by John Parker
0600 EDT Monday October 14, 2002 Newark, NJ: I awoke after a good night’s sleep and finished packing the ST for my return trip to Los Angeles. I planned to take my time riding home and had several goals that I would try to accomplish. First, I wanted to ride the full length of Skyline Dr. in the Shenandoah National Park, VA. From the end of that 105 mile road, I planned to continue on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The BRP is 470 miles long and traverses Virginia and North Carolina, ending at the east entrance to The Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I hoped to at least ride a couple of hundred miles of the BRP, dependant on time. I also wanted to visit Rob Pemble’s store at Deals Gap, NC and ride the “Dragon”. I had been carrying my National Parks Passport and planned to get as many stamps as I could along my route home. I listed many locations along my proposed route for these validation stamps. After the really swift ride out from L.A. (49 hr), I wanted to take a bit more time returning and do a “Know yer history smell yer flowers” type ride. I didn’t have to be back to work at LAX until next Sunday, so I planned to stay off the Interstates as much as possible for the next several days. I really enjoyed my 3 days in the Big Apple, but I was now itchin’ to get back on “Blue Thunder”, and “GO RIDE.”
US 22 parallels I-78 west through the suburban neighborhoods of New Jersey. The temperature was in the mid 60’s so I was wearing a long sleeve cotton shirt under my ‘Stitch. US 22 moves along fairly rapidly and is a divided road much of the way. The only slowing was at the traffic signals in each of the little towns that it passes through. The area was suburban for the first hour or so. Gradually, the residential sprawl became more and more rural, until I was riding through rolling hills of crops, dotted with farm houses and barns. The crops were in very bad shape from several years of drought conditions. The corn, in particular, was easy to gauge. It was no taller than 24”. When I left Oregon in early September, the corn was taller than my head. All of the crops I saw along this route were shriveled and burnt looking.
US 22 joins I-78 near Clinton, NJ. The Interstate was nearly deserted because of the Columbus Day holiday, and my ride down it was very smooth and relaxed. I used the search function of my Rio Volt SP250 to listen to the local radio stations as I passed though each town along the I-78 on my way to Virginia. At Phillipsburg, NJ, I entered North Hampton County, Pennsylvania. The topography was still rural with the occasional small township. This is delightfully green country with heavy forests of hardwood breaking up the fields. A few miles east of Harrisburg, PA I passed the turnoff for Hershey, PA. I was reminded of what several of my brother firefighters were telling me a few weeks back, about the Hershey Chocolate Factory tour. They said that at the end of the tour you are given a sample of the fresh chocolate as it comes off the line. It is supposed to be unbelievably delicious. “Blue Thunder” started pulling extremely hard toward the Hershey off ramp. I have a self test that I apply to making decisions to stop riding. I ask myself if I would rather be standing in a line waiting at a (fill in the blank), or would I rather be riding. When the weather is nice, the answer is almost always … riding. When the weather is nasty, the answer could be a “toss-up” depending on how long I had been in the saddle. This time, It was a perfect riding day, so there was no contest. I put heavy counter-steer into the handle bar and forced “ol’ Blue” back on down the road.
In Harrisburg, PA I changed to I-81 and continued south. Shortly past Hagerstown, PA I-81 crosses into West Virginia, then a very few miles later I was in Virginia. A sign at the border greets travelers. It states that Radar detectors are illegal in Virginia (apparently Virginia is still a sovereign nation and doesn’t have to abide by U.S. Federal law). Another sign 50’ down the road declared that speed laws would be enforced with “radar and other electronic devices”. How quaint …the monarch of the fiefdom must be very proud of his authority. The state of Virginia is quite attractive, and the roads I drove were in excellent condition. The terrain consists of long valleys with rugged ridges separating them. Everything was green and forests of hardwood covered the slopes and ridges.
1330 EDT Winchester, VA: I exited at exit 313 for gas and lunch. I lucked out and entered Chason's Country Buffet. For a very reasonable price of $7.91, I ate my fill of catfish, pot roast, ribs, hushpuppies, chicken, and candied yams …..BURRRRRP!
Leg = 286
Gas = 9.788 (last stop not fill-up)
Distance = 286
Time = 4hr 00min
With full tanks in both “Blue” and myself, we were ready for a full afternoon of fun on the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. I headed out US 17 to US 341, which would take me to the start of Skyline Dr. at Front Royal, VA. A few miles out of Winchester, at the bottom of a series of rolling hills, a VSP car with a rear facing radar antenna was lying in wait for someone foolish enough to travel faster than the posted 55mph in this “obvious” spot for a LEO. I had put my V-1 in the tankbag at the last stop (to comply with His Majesty’s edict), so I couldn’t ID the type of radar, but it “looked” like X-Band.
