I have covered my feelings about how much Quebec hates motorcyclists here, but one of the most frustrating elements of this is that you are forced to take your bike off the road for four months. They don’t actually ban you from riding your bike in winter, they simply introduced a law that says you must have officially sanctioned winter tyres on your motorbike.
Of course, they don’t exist
Now I don’t want Ginko to live on the deck all winter… even under her super waterproof and breathable British Oxford cover…
What a lucky boy. I got to ride Ginko‘s sibling for a day in true a Adventure scenario. We out for the day filming a video using Honda Canada’s press bike, a black Africa Twin with a manual gearbox. I rode it some 300km on road then spent the whole day riding around an abandoned asbestos quarry. It’s very weird stuff.
The manual was an odd change. I thought I would forget to use the clutch, but it was completely natural to return to the norm. The action of the gearbox was really slick but we spent an hour riding out of Montreal in really bad traffic which brought home the advantages of the brainless changes of the DCT on Ginko.
When we got to the dirt I really noticed how great the DCT was. Using your hand and foot to change gear whilst man-handling a big bike around this very rough environment meant unsettling yourself. A dirt bike is a totally different thing, but on this beast it was my preference.
I’m also more into the silver. Maybe I am truly biased? I’ll link to the video when it comes out. It’ll be very cool.
Looking at the map we thought we knew what we were doing. No way were we going to backtrack East toward Salt Lake city, no, we were going North through an area that no one really knew much about.
I rustily asked the old monolingual mexican dude if there was any fuel up there and he shrugged his shoulders and looked at me with that “you’re an idiot, why do you want to go up there anyway” expression. Screw it, we bought fuel cans and Adam was getting antsy in his pantsy to leave so we strapped them up and headed north up the suspiciously unused road.Turning to dirt we soon noticed the rarely seen dashed line on the GPS and a cattle grid; the state line to Nevada!
It’s weird that, as humans, we feel a need to delineate stuff, especially when you’re out in the desert taking photos of a random cattle grid and orange plastic pole with the barely visible “NEVADA STATE LINE” stenciled on it. Where are the booze and hookers? All we got was more dirt when the road shortly ended and we were back over the Utah line to some very remote farms. Those people really live a long way from nowhere.
I never got used to how a major road on the map can be such a disappointment. We crossed highway 30 and headed up to the unknown and a dot on the map called Grouse Creek. If you do this kind of trip across the ‘states it quickly becomes apparent that these towns are normally a small collection of buildings and nothing else. This made me pretty nervous because fuel was playing on my mind and it was getting late. Of course all that was nonsense. We cruised into this lovely quaint farming hamlet and saw an old guy putting along on his farm ATV. We introduced ourselves and he reciprocated in great humour by proclaiming his self appointment as Mayor. We asked about camping spots and were told that we could use the Rodeo ground, just along the road. There was power, water, cover and a toilet. Lovely! When we rolled up there was a couple there that ran the catering there; slightly guarded at first we chatted about their dogs and they soon made us feel very welcome, showing us where the water and light switches were. Tents were unnecessary so we just slept on our mattresses and sleeping bags. It was a lovely night with distant coyotes and a cool breeze, then a beautiful sunrise.
We did see a really weird thing in the sky. I would have never noticed but Adam was looking south, about 10 o’clock elevation and called over to me to check it out. After my eyes resolving the faint stars I saw a loop of light points about the same brightness as the surrounding stars chasing themselves. We stared at it for some time and it eventually dissolved. I can’t say I have ever seen anything like that and my rational mind can’t think of what it could have been. Pretty odd.
In the morning we followed our noses over some quite spectacular hills toward the Idaho state line with dreams of Sunday bacon and eggs, got distracted by the “City of Rocks” National Reserve (not really what I would call a city, per-say, more like a village) and ended up refueling in a gas station in Declo that had what seemed to be a nice looking food outlet. Things soon got pretty odd. A dude in a very sensible sedan wearing a suit congratulated us for touring the country and basically chastised us for not already having as many children as we could. He used a very close to the bone expression that said forthrightly “Us white people need to keep up our end of the population”, then he left and we went into the store. The door creaked and a clutch of men looked around. They were doing that hanging around for a while but not sitting down thing that men do in some circumstances when the should be somewhere else. You can see this behavior in fishing shops, motorcycle dealers and anywhere where the man can be in his natural habitat and drink isn’t involved. There was no food to be had, the glass display cabinets were empty and that’s when the penny dropped. Church. The man in the suit, the men in the foodless cafe and the total lack of beer. I paid for fuel and asked for food. I might as well have asked for a copy of Reader’s Wives or Teen Sluts because the look on the man’s face said “You heathens really shouldn’t be asking us to make food on a Sunday”. It was pretty weird and we were glad to be back on our bikes.
Relief came in the form of Village of Trees RV resort. Milkshakes, bacon and other ungodly things were imbibed whilst we made friends with Mad Max and Eric the Blacksmith. You know, the most interesting people in America live on what most would call the fringes of society. They’re not normal and that is what is so great about them. As usual we found them way too interesting and spent far too long hearing of Max’s brushes with Mexican bike gangs and looking at Eric’s workshop along with all the stuff he makes in the realm of the mountain man.
On the map you may notice a really big gap north of Minidoka. I blame Adam. Note the use of the word blame. It’s implying that an event happened that someone is responsible for. I was getting that weird spider sense that means “you don’t really want to go up there”, but that was being countered by the lovely experience of finding the Rodeo ground in Grouse Creek, another map black hole. Adam is a bit more gung-ho so we crossed the railway tracks and headed north through the ever diminishing and horribly corrugated farm roads until the GPS had only one spidery branching track to follow.
