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.
“The wheat field has…poetry,” Vincent Van Gogh once said. The muse the master painter found in wheat inspired dozens of his works. By the end of my recent tour through thousands of acres of the waving grain, I could see the wisdom of the one-eared post-impressionist.
I was the outsider, so I happily left the route planning to the native Washingtonians. My wife’s brother-in-law, Scott, and his brother-in-law, Dennis, discussed the riding merits of different roads leading to, and within, the Palouse region of eastern Washington. You’d think that any activity that begins with two mentions of “in-laws” could be destined for disaster. Not so in this case.
We enjoyed a great meal at Cow Creek Mercantile in the historic farming center of Ritzville. For what it’s worth, I enthusiastically recommend the delectable Kraut Runza. It’s a dish certainly inspired by the area’s heavy Volga German influence. We mounted up and headed northeast on our mixed bag of bikes. Dennis was piloting his red Victory, Scott was on his vintage Honda Gold Wing and I was riding a Shadow that was way out of my adventure bike comfort zone.
I settled into the low, feet-forward riding position as we rolled past the vibrant patchwork of wheat fields that are ubiquitous in the rolling hills of eastern Washington. There is a clear visual distinction between the vibrant, dense greens of the irrigated fields and the muted hues of the “dry” farms. Much of the region looks like a huge, non-geometrical, undulating checkerboard.
Our first stop on this Pacific Northwest adventure was the quaint farming town of Sprague. I flagged the others down when I spotted a cluster of vintage trucks and farm vehicles on the leading edge of town. With the kickstands down, we discussed the history of the place, and Scott informed me that there was an even more intriguing display of classic trucks on the other side of town. After a ride down Sprague’s brick building-lined 1st Street, his assessment proved true. I spent an inordinate amount of time amidst the patina-rich trucks strolling in a fascinating time warp.
Back on the road, we headed southeast on State Route 23 deeper into the Palouse. The predominate theory of the region’s name is that it is derived from the name of a Native American tribe, the Palus, which was morphed by French traders with their word “pelouse,” meaning an expanse of land covered in thick grass. When riding the region, the French word certainly fits. We motored through gentle rolling hills and sweeping corners. The vivid blue sky cut a sharp demarcation above the green hues of the wheat fields and grasslands.
At the small farming town of Ewan, we again headed northeast. We stopped at Rock Lake, which to me simply looked like a prime fishing hotspot. However, my local riding companions said there was much more to this deep-blue body of water. It seems that Rock Lake is as mysterious as it is beautiful. There are legends of a sea monster in the cold depths of the lake that some local farmers swear is true. Then there is the story of a train wreck that dumped a load of brand new Model T Fords in Rock Lake a century ago. One thing is verified: the deep, cold lake seems to have a voracious appetite for careless anglers, as many have submerged never to return to the surface.
After several more miles of great riding through rolling wheat fields, we next stopped at a very cool farm equipment shop that had two huge tractors on sky-high poles. As we were discussing the next leg of the route, the owner (and engineer of the elevated sculptures) came out to the road to see if we needed help, and gave us directions on how to get to the centerpiece of our ride, Steptoe Butte. As he wiped the axle grease from his hands, he suggested a “winding” northern route that would add time, but also a new and different ecosystem including forests of evergreens. He had me at winding.
We climbed out of the farm and grasslands into the pines south of Spokane. The air was cooler, and the curves more serpentine. This forested stretch was not long, but it added another layer to a great ride. We took a turn to the southeast onto the Palouse Scenic Byway. Historic barns dotted the vibrant green grasslands that comingled with the muted hues of the wheat fields. On a couple of occasions, we had to pull over to make way for massive farm machinery navigating the narrow country roads, but other than that, the route was virtually devoid of four-wheeled traffic.
Later, from the saddle of his Gold Wing, Scott pointed out a swell in the rolling land that was larger than the rest. I concluded that it must be Steptoe Butte in the distance. As we rolled closer, the butte grew subtly in size, but it was not, I thought in the moment, as impressive as I anticipated. That would change as we started the ascent up its narrow road. The majesty of Steptoe Butte State Park comes on slowly and then grows exponentially with altitude.
Once on top of Steptoe, the views were staggering. That patchwork of greens and browns that we had ridden through were on expansive display in a full 360 degrees. Short walks across the summit parking lot afforded long perspectives in every direction. I was told that the view from the butte’s elevated position is about 200 miles. We were lucky enough to be there on a day with blue skies and bulbous clouds, which only added to the natural ambiance.
Steptoe Butte has a fascinating history. At the 3,612-foot summit, the State Park Service has erected some informative interpretative panels with some of the notable ecological and human influences on the area. The first primitive road up Steptoe was cut in 1888. That same year, James “Cashup” Davis completed a two-story, 50-room hotel at the top. Davis died in his hotel in 1896 at the age of 81. The hotel, which suffered a decline in visitors over the years, closed its doors forever in 1902 and burned in an accidental fire in 1911.
After taking in the views from Steptoe, we descended the narrow road back to the floor of the park, and then back onto the scenic byway. The entertaining curviness and undulation of the tarmac continued until we reached our next stop. We rolled into Colfax, which serves as the seat of Whitman County. Again historic brick buildings lined the long Main Street of the town.
We stopped at Eddy’s Chinese and American for some sustenance and to recount the ride to that point. My body was starting to feel the effects of the strange-to-me cruiser seating position, and the constant blast of wind on the unfaired Honda. The sweet and sour pork was tasty, and the conversation was lively as we shared the restaurant with farmers and locals.
With bellies full, we headed west toward our staging point of Ritzville. There were several more tiny farming communities dotting the return ride. We rolled through Endicott, Benge and Ralston. It is interesting to note that no matter how compact the communities in this region, each one has a massive grain silo as a centerpiece. Most also seem to have at least some display of historic farming machinery to pay tribute the region’s lifeblood. Wheat dominates the landscape, the lifestyle and the economy of most of eastern Washington.
My amiable and knowledgeable local guides had certainly traced a wonderful circuit through a fascinating part of the country. The region is unique in its expanse, its importance to the world food supply and its beauty. The natural contours of the Palouse are dressed in a coat of many colors, and the ribbons of tarmac that traverse those contours are a motorcycling playground. I will remember fondly the wide-open beauty of the Palouse. The wheat field certainly does have poetry.
