Tag Archives: Southeast U.S.

Land of Swamp and Sand: The ‘Other’ South Carolina Destination

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
Forest Service roads in the Francis Marion National Forest are ideal for dual-sport motorcycles and even the occasional Spyder. Travel on these roads is limited to licensed vehicles. No dirt bikes. Photos by Liz Hayes.

Each year millions of tourists visit Myrtle Beach or Charleston, South Carolina, searching for beaches, nightlife, shopping and endless feasts of seafood. However, far fewer people venture to the roughly 100 miles of coast located between these two popular destinations, where it is relatively unpopulated, undeveloped and dominated by swamp, saltmarsh and pine savannah. Undiscovered is fine by me, as this “land in between” offers numerous favorite rides where I can walk into my garage, pick a motorcycle (Kawasaki KLR650, CanAm Spyder RT or Yamaha WR250) and then ride road, dirt road or off-road depending on the day and my desires.

On a map, the area of interest jumps out in green, since it’s mostly occupied by the Francis Marion National Forest (FMNF) and its 259,000 acres of multi-use land. I live in Myrtle Beach and get there via U.S. Route 17. The interesting part of the trip begins in the historic town of Georgetown. Eating and history immediately compete with riding as the downtown features the Rice Museum, the South Carolina Maritime Museum, the Kaminski House Museum and a working waterfront with a boardwalk and numerous restaurants.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
The harborwalk in Georgetown provides good views of the harbor and easy access to numerous bars and restaurants. The harbor is connected to Winyah Bay, a large estuary draining northeastern coastal South Carolina.

A repeating theme on this ride is the rise and fall of a South Carolina plantation culture where products such as rice, indigo, cotton, tobacco and forest products were taken from the land with abundant slave labor and then shipped north or across the Atlantic. In the 1800s Georgetown was one of the richest cities in the southeast.

U.S. 17 out of Georgetown hugs the coast, and heading southwest you first cross the expansive Santee Delta and its parallel north and south rivers. Shortly after, there is a right turn on State Road S-10-857, which takes you to the Hampton Plantation State Historic Site. It features a restored mansion and interpretive aids explaining how rice was once grown here using an ingenious system of impoundments, water control structures and, of course, slave labor. Here I usually stroll a bit to stretch my legs in preparation for the ride to come.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
The mansion at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site gives one a sense of how lucrative was the growing of rice with slave labor. A stop here lets you stretch your legs and also gain some perspective on the South Carolina that once was.

Backtracking to U.S. 17 and then continuing southwest for about eight miles, look for State Route 45 and turn right, the beginning of a fantastic loop through the FMNF (this is also the place to get gas if you are running low). The road, a well-maintained two-lane, is flanked by extensive pine forests and intermittently crosses cypress swamps. Beware! Road closures are common due to prescribed burning and flooding.

In the FMNF you can choose your riding pleasure. Numerous Forest Service roads branch off, taking you to places such as Hell Hole Bay Wilderness and the Wambaw Swamp Wilderness. This is where I go when I’m wearing my dual-sport hat. Road riders should continue about 10 miles to Halfway Creek Road and turn left. A good place to stop along this road is the Wambaw Cycle Trail. You can commune with the numerous riders who trailer their off-road bikes here and then take the challenge of riding narrow single-tracks of deep sand.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
Halfway Creek Road provides access to Wambaw Cycle Trail, an extensive system of single-track trails. Deep sand is a real challenge for those used to a hard-packed surface. Definitely not a place for a Spyder.

Continue on Halfway Creek Road about 11 miles and then take a left on Steed Creek Road. Another five miles and you are back to U.S. 17. At this point you can turn right and head southwest toward Charleston. You might even want to catch the Bull’s Island Ferry and explore the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (passengers only, book in advance and a full day is required). However, since I live in the other direction, I take a left and travel toward the town of McClellanville, about 11 miles northeast. Along the way stop at Buck Hall Recreation Area. It costs a few bucks to enter the site, but the views of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge are well worth it.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
The town of McClellanville will make you want to quit your job and find a resting spot under a live oak tree. However, you better not be around when the next big hurricane comes.

