10 Great Getaways

Check out these places to visit on your bike in this month's issue of Motorcycle Escape!

We are so rich. So lucky. America is a truly amazing country and we, as heirs to her bounty, have full privileges. The Grand Canyon? It's yours. Half Dome? It's mine. The roads to take us there? Just waiting. Here are 10 of our favorite rides. We collect these destinations much like children gather seashells or marbles. Some were found by instinct, others were gifts from readers who wrote in to let us know where to sniff for roses during our frequent wanderings around the country. The smell of a good ride is, of course, a blend of rain on hot asphalt and gas-station coffee. The sound is throttle and humming tires.

Can you hear it calling?

1- California

Mendocino Coast

The most popular portion of California's celebrated Pacific Coast Highway 1 is the southern segment between Monterey and San Luis Obispo. It is not the most panoramic portion, nor is it the most indulgent. It is, however, the most unbearably crowded scenic road in California. A more unspoiled Pacific Coast Highway lies quietly above San Francisco.

Just four miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza, Highway 1 escapes the diligence of U.S. 101 and snakes its way toward the white sands of Stinson Beach. Much of this initial section between Stinson and Bodega Bay squiggles inland from the crashing surf over rolling, grassy hills freckled with towering eucalyptus stands. Pulsating coastal winds caress tall grasses, making them undulate like a golden extension of the sea. Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds in 1963, is a large coastal town by Northern California standards. You'll find all the amenities here along with a lot of smoked salmon and saltwater taffy. From Jenner to Gualala (pronounced "Wah-lal-ah") you get your first taste of real isolation. The grassy headlands erupt with dense growths of wind-sculpted Bishop pine, and you'll ride for many miles in solitude. There are occasional cattle ranches, many dating back to the 1800s, and the infrequent 20th-century home secreted away on a bluff. It's impossible not to wonder who lives in these decadent structures so far away from the struggling masses.

The resplendent, remote areas of this coast offer many vertigo-inducing views of the steep, craggy shoreline and the unrelenting ocean that shapes it. There are pristine pocket beaches skirting the cliffs and caves at low tide. This road has many hazards, one of the most imposing being tourists vying for the best overlook. Occasionally, travelers will stop in the middle of the road--for good reason, however. Don't mistake the cattle grates for speed bumps--there really will be heifers on the highway. Also take serious note of the signs warning of irregular road surfaces or slide areas. This winding path is never predictable, and the road surface is, at best, threadbare.

Connecting the vast portions of untamed backcountry are tiny towns and villages. Almost all offer fuel, food and lodging. Joyfully, there are no Burger Kings or Best Westerns. Each establishment--from bed and breakfast to beach bungalow--is personalized by private ownership.Gualala and Point Arena are two of the more prominent stopping places between Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg, while smaller digs like Elk and Albion offer micro-samples of coastal society. The coast here was populated more profusely in ancient times. In the still-existing town of Caspar, archeologists have found evidence that humans thrived on these shores more than 11,000 years ago. These people evolved into the Pomo tribes of Native Americans, and many of their ancestors remain. The Spanish named the Mendocino area as they sailed past the unapproachable shores in 1587, but Russians were the first non-natives to settle the region. Russian architecture remains blended into the essence of many older settlements.

If you have more than one day to ride I guarantee you'll enjoy a stopover in Mendocino, "the Jewel of the North Coast." The sea surrounds Mendocino on three sides and the fourth is walled with dense pines. If you don't see it from a distance you could ride by without even realizing what treasure lies near. The town was all but abandoned in the 1930s after its prominent saw mill closed. Mendocino's rebirth didn't begin until the '60s when it was reincarnated as an artist's haven.

There are many overnight facilities scattered along the coastline within easy distance of Mendocino proper. You can stay as a guest in a farmhouse or be a recluse in your own remote, solar-powered cabin. The choices are extensive, but in the peak summer months the place is booked up, down and sideways. On summer weekends it's nearly impossible to drop in for a night, but midweek allows for more spontaneity. Some people prefer to explore the North Coast during winter when the swirling fog and empty roads make the journey slightly surreal.

California's Highway 1 continues north for another 55 breathtaking miles, lancing historic Caspar, Fort Bragg and Westport. If you're hungry to ride among the redwoods, try the loop made by taking Highway 20 east, U.S. 101 south, Highway 253 west, then Highway 128 west back to Highway 1 north.

Don't Miss:
Truffles at Mendocino Chocolate Company on Landsing and a walk in the redwoods that line Highway 20.

**Season: **
Summer is peak, so you'll need reservations. Fall and winter are our favorite times, and accommodations are easier to come by.

Road Notes:
Watch for cattle on the road. They are almost as dangerous as sightseers.

More Info:
We found the Web site www.mendocinocoast.com to be helpful, and our favorite book is Hidden Coast of California by Ray Riegert at www.amazon.com.

2- Washington

Cascade Loop

Washington state is one of the world's wallflowers--a hushed beauty held fast in a remote corner. The state's engaging charms, voluptuous mountains and provocative coastline are regularly cloaked in thick, unflattering gray, inviting further ignorance. Washington state is a princess wearing wool.

Extending from Northern California to Canada, the Cascade Range is the continent's sleeping dragon. It has a belly full of fire, but it hasn't taken a breath since Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. The Cascades are a fragment of the infamous Ring of Fire that also torments Japan and the Hawaiian Islands.

