Hell yes! That is the only plausible answer when friends invite you to join them on an eight-day motorcycle ride through the mountains of Montana (including the legendary Beartooth Pass), Wyoming, Idaho, and Alberta, Canada.
We start our ride in Billings, Montana, on a pair of Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classics rented from EagleRider, and head south to Laurel, where we pick up U.S. Route 212. We continue south to Red Lodge, where the road becomes Beartooth Highway and crosses into Wyoming on its way up to Beartooth Pass (10,947 ft). This is one of the best motorcycling roads in America, and it is easy to see why, even in the rain.
West of the pass, we turn south on Wyoming Route 296, which is also known as the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. The byway has great sweepers as well as picturesque views of the Absaroka Mountains as it climbs up and over Dead Indian Pass (8,071 ft).
We arrive in Cody in time to tour the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a superb display of life in the Old West. The center has five museums: the Buffalo Bill Museum, which is about his life and times; the Plains Indian Museum, which showcases art and heritage; the Draper Natural History Museum, highlighting the ecosystems of Yellowstone; the Whitney Western Art Museum; and the Cody Firearms Museum.
We awake to a light rain that lingers until we head into the mountains west of Cody, and then the heavens open up with what my granddad used to refer to as “a real frog-strangler.” Looking over and around the windshield, I am barely able to make out the taillight of the bike in front of me, and I have no idea how he manages to follow the road on our way back to Beartooth Highway. The clouds part as we ride into Cooke City, Montana, a Wild West town where motorcycles have replaced horses at the hitching posts.
Our adventurous ride through Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park includes a wide variety of wildlife; a large RV that decides to stop, unannounced, in the middle of the road to take some pictures; and a herd of bison that crosses the highway one or two at a time, backing up traffic for a mile. When our turn comes to run the bison gauntlet, an exceptionally large bull gets ready to cross the road. We are directly behind a pickup truck, so I suggest to our riding partners that when the truck starts to move, we should stay close to its rear bumper so it looks like we’re being towed.
After spending the night in Jackson, Wyoming, we ride west on State Route 22 over Teton Pass (8,432 ft) and into Idaho. The winding roads, the views of the Tetons to the east, and crossing rivers with trout fisherman in waders fly casting made for a fun, scenic ride. We continue north on a stretch of U.S. Route 20 known as Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.
We cross back into Montana and end our day in Butte, once a wealthy copper mining town and more recently home to the late Evel Knievel, the legendary motorcycle daredevil. In the morning, we ride through downtown to view the mansions that signify a bygone era, and then head west through mining country. It’s Saturday morning and we are getting low on gas, so we stop in the tiny town of Phillipsburg to fill up. The gas station also serves as a general store, a casino, and a bar, all of which have numerous customers.
We turn north from Missoula in 100-degree temperatures, finally gaining some relief along the shady roads on the eastern shores of Flathead Lake. Heading back west across the top of the lake, we encounter the largest flock of eagles we have ever seen.
We spend the night at the Hidden Moose Lodge in Whitefish, an exquisite place that serves a gourmet breakfast every morning. With full bellies, the bike feels noticeably heavier as we climb Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier National Park, one of the few roads that can give Beartooth Highway a run for its money. We venture across into Alberta, Canada, and visit Waterton Lakes National Park, which is the northern part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Being from the flatlands of Florida, we’re overwhelmed by the endless peaks and scenery of the Rocky Mountains. We stay at the quaint Kilmorey Lodge, overlooking the Emerald Bay of Waterton Lakes. Relaxing by the gazebo with a refreshing beverage, we’re joined by countless white-tailed deer that consume any vegetation not covered in chicken wire.
Heading south the next morning takes us back across the border through the towns of St. Mary and Browning in northern Montana. A sign on the outskirts of Browning warns of strong crosswinds, but there’s nothing more than a gentle breeze. Ten miles farther south on U.S. Route 89, the breeze becomes a 60-mph crosswind that we battle with for the better part of 40 miles.
The town of Dupuyer, Montana, has a population of 93 and no general store or gas station, but it does have two bars. We opt for the Ranch House of Dupuyer for lunch and are pleasantly surprised when the owner/bartender/chef cooks up a superb pulled pork dish. It’s served by his children, ages four and seven, who provide better service than waiters at many fancy restaurants.
After riding through the haze of wildfire smoke, we stay overnight in Great Falls. The final leg of our journey takes us across the flatlands to the small town of Ryegate, where we are disappointed to discover we’ve missed the annual Testicle Festival.
We arrive back in Billings and return the Harleys to EagleRider. Over eight days and 1,500+ miles, I can say that there was not a single road that I would not ride again in a heartbeat. Great roads, beautiful country.
Having never been to Greece before, my mental postcards of the country consisted of the crumbling Parthenon in Athens and a cluster of white-washed, blue-roofed houses overlooking a turquoise sea.
The Parthenon, which my wife Carrie and I visited the day before the Edelweiss Bike Travel Best of Greece tour began, looked like I thought it would. Well, except for the scaffolding. The temple at the Acropolis is nearly 2,500 years old and was partially destroyed by the Venetians in 1687, so a little sprucing up is in order.
Those white-washed houses are on Santorini, an island out in the Aegean Sea. We didn’t go there, and that’s a good thing. Places like Santorini are where huge cruise ships disgorge hordes of waddling tourists. The Edelweiss tour avoids crowds and takes the roads less traveled.
From Athens to the Oracle
Our tour began with meeting the guides, who gave us a safety briefing and an overview of the tour. Booklets, a hotel list, and a map of Greece were mailed to us in advance, but if I’m honest, I barely looked at them. The experts at Edelweiss have been running motorcycle tours since 1980, and they know what they’re doing. Since they take care of the preparation and planning, I enjoy letting the tour unfold from one day to the next.
Our group was small, just eight participants, all Americans. Three couples rode two-up – Bob and Ronnie from Virginia, Ken and Evelyn from Georgia, and Carrie and me. Two guys rode solo – Yoram from California and Dave from Virginia. (Check out Dave’s travel tips on European motorcycle travel.) Our guides Paul (from Minnesota) and William (from the U.K.) alternated days riding the lead bike and driving the support van.
The first day of any overseas tour is a little stressful. Some folks are still jet-lagged, others are getting used to an unfamiliar bike on unfamiliar roads, and everyone is adapting to a new routine. Even so, our small group and common language made it easy for us to gel and get along.
Athens is a big capital city that’s home to nearly 4 million people – more than a third of Greece’s population. It’s great for sightseeing before or after the tour, but our objective was to escape the city as quickly as possible. After battling some Monday morning traffic, we did just that, climbing high into mountains on a narrow, winding road, giving us a taste of what was to come.
Rainer Buck, managing director of Edelweiss, ranks Greece as one of his top three riding destinations because “it’s like a mountain range was dropped into the sea.” Greece is tied with Slovenia as the third most mountainous country in Europe after Norway and Switzerland. Nearly 80% of the country’s land area is covered by sloped terrain that motorcyclists long for.
