Atlanta to the Arctic Ocean & back:
69 days & 16,614 miles on a motorcycle
During the summer of 2019 I embarked on a motorcycle road trip from Atlanta, Georgia to the Arctic Ocean and back. My trip spanned 69 days and 16,614 miles, traveling through varying terrain across the United States, Canada, and its territories. I had no firm plans aside from my destination and I had allotted myself the necessary time and adopted no set schedule. All of this allowed me to travel at my own pace, exploring to my hearts content.
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If there’s anything I’ve learned from past cross country trips - it’s to pack light...or at least lighter than I have in the past. So with this trip, that was a goal. I took off from Atlanta, GA on a Friday morning, bike loaded with two duffle bags and an extra set of tires. Aside from the tires, the two bags seemed like an accomplishment compared to my previous trips. The more I travel, the more I really start to appreciate a minimalist approach. That - and I’m getting progressively more lazy, so less things to deal with is always great. Regardless, I didn’t let the initial overpacking slow me down, as I knew I’d be planning on dropping some weight along the way. And with that I downed some coffee, turned the key, and hit the highway heading west.
I was about 2,000 miles into the trip when I found myself on the side of highway 380 somewhere in the middle of New Mexico. The 2 lane road runs through the open desert hills and is prone to heavy winds - so heavy in fact, that I had to pull off to take a break from battling them. As my journey continued north towards the Four Corners, the riding and terrain was to soon change as I planned on picking up some off-road riding. I made a quick pit stop in Albuquerque to put on new tires and do a once over on the bike. With everything looking good, the plan was to head for Valles Caldera National Preserve. With the new tires and dropped weight, the bike was riding great and I was ready to take on whatever was ahead...or so I thought.
It was around this time in the trip when the first real feelings and sense of adventure started to sink in. The barren hills of New Mexico started becoming bigger and greener as they slowly started turning into mountains the further I climbed in elevation. The dry desert air began disappearing as storm clouds rolled in bringing much colder temperatures with it. And then just like that - snow. I had just pulled off of the mountain highway and into Valles Caldera when I was met with a drastic change of weather. The main entrance is a dirt road that runs for a few miles throughout a valley surrounded by snow covered mountains. On the horizon were clouds of snow quickly making its way towards me. Winds were picking up and visibility began dropping, however I still felt within my level of comfortability with riding, so I continued on through the park.
I soon met two really nice park rangers, who were surprised to see me, even more so on a motorcycle. “You’re our first visitor all day! You picked the wrong week to travel, usually it’s warm and sunny!” We got to talking and they shared how unusual the weather was for this time of year, the random snow storms they were still getting - which is exactly what I had heard when passing through Texas getting hit with hail. We continued chatting about the park itself, our collective travels, and any recommendations they had for riding in the area. NM-126 was suggested, an off-road mountain pass that offered a shortcut on my route. “It’s gorgeous, beautiful views. There’s a couple spots that may be a little tricky, but for the most part it ain’t too bad. Totally worth it.” I was sold.
By the time I found myself making my way out of the park, the weather had changed completely. Beautiful blue skies and no snow in sight. The once clouded valley was now clear, revealing beautiful grass fields and surrounding mountains. I soon found the turnoff for NM-126 and left the pavement, excited for some trails. At first, the route wasn’t too bad. I began climbing the twisting road through the alpines with decent road conditions. The dirt wasn’t too loose, but well wet from the recent snows. The further I climbed in elevation however, the worse it got. The dirt road eventually turned to snow covered, with portions being completely frozen over. It was at this point that I was so glad for the recent tire change - there was no way I would’ve had traction on the old set, seeing as I was just barley able to maintain control with the fresh ones.
Beautiful views and challenging terrain are a tough mix when you want to sightsee but can’t take your eyes off of the road. I was nearly halfway through the pass when things started getting muddy. Like real muddy. Like incredibly muddy. The road eventually flattened out and had gone from an iced over dirt to a now entirely saturated river of mud. I have never been in road conditions this bad or challenging before. I continued riding through it as best as I could, but eventually had to stop. The trek through this had become exhausting. I was breaking a sweat in 30 degree weather. I contemplated turning around, but felt it was a better idea to continue through it, though unsure of how much further I had to go. If anything, the conditions were only getting worse as a few remaining storms in the area passed over dropping bouts of rain and sleet.
