Buffalo County, Wisconsin, is a hidden gem for motorcyclists. Located in the northwest part of the state, its southern border is the Mississippi River, which is the dividing line between Wisconsin and Minnesota. This is rural farm country, and the entire county has only one traffic light.
Buffalo County boasts dozens of fantastic motorcycling roads that twist along river banks, climb steep bluffs, dive into coulees and steep ravines, and cling to the edges of sandstone ridges. Numerous creeks and small rivers flow through the Waumandee Valley on their way to join the Mississippi, and they influence the shape and slope of these roads.
The best starting point is the town of Mondovi, located in the northeastern corner of Buffalo County. A quick fuel and food stop is recommended, as gasoline stations, restaurants, and other amenities are sparse as you head south. After a bite at McT’s Diner we follow County Roads (CR) H and ZZ south to a hook up with State Highway 88 at the Buffalo River.
Known as “Black Lightning,” Highway 88 has approximately 130 corners and curves in 40 miles as it runs from Gilmanton to the Mississippi River, making it one of Wisconsin’s highest-rated biker roads. It gives riders — and their brakes — a real workout as they ride the ridges and slash through a sandstone cut north of Praag.
At CR U, we head east until we reach CR C at a crossroads just north of the village of Montana. CR C dishes up a variety of steep climbs and hairpin curves as we work our way south along Swinns Valley Creek, on our way to State Highway 95 just west of Arcadia. A short jog going west on 95 takes us to CR E, which heads northeast through Pansy Pass and Glencoe to Waumandee. CR E east of Waumandee has such steep hills that many homeowners have large angled mirrors mounted on posts at the foot of their driveways to help provide a view of any hidden oncoming traffic.
The village of Waumandee — Chippewa for “clear and sparkling water” — is worth a stop. It dates back to the 1850s, and Waumandee House, which was built in 1879, is still an active inn and restaurant. Every September the village hosts the Waumandee Hillclimb, a unique event for sports car enthusiasts. A two-mile stretch of Blank Hill Road west of Highway 88 is closed for a day of timed runs up an 18-turn hillclimb road course.
Crossing Highway 88 we take a shot at Blank Hill Road, which is as challenging as advertised. Take care along the section of road that clings to the side of a cliff and has no guardrail. At CR N, we head north along Alma Ridge, which has some white-knuckle descents on its way to the Buffalo River at State Highway 37. A short jog up Highway 37 takes us to Highway KK on the west side of the Buffalo River.
Want a taste of riding the Isle of Man TT? Much like the famed road circuit, the CR KK south of Modena has climbs and descents chiseled into the sides of ridges with few guardrails, testing our binders and our nerves as we plunge down to CR D.
CR D winds west through rolling farm country to its junction with State Highway 35, which is known as the Great River Road and hugs the northern shore of the Mississippi. Overlooking the river, the town of Nelson has several recommended dining stops. On the day of our visit, J & J Barbeque and Nelson Creamery are overwhelmed with two-wheeled customers. We find an empty table at Beth’s Twin Bluff Café, and enjoy the best lemon pie we’ve ever tasted.
We headed north on State Highway 25 along the eastern edge of the Tiffany Bottoms Natural Area. At the village of Misha Mokwa, we turn east onto CR KK and complete the circle at the junction with CR D. Twists and turns command our full attention on our way to the village of Modena. Visit the general store in Modena to see two large motorcycle sculptures made from scrap metal, and pick up some cheese curds for a snack. We continue east on D until it dead-ends at Highway 37, then we follow the Buffalo River north and return to Mondovi.
The roads on this 110-mile loop are challenging, but most of the pavement is in good condition (be mindful of gravel in some corners). Part of what makes Buffalo County a great riding destination is the traffic — except for Highway 35, there is none! On a full day of weekend riding we encountered two tractors, two pickups, seven motorcycles, and one corn picker, which was blocking a narrow farm road. The only thing missing for a perfect riding weekend is a motorcycle class at the Waumandee Hillclimb so we can clock our time going up Blank Hill Road!
If you go when the snowflakes storm When the rivers freeze and summer ends Please see if she’s wearing a coat so warm To keep her from the howlin’ winds — Bob Dylan, “Girl from the North Country”
I had forgotten about that feeling of violence that rises up through the ancient volcanic rock of Minnesota’s North Shore, where Highway 61 carves a thin rivulet of asphalt against a dead mountain range that descends into deep, dangerous water.
The sun had yet to rise. The air was cold but there was no frost. Cars with bright lights and loud trucks with loads of lumber cut through the darkness on their way to the Canadian border. My mind wandered, from Bob Dylan’s youth to the geologic time scale to the warm, soft bed my wife and I had just left.
My wife was huddled, bundled tight, hiding from the wind in a wave-carved basalt pocket. Besides a flashlight and the burning ember of my Newport, it was completely dark. Slowly the sun rose, turning purple, red, orange, and finally yellow. The lake turned blue again, and behind the lodge, the forest that covered the mountain came alive with color. It had been over 10 years since I had looked clear to the horizon over Lake Superior.
“It’s hard to believe this place is real,” Sahlee said.
We were on the third day of a four-day motorcycle trip along Lake Superior to capture the peak autumnal colors before the heavy Minnesotan winter tightened its grip. And it was our first long ride together in many years. We started our journey at St. Paul Harley-Davidson, where we borrowed an Ultra Limited in Vivid Black — a beast of a machine in both weight and power, a 900-pound workhorse designed for regal riding. It turned heads, and with a 114ci Milwaukee-Eight V-twin, it chewed up miles without hesitation.
We had checked into the historic Cascade Lodge, located between Lutsen and Grand Marais — a ski resort and a bohemian art enclave, respectively — shortly before dark the night before, following a 100-mile brisk ride north from Duluth. The lodge was established in 1927 to serve affluent Duluthians and wealthy socialites. Profiting from fishing, forestry, mining, and trade along the Great Lakes, some had predicted that Duluth would rival Chicago. F. Scott Fitzgerald, a Minnesota native, would have fit in well there. Thom McAleer, who has run the Cascade Lodge with his wife since 2017, said business was good year-round, with plenty of motorcyclists in summer and snowmobilers in winter.
The geology of Lake Superior has always fascinated me. It is a history of violence that can still be felt today. Long before human barnacles — from the ghostly-white Scandinavians to the soiled French fur trappers on down to the spirits that guided the Ojibwe — clung to life on this rocky, inhospitable shore, billions of years of primeval and powerful forces created, shaped and sculpted what we see today: the world’s largest freshwater lake that has claimed thousands of mariners’ lives and at least 550 ships, including the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975.
As we rode into Grand Marais (French for “big swamp”), we followed advice we received the day prior from Andy Goldfine, founder of the legendary riding apparel company Aerostich, and scanned the sky, hoping to see a congregation of seagulls darting at a skiff loaded with fresh herring.
“If you sneak behind the Angry Trout Cafe, you can find fishermen cutting up the day’s catch, and freeze packing them to be sent to a rabbi in Chicago to make them kosher,” Goldfine told us.
When we met Goldfine the day before at his factory in west Duluth, we were greeted by a short, thoughtful, balding, and bespectacled man. Andy and I commiserated over our time at the University of Duluth, albeit decades apart, him with his philosophy major and English minor, and me with the exact opposite. As our conversation moved from topic to topic, from technology and its effects on society (good and bad), to the absurdity of the global fashion industry as satirized in the movie “Zoolander,” to the history of Duluth’s post-WWII economy, to global trade and how America has become a consumerism-driven throw-away society and finally trends in motorcycling, it became clear that Goldfine was not just an inventor, but a sage.
He started Aerostich in 1983, when Duluth was in an economic recession and on the verge of becoming another hollowed-out Rustbelt town. U.S. Steel closed its coke plant in 1979. A decade prior the Air Force shuttered the base that housed the 11th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, a secretive Cold War defense outpost that housed 2,500 to 3,500 servicemen tasked with aircrafts that would be deployed in the event of a Soviet invasion.
When I was living in Duluth 16 years ago, the west side of town was rundown and largely abandoned. Tourism, college kids with bar money, and gentrification have revived the area, with craftspeople, brewers, and restaurateurs operating in clean, modern industrial spaces like you’d find in Brooklyn. Goldfine observed all of the changes to this historic part of town. What hasn’t changed is his philosophy regarding Aerostich’s Roadcrafter suits, which have been an integral part of the riding community for decades.
“Our customers are everyday riders because Aerostich makes equipment. Just like a farmer’s overalls, a carpenter’s pants, a lawyer’s or banker’s suit, it is the equipment that these professions invest in, not fashion,” Goldfine said. “Our logic is that our products are sacrificial. [A Roadcrafter] keeps you safe from the elements, and say you crash going 60 and you are okay, it did its job.”
We toured Goldfine’s factory, met with his tailors, and checked out his waterproofing testing equipment and impact armor fabrication set-up. When we left, he wished us a happy marriage and I felt better knowing that guys like Andy Goldfine are so dedicated to their craft.
From Grand Marais, we rode north and then northwest, 15 or so miles up the beautiful Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway that, further north, terminates at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — a 150-mile stretch of hard-to-reach pristine lakes along the U.S./Canada border that skirts the Laurentian Divide, which separates water flow from either going down to the Gulf of Mexico or up to Hudson Bay. Starting in the 1600s, voyageurs would make a special stop here to collect flint from chert deposits for their rifles.
A loaded lumber truck with two blown-out wheels partially blocked our path up the Gunflint, so we turned around and returned to the lake, thundering down the road on the mighty Ultra Limited as a kaleidoscope of fall colors became a blur.
“The Lake Superior Basin … sits dead center over an ancient rift [that] was active 1.1 billion years ago when Minnesota was really the center of the North American continent,” wrote geologist Ron Morton, in his 2011 book A Road Guide: The North Shore of Lake Superior on Highway 61. “Hot molten magma rose upward from deep within the earth, and as it approached the surface, it caused the crust to arch or bow upward, and then split like an overcooked sausage,” he added. A heavy, miles-deep pancake of basalt lava spread across the region, with larger eruptions piling pyroclastic rocks around the edges of what today is the rugged Lake Superior shoreline. When the volcanic activity stopped, the weight of the lava started to sink the earth.
But long before that, a massive mountain range — larger than the Alps or Rockies today — had formed. As the mountain range eroded over eons, the sinking basin filled with sediment, creating a swampy plain. Then came what’s known as the Last Glacial Period, starting a mere 115,000 years ago. Thick sheets of ice covered the land and pushed southward, violently scooping out the basin like excavators. The earth warmed, the glaciers melted and a lake was formed — the world’s largest in terms of area, third-largest in terms of volume. Geologic instability causes the south and southwestern sides of Lake Superior to rise a few centimeters each year, raising the waterline on the Canadian side.
From Grand Marais, we drove up to the Lutsen Mountains Ski and Summer Resort, where we paid $24 each to take the gondola up to the summit for impressive and expansive views of the landscape. From a western outlook hundreds of feet above the valley floor, the trees were dead brown and red, a couple of days past peak, while to the east, yellows, oranges, and reds mingled with the green, winter-hardened conifers.
Our final sightseeing stop was Tettegouche State Park to see Palisade Head, a large rock formation with staggering 300-foot sheer cliffs that end in a jumble of jagged rocks along the shore. I remember coming here when I was in college. The wind would whip so hard it felt as if it would blow you right off the cliff edge, creating a mix of fear and excitement. Palisade Head and I have both aged. It looks and feels the same. Can’t say the same about myself.
Biting cold wind meant that Old Man Winter would arrive soon. Time to get back down to St. Paul to return the Harley and hunker down.
Every now and then, you have a day that stands head and shoulders above others. A day when everything goes right, things look and smell better than usual, and all is right with the world. Today is one of those days.
We’re in the Sheridan Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest. I make my coffee on my single cup burner and look at maps while my 13-year-old daughter Shayla sleeps in. The next few days of our two-week summer trip to Yellowstone promise to be the most memorable.
The trip has been great so far. The shoulder that I had injured a few weeks earlier has hardly bothered me. My new-to-me 2010 Gold Wing is keeping us comfortable and running as smoothly and as well as expected. My quest to maintain close ties with my now-teenage daughter seems to be working, since we are getting along very well, enjoying each other’s company and creating new shared memories.
We take U.S Route 16A south through Custer State Park, enjoying the curves in the early morning. I wish we could spend more time in this area because the roads are so great, and are currently almost free of traffic. The refreshing, crisp morning air, the curves — including a few of the hairpin variety — make this the best road of the trip so far. We then take Route 16 west toward Wyoming. Route 16 becomes Interstate 90 for about 100 miles, but then turns back into two-lane Route 16 as we ride through the Bighorn National Forest. There we experience more great curves and beautiful vistas. It’s a hot day so we stop often for drinks and ice cream.
At the small town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, we turn north onto Lower Norwood Road, which turns into Wyoming Highway 31. Both are small roads that roughly follow the land, making them a delight through the wide open spaces. Greybull Highway 14 into Cody is straight as an arrow with little traffic. Riding into the sun might normally be annoying but today it is somehow magical. I’m not sure if it is the wide open spaces, the almost total lack of traffic or if I’ve achieved a state of zen, but in my mind’s eye I can see us from above, riding into the sunset along this lonely stretch of road.
In Cody, we get a room at the cozy A Western Rose Motel on Sheridan Avenue, which is the main downtown street. It’s a lovely evening so we walk down to the Irma Hotel for dinner. Buffalo Bill Cody, who founded the town with his name, built the Irma in 1902 and named it after his daughter. Buffalo Bill, born in 1846, was an American soldier, bison hunter and a showman, best known for his traveling Wild West shows. The hotel menu has an appetizer called Rocky Mountain Oysters — Buffalo Bill’s Original Sack Lunch. I suggest to Shayla that we try them, but she’s disgusted at the thought and refuses. We have an enjoyable meal anyway, to cap off a perfect day.
From Cody we ride along the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway toward Beartooth Highway and enjoy the many curves and scenic views. The Gold Wing may be a big beast, but it’s still a joy on the curves. At an overlook, we meet the fattest little chipmunk we’ve ever seen, one who has obviously mastered the art of obtaining free food from tourists. Shayla succumbs to his charms and feeds him a cracker, ensuring that his battle with obesity will continue.
The last time I was on Beartooth Highway I was a much younger, more fit version of myself. The amazement and the feeling of riding on top of the world is the same this time. The weather is beautiful, the views are stunning, and the road that has been called “The Most Beautiful Drive in America” doesn’t disappoint. Shayla and I continually marvel and comment on the beauty through our headsets.