A short jog toward water from U.S. 17 takes you to McClellanville (population about 1,000), a quaint and colorful fishing village where you immediately begin entertaining ideas of quitting the day job and retiring to a life of pleasant views and boat floating. But before you make that leap, read the stories about how in 1989 Hurricane Hugo drove most of the inhabitants to higher ground. Many people climbed to the second floors of their houses while furniture bumped against the first-floor ceilings.

The one restaurant downtown, T.W. Graham & Co., is a popular motorcycle destination and the food is cheap, excellent and regionally correct. The Village Museum adjacent to the waterfront boat ramp provides some history about Native Americans and how they periodically visited this area to harvest fish, oysters and clams. The history you won’t hear about, however, is the role of marijuana smuggling in the local economy during the 1970s.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
The only restaurant in downtown McClellanville is now a popular motorcycle destination for riders coming from Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Seafood from nearby Cape Romain is served in the traditional Lowcountry style.

From McClellanville it is 24 miles back to Georgetown on U.S. 17, where you can find a few motels to spend the night and a few more places to eat and drink.

The beauty of this relatively short ride is that it is possible for motorcyclists to make pretty much year-round due to the subtropical climate. The traffic is always light but if you desire the hustle and flow of major urban areas, it is a short ride to either Myrtle Beach or Charleston. Given the choice, however, this land of swamp and sand is my preference.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding ‘Shine Country: The Tail of the Dragon and North Carolina’s Moonshiner 28

Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort
Zeb and Bob Congdon at The Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort before heading up the Tail of the Dragon. Photos by the author.

As I leaned into the corner, a stopped garbage truck appeared just ahead, hugging the stone wall on the right closely enough that I could just squeak by. Doing so revealed the gorgeous sight of a rock-laced, turbulent waterfall directly in front of me. These exciting moments were in the Cullasaja River Gorge of North Carolina’s State Highway 28, parts of it nicknamed “Moonshiner 28” due to its rich history of use by speeding moonshiners evading the revenuers. Everyone has heard of the Tail of the Dragon section of U.S. Route 129 in Tennessee and North Carolina — Moonshiner 28 begins at its southern end and is an even better ride in many ways.

North Carolina Deals Gap Tail of the Dragon motorcycle ride map
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary riding this portion of Moonshiner 28 after two days of enjoying nothing but amazing riding from where I started in Cherokee, North Carolina. But what had begun as a raw, misty autumn ride soon developed into an unforgettable fall-color riding spectacle.

In Cherokee, I camped in a KOA cabin along the Raven Fork River for two days of fishing. The cabin was a luxurious tent, tailormade for a motorcycle journey. Besides fishing, Cherokee has amenities and attractions like the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, a casino, lodging, eateries, a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I left the Cherokee campground on a misty, rainy morning, bypassing the elk refuge at the national park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center and heading north on U.S. Route 441 into the park. It was cold and raw this November day, and the mist limited my vision. Taking the turnoff up to Clingmans Dome, all I could see were the clouds hanging in the valleys — the “smoke” in the Smokies.

View from the Foothills Parkway between Townsend and Chilhowee, Tennessee.
View from the Foothills Parkway between Townsend and Chilhowee, Tennessee.

I left Clingmans Dome Road, got back on U.S. 441 and headed for Townsend, Tennessee, to check out the Little River fishing potential. At Sugarlands Visitor Center I headed west on Fighting Creek Gap Road, becoming Little River Gorge Road. It merges with U.S. Route 321 in Townsend. Normally a great ride, on this day it was overwhelmed with park traffic, and I rode attentively.

