With Yamaha’s stateside debut of the much anticipated Super Tenere 1200 has come speculation about when other manufacturers are going to jump on the big adventure bike bandwagon. Its no secret that Honda and Kawasaki have had their eye on this burgeoning market, which has historically been dominated by BMW and KTM.

It looks like we won’t have to wait much longer…

Cycle News recently reported on Kawi and Honda’s future plans, with a trifecta of apparently capable competitors, one of which I have some familiarity with.

Kawasaki is apparently bringing to European dealers a Versys 1000, boasting the same 4cyl motor as the Ninja 1000. This bigger brother of the Versys 650 (see my cross country tour on one of these puppies here) should make a dent in the adventure bike market when it finally comes to the US, hopefully in the next year or two.

Honda has also entered this segment with the planned addition of the Crosstourer and Crossrunner adventure bikes. The Crossrunner will be the smaller of the two, powered by the same 782cc power plant as the VFR800. The Crosstourer will be more similar to the BMW 1200GS, with its 1237cc displacement and slough of adventure ad-ons.

Look for more chatter about these bikes hitting showroom floors in the USA sometime late next year.

This post is about my return journey across the United States from Boone, North Carolina to Boise, Idaho–via New Orleans and Los Angeles. The two trips (totaling 13 days) covered 6,200 miles and 20 states. Check out this link for the first half of the story.

Upon completion of my development contract in North Carolina, it was time to make my way home to Idaho. The first order of business was to get my Kawasaki Versys back. It was mid-November, which limited my options as far as viable return routes. Anything north of Oklahoma would be prone to freezing temperatures, so I elected to head further south.

Leaving Boone on a Friday afternoon, the weather did not look promising. Storm clouds were everywhere, but I had to shove off due to a forecast that included rain and a deep freeze over the coming week.

Taking the 321 southbound from the High Country for the last time was bitter-sweet. I had accomplished many good things in North Carolina, but knew that I would miss the beautiful rolling panoramas and narrow country roads of the Blue Ridge corridor.

As I merged onto Interstate 85 just outside of Charlotte, the rains came. Unrelenting, I was beaten to a pulp by the time I rolled into Atlanta for the night. This first leg of my cross country voyage totaled about 300 miles, and took just under 4 hours.

The problem was not the rain, but rather the traffic that greeted me in Atlanta. I’ll spare you the details, but I spent a solid 2 hours trying to navigate my way to the Atlanta International Hostel near Georgia Tech.

I parked the Versys around back, checked in, and was instantly greeted by folks who were looking for some mischief. A fellow from Baltimore and I covered a good chunk of ATL that night, and I awoke early the next morning ready to hit the tarmac. A tall coffee and I was on to my next stop: NOLA.

The week prior to my departure, a good buddy from Boise had emailed me with some interesting news. He would be in New Orleans for a conference during my ride, and wanted to meet up.

I made quick work of the remainder of Georgia. Alabama was a breeze apart from some rowdy Auburn fans who didn’t appreciate me riding up the median around traffic during their game day scuttle. Apparently the Iron Bowl is a big deal for SEC football fans. After Montgomery, I hunkered down on the tank and set a solid 99MPH pace that held beautifully until a fuel/lunch stop in Mobile.

I said goodbye to Interstate 85, and picked up on I10 westbound–my route to the Pacific. Part of me was excited to see this region of the United States, while another part of me was anxious at the idea of being stuck on the same road for the next few days.

I snipped Mississippi in less than 2 hours, and was on my way to the Big Easy, with plenty of daylight to spare. Arriving in the French Quarter before dinner time, I was amazed to see how much of Hurricane Katrina hadn’t been cleaned up 3 years after the fact. Sadly, the periphery of the City was peppered with debris and wreckage, and the feeling of destitution was still very palpable. In the tourist areas, everything was business as usual.

My buddy had not mentioned that he had booked the 2,000sf presidential sweet on the 49th floor of the Sheraton Hotel just off of Bourbon Street. The shenanigans of that evening made the previous night in Atlanta look novice.

