TBT – Solo North America

As technology has blasted happily along, we’ve found ourselves going from Polaroids to plastic-paged photo albums, PowerPoint presentations to our own (somewhat primitive) website, to social media and, finally, to our newest and most dynamic blog. In the interest of consolidation, and with a solid nod to our adventuring roots, we’ve decided to start sharing some #ThrowBackTravels. We’ll be compiling many of our classic posts, pictures, and ride reports and sharing them with you here. Some will have little notes and updates added just to bring things current, some pictures will be fabulously remastered to bring out the very best that 2001 digital photography had to offer, but most content will remain hilariously unaltered. So kick back and enjoy our first installment: Wendy’s Solo North America Extravaganza!

Now, there are a few things to keep in mind as I recount this trip: 

First, I started the trip out with a 50cc Iron Butt ride (Coast-to-Coast in under 50 hours), so I didn’t take any pictures on that leg. Then I rode for a few weeks for the pure enjoyment of riding, so I didn’t take many pictures on that portion of the ride, either. For that reason, this section will be somewhat shorter that the others with a higher story-to-picture ratio.

Bearing that in mind, the story begins… As I mentioned, my trip began with a 50cc Iron Butt ride. Riding my Yamaha FZ1, I left Pismo Beach on May 26, 2004, and arrived in Savannah, Georgia 47 hours and 36 minutes later (including all stops and about 5 1/2 hours of sleep).

Why Savannah?  It’s not the straightest or the shortest route by any means, but I was going to spend the next few days with friends in Augusta, Georgia, and Savannah is the closest beach town to Augusta. My first two days included three concurrent Iron Butt rides, and upon completion of my 50cc at 2,612 miles, I continued on to Augusta for a total of 2,738 miles in under 50 hours. Then I slept for about two days.  My only photographic memento of the ride is of my now-classic annual fingerless glove tan.

After the Iron Butt and a few days of recovery, I basically just set out to wander. I headed north, taking slow meandering back roads through South Carolina and up the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I took in museums and stopped often at historical sites and generally relaxed and enjoyed myself. There were only a handful of things that I specifically wanted to see, but beyond that I had no plans and no timeline.

I found out pretty quickly that my”Guide to Free Campgrounds” book was actually just a random collection of parks and such around the country, most of which had very large “NO CAMPING” signs posted prominently at their perimeter. The upside is that New England states are so small that even though the next campground is half way across the map page, it’s only really like 8 miles away. Especially when you are in Delaware.

The one place I REALLY wanted to see in Philadelphia was the Mutter Museum. These being pre-Zumo days, I had printed out maps with thorough directions to the museum. Unfortunately, I still managed to get lost (I have a very good internal compass, but I found Philadelphia to be a difficult town to navigate). I found myself in a neighborhood where girls riding solo on motorcycles probably don’t want to be, and I decided to blow all the stops signs on my way back to the interstate after a group of decidedly unfriendly-looking guys descended on me while I was stopped at a traffic light. I finally gave up on finding the museum, although I was very disappointed at having to do so. Now that I have Zumo, I have a good reason to go back to Pennsylvania!

I do have to say that I was very impressed with the generally high level of courtesy that I experienced in Pennsylvania (and not just in the City of Brotherly Love!) I stopped several times to ask people for directions or consult my map, and several times I had folks say “Just follow me; I’ll take you to…” where ever I was headed.  I met tons of nice bikers who shared with me the best local rides and eats. I rode from Philadelphia all the way across Pennsylvania to the Ohio border and back again, all on little roads suggested to me to strangers. I had a great time and really enjoyed the wonderful, friendly atmosphere during my days there.

OK, so far my post-Iron Butt trip has taken me all the way to Pennsylvania. After my PA loop, I meandered north through New Jersey and New York before I cut over into Vermont. And like most people, I found Vermont to be absolutely gorgeous!

This was an evening stop in Lake Saint Catherine, Vermont. The riding was great, the roads were well maintained, and the constant rain kept everything nice and green. (Well, you can’t win ’em all, so sometimes you just have to look on the bright side.)

Leaving Vermont, I headed back south across Massachusetts and through Connecticut.  I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed riding through Connecticut; the roads were exceedingly well maintained, and at every turn there was another beautiful back road beckoning to me. And for the first time on my trip, it seemed, there was no such thing as getting lost – just a consistently thrilling series of random turns and towns until eventually (sadly) I bumped into an interstate and moved on into Rhode Island, through Boston and on to New Hampshire.

Shortly after my return, I wrote a story about this trip for a “Great Rides” contest. The picture to the left is one of several that accompanied the story and assisted in netting me a second-place win. (I was actually really happy that I won second place; first prize was a dual sport adventure tour around Arizona, but I won about $1000 worth of FirstGear riding gear that I still use nearly every day. I think I got the better end of that bargain!)

You know how sometimes there are things that seem like a good idea when you first wake up, and then turn out to be completely goofy and ridiculous later after your brain kicks in? Well, I like to commemorate those moments and share them with the world at the expense of my dignity. (See, I don’t just post pictures that embarrass my husband – I’m right there with him!)

After turning back to the north and riding through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I finished my Eastward ride at the coast of Maine. The first thing I did, of course, was eat a big ol’ lobster. Then I camped at the intersections of Highway 1 and 101 – the East Coast equivalent to my Pismo Beach home, also at Highways 1 and 101.

From there I made a slow coastal trek up to Bar Harbor, where I inquired about taking a ferry to Nova Scotia.  Even  though it was the off-season, the  trip would still set me back $100  each way – $45 for me, $55 for my bike – and I would have to wait until the following day to catch the next boat. After some quick math, I calculated that they were off their gourds and decided to continue my trip sans ocean-crossing. Of course, the same trip today* would cost me about $165 each way, so in retrospect maybe I should have seized the opportunity… In any event, that’s a pretty hefty investment for a boat ride when I’m taking a trip for the joy of motorcycle riding!

*And that was “today” as of the previous, PowerPoint-to-Website remastering of this tale. As of 2019, I’m sure the price tag is nearly twice that. In fact, I’m almost positive, based on the last time I took that ferry. Totally worth it! 😉

Anyhow, the riding along the coast of Maine was so beautiful, I didn’t feel like I had made much of a sacrifice.

Bar Harbor is a quaint little fishing town and a must-see stop if you find that your wardrobe is lacking in items that say “Maine” or display picture lobsters or lighthouses. Finding my supply of those items to be more than sufficient, I turned Northwest and headed into Quebec.

After spending an evening making my way along dirt roads and communing with deer, moose and elk, I arrived in the Canadian Provence of Quebec. I was surprised by the European feel of so many of the little towns, with crooked cobblestone streets and cozy little cottages.

I have to admit, Quebec was also something of a culture shock. I had never been to  Canada before, and I expected there to be multi-lingual signage across the French-Canadian Provinces. There wasn’t. EVERYTHING was in French – No English at all. Not on road signs or billboards, not even at gas stations or restaurants. I had some trouble with my bank card at one of the gas stations, and no one there spoke (or was willing to speak) English to sort out the trouble. Wow! It was a very interesting place to visit, but next time I’ll have to be better prepared!

It was right about the time I crossed into Ontario that I was hit with about the worst weather I’ve ever ridden in*.  The kind of weather where all you want in the world is to pull over, but you don’t because no one else on the road can see anything either and it’s only a matter of time before some wayward big rig takes you out. Amazingly, I caught up to a couple other hapless bikers muscling through the storm, and together we pushed on for several hours until we reached a little town where I could pick up a hotel room and wring myself out.

*Worst weather as of 2004. They don’t call me Hurricane Crockett for nuthin’! And by “they” I mean Mike, and like three other people. But still… Four people counts as “they”, and riding through three hurricanes and a tornado has definitely upped my threshold of “worst weather”.

The following day, with all of my gear still saturated and freezing, I tracked down a place known only as “The Shop”. The Shop is a Harley/Honda/Farm Implement dealer in the bustling little metropolis of Lively, Ontario. They warmed me up with plenty of free coffee and asked all about my trip. Then I purchased a new pair of dry waterproof winter gloves (1/3 off, because only pansies like me wear heavy winter gloves in balmy June weather) and I was getting ready to leave when one of the employees presented me with a gift. It was a Canadian goose, intricately created out of bark and twigs. He said he wanted to make sure that they had made a good impression on behalf of Ontario and Canada, and that the goose would bring me good luck for the remainder of the trip.  

What a great bunch of people!  The goose is still one of my cherished mementos, and it has continued to bring me luck on my many subsequent adventures.

I heard that the Central Canadian Provinces are pretty much the same as the Plains States, so I figured since the ride would be the same either way, I would head back to the US and pick up the last couple states that I had yet to visit by motorcycle. I crossed the border at Sault Ste. Marie and rode around the edge of Lake Michigan for a while. I was amazed at the vastness of the Great Lakes; it was like looking out over the ocean. I also learned that when people talk about “Pasties” in Michigan, they probably aren’t talking about the same thing that we’re talking about when we say “Pasties” in California.  Boy, THAT made for a couple of awkward conversations…

A few nights later I was in Ironwood, Wisconsin, and after partaking of the most mouthwatering cheese curds in the world, I settled in for the night at a local campground. Now granted I wasn’t riding at the time, which was a bonus, but that night I was hit by a storm that made the one in Canada look like a light mist.  My tent was blowing away with me in it, and I had to pull my shoelaces out of my boots in the middle of the night to tie my tent posts together. I didn’t think that would keep them from blowing away, but I figured at least that way I would only have to look for one bunch of things tied together rather than 12 little pieces scattered all over the place. The thunder was so loud and constant that my ears were ringing well into the morning. The power was off for as far as I could see, and if a tornado warning siren had gone off I don’t think I would have even heard it. Having no place to go, all I could do was ride it out and hope for the best.

In the morning, I found that the wind had been so ferocious blowing against my bike that the force actually made a crack right down the middle of my Big Foot. (A Big Foot is a big plastic foot, about 1/4″ thick, placed under your kickstand to keep it from sinking into soft dirt.) I can’t even imagine the amount of force it took to cause that to crack, but I know what I went through that night and was glad that I would at least have an impressive souvenir of the storm.

After wandering across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota (where I passed through Rugby, the geographical center of North America), and the better park of Montana, I found myself once again facing off with the weather.I believe it was right about Cut Bank, Montana – the self-proclaimed “Coldest Spot in the US” – that the slushy snow set it. Since it obviously was not in the cards for me to be warm or dry on any portion of this trip, I just zipped up my rain gear and kept right on going.

Eventually I climbed above the clouds and out of the wet, although a little slush is all it takes to spend the rest of the day freezing. It was worth it, though. Waterfalls just aren’t waterfalls without a little rain to invigorate things. Glacier National Park was an amazing place to visit, and I would do it again in a second – rain, snow or otherwise!

Self portrait in Glacier National Park.  Funny, it doesn’t LOOK freezing…

Glacier National Park is a hard place to leave, but eventually I did have to move on. I crossed a tiny bit of Idaho before picking up the rain again in Washington. At this point I’m soaked, my gear is soaked, my maps are soaked – I basically have stopped deluding myself into believing that I will ever dry out.

No trouble. Pretty is pretty, even when it’s wet, and I continued to have a great time even as I was getting closer to home.

A long road across Eastern Washington. (Another of the pictures  accompanying my Great Rides submission.)

Ooh!  Look at the snow way up there on Mount Rainier!

…And I’m sure you’ve all guessed by now that it wasn’t long before I was IN that snow, way off in the distance. Luckily in was mid-week and there was no other traffic, so I took my time and traveled over the icy road as safely as possible. (I suppose I should count myself lucky; it’s probably about 120 degrees in Tucson right about now.)

As I descended the hill, the iciness was rapidly eliminated and I was left with the quite, solitary beauty that even just a couple inches of snow seems to bring.

Here’s the stuff that makes it all worth while! Remember what I said about needing rain in order to see the truly beautiful waterfalls? Mike and I returned to Mount Rainier together the following August, and there wasn’t a single waterfall to be found. Simply Amazing!

In case you were confused… This sign actually points out Mt. Saint Helens  from a scenic overlook.

After three weeks, I’m back on the Pacific Coast. I followed the Pacific Coast Highway from Astoria, Oregon all the way home to Pismo Beach.

Nothing says “Successful Road Trip” like happening upon something like this! I was riding through Port Orford, Oregon when I saw a tiny sign that read “Antique Motorcycle Museum”. I pulled into the parking lot to find that the museum was already closed for the day. The proprietor was still there, though, and he invited me in to get out of the rain and take a private tour. Sometimes you just get lucky!

And here we are, on the last day of my journey. Notice all that stuff… What’s it called? Oh, yeah – Sunshine. Doesn’t that just figure.

With the usual mixed emotions, I arrived home almost a month after my journey began. 9,317 miles, nearly all of it back roads and bad weather (not counting the Iron Butt). It’s always good to be home, but then again, it’s always good to be on the road. I guess as long as I’m here, I may as well wash my bike…

And with that, I have now ridden my faithful FZ1 in all of the Lower 48 States (plus some bits of Canada here and there). Not too bad, for a girl! (or at least that’s what I hear…)

Here I am celebrating my return at the Pismo Beach Pier, with a particularly vicious case of Helmet Hair. See? See? Mike does it to me, too, when he’s the one holding the camera!

The states I passed through on this trip are, in order: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, (Quebec), (Ontario), Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.  

I have now ridden in every state except Hawaii (I’ve been to Hawaii, I just didn’t ride when I was there since I was only about 11 at the time.)  

As I mentioned, I have a lot more stories than pictures on this ride, but I love to share what I have so feel free to ask! Thank you once again for sharing in my adventures!

-Wendy, circa 2004