As I leaned into the corner, a stopped garbage truck appeared just ahead, hugging the stone wall on the right closely enough that I could just squeak by. Doing so revealed the gorgeous sight of a rock-laced, turbulent waterfall directly in front of me. These exciting moments were in the Cullasaja River Gorge of North Carolina’s State Highway 28, parts of it nicknamed “Moonshiner 28” due to its rich history of use by speeding moonshiners evading the revenuers. Everyone has heard of the Tail of the Dragon section of U.S. Route 129 in Tennessee and North Carolina — Moonshiner 28 begins at its southern end and is an even better ride in many ways.
I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary riding this portion of Moonshiner 28 after two days of enjoying nothing but amazing riding from where I started in Cherokee, North Carolina. But what had begun as a raw, misty autumn ride soon developed into an unforgettable fall-color riding spectacle.
In Cherokee, I camped in a KOA cabin along the Raven Fork River for two days of fishing. The cabin was a luxurious tent, tailormade for a motorcycle journey. Besides fishing, Cherokee has amenities and attractions like the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, a casino, lodging, eateries, a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I left the Cherokee campground on a misty, rainy morning, bypassing the elk refuge at the national park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center and heading north on U.S. Route 441 into the park. It was cold and raw this November day, and the mist limited my vision. Taking the turnoff up to Clingmans Dome, all I could see were the clouds hanging in the valleys — the “smoke” in the Smokies.
I left Clingmans Dome Road, got back on U.S. 441 and headed for Townsend, Tennessee, to check out the Little River fishing potential. At Sugarlands Visitor Center I headed west on Fighting Creek Gap Road, becoming Little River Gorge Road. It merges with U.S. Route 321 in Townsend. Normally a great ride, on this day it was overwhelmed with park traffic, and I rode attentively.
Chilled and needing hot food and coffee, I pulled into a roadhouse in Townsend and wolfed down a medium-rare strip with eggs, home fries and coffee. Full and warm I headed off on U.S. 321 to the Foothills Parkway. The sun came out, allowing me to absorb Mother Nature’s continuous visual treats. The colors along the parkway were overwhelmingly beautiful.
Suddenly I was at the beginning of the Tail of the Dragon section of U.S. 129 in Tennessee. I had ridden it from the North Carolina side, but not the other direction. Sports cars and screaming sportbikes ply the road’s endless curves, so you must pay constant attention. Dragon riding is about turns, leaning, weight change, rhythm and smiling through 318 curves in 11 miles. Having conquered the Dragon, now a legend in my own mind, I pulled into Ron and Nancy Johnson’s Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, a mandatory stop at the southern end.
Moonshiner 28 starts here. As I leaned and twisted down the Moonshiner I imagined Robert Mitchum’s 1950 Ford two-door sedan (actually a modified 1951 model) from “Thunder Road” screeching around the corners and hauling the moonshine to market. Riding along Cheoah Lake to Fontana Dam is quite fun, a simply enjoyable, sparkling and twisting lake road. I reached the dam and rode across it, stopping for pictures and picking up great riding maps at the visitor center.
Moonshiner 28 from Fontana to Franklin is not a make-time route; it is a rider’s enjoy-the-feeling route. Arriving in Franklin at dusk, I pulled up to the Microtel Inn & Suites, looking forward to a relaxing cocktail and a good night’s sleep. But I had forgotten that I was in the Bible Belt — finding that “moonshine” was a chore.
The next morning it was onto Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. I have come to love this 9-mile section of U.S. Route 64/State Route 28, but that morning was special. With the trees in full fall color and the cascading Cullasaja River Gorge on my right, it grabbed my soul. I enjoyed sunny, prime fall riding conditions on this scenic, twisty, color-laden river road. The Gorge is a part of the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina, and on this part of the Moonshiner 28 the Cullasaja River tears down the gorge interrupted by cascading, tumbling waterfalls like Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls and, of course, Cullasaja Falls. Dry and Bridal Veil Falls have large enough pull-offs for multiple bikes. Dry Falls is particularly unique with a falls walkway and restrooms.
At Highlands, I continued down Moonshiner 28, crossing into Georgia and then South Carolina. No wonder moonshiners liked this road. You could quickly hit multiple state population centers!
Turning around, I headed for my destination, my brother’s house outside Spartanburg, South Carolina. I wasn’t about to pass up a continuing ride through the Smokies for Interstate 85. I got back to Highlands, picked up U.S. 64 east toward Brevard, U.S. Route 276, Pisgah Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway. At U.S. 276 I figured seeing my brother was more important than the Blue Ridge. It would have to wait until spring.
As a senior rider, my bike rides mean freedom, being alone with my thoughts, rugged country and having a big grin on my face. A favorite ride has to have raw beauty, scenic rivers, intriguing history, meandering roads and mountains. It has to be all that to keep me coming back. This ride is a great journey; I appreciate being alive when I am here. I wish you the same in riding Moonshiner 28.
I stand over the open side case of my BMW R 1200 GS outside the Black’s Smuggler Winery in Bosque, New Mexico. I carefully wrap the bottle of local cabernet in a t-shirt and pack it in the middle of my left side box. It has become a tradition to bring my wife a bottle of the regional wine from any state I visit without her. If that means packing a little lighter for the ride, so be it. This is early in my trek through west-central New Mexico, so the bottle of red will be my traveling companion for several hundred beautiful miles.
I head south through the arid Southwestern landscape, cutting through a portion of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. This terrain lives up to the common perception of New Mexico. However, I know that my ride will encompass much more than desert — on a map my 400 miles will trace a big letter C through the diversity that is central New Mexico.
The first real town on my route is Socorro. The historic city sits in the Rio Grande Valley and is the seat of Socorro County. There is copious history in this region, much of it tied to the strong Mexican influence. The name translates “to give aid or to give succor,” which is a reflection of the town’s early history of importance to the earliest of Mexican immigrants, including the 1598 expedition led by Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar.
The sun is low in the sky as I roll west out of Socorro on U.S. Route 60. The road is just a bit curvier, the grass is greener and mountains emerge in the horizon. Just after I ride through tiny Magdalena, juniper trees and other low evergreens dot the landscape. The Tres Montosas peaks rise out of the high chaparral landscape to my right.
Just as I am getting used to the treed horizon, the evergreens subside and something otherworldly replaces them. Huge, white bowls stand like strange, metallic mushrooms on the expansive Plains of San Agustin. I am rolling into the Very Large Array, a world-renowned astronomical radio observatory. Each movable antenna is 25 meters in diameter. The observatory, which dates back to the early 1970s, has made key observations of black holes, pulsars and other intergalactic intrigues. The white bowls are so spread out as to be on the horizon for several miles of my ride.