Located at the southern tip of the Balkans, Greece has a peninsular mainland bordered to the north by Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey, and is surrounded on three sides by the Aegean, Myrtoan, and Ionian seas. The Peloponnese region is a large peninsula that resembles a fat, four-fingered hand, separated from the mainland by a narrow canal through the Isthmus of Corinth. Scattered around these land masses are thousands of islands. Our 1,500-mile tour followed a counterclockwise route around part of the mainland and much of the Peloponnese.
Not only is Greece a great place to ride, its significance in terms of human culture runs deep. Located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, it has been inhabited since at least 270,000 B.C. Pick your historical era – Stone Age, Bronze Age, Dark Ages, Middle Ages – and Greece was the place to be. It’s the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy and literature, theater, the Olympic Games, and a lot of the math and science we learned in high school. Heavy hitters like Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Hippocrates, Homer, and Euclid were all Greek.
Greece is lousy with brown signs pointing down empty roads toward historic sites. Temples, monasteries, necropolises, theaters, you name it – there are more than can be visited in a lifetime. This tour visits major or unique sites, including five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We visited two – the 10th century Monastery of Hosios Loukas and Delphi – on our first day. Established in the 8th century B.C., Delphi was where one would go to receive an oracle from the priestess of Apollo. It was also considered the center of the world, being the place where two eagles released by Zeus, one to the east and one to the west, came back together.
Bagging two UNESCO sites and getting our fill of switchbacks up and down steep coastal mountains, expansive views of the Gulf of Corinth, narrow roads winding through endless olive groves, and a high pass through a vibrant evergreen forest made for a full first day. The day’s heat was cooled by an afternoon thunderstorm and a post-ride “boot” beer – enjoyed while still wearing our riding boots.
For Your Eyes Only
By Day 2, we were finding our groove. Up early for breakfast, bring luggage down at 8:15, ride briefing at 8:30, and kickstands up at 9. From our mountainside hotel in Arachova, we summited a pass, cruised through a lush alpine valley full of ski chalets, wound our way up through evergreens to a ski slope, and then plunged down an endless series of hairpins to a hot, dry valley.
Early on, this tour taught us to expect the unexpected and be ready for anything. Like listening to enormous storks clacking their beaks in a nest above us while we ate lunch at a small outdoor cafe. Or passing by countless kandylakia, which are small roadside shrines erected to honor lost loved ones or saints for good fortune. We visited a monastery built into the side of a cliff, another built inside a tree, and others perched atop towers of stone.
On Day 3, after a picnic lunch overlooking a broad agricultural plain, we visited Meteora, a sprawling rock formation where dozens of monasteries were built atop sandstone pillars in the 14th century. Access to the monasteries was intentionally difficult, not only as protection from invaders but to test the faith of pilgrims, who had to ascend hundreds of feet by climbing ladders or being hoisted up in nets. Only six of the monasteries remain, hardy structures that have survived attacks by the Turks, bombing raids during WWII, a magnitude-7 earthquake in 1954, and the filming of a James Bond movie in 1981.
Day after day, we were surprised by the ruggedness of the scenery and tested by the trickiness of the roads. Edelweiss stitched together a challenging, convoluted route, so much so that it occasionally gave the tour guides’ GPS units fits. The width, pitch, and condition of the roads changed constantly, from smooth, wide highways to steep, narrow paths riddled with potholes, cracks, and dips. Although the route was almost entirely paved, we were kept on our toes by sand, gravel, mud, cow manure, fallen rocks, rain, fog, and even patches of snow.
Above all, we had to be on the lookout for animals. Traveling off the beaten path, we shared the road with cows, horses, goats (often in large, road-blocking herds), sheep (ditto), dogs (often lying on the road), cats, snakes, and turtles. What we rarely dealt with, however, were other vehicles. Outside of the few cities we visited, there were hardly any cars, trucks, or buses on the road. It was like having Greece to ourselves.
From the Mountains to the Sea
Our first few days were spent riding through mountains that seemed like they could have been in the Alps. On the fourth day, we rested. Some took advantage of the downtime to explore the mountain town of Metsovo, while others rode north into the Pindus Mountains near the Albanian border to visit Vikos Gorge, a cleft in the earth up to 4,400 feet deep and the world’s deepest gorge relative to its width.
From Metsovo we turned south, climbing up and over mountain pass after mountain pass, including one that was mostly covered by a snowbank and had opened just days before. After a full day of challenging roads, we crossed a small floating bridge to the island of Lefkada. As happened at the end of most riding days, we enjoyed a celebratory boot beer and then gathered for a group dinner. We sat outdoors at the Crystal Waters resort, savoring the salty breeze and local fare as we recapped the day’s adventures, topping it all with glasses of ouzo.
On Day 6, we rode along the southern coast of the mainland, the sea’s color ranging from topaz in the shallows to dark cobalt in the depths. We stopped for a morning coffee at a cafe on the edge of a small harbor, where a fishing boat pulled up and sold its catch directly to locals.
We left the mainland by way of the Rion-Antiron Bridge, crossing a narrow section of the Gulf of Corinth to the Peloponnese peninsula. We wasted no time climbing back up into the mountains on roads full of twist and shout. Late in the afternoon on the way to Vytina, we hit rush-hour traffic – herd after herd of goats and sheep being led down the road by shepherds and dogs.
On the second rest day, our entire group rode to the ruins of Olympia, the ancient center of worship of Zeus and the site of the Olympic Games from 776 B.C. to 394 A.D. The temples and sports structures were mostly destroyed in 426 A.D. by an angry emperor and further damaged over the years by earthquakes and floods. Since the Olympic Games resumed in 1894, the Olympic flame has been lit at what remains of the Temple of Hera and transported by a torch to the host cities.
Prepare for Glory, and Olives
On Day 8, we sliced south through the heart of the Peloponnese, from Vytina in the mountains to Megalopolis in the valley. We made time on the motorway to reach Sparta, which, despite its legendary reputation as the home of courageous, self-disciplined warriors, is now just an ordinary city that’s well past its prime. A statue of mighty King Leonidas, who had the brass to take on the entire Persian army with 300 brave soldiers, overlooks an abandoned building.
Rising out of Sparta is a winding road that burrows its way into the Taygetos Mountains via the Langada Gorge. After ascending a few switchbacks, the road cuts into the side of the gorge through a series of tunnels and overhangs on its way up to a 5,000-foot pass. We wound our way down to the coastal city of Kalamata, known for its namesake black olives, and had lunch on the beach. It was a hot afternoon of riding along the coast, and after a boot beer in Areopoli, several of us cooled off with a swim in the Ionian Sea.
Our final rest day was in Monemvasia. We stayed in a beautiful resort hotel with two infinity pools, a gourmet restaurant, and views of vineyards and the sea – the perfect reward after logging so many challenging miles. It was also where Carrie and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. Paul and William had a special treat sent to our room, and the next morning we found our GS decorated with tissue paper, empty beer cans strung together with duct tape, and a “just married” sign.
Over our final two days, we made our way back to Athens, riding north along the Peloponnese coast, where we enjoyed coffee and lunch stops overlooking the sea and visited the theater at Epidaurus, built in the 4th century B.C. and renowned for its exceptional acoustics.
Our Bucket Overfloweth
Greece seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. If they’ve never been, they want to go; if they’ve visited before, they want to go back. It’s a magical, mysterious, romantic place that looms large in our imaginations and is rich in history, culture, cuisine, scenery, and so much more.
It is difficult to fathom the depth of history in Greece’s mountains and along its shorelines. Living in a nation barely two and a half centuries old on a continent “discovered” five centuries ago, seeing the remnants of kingdoms and empires that stretch back several millennia boggles the mind, like trying to comprehend the far reaches of outer space. Is this real? Did actual humans carve this stone and erect these temples, till this soil and fish these waters, worship gods and contemplate ideas of self-determination?
Spending two weeks in Greece engaged our senses, dispelled our preconceived notions, and tested our mettle. This tour is not a walk in the park. It is challenging and at times quite intense, with long riding days on technical roads with variable weather and conditions. Every night we collapsed into bed, dead tired but deeply satisfied.
Edelweiss Bike Travel’s next Best of Greece tour is scheduled for October 8-21, 2022. The tour will run twice in 2023: May 1-15 and September 29-October 12. For pricing, details, and information about Edelweiss’ full schedule of tours, visit EdelweissBike.com.
After reading this issue’s article about Edelweiss Bike Travel’s Best of Greece tour, you’re probably already thinking about your next vacation. European motorcycle touring with Edelweiss is as easy as travel gets. The most difficult part is deciding which tour to book because they all look so good. (Visit EdelweissBike.com to see the full list of tours around the world.)
European travel, especially by motorcycle, is an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience. But before you book your tour, keep the following in mind to maximize your enjoyment.
First, acknowledge your level of riding skill. Edelweiss rates its tours for difficulty on a scale of 1 (easiest) to 5 (most difficult); most are rated 3 or 4. Read Edelweiss’ guide for how it rates tours, take it seriously, and then honestly assess your ability. Want to up your game? Sign up for Edelweiss’ One-Day Alps Prep Course or its seven-day Alps Riding Academy tour.
Second, choose the right bike for the tour. The easiest thing to do is select the same bike you already own. If you ride a BMW GS at home, then you’ll feel comfortable on one in Europe. Or you could take the opportunity for an extended test ride on something different. But before you dive in headfirst, go to your dealer and sit on the bike to get a feel for it. Consider the bike’s seat height, weight, and power, especially if you plan to ride with a passenger. On switchbacks in the Alps, a smaller, lighter bike is always easier to manage.
To prepare for your trip, I recommend buying Rick Steves’ book Europe Through the Back Door. Steves has been writing about European travel for more than 40 years, and his books are full of valuable advice. He also has a website, an online forum, a YouTube channel, and many free podcasts and audio tours. Steves covers most of the basics but not travel by motorcycle. We face a few challenges other tourists don’t.
These days, commercial air travel can be chaotic. Airports are crowded, lines are long, flights can be delayed or canceled, and those that take off are full. Once you’ve booked your motorcycle tour, book your flights as soon as possible so you’ll have the most options at the best prices. Book flights with long enough layovers for your checked baggage to make your connections and to allow breathing room for delays.
When luggage doesn’t arrive at a destination, it’s an inconvenience for most tourists. For motorcyclists, it can have serious consequences. Without gear, you can’t ride, and replacing a helmet or jacket at the last minute can be time consuming and expensive. Riding gear is heavy, so a lightweight gear bag will help you stay within the 50-lb weight limit. Carry your helmet onto the plane as your personal item to keep it safe.
Know the travel rules regarding passports and Covid. Check your passport’s expiration date and ensure it is valid for at least six months after you return home. Covid guidance is constantly changing, so stay up to date. Before we went to press, the U.S. lifted its requirement to show a negative Covid test taken the day before a return flight. Be prepared before you go and have a backup plan.
Try to arrive at your tour’s departure hotel at least one day prior to the tour briefing. Flights can be delayed, connections missed, and luggage lost, so give yourself some margin for error. Jet lag is also a consideration, so I suggest planning a few days of sightseeing prior to the tour. It’s more enjoyable to get acclimated to the new time zone in a Munich biergarten than on a steep alpine pass.
As for riding gear, plan for the worst and hope for the best. Weather can be unpredictable. Expect it to be hot and dry one day and cold and rainy the next. Bringing two riding suits is impractical but bringing two pairs of gloves isn’t. It’s a lot easier to control a bike with warm, dry hands. Your bike will have side cases, a top case, and a tankbag, so you’ll have plenty of room for gear. (Except for Ride4Fun tours, your luggage will be transported from hotel to hotel in a support van.)
Wear moisture-wicking, fast-drying clothing made of synthetic materials under your riding gear. Bring a layer for warmth, and pack dedicated raingear, even if your gear promises to be waterproof. (Pro tip: Stash two plastic grocery bags with your raingear; slipping them on over your boots makes it much easier to pull on rain pants.) Also, don’t overpack clothing. Bring travel packets of detergent, and do laundry in your hotel bathtub or sink. It will dry overnight. Casual attire is acceptable almost everywhere.
Use your smartphone or a point-and-shoot camera for photos. Dealing with an expensive DSLR camera and lenses is an unnecessary hassle unless you are a pro shooter. And remember to bring two or three Europe-compatible electrical outlet adapters to charge your devices.
Finally, be prepared to have an awesome trip. Riding in Europe is amazing. The scenery is breathtaking, the food is excellent, and the people are friendly. European drivers also have an awareness of and respect for motorcyclists that U.S. drivers often lack. About 60% of Edelweiss tour participants are repeat clients. What you thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list vacation could very well become an annual event.
The WisconsinHighways.org website’s State Trunk Highways section says: “One of the noticeable idiosyncrasies is the meandering nature of some of Wisconsin’s state highways. Just pick one of the state’s longer routes, and more than likely you will find many extended stretches concurrently designated with other highways and some meandering behavior.” I like highways that meander. My favorite ride includes State Highways 32, 47, 52, and 55. It’s not the Smoky Mountains, but it has some of the best motorcycle roads in Wisconsin.
This route is a figure-8, and I prefer to start at the top in Laona. The Shell station there has ethanol-free 91-octane gas and Trig’s beef sticks. Fuel for both the bike and me is a good way to begin the ride, and several stops for both are available along the route.
I head west on U.S. Route 8 toward Crandon. It’s a sunny, pleasant day, but with haze in the air. The faint smell of smoke rolls over the windshield. News reports say it’s from large wildfires in Ontario. It occurs to me that I have not been to Canada in 10 years, and that’s way too long. Hopefully someday soon crossing the border will be easy, Covid will be under control, and the fires will be out.
These are some of the straightest highways of the trip, and I turn up the wick on my old Twin Cam to get to the curves. I have owned a variety of bikes over the years and toured on all of them – a Honda Gold Wing, a Suzuki V-Strom, a Yamaha FJR1300 – but I always seem to have a Harley around. It’s a Wisconsin thing.
Outside of town, I enter green hardwood forests. Many are part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, which limits development and provides opportunities for nature viewing with minimal human intrusion. I am approaching the Forest County Potawatomi Community, enjoying the rolling hills and views from the tops of those hills. This section of U.S. 8 lies about a mile from Sugarbush Hill, the third highest point in Wisconsin.