A little drained from the previous night’s revelry, I headed toward Houston the next afternoon. The swampland of Louisiana slowly transitioned to the vast, arid expanse of Texas.

The sign at the border between Orange, TX and Lafayette, LA indicated that I was no less than 863 miles from El Paso. What I didn’t realize was that there would be only one noteworthy curve on all of I10 in Texas–just past San Antonio where the speed limit increases to 80PMH… long, straight, and flat across the biggest state in the lower 48.

After a lonely night at a side-of-the-Interstate motel just outside of Houston, I pinned the Versys all the way into Fort Stockton–508 miles. I elected to stay here, as there were large signs warning of deer in the road, and I counted no less than 3 accidents in the last hour approaching dusk. My bike spent the night in my motel room at the foot of the bed, compliments of an unusual number of unsavory types loitering in the parking lot well into the evening.

I came to the conclusion that Texas, apart from Austin (which I didn’t visit on this trip), is more or less a 268,000 square mile landfill. The black munge cloud over El Paso is clearly visible from 50 miles away, as is a foul amount of garage along the roadside entering most major cities. Between cities, abandoned vehicles, refrigerators and animal carcasses littered the side of the interstate in greater quantity than any other state I visited.

The next morning i put the Lone Star state behind me and pushed through New Mexico to Phoenix. I was surprised to be riding in genuinely hot weather that late in the year, but was grateful to be making solid time. I stayed at my Uncle’s house in Chandler, AZ that night, where I enjoyed the deepest sleep of my journey. I would put my toes in the Pacific Ocean the next afternoon, and get to ride one of the best motorcycle highways in the world the day after.

Breakfast with my aunt & uncle, and I was on to the last leg of my I10 stretch. I rolled into Los Angeles around 4pm, where I quickly realized the advantages of owning a motorcycle in California. The traffic was atrocious, but I averaged 70MPH between cars in a lane sharing line that vacillated between 3 and 15 bikes. I made it to Malibu in time for dinner with my former boss. He offered to have me stay the night, but I was eager to get north to meet friends for the Boise State-University of Nevada football game in Reno. I stayed with a high school friend in Santa Barbara that night.

From SB, I headed to San Luis Obispo where I treated myself to a 135 mile detour that amounted to pure bliss. Highway 1 meanders along the Central California coastline with a symmetry that rivals the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee–although the scenery is arguably better on the west coast. The best section of H1–the Pacific Coast Highway–runs from San Luis Obispo to Monterrey, passing pristine beaches and the historic Hearst Castle. Carmel on the north side of this stretch is one of the nicest towns I have ever visited.

Getting back on Interstate 5 north, I passed through San Francisco en route to Santa Rosa–wine country. I stayed the night with friends, and took the scenic route the next morning through Napa Valley to Sacramento. From Bagtown, I made a B-line for Nevada on Interstate 80. The ride over Donner Pass was brisk but efficient, and I was in Reno in no time.

I met 6 friends from high school plus my family and a handful of acquaintances from northern California for a celebration of epic proportions. Our BSU Bronco’s beat the Nevada Wolfpack in a nail biter. Now officially into winter weather and high elevations, I loaded my Versys in the back of my brother’s truck and slept all the way back to Boise.

The trip was a wonderful success, and although hurried, allowed me to see just how diverse the United States is culturally. Next time, I plan on taking a few roads less traveled, and at least another week to complete the voyage.

TOTAL DISTANCE: 3,700 miles

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:bignasty.jpgPhoto courtesy of bignastyhillclimb.com.

Aptly named, the Big Nasty Hill Climb returned to Pence Ranch near New Plymouth, Idaho Sept. 16-18 for its ninth iteration.

For the uninitiated, here’s a Big Nasty Hill Climb primer: competitors navigate high-powered dirt bikes—many with custom modifications—up a very steep, rocky, rutted-out hillside. Those who don’t make it over the top face a rough-and-tumble scuttle back down the hill—sometimes with significant injury. There are several classes of riders over different courses, ranging from a 260-foot mini bike hill to a 600-foot pro line.

