Like Charles Kurault before him, Gary McKechnie loves being on the road.
At the moment, Gary is riding a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad 1700 out west. Just before that, he rode a BMW GTL1600 through New York’s Hudson River Valley. When I ran into him last month during a press trip to Door County, Wisconsin, he was riding a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic.
The guy gets around.
Gary wrote the best-selling motorcycle travel guide, Great American Motorcycle Tours in 2000, and is currently traveling the country updating the book for its upcoming 5th edition. GAMT features 25 of the best rides in the United States, along with tips on where to stay, what to eat, and don’t-miss attractions along the way. The book has won the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award Silver Medal and the Benjamin Franklin Award Gold Medal. Frankly, I don’t know how Gary travels around the country on a motorcycle wearing all those medals, but I guess he manages.
I’ve always admired Gary for being a talented writer, motorcyclist, and all around nice guy, and was excited about the chance to talk with him about motorcycling, and about Great American Motorcycle Tours:
How did you come up with the idea for Great American Motorcycle Tours?
I’d read a lot of other motorcycle books that talked about, like, gear ratios and oil viscosity, and I thought, man, I just want somebody to write about what I like to do when I ride, which is just get on the road and go. And be alone, and just ride. Nobody else had written it, so I did.
How did you pick the routes?
I went on the internet, and put out blanket questions, like what roads would you recommend? If I were in Maine, if I were in Nevada, what roads? People started feeding me information, and I looked at maps for two lane roads that would connect places. The criteria for me, if a place had culture, history, and scenery, those were the three main things. If it had one, that was good, two was better, and three was great. So of the 25 tours that I feature, [including] roughly 75 towns, cities, and national parks, I think I have those bases covered.
What was the reaction when the book first came out?
The initial reaction was really, really positive. I’ve made adjustments over the last four editions, just to react to what people want. I’m 12, 13 years older now, so I’m gonna fine-tune it again in the fifth edition. I’m 50 years old now, so I’ll probably write with more of a ‘you can do this’ sort of thing. ‘Cause a lot of people don’t really want directions on where to go. They just want to visualize themselves outside of whatever it is that they [normally] do. I just want to encourage people to quit work if you need to, or take a vacation; just get out there and do it!
I’m tremendously impressed that Peter Fonda wrote the foreword to your book. How did that come about?
You know, it’s funny. Nancy, my wife, and I were trying to think who I could get. People didn’t know me, and they still basically don’t know me, but I thought, who could I get, who rides a motorcycle? I thought of Bruce Willis, Billy Idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jay Leno. I got a chance to meet Jay Leno, and I asked him, and he’s like, “No, I’m not gonna write your foreword.”
So Nancy, my wife, goes, how about Peter Fonda? And I thought, hmmm? So I went online, and I’m searching for Peter Fonda, and I found out where he lives, I get word to him through a guy who knows him, and he writes back, “Sure, I’d be happy to!” Well, there you go, thank you!
When did you start riding motorcycles?
My older brother Craig had a Yamaha 250, and I thought that was the coolest thing. And my across-the-street neighbor had a motorcycle, and when I was a kid, if somebody had a minibike I was over the moon. And if they let me ride it, it was great, and the seed was just sort of planted. So I learned to ride when I was 14, and I just had that passion. And then when I was in my mid-30s, and felt like I needed to write this book, it was like nobody had written a book like mine, so I got somebody to subsidize my vacations! And they paid me to get out on a motorcycle and go out and see America. So how can you beat that!
Any closing thoughts?
It’s just such a great pastime, it’s a great recreational thing to do, and again, when you can figure out how to put it all together and see America on a motorcycle, why not?
Great American Motorcycle Tours on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Great-American-Motorcycle-Tours-McKechnie/dp/1598803646/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272026355&sr=1-1
Gary McKechnie’s Website: http://www.garymckechnie.com/