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01/27/99
The Rally Virgin

Planning Your Motorcycle Trip

I get a lot of mail from people that have read my trip reports asking either for comments on their travel plans or advice on putting a trip together. While I don't claim to be a master, I have learned a thing or two about putting a fun trip together.

The first step is to pause and ask yourself what you really want to do on this trip - what's your yearning? Is it the empty and forlorn openness of the Gaspe Peninsula, the tight and twisty mountains of western North Carolina, the history and rugged beauty of New Hampshire, even the wide-open rolling farmland of Iowa? How much do you want to ride every day? My limits were generally 700 miles for all-slab, get to where I am going, 300 miles for mostly backroad beauty riding, and 200 miles for lots of stop and look arounds. Once you've decided on what you're after (and for me it has almost always been history, raw beauty, and a lack of people) and what your riding limits are you can move on to the next step.

The second step is all about timing. If you have a week you don't want to spend four days of it getting to and from your real trip, and if you have a month you should consider every place you've never been before. Assuming you have the typical "working man's trip" you'll leave Friday after work and return sometime the following Sunday in the mid-afternoon. With this kind of trip you want no more than a long day in the saddle to the start of your trip (though to be honest you can always shave 5 hours off by leaving after work on Friday and slabbing for 4 or 5 hours to a cheap motel and starting fresh Saturday morning...) Any more than two total days slab time (and a Friday night sprint) and you are really wasting what could have been truly relaxing touring. In our "wish trip" we'll be leaving Washington DC on Friday night after work and returning the following Sunday for a total of 9 full days.

Third step is narrowing your choices. What exactly do you want to do? Don't know? All the better :) Most of my great trips have started with a silly little thing I saw in a book or on TV and have been built out from there. Recently it was a story on the Hatfield & McCoy feud and the mention of Devilance Hatfield's grave location. I thought to myself, well that sure would be interesting to see. A magnificent 4-day trip was born :) For some it is majesty of the top of Mount Washington, others it is the whales at Meat Cove, Nova Scotia, then there is the aged fortifications of Old Quebec City, and even for others it is simply dangling toes in the crystal-clear water of Daicy Lake, Maine. Once you have an idea of at least one thing you'd like to see or do, time to move on to the really fun part - finding other things to see and do! For our wish trip I want to see Quebec's rugged and forlorn Gaspe Peninsula (other great Gaspe site.)
Some State Websites
ME, NH, VT, MA, NY, CT, PA, MD, VA NC - (others, just add the state abbreviation in place of VA to this URL - http://www.state.VA.us)

The Fourth step is the fun step - you'll be looking in all kinds of odd places to find things to see and do on your trip. Skip the roads well-worn by busses full of tourists and strike out for the less-known. This is afterall a motorcycle trip and you are after the route less-travelled, the forgotten gem, the panorama unspoiled by beer bottles and big-mac wrappers. I always recommend starting with State Tourism Websites. Every State has one, some are far better than others (the West Virginia and Pennsylvania ones are great, New York and Connecticut are simply awful). Make sure to poke around and see what the States have to offer, then request a state tourism map. The state tourism maps are critical, and almost every state will rush one out to you. Some even have specific maps like fall foliage, byways and backroads, even a few have motorcycle-specific. The holds true for Canada as well (Nova Scotia has just about the best travel support & planning I have ever seen, New York and Connecticut could learn a LOT from them...) Once you have the maps, tape them up on a handy wall - garages seem to be purpose built for this. Comb over the guides and state tourism sites and circle things you'd like to see with a number in the circle - "5" for "must see" to "1" for if "I am in the area". Now the next steps - the great "off the beaten track" websites. I usually keep track of my 1/5's by cutting and pasting the URL and intro text into a word document that I can print out and take with me, and copied to a webpage so I can access it on the road.

The first couple of "off the beaten track" websites to look at are RoadsideAmerica and AmericanByways. Roadside is a guide for the interesting, the (almost) forgotten, the out of the way gems, and the relics of America's initial love affair with road trips. AmericanByways is a fantastic guide for the roads that you yearn for when stuck in traffic at the Tappan Zee bridge in a driving rainstorm on the first day of a long trip. Make sure to make your 1/5 circles on your maps. Spend some time on the Internet and in various motorcycle discussion groups asking for local advice on good roads and interesting attractions. Once you have your 1/5's it is time to play connect the dots :) For my trip my 5's are: I want to ride the Cabot Trail again, I'd like to stay in Montreal a night, I'd like to splurge a night and stay at the Mt. Washington Hotel and go to the top of Mt. Washington again, and I'd like to spend an evening at the Penn-Wells Hotel in Wellsboro, Pa.