The small city of Crandon provides another opportunity for food, fuel, and lodging, but I’m in a hurry. I roll through town and pick up Highway 55 south and cruise toward Mole Lake. The pavement is in nice shape with wide shoulders and a few gentle curves, but this is an agricultural and residential area that keeps the road relatively straight. The highway continues through the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, which has a casino and anything else a traveler might need.
I’m on a mission, because when I clear Mole Lake, I’ll enter Langlade County. The road changes. I can feel the curves and elevation changes. The forest closes around the road with a lot of nice 40-50 mph sweepers. This continues toward the town of Pickerel, where the road opens back up into an agricultural area and we see the Wolf River for the first time. The back-and-forth change of scenery continues for miles as we pass through the small town of Lily, the middle junction of the figure-8.
The smell of fresh-cut hay pushes out the smell of wildfire haze. The V-Twin continues to thump along at a nice cadence. I gradually slow coming into Langlade, and get a closer look at the Wolf River, which parallels Highway 55 all the way to Keshena. The number of curves increases as the road follows the path of the river.
Crossing the Menominee County line, the road changes dramatically for the better. The Menominee tribe has been managing their land for sustainable timber for around 150 years. The mature trees are allowed to grow right up to the shoulder of the highway and canopy over in some places. The mix of curves, the views of the Wolf River, and the feeling of riding right through the forest are the best parts of this ride. This is what I’ve been waiting for, and I enjoy leaning the old Ultra back and forth all the way to Keshena Falls, which is the bottom of the figure-8.
Taking a right onto Highway 47, I ride in a northwesterly direction. The curves aren’t as spectacular, but I’m still enjoying the area’s scenery. I run through a few more areas of shaded canopy and bend around the backwaters of the Neopit Mill Pond. Returning to Langlade County is like riding out of a forest tunnel and into the neatly organized fields of traditional Wisconsin dairy farms.
The road opens as I sail up through Phlox into Antigo, the largest city on the route with plenty of opportunities to stop. I like to take old Highway 52 past the hospital and city parks and into the large orderly fields of the Antigo Flats. This is the home of Antigo Silt Loam, the official state soil of Wisconsin. Highway 52 has 90-degree curves along the boundaries of dairy and potato farms. The highway climbs out of the flats into the Kettlebowl area, which has a volunteer-run ski hill and the only “Caution Steep Grade” signs of the ride. The climb up the south side of the Kettlebowl is rough, but the pavement coming down is new and smooth.
The broad curves continue into the town of Lily, where we cross the center of the figure-8 again and turn north onto Highway 52. The path is wonderful, but the pavement in this area is a decade or two beyond its service life, so I keep speeds mellow for safety. The road follows 90-degree curves for a few miles through the community of Freeman. Folks are still farming here, but with much smaller operations than in Antigo. Highway 52 terminates at Highway 32 just west of Wabeno, and the ride is almost over. I aim north and relax a little on the wider, straight highway on the return to Laona.
I experienced great roads, sights, and smells, as well as diverse settings, bends, curves, hills, and even a little bit of sunburn. It’s hard to beat a day spent meandering on a motorcycle.
The mountainous, rugged islands of Sardinia and Corsica, situated in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy, have some of the best roads, best scenery, and most unique culture in all of Europe.
Hilly and curvy, with a very jagged coastline and craggy rock formations, Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean (after Sicily) and is an autonomous region of Italy. It offers thrilling views while riding perfect bends of never-ending seaside cliff roads. Its rugged landscape is dotted with thousands of nuraghi – mysterious Bronze Age stone ruins shaped like beehives. Not to mention a scattering of Roman ruins, Pisan churches, and Spanish Baroque architecture.
A ferry crossing reaches French Corsica, serving up more twists and turns as the roads wind their way through pine-forested hills and small villages.
This nine-day tour includes six riding days (covering a total of 850 miles) and one rest day (in Alghero, Sardinia) bookended by travel days. Here’s a day-by-day itinerary:
Day 1:Welcome to Sardinia! Day 2: Olbia – Ajaccio Day 3: Ajaccio – Corte Day 4: Corte – Bonifacio Day 5: Bonifacio – Alghero Day 6:Rest day in Alghero Day 7: Alghero – Cala Gonone Day 8: Cala Gonone – Olbia Day 9:Flight home from Olbia
Pricing starts at 3,580 euros (approx. $3,640) for a rider on a rental motorcycle sharing a double room – or 2,990 euros (approx. $3,040) if riding your own motorcycle. Single-room occupancy, higher-spec motorcycles, a passenger, and other upgrades are extra. See tour page for full details and pricing.
The price includes:
Late model motorcycle with lockable hard luggage and tankbags, plus third-party liability insurance and comprehensive vehicle insurance
Experienced guide on a motorcycle
Support van for luggage, souvenirs, and one or two passengers
Eight nights accommodation in quality (mostly 4-star) hotels
Eight breakfasts in the hotel
Seven dinners, mostly in traditional local restaurants
All (two) ferry rides and tolls
Airport transfers up to five days prior to the tour start, on the last day of the tour, and one day after the tour
Entrance fees to museums (according to tour program)
All maps with marked routes for the region being toured
Extensive tour booklet
GPS with all the daily routes uploaded
Not included in the price:
Air ticket, dinners on rest days, most lunches, drinks, gasoline, personal spending, tips.
“You’re riding your motorcycle to find graveyards – on purpose?” The conversation with a young police officer on a road construction detail in western Massachusetts was brief, but it motivated me to share why old graveyards are fascinating places to explore.
Rewind to the 1970s. My dad was a college professor whose academic interests included early New England graveyards. On weekends and summer vacations, he dragged my sisters and me along to find them. Long before GPS, such trips often became a quest since Dad’s approach to navigating involved dead reckoning. “I wonder where that road goes?” he’d say. “One way to find out.” It’s fair to say that Dad informed my interest in exploring on motorcycles.
Since Massachusetts has some of America’s oldest communities settled by Europeans, it has some of the country’s oldest graveyards. Three of Dad’s favorites were in the towns of Longmeadow, Deerfield, and Wilbraham, all in the Connecticut River Valley of western Mass. I decide to revisit these graveyards with the benefit of an adult perspective. Since they’re not even 40 miles apart, I extend the ride a couple hundred miles using Dad’s “I wonder where that road goes” approach, and along the way I find other old graveyards to explore.
The ride begins in Longmeadow. Along Williams Street, behind historic First Church, is the Olde Burying Ground, c. 1718, a small section within Longmeadow Cemetery. In old graveyards like this, carvings in stone offer insights into family life, social status, occupations, religious beliefs, sickness, tragedy, and the ways people conceived of death.
The stone of Ebenezer Bliss concludes with this stark epitaph: “Death is a Debt To Nature Due Which I have Pay’d And so must You.” The nature of one’s death is often explained, such as from smallpox, childbirth, or drowning, although Adjt. Jonathan Burt’s stone leaves us wondering, because he “departed this life in a sudden and surprising manner.”
From Longmeadow, I point my BMW F 750 GS north on U.S. Route 5 across the Connecticut River, then west on State Route 57. To avoid built-up sections of Agawam, I cut through Rising Corner and rejoin 57 past the Southwick fire station. The curves beyond Granville Gorge entice me to quicken the pace, though as I enter the village of Granville a flashing speed limit sign convinces me to roll off.
