6,082 Miles, 15 States, 2 Easy Riders

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Peggy Wormwood of Davidsonville is the latest contributor to Your Vacation in Lights, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. To file your own trip report, see the fine print below.

WHAT: A three-week motorcycle trip to the Grand Canyon and the Canyonlands of southern Utah, with side trips to North Carolina and Albuquerque to visit family.

WHO: My husband, Mike, and I, a pair of 60-somethings on a Harley.

WHEN: On the advice of Mike's sister, who lives in Albuquerque, we left in late April to reach the Grand Canyon before hot weather and the crowds arrived. We had some concerns about traveling through Tornado Alley but reasoned that we'd be able to see bad weather coming and could get out of the way in time.

PLANNING: We collected touring information from the states we planned to visit, then mapped out a route, avoiding interstate highways as much as possible. We didn't make motel reservations in advance but checked online to see what lodging was available in the small towns out on the plains. We modified the route to ensure that we'd be in a town with motels at the end of a day. In Albuquerque, we made reservations for staying in the Grand Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef and Arches national parks.

PACKING LIGHT: We packed an extra pair of jeans and shoes, a week's worth of underwear (most chain motels have laundry facilities) and thermal underwear (more about that later).

THE ROUTE: From Maryland, we rode through the Great Smoky Mountains and stayed overnight with my brother in North Carolina. After exploring the Nantahala River Gorge, we rode west. Strong storms were predicted for the Oklahoma City area, so we left Fort Smith, Ark., early in the morning, hoping to stay ahead of the weather. (We did.) We spent the night in Amarillo, Tex., and took Route 60 toward Albuquerque. We slowed our pace for the next week, visiting national parks in Arizona and Utah. We continued on Route 50 through Colorado and Kansas, then took routes 7 and 60 through Missouri and Kentucky. After a stop in Lexington, Ky., we got back on interstates for the ride home.

SCENIC HIGHLIGHTS: I will never forget the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, the sense of calm looking out over the Painted Desert, the beauty of Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef -- there really is something about those red rocks -- and the vastness of the open plains. We rode by multi-county cattle ranches in Texas and giant feedlots in Kansas, passed through the town where Billy the Kid is buried and traveled into Dodge City, Kan., on Wyatt Earp Boulevard . We also stopped for drinks in Kinsley, Kan., which claims to be 1,561 miles from both New York City and San Francisco.

FOOD RULES: Our rules for dining on the road: Eat at casual, local restaurants and sample local beers. We didn't find any great restaurants on this trip but discovered a couple of good brews in Utah. My favorite was 1st Amendment Lager.

SCARIEST MOMENTS: Route 50 east into Gunnison, Colo., is a great riding road, but not when it's starting to snow and you see a "Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution" sign. Also in Gunnison, we learned that when a sign says "Next Gas 72 Miles," they mean it. It's hard to enjoy the scenery when you're worried about running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

NICE TO MEET YOU: One of the best things about traveling by motorcycle is all of the people you meet. There were the Germans (also traveling by motorcycle) in Zion; Kenneth, the Navajo Vietnam veteran; the desk clerk at a Best Western in Moab, who explained Utah's liquor laws to us; and the young Canadian couple who followed our route through the Canyonlands. A waitress at a fast-food stop in Oklahoma was concerned that we'd fall asleep before we reached the Grand Canyon; a gentleman in Kansas wanted us to help him convince his wife that he should get a motorcycle, and a man in Chattanooga, Tenn., stopped to tell us that his recent liver transplant was preventing him from riding his motorcycle.

WEATHER REPORT: Mike's sister was right: Early May is a good time to visit Arizona and southern Utah. We managed to stay ahead of (or behind) major weather systems but had to deal with a lot of wind in the wake of those fronts. We were expecting to see snow on the mountains in May but were surprised by the foot of new snow and 20-degree weather atop the Continental Divide in Colorado. Thank goodness for thermal underwear.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS: We rode 6,082 miles through 15 states in 20 days. We visited 10 national parks (with our $20 Golden Age pass, admission was free) and crossed 73 rivers, some more than once. The highest peak we crossed was Monarch Pass (11,312 feet) in the Colorado Rockies. We averaged 40 miles per gallon and brought back approximately five pounds of maps, brochures and books.

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