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Thread: Following the first motorcyclist to cross the US - George A. Wyman

  1. #1
    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    Following the first motorcyclist to cross the US - George A. Wyman

    The smell of creosote would be my constant companion...


    George A. Wyman set out on his 200cc, 1.25hp "California" motorcycle from San Francisco, CA on May 16th, 1903; 50 days later he arrived in New York City, NY on July 6th. Mr. Wyman overcome not only some very harsh country, but quite a few mechanical breakdowns along the way. His "motorcycle," more akin to a motorized bicycle of today, was equipped with 28' wooden tires, a front roller break, rear coaster brake, and leather belt-drive. It weighed about 80 pounds and had a top speed of about 25 mph using the gasoline of the day (30 octane) generally obtained from the local pharmacist.

    For the first several thousand miles of his journey, Wyman took to the railroad tracks, as it was generally easier to ride on the railroad ties than try to ride on the primitive wagon tracks and roads of that time period. One could only imagine bouncing down the tracks with a tiny amount of suspension travel afforded by the California's leading-link fork suspension and Garford spring saddle. Wyman often stayed in local railroad housing or in meager boarding houses of the day.

    Unlike our iron-horses of today, Wyman often found himself pedaling the motorcycle after his engine went belly up. In Illinois, his engine's crankshaft snapped into pieces, and outside of Albany, NY, his engine lost all power. Instead of taking time to fix it, he pedaled to the 150 miles to the finish in New York City. In total, Wyman covered approximately 3,800 miles.


    I had a much easier time.
    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
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  2. #2
    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    This ride never really crossed my mind as something that I would actually do. Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoy the challenges set for by the Iron Butt Association, but when I first heard about the George A. Wyman Grand Tour I really wasn't that interested, it seemed less of an endurance challenge and more of a flower-sniffing tour/untimed rally. (Not that there's anything wrong with either of those)


    (Image of Wyman and his California stolen from the GAW project website)



    Now would be a good time to explain exactly what the Grand Tour is:

    The main website for the George A. Wyman Memorial Project is: https://wymanmemorialproject.blogspot.com/

    Before we get too far, I have to give a big shout out to Tim Masterson, Cliff Wall, Howard Entman MD, Duncan Ragsdale, and Marti Wyman Schein – all volunteers who tirelessly researched and put this ride together. I can't imagine the amount of work that went into getting this all off the ground and all of it is available for free.

    The Grand Tour involves an individual starting from San Francisco, CA after May 16th (when Wyman started) and visiting up to ~160 different stops as you make your way to New York City by July 6th (when Wyman arrived). You can choose to visit as many or as little of those “Points along the Way” as you'd like. There is also a GPS GPX file that you can use to follow as close to Wyman's route as currently possible. Each stopping point has a very detailed account of what Wyman had experienced before/during/after his stop, so it makes for an amazing read along the way too.



    (Image stolen from the GAW project website)


    For 2020, I really had my sights set on Alaska. I had failed to reach Prudoe Bay in 2018 (see that story here) and I had put in for 2 weeks of vacation in he middle of June to finally get my 'white whale.' Then COVID19 came along and messed it all up.

    Working in health care meant a lot of unknowns. First we were furloughed, then we were working from home, then we were redeployed in different areas to help out where was needed. Nothing was set in stone and everything it seemed had changed in an instant. Then we were told that no vacation would be honored, then it was you can take vacation if it's less than 2 days, then it was you can only take vacation if it was pre-approved and the length didn't matter. Then the borders closed; so gone were my hopes of even getting to Alaska. Finally, three days before it was to start, I had my blessing to take my two week vacationI know that for many of my fellow riders, regardless of where/what you do for work, this is an all too familiar story.

    Luckily, my 2013 F800GS (build list here) was all set up and ready to go exploring. I had decided to take the GS over my 2007 R1200RT because there are several points along the way of the Grand Tour that are accessible only by a bit of gravel.

    Last edited by drneo66; 11-15-2020 at 01:41 PM.
    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
    MOA Member #:150400, IBA#: 37558

  3. #3
    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    If you're here for a ride report with photos of wide sweeping vistas, carefully placed and timed shots of life, or perfectly manicured Instagram filters, this will not be it...

