August 2023 – MABDR
Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route – a 1060 mile off-road route from the NE tip of TN to the N border of PA/NY. Well, not all offroad. It’s an awesome mix of twisty paved backroads and unpaved Forest Service of every type imaginable, all through beautiful Appalachian and Allegheny mountains and valleys! (here’s a brief article with a much better description and map… MABDR summary). The non-profit BDR organization (rideBDR) has created a dozen of these routes in the big-Western states, but this was their first (of only two) east of the Mississippi. The BDR group makes full GPS tracks available to download and Butler makes waterproof m/c maps to provide additional logistical support. Dave and Larry have pondered this trip for several years and finally made it come true. Here’s the high-level story and Dave’s Thoughts.
Some overall trip notes… Their ambitious plan was to ride 6 days northward on the BDR, then allow 2 days to return home (from, hopefully, the northern end at the NY border), camping more than hoteling. Actual results… 4 nights camping, 3 nights of hotels, and about 75% of the overall route mileage. Overall weather was damp in the early days (raining at night, sometimes heavily, for first four nights, but only lightly during one daytime), then fall-like “dry and crisp” air for the last several days. Temps ranged from quite-warm on those damp/cloudy days, but turning unusually cool later when the dry fall air moved in. They saw several other riders at their start in Damascus, then later that night at a campground, but afterwards rarely saw any others except on their last day when they encountered two small groups at a lunch stop – surprisingly empty roads, paved or not, the entire trip.
Riding the MABDR was a great experience. It was the first time I spent many miles off pavement on the Tiger 900 Rally Pro. I found it to be very capable and very different from anything I've ridden before. Look for more Dave's Thoughts throughoutt the article about things I learned on the trip.
On a pretty Saturday in late August, Larry, Mel and BobK rode from the Metro north thru WNC and Asheville to NE tip of TN where they met Dave who rode NW from his home in the Wilmington area. They camped at Switchback Creek Motorcycle Campground S of Damascus, VA where they had the entire place to themselves! While the bathhouse facilities were relatively primitive, the grassy camping area was excellent! Since Mel and BobK couldn’t dedicate a full week of vacation to this trip, they headed back Sunday morning while Dave and Larry continued north 15 miles to their MABDR start at Damascus.
Their first day was an enjoyable mix of Virginia backroads and generally well-maintained forest service – great for getting up-to-speed. They found a nice state park that night for some primitive camping and rested well as the rain fell on their tents. Packing up wet gear can be slower...
1- The Tiger needs more RPM to avoid a stall. The triple engine needs to get to higher RPM to make the torque for low speed maneuvering. Clutch and throttle to maintain enough RPM to keep the bike moving forward and not take a nap. It doesn't tractor along like my V-Strom would. I got it figured out by our last day.
2- Maintain focus on the track/line. I got crossed up in a deep rut on a 2 track in section 2 and even with 9" of ground clearance, when the front wheel crossed to the right track and the rear wheel stayed in the left, the Tiger stopped, I kept going, and landed a few feet in front on my back. Everything worked though I have a few bruises from the unplanned landing. The Tiger may be a posh bike, but it's very resilient. The only field repairs I had to make were tightening the left mirror to get it back in position, and adjusting the foglamp that hit the ground. (but did you die? if no, continue on)
...but Day 2 was very nice with more mountain scenery reminiscent of N Ga. The unpaved forest service gradually turned rougher, but not unmanageable. However, that resulted in a very long and tiring day, plus several camping spots on the map didn’t materialize. They ended up finding a makeshift spot after traveling up a long, rugged road in the dark and into the cloud ceiling (20’ visibility and spooky)! They slept like rocks, but were eager to get out of there at daybreak. It seemed like they rode down 2000’ elevation before starting their next day’s route.
3- Sometimes there is no good track. Pick the least bad option and keep going. Several tracks have ruts, crossed up ruts, or were very rocky.
4- Estimating 60lbs of gear on the bike. Makes a tall bike even more top-heavy. The Tiger carries its weight well, even with a 34" seat height.
Day 3 had them skirting into W VA where the roads, paved and unpaved, continued to deteriorate and slowing their progress, but made up for in beauty. One real highlight was the Horn Camp One-Room School. Mrs Betty gave a wonderful tour and we thoroughly enjoyed their history and the visit (side note: they’ll even let folks camp on their wonderful property). One might expect the forest service travel to be slow and the paved to be much quicker, but they only averaged 5 – 8 mph faster on paved roads – they were that tight (and sandy, sketchy, etc!) By now, they were questioning if they really could get to NY in their 6 allotted days. They stopped for the evening at the wonderful Smoke Hole Resort in the late afternoon – about 10 min before the skies unloaded. But the log cabin style motel had an awesome covered front porch with a railing under roof cover where they could dry out sopping wet camping gear even as the rain poured - perfect!
5- Stop and pick the line before a water crossing. We had 5 legit water crossings (not including lots of mudholes and standing water in sections 1-3). The last crossing had a deep, large gravel approach, narrow creek crossing, with river rock in the creek. Exit was more gravel. I picked a bad line, hit a rock and blew the exit. once again the Tiger was on the ground on the left side. It should not have been a particularly difficult crossing.
6- Deep gravel is awful. Pennsylvania has the right idea with small gravel rolled smooth (literally!). We met a crew dumping, grading, and rolling the gravel. One section had not been compacted and it rode like a thick sandy dirt road.
Day 4 continued their progress, albeit slowly, and ended with them camping in a surprisingly nice KOA campground.
7- KOA campgrounds have showers, sell beer, and have quite a few tent sites. Downside is the tent site base were the same big semi-packed gravel. (Harpers Ferry). It's a better option than I expected.
8- While on Harpers Ferry, beautiful historic tourist town, however, there were no breakfast places open. We found a coffee shop and bakery as we were leaving town the next morning.
The next morning they began Day 5 with an enjoyable riding tour of Harpers Ferry where it seemed they were the only humans alive at 9:00 AM! Later that day they needed a break and a bathroom and left the route for a couple miles in Catoctin Mtn Park and looked for the park office. They almost turned in one entrance, but it was signed Do Not Enter so they went a little farther and rested at a trailhead parking area. Later they learned the “Do Not Enter” was the back entrance to Camp David – and glad they complied! As they entered PA, the roads and forest service improved dramatically. The clear skies and comfortable temps raised spirits, even as they were coming to the realization they likely wouldn’t reach the NY border. Day 5 ended at a simple motel in Mount Holly Springs, PA, but they were able to catch a great dinner at a local restaurant.
9- Don't assume maps are correct. We discovered not all the campsites existed, stores on the route had closed, a highlighted inn was closed, and we couldn't get ice cream until 11:00 at the creamery.
10- You couldn't follow the track without a GPS. Larry and I both were following the GPS track and it was very easy to miss a split in the road. in PA forests turns were usually a 3 point affair, making it easy to pick the wrong lane.
Day 6 started downright briskly and didn’t see any layers coming off until after lunch. The area took them through beautiful “ridge and valley” country with the ridges offering high-quality forest service and beautiful overlooks and the valleys touring them through beautiful Amish and Mennonite farming areas, where the corn was high as an elephant’s eye! By mid-afternoon, they finished Segment 6 in McVeytown, PA and, after a thorough review of their maps, they decided to use the rest of the day to get south “farther, faster” and better position themselves for their longest day returning home. They made it south to a Holiday Inn Express in Strasburg, VA, around dusk and enjoyed a nice dinner and comfortable room. The hotel clerk even provided priority parking for the bikes! From there, each had a looooong day returning home on Saturday, but in very comfortable, clear and dry weather.
11- MABDR is a fantastic ride. Small roads, gravel, dirt, great overlooks, cows, and buggies.
12- Average speed was 20 mph most days. It was slower than expected, but we were often passing houses, cattle, and farms. We had many deer cross in front of us.
The Return Home
Although this BDR is widely viewed as “the easy one”, both riders found it challenging. The multitude of road surfaces and qualities (both paved and unpaved) and preponderance of wildlife required full attention at all times. However, the early fall colors and gorgeous vistas begged to take your eyes off the route. It was truly a fabulous ride and they couldn’t have asked for more!
Total round trip was 1,950 miles from Bolivia, NC. I can't wait for another big road trip.