Over the years, the event has grown to international prominence with the addition of a wide variety of complementary events: mud-bog drag races, helicopter rides, RC car racing, Marine pull-up contests, food, live music, street-bike stunt exhibitions, a giant cannon, monster trucks and a 500HP air boat to name a few. The laundry list of entertaining revelry goes way beyond just the hill climb.

The sensory overload of hanging out with gear-heads and thrill-junkies from all over the United States prompted some hilarious and entertaining conversations—and I would venture to say that the people watching is some of the best anywhere. Touted as being “where NASCAR meets Burning Man,” the Big Nasty attracted a robust crowd. Many folks made the 45-mile trip from Boise for a single day of fun but with 500 campsites available on the ranch, others turned out for the entire weekend, motor homes and camping gear in tow.

The hardware ranged from 50cc mini bikes to 300hp dirt rockets. Last year, fewer than 22 percent of the total attempted runs made it over the top, arguably making it one of the most challenging hill climbs in the world. According to the Big Nasty website, “All hill climb bikes are cool, but the pro bikes are wild, noisy, exotic, stretched-out, paddle-tired, nitromethane-powered machines that will blow your mind.”

Event organizer Ron Dillon was a busy man at this year’s Big Nasty, which set attendance and entry records.

“We’re having a great time this year … I think we’ll go over 13,000 [attendees] for the weekend,” Dillon said.

The Big Nasty lived up to its reputation as a fun and rowdy gathering for an eclectic group of power sports fanatics. More than 700 competitors signed up to battle the big, nasty obstacle and those who beat it have reason to be proud. All of the winners will be listed at bignastyhillclimb.com soon but a few of them are listed below:

450 Pro Class: Bret Peterson of Yorba Linda, Calif.
700 Pro Class: Harold Waddell of Omaha, Neb.
Open Pro Class: Jason Smith of Farmington, Utah
Pro Mini Class: Chase Seal of Meridian, Idaho
Pro Women: Jenny Kouba of Star, Idaho

We can’t wait for Big Nasty Hill Climb 2012.

Video from the event can be seen here.

Following my Mexico tour in 2008, I took a contracted Directorship at a resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. I was there for 8 months, and had the pleasure of riding my Kawasaki Versys across the United States twice that year. The following is my account of the first leg–from Boise, Idaho to Boone North Carolina:

It was July and the dry Idaho heat was unbearable. I had just returned home from the cool but humid high country of North Carolina for a week long river trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon–after which I was going to ride my Kawasaki KLR 650 back to NC. Not more than a few hours off the plane, and I was on my way up to the Boundary Creek put-in on my KLR to select camp spots for our trip. It was nice getting to ride again after months away without a bike.

I hurried into the administrative office at the put-in, where I was able to negotiate some of the best camp sites for our 17 person crew. A few hours later, my group arrived by bus, and we began rigging our boats. The river trip was excellent. Fishing and relaxing without a care in the world or cell phone signal does wonders for the soul.

A week later I arrived back in Boise to a little surprise. My KLR had tipped over in the trailer behind the bus and been rattled to pieces over the 26-miles of washboards back out to Highway 21. I was meant to leave for NC the next morning, but that was clearly not in the cards.

I immediately called my insurance company, and explained the situation. They agreed to expedite the claim, so I had Carl’s Cycle of Boise do an estimate: $2,200 worth of damage. Weighing my options, I made a few calls and came across a high school friend who had been looking for  a KLR for several months. Mine was only a few months old, had just under 8,000 miles on it, and the damage was largely cosmetic. I sold it to him that afternoon for a steal, cashed my insurance check, and returned to Carl’s to get a brand spanking new bike. I considered purchasing another KLR, but couldn’t resist the Versys. It was tight, nimble, fast and light. Not the best long distance tourer, but totally adequate for my purposes. A long afternoon of breaking the Versys in around Boise, and I was on my way to Aspen early the next morning.

Road construction on Interstate 84 made an otherwise efficient ride frustrating. I rolled into Salt Lake City by early afternoon, where I stopped off at a friend’s house for a brief respite. He informed me that the construction would continue all the way to Grand Junction, making my ride even longer. Not the news I was looking for.