As planned, we ride from south to north, have lunch in Red Lodge, Montana, and then turn around and ride the road again. We reach heights of 10,900 feet, so at an overlook stop, Shayla makes a snow angel and we have a brief snowball fight. The views on the way back are equally stunning.
At the south end of the Beartooth, we enter Yellowstone National Park. The park is initially disappointing after the views we had experienced on the Beartooth. Then we enter the Lamar Valley and start to see bison in the fields. First bison near the road, and then on the road. We watch a giant male wander along the centerline of the road, causing all traffic to stop. Fascinating to watch — from afar.
We camp at a small campground owned by the Diamond P Ranch on U.S Route 20 outside of West Yellowstone. In the morning we do some horseback riding, then head into Yellowstone again. Yellowstone is all about geysers, so we investigate many of those, including Old Faithful. The crowds are worth it, since those geysers are impressive. We witness the eruption of the Beehive Geyser, whose eruptions are unpredictable, but it is one of the most powerful ones in the park. The eruptions average about five minutes and shoot water an incredible 200 feet into the air. We also enjoy the colorful sulfur pools that look way nicer than they smell.
In the evening, after cowering in our tent during a flash thunderstorm, we go to a rodeo a couple of miles up the road from our campsite. It is literally our “first rodeo,” and we take it all in and have a great time. We get back to our tent shortly before the rain starts again, and it continues for much of the night.
In the morning we load up the bike. Returning from the outhouse, I notice the Gold Wing is on its side! The ground, softened by the overnight rain, was not able to support the fully loaded bike, forcing us to heave it back up again. The practice we get picking the bike up will come in handy the next day in Montana.
We make our way north on U.S Route 191, west of Yellowstone park, and enjoy the scenic ride through mountainous recreation areas to Bozeman. We then take the lovely Montana Highway 86 up to U.S Route 89 and then to the deserted Montana Highway 294. The secondary highways in this area are almost traffic free, and are quite scenic at times. We hop back on the 191 up to Lewistown, Montana. At the Yogo Inn we enjoy the indoor pool, hot tub and a poolside meal from the hotel restaurant.
The next day, on a whim we decide to visit the ghost town of Kendall, outside of Lewistown off Route 191 that we’re taking to head north toward Saskatchewan. The road to the ghost town starts off as a nicely paved secondary road, but soon turns to gravel. We pass a couple ruins of old buildings, but the road continues, so we continue. The road narrows and turns into a single lane path, with big rocks and bumps. On an adventure bike it would be fun, but this is definitely not Gold Wing territory. There is no one else on this road, and as we climb the mountain to see where the road takes us, the guardrails disappear and the drops become larger.
As the bike bumps and gyrates along, Shayla expresses concern that we should probably not be on this road. Even though I tend to have a mental defect that makes me press on even when it may not be wise, I eventually have to admit that I’m pushing it too far.
The road seems narrower than the Gold Wing is long, so I get Shalya to disembark and proceed to do a multi-point U-turn. While backing up, the bike leans toward the left, my bad shoulder side, and I drop it! I’m OK, the bike is OK, and we both start laughing. I take a photo of the downed bike, which is really the only good thing about a bike being on its side.
We straighten up the bike and make our way back down the mountain. I derive a strange sort of pleasure from riding a motorcycle where it has no business being ridden, and Shayla starts getting into the absurdity of it. I’m cautious, and we bump and bounce along at 5 mph, laughing and giggling in our headsets. We don’t get to see the full ghost town, but the memory of trying to get to it will surely stay with us for a lifetime.
We head north on Route 191 and back into Canada, and eventually back home to Ottawa, Ontario. Sixteen days and 5,700 miles after leaving, we pull into our driveway, safe and sound.
I’ve heard it said how having kids is like a long, slow, painful good-bye. Kids start out being fully dependent on their parents, becoming less dependent as they grow, until they are eventually (hopefully) self-sufficient. My goal is to maintain as many ties as possible while that happens. My hope with this ride is that the shared experiences, the hours of conversation through our headsets, the challenges, the dropped bikes, the joys, the heat, the rain, and the time spent together, have contributed to that in some way. We’ll always remember the Beartooth, and we’ll always be able to laugh about the ghost town we almost visited.
Beartooth Forever: a Father-Daughter Ride to Yellowstone Photo Gallery:
With international travel in 2020 looking less certain by the week (and possibly risky, not just health-wise but also with the possibility of becoming stranded or quarantined outside the U.S.), this might be a great time to explore this beautiful country.
While you could certainly peruse back issues of Rider (or do some research here on our website) in search of ride ideas throughout the country, you’ll still be on the hook for logistical planning, hotel reservations and knowing whether or not the gas station in that tiny desert town is still open…not to mention handling the “what-ifs” of mechanical issues or a crash. Or you could let a tour company handle all of it, leaving you free to enjoy the ride.
All the companies on this list run scheduled, guided motorcycle tours in the United States using rental motorcycles — either their own fleet or rented from a local source — but you should obviously check with them right off the bat to make sure they’re still running tours this year.
Most have a chase vehicle to carry your luggage and gear and to deal with mechanical issues that may occur en route. Some companies will allow you to ride your own bike, but check for any restrictions. The information here is provided by the companies, and not guaranteed by Rider.
Tours Include: Alaska/Yukon Adventure, Prudhoe Bay Excursion Accommodations: Upscale hotels Length of Tours: 9-13 days Rental Options: BMW GS models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: July-August Typical Cost: 9-day Prudhoe Bay Excursion starting at $5,950 including bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Motorcycle license and touring experience required; for off-road adventures, off-road experience or training required Tel: (877) 275-8238 or (972) 635-5210 Website:ayresadventures.com
Ayres Adventures prides itself in providing a premium tour experience, so if you want to ride Alaska this is a great way to do it. You’ll ride late-model BMWs equipped with chunky Continental TKC80 tires for the ultimate Alaska experience.
Bike Week Motorcycle Tours
Tours Include: All the major Bike Weeks, including Daytona, Laughlin, Myrtle Beach, Laconia, Hollister, Sturgis and Bikes, Blues & BBQ Accommodations: RVs, private homes and carefully selected hotels/motels Length of Tours: 12-14 days Rental Options: Late model Harley-Davidson and Indian models Equipment: Support vehicle with spare motorcycle Dates: March-October Typical Cost: $7,950, includes single room and motorcycle rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, min. one-year experience on heavyweight motorcycles Tel: (619) 746-1066 Website: bikeweekmotorcycletours.com
Get the ultimate Bike Week experience, as you travel some of America’s most scenic roads on your way to one of nine legendary Bike Weeks. Let the party begin!
Tours Include: Blue Ridge Parkway, California Dreaming, Route 66, Sturgis, DreamCatcher, The Mighty 6, Yellowstone Accommodations: Selected 3- and 4-star hotels Length of Tours: 11-13 days Rental Options: Harley-Davidson, select other makes/models Equipment: Support vehicle with spare motorcycle Dates: May-October Typical Cost: 13-day Route 66 tour starting at $8,972, single occupancy, includes rental motorcycle Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 Tel: (310) 359-2353 Website: california-sunriders.com
California Sunriders wants to show you the best of the west — plus some fun roads back east too. You’ll explore California, the Rockies, the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and, of course, the legendary Route 66.