After a short ride through the streets of Front Royal, I entered the Shenandoah National Park on scenic Skyline Dr. $5 paid to the ranger at the entrance station got me a brochure and a pass to ride for 5 days in the Park. I didn’t think I would spend that much time to do the 105 miles. The posted speed limit is 35 mph. Conditions would make 45-50 a very safe pace. Nearly the entire 105 miles is double yellow, so passing slow vehicles could be a problem, but there weren’t many this time of year. I had very little problems getting past the few I encountered this day. The biggest draw, I believe, on the Drive are the numerous turnouts that offer overwhelmingly spectacular views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the many ridges and valleys that are lined up parallel to the Shenandoah for as far as the eye could see. On this crisp Autumn day that was at least 100 miles. The hardwoods that cover the crest of the southern Appalachian Mountain Range, that Skyline follows south, were about ½ way through their Fall color change. Spectacular, stunning, extravagant, dazzling, and brilliant are the only way to describe the un-describable beauty of this place as I cruised through it on my ST1100. The sourgum, dogwood, and blackgum trees were a dark crimson. These were mixed with the golden of tuliptree and birch. The Oaks were from dark green to maroon. With a few maples thrown if for variety. What a sight to delight the senses! The temperatures were in the mid 40’s to mid 50’s with a sun peeking out from behind puffy white cumulus clouds often enough to light up the hillsides and valleys in a theatrical way.
All too soon, Skyline Dr. ended at US 64 near Waynesboro. Fortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway started up where Skyline ended, and I left the few autos, motorhomes, and LEOs of Skyline Dr. behind and embarked upon a most unique ribbon of asphalt. The BRP was practically deserted this afternoon as I celebrated the last hours of Columbus Day light in reverential awe. I blissfully guided “Ol’ Blue” through the endless miles of sweepers while the BRP took me from one Kodachrome ridge crest to another emerald green grassy meadow, as it ambled along the Appalachians in the brisk, clear air. The BRP is a limited access 2-lane rural roadway with a posted speed limit of 45 mph. No commercial vehicles are allowed on the BRP or Skyline Dr. Conditions that day were good for 55-60 mph in most parts. The surface varies from mildly cracked with frost heaves to excellent new chipseal and asphalt. The corners are banked properly and very few surprise you with a decreasing radius. For the most part, traction is excellent, and I could corner with supreme confidence on my Metzler tires. There were a few sections with dead leaves, but for some reason they weren’t slippery even when wet. A relaxing PACE could be set so that braking was seldom needed in the turns. I don’t do peg scrapping 3000 miles from home on my only means of travel, but I do enjoy riding with enough alacrity to keep myself amused … highly amused. There are less sweeping panoramic viewpoints along the BRP than Skyline, but the colors are more stunning (if that were possible), and the road is more stimulating for the motorcycle rider. What’s more, there is NO fee to ride the BRP’s 469 miles. As I rode along for the next 2 days, I was reminded of many of my favorite roads in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. It was as if 469 miles of those roads were lifted from their natural locations and connected together in a continuous ribbon of limited access tarmac 3000 miles away.
1900 EDT Buena Vista, VA: As darkness stole over the landscape, I started looking for a place to rest for the night. In stark contrast to my ride out the week before, I would be stopping at dusk so as to not miss any of the splendors of the Parkway. I was in no hurry to get back to the urban cacophony of L.A. At mile 46, in Humphrey’s Gap, I turned off the Parkway onto US 60 and proceeded west into the tiny town of Buena Vista, VA. I stopped at the first decent motel I saw. The Buena Vista Motel is a mom and pop establishment of about 40 rooms arraigned in the traditional “motor court” of single story rooms. Best of all, there was parking directly in front of my room, so I could easily look out the window and check “my baby.” For $44 I got a surprisingly large room with 2 queen size beds, small refrigerator, and cable TV with the weather channel and Fox news. I found a Subway in town for dinner.
Leg = 174 mi
Distance for Day 1 = 460 mi
Time = 9hr 30min
AVS = 48.4mph
Total Miles Day 1 = 460
Time = 9hr 46min
Stopped = 1hr 57min
0530 EDT Tuesday October 15, 2002: After a very restful night, I awoke before my alarm and packed to leave my sojourn and proceed along the Parkway.
0615 EDT: I pulled out of the Buena Vista Motel parking lot and rode the 6 miles of twisties back up to the Parkway. Once back on route, I cruised along alone in the early morning darkness and 40 degree mist. I wore my Gerbing jacket liner and heated gloves under my Darien in anticipation of the arrival of another storm. The Weather Channel had predicted two storms would arrive simultaneously in the New York area this day, and we were likely to get some of it here in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. My HID headlights and PIAA 910 driving lights worked together well to illuminate my path and provide me safe passage from critters of the night.
The sky began to lighten after a short while, and soon dawn broke the grip that night had held on the Appalachians for the past 12 hours. I meandered my way through the curves from the lowest VA BRP elevation of 649’ to the highest at 3950’. After Onion Mtn. The road goes through numerous “Gaps”, one after the other. Gap is the Eastern term for what we call a pass in the West. I crossed Powell, Bearwallow, and Blackhorse Gaps on the way to Roanoke, VA. Roanoke is the largest town that borders the BRP, and as I neared it, many of the morning commuters were using the Parkway to shortcut their trips to work. As I left the city behind, things on the road began to return to their previous sparsely occupied condition. Around Rocky Knob the clouds darkened up and closed in on the Parkway. In the next 20 miles I rode in low clouds and fog that cut visibility down to 50 or 60 feet at times. At mile marker 200 I pulled into the tiny town of Fancy Gap, VA, I was cold and hungry. My Gerbing gloves were soaked through and through from the constant drizzle.