The going was slow through GJ, but I was able to make time into Glenwood Springs on Interstate 70. Now late in the evening, I jogged south towards Aspen. I stayed with some high school friends for a night in Basalt, and sampled all that is the Colorado mountain high life.

The next morning, I continued along the scenic periphery of Aspen to 12,095 foot Independence pass. The Versys handled the tight rolling switchbacks without any issues.

This is where I began to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew I was within a few hours of leaving the mountains and heading straight for the plains of the Midwest. No more scenery, just agriculture and industry for the next 1,500 miles+/-.

A fuel stop in Colorado Springs followed by a short haul up Highway 24, and I was back on Interstate 70–where I would remain for quite some time. That night, I made it as far as Hays, Kansas. Wind and lightening greeted me as I entered this Central Kansas oasis. I slept well in my side-of-the-interstate motel, and awoke refreshed and ready to cover some ground the next day.

I wish I could say that there is something–anything–interesting to report about I70, but there isn’t. Topeka, Kansas City, St. Louis… all pretty much the same as far as aesthetics go. That night, I posted up at a hotel in Mount Vernon, Illinois, with my final leg just around the corner.

From Mount Vernon, I made a B-line south on Interstate 57 to Paducah, Kentucky. It was hot and balmy, so I stopped for lunch, fuel and a wolf nap in the grass. From Paducah, I shed my riding jacket to beat the heat and rode through Nashville, where I picked up on Interstate 40 eastbound. I made quick work of Tennessee, before getting onto Interstate 81 to Johnson City. It was dark, and I was tired from pounding pavement, but being no more than an hour from my apartment in Boone, I had to push on.

Its easy to get turned around in Johnson City. The people are friendly, but many of them have not traveled much outside of the county, which made for an interesting time when asking for directions. After 8 or 9 inquisitions, I finally found somebody who pointed me towards a viable route into Elizabethton. A little worn out, I found my way to Highway 321, and was back in Boone in no time.

Total distance: 2,568 miles

While I cannot recommend this hurried approach, it did make for an epic marathon. Keep an eye out for future posts on my trip back to Boise a few months later, where I traverse the deep south during fall time.

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:Before we took in the breathtaking views, Geronimo insisted on reading the trail signs.

Carved perfectly between the Main Salmon and Middle Fork of the Clearwater rivers is the Magruder Corridor Road–named for Lloyd Magruder, whose 1863 pack train fell to mutiny when Magruder’s hired hands robbed and murdered him along the trail. The corridor sits between the Selway-Bitterroot National Forest to the north and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to the south, running from Elk City to Darby, Mont. Because of its off-the-beaten-path location, it is one of the only major access roads in what is commonly referred to as Central Idaho’s sea of mountains.

A couple of weeks ago, I set off on Geronimo, my trusty Kawasaki KLR 650 motorcycle, for my first trip through the Magruder Corridor. This historic part of Idaho’s epic mountainscape bisects some of the most remote country in North America, and during the 700 total miles I traveled–from Boise and back–I came to see why this area is held in such high regard by recreationists.

My first stop was in McCall, where my brother joined me on his motorcycle. We pushed north to Grangeville before descending the Harpster Grade to scenic Highway 14 and on to Elk City, where the more than 100-mile dirt trek that constitutes the Magruder Corridor begins.

Part of the original Southern Nez Perce Trail, the Magruder is often regarded as the Holy Grail of adventure recreation in Idaho, and it’s easy to understand why. Picturesque start-to-finish views, excellent hiking, camping and fishing, and a complete absence of modern comforts make this an appealing route for those looking to get away from it all for a few days.

A stop for fuel in Elk City led to a chat with some locals and a slight shift in expectations for Magruder. I had imagined that the ride could be done in five or six hours, but after asking around a bit, we realized that most people plan for anywhere from one long day to three or more days.

As I was asking around, I met Cheryl Sims at the Elk Creek Station Cafe. She pointed out that we ought to be careful about trying to make time on Magruder.