Once clear of the VLA, I ride up in elevation and vegetation to my stop for the night. Datil is a tiny town sitting at an elevation of 7,400 feet. I walk into the small general store that also serves as the check-in desk for the Eagle Guest Ranch. I am told by the amiable man handing me the room key that the guest ranch serves as the annual encampment for a big Moto Guzzi rally. I shed my gear in my room before heading to the guest ranch’s restaurant, which has the reputation as one of the best steak houses in New Mexico. Not having enough appetite for one of their large, fresh-cut slabs of meat, I opt for what turns out to be a delectable steak sandwich and a cold dark lager.
The morning air is cool as I roll out of Datil to the west. This stretch of U.S. 60 is lined with a mix of juniper and pine trees and the elevation brings a nice green hue that sits in subtle contrast to the desert and chaparral terrains of the prior day’s ride. Long, sweeping turns are a great warm-up to what will prove to be a supremely entertaining riding day.
Signs indicate I am approaching the aptly named Pie Town. I ride into what is basically a two pie-shop town that has garnered national attention for its quirkiness and mouth-watering baked treats. It has even been featured on CBS’s “Sunday Morning.” It is too early for pie, and I am not much of a sweets guy anyway, but I have to stop and visit the famous bakeries. Fun stuff.
With the aroma of crust and filling still clinging to my riding gear, I head farther west on U.S. 60. Again, the trees subside into high grasslands as I make my way to Quemado. Another tiny, inhabited dot on the map, Quemado features a small hotel, a few restaurants, a school and the Sacred Heart Catholic Church with its twin bells and historic cemetery. The quaint hamlet spells the end of my jaunt on U.S. 60.
I have been looking forward to the ride on State Route 32 since the employee at the Eagle Guest Ranch told me that it was the favorite stretch for the riders attending the Guzzi rally each year. Heading south out of Quemado, the road begins with sweeping turns and expansive views of the New Mexican grasslands. However, in just a few short miles, I climb into a beautiful pine forest. The trees grow larger with the climb in elevation that also brings the most winding and entertaining tarmac of the ride so far.
The beautiful road tops out at Jewett Gap, which sits at an elevation of more than 8,200 feet. After that crest, I start my curvy descent through rock canyons and then beside Apache Creek as I head farther south on my C-shaped New Mexican tour. I think back to the muted browns of the start of the ride as I take in the vibrant greens of this mountain region.
I ride into the small, bustling logging and ranching town of Reserve. I gas up and have a chat with the counter worker who is intrigued by the big GS at the pump. After telling him that I am heading south to Silver City, he tells me that I should take the short ride west past Luna where there is a great view of the entire valley. Of course I’m up for that, and I head west. The ride to Luna is fun, and the end game, that overlook, is all that the gas station attendant said it would be.
After retracing my ride to the east, I turn south on U.S. Route 180, which will be my route through the Gila National Forest all the way to Silver City. After dropping out of the forest, I come upon the Aldo Leopold Vista Picnic Area. Leopold has long been one of my favorite nature writers and his book, “A Sand County Almanac,” holds a special place in my heart and in my bookcase back home. The views from the vista are massive and their unspoiled nature would make Leopold proud. After a quiet visit to the vista, I am back on the road. As I roll though a beautiful mix of environments, I can’t help but think of some of my favorite Leopold quotes. The most fitting for this ride may be, “Wilderness is the one kind of playground which mankind cannot build to order.” Well said, Aldo.
The remaining 40 miles to Silver City winds through grasslands, rocky outcroppings and ranches as I trace the bottom curve of the big letter C. I roll into Silver City under the arching welcoming sign to the city’s downtown. In comparison to the tiny towns I have ridden through on this trip, Silver City seems like a metropolis. OK, that’s an overstatement, but the town of more than 10,000 residents is active and vibrant. Silver City is home to Western New Mexico University and, like most college towns, there is an added youthful vigor. That energy permeates the town’s historic ambiance and Southwestern flair to create a delightful cultural mix. There are even stately Victorian homes in the historic district.
I realize that it has been a huge faux pas that I have not had a Mexican meal on my tour of New Mexico. I pull in front of the Jalisco Café to remedy that oversight. I take in the colorful Mexican-themed décor as I wait in ever heightening anticipation for my chili relleno. It did not disappoint.
It is with a full stomach that I head out on the final stage to complete the bottom, eastward arc of my big letter C tour of New Mexico. I roll onto State Route 152, and soon realize that I have saved some of the best riding of the trip for last. I carve my way on the narrow and winding road through rocky passes, and juniper and oak thickets before dropping down back into grasslands and big views.
As I end my tour where the winding road meets Interstate 25, I think about the nature of motorcycling. If I had ridden from my start in Bosque to where I am sitting at the Caballo Reservoir on the interstate, it would have been a short, direct, boring two-hour ride. But, in making that speedy letter I into an indirect letter C, I have done what motorcyclists have relished since the dawn of the sport — explore off the beaten path. What could be done on a superslab in two hours took me two days, and that’s just the way I like it. I’ll tell my wife about it when I deliver the well-traveled bottle of New Mexico cabernet.
The mission was simple: See some scenery, carve some curves and soak up some cool temperatures before the summer heat arrived.
Three of us left our homes in different corners of Los Angeles, California; I was on a KTM 1090 Adventure R, my brother was riding my BMW R 1200 GS and our friend was on a Honda ST1300, and we met at the Halfway House café, a popular stop for weekend riders. After a hearty breakfast — of the kind none of us ever eats on a non-riding day — we headed northeast through a string of sweet winding roads. Traversing Vasquez Canyon, Bouquet Canyon, Spunky Canyon and San Francisquito Canyon, we made our way through Lake Elizabeth and headed down into the wide Antelope Valley.
The cool morning air rose to warming levels by the time we’d run the long straight roads that climb past Willow Springs, through a forest of wind turbines to the town of Tehachapi, where we gassed up and hydrated. Then, it was down wiggling Woodford-Tehachapi Road — pausing to admire the famed Tehachapi Loop, a railroad engineering wonder that curly-cues a length of track around itself, and the César E. Chávez National Monument, a library, museum and memorial of the California farm unionizer.
I’d been impressed by the roadworthiness of the 1090 Adventure R. My impressions improved as we began the tight twists of Caliente Bodfish Road, a narrow two-lane series of sharp curves that brought out the beast in it. Mindful of the livestock roaming along the unfenced sides of the road, and not wanting to dust my riding partners, I modulated the throttle as we rose up and over the crest and proceeded north toward Lake Isabella.
