I love touring the western half of the United States, but my nine-day, 4,900-mile motorcycle trip in September and October 2023 was a tour 12 years in the making. Though there were a few unexpected challenges along the way, I got to do almost everything I’d planned on doing in May 2011 before a DIY mishap put my trip plans on a more than decade-long hiatus.
Long story short, in 2010 I did my first tour out west as a gift to myself for finishing my first master’s degree. It was an 11-day trip from Buffalo, N.Y., to Salt Lake City, Utah to see World Superbike race at what was then called Miller Motorsports Park (now Utah Motorsports Campus) near Grantsville, Utah. I’d planned to go back for the 2011 edition of the event and included a stop at the Four Corners Monument on the way back. My third grade teacher told my class about her visit there and how she had each of her four limbs in a different state at one time. I wanted to find out what that was like, and Salt Lake City isn’t terribly far from the Four Corners region.
I was packed and ready to go — all I had to do was change the oil. As I unscrewed the drain plug, an oversight on my previous oil change came back to bite me. I’d neglected to change the crush washer, and the over-tightened drain plug pulled the threads from the oil pan with it as I backed it out. I couldn’t get the bike repaired in time to take that trip, and left my bags packed all summer hoping I’d have another chance to at least do the tour without the racing weekend. The time never freed up in 2011, and every year from then until 2023 I either had the money but not the time or the time but not the money for a week-and-a-half tour that far west.
I got a nice raise at the start of 2023, which finally gave me the income — at a job that offered enough paid time off — to finally take the trip.
Below is a photo essay of my experience on the Sept. 30 – Oct. 8 trip that took me through 13 states (including four I hadn’t ridden in before), four time zones and an incredibly scenic route through north-central Utah.
Day 1: Cleveland, Ohio to Columbia, Mo.
The first two days of the tour were a run to Denver — where, to me, the trip really began. This was my first time riding Interstate 70 west of Indianapolis, as I’d decided early in trip planning that I wanted to find out if Kansas was as boring as other riders had told me it was.
The first half of the day was pretty nondescript, as I’ve ridden I-71 and I-70 from Cleveland to Columbus, Ohio to Indianapolis many times. The day also featured two stops for my Johnny Cash Riding Project, and I spent the night at a Best Western Plus on the east side of Columbia, Mo.
Day 2: Columbia to Denver
Oct. 1 marked my first time riding through Kansas City — which has some twisty freeway interchanges — and another Johnny Cash project stop. It also was my first time riding on the Kansas Turnpike, and I discovered Kansas actually gets a lot more boring the farther west you go.
The hot temperatures were trumped by the extremely windy conditions. I’ve ridden through stronger winds, but never 200 miles (from Bunker Hill, Kan., to Denver) in winds strong enough to have me fighting the bike to simply go straight. A couple times I had a little head shake in the bars as the wind was so strong it felt like it was trying to pick up my 700-pound dry weight FJR1300 with 290-pound me on it. I got to Denver at dusk and checked another item off my tour plan — having dinner at the restaurant in the former air traffic control tower in Denver’s Central Park neighborhood.
Day 3: Denver to Monticello, Utah
The photos below were shot at two pull-offs along the western coast of Lake Granby and U.S. Route 34 and the Grand Lake visitor’s center, which was my fourth and final Johnny Cash stop of this tour.
Day 4: Monument Valley and the Four Corners Monument