Reflecting on the Road to Laughlin

Rewind to last fall: my buddy Tom calls me up from San Diego and says, “Hey, man. A few of us are getting together in April and riding up to Zion National Park for a few days. Wanna come?” I responded, “Sound like fun. Count me in.” I left out the part where I am located in Iowa…

I’ve always wanted to ride cross country, and being in the motorcycle industry and traveling to hundreds of events over the years (mostly via plane), you would think I would have ridden to more of them.

The Road to Laughlin

Outside of Sturgis, I really don’t ride to that many events. I’ve ridden to Sturgis for the last nine years in a row. Depending on which route I take, it’s roughly 850-900 miles each way, all of which I do in one day. I’ve made that particular trip on four different sport bikes, a Dyna and a Softail…never a bagger.

Truth be told I’m not much of a bagger and I ride a lot, but prefer smaller, lighter bikes. I decided to not only ride a bagger for this trip, but a Victory bagger. I opted to ride the J&P Cycles’ Victory Cross Country.

The J&P Vic is fairly modified including a seven-degree rake and a 23-inch front wheel. Both modifications don’t really scream touring bike but I wanted to try something different and this definitely fit the bill.

So the plan was to ride from Anamosa, Iowa, to Denver, make my way toward the Grand Canyon, and then up to Mesquite, Nev., to meet up with Tom’s crew, then head up to Zion National Park, camp for a few days, and then head down to the Laughlin River Run and work with the J&P events crew.

I thought I would give fellow J&P staffer Joe Sparrow a call to see if he wanted to join me on the trip. Joe is always riding (460,000 miles on his Goldwing), and I knew he was going to be working Laughlin as well. I shot Joe a call and he was more than willing to take the cross country cruise with me, and he headed up this way from St. Louis.

Day 1
I had originally planned to leave on Monday, April13 and ride 900 miles on day one to get to Denver. Joe mentioned that leaving on Sunday night might not be a bad idea; we could knock out a few hundred miles and make Monday’s ride a bit easier.

I was itching to get going so we headed out about 7 p.m. and headed west for the border of Iowa and Nebraska. The ride was uneventful until Des Moines, where we hit some NASTY rain. After riding through an impressive thunderstorm complete with a lightning show, we hit the border and grabbed a hotel to get dry and catch some shuteye.

Day 2
We started out pointing the bikes west and heading across the plains of Nebraska. Honestly, there’s not a ton visually to see other than quiet rolling prairie and some interesting truck stops. We made Denver as the sun came down, and stopped in to visit my brother who showed us an awesome little grub spot called Tom’s Diner on the corner of Colfax and Pearl streets in Denver.

Day 3
After visiting Tom’s Diner again in the morning, we headed toward Pikes Peak, not really sure where we were going to end up. It was beautiful Colorado scenery all the way to the bottom of Pikes Peak. Once we arrived we had to decide if we wanted to ride to the top or keep heading west. We opted to head west and put on some more miles to keep the next day more manageable. We also may have stopped to look for Bigfoot. We ended up in Alamosa, Colo., for the night. That turned out to be a smart move….

Day 4
We woke up and headed toward the mountains and immediately the wind was ripping, but it was sunny out. We started gaining elevation as we headed up Wolf Creek Pass. The temps started dropping and snow levels started to rise. At one point it dipped to brisk 21 degrees. It was for real COLD. As cold as it was, the views were spectacular. Coming through the pass and riding through the San Juan River valley, we witnessed some of the most beautiful parts of the country. We made our way to Tuba City, Ariz., with the intention of exploring some of the Grand Canyon the following day.

Day 5
We decided to go to the North Rim of the canyon; the weather looked mild and the sun was bright as we set out for the morning. We were blessed with more wonderful scenery and then out of nowhere we ran into snow—heavy snow. That made for an interesting few miles, but we made it to the North Rim with no problem…and it was closed. So we headed out into the twisties around the canyon, then made our way up to Mesquite, Nev., to meet our buddies.

Day 6
Now that we had met up with the group from California, we made the short blast up to Zion National Park in Utah. After a pit stop for a corn dog, we made it to the Zion area were the roads and views are some of the best I have ever seen—even the highway up to Zion is scenic. We hit up the campsites to find a place to crash, but they were all booked up. The park was already bustling with hikers and vacationers, and I could see why the place draws a crowd—it was impressive.

Day 7
We were free to finally roam around one of the stops along the trip. Up to now we had been just logging miles every day with not much of a chance to explore. And explore we did. We managed to find a road we probably shouldn’t have gone down and went down it…or up it. The road up to the Kolob Reservoir started out really nice and then went to construction, then a wash-boarded gravel, then mud. It was awesome—my favorite part of the trip, doing some dual sporting with baggers. Even after having to pick up the GoldWing out of a mud hole, it was still a great day!

Day 8
We took one more spin through the park and headed south to the River Run. Even the road out of the park was a great experience, then flat land to Las Vegas. We caught 95 out of Boulder City, hung a left on 163, which actually has some nice sweepers descending through the hills, and arrived in the river valley where Laughlin sits.

Road to Laughlin in Photos:

Twin Bridges
Twin bridges.

Crossing the Colorado River.
Crossing the Colorado River.

It's only right to have a "Denver Omelet" in Denver, Colo.
It’s only right to have a “Denver Omelet” in Denver, Colo.

Who da thunk it?
Who da thunk it?

Taking a break to watch the clouds float by in the high plateaus of southwest Arizona.
Taking a break to watch the clouds float by in the high plateaus of southwest Arizona.

And we're not even in Zion National Park yet.
And we’re not even in Zion National Park yet.

Running the road through Zion.
Running the road through Zion.

During 2,247 miles, you get a lot of time to reflect and generally think. It’s one of the things I enjoy about riding—the solitude and time with your thoughts. I learned a lot during this trip, enough that it would drag this post on for too long. Stay tuned for follow ups regarding gear, the bike and my on-the-road epiphanies. One thing for sure is that if you have the opportunity, you should experience as much of our great country as you can from the back of a motorcycle.

Be sure to follow along with Joe Sparrow’s adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at #WanderingSparrow and right here on the blog.

By | 2015-05-07T13:17:25+00:00 May 7th, 2015|Categories: Editorial/Commentary Articles, News/Events Articles|2 Comments

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2 Comments

  1. Matt Finley February 18, 2016 at 11:27 am

    I enjoyed this article quite a bit! I really like the way the J&P Cross Country looks, but I don’t see any links in this article to the J&P Victory Cross Country build, (I assume that bike was modified by/using J&P Cycle sold products since it was listed in this article as the J&P Cross Country). If not a link then I really think it would be wise marketing to include a list of parts on each bike in each article that can be sourced from J&P Cycles. I want to modify my Cross Country with a lot of those same items I see in these photos and videos. I couldn’t find this J&P Cycle Cross Country using the J&P search function either.

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