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Transamerica Trail

Transamerica Trail 11-21 October 2006

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I have started preparations for my second big trip this year: The Eastern States of Sam Correros Transamerica Trail: TN, MS and AR. The aim is to arrive at the Boxerworks Fall Rally in Big Cedar Oklahoma in time for some good gas-talk, good food, plenty of riding in the twisties (Hey Bill, wanna try again! LOL) and a lot of fun, and certainly some rear tire changing!
This is a good size trip with some unknown territory: I saw some pictures of creeks, river and really tough terrain, so I hope this is just all in the estern part of it and I am fine here. I have no problems doing 90mph on desert roads, but my bike gets heavy after picking it up three times. So with this is new territory in mind I will trust my 1982 R80G/S Paris-Dakar to make it all way (despite a little incident with the oil pressure):

Dear Beemer, I apologize I had installed cheap NAPA oilfilter parts. I promise, I will never do it again!

Maps and their preparation:
I got my maps from Sam a couple of days ago. The set is excellent, detailed high resolution black/white maps with rollcharts included for the whole trip. Man, it took me nearly 6 days to manually enter the whole trip in my Garmin eMap. Sometimes I punched in the coordinates and sometimes I just followed the route on the map and set waypoints were needed. I would not want to waste too much time for getting lost along the way, so I have "tripled" the security on this trip: in additon to the original rollmaps I have the original maps and all waypoints stored on my GPS. Now, call me stupid, but I am even taking a smallDell subnotebook which I acquired fully working for $50. So if my Garmin plays up and looses all the data, I can reprogram it. Yes, I know, slightly over the top, but you know with that subnotebook and an internet access you can do quite something during your travel. Sometimes you can even pick up somebody else's wireless network ... but I am digressing here! So, what you see at the top of this page, is the entire trip in Garmin waypoints plus some statistics:

  • Expected duration of trip: 2 weeks
  • Expected mileage: approx 3500mls
  • Average speed: 20-30mph with all that off-roading
  • Expected start: October 7 in Cambridge, Ontario
  • I guess I won't bore anybody anymore with the usual trip preparations: I travel light, very light (those who met me at Kens, know), but will carry a complete ignition and charging system as replacement parts. I don't want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere becasue that's where I am going. Since Murphy's Law however says, is that usually those things break/fail that you don't carry, I might not carry anyhting. But I guess, I am too chicken for that!
    October 8, 2006:
    It is the time of the final prepration for the trip. I somehow managed to totally screw up my schedule, as I planned ok but managed to arrange everything for a week later! How that happened, I don't know. Old age maybe? Now, I depart on October 11, go to the Boxerworks Rally first and do the Trail in reverse direction. No big deal, really. The bike's ready to go, and so am I:

    Day 1 (Oct 11):
    (in which I managed to stay completely dry ... on the inside!):
    Well, it was a day to make miles (nearly 500 in total) and it wasn't pretty. I started off at about 8AM in pouring rain. That lasted for an hour and then eased down. I had a couple of hours with short rain showers in the afternoon, some more heavy rain between Chicago and Detroit. I found a motel in Joliet, IL. My choice of rain gear was excellent, I was bone dry at the end of the day: Alpinestars Gore-Tex boots and a Rukka (Finland) 1-piece rainsuit (worn underneath the jacket as the jacket is too bulky) was all that was needed. The temperature dropped down during the day to the lower 40's (6C) at the end of the day, which was only a slight inconvenienence. You just have to have the right gear.
    Now, the weather for the next day showed some nasty temperatures in the high 30's (even below 5C in the morning) and rain and even possible snow flurries ... bad news! I might have to change plans and go straight south to avoid that weather.
    478mls/769km (ON, MI, IN, IL)
    Day 2 (Oct12):
    Shock in the morning: the Weather Channel! Snow in Michigan, as far as down to Detroit. And I am in Detroit! I watched it for an hour hoping it may change rapidly to the better for my planned ride West towards Omaha, IO. No Chance!
    I looked out the window: dark clouds in the West, blue skies in the South. So, Plan B: go straight South.

    I headed down I-55 to Bloomington where I took Route 136 West. A very nice route. Temperatures in the morning at 36F/2C, up to 46F/8C in the afternoon, but I had gusty winds all day, manageable, but strong. I then took Highway 5 South and Hwy 6 West, both nice rides with some sweepers. I stayed overnight in St. Joseph, MS. And by the way, my sons build a snowman today in our front yard in Ontario, temperatures as low as 39F/4C
    It was after all a beautiful day of riding, I enjoyed every minute! Because hey, I am supposed to, this is my main holiday 2006!

