From October 4th to October 22nd, I completed a fantasy I’ve had for three years. I say fantasy because, at one point, I thought it would never happen. But, once I started riding motorcycles again in 2018 in CA, the dream of riding cross-country lit in my adventure soul. So now I can proudly say I rode my Yamaha Tenere 700 motorcycle on a 19-day 3795-mile solo cross-country adventure through eight states. The journey started from my home in San Francisco, CA, to my parents’ house in Teachey, NC, where I grew up. To have completed this journey feels more than a box checked on my life goals and more like a kickstarter to my confidence and the next phase in my life, which I feel like I’m still figuring out. Still, I’m happy to have that box checked!
Overall, the adventure went way smoother than I could have ever imagined—no problems with the bike, police, other humans, or even the weather. I wish the same could be said for my body as my sciatic nerve pain went from 0 to 100 while on the ride. Wait, one problem with the weather was riding through extreme wind gusts. I’ll explain later below. For now, please sit back and read part 1 of my recap of the Icon Ride A Solo Motorcycle Adventure Across America For Mental Health.
While leaving San Francisco, CA, I rode South East towards the beautiful Mojave National Preserve, then towards Route 66 and adventured on the twisties of Sidewinder in Arizona. Some have called the Route 66 Sidewinder one of the best twisty roads in America. After riding, the Sidewinder, I can see why! The Sidewinder has 191 Curves in 8 miles! It’s beautiful, and I would say up there on my list of favorite roads. My next destination was the Grand Canyon for a few days. Once I reached the Grand Canyon, I got a little emotional. There’s a backstory, as I was planning to ride to the Grand Canyon in 2019, but the trip was canceled. After living through 2020 and 2021 with a sense tomorrow is not promised, reaching the Grand Canyon was another dream come true on the adventure list. Next, I was en route to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Just in time for the Hot Air Balloon Festival… So I thought. Sadly, due to winds, the last to days of the Ballon Festival were canceled. I’m now seven days on the road, and my body is like, WTF are you doing. Especially my lower back. I rested a couple of days in Albuquerque, then drove up to see the Sandia Crest, per some suggestions via Instagram.
From Albuquerque, New Mexico, I zipped across the middle of America to the tip of Texas, through extreme winds, outpacing a storm to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to rest. I enjoyed visiting some of the National Monuments along the route, such as Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Petrified National Park in Arizona. El Morro National Monument in New Mexico, Ozark National Forest in Arkansas, and several historic locations along Route 66. Once I reached Oklahoma, I stayed near Tulsa, as I wanted to visit the history Black Wall Street area. With everything happening and still happening in America, I felt seeing Black Wall Street was a required destination as a black human to visit at least once in a lifetime.
One of my IG friends, @JasonPerryPhoto, suggested routes along the ride, and he reminded me of a couple of locations that were the inspiration for the Disney/Pixar Movie Cars such as Conoco Tower along Route 66 in Shamrock, TX. As a Cars movie and race car fan, it was nice to see a few locations that inspired the animated in the film. I appreciate Jason and others for their route suggestions.
Once I reached Tennessee, I decided to get new tires after having 4700 miles on the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires, which performed way better on the HWY at high speeds than I thought they would. I stopped at the Honda/Yamaha Knoxville and replaced my tires with a set of Dunlop Trailmax Mission tires with the plan to do some off-roading on the way back. While having tires mounted at Honda/Yamaha Knoxville, I met two riders @Dansadv and @MT-09 (IG Names). Both riders had just finished the Tail of the Dragon road the day before and were getting new tires also. You see, The Tail of the Dragon is an 11-mile (18 km) stretch from Tennessee to North Carolina, which has 318 curves. They told me about their ride and what to watch out for (other cars going fast around blind curves). We also talked about Itchy Boots travel and her YouTube rally race videos. It was nice to meet them, but also it was a reminder of how humans can project their experiences and fears onto you, good or bad. As the Tail of the Dragon was my next destination, my anxiety was now high.
The Tail of the Dragon
Now, with a fresh set of new tires, the next adventure inside an adventure has started. It was time to experience the infamous “Tail of the Dragon road. Early in the morning the next day, I met a former Bay Area Rider Conner who relocated to Tenessee during the pandemic. Conner has ridden the Dragon a few times. I’m glad we started early, too, as one of my anxiety fears was to get stuck behind cars, slow bikes, and worrying about vehicles coming from the opposite direction overtaking their lanes. As we started on the chilly morning, we immediately got stuck behind a slow SUV. It was fine at first because I was surprised at the lakes and beauty at the start of the Dragon from Tennesse. Shortly the SUV pulled over the let us pass, and then the twisted started with warning signs for motorcycles and trucks bascilly saying to slow down. From that point to the end, it was just us and twenties. I told myself with a fully loaded adventure bike, I was going to take it slow and steady and do my best not to cross the double yellow lines. I may not have gone as slow as I thought I would, but I can say I didn’t cross the double yellow lines! Once we reached the End of the Tail of the Dragon, I yelled a woot in celebration. My nerves were calm, and my motorcycle skills confidence was booming. I was like; I did it!
Some notes on the Tail of the Dragon. I get the hype; 318 twisties in 11 miles is a lot. Some riders treat it like a race track (not suggested) but to be honest. I’ll take Cherohala Skyway, Mt Diablo, Mt Hamilton, and HWY 1 PCH, and even the Little Dragon on the way to Yosemite over the Tail of the Dragon.. but that’s just me. LOL. Still, I’m glad I can say another box checked with completing the Tail of the Dragon!
Once I left the Tail of the Dragon, Connor and I parted ways. I ventured up the Cherohala Skyway. I was like, wow! Cherohala Skyway is right here next to the Tail of the Dragon, and IMHO is a much better road than the Tail of the Dragon. Cherohala Skyway has a lot of twisties, even with a motorcycle warning sign saying to be careful. Later in the day, I had a virtual speaking engagement on mental health, and I had to zip to my hotel in nearby Cherokee, NC. If it wasn’t for the speaking event, I would have ridden all day along Cherohala Skyway.
The next day, while leaving Cherokee, NC, I stopped to visit the history Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum . Then I was I off to Charlotte, NC, mainly taking the highway. After a night in Charlotte it was time to make it to my destination. As I was about 60 miles from my parents house, one of my older cousins, Freddy, who rides a motorcycle, also met me in Elizabethtown, NC for part of the adventure. It was great to see my cousin and ride with him some. It just shows motorcycle riding runs in my blood. Then I made it to my parents’ house in Teachey, NC, on Friday, October 22nd, around 5:00pm. My parents, older sister, my niece, and my son Micah were there waiting for me. I made it! I did it! Nineteen days on the road, solo motorcycle adventure across America. Once I got off the bike, I first hugged my son, then my dad, who taught me how to ride a motorcycle when I was a kid.
Raising Awareness for Mental Health (Icon Ride)
During the Icon Ride, I planned to raise awareness for mental health and my non-profit Icon Project, which addresses mental health and professional development needs for Black and Brown Men. Unfortunately, with planning routes, dealing with back pain, and all, I failed to raise as much awareness and funds as I would like to have. My goal was $25,000. I raised $1,594! Thank you to all the donors. You can still donate here to support. Also, thank you to the humans who supported me directly. The adventure was for my mental health, too. I didn’t know just how much pressure I was putting on myself with having this dream of wanting to do a cross-country ride. Mentally it was becoming a roadblock, but now it’s over; it’s a boost of adrenaline in confidence that I can do anything!
Preparing for Mayhem
Overall, the trip was incredible. I’m glad I took my time to rest and enjoy the journey. I wish my body did as great as the motorcycle. Before I left for the trip, my therapist said to “prepare for mayhem” as anything could go wrong on the trip. I was ready for rain and cold temps with heated gear and my REV’IT Gear. My motorcycle was prepared for long rides, riding in the dark, and almost anything (besides the wind) from the mods, I added. But unfortunately, my body wasn’t. There were times on the trip where I was popping painkillers, pulling over to take longer breaks, and was almost in tears. Before I left, I had been dealing with lower back pain and I thought it wasn’t too bad for the trip. It wasn’t too long during the first week the nerve pain got dramatically worse. I have now learned that I have sciatica, hip, and lower back pain. Riding with sciatica, going cross-country was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Once I settled in at my parents’ house, I decided that instead of riding back home to San Francisco, which was the original plan, I would fly back to San Francisco and have my motorcycle shipped back.
The worst part of the adventure
Overall, there wasn’t a bad thing about the adventure. I checked the weather each day; I got lucky and avoided rain throughout the 19 days besides a few sprinkles in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The worst weather I had was riding through the tip of Texas from Albuquerque, NM, to Dalhart, TX, to Weatherford, OK, with the most extreme winds I have ever ridden through. I’m talking about 30 mph winds with 50+ mph wind gusts. At times I was holding on for dear life while semi-trailers (tractor-trailers) trucks were passing me. Besides the wind, the worst part was my sciatica pain down my leg while riding. Regardless, I would do it all over again today.
Random unexpected parts of the adventure
There were not a lot of surprises on the trip. I didn’t see a lot of other motorcycle riders or a big group of riders. I think that’s because I planned most of my riding days Monday through Friday and rested on weekends. I also never got stopped by the police (yeah), which I know was a worry for many people. As a Black man, it was a concern for me, too. Speaking of police, I did find it interesting I saw more police (HWY patrol) once I reached North Carolina in two days on the HWY than I did in 17 days riding across America (#justsayin NC). I was also very proud not to have any drops or accidents throughout the cross-country adventure. Although, I did come close a few times to dropping the motorcycle, often after I’ve reached the hotel after a long day of riding. The wildest part of the adventure was preparing to leave Franklin, TN, and when I removed my bike cover, my bike had thousands of ants on it from a nearby anthill. The ants were enjoying the dead bugs from reading. The next few hours consisted of a bike wash and later bug spray to remove the ants.
