5,000 miles Across America on the Trans-Am Trail
filming a motorcycle documentary)
By Michael Murray
(Cameraman for the Road Less Traveled
our getting ready for riding the 5,000 mile Trans-America Trail
was just like any other riding group getting ready... any group,
that is, that brings along a fully-loaded chase vehicle filled with
camera equipment, camping equipment, motorcycle equipment... and
a Film Director, a Producer, a Director of Photography and a Cameraman
with several bike-cams setup on his bike. Well, I guess that adds
a level of complexity to the adventure that's a bit different from
most other rides...
name is Michael Murray of MotorcycleTravelDVDs.com
and I rode the Trans-America Trail with James Beatty of Unseen Voices
Productions to film he and his brother Steven while we rode, and filmed,
the entire Trans-Am Trail from the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee
to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. The purpose of our adventure was to
make a documentary to share the two brother's experiences on the Trans-Am
Trail as they traversed the United States on their dual-sport motorcycles,
all off-road, seeing the country from a perspective that few have
the opportunity to see.
Ride-Report chronicles our many adventures (often "misadventures")
along the 5,000-mile Trans-Am Trail and a behind-the-scenes glimpse
of what the ride and the filming was like (without giving away too
many details before our movie is released). Mostly, I hope my Ride-Report
encourages all dual-sport riders to consider taking this amazing adventure.
It is truly an adventure of a lifetime.
begin our ride in Jellico Tennessee at the start of the Trans-Am Trail
and the three riders and crew were all up early preparing for the
first day on the trail. There were some last-minute bike preps and
a few technical glitches that had to be addressed to be sure our bike-cams
and helmet communicators were all working properly. Our first stop
was an overlook above the town of Jellico with a nice view of the
town below. We setup cameras for a bit of footage as we talked about
the adventure we're about to get into. We also met up with the local
police cruiser who watched us carefully while we filmed - a sign of
what's to come as we quickly realized that we'll get a lot of attention
with the cameras and bikes no matter where we are. The officer stopped
to chat and he was interested in hearing about our adventure. Being
a rider himself he was glad to offer some of his time and be the first
on-camera interview for our documentary.
the interview we rode to the beginning of the Trans-America Trail
where we had a celebratory toast (of Power-Drink) as we rode off on
our own and left the chase-vehicle for the first time. The first hour
of riding on the Trans-Am Trail was very rewarding for the three of
us — after countless days of planning for this documentary,
we were finally riding the Trail. Sam's TAT-Maps and Roll Charts proved
to be as accurate and as easy to follow as we had hoped and for the
first 50+ miles we simply enjoyed the scenery and enjoyed the riding.
expected along certain parts of the Trans-Am Trail, there were a few
water crossings to deal with, and when we came across our first, it
was actually more of a mud-crossing than anything else. I had the
HI-DEF camera rolling as we assessed the depth and what the surface
underneath might be like. James was first and rode across without
a problem on his Honda XR650L. I continued filming
as Steven prepped himself on his Suzuki DRZ400 to
go next. Again, without a problem. My turn to cross the mud. I've
got the "heavy bike" compared to the Honda and Suzuki, a
450lbs BMW F650GS - with James now behind the camera
filming me, I feel fortunate that I too made it across without incident.
came across our first "serious" water crossing. We had been
warned about this one but approaching the shallow water, it looked
harmless. The problem was not the depth of water but the ultra-slippery
algae on the smooth rock bottom. We learned this the hard way as our
first rider attempted to cross and quickly went down. He was okay
(except for his bruised ego) but the really tricky part was retrieving
his motorcycle from the water. Imagine this compared to trying to
walk a 350+lbs motorcycle across an ice rink while the tires are slipping
out from under you and your feet, with zero traction, are also slipping
out from under you. It was comical for the first few minutes - comical
to the point of me shaking the camera with my laughing, but after
a while when fatigue sets in, it's not so funny. We finally walked
the bike across successfully and came up with a strategy of kicking
loose gravel in the narrowest part of the crossing to walk the other
bikes across. The gravel worked like sand on ice and allowed us to
easily get the other bikes across.
the way we came across several other water crossings, some very deep.