    As I look back through my photo album now, most of my shots are either poor selfies of me with the bike and some proof of visiting the Wyman location, or a gas receipt plastered next to the odometer. (Seems like I could just end the ride report here and save us both some time )

    Day -1:

    I left Minnesota nice and early after saying goodbye to my Wonderful Wife, arriving in South Dakota at 10am. I had several options when it came to getting out to San Francisco, but I enjoy riding on I-90 for some reason. I always think you can feel an instant change when you cross the border from MN to SD. The farm fields disappear and the skys open up over the prairie. The Wall Drug signs along the way (140+) keep me entertained and the 80mph speed limit allows you to make good time.

    I worked my way down from Rapid City, SD, through Hot Springs, SD and on to Rawlins, Wy to pick up I-80. This is a beautiful area of the country and I shot exactly one photo... on and overlook of the SD White Draw Fire of 2012




    It had been a nice day - temps were good, the wind wasn't too crazy, and I made good time over the 800 miles that I covered.

    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
    MOA Member #:150400, IBA#: 37558

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    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    From here and all the way to Nebraska, Interstate 80 would be my near constant companion. The George Wyman Project had done a wonderful job put together a GPX file that I had already highlighted on my GPS screen, so I was making mental notes of areas that I would follow that specific track, and areas that I would take the Intestate instead.


    I've been fortunate to read an awful lot of roadside, interpretive signs during my travels, but this take the cake. "There's this thing that happened 4 miles away from here" - I just love it.


    Later, I did actually get closer to the original Oregon Trail


    It was such a wonderful day to ride a motorcycle (I mean EVERY day is nice to ride a motorcycle), but the temperature was good and the sun was out. I made a brief stop at Independence Rock, so named because many of the settlers on the Oregon, Mormon and California trails that were headed west wanted to reach this landmark by July 4th, as not to encounter winter before reaching their final destination.




    I hit Salt Lake and decided to have some fun!


    The BMW aluminum saddle bag recommends that you don't go over 160 kilometers per hour with them attached, but I'm such a rebel I didn't mess with it



    Finally, here's proof of how good of a rider I am: This is the GS's speedometer almost maxed out at 150mph. Without a camera crew or GoPro, I had to shoot this one-handed as I rode

    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
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  5. #5
    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    After Bonneville, I motored over to a point of interest mentioned in Roadside America. This is where you can supposedly see the curvature of the Earth as you stare across the salt lake. Maybe it wasn't clear enough, but I couldn't make it out.






    I ended the 787 mile day with a big burrito. Tomorrow it would be into California, across the Sierra Mountains, and into San Francisco to begin the journey east.
    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
    MOA Member #:150400, IBA#: 37558

  6. #6
    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    I woke up and on my way nice and early. My hope was to make it in and back out of San Francisco before rush hour, knowing that things can get pretty rough for a guy who grew up in a town of with less than a handful of stop lights.

    First, we gotta get some elevation going for the day, and what a beautiful day it was!



    I had an important conference call that I needed to attend around lunch time, so I stopped in and had "lunch" at a Sonic. Like Waffle House, Minnesota is pretty barren of Sonics these days, so it's important to take advantage of one when possible. Even though there were 20 other open slots, a couple decided to pull into the spot next to me, and proceeded to idle their car and run the A/C on high - their poor radiator fan was working pretty hard, showering me with unnecessary, unwelcomed heat. I eventually walked away and sat under a nearby tree, while ice slowly formed on the inside of their windows.


    Finally, with the conference call finished, I was off to downtown San Fran! Traffic was fair, so I didn't have any opportunities to enjoy lane splitting.

    To prove to the Iron Butt Associate (IBA) that you were where you say you were, you're often required to get a Dated Business Receipt (DBR). This shows the date, time, and location of the stop, then you take a picture of said receipt next to your odometer and you're golden. I would continue this process all across the US, building proof that I was where I said I was.

    In true GS fashion, I stopped at Starbucks



    Just around the corner was the famous Lotta's Fountain, and the start of George A. Wyman's (and my) adventure!
    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
    MOA Member #:150400, IBA#: 37558

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    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    Wyman didn't get too far before he had to take a ferry to cross the bay. I took the Bay Bridge which offered great views, but no safe place to pull over for a picture.

    The SFO Vallejo ferry terminal


    I swung by the cemetery where Wyman was laid to rest, but the current COVID restrictions prevented me from entering, though the guard at the gate would have let it slide, after I explained what I was planning on doing for the next couple of weeks. You meet the nicest people on a GAW Grand Tour



    A "good" IBA picture includes: you, your bike, and some identifiable landmark, so here's a picture of Sutter's Landing Park that kind of captures it...



    Because Wyman rode along the railroad, I would have the opportunity to visit so many beautifully-restored railroad depots.




    I was also able to capture my first George A. Wyman Waypoint sign! Throughout the trip, I'd be amazed where I'd find these signs. Again, I can't imagine how long it took for the GAW memorial project team to find all these locations, then negotiate with the city/business to put these up.



    Things were getting a bit warm as I traveled through California
    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
    MOA Member #:150400, IBA#: 37558

  8. #8
    Booger Man boogerman's Avatar
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    Cool post. Hey are you sure your GS was really going 150mph ? I have a K1600 & I believe it would be a push for it to do 150 mph. . I would guess your speedo is optimistic on the top end. Looks like a great ride.

  9. #9
    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by boogerman View Post
    Cool post. Hey are you sure your GS was really going 150mph ? I have a K1600 & I believe it would be a push for it to do 150 mph. . I would guess your speedo is optimistic on the top end. Looks like a great ride.
    It's posted on the internetz, it must be true

    Thanks for following along
    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
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  10. #10
    Booger Man boogerman's Avatar
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    A little reckless with the truth

  11. #11
    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    It was nice to leave the lower elevation of California and start to climb into the mountains. I was scrambling to get to Reno before it was too dark out, so I didn't grab too many photos.

    The Nyack Gas station was a neat little stop - they had a GAW sign outside plus another inside.






    I had read that the Donner Summit Historical Society was a "must stop" however, I arrived too late to take the tour. I did spend a couple minutes peeking through the windows. This whole area is someplace I will be back to explore some day!




    As you crest Donner Pass - soon you will be down by the lake. It was nice to use a little bit of rubber from the sides of my tires for once.



    Reno stop!



    Dinner that night was in a parking lot of an Indian restaurant. My wife had ordered ahead and I was able to walk in and grab a hot, delicious meal of sag paneer. While I was chowing down, another Indian restaurant patron who was picking up food came over and told me that he had just bought a F800GS. We chatted for 20 minutes or so about what I had done to the bike, where I was going, etc. Just one of those serendipitous moments that wouldn't have happened any other day/time - you meet the nicest people while riding a motorcycle.

    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
    MOA Member #:150400, IBA#: 37558

  12. #12
    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    The Priceline casino/hotel that I had booked in Reno was a mess for me. I rode around the block 3 or 4 times before I was able to find the entrance into the self-parking area. I'm sure security was starting to think that I was casing the place. Once I was able to find a spot, I had to trek all my gear several blocks from where I had parked it. The lady who was checking in guests was not having a good day; her computer was crawling and there were several international guests that needed to be checked in before she made it to me. This whole time I was realizing that I could have stayed in a mom and pop shop 10 minutes earlier or later down the road and would have been in my motel room, showered, and sleeping by the time I would have even gotten my room key at this place. Oh well, lessons learned...

    Again I'd be following the railroad most of the day:


    This was one of the GAW waypoints where I would need to go off-road to get to the spot. I went about a block or two and decided to turn around. The soft, sugary sand was just a bit beyond my current off-road skills and the thought of breaking something out here was just a bit too much. I wrote "Failure" on my GAW guide with a smiley face next to the entry and forged on.





    Were these old cans strewn about by the road used by Wyman on his journey?


    This small stand of trees was close a spot that Wyman stayed the night; today, cows enjoy the shade.


    Elko railroad museum (add to the list of "places I need to go back to")




    This is another spot where I need to head off-road, but the conditions had improved compared to earlier. I drove a mile or so to what felt like the middle of nowhere, only to laugh as I approached a GAW sign!! I should have taken a panorama to show that the sign was the only thing for miles! In these vast areas, I couldn't imagine what GAW had to go through just to get across with nothing but a hope that the map he was carrying was still accurate.






    Devil's Slide and another GAW sign


    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
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    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    Up with the sun and off I go. First stop was in Evanston where the historical society had several plaques that talked about GAW and his cross country journey.




    Next up was the longest, roughest road that I would encounter during my journey. I couldn't imagine what this would be like if it had rained recently. On the way back I met a local sheriff deputy that had been dispatched to find a cow that was struck by a passing train. We talked for ~10 minutes or so and after a bit, he informed me that I was actually trespassing on this section! Oddly, about one mile into this side journey, several gentlemen (the land owners?) had enthusiastically waved at me as the passed. I apologized profusely and told him I didn't see any "no trespassing signs" - I'm not sure he bought it (which I'll get to in a second) but he wished me well and I motored on. Earlier, I had crossed a cattle grate (the ones that are 4 or 5 strips of pipe that cross the road) and I had been so focused on making it over the gate, which what felt like a 10 inch lip, that I had totally missed the 6 ft sign just a bit off the road that clearly stated "no trespassing" in 2 ft letters...



