his Harley to bring himself down from moments of rage brought on by his trauma.

“The vibrations, speed, and danger of that ride helped him pull himself back together,” Van Der Kolk wrote in his 2014 book The Body Keeps the Score.

Van Der Kolk’s original work took place before post-traumatic stress disorder was an official diagnosis. These days, his contributions are considered pivotal in the field of trauma. He says one area of difficulty shared by those dealing with trauma is the inability to live in the moment. This capacity is the foundation of meditation and the somewhat recently coined term of “mindfulness.”

Ride for Light
The scenic Mount Washington Auto Road off New Hampshire Route 16.

Personally, I appreciate the fact that when I’m on my bike, I’m only on my bike. Preoccupied with operating the machine, there isn’t much room to think about a troubling situation at work or home. The past and the future don’t matter nearly as much as the present moment.

For Steed, that wasn’t always the case on this trip.

“I’m stuck in my head and in my helmet all day,” he told me in June. “It’s like when you’ve got two kids who don’t get along, you lock them in a room together and say, ‘You guys are going to be getting along before you walk out of this room.’ That’s me, man. Some days my biggest fights are with myself.”

But this was a battle he was determined to win.

“Just today, I got in my head this morning,” he said. “I didn’t want to ride. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was fumbling around getting ready, and I was awake almost all night for no reason.”

Steed said that as men, we try to find out the rationale, to get to the “why” for everything.

“But it’s just me,” he said. “It’s how I am. It’s how I’m wired. A success for me is going to be if I can get out of this trip being able to live in my head better.”

Steed said he could’ve chosen to fly to all these places to retrieve the ashes, maybe checked in on friends that way, “but I have things I also need to work out.”

“I need to be a better person for myself. I need to be a better husband for my wife, a better father for my children. I need to be a better friend, a better brother, a better son. With all these demons lurking over me, I’m out here trying to just pay all the kindness forward that I can, check on these folks, talk some stuff out with people I haven’t seen in a long time, and try to have some fun of my own.”

And there have been good times.

Ride for Light
The temps were so high near Badlands National Park that Steed’s GPS on his phone stopped working. When it cooled off, he snapped this photo.

When you hit 48 states on a bike, you can’t list all the spots, but there are some eye-poppers worthy of mention. Although Utah is definitely beautiful, it was hot when he came through my home state, with temps in the triple digits. People in the Southwest like to say, “but it’s a dry heat,” to which Steed replied, “The only difference between a wet heat and dry heat is that with a dry heat, you don’t know you’re dying. Even though this GS is a waterhead, it was still not liking it.”

I can’t imagine Amarillo, Texas, was much cooler, but he has some great pics and videos of his stop at the Cadillac Ranch on his Facebook page. He rode in some “hellacious storms” along the way, and he stuck his feet in the Gulf of Mexico – “with my riding boots on.” There was a spark in his voice when he spoke of riding the Tail of the Dragon. After a couple days’ rest following his off-road crash and waiting out the rain, he rode it again. 

Ride for Light
Itasca State Park, the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Then there are the people, of course. Beyond visiting friends and family, he’s met a slew of strangers.

After a mishap with his bike in Oklahoma, Steed stayed an extra day and got to meet some friends of his buddy who were also veterans, some of whom had pulled “some pretty serious duty.”

He also mentioned a 20-year military veteran who was particularly inspiring. Steed said the man, who had been hospitalized twice for mental issues, had been rudderless until he started volunteering in a VA nursing home after retiring from the service. 

Ride for Light
On the shore of Iona’s Beach at Lake Superior.

After seeing the lack of attention paid to a couple of soldiers who had died under VA care, the man went to school to become a mortician and a funeral director, Steed said, with the mission of giving veterans the best burial they deserve.

“That is a fantastic thing to do for someone,” he said. “That really touched me. Because it’s not just Iraq and Afghanistan veterans I’m trying to help. A huge segment of our population that never received any kind of help were Vietnam vets.”

He said that, 50 years later, Vietnam veterans are still trying to figure out their place in this world.

“They were spit on or ridiculed when they got home. A lot of the veterans that end up committing suicide are from that theater of conflict and age demographic. Veterans often feel like they can’t help anybody and all they’re doing is hurting other people, so that’s why they do it.”

Ride for Light
Steed’s GS on July 2 in Madison, Minnesota.

Steed said the people he’s met kept him going.

“Every positive reaction I get from telling people about what I’m doing makes me want to talk to somebody else,” he said. “This has been an exercise in me stretching my capabilities as far as reaching out to folks.”

Then there were the people waiting back home, namely his wife and three kids.

“If it wasn’t for my wife and children, there’s no way I could do this,” he said. “My wife has been the biggest cheerleader I’ve had.”