Chilled and needing hot food and coffee, I pulled into a roadhouse in Townsend and wolfed down a medium-rare strip with eggs, home fries and coffee. Full and warm I headed off on U.S. 321 to the Foothills Parkway. The sun came out, allowing me to absorb Mother Nature’s continuous visual treats. The colors along the parkway were overwhelmingly beautiful.

The author’s BMW F 650 GS parked at Foothills Parkway Overlook between Townsend and Chilhowee, Tennessee.
The author’s BMW F 650 GS parked at Foothills Parkway Overlook between Townsend and Chilhowee, Tennessee.

Suddenly I was at the beginning of the Tail of the Dragon section of U.S. 129 in Tennessee. I had ridden it from the North Carolina side, but not the other direction. Sports cars and screaming sportbikes ply the road’s endless curves, so you must pay constant attention. Dragon riding is about turns, leaning, weight change, rhythm and smiling through 318 curves in 11 miles. Having conquered the Dragon, now a legend in my own mind, I pulled into Ron and Nancy Johnson’s Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, a mandatory stop at the southern end. 

Moonshiner 28 starts here. As I leaned and twisted down the Moonshiner I imagined Robert Mitchum’s 1950 Ford two-door sedan (actually a modified 1951 model) from “Thunder Road” screeching around the corners and hauling the moonshine to market. Riding along Cheoah Lake to Fontana Dam is quite fun, a simply enjoyable, sparkling and twisting lake road. I reached the dam and rode across it, stopping for pictures and picking up great riding maps at the visitor center.

Bob Congdon rides Moonshiner 28 along the Cheoah River, between Deals Gap and Stecoah, North Carolina.
Bob Congdon rides Moonshiner 28 along the Cheoah River, between Deals Gap and Stecoah, North Carolina. Photo by Killboy.com

Moonshiner 28 from Fontana to Franklin is not a make-time route; it is a rider’s enjoy-the-feeling route. Arriving in Franklin at dusk, I pulled up to the Microtel Inn & Suites, looking forward to a relaxing cocktail and a good night’s sleep. But I had forgotten that I was in the Bible Belt — finding that “moonshine” was a chore.

The next morning it was onto Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. I have come to love this 9-mile section of U.S. Route 64/State Route 28, but that morning was special. With the trees in full fall color and the cascading Cullasaja River Gorge on my right, it grabbed my soul. I enjoyed sunny, prime fall riding conditions on this scenic, twisty, color-laden river road. The Gorge is a part of the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina, and on this part of the Moonshiner 28 the Cullasaja River tears down the gorge interrupted by cascading, tumbling waterfalls like Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls and, of course, Cullasaja Falls. Dry and Bridal Veil Falls have large enough pull-offs for multiple bikes. Dry Falls is particularly unique with a falls walkway and restrooms.

Bust Your Butt Falls
Bust Your Butt Falls is one of several waterfalls on the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway section of Moonshiner 28.

At Highlands, I continued down Moonshiner 28, crossing into Georgia and then South Carolina. No wonder moonshiners liked this road. You could quickly hit multiple state population centers!

Turning around, I headed for my destination, my brother’s house outside Spartanburg, South Carolina. I wasn’t about to pass up a continuing ride through the Smokies for Interstate 85. I got back to Highlands, picked up U.S. 64 east toward Brevard, U.S. Route 276, Pisgah Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway. At U.S. 276 I figured seeing my brother was more important than the Blue Ridge. It would have to wait until spring.

As a senior rider, my bike rides mean freedom, being alone with my thoughts, rugged country and having a big grin on my face. A favorite ride has to have raw beauty, scenic rivers, intriguing history, meandering roads and mountains. It has to be all that to keep me coming back. This ride is a great journey; I appreciate being alive when I am here. I wish you the same in riding Moonshiner 28. 

A dragon stands guard at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort.
A dragon stands guard at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

17th Annual Blue Ridge Gatherings

Blue Ridge Parkway
The gently curving Blue Ridge Parkway helped us get to the Blue Ridge Gathering — and lots of twisty mountain roads that aren’t so well known. Photos by the author.