I pressed on at about 5 miles an hour, limping the bike through the mush. I had to stop every so often to pull mud off the bike as it was beginning to engulf the bike and harden. I’m serious when I say it was rough. It was literally everywhere, I think the only think you could see were my rotors - everything else was completely caked with mud, I have no idea how I was able to keep traction. The riding continued for the next 5 miles, which took over an hour to complete. I eventually finished the mountain pass and was never happier to see pavement in my life. It was good timing too, NM-126 ended up throwing me into the small town of Cuba, NM, just as the sun was setting over the horizon. The sky soon turned a warm purple over the snow capped mountains, which felt like a fitting end to the day after an exhausting past few hours of riding.
It was the start of the second week of the trip when I awoke to the sound of thunder. I poked my head out of my tent to check the weather, only to find strong winds and the start of frigid rain. I had set up camp the night before, now waking up in Moab, Utah - one of my favorite places to ride in the United States. I had planned to spend a few days out here, but my timing wasn’t ideal as I was still in the thick of lingering winter storms. The previous day I had ridden from New Mexico, through the Four Corners and Monument Valley, constantly dodging rain, sleet, and eventually hail. It was currently 40 and rainy in Moab, which isn’t my preferred riding weather.
The storm eventually passed and without hesitation I was off in search of some desert riding. I headed for Canyonlands National Park, as it has some of the best trails and views in the area. From Moab I hopped on Potash rd, a route that runs through the bottom of the canyons alongside the Colorado River. Incredible dirt riding amongst the giant desert monuments and beautiful vistas overlooking the river are what make this place one of my favorites. I spent the remainder of the morning hitting the trails and yelling “echo” into every canyon I could find.
The next day took me from Moab through Capital Reef National Park while on my way to the west side of Utah. Blue skies shined as I rode through more desert, red rocks, and sand, avoiding as much pavement as possible. The further I rode, the more in elevation I climbed as the hot desert soon turned to cold mountains. I found myself nearing Fishlake National Forest as I saw signs that warned of avalanches in the area - and thought there’s no way that could be true for this time of year… boy was I wrong. There had been some snow on the ground as I rode through the mountains, but I soon found myself staring at a 7ft wall of snow engulfing the entire road and surrounding area. I had no choice but to turn back and find an alternate route.
The elevation eventually dropped as I cut through valleys and more forest routes with the weather warming back up, now in search of a spot to catch the sunset. Coincidentally, the trails eventually took me to Sunset Peak - a perfect vantage point to watch the sun dip. A few light rains passed overhead, but with it brought an amazing rainbow, one that you could see from end to end. I took in the views, rode some more dirt, and got back on pavement just at the start of dusk.
South was now the direction I was heading when I stopped for breakfast at the Cowboy Corral. Cowboy folklore and rodeo legends adorned the walls. Live music, conversations with locals, and some farm fresh eggs were just what I needed, making for a wonderful meal on the main street in the small town of Elsinore, UT.
From there, I hopped back into the southern section of the Fishlake National Forest in search of more dirt. The day consisted of climbing and falling in elevation, riding all the forest roads I could find - having to double back and find alternate routes due to trails being snowed in, stopping to make snow angels along the way. I happened to run into some local riders in the area and got a recommendation for a waterfall to check out. I followed their vague directions and rode along what I thought was the correct trail. Large loose rocks and steep drops were all over, but the surrounding scenery was incredible. I eventually found it and made the short hike down to the falls. Following that - I hopped back on pavement and headed further south for the bottom left corner of Utah. It was just before sunset when I arrived at Kolob Canyons, on the north side of Zion National Park. After a beautiful twisty ride into the park, I ditched the bike and embarked on a hike to end the day.
The heat was back and wow, had I missed it. I was tired of the constant on and off hail and cold rains - even snow. I was now in the Southern California desert. It was day 11 and I was just shy of 4,000 miles. I was in Glamis, CA standing atop an enormous sand dune, overlooking the Algodones Dunes - and what seemed like an infinite sea of sand dunes. It was unlike anything I had seen before. I had now hit the southern most point of the trip, and would only be continuing north from here until I turned back for home.
From there, I headed towards Slab City and Salvation Mountain for a quick stop to see some art in the desert. The heat was now picking up as I continued north along the Salton Sea on my way up to Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree was one of the national parks I had yet to visit, and wow was I blown away. It was incredible. The desert landscape, rolling mountains, rock formations, and the Joshua Trees themselves were exceptionally beautiful. I continued riding through the park, picking up dirt trails wherever I could, taking my time exploring this new landscape.