There was wind and a nasty barely existent rut track that broke out into horrible rocks and undulating corners with blind crests that promised a change of scenery but never delivered. Peppering the experience were millions of grasshoppers the numbers of which were biblical. They jumped through the hole in my fairing where my forks go, which meant me being rained on from below with a torrent of insects. Adam had it worse. He was behind for most of this and was splashed with the wake of these hopping nasties. Did I mention the wind? Trying to keep a big bike upright in a dusty rut with plagues of grasshoppers bothering you is hard enough but there was also a wind strong enough to lean against. It was awful. The kind of horrible that you want to just get over with but can’t because the track meandered through patches of nasty sharp volcanic rock.
About four hours later we arrived at Atomic City. I’m pretty sure the CIA put this ‘town’ here for nuclear testing because it is the most god forsaken place in the United States. Maybe that explains the plagues but what about the locals? Refreshingly drunk, they were relaxing after a day of racing cars round their own track. Again, awesome people that welcomed us like friends after we explained exactly where we had just ridden from. I got a lot of that on this trip.
“Where? You came from where? Are you sure you came from there? You know there is no road?” asked the man in a dusty plaid shirt, a greasy hand gesticulating a beer.
“Yes, I know, now give me a Coke before I pass out.”
We regretfully shrugged off offers of shots, signed a dollarbill for the wall and headed for civilisation. Riding at a 30 degree slant due to the incredible wind we saw a sign for a nuclear site and despite being totally beaten by the wind and insects we visited the site of the first Nuclear reactor. Can you believe they were building nuclear jet engines for aeroplanes in the 60s too? They are still there, out in the desert, rusting.
Luckily there was a room at the Lost River Motel but bad news came from Adam. The dry bag containing his lovely Belstaff jacket, tent, sleeping bag and a load of other stuff also contained a quart of engine oil. Contained, past tense, because the contents were now covering the contents of the blue dry bag. I made helpful comments like “You really shouldn’t have put that oil in there” whilst trying to avoid touching anything that Adam owned. He managed to wipe a lot of it clean but the Jacket was toast so we did what any self respecting adventure man would do and sent it to his mum. That really isn’t what you want to deal with after such a brutal day but Adam came out with good humor regaling me and a cool group of Kiwis we met with stories of the advertising world whilst we ate at Pickle’s Place .
Nathan’s Honda entertained us in the morning and provided more chain lube. That stuff doesn’t last very long when you’re doing two bikes and a load of miles. It propelled us west and toward more passes that we really weren’t expecting. I must have been getting tired by then because I didn’t take many photos, but I remember it being hard riding and spectacular. I even rode Adam’s bike for a while until we approached Sun Valley which was a complete culture shock. I chuckled at how Californian Adam has become in seeing an overpriced Quinoa salad and getting excited. There were vintage Porsches and equally well maintained older women parked in shady spots. We made the place look untidy and headed west again to a late night check in at a Motel in Boise, Idaho. The home of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Moving away from the 3 step ranch was difficult. It’s beautiful, there is great food and it’s very serene. Being on the road is kinda the opposite, except for the scenery, but off and at ‘em we were, confident in Adam’s plumbing work on Dr Zeleaky and the lovely fresh tyres that I had installed.
Aaaaand we’re off… through the undulating hills of Eastern Utah in the cool morning. Dr Zeleaky was smoking, what I thought, was the smoke of a fresh fiddle when we stopped to put our rain gear on just past La Sal. Adam took a cursory look and spearing ensued.
The whole exercise to reduce kinks in the DRZ’s guts had an awful side effect; the plastic catch tank was resting on the exhaust and now had a hole burnt clean through. Adam, now as adept as a F1 pit mechanic, whipped the thing out and we set about with gasket sealant and gaffer tape in an attempt to patch the scar made oh-so difficult because it was covered in oil, like the whole bike.
Off again we went climbing heights again, through forest and up into damp cloud. Not the terrain we imagined for Utah, but a great relief from the 42ºC (108ºF) of yesterday’s foray into Moab scavenging for parts. Even the workers at the recycling centre were complaining about the heat whilst they sucked on popsicles and sorted card and metal, overlooked by an Angelina Jolie era Tomb Raider cardboard cutout. Like everyone we met they were all too glad to help and untangled an old power supply from the pile for the fan inside.
Peaking Mt Peale and Mt Mellenthin we descended to an incredible view of Moab and it’s Warner Bros matte painting like canyon backdrop. There is no doubt that the cartoons we watched as kids came from the mind of someone who spent quite some time in Utah. The overlook was spectacular, so much so that I almost want to deny you a photo because the justice the photo brings is kangaroo court. This trip has been full of moments like this, with the sad realization that the vistas can never be shared, only experienced at the time. Photos are a cruel court in which to judge the expletive generating scenes that I experienced daily.
The other great advantage of being line-of-sight with a major town is cell phone signal. So I call Anne and jibberishly attempt to describe what we are seeing and Adam calls Rocky Mountain ATV, the Amazon.com of the motorbike world, to see if we can replace the melted blob duct tape ball that was his catch tank. Of course they have it and weirdly Adam has a credit of exactly the amount in his account there, having bought pretty much everything he was wearing and riding from the same shop.
Through Moab we at at Milts, my Moab favourite for it’s simplicity, busy collage age staff and genuine history. The place gets a lick of paint but thats about it. The formica top to the bar must have seen hundreds of thousands of burgers and ‘shakes crossing it since the fuzzy black and white photos from the ‘50s – its great. We bumped into a couple of English lads there who paid to come and teach American kids to play football for the summer. Seems a bit of a scam that; they should be paid, not the other way round. A dash up the highway for a couple of miles, then left into the real desert of sand and red rock, climbing up and up to a precarious view down to the canyon, then down to the plateau. It’s hard to ride in this desert. There are rocks sticking up treating to puncture Ginko’s new boots and nasty sand to test my fortitude. I’d love to be on a light enduro machine here and blast across it at warp speed but I need to get all my water, food, fuel and supplies across in one piece.
At one point we had to rely on traditional map skills of Northings and Westings to work out where we were. GPS gets you so far, but the desert is pretty featureless and there are a lot of snaking canyons of which we were in the wrong branch.