“There’s a lot of motorcycles on the trail this time of year … even more than in years past,” Sims said.

She reminded us about the lack of services along the route and noted the substantial burn area from recent fires between Idaho and Montana. These intermittent scorched tree lines proved to be intensely beautiful but served as a powerful reminder of how much damage can result from forest fires.

A 15-minute haul to the Magruder trailhead near the Red River Ranger Station just outside of Elk City, and we were on our way.

We stopped at several lookouts to admire the tranquility and remoteness of region, and we really got a sense of what it must have been like making the trek on foot back in the 1800s. The road–while well kept in most places–turns very rough and unforgiving in certain sections. Crossing the trail’s central saddles on a clear day is especially rewarding since you can see for hundreds of miles in all directions. We scouted several well-kept public campgrounds along the way with the intent of making a return visit this fall to spend a little more time exploring and fishing.

The highlight of the ride was undoubtedly Burnt Knob–a weather-beaten lookout station at 8,196 feet in elevation. This 1.5-mile out-and-back detour offers those bold enough to attempt it arguably the best 360-degree panorama in Central Idaho. Giving new meaning to the phrase “head in the clouds,” this alpine perch showcases everything from the aftermath of recent fires to crystal-clear mountain lakes to the rocky spires of the adjacent Montana wilderness.

The biodiversity of Magruder is certainly best observed from Burnt Knob. The side road up is particularly rough and rocky, so tread cautiously and pack for pinch flats if you go. As we descended into where the Selway River meets the Magruder, we began to realize that our trip was coming to an end all too soon. Just shy of four hours from when we started, we were in Darby, Mont., refueling. My brother and I concluded that the Magruder by car should take about eight hours–as indicated on the trailhead sign near Elk City–but the ride can be done in about a half-day on a motorcycle if you’re on a nimble bike and pack light.

Thankful for no major mechanical malfunctions, we headed south on scenic Highway 93 to Challis. The Magruder had given us a fantastic day of exploring, fishing, riding–not to mention lungs full of dust–and just south of Darby, we were looking forward to wrapping up by meeting friends at the Braun Brothers Reunion Festival in Challis.

Unfortunately that’s when my bike decided to call it quits. My motor was blown. We towed Geronimo back to a small, friendly roadside bar, where I was able to negotiate a ride for me and my broken two-wheeled friend as far south as North Fork Road near the Main Salmon. The guys who gave me a ride were the owner/operators of Booker’s Retreat and Mother Chukar’s on the Main Salmon–a hunting and fishing lodge and restaurant. They refused all of my attempts to pay for gas or their time, and then they arranged for me to store my bike until I could bring a truck a few days later. I jumped on the back of my brother’s Suzuki DR650SE–imagine Dumb & Dumber–and we rolled into Challis just after dark.

My 2012 Trans World Tour Kickstarter campaign is off and running. For more information, please check out:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/590785064/trans-world-tour-a-global-motorcycle-odyssey

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
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In previous Motojournals, I have explored Warren, Placerville, Garden Valley and Round Valley. Deadwood Reservoir is the final piece of this region’s puzzle—and a mighty fine piece it is.

Nestled high up in the Boise National Forest, Deadwood offers recreationists everything imaginable and just a few hours from Boise: fishing, boating, hiking, camping, backpacking and trails for riding horses and dirt bikes.

Getting there: Leaving Boise around 8 p.m., I made my way up Highway 55 to Banks-Lowman Road through the dusk of a mid-week evening. I stayed at a friend’s cabin in Crouch for the night, where I rigged the War Pig (my Honda Transalp) for the next day’s journey. A quick breakfast at the Garden Valley Market and I was on my way out Banks-Lowman Road to the Scott Mountain turnoff 13 miles up the South Fork of the Payette River.

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The road in to Deadwood Reservoir is narrow and covers some very steep grades. Ascending Scott Mountain to an elevation of 8,000-plus feet left me stunned. From this height, I could see firsthand how the Sawtooth Mountains to the northeast got their name: The silhouettes of jagged ridge lines overlap one another as far as the eye can see.