It was towards the end of the second week of riding when I finally hit the California coast. From the desert I headed north west above Los Angeles, avoiding as much of the city as I could. I rode from the twisty mountains, through the Angeles National Forest, eventually hitting Highway 1. The weather was absolutely perfect as I rode the two lane road for miles and miles, mountains on one side, ocean cliffs on the other.
As I neared 5,000 miles, I found myself in Cambria, CA. In need of a break from riding, I decided to search for some off bike activities. After traveling across the states, feelings of being out west started to kick in. I decided to channel some of those feelings and thought horseback riding would be fitting - I traded my iron horse for a real one. I saddled up a beautiful and GIGANTIC Clydesdale, and set off for a ride. I spent the remaining afternoon exploring the miles of coastal mountain trails taking in the serene views and vistas. Yeehaw!
I hopped back on the bike and headed further north for Big Sur. Riding along the Pacific Coast Highway only got better as golden hour started to set in. Shortly after, I pulled off of Hwy 1 to find a spot to camp for the night. I ended up climbing a ridge road that twisted through the mountains and lead high above the clouds. I quickly set up camp just in time to catch the sunset - and wow, was this one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen. The vantage point was unreal and so was the campsite itself. Situated along a dirt road, I got settled on a small turnout that overlooked the mountains and ocean below. As the sun set, the horizon turned from a warm orange to a cool blue and eventually to pitch black as millions of stars soon filled the night sky above. This word is often overused, but it was truly epic. I awoke early the next morning to a beautiful sunrise on the other side of the mountains, nearly as beautiful as the evening before.
It was the 27th day of the trip and Max and I were waiting to board our ferry from Anacortes, Washington into Canada, landing on Vancouver Island. I had met up with Max a few days prior - he had ridden all the way from Atlanta to meet me out west and spend some time riding around the Pacific Northwest together. We had met in northern California and trekked through Oregon and Washington, our days filled with varying terrain from heavily wooded rainforest, to long coastal bridges and foggy beaches.
The previous day we found ourselves on Fidalgo Island, in the small town of Anacortes. We had stopped for a coffee and ended up chatting with the barista. Everywhere I go, I always ask locals for recommendations - they know best. Our conversation soon lead to him pulling out a town visitors map and giving us some recommendations for off-road riding. We downed our coffees, thanked the barista, and were off in search of dirt. What we had found was better than what we could have ever hoped for. Lush, dense greenery filled with golden light from the nearing evening. The trails were well maintained, yet exciting and varied in difficulty. Miles and miles of routes to choose from, seemingly infinite.
Our ferry ride to Vancouver Island was nearly 3 hours long and filled with amazing views of mountainous islands and plenty of wildlife. As soon as we landed, we wasted no time and were off in search of more riding. We went up the west side of the island, finding twisty roads, amazing views of the coast, and even some more dirt. Over the next few days we spent more time exploring the island and elected for some riding on the Trans-Canadian Adventure Trail. We took the the trail through the middle of the island, headed west toward the coast and Pacific Rim National Park. We eventually hit the beach and took some time to enjoy our toes in the sand and cool sea breeze.
It was our last day on the island riding together when we stopped for gas and out of nowhere my kickstand broke clean off the frame, toppling the bike over. Literally as it happened a guy walked by and said “oh no, what’d ya break?” Turns out he was a motorcycle mechanic and had a shop about five minutes down the road - just my luck! We followed him down some dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, soon leading to a huge shop that sat on acres and acres of land in the woods. $30 and 30 minutes later, a quick TIG weld had the kickstand back on and as good as new. Max and I finished up our riding and called it a day. We shared dinner and talked over our time spent together and wished each other well before splitting up. The following day Max headed back to Atlanta as I boarded a ferry headed to Horseshoe Bay, British Columbia, Canada with my sights set on the Arctic.
I was now over 7,000 miles and one month into my trip when I found myself in the middle of British Columbia, getting closer and closer to my destination. From the start, the plan was to ride from Atlanta to the Arctic Ocean, by way of the Dempster Highway. The further north you get, the less options you have when it comes to routes to take. There are two popular roads that will continue to take you north through BC - the Alaskan Highway and the Cassiar Highway. Each have pros and cons - many say the Cassiar is more scenic yet very remote, while the Alaskan Highway provides more civilization and services. Since I was going up and would eventually have to come back down, I elected to take the Cassiar up, and the Alaskan down.
Anytime I travel, I always look for recommendations of things to do, routes to ride, etc. These recommendations will usually come from locals or folks who know the area well - but if I can find it in other forms, I’ll definitely take it. I was nearing the start of the Cassiar Highway when I passed through the small village of Topley, BC and noticed a very cool hand painted billboard / roadside map. This sign advertised Babine Lake, the largest natural lake in British Columbia, and mapped out a few ways to the lake, even including some dirt routes. I obviously had to take the detour and see for myself, and I am so glad I did.
I had finally reached the start of the Cassiar Highway and over the course of the next couple weeks would be making my way north through the rest of British Columbia, into Yukon, the Arctic Circle, Northwest Territories, eventually hitting the ocean. Though its said the Cassiar tends to be more scenic - I wouldn’t know. My entire ride up the highway was filled with bad weather, cold downpours with little breaks in-between. This, in conjunction with the inability to really stop anywhere or views to enjoy, made for a very tough ride. Services are few and far between on this road and its even recommend to carry spare fuel. The overall remoteness of this road was starting to sink in and feelings of nervousness soon became present. The bad weather continued for the next few days along the Cassiar as I eventually crossed over into Yukon and broke 8,000 miles.
I pulled into Dawson City, YT at around 10pm, with the sun still high in the sky. I had finally caught a break in the bad weather and could now appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, one of the coolest things being the midnight sun. Such a strange phenomenon, yet something so cool to experience first hand - though it did make falling asleep in a tent a little tricky with just how bright it was… I couldn’t complain about the good weather though as I had gotten lucky - my plan was to embark on the Dempster Highway the following day and spend 4 days total getting to the Arctic Ocean and back, and the weather forecast continued to looking promising.
The Dempster Highway is nearly 600 miles of dirt and gravel, and takes you from Dawson City all the way - all the way to the Arctic Ocean riding through the rest of Yukon, the Arctic Circle, and eventually to the top of the Northwest Territories where the road ends. This was obviously the most northern leg of my trip, but also the most remote, yet incredible, section as well. It’s hard to describe, really. It’s an isolated dirt road that runs for over 500 miles in the literal middle of nowhere. You’re on your own out here. Gas is nearly 250 miles apart at the longest, and thats really about all there is. There are a few small villages and populations of First Nations that can be found off of this highway, but that’s about it. I have trouble putting it into words - what it was like to ride this highway. It was otherworldly, photos don’t even begin to do it justice. Yukon’s motto is “Larger Than Life” and that’s been the best way I’ve found to describe it. Expansive mountain ranges that span hundred and hundreds and hundreds of miles in every direction was all that there was to be found out there. It truly felt like another planet. The road itself varied in condition - from rough shale passes, to loose gravel climbs, I took it slow and was cautious. Out here is literally the last place I would want to get stuck or run into issues.
After 36 random days on the road - I coincidentally ended up reaching the Arctic on the longest day of the year - the summer solstice. It was my second day on the Dempster and earlier that morning I had crossed into the Arctic Circle and Northwest Territories. The further north I continued, the more the terrain started to change. Mountain ranges soon disappeared as things flattened out, while more lakes and trees began appearing as I entered the heart of the Arctic Tundra. It was nearing the middle of the day when I reached Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Previously, the Dempster Highway ended in Inuvik. However, in the fall of 2017 the final stretch of “road” was completed and now lead from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, and ended at the Arctic Ocean. Compared to the Dempster, the final leg is nearly 100 miles long and consists of mostly just loose gravel. Having a fully loaded bike, I had to be extra cautious when navigating this stretch as any turns and climbs in the road could be a spell for disaster.
It was around 8pm that evening when I finally arrived at the Arctic Ocean. It’s hard to describe the feelings I felt upon arrival. I had been on the road for over a month, surpassed 9,000 miles, and made it to the “destination” of my trip. I felt a sense of accomplishment and disbelief, it almost didn’t feel real. It’s also hard to call this the “destination”. Though the goal of this trip was to go from Atlanta to the Arctic, it was more about the journey and what I experienced along the way. The Arctic Ocean itself was something to be seen, though in all honestly, it didn’t look too much different from any other ocean - blue skies and sandy beaches. I decided to sit and rest for a while, taking in the views and sense of accomplishment. Before long it was after midnight, with the only indication being that the sun had dropped close to the horizon, but soon began to rise back and circle the sky as the morning continued on. It was around 2am when I decided to depart the ocean and ride back under the full light of the midnight sun. The warm orange glow of the early morning beautifully illuminated the Arctic Tundra, making for a truly magical ride.