More desert, sand dust and sun brought us back to the Highway and then the old highway, dangerous for it’s huge potholes going North to Green River and more rain. We chickened out and took a motel, washed clothes, ate crap and slept to continue across the desert the next day where we encountered the most incredible of canyons. If you are ever in the area look up the CR332 and drive the road North-West. The scale of the scenery is astonishing.
The TAT heads in the direction of Salt Lake City, which is where Rocky Mountain ATV is based so we decide to head there, first climbing and descending South Tent Mountain to Ephraim where we had what San Franscisco resident Adam described as ‘the best burrito I have ever had’ at a little Mexican place in town. It was great, but we needed to ride to Nephi and the cheesy carbohydrate volleyball in our stomachs caused some narcoleptic episodes.
Adam’s favourite was the freeway. We needed to make time for all the stops and that meant him riding what is akin to an angry lawnmower a long way up the freeway to Payson near Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain ATV. Of particular seared in olfactory memory was a truck that overtook us. The DRZ is geared at a speed juuuuust below which these Semi-Trucks are comfortable, so we end up being slowly overtaken by a succession of interesting, dull and in this case gag-reflex inducing stench that crept past us until we were still in it’s wake with the rig miles away in front. It must have had desert baked animal bodies, off offel or maybe liposuction fat in it. Memorable it sure was; that truck driver can not be popular.
Arriving at Rocky Mountain ATV we park on the pavement outside and the dirt savvy customers exiting the little shop glued onto the massive warehouse clock Ginko and I get the now familiar questions about the rarest of beasts, the Africa Twin. Adam decides not to sully the clean cement and parks away from the shop, walking in to be greeted by tempting bits and bobs on sale. We got chatting with Mattie who is a guru with the Rocky Mountain ATV website, quickly pulling up the most random of bits. Adam got his weird plastic black box, some extra Roc Straps to replace those that Dr Zeleaky had eaten and I bought a mirror smoke visor for my craigslist helmet. we chatted and as we were leaving someone in the clouds opened a tap and the sky filled with water. We were a bit stuck because we really needed to fix the Dr and we asked Payton, the supervisor if there was a covered area where we could pull the Suzuki apart. To our surprise he opened one of the loading ramps and we were ensconced by a billion dollars of motorcycle parts taking the world’s grimiest DRZ apart on their clean floor. That warehouse is massive, so big that the only thing limiting its expansion is the Interstate. thew staff were super cool and interested in what we were doing. It was amazing to look up from the dirty Dr and say “umm… have you got one of these?” holding up some destroyed part for someone to come back with a selection for us to choose.
When we’d installed the wretched black box and some other bits (causing a nasty gash in Adam’s hand) it was closing time and we got the local knowledge about where to camp. Dave came out in his helmet and jacket so I asked about his ride… something I have wanted to try since Anne and I lived in Bangkok, a Honda Grom. The antithesis of Ginko, it’s a tiny but classy fun machine with a clutch, upside down forks and great brakes. We swapped had a scoot round the loading area then set off chasing Dave in the direction of the valley we would be camping in.
Setting up tents in the trees we chatted to the camp neighbours and had a walk wound the lake in the woods overlooking the town, ate some food and tried to start a fire. Our direct neighbours were a pastor and his family of eight children who were out for the day. I suspect they must have noticed us trying to light the damp wood hurriedly left by the previous occupants escaping the downpour, because the kids bought us a succession of campfire lighting tools, starters and eventually Dad bought over the heart of their own fire on a metal skillet. Not only that but marshmallows and sticks, so we had a raging fire and pudding.
In the morning we were given even more hospitality from another Dad and kids cooking pancakes on a griddle. We got a fantastic fresh cooked pancake breakfast and were on our way. We looped round to Eureka and Vernon where we battled huge heat and big winds, north to Tooele and then the Salt flats where we fulfilled a life’s ambition and took to the salt… then ran away because the stuff was wet and stick to your bike like alien blood cement, eating through steel with abandon.
Having cheap Mexican in the Bonneville salt flats cantina we studied maps and decided to cut the TAT where it goes into Idaho. There is a curious loop that runs way East then North to Idaho which we concluded could be short-cut. Whilst doing so a dude interrupted us saying he was on the TAT in his Jeep and his friend’s Land Rover. He told us that GPS’ were ‘a good idea and that we should be using them’ and that ‘…there are these fuel containers called RotoPax, you’ll need some of those too.’ Errr.. okay dude. I think we’re okay for now, but thanks for the useful information?!
Nervous of the lack of fuel for the next section we had bought gallon containers and filled our bags with water. Local knowledge was scarce of information about the roads north. Would we be okay? Find out next time on JasonWD.com!
Saying the words “I’m riding across the USA” is a pretty easy action. Anyone can do it. “Yeah, I’m riding coast to coast”. It’s when you get to states like Oklahoma that the scale slaps you in the face and you end up cheating.
I really love riding on dirt. My mentor cousin in my post school banishing to work on the farm, and my gold standard of manliness, Mark Impey once said of me lusting after a sports motorbike “you’ll get bored of that thing very quickly because you love disappearing down dirt tracks”.
Well in Oklahoma there is a massive amount of ground to cover and it’s all perfect mile by mile squares. The trail goes a while, turns left 90°, goes for a while, turns right 90°… You get the picture. The Saint said ‘skip 2 days of Oklahoma and I did. Kinda.
So on to Boise City I go at a very sensible speed because I’m worried about wearing my knoblies. I head. North and wait for the interstate. A dashed line goes past on the rolling map on the GPS and I turn left (west).
So the. I realise I’m in yet another state and I’ve really diverted from the #TransAmericaTrail. We’re in Kansas now Ginko. At the next turn I turn left (it really is that easy to navigate over these distances) and a town appears. Cute, very ‘cowboy film’ with a wide Main Street, shops of caring and random sorts. Uniquely for me it has red brick streets. Not just the main drag (actually that’s just boring Tarmac) but the little side streets.