We began our loop on U.S. Highway 2 east from Everett, a contemporary and colorful fishing village scattered about the shore of the beautiful Puget Sound. In the western shadow of the looming Cascades we discovered Snohomish and Monroe, towns born to lumber and farming in the 18th century and later adopted by America's premier foster parents--nostalgia and tourism. You can follow the trail of antique shops until you ascend skyward and all that's left to connect are those glorious green dots on a map.

We crested Stevens Pass midmorning and took a deep breath of cold, cedar-scented air. The world we left at the coast seemed denser, more lush and humid. We swirled down the eastern slope on U.S. Highway 2 in locked step with the swift Wenatchee River.

Leavenworth was a bit of a surprise. I mean, you just don't expect a Bavarian village to suddenly materialize out of the North American wilderness. But strudel is strudel, and certainly the indigenous apples are handy. The German fantasy works great as a buoy for towns such as Leavenworth that were sunk by the Great Depression. Ironically, this is the fourth American schnitzel haven I've stumbled into this year, but Leavenworth was by far the best. After all, those 8000-foot snowcapped props do go with the get-up.

A few tarts later we jumped back on U.S. Highway 2 and completed our first descent of the day. The landscape tumbled and then began to roll in gentle arcs, seemingly in deference to the thousands of apple trees feeding from its rich soil. By the time we reached the Wenatchee Confluence and turned north on Alternate U.S. 97, we felt a little parched by this new, more arid atmosphere. And flanking the wide, ponderous Columbia River felt distinctly dull after such an invigorating morning.

Midway up this straight, flat section of the loop is the Rocky Reach Dam. This is a nice, shady place to take a nap, or--if you're not sleeping off a sugar high--you can be wowed by the visitor's center and its underwater viewing windows that offer a fish-eye view of the salmon swimming upstream. Outside, the fish ladders are also a fascinating way to watch the spawning madness. After another 17 miles north on Alternate U.S. 97 you can cut back up over the mountains on State Highway 153. As this narrow road begins to twist and pulse, you realize the bleak valley below was simply a necessary evil on the way to elation.

Once again on high ground, you'll ride through the vintage western town of Winthrop. This authentic, albeit exaggerated, cattle town is a favorite stop of bikers and the climax of many organized rides in the area. Winthrop cowboys still herd their cattle right down the main street on a biannual migration to greener pastures. Before leaving we stopped in Sheri's Sweet Shoppe to watch owner Doug Mohre cultivate a batch of sea foam candy. By the time we headed out the sun was making a hasty retreat toward the Pacific Ocean, and we needed to follow suit. (You'll want to fill up your gas tank here since it's 90 miles to the next fueling station.) Squinting, we jumped on State Highway 20 heading west and were quickly swept up by the granite channels leading to Washington Pass.

The tourism board recommends this counterclockwise execution of the state's Cascade Loop Scenic Highway so the most impressive scenery will face you--but I beg to differ. The counterclockwise route puts the sun in your eyes both morning and evening, which pretty much kills your chance of seeing anything. It's better to ride west in the morning and east at dusk when the sun works in your favor by boosting coloration on the road.

Once again on the western slant of the Cascades we slowed our pace to draw out the end of a great ride. The Skagit River was a ghostlike fury that raced us through the darkness, back onto the coastal plain and across the channel on State Highway 20 and Whidbey Island.

In a single day we'd risen from the mossy shoreline, soared over granite peaks and dragged our heels across the desert. From Bavaria to Boomtown, apple orchard to glacier, Washington sure has many tricks up her woolen sleeve.

Don't Miss:
Caramel clusters at Sheri's Sweet Shoppe in Winthrop.

Season:
The passes are often closed from October to April.

Road Notes:
If you have just one day, ride the loop in a clockwise fashion so the sun isn't in your eyes the whole time.

More Info:
Check out www.cascadeloop.com for details and variations on this ride.

3 - Wyoming

Beartooth Highway

Washington state is one of the world's wallflowers--a hushed beauty held fast in a remote corner. The state's engaging charms, voluptuous mountains and provocative coastline are regularly cloaked in thick, unflattering gray, inviting further ignorance. Washington state is a princess wearing wool.

Extending from Northern California to Canada, the Cascade Range is the continent's sleeping dragon. It has a belly full of fire, but it hasn't taken a breath since Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. The Cascades are a fragment of the infamous Ring of Fire that also torments Japan and the Hawaiian Islands.

We began our loop on U.S. Highway 2 east from Everett, a contemporary and colorful fishing village scattered about the shore of the beautiful Puget Sound. In the western shadow of the looming Cascades we discovered Snohomish and Monroe, towns born to lumber and farming in the 18th century and later adopted by America's premier foster parents--nostalgia and tourism. You can follow the trail of antique shops until you ascend skyward and all that's left to connect are those glorious green dots on a map.

We crested Stevens Pass midmorning and took a deep breath of cold, cedar-scented air. The world we left at the coast seemed denser, more lush and humid. We swirled down the eastern slope on U.S. Highway 2 in locked step with the swift Wenatchee River.

Leavenworth was a bit of a surprise. I mean, you just don't expect a Bavarian village to suddenly materialize out of the North American wilderness. But strudel is strudel, and certainly the indigenous apples are handy. The German fantasy works great as a buoy for towns such as Leavenworth that were sunk by the Great Depression. Ironically, this is the fourth American schnitzel haven I've stumbled into this year, but Leavenworth was by far the best. After all, those 8000-foot snowcapped props do go with the get-up.

A few tarts later we jumped back on U.S. Highway 2 and completed our first descent of the day. The landscape tumbled and then began to roll in gentle arcs, seemingly in deference to the thousands of apple trees feeding from its rich soil. By the time we reached the Wenatchee Confluence and turned north on Alternate U.S. 97, we felt a little parched by this new, more arid atmosphere. And flanking the wide, ponderous Columbia River felt distinctly dull after such an invigorating morning.

Midway up this straight, flat section of the loop is the Rocky Reach Dam. This is a nice, shady place to take a nap, or--if you're not sleeping off a sugar high--you can be wowed by the visitor's center and its underwater viewing windows that offer a fish-eye view of the salmon swimming upstream. Outside, the fish ladders are also a fascinating way to watch the spawning madness. After another 17 miles north on Alternate U.S. 97 you can cut back up over the mountains on State Highway 153. As this narrow road begins to twist and pulse, you realize the bleak valley below was simply a necessary evil on the way to elation.

Once again on high ground, you'll ride through the vintage western town of Winthrop. This authentic, albeit exaggerated, cattle town is a favorite stop of bikers and the climax of many organized rides in the area. Winthrop cowboys still herd their cattle right down the main street on a biannual migration to greener pastures. Before leaving we stopped in Sheri's Sweet Shoppe to watch owner Doug Mohre cultivate a batch of sea foam candy.

By the time we headed out the sun was making a hasty retreat toward the Pacific Ocean, and we needed to follow suit. (You'll want to fill up your gas tank here since it's 90 miles to the next fueling station.) Squinting, we jumped on State Highway 20 heading west and were quickly swept up by the granite channels leading to Washington Pass.

The tourism board recommends this counterclockwise execution of the state's Cascade Loop Scenic Highway so the most impressive scenery will face you--but I beg to differ. The counterclockwise route puts the sun in your eyes both morning and evening, which pretty much kills your chance of seeing anything. It's better to ride west in the morning and east at dusk when the sun works in your favor by boosting coloration on the road.

Once again on the western slant of the Cascades we slowed our pace to draw out the end of a great ride. The Skagit River was a ghostlike fury that raced us through the darkness, back onto the coastal plain and across the channel on State Highway 20 and Whidbey Island.

In a single day we'd risen from the mossy shoreline, soared over granite peaks and dragged our heels across the desert. From Bavaria to Boomtown, apple orchard to glacier, Washington sure has many tricks up her woolen sleeve.

Cold-Weather Riding Tips
The only way to really combat brutally cold weather is to invest in gear designed for defense. The ideal arsenal is a many-layered affair. First you need decent insulation against your skin. Long underwear is sold in many mediums these days, but the best we've found is simple polypropylene or a poly-fleece blend if you want a thicker layer. Top-of-the-line treated and insulated suits made from synthetic Cordura and lined with a breathable membrane such as Gore-Tex are probably going to offer the best cold-weather protection. Some of these jacket/pant combos do a decent job as rainsuits, too. It's possible to find a lined leather suit that keeps you as warm, at least when teamed with a good rainsuit, but you won't have much money left to line your pockets. Leather, however, will do more to protect you from abrasion.

An electric vest or long-sleeved jacket liner is your big gun. When your core temperature drops, your body decreases its blood supply to the extremities in an effort to maintain heat in the heart and lungs. This is one reason why your hands and feet suffer so much. By using an outside heat source to warm vital organs and the blood circulating there, you'll be doing your entire body a favor. Electric apparel uses power from your bike's battery to heat wires within the garment, making it possible to ride comfortably in temperatures well below freezing.

You should have at least one pair of socks that are thick, warm and can wick away perspiration. Ideally you'll line these high-tech socks with an ultra-thin poly-blend pair. The best place to find good winter socks is a mountain-sport outfitter like REI. Keeping your hands warm is a greater challenge. Don't skimp on winter gloves. It's always a good idea to have several pairs of gloves on hand, two that are insulated so you can switch off if your primary pair becomes wet or damp from perspiration. If your hands become just too cold to ride, locate one of those electronic bathroom hand dryers. They don't work after you wash your hands, but they will warm aching fingers. You can even warm your gloves nicely by letting the air blow in for a few minutes.

A full-face helmet is always warmer than a lesser style, though fogging is a common problem. Before a cold-weather tour, add a clear fog-retardant liner to your shield or a fabric breath guard to your helmet liner. Keep your neck covered so cold air doesn't sneak into your jacket. The best thing we've found are poly-blend head gaitors that begin coverage below the collar and can be extended up over the nose or entire head. These work better than any triangular designs.

Stop often when it's cold, but move slowly when you're off the bike or you'll get too sweaty in all that gear. Drink warm fluids, but don't take on big meals that will require a lot of energy to digest. If you get too cold or start feeling lethargic, stop right away. Sometimes doing a few jumping jacks on the roadside can get your body temperature up long enough to find shelter. And keep in mind that although you feel alert, your muscles are tight and won't always react smoothly.

Don't Miss:
Steak at Bear Creek Saloon (406/446-3481), and the pig races on weekends. A stay at the Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming (www.irmahotel.com), is a must.

Season:
Beartooth Pass is closed in winter. Spring and fall are ideal since summer brings tourists aplenty to neighboring Yellowstone.

Road Notes:
Be careful of ice, even in midsummer.

More Info:
Visit www.redlodge.com for general stuff. For details on the annual bike rally and Iron Horse Rodeo in July see www.beartoothrally.com.

4 - Colorado

San Juan Skyway

The San Juan Skyway is a 236-mile ride that may well be the most scenic loop in America. You'll find it 90 miles from Grand Junction or 250 from Pueblo. The route incorporates five passes, countless ghost towns and a smattering of some of the finest former mining towns in the West, as well as the historic Million Dollar Highway, the most famous portion of which travels from Ouray to Silverton (U.S. Highway 550) over Coal Bank Summit and the Molas Divide. You can also treat yourself to stops in the famous adventure destinations of Telluride and Mesa Verde National Park, where you can explore those ancient cliff dwellings you've seen in pictures since you were a kid in school.

Traveling south from Ridgway to Ouray, Colorado, on U.S. Highway 550 is just one nice way to begin this scenic tour. The locals call this stretch of road Little Switzerland for its amazing granite towers and dramatic waterfalls. Ouray proves a nice breakfast stop with its historic main street proffering more than a dozen restaurants. One of the big draws here is the huge Hot Springs Pool, which is open year-round. I've been told it's a nice place to warm your bum in the winter since part of the outdoor pool is kept at about 104 degrees. In summer months people stick to the more moderately heated 120-by-150-foot section.

The road climbs sharply out of Ouray, beginning the section of the Skyway known universally as the Million Dollar Highway, and though theories abound, no one seems sure how it got its name. The road, which crosses Red Mountain Pass at 11,018 feet, seems miraculous, even in this day of heavy earthmoving equipment. It's difficult to believe it was the project of a single man, Otto Mears, who originally cut the 22-mile roadbed in 1883. But Mears was an entrepreneur (albeit a handy one), and he saw the need for a passage between the area's thriving mining camps. Once the road was open he set up a tollgate at Bear Falls and charged a hefty $3.75 per vehicle and 75 cents per horse.

This segment remains an intensely rich experience. It's completely paved yet feels delightfully treacherous. The weak of heart should, at the least, avoid looking down. There is no doubt the Million Dollar Highway is the jewel of the San Juan crown, so take your time. There are many, many pullouts that allow you to enjoy the breathtaking views and explore the old ghost towns and mining facilities. At the end of this heart-wrenching stretch you'll reach Silverton, which I found to be the most inviting frontier town in the area. It's smaller than Ouray and less commercialized, yet it's cupped in a valley nearly as beautiful as the cradle of Telluride. From this stop, the remainder of U.S. Highway 550 into Durango is a mix of Alpine meadows and barren passes until it finally floats down into the Animas River Valley and Durango. Here you can take a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a nostalgic locomotive experience enjoyed by more than 200,000 tourists each summer. But then again, if you're like me and shy away from the common scene, you'll motor right through sprawling Durango and take your taste of tourist treats at Mesa Verde National Park instead, about 40 miles west on Highway 160.

After pondering the cliff dwellings, you're headed for Telluride on Highway 145. For quite a while the scenery has that western-slope foothill feel. But soon enough you rise back into Rocky Mountain grandeur with the approach of Lizard Head Pass at 10,222 feet. Telluride is just on the other side. You need to make the quick detour east to get into the old section, a well-preserved mining town you can't easily see as the heart of the mega resort it's become. Often compared to Aspen and Vail, Telluride retains more charm than either and has managed to separate its historic district from the glam. Interestingly, this area--with its impossibly high real-estate values--was pretty much a ghost town from 1930 until '71, when the Telluride Ski Area opened.

The last leg of this loop, from Telluride back to Ridgway on Highway 145, is a nice cool-down. Of course, it really doesn't matter where you start or finish. What you'll really want to do is keep going around and around.

Don't Miss:
Tostada appetizer at the Adobe Inn in Ridgway (970/626-5939), Silverton and Million Dollar Highway.

**Season: **
Not impossible to ride midwinter, but nice and cool in the summer.

**Road Notes: **
Sharp, blind corners on the east side combined with commercial trucks making up time.

**More Info: **
If you have time, order San Juan Skyway by Scott Warren and The Million Dollar Highway by Marvin Gregory. Both can be found used on www.amazon.com for next to nothing.

5 - Texas

Hill Country

The Lone Star State is one big mutha, and a crossing, especially at midlevel, seems to take a dry, flat, windy eternity. Of course, there's more to Texas than what you see from the interstate. The western section in particular, with its tempting hills and canyons, invites a little two-wheeled exploration.

I discovered just how fun Texas hill country could be by sheer coincidence. I'd spent all day riding U.S. Highway 90 from Alpine to Del Rio. To say it had been a long day is a bit of a misrepresentation. I'd only passed one vehicle, a Border Patrol truck, and had to buy gas from a guy selling it out of a can on the side of the road. The radio on my touring bike spun through the numbers in search of a station for two hours straight. There's nothing like that kind of wide-open space for clearing the mind, but there's also a fine line between cleansing and numbing.

When I hit Uvalde I was planning to ride straight to San Antonio and the first clean, cool shower I could find. But while I was pumping gas, I couldn't help but notice packs of sportbike riders pouring off intersecting Highway 83. It was late in the day and they were obviously coming home from an afternoon of riding. I pulled out the map and saw that 83 led straight into hill country and a doodle of green-dotted back roads. How could I beg off such a promise of twisty fun?

I'd heard about hill country and how it was unlike any other part of Texas, and now I can say the same with great conviction. While it's not at a towering altitude, most of the sensuous landscape is high enough to nurture pinon, juniper and oak trees. After eight hours of riding in the 105-degree furnace of the southern Texas desert I was treated to a 20-degree dip in temperature and the cool smell of meadow grass and river water. In fact, the Rio Frio water looked and smelled so good as I crossed its winding tributaries again and again I was wooed into taking a dip.

One of the nice things about hill country is that it's situated in a corner of U.S. Interstate 10 that bends south in its west-east march, making it a perfect long-cut if you're traveling coast to coast. A kind of coffee break from the drone of the freeway.

The roads of hill country are fantastic for all types of riding. Many are straight or sweeping and a few offer challenging corners. All are hugely scenic and deliver you to an assortment of wonderful villagelike towns and historic hamlets. My favorites were Medina and (aptly named) Utopia, which was more than a bit like Mayberry. This region, about as big as Buddha's bellybutton when you look at a Texas map, is brimming with treasures. You can explore backyard antique shops, tube the lazy rivers, nest at one of the cute B&Bs; or camp next to the area's caverns or waterfalls. Indeed, hill country is as beautiful and fun to explore as I'd heard. Big fun, even by Texas measure.

Don't Miss:
Bandera, the "Cowboy Capital of the World," and roadside apple tasting around Fredericksburg.

Season:
Temperate year-round.

Road Notes:
Water is possible across the road even when it's not raining.

More Info:
Try www.hill-country-visitor.com.

6 - Arkansas

Scenic 7 Byway to Hot Springs

Hot Springs, Arkansas, and its surrounding national park have been welcoming the weary for centuries. The Native Americans called it the Valley of Vapors and believed the healing waters were a gift from the Great Spirit. In 1832, Congress made the valley America's first public recreational preserve, and it quickly became a world-famous playground for the wealthy. Magnificent bathhouses and elegant hotels catered to well-to-do travelers while abundant gambling opportunities attracted both famous and infamous elements.

The history of Hot Springs is colorful, but its fate lacks such luster. The progress of modern medicine contradicted the curative benefits of the mineral springs and a ban on gambling in the 1960s further dried out the economy. What's left more than a century after its heyday is a curious and fragile shell of the former mecca.

The roads leading to the forlorn resort city, luckily, haven't suffered a similar remission, and are constantly freshened regardless of the local economy. Hot Springs sits in this network of roads like a spider luring motorcyclists via its web of asphalt. There are many routes that lead to and from the springs, but the most remarkable would have to be the Arkansas Scenic 7 Byway.

You can jump on this nationally recognized scenic route at its designated point of origin in Arkadelphia, south of Hot Springs, or as far north as Harrison, above U.S. Interstate 40 and the Ozark National Forest (which is 208 miles from Hot Springs). It's a sinuous two-lane highway that rises and falls with the gentle undulations of the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. Breathtaking vistas connect the sweeping tree-lined sections, and quaint little towns break up the journey. The only shortcoming of the Scenic 7 is the plethora of logging trucks that enter, exit and cross the road. This part of Arkansas survives on its timber harvest--truck crossings are required to be marked, but some are marked poorly. Keep your eyes and instincts trained for trouble.

There are several worthy loops out of Hot Springs that incorporate the Scenic 7. These can be daylong or half-day rides around the five counties that make up the Diamond Lakes Region, named for the five diamond-bearing lakes in the area: Catherine, DeGray, Greeson, Hamilton and Ouachita. The brilliant lakes rest jewellike amid the lush green forests of the Ouachita Mountains. In the Southern sunshine a ride to lake level can offer resuscitating breezes and a chance to browse local rock shops.

It's true that there's much to do and see outside the city limits of Hot Springs, but every time I go, it's the city that clutches my curiosity and ignites my imagination. I stay at the Majestic Hotel/Resort/Spa on Park Avenue. The main section of this sprawling hotel was built in 1882, and the bathhouse was added in '96. When you step into the lobby you step back in history. It has the ambiance of the hexed hotel in The Shining, but it's not as spooky. The magnificent bathhouses, so celebrated at the turn of the century, stand empty and ominous. Only one, the Buckstaff, still offers traditional spa services. Another original spa, the Fordyce Bathhouse, has been reopened as the Visitor Center and Museum of the Hot Springs National Park. If you do one touristy thing in Hot Springs, visit the old bathhouses. Across the street are numerous boutiques and eateries with such a consistent turnover rate that every time I visit it feels like a new experience.

The lifeblood that sustains historic Hot Springs continues to be the thermal waters weeping from Hot Springs Mountain. Visitors at the old bathhouses indulge in spa treatments and massages for a fraction of the price charged in big-city establishments. At the Majestic, for example, an hour-and-a-half spa treatment--including a massage--is only $60. It's a great way to work out the kinks after a long stint on a motorcycle. In fact, I don't think rheumatism is an extinct affliction. Its definition includes "stiffness, pain or soreness of joints and muscles"--sounds like motorcycle touring to me.

Don't Miss:
Majestic Hotel/Resort/Spa (800/643-1504), bathhouse tours.

Season:
Year-round.

Road Notes:
AAA suggests a 400-mile scenic loop from Hot Springs north on Scenic 7 Byway.

More Info:
The Hot Springs' official site is www.hotsprings.org. To check out the Scenic 7 and America's other byways, visit www.byways.org.

7 - Ohio

Amish Country

This incredibly interesting ride was recommended to us by Richard Cole, a touring rider from Twinsburg, Ohio. We'd loosely planned an autumn expedition that would begin in Georgia and conclude in Vermont. Cole's ride was penciled in as an alternative side trip if our schedule showed signs of slack.

The window was small, but we took that left in Pennsylvania anyway, certain we could blast through the route, then strategically sneak northeast just as an ugly front departed New England. There was no way to know this ride would stop us in our smoldering tracks. We never made it to Vermont--in fact, we never made it north of Ohio. The days set aside for our ascent were spent investigating the Amish.

We jumped on Cole's favorite ride in Cadiz, Ohio, birthplace of Clark Gable. A tattered tractor parallel parked along the curb of the town's courthouse told us we were entering the Farming Zone. Following the gently arching U.S. Highways 250 and 36 east did indeed reveal a quintessential farmscape complete with ancient barns and rolling fields of corn and cattle. We headed north on state Route 93, which is narrow and worn like a first-class back road should be. The dips on this stretch precede blind rises, and a few railroad tracks midcorner deserve some attention. From here on out you can come across horses and buggies when you least expect them.

We were pointed toward Sugarcreek and Cole's promise of freshly made cheese. We found one of America's "Little Switzerlands," and music from this region was piped throughout this exuberant, small town. We stopped in the local bookstore to research the hex signs we saw adorning the barns in the area, and to seek answers to some questions we already had about the Amish. We'd seen our first familiar black buggy parked in a driveway between a satellite dish and a four-wheel-drive truck.

In our browsing, we absorbed enough to understand that one can make a few sweeping generalizations about the Amish and Mennonite orders of the world. All of the subgroups born to the Anabaptists of the 1500s are Christian fellowships whose primary principle is to practice what is preached. The Amish, sometimes categorized as "Old Order," tend toward a stricter lifestyle and shun things--such as technology and higher education--that might fuzz the clear lines of Christlike living. The Mennonites, in the other cart, often embrace modernization and accept the stress that comes with it.

By the time we broke away from the bookstore, the cheese factories were closed, so we were forced to stay the night. We rode west on State Road 39 and found affordable lodging at the Amish Country Inn in Berlin. That night we gorged on Amish-style eatables at the Dutch Harvest Restaurant.

The next day we took a small backward loop north on State Road 62, then headed south on State Road 515 to State Road 39 toward Walnut Creek. We also looped down State Road 557 south toward Charm and ended up back on State Road 93 below Sugarcreek. We were getting nowhere fast, but it was fascinating to ride among the Amish and imagine what their lives were like. Oh, and we got more than our share of cheese samples. In fact, butter cheese became an obsession so we bought bricks of it to strap onboard our bikes.

From Millersburg, you can continue on State Road 39 toward Loudonville, then follow State Road 3 south toward Mt. Vernon, or cut that corner and sneak down scenic U.S. Highway 62. Either way, you'll intersect U.S. Highway 36. At Coshocton, we wound our way down State Road 83 and jumped on U.S. Interstate 70 heading west to catch another of Cole's excellent recommendations--the state Route 800/26 combination, also known as the Covered Bridge Scenic Byway. While the Amish lifestyle appeared seductively serene and secure, we were happy to be on the run with the butter cheese. What misery of modern life cannot be soothed by a little hellbent motorcycle riding on a buggy-free byway?

Don't Miss:
Butter cheese, local farm and "buggy trail" tours, German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek.

Season:
Year-round.

Road Notes:
Seriously, watch out for the buggies.

More Info:
This is a great Web site: www.amish-heartland.com.

8 - Georgia

North Georgia Mountains

In Northern Georgia, not two hours above bustling Atlanta, the land begins to gently tumble and swell. The legendary Blue Ridge Mountains begin here--part of the Appalachian Range that extends all the way to Maine. It seems to be a secret that the Georgian landscape includes such voluptuous assets, and as a result these mountains and the roads winding amongst them are usually quite empty.

We began in Helen, Georgia, or "Alpine Helen" if you really want to feed into the spirit of the town. This turn-of-the-century lumber camp was mostly abandoned in the 1960s until savvy businessmen morphed it into a Bavarian village. The game is a good one, and the German beer and gingerbread trim draw more than 300,000 visitors to the town for the Oktoberfest season. Just two miles south of Helen is Sautee, where we stopped to fondle geological curiosities at one of the many roadside rock shops. There, at the merging of state Routes 17 and 75, you can park and ponder the Nacoochee Mound, a mysterious aboriginal burial site. In 1915, excavation by the Smithsonian Institute revealed 75 skeletons situated in various postures. The Cherokee used this spot as a meeting place to perform ceremonial rites. Oddly, there's a Colonial-style gazebo set atop the mysterious mound--a telling example of how aggressively we planted our own roots in this country.

There are three wonderfully curvy and picturesque roads leading north out of Helen: state Routes 356, 17/75 and 348, a.k.a. the Richard B. Russell Parkway. We recommend the latter as a departure route from Helen. It's like diving off the deep end into a scenic swimming pool. This road offers some gentle sweeping corners, but most of it is challenging, with 25-mph S-curves and plenty of exciting elevation changes. Weeping rock walls on some sections of the road can cause risky moisture runoff. The Parkway is a 24-mile run that ends at Wolf Pen Gap Road (state Route 180). Some say this is the most curvaceous road in Georgia. Turning north on this serpentine highway will bring you to Brasstown Bald Mountain. At 4784 feet, it's the highest point in Georgia. Born some 300 million years ago, the profoundly eroded Blue Ridge Mountains were once as tall and jagged as the younger Rockies. It seems age shortens mountains just as it does people.

You can ride an additional twisty bit to the top of Brasstown Bald, where you'll pay a small fee to park if you want to hoof it up to the mountain's observatory for unobstructed viewing of the graceful, forested landscape below. Brasstown Bald gets its name because nothing grows on its knoll-like top except thick grass. There's no explanation for why some mountaintops in the region are devoid of foliage, but it's fairly common.

Taking the winding state Route 180 south leads you down to Suches, home of Two Wheels Only (TWO), a campground and lodge exclusively designed and maintained for motorcycle enthusiasts. TWO is open from mid-April to early November.

From rural and rustic Suches our route carried us north on state Route 60, another dizzily twisted road, and eventually into Blue Ridge on state Route 76. The 76 east toward Clayton via Blairsville is a long, easy ride with smooth, wide, gently arching road surfaces, allowing a break from calculating cambers and complex corners. Kudzu, a creeping vine brought to the South from Japan to control roadside erosion, grows rampant along the road, shrouding whole forests and turning power poles into spooky specters. Once past Hiawassee near the North Carolina border, we cut south on state Route 197, which bends around the shores of jewellike Lake Burton, playground for Atlanta's well-to-do. Elaborate boathouses hint at the magnificence of the estates tucked in the rolling hills that rise from the water's edge. Batesville is a charming place to stop, and the general store serves fantastic pecan pancakes. Behind the old store is the Winston Church Hill House, a "Bed and Biscuit" established in 1867.

From Batesville it's a short jog back to Helen on state Route 356, or you can continue down scenic 197 into charismatic Clarkesville, the oldest resort town in Northern Georgia.

The fact is, you can't make a wrong turn when you're riding in the Chattahoochee area. Road surfaces are generally excellent, though soft, sloping shoulders common to this region don't allow much room for error. It's quiet there in northern Georgia, almost quiet enough to hear frenzied industry lapping at the Appalachian forests. Thankfully, the Chattahoochee Park boundaries create tangible distance. Along with the scars of the Civil War and the ghosts of the Cherokee Nation, this motorcycle playground will remain a refuge for years to come.

Hot-Weather Riding Tips
It's hard to say what's worse--riding in intense heat or intense cold. In cold weather, you at least have the option of bundling up. Plus, when you're freezing your behind off, you're often in a heightened physical state that mimics clarity. Heat is thick and heavy. It makes you feel sleepy, or worse, like you're slowly suffocating.

Most neophyte riders are surprised to learn that stripping down is the worst thing you can do when riding in hot weather. Besides being irresponsible, riding with skin exposed will quickly dehydrate you. The sweating process is designed to cool you by building a film on your skin, which is cooled by air moving across it...but not tearing across it at highway speeds. The moisture is gone before it can do its job. Covering sweaty skin with apparel that allows for controlled air circulation has the same effect as a swamp cooler. It regulates your body temperature while protecting you from sunburn (a classic way to ruin a tour) and the fatiguing effects of heat and turbulence.

When it's really hot, you can exaggerate this air-conditioning process by wetting your clothes every time you stop for gas. Most of the time wetting a long-sleeved cotton shirt is the way to go. If you cool your torso, where most of your body's blood supply is at any given time, it will quickly lower your overall body temperature. A drenched cotton bandanna worn around the neck has a great cooling effect, too. Ideally you want a jacket that's ventilated, but not so airy that the moisture on your skin dries before it has a chance to thoroughly cool you.

It's really important to monitor your physical status on hot rides. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real dangers. The former occurs when your core temperature reaches 102 degrees, and the latter if it hits 105. If you start to feel even slightly dizzy or sick to your stomach, you need to stop immediately. The best way to avoid heat exhaustion is to drink plenty of water--more than you think you need. The evaporative effect makes it impossible to tell how much fluid you're losing.

In the worst of conditions, leaving a couple of hours before dawn can get you to your destination before peak heat gets to you. Do whatever it takes to cool your heels. Like extreme cold, serious heat will slow your pace, but it doesn't have to ruin your ride.

Don't Miss:
European pastries at Hofers Bakery in Alpine (706/878-8200).

Season:
Year-round.

Road Notes:
Lots of stray animals in this woodsy area; shoulders are often narrow, though grassy runoff is cleared and gradual.

More Info:
A good site is www.ngeorgia.com. Detailed information and a schedule of events for TWO can be found at www.twowheelsonly. com or (706) 747-5151.

9 - Connecticut

Route 7 Corridor

By Mark Zimmerman, author of the new book The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance.

If I only had one afternoon to share with riders from out of town, I'd treat them to a ride along the Route 7 Corridor between New York and Connecticut. Naturally we'd have to do some tire kicking at Marcus Dairy first, though I'd caution them to tread lightly when ordering breakfast, especially if they're watching their cholesterol--care for some eggs with that grease? From there we'd head north on the local roads I've been exploring for 30 years. These secondary routes wind between farms, small lakes and homesteads that were already old before the redcoats were chased out of New England.

After some back-road bending we'd take a breather in the village of Gaylordsville, mainly so I could tell them the dark tale of the "Pyramid." The huge cinderblock edifice isn't very pretty, and neither is its story. Its builder created it as a monument to a child born out of his incestuous relationship with his daughter.

Just up the road we might stop at the Bulls Bridge Inn for a hot toddy, depending on the outside temperature, of course, and a quick ride through the covered bridge before we continued north on Route 7 along the Housatonic River. Or perhaps we'd just carry through until we hit the town of Kent. It's a genteel village, typical of "old money" New England, though in recent years it's become somewhat of a tourist trap, especially on the weekends.

