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The US East Coast Ride : Explore , Dream & Discover

We all go through our daily grind trying to find equilibrium between college, work, bills, relationships, family, etc. But if you’re anything like me, it all gets old and you desperately need to escape the daily hustle. In 2007, I had packed my bags and left Nepal in pursuit of a college degree in USA. Over the years, I constantly missed riding through the scenic windy roads back home and attaining that ‘Zen’ state of mind, which I always gracefully found in touring on a motorcycle.

So one fine morning, I decided to get myself a motorcycle and head out on my biggest adventure yet. I was planning to move from Ohio to New York to be reunited with my fiancée, and there didn’t seem to be a better route for my first ever motorcycle tour in USA. On a tight budget, I managed to acquire a 1994 Honda XR650L (hereafter called ‘Infidel’) for a mere $1800. After a month of planning, I ended up with a tour map that plotted nearly 3200km through 10 beautiful U.S States. Thinking about the deep valleys, mountains, muddy trails and interstate highways that I would be riding across, I felt like a carefree child again.

DAY 1: OHIO TO KENTUCKY

After a long night of a farewell party with close friends, I woke up to a pretty late start at 9am in the morning. As the Infidel warmed up to take me on this epic adventure, I loaded it up, stacking one item over the other. All my possessions were sold for a fresh start in New York and everything I owned was now strapped on to the back of this sturdy Japanese off roader. I began my journey south of Columbus, Ohio towards Mammoth Caves National Forest in Kentucky. This was a mere 500km journey, but I had a personal rule for this tour; I would not take any highways unless absolutely necessary. Sure the American highways are designed to take you from point A to B in the fastest and most convenient way possible, but this tour was all about creating a memorable adventure and recalling the Nepal like countryside vistas.

 

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So I took a detour through the Hocking Hills State Forest, which in my opinion has the most amazing scenic routes accompanied by some pretty amazing tourist sites in Ohio. After riding for nearly an hour, I revisited Ash Cave and spent some time under the massive Cedar Falls. I then navigated the windy roads and soon crossed the border into Kentucky. With vacant homes, motels and abandoned swimming pools through the small towns, it looked like sets out of a Zombie Apocalypse movie. As the dark clouds started rolling in at a distance, I stopped for a fuel top up. Looking at my loaded bike, a large gentleman approached me and asked me in his thick southern accent, “Where ya headed boy?” I jokingly responded, “Wherever the roads take me”, and with a smirk on his face he called me ‘a crazy son of a Kangaroo’. Unsure of what that really meant, I took it as a compliment and rode on. Almost an hour away from my camp site, I was greeted by the dark clouds and had the opportunity to try out my new rain gear before arriving at the Mammoth Cave National Park. I pitched my one man tent, got a warm fire going and had a filling dinner with the few people at the camping ground before calling it a night.

DAY 2 & 3: MAMMOTH CAVES, KENTUCKY

Thanks to the storm last night, the forest looked lush green and everything I owned was now wet. I quickly had a cloth-drying line set up and hung my clothes out in the traditional Nepali style. After a quick chat with the forest ranger regarding the park, I then set out to scan the forest area. A short ride from the campgrounds led me to the Green River Ferry; one of the very few ferries that are still in operation today in the U.S. The ferry could carry 3 cars at a time and honestly it was quite fascinating to hitch a ride across the river on it. In the 50km off road ride through the forest I came across abandoned cemeteries, and witnessed a couple of deers, skunks, rabbits, etc in their natural habitat. Later in the day, I took part in the historical tour of one of the main caves at the centre of the forest. It was truly impressive to see how much the government and locals had done to preserve this historical site related to the famous American Civil War of 1861. While walking through the cave, I couldn’t help but think about the various historic sites back in Nepal that have been left neglected by the government. I then returned back to camp and spent the night taking swigs from a bottle of fine bourbon whiskey that had been bought from the original Jack Daniels Distillery nearby.

 

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The next day I woke up to loud thunders and heavy rainfall. I was hoping to continue on my trip but Mother Nature had other plans for me. Due to the heavy winds, Infidel had tipped over and with the rain cover blown off into the wilderness all my belongings strapped to the bike was wet again. For the second day in a row I attempted to dry off everything and had to extend my stay at the park. I spent the day grabbing new maps from the local store and performing minor repairs on the weather-beaten motorcycle.

