The two Northeastern stops of the 2021 Progressive IMS Outdoors tour are on consecutive weekends in September. The New York City event will be at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, September 3-5 (Labor Day is the 6th), and the Pennsylvania event will be at the Carlisle Fairgrounds, September 10-12.
This 281-mile route begins in Saratoga Springs, in the heart of upstate New York’s farm and horse country. The town is home to the Saratoga Race Course, one of the oldest horse tracks in the country, dating back to 1863. The annual meet runs from mid-July to Labor Day, but there is harness racing year-round. Saratoga is famous for its mineral springs and bath houses, and there are plenty of excellent restaurants and vibrant nightlife to enjoy.
The route leaves Saratoga Springs to the south, on U.S. Route 9, and passes through Malta. It turns east onto State Route 67 and crosses the Hudson River at Mechanicville. Continuing east, Route 67 passes through Schaghticoke and follows the Hoosic River. At Eagle Bridge, the route turns south, and it picks up State Route 22 at the town of Hoosic Falls. At Lebanon Springs, it turns west on U.S. Route 20, then southwest on State Route 66. After crossing Interstate 90 and passing through Chatham, it continues on the Taconic State Parkway.
The 104-mile parkway took 40 years to build, from the mid-1920s until its completion in 1963. Parts of the road were designed by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his tenure as head of the Taconic State Park Commission, and we can thank him for insisting those sections follow the natural landscape instead of powering through in a straight line. Built in a simpler time, the Taconic has narrow lanes, minimal shoulders, and plenty of gentle curves, but do be on the lookout for accidents and state troopers.
The route ends at the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. From there, many options are available to get to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, which is off the Belt Parkway (Interstate 287) on the edge of Upper Bay. Enjoy the show!
For more information about Progressive IMS Outdoors and to buy tickets, visit motorcycleshows.com.Rider is the media partner for the Adventure Out! area at IMS Outdoors.
Buffalo County, Wisconsin, is a hidden gem for motorcyclists. Located in the northwest part of the state, its southern border is the Mississippi River, which is the dividing line between Wisconsin and Minnesota. This is rural farm country, and the entire county has only one traffic light.
Buffalo County boasts dozens of fantastic motorcycling roads that twist along river banks, climb steep bluffs, dive into coulees and steep ravines, and cling to the edges of sandstone ridges. Numerous creeks and small rivers flow through the Waumandee Valley on their way to join the Mississippi, and they influence the shape and slope of these roads.
The best starting point is the town of Mondovi, located in the northeastern corner of Buffalo County. A quick fuel and food stop is recommended, as gasoline stations, restaurants, and other amenities are sparse as you head south. After a bite at McT’s Diner we follow County Roads (CR) H and ZZ south to a hook up with State Highway 88 at the Buffalo River.
Known as “Black Lightning,” Highway 88 has approximately 130 corners and curves in 40 miles as it runs from Gilmanton to the Mississippi River, making it one of Wisconsin’s highest-rated biker roads. It gives riders — and their brakes — a real workout as they ride the ridges and slash through a sandstone cut north of Praag.
At CR U, we head east until we reach CR C at a crossroads just north of the village of Montana. CR C dishes up a variety of steep climbs and hairpin curves as we work our way south along Swinns Valley Creek, on our way to State Highway 95 just west of Arcadia. A short jog going west on 95 takes us to CR E, which heads northeast through Pansy Pass and Glencoe to Waumandee. CR E east of Waumandee has such steep hills that many homeowners have large angled mirrors mounted on posts at the foot of their driveways to help provide a view of any hidden oncoming traffic.
The village of Waumandee — Chippewa for “clear and sparkling water” — is worth a stop. It dates back to the 1850s, and Waumandee House, which was built in 1879, is still an active inn and restaurant. Every September the village hosts the Waumandee Hillclimb, a unique event for sports car enthusiasts. A two-mile stretch of Blank Hill Road west of Highway 88 is closed for a day of timed runs up an 18-turn hillclimb road course.
Crossing Highway 88 we take a shot at Blank Hill Road, which is as challenging as advertised. Take care along the section of road that clings to the side of a cliff and has no guardrail. At CR N, we head north along Alma Ridge, which has some white-knuckle descents on its way to the Buffalo River at State Highway 37. A short jog up Highway 37 takes us to Highway KK on the west side of the Buffalo River.
Want a taste of riding the Isle of Man TT? Much like the famed road circuit, the CR KK south of Modena has climbs and descents chiseled into the sides of ridges with few guardrails, testing our binders and our nerves as we plunge down to CR D.
CR D winds west through rolling farm country to its junction with State Highway 35, which is known as the Great River Road and hugs the northern shore of the Mississippi. Overlooking the river, the town of Nelson has several recommended dining stops. On the day of our visit, J & J Barbeque and Nelson Creamery are overwhelmed with two-wheeled customers. We find an empty table at Beth’s Twin Bluff Café, and enjoy the best lemon pie we’ve ever tasted.
We headed north on State Highway 25 along the eastern edge of the Tiffany Bottoms Natural Area. At the village of Misha Mokwa, we turn east onto CR KK and complete the circle at the junction with CR D. Twists and turns command our full attention on our way to the village of Modena. Visit the general store in Modena to see two large motorcycle sculptures made from scrap metal, and pick up some cheese curds for a snack. We continue east on D until it dead-ends at Highway 37, then we follow the Buffalo River north and return to Mondovi.
The roads on this 110-mile loop are challenging, but most of the pavement is in good condition (be mindful of gravel in some corners). Part of what makes Buffalo County a great riding destination is the traffic — except for Highway 35, there is none! On a full day of weekend riding we encountered two tractors, two pickups, seven motorcycles, and one corn picker, which was blocking a narrow farm road. The only thing missing for a perfect riding weekend is a motorcycle class at the Waumandee Hillclimb so we can clock our time going up Blank Hill Road!
For 2021, the Progressive International Motorcycle Shows tour has been rebranded as Progressive IMS Outdoors and events will be held outside, like open-air powersports festivals. The tour will visit nine major markets around the U.S. between July and November (see the full schedule at motorcycleshows.com). Each stop will be a three-day event for powersports enthusiasts and potential riders of all ages and skill levels, with motorcycle demo rides and hands-on experiences unique to each venue.
The first stop is in Northern California, at Sonoma Raceway over the weekend of July 16-18. We’re providing suggested scenic rides to or near each tour stop, with routes available on the REVER app. The Northern California ride is a 165-mile paved route that starts in the coastal town of Fort Bragg and ends at Sonoma Raceway, which is located north of San Francisco. Most of the route follows California State Route 1 south along the scenic, rugged Pacific Coast.
