Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cross-Country on a Motorcycle - 10 Days in April / May

Hi Jamie,

I love your book, and have been using it to plan my longest-ever motorcycle trip.

I'll be riding to Las Vegas from my home in Maryland, leaving on April 26 and hoping to be in Vegas by the first week in May -- when my wife (she will be flying in) and I will then start on a guided bike tour of the Grand Canyon and other places.

We will ship my bike home and fly home, so all my touring will be done east-to-west.

I've developed a rough itinerary, on which I solicit your comments & suggestions.

Thanks, Michael


Hi Michael --

Many thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA -- and I'm very glad you like my book. I've often envied motorcycle riders when I see them out cruising down the highways, but I'll set aside my jealousy and try to help you have a great trip west. (And while I agree with bypassing the Rockies, I have to say I've got hit by 12inch of snow in April in Arizona -- at Flagstaff, high up in the mountains, but it _can_ happen. Hope it doesn't this year.... )

Weather worries aside, I like the route you have planned -- lots of characterful places.

Day 1 out of DC seems like your toughest day -- the run over the West Virginia Appalachians on US50 is as twisty and steep as any road I know. I'm sure you know it all much better than I do, but I really like the look of the Antietam/Harpers Ferry area, which is sort of on your way out of town... Winchester VA is a quaint little place, too -- car-free downtown, and when you go it'll be apple-blossom time (I think they have a big festival.)

Day 2 -- Do set aside a little time for Chillicothe, which has my favorite County Courthouse building, at the heart of a wanderable old downtown district -- great place to stretch those legs. The Mound City park is fascinating, but an even bigger better ancient ruin -- Serpent Mound -- lies further west, down a very scenic stretch on Hwy41 south from Bainbridge, so maybe that's a better option? You could wind down Hwy-41 to the Ohio River, then cut across northern KY -- avoiding the urban chaos of Cincinnati (but missing out on the chance for some 4-way Chili at Camp Washington!)

Kentucky has some lovely landscapes, and I don't come close to doing them justice in Road Trip USA. Sins of ommission, rather than otherwise. :-)

Day 3 - Madison IN is a nice town, and there is a lot to see and enjoy in southern Indiana -- I am still shocked by the scale of the dome at the impressive West Baden Springs hotel, which is about midway along your route today -- a good lunch stop? (especially if you have any fondness for Larry Bird!) Then west via Vincennes -- which has a George Rogers Clark monument that looks like it belongs in DC. It's not in my book, but I've always wanted to detour south of here to visit New Harmony, one of the idealistic communities that cropped up in early America.

New Harmony is also the burial place of anti-Nazi theologian Paul Tillich... (I may be meandering here, but it's fun to think about.) Then west to Ste Genevieve ( I think there is a ferry.)

Day 4: Now the fun really begins: heading to Memphis! Old US-61 is pretty close to the Interstate, which if I recall is actually pretty scenic along here. Not to mention faster, with fewer stoplights and used car lots. I find Cairo fascinating, though there is very little to "see", apart from everything. The rest of the way I think I might recommend either I-55 or even US-51 -- the Mississippi meanders so much, there's no real good road anywhere within sight. Even if you have to bomb thru Memphis on US-51, be sure to pay your respects to Graceland and everything else in town (Sun Records, Civil Rights...

Memphis has way too much for a day, for sure -- especially with Clarksdale at the end of your ride. Hope there is some music on, when you are there.

Day 5: Morning in Clarksdale, then second breakfast at the Blue & White Cafe in Tunica? Then across the Delta. Vicksburg is fascinating (esp re the Civil War era history...), but on a bike you might want to spend more time exploring the Delta, and then maybe cut across Arkansas -- from Greenville MS to Jefferson? Otherwise you're stuck on the Interstate, all the way across Louisiana.

Day 6: Most of the riding today will be pretty flat, but Dallas and especially Fort Worth will more than make up for the lack of interest. Albany is tiny, after the big DFW metropolis. The rest of it is all very "Last Picture Show" -- ghostly, almost.

Day 7 & 8: If the weather cooperates, this should be some glorious riding country. Winds could make it quite the opposite -- it's all high plains drifter scenery, then you get the glorious Guadalupe Mountains. Which are well worth a hike! Aross southern Ne Mexico, I have long wondered what Hwy-9 looks like -- it would look like a great alternative to the I-20. Further west, I would recommend the old US80 / Hwy-80 loop, past gorgeous Portal and west thru fascinating Bisbee and famous Tombstone. You could still loop back to Willcox (for some birdwatching, or to see The Thing!?) -- I really like the Chiricahua National Monument, if you find an extra day to explore around here.

Day 9: Send as much time as you can in Saguaro Nat'l Park -- and maybe at Kartchner Cavenrs and Collosal Cave, too. I like Tucson (despite recent events...), and there is a fascinating / funky old downtown (around the Congress Hotel, with lots of art galleries). Take the Hwy-79 backroad up to Scottsdale -- and pay respects to Tom Mix (unless someone has stolen the marker, again...) Huge prison at Florence -- pretty scary -- no hitchhikers!

Day 10 -- again, depends on weather. Sedona area is amazing, and you can stop for tea at Arcosanti on the way.

Of course, US-93 is the quickest way, and it has some pretty stops but is very busy (lots of long-distance trucks, at least there whee when I last was there.

One fun detour, not too far out of the way: Oatman is really interesting, and the road there will give you respect for early RT66 drivers -- steep and twisty!

Enjoy the new Pat Tillman Boulder Dam bridge -- looks impressive (from the web, which is as close as I have got to seeing it.)

Phew -- that's some trip. I don;t really have any eat / sleep recommendations that aren;t in my book -- but if you get stuck, I'll have a look at my library of travel books.

Hope all this helps -- and thanks for spreading the word about Road Trip USA!

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

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