Chasing My Heritage on a Cross-Nation Motorbike Journey

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Going-to-the-Solar Highway in Montana’s Glacier Nationwide Park needs to be on each motorcyclist’s must-ride record. (Photographs by the creator)

As motorcyclists, we really feel drawn to the open street. As People, we wish to absorb as a lot of what our nation has to supply as we will. And as human beings – particularly if we’re of a sure age – we wish to see our household and associates face-to-face, to hug them and shake their palms and listen to and inform tales new and outdated. Telephone calls and texts assist us keep in contact, however they’re a poor substitute for the true deal. I made a decision to verify all of the bins with a cross-country motorbike journey.

I dwell in Southern California, and I’ve household and associates throughout this nice nation, from sea to shining sea. I’ve ridden cross-country many instances earlier than, however I used to be overdue for a particular lap round America, one the place I might see the sights and go to the vital folks in my life and not using a strict agenda or schedule. After I opened a Dove chocolate and noticed the recommendation “Reside daily with no regrets, it’ll be value it” contained in the wrapper, it felt like a calling. I packed my gear and headed east.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff
Visiting family members like my Uncle Bud in New York was the spotlight of the journey.

Household Roots

Again in 1940, my grandparents loaded up their ’37 Packard with all their belongings, together with my 10-year-old father, Mark, and his 7-year-old youthful brother, Bernard (the place I bought my center identify) and headed west. Leaving Youngstown, Ohio, they made their technique to Route 66 and adopted it to Burbank, California, the place Grandpa Seth bought a welding and fabricating job for Lockheed Plane.

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Earlier than lengthy, my grandparents bought a Texaco station that turned the household enterprise. Our household nonetheless owns the constructing, which now homes an auto physique store. My grandparents died simply earlier than I used to be born, however I imagine I inherited my love and innate talents for fabricating and restoring bikes from my Grandpa Seth. I nonetheless use his outdated Wilton bench vise, hand instruments, and different tools.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff
Leaving on Memorial Day, my first cease was my grandparents’ gravesite at Forest Garden Cemetery in Burbank, California. I requested them to look at over me.

Time was of the essence with my very own cross-country journey, some 82 years later. My dad was approaching his ninety fifth birthday, and ol’ Uncle “Bud” (Bernard’s nickname) was pushing 92. They don’t journey anymore, and so they hadn’t seen one another in over a decade. I made a decision to maintain the journey a secret from Dad. My plan was to journey to New York and do a shock video name between the growing old brothers.

I left my home in Thousand Oaks, California, on Memorial Day and returned residence in time to have a good time the 4th of July. Over a month and greater than 10,000 miles, I handed by means of 33 states, visited and stayed with dozens of people that had been already close to and pricey to my coronary heart, and loved assembly many new associates as nicely.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Mount Rushmore
Reuniting with my outdated buddy Carter Kirk within the shadow of Mount Rushmore.

To prepare for my journey, Alpinestars and Shoei/Helmet Home supplied me with gear, Nelson-Rigg set me up with a water-proof duffel, and my associates at Suzuki had been form sufficient to mortgage me a 2022 V-Strom 650XT with an adjunct tankbag and panniers. The V-Strom 650 is without doubt one of the greatest bang-for-the-buck journey bikes on the market. It matches me like a glove, has a extremely comfy seat, likes to go off-road right here and there, and solely requested for fuel within the tank and PJ1 on the chain each once in a while. 

Associated: 2018 Suzuki V-Strom 650XT vs V-Strom 1000XT | Comparability Evaluate

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff New Mexico
Excessive plains drifting in New Mexico. It’s enjoyable to think about what’s past the horizon.
Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Zion National Park Suzuki V-Strom 650XT
On the second day of the journey I used to be tempted to do some off-road exploring close to Zion Nationwide Park in Utah, however I had an extended journey forward of me, so I believed higher of it.

With the bike packed, I mentioned my goodbyes and my prayers, pulled within the clutch, dropped into 1st gear, and rolled away from residence. It was a surreal feeling beginning a journey of this magnitude, questioning what is perhaps in retailer for me. 