Fort Bragg is a charming burg that’s home to the Sea Glass Museum, the Skunk Train, and North Coast Brewing Company. Heading south through town on Route 1 (Main Street), the ride begins on the Noyo River Bridge. Known in this area as Shoreline Highway, Route 1 is a scenic two-lane road that winds along the contours of the coast. Despite being just 165 miles long, this route typically takes four to five hours, not including stops.
You’ll want to stop often at the many towns, natural areas, scenic overlooks, and state parks along the way, such as the Navarro River Bridge, where Route 128 goes inland to the Navarro River Redwoods State Park. Other highlights include Mendocino, Point Arena Lighthouse, Stewarts Point, Salt Point State Park, Fort Ross, Jenner, Sonoma Coast State Park, Duncans Point, and Bodega Bay.
After riding along the eastern edge of Tomales Bay, you’ll arrive in the town of Point Reyes Station. Turn onto Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, which follows Lagunitas Creek and passes along the Nicasio Reservoir. The route continues east, crosses U.S. Route 101, and follows State Route 37 (Sears Point Road) and State Route 121 (Arnold Drive) to Sonoma Raceway. Enjoy the ride and enjoy the show!
For more information about Progressive IMS Outdoors and to buy tickets, visit motorcycleshows.com.
Describe your dream tour, anywhere in the USA. Win the use of a V85 TT adventure bike for 14 days and a $2,500 travel budget.
I threw down a route. Start in Seattle, ride east to Glacier National Park, then follow the Rocky Mountains south through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Flaming Gorge, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and finish in Las Vegas. Eight days, seven states, six national parks and monuments, 2,600 miles. Epic!
When the Piaggio Group called me last August to tell me I had won, it didn’t leave much time to prep and hit the road to beat the cold weather in Glacier National Park. My buddy Kit agreed to join me, and Moto Guzzi generously offered us a second bike. The adventure/dual-sport market isn’t Guzzi’s typical realm, so when I read that the TT stands for tutto terreno (all-terrain), I figured the least we could do is put them through a genuine off-road test. Part of the budget went toward Michelin Anakee Wild tires; billed as 50/50 on-/off-road, they have a surprisingly aggressive tread pattern. At 500-plus pounds, the V85 TT is no dirt bike, but if adventure is your goal, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself off the beaten path, and that’s exactly where we planned to be.
Our Chariots Await
We flew to Seattle and first saw our V85 TTs parked outside at Optimum Performance Motorsports. Their styling reminded me of old Paris-Dakar bikes. I took the Adventure edition, sporty in bright red and white livery, with only a gesture of a windscreen. Kit took the Travel edition, with a sophisticated metallic sand color and a larger windscreen, auxiliary lights and heated grips. Both bikes were fitted with excellent panniers, and the Adventure also included a top box, which I removed to allow more room for my DrySpec soft bags. After a chat with Alan Kwang, the dealership owner, he handed us the keys and wished us well. It was surreal riding away on brand new bikes without having exchanged anything more than a conversation.
A Dash Across an Apocalyptic Plain
It was nearly noon by the time we packed everything on the bikes and rode east out of Seattle. U.S. Route 2 climbs into rugged, pine-strewn mountains and goes over Stevens Pass (4,061 feet) before descending along the floor of a dramatic, glacial valley. During a late lunch in Leavenworth, the smell of smoke reminded us there were wildfires still burning across Washington State. After crossing the Columbia River, a steep ascent took us out of the rocky canyon onto a vast, windswept plain. Rolling grassland swept off to the horizon in all directions. Huge areas, scorched black by the recent flames, were still smoldering. It was like riding through the wake of a recent battle. We raced across the plateau for 140 miles, and then descended into Spokane and made quick time to our hotel in Ponderay, Idaho.
Majestic Glacier National Park and Deer in the Headlights
Still refining the bike-packing process, we began the first of 440 miles much later than planned. Just shy of the Canadian border, Route 2 turns east near Bonners Ferry, into the dense fir and spruce forests of Montana. Entering Glacier National Park, crystal-clear Lake McDonald sweeps up the valley alongside Going-to-the-Sun Road, a narrow strip of asphalt (and an engineering marvel) carved into the side of a mountain range. Logan Pass (6,647 feet) offered awesome views, as sheer valleys tumbled down to the lakes below and knife-edged arêtes towered above us. The light was fading by the time we got on the deserted forest road to Missoula. Kit spotted a mule deer, her almond eyes reflecting brightly in the Travel’s auxiliary lights. She was the first of many, and it was 10 p.m. when we finally walked into the Missoula Club bar, famous for its burgers and beer.
The Glorious Mountain Roads of Montana
After refueling in Hamilton, we turned east into the Sapphire Mountains on a steep gravel track and climbed up to Skalkaho Pass (7,257 feet). It was our first off-road test for the bikes and tires, and we quickly found our confidence on the hard-packed gravel. Abundant torque served us well, especially in 2nd and 3rd gears. By afternoon, the towering canyons had relented to reveal panoramic views of the dramatic scenery. We swept up another pass, riding into Virginia City, a marvelous authentic gold-rush town established in 1863. Following the Madison River south from Ennis, we had a breathtaking sight as the setting sun lit up a colossal rift running along the western bank. Eventually, we made it to our hotel in the dark, tired and hungry, only to discover the nearest restaurant was eight miles away, in West Yellowstone.
Enchanting Yellowstone and Towering Grand Teton
As the sun came up, we brushed the ice off our seats and rode into Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. We rode a clockwise loop around the park, passing steaming geysers, volcanic hot springs that belched scorching, sulfurous gas, and bison that grazed the roadside meadows, eventually coming upon enormous Yellowstone Lake. We made a quick stop at the amazing Old Faithful Inn, just as its namesake geyser erupted.
The road exiting Yellowstone’s southern entrance runs along the edge of a sheer canyon, ending at Jackson Lake, where the Tetons, a series of three spectacular peaks, soar up from the western bank to over 13,500 feet like giant fossilized teeth. It was late afternoon when we stopped at Alpine to buy supplies. The Guzzis always drew a small crowd and a flurry of questions. I discovered our next leg, a 95-mile dirt track through Bridger-Teton National Forest, was only graded for the first 40. Undeterred (somewhat), we proceeded anyway and soon found an idyllic spot to make camp by the river.
Scarlet Sockeye and the Stunning Beauty of Flaming Gorge
After a chilly, restless night, we rejoined the track running along Greys River, a ribbon of blue and lush green framed by rocky bluffs. As predicted, the track became steep and challenging, but the V85 TTs’ suspension capably soaked up the abuse, while their V-twins churned out torque with a lovely, distinctive rumble. We savored awesome view after awesome view as our fifth day’s route took us out of Wyoming’s forested mountains and into the painted desert canyons of Utah.