Tours Include: Wild West I, II and III, Route 66, Triple B, Coast to Coast, Sturgis Bike Week, Florida Keys, Southwest Canyon Country Accommodations: Hotels & motels Length of Tours: 6-17 days Rental Options: Varies by tour; fleet includes BMW, Harley-Davidson and Indian cruisers, tourers and trikes Equipment: Support van with spare motorcycle Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: 15-day Route 66 tour starting at $7,179, single occupancy, includes rental motorcycle Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, experience riding a touring motorcycle at highway speeds Tel: (877) 557-3541 Website:eaglerider.com
Eaglerider is the largest and arguably most well-known motorcycle rental and tour company in the U.S. With 45 different domestic tours to choose from, you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes!
Edelweiss Bike Travel
Tours Include: Alaska-Yukon Adventure, American Dream, California Extreme Accommodations: Comfortable hotels and motels Length of Tours: 8-13 days Rental Options: Select BMW, Harley-Davidson and Suzuki models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: May-October Typical Cost: 7-day American Dream tour starting at $5,660 for a solo rider, including rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Age limits vary by tour; 5,000 miles riding experience required Tel: 011 43 5264 5690 Website:edelweissbike.com
Tour the warm and beautiful Southwest or the wilds of Alaska with Edelweiss Bike Travel. Edelweiss has been operating guided motorcycle tours since 1980, and now offers 2,350 tours in 180 destinations worldwide.
Tour: North America Accommodations: 3- to 4-star hotels Length of Tour: 34 days Rental Option: Triumph Tiger 800 Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: July 23-August 27, 2020 Cost: $20,531 for a solo rider, double occupancy, including Tiger 800 rental bike Age/Experience Requirements:No age requirement, recommended for experienced riders only, comfortable riding on unpaved/gravel roads Tel: 011 44 (0)3452 30 40 15 Website:globebusters.com
This is an ultimate motorcycle tour of North America, showing you some of the very best riding from Anchorage, Alaska, north to Prudhoe Bay and then south all the way to the Mexican border.
Great American Touring
Tours Include: Pacific Coast North and South, Sturgis Bike Week, Canadian Rockies, Best of the West Accommodations: Hotels Length of Tours: 7-14 riding days Rental Options: Harley-Davidson, select other makes/models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: July-Sept Typical Cost: 14-day Best of the West starting at $8,995, solo occupancy, includes rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 to rent motorcycle, no limit for own bike Tel: (800) 727-3390 Website: greatamericantouring.com
How does Great American stand out? When it says “eight day tour,” that’s eight riding days. Other companies’ eight-day tours may be only six, or even just five riding days. It makes a difference.
Tours Include: Best of California, California, Miami & Deep South and Route 66 Accommodations: Minimum 4-star hotels Length of Tours: 9-16 days Rental Options: BMW models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: July-Sept Typical Cost: 14-day Best of California starting at $6,995, single occupancy, includes rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 25, at least three years’ riding experience Tel: 011 351 210 413 334 Website: hertzride.com
Car rental giant Hertz has entered the motorcycle tour market, and it offers four guided tours in the U.S. Hop onto one of its late-model BMWs and take a ride in California, along Route 66 or through the Southeast.
Leod Motorcycle Escapes
Tours Include: High Sierra Escape, California Curves to Laguna Seca, California Curvin’ Accommodations: 3- to 4-star hotels with a local flavor Length of Tours: 3-9 days Rental Options: Selected BMW and Ducati models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: June-Oct Typical Cost: 9-day California Curves to Laguna Seca starting at $6,900, includes rental bike and two days’ track instruction at Laguna Seca with California Superbike School Age/Experience Requirements: Intermediate riding level for track time tours Tel: (866) 562-6126 Website: leodescapes.com
Although Leod Escapes offers guided and self-guided sport-touring rides out of its San Francisco headquarters, it specializes in combining a tour with track time on some of the most famous tracks worldwide — including legendary Laguna Seca in California.
Tours Include: Heart of Colorado ADV, Moab Adventure Training, Heart of Idaho ADV Accommodations: Quality accommodations Length of Tours: 7-9 days Rental Options: Select BMW, KTM and Suzuki ADV and dual-sport bikes Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: June-September Typical Cost: 8-day Heart of Colorado ADV tour starting at $4,895 including rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Off-road riding experience required; training is available and included in some tours Tel: (800) 233-0564 Website:motodiscovery.com
If you’re looking for adventure, this is the place. MotoDiscovery will lead you on bucket list rides to some beautiful and remote locations that can only be accessed via unpaved roads and trails. Off-road rider training is included in some tours.
Tours Include: Wonders of the West, American Southwest, Pacific Coast Highway, North to Alaska, Trail of Lewis and Clark, Alaska Women’s Tour Accommodations: Lodges, hotels Length of Tours: 4-13 days Rental Options: BMW, Suzuki V-Strom 650, Harley-Davidson, Honda Africa Twin Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: 12-day Trail of Lewis and Clark tour starting at $6,450, includes Suzuki V-Strom 650 Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 Tel: (800) 756-1990 or (907) 272-2777 or (562) 997-7368 Website:motoquest.com
MotoQuest offers a number of tours of the last frontier, Alaska, during its short riding season. At other times of the year, tours are offered in the American West and Southwest, including Baja, out of its San Francisco, Portland and Long Beach locations.
Northeastern Motorcycle Tours
Tours: New England Fall Foliage, Gaspe Maritime Extended Accommodations: Inns, hotels and resorts Length of Tours: 6-12 days Rental Options: Various models available from local rental agencies Equipment: None Dates: August-October Typical Cost: 6-day New England Fall Foliage tour starting at $2,395, excluding bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 18, touring experience recommended Tel: (802) 463-9853 Website:motorcycletours.com
Northeastern Motorcycle Tours is a small company that specializes in an extraordinarily beautiful and varied region of North America. The routes, hotels and dining used on the tours are regularly researched to always meet very high standards.
Pashnit Motorcycle Tours
Tours: El Dorado, Delta Bodega, Parkfield, Mosquito Ridge, Coast Range, North Pass, Mile High Xtravaganza, Santa Barbara Accommodations: Hotels, motels Length of Tours: 3-4 days Rental Options: Various models available from local rental agencies Equipment: None Dates: March-October Typical Cost: Most 3-day tours cost $425, excludes motorcycle rental, food, gas, accommodations and incidentals Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, at least 5 years of riding experience is recommended Tel: (530) 391-1356 Website: pashnittours.com
Pashnit Motorcycle Tours (“pashnit” = passionate, get it?) started out as a “best roads” list and now offers a full menu of California-based tours, many of which are held on long weekends.
Tours Include: Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain Adventure Ride, Mid-Winter Adventure, California Adventure, Best of the West Accommodations: Hotels and camping Length of Tours: 5-10 days Rental Options: BMW GS models Equipment: Support vehicle, chuck wagon on camping tours Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: 5-day Mid-Winter Adventure tour starts at $3,495 including rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, off-road riding experience required for ADV tours (training is available) Tel: (661) 993-9942 Website:rawhyde-offroad.com
RawHyde Adventures is an official BMW off-road training center, and its tours offer you the chance to hit the dirt and see some of the most remote and beautiful parts of America. On-road tours, such as California Adventure, are also available.
