Day 8 – It’s All About The Eating…

Calhoun, GA – Mobile, AL

421 miles

Today was by far the best eating day on the trip. I woke up in my KOA Campsite (which we’ve established as the Mandarin Oriental of camping facilities) desperately craving ice coffee. I’ve been sleeping pretty well as the 100+ heat I’ve been experiencing during the day has been giving way to lower temperatures at night. But because I was now at a lower altitude than North Carolina, the Georgia day was heating up fast.


I turned to my trusted Coffee Finder app on my iPhone which promptly sent me into an abandoned wheat field somewhere in between Buttfuck & Nowhere (I’m not exaggerating. It was literally a wheat field). All I wanted was some Starbucks love so I figured my best shot was to head closer to the main freeway where one usually finds all the major culinary franchises.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a dilapidated sign for Owen’s Biscuits beside a bordered up house.


I’ll be honest – I drove past it. I went a solid ½ mile before I jammed on the brakes and pulled off to the side. This is what the trip is about.

Exploring. Finding. Surprises.

I find that I really have to work hard to correct my innate nature to want to rush from one point to another. I’m always thinking, “you don’t have time for that”, when in reality time is exactly what I have. It’s a tiny bit hard to adjust to a trip without a defined schedule and to slow down whenever you feel like it.

I spun around and discovered that coming from the other direction I could see 8 or 9 cars backed up behind Owen’s Biscuits queuing behind a hidden takeout window. Gold!! I wandered in and quickly realized I had found the local equivalent of Russ & Daughters in Georgia, and these biscuits were like Southern bagels. I asked the woman behind the counter what sort of biscuit a neophyte like me should order. There was a sizable selection of egg, ham, honey and butter biscuits. I settled on a plain butter biscuit as well as some sort of ham concoction which resembled the Georgia version of a David Chang pork bun. It was literally a 2-inch cube of slow roasted ham between a buttered pillow of biscuit. As you imagine this delicious gut bomb, remember that all I really wanted was an ice coffee.


But I was richly rewarded for turning around because these biscuits were truly out of this world. The outside of the biscuit maintained a pie crust flakiness while still holding some of the heat from the oven while the inside was pillow soft and slightly salty, perfect to play against a small drizzle of honey. Just fantastic.

But the real point of the day was to make it to Montevallo, AL to go to YaYa’s BBQ joint. And by joint, I mean a food truck that has gained a fair bit of local (and now national) renown.



I found YaYa’s though an article in New York Magazine profiling 50 Unique “State Dinners” where they identified one unique eatery in each state in America. What especially drew me to YaYa’s was their southern fried pies which as far as I could tell sounded like a deep fried apple turnover. YaYa’s has a Facebook Page and I posted that I was driving my motorcycle down from New York City and was really excited to try some of their pies.

Well, here I am pulling into YaYa’s a few days later. The owner, Tracy Hale, saw me pull up on my bike (with NY plates) and immediately said, “Are you Christof?!”. When I said I was, a wide grin broke out on his face. “I thought you were full of shit when you said you were coming down here on a motorcycle!” I reassured him that it was a common misconception, especially among my close friends. But I really was here, and I really wanted to eat some BBQ and pie.

He immediately introduced me to his wife Dale who worked the inside of YaYa’s while Tracy worked the BBQ grill outside. She excitedly shook my hand and quickly started bringing me plates full of southern love. Not only did they treat me like an honored guest, but they refused to take my money and provided me with a tremendous feast. They could not have been kinder hosts.

The smorgasbord started with a Q-Dog which was an all beef frankfurter smothered with BBQ pulled pork and Special Yaya Sauce. This was accompanied by French fries, cole slaw and slow baked beans. Several large glasses of sweet tea with lemon washed it down before I was presented with a Peach fried pie and a side of vanilla ice cream.


It was sincerely delicious and the BBQ & hot dog combo (while seemingly over the top) actually paired up fantastically. YaYa’s has only been around for 2 years now, but its clear Tracy and Dale are doing something very special and original. We ended by taking lots of photos and they promised to put me on their wall. Such kind people.