A Cross-Nation Motorbike Journey: Eastbound and Down

Earlier than departing on this journey, I traced a giant define of the U.S. and every of the decrease 48 states on a big sheet of professional quality paper, and on the prime I wrote “2022 Associates & Household Journey!” I saved it rolled up in a cardboard tube and used it to doc my route. Alongside the way in which, I had household, associates, and people write notes and messages on the map.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff
My do-it-yourself route map signed by associates, household, and others alongside the way in which is a particular souvenir from my journey.

After driving throughout the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas, I continued northeast and rode by means of Zion Nationwide Park in Utah. I meandered east to 4 Corners, bought off my bike, and managed to be in all 4 states directly with my ft in Arizona and New Mexico and my palms in Utah and Colorado. In New Mexico, I visited associates in Farmington and Tucumcari. Because the journey unfolded, I discovered that more often than not there was one other buddy or member of the family with whom I might keep inside a day’s journey.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Four Corners
Spreading out over 4 states directly at 4 Corners (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona).

I blazed throughout the Texas Panhandle on my technique to “McDonald Land,” the nickname for the place Norm and Lucy McDonald dwell close to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Norm is the “N” in Ok&N filters, which practically everybody has run of their bikes or vehicles sooner or later. I used to pitstop there within the early ’80s when touring across the nation throughout my AMA roadracing days. I met the McDonalds by means of their son, Sam, after we had been each novices in 1980. By way of Ok&N Yamaha, Norm and Lucy sponsored numerous racers through the years, with Malcolm Smith being one of the notable. They’re fantastic folks whose friendship is treasured to me. Staying with them once more like within the good ol’ days was very particular.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Korner Shop Cafe West Virginia
It didn’t take lengthy to turn out to be associates with Susie at The Korner Store Cafe in West Virginia.
Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Cadillac Ranch Amarillo Texas
Taking a selfie on the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

After visiting different associates in Memphis, Tennessee, I skipped throughout the tops of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia and made my manner up into the Appalachians and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rider journal readers have seen loads of nice journey tales from this space, and now I bought to do the driving!

See all of Rider‘s touring tales right here.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Suzuki V-Strom 650XT Maggie Valley Overlook
The views are infinite on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Maggie Valley Overlook.

The climate was excellent, the surroundings was stunning, and I took some aspect journeys on the 650XT down small roads and trails. In Maggie Valley, North Carolina, I ended on the Wheels By way of Time Museum. I like outdated bikes and outdated American stuff, so this place is like heaven to me. Dale Walksler has handed, however his son Matt has taken over and is doing an superior job preserving the museum going.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Matt Walksler Wheels Through Time Museum
With Matt Walksler on the Wheels By way of Time museum.

Heading North

I rode up Skyline Drive and into Virginia, the place I spent a pair nights at Brian and Betty Richardson’s Nineteenth-century sheep farm. Rider’s former editor-in-chief, Mark Tuttle, related me with the Richardsons again in 2009, and I raced Brian’s homebuilt Moto-Electra electrical bike within the TTXGP collection for just a few years. In 2013, we set the coast-to-coast world file for electrical automobiles on the identical bike by crossing the U.S. in 84.5 hours. Brian and I turned good associates, and for years I’ve been telling him I’d journey as much as his farm in the future. I lastly did, and we spent a day driving collectively on superior backroads.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Green Briar Hotel
With my buddy Brian Richardson on the Inexperienced Briar Resort in West Virginia. Beneath us was the U.S. Congress’ secret nuclear fallout shelter.
Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff
Spending a while stress-free at Brian and Betty Richardson’s sheep farm in Virginia.

I left the farm within the morning and was quickly greeted by a dramatic change in surroundings. By noon, I used to be taking a selfie in entrance of the Capitol in D.C. I needed I might assist straighten issues on the market, however I made a decision I’d quite journey my motorbike. I hightailed it out of D.C. and crossed the Delaware Bay on a ferry from Lewes, Delaware, to Cape Might, New Jersey, which is the oldest resort city in America and a neat place to remain.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Suzuki V-Strom 650XT
Cows certain are huge in Pennsylvania!

