Pursuit Horizon Blog 16 – The Trans America Trail – aka TAT12 Sep 2012, Posted by The Journey in
A day of Mud and Sand. We fall over again and again. Broken bikes. It’s the backwoods of Mississippi. Isolation in Oklahoma. Turtles and Tarantulas.
Amanda Pollard – Blog 16
The Trans America Trail…let me just say, this is what got me interested in doing this whole project. I could only imagine the excitement and challenge of going off-road for 2ooo+ miles on a sport bike. And I knew the criticism, and doubts from others would come; which ironically only motivated me more. I also knew that despite my ego and stubborn belief that my CBR could do it, I might come home with a destroyed bike. So far that has not been the case…
Tennessee – Excited and nervous for the trail to start, but I am even more nervous at the prospect of being the navigator when I see the roll charts and quickly try to familiarize myself with them, especially because we did not have a chance to get a roll chart holder (I have no idea where we would have put it on the CBR anyway.) Instead I am stuck with long strips of paper that I must read from bottom to top; that are tucked away in a vinyl holder on my tank.
Taking that first country road in Jellico was a bit scary. Here I was on a street bike (with a ghetto skid-plate) about to tackle the famed TAT. And it was a somewhat packed gravel road for the first few miles. My parents have a gravel driveway and I HATE taking the CBR on it. Being short, I don’t have the option to throw a foot down and stabilize myself. For me it’s a toe, and if that toe gives out to slippery gravel, down I go. Yet the first thing I noticed was the increased grip and stability that the new DUNLOP D616’s have afforded me. I felt like I could fly down the roads quite easily. Sweet! Love these new gravel eaters!
We soon come to a little road called “Happy Mountain Road”, and this made me giggle. This “Road” is more a Logging trail. It offers the first real chance to Test out my girl’s off-road capabilities. Big washes and rocks jutting from the ground make me pick my route very carefully, but she makes it no problems, not even a scratch on that skid-plate. Zach’s bike makes it as well until the next day, when it reluctantly starts, and then dies when the clutch is pulled in or the RPMs fall below 2ooo. We kept thinking maybe the gravel dust has choked the air filter, or he has a gremlin in his electrical system.
Tennessee is full of gravel, lots of gravel roads. This was expected however; as Sam (the founder of the trail) notes on the trail maps that a lot of the “original” dirt roads have been paved or graveled over. So I am starting to get bored, and the looks from the back country people as we fly by their houses on roads only they know, is not friendly.
Mississippi – Okay this is looking a bit more tricky, but nothing like what I have built this up to be in my head. I was imagining Nevada trails, giant rocks, deep washes, river crossings (drought killed those) and I was getting more gravel and some packed dirt. I was feeling pretty full of myself, until the sand. Zach and I popped off the bikes and took a walk to check it out; about 100 yards of 6 inch deep sugar sand, easy to lose your front tire in. I decide to walk the baby through it, as I am sure the rear tire will just spin and bury itself if I have to stop. Zach rides and makes it somewhat easily. Next day we come across our first real mud puddle, in the middle of a swampy field. We both freak a bit, knowing the mud is slippery and will pack up the tires, but 10 minutes later, we have both made it through. Only to find… more sand. About 200 yards this time and about the same depth. Tired from the 101 heat and 80 percent humidity, I trudge the girl through the sand, walking besides her as she is in first gear, me barely twisting the throttle. I get all the way to the end, or what I thought to be the end, and jump on. Only to fall 5 feet later. Zach decides this is too funny, as I am out of the sand, and just randomly fall over. The hilarity does not last long, as it is his turn to ride through it. He makes it the whole way, fishtailing and man handling the beast. I smiled and am impressed with him and ashamed of myself at the same time. And then, WHAM, down he goes. I will admit I snickered a bit…he thought it was sooo easy. This fades quickly, as I realize we have to pick her back up, and he has bent the side plate to his left luggage rack, and broken his clutch lever. Thankfully it is still useable.
The scenery then changes to levee roads and swamplands, we are getting close to the Mississippi River and the end of the trail here. This is a good thing, as Hurricane Isaac is on our tails and about to hit.
