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.