Up the hill beyond the town hall, I come upon Center Cemetery, c. 1753. As with many old graveyards that are no longer “active” (accepting new burials), one cannot drive into this graveyard, so I park just off the road. Also like many old graveyards, it isn’t next to a church. Some early settlers of New England, notably Puritans, located their dead away from the everyday lives of the living.
The headstone of Lt. Samuel Bancraft, Granville’s first settler, includes a slight variation of the epitaph I saw earlier in Longmeadow: “Death is a debt, to nature due. I have paid it, and so must you.”
Continuing west, I enjoy several miles of new tar, but on the steep downhill curves to New Boston I am cursing the inventor of tar snakes. Beyond the village, I notice unpaved Beech Plain Road, and a right turn takes me along stands of trees dressed in vibrant yellow fall foliage. There’s not a tar snake in sight.
In Otis, I merge onto State Route 8 north and then lean west onto State Route 23, an entertaining two-lane that hugs the contours of the Berkshire Hills. Past the village of Monterey, I see a sign for River Road. Dad explained that roads of that name are usually curvy and rarely dead end. Right on both counts!
Following a bridge-out detour, I arrive in Sheffield. On the other side of U.S. Route 7 there’s a sign for Bow Wow Road, and being a dog lover, I need to see where it goes. A ways after it turns to dirt, I find Pine Grove Cemetery, c. 1758. I see family plots for Olds and Curtiss and wonder if these graves include ancestors of the automobile and aviation pioneers of those names.
I continue on North Undermountain Road and Pumpkin Hollow Road. At the village of Alford, Center Cemetery, c. 1780, warrants investigation. Among the finds is this pithy epitaph: “Gone not lost.”
Leaving the town center, West Road gets the nod over East Road, and after a couple turns I’m on State Route 41 riding north through Richmond to Hancock. History buffs can visit Hancock Shaker Village. Shakers were a religious community known for their elegantly functional barns and furniture, and for their devotion to celibacy. (The latter may account for their current lack of numbers.)
Heading west on U.S. Route 20 takes me over the New York border to State Route 22 north and Stephentown. A right on State Route 43 returns me to Massachusetts, having sidestepped Pittsfield’s population center. Another right on Brodie Mountain Road leads to U.S. 7 north. At the five-corners intersection, I turn right onto State Route 43 and follow the Green River to Williamstown, a quintessential New England college town. At the junction of State Route 2, a left leads to lively Spring Street and multiple options for eats and coffee.
Refreshed and re-caffeinated, I head west toward North Adams and know exactly where to go: up the Mount Greylock Scenic Byway. This technical twist-fest leads to the highest point in Massachusetts (3,491 ft). Rockwell Road winds me down the other side of the mountain, and at the Mount Greylock Visitor’s Center, I turn around to ride the route in reverse. This 30-mile round trip is too much fun to pass by.
East of North Adams, the scenic Mohawk Trail (Route 2) rises through the famous Hairpin Turn, on to the town of Florida, then back down through Mohawk Trail State Forest. Exciting curves and elevation changes are enhanced by the clear autumn day. At Charlemont, I go north on State Route 8A, another twisting gem, to Branch Road, which tracks the west branch of North River east to State Route 112. This two-lane path curves quick and easy south to Ashfield where a left on State Route 116 puts me on a favorite twisty two-lane. But first, I stop at Elmer’s, an eatery popular with locals as well as motorcyclists passing through.
While jawing with some old-timers, I learn there’s a “really old” graveyard I should see on Norton Hill Road. As I pull up to Hill Cemetery, I can tell from the styles of gravestones that it’s no older than mid-19th century, but a war memorial right next to the road rewards the stop. Erected in 1867, it includes this wording: “TO THE EVER LIVING MEMORY OF THE SONS OF ASHFIELD WHO DIED FOR THEIR COUNTRY IN THE WAR OF NATIONALITY 1861-1865.” It’s the only place I have seen the U.S. Civil War described using this term.
At Creamery Road, I turn left toward South Ashfield then savor those curves on 116 to South Deerfield. It’s easy to bypass busy U.S. 5 via Lee Road and Mill Village Road to reach the Old Deerfield historic district. There, at the end of Albany Road, is another of Dad’s favorite graveyards, the Old Deerfield Burying Ground, c. 1690s (aka Old Albany Cemetery).
More than a dozen stones date back to the 1600s, the oldest one for Mary Blanchard, who had 10 children with her first husband, John Waite, and nine more with her second husband, John Blanchard. Notably, this graveyard includes a monument to 47 settlers killed during a raid on the town by native residents and their French military allies on February 29, 1704.
Walking the rows of stones, it’s intriguing to note how the styles have evolved over time. Early carvings with skulls gave way to skulls with wings, then winged angels, and then urns with weeping willows. Few parents still give their newborns names like these: Eleazer, Flavia, Zenas, Temperence, Dorcas, Ithamser, Arrethusa, and Thankfull Experience. Also here is a gravestone for a young woman whose name is hard to read without chuckling: Fanny Forward.
Leaving Deerfield, a short stretch north on U.S. 5 connects to another River Road, this one following the Connecticut River south to Mount Sugarloaf. Beyond the bridge, a right onto State Route 47 south follows the river’s other bank where harvested tobacco fields and the Mount Holyoke Range provide scenery.
Keeping to roads less traveled, I make my way through South Hadley, Belchertown, Ludlow, and Wilbraham, to Adams Cemetery, c. 1740. Gravestones here include dozens with epitaphs that speak to the difficulty of life and inevitability of death. Consider two:
“Friends and Physicians could not save, My mortal body from the grave.”
“Youth blooming learn your mortal state, How frail your life, how short the date.”
It’s fitting that Dad is buried here in one of the graveyards that so intrigued him – particularly one that is actively preserved and celebrated as a historical resource. Even if the graveyards in your neck of the woods aren’t as old, it’s likely they’re peaceful, beautiful, and interesting places to explore. When you’re enjoying a ride, take the opportunity to experience history in outdoor museums along the way. Explore old graveyards – on purpose.
My obsession with the White Mountains and Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire began nearly a year before I rode the famous route. I’d been testing BMW’s K 1600 B on a late-season ride on Vermont Route 100, just tootling along with all the Subarus, when I saw a guy on the side of the road standing atop an aged custom Harley, waving.
Curiosity got the best of me, so I swung the bagger around to meet Eric, a local mechanic, who said he was standing on his bike to get people to stop and make a donation for a friend and his wife who were in a motorcycle accident.
This would turn out to be Stanley Lynde and his wife, Laura, owners of Lynde Motorsports in Brattleboro, Vermont. There was an official GoFundMe webpage at the time, but Eric “didn’t do the internet.”
And his method seemed to work, with several people stopping by as we chatted, offering donations and well wishes. Eric, a veteran motorcyclist and builder who can no longer get out for big rides, was very emotional about the situation. When I asked him if there was something I could do beyond a donation, he promptly said yes, I could ride. Specifically, he requested I head up into the White Mountains and ride his favorite road, the Kancamagus Highway, in honor of the Lyndes.