Ride Free Motorcycle Tours
Tours Include: Route 66, Sturgis-Chicago to Las Vegas, Northern California, Wild West, American History Washington DC Battlefields, California Wine, Blue Ridge Parkway, American Music Accommodations: Hotels and motels with local flair Length of Tours: 4-14 days Rental Options: Harley-Davidson models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: Extremely flexible pricing and tour duration; example: 13-day American Music tour $6,789 including bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, competent rider Tel: (310) 978-9558 Website: ridefree.com
Classic routes with classy motorcycles (and classic cars) is what Ride Free specializes in. Based in Los Angeles, the company offers tours throughout the country.
Tours Include: Route 66 Dream, Florida Sunshine, Wild West, Highway 1, Bluegrass Wonders and Pony Express Accommodations: Midrange and top-class hotels Length of Tours: 6-15 days Rental Options: BMW, Harley-Davidson Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: 11-day Bluegrass Wonders tour starts at $4,795, double occupancy, including bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 Tel: (414) 455-4384 Website: reuthers.com
Reuthers is a worldwide entertainment, travel and leisure company with headquarters in Germany and a U.S. office in Milwaukee. With its touring expertise you’re guaranteed to be well cared for.
Twisted Trailz Motorcycle Tours
Tours Include: Cowboy Country, Grand Canyon & Red Rocks, Unique Utah, Canyons & National Parks, Awesome Arizona, Monuments & Million $ Highways Accommodations: Unique or historical hotels and lodges Length of Tours: 3-7 days Rental Options: Harley-Davidson Equipment: Support vehicle on tours 5 days and more Dates: February-November Typical Cost: 7-day Monuments & Million $ Highways tour starts at $4,395 including bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 25, experience riding heavyweight motorcycles Tel: (602) 795-8888 Website:twistedtrailz.com
All of Twisted Trailz’s motorcycle tours are planned and structured with the rider in mind. It encourages participants to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Southwest on one of its once-in-a-lifetime tours.
Iowa is not known as a motorcycling destination, but rather a through state. Motorcyclists travel mostly on the four-lane roads thinking that’s all there is to see, and that includes many of those who live in Iowa. Even our maps don’t make it look inviting, since the squiggly lines aren’t all that squiggly. So here are some roads I enjoy traveling that will be a treat for any motorcyclists looking for lightly traveled, interesting roads and a highly adaptable route.
I start at the intersection of State Highway 13 and U.S. Route 151 outside Cedar Rapids only because I live near there. The ride starts on what I call transit roads, or primarily straight roads. At County Road E34 head east toward the small town of Whittier, past a few houses, a Friends meeting house and a small store, then turn north. I should note that terms like village and hamlet are not common in Iowa, so even a few houses grouped together is called a town. At Waubeek you’ll cross the Wapsipinicon River, where an old mill has been turned into a rustic bar. You’re now on Boy Scouts Road, a former gravel road paved in the chip and dip manner. It’s narrow, the pavement is uneven but not rough and it has some tight corners. It’s a short stretch to savor before returning to more traditional Iowa-style main roads.
When Boy Scouts Road ends, turn east onto County Road E16 and enjoy some smooth pavement with nice open curves. At a four-way stop, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, turn north on County Road X20. This is a nice paved road off the beaten path where you can enjoy the scenery with a few curves thrown in to keep you from getting white line fever (remember that!).
Next take the road toward Hopkinton, where you will most likely encounter horses and buggies, since there is an Amish population that runs several inviting country stores along the route. The road to Hopkinton, County Road D47, starts straight but then gets nice and curvy with a tight “S” curve that can catch out the unaware. At Hopkinton, there’s a college that used to be active — OK, it was in business about 100 years ago and today you can do a ghost hunt/sleepover if that’s your thing. Heading north you’ll find it is mostly smooth and mostly straight with a few open curves. It is, however, somewhat rough between Hopkinton and Delhi, which makes for a nice stop with available fuel and a couple of good restaurants located on the small-town main street.
You’ll run into State Highway 3 at a T intersection where you’ll head left, then in a few short miles you will turn right onto County Road C7X. Turn right before the first big grain storage facility — you can’t miss the bright metal bins.
The road is smooth and has plenty of curves with gentle elevation changes. As you look around you’ll see what I call “vista views” across the hills that make up this corner of Iowa. You’ll pick up County Road X3C at what’s left of Elkport. A flood devastated the community some years ago; they did, however, make the best of the situation and created a green space camping facility.
The curves keep coming along with the views and smooth pavement until you intersect with Highway 13, yes, the same highway I started on. Head south toward an Iowa Welcome Center that has information, a small “Iowa Made” shop and displays of Iowa wildlife that make for a relaxing stop. There are plenty of opportunities to get food or gas along the way, but this stop makes for a quiet interlude. Leave the welcome center heading south looking for a right turn, County Road C24, heading west to Volga — any guesses as to what group settled here?
This road twists and turns, rises and falls, with a few blind turns thrown in as well. At Volga there’s a park that offers camping as well as access to the Volga River for kayaking. This area has become a destination for both leisurely kayakers as well as whitewater kayaking. Volga, like most of the other towns on the route, has a convenient city park perfect for a picnic.
Follow the signs to Wadena and you’ll be on a trip back through time to what many people think of when they think of rural Iowa. In Wadena you can stop at a locker (think no-frills meat market) and pick up travel food like meat sticks and jerky, or if you have a cooler, steaks to take home. You’ll also see an old hotel turned into a private residence that still has the name Wadena stenciled on the windows, so that when you got off the train a hundred years ago you knew where you were. Been wondering why so many very small towns exist along this route? One word: railroad. These towns owe their existence to having access to a rail line when rail was the only reliable transportation and communication line in Iowa. In Clermont you’ll see an old depot that a local group is trying to save.
When you reach Clermont, also known as “Brick City,” you can’t miss the turn of the century architecture throughout the town. Clermont was the home of the 13th governor of Iowa and has a statue and museum to prove it. Wadena and Clermont are still active and offer hospitality in the form of small-town restaurants and bars. These are not tourist towns, and they do cater to hunters in the fall, yet you’ll not feel out of place.
My ride doesn’t end at Clermont. You can reverse it (I like the way the curves string together heading north to south better then south to north), meander back on the other good roads in the area, explore the many graveled roads along the way if you’re so inclined or pick a new destination. The best time to ride the route is any time you can — I’ve ridden it four times already this year and plan on riding it at least one more time, so look for the guy on a BMW RT wearing high-viz gear: that most likely will be me!
Despite being a lifelong Hoosier, I hadn’t spent much time riding in the southern part of Indiana. This year would be different — I had a family reunion coming up in Bloomington, only four hours away from home in Valparaiso. I also had some rare extra days off from my mill job, so I thought I’d meander my way there instead of taking the direct route. Using secondary roads exclusively crossed my mind, but I didn’t have that much time.
I headed east on U.S. Route 30, then south on U.S. Routes 35 and 31. Thankfully, the rains that plagued us for weeks had finally stopped. Indiana is squarely in the Corn Belt, but the crop in our part of the state was pretty much toast due to the wet conditions. This was painfully obvious mile after mile, as stunted seedlings were barely at the ankle. The old saying is “knee high by the Fourth of July,” but with modern hybrids, most years the stalks are at the shoulder or better by late June.
North of Indy I jumped on State Highway 38. I’d noticed a scenic route designation on the map for State Highway 1, starting at Hagerstown, less than 20 miles from the Ohio border. The town is also just above the imaginary line that separates the state into north and south — as good a place to start as any. There was even a motorcycle-friendly eatery, Dave’s Café/Flatlanders Motorcycles. The Harley parked among the pool tables made my burger taste all the better. As poor luck had it, I’d showed up the day before their weekly bike night. Still, this was shaping up to be a good ride.
The Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway offers a snapshot of 19th-century American travel: river, canal and rail. I’d heard at the Greens Fork Family Diner it was also a fine motorcycle road. The report was accurate, with smooth pavement, abundant curves and frequent elevation changes, features that riders seek out but are rare north of the dividing line — especially the smooth part. Plank roads aren’t represented, but there is a heritage railroad running between Connersville and Metamora that features a restored section of the Whitewater Canal that once stretched 76 miles, from Hagerstown to Harrison, Ohio. Construction was a major engineering feat due to the steepness of the route, requiring 56 locks and seven dams, and the costly project drove the state into bankruptcy for a time.
I’m a fan of big rivers. I enjoyed riding the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys a couple of years ago in the Show Me State. Since I was close to the Ohio, I figured I would check it out. I was particularly interested in how it compared to those two flooding-wise, as my Missouri route was often dictated by water-related closures. But the first diversion was due to construction, not flooding. Instead of Lawrenceburg, where the river enters Indiana, the detour put me a few miles downstream in Aurora, where I picked up the Ohio River Scenic Byway. The Hoosier State segment covers 302 miles and follows several Indiana State Highways, 56, 156, 62 and 66, which meld together rather seamlessly. The distance suggested a lot of curves and didn’t disappoint.
Among American waterways, the Ohio is second only to the Mississippi in volume of water discharged. It has been described as a series of strung-together reservoirs, built and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. As such, it serves many of the same functions as other Corps projects, such as drinking water, recreation, flood control and shipping. Barge traffic was abundant. I stopped a couple of times at riverside parks to watch the towboats do their magic. A century ago, the river towns catered primarily to businesses. Now tourism is a big economic activity as well.
Given the combination of good pavement, hills, curves and friendly locals, unsurprisingly there were lots of motorcycles on the byways. On one construction reroute, where it took 50 miles to go 10, two Harley riders gave chase. They weren’t dressed for a crash but pushed me hard on the straights and sweepers anyway, then I’d walk away from them in the tighter curves. We repeated the pattern several times. Fun!
I’d always wanted to visit our first Indiana state Capitol building, in Corydon. Just off the byway and easy to find, the tidy limestone structure is dwarfed by the current rendition in Indianapolis. But it was doubtless a big undertaking for the fledgling state in 1816. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day, a constant aggravation on my rides when visiting historical sites.
The afternoon was fading when I encountered another reroute. I wondered if this one really was due to flooding, as the stretch ran right along the river. Water or roadwork, I never found out, but I’d neglected to top off the Suzuki V-Strom’s tank in Jeffersonville and the blinking fuel gauge was making me nervous. I’d passed through several small settlements, but none with gas available. Luckily, the Derby General Store was still open. One of the pumps offered ethanol-free 90-octane mid-grade, rare in my corner of the state, and the Strom loved the unadulterated fuel. The attendant clued me into a shortcut that didn’t show as connecting on the map. It allowed me to see the dam at Cannelton, which the sanctioned route bypassed. I don’t use a construction avoidance feature on my GPS; folks that live in an area can generally advise the best route anyway.
Derby also carried a grim reminder of the potentially destructive power of big rivers: flood lines spanning eight decades posted on a utility pole. Like the Mississippi and Missouri, the Ohio sometimes jumps its banks despite man’s best efforts to tame it. But even with the proximity of big water and recent heavy rains, the corn crop in the area was comparatively healthy. One lush field shared space with another common Midwestern fixture, the oil pumpjack.
I stopped for the night in Evansville, an easy enough town to navigate considering its relatively large population. I often wish I’d been born in the southwest rather than the northwest corner of the state. The milder winters, better roads and laid-back lifestyle are big plusses. The next morning, I rode the remaining 25 miles of the Ohio River Scenic Byway to where it crosses the Wabash River into Illinois, then doubled back to Mount Vernon to begin the trek back north on State Highway 69.
I had the whole day to make it to Bloomington, so I stuck to state highways. They passed through endless farmland and the occasional small town. I prefer mom-and-pop diners, and one of the best indicators of quality food is pickup trucks in the parking lot; if the fare is substandard, the locals won’t patronize. JJ’s in Cynthiana looked promising. A man I guessed correctly to be JJ stood behind the register, hands on hips, looking me over, and asked, “What’d ya need, captain?” “How about a menu,” seemed the obvious reply. He shot back, “You sure you can read?” as he handed me one with a smirk. Then he put on a fresh pot of coffee, not so much for me, but for the lunch crowd about to arrive. Like clockwork, trucks of every description soon moved in. I hung out for a while, talking bikes, farm equipment, weather and steel mills.
ABATE of Indiana is a robust motorcycle rights organization. Twenty years ago, it purchased 400 acres in Lawrence County to host its annual fundraising party, the Boogie, which is dubbed the “Midwest’s Best Biker Fest.” The property has since been developed into a full-service off-road riding area with 60 miles of trails, campgrounds, showers and RV hookups. The Lawrence County Recreational Park is off the beaten path, but worth a visit. One day, I’d like to give those trails a try. The Indiana Motorcycle Safety Memorial is at the park’s entrance, dedicated to fallen Hoosier riders. The memorial grounds are impressive and made my detour worthwhile.
Bloomington is smack in the middle of some of the best motorcycling in Indiana. My youngest daughter once rode with me there. She said it felt like “riding through a tunnel,” as we motored under the canopy of trees that covers many of the highways. I’m not complaining, but at times the hills and curves became almost overwhelming. Once, I dropped my guard and almost overshot a tight turn. But I knew in a few hours I’d be back on straight and boring roads, with a large helping of potholes thrown in, so I enjoyed the squiggly lines while I could. Efficiency dictates that major highways cut the hills down to level the run, but rest assured there are still many miles of unmolested pavement in southern Indiana.
U.S. Route 231 was my chosen route home, avoiding the interstate. The dry and beautiful Saturday night brought out bikes by the score. In Crawfordsville, a chapter of the Iron Order with dozens of rumbling steeds had gathered for a run. I waved and they waved back. We were all on V-twins, albeit built for different styles of riding, but it didn’t matter. At West Lafayette, I once again overruled the Garmin’s choice of I-65 and picked up State Highway 43, then U.S. Route 421 for the last 70 miles. It’s weird, but after all the curves and hills, the arrow-straight run that I’ve made many times was strangely satisfying.
The Ohio River Valley is now on my list of favorite places. The byway hugs the river for many miles and I’m glad I ran the Indiana section almost beginning to end. I only wish I could have spent more than a day taking it in. Two or three would’ve been better, as there’s much to do and see. I’m always searching for the perfect ride. Turns out one of the best has been in my backyard all along.
