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Online JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #20 on: September 03, 2015, 07:19:30 PM »
Day 20: Colorado Springs Co to Evansville IN - the Iron Butt ride.

Total mileage today: 1009

"The rain on the plain, started driving me insane..."

6 am. Having packed the previous night, all that was required was to stuff Piglet into his papoose, down a tepid and rather insipid cup of motel coffee, and head out onto the almost empty streets of Colorado Springs...

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My official start time was 6.41am (Colorado/Mountain time), and Chris saw me off onto hwy 24, which would lead to Interstate 70, my home for the majority of this jaunty endeavour...

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There would be a lot of this to start with:

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Eastern Colorado is BIG SKY country. If you look at a map of the state, there is a mark'd line where the Rockies end and the plains begin - its almost as if someone forgot to draw the rest of the detail in!

West Kansas is very much like east Colorado, other than a time change one hour ahead - more big sky, and little fluffy clouds...

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Once across the state line though, It seems the God-squad and anti-abortion activists had been spending their hard-earned subscriptions on countless billboards... I wondered if I should actually stop and phone the presumably not toll-free number to find out exactly what this 'truth' about the lord is - as I'm surprised a revelation of this magnitude has not made the headline news!

Actually, it was kind of nice to see a jolly Jesus smiling along the way - it reminded me of a church sign I saw in Georgia on my last cross-country journey east: "Drive carefully - God wants you to get home safely".

The anti-abortion crowd were a little more hard-hitting and direct: "Don't Abort, Adopt." is a reasonably well-meaning message... however, I admit I started to wonder with some incredulity at "Adoption prevents Abuse!" - what on earth were they implying?! (presumably not that the citizens of Kansas might abuse unwanted children!)

I passed the halfway point (actually refuelled at mile 517) at Topeka KS, and planned to celebrate with a five-shot espresso in Starbucks, that shall henceforth be known as 'The Mighty Quinn'...

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photo. "I would ride five hundred miles, and I would ride five hundred more..."


The weather had started to cloud over by now, although thankfully it was still nice and warm; and I was happy enough bopping along with an eclectic mix of Eurythmics, David Lee Roth and Katie Melua.

Kansas City was tedious however. I hit the city at rush hour, and endured endless tailbacks... goodness knows if they can allow lane-splitting in overcrowded California, they could certainly introduce it here (and everywhere!) I even did my best to demonstrate the procedure to the assembled masses a couple of times when frustration got the better of me ;o)


Once I crossed into Missouri (with the requisite "I guess we're not in Kansas anymore Piglet" muttered under my breath - well, it still amuses me), the rains came. Biblical rain.

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photo. Spitting rain soon became a torrential downpour...

It was both torrential and tedious, especially with the truck spray as they thundered on down I70.

For those of you familiar with the UK, I still had the equivalent of riding from Edinburgh to London, in the rain.

This analogy is particularly apt as the highway east of Kansas City is two lane (each side) and full of roadworks - just like the A1. Oh, and just to make me really feel at home, they purportedly have speed cameras in the work zones too - not that I could actually ride much above the posted limit anyway in these conditions, and now with fading light...

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The weather got worse as I crossed into Illinois, and there was still 106 miles to go, it was dark, and we were certainly not wearing sunglasses by the time I filled the bike for the final stretch, at nearly midnight local time.

Suffice to say I made the thousand mile mark at 1.07am on the 30th May, after a mercifully dry dash over the last 50 or so miles into Evansville, Indiana.

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Once I'd obtained my final fuel receipt (time, date and location of course), I had racked up a total of 1009 miles in 17h 35m - which included a good couple of hours of rest stops along the way.

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It's by no means a record of course, but a personal achievement none-the-less, as I have never ridden quite this far in one session.

And I have to say the little CB was amazing. There came a point when I stopped caring and just wanted to get there, and it never once complained. I was also [personally] very impressed with the stock seat. I admit I started to wriggle at about mile 700 or so, but I fear that was primarily due to the amount of rainwater that was pooling in my crotch area ;o)

The stock screen also seemed to work well enough (in the low position, with a couple of 1/4" spacers on the upper mounting bolts to angle the screen more steeply). It's certainly not perfect noise-wise by any means, but bearable at 70-80mph, particularly when Katie Melua is crooning southing sounds in your earphones... Ahhhhhhh, Katie ;o)


So, a few facts and figures for you number nerds out there:

Official start time: 6.41am in Colorado Springs.

My plan was to stop for 5-10 minutes every couple of hundred miles (so almost exactly each time I'd need to fill up), plus have a longer break of 20-30 minutes to roughly coincide with breakfast, lunch and wherever/whenever dinner may be...

I admit I did not eat particularly 'well' during this marathon - McDonalds (free wifi) and Starbucks (tedious log-in wifi) sandwiches I am almost ashamed to say - but all useful (if somewhat empty) calories...

The first big stop was at mile 177 for fuel and breakfast (30 mins).

The time zone changed soon into Kansas, which meant my halfway point was a refuel at 517 miles, and a late lunch in Topeka at 3.49pm - so about 8 hours in total, and a little over 7 hours riding - I was kind of on-target still.

Then came the traffic (Kansas City), followed soon after by the rain. And boy did it rain!

I started to try and mentally break the remaining journey into bite-sized chunks, something I could relate to from back home, and that I'd all done with some regularity at some point or another...