And I tried. With all my heart. But a major storm blew in the next day, the only free day I had before returning the bike and flying home. Eric, his friends, and the road with the odd-sounding name were on my mind all winter long.
A COMMUNITY, NOT A CLUB
Late the next summer I was finally able to return to the Northeast, this time for a high-mileage test of BMW’s R 1200 RT. The Kancamagus, aka The Kanc (technically NH Route 112), topped my list of roads to explore.
I enlisted the help of Ed Conde, route master for New England Riders (NER, newenglandriders.org), an impressively large group (14,000+ strong on Facebook) that identifies as “a community of motorcyclists that self-organize to ride and have fun with other riders,” rather than a club, in which there would be things like dues and rules and officers.
Now, I’m a solo rider by nature, but after getting to know Ed and his wife, Debbie, online, I was excited to meet up with them and a small crew of NER riders to follow Ed’s “Best of the White Mountains” tracks, a 202-mile double loop that launches from Gorham, New Hampshire.
It was a Friday morning in September when I throttled out of Gorham with seven strangers, tracing the Androscoggin River eastward on U.S. Route 2, then crossing into Maine to head south on State Route 113. This rural highway is where the party started, with the road beginning to curve and roll as it swept its way up into the White Mountain National Forest.
Right away, it was clear this group could ride. On the way to the meeting point, I’d been thinking, “Okay, be patient, this could be a long day, be on your guard…” – all the things one should remember when joining an unknown group of riders. When we stopped at Evans Notch overlook for a breather, I learned these NER members are skilled because most had invested in training and trackdays, many under the tutelage of Ken Condon, author of Riding in the Zone.
THE MASTER PLANNER
The White Mountains, a roughly 90-mile segment of the much larger Appalachian Range, was created by western movement of the North American Plate more than 100 million years ago, long before the glaciers of the Ice Age covered them, then receded, smoothing sharp edges into the rounded notches and dished valleys we see today.
Our group was too early for the region’s famous fall colors, which suited these passionate riders just fine since it meant light traffic as we flowed down State Route 113. At Fryeburg, we followed Ed on a few quick turns to reach Hurricane Mountain Road, a narrow goat path of a backroad that constantly rises and dives, splashing through the densely forested hills, twisting just enough to heighten the senses.
I swear I didn’t tell Ed that I’m obsessed with road-trip pancakes; it just happened this group feels the same. Polly’s potential for addiction is real, and I’m happy I live thousands of miles away. Most of us went with pancake “samplers,” where you order three short stacks (yes, per person!), mixing and matching different batters and mix-ins.
It’s at this point I realize Ed Conde is more than just a nice guy with some ideas about good roads. Ed is a purveyor of truly fine roads, the kind of gems you simply wouldn’t find and connect on your own. And as I’ll learn over time, his skills aren’t limited to cataloging premium strands of tarmac; Ed sews in all the best views, bathroom stops, and restaurants, too.
It’s the secret stash a local rider might know, but Ed’s not a local here in New Hampshire. He and Debbie live near Boston, and it’s become their shared passion to travel on bikes – he on a Honda ST1300 and she on a Suzuki V-Strom 650 – exploring new states and creating a database of the best motorcycle roads, many of them stitched into day rides. Ed shares these elaborate ride plans and GPX tracks, which span from Nova Scotia all the way down to Alabama and Georgia, on the NER website.
It’s their way of giving back to the community, he says, for all the joy and treasured memories motorcycling has brought to their lives.
TIES THAT BIND
After conquering Hurricane Mountain Road, we traveled west on U.S. Route 302, taking time for a photo stop at the beautiful Cathedral Ledge viewpoint in Echo Lake State Park, before continuing to Bear Notch Road, another curvy delight with three worthy overlooks.
Then finally, up ahead, the road sign I’d been envisioning for almost a year: State Route 112, the famous Kancamagus.
While no one I was with that day knew the reason behind my request to ride this particular highway, I was sure they would feel equally compelled by Eric standing on his old Harley, feeling helpless about his friend’s fate.
Since that chance meeting, I’d learned Laura had survived her injuries, but sadly, Stanley had not. I carried his family in my heart as I rolled onto the Kanc.
PANCAKES FOR LUNCH
Just as Eric promised, the views from Route 112 were glorious. The highway is well-kept and curvaceous, chasing after the Swift River like a blackbird mobbing a hawk.
When we stopped at the Pemigewasset Overlook, everyone was in great spirits, laughing and telling stories. I didn’t even stop to wonder how it was these strangers I’d met only hours before now felt like old friends. We’ve all felt it, that current of shared experience that so instantly connects riders when and wherever we meet.
Unexpectedly, the ride only continued to get better as the day rolled on. Departing the Kanc, we reunited with Route 302 and headed east to Bath, where you’ll find The Brick Store, America’s oldest continuously run general store. The market is flanked by a popular ice cream shop, but we were headed for Polly’s Pancake Parlor on Route 117 for an afternoon feast of hotcakes and bacon.
From Polly’s we headed east to Franconia and followed U.S. Routes 3 and 302 to link together alpine lakes and waterfalls, crossing over our westbound route around Bartlett. There’s plenty to see and do on this section, but we kept an eager clip so we could start up the Mount Washington Auto Road, the capper of Ed’s “Best of the White Mountains” ride, well before the toll road’s cutoff entry time of 5 p.m.
A SLICE OF HEAVEN
Mount Washington (6,288 ft) is the most prominent peak west of the Mississippi and the highest mountain in the Northeast, but what’s really neat about it is the road that takes you to the summit. It’s just 7.6 miles long, but man, the views are forever. The drop-offs are too, which can rattle some, even though the mountain is well controlled by low speed limits and heavy traffic.
We arrived at the summit with just enough time to check out the museum and observation areas. This windy peak was also where I said goodbye to my new friends, since we’d head in different directions at the mountain’s base.
After snapping an action shot or two of the group halfway down the now heavily shaded northeastern slope of the mountain, park trucks pulled up, urging stragglers like me toward the gates. On a whim I asked if I could ride back up – “super quick” – to get a photo of the empty road.
I was floored when the guys said sure, I could have the 20 minutes or so it would take them to usher the remaining tourists from the lower lookout points.
And so began one of the most striking experiences of my 36 years of riding. I had the top half of Mount Washington to myself. Its Auto Road, which had been clogged an hour before, was now empty.
And I’m proud to say I didn’t rip up and down the famous toll road as I would’ve in the past. Instead, I focused every bit of energy on soaking up a scene that looked and felt like a literal slice of heaven.
By this point, my White Mountains ride had become way more than a report about a day trip in New England. It reminded me that I’m part of a huge, ever-present family. Showed me that true friends can be old, or new, or only in your heart.
No matter how far we wander, there will be other riders to make us feel at home.
Scott Moreno, the American-born owner of IMTBike, the motorcycle tour and rental company based in Spain, has one of the most infectious personalities of the many people I’ve met over the years in the motorcycle industry.
Born in New York City and raised in northern New Jersey, Moreno studied abroad in Spain. After getting his MBA, he made a good living as a currency trader, but he was miserable. When a friend asked him what he loved to do, he said “ride motorcycles and have adventures.” So, in 1997, Scott bought eight BMW motorcycles and started Iberian Moto Tours (IMTBike’s former name) from his apartment in Madrid.
This year, IMTBike is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Through the hard work of Moreno and his team, the company has grown to include more than two dozen staff members, office locations in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Málaga, and Lisbon, and the world’s largest fleet of BMW motorcycles – 200 at last count (IMTBike is an Official Partner of BMW Motorrad). In 2021, IMTBike earned a coveted TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice “Best of the Best” award.
IMTBike specializes in tours of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), but it also offers tours in France, Italy, the Alps, and Morocco, as well as MotoGP tours (Catalunya, Jerez, and Valencia) and tours in Turkey, Thailand, Japan, and New Zealand.
To help IMTBike celebrate its “25 Years of Magic,” Rider’s Editor-in-Chief Greg Drevenstedt and his wife Carrie will be joining Moreno on the Southern Spain Andalusia Tour this fall, October 15-23. The tour starts and ends in Málaga, on Spain’s famous Costa del Sol (“Sun Coast”) on the Mediterranean Sea.
The 9-day tour includes seven riding days, one rest day (in Seville), and travel days on either end. Here’s the itinerary:
Day 1: Arrival in Málaga
Day 2: Málaga – Costa del Sol – Sierra Nevada – Granada
Day 3: Granada – Córdoba
Day 4: Córdoba – Seville
Day 5: Seville – rest day
Day 6: Seville – White Towns
Day 7: White Towns – Ronda
Day 8: Ronda – Serranía de Ronda – Málaga
Day 9: Flight home
We recommend arriving a couple of days early to get acclimated to the time zone and explore Málaga, one of the oldest cities in Europe, which is full of history, culture, and vitality. Walk the city streets and tour the Alcazaba, a Moorish palatial fortress built in the 11th century.
The region of Andalusia is home to some of Spain’s most famous cities, including Seville, Córdoba, and Granada, all three of which contain UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Stay in Spain’s famous Paradors – castles, monasteries, fortresses, and other historic buildings converted into luxury hotels. The Parador in Ronda stands on the edge of a cliff and is next to the Plaza de Toros (bullfighting ring), and the town is surrounded by the Sierra de las Nieves National Park.
On this tour you’ll visit Spain’s iconic “White Towns,” villages full of white-washed houses, and you’ll enjoy Andalusian cuisine, famous for its jamón Ibérico pata negra (black-footed Iberian ham) and delicious tapas. You’ll also get your fill of curves and twisties in the Grazalema and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.
You don’t want to miss this tour. Pricing starts at just 3,225 euros (about $3,450), and includes transfer to/from the airport, motorcycle rental (BMW G 310 R), lodging, eight breakfasts, and seven dinners. Choosing a larger motorcycle, adding a passenger, and a single-occupancy room adds to the price.
Click HERE for more details and to book the tour. Sign up soon because this tour will fill up fast!
A few years ago, Rider published my article about riding Vermont Route 100 from south to north, ending at the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the U.S./Canada border. Someone wrote a letter to the editor asking how I got back. U.S. Route 5 runs along the east side of Vermont, and it happens to be another one of my favorite rides. It has all the elements of a great motorcycle road: beautiful scenery, fine curves, light traffic, and nice places to stop along the way. For this ride, I am again starting at the Massachusetts border and heading north, but it can also be run in reverse.
I cross from Massachusetts into Vermont just south of Guilford, and the road almost immediately plunges into the woods, curling back and forth around the trees, a preview of what’s to come. First, I pass through Brattleboro. With 12,000 residents, it’s the largest town I’ll encounter today. Downtown consists of about three blocks of century-old brick buildings. It’s a little congested, but as soon as I clear the roundabout at the junction with State Route 9, everything eases up and I’m into rural Vermont in search of coffee.
Putney General Store bills itself as Vermont’s oldest general store. It has creaky floors, good food, and – most importantly – good coffee. Properly caffeinated, I’m on my way, and U.S. 5 reveals its true character: rising, falling, and curving through the landscape. I lose myself in its rhythm.
In Bellows Falls, the falls don’t bellow anymore. The river was dammed in 1802 to aid with upstream navigation. Down near the river, a mysterious row of faces is carved into the rocks. The petroglyphs are believed to have been carved by the Abenaki hundreds of years ago. Curiously, a couple of the faces appear to have antennae. Evidence of an extraterrestrial visit? I ponder the question as I head out of town.
U.S. 5 resumes its swooping, twisting, and turning as it tunnels through the trees. Nothing is too tight or unexpected, just a wonderful ride, and I drink it all in. There is a zig and a zag in Springfield before the enjoyment continues to the American Precision Museum in Windsor. It’s housed in the Robbins and Lawrence Armory, where they developed the concept of interchangeable parts in the 1840s. One display in the museum is a belt-driven machine that turns gunstocks. As the blank for the stock spins, the cutters gracefully move in and out. The accompanying video is mesmerizing. In addition to many machine tools, they also have Bridgeport milling machine serial number 001 – if you’re a gearhead, you’ll understand its significance.
Past Windsor, the road resumes its rhythm as it carves up around a golf course. All along the way, I pass small farms with their quintessential red barns. Some have stands selling fresh veggies, and I pick up some tomatoes and sweet corn.
White River Junction, where the White River joins the Connecticut, has long been a transportation hub. The arrival of the railroad in the 19th century cemented its status. Today, it’s at the junction of Interstates 89 and 91 as well as U.S. Routes 4 and 5. All the amenities are near the highway interchange, and it’s easy to miss downtown, but with several restaurants to choose from, it’s a great spot for lunch.
A sign in the window at Dan & Whit’s General Store in Norwich declares, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!” Whether you are looking for an alarm clock or beer pong supplies, they have it. The paint department? It’s in a room behind the deli. Keep going and you’ll find a huge hardware section. The variety of stuff crammed into the space is remarkable, and it’s easy to get lost among the hams and hammers and hammocks.
Leaving Norwich, there is a change. The hurry is gone, and I glide effortlessly around the curves, passing by narrow valley farms and through the villages of Thetford, Fairlee, Bradford, Newbury, and Wells River. In Barnet, there is another perceptible change as U.S. 5 parts ways with the Connecticut River and starts following the smaller Passumpsic River. The curves are tighter, the hills are closer, and at one point, U.S. 5 slips between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-91 for a bit.
In St. Johnsbury, State Route 5A splits off as it passes the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum and the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium. Both 19th-century edifices were built by the Fairbanks family. Their Fairbanks Scales Company changed how commerce was done, and the family spent much of their fortune locally. Fine Victorian architecture lines both sides of the road here.
After Lyndonville, U.S. 5 cuts through the landscape to West Burke, where I follow State Route 5A toward Lake Willoughby. The lake is the crown jewel of this ride. Nestled between Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor, it resembles a Norwegian fjord. The road runs up the east side, perched precariously between lake and ledge.