Desolate plateau roads delivered us to a series of tight corners cut into the red rock, descending hundreds of feet into Flaming Gorge. At the bottom, we stopped at Sheep Creek, where the shallow, limpid water was teeming with sockeye salmon. A series of thrilling sweepers and twisties climbed out of the gorge, providing a spectacular view of the sheer, banded cliffs of crimson and terracotta strata and the reservoir below. The plateau finally ended with a dramatic zig-zagging 3,000-foot descent to the town of Vernal, Utah. We used every electrical socket in the room to charge the crap out of everything — cameras, phones, drone — making the most of our last night in a hotel.
Ridge Riding on Top of the World and A Steer Standoff
After a dash across the vast Uinta Basin, we descended into Scofield (pop. 23), home to Snack & Pack, a quirky gas station where customers broil their own burgers. With us and the Guzzis refueled, we climbed into the mighty Manti-La Sal Mountains and onto Skyline Drive Scenic Backway, a rough unpaved road that follows a knife-edged ridge at over 10,000 feet, with sheer drops down both sides to the valleys below. I tried to focus on the riding, despite the arresting views at every turn. This was not a good place to screw up.
With one eye on the clock, we reluctantly turned off Skyline, riding down into the valley, where we found our route blocked by a herd of belligerent bovine. Stores are scarce in this remote part of Utah, and we were forced to ride 20 miles past our exit to buy supplies, starting the last leg as the sun began to set — a steep, 18-mile dirt track that provided plenty of butt-clenching moments in the dusk. We pitched our tents on patches of sand among boulders and stunted juniper. There was no moon, and when the last of the firewood burnt out, we could see the Milky Way painted across the night sky, with shades of purple, blue and red in an ocean of stars.
We Max Out the V85 TTs and Reluctantly Ride to Vegas
The morning sun blazed across the desert as we tore off down the rocky trail and into Cathedral Valley, where a group of distinctive striped mesas rise up from the plain like a village hewn from rock. Capitol Reef National Park is amazingly varied. Terracotta cliffs are the backdrop to white and yellow hoodoos, vivid green yuccas and gnarly juniper, as well as a formidable mix of sand-and-rubble tracks. Our pace had increased, and at times we asked more from the Guzzis than they were designed for, but what a ride! Inevitably, a deep sandy section proved too much of an ask, and I dumped my Adventure — scuza amore.
As we neared its end, the trail entered a dense line of trees and abruptly ended at the Fremont River. The fast running water was muddy, and Kit was the first to ford with little notion of depth and no idea what lay below. A breathtaking narrow road perched atop a meandering ridge separated by two yawning canyons delivered us to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Completely exhausted, we began looking for a campsite along Cottonwood Canyon Road. I found a ledge with a panoramic view across the valley. A series of sheer, striped ridges ran across the horizon, and towering above these, the giant mesa we had traversed all afternoon. We toasted our last night as the last of the sun’s rays set alight Escalante’s vivid strata. It had all gone so fast, and yet Seattle seemed like a lifetime ago. The view from my tent the following morning was worthy of its own trip.
On our final day, we thundered down a deserted, undulating track running along the floor of Cottonwood Canyon, a dust cloud in our wake and rocks pinging off the sump guards. With the road through Zion National Park closed, we had to take a southern loop through Arizona before starting the last, searing leg down to Las Vegas.
The Moto Guzzi V85 TT, È Tutto Terreno?
After riding hundreds of miles on dirt tracks, some seriously challenging, the V85 TT has convinced this skeptic that it will handle anything you can reasonably expect to throw at it. Overall build quality is excellent. Even with its handsomely sculpted 5.6-gallon tank full of gas, the V85’s center of gravity feels surprisingly low, and coupled with the Michelin Anakee Wild tires, inspired the kind of off-road confidence usually associated with lighter bikes. On the road, more midrange power would make fast overtaking maneuvers less of an exercise in physics, but otherwise, the V85 TT was a superb ride.
Both Kit and I are over six feet tall, and I’d figured we’d be folded up like a couple of deckchairs, but with some huge miles undertaken, we appreciated the excellent ergonomics and supremely comfortable seat. In terms of range, comfort, durability and handling on- and off-road, the V85 TT is a credible contender at a competitive price, and the folks in Mandello del Lario deserve credit for also making it so very beautiful. We were reluctant to hand back the keys. Arrivederci bellissima! Thanks for the good times!
There are rides we’ve ridden only once and they became favorites, and then there are favorite rides we’ve ridden over and over again. This ride falls into the latter category. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve ridden Rim of the World Scenic Byway, but I’ve done it on pleasure rides, solo tests, comparison tests and press launches, on cruisers, sport-tourers and adventure bikes.
This route is entirely paved, but it goes through California’s San Bernardino National Forest and provides easy access to many unpaved forest roads and OHV routes. And although I describe the route from its eastern end in Redlands to its western end at Mormon Rocks, it’s just as enjoyable when ridden the other direction. The route is about 100 miles and can be ridden in just a few hours, or it can serve as the main artery for a weekend of adventure, from camping and hiking to boating, fishing or relaxing in mountain communities like Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.
Redlands is part of the Inland Empire, a vast metropolitan area east of Los Angeles that covers parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. State Route 38 begins in Redlands, at the junction with Interstate 10. Rim of the World Scenic Byway begins as Route 38 starts to climb into the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. The escape from civilization happens quickly as the road starts to gently curve its way up Mill Creek Canyon, with slopes rising steeply on both sides of the road.
Following a 180-degree, constant-radius sweeper, the road begins a much steeper climb into the mountains. Now we’re talking! Route 38 winds its way through beautiful mountain scenery on its way to 8,443-foot Onyx Summit. Due to the high elevation, snow and ice are common during the winter and early spring, so proceed with caution. On the flip side, the thinner air makes this route a wonderful escape from broiling heat down in the valley during summer and early fall.
The Pacific Crest Trail passes just east of Onyx Summit, and beyond that high point, Route 38 begins a gradual descent with sweeping views of the desert valley to the northeast. As you begin to see residential areas, be mindful of posted speed limits. Route 38 takes an abrupt left as it becomes Big Bear Boulevard and heads west. After the intersection with Greenway Drive you’ll be on Route 18 (Route 38 turns off to the north) and travel through a heavily trafficked area. Some folks who work down in the valley live up in Big Bear, and it’s a popular weekend destination with many rustic cabins available to rent. There are plenty of options for gas, food, supplies and lodging.
Route 18 roughly follows the southern shore of Big Bear Lake, an expansive blue reservoir. (Route 38 runs along the northern shore and typically has less traffic.) After navigating your way through town and a tight, winding section of road through trees and big lakeside houses, you’ll see Bear Valley Dam. There’s a parking area where you can stop to check out the dam and snap photos of the lake.