The crossings can seem intimidating at first but after a few successful
crossing it becomes fun. A lot of fun.
was a fun day of riding and it's where we met up with Sam
Correro, creator of the Trans-America Trail. It was sincerely
an honor to met Sam as he is somewhat of a legend in the motorcycle
community because of his hard work in mapping out the Trans-America
Trail for us all to enjoy. Sam is a great guy and we enjoyed a full
day of riding with him and took lots of great footage of him riding
his Trail with us. We rode through some very scenic parts of Mississippi,
and some of the most challenging deep sand yet. We all had close-calls
in the deep sand, which really takes some getting used to, but unfortunately
for Steven at one point he was blinded by the dust from the riders
in front of him and the deep sand brought him down. He survived but
we later learned that his turn-signal is now buried somewhere in the
Correro Riding the Trans-America Trail
(video footage courtesy of Unseen Voices Production)
a good day of riding, Sam took us to Ground Zero Blues Club
for some beer, good food and great music. We almost got
kicked out of the club but with the help of a chance meeting with
the owner, Actor Morgan Freeman, we were given permission
to film and allowed to stay. There's more to the story, but it's best
that I leave that for when the documentary comes out.
Ozarks gave us some really great riding — Moccasin Gap was scenic
and somewhat challenging in places. Our lunch stop this day was at
the well-known Oark General Store, the oldest continuously
running store in Arkansas (since 1890) and today serves not only as
their community center, but also probably the best burgers we've had
since the start of the Trail.
to Oklahoma where we experienced some of the highest temperatures
of our ride so far. At this point in our adventure we encountered
a very serious problem with one of the bikes that nearly ended our
ride and our documentary project. It also kept us in Oklahoma for
the next few days and kept us up until 5:00AM on one of those days
— the story is quite bizarre, but has a happy ending. To be
fair, telling the story here would give away too much of the documentary
(sorry). But once again it was the people we met during this ordeal
who made our day and made for an exciting story to tell. To Vance
and his family in Oklahoma, we are forever grateful for your generosity
crossed over the New Mexico border into Colorado. In my opinion Colorado
has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and some of
the best riding too (being from Colorado I'm admittedly biased). The
riding in Colorado was awesome although surprisingly raining the first
day — surprising because Colorado is usually very dry and typically
receives as much sunshine as Florida or southern California. But the
riding was just as exciting in spite of a few morning drizzles, which
later became a down-pour, which later became a severe thunder and
lightening storm, which later turned to hail. Welcome home Michael,
to the quickly changing climate of Colorado.
stay in a Salida Colorado motel is also where James was "shocked"
(literally) by the lightening storm. The day the "lightening-video"
on the Road Less Traveled movie website was uploaded
to our movie website we received the biggest spike in web-visitors
(pun intended) to our website since it was launched. Luckily for James
he wasn't hurt by the incident, although now he kinda talks funny
(just kidding James).
The ORIGINAL video...
footage courtesy of Unseen Voices Production)
into Utah and in desperate need of new tires and oil changes, we rode
to Arrowhead Motorsports where owner Fred Hink took
good care of us and our bikes. We were all in need of oil changes
after 2,000+ miles of aggressive riding. Steven needed a new rear
tire and James needed some welding to reinforce his cracked frame.
Fred has a small shop in Moab but had everything we needed to get
our bikes back into good shape and ready for the rest of the Trail.
is an amazing place — the scenery there is absolutely spectacular.