Wildflowers carpeted the flat fields of Walker Basin, where we paused to take beauty shots of the bikes and complain about the rising heat. Knowing we had a lot of miles left to cover, and certain it was going to get warmer before it got cooler, we dashed down the mountain, past Lake Isabella, to air conditioning, cold drinks and lunch in Kernville at Cheryl’s Diner.
Revived, we scooted out of Kernville, running north along the banks of the Kern River up Mountain Highway 99, watching the trees change from willow and sycamore to oak and finally pine. This higher-speed road carves up an increasingly narrow ravine, the rock walls closing in as the corners tighten. Riding past the turnoff for Sherman Pass, we skirted Johnsondale, left 99 for the seasonally closed M-90, and summitted at 7,300 feet near Ponderosa.
The 25 miles of State Route 190 downhill to the town of Springville may be the most dramatic motorcycle road in California. Countless tight corners, including some tricky decreasing-radius turns, drop almost 6,000 feet in elevation through pine forests and past trickling waterfalls.
We gassed up again and guzzled cool drinks under a broiling sun in Springville before running the last leg of our first ride day — the splendid, high-speed M-296/Yokohl Valley Drive, a poorly paved length of pavement with some extremely tight hairpin turns that crosses oak-dotted ranchland. When that deposited us on State Route 198, we hooked right, slid past the edge of glistening Lake Kaweah, and landed in Three Rivers, where we’d booked rooms for the night.
We’d done a little more than 250 miles from the Halfway House. An ample meal at Sequoia Cider Mill prepared us for a good long sleep.
Again mindful of the heat, we saddled up early and rode north to the turnoff for Mineral King. Once a prosperous silver mining area — hence its name — Mineral King got national attention in the 1960s when the Walt Disney Company selected it to build a massive mountain ski resort. Environmentalists intervened; Disney departed.
What remains are the granite cliffs, groves of giant sequoias, rustic cabins dating from the 1870s and a narrow, patchy length of pavement that climbs 7,000 feet in a short 28 miles. It’s a slow, uneven road snaking through dense forests, past cabins hidden in the trees, hugging the side of a canyon wall that features sheer drops to the east fork of the Kaweah River far below.
At the road’s end, in an alpine valley dotted with wildflowers and interlaced with gentle streams, we paused to fill our lungs with crisp mountain air and take the obligatory photographs. Hikers setting out for the peaks were headed for 11,000 feet and higher. We mounted up and picked our way slowly back down the hill.
Soon we were on Generals Highway, entering the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks area — I was getting to use my lifetime “senior” pass for the first time — and biting into a delightful lunch at the recently redesigned Wuksachi Lodge. An hour later, we had the keys to our cabins at John Muir Lodge. While my companions headed for the showers, I did an hour-long hike among the giant sequoias at Grant Grove, communing with the silence as the sun went down and the temperature dropped.
Morning broke cold and damp, and it was 45 degrees as we walked to breakfast. It was colder and foggier when we saddled up and headed down East Kings Canyon Road toward the turn for State Route 245. Ordinarily a deliciously twisty downhill run through the towns of Pinehurst and Badger, this well-maintained mountain road loses elevation quickly through a 35-mile series of sweeping curves, each with its own impressive view of the great San Joaquin Valley.
This cold morning, though, the air temperature was just above freezing, the mist had turned to fog and the fog was turning to rain. We proceeded slowly, some of us maybe just a little smug that we had brought proper rain gear.
The unfriendly weather left us briefly as we paralleled State Route 99, but returned as we picked up Old Stage Road and climbed through Glennville and onto State Route 155 into Alta Sierra. Through a pleasant period of weak sunshine, I was able again to make the most of the KTM, carving corners as the two-lane rural roads took us up from farmland to grazing land to pine groves.
Soon the freezing rain had reduced visibility to a few bike lengths. We crawled over the summit and were still chattering in our helmets when we stopped again at Cheryl’s Diner in Kernville, this time to warm up with hot drinks.
We still had the southbound Caliente Bodfish Road to enjoy, and our reverse route through Tehachapi and Lake Elizabeth. But we’d already gotten more than we came for. Good scenery? Curves to carve? Cool temperatures? Check, check, check. Mission accomplished!
Iowa is not known as a motorcycling destination, but rather a through state. Motorcyclists travel mostly on the four-lane roads thinking that’s all there is to see, and that includes many of those who live in Iowa. Even our maps don’t make it look inviting, since the squiggly lines aren’t all that squiggly. So here are some roads I enjoy traveling that will be a treat for any motorcyclists looking for lightly traveled, interesting roads and a highly adaptable route.
I start at the intersection of State Highway 13 and U.S. Route 151 outside Cedar Rapids only because I live near there. The ride starts on what I call transit roads, or primarily straight roads. At County Road E34 head east toward the small town of Whittier, past a few houses, a Friends meeting house and a small store, then turn north. I should note that terms like village and hamlet are not common in Iowa, so even a few houses grouped together is called a town. At Waubeek you’ll cross the Wapsipinicon River, where an old mill has been turned into a rustic bar. You’re now on Boy Scouts Road, a former gravel road paved in the chip and dip manner. It’s narrow, the pavement is uneven but not rough and it has some tight corners. It’s a short stretch to savor before returning to more traditional Iowa-style main roads.
When Boy Scouts Road ends, turn east onto County Road E16 and enjoy some smooth pavement with nice open curves. At a four-way stop, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, turn north on County Road X20. This is a nice paved road off the beaten path where you can enjoy the scenery with a few curves thrown in to keep you from getting white line fever (remember that!).
Next take the road toward Hopkinton, where you will most likely encounter horses and buggies, since there is an Amish population that runs several inviting country stores along the route. The road to Hopkinton, County Road D47, starts straight but then gets nice and curvy with a tight “S” curve that can catch out the unaware. At Hopkinton, there’s a college that used to be active — OK, it was in business about 100 years ago and today you can do a ghost hunt/sleepover if that’s your thing. Heading north you’ll find it is mostly smooth and mostly straight with a few open curves. It is, however, somewhat rough between Hopkinton and Delhi, which makes for a nice stop with available fuel and a couple of good restaurants located on the small-town main street.
You’ll run into State Highway 3 at a T intersection where you’ll head left, then in a few short miles you will turn right onto County Road C7X. Turn right before the first big grain storage facility — you can’t miss the bright metal bins.