Arkansas – Hurricane Isaac scares us into Arkansas, we stay on the trail until we need gas. Fill ‘em up and start to take off, when Zach’s bike has “the issue” again. I have already pulled away from the pump when I hear him, and as I turn around, a pothole grabs my rear tire. I fall, and hard. I snap my front brake lever. O great. Zach gets his bike started and we realize we must get his bike fixed before it strands us on the trail. He fights me on getting a new brake lever. What? I still have 1 finger I can use on it…it’s viable. He’s not buying it though. With the storm encroaching ever our way, we decide hunkering down and getting them both fixed is the best option. Begin the search for Honda and Triumph dealerships. We find a dealer in Tulsa, OK who has my brake lever and a Triumph dealer in Oklahoma City. So with the Hurricane pressing in on us, we head towards Oklahoma.
Oklahoma – Land of gridded gravel roads. I am TIRED of gravel, I think we both feel we have mastered gravel. And doing 3-10 miles of it before turning onto the next 3 -10 mile stretch is boring. The scenery of rolling hillsides and grassland is gorgeous. I like all the random lakes, and moving into the panhandle, the road stays the same, but the scenery is much different. You can really see how the drought has killed off all the crops. I thought the trail would be harder; maybe I should be thankful it isn’t, after all, my bike is still in one piece. Maybe it will get harder in New Mexico and Utah. I wouldn’t mind that either.
New Mexico – It’s only 70 some miles in NM, but Zach and I are planning for the worst. We know from some locals in Oklahoma, that the area we will be traveling through is deserted. So we load up on water, granola bars, gas, and head out. Strangely we see more wildlife in this little piece of desert than the whole trip of the U.S. Antelopes, tarantulas, deer, snakes, and prairie dogs. The trail here is nice, maintained county roads, and the whole feel of the land is much more inviting and survivable than the dustbowl area of Oklahoma. We arrive at a squiggly line on my trail maps, and a sign greets us saying “Bikers” pointed up a sandy hill. Okay here we go. I start up the hill and realize this is only getting harder and harder. Loose sand, then gravel, which turns to fist sized rocks, massive washouts, and all while climbing about a 600ft hill with shear drops and multiple switchbacks. Turning is not what I want to do in this stuff, and with Zach chirping in my ear about how this was stupid, we should turn around, we reach the top. My heart sinks a bit as I realize we may have to fight this nonsense downhill. Luckily we are on top of a plateau. And I finally stop shaking.
Colorado – Since I had held the revs a bit higher while climbing that switchback plateau, I am LOW on gas. The nearest gas station is 40+ miles, and I maybe have 30. So off we go, praying I can make it to town on fumes. After a few hill climbs and a long gravel road, I am drafting his bike into town. And barely make it. When I relax, I notice the Rockies in the horizon. And they are gorgeous. The roads further out are getting a bit more rocky, but all the trails still seem manageable. After some nice hill climbs and fun down hills we arrive at our departure point from the trail.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the trail, I thought it would be harder and more scenic. Maybe it was more scenic than I remember, but when you are the navigator constantly looking at a roll chart, there isn’t much time to enjoy. I also thought the trail would be more of a challenge. (It did challenge me and grow my technical skills.) But the trail is touted as “Off-road”, and off-road did not happen much on the portion of the trail we rode, which was about 1,400 miles. I imagined a grand “trail”, just a dirt path. Not maintained county roads, and gravel. Even on the TAT website it is quoted as being “For the Dual-Sport rider”, I wanted the challenge, the right to show off my CBR as a bad ass dirt eater. And don’t get me wrong, she is. I did things on that bike, that I am still not sure how I got her though. Was she the perfect bike? Nah I’d go on a CRF, but it’s NOT a “dual-sport” only ride. I wanted the rock climbs, the grandiose mountains, I wanted the desert dirt bike adventure. As far as the rest of the trail is concerned, it may be that way. But for us the end of the road came, and we gladly departed the trail for glorious smooth asphalt.
Trans-America Trail Facts:
- The Trans-America Trail TAT is a claimed “coast to coast, off pavement motorcycle adventure”. It starts in Jelico TN and ends on the coast of OR.
- Amanda and Zach are starting the train in TN and exiting the trail in mid Colorado.
- The TAT was charted by Sam Correro over a three year span.
