Joe Gresh vs. the Trans-America Trail, the Sequel | Twenty-Seven Days

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Robert Williams, Vance Hunter, Joe Gresh

The tach needle on The Widowmaker, my Kawasaki KLR250, wavers between 7000 and 8000 rpm. Oklahoma rain lashes down. Loaded with camping gear, tools and life’s little necessities for a month on the road, the little 250’s steering head feels like it has been relocated to a spot directly beneath the saddle. I’m running non-DOT full knobbies, adding to the squeamish pavement manners.

We’re doing a mile a minute heading due west and Vance, riding a Honda XR650L, calls this trip Unfinished Business. He would: He pulled a trip-ending, collarbone-snapping header last time we tried it. Now we’re retracing our steps on the Trans-America Trail, trying to get it right. This ain’t my dream, buddy. My job on this ride is Enabler-in-Chief.

The internet-sourced, six-man, two-stroke mob we assembled for our three previous assaults on the Trans-America Trail has swirled back into the vast data servers from whence it came. Only the two of us remain, and our sole objective on Mission #4 is to get Vance’s vintage Yamaha DT400 from Broken Collarbone, Nevada, to Port Orford, Oregon, on the Pacific Coast.

You think the TAT is a game? Grim determination trumps fun when you’re rattling together thousands of miles of trail. Vance’s new Toyota FJ and custom-built Yamahauler were purchased just for this ride. Retired Master Sergeant Robert Williams has gone on ahead with the FJ and two more motorcycles. That’ll be three guys, four motorcycles and a massive pile of spares. After succeeding at failure, we don’t play with the TAT.

All roads lead uphill on the mid-’80s-designed KLR250. Heading into New Mexico’s winds I’m maintaining 55 mph, but need to drop into a racer’s tuck and fifth gear to do it. I’ve got the throttle pinned and Vance, on his 650, is far, far away. Sitting up costs 10 mph—a luxury I can’t afford—so I stay hunkered down, chin on the gas cap, knees clamped, elbows in. I ride this way for three days, 10 hours a day.

Oklahoma and New Mexico are verbally abusive to The Widowmaker, but Colorado gets physical. As the air thins, the KLR’s tach reading slowly drops into a torque-free zone between 5000 and 6000 rpm. With the KLR climbing the passes at less than 30 mph in second gear, Vance has lots of time to check out roadside attractions. Look, there he is now: parked, helmet off, reading one of those bronze massacre placards. Maybe he should take up smoking…

In Baker, Nevada, we rendezvous with chase-truck driver Robert, who unloads Vance’s 1975 two-stroke and straps the back-up Honda onto the trailer alongside the bippity-bap, back-up Yamaha WR250. Dragging along three bikes, you would think Vance’s odds of completing the TAT have tripled. You’d be wrong: He still has only two collarbones.

Leaving Baker, the TAT crosses the Great Basin National Park via hundreds of miles of sand, choking talcum powder and ruts. The bikes are running perfectly, the weather is beautiful and Vance’s dream deferred is becoming a reality.

We make Eureka, Nevada, by nightfall to find several other roving bands of TAT riders have decided to stop at the same motel. The guys are fawning all over Vance’s DT400, impressed that the bike runs at all.

Midway through the next day, the DT slows and starts misfiring. Vance checks the sparkplug, pulls the carburetor and pokes around inside, then fiddles with various electrical connectors. A sense of dread: not again. After four years of trying, I’m so over Sam Correro’s diabolical cross-country route that I’ll push that damn two-stroke to Oregon if I have to! The bike sputters to life; another 20 miles and we stop again. Check the carb, check the plug, dump the fuel, pour in fresh gas from our extra cans. Riding again; 30 miles later the DT tightens up, then seizes.

Some dreams die hard: “Fifty-thousand f*cking dollars I’ve spent on this f*cking TAT! Four years of trial, f*cking chase-truck drivers, f*cking chase trucks, trailers, tires, spares—all to ride this damned two-stroke cross-country!”

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Nice write-up Joe. You're a better man than I....on a 250 no less! Thanks for sharing a trip I will never EVER take myself. Ever. LOL
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