The Fifth step is putting it all together and seeing what will fit, (if you are quite good at gauging map distances this step is not really necessary.) For this you need another resource, a good computer mapping program. Personally I favor DeLorme's Street Atlas 6 - it is several years old but has none of the "helper" junk added to later releases, is small enough to keep on a laptop, and is quite easy to use. Start out with one master route with your start and finish at home, then add all your 5's and 4's as stops, add "via" points for all the roads you want to hit, and play around with it so that it roughly creates your trip. You will then be able to chop it up into a different file for each day so you can more accurately gauge your daily mileage. Once you've carved it up into days take a good look at your daily routes and decide what 3's, 2's and 1's you can fit in. Voila, you've got the bare bones of your trip. Now realize that once you hit the road it will change quite a bit as your wandering pulls you in different directions :)

Now back to your maps where you will take a highlighter and following your computer day files or just winging it connect your dots on the roads of your preference. Check out DinerCity for towns you will pass through for historic diners - it is an irrefutable fact that on road trips there is no better (and cheaper) breakfast nor dinner (open faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy mmmmmm) than a REAL diner. What's more, Diners are incredible resources for things to see in the area, decent and inexpensive motels, roads that should not be missed, and of course the local presence of traffic enforcement.

Now translate your trip to paper in case your maps get wet (and need to be replaced at a state welcome center) and pack for your trip. When you are done packing, re-pack taking half the clothes and twice the cash (thanks to Dana Priesing for this truism). Once you are packed and have your maps you must stop any further planning, open your mind to the fact that you have a week with no place you have to be, point your bike/car in the general direction of your first stop and simply go. If you see an interesting road, take it.

OK, here is my trip. Note that I usually try to be out of the door by 6:30 or 7am at the latest and in the sack asleep by 11pm. Sounds harsh but I usually don't even need an alarm clock (and no, this is definitely not true when I have a day of work ahead of me!)

Day 1. Leave Washington DC Friday morning at 4:30 am via I-270 to Rt. 15 north to Harrisburg. From there, work my way up through central PA via an incredible concoction of delicious backroads, through Belefonte and Renovo to Wellsboro for the night. I usually try and scrub off 5 hours of highway after work the night before, but it isn't really necessary for this route. If I got the itch to go though (and to be honest, I probably would), there is a great cheap motel off of Rt. 15 between Thurmont and Gettysburg - that way I could skip Harrisburg and take the delicious Rt. 94/ Rt. 74/ Rt. 333/ I-322 to the main target of the day, a leisurely ride on one of my favorite roads of all time, Rt. 144 north.

Day 2. From Wellsboro, many more backroads and some highways up through New York to the Adirondaks for a stop at the inexpensive motel on Long Lake where the climbers stay (it has a wonderful swimming beach.)

Day 3. A short hop via Ticonderoga & Crown Point and wide swing through Vermont on Rts. 100 and 108 north to Montreal.

Day 4. A ride up to Quebec City, along the St. Lawrence crossing at Rivera-de-Loup ferry, then north to Rimouski at the start of the great Gaspe loop. Note - call 1-877-Bonjour around noon to get a Rimouski hotel for the night. Both Quebec and Nova Scotia (800-565-0000 ) offer an amazing toll-free service where the incredibly courteous tourism folks will find a motel or campground for you at the best rate available. I've used it every trip and have never been disappointed. And if you are saving money don't shy away from the Canadian Provincial Campgrounds - they are the cleanest and most well-tended I have ever seen.

Day 5. An early start is necessary for a long, leisurely day around Gaspe to Bathurst, NB. This ride is about as lonely and beautiful as it gets.

Day 6. From Bathurst, NB through Mulgrave to the Cabot Trail (maybe camping in Meat Cove or a splurge on the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish?) If you dawdle there is a great motel in Cheticamp and you cannot beat the breakfast at the Rusty Anchor.

Day 6. This is a long day so a very early start is a must. Finish the Cabot Trail, take Nova Scotia's "Mariner's Route" to a 6-hour highway sprint through Moncton, NB to St. Stephen, NB and the extraordinarily reasonable St. Stephen Motel just shy of the US border crossing. The Highway part is fairly boring but the travel is exceedingly quick. If you have an extra day the ride down through Halifax to Digby and the ferry to Bar Harbor, ME is an excellent addition.

Day 7. St. Stephen, NB across Maine on Rt. 9 and through the Lakes Region, then 219 & 2 to NH and the Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods.

Day 8. Lots of riding in NH including Mt. Washington & the Kangamangus Highway (early am) then about 6 hours on the highway to Pittsfield, Mass.

Day 9. From Pittsfield a leisurely ride down historic Rt. 7 (with a stop at James Thurber's place in Cornwall) then a 6-hour highway sprint via 684, the Sawmill, Tappan Zee, Garden State, NJ Tpk and I-95 south.

Once home and in this order - a long, hot shower then a big glass of bourbon and a nice cigar. Leave the downloading of your 900+ pictures and unpacking for tomorrow :)

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to give me a shout!


Sunset over the St. Lawrence Seaway

1995-2016, Ted Verrill

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"Red Light Insight" is copyright Ted Verrill, 1999