There and Back Again: Motorcycle Road Trip Edition

Mazinaw Rock
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2016 was a big year for me. I graduated law school, fell in love, started MyLifeExplored, and took a 4,000-mile road trip from the Southeastern United States into Canada. To everyone else it may have seemed like my life was set – graduation, bar exam, career – but, I didn’t feel that way; I felt burnt out. For seven years I kept my head down, worked two jobs, and was forced to constantly remind myself that it was worth it while leaving work at 1 AM; and for the better part of college and law school, I truly believed that it was worth it. During my final year of law school, however, I began to doubt myself. I didn’t know whether I was ready to start my professional career. So I didn’t. Instead, I did what many people saw as irresponsible and probably reckless; but, I believed a road trip (and I was right) would be a life-changing experience necessary for me to reestablish myself in my own mind.

This is my attempt to recount my trip, from the excitement and anticipation of planning to the relief of returning home. I hope you find this post as worthwhile as the trip itself. Make sure to check out the slideshow at the end of this post for even more photos! Also, if you’re interested in planning your own road trip then please head over to my guide on how to plan, including online resources and my recommended gear.

PlanningRoad Trip Prep - Virginia Farmland

Over the course of my final semester, I planned a road trip from Asheville, NC to Yellowstone National Park by way of Canada. As most road trips go, mine didn’t even come close to the original plan and was actually much shorter due to funding, timing, and homesickness; but, it didn’t lack anything I was looking for. I had never been further west than Chicago nor have I ridden a motorcycle more than 100 miles in a single day prior to this idea popping into my head. Even though I lacked experience, I knew what I wanted out of this and I knew what I didn’t want my trip to be. I wanted this trip to be more than traveling from Point A to Point B; I wanted it to be an adventure that challenged me physically, mentally, and spiritually. So, I established three rules for myself: 1. no GPS; 2. only free lodging; and 3. avoid highways if possible. With that in mind, I bought a foldable road map from Barnes & Noble, taped it to the largest wall in my studio apartment, and began mapping my route.  A few months later I was finally carving my way North through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The time between buying my first map and setting off on my trip was spent researching roads, testing gear, preparing Victoria, and training myself with day trips; I learned how to use a compass, properly read a map, and how to navigate country roads without a GPS during this times. Before I go any further, however, it’s necessary to briefly explain the importance of my three rules and why I recommend them to others.

The Three Rules

I wanted this trip to be more than traveling from Point A to Point B; I wanted it to be an adventure that challenged me physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Twisty back roads are more enjoyable and riding without direction or purpose is enlightening, but this isn’t why I swore off technology and highways. I wanted my road trip to be an exploration of myself through my passions, friends, family, and nature. I lost touch with the people, places, and passions that define me and my trip would fail if I didn’t reconnect with them. In a nutshell, that’s why I adopted my three rules, and it made the trip much more memorable and effective.

(I’ve been working on a much longer version of this post for a while now and intend to turn it into a book at some point; the following are excerpts from my intended chapter on my three rules and how my old-timer view of technology when it

comes to motorcycles and road trips. If you’re interested in being notified when my book will be released make sure to subscribe to MyLifeExplored.)

1. No GPS

At its core, road trips are about one thing, navigation. Take that away and you’re relegated to the GPS’s chauffeur, taking her to where she wants to go and how she wants to get there. I wouldn’t let my trip take that shape – I couldn’t. With that understanding, I did away with my phone’s GPS and demanded that I take control of my trip at the outset. Not having a voice nagging me about taking a faster and more direct route is appealing, but that’s not what influenced me to do away with anything beyond a road atlas and compass. My need was more extreme than that. I needed to claim responsibility for myself, connect my thoughts and actions, and directly insert myself into the moment. The only way I could achieve this was to do away with technology and force myself to read mile-markers, pull into gas stations for directions, and highlight my route each morning while I drank coffee next to the remains of last night’s campfire. I couldn’t allow myself to rely on technology and effectively put my soul search on auto-pilot.

2. Only Free Lodging

I’ll be the first to admit, expenses are a major consideration of many of my life choices and this trip was no different. I sought to spend as little as possible on my trip; but, this trip wasn’t a financial investment, it was a spiritual one. Free lodging isn’t just a way to save money; for me, it was a chance to connect with those who molded

me into the person I am today. Sharing a bed with my girlfriend, couch surfing in my hometown, and remote camping, that’s my idea of free lodging – not pinching pennies. I didn’t want to just ride to a different motel, paid campsite, or Airbnb during the day just to twiddle my thumbs and think. My soul search couldn’t be solely introspective; I needed to reconnect with those who share as much credit in my success as myself. So, I decided not spend money on hotels and campgrounds and to stay with those most important to me.