From Bear Valley Dam to Lakeview Point, Route 18 hugs rugged cliffs and offers up a delightful — and at times challenging — series of curves. Beware of rockslide debris and fine gravel used for traction in the winter, and commuter and tourist traffic can add their own hazards. Lakeview Point (7,100 feet) is a scenic overlook with great views of the mountains and a peekaboo view of Big Bear Lake off in the distance.
What follows is a tight, technical section that will put your riding skills — and the limits of your cornering clearance — to the test. After passing through the community of Arrowbear Lake, you’ll come to the town of Running Springs. Pay attention to the road signs and stay on Route 18, which follows an off-ramp to the right. It’s easy to end up on Route 330, an absolute blast of a road that winds its way back down to the valley; it’s a fun down-and-back-up spur if you want to extend your ride.
West of Running Springs the route offers up some of the most scenic views on the entire byway, as Route 18 follows the spine of the mountains. There are many turnouts where you can enjoy the view, particularly Red Rock Scenic Overlook, but from the westbound lane be careful crossing the eastbound (valley side) of the road on blind corners.
As Route 18 starts to make its way down to the valley (another fun one), at Mount Anderson Junction you’ll turn onto Route 138 (another off-ramp to the right) toward Crestline. Roads are well marked, so if you’re paying attention or following the route on REVER, you’ll be fine. After winding your way through tall trees and densely clustered cabins, Route 138 becomes a rollercoaster of tight turns, hairpins, dips and rises. This is my favorite section of the entire route, but it’s also the most challenging.
As you come out of the forest, the road opens up as it approaches and rounds Silverwood Lake. No more hairpins, just big sweepers, a few rollers and some straights through sandy desert landscape. After crossing over I-15 and railroad tracks at Cajon Junction, you’ll see Mormon Rocks, a dramatic wind-eroded sandstone formation, rising up in the distance.
That’s the end of the scenic byway, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your fun. Right across from Mormon Rocks is Lone Pine Canyon Road, a lightly trafficked back road that goes to Wrightwood and Route 2, better known as Angeles Crest Highway, a legendary favorite ride.
Several times a year I ride north from my home in New York City to Saratoga Springs to visit family. Like any motorcyclist worth her salt, I’ve sussed out some truly glorious roads and turn what is normally a 350-mile roundtrip into a meandering 500-plus miles. Saratoga Springs and the surrounding area make for a great escape from the city, or a worthy destination in their own right. Options for entertainment run the gamut from arts and culture to gambling, outdoor adventures and gourmet dining — there’s something for every rider in your group.
The easiest way to get out of the city while still enjoying the ride is to take the Taconic State Parkway north. Long stretches of the roadway are in rough shape, and some of the worst patches are in big sweeping curves. Should you choose to roll on the throttle through those curves, I recommend good suspension and extra Vitamin I (ibuprofren). Or you can test your handling skills by navigating a slalom course between the potholes, like I do on my Triumph.
Allow me a moment to wax rhapsodic about my Street Triple. I used to ride a Bonneville, and while the beautiful Bonnie will always have a place in my heart, as a smaller, lighter rider, a sportier bike suits me better. The Street Triple is the very definition of “flickable,” and while my 2015 doesn’t have a ton of low-end torque, the smooth acceleration through the upper rev range makes getting there a pleasure. There is little that can compare to the distinctive pop-pop-pop of that throaty triple, mine made even rowdier with a Two Brothers slip-on exhaust.
Now, where was I? Right, potholes on the Taconic.
The 104-mile parkway took 40 years to build, from the mid 1920s until its completion in 1963. Parts of the road were designed by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his tenure as head of the Taconic State Park Commission, and we can thank him for insisting those sections follow the natural landscape instead of powering through in a straight line. Built in a simpler time, the Taconic has narrow lanes and minimal shoulders. Posted at 50 and then 55 mph, the nimble Street Triple is perfectly suited to slip through bottlenecks created by drivers white-knuckling along at 40 mph. Though a state parkway, it isn’t boring and has plenty of gentle curves, but do be on the lookout for accidents and state troopers.
The Taconic ends at the junction with Interstate 90, but a better choice is to take back roads up to Saratoga Springs through farm and horse country. The town is home to the Saratoga Race Course, one of the oldest horse tracks in the country, dating to 1863. The annual meet runs from mid-July to Labor Day, but there is harness racing year-round. Saratoga is famous for its mineral springs and bath houses, and there are plenty of excellent restaurants and vibrant nightlife to enjoy. Its extensive, elegant historical district showcases many pristine Victorian mansions.
To head south back to New York City, I start by cutting 30-odd miles west to Amsterdam on State Route 67. There are rolling fields of corn and that upstate staple, Stewart’s Shops, where you can stop for a quick coffee and a warm-up. Even midsummer mornings can be chilly this far north. Amsterdam’s story is like that of many upstate towns, especially those along the Erie Canal. Industry boomed and then died, and now these places are trying to reinvent themselves for the modern era. Some are faring better than others, but almost all of them retain a shadow of their former glory in architecture and design, which makes a trip through this area feel like a trip back in time.
Route 67 runs into Route 30 near the intersection of all the major arteries in the area, including the muscular Mohawk River. A primary tributary of the Hudson, the Mohawk looks serene in the summer but is prone to dangerous floods, particularly in spring when the snow melt comes roaring down. Take Route 30 over the river and over the Thruway, and then civilization quickly gives way to the lovely curves and hills of the Schoharie Valley.
You don’t have to enjoy the smell of cow barns but it won’t hurt if you do, as Route 30 runs through mile after mile of farmland. Every 20 miles or so you’ll slow down from 55 to 45 to 35, one small town after another like links on a chain. If you’re fussy about filling up with 93 octane you may have to wait a minute to find a station, but they do exist.
These little towns are a living history of the ups and downs of upstate New York. Some look a lot worse for the wear while others have managed to thrive, hanging baskets of petunias cheerily welcoming just as you see the 35 mph sign. But all the parts of Route 30 are rife with historical markers and sites, including several covered bridges. Drop a kickstand and look around.
The upper portion of Route 30 often mirrors the curves of Schoharie Creek, making for a meditative, hypnotic ride. The Schoharie turns east just outside of the ambitiously named Grand Gorge, south of which are the headwaters of the East Branch Delaware River. Here the road flirts along with the creek as it gradually builds in volume, both you and the waters being drawn south.