Edinburgh to London (400 miles)
Newcastle to London (300 miles)
Leeds to London (200 miles)
Birmingham to London (100 miles)

Having not elected to put my rain-pants on (although wisely had put my iPad in a ziploc bag in my backpack at least), I was soon soaked through to the skin on my bottom half - but at least it was warm rain (unlike the UK!) The only real problem was once it got dark and the spray from the trucks (mostly passing them, but some passing me), oncoming headlights, and the general surface water made things nerve-wracking to say the least!

After the last refuel (and another 30 minute rest) at Mt. Vernon Illinois, I rode the last hundred miles with no music and no earplugs just to try and stay focussed...

I finally hit the thousand mile mark a few miles north of Evansville Indiana at 1.07am local time (so 12.07am Colorado time) and collected my final gas receipt at 1.18am, 1009 miles covered in 17 and a half hours, with a riding time I estimated of a little under 16 hours - so in effect an average of 60mph*

*indeed, according to my GPS log, the overall average was 57.3mph.

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Now to submit that paperwork to the IBA - certainly that second half in bad weather makes me feel I really earned it!

Jx

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #21 on: September 03, 2015, 07:21:09 PM »
Day 20: Evansville IN to Richmond KY.

Mileage today: 250

So what on earth happened after the Iron Butt you might be asking - yes, it has almost been a full week since I embarked on the marathon journey from Colorado to Indiana, and I have to say it really feels like a lifetime ago already!

While it was a personal challenge for me, and also an excellent test of the long-distance ability (and comfort) of the CB500X; it was also an ideal opportunity to get a lot further east in a short space of time - helping to keep me on schedule for the overall trip, and not least to give me a little margin for any bike maintenance prior to my return journey west.

Although I didn't drop off to sleep until nearly 3am on Friday night/Saturday morning, I didn't feel all that tired when I woke with just enough time to grab a cook-your-own waffle from the breakfast bar before they stopped serving at 9am.

Indeed I momentarily considered knocking off another 500 miles that day (my destination of Roanoke VA was 538 miles away according to the GPS), and thus cementing a "Bun Burner" ride of 1500 miles in 36 hours - but quickly considered that I'd actually had enough of flogging both myself and the bike on endless interstate and major highways, and that it was time to ride some twisties again.


Cruisin' Kentucky...

Fortunately Kentucky, just over the Ohio River boarder with Indiana, is full of delightful rural roads, and very reminiscent of south-western France I thought? I tapped in a few via points and let the Garmin Montana guide me diagonally eastwards on the minor roads, in glorious sunshine!

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photo. This was the last bit of main road I would see today - and the weather in Kentucky was sunny, hot and humid...

I have to say, there were some very impressive and undoubtably expensive houses south of Evansville as I worked my way eastwards towards Fort Knox (with half an intention of visiting the military museum there) on old hwy 60. However, on reaching the edge of the huge facility, I was both conscious of a huge dark storm cloud that was hovering overhead, and coupled with the fact that I was starting to feel a lot more tired than I had first imagined, decided to press on and try and find a hotel in good time that evening.

Again, simply relying on the GPS to provide an interesting route (with encouragement with a few via points manually inputted where I saw an interesting road), I quite by chance happened to pass through Hodganville, which is where Abraham Lincoln was born!



Day 21: Richmond KY to Roanoke VA

Mileage today: 378

Sunday scratching...

It had turned out that by staying on minor roads, that Roanaoke was a lot further away (both in time and mileage) than I had imagined, but still I intended to make the most of this glorious weather, and almost traffic free roads though the Appalachian mountains - perfect!

I can honestly say I can't remember a time I've ever had more fun on the road on a bike - and that includes riding my Ducati Monster in the Swiss Alps!

Virginia really does have some world class riding, and the little CB was in it's element here, carving corner after corner, with enough drive to constantly keep a smile on your face, but not enough that might get you out of shape on unfamiliar roads.

I was deep in the rural heartland of Virginia (a dipped in and out of West Virginia too), and not only were the roads mercifully traffic free on this sunny Sunday, but it was a joy to be able to fill the tank of the bike and get a halfway decent slice of pizza and a hot chocolate for under fifteen bucks (that's less than ten quid to us Brits!)

I was also in no doubt I had entered the bible belt:

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photo. It is indeed the eternal question...


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photo. I bet you just read that in a Mr T voice too ;o)


Despite riding mile after epic mile of backroads, that is not to say that Sunday wasn't without its fair share of rain too - goodness knows I got dumped on twice during the day, and the first time it was so immediate that I didn't even have time to pull over and don my rain-pants before I was utterly soaked.

Fortunately my timing was spot-on, and the rain showers happened during a brief respite from the particularly enjoyable intestinally twisty route I'd programmed into the GPS, and therefore I got to ride the best of the roads in glorious sunshine.

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photo. The river might be considered 'Dismal' (actually it wasn't, it was beautiful!), but the road wasn't - another epic Alpine ride through the Appalachians!


When I finally reached Roanoke that evening, I was both tired and elated. It had been an intense couple of days in the mountains - 250 miles yesterday and not least nearly 400 miles today - straight after the thousand mile Iron Butt.

I landed an excellent deal at a motel on the outskirts of town (complete with laundry) and used the time to properly recuperate. I was now less than 300 miles from the east coast, the half way point of this trip now tantalisingly close, and my tires pretty much shot to pieces.

cont.

Online JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #22 on: September 03, 2015, 07:22:35 PM »
Day 22: Roanoke VA to Virginia Beach VA - the end of the eastern leg.

Mileage today: 309

With the forecast not particularly good for the next few days, the plan was to hit the east coast as soon as possible, and then try and sort some replacement tyres before I headed back west too far - especially as I intended to ride the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and take in a few of the roads around Deals Gap before finally starting my dirt ride west on the Trans-Am Trail, so would certainly prefer fresh rubber to make the most of those inital highway miles.

Personally I feel the Continental TKC80 really is the best 'all-rounder' tyre for this sort of bike, and indeed during the development of the Adventure kit for the CB500X, John and I exclusively used the TKCs as we feel the compound and profile really optimises the balance between spirited on and off-road use. Other tyres are available of course... ;o)

Wanting to avoid the major highways as much as I could, I headed east for the last time, again on more minor roads (included a gem outside Roanoke called Dickinson Mill Road - I mention it if you're passing as there is a TA500 sticker somewhere along it's length ;o), and again enjoyed the tranquillity of the rural countryside, as I did my best to dodge the rain clouds, adjusting my route on the fly as I wound my way eastwards, towards the coast.

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photo. I had to stop and photograph this house - reverting to nature it would seem... I'm sure it could tell a lot of stories (including the one when a stuffed pig on the first CB500X Adventure in the US stopped by...)

More notable roadside memories from that final day heading east was a modest house with two shiny MGBs parked outside - I presumed the anglophile had bought the second one as ready supply of spare parts ;o)

Detouring onto a major highway to fuel up, I passed a huge billboard rather bizarrely asking: "Is it time for your screening colonoscopy?" Complete with a head and shoulders photo of a cheery looking nurse (presumably donning her rubber gloves just out of shot)... and pondered the popularity (and indeed wisdom in some cases!) of putting your face ten feet high on a roadside sign in an effort to promote your company. Certainly the most comical example was for a law firm that featured three (presumably) lawyers/partners in the firm all wearing dark sunglasses - looking like the Reservoir Dogs!

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photo. Fuel is wonderfully cheap in Virginia - regular costs the equivalent of 1.50 a GALLON! (around a quarter of what we pay in the UK).

I finally reached Virginia Beach on the Atlantic coast at 7.05pm on Monday 1st June - three weeks after I'd left Alice's Restaurant south of San Francisco on the west coast.

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It was with a degree of melancholy that I purchased my VB sticker for the front of the CB-X - after all, while this was quite an achievement, at the same time, technically it meant this trip was already half over...

Fortunately the immediacy of the internet and my penchant for a triple espresso meant I was able to cheer myself up no end once I'd checked my email in a Starbucks, by celebrating this modest milestone with a slap up meal at a lovely fish restaurant on the north of the peninsular (that had been recommended to me via a message), and ultimately took comfort in the fact that the best was probably still to come!

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Certainly the journey east had essentially been an elaborate [series of] proving tests of the all-round cabability of the bike - both as a personal assessment, and to also provide valuable feedback to those peope who had developed the Adventure specification modifications.

I had effectively ticked all the key boxes - having ridden it over fast desert pistes and slow rocky technical terrain; embarked on a marathon high-speed highway haul and not least plenty of twisty backroads too - and through every element and atmospheric condition: high altitude, low altitude, heat, cold, wind and rain, and even snow!

What was immediately clear (and had become increasingly so as the trip went on and my familiarity with the machine increased) is how these modifications really have transformed the basic bike - making it so very much more capable off-road, while at the same time not at all compromising it's entertaining on-road abilities - indeed the high quality suspension actually means the bike feels even more composed and stable on the highway than before.

As I sat there supping the last of my Margarita, I had every confidence this would be the perfect bike for my much more personal journey back west, along the Trans-Am Trail.

But first there was the small matter of two worn out tires to replace, together with a number of invitations to enjoy a little more of what the eastern side of the country has to offer. I just hoped the rain would stay away.

Of course it didn't.

But that is a story for another day...

More soon!

Jenny x

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #23 on: September 03, 2015, 07:24:36 PM »
Tuesday 2nd June Day 23:  Virginia Beach VA to Roanoke VA.

Mileage today: 301

So, a few numbers before we continue the story...

On reaching the east coast, according to my daily log (via the GPS) I'd ridden 4770 miles from when I picked the bike up in Bend (with just 773 miles on the clock), and so effectively the official west-east leg of the Trans-Am 500 route from San Francisco to Virginia Beach was 4259 miles, including that week in and around Moab - and therefore pretty much what I'd imagined (ie. around 4000 miles to cross the country).


Trans-Am 500 part 2: the way back west...

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photo. My official start point for the return leg was the Lynnhaven Fish House restaurant on the north shore of the First Landing peninsular above Virginia Beach. This is where I had my celebratory meal the night before, and I can confirm that even shellfish taste better when wrapped in bacon ;o)


First Landing (now a State Park) is notable for, well, you can probably guess by the name actually - is where the first British settlers arrived in North America in 1607, and established a permanent community that was in effect the foundation of the British Empire.

The surrounding bay provided a huge natural harbour, and Virginia itself became a key gateway to the rest of the country and remained an independent British colony until you guys got a bit shirty about all that stuff in 1776... This little historical nugget certainly explained the huge number of towns, cities and counties in the surround area that share their name with a British counterpart.

Being over 400 years late to this particular party, I instead busied myself with the far more pressing matter of sourcing some new tyres for the Honda. Fortunately I'd received a couple of good leads via the ADVrider forum - where local knowledge suggested that a BMW dealer might be my best bet to find some actually in stock.