    474mls/763km (IL, IN, IO, MS)
    Day 3 (Friday, Oct13):
    I feel like the weatherman, but I learned this morning, that Oct12 was a record snowfall day in Buffalo, 2ft in total! October 13, an omen? I feel lucky to have escaped that mess ... for now (I still have to go back home, right?!?).
    Anyways, the morning started with 36F/3C and by 3PM, the thermometer had reached about 80F/26C another wonderful day to ride, just like in the middle of Summer. I crossed Kansas North to South on Hwy 99 which led me to THE Route 66 in Oklahoma. Kansas has the distinct "Wild Wild West" written all over it!

    I arrived at Bill's house at about 7PM after a great day of riding.
    472mls/760km (MS, KS, OK)
    Day 4 (Saturday, Oct14):

    Today Bill and I only did a short ride of 170mls to Ken's and then some more local riding on the Talimena Scenic Highway.

    It was good to see the guys again which I met first time in May. Joan as our "Maitre" did again a beautiful job on those tender ribs, but had some starter problems with the RS. I guess, Ken needs to do some work on it. I had a close look at Veg's BatByk (R100R) to get some ideas on my project. We called it a day at around midnight after sitting around for ages, gossiping and exchanging those great lies of our all so brilliant achievements!

    More pictures ...

    Weather: warm, very warm! Just like summer in Ontario without the heat!
    314mls/505km (OK)
    Day 5 (Sunday, Oct 15):
    The weather deteriorated (again): some rain in the night, but it was not raining in the morning, the roads were still wet though. A day of rest at Ken's place: changing the rear tire (that is becoming a habbit now!), and a lot of gas talks.

    Joan was begging me to help and run the rear tire in afterwards, so she did after fixing my taillight! Of course, there is no Rally without Doug's bagpipes. This time, Ken got his guitar out as well and him and Doug were having a jam session. Only the camp fire was missing ...
    In the afternoon, it started raining and by the time Bill left, it was pouring down. Bill was unlucky in so far as he caught a big nail or something, patched it 4 times on the road in pouring rain which gave him another hour of riding and then he just made it ... to the next phone booth to call home and get the pickup! Ok, he had a cell phone but that doesn't fit the story line, does it! ;-) You can see that Bill had a rough time and wasn't the happiest!

    I had to leave at 5PM, it was pouring down. Fortunately it was only a bit over an hour to Fort Smith where I would start my "journey" on Monday.

    More pictures ...

    A big Thank You to organizers and cooks alike, again a well Decidedly Unorganized Rally!
    100mls/161km (OK, AR)
    Day 6 (Monday, Oct 16): (Day 1 of the TAT, from Fort Smith, AR to Clinton, AR)

    I have to admit: the rain starting on Sunday made me nervous. The pouring rain this morning when I started off did not really raise my spirits either. And when I saw the first couple of miles of the trail I was seriously concerned. How am I gonna ride on those muddy roads (the red mud you know!) and not smash my precious bike? It did not go well the first 5 min and I started to think of Plan B. But I was determined and gave it another shot by varying the tire pressure ... down! That in fact did the trick. I went as far down as 12PSI in front and rear and I had some sort of a stable bike! The weaving was limited to only deep mud sections, my average speed rose from from 15mph to anything between 30 and 50mph (excluding those curvy sections!), seriously! I was starting to have real fun from this point on! The ride today was indeed very technical: full concentration on the trail or else you'd end up in the ditch.

    Now, as for the trail itself: under normal circumstances (dry and warm) you will have spectacular views and you can certainly ride much more relaxed and under less time pressure. There is hardly any traffic, although plenty (ok, some) farmhouses and normal residences on the way. On 240mls trail, I probably saw no more than 10 cars, some more on the interchanges when I had to cross over highways. So breaking down or crashing is certainly not a good idea.

    I managed the first Arkansas section (backwards first that is!) in time, managed the complete planned section and was on the road from 8:30 to 6:30. That is sort of the latest you should leave the trail, I had two encounters with deer in the last 10min.

    More pictures ...

    243mls/391km (AR)
    Day 7 (Tuesday, Oct 17): (Day 2 of the TAT, from Clinton, AR to Helena, AR)
    (from now on known as "The Days of the Mudbaths")
    I don't know where to begin, but is not going to be the weather, that's for sure! Although, I have to say it was a beautiful day.

    Let's start with the mudbaths then: since it had been raining so much in the area, the flooding causes serious muddy sections on the trail, the aforementioned red mud! In order to negotiate those ankle deep (or deeper) mud sections, I had to quickly learn how to get over those. Let me tell you, my learning curve was steep: it is not easy and very challenging to get 480lbs (or thereabouts) to run in a straight line considering those deep truck tracks.

    I was challenged by 5 mud sections: Dropped the bike 4 times at low and no speeds, so didn't hurt myself ... not even my pride. You gotta start learning somewhere! Those sections were all within one hour and they really wore me out. I let the air out in the tire to 6PSI in the front and 8PSI in the back but that did not help a lot, me thinks. I saw knobby tracks from the KTMs I met earlier but my Metzeler Sahara 3 just weren't good enough and did not provide enough forward traction. Also my bike was kinda loaded so might have even been heavier than 500lbs. I still do not have a concept, but would try with knobbies and no luggage next time. I am sure it'll work better. I met two other groups in the afternoon, a group of three and a group of two. They went the trail in the "original" direction, East to West. I wondered first why there were so late, but understood later: mud of the red kind. The three Kawasaki riders I met later had similar problems although they ran real offroad tires and not hybrids like mine (thanks for your pictures, marc!). The two guys (on KTM 950s I think) took the same way that I did, I saw their tracks: they had real knobbies and seemed less loaded than I was and seemed to have had no trouble.
    Rob and Marc, part of the 3-rider group shared some of their experience and pictures with me.

    All pictures courtesy of Rob (robklx400 @ AdvRider). Thanks, Rob.

    I had to do a stripdown of the bike to get to my ductape as I broke my rear indicator off on one of those droppings. No biggie, gave me another half hour to catch my breath and get some chocolate and water.

    Anyways, it was 3 o'clock when all that happened and I subsequently called it a day and cut the trail short by about 30mls. On my way to the hotel I cleaned the bike up to get rid of those additional lbs of dried mud!

    Other than that, it was a beautiful day, starting with high clouds in the morning, cold enough for me to wear warm underwear and the rainsuit. It was very foggy in the morning due to the warmth and the wet coming together. By 2PM I had stripped down to leather jeans and all air vents open on my jacket! Man, was I hot, especially after my mudbaths.

    More pictures ...

    On the trail, there were more sections paved that I anticipated. But most them were quite new. The trail was beautiful overall, I had some magnificant views. A little bit more in the open than the first day. It took me a while to clean up, gas up and get water and food, so by the time I got to the hotel, it was dark.

    224mls/360km (AR)
    Day 8 (Wednesday, Oct 18): (Day 3 of the TAT, from Helena, AR to Selmer, TN)
    The Mississippi section of the trail was paved to two thirds and only a couple of gravel sections. After the "Day of the Mudbaths" it was the ideal way of chilling down and relaxing and I had some serious fun on paved roads through cotton fields, forests, crossings etc.

    There were only two remarkable events. There was one creek crossing (not on the map) that I did not attempt, being a solo rider. I guess it was even wider than original, as a damm seemd to have been built either by beavers and man, couldn't really tell. I took the safe option and found an alternate route.

    I hit the only mud section of the day unprepared, tire pressure was too high, I tried a different way of negotiating that route which failed and had me ended up here: into the ditch.

    Nothing happened, but I had to remove the saddle bag to get me out! And I later found out I lost my left sidepanel somewhere along the way. This was probably the only situation where I started sweating because the task at hand -getting the bike out of the ditch- seemed to be unmanageable for a solo rider. But I was lucky and found an area where getting out the ditch was possible without "external" help.

    The best part were the last 30mls after crossing the state line to Tennessee: beautiful winding roads, short sweepers, twisties, it was absolutely loveable.

    More pictures ...

