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Blue Skies, Blue Ridge, Blue Grass - Sport-Touring to West Virginia


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I love motorcycle forums. I really love meeting people that I've interacted with on motorcycle forums. Riding with them is even better.


http://www.sport-touring.net is one of my favorite forums. It has members from all over the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. The focus is on Sport-Touring; riding a motorcycle long distances to have fun on unfamiliar twisty roads.


Each year STN holds a national meet somewhere in the country to eat, drink, and ride (definitely not in that order). This year the meet was held in Canaan Valley, WV.


I decided that West Virginia was within easy striking distance from my new home in Houston, so I registered, planned a route, and got my bike loaded up.


This report is my day to day journal of the 3300 mile, 9 day trip. I brought a laptop along and wrote up notes each night. I posted them when I had an internet connection and emailed copies to non-motorcycling friends and family who had expressed interest.



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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 1 - Cypress, TX to Natchez, MS

~400 miles




It keeps you going when the deserted road you are hurtling down suddenly turns into a one-lane potholed goat trail from ****. A glance at the GPS (traitorous beast) cheerfully guarantees you’ll be out of it in 10 miles. Momentum, yes. A little throttle too. Brakes don’t help when there are 20’ stretches of gravel between patches of broken up pavement. Attempting to negotiate a u-turn would almost guarantee bike droppage.




A long process of building momentum got me here, a hotel room in Natchez, Mississippi.


From the moment I decided to move to Texas, the thought of attending the ST.N National Meet was in my mind. I got the time off, bought needed touring accessories, and planned a route. The process culminated last night at 1:30 AM when I was madly dashing between the attic and the garage, trying to remember where various items were stored.


Needless to say, I did not get an early start this morning. That’s ok, because my planned route for the day was only 400 miles.


I finished some last minute packing and sat down to a breakfast of bagels and lox with my parents before heading out the door around 10 AM.


The morning was spent on familiar East Texas Piney Woods roads. Lunch was at the Texas Star Café in Colmesneil with a sandwich and a pitcher of sweet tea.


I finally reached new territory after entering Louisiana at the south end of Toledo Bend Reservoir. The roads in Many, LA were very torn up, and should have given me a hint of what was to come.


A national motorcycle roads website had suggested LA118 through Kisatchie National Forest. Maybe I misread the map when planning my route, but the road was excellent right up to the town of Kisatchie. At one point in that nice stretch I pulled over for some pictures. I waved cheerfully at a passing cruiser rider, but he was back minutes later to make sure everything was okay.




The cruiser rider was nowhere to be seen when the pavement disappeared. The devastated vegetation in that area should have been a hint. Katrina? Or some other natural disaster?


I guess it wasn’t so bad. There was never a time when I couldn’t see the distinctive red asphalt of a patch of pavement ahead. The ST handled the bumps and loose stuff like a champ. I stayed relaxed on the controls and kept the panic instinct down. I never experienced my usual gravel-induced adrenaline high.


When the sign for I-49 appeared, I was understandably overjoyed. The familiar sensation of the R12ST floating along the interstate helped soothe my nerves.


With the aid of some nice, safe connector highways, I reached Natchez well before dark. After crossing the Mississippi, I explored the town a little, following brown tourism signs. I visited the historic downtown area, with “townhouses” built by cotton barons in Natchez’s heyday. I rode down to “Natchez Under the Hill” and saw a floating casino docked where once riverboat hands swaggered and caroused. One sign, mysteriously labeled “Forks of the Road,” brought me to the location of a notorious slave market. Besides the very tastefully done educational display, the only sign of historical importance was a round of concrete inset with iron manacles.


The front desk attendant at my hotel suggested “$%#@& of the Walk” for dinner. I highly recommend it for visitors to Natchez. Located in an a maze of an old building down by the river, it’s regionally famous for catfish. The boatman’s den ambiance felt authentic and the service was great. The grilled catfish and skillet cornbread was very yummy. I’d forgotten my book in the motel room, but my waiter owned a GSXR1000 and was happy to talk motorcycles and touring. He even asked what I was doing later, offering to take me out for drinks. I had to decline. My body needs no encouragement to get dehydrated while on a tour. Also, call me a paranoid spoil-sport, but I view going out casually with a total stranger to be too risky this far from home.


