Day 48 (motorcycle): Rubber Back on the Road

(sorry if the day numbers seem weird. I started the numbering over for the hiking, but it seemed better now to just keep it all together. So 48 is the total number of days out)

October 14
Miles 4993-5170.3

So after exactly one month and over 550 miles of hiking, it was finally time to get the rubber on the road again!

After spending a great afternoon in Seattle where I got my sleeping pad fixed at the MSR factory, eating fish sandwiches and raw oysters at the market, and getting a coffee at the very first Starbucks, we were on our way south to Portland. There, 8 of us (we lost Swiss Miss this morning on a plane back to Georgia), were invited to stay at the home of the Splarmboys (Splints and Farmboy), whose parents were so fantastic to not only do so much for me but then to also take in so many of us still not quite fit for normal society hikers.

I was the second casualty of the group as I said goodbye to everyone as they drove off in the morning. It wad nice to be back in my cotton riding clothes and to see my bike again, but really sad to say bye to my hiking friends.

My first stop was the Harley dealership to get my steering column and spoke checked. After that it was the highway.

The Columbia River Gorge was a gorgeous ride and the weather was perfect. Unfortunately I got a late start though and so couldn’t take full advantage, falling short on miles.

It’s weird to look back on all that time on the trail. It was such a big chunk of time and it was so much fun, but it feels like the only real proof that it all happened is how quick my joints and feet stiffen up and how fast my metabolism still is.

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Quest for the Tail of the Dragon

Quest for the tail of the dragon

by Bruce Lessard


My passion to ride the tail of the dragon  became reality aug 5 leaving  toronto with an easy destination of dearborn michigan. Crossed the border and witnessed the hard times of detroit with street upon street of abandoned buildings . As soon as you cross the line at dearborn you are welcomed by starbucks and gas stations without cashiers in cages. Thus my first night turns out to be Extended Stay America totally adequate with all you need and the temptation to cook with all the facilities but trust me go with the order in pizza. I left behind a pound of cheese and a bottle of mustard as well as microwave pizza chips etc.

Day two i land in cinncinati make no mistake I75 is nothin but a quick way across a lot of flat land. One of the busiest trucking routes in North America its all about the quicker you get to your destination the better. Check out rubberonroad.com for more on that one. I maintained a 70mph average easily picking up to 80 to pass a transport or two. As i booked my first three nights in advance the second stop was Cinncinati Ohio staying at the millenium downtown.

Just my luck a bridal convention in town and hotel full of potential brides. i took a ride sans helmet as is legal in Ohio.I paid 8 bucks for parking overnight in a local lot as recommended by the concierge. Actually night security told me just drive out exit gate dont bother paying but in the morning a bike that loud commands attention which is what i got so decided to keep it on the up and up and paid up.

Day three found the geography gradually much more interesting as i rode deeper into kentucky.

Tiring and motivated by the thought of a hot shower and sleep i was feeling good.My destination in Robbinsville NC seemed close as  i took turn off for I129 as dusk was settling in after 6 miles or so on pretty much isolated  road i came across a gas station store . Jesse sitting outside informed me that Robbinsville NC was 47 miles thru the smokeys and id have to ride the tail to get there. I was at the wrong end of the dragon damn. You gotta do what u gotta do i found myself heading out in to the night with nothing but my destination in mind 50 so miles later after what seemed an impossible task i  arrived in Robbinsville.

Riding the tail at night like that is a magical experience. Lucky no bears were wandering the road that night. The number of bikes parked right out front of hotel assured me i was in familiar territory and the microtel in Robbinsville is more than you can ask for with free breakfast and friendly staff. They even supply towels just for wiping down the bike in the morning.

Across the street in the bank parking lot was a market where local farmers and artisans brought their talents and harvest to sell early saturday morning. The dragon truly earns its name my best ride ever.

Graham county is a dry county and thus the night life reflects that but after an amazing two days there i rode the dragon on my way out. By the way the restaurant at dealsgap is where you want to eat. Good food. Sunday i headed for Nashville because so close i had to see it. Sunday i was not sure whether to head home or check out Nashville which was 200 mi or so away and would change my route back to Toronto. Nashville here we come ….

My phone dead and not connecting with friends or family for days i pulled off in Knoxville at a Holiday Inn Express and asked if i could pay to use internet. The guy at the desk told me to help myself so i got out my emails, booked a room in Nashville via hotwire and planned my trip home. Nashville is definitely the place to go for music. Most bars on the strip had entertainment even though it was Sunday night and even my hotel (Hotel Indigo) which i highly recommend had songwriters night.  I never thought id complain about the heat but it was incredibly hot with the sun beating down and temps averaging about 100 degrees day and night. The temptation to ride without helmet was now what seemed absolutely necessary. Next day Nashville to Indianapolis another 300 mi or so also without helmet. Obviously the helmet is a life saver but i must admit it was a very liberating experience.

I had planned to stay in Windsor on my way home but the thought of waking up in my own bed was too tempting. I questioned my reason as i maintained approx 80 mi an hour down a stretch of the 401 that seemed to go on forever. I finally made it home and when i looked at clock i couldnt believe it was 2:30 in the morning. I had left Indy at appr noon so twelve and a half hours later.

I have to say Vera made it all possible. The 2006 1200 Harley Sportster XL (formerly Bucks ride) took me there and back under some pretty grueling conditions without a hitch. Altogether over 2300 miles from wednesday to wednesday. An amazing trip and just a taste of whats to come im definitely still a rookie but there is no better way to learn than to pack up and hit the road. The rest will take care of itself.

So what the hell happened to my Kawasaki Vulcan?

It started out as a kick-ass, rockin’ trip – Toronto to NYC to Roanoke VA to Rome GA to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to Memphis to Dayton OH to Toronto. Averaging 500 miles a day with breaks in NYC and New Orleans to be a tourist and hitting various notorious motorcycle routes on the way.  But 1000 miles in something went horribly wrong …

First day was OK – we rode around Lake Ontario to Kingston to cross the border at Hill Island. As soon as we crossed in to the USA it started to rain on us, and continued to do so all the way in to New York City. An omen?

New York City was great – Buck’s family were all to kind putting us up and feeding us for two days. Buck gave us a ‘Do Everything in New York in One Day’ tour – 11 miles hiking through the city that included crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero, Wall Street, China Town, Little Italy, SoHo, Union Square, FAO Schwarz, The Apple Store, The Plaza, 30 Rock, Empire State, Grand Central, Chrysler Building, Central Park, Museum of Natural History, Times Square, and Good Enough to Eat!

The next day we packed up and headed to Roanoke VA, passing through 5 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. We took Skyline Drive down through the Shanendoah Mountains – a beautiful 110 mile drive, winding up and down through the mountains, reaching an elevation of 3000+ meters. We were going to continue on to the Blue Ridge Parkway but the sun was setting and we were getting tired so we decided to save it for another day. I might add that all this time the bike was running great, no signs of trouble, and no warning lights.

We reached Roanoke just after dark and checked in to our hotel just off the Interstate. We broke in to our whisky, discussed the day and the rest of the trip. The next day we were to hit the Tail of the Dragon in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina – we were all looking forward to this ride!

Next morning, got up good and early, filled up on the continental breakfast, checked out and packed up the bikes. We just hit the interstate going south and started to accelerate. Once I hit fifth gear I knew something was wrong. At first the engine kind of chugged, like it was running low on gas, so I reached down and switched to the reserve tank. The bike continued to chug, so I pulled in the clutch and made my way over to the shoulder. Once I hopped off the bike I knew I was in a bad spot – there was oil coming out of the air filter. We were 1 mile out of Salem and didn’t know what to do – so we tried to start it up again. After a couple chugs, it did start but was spewing a little white smoke out of a vent tube from the air filter. This was not good.

We decided it best to get it towed to the nearest shop to have them look at it and hopefully repair it quickly so we could get back on the road. Buck rode ahead and found someone to tow it to a Kawasaki dealer not far from our hotel – it being a Sunday everything was closed so we had to leave it at the dealer and drown our sorrows in Canadian Whisky. We checked back in to the hotel and reassessed the trip.

The next morning we were at the dealer bright and early. They took all my info and said they’d try to look at it and get it fixed as soon as possible. We headed back to the hotel and waited and waited and waited. Finally they called and said they thought it might be a valve problem but they’d have to go ahead and pull the engine to figure it all out. We gave the go-ahead for the work and went to see ‘Inception’ in town. If the bike was not fixed the next day Buck would have to ride on to stay on his schedule and Pam and I would be stuck in Roanoke indefinitely.