3. Avoid Highways

Large, multi-lane highways represent the antithesis of my trip. I wanted to weave and work my way through my own life in order to connect with myself and my surroundings. Long, straight speedways don’t let that happen. They drone on and on with no change in direction. Similar to my reasoning behind Rule 1, highways put your brain on auto-pilot. I wanted this trip to be fun in additional to the mental and spiritual rekindling I hoped to experience. “Richmond: 65 Miles” with no river to chase, turn to lean into or hill to climb is hardly my idea of fun. I love riding motorcycles for the purpose of riding and not necessarily getting anywhere faster than I could in a car.

Gear List

Motocamping and Road Trip Supplies

Riding Gear

Paperwork

  • License
  • Registration
  • Insurance
  • Passport
  • Camping permits

Tools and Equipment

Luggage

Clothing

Camping Gear

Navigation

Entertainment

Technology

Personal Items/Toiletries

  • Soap
  • Travel shampoo
  • Deodorant
  • Q-tips
  • Toothbrush ant toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Lotion
  • Bug spray
  • Prescriptions
  • Eyeglasses
  • Spare contacts, contact solution, and contact case
  • Microfiber Camping TowelNC to Canada Road Trip - Loaded Gear

The Route

I originally planned to ride from Asheville, Nc to Yellowstone and back. I planned to ride around the Great Lakes, reenter the United States through Minnesota, and then ride the Beartooth Pass into Yellowstone. I planned to return to Asheville by cutting back across the United States. My final trip, however, didn’t resemble my original plan whatsoever. Instead of heading west once I entered Canada, I went east. I saw Mazinaw Rock instead of Olf Faithful, fed Chipmunks instead of spotting wolves, and went cliff diving rather than riding the rugged terrain of Beartooth Pass. I don’t regret the change in my trip because the trip was a medium for me to explore and reconnect with my roots; had I ignored my intuition I would have been ignoring who I am.

Finalized Road Trip Route Collage The Trip

I spent the week leading up to my trip packing, riding 150+ miles around Western NC, double checking each and every piece of equipment and paperwork, and making sure that Victoria was ready to go. The excitement was so overwhelming that I became edgy with anticipation and decided I needed at least one day away from motorcycles. So, the day before I left I made sure everything was packed, my gear was laid out, and that I had my itinerary laid out. I spent my final day with my family and tried to keep my mind of the next morning and ended up rolling my ankle while playing basketball with my little sister which almost resulted in delaying my trip. My final night at home was plagued by excruciating pain, cold sweats, and shivering in addition to the existing anticipation of leaving in the morning.

My parents, siblings, and girlfriend all tried to convince me to wait at least one more day to leave, which would’ve been wise; but, I knew that I couldn’t. Extenuating circumstances force us to put our lives on hold and that’s what my ankle was. If I waited another day then a bill would have appeared in the mail or I would have popped a tire. And the endless cycle would begin. I wasn’t going to let that happen with my trip, so I gritted my teeth, slipped my riding shoe on, hugged my family, kissed my cat and dog, and set off. Since I wanted this trip to test me starting it off with a minor injury as a companion almost seemed fitting in an ironic way. As I weaved my way to the Blue Ridge Parkway, my unexpected companion was definitely testing me. The pain of raising my foot stopped me from being able to shift so I had to use my heel, similar to spurring a horse, instead. I finally got the hang of it by the time I turned onto the Parkway but still hoped to minimize shifting as much as possible.

Northbound – North Carolina to PennsylvaniaNC to Canada Road Trip - Grand Canyon of PA

In many ways, traveling north was like traveling back in time. I started in North Carolina and made my way back to where I graduated from law school, fell in love with my amazing girlfriend and where I hope to soon return, Richmond, VA. From there, I journeyed even further back in time to Slippery Rock, PA – my college town – and then to where I grew up, Williamsport, PA. It was an absolutely surreal experience reliving 20+ years of my life in a two week period. I talked with old friends, professors, and family members that each of these places connected me with. We reminisced on memories we shared and I had the chance to personally thank each person for their impact on my life.

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I wove my way from where I currently am to where I began. The various roads, landscapes, and people I encountered constantly reminded me of different periods throughout my life. As I rode through West Virginia on a rainy, foggy day I was instantly reminded of the two weeks I spent in Scotland touring the highlands. I took shelter at Black Moshannon – the state park that I camped at every summer growing up – when I got rained out during my jaunt to my hometown. My first night spent camping was near the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, a landmark that seemed so much further from where I grew up when I was younger but no less beautiful than what I had remembered. I saw where I used to hike, camp and fish, visited with family and friends that had been with my every step of the way and reconnected with the passions that influenced me through life. College, law school, and work had strained many of these relationships. Being able to travel back and relive many of these relationships was humbling on so many levels; the level of nostalgia of the first leg of my trip created a high bar for what I expected out of the rest of my trip.

My time in Richmond deserves mentioning in itself. Richmond has been my home for the past three years and I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life anywhere else. I had an amazing week nursing my ankle, spending time with my girlfriend, her family, and my close friends; I often think Richmond was my actual departure site, not Asheville. The trip from Asheville was just a warm up and another day of training.

Northbound – Pennsylvania to Canada

NC to Canada Road Trip - PA Route 6

Remember when I said I wanted to be physically and mentally challenged? Well, that started shortly after grabbing lunch with an old friend in Scranton, PA. I was spending the night at a creek-side campsite (thanks to FreeCampsites.net) and needed to not only navigate to Wellsboro but then head south via gravel roads until I reached my destination. I made it into Central Pennsylvania farmland and began searching for my campsite just as the sun was starting to set low in the sky. Somehow, like a sequence straight out of the Twilight Zone, I looped back to Wellsboro and found myself at a loss as to how I got there. This was all part of the experience I needed; I was finally forced to rely on myself for something other than manmade constructions like rent and school. I didn’t have technology or a travel partner to blame for my situation, all I had was myself. Admittedly, not knowing where I was, where I went wrong, or what my destination even looked like – all while running out of daylight – was beyond frustrating. All I could do was slow down, retrace my steps, and avoid the temptation to plug the GPS coordinates into my phone.NC to Canada Road Trip - Ascent to leave my first campsite

I remembered keeping right at a fork in the road because it was paved and wondered if the dirt road started sooner than I had expected. Thankfully, I was right. The sun was setting quickly and I had less than an hour to find my site and set up camp before it got dark. I was really testing the off-road capabilities of my 919 and its Pilot Road tires as I worked my way through acres of farmland and toward the distant treeline. What laid beyond the treeline was a path that was too steep, peppered with loose gravel, and wholly unsuitable for my 919. Between extreme engine braking, fishtailing, and loose rocks Victoria underwent a lot of stress going down that mile long path; but, I’d do that descent one thousand times over just to camp at the base of that mountain again.

NC to Canada Road Trip - PA CampingI tucked myself away in a corner of the cleared lot with cattails between me and the creek. I sat next to my fire, ate a glorious dinner of potatoes, instant rice, and sausage, and watched the stars. The following morning a mama bear and her two cubs were fishing in the creek and woke me up; since I lived in the city for the past three years, I haven’t experienced this type of nature in a long time. So, I threw a log on the fire, brewed some instant coffee and sat with a man who camped on the other end of the cleared lot and we watched the clumsy cubs try to catch trout from a distance. We shared where we’re from and where we were headed. He was at the turning point of his weekend trip and had a 60-mile day of bicycling ahead of him; I’d cross into Canada later that day. We parted ways once we finished our coffee and packed up – him pedaling his bicycle the opposite direction and me riding the clutch until the trail leveled out.My stretch through Western New York was met with fair weather and quality roads. The anticipation of being in Canada overshadowed enjoying my surroundings, however. I tried to take my mind off what laid ahead by applying my surroundings to my life. I botched an attempt to take pictures of a few goats, my girlfriend’s favorite animal, that I stumbled upon. I recalled my summer spent selling merchandise with a family friend at various festivals, one of them being Grey Fox in the Catskill Mountains. And I even rewatched Pam and Jim’s wedding from The Office in my head. Anything to keep my mind off of Canada I did; but, once I got to Niagara Falls, I didn’t even stick around long enough to pay for parking.

My stretch through Western New York was met with fair weather and quality roads. The anticipation of being in Canada overshadowed enjoying my surroundings, however. I tried to take my mind off what laid ahead by applying my surroundings to my life. I botched an attempt to take pictures of a few goats, my girlfriend’s favorite animal, that I stumbled upon. I recalled my summer spent selling merchandise with a family friend at various festivals, one of them being Grey Fox in the Catskill Mountains. And I even rewatched Pam and Jim’s wedding from The Office in my head. Anything to keep my mind off of Canada I did; but, once I got to Niagara Falls, I didn’t even stick around long enough to pay for parking.

CanadaNC to Canada Road Trip - Niagara Falls

“What’s your purpose for entering Canda? Do you have any firearms? How long are you staying? You really rode from North Carolina to Ontario? All on a motorcycle? Alone? Well, good luck and safe travels.”

With the friendly interrogation and currency exchange out of the way, reality set in. I knew no one north of Pennsylvania and my cell phone provider offered minimal signal in Canada. I may have camped by myself while in Pennsylvania, but I knew the roads and had family less than an hour away from me. In Canada, however, I truly was on my own. So, I called my parents and girlfriend to inform them I made it into Canada and would be in touch when possible.

NC to Canada Road Trip - Elora Gorge

I’m not going to lie, apart from the kindness of the Canadians and Tim Hortons, what I expected Canada to be and what it actually was, were polar opposites. 100-degree weather, cliff diving, and not a single moose in sight. That’s Ontario in July. Well, that was my experience at least. In total, I spent about a week in Ontario and genuinely had an amazing time. I bought most of my food from roadside stands, swam at the Elora Gorge, rode through tons of rain, and experienced a part of a country I had never been to.NC to Canada - Cliff Diving at Elora Gorge

My jaunt in Canada – and trip in general – ended up being much shorter than intended; I didn’t travel around the Great Lakes, ride Beartooth pass, camp in Yellowstone, or cross the Badlands. What I did do, however, was discover a part of me I never knew existed. Without a job, source of income, or plan for when I finished my trip, I began to worry. How would I pay my bills? When could I move back to Richmond and see my girlfriend again? How will I afford a bar-prep course and the test-taking fees? The questions permeated my mind as I rode, camped, and navigated my way through an extremely rainy Canada.

Heading Home

NC to Canada Road Trip - Open Field for Final Night of Camping

During what some may call an existential crisis, I discovered that I’m not nearly as independent or self-reliant as I once believed. I may have financially supported myself through college and law school, but I’ve had a personal support group the entire way. My parents, siblings, friends and girlfriend have always supported me. The two weeks spent with these amazing people exacerbated this effect. I made up my mind and decided to turn around. I spent my final evening Bark Lake and thinking about how grateful I truly am.NC to Canada Road Trip - Bark Lake

I packed up and left before dawn, reentered the United States by midday, and set up camp in Southern Pennsylvania that evening. Again, I remember little, if anything, about New York; but, I found an amazing patch of grass near the PA-VA border that offered a picturesque view of the night sky. The following day was more of the same, but I ended it with my girlfriend in Newport News, Virginia. There, I spent a few days relaxing and recovering from a 3,500-mile trip. At the end of our weekend, we did the same as when I stayed with her at the beginning of my trip – she left for her internship and I got back on my bike to make my next destination, home.

After a long day of debating whether to find a place to camp and finish my trip the following morning, getting pulled over for doing 86 in a 65 mphNC to Canada Road Trip - Last Night of Camping, Southern PA zone, and having my headlight’s wiring fail, I finally pulled into my driveway. The sheer enjoyment of being met by my dog’s kisses and cat’s purring almost paralleled the anticipation of setting off on my incredible journey. I didn’t complete my intended route, but in many ways I think that’s better. I set off to rediscover and challenge myself and that’s exactly what I did; had I continued my trip and ignored my instincts while in Canada I would have continued to ignore who I am. By turning around I accepted what I discovered and who I truly am. I am truly blessed to have this opportunity and would do anything to experience it all again.

For anyone on the fence about whether or not to take a road trip, my advice is that you absolutely need to. Whether it’s a solo or group trip, it can be a life changing experience. From the bottom of my heart, I am truly grateful for everyone who supported me during my trip, including my girlfriend, Mallory, my parents, siblings, and relatives, and my close friends, notably Brad, Kayla, and Steve. I sincerely doubt my trip would have ever happened without them and I can only hope they’ll offer the same amount of support for my future endeavors.

If you’re interested in planning your own trip, please read up on my suggestions for planning, including online resources and recommended and essential gear. If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact me or comment below.

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2 Comment

  1. […] this chalk over the summer and am still using it. I intended to do some rock climbing during my road trip and blocks aren’t really suited for that; due to some sciatic nerve damage and riding 300+ […]

  2. Good job young man. Looks like you’ll be moving on to a Vstrom or GSA or some other machine a tad more suited to your out going style. All good things in time. If you ever see the far north/west of Canada…say hello. Happy trails.

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