One other particular factor about New Jersey is certainly one of its residents: Gloria Struck, the primary girl of motorcycling, who’s 97 years younger. I wrote a narrative for Rider (March 2013 subject) about Gloria and the Motor Maids, and we have now been shut associates for a very long time. We first met years in the past at Daytona Bike Week, the place I seen her Harley had Clorox bottles minimize in half and strapped to the handlebar as wind deflectors. I had achieved that earlier than myself, however after I discovered it was Gloria’s bike and that she had ridden from New Jersey, the place she needed to shovel snow to get out of her driveway, I instantly developed a deep fondness and respect for this lady.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Gloria Struck
These boots had been made for driving, and that’s simply what they did on Gloria Struck’s ft.

Spending a pair nights with Gloria, reminiscing and listening to her discuss driving her motorbike, or the trike she’s going to get when she turns 100, was completely priceless. I extremely suggest shopping for her ebook, Gloria – A Lifetime Motorcyclist: 75 Years on Two Wheels and Nonetheless Using, which was revealed in 2018.

Gloria did her first solo journey to Daytona in 1951 to look at the seaside races. Dick Klamfoth gained that yr (and likewise in 1949 and 1952), and as destiny would have it, Dick and I turned associates, and I helped him construct the Daytona 200 monument, which took a number of years. He and his spouse, Bev, are gone now, however later in my journey, I’d keep it up our reminiscences by visiting their daughter, Christy, in Ohio.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Suzuki V-Strom 650XT Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. was a change of surroundings. I didn’t keep lengthy.

The Massive Apple

From Clifton, New Jersey, I handed underneath the Hudson River by means of the Lincoln Tunnel and popped out in midtown Manhattan. Using across the Massive Apple within the rain was fairly an journey. After taking the Queensboro Bridge over the East River to Lengthy Island Metropolis, I lastly arrived on the easternmost level of my journey and visited Uncle Bud. It had been laborious to maintain the key, however after we stunned my dad with a FaceTime name from his brother and son, it was a really particular household second.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff
I hope I’ve inherited good ol’ Uncle Bud’s genes. Laborious to imagine he’s 92.

Saying goodbye to good ol’ Uncle Bud and questioning if it will be the final time we’d see one another face-to-face was emotional, however I laughed as at all times when he mentioned, “See ya later, alligator!”

Crossing Manhattan once more, I used to be formally on my manner residence. It felt good to make it out of the massive metropolis and know the remainder of the journey could be largely rural countrysides and small cities.

Westward Ho!

In our household’s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, I stayed with my cousin John. We had by no means met and had enjoyable attending to know each other. Utilizing Bud’s just lately sketched image of the household residence, we discovered the now-abandoned dwelling the place they as soon as lived. It was like looking for hidden treasure with a map Bud drew from his reminiscence of a spot he left on the age of seven! John confirmed me round, and I imagined my household residing there within the outdated metal city’s heyday. I considered them within the outdated Packard driving away from the home on Worthington Avenue for the final time, trying again at what was being left behind after which trying ahead, questioning what life could be like in California.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff
With Uncle Bud’s hand-drawn map, my cousin John and I discovered our household’s outdated residence in Youngstown, Ohio.
Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Suzuki V-Strom 650XT Great Smoky Mountains
The V-Strom 650XT and I had enjoyable two-tracking by means of the Nice Smoky Mountains.

From Youngstown, I rode southwest to Columbus, the place I visited the AMA Corridor of Fame Museum after which popped in on Bruce Linsday. Bruce is a prime man within the vintage motorbike world with an unbelievable assortment of early American bikes. Years in the past, after we had been in Loss of life Valley driving our outdated Harleys, he invited me to cease by his place so I might journey a selected outdated Harley relationship again to 1905. The manufacturing unit in Milwaukee has one in its museum, and Bruce has the opposite one. These two bikes are the oldest Harleys in existence. The manufacturing unit’s bike is underneath glass and can by no means be ridden, so I used to be lucky sufficient to have the ability to journey the oldest working Harley there’s! Fairly an expertise. 