The road is smooth and has plenty of curves with gentle elevation changes. As you look around you’ll see what I call “vista views” across the hills that make up this corner of Iowa. You’ll pick up County Road X3C at what’s left of Elkport. A flood devastated the community some years ago; they did, however, make the best of the situation and created a green space camping facility.
The curves keep coming along with the views and smooth pavement until you intersect with Highway 13, yes, the same highway I started on. Head south toward an Iowa Welcome Center that has information, a small “Iowa Made” shop and displays of Iowa wildlife that make for a relaxing stop. There are plenty of opportunities to get food or gas along the way, but this stop makes for a quiet interlude. Leave the welcome center heading south looking for a right turn, County Road C24, heading west to Volga — any guesses as to what group settled here?
This road twists and turns, rises and falls, with a few blind turns thrown in as well. At Volga there’s a park that offers camping as well as access to the Volga River for kayaking. This area has become a destination for both leisurely kayakers as well as whitewater kayaking. Volga, like most of the other towns on the route, has a convenient city park perfect for a picnic.
Follow the signs to Wadena and you’ll be on a trip back through time to what many people think of when they think of rural Iowa. In Wadena you can stop at a locker (think no-frills meat market) and pick up travel food like meat sticks and jerky, or if you have a cooler, steaks to take home. You’ll also see an old hotel turned into a private residence that still has the name Wadena stenciled on the windows, so that when you got off the train a hundred years ago you knew where you were. Been wondering why so many very small towns exist along this route? One word: railroad. These towns owe their existence to having access to a rail line when rail was the only reliable transportation and communication line in Iowa. In Clermont you’ll see an old depot that a local group is trying to save.
When you reach Clermont, also known as “Brick City,” you can’t miss the turn of the century architecture throughout the town. Clermont was the home of the 13th governor of Iowa and has a statue and museum to prove it. Wadena and Clermont are still active and offer hospitality in the form of small-town restaurants and bars. These are not tourist towns, and they do cater to hunters in the fall, yet you’ll not feel out of place.
My ride doesn’t end at Clermont. You can reverse it (I like the way the curves string together heading north to south better then south to north), meander back on the other good roads in the area, explore the many graveled roads along the way if you’re so inclined or pick a new destination. The best time to ride the route is any time you can — I’ve ridden it four times already this year and plan on riding it at least one more time, so look for the guy on a BMW RT wearing high-viz gear: that most likely will be me!
The Blue Ridge Gathering is an annual meeting of sport-touring riders in western North Carolina, one of the best regions in the U.S. for motorcycling. In October 2018, riders came from as far as Newfoundland to ride some amazing mountain roads.
“I dug through the archives and the first records are from 2002, so this must be the 17th annual Blue Ridge Gathering,” said Phil Derryberry of Nashville, Tennessee, one of the event’s founders. “The original goal was to bring together Honda ST riders in these mountains, but it’s simply become a gathering of people who like to ride here. It’s not about what you ride, just that you do ride.”
Phil is a self-described 7th generation Tennessee hillbilly. “The first Derryberrys were Adam and Eve — yes, really,” he smiled. “They settled there before Tennessee was a state. Both of my grandfathers were moonshiners and bootleggers at one point in their lives.” Though he’s a software developer and highly accomplished pianist, Phil embraces his hillbilly roots. Part of that, he told me, is knowing the best mountain roads, and he says they’re in these parts.
“People come to the Blue Ridge Gathering with a goal of riding some great roads they’ve never seen before,” he explained by a blazing campfire. “I study maps and explore, so it changes every year. If you’re not from around here, you’re not likely to find the roads that I found.”
I can attest to Phil’s talent finding roads. These aren’t the ones you’ve heard of, like the gently curving Blue Ridge Parkway or the 11-mile stretch of U.S. Route 129 known as the Tail of the Dragon (which crosses into Tennessee). Such roads are fun, but they’re also tourist attractions that get crowded. Phil finds roads that most people wouldn’t, ones with unexciting monikers like Lower Flat Creek Road and Macedonia Church Road. They are challenging, technical and demand each rider’s full attention.
When riding these roads in a group, it helps to have a simple approach that keeps the group united while everyone rides their own ride. Phil is a proponent of Drop and Sweep. “Some guys who come to the Blue Ridge Gathering have skills close to pro racers and some are relative newbies,” Phil explained. “If you ride to the lowest common denominator, it’s not good for everyone. With Drop and Sweep, you ride your own ride at your own speed, but the group remains a group, just spread out. It’s a safer way to organize a group ride because it relieves dynamics based on skill level. I learned it while I was touring in England and it worked so well I started to use it here.” (To learn more about Drop and Sweep, visit unclephil.us/groupride.htm.)
After riding several of Phil’s roads, I sat down at a coffee shop in Marshall, North Carolina, and asked Blue Ridge Gathering riders about their experiences. “All of us are at least a day’s ride from this area and we think nothing of riding here to ride these roads,” said Ashley Horn, a Honda ST1300 rider from Jacksonville, Florida. “I came here in my pre-motorcycle years for hiking and wished I had a motorcycle. My wife then was a big ‘no motorcycles’ person, so I got a new wife — and a motorcycle. This is my happy place.”
“I first came up here in my car to visit friends,” said Dave Doolin, also of Jacksonville, who came on a Honda Gold Wing. “They didn’t ride and when I was up here in their truck and saw the roads, I was fit to be tied without a motorcycle to ride. Ever since, I come on a motorcycle. This region has become an important part of my life.”
Wayne Efthyvoulou, a long-time sportbike rider from Easthampton, New Jersey, was on his first long tour aboard a purpose-designed sport tourer, his newly acquired Honda ST1300. He was succinct: “It’s great here.”
The Blue Ridge Gathering is not a commercial event so riders only pay for a campsite or cabin, meals and gas. (Fair warning: you’ll eat up tires faster than usual!) “What makes the Blue Ridge Gathering different is we take roads that aren’t on anybody’s radar,” said Phil. “Most don’t make the ‘Tour North Carolina’ maps. They’re steep, twisty, challenging mountain roads unique to this part of the U.S. I’d love for people who come to have a great safe ride, enjoy some scenery, talk around a campfire after dark and leave feeling like they learned something. And that’s about it.”
Despite being a lifelong Hoosier, I hadn’t spent much time riding in the southern part of Indiana. This year would be different — I had a family reunion coming up in Bloomington, only four hours away from home in Valparaiso. I also had some rare extra days off from my mill job, so I thought I’d meander my way there instead of taking the direct route. Using secondary roads exclusively crossed my mind, but I didn’t have that much time.
I headed east on U.S. Route 30, then south on U.S. Routes 35 and 31. Thankfully, the rains that plagued us for weeks had finally stopped. Indiana is squarely in the Corn Belt, but the crop in our part of the state was pretty much toast due to the wet conditions. This was painfully obvious mile after mile, as stunted seedlings were barely at the ankle. The old saying is “knee high by the Fourth of July,” but with modern hybrids, most years the stalks are at the shoulder or better by late June.
North of Indy I jumped on State Highway 38. I’d noticed a scenic route designation on the map for State Highway 1, starting at Hagerstown, less than 20 miles from the Ohio border. The town is also just above the imaginary line that separates the state into north and south — as good a place to start as any. There was even a motorcycle-friendly eatery, Dave’s Café/Flatlanders Motorcycles. The Harley parked among the pool tables made my burger taste all the better. As poor luck had it, I’d showed up the day before their weekly bike night. Still, this was shaping up to be a good ride.
The Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway offers a snapshot of 19th-century American travel: river, canal and rail. I’d heard at the Greens Fork Family Diner it was also a fine motorcycle road. The report was accurate, with smooth pavement, abundant curves and frequent elevation changes, features that riders seek out but are rare north of the dividing line — especially the smooth part. Plank roads aren’t represented, but there is a heritage railroad running between Connersville and Metamora that features a restored section of the Whitewater Canal that once stretched 76 miles, from Hagerstown to Harrison, Ohio. Construction was a major engineering feat due to the steepness of the route, requiring 56 locks and seven dams, and the costly project drove the state into bankruptcy for a time.
I’m a fan of big rivers. I enjoyed riding the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys a couple of years ago in the Show Me State. Since I was close to the Ohio, I figured I would check it out. I was particularly interested in how it compared to those two flooding-wise, as my Missouri route was often dictated by water-related closures. But the first diversion was due to construction, not flooding. Instead of Lawrenceburg, where the river enters Indiana, the detour put me a few miles downstream in Aurora, where I picked up the Ohio River Scenic Byway. The Hoosier State segment covers 302 miles and follows several Indiana State Highways, 56, 156, 62 and 66, which meld together rather seamlessly. The distance suggested a lot of curves and didn’t disappoint.
Among American waterways, the Ohio is second only to the Mississippi in volume of water discharged. It has been described as a series of strung-together reservoirs, built and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. As such, it serves many of the same functions as other Corps projects, such as drinking water, recreation, flood control and shipping. Barge traffic was abundant. I stopped a couple of times at riverside parks to watch the towboats do their magic. A century ago, the river towns catered primarily to businesses. Now tourism is a big economic activity as well.
Given the combination of good pavement, hills, curves and friendly locals, unsurprisingly there were lots of motorcycles on the byways. On one construction reroute, where it took 50 miles to go 10, two Harley riders gave chase. They weren’t dressed for a crash but pushed me hard on the straights and sweepers anyway, then I’d walk away from them in the tighter curves. We repeated the pattern several times. Fun!
I’d always wanted to visit our first Indiana state Capitol building, in Corydon. Just off the byway and easy to find, the tidy limestone structure is dwarfed by the current rendition in Indianapolis. But it was doubtless a big undertaking for the fledgling state in 1816. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day, a constant aggravation on my rides when visiting historical sites.
The afternoon was fading when I encountered another reroute. I wondered if this one really was due to flooding, as the stretch ran right along the river. Water or roadwork, I never found out, but I’d neglected to top off the Suzuki V-Strom’s tank in Jeffersonville and the blinking fuel gauge was making me nervous. I’d passed through several small settlements, but none with gas available. Luckily, the Derby General Store was still open. One of the pumps offered ethanol-free 90-octane mid-grade, rare in my corner of the state, and the Strom loved the unadulterated fuel. The attendant clued me into a shortcut that didn’t show as connecting on the map. It allowed me to see the dam at Cannelton, which the sanctioned route bypassed. I don’t use a construction avoidance feature on my GPS; folks that live in an area can generally advise the best route anyway.
Derby also carried a grim reminder of the potentially destructive power of big rivers: flood lines spanning eight decades posted on a utility pole. Like the Mississippi and Missouri, the Ohio sometimes jumps its banks despite man’s best efforts to tame it. But even with the proximity of big water and recent heavy rains, the corn crop in the area was comparatively healthy. One lush field shared space with another common Midwestern fixture, the oil pumpjack.
I stopped for the night in Evansville, an easy enough town to navigate considering its relatively large population. I often wish I’d been born in the southwest rather than the northwest corner of the state. The milder winters, better roads and laid-back lifestyle are big plusses. The next morning, I rode the remaining 25 miles of the Ohio River Scenic Byway to where it crosses the Wabash River into Illinois, then doubled back to Mount Vernon to begin the trek back north on State Highway 69.
I had the whole day to make it to Bloomington, so I stuck to state highways. They passed through endless farmland and the occasional small town. I prefer mom-and-pop diners, and one of the best indicators of quality food is pickup trucks in the parking lot; if the fare is substandard, the locals won’t patronize. JJ’s in Cynthiana looked promising. A man I guessed correctly to be JJ stood behind the register, hands on hips, looking me over, and asked, “What’d ya need, captain?” “How about a menu,” seemed the obvious reply. He shot back, “You sure you can read?” as he handed me one with a smirk. Then he put on a fresh pot of coffee, not so much for me, but for the lunch crowd about to arrive. Like clockwork, trucks of every description soon moved in. I hung out for a while, talking bikes, farm equipment, weather and steel mills.
ABATE of Indiana is a robust motorcycle rights organization. Twenty years ago, it purchased 400 acres in Lawrence County to host its annual fundraising party, the Boogie, which is dubbed the “Midwest’s Best Biker Fest.” The property has since been developed into a full-service off-road riding area with 60 miles of trails, campgrounds, showers and RV hookups. The Lawrence County Recreational Park is off the beaten path, but worth a visit. One day, I’d like to give those trails a try. The Indiana Motorcycle Safety Memorial is at the park’s entrance, dedicated to fallen Hoosier riders. The memorial grounds are impressive and made my detour worthwhile.
Bloomington is smack in the middle of some of the best motorcycling in Indiana. My youngest daughter once rode with me there. She said it felt like “riding through a tunnel,” as we motored under the canopy of trees that covers many of the highways. I’m not complaining, but at times the hills and curves became almost overwhelming. Once, I dropped my guard and almost overshot a tight turn. But I knew in a few hours I’d be back on straight and boring roads, with a large helping of potholes thrown in, so I enjoyed the squiggly lines while I could. Efficiency dictates that major highways cut the hills down to level the run, but rest assured there are still many miles of unmolested pavement in southern Indiana.
U.S. Route 231 was my chosen route home, avoiding the interstate. The dry and beautiful Saturday night brought out bikes by the score. In Crawfordsville, a chapter of the Iron Order with dozens of rumbling steeds had gathered for a run. I waved and they waved back. We were all on V-twins, albeit built for different styles of riding, but it didn’t matter. At West Lafayette, I once again overruled the Garmin’s choice of I-65 and picked up State Highway 43, then U.S. Route 421 for the last 70 miles. It’s weird, but after all the curves and hills, the arrow-straight run that I’ve made many times was strangely satisfying.
The Ohio River Valley is now on my list of favorite places. The byway hugs the river for many miles and I’m glad I ran the Indiana section almost beginning to end. I only wish I could have spent more than a day taking it in. Two or three would’ve been better, as there’s much to do and see. I’m always searching for the perfect ride. Turns out one of the best has been in my backyard all along.
Snakes employ astonishing methods of locomotion. Legs? Who needs ’em! Using muscles and scales, snakes hug the landscape as they wind along their way. Roads can be like that, with narrow, winding runs of asphalt that hug each rise and bend.
Snaking asphalt brings joy to this motorcycle rider, and east of the Hudson River there’s a region with plenty of it. This area of small towns, farms and woodlands straddles New York’s border with Connecticut and Massachusetts. The rolling landscape means the roads rarely go straight, and with some route planning it’s easy to avoid population centers. Connecting roads with snake-like curves is the inspiration for this ride.
Roughly in the center of this region is the western Massachusetts town of Great Barrington. It has a picturesque, old-fashioned Main Street neighborhood and interesting options for eats, accommodations and entertainment, so it’s a good base of operations for two routes that begin and end there.
My friend Andrew joins me and we’re up early to take photographs in the best morning light. Andrew points out the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Castle Street. Berkshire County, the westernmost part of Massachusetts, is renowned as an arts region, and this historic venue has been a performance site since 1905. One marquee is lit up and the neon calls to be captured.
On Main Street, at the corner of Taconic Avenue, the sun shines brightly on St. James Place. It was built as an Episcopal church in 1857 and by the late 20th century it had fallen into disrepair. But it was renovated and, in 2017, reopened as an arts center with offices and performance spaces.
Just south of downtown, we bear right onto Massachusetts State Route 23/41. After a quarter-mile on the left, in a green space next to Silver Street, we find the Newsboy Statue. In 1895, William L. Brown, who was a town resident and part owner of the original New York Daily News, presented it to the people of Great Barrington. I was a paperboy, so it feels right to stop and pay my respects.
When 23 goes right, we stay left on 41 then make a quick right onto Mount Washington Road. It can be hard to find the signs that point the way to Bash Bish Falls State Park, but it’s worth the effort. Turn right onto Cross Road, right onto West Street and left onto Falls Road to the park. Bash Bish Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts and a short walk from the parking area.
Continuing west lands us in New York, the first of many “border crossings” we’ll be making. We turn left at New York State Route 22, which will make several short appearances throughout our route, then start looking for Under Mountain Road. At U.S. Route 44, we go right and when we reach McGhee Hill Road, begin to meander through sparsely populated areas along serpentine roads.
We curve around Hunns Lake, then in Bangall turn hard left onto Bangall-Amenia Road. A ways on we merge back onto U.S. 44 and pull into the scenic overlook to survey the landscape from a standstill. Just below the overlook — and waiting when we hop back on the bikes — is the Amenia Hairpin, a delightful and downward sloping left curve. Farther along, Halls Corners Road and Chestnut Ridge Road keep us smiling.
By the Union Vale Fire House, a right on Clove Road has us winding south and a bit west. U.S. Route 9 eases us to Philipstown, then we turn left onto State Route 301 through Fahnestock State Park. The area ahead is known to local curve-loving riders, and we spot several enjoying it with a mechanical symphony from their bikes’ exhaust.
Back underway we’re on Gipsy Trail Road and County Road 41 to Farmers Mills. Haviland Hollow Road crosses into Connecticut. We wrap around Squantz Pond State Park and back into New York, then roll north through Pawling and Wingdale. At Dog Tail Corners Road we wag left and soon we’re in Connecticut again, crossing Bulls Bridge over the Housatonic River and turning north onto a gently winding stretch of U.S. Route 7 that parallels the river. The quaint village of Kent is a good place for a break, but we make our stop just beyond at Kent Falls State Park to see another great waterfall.
A few miles north is Lime Rock, home to the Lime Rock Park racing circuit. Actor and philanthropist Paul Newman spent a lot of time here, shunning the spotlight, making friends and honing skills that would lead him to the Sports Car Club of America national title (as an amateur) in 1976 and a second place finish with his team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979. Lime Rock Road goes right past the track, which is quiet today.
A right on Connecticut State Route 41 begins the return stretch north into Massachusetts and we arrive back in Great Barrington, leaving 221 snaking miles behind us. I notice that the First Congregational Church, which was in shadow this morning, is now basking in afternoon sun. Built in 1883 from locally-sourced limestone, it’s listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Unlike early this morning, Great Barrington’s old-fashioned Main Street neighborhood is bustling now. There are interesting places to eat, shop, explore and spend the night. U.S. Route 7 just north of downtown resembles Anytown, USA, with additional options for accommodations, restaurants and stores, plus a microbrewery.
It’s another early start for day two and another easy roll down Main Street to Massachusetts State Route 23, then right onto State Route 71 and into New York before shooting briefly south onto New York State Route 22 and turning right onto County Road 21. In much of New York, numbered county roads are the roads less traveled, and in this region they embrace the rolling hills and keep me smiling. Sight distances are typically short and forest critters could emerge from anywhere, so I dial up my Spidey senses.
Crow Hill Road and State Route 203 lead us to Chatham and another still-sleeping downtown. There’s no place open for breakfast yet so we continue to Old Chatham, but the Country Store hasn’t opened either.
County Road 13 snakes through East Nassau and Stephentown, then we curl back west on County Road 16 toward Nassau. A right on Rabie Road curves toward West Sand Lake, then Route 351 goes to Poestenkill and Plank Road goes to Berlin. At State Route 22 we turn north to Petersburg then slither east up Taconic Trail (State Route 2). At the top of the ridge we cross into Massachusetts and wind back down to Williamstown.