I decide to head west a bit farther and see a little burger joint with horses. My brain assumes they are fake, then Anne came to mind percussively: Eat Jason. Horses. and I slammed on the brakes for a quick ‘U’ turn.
Off with the helmet and peer at the smelly beasts tied to the ageing Coca-Cola sign of the burger place. I pull the screen door and quickly learn the knack to opening the sagging wooden one. In the relative darkness are men who work for a living. They all stare at me as I wrestle the portal into this most local of lunch spots.
I order a $4 cheese burger and follow the riders out to their horses to quiz them.
A reporter then appears and must have thought I was a much better story than his father in law getting up to equestrian mischief and our interview devolves into a chat. Apparently there USA town where the yellow brick roads. Follow the follow the follow the follow the, follow the red brick road mustn’t have had quite the same ring!
I then bump into more locals, Jake and Farmer. Yes Farmer is his name. I had to check that too; total character. Whilst Farmer was writing me a Karma Card on his lottery numbers notes Jake was interested in the route.
I said my goodbyes and headed off again at my tyre saving highway speed.
I had gone 40 miles when, with feet up on the crash bars in total cruiser position I see flashing from behind. More cops? I stop and Jake comes bounding toward me. “You might need these.” My precious #TransAmericaTrail maps in their map pocket had fallen off the back of my pannier beaver tail. I must have forgotten to clip the thing in place. Jake and Farmer chased me for 40miles out of their way to return my maps. Amaze.
A single lane road with vast landscape either side was my company for the next 4 hours. The sky reminded me of science fiction landscapes where the grain silos are given scale of distance by the haze in front.
I get the chance to chat to Anne over my helmet Bluetooth system and then an hour later I’m in a Boise City motel room doing the disrobe, bath, wash clothes dance.
The town is the last outpost of Oklahoma with nothing to draw anyone but railway workers, local farmers and some oil men. It’s pretty remote so 6AM breakfast sees the train of retired farmers cycle through the cute little cafe for their morning Joe, the chirpy proprietor attending to them without even asking. I purposely sit at a longer table and break the ice with a particularly frosty old dude. Wow he was hard work to warm up but eventually I told him where I came from and he said “Northern or Southern Rhodesia”. That was a surprise. It seems that his church had sent some missionaries our way before I was born and Southern Rhodesia became just Rhodesia and the Zimbabwe.
As the regulars rolled through in a succession of smaller and massive pickups I got chatting to a very bright eyed bloke who was keenly interested in the maps, the bike and where I had been. We talked vehicles and Terrell offered to show me his Mutt Jeep in a ‘shop across from the cafe. He’d been in the service and, like my Dad with his Land Rovers, had developed a kinship with this particular model; a Ford built independently coil sprung intermediate between the Willys and the Hummer. Unusually I was unaware of the model and took keen interest in Terrell’s description of how he is restoring it, using money from his ever declining well profits.
I had to cut it short because I had a very long way to go, in fact I rode around fourteen hours that day, starting through more farmers fields, dodging irrigation runoff and seeing the most wonderful herd of tiny deer with strange antlers.
I managed to drop Ginko again. Deep tractor ruts through sand and mud revealed hidden goop with nowhere to go and I was in the cotton. It took all my strength to right her after removing the dry bags.
New Mexico was a total change. It seems the state line drawers must look at the topography and go “yup, this is a different state; Joe…. Draw the line here this is New Mexico!”. It really looks like cowboy films and the riding got better and better up one over hills through the canyons. I passed through a farm after riding through a valley and then up a very steep switch backed road up onto a plain and I was in Colorado.
Again the countryside changed to rolling hills with mountains in the background. I had to ride carefully because fuel was an issue but eventually I got to a small stop in Trinidad where the open smoking culture of Colorado was truly evident because of the huge choice of implements on which to toke being offered.
Up and toward St Charles peak riding in national forest and open grazing I saw the rain ahead and donned the gimp suit. Not a minute later the red dirt turned to mud and I was climbing a very Welsh looking land up up up and down into the valley.
Ginko told me the time was getting on so, sitting on the side stand and wondering round looking at my phone for an official campsite I decided to head north to Denver. I’d be a day early, but better that than get soaked in the woods, knackered from a huge day.
I inflated the tyres hit the slab, entering Denver with some culture shock of being in a big city again. Not since New Jersey had I seen so many cars. I was then in the bosom of family eating delicious lamb kebabs in the beautiful modern garden of Cousin Adam and Carolyn’s Denver Red brick with Uncle Peter. I was shattered and very glad to be in a familiar surrounding with loved family who I’ve known since before I can remember.
Powering away from the Motel that morning felt great. I had washed all my clothes in the bath, as I did today. Sweating that much makes you stink… and I’m not normally a sweaty person. I’ve actually taken to keeping one of those crunchy little water bottles that people dispose of so readily and every time I see a creek I fill it up and tip it over my jersey and trousers.
The flat part of Arkansas is pretty horrible to ride on a bike. The roads seem to be either constantly being graded, which is a sandy nightmare or 6″ thick gravel, like a rich person’s drive. If you ride a motorbike you’ll know the terror of the gravel; tottering along with the wheels seemingly under some demonic control. Yeah? Well I did that for most of a day at some clip too. The technique is-
Hold as tight as possible whilst seated and hope your bowels hold….. or is it Stand on the pegs and lighten your grip? Easier said than done. I’ve now mastered the Paris Dakar ‘ride like a racehorse jockey’ stance.
Now here is an admission that I’ve been thinking about whilst wrestling this giant bike. I grew up on small off road bikes and thought ‘no problem… Pffft, silly mid life crisis Adventure bike, I’ll just POWEEEEERRRRR through everything looking incredibly cool whilst I fishtail out of every corner and roosting dirt on the admiring crowds cooing at my incredible adventurousness.’