    281mls/452km (AR, MS, TN)

    Day 9 (Thursday, Oct 19): (Day 4 of the TAT, from Selmer, TN to Columbia, TN)
    (Another RAINY Day in Paradise)

    I did not want to mention the weather any more, but hey, if it rains down on you and your motorcycle for 8 1/2hrs, you have to be able to at least mention it, right? As a result of that darn (you-know-what), I did cut the trail short by about 30mls, I had enough. As for the trail: mostly, I would say 90% are paved on this section. I get the distinct impression, that back then when Sam actually rode those roads they might have been all unpaved.
    Nevertheless, a festival of twisties and short sweepers again, interrupted by a couple of gravel road sections with smaller creeks to cross. The Metzeler Enduro 3 Sahara have a remarkable grip in rain, although dubbed desert tires! I felt very safe with them, tire pressure was 20/18PSI, which I found to be a good compromise if you want to ride gravel and asphalt without constantly changing the tire pressure. This setting is more for a 80/20 ratio, the previous mentioned 12/12PSI is for 20/80, so mostly gravel. It is still raining, so let's see what the morning brings.
    217mls/350km (TN)
    Day 10 (Friday, Oct 20): (Day 5 of the TAT, from Columbia, TN to Sparta, TN)

    A day of riding on the Central Tennessee section of the trail which showed so many different faces. 99% paved, maybe 10 gravel section of a few miles each. I just enjoyed each and every road with its corners and sweepers. I was passing through farms all the time, mostly cattle. It was dry, high clouds with temperatures in the mid 40's so not ideal conditions but there wasn't a drop of rain. I managed to get some nice shots, although the light conditions were not ideal.

    More pictures ...

    194mls/312km (TN)

    Day 11 (Saturday, Oct 21): (Day 6 of the TAT, from Sparta, TN to Canton, NC)
    The day started like one of these wonderful Fall mornings:

    Now, as to the last day on the Transamerica Trail, I decided to cut it short close to Crassy Grove and head towards Deal's Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I liked the trail and the way it was set up. However, I probably would not ride the MS and TN section again due to its high content of paved roads. I would also ride the any future sections of the trail only with real knobbies, the only acceptable tires for that kind of job.

    Off I went and finally left the trail.

    The Dragon's Tail

    Overlay of Google Earth and my track courtesy of BillsR100 @ ADVrider (thanks Bill)

    Understandably, there are no pictures from the Dragon's Tail itself, as you can't just stop there and take photos. Others do that for you! Here is one of my slower corners ... (easy to claim, there are no more pictures available!)

    I was very excited to actually ride to Deal's Gap now, but was eventually disappointed: it was a gorgeous day and so, "everybody and his cruiser" was out there on the road heading towards the Dragon on Hwy 129. I had a couple of good runs but was mostly tied behind a group of lowriders. Deal's Gap, "the rest area" is quite an event, located in a small spot and incredibly noisy. Probably not different from the Friday 13th meets in Port Dover, ON.

    My verdict on Deal's Gap and its corners: I'd rather ride some the roads in Tennessee or Pennsylvania: less traffic -> more fun. Anways, due to the traffic I decided not to run the tail again and in following the 28S I headed towards the second most wanted riding area in the Eastern part of the US of A: the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    It is phenominal! A beautiful ride through the Smokey Mountains with lots of incredible views.

    You know, those views you can't capture in a single fotograph ... !?! I waited for the sunset on Water Rock Knob at 5820ft. It wasn't the most spectacular sunset, but well worth the wait.

    Here is also where I found that my left fork is loosing oil, most probably the seal. After only 3000mls, but relatively heavy action, It shouldn't fail. It was a noname $5 seal, so maybe I'll try a BMW OEM seal next time.

    More pictures ...

    Finding a hotel on the Blue Ridge proved difficult, it is still high season, I've been told. Not well researched on my part as I wasn't aware of it! I left the Blue Ridge and found food and shelter in Canton, NC. One remarkable there: since I left Ontario I paid motel/hotel prices between $30 and $55. In Canton, I paid whopping $135, the Blue Ridge Parkway access fee obviously included!

    Oh yes, and did I mention the weather being absolutely gorgeous that day?
    278mls/447km (TN, NC)

    Day 12 (Sunday, Oct 22): (Canton, NC to Weston, WV)
    Well, the Blue Ridge Parkway is something, especially if you are standing at 6578ft on the summit of Mt. McKinley and feel the power of nature, or better, how small you are in comparison.

    When I went up I actually went through the clouds and couldn't see my hand before my eyes! It was like a white wall which eventually swallowed me!

    With the sun still very strong, it finally broke through and revealed a breathtaking scenery. I really enjoyed it for a good couple of hours whilst driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) direction North.