0915 EDT Fancy Gap, VA: I pulled into the Chevron station and toped up with gas. While parked there the rain started coming down harder, and what was a drizzle became a torrent. I asked the attendant if there was a good place to eat in town. He directed me to the café next door.
Leg = 343.7 mi
Gas = 6.92
Distance today = 169
Time = 3hr 00min
I lucked out again! It was another great place for home cookin’. After a wonderful breakfast of Virginia ham, eggs, grits, and biscuits ‘n’ gravy, and nearly a full pot of hot black coffee, I went outside and proceeded to “suit up” for the ensuing ride in a torrential downpour. As I was struggling into my dishwasher’s gloves, I noticed the little old grey haired who had served me and listened to my fantastic tale, waving goodbye to me through the window. Earlier she had talked of her days riding a motorcycle on the BRP, and how her mother had said nothing quite cuts to the bone as a cold rain. Of course this was all in that sweet Virginia drawl that takes one back to a simpler and slower time. Ah … I love Virginia hospitality!
Back on the BRP, I slowed my pace to compensate for the changed conditions. The posted speed limit was a good safe speed in this environment. Even though the rain continued all day, the road itself remained in good condition. I never felt a slip or slide from my Metzlers, even in the wet leaves. Also, though visibility was reduced due to the rain and foggy conditions, the ride wasn’t compromised. After all, 90% (or more) of a motorcyclist’s enjoyment in any locale is dependant on the road itself. The rain didn’t diminish the quality of the road or the ride. Additionally, I would much rather ride the BRP in the rain with its excellent surface, good drainage, and low traffic than to endure the nastiness of trucks and their white-out spray and m/c drowning bow wakes. No contest. About 15 miles out of Fancy Gap, I left Virginia and passed into North Carolina at Cumberland Knob. Some of the best of the BRP is along this section as it gets farther from the big towns, and cuts through the comparative wilderness. More “Gaps” fall by the wayside as I “soldier on” through the torrent. I pass Pipers, Air Bellows, and Deep Gaps and cruise through Blowing Rock, all of the time reveling in my fortune to be riding solitarily in this motorcycle paradise.
At about mile 320 the terrain begins to take on a different look as the Parkway leaves the Appalachians and runs the ridges of the Black Mountains. Large outcroppings of rock dominate the landscape, and black spruce become more prevalent. There are still plenty of colorful trees and some of the overlooks provide stupendous views, even as the rain clouds waft through the valleys and cling tenaciously to the peaks. One short section of the road on the south side of Asheville, NC actually leaves the confines of earth and floats on pylons as it hangs off some sheer precipices. I passed by Mount Mitchell, which at the height of 6684’ is the highest point east of the Mississippi. I was cold and soggy despite my electric heated gear, and my hands in their rubber, un-heated, gloves were numb, albeit dry.
At mile 370 I pulled into the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center. The rain was unceasing, and I enter the center dripping wet and desperate for a respite from the wicked elements. While warming by the searing woodstove, I got my N.P. Passport stamped. Again I amazed and mystified the ranger and several visitors with my intrepid deeds of yore.
As black rain clouds began to fill the valleys surrounding the peaks of the Pisgah National Forest, I left the Parkway at mile 380 for Ashville, NC. I was stopping unusually early today because there wasn’t much of a chance of finding lodging close by for the remainder of the BRP, and I wanted to attack the next (highest) section early in the morning. It looked like we were in store for a nasty bit of weather.
1533 EDT Asheville, NC: I proceeded through this enterprising community for several miles before I found a Days Inn for the night. Before I even had a chance to get off my bike, I was “hit up” by a boy and a girl with a long story of woe and calamity. I credulously gave them the rest of my toll road money (about $5) to get rid of them.
Leg = 167 mi
Distance for Day 1 = 336.6 mi
Time = 9hr 18min
AVS = 36.1 mph
Total Miles Day 2 = 336
Time = 9hr 23min
Stopped = 2hr 50min
With rain falling steadily the rest of afternoon and evening, there was very little chance for me to get out for dinner. It’s a good thing as I had given the last of my cash to the beggars earlier. Incredibly, after I was into my room for only about ½ hour, another beggar, this time a single male, pounded on my door asking for money. He didn’t seem very appreciative of the fact that I had given the last of my cash to the boy-girl beggars earlier. A panhandler with a ‘tude! Imagine that! If that wasn’t enough, about an hour later, a black guy tapped on my window trying to sell some gold (yeh..right!) Chains. I finally dozed off early.