Sure enough, a few phone calls lined me up with the correct sized rear at an independent garage in Charlottesville that afternoon, while I could get a new front TKC fitted at a main dealer in Roanoke the following morning - which rather fortunately was right on the Blue Ridge Parkway (that I intended to ride in its entirety over the coming few days anyway), and not least was the location of that very comfortable and affordable hotel that I had already stayed in - result!


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photo. I'm a few hundred feet under the bay here, heading north towards Hampton - who knew they'd only build a bridge half way across, and the rest was a tunnel!


A social butterfly...

En route I stopped off briefly in Richmond to say hello to ADVrider Champe who was keen to see the bike, and we'd arranged to met at a cool little independent vintage bike shop on the outskirts of town - and who made me very welcome, thank you!

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photo. Velocity is full of cool and quirky stuff - and is one of the very few Royal Enfield dealers in the USA!

It was then on to Charlottesville a few miles further west to meet up with Anton who runs Virginia Motorrad (an independent BMW specialist) who was able to fit my rear tyre while I waited, and we were joined by fellow ADVrider Ted who'd been such a help (via email) in suggesting Anton in the first place, and was also keen to check out the CB500X himself - again, thank you both for your help and hospitality!

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With a suitable new rear boot fitted, I still felt there would be time to make a start on the Blue Ridge Parkway - particularly now, late in the afternoon, with the sun setting - it would be the perfect time to embark on the initial leg to Roanoke and take in the stunning scenery.

Of course the Parkway essentially runs along the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains (for 469 miles in total), and is typically at 3000+ feet elevation for the vast majority of its length. Ted had warned the weather had been damp all day, and sure enough, as I climbed higher towards the entrance gate, the fog closed in, and the rain came down:

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photo. It was already raining harder than it looks here... Very disappointing.

However, not one to shirk from a challenge, I pressed on:

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But to be perfectly honest, there was no joy at all when often I could barely see 30 yards ahead of me, never mind anything of the scenery despite the odd break in the fog when the elevation dropped occasionally:

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photo. It was actually proving pretty dangerous up there in the fog, especially with bends like this...

Unlike those heavy and almost tropical showers I'd experienced at the weekend, this was that horrid cold rain that soon chills you to the bone. Coupled with alarmingly poor visibility at times, this soon became more that just a test of physical endurance - it was bordering on dangerous. Ultimately after about an hour (and barely 50 miles), I decided to take a side road off the mountains and head straight for the hotel. Well, this is supposed to be fun, right?

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Online JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #24 on: September 03, 2015, 07:25:40 PM »
Day 24: RoanokeVA to Asheville NC.

Mileage today: 292

Sadly the weather the following morning was no better than the evening before - there were meant to be mountains somewhere outside my hotel window, but I was damned if I could see them.

Having scheduled my front tyre fitting for first thing, I donned my waterproofs and dragged across town hoping that somehow the sun would break though and lift this cold dank blanket of fog.

An email offer to join a bunch of Asheville based ADVriders a couple of hundred miles south and across the state line in North Carolina was a very tempting alternative. Asheville is also right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so perhaps I could pick up the road further south if the weather was better...

It wasn't. Well, not by much anyway - I did try and join the Parkway as I crossed the mountains into North Carolina, but it was to no avail, and I ducked off once again into the relative balm of the lower elevations.

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However, the resulting and rather tedious interstate journey was ultimately well rewarded with an excellent fun night our with a great bunch of fellow ADV riders - gassing and chewing the fat until nearly midnight, while actually eating outside on a restaurant patio. You know I think I could get to like the weather here in No' Calina!

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photo. We initially met at the weekly Bike Night at the Wedge Brewery - if you're ever in town I can recommend their beers, and you might just spot another TA500 sticker ;o)


With a break in the weather forecast for the following day, a handful of us had decided we should meet up the next morning at a local independent bike workshop: Moto Vicious (run by James and Sean who I'd been introduced to the night before) - this was one cool hang-out!

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photo. A bike shop. With a breakfast bar. With a Moto Morini on it - who'd have thought it?!

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photo. It was a beautiful workspace, full of quirky machines. This CB750 is going to become a sidecar outfit!

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photo. These guys can work on anything. But it seems the more odd-ball the better!

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photo. When not working on bikes, they also make really cool stuff out of old parts - and everywhere you look there is some curio and some lovely retro memorabilia!

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #25 on: September 03, 2015, 07:28:50 PM »
Day 25: Asheville NC to Knoxville TN.

Total mileage: 235

With stickers exchanged and a cheery goodbye, I then teamed up with Shane, Alan and Laura (all of whom had made various excuses to take the day off work) and we were rewarded with some fine weather in which to ride various (and arguably the most impressive) sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, together with some excellent side roads and dirt trails that wound their way up and down each side of the mountains - such is the benefit of riding with the locals ;o)

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photo. ADVrider Anatic (Shane) on the BRP - I have him to thank for introducing me to such a great bunch of people, and really look forward to visiting you guys again in the future!

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photo. The Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville NC even includes tunnels!


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photo. By early afternoon, the sun had well and truly broken through...


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... and we were rewarded with some mercifully empty roads and stunning views! This was the Parkway I had come for!


I eventually waved goodbye to the remaining Ashville Massive somewhere between Hoontown and Canerville ;o) - and rode the remainder of the Parkway at a much more sedate pace, pausing briefly at the final mile-marker 469 just outside Cherokee on the southern edge of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

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I have ridden through the park once before, and recall it was a tedious procession of tourist cars and RVs on a single lane 30mph limited road, albeit the view sideways at least was very pretty as you might imagine.

