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