- In Mississippi it was 108 degrees with 80% humidity. After four days of this the smell of sweat in your helmet isn’t pretty.
- The TAT maps and roll charts cost $372.00 This includes two nice TAT stickers.
- Amanda and Zach pushed their bikes through sand and soft clay in Mississippi one day and it took them 8hrs to go 20 miles. It should be noted they we’re slowed down by the filming process “a bit”.
Blog 16 – The “Trans-America Trail”.
So here we are in Jelico TN in the parking lot of a Super-8 Hotel. This is the starting point for the Trans American Trail or TAT. It’s a 2000+ mile long trial across the US that is supposed to be mostly off road from TN all the way to OR. We have talked with several riders along the way and read several blog accounts about the TAT. Some say it’s simple and some say it’s difficult and have huge fish tales to tell about it. One thing for sure is that almost everyone is doubting that Amanda’s CBR600RR is up to the task. I guess now is the time to find out.
A-Team Time, well not really but we do outfit Amanda’s bike slightly for the road. First on go the Dunlop D616’s. Damn they make her bike look mean. Next up we gehtto rig a skid-plate from a piece of steel and some 3M tape. At the least we’re hoping it will save the oil pan on the bottom of the bike which is venerable to rocks.
Still to FAT. My bike is still too heavy. I know I keep complaining about this and sound like a cry baby but that 40-50lb top case with the camera gear is what I’m worried about. Maybe I’m worried for nothing.
We’re Off – TENNESSE – We start off and for the most part TN is turning out to be just winding single lane paved back roads through rural neighborhoods. Occasionally it turns to single lane windy gravel roads, maybe 30% of the time.
Scenic but laboring – The ride thought the back roads was interesting in that it’s different from what we saw on the way east across the US. However the TAT trail reads like this: 1.2 miles, stop. Turn right, go 2 miles, stop. Go straight 1.6 miles, stop. Turn left, go 3.3 miles, stop. It was like this for hours or around 8hrs the first day to be exact. It was exhausting.
Entering the Hard Part Mississippi – MS is touted as the hardest yet best part of the TAT due to the clay, sand, and water crossings. Everyone around here keeps talking about MS being in a severe drought but it looks green to me. I must admit that I’m a bit worried this morning as we enter Mississippi. Will we get stuck in the backwoods in the middle of nowhere. For the first time I text my mom and a friend our route plan for the day.
So far the clay has been compact and no mud. The scenery is more interesting and we have seen quite a few snakes on the trail. The first patch of sand we hit and I feel like I am dancing with the fat girl at the prom. She’s leading and I’m struggling hard to manage her. I have to crawl my bike through even the lightest of sand or she starts tank-slapping (swerving). Fun however the sand is. Yes it’s 101 degrees with 80% humidity and we’re struggling hard to get our bikes thought the patches of sand but this is the adventure. This is the hard fun.
MUD – Our first water crossing is as mall mud puddle. We just are not seeing much water on the trail and this minor water crossing is all we have come across. Even so we wonder if we’ll both be face down in the slippery puddle. We make it just fine, feeling confident now.
SAND – Here is the sand again. This time is quite a ways of deep sand. Amanda has been walking her bike in the sand but now confident is riding through it and down she goes. I ride by her feeling even more confident and go down hard. I break my clutch lever and bend my left pannier mount. A little mending and the bikes OK and ready to go. Neither of us are hurt.
Triumph No Workie – My bike isn’t running right. For some reason it doesn’t start at random times. It is also dying at low rpm when I pull in the clutch lever or come to a stop. We stop in MS briefly and install a new battery in hopes that cures it. Argg, more on this later.
Gas Up and Crash AK – We stop for gas just inside Arkansas. Amanda pulls away and my bike won’t start. She hears me curse in the helmet and stops putting her foot right in a large pot hole and falls over. She has severely broken her front brake lever. We get my bike started and take the word from a passer-by that a Honda dealer is only 20 miles up the road. A Suzuki-Yamaha one is but no Honda dealer. Amanda insist she can ride without it but I think it’s safer to get it fixed. We search for a place with WiFi to find a dealer with the part.
