Into the life of every motorcycle owner a little wanderlust must fall. It's to be assumed we all have our own reasons for buying that machine and giving it so much loving care, but at some point, you can bet you're going to get the urge to see just how far the two of you can go together.
If you really consider your aims, interests and what excites you -- beautiful vistas, historic sites or even just a particular region -- you can enjoy the road for more than just a means to an end. Here, we'll look at 10 great rides, from the extremely rough to the slow-and-easy, that should suit any mood or interest. Be bold, be brave, be safe, and, above all, make sure to enjoy yourself. Every mile along the way.
From the spas and resorts of Calistoga in Napa Valley to the tide pools and gorgeous shores of Carmel, you'd be surprised how much road-riding fun there is to be had along the Pacific Coast Highway. The landscape changes drastically, from the valley's lush greenery to the hills farther north in San Francisco; from the tiny towns and missions that dot the landscape to the major urban swells. You're really seeing the best California has to offer. The rides are short, so it's easy to go at your own pace and explore -- hiking, beachcombing or examining the wild urban architecture of San Francisco and Carmel -- whenever you feel the urge. The next beautiful spot is always just up around the next bend.
The ride from Las Vegas, Nev., to Yosemite National Park, Calif., will take you through Death Valley, Lone Pine, Bishop, Yosemite proper and Lee Vining. What better way to celebrate and recuperate from a wild day or two in Vegas than a trip across the striking beauty of Death Valley? And then, of course, you'll end your trip at arguably the most famous of our country's national parks, Yosemite, whose beauty and views are unparalleled. As a test of mettle, the Vegas-Death Valley run is known for separating the big dogs from the pups -- but Yosemite, or even a side trip to Lake Tahoe, is the perfect reward.
Experienced riders suggest taking your time with the Pacific Northwest. One trip, from Seattle to Port Townsend, takes in the mountain runs, rivers and streams, glassy lakes and icy shores in one long, snaking route, through Snoqualmie, Fall City, Carnation, Duvall, Monroe, Arlington, Darrington, Whidbey Island and La Conner. Glacial lakes, snow-capped mountains and brisk northern air turn a sightseeing trip -- like postcards made real -- into a frontier experience you'll remember forever. With so much natural beauty and so many possibilities, it's likely you'll find the perfect spot to camp out for a day or a whole weekend. And if the wild keeps calling, you can even take a side trip out to the islands, or dip out along the Olympic Peninsula.
Riding from the green mountain roads of Durango, N.M., to the heights and wildlife of Mesa Verde, Colo., may not seem like much of a trip. After all, as the crow flies they're only 35 miles (56.3 kilometers) apart. But plotting out a trip through the alpine meadows and waterfalls, and the rich history of old Colorado mining towns like Telluride and Silverton, means high switchbacks and turns, mountain passes, and sheer drops and cliff faces. For a motorcycle adventurer, these challenges are irresistible -- and when the landscape is this beautiful, the scenic route is also the one best traveled.
The San Antonio-Austin run takes you through wine country, rich ranchland, historic Texas cowboy views and the beauty of the Texas Hill Country. If music is your scene, plan around the music festivals in Kerrville and the live musical performances at your destination. Bandera, Medina, Fredericksburg, Llano, Bluffton, Marble Falls and Jonestown are just some of the tiny towns you'll meet along the way -- each with its own ideas about wine, barbecue and style. If you like to treat yourself to a nice steak every now and then but still enjoy roughing it on the road, the Texas run is the way to go.
Riding from Memphis, Tenn., to New Orleans, La., takes you alongside the mighty Mississippi River. Follow rock 'n' roll from its birthplace to its roots in the Mississippi Delta, then on through the American South. Blues, jazz, rock and soul are represented heavily along the route, so if you're a music fan in addition to riding the roads -- and most especially if you love great Southern cooking -- you'll enjoy every leg of this trip so much that by the time you get to the Big Easy, you'll probably want to take it easy. But what a place to recharge!
Until you've seen the Ozarks -- the rich greenery, tiny scenic highways, hot springs, sudden stark cliff faces, challenging switchbacks and open roads -- you might not be able to properly imagine the beauty of Arkansas country. This route takes you right past Ouachita National Forest, known for its beauty and hot springs, as well as its much-beloved dining and indulgences. The ride takes you across mountain ranges and through hilly, green country, and puts you in one of the finest undiscovered American resort towns. Although that may be changing: Try to schedule your visit to the larger towns along this route outside of the summer and racing season (January through April), when you may find yourself in heavy crowds.
Livingston, Mont., to Jackson, Wyo., is a trip without clutter, traffic, billboards or distractions. The ultimate open road, where there's nothing in the world but you and your motorcycle (and possibly, as you pass through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, bison, or a grizzly or two). If you want a truly Western, transcendent experience, imagine this ride: mountain ranges, glacial lakes, meadows and long beautiful stretches of magnificent views. If you've forgotten the size and sheer majesty of America, or you'd like to get to know her a little bit better, this is a great way to get started.
The trip from Gettysburg, Pa., to Fredericksburg, Va. -- via Catoctin Mountain Park, Antietam, Harpers Ferry and Leesburg -- is a short ride, but one packed with extreme landscapes and rich history, from Pennsylvania's extensive collections -- the Declaration of Independence, for starters -- to the Civil War fields of Maryland and Virginia. War buffs and political historians alike will find much to savor, and ponder, on this trip. For the rest of us, it's as close as we'll ever come to understanding the true price and strength it took to build the country and the freedoms all of us can sometimes take for granted.
St. Augustine, Fla., to Charleston, S.C., with a side trip to motorcyclist mecca Daytona Beach, takes you through the islands and shores of our nation's most mysterious Southern lands. From mint juleps to antebellum plantation houses, and from an easy ride along the Atlantic to the Spanish forts and mossy oaks of Southern antiquity, the Florida-Charleston run is a great way to visit the historic walking towns of the Atlantic South. You'll even ride the entire length of the Georgia coast, past several of your fellow motorcyclists' favorite rally and meeting places. Plan your run with those rallies in mind -- Daytona and Myrtle Beach are two of the most famous, nationally speaking -- and you could turn a simple event into the journey of a lifetime.
For more great trips, check out the links on the next page.
Food always tastes better on the road. Check out 10 foods to buy by the side of the road at HowStuffWorks.
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- Great American Motorcycle Touring. (May 21, 2011)http://www.greatamericantouring.com/
- McKechnie, Gary. "Great American Motorcycle Tours." Avalon Travel Publishing. 2010.
- Motorcycle Roads. (May 21, 2011)http://www.motorcycleroads.us/
- Open Road Journey. "Roads/Routes." (May 21, 2011)http://www.openroadjourney.com/
- Squatriglia, Chuck. "Ride the World's Best Motorcycle Roads." Wired. July 7, 2008. (May 27, 2011)http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/07/ride-the-worlds