0600 EDT Wednesday October 16, 2002: I awoke before my alarm (as usual) and finished packing. The Weather Channel announced that a huge storm had hit the East Coast in the area of New York in the form of a Nor’easter and deposited several inches over the past 24 hrs. A hot buffet breakfast was included with the room. I ate my fill of eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, biscuit ‘n’ gravy, juice, and coffee
Start Time = 0730 EDT
0730 EDT: I was on the road again and headed back to the BRP. Morning rush hour traffic was troublesome for a few miles until I reached the Parkway, and I was the solitary traveler once again. The rain let up and was just sprinkling as I rode in and out of the clouds that shrouded the peaks of the Black Mountains. The rocky terrain continued for the rest of my ride on the BRP. The last 60 or 70 miles is punctuated with numerous tunnels, which were carved out of the sheer rock cliffs. It is also in this area that the road I described yesterday hangs precariously along the sheer faces of these cliffs for several miles. It is also along here, at Richland Balsam, that the highest point on the BRP is crossed at 6047’. Temperatures were in the high 30’s most of the day, but rain was at a minimum so I was able to use the Gerbing gloves. It was very foggy in places, so I had to run at a very conservative pace, but shortly after entering the Cherokee Indian reservation, the BRP dropped rapidly down to US 441 and the entrance to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
By 0900 I was at the GSMNP visitor center getting my N.P. Passport stamped and reflecting on the past two days, especially the last 575 miles. Though the last 50 miles were fogged in, and I was forced to putt along, overall, it was a very inspirational and worthwhile experience. I will definitely be back. Next time in better weather, maybe.
I had been looking forward to visiting the Great Smoky mountains National Park for about 6 months, ever since a co-worker raved about it. He said that it was a not to be missed experience. So, with great (possibly OVER) expectations, I rode west on US 441 through the Park. I was immediately confronted with a pack of very slow moving vehicles. The posted limit in most of the park is 45, however these BDC’s were poking along at 25 mph. There was a constant drizzle, and my face shield was fogging at anything below about 40 mph. This is nothing new. It had been happening for the entire trip but usually wasn’t a problem as I would pass the slower traffic as necessary. This road, however, was solid double yellow with a constant stream of opposing traffic. Passing wasn’t a real solution anyway, as I would soon come upon more BDC’s and would spend my time trying to pass the entire time I was in the Park just to try to keep my face shield clear. The visibility was low due to the rain, so sightseeing was sub-par. After riding 575 miles of the most beautiful roads in existence with little traffic for the past 3 days, The rough, poor quality roads of the GSMNP were a real let down. I was happy to get out of this way over rated place. At the western end of US 441 in the Park was the town of Gatlinburg, TN. I rode into the little town looking for a place to eat and pick up some souvenirs for the folks back home. In short order I determined that this place was just another tourist trap and backtracked out of the crowded place. I backtracked to Little River Rd to continue on my way to Deals Gap. I thought that I would leave the crowd behind once on this secondary Rd., but I was unhappily mistaken, as I ran into the same BDC’s that were traveling US 441. This road is beautiful and the surrounding topography stunning. The road would be perfect for a motorcycle to cruise at 45-50 mph. Too bad these gringos couldn’t manage more than 25 mph. After an excruciatingly long time trying to see where I was going through the fogged face shield and traffic jam, we reached US 321. I had already decided that I would turn the opposite direction from the traffic. They fortunately went left at the junction so I went right. A few miles down the road I found the start to the Foothills Parkway. This turned out to be a shorter version of the BRP. It was posted 45 mph, but was safely ridden at 60 mph. To my pleasant surprise there was very little traffic and no LEO presence. As I preceded s/w on the perfect tarmac, I had a definite de ja vu moment. The mountainous route wound its way over Grassy Mountain and along Raven Cliff Ridge. The clouds soon collapsed upon me, and I found myself poking along in 50 – 60’ visibility for the second time today. This lasted almost to the end at US 129, where I turned left to follow Chilhowee Lake to the Dragon.
The Dragon is the name given by local street racers to a short but winding section of US 129 just west of Deals Gap, TN. It is hard to see why this 11 mile long piece of 2 lane asphalt consisting of 318 turns, is so legendary. This computes to 29 turns per mile or approximately 182 feet per turn. It sounds impressive on the surface, but is actually quite unremarkable when compared to other twisty roads throughout the U.S. For instance: US 12 in Idaho from Kooskia to the Montana border (77 miles of twisties), US 150 east of Kamas UT, SR12 in Utah between Boulder and Torrey, SR29 north of Calistoga, CA, or dozens of roads in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. So, what gives the Dragon its ferocious reputation amongst motorcycle and auto drivers alike? Part may be that it is remote enough that LEOs don’t regularly patrol it. Part also may be that it is near to other great roads. Whatever it is it is a sure thing that it is THE place to be for many street racers. The day I was there it was raining and had been for several days, but there were a couple of dozen die-hard enthusiasts hanging around the Deals Gap store waiting for a chance at a dry run. The Dragon name is easy to understand once you look at the crash photos inside the store. I rode the Dragon both directions in the rain and didn’t find it anymore challenging than hundreds of twisty roads I have ridden other places. Of the 318 turns, only a handful are tight enough to require extreme lean angles and body hang-off techniques, and only a couple were decreasing radius. None were off-camber. Even in the rain, without dragging a peg, I was able to easily dust off a Porsche 911 on my 2500 mile from home, fully loaded, ST1100. Also, unlike the BRP, the wet leaves on the Dragon ARE slippery. It’s pretty hard for me to get very excited about any road so short as 11 miles. All in all, I am glad there is a place like the dragon. It keeps the “squids” off my favorite “little-known” twisties.