The Blue Ridge Gathering is an annual meeting of sport-touring riders in western North Carolina, one of the best regions in the U.S. for motorcycling. In October 2018, riders came from as far as Newfoundland to ride some amazing mountain roads.

“I dug through the archives and the first records are from 2002, so this must be the 17th annual Blue Ridge Gathering,” said Phil Derryberry of Nashville, Tennessee, one of the event’s founders. “The original goal was to bring together Honda ST riders in these mountains, but it’s simply become a gathering of people who like to ride here. It’s not about what you ride, just that you do ride.”

Newfoundland license plate
Just how good are the roads in these parts? Good enough that Jim G. Gow rode from York Harbour, Newfoundland — 2,400 miles one-way — just to get here.

Phil is a self-described 7th generation Tennessee hillbilly. “The first Derryberrys were Adam and Eve — yes, really,” he smiled. “They settled there before Tennessee was a state. Both of my grandfathers were moonshiners and bootleggers at one point in their lives.” Though he’s a software developer and highly accomplished pianist, Phil embraces his hillbilly roots. Part of that, he told me, is knowing the best mountain roads, and he says they’re in these parts.

“People come to the Blue Ridge Gathering with a goal of riding some great roads they’ve never seen before,” he explained by a blazing campfire. “I study maps and explore, so it changes every year. If you’re not from around here, you’re not likely to find the roads that I found.” 

Moonshine Creek Campground in Balsam, North Carolina
Moonshine Creek Campground in Balsam, North Carolina, is ideally situated for easy access to some of the region’s best twisty mountain roads.

I can attest to Phil’s talent finding roads. These aren’t the ones you’ve heard of, like the gently curving Blue Ridge Parkway or the 11-mile stretch of U.S. Route 129 known as the Tail of the Dragon (which crosses into Tennessee). Such roads are fun, but they’re also tourist attractions that get crowded. Phil finds roads that most people wouldn’t, ones with unexciting monikers like Lower Flat Creek Road and Macedonia Church Road. They are challenging, technical and demand each rider’s full attention. 

When riding these roads in a group, it helps to have a simple approach that keeps the group united while everyone rides their own ride. Phil is a proponent of Drop and Sweep. “Some guys who come to the Blue Ridge Gathering have skills close to pro racers and some are relative newbies,” Phil explained. “If you ride to the lowest common denominator, it’s not good for everyone. With Drop and Sweep, you ride your own ride at your own speed, but the group remains a group, just spread out. It’s a safer way to organize a group ride because it relieves dynamics based on skill level. I learned it while I was touring in England and it worked so well I started to use it here.” (To learn more about Drop and Sweep, visit unclephil.us/groupride.htm.) 

touring motorcycle riders
After breakfast, people joining the group ride review the simple rules for Drop and Sweep.
touring motorcycle riders
To learn more about Drop and Sweep, visit unclephil.us.

After riding several of Phil’s roads, I sat down at a coffee shop in Marshall, North Carolina, and asked Blue Ridge Gathering riders about their experiences. “All of us are at least a day’s ride from this area and we think nothing of riding here to ride these roads,” said Ashley Horn, a Honda ST1300 rider from Jacksonville, Florida. “I came here in my pre-motorcycle years for hiking and wished I had a motorcycle. My wife then was a big ‘no motorcycles’ person, so I got a new wife — and a motorcycle. This is my happy place.”

“I first came up here in my car to visit friends,” said Dave Doolin, also of Jacksonville, who came on a Honda Gold Wing. “They didn’t ride and when I was up here in their truck and saw the roads, I was fit to be tied without a motorcycle to ride. Ever since, I come on a motorcycle. This region has become an important part of my life.”

motorcycle camping
Honda ST1300s are still the most commonly seen bikes at the Blue Ridge Gathering, but all riders and bikes are welcome.
motorcycle camping
The Blue Ridge Gathering has always been primarily a camping event.