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” says the motorcycling adage. That’s true! Most highlights of motorcycling are experienced during the ride. I choose journeys with an interesting place to turn around (destination) before heading back home. Riding the Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota provides wide choices of appealing destinations and journeys, riding through forests, hills and curves in Minnesota’s “arrowhead.”
Aptly named due to the huge iron ore mining economy formed in the late 19th century, we started our ride from the town of Mountain Iron, at the Holiday Inn Express. Riders will appreciate the covered parking for a few motorcycles. The Iron Range Tourism Bureau publishes ride guides every year. My wife Jean and I picked up one at the inn and selected potential routes to try during our few days “on the Range.” We modified and combined our routes to fit in a few destinations that piqued our interests. After our complimentary breakfast, our journey began.
The Mines and Pines tour was our warm-up ride for Memorial Day weekend. Heading north on U.S. Route 53 to Cook, turning west, we rode through the rural settings on Trunk Highway 1. Logging and farming appeared to be the main economic activities. Heading south on County Road 5 there was a noticeable change from farming to tourism as we rode to McCarthy Beach State Park for a break. Out of the saddle, we rehydrated, and off we went.
Finally, we arrived at the “mines” part of the Mines and Pines tour. We ended up at the Iron Man, a tribute to the miners who worked the iron mines. After a quick lunch under the shade tree at The Stand, we were refreshed and ready to explore our destination for the day, the Minnesota Discovery Center. The Center is an exhibition of the mining and cultural artifacts associated with mining in the Range. A rail trolley used for transporting miners to and from the mines is still in operation for tourists. Some of the original buildings, homes and boarding houses still stand and are well maintained, providing a glimpse into the past’s daily life above ground.
We finished back at our starting point and went out to dinner. We discovered a nice new restaurant in the neighboring town of Virginia, The Northern Divide, which provided an excellent dinner and outstanding service.
The next day was dark and gloomy in the north woods of Minnesota. Another adage for motorcyclists is, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad wardrobe choices.” We mustered up the right perspective with, “Today is a good day to test our rain gear!” Since it was raining, we decided our journey should take us to an indoor destination. More than indoors, we picked an underground destination. Trunk Highway 135 runs from Gilbert north to Tower. It’s smooth and wide, and the forest is cut back from the roadway, providing good visibility for any deer, moose or other forest creatures that might wander onto the roadway.
After we arrived at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, a three-minute elevator ride took us down 2,341 feet below the surface. From there we rode a trolley in total darkness. Arriving at a “stope,” a steplike excavation that is formed as the ore is mined in successive layers, we could see and hear how miners worked one of the richest iron ore mines in the world.
Back on the surface, the rain had stopped but the roads were still wet. Back in our rain suits and off we went to Ely via Trunk Highway 169. The journey on the two-lane road was through heavy forest and light traffic, just the way it should be. We had two destinations in Ely, the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. I can’t say enough about these attractions. The quality and educational value of the displays are superb! We arrived at each just before feeding time, so the wolves and bears were up and active. Both centers have large glass viewing areas great for photographers.
Backtracking west on Highway 169, then south on Highway 135, our destination for the night was The Lodge at Giants Ridge. It’s open year-round for skiers, travelers and golfers. Tomorrow’s ride would be over to the north shore of Lake Superior.
The North Shore Scenic Drive is a must for any rider. Our destination was Two Harbors, where all the iron ore from the mines comes by rail then ships out to destinations all over the world. County Highway 110 winds through Aurora and Hoyt Lakes, then County Highway 11’s sweepers took us into Silver Bay. I mentioned to Jean, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many shades of green.” The north woods were waking up from the long winter and the brilliant sunshine illuminated the greenery from every angle. Following the designated scenic route, we leaned into the curves going up and over the rolling forest terrain.
Reaching Silver Bay, we turned southwest on Trunk Highway 61. The road hugs Lake Superior’s north shore. It is smoother and straighter than it used to be, but the scenery is still a beautiful shoreline drive all the way to Two Harbors. Along the way we stopped at The Rustic Inn Café. It has the best pie on the north shore. Although the day was sunny, it was also cool and windy. With a hot cup of coffee, a warm piece of pie and a scoop of ice cream, I agreed with my GPS navigation when it said, “You have reached your destination.”
Forty-seven national parks, 17,335 miles, 67 days, three flat tires, two forest fires, three boat rides, temps ranging from 31degrees and sleet to 106-degree blinding heat–and no speeding tickets–equals one extraordinary and unforgettable motorcycle trip of a lifetime!
When I told my friends and family of my planned motorcycle trip, a visit to each of the 47 national parks last summer, there were plenty of questions from everyone. “Are you crazy?” “How many other riders are joining you?” “Is your life insurance paid up?” “What type of gun are you taking?” And finally, “Why?” But I had heard it all before on my previous trips to the four corners of the U.S. in 2013 and to all of the lower 48 states in 2014.
It all began last winter when my wife surprised me by sending me a link to a website that mapped out an efficient way to visit each of the 47 national parks in the lower 48 states, riding the least amount of miles. When I began to plan the trip, I realized that picking a date to leave Chicago in order to avoid all the tricky weather conditions in the various parts of the country was harder than I expected. The Midwest has the tornado season in the late spring, Florida has hurricanes beginning in June, Death Valley has 120-degree heat in the summer, and the cold and snow could still be around in the mountains out west in early summer. I made the decision to leave on May 1 and hoped that I would be able to avoid most of the weather issues.
Planning the route for the trip was easy. I used the map that my wife had shown me and, although I didn’t have any time constraints, I still plotted the estimated distances and traveling times between the parks to help me plan for places to stay while on the road. I found that Google Maps, set to “avoid highways,” gave me the best routes with the most interesting scenery.
Traveling through 17,000 miles of back roads, I was able to discover roads that many motorcyclists can only dream of riding. Imagine riding the seven-mile bridge in the Florida Keys, just you, your bike and miles of ocean all around you until you reach the next island Key. Then there are the desolate, lonely roads, like U.S. Route 62 heading out of Carlsbad, New Mexico, where “Next Gas 145 Miles” signs warn you of the barren and isolated landscape. Utah State Route 12 through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument area delivers magnificent vistas as far as the eye can see and is a motorcyclists’ dream, with hundreds of sweepers and a few free range cattle to make things interesting.
Some of the best conversations on motorcycle trips begin with a simple question: “So, where are you headed?” Bonds develop quickly between riders, and this trip held no exceptions. There were the two riders I met in Alpine, Wyoming, from Portugal and Gibraltar. They invited me to plan a trip with them to ride in Morocco.
And then, while touring Sequoia National Park, I met another pair of riders from Los Angeles. We became fast friends and now we regularly keep in touch and I plan to connect with them on my next ride out west.
I am frequently asked, “What is your favorite national park?” I don’t have a single favorite, but rather a Top Three. Dry Tortugas National Park covers an entire island and is located 70 miles west of Key West in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. The fort there was historically significant during the building of our country (Google it).
Zion National Park, one of our nation’s most majestic parks, is accessed via Utah State Route 9 and covers 146,596 acres of multi-colored canyons that take your breath away.
Lastly, Kings Canyon National Park is set between Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park in central California. Although this park isn’t as well known as some of the others, it reminds me of riding in the Alps in Europe, withroads that are carved on top of mountains with unforgiving 1,000 foot drops. Riding the winding road alongside a raging, overflowing river trying to accommodate last winter’s massive snows was exhilarating.