However, more importantly I was but a stone's throw from some of the best biking roads in the region; and not least the infamous Deals Gap and the Tail of the Dragon: Highway 129.

Now it seems to be done-thing these days to say the Dragon is 'crap' and that there are better roads in the region, blah blah blah... and it's true there are some stunning alternatives that surround the sinuous crossing between North Carolina and Tennessee...

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photo. Looks like the perfect (if somewhat rather obvious) spot for another TA500 sticker Piglet...

But there is a reason that this particular 11 mile section of highway 129 has the reputation it does, and thats because it is, quite frankly, an awesome road to ride!

Of course you have to choose your timing wisely. You don't really want to be riding on a weekend afternoon amongst the parade of pirates on their bedecked behemoths... Nor fighting for space (and the inevitable attention of the local constabulary) with the squids on their battered street-fightered sports bikes.

The locals tend to ride on a weekday, early in the morning; or alternative towards the end of the day in the early evening light - after everyone else has already gone home. Similarly this is my favourite time to ride anyway, particularly on such a scenic highway when the fading light somehow makes everything seem all the more richer in colour.

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Having wound my way up to Deals Gap on the beautiful lakeside ride along neighbouring hwy 28, I hadn't realised that the resort motel would be quite as busy as it was (it was only Thursday after all), even at this time of year... and with no vacancies at all, I elected to continue north and try and find some affordable accommodation nearer to Knoxville.

Of course this also meant riding the Dragon in what were now perfect conditions, cool evening breeze, dry road, no traffic whatsoever. What a way to end a fantastic day of riding in one of the most beautiful parts of the country - and also a the perfect way to wrap up what had been a week of excellent road riding in general.

But I'd come this far, and this way in particular, for a fundamental reason. My mission, which I have chosen to accept, is to ride the Trans-Am Trail - the brand new 2015 revision Trans-Am Trail no less! - in its entirety!*

*or at least as close to possible as the weather will allow at this time of year...



Day 26: Knoxville TN to Murphy NC.

Mileage today: 140

Of course to get south towards the start of the TAT today meant riding the Dragon again, this time in the opposite direction - and once again I was blessed with a mercifully traffic-free run back up the hill (plenty of traffic coming the other way mind you). I did eventually catch up some slower vehicles just a mile and half from the top, so simply pulled over and let them get far enough ahead so that the remaining run would be clear...

Because of my late-ish start this morning, and general meandering around the myriad of fantastic roads in the region, coupled with the fact I wasn't sure how long the initial new stages of the TAT might take, I elected to find a motel early this afternoon - embark on a little laundry and to get completely up to date with my ride report - and which in turn, would allow me have the whole day ahead of me...

It all kicks off tomorrow morning in Andrews NC, and I will of course do my best to take you all along for the ride... So please, do join me for this final chapter of the Trans-Am 500 ride!

Jenny xx

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #26 on: September 03, 2015, 07:34:41 PM »
The 'new and improved'* Trans-Am Trail: 2015 edition

*Now fortified with extra trails, including TWO new States!


Day 27: TAT Day 1: Andrews NC to Monteagle TN.

Mileage today: 248 (TAT: 225)

So in an effort to try and update you all as regularly as possible while I'm riding the TAT over the next few weeks (not least as I may well be camping a lot more regularly where circumstance allow, both to save money, and also because I actually quite fancy it now that it finally feels like summer at last!), I will try and keep my words brief, and hopefully let the photos do the talking instead...

That said, I feel I really ought to set the scene at least, and describe my first Ten hours on the TAT into Tennessee today!

As part of the ongoing revisions to the Trans-Am Trail (the original concept of course was a full coast to coast crossing of the USA on dirt trails and minor roads), the originator Sam Correro has also been busy extending the original distance to incorporate two new States: North Carolina at the beginning, together with Idaho towards the end (as an alternative to the hot and dusty desert trails in Northern Nevada).

The original start of the TAT was in Tellico Plains TN, which rather neatly coincides with the end of the fantastic Cherohala Skyway (hwy 143 in NC / 165 in TN), that in turn leads from the hub of fantastic riding roads around Robbinsville in North Carolina.

Indeed, if you plan to ride all the way from the east coast, then the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway also ends not far on the other side of Robbinsville, therefore linking up the TAT route very neatly with some beautifully scenic* road riding before you get down to business in the dirt.

*when it's not teeming down with rain of course...

Having stayed in Murphy the night before it would be a short hop back up the highway, where I could also refuel the bike and top up my rucksack with snacks and water.

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photo. I'm sure the spelling and punctuation pedants amongst you (and indeed I am one) will be having palpitations at this sign... fear not, I did diplomatically point out the errors to them before I left, otherwise it would be heartless of me to post it here.


North Carolina

So with my initial destination set as the corner of 2nd and Locust street in Andrews, I selected the first of a series of Track routes that were stored in my GPS, and soon Piglet and I would finally be on our way!

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The first trail section is a terraced gravel road that climbs high into hills. It was already pretty warm down in the valley, so the shade from the trees (under which I was riding most of the morning) together with the ever-increasing elevation, was a welcome relief:

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As the trail wound its way north towards the Cherohala Skyway, it dipped down into a beautiful valley that was dotted with holiday homes - some rather fancy:

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... an others not so much. But hey, even a ramshackle caravan is paradise when it's in a location like this!


Having joined hwy 143 briefly for a few joyous bends, the trail then descends to the north just before the official start of the Skyway section. Again, it is more a scenic gravel road than a hardcore trail, but a beautiful way to break yourself into the journey ahead - there will of course be plenty of more challenging riding to come over the following weeks.