The farther north we go the better it gets. The road winds along the river past several state parks--camping permitted--and some of the best fly-fishing territory in the country. Route 7 is a designated "scenic road," so be prepared to share it with leaf peepers and antique hunters, not to mention local farm equipment and truck traffic. But if we time our ride right (early morning on the weekends or midday during the workweek is the best, especially in the fall when the leaves are in full color), we should have most of the road to ourselves.

If it's warm enough, a picnic at Housatonic Meadows State Park wouldn't be too difficult to take. We can get our vittles at the old general store and watch kayaks shoot the rapids while we eat. The next 15 miles of road are some of the best I've ever ridden. In the spring and summer pine scent permeates the air, and in the winter the naked beauty of the river can take your breath away, as can the chill coming off it. A short detour through another covered bridge at the hamlet of West Cornwall would get us over the water, and then it would be up the road through Falls Village and Canaan before heading past Lime Rock Raceway, one of my favorite tracks. The roads back are less traveled, and they can be extremely entertaining. We'd loop back toward New York state, maybe heading south on Route 22 for a short spell before cutting back along the fast downhill sweepers of Route 4. From there it'd be a quick toot over to Route 45 that would take us past the abandoned, allegedly haunted ruins of Dudleytown, around Lake Waramaug, then through the towns of Washington Depot and Roxbury. All told the ride would cover about 150 miles, making it a decent day trip or providing the perfect starting point for an extended tour of New England.

Don't Miss:
Marcus Dairy--breakfast with 2000 close friends; the Kent Antique Machinery Show; or the Rolex Vintage Festival presented by BMW at Lime Rock Raceway.

Season:
Autumn is the most scenic; only the hard core should consider it in winter.

Road Notes:
Watch out for farm equipment on the road; lots of suicidal deer up here as well.

More Info:
We recommend Motorcycle Journeys through New England by Marty Berke. Available at www.whitehorsepress.com.

10 - Florida

Everglades to Key West

Most of this country's universally favored motorcycle roads have corners, don't they? Even slow movers, like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pacific Coast Highway, satiate one's sense of physical perspective as they drown the senses with scenery. Not so the Keys. There are no corners on Florida's Overseas Highway. No elevation change either. Picture one of those horizontal escalators at the airport...running on for about, oh, 120 miles.

The lack of challenge is actually a good thing because the route has such depth to its 360-degree majesty you might fall off your bike trying to swivel your head mid-corner. Expect low speed limits and nary a passing opportunity, too. It's key to sink into the situation and not feel rushed.

The first island you hit once you leave the continent is the one made famous in the John Huston gangster film, Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart as a down-on-his-luck veteran looking for purpose. These days Key Largo is burdened with the trappings of convenience, and unless you're a diver or a sport fisherman you might want to search for your fortune down the road instead, where you'll have full access to the warm emerald and azure waters and sugarlike sand, not to mention lots of Key lime pie and mouth-watering seafood.

From Key Largo you enter Islamorada, a hamlet that incorporates the islands of Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key and Lower Matecumbe Key. Many tour books say this is the best spot to hire a charter for sportfishing or reef exploration. The marine environment here is profound--the island chain is home to the only living coral in North America--and worth taking the time to investigate, even if it's simply a stop at Windley Key's Theater of the Sea.

Just southwest of Islamorada in Long Key State Park you'll find nature trails and a host of camping opportunities. By the time you reach Marathon and the famous Seven Mile Bridge--the longest segmented bridge in the world--you're in the Middle Keys and starting to feel a real tropical vibe.

This quieter section of the Keys, with its mom-and-pop restaurants, retro lodging and camping retreats, will suit some more than what's to come in Key West. On the other hand, what's not to love about a 24/7 festival of art and food and spirit? Key West is lovable in a New Orleans way--charming, crazy and cosmopolitan all at once. I don't think a journey here is complete without a night spent on the tip of the island chain, with its daily Sunset Festival on Mallory dock, where local characters vie for attention and tourist tips by doing the most outlandish things. You might see dancing dogs, fire jugglers, and guys shot from cannons, all in the cool shadows of the gargantuan cruise ships docked for the night.

Be prepared to party by night, but don't forget to explore Key West's riveting history by day. Did you know that at the turn of the last century, this spot on the map was the wealthiest city in America? It's absolutely true. The riches were accumulated by the legal business of "wrecking," which seems not much different than the less accepted business of pirating, which the islands were also once famous for. Assets were harvested from the ships that, rather continuously, foundered on the treacherous coral reefs offshore. Of course the "wreckers" saved the people on board, making the practice seem almost heroic at the time. It's long been speculated, however, that the salvage teams may have more than once lured ships onto the dangerous shoals. Grandsons of pirates, they were.

It will take you three hours to get from the mainland to Key West, longer if it's either side of a weekend, and forever if it's a holiday. Think of the highway as a 120-mile-long diving board. There are plenty of places to eat and stay, but lodging can be pretty pricey all year, and reservations are recommended. There is no real "season," though I'd recommend winter, when the rest of the world is wearing wool. For better or worse, the road is absolutely straight and flat (the highest elevation on the islands is a whopping 18 feet). Still, it's the most unusual stretch of road you'll find in America.

Don't Miss:
Key lime pie; seafood chowder at Bagatelli's is a must!

Season:
Year-round. Most lovely in winter when the north is frozen.

Road Notes:
The speed limits are low and there's no passing allowed on U.S. Highway 1 from Key Largo to Key West. Grin and bear it.

More Info:
The Keys have a wonderful Web site at www.fla-keys.com and www.floridakeys.com.