I recommend stopping for a break in Margaretville. Ice cream at the Bun n’ Cone is optional, but however you refresh, you’ll want to feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before you hit the next section of the road. Follow the signs to stay south on Route 30 and enjoy 30 miles of pure happiness as the road undulates along the Pepacton Reservoir. My favorites are the big sweeping horseshoe curves, the kind motorcyclists dream of — the ones that seem to go on forever and challenge even the most experienced riders to hold their line, creating that perfect harmony of rider and road and machine.
The road along the reservoir is in fair to very good condition, some stretches recently repaved. I’ve seen all manner of bikes on this road and can pretty much guarantee that whatever you ride, it’ll feel like it was made for the Pepacton. In addition to those glorious sweepers, there are lovely views of the reservoir and, as the western shore marks the Blue Line boundary of the Catskill Park, the surrounding forests are thickly green in the summer and a riot of color in the fall.
You may well be tempted to make the run down to Downsville and then back up to the top once or twice, and there’s no shame in pursuing that desire. It’s a gorgeous road and deserves to be enjoyed. When you’re about out of gas, or it’s dark, or you were supposed to be home three hours ago, I recommend heading east on Route 206, another pretty little road that pops you over a hill and down into the town of Roscoe, which has staked its claim as Trout Town, USA. There are several breweries and distilleries in the area, which makes a compelling case for booking a room and making Roscoe your home for the night.
Roscoe has several small-town attractions, including a railway museum and a bridge handy for watching fly fishers ply their trade. If I’ve hit Roscoe by 1 p.m. or so I usually take the long way home — Route 30 down to Deposit and Route 97 along the Delaware River to Port Jervis. If you’ve spent your day riding Pepacton over and over again, you can pick up Route 17 and deadhead it about 80 miles back to the city.
The next time you ride out to Pepacton, add Route 10 along the Cannonsville Reservoir to your itinerary. There’s little in the world like the feeling of taking one of those big sweepers, the road unspooling ahead and the bike humming beneath, your hand on the throttle and your eyes up toward the exit, chasing that white line rolling away before you, the exhausting thrill of knowing you have so many more excellent miles to go.
I see mountains! It’s Thursday, somewhere west of Anton, Colorado, and after four-and-a-half days and 1,600 miles, the snowcapped Rockies appear on the horizon. My riding buddy Jay and I left our home state of West Virginia on Sunday. Now midday, we see the jagged peaks we’ve been longing for. The Great Plains were beautiful and adventurous, but we’re anxious to ride into some elevation.
In Aurora, Jay makes the required pilgrimage to a Harley shop and buys yet another T-shirt while I get a long overdue full-face helmet. Then we climb up, up, up. West Virginia, known as the Mountain State, has great riding, but its mountains are mere hills compared to the Rockies. West of Denver significant climbing and a diversion onto U.S. Route 6 leads to 11,990-foot Loveland Pass on the Western Continental Divide. Beyond that the road winds through scenic towns like Dillon and Frisco until we stop for two nights in Edwards.
Our next two travel days are memorable! Riding through the high plains beyond Steamboat Springs, the spectacular views blew us away. We stopped for gas in Maybell, Colorado, and encountered three dual-sport riders on their fourth day off-road — and they sure looked it. Our lunch break was at the BedRock Depot in Dinosaur, where delicious sandwiches and milkshakes hit the spot. Then on into Utah, climbing up to 8,300 feet on U.S. Route 191, north of Vernal. In Wyoming the land became so dramatic through the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area that I could hardly keep my eyes on the road. When a cold, wet front was forecast and we could see clouds ahead, the flat broadly curved roads allowed for high-speed fun. We beat the storms, passed the 2,000-mile mark and ended the day’s ride in Rock Springs.
Winds were a brutal distraction at the start of the next day, leaning constantly into 30-mph gusts until the wind abated near Cokeville, Wyoming, but soon after lunch in Montpelier, Idaho, the rain started. We climbed into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and it began snowing hard, sticking to trees, bushes and my windshield, but fortunately not the road. We were cold, but it made for a memorable photo at Emigration Pass on Idaho Highway 36. Dropping below the snow line, we ended the day’s ride outside of Preston, Idaho, at the Riverdale Resort. It has geothermally heated outdoor pools where we simmered for an hour. Ahhh ….
Two nights and friend farewells later, we headed north through Soda Springs, where many of the roads are posted “Open Range.” Sure enough, we rounded a curve to find a herd of cattle blocking the road. We honked, and they genially ambled aside. Idaho Highway 34 followed Tincup Creek on its way to the Wyoming border, and we paralleled the Snake River on U.S. 89/191 through the Bridger-Teton National Forest, reminiscent of our own West Virginia roads. As the valley opened, we finally entered Jackson.
We continued north on U.S. 191 through the incomparable Grand Teton National Park and into Yellowstone National Park from the south. Twice we crossed the Continental Divide at 8,000-plus feet before descending into the Firehole River valley. We enjoyed lunch and a timely geyser eruption at Old Faithful Village before riding a long circle around the park. East of Yellowstone Lake we cursed in our helmets as traffic halted. Up ahead a bison plodded along in our lane. Awestruck and humbled, we eventually rolled past this massive creature.
We exited via Yellowstone’s east entrance on U.S. Route 14 and rode over 8,524-foot Sylvan Pass, and rolled downhill for 20 long, pleasurable miles. The surroundings turned from pine green to desert brown as we passed between huge sandstone sentinels along the Shoshone River. We reached Cody, a nice thriving western town. At dinner, Jay smiled and ordered Rocky Mountain oysters. About half a bite was all I could manage of fried bull’s balls.
Continuing east on U.S. 14, we crossed a broad valley and began to climb yet again. The view behind us became breathtaking, the temperature dropped to 45 degrees and we crossed the Bighorn Mountains via 9,033-foot Granite Pass. We picked up I-90 at Ranchester, but I foolishly ignored a gas stop. My engine sputtered to a stop and we had to siphon a quart from Jay’s tank. He’ll never let me live it down.
Devils Tower was impressive. No extraterrestrials, just busloads of photo-snapping tourists. Our destination was Keystone, South Dakota, 130 miles away. Signs for Spearfish, Deadwood and Sturgis flashed by, but it was getting dark and drizzling so we roared on. Finally, we reached our hotel. We rode 510 miles over 12 hours and our backsides were numb. What’s half of an Iron Butt — a Wood Butt? An Iron Cheek?
We visited Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is much larger than Rushmore and was the highlight of our visit to the Black Hills. Under construction since 1948, the only recognizable part is Crazy Horse’s face and it won’t be finished in my lifetime.
After 3,300 memorable miles, we became horses headed for the barn. Our tripmeters were just shy of 5,000 miles when we arrived back home in West Virginia four days later. My wife greeted me by asking, “So, where to next year?”
With international travel in 2020 looking less certain by the week (and possibly risky, not just health-wise but also with the possibility of becoming stranded or quarantined outside the U.S.), this might be a great time to explore this beautiful country.
While you could certainly peruse back issues of Rider (or do some research here on our website) in search of ride ideas throughout the country, you’ll still be on the hook for logistical planning, hotel reservations and knowing whether or not the gas station in that tiny desert town is still open…not to mention handling the “what-ifs” of mechanical issues or a crash. Or you could let a tour company handle all of it, leaving you free to enjoy the ride.
All the companies on this list run scheduled, guided motorcycle tours in the United States using rental motorcycles — either their own fleet or rented from a local source — but you should obviously check with them right off the bat to make sure they’re still running tours this year.
Most have a chase vehicle to carry your luggage and gear and to deal with mechanical issues that may occur en route. Some companies will allow you to ride your own bike, but check for any restrictions. The information here is provided by the companies, and not guaranteed by Rider.
Tours Include: Alaska/Yukon Adventure, Prudhoe Bay Excursion Accommodations: Upscale hotels Length of Tours: 9-13 days Rental Options: BMW GS models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: July-August Typical Cost: 9-day Prudhoe Bay Excursion starting at $5,950 including bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Motorcycle license and touring experience required; for off-road adventures, off-road experience or training required Tel: (877) 275-8238 or (972) 635-5210 Website:ayresadventures.com
Ayres Adventures prides itself in providing a premium tour experience, so if you want to ride Alaska this is a great way to do it. You’ll ride late-model BMWs equipped with chunky Continental TKC80 tires for the ultimate Alaska experience.
Bike Week Motorcycle Tours
Tours Include: All the major Bike Weeks, including Daytona, Laughlin, Myrtle Beach, Laconia, Hollister, Sturgis and Bikes, Blues & BBQ Accommodations: RVs, private homes and carefully selected hotels/motels Length of Tours: 12-14 days Rental Options: Late model Harley-Davidson and Indian models Equipment: Support vehicle with spare motorcycle Dates: March-October Typical Cost: $7,950, includes single room and motorcycle rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, min. one-year experience on heavyweight motorcycles Tel: (619) 746-1066 Website: bikeweekmotorcycletours.com
Get the ultimate Bike Week experience, as you travel some of America’s most scenic roads on your way to one of nine legendary Bike Weeks. Let the party begin!
Tours Include: Blue Ridge Parkway, California Dreaming, Route 66, Sturgis, DreamCatcher, The Mighty 6, Yellowstone Accommodations: Selected 3- and 4-star hotels Length of Tours: 11-13 days Rental Options: Harley-Davidson, select other makes/models Equipment: Support vehicle with spare motorcycle Dates: May-October Typical Cost: 13-day Route 66 tour starting at $8,972, single occupancy, includes rental motorcycle Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 Tel: (310) 359-2353 Website: california-sunriders.com
California Sunriders wants to show you the best of the west — plus some fun roads back east too. You’ll explore California, the Rockies, the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and, of course, the legendary Route 66.
Tours Include: Wild West I, II and III, Route 66, Triple B, Coast to Coast, Sturgis Bike Week, Florida Keys, Southwest Canyon Country Accommodations: Hotels & motels Length of Tours: 6-17 days Rental Options: Varies by tour; fleet includes BMW, Harley-Davidson and Indian cruisers, tourers and trikes Equipment: Support van with spare motorcycle Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: 15-day Route 66 tour starting at $7,179, single occupancy, includes rental motorcycle Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, experience riding a touring motorcycle at highway speeds Tel: (877) 557-3541 Website:eaglerider.com
Eaglerider is the largest and arguably most well-known motorcycle rental and tour company in the U.S. With 45 different domestic tours to choose from, you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes!
Edelweiss Bike Travel
Tours Include: Alaska-Yukon Adventure, American Dream, California Extreme Accommodations: Comfortable hotels and motels Length of Tours: 8-13 days Rental Options: Select BMW, Harley-Davidson and Suzuki models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: May-October Typical Cost: 7-day American Dream tour starting at $5,660 for a solo rider, including rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Age limits vary by tour; 5,000 miles riding experience required Tel: 011 43 5264 5690 Website:edelweissbike.com
Tour the warm and beautiful Southwest or the wilds of Alaska with Edelweiss Bike Travel. Edelweiss has been operating guided motorcycle tours since 1980, and now offers 2,350 tours in 180 destinations worldwide.
Tour: North America Accommodations: 3- to 4-star hotels Length of Tour: 34 days Rental Option: Triumph Tiger 800 Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: July 23-August 27, 2020 Cost: $20,531 for a solo rider, double occupancy, including Tiger 800 rental bike Age/Experience Requirements:No age requirement, recommended for experienced riders only, comfortable riding on unpaved/gravel roads Tel: 011 44 (0)3452 30 40 15 Website:globebusters.com
This is an ultimate motorcycle tour of North America, showing you some of the very best riding from Anchorage, Alaska, north to Prudhoe Bay and then south all the way to the Mexican border.
Great American Touring
Tours Include: Pacific Coast North and South, Sturgis Bike Week, Canadian Rockies, Best of the West Accommodations: Hotels Length of Tours: 7-14 riding days Rental Options: Harley-Davidson, select other makes/models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: July-Sept Typical Cost: 14-day Best of the West starting at $8,995, solo occupancy, includes rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 to rent motorcycle, no limit for own bike Tel: (800) 727-3390 Website: greatamericantouring.com
How does Great American stand out? When it says “eight day tour,” that’s eight riding days. Other companies’ eight-day tours may be only six, or even just five riding days. It makes a difference.
Tours Include: Best of California, California, Miami & Deep South and Route 66 Accommodations: Minimum 4-star hotels Length of Tours: 9-16 days Rental Options: BMW models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: July-Sept Typical Cost: 14-day Best of California starting at $6,995, single occupancy, includes rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 25, at least three years’ riding experience Tel: 011 351 210 413 334 Website: hertzride.com
Car rental giant Hertz has entered the motorcycle tour market, and it offers four guided tours in the U.S. Hop onto one of its late-model BMWs and take a ride in California, along Route 66 or through the Southeast.
Leod Motorcycle Escapes
Tours Include: High Sierra Escape, California Curves to Laguna Seca, California Curvin’ Accommodations: 3- to 4-star hotels with a local flavor Length of Tours: 3-9 days Rental Options: Selected BMW and Ducati models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: June-Oct Typical Cost: 9-day California Curves to Laguna Seca starting at $6,900, includes rental bike and two days’ track instruction at Laguna Seca with California Superbike School Age/Experience Requirements: Intermediate riding level for track time tours Tel: (866) 562-6126 Website: leodescapes.com
Although Leod Escapes offers guided and self-guided sport-touring rides out of its San Francisco headquarters, it specializes in combining a tour with track time on some of the most famous tracks worldwide — including legendary Laguna Seca in California.