The next morning the word came – bad news. Valves were fine, looks like cylinder/piston problem. It would take until at least wednesday to get fixed. So we had to say our goodbyes, and Buck headed on his way to New Orleans. Pam and I went in to town to explore and get our mind off things – this news had meant our plans for New Orleans were unattainable and we’d be going back as soon as the bike was fixed with a serious dent in our wallet.

The next day the news got worse – looks like there was a failure with the oil delivery and the rear cylinder had almost seized. The cylinder was scored and the piston was ruined. On top of that, the parts were all on back order indefinitely. The estimate if they could even get the parts was $3500+ US! My heart sank – the bike just became a parts bike. Not sure what to do except that we wanted to get out of Roanoke, we rented a U-Haul, loaded the bike up, and headed home – a 12 hour drive.

The mechanic called me later and explained he suspected either the oil filter was faulty or the oil pump failed. He suggested not using a Fram filter but instead buying the OEM oil filter. I WILL NEVER EVER PURCHASE A FRAM PRODUCT AGAIN AND HIGHLY RECOMMEND AGAINST ANY ONE ELSE USING THEM FOR ANY KIND OF FILTER. I did send an e-mail and regular mail to the company asking if they had any comments on the issue and at the time of writing they have not replied.

Day Three: Time to Hit the Tail! But the Victory is Bitter Sweet

Day 3 miles 600-920

Bad news, today it turns out I had to part ways with my travel companions. I took Brent to the dealership this morning to see what could be done. They said they’d take a look as soon as possible and even guessed that the problem might not be as bad as we guessed (just some dirty carbs). I had figured that if we could get out by 1 or 2 and the repairs wouldn’t be too expensive, then we could all make it to the tail of the dragon. Unfortunately, by 12 they had not yet gotten to his bike. So, because of time and financial constraints on all sides, and after a sad farewell, I decided to push on. We thought that if the bike turned out to be done early enough, they should give me a call and I’d wait up down the road, but I didn’t end up hearing from them.

For the rest of the day for me, I knew I had to put some miles behind me because of the late start, and I at least wanted to hit the beginning of the Tail by the end of the day. So after high tailing it to Knocksville, I made it to rt. 129 which would lead me into the mountains and straight to the tail of the dragon.

The beginning of rt. 129 is pretty boring as you go through towns, but then it starts to get so scenic and the roads so windy that I didn’t even notice when I had started on the Tail. Of course, once you start to see that there is no more straight aways and you’re making 180 degree turns, it’s hard not to notice. The driving though was fantastic. As with skyline drive, the weather was perfect and the road was packed with bikes (much fewer cars this time though). However, with around 318 turns in 11 miles, this ride was slightly more challenging. A drive like that can really show you what your shortcomings are as a driver. Needless to say, I didn’t set any time records navigating it, but I made it all the way through (though I think I’ve scraped my footpegs more times in the past 3 days then in my full 3 years since I started riding).

The end at Deels Gap is quite a site. There’s a nice big biker tavern/motel right off the side with plenty of signs advertising the Tail, plus souvenirs inside (I got a T-shirt). Most notable though has got to be the tree of shame, which has parts of some of the bikes the Tail has claimed (on a more somber note, throughout the route there are little memorials set up for the lives that it has claimed).

Once I got through, it was around 6 and so only a couple of hours of daylight left. Even though I was done the more dangerous part, I was still in the park and didn’t want to get caught driving after dark. So after about an hour of navigating through the park, and taking a few side roads, I managed to find a nice spot right off the road and next to a lake. So I set up my tent for the first time of the trip, collected some wood for a fire, and cooked up some Mac and cheese. I was having some trouble lighting the fire for a while and so out of desperation I thought I’d try something. I had brought with me some Chinese liquor called baijiu, which is 56% alcohol and in all honesty tastes like lighter fluid, so, I thought, why not give it a shot! And whadya know, after soaking some cardboard in the stuff, it lit right away. So bottoms up and “ganbei,” this ones for Brent and Pam! Hope everything gets sorted out, drive safe, and it was great riding with you for the time we had, miss you guys already!

Toronto to New Orleans and Back – Route Planned!

After many changes and much Google Maps finnicking (is that a word?) we’ve locked in the planned route to New Orleans from Toronto.

On August 25th Brent and Pam will leave Toronto on ‘Nora’ (Brent’s Kawasaki Vulcan Classic) to meet Buck (recently returned from China for a short visit and monster trip through the U.S.A. before returning to China indefinitely) in New York City.