1230 EDT Deals Gap, NC: After filling “Blue Thunder’s” fuel tank and buying a few souvenirs at Rob’s store, I thrashed the Dragon one more time to leave the North Carolina Smokey Mountains and head for Tennessee.
Leg = 374 mi
Gas = 7.5
Distance today = 207
Time = 5hr 00min
Once clear of Chilhowee Lake and the Smokeys the terrain opened up into wide valleys and rolling hills. I was now in predominately cotton country with farms and farmhouses scattered across the landscape. I stayed off the Interstate until I was well clear of Knoxville. U.S. 70 took me through charming places such as Willet Hollow and Mammy Creek as I crossed from flat farmland, to rolling hills of green grass, to rocky outcroppings and dense forests. I passed through Nashville, TN around 1700, during rush hour traffic. I had planned on stopping for the night near Nashville, which was 2000 miles from home, and would be easily reachable in two days. I still wanted to stop at National Parks on the way to get my Passport stamped. I didn’t have to be back at work until Sunday the 20th, 84 hours away. At the junction of SR 249 and I-40 I found a Best Western with an Arby’s not too far away. It was the perfect combination for this weary traveler.
1720 CDT Kingston, TN: I stopped for the night at the Best Western here. I was a bit concerned, as I had to ring a bell and walk through two security doors to get to the check-in desk. I asked the middle-eastern desk clerk if they had problems with crime here. He said no, that the security was a requirement of the National Corporation. I hadn’t noticed this in ANY of the motels I stayed at this trip or numerous other trips. Oh well, at least I could park “Blue Thunder” right outside my room window. After unpacking and calling Becci, I rode across the street to the Shell Station and topped up for tomorrow’s ride. The Arby’s was adjacent to the Shell, so I fueled up my personal tank with a Jumbo Beef. While eating my Jumbo, I was treated to some intertainment courtesy of the local “inbreeds”. All that was missing was a bald headed dude playing a banjo on the porch. “Hey Junior…git me sum uh tat Horsey Sauce fur me sambitch.” Listening to their TT Tennessee accents, took me right back to 1967 when I was stationed at Memphis Navel Air Station to attend Aviation Electronics “A” School. I still believe that the Tennessee drawl is the worst sounding of all of the Southern accents. It is nothing like the “honey dipped” Georgian” or the stately Virginian intonations. Most of those bring thoughts to mind of mint juleps and pecan pie. The Tennessee drawl puts images of grits and trailer parks in my mind.
End of Day 3:
Leg = 248.7 mi
Gas = 5.65
Distance today = 455.7
Time = 9hr 50min
Total miles Day 3: 408.5
Time: 8hr 49min
0500 CDT Thursday October 17, 2002 Kingston, TN: I awoke before the alarm (again) and packed.
0545: I was on the road again. I hopped on I-40 this time and planned to ride it most of the way back to California, nearly 2000 miles away. It was still pre-dawn, and the darkness and lack of traffic (especially trucks, which were still filling every open space of every rest area and off/on ramp) gave me a very relaxed ride. The darkness was change to daylight by my PIAAs and HIDs. The temperature was a very comfortable 44 degrees. My partially functioning Gerbing jacket liner and full functioning Gerbing gloves worked well with my Darien to keep me contented.
As I rolled along through places like Deer Lick and Buck Snort, the terrain consisted of rocky outcroppings and valleys with sheer cliffs covered with heavy forests of hardwoods and black pines. My mind was busy making up new names for towns and cities I saw on the road signs. It started with Buck Snort becoming Buck Snot, then Amarillo as Armadillo, Oklahoma City as Okey Town, etc. I’d definitely been on the road too long. As I closed in on Memphis, TN, I noticed traffic was running slower than it should with a posted 70 mph, even for the A.M. rush hour. At first I expected to see a LEO in one of the lanes causing drivers to slow excessively out of paranoia, but I soon saw the cause. There were approximately 10 Harleys riding in the right lane at a plodding 50 mph with no traffic in front of them for ¼ mile or more. Another HD was riding in the left lane next to the rear rider in the column, effectively blocking the eastbound I-40. There were over 100 cages jammed up behind this phalanx of inconsiderate Neanderthals. The two in the rear were laughing and gesturing at the traffic jam they had created, apparently proud of their clout. I was just about to split their formation, when the right lane group pulled into the left lane to pass some traffic. They were still nearly ¼ mile from the traffic they were passing and overtaking it at about 2 mph. I had enough of this. I maneuvered into the empty right lane, and vaporized the HD road hogs, as I passed them in the right lane at well over “Double Higdon Two Veiner” speed. As the group of BDBs (brain dead bikers) became tiny dots in my dirty rearview mirrors, I was greeted with a clear road all of the way into Memphis.
Soon I was clear of the construction and congestion of Memphis, and on the bridge crossing over the mighty Mississippi River into Arkansas. This is truly a scenic and beautiful state. The topography quickly changed from the flat flood plain of the Mississippi River Valley, to hilly forests intersected by all manner of waterways. Boats were prevalent and plentiful. Everyone seems to have a boat trailer hitched to their vehicle in this state. I continued rolling down the Interstate all of the way across Arkansas. Rolling is a very loose term when referring to Arkansas highways. This was, by far, the state with the worst roads I had traveled on my coast to coast to coast odyssey. At least they were trying to make them better (I think), as there was as much road construction as there was not. There were never more than 40 miles between zones. Arkansas sure has beautiful rest stops, however. They all look like memorial parks. I skirted “Slick Willies” town of Little Rock, AR. This is a very pretty town. I stopped for gas a few miles past “Brittle Rock”, at Mayflower, AR. As I was pulling off the Interstate, I saw a thrashed 1964 Mark IV Lincoln with a brand new bass boat behind. There’s a $500(?) car towing a $40,000 boat. YUP! I’m in Arkansas all right!
1030 CDT Mayflower, AR: I stopped for gas. The girl at the register was amazed that a motorcycle took on 8.55 gallons. I had to tell her that it actually held 11 gallons, and of course, I had to amaze her with a brief synopsis of my adventure so far.
Leg = 341.3 mi
Gas = 8.55
Distance today = 341.3 mi
Time = 4hr 45min
Fifteen minutes later, I was back rolling again. As I made my way toward my next planned stop at Fort Smith, AR, the road climbed through the very beautiful Ozark Mountains. The road actually became very curvy in places as it wound through the deep gorge of the Arkansas River. About 50 miles from Ft. Smith, we descended from the pine and hardwood forests into the high chaparral and virtually treeless terrain I would be riding through for most of the next 1500 miles or so. The green of the Eastern states changed to the brown prairie of the Midwest as I entered Ft Smith. I maneuvered through the downtown streets until I found the historical Ft. Smith National Monument. I made my way to the visitor center and stamped my Passport with the Ft. Smith and Trail of Tears stamps. This turned out to be a very interesting stop, and I took the time to read the outdoor exhibits. The fort was the last of the walled forts that the U.S. Army built in the frontier. At one time it was a courthouse, and the judge there dispensed timely justice to those who broke the law. The gallows can still be viewed in back of the courthouse. The Trail of Tears, that the Choctaw Indians walked as they fled the U.S. Army, passes nearby along the Arkansas River into Oklahoma. I paused long enough to eat some beef jerky and drink some water from my onboard supply.
Soon, I was back on I-40 riding through the prairie lands of eastern Oklahoma. As I rode, my mind flashed on a Travel Channel program I had seen several weeks earlier. The story was about Bigfoot. According to the program, the hills of eastern Oklahoma north of Sallisaw, OK have the highest reported sightings of this mysterious creature. I was relieved it was daytime. The ride through was uneventful. The road surface was in excellent condition and very few construction zones had to be endured. Looking around as I traveled, I was reminded of the state of Nebraska to the north. Flat to slightly rolling grasslands planted in wheat, interspersed with river bottoms lined with cottonwood trees, were common to both states.
Shortly, I was cruising through familiar Oklahoma City, which I had passed through in the opposite direction just a little over a week ago on my 50CC quest. It was about 1530, so there wasn’t much traffic. I was listening to the local radio stations on my RioVolt SP250 to get a sense of the neighborhood flavor and traffic reports. OKC was another milestone for me on this return trip, just as it was on the ride out. I now knew that I could be home (1350 miles) in 18 hours if I wanted to. About 40 miles west of OKC, at the U.S. 270 intersection, I stopped for fuel at Calumet, OK.
1615 CDT Calumet, OK: I gassed up and was back on the road in less than 15 min.
Leg = 367.7 mi
Gas = 9.053
Distance today = 705 mi
Time = 10hr 30min
I wasn’t on a record pace today, as can be seen in my average speed (AVS). I was stopping more and sightseeing on this return trip home. I had already decided to not drive much at night in order to see as much as possible, and enjoy the total sensory immersion a motorcycle is capable of providing its rider. The terrain continued to be “Midwest like” as the amber waves of grain continued as far as the eye could see. I crossed the border into Texas at Texola. I-40 in this part of Texas travels through some very beautiful countryside. There are lots of small lakes and streams next to the highway. This is also unquestionably CATTLE COUNTRY, as cattle cover the land from horizon to horizon. For the next two hours I saw millions of the critters. The speed limit in Texas is 70 during the day and 60 at night. I planned to drive as long as I could at the 70 mph and stop for the night when it was undeniably nighttime and I had to slow to 60. As I closed in on Amarillo, I was using a couple of “rabbits” to keep the speed up around 70, but I was getting more and more hits on the V-1. This was a good time to call it quits, get something to eat, and check into a hotel to sleep during the “slow” night hours.
1930 CDT Amarillo Texas: I found a Days Inn right next to the Interstate and checked in. After unloading my gear, I went next door to El Tapatio restaurant for some excellent tamales.
Leg = 217 mi
Distance for Day 4 = 929 mi
Time = 13hr 15min
AVS = 70.1mph
Total Miles Day 4 = 919.9
Time = 13hr 55min
Stopped = 1hr 21min
This was a very nice Days Inn with the first “English as a first language” staff that I had seen in a motel since Afton, OK on my 50CC. The room was perfect as I could look out my window and check on my bike. I might be on the third floor, but I was still within the range of my 19mm flare launcher (anti-theft device). I was asleep by the time my head hit the pillow.
0520 CDT Friday October 18, 2002 Amarillo, TX: I awoke before the alarm (again) and packed. A check of the Weather Channel showed rain heading for Amarillo and already between Tucumcari, NM and Albuquerque, NM. Outside the sky was clear and the air temperature was a balmy 65 degrees. I partook in the included buffet of eggs, biscuits ‘n gravy, grits, juice, sweet rolls, and coffee. No meat…hummmph!!!
I had an hour our so of easy going before the trucks returned to the road. The miles rolled along as I traversed this very desolate, flat, and straight course. The altitude increased gradually to around 5,000 feet as I entered Tucumcari on Route 66 for a fuel stop. You may have noticed that I didn’t stop to eat much on this trip. Even when I am doing a leisurely return ride like this one, I rarely eat more than 2 meals in a 24-hour period. Many times I only partake in one. This is because, once I get up in the morning, I am raring to GO Ride and beat the truck traffic. I also love to see the sun rise while on two wheels, I never fail to be awed by one, and I’ve seen thousands this way while on the road. Many times sunrise signals the end of my day’s ride. Once I am riding, I hate to stop, even to eat. I guess I just like to ride my motorcycle more than food or sleep. This is a great advantage when Long Distance (LD) riding.
0802 MDT Tucumcari, NM: I gassed up and was back on the road in 15 min.
Leg = 327.1 mi
Gas = 9.074
Distance today = 110 mi
Time = 1hr 32min
Tucumcari is typical of nearly all of the little towns along the I-40. The main street in town is usually Route 66. The Interstate makes a loop around the town, with ramps on either end of the main street to get back on the Interstate. Most of these towns pre-date the Interstate, and were born out of necessity in the days of the National Trails Highway (later known as Route 66). All contain the requirements of the traveler, food, gas, and lodging. These places are now part of Americana due to their timely birth during the “Golden Age” of the automobile. The history these towns hold is a true treasure for all of us, and should never be allowed to disappear. I do my best to ride Route 66 and all other pre-interstate roads whenever I can.
As I left Tucumcari behind and motored on toward charming little Santa Rosa, NM, dark rain clouds threatened on the horizon. I checked my GPS, and it looked like my route would skirt the ominous vapors. Only time would tell. At least I had the right equipment for it. My Darien jacket and trousers were even more waterproof than my previous Roadcrafter two-piece suit, that had served me so well on hundreds of forays into rain, snow, sleet, and hail. One tends to become very attached to something one has worn through so many adventures. My ‘Stitch had literally saved my hide several times. My son Rick now wears the battle worn garment with pride. I also had rain covers for my RKA tankbag and RevPak seat bag, if it turned into a deluge. My only real worry was the Valentine One (V-1) radar locator, which cannot handle moisture and must be removed from the Reis Shelf and stored in a dry location. It would be great if Mike Valentine would produce a waterproof version of this excellent tool, so that it could stay on the shelf in any weather like my Garmin Street Pilot GPS.
Soon I was climbing the canyon east of Albuquerque, NM, and in no time at all, I was clear of the city on my way to my next stop in Gallup, NM. The highway into Gallup climbs gradually through arroyo and mesa, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the Southwest. This is “Roadrunner and Coyote” country. As I neared Gallup, the sky ahead was dark and ominous. The GPS showed my route would go directly into the storm. 5 miles from Gallup the sky opened up and a flood came forth. I passed a Japanese cruiser bike and rider setting under an overpass waiting for the cloudburst to pass. He looked at me like I was crazy. I wonder what he would have thought if he knew my whole itinerary.
1100 MDT Gallup, NM: I topped up “Blue Thunder” and considered for a moment getting a Subway sandwich, but a line at the counter dissuaded me. The cruiser was now sitting under the cover at the gas pumps talking on his cell phone with a very somber look on his face. I wondered if he was calling for a pickup. Did he think I was truly nuts as I rode off into the torrent?
Leg = 311.9 mi
Gas = 9.410
Distance today = 422 mi
Time = 5hr 30min
Within a ½ hour of leaving Gallup, the rain subsided. The temperature was still a nippy 30 degrees, but the Gerbings were enough to stay the chill. Shortly, I was in Arizona, and Navajo country. The Petrified Forest National Park came up soon after crossing the border, and I pulled into the visitor center for my obligatory Passport stamp. As I continued west on I-40, the altitude dropped enough to warm up considerably, Soon I was riding in 60 degree temps under azure blue skies with cotton like, billowing white, clouds. Winslow, AZ came and went as I closed the distance to Flagstaff, AZ. A short climb into the confers of the Coconino National Forest, and Flagstaff was upon me. I briefly considered stopping for a bite to eat, but I was having too much fun riding, so I rolled on and passed through Williams, AZ at around 1500 MDT. As I rode westward, I contemplated the miles before me. I was a little over 400 miles from home and the completion of my quest. I could ride through to completion with about 5 more hours ride. However, traffic was increasing, and I had covered over 680 miles today. There wasn’t much beyond Laughlin, NV, so I needed to stop by then if I was going to stop at all. I preferred to stay in a simple “mom & pop” motel rather than one of the big casino-hotels of Laughlin, so I pulled off at Seligman, AZ and found the Stage Coach Inn 66 on Route 66. This was great, it would allow me to spend a few more hours locked in the past, in the Golden Years, on the National Trails Highway.
1530 MDT Seligman, AZ: The plump woman innkeeper at the motel desk seemed a bit bewildered as she tried to find a room for me in the nearly vacant bungalows. Her chatty little girl appeared to not see visitors much, as she was starved for attention. Her mom didn’t seem to want to spend much time amusing her. $30 got me a room for the night, and I was told the adjoining café would open at around 5:00 p.m. I found my room and unloaded my gear. It was still very early in the day, so I used the time to catch up on my journal and watch a little T.V. The room was small, and a bit worse for wear, but it was clean and kept the weather out. Good enough for me. And the price was right! After an un-remarkable, but filling, dinner I retired for the night early.
Leg = 263 mi
Distance for Day 5 = 690 mi
Time = 10hr
AVS = 69 mph
Total Miles Day 5 = 685.2 mi
Time = 10hr 02min
Stopped = 1hr 19min
0330 MDT Saturday October 19, 2002 Seligman, AZ: I awoke before the alarm (again) and packed. No buffet B’fast ….hummmmph!
The weather was mild as I motored along the nearly deserted highway toward Kingman, AZ. I had a good, early start and looked forward to very little impediment for many hours this Saturday morning. The sky was an inky black velvet roof, filled with a blanket of millions, or trillions of bright twinkling stars. Occasionally a meteorite streaked across my field of vision to keep me amused in my solitary world of thought. I flashed back to the many nights my family and I had spent laying outside under the same stars, watching for the “shooting stars” of the Persieds, Leonids, and other celestial events in the California desert and Oregon backwoods.
0505 MDT Kingman, AZ: As I pulled into Kingman, my odometer rolled past 6000 miles since I left home. I found town virtually deserted as I topped up my tank for the final leg of my return trip home.
Leg = 344.4 mi
Gas = 9.898
Distance today = 61mi
Time = 50min
Highway 93 north out of Kingman was deserted of trucks due to a 9-11 Federal ban on trucks on Hoover Dam. I turned off 93 onto SR68 toward Bullhead City, AZ and Laughlin, NV. Due to the early hour, cage traffic and LEOs were non-existent, and the ride into and through these twin cities on the banks of the Colorado River was a snap. As I climbed the grade west out of Laughlin, I thought of the last time I was on this road. It was early October this year. My son Rick and I visited Laughlin for the finish of our ride in the Red Hot Riders’ Baby Butt 1000. The temperature then was in the triple digits. This morning it was a very comfortable 64 degrees.
It was still dark as I passed through the tiny desert town of Goffs, CA. Becci, Rick, and I had been through this little settlement in the East Mojave desert dozens of times while exploring the vast Mojave wilderness over the past 20 years by ourselves and with friends. Goffs is the home of Dennis Casabier, desert historian and founder of “Friends of The Mojave Road”. It is too bad that Northern California politicians and environmentalists, who have never even been out here, have succeeded in recent years to shutdown much of this area to human travelers. I am glad my family and I had the chance to experience it first. I can only hope that some day people will again be able to explore and learn about the history, flora, and fauna of the magnificently desolate Mojave Desert. In Fenner, CA, I decided to deviate from my usual route along Route 66 through Amboy, CA. It was still early on a weekend, so I hopped on I-40 for the ride to Barstow, CA. As I expected it was virtually deserted going west toward the “big city”. I only passed 2 other vehicles going westbound by the time I got to the construction zone at the top of the crest of the Old Dad Mountains. For most of the 28 miles of construction I was alone and made good time. About 5 miles from the end at Ludlow, CA, I caught up with a single 18–wheeler traveling about 60 mph. I hung way back to avoid blinding him with my “stadium lighting”. When the lanes opened back up, I was able to cruise at a very comfortable speed all of the way into Barstow. The sun was just dawning as I changed onto I-15 south for the short ride into Victorville, CA. Traffic was a bit heavier on the 15 but moved along at a good pace despite some construction.
The final 90 miles into L.A. was across the Western Mojave on the treacherous Palmdale Highway. This 2-lane ribbon of undulating asphalt claims dozens of lives each year as BDCs try to pass slower vehicles and get into head-ons. I usually avoid this road, but today traffic was light, the ST had considerable acceleration, and I was burning my HIDs on high beam in the early morning sun. The closer I got to the “City of Angels”, the crazier the BDCs got, until I pulled off the I-405 in the San Fernando Valley.
0715 PDT Reseda, CA: I pulled into my driveway. My latest motorcycle adventure was over. I was home again after 10 days 1hr 30 min and 6,335 miles. I had documented a BBG, SS1000, and a 50CC Gold Quest. I attended the FDNY memorial for my fallen brothers. I met a lot of new people from all over the USA and the World. I also rode Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Deals Gap. I tamed the Dragon and its 318 turns in 11 miles … in the rain. I burned 166.3 gallons of gas for an overall average mpg of 38.09. I spent $228.96 for fuel. I used zero oil, had zero performance awards, zero mechanical failures with the ST, and zero get-offs. I also had 100% fun.
Total miles last leg = 397 mi
Total time last leg = 5hr 15min
Time stopped = 16 min.
AVS = 75.5 mph