My first adventure ride - the TAT

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by PittsDriver, Jul 4, 2015.

  1. PittsDriver

    PittsDriver Fuse lit.... Supporter

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    I bought a KLR, my first "adventure bike," over this winter and spent the spring prepping it for the Trans Am Trail. When I left on the ride in mid-June the way I felt about this bike was best characterized as cautiously skeptical - kind of like when you took that girl you just met to Cozumel for a week - it could be great, OK, or horrible but regardless it had an expiration date when it would be over. I felt that way about taking my KLR on the TAT. I never really warmed up to it because I felt it doesn't do anything well: it's heavy and low on power for an off-road bike, the brakes suck and the wind protection was designed by an idiot for street riding, and it needed a lot of attention to make it ready to go the distance on the TAT. I kind of half expected to ride it across the TAT and then take the tags off it and leave the key in it in the airport parking lot in Oregon when I flew home.

    Now having ridden it 3,600 miles from Annapolis MD to Moab I feel differently. This is going to sound like a Sheila talking but I can actually say exactly when it was when I felt like I was in a committed relationship with my KLR and it was when I had 2,000 miles of named storm soggy TAT behind me and it got me and my pile of luggage up to the top of Cinnamon Pass going up from the east (Lake City side) and down into Silverton. After days of trail, mountain passes, highway and twisty road I now know what the KLR does extremely well. It hauls me and my load anywhere I want to take it across just about anything I could possibly want to ride it over. It'll do hours at a stretch at 75 - 80 mph with a -1 tooth countershaft sprocket on it and knobby tires and then climb like a mountain goat over basketball sized rocks and slick mountain snowmelt at 12,000' on stock jetting. It'll cover a quarter mile of water up over the wheels and commute around town like a scooter. It's the most versatile, simple, unexciting swiss army knife of a bike you could ever want and the exciting part is how reliably and cheaply it'll fill your memories with phenomenal experiences if you take the road less traveled on it.

    And thus begins the solo first leg of my journey out of Annapolis to hook onto the TAT tracks in Northern Virginia. I had spent the entire winter prepping the bike and had taken a trial run in May out into the George Washington NF sorting everything out and the day had finally come to launch out of my garage to meet up with 3 other riding buds from Atlanta in Murphy NC.

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    My friends sometimes call me "The Rainman." We take a trip every year and every time they ride with me it rains - and not just a little bit. Right on schedule as I have the bike loaded and ready to depart, this is what visited me:

    (click on the image for video)
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    On the Sunday evening that I left, it rained on me like that from home all the way to Strasburg where I was spending my first night of the journey. My plan was to get the DC traffic behind me and hook on to the TAT in NoVA first thing Monday morning.
    #1
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  2. PittsDriver

    PittsDriver Fuse lit.... Supporter

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    I bought the full package from Sam for the TAT including all his GPS tracks, maps, and roll charts/holder. Sam's version of the TAT now starts in Andrews NC, about 81 miles of trail east of Tellico Plains. Given that I have a friend that lives in Murphy with tire changing equipment in his garage, that seemed like a great place to meet my other three buds from the Atlanta area to get the bikes all re-shod with knobbies. My first phase would be solo from Northern Virginia down to Western NC so first thing Monday morning, I rode out into the George Washington forest onto the blue line on my GPS:

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    This ride through Virginia and West Virginia was a great soft entry to the TAT - pretty easy gravel roads, nice rolling ride across the top of the ridges with great views, and easy access out to places for gas and food:

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    I get out into West Virginia several times a year on my sport bike so while I spent most of the day in the woods, I meandered on and off of the route in the afternoon to go on a twisty safari in some parts of the state that I don't frequently visit. I ended up on the infamous Rt 16, Back of the Dragon from Tazwell VA down to Hungry Mother State Park. The camping at the park was packed so I passed on it and rambled off down the road a ways to find a cheap hotel for my second night on the road.

    My plan for the next day was to get up on the top of the Blue Ridge and ride those roads down into the Asheville area before diverting off to my friend's place in Murphy.
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  3. Idahohigh

    Idahohigh Been here awhile Supporter

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    I'm in on this adventure from my kitchen table
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  4. dlg

    dlg n00b

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    I'm in


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  5. PittsDriver

    PittsDriver Fuse lit.... Supporter

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    The rest of my quartet met me in Murphy where we spooned on a D606 on the back of all the bikes and I was the only one to put an MT-21 on the front. Riding loose gravel and soft sand on the stock Dunlop KLR tires was like riding on marbles so it was a no brainer for me. The rest of the guys wanted to try it with the OEM front - a decision I think they all questioned by the time we got through Tennessee and they were in full on regret by the time we passed through the Mississippi mud left by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ben the day before and during our passage through there. There's a cheap hotel 200 yards from the reset mile zero on the TAT and that's where we stayed the first night:

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    We posted the above photo as "the last known image of the boys," turned on the Delorme tracker and hit the trail at 6:45a the next morning.
    #5
  6. PittsDriver