No. Not at all. It’s more like… Shit! Gravel on the outside of this off-camber corner, there might be some hick in a truck coming so I can’t take the rut… I’ll just Poole round at walking pace. All those people that say the Africa Twin “doesn’t have enough power, I mean the BMW has loads more, and the KTM… well… have I just put a canoe in my pocket or is that power? WOOF!”
They can suck my trench foot toe. This trip requires finesse and judgement. I mean… It would be great to spolsh into every water crossing with a abandon but that wouldn’t be wise. I tend to stop… look and gently meander through. I can’t imagine dropping Ginko in a slimy bottomed creek ford and trying to right her.
So poodle I did… Then POOOOOOWER… then pootle etc. Until I saw TAT written on an old shop. So I use the amazingly effective ABS and come to a stop. Out pops Percy who offers me a cold drink and some crackers. Him, his son Glenn and his friend from down the road Al maintain the ’TAT shack’ near Trenton, AR (oops, I seem to have been calling Arkansas AK!). It’s kind of Percy’s retirement hobby, that and the horses. It’s at odds with the “piles of crap I’ve collected over the years” adorning the shop that he uses an iPad and flat screen TV for the horses. In there is a large board dedicated to many #TransAmericaTrail riders and a some books that Al makes every year with photos of the ones that have stopped.
Al often sees #TransAmericaTrail riders from his sawmill a mile down the road and calls ahead to Percy who greets them. What an amazing experience. I asked Glen if he had a hose so I could wet myself down and he led me to his mancave (oh if I could dream) where I scored more ice. Al and Glen admired Ginko, with her weird gearbox and we were off again to the gravel. By the way everyone – SHE’S NOT A FREAKING BMW!!! I need to get a sticker made.
Very shortly after the shack was some of that talcum powder like dust which is nasty, and a pretty big water crossing where some rice fields had leaked. The umbrella came in useful again.
And onto the levies. High speed riding like flying above the fields upon these magnificent bits of engineering I came upon a cool looking cat on a three wheeler enjoying some tunes after work. I came alongside when Jordan pulled over to let me past and we chatted. After the now usual ‘where, when why’ questions I asked about food and he directed me to the burger joint in town where his mom worked. We parted and I went to freak her out by sticking my head through the order window and asking for her by name. Jordan appeared and we chewed the fat under the fans of the outdoor seating area. He drives combines on the farm and is a lovely kind bloke. His biggest concern is paying for health care for his growing family because he earns too much for Obama Care. Thinking about what he was saying on the levy overlooking the town was insightful of the cultural outlook of the people I met. Pointing at the rails he described how most black people live on one side and whites on the other. We were at the crossing, and so is he as his mom turned out to be a lovely white lady who makes a great burger. He’s not going to vote because he thinks it won’t make a difference.
More farms, gravel, farms, massive projects with giant machinery to dodge. ”What you building” I shout to the driver of one stepping down from above head height to refuel. He plops down to the oily squelch I’ve wobbled through to round the massive dam scoop and he replies in a thick Texan accent. ”This here is gonna be a dam Sir”
It’s about half a mile long scar in the land like a meteor strike. Bigger than any Dam we ever built… maybe besides Kariba ;).
With failing light I do the zig zag through the countryside looking for a place to camp. Again everything is deserted because of the heat. I look at maybe a church with flat green grass surrounding it, but locked doors bar that idea and I furrow a path down another gravel road to have a bug splat me in the eye. I stop. Stop engine, remove dome, gloves, rub eye (it’s a self cleaning mechanism you know?) and hear dogs.
When I look over my shoulder I see some mean looking dogs, Trump garden signs, a flamed dump truck a cherry picker and a random assortment of buildings. There’s a scary looking 8ft tall dude with a beard staring at me. I leave Ginko on the road and approach the demise line of his property and wave hello. There is a castle doctrine in Arkansas – you know what that means?! Matt comes bounding up and enthusiastically introduces himself instantly asking if I need to rest or want anything. And so I come across incredible generosity. Matt and Janice are looking toward the good life. Un-reliant subsistence seems the goal with chickens (amazing scrambled eggs Matt), cows, pigs and even Guinea Fowl chirping down from the shed roof alerting them of my presence. Matt is no redneck. He lived in Oz for 30 years and has the most comprehensive knowledge I have come across in a man. Microscopic electronics to animal butchery. Incredibly resourceful. He’s a keen HAM radio operator with the top licence and enough equipment to reach anywhere with the quality of a good radio broadcast.
I slept on their couch and when Janice left in the morning for work Matt set about making me a screen to try and combat the terrible buffeting I was getting from the wind. Being a life long biker he knows the suffering that turbulence can bring. He has the most beautiful Harley. I’m not really into them but I’ve seen two I like, both owned by people I got to know in a short space of time. Matt’s is the top dog with subtle and showy in one package: All chrome with silver and gun metal paint embellished with blue pinstriped scallops. Tell you what. He’s a very brave man taking that down his nasty gravel road. Oh and the screen he made from a chainsaw face shield is magic.
I left the Davis’ sad I couldn’t get to know them better (didn’t get a photo of Jan either) and headed toward the Hills. More riding through tracks and trails, farms, woods, creeks and roads in the incredible heat I rounded a corner and saw Scotland. Thinking of Jenny (my long time friend and colleague) I selfied at the seemingly deserted town, fiddled with the inreach to try and get it to Bluetooth to my phone (fail) then came across a little shop. It was lunch and I could nearly see if it was open. I saunter in, probably complaining about the heat and am presented with a #TransAmericaTrail sign in sheet. Wow.
They too have #TransAmericaTrail memorabilia and I’m the 13th to pass through this year. Lucky because I get chatting to the lovely lovey family that run the place. Jonathan takes my order and makes my lunch whilst Becky and Bill quiz me; Savannah probably thinks I just talk funny. It always takes some time to explain not only the trip, but also my background. Again, they seem genuinely interested and ask very relevant and thoughtful questions. It’s a shame that Buck is selling the place and I hope that people as kind and thoughtful take over. Becky not only offers to wash my disgustingly smelly clothes (I could never let her!) but then pays for my lunch. I couldn’t refuse her, it wasn’t allowed.
Up and up into the Ozarks where I was promised cooler weather, but not a hint. Through deserted woods roads, higher until that time to sleep again. It comes round so quick. I pull into a camp… ”there is a public campground down the road, we have this church group who booked the whole place”. Bit of a shame, all I wanted was a patch of grass. So I pull into the remote county campsite that is completely deserted, set up and use one of my panniers as a water hauling system to wash and use the stove to boil more drinking water. The tap is a way up the road. A weird couple does the rounds in a white sedan in a really creepy way which gives me the heabies and I get into my tent and try to write. I fail. It was so hot that, lying on my mattress, phone above me, my elbows dripped with sweat. I ended up waking at 4am because I was being eaten by tiny tiny ants and was sweltering, so packed and set off.
I managed the rest of Arkansas and a fair chunk of the incredible Oklahoma, the start of which has a great river in which swimming is a must. I met Larry there. He fishes whilst the raucous young floaters drift by. He says the biggest fish he got was when they are about, so doesn’t mind them. Larry works in a can factory but says he preferred his first job in a plant nursery.
Over the plains I went to the incredible comfort of the quality motel in Bartlesville.
I donned flipflops and shorts, white tee shirt and left the helmet to enjoy the wind in my bald for the first time in a city on the way to Murphys. There, the dish to try is a burger on toast covered in cheese, fries and gravy. A ate until it looked like road kill and gave up. There Roger (the codger) and Brian entertained me with great craic. Roger seems a favourite of the ladies that work the place. He’s into oil and was familiar with the place where I took the pics. I actually snuck in there because the trail was too low. When hearing of my architectural work he suggested I visit the tower that I spotted on the way to the Resturant; the advantage of no helmet! It seems that Frank had his hand in Bartlesville and his tower here is his only ‘skyscraper’.
Brian came on his flamed Screaming Eagle Fat Boy and joined Rodger and I in to car park to kick tyres. I gave him a go on Ginko and he loved the gearbox. He wanted me to ride his Harley but I had to refuse because in flipflops I’d be a menace. It seems Brian is a victim of the awful separation of Indians (is that politically correct??) because his family are completely disparate, so much so that he had to convince the hospital that he had a solid base of friends to take care of him otherwise they wouldn’t give him a new liver. Rodger and 9 others were there for him and he looks very very well now. Super cool with hair to accompany that Oklahoma helmet law.
The main problem with this trip is having to move on from all these wonderful people. Even the intimidating looking geeza at the milkshake place in Salina, OK was a thoughtfully generous person, looking carefully at my maps and giving all the knowledge he could.
Now I have to hit the interstate, for my own well being and the time needed to meet Adam in Denver; I just hope my rear tyre lasts so I can enjoy New Mexico. The Saint should know; I have pinned the OK dirt – 100+ club!
I sneaked around in Sam’s place during the wee hours packing Ginko and stealing ice from his freezer. It couldn’t be a better place to start; the walls are covered with memorabilia from the #TransAmericaTrail.
So I stuff the banana The Saint gave me into my mouth as I head off for the trail head of Mississippi through the morning mist, not knowing what the day would bring and in the excitement forget my tank is almost empty. I head north into Tennessee and an old skool filling station with Lucretia at the helm.
She has a big Harley and dreams of heading west the long way too but her son thinks she’s crazy. Such a sweet lady. She saw the lock of hair stuck to my windscreen that has been my totem of Anne and offered some of her own.
I say to Lucretia- take that Harley and go. Go West.
Whilst I was talking to her I noticed some swanky earplugs on a string round the neck of one of Lucretia’s gas station regulars, commented that I keep loosing mine and he just gave me a pair. What lovely people.
Onward to the #TransAmericaTrail with the weird hum of the knobblies adding to Ginko’s growl we turn onto the trail itself and are instantly presented with rough washed out dirt, fallen trees, creek crossings and sand.
BANG! You’re on the #TransAmericaTrail. Through forests, wide dirt, narrow dirt, shale, stones, sand, pebbles. Up and down the Mississippi lands I too soon run out of water because it is so hot.
Bear in mind I’ve lived in Thailand; it’s hot there but nothing on this. Yesterday was the hottest I have ever been in my life. I drank coming on six litres of water and pee’d twice.
I was searching and searching for water but there was not a soul to be seen. They were all cocooned in their air conditioned mansions and trailers. A dirty creek provided some relief as I splashed water over myself and continued until I saw a dude cutting grass. He asked where I was going and I replied ’Oregon, the hard way’. Turns out he was an Oregon native, a musician who just finished recording at Muscle Shoals. He was on his last sip, so I asked for directions and ended up at a sweet little gas station where the owner and her husband fed and entertained me. Her Philly Cheesesteak was excellent and I scored some ice. Her husband recounted stories of bikes and mower dude told me of his Goldwing.
Then a group of younger Mississippians arrived. These are the people your parents warn you to avoid with their thick accents and tattoos. They were the nicest, most friendly and generous people of their age I have come across. Genuinely interested and happy to see someone traveling, they could only offer support and their most sincere best wishes. Billy (in the red shirt) was in the army and traveled to Hungary and Ireland; he collects artefacts and gave me a precious Indian Arrow head which he suggested I could sell but would never dare. These are the totems by which to remember such great people.
Gary, Stephanie, Billy and the twat in the tinfoil suit.
The all told me to avoid the next road because they were finishing bridges but I told them there was probably adventure there and I set off to find the bridges were, indeed, out but by the power of Ginko we conquered by deftly avoiding bulldozers and ploughing through the fresh soil.
Motoring down the dry trail full of ice water and cheesesteak I suddenly encountered a bit of damp road. This very quickly turned to the slick slimy sticky mud that I believe Mississippi is famous for and in very slow motion Ginko was in a ditch of slop.
