Words and Photos by Eric Hockman
A Road Tripper’s Dream Come True
Like many great road trip stories begin, mine too involved leaving my job to seek out answers that can only be provided by taking a chance and driving across the grand ole US-of-A on an epic road trip. My wife, Donna, is an art teacher and was quickly approaching every student and educator’s favorite time of the year, summer break. The timing was perfect, and I thought to myself; if not now, when?
So without hesitation, I turned in my notice at work and we began planning our dream road trip. Our goals for the journey were pretty straightforward. We wanted to ride our mountain bikes as much as possible, visit with friends and family along the way, and touch both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans before returning home.
Eastbound & Down
Putting the Rocky Mountains in our rearview meant we were finally on our way. Our first stop en route to the east coast was in Bentonville, Arkansas to check out a network of trails that leaves directly from town and winds through scrubby hardwood forests along buff and flowy singletrack. After our morning spin, we recharged on espresso from the local roaster, then got back on the road without delay.
We were eager to get into the mountains of western North Carolina, but decided first to spend a whiskey-fueled evening in Nashville, Tennessee with an old buddy. We had heard countless stories about how good the mountain biking around western North Carolina is, so naturally we were itching to arrive and spend a few days there to see for ourselves.
The Mighty Pisgah
To kick off our tour through the endlessly layered Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, we landed at the Tsali trails near Almond to discover a buttery smooth ribbon of dirt that ebbed and flowed through heavy ferns and skirted along the emerald green waters of Fontana Lake. The next morning, we took our time drinking coffee and slowed the pace enough to enjoy a float in the lake before deflating our sleeping pads and breaking camp.
As we continued east, we cruised along the serpentine Blue Ridge Parkway stopping at nearly every scenic overlook and jamming to music that seemed to fit perfectly with the rhythm of the road. It wasn’t before long that we arrived in the rocky, rooty, and dank singletrack mecca of the Pisgah National Forest. A steep and grueling ride on Black Mountain served us a hearty but delicious slice of humble pie, while a friend guided us to the ripping fast goods and a trailside happy hour near Mills River for our final ride in the mighty Pisgah.
Urban Singletrack & The Coast
For the next two weeks we called Richmond, Virginia our home base. We spent our time catching up with family, taking local sight-seeing trips, and exploring urban singletrack in the concrete jungle.
Our rides through the city of Richmond took us along the banks of the James River on tightly woven trails beneath a lush canopy lined with endless vines of ivy. Through a series of city street connectors, dedicated pedestrian suspension bridges, and convoluted routes that string sections of legitimate singletrack together, we caught glimpses of the city skyline rather than the mountain ridgelines we’re accustomed to.
With regular spring showers keeping the trails too wet to ride on most days, we decided it was time to head to the coast in search of sunshine. In Virginia Beach we found the sun and spent a day recharging with sand between our toes, cold beers in hand, and a few dips in the Atlantic Ocean to accomplish half of our ocean-to-ocean challenge.
Traversing the Midwest
Leaving Richmond meant we were headed west for the first time since leaving Colorado three weeks prior. Our original plan to ride in Pennsylvania quickly changed when the forecast predicted nothing but steady rain for the foreseeable future. Going with plan B allowed us to have some extra flexibility in the coming days, something we regularly embraced since the start of our journey.
After a mere twelve hours in the car, we arrived in Linden, Indiana to stay with my wife, Donna’s extended family for a couple of nights. The next morning we watched the sunrise over gently rolling fields of wheat, then enjoyed an obscene amount of donuts and coffee on the porch while sharing stories from the road. For the rest of the day, we learned how to drive vintage tractors and swam in a natural spring-fed pond that Donna’s grandfather dug back in the 1960’s.
Opting to spend a spontaneous day relaxing on the farm was exactly the thing we needed before making another big push back out to the wild west. For the next three days we made our way through Minnesota, South Dakota and into Wyoming, taking the scenic route through Badlands National Park and setting our sights on Devils Tower National Monument.
Where the West Begins
We arrived at Devils Tower a little before the golden hour and somehow managed to secure one of the best spots in the packed campground. We set up our tent, squeezed in a quick trail run through a meadow full of yipping prairie dogs, uncorked a bottle of wine and relaxed by the dim light of our mini lantern.