With a long ride up the Natchez Trace tomorrow, I need to get a good night’s sleep. Gotta keep that momentum going…









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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 2 - Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN

~450 miles


Heritage Road


There is a rest stop off Interstate 80 in Nebraska (?) where you can stand in wagon wheel tracks worn deeply into stone. They were made by pioneers heading overland to Oregon and California. I remember marveling at the idea of standing where thousands traveled toward their dreams. The 1840s heyday of the trail seemed indescribably ancient to me at the time.


Today I traveled a trail with age and relevance that puts the Oregon Trail to shame.




The crazy quilt network of trails that became the Natchez Trace had humble beginnings as an Indian trading route. It was later used by Kaintuck farmers heading home from selling their crops and post riders delivering the mail. It played a small role in the civil war but fell into disuse with the ascendance of the steamboat. Much of the trail had been reclaimed by the forest by the 1930s, when it’s importance was recognized and construction of the parkway was used to inject life into the local economy.


I started at the beginning in Natchez. In my first hour of riding, I only managed thirty miles. There was so much history to read and landscape to take in! I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. Realizing that I needed to move a little faster, I began to pick and choose where to stop. There was little traffic, but each car I came upon provided an excuse to take the next turn-out.


There is a sense of traveling through virgin territory. Fences are rare and there are no billboards. The few local roads that cross discreetly under the parkway do not disturb this feeling. The visitor’s center describes it as a series of “viewscapes” to preserve the pristine feel of traveling the original trace.




I saw mounds left by the ancient Mississippi Indians. I saw wayside inns. Swamps dotted with cypress trees announced their presence to my nostrils. The original trace can be seen in several places. At times it’s a narrow sunken footpath. Other times it’s a wide wagon trail.






Needing fuel, I sought a gas station in the town of Kosciusko, MS. A Baskin Robbins was attached to the BP station, so I ordered a milkshake. There was a bbq counter as well, and the attendant was placing fresh fried chicken kabobs into the display. Hungry for more than just a snack, I got one. The chicken was accompanied on it’s stick by onions, bell peppers, and what could only be hamburger pickle chips, all battered and deep fried. The fried pickles were a little weird but maybe that’s how they do it here. Authenticity!


The flora changed as I entered Alabama and changed again in Tennessee. It was also beginning to cool off from the high temperatures of the day.






With reluctance, I left the parkway and headed toward the Nashville KOA. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my connector road (TN13) was a twisty roller coaster. If this is any indication of the roads found in Tennessee, I should have a very good day tomorrow.


The KOA was nowhere to be found at the indicated exit. I could have dug my printouts out of the top case, but I didn’t feel like stopping. While gliding down I-40, I got the GPS to divulge that there was an exit with a multitude of major brand motels just a few miles away. The Day’s Inn was the winner, with a cheap advertised price and free wireless internet.


Good thing I wimped on the camping tonight. After dinner, I was sitting in my hotel room surfing the internet when the thunder and lightning started. The ST is currently getting a nice shower. Glad I’m not.



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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 3 - Nashville, TN to Deals Gap, TN

~270 miles


An Almost Perfect Day


Great Food. Moderate temperatures. World class roads. It would have been a perfect day if not for the Jetta that wanted to play bumper cars.


I started off the morning in style with a visit to the famous Loveless Café off the Natchez Parkway. Guy of http://www.bamarider.com always raves about it in his trip reports. As long as I was in the area, I had to check it out. The fresh biscuits and ham were uber-yummy. I highly recommend it to anyone passing through Nashville.




After breakfast I started crossing the Nashville Metro area to get to my planned trans-Tennessee road. In Murfreesburo, about 70 miles into the day’s ride, I was watching oncoming traffic to make a right turn when BAM! I felt something hit the ST and suddenly we were on the ground. I picked myself up and turned to look at my bike. It was lying on it’s right side, still running. I turned the ignition off and looked around for help. The car that had hit me, a silver Jetta, had pulled over in front of me. I walked over to the passenger door and saw the couple inside digging in the glove box. Not wanting to scare them by knocking on the window glass (my first instinct) I waved until they noticed me and rolled down the window.


“Hey, can you help me pick up my bike?”


The driver nodded but didn’t immediately get out of the car. Meanwhile, two BSGs (Big Strong Guys ™) materialized (as BSGs are wont to do when help is needed). They helped me get the bike upright and rolled it into a nearby fast food restaurant parking lot. The Jetta rolled into the lot too, and parked on the other side. Another car pulled in and parked. The guy who got out said he’d seen the whole thing. He gave me his name and phone number and started to look over the ST for damage. I was still shaking with adrenaline and fumbling with my stuff.


The Jetta had hit my left saddlebag. The saddlebag popped off at the impact, but the force knocked the bike over on its right side. The right engine cover, right saddlebag, left saddlebag mount, and a little bit of fairing took damage. The right side of my helmet is also scratched up, but doesn’t appear to have hit the ground very hard. I certainly don’t remember feeling my head hit, and haven’t experienced any headaches or pain to concern me. Strangely, my sole injury is a big bruise forming on my inside left calf. I can’t imagine what it must have hit considering that if anything ended up under the bike, it should have been my right leg.








The first thing the Jetta driver said (you guessed it): “I didn’t see you!”


Anyway, Officer Anthony with the MPD was very helpful. He took a full report from each of us (ncluding the witness) and then stayed with me far longer than he had to. After everyone else had left, he hung out to make sure I’d stopped shaking and was capable of doing a good assessment of the STs damage. He also rides motorcycles and gave me a route suggestion for getting out of the area.


When everyone had left, I walked into the fast food restaurant, ordered an iced sweet tea and fries, and called Mom. I know the drill. When you call your mother in the middle of the day during a tour, the first words out of your mouth better be “I’m ok, but…”


I also called my insurance agent and gave him all the details while they were fresh in my mind. I’ll take the ST in for a crash estimate once I get back to Houston. At the time, however, I had another 200 miles to go, and it was only noon.


I continued out on TN70 to TN30, a moderately twisty road that went through several very small towns. One of those towns had a Walmart (ick) so I went inside to get some instant ice packs, sticky wrap bandage, and ibuprofen for my leg.








After my big breakfast and early afternoon snack, I saw no need to stop for lunch. Thus I found myself in Tellico Plains, TN with plenty of time to fully enjoy the Cherohala Skyway.


Curves, views, and very little traffic. Mmmm… thank you very much. The speed limit was slow, but cars were having trouble holding it. I was going slightly over and having a blast!










At the end of the Cherohala Skyway was a sign directing me towards US129. I was surprised to find that the connector roads were so badly paved. For a while, I thought I was lost. With the dense tree canopy, the GPS was having trouble staying connected and wasn’t much help.


I finally pulled in to the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort around sunset. The only bike in the front parking lot was a very recognizable Suzuki Hayabusa with a big auxiliary fuel tank in back. Dmgsxr from Colorado had done several posts on ST.N detailing the mounting of his tour tank, so I was able to confidently identify the guy gearing down next to the Busa.


The resort office was closed, but I was able to park by the motel and set up my tent in the camping area. The cool thing about the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort is that you must have a motorcycle to stay there. There were a few trucks, but they were all pulling trailers full of bikes.


It made for an interesting evening. After obtaining a spoon and eating my dinner (Jetboil ROCKS! And Mountain House dehydrated Seafood Chowder is yummy), Dmgsxr and I chatted with a couple from New Orleans for several hours.


The woman (60 years old) met the guy last February, after losing everything (home, belongings, job) to the hurricane. On their second date she had her first ride on his Harley. She jokes that now he has to tear her away from it. They’re both retired, so they have plenty of time to ride. We all had a great time swapping stories before heading to bed.


An almost perfect day.



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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 4 - Deal’s Gap, TN to Boone, NC

~286 miles


Miles of Smiles




Deal’s Gap …check

Great Smoky Mountains National Park …check

Blue Ridge Parkway …check


Almost 300 miles of twisting, turning, gaping (at the views), and vrooming.


What can I say? It was a great ride!


I started off the morning with breakfast in the grill at the campground before heading into the gift shop to “buy the t-shirt.” I’m not usually one for souvenirs, but I thought this one was important. I also walked around and took some pictures.


The resort is famous for it’s “tree of shame” consisting of a tree hung with rashed fairings and battered motorcycle parts. Intended as both humor and a deterrent, the tree is a good reminder that it’s all too easy to get carried away on a motorcycle.




After taking down my still slightly damp tent, I loaded up and headed out to “tame the dragon.”


For those who are not familiar with it, Deal’s Gap (US129) is world famous for 318 curves in 11 miles. It consistently makes it to the top of “Best Roads in the US” lists.






My Impression:

It was really short. You barely started to get into it when it was over. I think I’ve been on some badly paved Santa Cruz mountain goat trails that give it a run for it’s money in the twisty-ness department. That said, it was a very twisty road with lots of other riders on it. It was fun, but I didn’t feel the need to turn around and do another lap.


To me, sport-touring is about riding far away to discover new turns in the road. There were many twists and turns ahead of me that day, so there was no need to retrace ground already experienced. So long, Deal’s Gap. I’ll be back.


From there I turned on to Foothills parkway toward the northwest entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The parkway was deserted, but as soon as I entered the park, I started coming up on lots of slow moving cars out sightseeing. That is usually the case in national parks, so I patiently slowed down and enjoyed the scenery. I did my usual national park experience, stopping at the visitor’s center and many of the turn-outs to enjoy the creeks, trees, and characteristic layered views of the Smokies.










After several long delays for road construction on the way out of the park, I didn’t feel that I had time to really enjoy the Wheels through Time Motorcycle Museum in Maggie Valley. Instead I got gas and grabbed a quick bite to eat before going back to the Blue Ridge Parkway and more twisty “roads with a view.”


The scenery was much the same as I’d seen all day, but the weather was starting to turn. I put on my jacket liner and flipped on the grip-warmers. It wasn’t extremely cold, but mist was rolling through the mountains. In the high country, there were several places where fog made it difficult to see. I slowed down and used caution, shaking my head at all the cars that weren’t turning on their lights in the fog.








Between visibility problem areas, I had a great time on the parkway. Again, the speed limit was slow (45), but twisty enough that most cars couldn’t handle it. I had no problems and was able to enjoy myself without worrying about the LEO around the next corner.


With the slower speed limits, I was glad that I hadn’t overloaded my day. The short mileage gave me time to slow down and stop often for pictures while still reaching my destination, Boone, NC with some daylight left.







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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 5 - Boone, NC to Canaan Valley, WV

~400 miles




After so many relatively short mileage days, I felt a little overwhelmed this morning when the GPS flashed “400 miles” at me. There was really no time to stop and have breakfast, so I bought some bottled Bux and donuts at my morning gas stop and packed it away to enjoy once I started feeling hungry.


I was entertaining romantic thoughts of the old “100 miles before breakfast,” but it was colder than I’d expected this morning. After only 30 miles, I pulled off into a observation point and put the liner into my jacket before enjoying the sugar rush of a chocolate glazed icing filled Krispy Kreme.




I was on the Blue Ridge Parkway for almost 100 miles of very cold air and misty twisties before expressing through Virginia on an interstate to reach US219 (?) through Pocahontas National Forest.




With the amount of miles to do and the slow pace of the BRP and the Arkansas backroads, I felt that I couldn’t stop much. Lunch was fast food quickly consumed before getting back on the bike. I didn’t want to stop only 60 miles away from the resort, but was sneezing like crazy (into the helmet -yuk!) and the GPS said that I still had 2 hours of traveling. I purchased some Claritin and allergy eye drops for my itchy eyes and then spent another 5 minutes trying to fight my flinch reflexes and actually get some of the eye drops into my eyes.


The road was pretty twisty with a lot of traffic but many of the turns had gravel in the apex. I’d charge in ready for fun and then back off while my rear tire squirmed. It was very tiring, so when I overtook an older couple on a Goldwing, I settled behind them and enjoyed the putting.




I finally rolled up to the resort only half an hour before the scheduled dinner time and saw a big crowd of bikes in a parking lot below the main road. I was really fried after all the curves so it helped when the recognizable figure of Colleen emerged from the crew and pointed at an open space for me to park the ST.


As people gathered round to welcome the newcomer, suddenly my energy reappeared. I easily fell into the excitement of meeting people in the flesh that I had only known through posts on the forum. I was also excited to find Andrew and Gary, people I’d known in California, already there.


After dinner we mingled in the bike parking area late into the night, swapping lies and tales of adventure. It was so wonderful to be around people who don’t think I’m weird for enjoying packing up my bike and heading out for thousands of miles of riding through the most beautiful parts of this great country.

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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 6 - Canaan Valley, WV

~60 miles


Day of Rest


Several people were planning on going out and doing a mammoth 400 miles of WV twisties today. Others were headed out to play “Tag the State” and add to their personal “states traveled by motorcycle” list. There were 74 people attending the meet, so there was shortage of ride partners if one desired to go with a group.


Me? I woke up late and watched Andrew (ZX11Andrew) fix Black Ice’s cruise control. It was a loose connection. Andrew also gave me an idea for fixing my own cruise control setup. After doing laundry and having lunch, I geared up and headed 30 miles away to the nearest large town. The auto parts store had the part I needed (a different kind of relay). I wired it up in the parking lot of the store and then headed back to the resort. There was a long straight soon after leaving town, so I got the ST up to speed and hit the set button. It caught! It feels silly to say this, but I really did scream with joy in my helmet. There was a big grin on my face for the rest of the ride back to the resort.


I had dinner with Yosh, Gary, and a few others before going back to hanging out around the motorcycles.








Before dark, a bunch of people rode out on a beer run. When they got back, a couple people emptied out their Givi top cases and filled them from the ice machine. Someone dragged a trash can over and we had the funniest set of ice buckets you’ve ever seen.


I stayed up late enjoying the camaraderie.



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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 7 - Canaan Valley, WV to Paducah, KY

~605 miles




This day was planned as an unpleasant interstate marathon to position me for two days of enjoyable Arkansas and Oklahoma twisties.


By 8:45AM I’d said my goodbyes to the ST.Ners in the parking lot and rolled out. I made it to the freeway area by 9:45AM, just in time to put in a breakfast order at McDonalds.


After breakfast, I set out to conquer some freeway miles. Through most of West Virginia and into Kentucky, the interstate was actually too twisty to use the cruise control that I’d been overjoyed to finally repair yesterday. I needed control of the throttle to get around the relatively sharp curves and steep hills.


Once into Kentucky, I set the cruise and relaxed, letting my mind wander with the music and enjoy the park like setting of a state I’d never visited before.


Passing Keeneland Park in Lexington, I fondly remembered reading books by Walter Farley as a horse-crazy child. I considered entering the park to view the paddocks but the driveway flashed past and I had many miles to go.


Needing a break after a gas stop, I headed down a highway following signs directing me to the “Lincoln Homestead.” The quiet state park at the end commemorated the lives of Abraham Lincoln’s parents. The park included several historic structures, including the log home that Lincoln’s grandmother raised her children in and the larger house where his parents courted.






Later in the day I saw signs directing travelers to Lincoln’s birthplace but I could not afford the time.


I also saw several signs along the Western Kentucky Parkway designating it as the future corridor of I-69. Now really…once the interstate opens, how long do you suppose THOSE signs will manage to stay up?


I ended my day at the campground in Paducah, yet again with no internet service and barely any phone signal. I did manage to call mom to get a weather check.


While I’m perfectly positioned to enjoy my next two days, the weather may or may not cooperate.

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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 8 - Paducah, KY to Arkadelphia, AR

~400 miles


Weather or Not


I should have done the hotel thing last night because I got a really late start this morning. I guess those 600 mile days really do take a toll.


First order of business was investigating the nasty weather seen on the Weather Channel in Canaan Valley and also described by Mom on a phone call last night. The Weather Channel on XM Radio gave me a pretty good indication that I’d be getting wet today, but I thought I’d brave the droplets anyway. I set out to do my planned route of Arkansas twisties.


After about 60 miles of travel, I started seeing both heavy rain and lightening bolts. See the green blob on the radar map? Shift it about 2 inches west and you have approximately what my day looked like.




I pulled over near Bertrand, MO to waterproof electronics and reevaluate my plans. Deciding that “better safe than sorry” was the way to go today, I directed the GPS to “Take me home. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”


It concocted a stunningly exciting ~700 mile route through Memphis and Little Rock, peppered with interstates and superslab US Highways. With a grimace, I tightened my jacket wrist straps over my gloves and got underway, determined to get as far as I could before dark.


The weather I encountered was truly fascinating. There were 30-60 mile stretches of overcast but sunny skies punctuated with 20-30 mile stretches of dark grey clouds and rain. At times coming down very hard, the droplets felt like needles on my protected arms and knuckles. This rain was different from any I’d ever experienced in my travels in the western United States.


I sheltered under an overpass during one very bad band of storms and considered calling Mom to let her know I’d be a day late. But after a few minutes, the blinding rain calmed and I continued, mentally promising to reevaluate in the next sunny area, if I made it.


I saw probably a dozen lightening bolts over the course of the day, usually while in areas with particularly dark clouds. Each time I went through an area with lightening, I wondered about the intelligence of traveling through a thunderstorm on a motorcycle. I tried to remember statistics about the likelihood of getting hit by a bolt, but mostly wondered if this band of storms was the One where I’d get crisped and my family would wonder why I hadn’t pulled over and delayed my homecoming. My boss would probably understand if I didn’t make it to work on Monday, right?


All of this punched home the knowledge that I have much to learn about weather patterns in Texas and the South. Storms here are much more dangerous than those I’ve known all my life.


As the day waned, the storms seemed weaker. Grey skies meant only droplets without a loss of visibility. I would need fuel soon too. I decided that 400 miles was enough progress and decided to pull over for the night at the next major town. Arkadelphia appeared with a multitude of hotel advertisements.


No pictures today. I really wasn’t in the mood to get my camera wet while documenting how lovely interstates are when soaked with rain.

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Journey to the ST.N National Meet

Day 9 - Arkadelphia, AR to Cypress, TX

~400 miles


Slabbing Home


Ok. So I didn’t take any pictures today either.


I guess the boredom of yesterday and today serve to balance out the awesomeness of the first half of the trip.


I started the day with a free continental breakfast from the hotel while surfing the net this morning. After packing the bike, I headed home via US59 throughTexarkana and Lufkin.


Once again, there were a few patches of rain, but nothing major until I got to the outskirts of Houston. I went through a pretty bad band of it on US59 but then broke out into wet sunshine for the rest of the ride.


The homecoming felt weird. I’ve been coming home from trips into the San Jose area for so long, it didn’t feel real coming into Houston.


Where were the wind farms over the Altamont pass? What about the Mt Hermon gas station exit on I80? Until I passed the Houston Airport at 30 miles out, if not for info displayed on the GPS, I could have been entering any strange metro area.


Anyway, I got home and was welcomed by my parents and Kelsey the Scottish Terrier. My cat did not seem at all interested in the return of his primary “food bowl filler”. The bunnies didn’t even come out of their haven behind the couches.


Just a normal evening at home with work to look forward to tomorrow. Feels good. Now, I gotta start planning the next trip. This one is on the books.



For maps of each day's route and a Garmin Mapsource file of my trip, head over to the temporary trip index page on my blog - http://rocketbunny.blogspot.com/2006/06/stn-06-national-trip-report-index-maps.html

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tom collins

really amazing report. thanks. when were you guys over there? i was just there 2 weekends ago but didn't see any large groups of bikes.


tom collins

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Fantastic trip report becca! I loved your Deal's Gap comments, I have never ridden in CA but I have always kind of felt it was overrated. There are lots of roads around there without the traffic of 129. Cool to see somebody long distance touring on an ST, teenagers keep my trips down to 1 or 2 days. Thanks again for a great trip report.

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Becca, saw your report on stn and loved it, glad you shared it with this crew clap.gif. Great pics (love the shot on 129 with the twisties in the mirror and running off ahead), nice writing..sorry I did not make it to the rally to meet ya'll. perhaps next year.



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Thanks for the enjoyable read! It's great to see the places I've been about a year or two ago (BRP, Deals Gap, Cherohala) - and from a different perspective.


You've got some really nice shots in there as well.



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I really enjoyed your ride report and pix. I think you showed well the attraction of a part of the US with which I'm not familiar but would like to be. Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to tell us about your trip.

Take care,


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