The stuff is hard to walk in.
Off come the panniers and within 5 minutes appears Honey Waggon Billy. (Please correct me if I’m wrong with the name!)
Another fine specimen of southern friendliness, he muddies himself to help a complete idiot who dropped his poor bike in a mud ditch.
We needed all of his 6 wheels driving to get my two out and towed Ginko by her sturdy steel frame. I push-motored her to a safe spot, loaded up and by-passed what Honey Wagon Billy told me was much worse up the trail. Apparently they had just graded the road and it rained so hard it was all under water. Nasty.
More very remote trails through the woods ended me at Kathys Kwik Stop and a very bored Becky, who made me a very tasty sandwich. She spends her day looking listfully out the window or surfing the web in her phone, then selling dirty fuel (Ginko hates it) and chewing tobacco.
More trails and me getting to the point where I needed to stop and pushing on ensued. So I dropped her again.
Deep deep sand and a very hot and tired Jason resulted in so much sweat it was dripping off all my fingers and I couldn’t see. The panniers and my suit ended up on an ant hill and the extreme effort of getting Ginko out of that sand resulted in me coming off the trail and into a motel.
Awoke and packed. I’m getting better at the packing thing but so far have lost the only pair of cycling shorts that doesn’t gangle my man gangles and my specs and sunglasses which are probably being worn by an interesting camp man in a Jersey beach. Meandering through the Alabama mountains in the morning presents low level clouds and mountains. Titty bars too!
The Blue Plate breakfast joint was recommended to me by the lovely American-Indian man that runs the convenience store/gas station/pizza joint that his parents bought a while back. It’s fascinating that someone with a Biotech Masters and a keen interest in the world can give it up to sell vape batteries to meth heads.
Breakfast at the blue plate was interesting in that I learned that:
Ryan saw Ginko and went out to take in the details probably thinking “my 1200 Suzuki Bandit looks way better without all this crap all over it! Nice bloke.
The breakfast recommendation couldn’t have been better because I put the address into the Zumo and it took a few minutes to get to 1 Tranquillity Base, the NASA Rocket and Space Centre.
I did my now customary cruise by to check out the most Rockstar Parking spot and asked a guy in a golf cart by the Blackbird where would be best. He told me where the security was and I bumped Ginko up onto some grass, in front of the CEO’s car. I was sure someone would appear and a lovely security guy burst out. He rode a Fireblade but desperately wanted an Africa Twin. He said his legs were too short but I’m sure he could have got away with the low seat setting, there’s also a low seat option. From the interaction I was awarded a board members spot. Nice.
The space place left me a bit sad. The American government have really given up. Space Camp, the movie was filmed there in the 80’s and at the time I wanted so badly to go. The camp is closed and the exhibits are tired. It seems that the Smithsonian is really pandering to the large groups of kids that propel themselves through the gates, past the exhibitions of incredible old technology to the rides in the back. There also seems to be a slightly dark influence of the military. I suppose they have to fill the army somehow.
I asked the girl who sold me a sticker for my helmet where I could buy the Camera that Anne had researched and recommended and toward the big box stores I headed. It was hot. Really really hot and despite a valiant effort by the chap in Target and searching by dude in Best Buy the only thing we could find was a TS25 not the LUMIX TS5 I was after.
I fuelled up, bought a gallon of water and a cup of ice from a very frosty Indian lady topped half over myself and put the rest in my backpack.
Muscle Shoals was next and boy was it hot. See the Netflix film. I met the studio manager and bought a sticker from the girl in the blissfully air conditioned office.
Next freak out was the realisation that I was an hour behind meeting The TAT Saint to pick up tyres and oil. It was the difference in time zone that did it, so Ginko was wrong and the phone was right. I got to Lakeside Motors to meet the gang and see their amazing store. Even if you are in the state I would recommend visiting because they have some truly amazing old bikes in there.
Off to dinner we then went, with the legendary Sam Correro and back to take the wheels off Ginko and camp for the night in The Saint’s garden. We really needed the wheels to be balanced so decided to leave it ’till Wednesday to mount and balance them at the Lakeview Motors. This gave The Saint, Sam and I the opportunity to go out and eat Catfish, which I have to say tastes nothing like the disgusting mud flavoured slime that we would catch in the farm dams of my Zimbabwean childhood. It was really good.
After a breakfast of The Saint’s excellent biscuits and sausage in the truck on the way to Lakeview we spoke to the head wrench and I realised I had forgotten the heavy duty tube that I wanted to put in the back wheel. I was having slight problems fitting the things massive girth in my pannier pockets and thought it better actually in the wheel preventing punctures. The lovely owner of Lakeview lent me a sporty little 230cc on which I flipflop and shorts’d back to The Saint’s man cave and back, stopping for the most entertaining refuel at the gas station on the way.
By the way… If you are ever in the area you must make an effort to pop into Lakeview Motors In Corinth, Duane had the most incredible bike collection in a special area that is a fair proportion of the already massive floor space. Everyone there is incredibly friendly and they have some old bikes that you would give body parts for, like possibly my most lusted after Honda, the RVF 750.
After lunch Sam very kindly dropped me off at The Saint’s where I mounted the Shinko 804/5 knobbly equipped wheels (the rear is a massive pain in the hole to get on) then changed the oil. We figured it’s better to do it now so it lasts to the end of the #TransAmericaTrail.
Now. The TOTAL BASTARD that did the first service on my bike can rot in hell. It took me a long… Long…long time to do the oil change because:
a) SOMEONE didn’t put lube on the filter gasket
b) SOMEONE also used some kind of heavy duty tool to tighten the oil filter
Despite The Saint’s fully equipped workshop with filter removers and filter mashers and straps and all sorts of relevant tools I had to revert to Zimbabwe bush mechanics and DRIVE A F**KING SCREWDRIVER THROUGH MY BRAND NEW BIKE. Okay I’m being a bit dramatic, but when it’s 40°C and near 100% humidity and you have been shirtlessly struggling for ages it’s pretty rude to have to resort to that. I know it’s only a disposable part, but still. If I hadn’t had practice doing this on shitty old cars in the past I could have hit the thread and screwed the engine. I had to put my full weight on the pierced part to get the thing off. Grrrrr.
