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2016 Ride Across America

By Brian Hardy, posted on February 15, 2017

This is a report I am writing about a solo motorcycle trip I made across the United States of America on my 2016 BMW R1200RT.

It took place from my home in Bothell, Washington starting on August 12, 2016 and I returned home on October 10, 2016.

That’s 61 calendar days, of which 57 were spent actually riding, and I covered a total distance of 15,233 miles.  


As a recent retiree, this was a bucket list item I’d dreamed of checking off my list.  I turned 68 during this trip, and while I have taken a number of solo and group motorcycle trips over the years ranging from 4 to 14 days, this was by far the longest ride in my life – in terms of both days and miles.


If you have already seen my trip objectives and want go on to the daily ride reports, click the button below.



Objective:

The primary objective of my trip was to explore the more isolated backroads of America while avoiding major cities and freeways as much as practical.  While doing this, I wanted to visit as many new National Parks, National Monuments and other points of interest I could take in.  A secondary objective was to maximize the number of actual new states I touched, and another was to ride as many of the thrilling roads in each state I travelled through that other motorcyclists talk about .  Finally, I wanted to ride the entire length of the famous parkways through the Appalachians on this trip (Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains).  My plan had only two constraints:  


  1. I needed to end up in the small town of Fincastle, Virginia over the Labor Day weekend where my son-in-law’s huge family was going to meet to celebrate his Dad’s 90th birthday, and 
  2. I wanted to get back west over the Rockies before the end of September – when snow and ice can become a real safety hazard, especially when alone. 

Below is a summary of all the 36 states I’ve now ridden in.  (It just doesn’t include British Columbia which I’ve also travelled in).

On this trip I added 24 new states - mostly east of the Mississippi and the lower central and southwestern states.



Below is another summary map of my journey taken from my GPS.  These are the actual tracks taken, showing each day in 4 alternating colors.  Since I had a lot of time, there were no “Iron Butt” days here.  My longest day was 522 miles, and my shortest was only 29 miles, with an average of 260 miles a day.  


As you can see, this was no short way to the east coast and back.  I zigged and zagged like I was a honey bee trying to find fresh pollen before heading back to the hive each day.



You may ask, “Why didn’t you visit the upper west states or Nevada, and why did you miss the Great Lake states and New England”?

For the western states, that is a definite “been there done that” multiple times, and because they are in easy reach of shorter trips I will no doubt do again – (though I'm not anxious to even touch North Dakota).  Most people avoid North Dakota.  I may touch it and the other Great Lake states in the future.  New England, that’s another “been there done that” thing, but in cars during frequent business trips to Boston decades ago.  I’d love to see Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine on a bike as well as New Brunswick.  I hope to make that happen soon.

How Did You Plan This Trip?

I’d have loved to make this trip with my brother (who also rides), but he had other commitments at the time, and my lifetime clock is ticking faster and faster.  Yours is too.  Don’t delay your rides.  Besides, I love to ride alone and that has never kept me from going somewhere on a bike.  I don’t like to truly “group ride”, like head to tail, with more than 2 others, so I made no effort to try and organize a ride this far or this long.  Besides,… I wanted to go where I wanted, when I wanted, stop for as long as I wanted, where I wanted, and go as far as I wanted, all on my terms.


Quite contrary to most of my previous group rides where a fixed plan was set long before the trip with each night’s reservation made in advance, I planned each day one at a time, and only a couple times for two days at a time.  Where a group or group leader might want to be in the saddle by 6:30 – 7:00 AM and ride till 3:00 PM to avoid the heat of the day with a fixed target each afternoon that had to be mantained, I usually chose to laze around the hotels I stayed at until 9:00 AM, using the mornings to plan the current day’s ride, and make reservations for the next hotel while organizing pictures from the previous day onto my laptop and posting a few of them on Facebook.


Hotels?  Man, that’s not roughing it, what a puss I must be.  Well, contrary to previous trips with 2 or more other riders I ended up avoiding cheap moteIs for the most part.  They are usually chosen to fit a group’s pocketbook, and they provide a place to gather around the bikes during the afternoon and evening, sharing individual stories about what each rider had seen or what road or obstacle they had avoided (or not).  I was by myself and had nobody to share the beers and stories with, or even the meals for that matter.  I ended up spending 90% of my time in Holiday Inn Express hotels using Travelocity to find and make reservations.  Besides great rooms, these allowed me to park the bike under their generous covered entrances, and having reservationists on duty just inside the main entrance who could see what was going on outside 24x7.  That let me sleep better.  Not only that, I was able to snag their hotel carts to unload each night and have the same reliable breakfast choices before riding each morning.  The Life of Riley, (if you remember that TV program).  Oh yeah,… I had a few really scary nights in sleazy motels in really depressed areas of the country, so being by myself drove me to find those mainstream hotels when I could. 


How Did I Decide Where I Wanted to Go, and How Long Did That Take?:

First off, I recorded and watched at least 40 episodes (40 hours) of Aerial America on the Smithsonian channel.  It’s a really cool series that visits one state per episode with flyovers by plane, drone, or blimp showing the best of each state’s beauty, including roadways, parks, mountains, fields and small towns as well as major cities, their capitals and their historic sites.  


Second, I scanned reports from motorcycle forums which had trip reports by others, and in particular I spent time on a web site named Motorcycle Roads.com (www.motorcycleroads.com) piecing together individual’s ride reports and reviews by others who had ridden them.  The technology used on that web site sucks (maps are extremely slow to paint), and most of the rides were single day or weekend rides as you might expect, but they hopefully pointed out what may be the best roads to ride in each state.  It starts by you picking a state or region, then it dynamically displays an overview of all rides in that state or region.  You can click on a specific route shown on the screen or zoom in or out at the overview level, but every time you move the map or resize it, it repaints every single route in view.  Slow as molasses.


Third, I used Garmin’s Basecamp on my laptop and my Garmin GPS to both plan routes by day (usually one day at a time), and log the actual tracks when the bike was in motion.  I color coded each day’s tracks for you so you could see them like presented here.


Since I was alone, and cell service is sketchy in a lot of the West, I also bought a SPOT Satellite tracker and velcro’ed it to my top case. While underway, I turned it on, and when I stopped for the night, I sent a canned message that I was OK, so friends and family could tell where I was.   I had the service send that to Facebook as well as other’s e-mails, and set up a “help” button with another canned message and paid for their emergency service if needed (never had to, thank goodness).


Lastly, the bike itself. The BMW R1200RT is classified as a Sport Tourer. It is a very capable water-cooled boxer engine powered bike with surprising agility, lots of storage capabilities, and a lot of technology built in.  It is a blast to ride on the open road and twisty bits as well.  I bought mine new from BMW of Seattle (formerly Ride West BMW) in February, 2016 with the intension of a cross country trip in mind.  I wanted a new bike with only a couple of thousand miles on it in an attempt to thwart off any potential failures my previous Sport Tourer might have had due to old age and higher mileage (2007 BMW K1200GT with nearly 75,000 miles).


So Where Did I Go, What Did I Like, and What Sucked?

Well, from here, I’m going to describe each day’s ride and show maps and pictures of what took place.
So just hit the button below, and I'll let you know.