Past Lake Willoughby, there is a “North Country” feel. The rivers flow north toward the St. Lawrence River, the landscape is more open, and the trees seem shorter. Route 5A reconnects with U.S. 5 in Derby Center and heads for the Canadian border at Derby Line. There, within sight of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, not far from the border, is a sign that declares “End 5.” Just beyond is Quebec and a large sign that says “Bonjour.” It’s time to head back. Maybe I’ll take Route 100.
I arrive in Duluth, Minnesota, in the middle of the night, welcomed by a cleansing wind blowing off Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. The West had been ablaze for weeks when I’d departed California two days before, and smoke from those massive fires had gathered, unasked, across the Plains to form a thick, murky blanket. My eyes and throat are still burning as I hobble, ass whipped, from my BMW R 1200 GS to my waiting hotel room.
I’ve just started on a 6-week ride and my first official stop is a visit to the Aerostich factory to catch up with my old friend, Andy Goldfine. Andy and I go back to the mid-80s when we were starting in the motorcycle industry, him as the founder of Aerostich and me as an associate editor at Rider. I zipped up my first Roadcrafter the day we met and have since appreciated no gear – or friendship in the business – more.
Duluth has always charmed me with its terraced streets and historic port town vibe. Spending a day off the bike here is a joy. I’m able to hang out at Aerostich and watch as suits are cut and stitched. Some would call this a factory, but it’s much more like a workshop where skilled technicians craft riding apparel.
After enjoying a classic biker breakfast the next morning at the Duluth Grill with Andy and his “most curmudgeonly riding friend” John Grinsel, an 80-something-year-old character who rides up to 20,000 miles each year with a pipe in his mouth and a tiny pup named Moose poking out of his top box, I’m back in the saddle of the GS heading north around the edge of the world’s largest freshwater lake.
The Greatest Lake
Behaving more like an inland sea than a lake, Superior is massive, holding 10% of the world’s fresh surface water. It and the other Great Lakes to the east are so dynamic they create their own weather patterns. Today, I’m riding through a Scotch mist I’m not sure I can blame on the lake, and it’s giving my finger squeegee a workout.
I’m riding a loaner R 1200 GS Rallye edition I’ve had for seven months. I’ll never get enough of the GS bikes, and over three decades I’ve used them to explore five continents. Having been one of BMW’s flagship models for four decades, the “big” GS was legitimately the first travel bike to be truly versatile, but what I find most endearing is the way the chatty boxer Twin feels like an old friend every time I fire one up. It’s a pleasant bike to ride anywhere, including roads like Minnesota’s super scenic State Route 61 along the North Shore.
By the time I reach Grand Marais, it’s clearly storming hard to the north, and I retreat back down the highway, ducking into the famous Betty’s Pies for a slice and a coffee. I love this place, and if I weren’t on a bike, in the rain, I’d take an entire 5 Layer Chocolate Cream Pie to go.
Early the next morning, the sun is out and I’m in Wisconsin exploring the bottom edge of Superior. While I’d traveled to the top of the lake a few years back, the southern section was a mystery. I throttle the GS up Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Scenic Byway, State Route 13, connecting fishing villages to waterfalls to sandy beaches and orchards.
The Road to Pictured Rocks
I want to shoot up Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula to Copper Harbor on U.S. Route 41, and not just because the road looks amazing on the map. I’ve heard there are monks who bake delicious treats and sell preserves they make from local fruit at The Jampot bakery. But I’m short on time and even shorter on tires. The Continental TKC80s I opted for seven months back now have more than 6,500 miles on them and my replacements are waiting at a dealership 700 miles away, which means limiting side trips.
So, I head from Ashland, Wisconsin, straight for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the recommendation to ride County Road H-58. And wow, what a sweet road. I hear it was even more fun to ride before it was fully paved in 2010, but today the 69 miles of smooth shaded corners and flowing undulations ride like a song. And for the other senses? The beautiful lake up here is edged by colorful sandstone cliffs and unspoiled sandy coves.
When you’re on an adventure bike, another thing to love about Michigan is its more than 3,100 miles of off-road vehicle trails, proudly documented and promoted on the state government’s website, and on Pure Michigan, a site sponsored by Michigan’s lead economic development agency. How civilized for these Midwestern states to celebrate their off-roading opportunities instead of quashing them.
But you hardly need a map to find a tempting two-track here, which is the reason I’m not making good time on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but finally I’m at the famous Mackinac Bridge, gearing up to ride its five swaying miles to the Lower Peninsula. Yup, Big Mac is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world and it’s built to swing (apparently, up to 35 feet at its center span), and on a windy day, you can feel it, as I did when I crossed it years back on a Harley Ultra Glide Classic.
Especially in Michigan
But today it’s only breezy, and purring across the impressive bridge on the GS is a joy. I don’t have time to stop in touristy Mackinaw City because I want to ride some small roads I’d missed on my last trip, starting with M-119 from Cross Village to Harbor Springs, aka the Tunnel of Trees.
I approach from the north, stopping at the historic Polish-themed Legs Inn in Cross Village where you can spend hours taking in all the details of wood and stonework, or if you’re hungry, enjoy some kielbasa and pierogi. The famous 20-mile section of M-119 that kicks off from here is narrow, curvy, and truly a tunnel of foliage, and I’m sure its beauty is staggering in the fall, but it loses points as a premium motorcycle road for its 35-mph speed limit and profusion of deer and driveways. Still, those 137 corners are a lovely way to spend time.
After an overnight in Petoskey, I head for Traverse City and M-22. If there’s one thing that’s undeniable about these Midwestern states, especially their more rural areas, it’s how genuinely nice the people are. Everywhere you go. The M-22 is recommended to me by a new friend, and I take my time exploring Suttons Bay, Northport, and the Leelanau Peninsula’s pretty lakes, all miniatures next to a hulking Lake Michigan.
In Glen Arbor, I indulge in house-made cherry ice cream at the original Cherry Republic and slip a jar of cherry salsa in a saddlebag for later. I do not partake in the pit spitting at the establishment’s Olympic-size cherry spitting pit (the world record is 93 feet, 6.5 inches).
In addition to gorgeous views of the lake and rolling farmland, this part of Michigan has local wines to taste, dunes to explore, and apples to pick. The longer I spend on M-22, the more I realize it’s not just a road to the people in this area, M-22 represents a lifestyle. In fact, the M-22 highway signs have been stolen so often – 90 signs in three years – the Michigan DOT dropped the M on some replacements so they show only the number 22. If you missed your chance to nab a sign, there are plenty of places along the highway where you can buy a fake, as well as upscale M-22 apparel and souvenir tchotchkes.
And I get it. There’s something about this area (the people? the chill vibe? the scenery?) that just makes you want to stick around and explore every corner. Sadly, I don’t have time or tread for further exploration, and chug east from Manistee to Bay City, overnighting in some basic chain motel and wishing I was back in my tent on the lakeshore. In the morning, I scoot down I-75 to get the GS serviced and shod at BMW Motorcycles of Southeast Michigan. Again, the nicest people.
Over the next five weeks I’ll ride through another 13 states, many of them bucket-list destinations for motorcyclists. And yet I’ll keep thinking about this Great Lakes area and its empty roads, slow pace, and big-hearted locals. If you’ve ridden there, you know. If you haven’t, go. I’ll be right behind you.