Now that I had made it to the Arctic, it was time to turn around - and only because there was nowhere further to go. Up until this point I had a decent idea of routes, places to visit, etc. - but for my remaining time on the road, I really hadn’t planned much. After finishing the Dempster Highway and arriving back in Yukon, I decided to head west for Alaska. After crossing the Yukon River via ferry, I embarked on the Top of the World Highway - another incredibly scenic, mostly dirt route that climbs in elevation and provides amazing views of the surrounding mountains, giving the feeling of being on top of the world. Along this highway exists the most northerly land border crossing in the United States, which enters in Poker Creek, Alaska. I had good luck with the weather when traversing the Arctic, but since returning and heading west, the weather had turned cold and rainy once again. Luckily that didn’t last too long as I continued through Alaska and headed towards the town of Tok. I had now surpassed 10,000 miles and 40 days on the road when I found myself crossing the border back into Canada. My sights were now set on Southeast Alaska, which from where I was, required entering back into Canada, crossing through Yukon and British Columbia, eventually making it back into Alaska. This pocket of country was surprisingly some of the most beautiful paved riding of the trip. I took the Alaska Highway headed southeast towards Haines Junction, passing through Destruction Bay and alongside the Kluane National Park - which is home to some of Canada’s tallest mountains. Incredibly massive peaks and vast lakes adorned the road as I continued on and caught the Haines Highway, now headed due south back to Alaska. The ride into Haines was unreal. At a certain point it becomes almost moot to try and describe it, as there are only so many ways to put into words just how incredible riding an open road towered by snowcapped mountains, really is.
Haines is a small coastal town situated on the Chilkoot Inlet, which feeds out into the Gulf of Alaska. I had planned to take a couple days off from riding, enjoy the scenery, and knock out some maintenance on the bike - and Haines was the perfect place for this. From hiking costal forests and seeing glaciers, to an abundance of bald eagles, my time spent here was incredible. After some rest, relaxation, and wrenching, it was time to continue on and head back into Canada.
From Whitehorse, I was now set to head south and officially start making my way home over the next month. Upon nearing 11,000 miles, I elected to continue on the Alaska Highway in its entirety for my ride south through Yukon and British Columbia. I had taken the Cassiar Highway north through Canada, so I was looking forward to an entirely new route on the way down. It’s unfair just how good the riding is up here. Twisting roads, incredible scenery, and tons of wildlife were all encountered along the way. From herds of bison, to grizzly bears crossing the roads, the Alaska Highway did not disappoint. I continued this route over the next week as I passed from small town to small town, enjoying local museums, restaurants, and all else that was to be seen. I eventually reached Dawson Creek, British Columbia where the Alaska Highway begins, or in this case, ended for me.
Nearing 50 days on the road and 12,000 miles, I entered the United States through the northeast corner of Washington state. I really didn’t have a specific plan at this point in the trip of where to go, so I got into the habit of completely improvising each day - I’d wake up unsure of where I was going to end up that night. This way of freestyle traveling continued as I began heading further east, making my way into the Idaho panhandle, riding along backroads and winding countryside, eventually entering Montana. I had gotten some recommendations to visit Flathead Lake, one of the largest natural lakes in the state. With good weather on the horizon, I decided to carve out a few days to spend camping and exploring the surrounding areas. My time was spent in places like Polson and Big Fork - small lakeside communities filled with beautiful riding, good food, and great people. The camping was incredible too, magnificent sunsets each night that painted the skies above the lake.
I continued my tradition of asking locals for recommendations and it did not disappoint! I was at a gas station when I was approached by an older gentleman who asked me where I was headed. Unsure of where I was going, I told him that I had no idea, to which he responded with “Good! Do you have a map?”. I always try and travel with paper maps for reasons like this. I pulled out my map of Montana and he began telling me where to go. “From Columbia Falls, keep heading north towards the back entrance of Glacier National Park. Get off the pavement and continue on N Fork Rd, a dirt road that runs along the edge of the park, providing some great views and even better riding. Make sure you stop in Polebridge, a real gem of a place with good coffee and better pastries. If you keep heading north through the woods, you’ll eventually hit an old border crossing thats no longer operational, about 20 years ago a flood washed out the roads on the Canadian side. You won’t be disappointed.” With no plans and the promise of another adventure, I was excited to follow his instructions - which mace for a day of riding that was better than expected.