    Another waypoint sign and 2 minutes later, I got stuck by a passing train




    Crossing the Great Divide




    I felt dumb after this photo. First, I rode down this little side road, then opened the gate, rode the bike through, locked the gate. Then I rode maybe 20ft where the GPS told me I had arrived at the GAW waypoint. So, I to got turn around, ride the 20ft back to the gate, open the gate, ride through, close the gate and ride off... If I would have taken 20 seconds to see how far away the waypoint was, I would have just kept the gate open and saved myself 5 minutes!




    This was another waypoint that I decided to skip - it was just too far and too remote for my liking. To my surprise the gate had a Wyman sticker on it!!



    From this point on, I would also be following the Lincoln Highway for most of the way East.




    This section of I-80 had been closed a week or so earlier because of an early summer snow storm. There was just a little bit of snow left!
    https://i.postimg.cc/JzxvHfhj/IMG-0167.jpg[/IMG]

    By this time, I had entered Iowa, again following the Lincoln Highway. These pictures are from the railroad museum in Boone, IA. The museum operates several train rides per day, I wish I would have been able to take a journey, but I'll put it on the "someday" list!



    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
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    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    After Boone, I headed north to my home in Rochester, MN. It was time for an oil change on the bike and to do some laundry.

    I took an extra day off the tour to install a new GP. For the past several years I had been using a Garmin 2597 which I had waterproofed with some silicone, which worked okay, but I would regularly burn through the rather fragile power cables. I finally bit the bullet and invested in a proper motorcycle GPS - after using it for the past several months, I realized that I should have done this years ago. Buy once, cry once...

    Once I finished my time in Rochester, I headed back to Boone, where I left the GAW Grand Tour. I followed the Lincoln Highway through Iowa to Cedar Rapids - home of the Hall Bicycle stop - the oldest continuous-operating bicycle shop in the U.S! This was the same shop that Wyman stopped at to fix his motorbike. They had even reserved the parking spot right in front of the shop for me



    Crossing the Mississippi came next:


    I stopped in Aurora, IL for the night, with the assumption that I would be able to get into and out of Chicago before things got too crazy.

    For those of you who have done an Iron Butt Association Ride - this is the postoffice box in which your submissions arrive at


    The start of Route 66! Wyman had stayed the night not too far from here on his journey.



    My next stop (with a photo at least) was at Janus Motorcycles. If you don't know about Janus, they are a small motorcycle shop that is building some absolutely beautiful bikes. I was able to meet one of the founders, Richard, who had also done his own George A. Wyman Grand Tour on a Janus. He gave me a virtual tour of the shop and I was able to buy a very nice Janus hat. A Janus Halcyon is on my list of bikes that I'll own someday!




    Small roads, small towns, and many stops makes for a long day in the saddle, but short on mileage - something that I'm not use to.
    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
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    Registered User drneo66's Avatar
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    From Indiana, I'd hug the Great Lakes for a while, before heading across New York to Albany, then dropping down into New York City.

    Another day of great riding weather as I zipped around some beautiful country:


    Crossing the Eerie Canal. I wish I would have taken more photos during this portion of the ride, but this is about all that I took.


    From Albany I rode the Taconic State Parkway down into New York City. What a gorgeous ride! No traffic and smooth sailing! I could see this as a great getaway for many that are stuck in NYC.

    After a couple hours "enjoying" New York City traffic, I finally arrived at the location where George A. Wyman had ended is ride. Overall, it had been an enjoyable trip! I got see so much over such a short time, imagining George A. Wyman's incredible journey.




    I decided to complete a SaddleSore 1000 on the way back home, so yet another early morning, but the pull of my own bed was strong. The bike got a nice wash in the early morning as I rode through Pennsylvania, so I didn't have to wash off that many bugs upon my arrival home at 9:30 pm. The bike performed great the whole trip!! Thanks for coming along!

    Current: 2007 BMW R1200RT, 2013 F800GS
    Former: 1995 BMW K75S, 2009 BMW G650GS
    MOA Member #:150400, IBA#: 37558

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