He said when he was having a difficult day, one that started with depression or anxiety, his wife was his support.

“It puts a lot of pressure on her, and I feel terrible about it sometimes, but if I’m having a rough day, I have to call her. She’s the one who has kept my head right for so long.”

Finally, he said he believes he’s getting help from those he’s lost over the last 10 years.

“Somebody’s watching out for me,” he said. “Of all the people I’ve buried that meant so much to me, I think they’re all having a huddle upstairs and saying, ‘Dude, we gotta get this guy straight.’”

Ride for Light
Steed and Staff Sgt. Paul Tower at New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery.

The Road Keeps Rolling

In the 1994 movie Shawshank Redemption, two of the main characters reference a choice: Get busy living or get busy dying.

Steed’s mission will be over at some point. As of this writing, he has ridden 48 states and rolled back home to his family, and plans are in the works to spread the ashes of Cool and Howard at the Sicily Drop Point. But he’s determined not to make that the end of the road. This wasn’t just a trip about death; it’s about life.

Steed said that while he has been helped by the VA in many ways, he also recognizes its deficits. He has been researching various organizations that help veterans and is working on his 501(c)(3) status for Operation: Purpose, as well as accepting donations on his website.

Ride for Light
Battlefield Cross sculpture at Veterans Monument Park, Andover, Connecticut.

“The real disconnect is placement for veterans in crisis and their families,” he said. “Who do you call? What do you do? Everyone knows the suicide hotline, but what happens after that? The goal is to create an education program for families and veterans.”

Steed knows some therapists willing to donate their time, and he is working with someone to apply for grants for Mental Health First Aid training, which helps someone who encounters another in a mental health crisis.

“You have skills available to talk them down, calm them down, and get them somewhere where they can think more rationally, or you can get them help without them harming themselves.”

Steed wants veterans to feel like they have another option besides ending their lives.

Ride for Light
Sgt. Kristopher Cool’s headstone at Fort Snelling Veterans Cemetery, Minnesota.

His long-term goal is to ultimately create a multiuse space similar to those seen on military installations, but in the immediate future, his first step is to create a database of key people in his area. He compared it to the military term “interlocking fields of fire.”

“I’ve got guys who are spread out in the greater Wilmington area, and it’s a network of people who know the veterans,” he said, adding that there are a lot of retired or ex-military in Wilmington, as well as several military bases in North Carolina in general. “We know a lot of people. We can be there for each other. We can be the ear and the shoulder and can offer redirection if that’s feasible.”

This support is what Operation: Purpose is all about.

“We may wake up tomorrow morning and the VA won’t be there anymore, but we still need to help each other. We didn’t have the VA when we were in [the service], but we had each other, and I need to reestablish that line of thinking, to bring the camaraderie and the unity and help each other get our dignity back and a hope for a better day.”

Ride for Light
The New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, New Hampshire. The week after Steed’s visit, he learned that the state is creating a monument recognizing the issue of veteran suicide.

For more information, to make a donation, or to buy Operation: Purpose merchandise that supports veterans in crisis, visit OperationPurpose.net.

This article first appeared in the October issue of Rider. All photos courtesy of Perry Steed. Paul Dail joined the Rider staff as Associate Editor in June. This is his first story for the magazine. He also wrote the Exhaust Note for the October issue.

The post Veteran Takes a 15,000-mile ‘Ride for Light’ first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Neale Bayly | Ep. 47 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Ep47 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast Neale Bayly

Our guest on Episode 47 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Neale Bayly, a motorcycle journalist and TV host who has documented his adventures and travels around the world. We recorded this interview while Bayly was at the Barber Advanced Design Center at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, where he serves as a media liaison and content producer. During this episode, we took a trip down memory lane: Bayly was at Greg Drevenstedt’s first motorcycle press launch in 2008, an event that will forever live in infamy. We talk to Bayly about his work as a journalist and Wellspring International Outreach, a nonprofit he founded to bring aid and attention to the abandoned and at-risk children throughout the world.

Earlier this year, Bayly and photographer Kiran Ridley rode motorcycles through Ukraine to document the human toll of the war, particularly the effects on women and children. Their photos and story are available on RiderMagazine.com and they’ll be featured in the January 2023 issue of Rider. We encourage listeners to donate to Wellspring, which is providing support to a children’s hospital in Ukraine.

LINKS: Neale Bayly Rides on InstagramNeale Bayly Rides on FacebookWellspring International Outreach“Nowhere Is Safe” by Neale Bayly on RiderMagazine.com

You can listen to Episode 47 on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends! Scroll down for a list of previous episodes.

Visit the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast webpage to check out previous episodes:

The post Neale Bayly | Ep. 47 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com