Wayne Efthyvoulou, a long-time sportbike rider from Easthampton, New Jersey, was on his first long tour aboard a purpose-designed sport tourer, his newly acquired Honda ST1300. He was succinct: “It’s great here.” 

The Blue Ridge Gathering is not a commercial event so riders only pay for a campsite or cabin, meals and gas. (Fair warning: you’ll eat up tires faster than usual!) “What makes the Blue Ridge Gathering different is we take roads that aren’t on anybody’s radar,” said Phil. “Most don’t make the ‘Tour North Carolina’ maps. They’re steep, twisty, challenging mountain roads unique to this part of the U.S. I’d love for people who come to have a great safe ride, enjoy some scenery, talk around a campfire after dark and leave feeling like they learned something. And that’s about it.”

For more information, visit blueridgegathering.com.

Macedonia Church Road (State Route 1326) in Rosman, North Carolina
Steve Efthyvoulou and his son Wayne, both from New Jersey, rest along wonderfully winding Macedonia Church Road (State Route 1326) in Rosman, North Carolina.
Macedonia Church Road
Speaking of wonderfully winding Macedonia Church Road…here it is.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

One Ride, 47 National Parks

A map of the route taken by the author, covering all 47 U.S. national parks.
A map of the route taken by the author, covering all 47 U.S. national parks.

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.

Next gas: 145 miles on Route 62 just west of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Next gas: 145 miles on Route 62 just west of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Next stop, El Paso, Texas.

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.

Multi-colored rock formation in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
Multi-colored rock formation in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

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.

An incredible sight from Dante’s View (5,476 feet) down to the floor of Death Valley at -282 feet.
An incredible sight from Dante’s View (5,476 feet) down to the floor of Death Valley at -282 feet.

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.

A little road impediment in Sequoia National Park--be sure to duck when riding through on a tall BMW R 1200 GSA!
A little road impediment in Sequoia National Park–be sure to duck when riding through on a tall BMW R 1200 GSA!

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.

Red rock formations in southern Utah.
Red rock formations in southern Utah. It’s tough to take a bad photo with this as your backdrop.

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.

A typical road in Kings Canyon National Park.
A typical road in Kings Canyon National Park. It reminded me of riding in the Alps!

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.

A classic Yosemite National Park picture: nothing but magnificent views wherever you look.
A classic Yosemite National Park picture: nothing but magnificent views wherever you look.

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!

31 degrees and sleeting in Crater Lake National Park.
31 degrees and sleeting in Crater Lake National Park. Missed seeing the crater by 3 minutes…clouds rolled in.
One of the more magnificent roads through North Cascades National Park.
One of the more magnificent roads through North Cascades National Park.
An iconic image of the Grand Tetons.
An iconic image of the Grand Tetons. A picture-perfect day for a ride in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Stayin’ Safe: Riding Like Heinz

Improving slow-speed stability can be fun. No, really.

This “slow race” broke out after lunch with fellow riders and was just for fun. But it’s actually a great way to build skills.
This “slow race” broke out after lunch with fellow riders and was just for fun. But it’s actually a great way to build skills.

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.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Motorcycle Camping Basics

motorcycle camping
Setting up camp in New York’s Catskill Mountains with some showers in the forecast, so the tent rain fly goes on before hitting the sack. Photo by Kenneth Dahse.

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.

Funny stories and great camping recipes from our Rider Magazine Camping Challenge!

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.

Check out the Top Ten Things You Shouldn’t Forget on Your Moto-Camping Trip.

motorcycle camping
Primitive, dry camping takes more effort and planning, but the payoff can be secluded beauty like this spot on the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico. Photo by Steven M. Green.