Another random thing was all the compliments I received on my bike. Humans liked my motorcycle setup! One guy talked to me for about 15mins looking at my mods and justifying to his wife why he needed another motorcycle.
The Best Part of the adventure
The best part of the adventure was reaching my destination at my parents’ house and seeing my son and family. But, along with seeing my family, I would say the freedom of being on the road those 19 days, resting, riding at my own pace, and experiencing new routes that I have never been on where all the best parts.
My favorite roads on the adventure
Besides the Grand Canyon, my favorite place on the adventure is a close tie between riding the Sidewinder on Route 66 near Oatman, AZ, and HWY 64 to 89 East of Grand Canyon to Flagstaff. That route surprised me with its beauty!
What would I have done differently?
There’s not much I would have done differently on the adventure besides camping vs. sleeping in hotels and continuing, riding and exploring more roads. I do wish I had done some off-roading, but I’m still dealing with off-road crashing PTSD from attempting a desert race (Biltwell 100) earlier this year (2021), so I kept it to back roads and interstates. I was planning to ride some of the TAT Trans-America Trail on the way back, but I’ll save that experience for a different adventure. I almost forgot, I would change my seat before starting! I did have an air-hawk seat cushion, and during the trip, I purchased a gel seat pad. Both were OK, but I should have bought a custom soft seat mod or added a seat concept seat mod before leaving.
How did the Yamaha Tenere 700 (T7) motorcycle perform?
Don’t let anyone fool you that, you have to have a certain kind of motorcycle for an adventure. I’ve seen riders on 250cc do more on an adventure than big touring adventure bikes. I believe the saying any motorcycle can be an adventure motorcycle, especially with a few mods. My bike, a Yamaha Tenere 700(T7), did terrific on the trip with no trouble! I loved it. Almost everywhere I stopped, humans would be like, that’s a nice bike!
Yamaha Tenere 700 (T7) Motorcycle Mods
For motorcycle nerds, here’s a rundown of some of the mods I made for the trip. I kept the stock exhaust on the Yamaha Tenere 700 motorcycle but added SW-moto tech, branded engine guards, bash plate, and a rear rack. I’m 5’8, and at stock; I would be on my tippy toes riding the T7, so I lowered my front forks and added the Camel ADV lowering links. Other parts from Camel Adv included the Yamaha Tenere Anti-Bobble-Head rods. I also added bark busters handguards, Oxford heated handgrips, Baja Design aux lights, and an MRA Windshield. I also did an extra windshield mod behind the MRA windshield to prevent buffering. It works! I added a rotopax gas can to the SW-moto tech rear rack but didn’t end up using it. To help my hand and wrist survive the adventure, I used Atlas Throttle lock for cruise control. For bags, I used all Kriega; US-5 tanks bag, two OS-6 Adventure packs on the engine guards, the OS-36 combo on the rear, and on top of that the US-40 Rackpack and the US-combo 30. All the Kriega bags equal up to 126 liters. I also added Hippo Hands to keep my hands warm in chilly temps. I had a Dango Design GoPro mount on my helmet and a GoPro Hero 9 mounted on my SW-Moto Tech engine guards to capture the journey. I used QUADLock to mount my iPhone and used the inRoute iPhone app for navigation. I had a Garmin Zumo XT with me but didn’t use it at all. Maybe if I did off-roading, I would have used the Garmin.
REV’IT Riding Gear
For riding gear, everything was REV’IT, gear, gloves, jacket, etc. I rode in the REV’IT Sand 4 H20 Camo Brown jacket and pants most of the ride with occasionally switching paints to the REV’IT Jeans Lombard 2 RF. I love the Camo Brown design of the REV’IT Sand 4. So many people thought I was in the military, which I believed helped with my safety as a Black man solo traveler in 2021. The Arai XD 4 Frost White helmet was comfortable the entire ride, and I used Cardo Packtalk Bold to listen to tunes and directions along the adventure.
You can see many photos, and videos from the trip I posted from the adventure in my Instagram stories and saved highlights at @WayneSutton, look for IconRide highlights. I have tons of GoPro video footage that I’ll one day edit for my YouTube channel.
I really couldn’t have done this once-in-a-lifetime adventure without my incredible wife, Melinda Briana Epler. Thank you for your patience, love, and kindness. A big thanks to the REV’IT team for providing my riding gear. Other supporters included Cardo, Hippo Hands, and QuadLock. Thanks, everyone!
A big thanks to all of the donors of the Icon Project and all the humans who reached out during the ride and supported me directly.
The first task is to take better care of my physical health and keep working on my mental health daily. I want to keep riding for years to come, and doing that requires being healthy. Besides that, I plan to continue to raise awareness for mental health, and Melinda has a goal of riding across the country from Spain to Switzerland one day. I also want to do more off-roading and desert racing. Until then, after I get my back straight, Melinda and I will be continuing our motorcycle adventures around Bay Area in California.