Tours Include: Heart of Colorado ADV, Moab Adventure Training, Heart of Idaho ADV Accommodations: Quality accommodations Length of Tours: 7-9 days Rental Options: Select BMW, KTM and Suzuki ADV and dual-sport bikes Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: June-September Typical Cost: 8-day Heart of Colorado ADV tour starting at $4,895 including rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Off-road riding experience required; training is available and included in some tours Tel: (800) 233-0564 Website:motodiscovery.com
If you’re looking for adventure, this is the place. MotoDiscovery will lead you on bucket list rides to some beautiful and remote locations that can only be accessed via unpaved roads and trails. Off-road rider training is included in some tours.
Tours Include: Wonders of the West, American Southwest, Pacific Coast Highway, North to Alaska, Trail of Lewis and Clark, Alaska Women’s Tour Accommodations: Lodges, hotels Length of Tours: 4-13 days Rental Options: BMW, Suzuki V-Strom 650, Harley-Davidson, Honda Africa Twin Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: 12-day Trail of Lewis and Clark tour starting at $6,450, includes Suzuki V-Strom 650 Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 Tel: (800) 756-1990 or (907) 272-2777 or (562) 997-7368 Website:motoquest.com
MotoQuest offers a number of tours of the last frontier, Alaska, during its short riding season. At other times of the year, tours are offered in the American West and Southwest, including Baja, out of its San Francisco, Portland and Long Beach locations.
Northeastern Motorcycle Tours
Tours: New England Fall Foliage, Gaspe Maritime Extended Accommodations: Inns, hotels and resorts Length of Tours: 6-12 days Rental Options: Various models available from local rental agencies Equipment: None Dates: August-October Typical Cost: 6-day New England Fall Foliage tour starting at $2,395, excluding bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 18, touring experience recommended Tel: (802) 463-9853 Website:motorcycletours.com
Northeastern Motorcycle Tours is a small company that specializes in an extraordinarily beautiful and varied region of North America. The routes, hotels and dining used on the tours are regularly researched to always meet very high standards.
Pashnit Motorcycle Tours
Tours: El Dorado, Delta Bodega, Parkfield, Mosquito Ridge, Coast Range, North Pass, Mile High Xtravaganza, Santa Barbara Accommodations: Hotels, motels Length of Tours: 3-4 days Rental Options: Various models available from local rental agencies Equipment: None Dates: March-October Typical Cost: Most 3-day tours cost $425, excludes motorcycle rental, food, gas, accommodations and incidentals Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, at least 5 years of riding experience is recommended Tel: (530) 391-1356 Website: pashnittours.com
Pashnit Motorcycle Tours (“pashnit” = passionate, get it?) started out as a “best roads” list and now offers a full menu of California-based tours, many of which are held on long weekends.
Tours Include: Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain Adventure Ride, Mid-Winter Adventure, California Adventure, Best of the West Accommodations: Hotels and camping Length of Tours: 5-10 days Rental Options: BMW GS models Equipment: Support vehicle, chuck wagon on camping tours Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: 5-day Mid-Winter Adventure tour starts at $3,495 including rental bike Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, off-road riding experience required for ADV tours (training is available) Tel: (661) 993-9942 Website:rawhyde-offroad.com
RawHyde Adventures is an official BMW off-road training center, and its tours offer you the chance to hit the dirt and see some of the most remote and beautiful parts of America. On-road tours, such as California Adventure, are also available.
Ride Free Motorcycle Tours
Tours Include: Route 66, Sturgis-Chicago to Las Vegas, Northern California, Wild West, American History Washington DC Battlefields, California Wine, Blue Ridge Parkway, American Music Accommodations: Hotels and motels with local flair Length of Tours: 4-14 days Rental Options: Harley-Davidson models Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: Extremely flexible pricing and tour duration; example: 13-day American Music tour $6,789 including bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, competent rider Tel: (310) 978-9558 Website: ridefree.com
Classic routes with classy motorcycles (and classic cars) is what Ride Free specializes in. Based in Los Angeles, the company offers tours throughout the country.
Tours Include: Route 66 Dream, Florida Sunshine, Wild West, Highway 1, Bluegrass Wonders and Pony Express Accommodations: Midrange and top-class hotels Length of Tours: 6-15 days Rental Options: BMW, Harley-Davidson Equipment: Support vehicle Dates: Year-round Typical Cost: 11-day Bluegrass Wonders tour starts at $4,795, double occupancy, including bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 Tel: (414) 455-4384 Website: reuthers.com
Reuthers is a worldwide entertainment, travel and leisure company with headquarters in Germany and a U.S. office in Milwaukee. With its touring expertise you’re guaranteed to be well cared for.
Twisted Trailz Motorcycle Tours
Tours Include: Cowboy Country, Grand Canyon & Red Rocks, Unique Utah, Canyons & National Parks, Awesome Arizona, Monuments & Million $ Highways Accommodations: Unique or historical hotels and lodges Length of Tours: 3-7 days Rental Options: Harley-Davidson Equipment: Support vehicle on tours 5 days and more Dates: February-November Typical Cost: 7-day Monuments & Million $ Highways tour starts at $4,395 including bike rental Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 25, experience riding heavyweight motorcycles Tel: (602) 795-8888 Website:twistedtrailz.com
All of Twisted Trailz’s motorcycle tours are planned and structured with the rider in mind. It encourages participants to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Southwest on one of its once-in-a-lifetime tours.
I love the Ozarks. I really should have been born in them. Instead, after riding in the Ozarks 15 years ago, I fell so much in love that I moved here. To this day I ride through northwest Arkansas on roads carved rudely through the landscape. Table rocks, great sheets of stone laying one atop the other for hundreds of miles, circulate ground water in subterranean rivers and rivulets cascade over and out of the dynamite-exposed roadside cliffs to become known as “Roche a Cri” — Rocks that Cry. In winter’s depth the fluid turns to ice, making faerie castles out of ordinary highway construction just for our enjoyment.
If Walt Disney had made a theme park for motorcyclists he’d have called it Arkansas. The state is six separate chunks of paradise: the Northwest, North Central, Upper Delta, Southwest, Central and Lower Delta. Each has its own magic. We chose to make our home near the Northwest, with the most fabled motorcycle roads and, now, an array of attractions that bring international visitors to what remains otherwise a largely uncluttered, rural thrill ride for us brothers and sisters of the wind.
As fall began coloring the woods and the air turned crisp as apple cider, my good wife Max and I decided to fly our new Can-Am Spyder F3 Limited on a circle tour of just the northwest quarter.
