1795 Miles on the TAT Across Arkansas - Tennessee - Mississippi
The Trans-America Trail is an off-paved road adventure across the U.S.
The Trans-America Trail (AKA: the “TAT”) is a west bound dual-sport motorcycle ride across America.
The Trail starts in southeastern Tennessee, and ends at the Pacific Ocean in southwestern Oregon – nearly 5,000 miles of mostly off-pavement riding. If you have ever dreamed of traveling cross-country on your motorcycle, seeing sights you’d never see from a car, and meeting great people along the way, then the TAT is for you!
Sam Correro had that dream and made it a reality by creating the Trans-America Trail. Now any dual-sport motorcyclist can make this amazing adventure, thanks to Sam’s meticulous mapping of the nearly 5,000-mile route across America. This motorcycle adventure across America on the Trans-America Trail is NOT a single-track tight woods ride. The TAT is a route using dirt roads, gravel roads, Jeep roads, forest roads and farm roads. The TAT drops down into dried-up creek beds and crosses running water. You will ride atop abandoned railroad grades and levees. There are sections of mud, sand, snow and rocks. There are also inevitable sections of paved roads connecting the separate sections of unpaved roads and trails – especially on the eastern half of the TAT route.
The Trans-America Trail is ALL of the above, and the TAT is specifically laid out to please the the Dual-Sport Motorcycle rider. Sam Correro maintains the Trans-America Trail web site to provide helpful resources for planning this off-road cross-country trip on the “Trans-America Trail”. At TransAmTrail.com you will find all you need to plan and navigate your journey cross-country, including detailed roll charts and supporting maps. All of the TAT sections now have GPS way-points that have been added to the new and improved roll charts. Also there is an diagram of intersections on the new and improved roll charts. (Note: Navigation direction by the roll charts is East-to-West only. However, the GPS tracks and maps can be used for travel in either direction.)
Sam Correro states that the Trans-Am Trail is NOT for everyone. He cautions that it takes a rider with a “quest for adventure” and a special “love” for a motorcycle. You need to be able to find your own way using maps and GPS. You need to be self-supporting as there are MILES of trail with NO other traffic and no likelihood of timely help. The route is planned with average riding distance of about 200 miles from motel to motel. This distance also means that camping is not recommended as setting up, cooking and repacking will add hours to your daily schedule.
My 2013 Trans-America Trail adventure started with the preparation of my 2012 Suzuki V-Strom. The DL650 Adventure model included the rear TRAX (Suzuki-branded) 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 “Bags Connection” waterproof duffel bag for camping gear
• Garmin 78s GPS on RAM mount, hardwired to battery
• Heidenau K60 Scout on/off road tires
• I also fabricated a larger pad for the kickstand to hold up the loaded touring bike.
I had to plan around work and home obligations during the summer. I was looking forward to the cooler weather of fall. I also was watching for a stretch of forecasted favorable weather. We were going to have a good rain storm on Sunday. Finally, the take-off date was planned: Tuesday, October 8, 2013.
My plan was to ride the highways to the start of the Trans-America Trail in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. The Trail is designed for an east to west route. 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. Plus, motel choices around Tellico Plains were limited. Searching online it looked like I would need to go to Sweetwater, TN to get a room for the night, adding more miles to the route. In the end, I settled for riding to near Chattanooga, TN the first day.
Tuesday dawned clear and cool with temperatures in the mid-50’s. I added a fleece layer under my riding jacket and took off. I quickly realized that the one thing I had neglected in my planning and packing prior to the trip was to fill up with gas! So only 20 miles down the road I stopped in Malvern, AR to top off the tank – and warm up my hands! It’s interesting that while hunting or in winter sports when you get cold hands and feet and then warm up that you stay warm. Plus, the sun was warming up the day.
My route took me across the Arkansas River at Pine Bluff, then across the White River at Clarendon, AR where I stopped for a coffee break. (This would be one point where the TAT route crossed on my return.) I crossed the Mississippi River at Helena, AR and entered Mississippi and rode past the Isle of Capri Casino at east side of the bridge – the planned overnight stop on Day 4.
A few more highway miles brought me to Southaven, MS for lunch and another gas stop. The route across northern Mississippi and Alabama was via Highways 302 and 72/20 to Decatur, AL and then across the Tennessee River. Just past the junction of Highway 72 and I-24 I stopped for the night in Jasper, TN. Total miles for the day were 541 according to my GPS. The motel manager gave me the first ground floor room next to the office.
I was ready for breakfast at 6:00 am when they opened. I was repacked and on the road by 6:45 am. About 25 miles later I was just entering the Chattanooga area when I was passed by 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 manager saw me pull in and presented the backpack I had left lying in the parking lot.
So Day 2 started with 50 extra miles and a wasted hour. After another 80 miles I pulled into Athens, TN and refueled. With a cup of coffee and a doughnut at Dunkin Donuts I was on the road to Tellico Plains. Athens, TN is found at Exit 49 on Highway 30. The route from Athens to Tellico Plains was confusing with the actual roads not matching my map. 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 start of the Trans-America Trail.
Highway 39 ends at the NW edge of Tellico Plains. Highway 68 runs into town and “bypasses” the main downtown. Forest Road 341 was a little road that was easily missed – especially if you weren’t relying on a GPS. I should have been watching for the well-marked Steer Creek Road – just 50 yards before the obscure Witt Road, that is, FR 341.
It was almost noon on Tuesday, October 9th before I started on the actual Trans-America Trail route. The weather was perfect – mid-70’s and clear skies. I had my TAT 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. Remember, we had a good rain on Sunday before I left, and the rain had only ended in Tennessee on Monday.The going was a little rough and slow, but I was making steady progress while riding cautiously with a fully-loaded V-Strom. I easily splashed through the shallow water crossings.
Maybe I was overconfident. I reached this crossing and knew right away that it was different. There were raised ridges 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 took.
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 momentum stalled, I tipped sideways. As luck would have it, I tipped left and put my foot down – only to discover that the water there was knee deep! (That is way over my boots!)
There I was: standing knee deep in a running Tennessee creek. The bike was resting on the side pannier at a 45 degree angle. Standing lower than the bike, it took me a few attempts to gain enough leverage to stand the bike back up. I crawled on top and started the engine. When I shifted into 1st gear and attempted to move, I killed the engine again. I was stuck tight against something below the water level. I couldn’t go forward so I rocked the bike back maybe 6 inches. With a little slack, I gunned the engine and bounced over the obstruction.
Once on dry land again, I looked into the creek and saw what looked like a fishhook shaped rock (or hunk of concrete?) that was a perfect trap for a wheel. By now I was sweating from the inside and wet from the outside. I removed the inner windbreak layer of my coat. Took off 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 in the next trip in cold weather or suffer with soaked boots that could be dangerous.
I looked at my odometer and I had traveled less than 10 miles. I had tipped over and gotten soaked. Now I headed down the trail and noticed that the trail bed was really rough and the gravel was really loose. Within a few miles I discovered why: two graders working on the road.
The good news was that the trail turned from loose rock into a gravel road in a few miles. But this section of the TAT was as steep and rocky and curvy – uphill and down – as any section in the Ouachita Mountains close to home.
My original goal was to get close to Lynchburg on Day 2. 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 turn to gravel. Often the road would look more like a driveway as it passed near to a house or barn. The road would turn to rougher rock and then turn downhill to a “hollow” or climb over a ridge. After a ways, I would spot a mailbox and a house, and the road would soon turn back to gravel, then to a narrow paved road before coming out to another highway.
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 later start and the slow going that I wasn’t going to make 200 miles on the TAT. When the Trail crossed I-24 (no exit), I turned south on Bells Cove Road, and then Highway 41 to get to Monteagle, TN. I was happy to find a Super 8 motel just across the I-24 interchange. It was 6:00 pm and another 50 miles on the TAT back roads in the dark wasn’t a good idea. Besides, I had already ridden 338 miles on Day 2.
With a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast, I was on the road before 7:00 am on 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 wanted to take the time. I had a goal of getting another 300 miles down the trail – or at least to Pickwick Lake to camp for the night.
I was getting great gas mileage, but I needed a break so I detoured into Parks City from the north. The Shell station was on the far south side of town. After a cup of coffee and a fried peach pie I was ready to go again.The rest of the ride through Tennessee was much the same. Lots of curvy back roads, mostly paved. The route seldom allowed speeds over 40 mph with constant hills and curves. More than once I encountered cars and trucks taking “their half” down the middle of the road!
The weather was great – not too warm, and not too cool. Perfect October riding weather. Across Tennessee, it was a continual progression of twisty gravel and narrow paved roads. There weren’t many sections that you could travel for more than a few miles without a corner or intersection. Just when you thought you were making good time, it was time to change the map in my tank bag or the track in my GPS. (The TAT track has so many way points that it is broken up into many smaller tracks as supplied by Sam.)
I made it to 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 industrial forest roads that were not bad – just loose enough on the down hills and curves to prevent making good time. By now I was used to averaging 25 miles per hour, including stops. I was seldom able to hit 40 mph on good stretches.
By now I had also given up on the roll chart. 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 duplicates and expendable. I never bothered with them again for the rest of the trip.
I have to admit that following the map in the approaching darkness was a challenge. In fact, I quit trying to follow the continual curves and intersections and just followed the GPS track. Finally, I came to a major intersection and knew I had to be getting close to Corinth. I pulled out the Map 2 for Mississippi and discovered I was at Highway 45. Corinth was only a few miles north. I burned up the highway to the Highway 72 exit and found a motel for the night!I totaled 280 miles on Day 3 in 9 hours of elapsed time. The moving average of 31 mph was skewed because of the last dash at 71 mph into Corinth!
I was on the road again by 7:00 am. I backtracked a few miles to the TAT route and took the paved county road into Kossuth, MS. I had looked at the map the night before a saw that the TAT route jogged north a few miles and then rejoined the county road farther west. 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!)
Without the GPS track to follow, I also missed the next turn and curved south on Highway 2. That’s when it happened: I got sideswiped! (I don’t want to talk about it except to say that those TRAX boxes are tough and the mounts are flexible!) I took a pair of tie down straps along. Rather than packing the straps, I snugged them around the outsides of the panniers before I took off. The boxes never loosened, but the straps were like a belt and suspenders – that is, extra preparedness that may have contributed to the secure package and impact protection!
I reconnected with the TAT route at County Rode 627, 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!
This 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!!!
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.) So I pushed on into Arkansas and ended up in Brinkley at a dumpy motel for the night.
The next morning i was on the road at 6:15 AM and backtracked a few miles to the TAT route.
I rode farms roads, gravel roads and more levees as I followed the route 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 abandoned changing the paper maps and just followed the GPS to Beebe, AR for a break. After a refill of gas, coffee and a brownie, I headed north and west on the TAT.
When I reached the intersection with Highway 92, it was only 80 miles down Highway 9 to 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 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 650 V-Strom. There was NO oil used. No breakdowns. No problems!
The eastern section of the Trans-America Trail COULD be ridden on a larger dual sport motorcycle – 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?
Below is a recap video of this eastern section of the TAT. As depicted on other Ride Reports, I live in central Arkansas and have the luxury of taking off for the western TAT on my OTHER dual sport: a Yamaha WR250R. Stay tuned for the Ride Report on the western Trans-America Trail!
PS. Check out my other vidos of the TAT and more dual sport adventures at my YouTube Channel!