I was now closing in on 14,000 miles as I continued on south through the states. I had passed through Bozeman and Big Sky, spending more time riding the great open roads of Montana. I was nearing Yellowstone when I made the decision to circumnavigate it. Having been previously - I decided to ride back into Idaho and take some less traveled dirt roads along the west side of the park, which ended up providing some amazing views of the Grand Tetons that I had never seen before. I continued back into Wyoming where the greenery and mountains soon turned to desert as I trekked further south, with my sights set on Colorado next.
I’ve ridden through parts of Colorado previously and was truly blown away - and since then I had always wanted to return. My favorite area I had visited was the “Alpine Loop” near the small towns of Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. There is no other way to describe it other than it feeling like being on another planet. With good weather forecasted, my plan was to head in that direction towards the San Juan National Forest for some of the last mountain riding of the trip before heading home.
On day 58 I surpassed 14,600 miles and made it to Crested Butte, Colorado, which I quickly learned was the wildflower capitol of the state, only reinforced by the overwhelming presence of wildflowers nearly everywhere you looked. Having not been through Crested Butte before, I was excited to see a new pocket of the state while searching for surrounding trails and dirt riding.
From here, the Alpine Loop area was next on my route and I couldn’t have been more excited to revisit. This time around I had planned to spend a week camped out in Silverton, the center of what I believe is some of the best riding in the United States. I headed south, crossed the two month mark, passed 15,000 miles, and arrived in Silverton, Colorado. Silverton is a magical place, it’s a near idyllic landscape - a dirt road small town, situated at the base of the San Juan Mountains, with not a bad view in sight. A short ride out of town quickly leads to some of the most challenging and exciting terrain there is - mountain passes at elevations over 12,000ft, glacial lakes and river crossings, and walls of snow towering the sides of the trails. The hot summer days were continuing to melt the present snow, thus turning the dirt trails into slick mud, providing yet another challenge in the terrain.
I had set up camp just outside of town as my base for the week and found myself in a routine of near perfect days. I’d awake each morning to a beautiful sunrise from my tent and devise a plan for that day. Once I knew where I wanted to ride, I’d pack the bike and head into town for a quick coffee and bite to eat, before hitting the trails. Riding in this area is the closest thing to an “out of this world” experience that I can imagine, which is one of the reasons why I bought a dual sport. I have always had a love for traveling via motorcycle, but this specific type of riding has exposed me to things and taken me places that I never knew existed previously. It is an incredibly visceral and exhilarating way to travel and I am so thankful for the opportunities it has given me.
I was nearing my last few days in Silverton before making the final trek home. It was day 65 when I downed some coffee, hit the trails, and made my way towards the mountains via Stony Pass. I was maybe a quarter mile from the peak of the pass when out of nowhere my bike started overheating, smoking, and began spewing boiling radiator fluid all over the place. I quickly shut the bike off and pulled over. My immediate thought was something along the lines of “well…I’m screwed”. Of all the places I had been on this trip, this was definitely one of the last where I’d want to get stuck. Even at the high elevation, temperatures were climbing and there was no shade in sight. Having no choice, I began tearing the bike down to try and determine the issue. The was no visible damage on the radiator or any of the hoses - so my theory was that the initial purge of fluid had been caused by overheating and eventually blowing the lid off of the radiator reservoir. With not many options atop the pass, I knew I had to get back into town. Not wanting to run the bike and risk further damage, I decided to try and roll down the mountain I had just ridden up. I put the bike back together, kicked it in to neutral, coasted 4 miles back down the dirt trails, and eventually limped it back to my campsite.