The next morning we awoke to watch a blanket of fog covering the tower quickly dissipate with the warmth of the rising sun. After a quick exploratory mission to see the massive vertical columns up close, we piled back in the car and made a dash for the Tetons.
Our time in Jackson was short but sweet. We discovered a solid loop on the Game Creek trail leaving directly from town. Weaving up grassy ski slopes, crossing meadows filled with midsummer wildflowers, and descending through sections of forests scorched by wildfire and underlain with new growth left us feeling stoked to be back in an alpine environment on our bikes.
Crossing over Teton Pass, we found our way up a small valley to camp on the backside of the Grand Teton near Driggs, Idaho. With afternoon storms moving through the valley, it was the perfect opportunity for us to crawl into our sleeping bags and nap to the sound of raindrops lightly tapping on the shell of our tiny home on the road.
Before venturing further west, we headed north to spend the next three days exploring singletrack around Bozeman, Montana. Pine thick forests led to more wildflower lined trails and eventually deposited us into the high alpine to gain sweeping views of the surrounding peaks in the Gallatin National Forest. We felt like we could have stayed in Montana forever, but as all good things come to an end, we loaded up the Subie and pointed it northwest towards Washington. The Pacific Northwest beckoned.
The Great PNW
We passed through the panhandle of Idaho and into western Washington to immerse ourselves in the North Cascade mountains for the next two days. In Leavenworth, we connected with Donna’s cousin to check out the trails in Freund Canyon, hike up the Fourth of July trail, swim in the frigid snow-melt waters of Icicle Creek (as the name implies), and drink massive beers at one of the local Bavarian inspired sausage gartens.
Continuing our journey to the coast, we laid over in Seattle then took a ferry across the Puget Sound to land on the Olympic Peninsula. Surrounded by giant old growth Western Hemlock, Douglas-fir and Sitka spruce, we enjoyed the views from camp and explored the fern and moss cloaked forest floor by bike. Our time in the Olympic National Forest left us smiling from ear to ear as the vibrant green landscape and loamy soil played on our senses.
We skirted along the peninsula’s perimeter, passing through weathered old fishing towns and along winding sections of two-lane coastal highway. Scoring one of the last available sites at a beach view campground felt a lot like close quarters festival camping, but the views did not disappoint. We walked the driftwood covered beach and dipped our feet in the Pacific, completing a monumental goal we made before setting out on our journey. We instantly felt a huge sense of accomplishment as we sat and watched the light fade into one of the most color saturated sunsets we had ever witnessed.
As we headed away from the coast back towards home, we stopped for a brief stay in Hood River, Oregon to sample some of the flow trails in Post Canyon, providing turn after turn of downhill bliss. En-route to Mount Hood, we scored the sweetest cherries we had ever tasted along the eastern stretch of the Oregon Fruit Loop, then spent the next two days camping and pedaling the mellow but fast rolling trails just west of Bend.
Back to the Rockies
Reality began to sink in that the end of our journey was fast approaching. We weren’t quite ready to finish our grand adventure, but we were definitely stoked on what the next few days held as we wrapped up our trans-America tour.
Passing through Utah we spent a night perched above Strawberry Reservoir and were treated to an evening of golden light, beautiful wispy clouds, and dancing by our campfire beneath the stars with whiskey in hand. The next morning, we awoke to gray clouds and a light drizzle. We broke camp, then made our final haul for the Colorado border.
By late afternoon we found ourselves battling weekend crowds on Rabbit Ears Pass, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado for a place to rest our weary heads. As luck would have it, we took a chance turn and ended up finding a spot with beautiful views of the iconic rock formation that gives this pass its very name. An early morning hike to the ears gave us 360-degree views of the valleys and peaks below, providing a new perspective I had never seen in a place I had visited numerous times before.
Our final destination before returning home was Winter Park Resort. We spent a day riding chairlift assisted laps at the bike park, celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary, and relished in the glory of the insanely epic journey we were about to complete. Through all the bug splattered miles of windshield time, all the singletrack we explored (at times getting lost), all the efforts to set up and break down our tent, and all of the good times that we shared together; we returned home feeling complete soul satisfaction, reaffirming that my leap of faith was absolutely the right decision.