After tearing up the town for a couple days, the group will leave NYC en route to Roanoke, Virginia via Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway in George Washington National Forest for a total of 847 km’s (526 miles).

Day 2 takes us through Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains and Chattahoochee National Forest with potential stops at ‘Mountain City’ in Cherokee National Forest and ‘Hot Springs’ in the Great Smoky Mountains, with our final destination in Calhoun, Georgia, for a total of 742 kms (461 miles).

The third day of the trip has us arriving in New Orleans after crossing through Birmingham, Alabama, and De Soto National Forest and across Interstate 10 bridge in to New Orleans! A 842 km day (523 miles). We’ll be staying on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans for three days.

After a three day stay in New Orleans we’re heading up the Mississippi River in to Memphis, Tennessee, where the group will spend one last night together before parting ways – Buck to continue his trip around the U.S.A. and Brent and Pam back to Toronto, Canada, to prepare for their trip to the West Coast of Canada.

The entire time we will be posting on Twitter, Facebook and posting videos to our YouTube page. If you haven’t already, follow us on twitter, join the Facebook page, and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

8,000 miles by bike, 300 by foot

On the 27th of August I will be leaving on a roughly 2 month long hybrid motorcycle-hiking trip, living out of my frame pack and saddle bags for over 60 days. It’s something that has been in the works for a while now. It started off as a trip to New Orleans that Brent and I had been planning as a way to “launch” our site and then it just started growing from there, as plans like this often do.

Brent’s trip starts in Toronto, driving to meet me in New York on the 25th. After touring the Big Apple for a couple days we’ll move on to Philadelphia, where there’s a possibility we will go for a morning ride with Danny Bonaduce (so keep an eye out for that post!).

From there, we’ll make our way south passing through such areas as the Smoky Mountains, the Tail of the Dragon, and the Mississippi River until hitting New Orleans.

At this point, Brent and I will have to go our separate ways, he going back north to Toronto and I continuing on west. Next stop is Palestine,TX where a good friend of mine from the Appalachian Trail, Bouie, lives with his wife Dorah. After visiting for a day I’ll be high-tailing it to Southern California to visit friends there before starting to head north for the hike.

I’m really looking forward to the ride up as I fully intend to take the West Coast Highway to get to Oregon. There’s just something about riding along the side of the Pacific Ocean that seems mildly appealing…

In Oregon, I’m going to find a place to service and store my bike for approximately a month, because from there I have to make my way to the Rocky Mountains, joining the sobohobos for the last leg of the Pacific Crest Trail of which they will be approximately a month from finishing.

After the hike, it’ll be time to finish my circumnavigation of America, riding to Glacier National Park in Montana, cruising on Route 2 along the Northern border of the country and passing through Toronto before closing it off in New York.

Tentative Itinerary:

  • August 22nd: fly from Beijing to New York
  • August 26th: Brent and Pam to New York
  • August 28th: leave New York
  • August 31st: New Orleans
  • September 5th: Palestine, TX
  • September: 9th: San Diego
  • September 13th: Eugene, Oregon
  • September 15th: join on the PCT
  • October 15th: finish PCT
  • October 18th: pick up bike in Eugene, OR
  • October 20th: Glacier National Park
  • October 22nd: Toronto
  • October 25th: full circle to New York!

Packing List (motorcycle and hiking)

Just put together the packing list for my upcoming trip around the U.S. (which you can read about on our website here)

Packing list:

  • Hiking:
    • Sleeping bag
    • Polar pure
    • Sleeping pad
    • Pack
    • Hiking poles
    • Three pairs light socks
    • One pair heavy socks
    • Trail runners
    • Inserts
    • Camelbak
    • Two pairs underwear
    • Hiking shirt and shorts
    • Wool hat
    • Long underwear top and bottom
    • Rain jacket
    • Fleece
    • Pot
    • Pocket rocket
    • Fuel
    • Fork
    • Tent
    • Watch
  • Motorcycle
    • Duct tape
    • Zip ties
    • Needle nose pliers
    • Socket wrench
    • Wrench
    • Leatherman
    • Bungy/tension straps
    • Ziplock bags
    • Long underwear
    • Fleece
    • Gloves
    • Glove liners
    • Leather jacket
    • Battery tender
    • iPod charger
    • Camera chargers
    • Phone charger
    • Book
    • Camping gear: cooking equipment, tent, sleeping bag
    • Jeans
    • Extra socks and underwear