Tennessee

Topping off my tank and grabbing a sandwich for lunch in Tellico, I was soon back on the TAT proper, and spied this sticker on the back of a sign as I turned off the main highway:

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photo. seems some fellow Brits had been here before me...

So I of course also marked the start of the Tennessee section in a similar if slightly more subtile manner:

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Again the dirt started soon enough  (I love those 'Pavement Ends' signs!), and this time was a little more rocky and technical, and was soon followed be a series of shallow creek crossings...

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One crossing in particular I recalled from a photo I'd seen in a ride-report, and was aware that the angled slab rocks below the surface can be both slippery and uneven. I played it safe and walked the bike though, and although my feet were subsequently soaking - it was actually a welcome relief from the humidity and heat.

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As I had essentially started the TAT a couple of days later than I had originally planned, I endeavoured to try and cover as much ground as I could today - if only to give me some margin for a little later in the trip.

One of the criticisms of the original TAT route in Tennessee is the large proportion of tarmac vs. dirt, coupled with what appears to be a rather convoluted route on minor rural roads simply to avoid major highways.

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I have to say, while I was enjoying the afternoon immensely, I can see their point - and I know that Sam has been taking steps to simplify the Tennessee route in an effort to keep you moving westwards... Certainly if you zoom out on the GPS you can see that despite the myriad of twists and turns you are almost always heading west... and just when you might feel be getting a bit bored of all this rural pavement, he throws in an absolute gem such as switchback climb up Daus Mountain Road - truly a highlight of the day!

If nothing else, today had already highlighted just how perfect a bike like the Rally-Raided CB500X is for what is fundamentally going to be the core of this whole two-month endeavour. It was wonderfully surefooted over the dirt and gravel sections; more than manageable during the creek crossings; and an absolute blast to ride on the tarmac when you might otherwise be cursing your choice if onboard a more traditional dual-sport thumper.

After all, the Trans-Am Trail isn't just about the dirt. It's about crossing the country on the road less travelled. I couldn't help be think that Piglet and I had made exactly the right the choice.

Toot toot for now!

Jenny xx

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #27 on: September 03, 2015, 07:36:15 PM »
Day 28: TAT Day 2: Monteagle TN to Counce TN.

Total mileage:261 (TAT 244)

So I'm bopping along more minor roads through the rural heartland of Tennessee, wondering indeed if there is any dirt at all on the Tenessee TAT sections, but enjoying myself in any case on the eager CB... particularly as today I've got Sophie B. Hawkins right beside me (or more accurately right inside my head, so good are my Skullcandy earphones ;o) when I see this sign at the side of the road:

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A company that makes cake and candy? I was like a moth to a flame!


As Bill the owner explained how they make their signature Whiskey cake with Jack Daniels, it dawned on me that I probably wasn't all that far from Lynchburg (although I had presumed I was now much further west as Lynchburg hadn't felt all that far from the North Carolina boarder last time I was here)... On returning to my bike, I zoomed out on the GPS and of course it turns out that Lynchburg is barely a mile away from the TAT route at this point - duh!

So it seems that Sam has done his best to add an interesting side-bar to anyone who might be getting a bit bored with all the tarmac TAT through Tennessee (although again I would suggest that is purely perception, and very much down to your choice of bike ;o). Either way, the last time I was here I thoroughly enjoyed the [free] guided tour around the Jack Daniels distillery, and would recommend it to anyone.

On this sunny Sunday afternoon the carpark a the distillery was heaving, and anyway I had a far more pressing need to find some lunch as I'd forfeit breakfast this morning:

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photo. I can certainly recommend this place if you're in town, great pizza and coffee!

The town square was also busy with bikes and tourists - and that litter bin is a genuine Jack Daniel's whiskey barrel!

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On my way out of town I had to stop for this ubiquitous photo:

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photo. And yes of course I have almost exactly the same photo of my Tenere from seven years ago ;o)


Back on the TAT, and it seems that Tennessee has saved all it's real treats for the latter half of the route; and once you start riding the 4th and 5th sectors, there is a lot more gravel and dirt, and plenty of fords and shallow river crossings too - one particularly wide one that took a lot of nerve with a number of people enjoying the afternoon at the water's edge.

In fact this series of creek crossings and fast dirt roads reminded me very much of the first couple of days of the Dakar route in Argentina - especially as I seemed to have a sizable audience at each crossing - thankfully the surface beneath each ford was not slimy or too rocky!

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photo. This was actually a far more minor one, a little later in the day...


During the afternoon I passed though a particularly scenic section (on Wisdom Road) that had a myriad of side trails that were clearly a play area for 4x4s, while next to the river would make a lovely camping spot were you so inclined...

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photo. This view from the bridge is very close to another TA500 sticker ;o)


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photo. No, I'm not going up this side trail - it was actually far steeper than it looks!

...but I quickly pressed on, mindful that I still had a long way to go if I was going to make Mississippi by nightfall - which was my intention for the day.


Unfortunately, the vast majority of Tennessee seems to be owned by someone (ie. there is not a lot of public land were you might comfortably wild-camp, and not a lot of formal campgrounds either, not along the TAT route anyway), and I felt this was illustrated quite poignantly by the disparity between the wealth of the inhabitants.

All along the TAT route there were some very sizeable and pristine houses, that at the same time shared the immediate locale with some very poor property indeed. It was interesting that in most cases the plots of land were a similar size, but that like a real-life game of Monopoly perhaps, having the wherewithal to actually build on it is another matter...

As I pressed on west, I was conscious I was rapidly running out of light this evening, although it was the most beautiful time of day to be riding - again the scenery reminiscent of rural southern France, or indeed the South Downs in the United Kingdom with which I have a particular afinity.

As I stopped at the final switch over point for Tennessee between sector five and six, I simply had to get Piglet out for a photo here:

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With only 60 miles of Tennessee left to go, the search facility in my GPS showed a few hotels not that far away from the TAT route itself, and now it was a race against time to reach somewhere suitable to sleep before the sun went down.

It is a race I lost... although If I'm honest, it's worth losing simply to witness a sunset like this:

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So I am currently just a stone's throw from the State line between Tennessee and Mississippi now, and my intention is to finish off this last sector in the morning, then go and meet the originator of the Trans-Am Trail, Sam Correro who lives just off the TAT route himself; and find out a little more about his latest revisions, and how I may even be able to help him prove the currently unfinished 'no mans land' in Idaho - I can't wait!

Toot toot for now!

Jenny xx

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #28 on: September 03, 2015, 07:37:51 PM »
Day 29: TAT day 3: Counce TN to Oxford MS.

Mileage today: 200 (TAT 161)


Only 161 miles of TAT today? Well let's just say it was a day of two halves...

I got back on the road in good time this morning, after a delightful breakfast at a traditional diner/BBQ shack 'R&Bs' on the main road though Counce (note. for those contemplating the TAT themselves, Little Andy's Motel is right next door, and right on the TAT route itself - I'd have taken a punt on this place last night but at the time could only find the prices for cabins, I understand they do offer regular rooms too).

Counce is on the south side of Pickwick Dam, a huge structure blocking the Tennessee river and creating a sizable lake/reservoir on the east side. I only realised this in the morning when I rode back over the bridge to finish the short loop of the TAT that I had forfeit the night before (in the dark) - and I'm glad I did as it was a pleasant little trail through the peninsular, past a number of holiday homes on stilts - perhaps they are worried the dam might one day burst?!

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photo. The bridge above was reminiscent of those in Florida that rise sharply in a big dipper style to allow ships to pass underneath.

Leaving town, there were some very pretty properties interspersed amongst the TAT (aha, see what I did there?)

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Quickly followed by some more dirt as I approached the Mississippi boarder:

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photo. Quintessentially American - I love these railroad bridges... Can you spot the TA500 sticker?!

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photo. There is more water in this photo than in the whole of California right now...


Mississippi

My plan for the morning was to detour off the TAT a few miles (don't worry, I'd be picking it up from where I left off later) and go and meet the originator of the TAT route, Sam Correro - at the nearby Lake Hill Motors: a Honda & Yamaha dealer on the outskirts of Corinth MS.

I have to say, this really is a must-see place to visit if you are ever in town (or riding the TAT), as not only is it a huge motorcycle (and UTV/marine) dealer, but the owner has a fantastic collection of classic bikes in a side wing of the showroom!

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A lot of rare early Hondas (and Yamahas), including a first edition Goldwing, a '69 CB750 and a lovely '66 CB350 that is no.8 of the original production run! There was also a handful of interesting road/race bikes including an ultra rare Ducati 916 with the homologate 955cc engine (#2 of only 30 made) together with some great vintage machinery from the US, UK and Europe too!

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Priceless! (Some of them, literally!)

They guys at Lake Hill were also very keen to see the CB500X I was riding, before Sam went through a few options with me for the currently uncharted sector/s in Idaho.

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photo. Others may follow (and copy and modify now the original route is in the public domain), but Sam Correro is the originator of the concept of the Trans-America Trail, and continues to modify and improve/offer alternative options as each year goes by.


Currently I will be riding the new revisions to Colorado, Utah and now up into Idaho too - and there are further revisions due to be introduced for Tennessee and Mississippi next year...

Indeed, Sam was keen to point out that there simply isn't a direct dirt route through the more eastern states, and that people who embark on the 'Trail ought to consider that the TAT is an all encompassing journey across rural America - offering some unique insights into life of the beaten track.

And I would tend to agree wholeheartedly with this - afterall, it really shouldn't matter whether it is dirt or tar (or more often broken tar) under your wheels on a journey like this - it's all good, particularly if you're on the bike that rides really well on both... ;o)

Obviously there is some world class dirt and trail riding included (especially once you cross the Mississippi river), but for me personally, to catch a glimpse of small-town and rural America (and indeed witness just how poor some of it is) was very much an eye-opener - and during a journey of this length, it really illustrates the diversity of the people, architecture and terrain that encompasses the United States.


Yeah, but you guys want to see some photos of the CB-X on the dirt don't you? - well ok then!


Mississippi mud-pie...

Having loaded up on way more calories then I would ever need in a single day - with the largest milkshake I think I have ever consumed (seriously, this bad boy was like a pint and a half of ice cream and fruit!), I rejoined the TAT and continued south and west... Right into an almighty rainstorm.

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Fortuntely the trail was drying almost as quickly as it got soaked, but the problem was an inch or so of slimy mud on top of otherwise hard-pack soil - with no chance of the tyres digging in, rather simply clogging...

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In certain circumstances, the weight of the bike can actually be a benefit, helping it to dig in and stay on track.

Unfortunately, today was not one of those circumstances, and inevitably when the slide comes, it comes fast, hard, and heavy:

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I have to say, I really did struggle to pick the bike up here (They're only heavy when you have to pick them up right?) - since the slick mud meant I couldn't get any purchase to lift it off the deck.

I eventually resorted to using a strap (removed from my Giant Loop Coyote) around the lower hand guard, to lift it enough so I could get my foot/shin under the bike, then lever it up with my hands on the bars... Believe me, I tried every other option - and it's circumstances like this which make a mockery of the 'approved' way of lifting the bike by walking it backwards - that might work on a boxer-twin in a parking lot, but not out here in the real world...

So having got utterly filthy, I continued gingerly on, desperate not to drop the bike again.

Ultimately, once the TAT crossed a major highway, early that evening, I elected to 'find hotel' in the GPS and get myself, my clothes, and bike cleaned up... then rest, and reassess the weather forecast for the coming days - this would be no fun at all otherwise; and I so wanted to complete these eastern sections of the TAT which I'd had to forfiet due to bad weather before in 2009.

Cont.

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #29 on: September 03, 2015, 07:39:30 PM »
Day 30: TAT day 4: Oxford MS to Clarendon AR.

Mileage today: 250 (TAT 232)

Fortunately, despite an almighty thunderstorm directly over Oxford (that was so loud it woke me up in the middle of the night!), the sun had come out by the time I'd surfaced and got my soaking wet gear (now dried, as it had been liberally spread around the hotel room overnight) packed back on the bike.

By chance I'd chosen the exact same town to stay in that fellow ADVrider Madscientist (Mika) lives and works, and again the miracle of modern travelling that is the internet meant we were able to catch up in person for a quick coffee before we both went about our respective business of the day.

For me, it was to get the hell out of Mississippi before any more rain came! At the same time, I really wanted to ride the complete TAT, which from here forms a southern loop before heading west across the river into Arkansas.

I have to say, the ride today was a delight in every sense - the trails had dried just enough not to clog the tyres, keeping the dust down and at the same time offering good grip and traction, while allowing the bike to slide (if you wished ;o) on the wet gravel corners. I was merrily making up time today, enjoying the scenery and the wildlife:

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photo. I'd started seeing these little guys on the road yesterday (and this one I stopped and moved as he was just sitting there, waiting to get squished!), and at first though it was a roaming pet... Once I'd seen half a dozen or more I realised these box turtles are wild... In fact one was positively sprinting across the road in front of me!

I also saw a very dead Armadillo (you see a lot of these), and a sizable snake that was doing it's best to leave the rear of it's tail under my front wheel (sorry fella, I trust it will grow back...)

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As I got further south, the trail sections started to come thick and fast - mainly gravel still, which was a godsend if I'm honest after all the overnight rain.

Looking at the GPS track, I spied a curved road that was effectively the southernmost point on the entire TAT - an a suitable spot for another daily* TA500 sticker I thought!

* I'm intending to leave at least one per day on the route, as a kind of treasure hunt...

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Once I started heading back north and west, there was a perceptible feeling that the TAT really was beginning to cross the country now. The trails typically leading one into another (with just a few hundred yards of pavement between), and occasionally they did get a bit more sticky - in fact this series of puddles actually had snakes in too!

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But on the whole it was a fast and enjoyable scenic ride - again reminiscent of a fast rally stage, and the CB really was in its element here, able to track with utmost stability at speeds as high as 50 or even 60 mph on the smoother gravel... The modifications Rally-Raid have made to this machine really make it sublime - honestly, it now rides like a $12,000 bike rather than a $6000 one!


Mid-afternoon, I stopped by this old water tower (that like so much of Mississippi has been engulfed with Kudzu - an ivy like plant from Japan, that was introduced originally to help prevent soil erosion, and is now rampant everywhere!)

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As I was snapping away, I spied a pair of (obviously) fellow TAT riders coming towards me in the distance...

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Riding the ubiquitous KLR and a DR650 between them, they had been on the road roughly the same time as me, and so too had been caught in the crappy weather yesterday. Planning on (wild) camping the whole way to Oregon, we chewed the fat for a while before they graciously let me go on ahead (which I admit I was keen to ensure as I didn't want to be riding in anyone's dust)... Hope to see you along the trail again over the next couple of weeks guys!

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photo. More Kudzu...

There weather really had cheered up now, as had I... and it was a joy to barrel along in open country:

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Taking in the amazing scenery that Mississippi has to offer:

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I finally crossed over the Mississippi river on hwy 49 around 5.30pm:

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...and considered how much further I might be able to ride into Arkansas that evening - not wanting to ride in the dark, and fundamentally, find a hotel in good time this evening so I could get up to date with this report.


Arkansas

It was too early to stop in Helena West Helena (crazy name, crazy town/girl?!) just over the bridge. So pressed on into the setting sun...

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photo. The first TA500 sticker in Arkansas...

Sam had mentioned a couple of 'TAT Stops' west of him. And sure enough, I soon saw the signs for this little gem near Trenton AR, and stopped in to sign their visitors book.

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Although the building was locked, a chance meeting with the owner who was riding by on his CRF250L revealed some useful information about the trail ahead - there had been heavy rain, so a short three-mile section might be still impassable (fortunately it wasn't, as the sun had tried the trail a little, and combined with some heavy farm traffic passing that day, had created two defined solid ruts in which I could ride - phew!), and that there was a perfectly reasonable independent motel a few miles further west in a sleepy town called Clarendon, which is where you'll find me right now!

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photo. It's old school and basic, but quintessentially American - a real Mom&Pop place... I love it!

So, I think it's about time I considered some sort of breakfast somewhere, then it's time to hit the trail again... Destination the Ozarks!

Toot toot for now!

Jenny xx

 


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