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From Scott Mountain, 16 miles of ridge-to-canyon road takes you to the dam that bottlenecks the Deadwood River and forms the reservoir.

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I rode around the dam and past an airstrip to a spot where some friends had set up a massive camp. Campers, horses, bikes, boats—all the finer things in life.

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Beyond Deadwood to the north is Warm Lake and the way to Cascade, the remote town of Yellowpine or all the way to Warren. Alternately, a single-track trail system goes over to Silver Creek Plunge, which runs back to Crouch, Boiling Springs or north to Round Valley on Road 670-600. You can also reach the Boundary Creek area near Stanley from Deadwood, which runs into a vast road-and-trail system that spans the Sawtooth Mountains. However you choose to connect the dots, the Boise-Valley County road systems offer some amazing opportunities for recreation and exploring and act as the gateway to many of Idaho’s best kept secrets.

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Total distance: 198 miles, 71 on dirt

Check out Andrew Mentzer’s 2012 around the world motorcycle tour at transworldtour.com

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
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Idaho has more than 30,000 miles of dirt and two-track roads, which makes it hard to imagine a single resource that is a key to them all.

The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation met that challenge by creating one of the most comprehensive online trail and road databases out there.

Unlike many other mapping services, this one is free. The site’s interactive map allows users a detailed look at trail and road systems using unique search criteria based on what type of vehicle is allowed: non-motorized, high-clearance, motorcycles, ATVs and automobiles.

If you plan to go exploring, check out this great trip-planning tool.

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Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
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It doesn’t get much further off the beaten path than Warren, Idaho. As you enter this rustic mining relic, signage stating “Since 1862″ informs you that this place has been around for a very long time.

Warren was originally settled as a gold mining town. It still boasts an active mining culture but has broadened its horizons as a major access point for public-lands managers charged with maintaining the adjacent Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness—a dirt airstrip and some U.S Forest Service buildings are the first things you see when entering Warren.

Various scenic drainages abut the route to Warren, including the Secesh River and North Fork of the Payette on the McCall side and the South Fork of the Salmon on the Yellowpine side. The fishing is excellent during summer months in this region with its high mountain lakes, streams and rivers.

If backpacking is your bag, then this area is hard to beat. One of the best hikes in Idaho is the trek to 20 Mile Lakes just down the road from Upper Payette Lake. Fires from 1994 and 2000 have scarred parts of northern Valley County and southern Idaho County, making for an interesting landscape—with old torched trees towering above young conifers and green grasses.

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Burgdorf Hot Springs is also a great relaxation spot along the way. Just 30 miles from McCall, the hot pools are a real treat, and camping and cabin rentals make it an easy overnight trip.

Getting There: Leaving McCall around 2 p.m. atop my KLR 650, I made my way north of McCall on Warren Wagon Road. Skirting the western edge of Payette Lake, the luxurious waterfront cabins became sparse as I neared North Beach.

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The road begins to wind its way up past several trailheads before flattening out near the turnoff for Burgdorf.

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Just past the turnoff, the road turns to gravel and runs alongside the Secesh River for several miles. I passed through the town of Secesh with the intention of stopping off at the old Stage Stop, but it has closed since my last trip up there many years ago.

The last 20 miles into Warren are punctuated by steep but well-kept grades and excellent panoramas. Dropping into Warren, remnant piles of rock from former dredge mining claims begin to appear along Warren Creek. A hop and a skip up the road—past the airstrip—and I had arrived at my destination.

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A brief stop for refreshments at the local watering hole and I was on my way back to McCall in time for dinner.

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If you are feeling ambitious, you can continue an additional 62 miles into Yellowpine, which leads back to Cascade and the heavily traveled Highway 55 corridor. Or you can tack an additional 57 miles on your trek and end up at Deadwood Reservoir between Lowman and Crouch (see alternate route below). Always check road conditions before you go, as these areas are remote and highly subject to the whims of Mother Nature.

Total Distance: 46 miles each way from McCall, 16 on dirt

Alternate Route From Boise: