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Motorcycle Adventure on the Trans-America Trail Through TN, MS, AR

Recap of my ride on the TAT - Trans-America Trail: 1795 miles on the backroads of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas.


The Trans-America Trail is a dual-sport motorcycle route across America. Using unpaved roads and public trails as much as possible, the “TAT” allows riders to experience the heart and soul of America.

Today, the Trans-America Trail has been extended all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in North Carolina. You can now ride from coast to coast, ending at the Pacific Ocean in southwestern Oregon – over 5,000 miles of mostly off-pavement riding.


For dual sport, “adventure” motorcycle riders, the Trans-America Trail is a bucket list achievement. Every ADV rider dreams about traveling cross-country on your motorcycle, self-supported, taking in scenery denied to anyone confined in a car. Every day reveals a stark contrast in terrain. Every day forces you to deal with changing weather, wind, hunger, fatigue, and the demands of your motorized steed.


The Trans-America Trail is a Rite of Passage for all adventure riders!

Sam Correro shared these dreams and made it a reality by creating the Trans-America Trail. Now any dual-sport motorcyclist can enjoy this amazing adventure, thanks to Sam’s meticulous mapping (and continual revisions) of the cross-country route across America. Thousands have now shared this experience.


The Trans-America Trail is a route using public dirt roads, gravel roads, Jeep roads, forest roads and farm roads. At points, the TAT drops down into ravines and crosses running water. On other sections you will ride atop abandoned railroad grades and levees. There are sections of mud, sand, snow, and rocks. There are also inevitable stretches of paved roads connecting the separate sections of unpaved roads and trails. While designed for dual sport motorcycles, many travelers in Jeeps and 4x4’s have also followed the same route.


Sam Correro compiled the route, but states that the Trans-Am Trail is NOT for everyone. You need to be able to find your own way using maps and GPS. You need to be self-sufficient as there are MILES of trail with NO local traffic and no likelihood of timely help. The route is planned with an average riding distance of about 200 miles per day. Some people choose to ride from motel to motel, but most carry camping gear for at least some of the overnights.

I had owned and toured on large cruiser motorcycles. But road riding didn’t satisfy me and my need for exploration of remote areas. When I finally “discovered” dual sport, adventure motorcycling it was inevitable that I made plans to ride the Trans-America Trail!


After months of research, I bought a Suzuki V-Strom “Adventure” motorcycle. Articles and forums repeatedly testified to the durability and dependability of this touring motorcycle. (I later learned that a large, “around-the-world” ADV motorcycle is overkill for the TAT – more on this later.) Then, the “fun” began. NO motorcycle is ready for “ADV touring” off the showroom floor!

The DL650 Adventure model included the rear TRAX (Suzuki-branded) aluminum panniers, extended windshield, and engine crash bars. To the base bike I added the following:

• RG Racing radiator guard

• Touratech hand guards

• Touratech skid plate

• Twisted Throttle “Trail” tank bag with Quick-Lock gas cap mount

• Twisted Throttle waterproof duffel bag for camping gear

• Garmin 78s GPS on RAM mount, hardwired to the battery

• Heidenau K60 Scout on/off road tires

• I also fabricated a larger pad for the kickstand to hold up the heavy touring bike on soft ground


I’ll admit that outfitting a motorcycle with “farkles” -- while expensive -- is part of the fun of ADV touring. After weeks of ordering parts and hours of installation I was ready to hit the trail. The take-off date was planned: Monday, October 8, 2013.


I left my home in Arkansas and rode the highways to the start of the Trans-America Trail in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. MapQuest showed the distance as 668 miles by my chosen route through central Arkansas, then northern Mississippi and Alabama, and into Tennessee. With the shortening days, this was a little farther than I was comfortable riding in one day. I stopped for the night in Jasper, TN. Total miles for Day 1 were 541.


I was ready for breakfast at 6:00 am when the motel restaurant opened. I was repacked and on the road by 6:45 am. About 25 miles later I was just entering the Chattanooga morning commuter traffic when I was passed by a sport bike rider who gave me a wave. I noticed his backpack – and realized I wasn’t wearing mine! At the next exit I turned around and made the return trip to Jasper. The motel manager saw me pull in and presented the backpack I had left lying in the parking lot.


On most motorcycle tours, It takes a few days to get into a traveling groove!


Day 2 started with 50 extra miles and a wasted hour. After another 80 miles I pulled into Athens, TN and refueled. I stubbornly had not programmed the “Go To” function of my GPS yet, so I took a few wrong turns before finding Tellico Plains and then the official start of the Trans-America Trail on Forest Road 341.


It was almost noon on Tuesday, October 9th before I officially started the Trans-America Trail route. The weather was perfect – mid-70’s and clear skies. I had my TAT paper roll chart loaded and ready. I clicked on TAT TN GPS Track 1 and hit the trail!


The trail wasn’t disappointing. In fact, it was pretty steep and rocky! I rode up and down the Tennessee hills for several miles. There had been heavy rain the day before, but I easily splashed through the shallow water crossings. The going was a little rough and slow, but I was making steady progress while riding cautiously with a fully loaded V-Strom.  

Maybe I was overconfident. I reached a stream crossing and knew right away that it was different. There were raised ridges of rock running across the creek. Had concrete been poured to form a bridge, and then been eroded? Or was this natural corrugated shelf rock? I knew I couldn’t ride the ridges; I had to ride in the troughs between. It looked like the left side was the straightest shot across so that is the line I attempted.


I made it almost exactly to the center of the creek – and hit something. I was only moving at 1 mph, so the rock or rut immediately stopped me and killed the motor. My forward momentum stalled, I tipped sideways, only to discover that the water there was knee deep!


Welcome to the TAT initiation, stalled in the Tennessee backwoods, knee deep in a creek.


The bike was resting on the side pannier at a 45-degree angle. I pried the Suzuki upright, then started the engine. But I was stuck tight against something below the water level. Since I couldn’t go forward, I rocked the bike back maybe 6 inches, then gunned the engine and bounced over the rocks.


By now I was sweating from the inside and wet from the outside. I removed my boots and wrung out my socks. There was no way to dry my boots as the inner padded lining was now a wet sponge. Lesson learned: Be prepared with waterproof socks or suffer with soaked boots for days. 


The first challenge on the TAT: My odometer showed I had traveled less than 10 miles.


Now I headed down the trail and noticed that the roadbed was really rough, and the gravel was especially loose. Within a few miles I discovered why: Two graders working on the road.


After I was able to pass the pair of graders, the trail turned from loose, chunky rock into a compacted gravel road. But this section of the TAT was as steep and rocky and curvy – uphill and down – as any section in the Ouachita Mountains I had ridden close to home. 

My original goal was to get close to Lynchburg. As I continued to wind through the rural Tennessee countryside, the route started to get predictable. The TAT route would cross a highway and turn onto a two-lane paved town road. This road would narrow to one-lane and finally turn to gravel. Often the gravel road looked more like a driveway as it passed near a house or barn – but I was still following the GPS track. The narrow gravel road would eventually degrade to rougher rock, then turn downhill to a “hollow” or up and over a sharp ridge. Within a few miles I would spot a mailbox and a house, soon the road would turn back to gravel, then to a narrow paved road before coming out to the next highway crossing.

I kept changing maps in my tank bag and advancing the roll chart. As the sun got lower in the sky, I realized with the late start and slow going that I wasn’t going to make the 200 miles to Lynchburg. When the Trail crossed I-24, I turned south to Monteagle, TN. I was happy to find a Super 8 motel. It was 6:00 pm and another 50 miles on the unfamiliar TAT back roads in the dark wasn’t a good idea. There would be no comforting campfire tonight. Besides, I had already ridden 338 miles on Day 2. 


With a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, I was on the road before 7:00 am on Wednesday, Day 3.

As a bonus, Monteagle is at the top of a hill and Highway 41 is a great curvy road to warm up with in the morning! Next stop was Lynchburg, TN. I took a few photos but was there too early for a tour of the Jack Daniels facility – not that I budgeted the extra time. I had a goal of getting another 300 miles down the trail – or at least to Pickwick Lake to camp that night.

The Suzuki was running flawlessly. The twin engine was so smooth that I could hear the chain when it needed lube – at least daily from the frequent water crossings. I was getting great gas mileage and the rest of the ride through Tennessee flew by with lots of curvy, paved back roads mixed with narrow, twisty gravel. The route seldom allowed speeds over 40 mph with constant hills and curves. But the weather was great – not too warm, and not too cool. Perfect October riding weather.

I reached Pickwick Lake around 5:00 pm. It was perfect timing for setting up camp, but I was more interested in adding miles, so I elected to burn past and head for Corinth, MS – about 40 miles further down the Trail. (Note that the TAT has suggested motel stops spaced about 200 miles apart.)


The first few miles into Mississippi had me questioning my decision. The roads narrowed and the quality deteriorated. After turning off MS Highway 350 I entered timber lands. The TAT route was along sandy forest roads that were not bad – just loose enough on the down hills and curves to prevent making good time.

Side note: By now I had given up on the paper roll chart. The charts listed so many turns that they needed to be changed continuously. I had changed the chart back in Lynchburg – inserting the second half of the Tennessee route. Within a few miles it had jammed. I later took it apart and reassembled it, only to have it jam again. With good maps and a clear route on the GPS, the roll charts were unnecessary duplication and expendable. I never bothered with them again for the rest of the trip. (Also note that I never used the aggravating roll charts for any of the western TAT in 2014.)


In the approaching darkness, I quit trying to follow the continual curves on the map and concentrated on the GPS track. When I came to a major intersection, I discovered that I had reached Highway 45, which meant that Corinth was only a few miles north. I burned up the highway and found a motel for the night! I completed 280 miles on Day 3 in 9 hours of elapsed time.


I was on the road again by 7:00 am on Thursday. I backtracked a few miles to the TAT route, then took the paved county road into Kossuth, MS. I had looked at the map the night before and noticed that the TAT route jogged north a few miles only to rejoin the county road farther west. Occasionally, Sam’s route takes unexplained detour loops – maybe to pass something of local interest? I really wasn’t worried about missing 4 miles of rural Mississippi, so I blasted straight ahead though Kossuth. (Later I saw the TAT roll chart listed "Sam and Lora" – sorry I missed passing by your house!)


By not following the TAT GPS track, I also missed the next turn on the TAT route and continued south on Highway 2. That’s when it happened: I got sideswiped! My V-Strom is WIDE with the hard side cases. I moved over in my lane as I saw a distracted driver cross the center line – but not quite far enough. I believe the impact was with the rearview mirror on the Mustang that hit me. The good news is that those TRAX boxes are tough, and the mounts are flexible. I had added a pair of tie-down straps around the outsides of the panniers before I took off. The boxes never loosened on the rough trails. Apparently, the straps contributed to the secure package and impact protection.

I soon reconnected with the TAT route turning off Highway 2. I checked everything again and couldn’t find any damage to my bike or the pannier mounts. After a prayer of thanksgiving, I remounted and headed west down the Trans America Trail! 

The photo above shows the PVC storage tube that contains my tire patches, a siphon hose, and an extra liter of fuel for my camp stove or as a reserve. Also shown is the rear Heidenau K60 tire – perfect for the eastern TAT.


The farther west I traveled through Mississippi, the better the roads got! I was able to shift into 3rd and 4th gear and pick up the pace on the flat terrain!

After breaking out of the forest and into crop fields, I pushed on through Mississippi. There were a few fun miles riding on the levees along lowland streams. 


I had already ridden 279 miles across Mississippi when I arrived at the recommended stop for the night: the Isle of Capri Casino. However, there were NO rooms available! (There was a “Blues Festival” in Helena – so no rooms there, either.) I pushed on into Arkansas and ended up in Brinkley at a dumpy motel for the night.


The next morning on Day 5, I was on the road at 6:15 AM and backtracked a few miles down the highway to rejoin the TAT route.


I rode Arkansas farms roads, gravel roads and more levees as I followed the route west and north, then west and north. Eventually I ran into a minor detour due to a washed-out bridge.

I continued to push west, and the skies continued to darken. Rain was imminent. Once the rain started pouring down, I again abandoned the paper maps and just followed the GPS to Beebe, AR for a break. After a refill of gas and a coffee break, I continued to wind northwest on the TAT.


At the intersection with Highway 92 I was only 80 miles away from Hot Springs Village and home. My Trans-America Trail route had taken me 675 highway miles from Hot Springs Village, AR to the trail head at Tellico Plains, TN. Then, via the winding TAT (including a few side trips) I had traveled 1120 miles home, for a grand total of 1795 miles.


I added up my receipts after reaching home: $120.94 in gas for 1795 miles of riding over 5 days. Not too bad! The Trans-America Trail was over for this year. It was a great ride on the 650cc V-Strom. There was No oil used. No breakdowns. No flat tires. No problems!


Looking back now, I was happy with my choice of the Suzuki V-Strom. It is an efficient, smooth-running machine. (My only complaint was with the HUGE side cases. I have since graduated exclusively to soft rear panniers. Smaller luggage also forces you to travel lighter!) This eastern section of the Trans-America Trail has been ridden on larger adventure bikes - but WHY? I had NO problem cruising at over 70 mph on the highway enroute to Tellico Plains. I definitely wouldn’t want to ride a bigger bike on a solo trip off-road. How would you pick it up by yourself in the middle of a running Tennessee stream?


If I was not riding 675 miles from home to the start of the TAT, I would certainly prefer a lighter dual sport motorcycle. There are many great options in the 250cc to 400cc range. If outfitted with rugged luggage, knobby tires, and skid plates, I also would be happy to ride the eastern TAT on the new breed of mid-size Scramblers. I have also read ride reports of TAT riders happily tackling the route on tiny 125cc mini-motos!


Below is a recap video of this eastern section of the TAT.

As described in my other Ride Reports, at the time I lived in central Arkansas. This gave me the advantage of riding 80 miles north to reconnect to the Trans-America Trail to experience the western route on my OTHER dual sport: a Yamaha WR250R. See the related article at the GreatOutThere blog!


PS. Subscribe to my blog and YouTube channel for more dual sport adventures!

Trans-America Trail



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