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!).

motorcycle camping
When your living quarters is a tent, the presence of simple conveniences like a table for organizing your gear can make a huge difference in your camping comfort level. Photo by Steven M. Green.

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.

motorcycle camping
Using a liner bag in the bike’s top trunk makes it easy to remove and strap to the passenger seat, freeing up trunk space for vittles and such purchased close to camp. Photo by Mark Tuttle.

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:

  • Tent
  • Ground cover or tent footprint
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad, air mattress or cot
  • Stake mallet/puller
  • Camp chair
  • LED headlight/lantern
  • Small stove/coffee pot or JetBoil
  • Cup/spork
  • Water bottle
  • Multitool/knife
  • Towel/soap/cleansing wipes
  • Windproof matches/lighter
  • 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.

motorcycle camping
When I have a full set of luggage on the bike, here’s how I typically fill it. Left saddlebag: axe/stake puller, spare Rok straps, MotoPump, clothing bag. Right saddlebag: The Football (tools, flat kit, siphon hose, etc.), sleeping bag in compression stuff sack, sleeping bag liner, fleece jacket liner. Top trunk: Pouch with smaller items, liner bag with other gear (next photo). Photo by Mark Tuttle.
motorcycle camping
This is what goes in the top trunk liner bag: Tent, ground cloth, Helinox chair, sandals, inflatable sleeping pad, TP, Kammok hammock, miscellaneous small stuff. Photo by Mark Tuttle.

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!

motorcycle camping
Saddlebags loaded with a little room to spare for snacks and such. Photo by Mark Tuttle.
motorcycle camping
Removed from the bike and padded with your compressible pillow, hard bags stand in for fancy camping chairs when space is at a premium. Photo by Mark Tuttle.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding Virginia’s Crooked Road and Blue Ridge

Virginia crooked road blue ridge
On the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 101, the Ducati makes me look better than in real life. In the background is the Quarry Overlook. This dolomite quarry was started in 1916–twenty years before the Parkway. Photos by the author.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains in autumn are a place of unique beauty not to be missed, especially from the open cockpit of a motorcycle. From my home in the northern tip of the state, the Virginia border runs diagonally southwest for more than 300 miles, parallel to the ridges and valleys of the mountains.

In the southwest corner are my two ride objectives: the Back of the Dragon, a 32-mile run of elbowing blacktop crossing three mountain ridges, and The Crooked Road, a collection of live music and historical venues along scenic motorcycle roads showcasing the regional specialty: bluegrass music. I also plan to make use of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, but only when my ambitious schedule will let me travel at the Parkway’s reduced speed limit of 45 mph.

Virginia crooked road blue ridge
Cars first rambled through this stone tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Montebello in the 1930s. I’m sure it didn’t take long for the first motorcycle to follow!

It takes a day to get to my start point of Wytheville, but not without a midday detour along the Blue Ridge Parkway from near Montebello to Buchanan. I share the view at numerous overlooks with other riders, then enjoy lunch on the shore of Abbott Lake beneath the Peaks of Otter. There’s no wondering why the Parkway consistently rates among the top five motorcycle roads in the United States. A rider’s dream, the curvy ridge-top road runs through stone-arched tunnels and next to lakes, campgrounds and lodges–all completely devoid of traffic lights, stop signs and large trucks. Free for public use, the Parkway is open all year except in icy conditions.

Next morning I wake up in Wytheville to a steady rain lingering longer than forecast and wind gusts flexing the glass of the hotel window. I decide to motor circuitously and enter the Back of the Dragon at the north point to allow time for the rain to move out. I take U.S. Route 52 and enjoy a satisfying and twisty climb to Big Walker Lookout, elevation 3,405 feet. Here I find the Big Walker General Store and take a short break to enjoy the terrific views under overcast skies.

Virginia crooked road blue ridge
A group of riders with camping gear rolls along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of the Peaks of Otter, no doubt heading to one of the Parkway’s many campgrounds.