The beauty of this canyon ride is that you get a bonus at the end: you get to turn around and do it all over again.
Every national park has its own personality, beauty and history. From Acadia National Park in Maine with its rocky shores, high winds on Cadillac Mountain and seafaring history, to Big Bend National Park in Texas, running along the Rio Grande river, each park is special in its own way. At one vista point, I was able to walk across the Rio Grande into Mexico and then back again. For perspective, Big Bend is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. Approaching Big Bend from Alpine, Texas, on State Route 118 presents a desolate intimidating roadway, especially as temps hit 106 degrees.
Entering Death Valley National Park, I was uneasy with the extreme desolation, especially knowing that I was only one flat tire away from a crisis. At 3.4 million acres and 1,000 miles of roads, this is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states.
Food is always an important component of any trip, from lobster reuben sandwiches at Keys Fisheries in Marathon, Florida, to BBQ at Lockhart’s in Dallas, Texas, which is always served on butcher paper. I prefer to search for the mom & pop places to eat and try the local delicacies.
This trip of a lifetime gave me valuable insights regarding the beauty of our national parks and how precious they are to us. My advice is to visit as many of these national treasures as possible, I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
Improving slow-speed stability can be fun. No, really.
More than any other skill, riders tell me they wish they had better low-speed control. And no wonder; a bike is unstable and heavy at low speeds. It’s a skill riders want to improve, yet most avoid practice. Why? Probably because we tend to avoid things we hate. Unfortunately, we can’t avoid slow-speed riding altogether.
For me, the trick to developing skills has always been to make practice fun. So, let’s play a game or two. But first, let’s consider the basic techniques of slow-speed riding. Sit straight up with eyes looking to a distant target. Place the bike in first gear, raise the engine rpm slightly over idle and ease the clutch into the friction zone. Once rolling, place your feet on the pegs and apply a little rear brake. Modulate your speed by applying more or less rear brake (no front brake!). Those are the basics of slow riding. Now, let’s have some fun.
When riding with friends, try an impromptu “slow race” at one of your breaks. Line everyone up side-by-side at one end of an open parking lot, all facing the same direction and with sufficient space between bikes. This will be your start line. Pick a finish line a few yards away or so (not too far). On the “go” signal, each rider starts toward the finish, riding as slowly, but as stably, as possible. The last one to get to the finish line wins. The first one there buys lunch.
Once comfortable with straight line slow-speed control, try introducing a game with turns. A favorite of mine is to pick another willing rider and begin riding in a circle together at slow speed. Let the bike lean beneath you as you stay upright. Keep eyes up and looking at your buddy across the circle. As you get more comfortable, the two of you can tighten the circle to challenge each other. End the game by steering out of the circle, away from your buddy.
Then there’s the two-wheeled version of follow-the-leader. With riders in single file, one rider leads the group around the lot, making random combinations of right and left turns and even large circles, while keeping speeds slow enough to require the clutch to remain in the friction zone.
With such games, you’ll spend more time enjoying yourself than being intimidated by the bike’s slow-speed behavior. And before you know it, you’ll be riding like Heinz ketchup: smooth and slow.
Everyone knows the potential benefits and joys of camping out. Spectacular unfiltered views of the sky, sunsets and stars, communing with nature and friends by the campfire and sharing simple, tasty meals surrounded by trees, wildlife, mountains or the open desert…it’s all out there. Camping avoids costly hotels, too, so you can ride longer for less, and it lets you plan riding routes into backcountry you might not otherwise be able to reach. The shared effort and cooperation of roughing it with friends also enhances your group’s camaraderie, creating stronger bonds and great memories.
Of course, camping is a bit more complicated than whipping out a credit card at the Dew Drop Inn. Everything we need and take for granted in our homes or in hotels has to come with you on the bike, right down to the roof over your head. Car campers have it easy–there’s generally plenty of room, so less thought has to go into what to bring. But despite a limited amount of space on a motorcycle, with a little forethought and ingenuity you can enjoy both a great ride and a memorable camping trip.
Assuming you’re a total newbie to motorcycle camping, consider picking a spot for your first overnight that has water, toilets, trash cans, picnic tables, fire rings and/or grills, like an established campground. Dry, primitive camping can be awesome and the only kind available in some really wonderful places, but in addition to carrying your own water for washing and drinking, you’d be surprised how inconvenient the lack of a simple raised table can be for some people, not to mention doing your business in the bushes and packing out your trash. Of course, a dark pit toilet in a campground is still an adventure at 3 a.m., but at least you’ve got a door and somewhere to sit (just remember that if something falls in there, it’s probably staying!).
It also helps if there’s a camp store or host nearby who can provide bulky things like charcoal and firewood, which you can strap to the bike after it’s unloaded at the campsite. Depending on the motorcycle’s capacity and if you’re riding solo or two-up, you may also want to skip the pre-organized meals and simply buy something for dinner and breakfast at the closest store to the campground and bungee it on in some way. You’d be amazed how much space you can find when you’re hungry and thirsty! Bring or buy soft-sided insulated bags that fold flat for transporting cold beverages or hot food, and try to leave some space in your bike’s luggage for your purchases when you pack the bike at home.
How much and what type of camping gear to bring really boils down to personal preference and how much you can fit on the bike without overloading it and upsetting its handling. You can’t go wrong by buying the lightest, most compact gear that will work for the conditions–backpacking equipment, for example, often works well, particularly when space is at a premium. It can be expensive, though, and there’s no point in shelling out big bucks for an ultra-lightweight tent when you’re riding solo on a big touring bike with a full set of luggage. Don’t compromise on quality, though–cheap tents leak and can be hard to set up, and bulky, inexpensive sleeping bags and pads are never as warm or comfortable as promised. Here’s a basic list to get you started:
Ground cover or tent footprint
Sleeping pad, air mattress or cot
Small stove/coffee pot or JetBoil
Kindling or campfire starter
First aid kit
Bug repellant, sunscreen, hat
Choose wisely, and most of this stuff should fit in a waterproof duffel you can strap on the back of the bike (we recommend Rok straps, but bungees work too) or in a large saddlebag or top trunk. I use a liner bag in the top trunk and one saddlebag for gear and clothing so that I can easily lift them out and strap them on the passenger seat at the supermarket. Some examples: Choose a tent (with rain fly) that is just big enough to fit you and your gear inside and that packs small, and set it up on a tarp or ground cover to protect the floor. Down sleeping bags pack down quite small in a compression stuff sack, and choose an inflatable sleeping pad rather than bulkier self-inflating or foam sleeping pads. Instant coffee saves some hassle, and you can heat the water with a small backpacking stove or Jetboil cooking system. Campfire starter is safer than newspaper or gasoline to get your campfire going.
How much you add or subtract to the list above is where the ingenuity comes in–if your bike has removable aluminum panniers or saddlebags with flat tops and bottoms, for example, with your compressible pillow on top they can substitute for camp chairs. Sleeping bag liners pack small and can lower your existing bag’s temperature rating by as much as 20 degrees. Carry water in a Camelbak reservoir on your back and you’ll have up to 3 liters while riding and in camp.
You get the idea–with a little creativity you can enjoy most of the comforts of home in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t a lot of hard-and-fast rules, except pack it in, pack it out, tend your fire…and don’t forget the TP!