Riding the Trans-Am Trail

michael-murray-films-the-trans-am-trailFilming the Trans-Am Trail
By Michael Murray
(Cameraman for the Road Less Traveled motorcycle documentary)

 

 

 

I suppose 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…

My name is Michael Murray of Motorrad Media and I rode the Trans-America Trail with the crew of Unseen Voices Productions to film two brothers 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.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Jellico Tennessee

Trans-Am Trail – Jellico Tennessee

 

 My 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).

I hope my Ride-Report encourages all dual-sport riders to consider taking this amazing adventure. It is truly an adventure of a lifetime.

 

featured-trans-am-trail

Trans-Am Trail – one of many water crossings

 

We begin our ride in  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.

After 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.

 

As 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.

 

We had been warned about this one but approaching the shallow water, it looked harmless.

 

We 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.

Along 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.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Slippery Crossing in Tennessee

Trans-Am Trail – Slippery Crossing in Tennessee

 

Mississippi 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 sand.

 

Sam Correro, creator of the Trans-Am Trail
[click to play video]
(video footage courtesy of Unseen Voices Production)

 



After 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.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Tennessee (bridge out)

Trans-Am Trail – Tennessee (one of several bridges that were not passable)

 

The 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. On 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 — this part of 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 and hospitality.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Oklahoma

Trans-Am Trail – Oklahoma

 

We 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 (living in 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.  

 

Trans-Am Trail - New Mexico

Trans-Am Trail – New Mexico

 

Our 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… “Lightning Strikes Motorcyclist” (video footage courtesy of Unseen Voices Production)   Now 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.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Moab Utah

Trans-Am Trail – Moab Utah

 

Moab 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.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Arches National Park - Utah

Trail – Arches National Park – Utah

 

After 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 who rode down from Grand Junction Colorado to show us some great riding trails in and around Moab. Early 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 west.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Moab Utah

Trans-Am Trail – Moab Utah

 

After 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 who rode down from Grand Junction Colorado to show us some great riding trails in and around Moab. Early 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 west.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Nevada

Trans-Am Trail – Nevada

 

The 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.

Waking at noon gave us six hours of sleep and we woke up hungry and ready for lunch. Because the two brother’s bikes were still up on the trailer from the night before and because we were trying to make up some time, I rode my motorcycle while everyone else piled into the chase vehicle. We 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.

 

We were miles from any town or buildings of any kind

 

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 — it took us about 2-hours in the pitch dark navigating through ranchers property and through too many closed cattle gates. It 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”.

 

Although 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, we were not “lost”, because our GPS shows us exactly where we are… the trail is lost. Semantics. With 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”?).

We 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.

 

Like most of our adventures along the trail, nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy

 

As 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. The 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.

 

Plan-B?… We didn’t have a “Plan-B”.

 

No 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. After 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.

 


 

We 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. Feeling 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 chase vehicle team 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.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Nevada

Trans-Am Trail – Nevada

 

After 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 2AM. 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. By 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.

 

“…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” ~Michael Murray

 

After 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. During our lunch stop one of our camera crew 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.

 

We did our best with the repair, but not without more lost time.

 

Another 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.

 

…oil changes and air filter cleanings were a must

 

The 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. 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.

It 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 of riding. And 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. James 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 “s’mores”. 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. We are now at day-35 of our adventure-documentary and the last day of riding and filming the Trans-America Trail.

 

When the front tires of our motorcycles touch the Pacific Ocean… that’s when we’ll stop.

 

The 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. Another 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.

 

Not an ideal way to end our trip, but there seemed to be nothing else we could have done…

 

All attempts to find a way around this massive rock-slide proved useless. Back to our typical end-of-the-day, tired, hungry and frustrated, this day was especially FRUSTRATING because we were almost at the end of the trail and just 30-miles away from the ocean. With 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. Ugh.

 

Trans-Am Trail - Oregon

Trans-Am Trail – Oregon

 

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 we encountered and the long detour around it, it felt somewhat anti-climatic. It didn’t seem like an appropriate way of ending of our trip considering 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 The 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. An hour after our planned meeting time, we assumed this was the typical scenario of not knowing when the riders 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.

Like 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 (que the dramatic movie-ending music).

I can already imagine slow-motion scenes in the documentary of the final Trans-America Trail ride along the beach of Port Orford.

Fade to black.

Roll credits.

Finally, a proper ending to an amazing journey.  

 

 

I 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. ~Michael Murray

michael-murray-films-the-trans-am-trailMichael Murray Owner, Motorrad Media   Leave me a note: