Nashville to California and Back. A Father and Son Cross Country Motorcycle Adventure.
It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
July 2016 – Part 1: Nashville to the West Coast
For years I had been calling this “The Trip That Never Happens” – mostly because doing something like this had been a dream for a long time and often talked about but had never seemed feasible. “How are these guys able to get away for so long?” I’d ask myself after reading through countless blog posts and ride reports on advrider and other sites. There were so many awesome trips – complete with amazing pictures of bikes and campsites all over the globe. I had planned this trip in my mind several times and it had gone through several iterations but it seemed it would never come to fruition.
I was living in Nashville at the time and had just found out that I’d be moving for a new opportunity in about a month. This would give me a few weeks to myself and it seemed like taking an epic motorcycle trip was a now or never sort of thing. My plan was to take 3 weeks, point my motorcycle West, tell my GPS to take me to the places I wanted to see and do the damn thing! I’d wanted my dad to join from the beginning but as this was coming together rather last minute I didn’t know if he’d be able to swing it. That’s when he told me he definitely couldn’t get away for 3 weeks. 2 weeks though? He could do that. This presents an entirely new challenge – much more ground to cover every single day. A much less relaxed pace. Would we even be able to get it done in that timeframe? Should we just do something more manageable? Hell no.
I hopped on google maps to start doing some planning. It looked daunting. We were going to need to average between 500 and 800 miles per day to see all of the sites, which included Badlands, Yellowstone, the Tetons, Crater Lake, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and more. This wasn’t going to be an easy, relaxing type of trip. We were pretty confident, though. We’d done big miles before and we had certainly motocamped and have been self reliant before so we’ll just take it a day at a time. The time came to head out to our first planned stop, Shawnee National Forest. Most of the time, in a National Forest, you can camp for free.
Days 2 and 3 were both mostly geared toward getting as many miles of the midwest behind us as possible. This didn’t seem like it was going to be particularly fun (especially riding through Missouri – I’m convinced they’re the worst drivers in the country) but keeping the spirit of adventure alive, we plugged on and camped again at Indian Cave State Park. The campground was almost entirely vacant and they had a bath house which is always nice after a long day on the bike.
Heading out the next morning we would head up I-29, weaving between Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa before jumping on I-90 and blasting through the pretty much the entire state of South Dakota.
Riding through South Dakota was straight and flat. We also rode during Summer 2016’s heat wave and, at times, it was like riding into a hair dryer. Frequent stops for water felt more like a necessity for survival rather than refreshment. Dipping our shirts in ice water before putting them back on granted us some reprieve from the heat and stopping to fill our hydration packs with water and ice often came before we needed gas.
After three full days of droning through the featureless Midwest, I was finally greeted by a small rocky outcropping. I quickly snapped a photo. It was the first time we’d seen something that looked different, and we were hoping that the nothingness of the terrain would soon be over. We hoped it was a sign of the sights to come.
And was it ever. Making it to Badlands National Park was our first big milestone. The feeling of being somewhere that far from home was incredible but holy shit was it hot. We stopped a couple of times for pictures but wearing gear and not moving was not a pleasant feeling.
It was time to head to camp and get some of that gear off. I had planned it out earlier that we would be staying at Sage Creek Campground inside the National Park. This is a remote campground with very few amenities and it’s down a few miles of gravel. This would also be the first and only time I would have to setup camp on the ground, being a hammock camper. This was a non-issue, and we were actually surprised to see as many people as we did at the campground. We made some dinner and watched as the sun disappeared behind the hills nearby. We were then surprised with the most spectacular moon rise that lit up the night. Regrettably, my point and shoot wasn’t able to capture any pictures to do the moon rise scene justice.
The next morning I woke up to the most amazing sunrise I’ve seen to this day. Dad was still sleeping in his tent despite multiple attempts to wake him up for it. Again, the pictures just can’t do it justice.
Rolling out of Sage Creek in the morning presented something a bit different. We would ride straight through the middle of a herd of buffalo. They were wayyy closer than I think we ever expected and it made for a tense moment as we rode past. Well, we thought this would close, little did we know we’d get even closer later in the trip.
A quick stop at the world famous Wall Drug Store for breakfast then we would head toward our next destination, Mt. Rushmore and the surrounding Black Hills National Forest. Definitely recommend taking the super twisty 16A.
Mount Rushmore just seemed like something we should do. We’d both never been before and it seemed like something we should definitely see. Especially since we’d be so close! I’m glad we did but to be honest, it was kind of a bust. Tourists and traffic everywhere but mainly the monument was underwhelming considering it’s juxtaposition with all of the surrounding natural beauty.
Glad to get away from all of the RV’s and tour buses we head out of Mt. Rushmore. Next stop would be camping in Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming so we could hit it early the following morning and take in all that Yellowstone had to offer. Or so we thought.
Remember the heatwave? It was about 112 degrees riding through the Eastern part of Wyoming that we encountered our first emergency. Dad was feeling dizzy and starting to feel like he couldn’t stay awake. Heat exhaustion. We were still a good way from our planned destination but we needed to stop. Now. Where do you go in the vastness that is Wyoming to escape the heat? Anywhere, that’s where. We ducked under a bridge for some shade, re-hydration, and some rest before reassessing the situation.
After taking some time to cool off and suck down some water we aborted the plan to camp and instead looked for a hotel nearby. Buffalo, WY would be our destination and our first of only 3 hotel stays during the trip. We took it easy and kept in constant contact on our Sena headsets and finally arrived at our destination.
Day 5 would see us heading toward Yellowstone via 14 (a great ride). Of course I had to point out all of the amazing campsites we missed as we rode through Bighorn National Forest!
The views on the way to Yellowstone were incredible. We were starting to see the terrain change; started to see everything get bigger. It was just a small taste of what America’s First National Park would have in store for us.
As we planned to start North in Yellowstone and head South to Grand Teton National Park, we entered the Northwest entrance of the park after heading through a small portion of Montana. It’s hard to put into words all of the sensations you feel after hitting another major milestone like that. And we rode there! Seeing the mountains and the vastness of the landscape is really incredible.