I also had to change the DCT clutch filter, which is yellow when it’s new. The Saint put my mind at rest a bit about the newfangled gearbox because, unbeknownst to me, Honda have been using it in their ATVs for a while now. If you can tow tractors with a 1000cc DCT equipped ATV then I think I should be okay!
Once that was done I scooted over to Sam’s place and the gent of gents made a delicious dinner (watch out ladies) and got me drunk on a deliciously sweet Rose. We did map things, played with phones and computers, I had an incredibly refreshing shower and talked to Anne over FaceTime, which brought me great joy. I miss her immensely and wish she was here to experience all these lovely genuine and incredibly hospitable people.
Sam Correro, the godfather and creator of the #TransAmericaTrail spends his life doing a great many things on and around the trail to ensure it is a great adventure. The man works tirelessly on routes and information which I now realise, after meeting him, that he’s a humble bloke who deserves all the support he can get. He is doing America proud in the best way and should be recognised as such.
He would probably deny what I just said, but get behind the man and you will see for yourself. In fact you may have the chance to do so if his home move goes through… Watch this space
So I loaded up my roll chart, got advice from the man himself and am about to head off to start the real trail. Excited and very nervous. Wish me luck!
I should have been suspicious of the price, I mean, it’s a lovely place to stop and camp but my golly was it noisy. It wasn’t really plain to me that the highway was close enough for the exhaust brakes of passing trucks to intrude into dreams past the earplugs because I had just ridden the most awesome road ever. Totally forgot about the highway. It was otherwise peaceful and I met one of the transitional residents whilst I was packing up the million things that need to go in and on poor Ginko. This lady had a dog bigger than me and looked to be, seriously, knocking on a hundred. I asked if she was in a RV and she replied “yeah… A really big one!” Her husband had had several strokes so “I do all the driving; we’ve just come from visiting in Vermont. Going back to Florida now.”
She left in a vehicle which is honestly bigger than our apartment, towing a full sized SUV. It may be a RV thing but they also played a weird jingle over external speakers as they left.
But now I’m here in Alabama, the only camper in the whole Cathedral Caverns State Park. The overseer of which presented as the stereotype Alabama trailer dweller but ended up being far from it. He’s been about in the movie business and the evil serpent thing in Minsters Inc and The baddie from the first of the newer Sherlock Holmes films were named after him. Randal Blackstone? I’m so bad with names but it seems rude to write them down.
Before here I was remotely encouraged to visit Chattanooga and very glad for it. What an interesting little town. I actually meandered into the Choo Choo by mistake and they were confused as to why I wasn’t _eating_ there. Weird. I just circled and went to a much more interesting part of town. The road out of there towards Alabama is also pretty darn great; mountains., huge levies and perfect Tarmac.
But what about the bike! I hear you ask. She is incredible. Roll on performance is stunning. That’s the moment you go to pass a truck and it indicates. Roll the throttle and she’s away like the clappers. A local Sheriff noticed too and was so curious he stopped me and demanded cash. That or I go down to the courthouse. I was tempted just for the craic but resisted.
So continue I did at a very legal speed until my ass told me to turn off. Through majestic Alabama hills I went, past small holdings with goats and into the deserted campground at the caves.
Cathedral Caverns State Park Campground, Woodville, Alabama 35776 – 637 Cave Road
I hadn’t thought I’d get stuck quite so quickly but, like an idiot, I tried to ride onto the beach to get Ginko as far East as I could.
The morning was spent attaching all the luggage and basically trying to stay with Anne as long as I could. This involved last minute wardrobe changes, working out where my umbrella goes and my better half stuffing items I deemed unnecessary (but were very much so) into various crevices on Ginko. All this really should have been done the day before, which would have probably worsened my predicament.
The ride down was pretty uneventful, except my bank not thinking that making many $10 fuel purchases and one large cash withdrawal was a legitimate thing to do, so they stopped my card. Bastards. How about calling me first; eh?
Every time I stop people comment; “nice bike, where you headed?”. When I tell them “Oregon, via Tennessee, off-road” I get many reactions, mostly disbelief and teeth sucking. Brave has been said, but at this juncture I’d say stupid, hence getting stuck in quicksand on the first day.
So I finally get to the beach in New Jersey, ask the lovely garbage crew if I can go into their yard, a sneaky beach entrance I found on Google Earth, and merryily piont Ginko toward the dark waves.
Now, earlier I’d met this fascinating camp stoner dude who chatted whilst I donned the Gimp Suit. He didn’t seem to mind the ever increasing downpour, asked quizzically and meandered off. I took this as my cue and happily headed toward sandy doom. It was way too late to even get a photo but I’d co e that far and needed to get to the sea.
AAAAND…stuck. Road tyres are not at all the best thing for riding on sand. This sand was quicksand. Left for more than 10 seconds Ginko would sink, tyre deep.
It took my 150lbs an hour to get her 500lbs out, then another two hours to find somewhere to stay. Everywhere was full. I hung around long enough to nab the room of a woman who’s card didn’t work, but her friend appeared in a very short time so I scored!
Day two was way better. I must have covered 600 miles and came to a lovely, if a bit fauna et traffica noisy campsite.
The roads to get here in Salem, Virginia are the best I have ever driven. Including the Alps. Hopefully the GoPro videos will show the incredible roller coaster cambered 2nd gear corners and dappled sun over cartoon like undulations through countryside that seemed, to me, a mixture of my Zimbabwean childhood and Kentish upbringing.
So many thanks to Andrew for the pep talk and of course Anne who is being so much more than a partner should be.