Hurricane Isaac you’re screwing up my plans. – While in a McDonalds looking for the Honda part and calling close by Triumph dealers, all which seem to be closed, we notice the TV. Isaac is closing in on us. Maybe that’s why it’s getting really windy and looking like rain. We quickly find out the rain will be here in a few minutes and a lot of it.
Tough Decision – We hate to deviate from the trail and our plan has been to ride all of it to mid Colorado. however my bike won’t stay running at low rpm, Amanda has no front brake lever and massive rain from Isaac is bearing down on us. We make the decision to head towards Fort Smith on the highway; towards Honda of Tulsa who will have her lever tomorrow. There is also a Triumph dealer in Oklahoma City, another 2hrs away that can look at my bike in two days. As we ride we can literally see the rain behind us. As soon as we stop it’s pouring.
Wet, Wet, Wet Arkansans – We wake up and have a 2hr ride ahead of us and it’s pouring rain and the winds are massive. We get drenched on the ride to Tulsa but get the Honda fixed. We also get a phone call from a mechanic at Oklahoma Triumph and he tells me how to fix my bike. Turns out that the throttle position sensor on my bike can get stuck with dirt and a few sprays of WD40 should fix it. We try it and it works, for now, but we’re going to have to spray it every day we are in the dirt. Grrr.
Rain for days – the forecast has it raining for days, into next week in AK. So we decide to head slightly north to where the trail picks up in Oklahoma from Arkansan. The last section of MS into AK was nothing but straight gravel roads on top of levees for mile after mile so I’m kind of bored with this part of the trail anyways. We pull into camp, it’s kind of dry. Tomorrow should be good. It rains heavy all night, really heavy.
Oklahoma, please don’t let this be more straight endless gravel roads. Thankfully the beginning of OK is a change of scenery and we are winding through the trail. I really enjoyed the first day of OK, we made up some good time and it was a great ride. We are about 1/3 into OK and now it’s back to straight gravel roads. The TAT roll chart reads “go 10 miles, stop, go 10 miles, stop, etc.”. It’s nothing but 10 mile blocks of gravel road through parcels of farm land. Well more like 10 mile blocks of dirt and dry grasslands. It’s desolate out here and at times we are 40 miles from civilization in any direction and have not seen anyone all day. This worries me; if we have a problem do we have enough water? Nothing but boring straight gravel/ dirt roads for hundreds of miles and it’s 100 degrees.
Into the middle of nowhere today – It’s the last day in OK and we have camped 30 miles from the last town, the last gas station. on the way to and from camp we see tarantulas on the road, great. Now another 30 miles into New Mexico which is winding dirt roads; a nice change from the last few days of straight gravel roads. NM has a bit of sand and our fist really tuff hill climb. The climb caught us by surprise. We are used to the trail being easy and couldn’t see the difficulty of the climb until we were already into it. It’s steep enough and rock enough that once we started up we couldn’t stop. I’m a bit stressed on the way up that the way down will be similar and I’m not sure we can handle a decent like this without multiple crashes. Should we stop and turn back now? We continue uphill for a mile and a half. Amanda is looking like she’s riding a bucking bronco up this, but she stays on the gas and keeps going. At the top and it just flattens out with no decent in sight. I breath a sigh of relief. We have been in NM for aprx. 70 miles now and are looking for the town of Branson in 10-20 miles for gas. We reach Branson and there is nothing there. I’m not sure we have enough gas to make it to Trinidad which is about another 40 miles away. We spend the next two hours at 25mph trying to conserve gas. The last 10 miles and Amanda’s CBR has been flashing that it is out of gas and she is drafting just inches behind me. We make it to town just barely. We are both exhausted, hot and parched.
Push on into Colorado – Today is feeling great and the terrain is more familiar and look it’s mountains; haven’t seen those for awhile. I think we are both enjoying the trail today. We even stop for a bit and explore a prairie dog colony. After we pull into a small town for lunch we head back on the trail towards our next gas stop. The last seven miles puts us back on a twisting paved road and we are loving it. Oh smooth asphalt I so have missed you! After we get gas we have a decision to make, continue on the trail through the mountains on the dirt road or exit the trail here and take the paved road through the mountains. After 1400 some miles in the dirt we miss the pavement too much and choose it. The ride is magnificent and we ride into dusk.
Now off to the Boneville Salt Flats.