The big thrill to riding the Ozarks is that roads here are rollercoasters. The lines go ’round and ’round across mountain ridges and valleys called “hollers.” On two wheels you lean and lean. On three, you hear shouts and squeals of laughter from the back seat.
We started from home on Missouri Route 13 south, running in loop-dee-loops around Table Rock Lake through green hills spotted with small towns, and across the lake on Route 86 into Arkansas, down Arkansas Highway 221 and the fairytale village of Berryville. Charged up on sunshine, cerulean skies and twists and turns we rumbled into the town square, the kind you remember from old movies and stories told at Thanksgiving, if you listened.
We never eat at franchise burger joints. On the square in the Norman Rockwell painting called Berryville, we found a café on the corner right out of idyllic Main Street. Lunch was more than tasty, it was fun. “Arkies” are the friendliest folks around, and always helpful and interested in motorcyclists. Summer Newberry, owner of the Hometown Scoop, made us welcome with a panini, hot berry cobbler and coffee. And she straightened us out on the best way to our destination for the night, over the mountain pass on twisty two-lane U.S. Route 62 to the first of our international hotspots, the enchanted village of Eureka Springs. On the ride over, while grinning at sweepers and a twisty or two, we waved at bison herds and riders coming the other way.
Eureka Springs drops you back in time, as the Victorian houses, hotels, restaurants and dozens of quaint shops appear just as they did in the 1890s, when the healing waters of the 60 springs drew the wealthy in for relief from the debauchery of their rich diets and drinking. Streets go up, down and around the rocky hillsides into which they are chiseled. Half the fun is just trying to figure out in which direction the sun will set, along with finding a place to park your ride.
Stay in one of the old world hotels here, rich in flavor as a steaming mug of early morning coffee…with a slug of brandy. We chose the New Orleans Hotel with a Creole-feeling suite on the ground floor that dropped off in the back three stories from the rear terrace to the parking lot. Be careful where you walk! The Crescent Hotel, way up on the top tier of the village, dates from 1886. Known as “America’s Most Haunted Hotel,” it’s worth your time to take the nightly Ghost Tour.
Morning light incarnadines the forest spanning both sides of U.S. 62, curling with delight along the ridge, swooping with more laughs from the backseat down and around happy twisties across our old friend Table Rock Lake, up to Pea Ridge National Military Park, the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, through Little Flock (not to be confused with Rock) and into the next international draw, Bentonville.
You’re in Walmart land! On the perfect town square you might see Jimmy Stewart dashing home in Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Here is the original five-and-dime store started by Sam Walton in May 1950. Twelve years later Walmart opened in nearby Rogers, and the revolution in commerce was on. The biggest retailer in the world began right here. A million or so visitors each year find out more at the Walmart Museum next door, and Walton’s daughter Alice left for us an amazing gift in Bentonville, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is a magnet for art lovers, and it’s free.
Heading south we passed neighboring Fayetteville, famed for its annual weekend fall festival, Bikes, Blues & BBQ. If you’re into crowds this is the South’s Sturgis. Last year more than 315,000 revelers rode into this self-described “family friendly” rally.
Four-lane Interstate 49 runs down to our next destination for the night, Fort Smith. Take that if you must, but we chose the rural two lanes. Highway 265 winds past Hogeye and Strickler (don’t blink) through pristine trees with so little traffic it feels like they paved it just for us. Join Highway 170 into a unique, unfettered virgin forest and Devil’s Den State Park. Arbor tunnels of green and gold have those yellow diamond shaped signs with curved arrows reading 15 mph. If you’re on a café racer or have done the Isle of Man — be wary. Anything else…go slow! “Arkie” highway engineers follow old Indian paths and hard rock ridges. One switchback warned, “10 mph.” A downhill giant paperclip twist, it made me stop dead in the middle and laugh!
Devil’s Den, like all state parks, is a refuge from the grind of city life. Deep in the forest, campgrounds and rental cabins are clean and close to the park store where rangers are friendly and eager to help. A river runs through and there is swimming and fishing. We plan to return here for a week in the spring.
Take Highway 220 out of the park and enjoy the dipsy-doodle ride in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest past hamlets called Lee Creek, Cedarville and Figure Five, and then merge onto Highway 59 through Van Buren across the Arkansas River to rest for the night in Fort Smith. You’ll need a good night’s sleep.
Our last “international interest” spot for the northwest, Fort Smith is history buff candy. The National Park Service maintains the site of the fort where the Poteau River joins the Arkansas. It traces three episodes of our expansion, the details of which are all on display at no cost in the barracks visitor center, the commissary, gallows, Trail of Tears overlook and more. Check out #fortsmitharkansas and prepare to spend a day where the “New South meets the Old West.”
Eastward on Highway 22, the bottom line of our circle traces the course of the Arkansas River across flatter land for farms and livestock ranches. From Highway 22 we took Highway 109 at Midway straight north across the big river again to Clarksville and the start of the best ride of our lives. Scenic Highway 7 gets a lot of press for thrill-seeking riders.
This time we chose Highway 21 through the national forest. This is a heart-starter through Johnson and Newton counties, rivaling curve for curve its Carolina cousin, the Tail of the Dragon. I mentioned rollercoasters — this is the longest one I’ve seen!
Cross the headwaters of the Buffalo River and stop at Boxley. The 16-mile-long grassy valley is home to the protected herd of elk found lolling about in tall grass and a river so clean you want to drink it. The Elk Education Center up the road in Ponca will surprise you with animal tales and directions to viewing areas. There’s a café for needed refreshments, too.
We picked a new place to spend our last night on the road, following the buffalo along Highway 74 to Jasper. “Wowser” is the word for the first couple of miles of heavy forest and sidewinder switchbacks and twisties. Sport riders will drag knees here and make scraping noises and sparks. Max and I enjoyed the view on three wheels at a slower, yet fun clip. In Jasper we found scenic Highway 7 again and turned briefly five miles south and uphill all the way, sensing something wonderful off to the left.
Our stopover is a grandiose but cozy B&B called the Overlook. The “over” which it looks, is the stunning Arkansas Grand Canyon. Somebody said, “The Ozark Mountains are not so high but the valleys are so deep.” Here you can experience the full impact of that. Magnificent vistas from the deck of our room warm hearts and soften souls. On our way to dinner that evening we met two couples on Harleys — they too were “overlooking” the canyon. They’d ridden in snow from home in Minnesota and came down to ride just a little longer this year.
Next morning our odyssey ride took us back up Highway 7 with a final jolt of adrenaline and joy into Harrison and up U.S. Route 65 through Branson and Springfield to our own Ozark home. These hills and hollers with well-paved inspiring blacktop roads can only be dreamt about in the big city. The Ozarks are a wondrous mystery to be lived.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.