I really wasn’t prepared for how excited and warmly they treated me. I mean, I was the one driving down to see them. But I guess after eating some of their food, I could taste their passion and their soul in their cuisine. This awesome little place is their dream, and I guess I underestimated how much it means when someone else gets so excited about your dream that they would drive down from New York to experience it. Meeting Tracy and Dale has been the highlight of my trip so far.



I sat with Tracy for bit discussing my trip and which routes I should take. Everyone loves asking questions about the trip.

“Wow, that’s a big bike.”
Yes. I eat a lot of BBQ and take All-You-Can-Eat as a personal challenge, hence the bike.

“Do you get uncomfortable riding for such long distances?”
Sometimes. I switch positions a lot by actually sitting up high on the passenger seat to avoid building pressure spots. I also stop every two hours or so to drink some water.

“Aren’t you hot in your riding suit?”
Yes, I am. I tried riding without it for a little while but found myself getting too sunburnt. I’ve gone down on a motorcycle before and my leathers saved my life so I think it’s worth the discomfort.

“Do you get lonely?”
Hard to say because I haven’t been gone that long yet. But I wake up each morning feeling very, very fortunate to be able to do this trip so I don’t have any regrets. But cell phone service is a wonderful thing and I can usually talk to my wife in the evening which is great.

Tracy and I talked for a bit longer but soon I had to hit the road. I waddled back to my bike and started on the long slog to Mobile, AL through temperatures reaching 106 while I’m dressed in full leathers and rocking a full belly of BBQ. Yeah. It sucked.

Tracy gave me some great directions that kept me on local roads for another 100 miles before hooking up with I-65 to shoot straight south. The good news is that the speed limit was 70, but almost everyone was doing 90. By sucking in my stomach to be more aerodynamic, I rolled into Mobile around 7:30pm.


Now clearly, a better man would have looked down at his BBQ gut and considered this a day well fed and gone to bed. But this was my first time in Mobile and I wanted some way to commune with the heartbeat of the city. And apparently the home of that heart was at Wintzell’s Oyster House on Dauphin Street – the original location where oysters are offered “fried, stewed or nude”. I knew I had hit paydirt when upon walking in, I saw photos of braver men than I that had set the oyster eating records at Winztell’s. Any restaurant that hosts their own eating contest automatically gets 4-stars in my book, just for embracing that Viking dietary ethos that more is always better.

I started with a dozen Gulf oysters on the half shell that were shucked fresh in front of me and placed on an unadorned tin tray. Now, I’m a huge oyster eater (as you’ll see later in this blog) and I’m used to getting 2-3 duds out of each dozen oysters that I typically order. I was amazed to find that every single oyster I ate was creamy, fresh and very clean tasting. They were so mild that I found myself dousing a little homemade green hot sauce on a few just to give them more zing. But also on the menu were roasted oysters which I had never had. Once shucked, the oysters are left in their shells and placed on the grill to cook in their own juices. The chef then sprinkles some spices and parmageian cheese on top and then places them on your tray still bubbling. Again so delicious along with an Abita amber beer to wash it down. The earthiness of the spices played well with the natural brine of the oysters which through cooking had a nice toothsome firmness.

Great meal. Outstanding day. I made some new friends, discovered some new foods and travelled 421 miles in the Gulf heat. Time for bed at the Holiday Inn.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: Never underestimate the impact that you can have on others. The world is a good place. Also, roasted oysters rock!

Day 7 – End of the Blue Ridge

220 miles

Asheville, NC – Calhoun, GA


Today was a day for driving. I got a bit of a late start coming out of the Biltmore Estate but quickly made my way to the Blue Ridge Parkway to finish a drive that has been one of the finest I’ve ever experienced.





The last mile marker 😦

The end of the Blue Ridge Parkway still keeps you in North Carolina and borders a Cherokee reservation. Now, this may sound weird but it was literally very difficult to figure out where to go next. This particular region of North Carolina is right on the border with Tennessee as well as Georgia (with Alabama being not far away). Looking at a road atlas quickly becomes an exercise in frustration. Going more than two miles in one direction prompts turning to another page in the atlas in which roads easily flow from one state and back into another making finding your way rather difficult.


I tried to stay off the big highways and instead found Rt. 441 which took me through the heart of the gorgeous Nantahala National Forest that straddles Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. The route (also called Georgia Road) ran parallel with a small river which supported countless river rafting operations along the way. It felt nice to be riding alongside water after being so long in the mountains. And of course the cool air and shade were very welcome as well.


The last highlight of my day was that somewhere after crossing the Georgia border I finally got to see my first Shoney’s of the trip!

Found a local KOA Campsite for the night. Free wifi in my tent! What will the kids think up next?


Seriously, there was a peacock at the campgrounds to greet new visitors. I thought I knew what class was, but now I really know.


WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: I thought leaving the Blue Ridge would be my last scenic run for a few days, but then I discovered Nantahala. Stay on your road, and you’ll be surprised what you find. Also, KOA Campgrounds are sweet!

Day 6 – The Biltmore Estate (and why I need to become a billionaire)

Boone, NC – Ashville, NC

126 miles

It was sad to say goodbye to Bubba but it was time to push on. I made my way back to the Blue Ridge Parkway, again enjoying the magic of the early hours when the air is cool and the riding is solitary. So beautiful and peaceful.





I skipped breakfast again which inevitably led me to start fantasizing about lunch. I knew I would stop in Asheville for lunch and I had a pretty good idea that I’d be able to find some proper southern fried chicken there. Using Yelp, I decided upon Tupelo Honey Café where I ordered a glorious southern feast.



I had planned to get back on the Parkway and ride it to the end but a nagging voice in my head reminded me that my Aunt Cindy (arguably my coolest and youngest Aunt) had told me at the wedding that I MUST visit the Biltmore Estate.

Embarrassingly, I didn’t even really understand what it was – some museum perhaps. But for those of you who don’t know, the Biltmore Estate is the largest privately owned home in America. It was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt as a “country home”. Spanning over 175,000 feet and containing over 250 rooms, it was one of the most impressive constructions of America’s Gilded Age. Vanderbilt commissioned Fredrick Law Olmsted, who was the architect behind New York’s Central Park, to design the grounds which spanned hundreds of thousands of acres.



It’s simply fascinating to see how Americans lived in that era. One of my favorite tidbits was the indoor bathrooms (so rare at the time and the Biltmore had close to 30) which had bathtubs and toilets, but all lacked sinks. It was assumed that if one wanted to wash their face that a servant would bring a washbasin of warm water. Just wild!


Today, the estate is open to the public and is still run by the Vanderbilt family as a working farm. There is a winery, behind the scene tours, farm-to-table expos, horseback riding, clay shooting, fishing, and an enormous hotel. The tour is incredibly impressive and by all accounts, George Vanderbilt seemed like a swell guy who loved to travel, loved to entertain, and most of all loved his wife. By the time I finished the tour, it was close to 6pm and I was feeling a bit bushed.

With the hope of doing some clay shooting in the morning, I checked into my first hotel room of the trip. I figured George Vanderbilt would approve of the motorcycle trip so it seemed a good place to settle in for the evening.

I’m really not a big museum guy, but if you’re ever in the area, you should see the Biltmore Estate. Very cool.


WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: Some of America’s “tourist” attractions are worth stopping at. There are popular for a reason. Also, I really need to build a 250-room estate in North Carolina at some point.

Day 5 – Detours

Rocky Knob, VA – Boone, NC

98 miles


What a wonderful morning. Hitting the Parkway early is just incredible. It’s quickly become my favorite time of day to ride. The temperature hovers in the high sixties before giving way to the sweltering heat of the day. My visor is cracked open about three inches letting most of the cool air rush in. All of the moisture from the past evening brings out these luscious scents of green grass and fading campfires that I can catch for a second as I speed by. The sun is still low so the shadows are long on the parkway so I don’t have to squint like at midday. It’s just a magical time to ride. Again, it makes me feel very lucky.


However, I’ve been eating on the lighter side (which for me is typically a one ox per day quota) so I decided to pull over for a proper breakfast at one of the Parkway restaurants. I stopped at Merrill House where I treated myself to some pancakes….excuse me, hotcakes.


And clearly I’ve led a sheltered life. Through the wine tasting regions of California, I’ve learned the art of wine blending. But on the Blue Ridge Parkway you can have a hotcake medley (a meritage, if you will). At Merrill House, you’ll get a stack of cornmeal, buttermilk and sweet potato hotcakes, one on top of each other, butter in between, with a glorious serving of maple syrup. It was hard to stop at one order.

But eventually I shoved off and wanted to get some miles under my belt. The driving through the Parkway was continually mesmerizing and it felt like everyone I saw on the road was smiling. But soon around Mile 232, tragedy hit when I saw that part of the Blue Ridge Parkway was down for repairs and I was led on a detour running through Sparta, NC.


It felt so weird being in normal traffic after existing in the fairyland bubble of the Smoky Mountains for the past two days. Pedestrian traffic, honking horns and 90 degree turns had been absent from my mindset and riding. You see, that’s the glorious part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.


No billboards.

No signs.

No commercial activity.

No stoplights.

Just beautiful black road and lush green, flowering trees with a view to stop hearts every ½ mile.

And that’s all it is. A road designed exclusively for driving pleasure.


As I’m sure you can understand, stepping back into civilization was difficult. To calm my agitated nerves, I visited my first North Carolina winery. Along the detour I saw signs for Thistle Meadow Winery and decided to pay a visit.

North Carolina winery, you say?!! Yeah, I sort of thought the same thing. But this is a trip about discovery and adventure and clearly the Motorcycle Gods had designs on this afternoon and it would clearly involve wine.


I pulled in and immediately an elder gentlemen sitting on the porch in overalls began apologizing for the cold spell we’d been having (sarcastically). He welcomed me in and started setting up a tasting flight. He told me they made close to 50 different wines on the estate. I humbly mentioned that I failed to see any vineyards on the property and he explained that most of their grapes were shipped to them in concentrate form. His main business, he explained, was selling Make-Your-Own-Wine kits.


Folks, I’ve made my own beer before and while you can taste my enthusiasm, you probably can’t taste much else. This winery was sort of the same way. I tasted 6 wines and I actually really enjoyed the sauvignon blanc. Some of the others may have needed a bit more time in the bottle (to put it charitably), but all were drinkable and you could see the passion for this emerging wine region.

The day ended with my pulling into Boone, NC – home of Appalachian State University. I first starting coming to Boone several years ago to go paragliding at Tater Hill, a small launch site owned by Bubba Goodman. Bubba and I became good friends but I haven’t made it down in a while and was excited to see him and catch up. We spent the evening talking about life and chasing down the best slice of pie in town. It was a great end to the day and I vowed not to go so long between visits.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: North Carolina actually has vineyards and wineries and they’re not half bad (but let’s not push it).

Day 4 – Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway

Front Royal, VA – Rocky Knob, VA

284 miles


Nirvana. Today was utter motorcycling nirvana. I have never ridden on roads so perfect, spellbinding and totally intoxicating. I swear, I started giggling for the first ten minutes. Skyline Drive is that good. Everything about it is simply perfect. You feel like you are racing on a surface of black glass with the most gorgeous lush scenery as the backdrop. Everything smells alive and fresh. Car or motorcycle, it doesn’t matter. You have to go and see it. Seriously.


Despite the best laid plans, it took me more than 45 minutes to pack up my tent at Gooney Creek (I still can’t type that with a straight face) and saddle up on the bike. I’m still catching my groove regarding my gear and it took me a bit longer to pack up than I anticipated. I skipped breakfast and rushed to get to Skyline Drive to salvage my plan to hit the park early with a minimum of traffic to enjoy the pristine roads.


And the plan worked. I started on Skyline Drive at the top of Shenandoah State Park at 7:45am. For the next ninety minutes, I had the entire Parkway to myself. I felt like the luckiest person on Earth.


Not. Another. Soul.

It was, without question, the most incredible experience I’ve ever had riding a motorcycle in my entire life. The road was like a dream. What makes the Parkway so special is that it feels more like a long driveway into a gorgeous manicured estate than a public road.


But it’s not an estate. It’s a National Park. And National Parks have lots of critters that live in the woods. Within the first two hours, here’s what crossed the road in front of me.

Wild Turkey



Countless squirrels


Hedgehog or Badger (they all look alike – I’m not being racist).

Guess what I hit? The turtle. Unbelievable. I felt miserable about it.


Once I shook off the Turtle Incident, I continued being spellbound again and again by each crest and curve of Skyline Drive. The perfectly black sticky asphalt hugged my tires and inspired confidence in each turn. The lush green trees would bend on both sides of the road to create a shadowy canopy that would suddenly open again to stunning vistas of the Smoky Mountains that ran parallel to the road. Most of the time there were no settlements or man-made buildings visible from the countless overlooks. Simply rolling green hills and mountain peaks as far as you could see. It was simply breathtaking.


Every mile or so, you can see a sign for an overlook area. You see, the biggest danger of this road is that the views are so captivating that it’s easy to stare off into the far away mist of the Smoky Mountains while a hairpin curve wanders up and smacks you in the head. Luckily, the wise designers of this road understood the power of the Park’s natural beauty so they set up countless rest stops and overlooks. In fact, there are so many pulloffs that one typically has each overlook to oneself. The vistas and the solitude combine to create very powerful memories.


At one rest stop, I met John who was riding his red Ducati Multistrada north from Florida to Maine. We had a good chat like motorcyclists do talking about roads, routes and near accidents we survived. I think he was eying my GS’s superior load capability. But I was admiring his hot red fast Italian bike.


The nice thing I’ve discovered about my trip cross country is that everyone smiles when they hear about the adventure. If you tell someone you’re going to Hawaii for two weeks, you’re a schmuck. Perhaps a lucky shmuck, but still the same sentiment remains. A long bike trip seems to bring the best out in folks.  People wish they were going with you, and shake your hand when they leave.


I finished Skyline Drive by around 1pm and entered the first part of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Skyline Drive is a $10 toll road but amazingly the Blue Ridge is free is equally stunning. I’m just amazed that this beautiful resource is here for the taking.


Despite the beauty and seductive roads of the Parkway, I still hadn’t eaten since camping the night before. Using my GPS, I found lunch at the Blue Mountain Brewery. I grabed a German Pale Ale and a veggie pizza before hitting the road again.

20110604-075955.jpg It was a pretty neat brewery. They grow a good portion of their hops onsite and the brick oven makes a damn fine thin crust. I’d go back there.


Camping again tonight. I was going to camp near Roanoke but one of the park rangers recommended that I push on to Rocky Knob. He said the campgrounds in Roanoke were located in a gully that soaks up all the sun while offering little shade. After spending the day riding in 90 + heat, I followed his advice. Tomorrow it’s on to Boone, NC to see my old paragliding friend Bubba.

20110604-080227.jpgWHAT DID I LEARN / DISCOVER TODAY: How amazing our National and State Parks are. I plan on visiting a whole lot more after this experience today.

Day 3 – Evolution

Wilmington, DE – Front Royal, VA

184 miles

It’s funny how a day can start one way and evolve into another. I woke up this morning a bit foggy from the revelry of the wedding and its celebrations that occurred the night before. I tried for an early start but saying goodbye to all my family members and general sluggishness resulted in my leaving around 11 a.m. It was my first time in Wilmington and it felt very sterile in an urban sort of way. I was eager to get on the road.

After stopping in Bethesda for lunch, I headed west on 495 and then hooked onto I-66 to take me into Virginia. Throughout my ride in the Northeast corridor on I-95, the NJ Turnpike and the Capitol Beltway, I’ve felt vaguely claustrophobic from all of the car traffic around me, much like standing at the urinals at Giants Stadium during halftime.

But as I headed west on 66, everything started to change. The trip started to unfold. I started riding, not driving.


Somewhere around Gainesville, VA, the ever-present traffic started to melt away and long stretches of road presented themselves despite having been reduced to a two-lane highway. Instead of the distant skylines of Baltimore and Washington, the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Mountains rose up on the horizon. The shoulders of the sloping road and its medians became lush green forests as opposed to Roy Rogers Rest Stops.


My exit off I-66 rewarded me with The Apple House, home of the some of the best cider donuts I’ve had in years. I started with eating just two and then sheepishly returned to the counter for another two. The establishment might be a bit of tourist trap but regardless, the smell of BBQ and deep fried dough let me know that I had left the Northeast and was now squarely in the South.

I soon pulled into Front Royal, VA, the home of the top of Skyline Drive.


I felt good about my decision to slab the big interstates this far because I wanted to push my way into unfamiliar ground as soon as possible. Considering that I’m writing this at the lovely Gooney Creek Campground (I’m not making this up), having set up my first tent in 15 years, and driving on one of America’s most beautiful highways in the morning, I think I’ve arrived at unfamiliar.



And the best part is that I’ve already made my first road friend. As I pulled into my camp spot and dropped my gear, my neighbor Nafi called me over to offer a hamburger he was making on his grill (a damn good one BTW). He introduced himself and his family that had come to America from Afghanistan and now live in outside Washington DC. He told me about leaving Soviet occupied Afghanistan decades ago to make a new life in America. It was great to hear his immigration story and the optimism he still holds despite the recessionary challenges in the economy. Let me reiterate that this man makes a damn fine burger.


These are the kind of experiences I’m hoping for as I drive across America. My goal for tomorrow is to be set up to start Skyline Drive, one of the most scenic highways in America, by dawn.

Pretty good day.

WHAT DID I LEARN / DISCOVER TODAY: People are nice. Be open to meeting new folks and hearing their story. Rewards, or at least a hamburger, will follow.



Days 1 & 2 – The Journey Begins

Nyack, NY – Wilmington, DE

147 Miles

Like all good stories, this one starts with a wedding. My younger cousin Danny landed himself a beautiful girl named Amy who agreed to marry him in Wilmington, Delaware this weekend. My plan is to leave Nyack, NY and use the wedding as a starting point for my journey.


But the Motorcycle Gods are fickle, and what’s more, they don’t reward stupidity. In an especially boneheaded move on my part, I almost blew up my bike before the trip even began.

As with any epic trip, the very last minute is always fraught with mild panics over bike preparations and what might have been forgotten. As I dashed back into the house to grab something, the phone rang and sucked me into a 45-minute conversation. I suddenly realized that I had accidently left my bike running in the hot sun. Now you and I might love 87 degree late Spring days, but air cooled boxer twin BMW motorcycles do not. I returned to find my bike smoking from the burning oil that was slowly dripping out of the left cylinder head. After the bike cooled, I inspected the engine and failed to discern any major leaks, but still pretty mad at myself for being so stupid. I promptly topped the bike off with fresh oil and, after crossing my fingers, I drove out the driveway and began my way south to Delaware.


The ride down was a nice warm up for the bigger journey ahead. Due to time pressure, I just slabbed south on I-95. I’ve already seen much of New Jersey so I wasn’t worried about missing out on anything. It was a nice chance to get comfortable on the bike, make sure the all the luggage straps were holding and generally get myself acquainted with the whole operation. Despite New Jersey’s reputation of being America’s Mobil Station, the southern leg of the New Jersey Turnpike isn’t a bad stretch of scenery at sunset. I pulled into Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington around 9pm and was grateful for the luxuries and linens it offered.

The wedding was on Saturday and it was terrific to catch up family members that I don’t see often. You should also know that my family is one that likes to talk with a drink in its hand. And given the fact that the actual ceremony started at 2 p.m., we had a long day of “talking” ahead of us. By 1 a.m., I was all talked out and had to retire to the comfort / safety of my hotel room and get my game face on for some riding tomorrow. Can’t wait.

WHAT DID I LEARN / DISCOVER TODAY: Very simple. Don’t leave an air cooled bike running in the hot sun (or anywhere else for that matter).

The Trip

Today, my journey across America begins! I’m riding my motorcycle South to the Gulf Coast, West to Los Angeles, North up the coast to San Francisco, and then back East to New York trying to hit as many of the great National Parks as possible. I’ll be riding mostly on local roads including some portions off-road while trying to avoid the big interstates as much as possible.

My goal is to find the best local food, enjoy some adventures and meet new and old friends. For accommodations, I’ll be camping, staying with friends, and occasionally splurging on some interesting hotels. My itinerary includes some big cities but also I’m also hoping to visit some smaller places that I’ve only read about.

In short, I’m circumnavigating America without a set plan or return date.  Let’s see what happens…