It was hard to determine what had caused the initial overheating, but my suspicions eventually lead me to a failed thermostat in the radiator or a failed water pump. Thermostat was best case scenario - water pump was worst. From my initial tests, it seemed as if the water pump was still functioning, so my theory was that my thermostat was failing to open and let coolant flow, thus causing it to overheat and eventually burst. I decided to pull the thermostat from my bike and run it without it. What this would do is allow coolant to flow at all times, theoretically stopping the bike from overheating. I got the bike back together and tested it briefly in town, unable to get it to overheat. With a bit of confidence, I decided to cut my time short in Silverton and head south towards Durango, CO which was a bigger city and could be more helpful in the event I got stuck or encountered more problems. Thankfully I had made the hour long ride without any overheating - however, it was hard to determine if I had fixed the issue, or if the lack of overheating was due to the fact that the weather had turned and the entire ride was done in the cold rain, eventually turned hail.
While on the road, I often try and keep my travels updated on social media. It’s good for sourcing recommendations, connecting with people, and plenty of other things. When I began encountering issues I started posting about it, sourcing for any help or insight on the problem. I had ended up getting a message from a guy named Will in Albuquerque who had offered a helping hand and place to wrench if my issues continued…and they sure did. I had left Durango headed south when sure enough my bike started to overheat again. I was back in the New Mexico desert, now the middle of the day with temperatures climbing to nearly 100 degrees. At this point, both the bike and I were overheating. There was no way I could continue riding for fear of causing permanent damage. I was about 3 hours outside of Albuquerque at this point when I decided to change routes and head that way to take Will up on his offer. I was stuck for the night, but the next day I was able to find a Uhaul and get it into the city. I had never met Will before and meeting a stranger from the internet is not something I do too often, so I was definitely a little hesitant at first. Will was about my age, mid 20s, a former motorcycle mechanic, oil field worker, and all around handy man - and also one of the most outgoing and helpful people I had met on this trip. Once I arrived we got busy diagnosing the issues.
We tested the thermostat I had pulled and determined that it was indeed nonfunctioning. Through other tests it seemed as if the water pump was still functioning, so our next best guess was the presence of air in the radiator causing the bike to overheat. Will and I went ahead and burped the system, circulating fluid through multiple times, trying to remove all of the air from the system. After a few cycles, we felt confident and decided to give it a test ride. From wide open throttle on the highway to stop and go traffic in city, we couldn’t get the bike to overheat. We did some more test riding the following day, all without issue, which gave me the confidence I needed to continue on towards home.
Leaving Albuquerque, I elected for a shorter day on the road just in case any issues were to arise again. I ended up calling it a day after a few hours of riding without any problems and stopped in Amarillo, Texas for the night. With a seemingly functioning bike, my plan was to now make a straight shot home towards Atlanta as quickly as I could. Though the bike did seem to be working, it was the dead of summer and the days were hot. I had been on the road for nearly 70 days, I was exhausted and it was finally catching up with me. My plan for the remaining days on the road was to wake up, ride for as long as I could and stop whenever I or the bike gave up first. On day 68 I made it from Amarillo, TX to Memphis, Tennessee. I had ridden for over 720 miles, which was easily my longest day ever on a bike, yet all without any issues. I stopped for the night with the plan of making it back to Atlanta the following day, just over 5 hours from home.
On day 69 I awoke before sunrise, hoping to beat the heat and make some good progress in the early morning. It was 6:30am when my overheating indicator came on, after just 5 minutes of riding. My heart immediately sank as I pulled onto the shoulder of the interstate, just outside of Memphis. This time the bike was leaking coolant and quickly. The leak was coming from the weep-hole on the engine, which is usually a sure sign of bad seals and/or a failing water pump. The bike wasn’t holding coolant and would now overheat in a matter of minutes. I felt so defeated. Though I could have tried to source a new pump or possibly find some sort of fix, it was slated to be my last day on the road and I was only hours from home. Defeat and exhaustion were becoming more present and at this point I felt riding the bike home wasn’t an option. My only option was to truck it home.
It was the 69th day of the trip and also my 25th birthday when I reached the 16,614th mile of the trip in Memphis, TN. Here is where the trip on the bike ended, now completing the remaining way in a truck. I loaded everything and hit the road, ready to be back home later that night. Though feeling somewhat defeated, it really was hard to be mad at the circumstances, given everything else that I had done on the trip. I had accomplished everything that I had set out to do and experienced so many unique things, so having to drive the remaining way was barely a damper. Plus, driving back in a truck with air conditioning and cupholders for the last few hundred miles was a nice treat. I eventually made it back to Atlanta just after sunset. I had officially completed my journey and what a journey it was, excited to be home and ready to start planning my next adventure.