From there U.S. 52 curves downhill, then runs over rolling terrain alongside Interstate 77 for 20 or so miles—then suddenly joins the interstate and punches through a mile of mountain rock at the East River Mountain Tunnel. I then head west on U.S. Route 460 to Tazewell and turn onto State Route 16–the Back’s north entry point. Thankfully, the rain has stopped and the road is mostly dry.

There are neat, steady curves across the first ridge before dropping more than a thousand feet for a two-mile cruise through a gorgeous, Shire-like valley. The road then winds up the face of the second ridge and slices behind towers of leafy kudzu. Then come mile upon mile of pleasing twists along the second ridge before switchbacking downhill into the second valley, a nice break before the final 1,500-foot climb.

My growling and nimble Ducati Multistrada eats up the twisty climb and we loop through bursting autumn colors that surround rocky crests. The road surface is mostly excellent, though I did encounter a little gravel in spots.

Virginia crooked road blue ridge
U.S. Route 52 north of Wytheville takes one last dip to the left before twisting its way to Big Walker Lookout. The excellent road surface seen here is what I encountered on every mountain road on my trip.

State Route 16 continues south through Marion and later connects with U.S. Route 58–I’m now officially on The Crooked Road. Designated by the state of Virginia in 2004, The Crooked Road uses U.S. 58 as a central conduit but includes connected roads leading to festivals, museums and live music sessions, all associated with the heritage of bluegrass and country music.

I’m committed to being at the Floyd Country Store for the Friday Nite Jamboree, so I shortcut there on U.S. Route 221. Time permitting, I recommend an alternate route using the Parkway to Floyd and stopping by the Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax for the live music each afternoon.

Virginia crooked road blue ridge
To get a seat at the Floyd Country Store’s Friday Nite Jamboree you have to get by Barb and Beverly at the ticket counter–I think the five spot is a bargain just for their smiles and friendly company.

The Floyd Country Store is a crown jewel of The Crooked Road. A modest cover charge of $5 gets me in the door. After an initial set of bluegrass gospel, folks are clearing away folding chairs and dancing to the fast-paced syncopation of Katie & The Bubbatones. Many “flatlanders” like myself are simply tapping our feet, but it’s clear that this lively music is still an important way for local folks to unwind after a busy week. On my way out I bag a pastry at the store’s bakery to have with next morning’s coffee.

The sun rises to a chilly but crystal clear morning as I depart Floyd’s cozy Pine Tavern Lodge, a clean and updated hideaway that has continuously served travelers since 1927. A peaceful winding ride on State Routes 8 and 40 takes me through elevated meadows and rolling farms, across small wooded creeks and finally to the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival in Ferrum. You’ll find such festivals along The Crooked Road almost any weekend from June through October.

Virginia crooked road blue ridge
At the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, metal meets metal and sparks shoot forth when Billy Phelps brings the hammer down. Billy is a Master Blacksmith who has given live demonstrations at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Virginia crooked road blue ridge
These experts fix the cap arm on a moonshine still. They taught me a lot–alcohol boils off at 172 degrees (a lower temperature than water) so the cap arm catches the alcohol steam for condensation into moonshine.
Virginia crooked road blue ridge
An Amish group set up a donut operation that was nonstop busy. I ate the best donut that I have ever eaten–or will ever eat.

I decide I need a final cruise on the Parkway so I get there by U.S. 220. Once on the Parkway, two groups of motorcyclists are going my direction, and we leapfrog along the Parkway as we take turns stopping at different overlooks. I exit the Parkway for good on State Route 43 for the small town of Bedford, a place that possesses the tragic distinction of losing more residents per capita in the D-Day landings than any other American community. Bedford’s D-Day Memorial is a good, quiet place to reflect on how fortunate I am to be able to traverse through Virginia’s natural, cultural and historical sites before continuing on home–back to the flatlands.

Virginia crooked road blue ridge
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Source: RiderMagazine.com