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff World's Oldest Harley-Davidson
Using the world’s oldest working Harley was fairly an expertise for me.

After a cease in Des Moines, Iowa, I continued west to South Dakota. In 2009, I attended the V-Strom Rally in Fast Metropolis on task for Rider (April 2010 subject) and made associates with resident V-Strom rider Carter Kirk. He let me borrow his bike for the rally, and I had an exquisite time exploring the Black Hills. Since I used to be touring on a brand new V-Strom 650XT on my family-and-friends tour, I needed to go to Carter.

With him on his outdated V-Strom and me on my new one, we spent a day driving and sightseeing. We stood on the base of Mount Rushmore and took within the majesty of certainly one of this nation’s most patriotic treasures. After dinner in Sturgis, we capped off an superior day with an evening journey residence by means of pouring rain and an unbelievable lightning present. Once we made it residence, I had a very good giggle when Carter requested me if I used to be anxious through the journey. I attempted to behave like I wasn’t.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff
I visited Christie Klamfoth and her accomplice Al in Ohio. Her dad and mom, Dick and Bev, opened up the heavens to let their love shine down on us.
Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Suzuki V-Strom 650XT Great Plains Rocky Mountains
After crossing the Nice Plains, the Rocky Mountains invited me to discover the excessive nation. America the gorgeous!

See all of Rider‘s Suzuki protection right here.

After visiting Devils Tower in Wyoming, I continued northwest into Montana. I like this a part of the nation, and after driving by means of some extra open grassland, I used to be lastly rewarded with a view of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains. I rode the incomparable Going-to-the-Solar Highway in Glacier Nationwide Park, then made my manner into Idaho, the place I visited my nephew, Robert, and his spouse, Tracy, within the little group of Harrison. They just lately moved there from our hometown in Southern California to a bit of home overlooking a lake.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Suzuki V-Strom 650XT Mount Hood Oregon
This was about so far as I might go attempting to scale Mount Hood in Oregon.

Farther west, I loved driving the Cascade loop in Washington with all of the forest roads and the shocking views of white-topped volcanic mountains that seem out of nowhere. After a cease to go to my sister-in-law Jill in Bend, Oregon, I lastly noticed what I used to be ready for: the gorgeous blue Pacific Ocean. I punched my fist into the air and hollered “Yahoo!” inside my helmet. I like driving alongside the western fringe of our nation.

The Homestretch of My Cross-Nation Motorbike Journey

Again in California, my subsequent cease was Eureka, a pleasant little coastal city the place I stayed with my Uncle Jim and Aunt Jan and visited my cousin Invoice. At this level within the journey, I had seen all my residing family members and felt I had completed what I got down to do.

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff Trees of Mystery California
I ended to say hi there to Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox at Timber of Thriller in Klamath, California.

However there have been extra miles to cowl, akin to driving among the many majestic coastal redwoods earlier than heading inland to go to Lassen Volcanic Nationwide Park in northeastern California. Zigzagging my manner by means of the gold nation of the Sierra Nevada, round Lake Tahoe, and previous Mammoth Mountain. After which lastly crossing the Mojave Desert once more to get residence.

What a sense to show the nook and know this journey had come to an finish. There within the driveway was my spouse, Jody, and my daughter, Kelly, ready for me with open arms. I hadn’t even gotten off the bike earlier than the tear-filled hugs started. Wow, what a sense!

Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Thad Wolff
The very best half about coming residence was seeing my spouse, Jody, and my daughter, Kelly.

I arrived residence in time for my dad’s ninety fifth birthday, and he ended up passing away peacefully two brief weeks later. The timing for this journey was excellent, and I’m glad I used to be capable of make it occur quite than make excuses. In the long run, our religion, household, associates, and the reminiscences we’ve made (many with handlebars in hand) are all we have now. Nothing else issues.

Don’t wait. Simply go.

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