    If it hadn't for Granny and Grampa, who were clogging up the road in their Caddy or Buick, I would have carried on but after 4hrs I had hardly covered 100mls. Also, the scenery doesn't really change, so I was getting a bit bored tailgaiting Buicks until I was able to illegally pass. At lunch time, I arrived at Boone, NC which is about one third of the way to Roanoke, which was another 200mls. I decided that I'd rather head North directly and maybe even make it home by Monday night. Don't get me wrong, the Blue Ridge is an amazing spectacle of nature, but I was spoiled with all my "adventures" on the Transamerica Trail, that I could easily call it a day. Subsequently, I arrived at Weston, WV at 7PM. Sometimes I really like riding 75mph for hours.
    468mls/753km (NC, WV)

    Day 13 (Monday, Oct 23): (Weston, WV to Home)
    The morning of my last day of holiday started cold (mid 20's) and with dark and low clouds. Ah well, I thought it might as well then ... and head off. It turned out not to be too bad after all: I was rained at, snowed at, even hailed at but still did not anywhere close as uncomfortable as on my first day of holiday. Something with the bike did not seem to be right thoug: I had some new, really dirty vibration around 5000rpm (72mph) that somewhar scared me because I did know where they came from. I decided to reduce the rpm down to 4000, a much better run, although only at around 55mph. I did not care about speed, so I kept the engine at that rpm. Strange though! All sorts of thoughts ran through my mind, from $2000 O-Ring to failing oilpump ... scary thoughts. But the engine did not start knocking, the vibrations did not go away and the bike was happily plotting along, running rough though. It did that for the next 400ls without missing a beat. Also, I felt some very distinct low speed wobble when riding off one of the gas stations and realized, that the right forkseal had followed the left forkseal into the Nirwana: it blew as well.

    So at least both blew at the same time. I think, some of the inner parts, especially the nylon bushing had finally reached the point of no return and gave way for the forklegs to move excessively in radial direction which subsequently damaged the seals.
    Canada greated me with sunshine and it stayed like that ll the way home. On the infamous Hwy403 in Hamilton, I ran into the only traffic jam of the whole trip which was due to an accident. However, during this stop and go section, I felt my rear wheel bouncing at low speeds like if I was going over speed bumps. I stopped as this was scaring me and found ... a cut in the tire close to the sidewall, on the outer end of the thread, which was starting to build up a bubble! And not only one, I found 5 of those bubbles and the said cut!

    Dunno how long that had been there but it would imbalance the wheel which would induce vibrations?Maybe ... I decided to not repair and instead reduced the tire pressure by about 10PSI and reduced the driving speed for the last 30km. Problem is that the final drive might have been impacted by this imbalance. I will get back to the shop where I bought the tire and see if I get a new one on warranty (although I am sure I ran the tire pressure too low at times). With a new rear tire, I'll check if those new vbrations are gone.

    I arrived safely home after a good 8hrs and 436mls ride without any aches or pains, frost bites or anything else of that nature.

    436mls/701km (WV PA, NY)


    What a fantastic trip that was: 4179mls or 6725km of excellent riding and while doing that acquiring a handful of new skills on the go!

    It can't get any better, canit!?!

    Maybe a couple of words about using the GPS on this trip would be in order: as I mentioned before I use an older Model Garmin eMap which absolutely did the job for me. I purchased a RAM mount for it and although it is not a watertight, not even water-resistant version, it did not let me down once. I had all of the Trail maps (manually!) converted into waypoints and routes and it worked flawlessly. Not once had I to use the original maps. I use the 2003 version of Garmin's Mapsource software and even all unpaved streets were where they were supposed to be. Some of the "points of interest" moved or disappeared but that wasn't a distaster. Overall, GPS was my main means of navigation. I also carried a subnotebook in order to load maps and waypoints on the road and also to check emails where wireless was available. I think I once tapped into somebody private wireless server ... unknowingly. So, only 6 T-shirts and 8 pair of socks for two weeks of travel, but a laptop with a wireless network card! You see my preferences here?

    The bike: performed flawlessly except for two blown front fork seals, a damaged and (after 4500km) pretty well worn rear tire, a nearly bold front tire (after 11000km), a rear shock with some oil misdt but still tight, sticky throttle cables (even stickier than they were before), a nearly broken off rear indicator bracket, broken off (and ductape-fixed) rear indicator stalk, and a bent right footpeg return spring. Not to forget the nasty vibrations on the run home: I believe however they were due to the wheel problems and should disappear. If I ever get round to check all the gas bills I will add the gas mileage.

    Would I do it again? In a nutshell! But maybe slightly different this time: mount serius knobbies, trailer bike down, run the trail, trailer bike back!