We took a break from riding the bikes and all piled into the chase
vehicle and drove to nearby Arches National Park
— again, the scenery is just stunning. We spent several hours
in the park hiking several trail heads to some of the more popular
scenic attractions and found a perfect location to catch-up on a few
more video-diaries for the documentary.
finishing the last video-diary as the sun went down in Arches, we
drove back into Moab for some food at a local diner. At the restaurant
we had planned to met up with a riding friend of mine, Britton
Purser, who rode down from Grand Junction Colorado to show
us some great riding trails in and around Moab.
the next morning we rode the Kokopelli Trail and
a few other trails for a truly spectacular day of riding. The next
day we attempted to ride the White Rim Trail but
a few bike problems with the bikes prevented us from completing
the trail. So we finished our time in Moab and continued heading
next part of the trip was our second potentially trip-ending situation,
but because of the documentary, I'll hold off on what took place —
the end result however was finally getting in communication with the
riders at around 2:00AM, retrieving their bikes and putting them on
the trailer took another hour and then me riding solo throughout the
night arriving at our hotel at 6:00AM. After what the two guys had
just gone through, I couldn't think to have them ride the remaining
175+ mile in the middle of the night. We arrived at our motel
as the sun was coming up and soon after getting our room
key we were all fast asleep.
at noon gave us six hours of sleep and we woke up hungry and ready
for lunch. Because the two brothers bikes were still up on the trailer
from the night before and because we were trying to make up some time,
I rode while everyone else piled into the chase vehicle.
were in a very remote part of Nevada at this point and looking to
save some time we took several secondary (dirt) roads with the chase
vehicle as a "short-cut" but without very clear documentation
because we were now off the Trans-Am Trail. Our detour took us through
some very beautiful scenery and as the day was coming to an end the
sunset was spectacular.
were miles from any town or buildings of any kind and the backdrop
seemed perfect to film a few video-diaries. And considering what had
happened the night before, the guys had lots to talk about. The filming
of the video diaries took some time and as the sun began to set it
became very dark, very quickly. We weren't sure exactly how to get
to the main road but we continued exploring until we found it
took us about 2-hours in the pitch dark navigating through ranchers
property and through too many closed cattle gates
was after 9:00PM when we finally found the road we were looking for
(the only road we could verify with our map) we all gave a sigh of
relief — only the sigh was short-lived when we learned from
James who was navigating that we still had another three hours to
go to get back on schedule and get to our next destination. So much
for the "short-cut".
Sam's TAT-Maps have been incredibly accurate through every fraction
of a mile of his Trans-Am Trail, there were a few times when the trail
itself was difficult to see. Today we find ourselves at a place on
the trail where their was Sage Brush everywhere, literally to the
horizon. And because of the over-growth of the brush, it seemed at
times to swallow up the trail making navigation by reference points
or landmarks very challenging (that's a round-about way of saying
we got lost), or as our navigator James would put it
our GPS shows us exactly where we are...
trail is lost"
very few bars on the cell phone we tried to make a call to the chase
vehicle but before we finished leaving our message, our call was dropped.
To make matters worse, the only cell phone we had was about to lose
battery power. My phone was left in the chase-vehicle, Steven left
his phone back at one of the motels in eastern Nevada and because
of the confusion of yesterday's ordeal, James' phone didn't get a
full charge ("can you hear me now"?).
continued on the "lost trail" with little confirmation of
our progress when we saw a ranch-house about eight miles in the distance.
Now approaching sun-down, this was the first structure or sign of
civilization we've seen since late morning. We were now riding as
directly towards the ranch-house as possible through the heavy brush
with no sign of the trail anywhere. Our rationale of making a bee-line
to the ranch-house was that the house would have a driveway and the
driveway would take us to a road, and the road would confirm our bearings
and get us back on the trail. But like most of our adventures along
the trail, nothing is always easy.
we rode closer to the ranch-house, now within a couple of miles, we
were blocked by fence after fence and a very deep creek that curved
so much it seemed to follow us and always be in our path as we attempted
to reach the house. Still about two miles away from the house but
about two hours into trying different unsuccessful approaches, the
sun began to set. And as we came across the last fenced in part of
this rancher's land, we felt defeated — the gate was locked
and it was quickly getting dark. We learned in the earlier days of
our trip that when the sun goes down in farm-country, it becomes VERY
dark just moments after the sun goes down. With our safety in mind
we made the decision to abandon the bikes at the locked gate, hop
the fence and hike to the rancher's house and call the chase vehicle
to come to our rescue.
plan seemed easy enough but in the two-mile hike we encountered more
fences (many of them barbed), more deep creek crossings and lots of
mud which made the hike exhausting in stiff motorcycle boots. Our
two-mile hike took over an hour and we were all so focused on the
obstacles in front of us that kept slowing us down, we didn't notice
that there wasn't a single light on at the rancher's house. Hopping
the last fence before the driveway we approached the dark house and
realized their was no one living here. The front door was unlocked
and so we let ourselves in hoping to find a phone or at least an address
telling us where were are. There was no phone and no furniture. There
was no one living here.
didn't have a "Plan-B"
phone in the house, no working cell phones, the helmet communicators
were two-miles back on our bikes (not that they would do anything
for us anyway in a place this remote). So we decided to walk to the
end of the driveway in hopes that a passing car would offer us some
help. It's now around 10:00 PM and everything to the horizon is dark
— no houses, no street lights and no cars. With little else
to do, seemed our only option was to wait at the end of the driveway
and hope that a car would pass. If that didn't work, we decided we'd
sleep in the ranch-house and hope that the light of morning would
offer us some options.
hiking nearly a mile to the end of the driveway we waited for over
an hour without a single car passing. Approaching midnight our hopes
of any car coming to our rescue at this point seemed unrealistically
optimistic and ridiculous
were severely fatigued at this point from the struggles of the day's
events and from not having any food since we finished our last energy
bar over ten hours earlier
again defeated we began to hike back down the mile-long driveway and
try to get some sleep, but as if it was planned for our movie (and
I promise, it wasn't) headlights from an approaching vehicle in the
distance gave us a rush of adrenaline as we ran back to the road to
flag them down. The car saw us and was stopping... it was our chase
vehicle. As if lost at sea and this was our rescue boat, we greeted
Chris and Mathew as if we hadn't seen them in days (kind of seemed
like that's how long it had been). They explained that we were very
far from the trail and how they had a gut-feeling that they should
drive up this way to look for us. An amazing coincidence of timing
as there were other roads they could have tried and it was now past
midnight. An amazing coincidence. So, now back with the guys in the
chase vehicle and with Mathew's camera rolling we had to explain the
ridiculous sequence of events that we had just gone through.
in the solitude of your own motorcycle helmet while riding the trail
with nothing but natural scenery around you has a zen-like quality
that removes the troubles of the world and allows some peace of
mind to return"
the reunion we all piled into the chase vehicle and drove 45-minutes
to the nearest hotel in Winnemucca Nevada. Another late night, we
weren't asleep until after 2PM. The next morning after requesting
a late check-out, and having a big breakfast at a pancake house, we
talked about how were going to; A.) Find where we left the bikes last
night in the dark, and B.) How we were going to get the bikes past
the locked gate and creek crossings.
late morning we were back at the ranch-house and with a few attempts
we found a dirt road that would take us close to where the bikes were
left. We still had to hike over a mile back to the bikes and then
continue with our frustrating navigation of getting the bikes past
all the fences and deep creek crossings. We finally made it out, but
the ordeal took up nearly the entire day. And because it was so late
in the day when we finally got the bikes back on to a road, we decided
it would be best to ride back to Winnemucca and spend another night
rather than pushing on towards California.
another big breakfast at the same pancake house in Winnemucca we thought
it would make sense to put all three bikes on the trailer and hit
the highway to make up for a significant amount of lost time. We drove
all morning to Denio Junction Nevada where it seemed
it was the only stop for food or gas since we left Winnemucca. It's
very remote in these parts and so we had to be careful with stopping
when we can or miss an opportunity for food and fuel.
our lunch stop someone noticed the smell of gasoline coming from the
trailer — it was James' fuel tank that was leaking... again.
There's only so much "JB-Weld" a plastic tank can take before
giving out. Today, it gave out. The problem was not only a leak in
the plastic after-market tank but a break in one of the two metal
brackets that held the tank in place. At least the repair wasn't on
the trail but as remote as our location was, we had little additional
resources to properly repair the problem
did our best with the repair,
not without more lost time
couple of hours in the chase vehicle with the bikes still on the trailer,
we couldn't allow a full day to go by without riding the trail. So
a bit further west into Nevada we eventually took the bikes off the
trailer and rode the rest of the afternoon. The riding was great and
a welcome relief after being off the bikes for so long. Something
about being in the solitude of your own motorcycle helmet while riding
the trail with nothing but natural scenery around you has a zen-like
quality that removes the troubles of the world and allows some peace
of mind to return. The enjoyment of riding in Nevada continued for
the remainder of the day and into Fort Bidwell where
we contacted the chase vehicle and made arrangements to met up with
them in southern Oregon at the end of the day. So a quick pass through
the north eastern tip of California, and then into scenic Oregon,
we made it to Lake View where Chris and Mathew had booked us a motel.
morning in Lake View we did some much-needed bike maintenance on all
the bikes — oil changes and air filter cleanings were a must.
Two other issues we had to deal with was Steven's missing license
plate which fell off somewhere in Nevada, and James' newest fuel leak,
this time coming from the carburetor where the pet-cock was jammed
and leaking at an alarming rate. We remedied both problems as best
we could — we used James' old (and invalid) license plate from
his Honda and put it on Steven's Suzuki. Not at all legal, but wouldn't
attract as much attention as not having any plate at all. And for
the jammed carburetor, James rigged it so it would continue functioning
was after lunch before we were on the bikes and riding the trail.
It was a great day of riding in southern Oregon through miles and
miles of logging roads. Spectacular scenery and a very fun afternoon
even though over all we were behind schedule, it looks like by late
afternoon we would meet-up with the chase vehicle on time... until
James ran out of gas. The repair on the carburetor only held partially
and so before finishing a full day of riding, we found ourselves on
the side of the road waiting for the chase vehicle to come to our
rescue. The good news was that we were on a major road only about
five miles from the town were we would stay for the night. So after
a quick road-side refuel from the chase-vehicle we rode the remaining
five miles in the cold and in the dark to a restaurant across the
street from our motel where we had burgers and a few beers before
calling it a night.
was up early the next morning struggling with the carburetor issue
and in less than two hours felt confident that he corrected the stuck
fuel pet-cock. We took off towards the trail before noon on our second-to-last
day of riding the Trans-America Trail before reaching the Pacific
Ocean in Port Orford Oregon. It was another great day of riding in
beautiful and scenic Oregon. Crater Lake was our
next stop and a planned night of camping. Crater Lake is an amazing
place and even the best photograph couldn't do justice for how beautiful
the Lake is in real-life. A must-see location if you're ever in this
part of the country. A night of camping was a fun way to break the
routine of endless motel stays since starting this trip. This was
also a good chance for all the crew to kick-back and enjoy time by
the campfire and over a few beers and some "smores". And
although the chase-vehicle got to the campsite before us, they left
the truck and went for a hike to do some sight-seeing of their own
and allowed the riders to setup camp. The next morning, the riders
took off for the trail and left Chris and Mathew to break-down camp.
are now at day-35 of our adventure-documentary and the last day of
riding and filming the Trans-America Trail. When our front tires touch
the Pacific Ocean, we'll stop.
riding today was somewhat aggressive at times but no less scenic as
we rode through more of the Oregon logging roads. We also made plans
to hire a pilot in his small plane so that Mathew could film us from
above as we completed the trail and rode into the sunset and touched
the shoreline of the pacific. More disappointments on this day as
we had a frustrating and unsuccessful attempt to keep communication
with Mathew in the plane. Not only that but the small single engine
plane was bumpy and awkward for Mathew to get a decent shot. No matter,
he and the pilot couldn't spot us anyway as we rode the heavily canopied
trail. Best laid plans...
setback was far worse than the plane not filming us. About 30-miles
from the end of the Trans-Am Trail and as the sun was moving closer
to the horizon, we came across a section of the trail that was completely
impassible — blocked by a massive rock-slide as big as city
block. We had a 600-foot cliff above us, and an 800-foot drop below
us, with nothing more than boulders in between the size of pickup
trucks. All attempts to find a way around this massive rock-slide
proved useless. Back to our typical end-of-the-day, tired, hungry
and a bit frustrated, this day was especially frustrating because
we were almost at the end of the trail and just 30-miles away from
the sun setting and knowing it would be dark very soon, the only option
was to ride back in the direction of where we came from and look for
an alternate route to the end of the trail. Regretfully we turned
around and made it out but only after a 70-mile out of the way detour.
Not at all an ideal way to end our trip, but there was nothing else
we could have done. We met up with the chase-vehicle in Branford Oregon
around 9PM at a house we rented on the ocean
with an amazing view of the Pacific. A big comfortable house with
ocean views was to be our reward and celebration for all our hard
work on the documentary and also for completing the Trans-America
Trail. There was some relief to finishing the trail but because of
the rock-slide and the long detour it felt somewhat anti-climatic
didn't seem like an appropriate way of ending of our adventure
how many days we've been on the trail and all we had been through
to get us here. James was especially disappointed as he felt cheated
that we couldn't do the last few miles of the trail and come out at
the Pacific ocean as planned. All of us were feeling mellow, disappointed
and tired. A cold pizza that was purchased four hours earlier and
a six pack between the five of us was our "celebration"
at the beach house. Just before midnight we were all asleep.
next morning we were all up early but the feeling of disappointment
was still apparent to all. James was the most bothered by the rock-slide
and detour and was determined to finish the trail properly by whatever
means possible. He and brother Steven decided to find a way to get
back to the other side of the rock slide and then ride the last few
miles of the Trans-Am Trail until reaching the ocean. So after breakfast
they took off with a plan to met me and Chris and Mathew in the late
afternoon, hopefully at the Pacific Ocean in Port Orford. The guys
were out of communication all day but me and the chase-vehicle guys
drove to Port Orford to wait for the arrival of James and Steven.
hour after our planned meeting time, we assumed this was the typical
scenario of not knowing when they guys would come in. After two hours
of waiting we became concerned that we might loose daylight for the
filming of the guys riding in, and after three hours of waiting we
became concerned that something bad might have happened to the riders.
So we took the chase vehicle and drove the last dirt road where we
assumed the guys would be coming from. Luckily, the concern was short-lived
as they were spotted only a few miles up the first road we turned
onto. Everything was okay and so we followed them back to the Port
Orford beach and filmed as much as we could with the last remaining
bit of sunlight.
the ending of a blockbuster movie, we got some great footage of the
brothers riding down onto the beach as they did a bit of celebratory
"showing off" for the cameras riding in the waves and spinning
out in the sand (insert dramatic movie-ending music here). I can already
imagine slow-motion scenes in the documentary of the final Trans-America
Trail ride along the beach of Port Orford...
a proper ending to an amazing journey.
you liked my Ride-Report, please click "LIKE" to share with
hope you've enjoyed my Ride-Report describing our 5,000-mile Trans-Am
Trail adventure and the "behind-the-scenes" glimpse
of what it was like to document this adventure. I would have liked
to tell more but I didn't want to give away too many details before
our documentary is released. Mostly, I hope my Ride-Report encourages
all dual-sport riders to consider taking this amazing adventure.
It is truly an adventure of a lifetime.
for the Road Less Traveled documentary
what it takes to have your own adventure on the Trans-America Trail:
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this DVD you'll learn about an exciting off-road adventure that's
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to know to ride all or parts of the 5,000-mile Trans-America
Trail. Truly an adventure of lifetime.
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