Massachusetts State Route 2 cuts through the picturesque campus of Williams College. In front of the Museum of Art, we stop to look at several sets of large, disembodied eyes, sculpted in bronze. I ride my bike onto the sidewalk to set up a photo, and even though no one is around I get the feeling I’m being watched.
A short ways on, we turn right onto Luce Road toward Notch Road and the Scenic Byway to the summit of Mount Greylock. On a map, this narrow, 7-mile, seasonal jewel resembles a sidewinder, with successive climbing hairpins. We keep up the revs and power through, while staying alert for trail hikers crossing the road.
From a left at the T, Summit Road rises to the highest point in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (3,491 feet). Reaching skyward another 92 feet is the Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial, a lighted beacon atop a granite tower, which was completed in 1932 and rededicated in 2017 after a two-year renovation. On a clear day we’d see nearly 100 miles over western Massachusetts, southern Vermont and eastern New York, but today we’re in the clouds.
Also near the summit is Bascom Lodge, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Out front I talk with a young couple who are “thru-hikers,” completing all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, which runs through here. They started in Georgia a few months ago and have a few more weeks to reach the end in Maine. What’s their hike been like so far? “It’s sure a good way to get to know someone,” the young man replies, eliciting a steely gaze and raised eyebrows from his companion.
Back down the mountain, Rockwell Road rewards us with more twisties and hairpins. At the bottom, a right on U.S. 7 and a sharp left on State Route 43 soon has us back into New York and more curvy county roads through Stephentown, East Chatham and Austerlitz. A short run north on New York State Route 22 and then east on State Route 102 returns us to Massachusetts.
Rolling through the village of Stockbridge seems to transport us into a Norman Rockwell painting, and there’s a reason for that. Norman Rockwell lived here, and his experience inspired his iconic scenes of 20th century American life. Fans of his work can go one mile south on Massachusetts State Route 183 to the Norman Rockwell Museum.
State Route 102 continues along the Housatonic River toward Lee and U.S. Route 20, where most vehicles (thankfully) turn into the outlet mall. We continue onto the best stretch of U.S. 20 in Massachusetts, Jacob’s Ladder Trail. The alternating downhill curves going into Chester are downright danceable on a motorcycle, and mellower curves continue all the way to Russell. There, a right on Blandford Stage Road takes the less traveled leg over to State Route 23.
Turning west, Route 23 twists and curls back to Great Barrington, all the way hugging asphalt undulations in that most enjoyable manner: like a snake.
Although some view New Jersey as home to just oil refineries, highways and urban/suburban sprawl devoid of good motorcycling opportunities, nothing could be further from the truth. New Jersey has counties with miles of backcountry roads to explore. Two of the best are Sussex and Warren in the Skylands Region, where country roads serpentine and roll past farmlands, forests and small towns, and through thousands of acres of state parkland, making for a memorable and scenic favorite ride.
I began my tour in West Milford at the base of Bearfort Mountain. My 1,700cc Kawasaki Voyager comfortably climbed the snaking Warwick Turnpike into the mountains of Abram S. Hewitt State Forest, passing the shimmering waters of Upper Greenwood Lake and the 34,350-acre Wawayanda State Park, which offers swimming, boating, hiking and picnicking opportunities.
After Wawayanda, you cross into New York for a few miles but as my friend, Too Cool Drew, always says, “Just looks like more of Jersey to me.” For a nice view, make a left at the Warwick Conference Center sign onto Hoyt Road and stop at the parking lot of the Mulder Chapel. Mountains and farms spread out like a colorful quilt. From there, continue on Hoyt Road to Route 94 south and back into New Jersey.
Sailing through Vernon Valley on the hilly curves of Route 94, ringed by mountains and embraced by farmland, is one nice ride. Heaven Hill Farm offers multiple farm experiences, plus amusement park rides during fall weekends. At Vernon Crossing Road/Route 644, I turned right and then connected with Route 517 north, continuing my scenic exploration of Vernon Valley.
At the Pochuck Valley Farm Market (a great place for a respite, snack or lunch), I headed south on Route 565, a rollicking road where I was tempted to “just roll that power on” (Bob Seger), but instead enjoyed the scenery at a cruising pace. Riding along the boundary of the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, there are sweeping views of mountains and farms.
Route 628, another twisty road, leads west to Route 519 south, which weaves and rolls through Sussex and Warren counties. By this time, these beautiful roads had already filled me with contentment. I was in nirvana riding the countryside with my Voyager rumbling in my ears, the cool, fresh fall air caressing my lungs and the sun washing my face with warmth.
Stopping briefly at Space Farms Zoo & Museum, I viewed the bison herd from a side road. Space Farms also has more than 500 animals including tigers, bears, leopards and monkeys, among others. What might be of most interest to riders, however, is the museum of antique cars and motorcycles.
From here it was a straight run on Route 519 to Hope, established in 1769 as a planned community by German Moravians. Many of the original stone buildings still stand today, as does the Inn at Millrace Pond (my lunch stop), a former gristmill built in 1769. The entire town was listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1973.
After lunch, I did a walkabout and imagined what it must have been like living here in the 1700s. Mounting my steel steed, I galloped north on Route 521, another premier road that weaves through Sussex and Warren counties. Recently repaved, it makes for a smooth ride. I stopped in Blairstown for gas and had a coffee at the famous Blairstown Diner, which appeared along with other sites in and around Blairstown in the 1980 “Friday the 13th” film starring Kevin Bacon.
Route 617 in Stillwater branches off Route 521, offering a more rustic ride before reconnecting with it. Also, recently repaved, 617 leads into the high country sooner, with views of the rocky cliffs of the Kittatinny Mountains as it serpentines beneath them. Route 521 joins U.S. Route 206 north, leading to a bumpy ride through Stokes State Forest to Sunrise Mountain and High Point State Park, a combined 31,504 acres of parkland. If you enjoy motorcycle camping, both parks have campsites, and Stokes also rents cabins and lean-tos. Several overlooks bless this route, and watch for wildlife – the parks abound with deer, hawks, bears and coyotes.
Sunrise Mountain gives an eagle-eye view looking east along the route traversed earlier on Route 519. However, the most encompassing panorama on the entire ride is from High Point Monument. The monument obelisk rises 220 feet into the heavens and was built to honor veterans. Even from the base, a three-state mountainous view of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York rolls across the horizon like ocean waves.
With the day growing late, I mounted my Voyager and headed home on Route 23 to Route 94. Images of all the great roads, farms, mountains and country churches flickered in my brain like an old time movie. And I was already looking forward to exploring New Jersey’s northwest counties once again.