DAY 4: KENTUCKY TO TENNESSEE

Back in college, whenever I described Nepal to my American friends, they would always tell me that I had to visit The Great Smoky Mountains. So I made my way 400km south towards the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. The sun was up and though it was scorching hot the entire day, cruising at 60mph on the empty back roads provided some amount of relief from the Terai like southern heat. Unlike the dogs and cows in Nepal, my path had foxes, snakes and turtles keeping my reflexes on high alert. Although the Infidel had a poorly designed seat which forced me to stop every 100km, it gave me the opportunity to scan the map for nearby landmarks that would be of interest to me. During one of these stops I discovered Lake Cumberland. It was a decision well made, as the lake turned out to be almost similar to the Phewa Lake back in Pokhara. After lunch by the lake, I rode through some pretty rough roads before arriving at my camping ground in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

 

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In between setting camp and getting a fire going, I walked over to the Rangers office and grabbed a park map to plan for the next few days I had intended to spend there. Before crashing for the night, I looked over at the nearby trail head and surprisingly a small Black Bear calmly sat there looking down at the campsites. For the first time in my life I was in bear country!

DAY 5 & 6: THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

Having seen a bear so close to my site, I was up most of the night with my hand firmly holding on to the trusty 12-inch Khukuri anchored to my belt. I sure didn’t want to end up as a bear snack and jumped out of my tent as soon as the sun came up. After a quick breakfast, I got back on the motorcycle and headed out to explore the surrounding areas. There was a dirt road going through the valley of Cades Cove and that is exactly what I was expecting. Fortunately I didn’t have any encounters with the big black bears and after exploring the area, I headed back to the campsite. The Great Smoky Mountain Area pretty much lived up to my expectations with its lush mountain landscapes similar to Nepal. I then had a quick dinner by the fireside and retreated back into my nylon tent for the night, holding on to the mighty Khukuri.

 

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The next morning I was a little too excited. I was finally going to ride the world famous Deals Gap Road, popularly known as ‘Tail of the Dragon’ to motoring enthusiasts. Many riding/ driving enthusiasts from all around the world come to test their skills on this 18km stretch of windy road which boasts 318 skill testing curves. So I set out to tame the dragon for the first time. I came across plenty of sports bike riders who were pushing the limits and along with them I found myself enthusiastically going at 70mph in the posted 30mph zone. It was indeed the biggest rush of adrenalin I had felt in a very long time. After the end of the road, I stopped for a quick bite at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. I then rode the Infidel through the Tail of the Dragon yet again as it was the only road heading back towards my campground. With a big grin on my face, I safely reached back to my tent and called it a night, looking at my genuinely earned ‘I Survived the Dragon’ badge.

 

DAY 7: BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY

 

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After a quick breakfast with the campsite neighbours, I continued on my ride towards the Blue Ridge Parkway. In order to get there I had to ride through the Deals Gap Road again and thundered ahead happily. I then entered the Blue Ridge Parkway which is a 755km stretch of scenic road that rides the back of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The roads lead up towards the high peaks and showed no signs of dipping back at any point. Around every corner was a soul pleasing view of the mountain ranges in the region, giving away spectacular views. Immediately, I truly understood why many bikers had asked me to ride the Parkway. As I continued on my ascent north towards New York, the storms rolled in one more time. Due to the harsh winds and painfully cold rain, I had to stop and seek shelter in a hotel for the night.

DAY 8: NEW YORK

After spending nearly a week in a compact tent out in the wild, it was beyond magnificent to finally have the luxury of a soft warm bed and hot shower. The storms showed no signs of slowing down and I still had almost 800km between me and New York. Over the days I had experienced a good deal of adventure, and I was quite sad to learn that the tour was now coming to an end. Playing it safe, I decided to use the highways for the first time during the tour. The rain furiously kept lashing down on me and I had to stop every hour to drain water out of my boots. After countless stops and a punishing ride in near zero visibility weather, I finally arrived safely at the doorsteps of my new home, like a wet mouse.

 

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Overall, the entire tour was a blast. Though the last leg of the tour was a disappointment, it turned out to the biggest and most exciting adventure of my life yet. I hope my story inspires all of you to escape from the usual humdrum and take upon your own adventure at some point in life. Let me end in the words of the great Mark Twain – “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”.

 

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