    PittsDriver Fuse lit.... Supporter

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    The newly added route out of Andrews is quite good in that it rises quickly from town up to get nearly on top of the ridge before heading west. At one point, we popped out briefly onto the Cherohala Skyway:

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    before plunging back into the woods along the top of the hills going toward Tellico Plains. After Tellico, we came to our first couple of easy water crossings:

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    Now I should probably stop here and give a little context on the guys on the trip. Of the four of us, myself and one other grew up on dirt bikes and neither of us had owned one in over 35 years. One guy still had a dirt bike for roaming around his lake property and the fourth guy had little off-road experience. For the last two summers, I've been renting KTMs, KLRs, and DRZs from a guy on Maui and that constituted the most extensive recent experience in the group - nothing to brag about. None of us had ever done any kind of adventure riding on heavy bikes and we were now half way into our first day of the adventure on fully ladened KLRs. So the first couple of stupidly simple water crossings were actually a bit exciting. I led by virtue of being the GPS tracks guy and the other three followed. When we came to the first couple of streams, I'd stop and take a peek and then just pin it and romp through it followed by the gang. Yeah buddy, we're real adventure riders now!

    Then we came to this slightly more interesting bit of stream to cross with some gnarly looking rocks sticking up out of the water. I picked a line away from those rocks and gassed it:



    Never let it be said that I'm shy about putting my foolishness out there for entertainment value. It was a kind of "fools rush in" moment where if I'd just taken it a little slower I would have been able to climb over the big ass rock in the bottom of the stream that put me down on my back. Of course, the rest of the guys learned from my mistake and easily crossed it going wide and slower.
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  7. juno

    juno Long timer

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    Nice start to the RR! A nice style. I am looking forward to the rest!
    #7
  8. Headtunes

    Headtunes Too Many Hobbies

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    I'm in, thinking about TAT for 2016. Fishing for mates.
    #8
  9. CharlestonADV

    CharlestonADV I do my own stunts. Supporter

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    Looking forward to your story.:lurk
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  10. Kawi-Mike

    Kawi-Mike Been here awhile

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    Alright, I'm in on this. Looks like it is going to be a fun one!!!! Hope to see lots of epic pictures!
    #10
  11. bbanker

    bbanker Been here awhile Supporter

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    In for a penny, in for a pound


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    #11
  12. Tobes2102

    Tobes2102 Been here awhile

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    Dude I have been across that rock crossing on Witt rd a 100 times no issues. Then the one time I bring a buddy I fall. But I fell into the deep on the left. My helmet was literally filled. :D
    #12
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  13. freeway crash

    freeway crash Been here awhile Supporter

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    Abrupt stop in water=bad. Fun to watch. Looking forward to the rest
    #13
  14. PittsDriver

    PittsDriver Fuse lit.... Supporter

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    Before we stopped at Tims Ford State Park to camp for the night we had one more off where we had to repair a busted face shield that resulted from a longish slide on a gravel road on his face and a slightly busted KLR. Nothing a hack saw job with a good quality Leatherman tool couldn't handle and a few zip ties later our TAT show was back on the road with one rider sporting a large black and blue nose from where the face shield got him.

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    Here's the one of the other guys handling that crossing a bit better than me (click to play):

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    And here's a rather benign but slightly longer crossing the next day when we took one of gpsKevin's red tracks (click to play):

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    Little did we know that we had some much more substantial water waiting for us in Mississippi. We passed through the outer bands of Tropical Storm Ben there and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that anytime you're riding through a named storm in Mississippi mud that it's going to be interesting.
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  15. PittsDriver

    PittsDriver Fuse lit.... Supporter

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    This is the note on the Mississippi map from Sam:

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    We were a bit worried watching the news of cars floating down Main St in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas from Ben and and interesting mind set formed in us. I think we all started this ride with a bit of anxiety, some more than others, but we'd made it through the first two days doing about 280 miles a day before we hit Mississippi. We'd done some of what we considered some serious miles in several periods of hard rain to slopping around in the mud and hadn't managed to lose the track or any riders yet so I think we were all starting to think we can do this when we came to a sign that said "ROAD CLOSED - Your GPS is WRONG! Turn around!" They certainly weren't referring to properly equipped and seasoned adventure riders so we pressed on passed it and came to a construction site with a very small stream flowing through it. Certainly not passable in a car but easy for just about any kind of bike (click on image for movie):

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    Not too much farther down the TAT we came to this area of Mississippi:

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    And then came to a small bridge over a river where the road turned to parallel the river. The river had swollen completely over the road so I parked my bike and walked the couple of hundred yards of submerged road. It never got more than about mid-thigh deep so I went back to the bike and rode it through. No video of that but wait - another few hundred feet around the bend in the road we came to another flooded area. I walked that for a couple of hundred yards until the water got up to my arm pits and decided it was likely I was awash in flesh eating bacteria and there was no way a KLR without a long snorkel was getting through it. So we turned around and rode back through the mess we'd just passed through:

    https://youtu.be/RJmBFjp1j7U

    It's a little hard to tell how deep it is in the video but it completely covered the wheels on the bike and we cleaned mud out of our air box when we cleaned the air filters later. I was personally worried that if any of us dropped a bike in that mess that it might be a serious delay in the trip - it would have been completely submerged and when set back on it's wheels would have been nearly impossible to push out of that deep slick Mississippi mud under a couple of feet of water. No drops and we back tracked around it to re-join the TAT a few miles farther away on some higher ground.
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  16. PittsDriver

    PittsDriver Fuse lit.... Supporter

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    We had two more notable moments before concluding our ride in Mississippi. We had another nasty off where I was hustling pretty fast up a gravely hill and when I crested the hill it was all deeply rutted and deep ditches on the outside of the turn. I don't know how I made it through without dropping it - probably because I was haulin' ass and flew over part of it but when I looked in my rear view mirror I saw my bud going down hard high side into the ditch with a KLR on top of him. It took us a minute to get our bikes stopped in a place they'd sit on the side stand and we went back and got the bike off of him. No harm to the bike but he was in some serious pain in the side of his back. We all went "hmmm, probably some cracked ribs but you're not coughing up blood so here's some Advil." He was acting tough but we could all tell he was hurting.

    The second was less painful. We were riding along this easy road that went over a few creeks on bridges. Every time we went over one of us would remark on the intercom "We could have ridden through that..." as a joke more than anything. then we came to this little bridge over a tiny little stream that had what looked like a easy road down to the creek and back up the other side to the road again. I stopped and asked my buddies if we were going to leave this challenge untested. Mr. Hurting Ribs and Mr. Busted Nose looked at me like I'd just asked to date their daughters and just shook their heads. Since I was the only one to drop a bike in the water, I had some honor to restore. So I turned around and rode back and down to the creek to a bit steeper entry than it looked like from the road. I sat there a few seconds looking at this little piss-ant stream that I could now see was filled with large sharp edged rocks, all of them covered in algae, and started calculating the amount of chit I was going to get for turning around - if I could even get the bike turned around. You know that moment we you realize that your ego is going to win - this was that moment so I eased into the stream. However, having learned my "fools rush in" lesson a few days prior, I worked it slowly and though you probably can't quite tell it fully in the video, my back tire was spinning and planting a foot was all the challenge I needed:



    Nothing more exciting happened in Mississippi other than riding back from dinner in the rain in my flip flops and no gear and we were soon plodding through eastern Arkansas gravel roads on our way to the Ozarks.
    #16
  17. PittsDriver

    PittsDriver Fuse lit.... Supporter

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    Here's the obligatory stop in Arkansas where we signed the book and notice that there was a couple of guys from the UK on KTM 690s a couple of days ahead of us. We never saw them but heard from a rancher near the Colorado/New Mexico about them a few days later.

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    And this is pretty much what all of eastern Arkansas looks like:

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    Since it was a Sunday and since we'd been talking all morning on the ride about deeply theological matters related to the impending Supreme Court decision, we decided to stop in this church's shade for a granola bar and some water:

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    And half a day later we found ourselves finally winding our way up into the foothills of the mighty Ozarks:

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    We camped at Bayou Bluff in the Ozarks and had the place to ourselves. I passed out in my tent listening to this raging river tumble down over the rocks. We were now doing more than 300 miles a day and felt like we were getting into a TAT groove. The next morning we made it in to the Oark Diner for breakfast where the surly waitress nearly threw us out for sassin' her. We ended up winning her over enough to get a photo with us:

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    Dang, if this place had been in North Georgia on the Chatuga River we would have been looking for the banjo player:

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    The whole gang was out on the front porch in what looked like their usual spots having their usual conversation. But you know what - they looked about as happy and content as anyone we met on our journey and I took it as a moment to be mindful that happiness comes in all shapes and sizes and tried to soak it in. In fact, it was about this time that I had finally hit that sweet spot in a long trip when you can't remember what you would have been doing at home and there was nothing on my mind but seeing America from the back of a KLR.
    #17
  18. ZeWhiteRabbit

    ZeWhiteRabbit Kansas Dualsporter

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    Excellent ride report! Subscribed for more. :lurk
    #18
  19. TwoTiredRiders

    TwoTiredRiders Been here awhile

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    Good job there Rainman, getting that far with so many. Its tough getting a group of guys to commit to an epic ride, yourself included. Congrats.
    I see though that you let the cat out of the bag in the original post: You lived and your bike survived. :clap
    Some of these guys have 8 pages before the trip even starts. (You know who you are). And they wouldn't tell you if they made it to the next day to save their lives. :rofl
    I like them all. Keep the RR's coming in full suspense or total disclosure. Either way I'm subscribed and happy for you guys!
    #19
  20. bigdon

    bigdon Long timer

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