If you read American Iron’s Motorcycle Bagger magazine, you may have seen my bi-monthly “Touring Topics” column, in which I get to write about, well, basically any damn thing I want to, as long as it has something to do with motorcycle touring. My most recent column, in the October 2014 issue, is titled, “Touring Top 10s,” in which I list my favorite motorcycle rides. I don’t claim these are the best motorcycle rides in the country, because I don’t want to write about places I haven’t personally ridden.
Here’s the column, along with some photos that, because of space limitations, couldn’t be included in the magazine:
Right from the get-go, some things in life seem doomed to failure. New Coke, for example. The Ford Edsel. Celery-flavored Jell-O. Supertrain (you might need to Wikipedia that one). Whether from a lack of market research, or downright stupidity, some ideas should never have seen the light of day.
That’s generally how I feel about “Top Ten” lists. The internet loves ‘em – they attract eyeballs – or clicks – which in turn create numbers that appeal to advertisers. It’s been theorized that the popularity of these lists relates to the “paradox of choice;” that is, the more choices we have, the more anxious we feel. Lists help us feel better because they categorize and prioritize, wrapping up lots of information into a tidy little package.
What does this have to do with motorcycle touring? Nothing, actually, but we riders love lists as much as anyone else. Top ten pieces of touring gear for your next trip? Top ten new motorcycles? It’s usually just one writer’s opinion, for whatever that’s worth.
Now, I’ve done a fair amount of riding over the years, but I still haven’t hit every road on my bucket list. So for my own Top Ten, I won’t claim that these are the ten best rides in the country – just that they’re my favorites, of all the roads I’ve personally ridden. So, without further ado, or maybe with just a little bit of ado, here are my favorite trips, listed in descending order:
10) Texas Hill Country: This 25-county region of rural central Texas features rolling hills, curvy roads, and great scenery. Best memory: Sipping on a Shiner Bock in Luckenbach while listening to a musicians’ “picker’s circle.”
9) Florida Keys: U.S. 1 – the Overseas Highway – runs about 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West, its 42 bridges hop-scotching sparkling, emerald-green Gulf waters. Arriving in the Conch Republic (Key West), you’ll feel like you’re in the tropics. Best memory: Sipping a frozen daiquiri at a bar on Duval Street, watching the parade of humanity.
8) Maine Seacoast: U.S. 1 and various state roads run along Maine’s seacoast from Kittery to Calais, passing through small fishing towns and well-known places like Kennebunkport, Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park. Best memory: Eating a lobster roll at Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster in Freeport.
7) White Lightning Trail, Tennessee: This roughly 200-mile circle through rural northeastern Tennessee takes you deep into the heart of “moonshine country,” where bootleggers transported black market “white lightning” corn liquor, running hot-rodded V-8 sedans. Best memory: Meeting 78-year old “Hack” Ayers, a former state legislator and owner of the Hampton Inn in Caryville, whose father was a third-generation moonshiner who was killed by revenue agents in a shootout back in 1943 when Hack was seven years old.
6) Florida’s “Forgotten Coast:” This isolated stretch of northwest Florida coastline is relatively untouched by the beachfront overdevelopment you’ll find elsewhere in the state. From St. Mark’s in the east to Mexico Beach in the west, U.S. 98/State Route 30 travels through one of the last remnants of “Old Florida,” where oystermen and fishermen reap a rich bounty. Best memory: Eating oysters fresh off the boat on the docks in historic Apalachicola.
5) Skyline Drive: 105 heavenly miles through Shenandoah National Park and Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Best memory: Ridingthe park at sunrise, feeling like I had it all to myself.
4) Black Hills, SD: I don’t think there’s a bad road to be found anywhere in the Black Hills. Best memory: Stopping to let a buffalo cross the road at Wind Cave National Park.
3) Texas Big Bend: Desert, mountains, and the Rio Grande; the vast Big Bend region of West Texas is truly awe-inspiring. FM 170 – the River Road – between Presidio and Terlingua runs alongside the Rio Grande through terrain seemingly out of a Western movie. Best memory: Walking through the ruins at Terlingua’s ghost town.
2) Tail of the Dragon, Deals Gap, TN: It’s no secret that U.S. 129 through Deals Gap is one of the most exciting rides in the country – 318 curves in 11 miles insure a thrilling, not-to-be-missed experience. Know your limits and watch your speed; you don’t want to end up on the “Tree of Shame” at nearby Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. Best memory: Stopping and listening to rising and falling crescendos of sound as other riders carved curves in the distance.
1) The Loneliest Road in America – U.S. 50, Nevada: I haven’t seen this on anyone else’s Top Ten list, but it’s one of my all-time favorites, as middle-of-nowhere as nowhere gets. Just a handful of towns sprinkle the 250 miles from Fallon to Ely. Mountainous high-desert terrain and very little traffic make for an almost Zen-like riding experience. In Ely, stay at the renovated Hotel Nevada, built it 1929, and be sure to visit the Northern Nevada Railway, “the best-preserved, least altered, and most complete main yard complex remaining from the steam railroad era,” according to official accounts. Best memory (but not so funny when it happened): Dropping my bike on a loose gravel shoulder, after excitedly pulling over to photograph a sign reading “Next Gas 80 Miles,” and having to wait 20 minutes for the next passing motorist to help me get it upright.
So there you have it, the “Travelin’ Gringo’s Top Ten Favorite Motorcycle Rides.” But don’t take my word for it – hit the road and go make your own memories.