Many dream of riding across the USA on a motorcycle. A few actually get to do it. Not many, though, are able to take four months to ride over 21,000 miles on a road trip and achieve their lifelong dream.
Yet, that is precisely what Gary France did. An Englishman living in London, he shipped his own Harley-Davidson across the Atlantic and set out on a remarkable journey of discovery in America. His ride took him to twenty-seven states in New England, the Midwest, the Rockies, to the deserts of the south west and along the Californian coast.
“As I sat at home thinking about the idea of such a ride, it dawned that this just might be the adventure I had been seeking for years. I wanted to make sure I achieved something memorable in my life and this seemed like the ideal way to do that.” says Gary.
When Gary decided to ride from coast to coast, he had never previously ridden in America. “Many questions buzzed around in my head, but there seemed to be more reasons to do the ride than not. Where would I go? What would I see? Where would I stay? What gear should I carry? Would I be safe?”
Gary had taken long distance rides before, but these had been a thousand miles or so and this road trip was a completely different ball game. He says he can understand the freedom that some bikers need by just getting on a motorcycle and riding wherever the feeling takes them at the time, without any planning. That wasn’t for Gary though as he didn’t want to ride past something significant and miss seeing it just because he didn’t know it was there. In a career of working out how to build huge construction projects, Gary says that planning ahead is in his blood, so this was the approach he took to riding across America. He planned the journey in considerable detail.
“I knew where I was going to ride, but had no idea what distance I would ride each day, so I didn’t book any accommodation in advance. Finding a place to stay for the night was much easier than I thought as there are motels, B&B’s and cheap hotels everywhere.”
Gary says he saw some of the best that America has to offer. “I was lucky to be able to plan my tour of the USA to include such iconic places as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, New England, the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains, Death Valley and many more.”
He experienced the hectic pace of life of the big cities, visiting many, such as New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but preferred seeing the wide-open plains, mountains, back roads and the small towns of rural America. Wherever he stopped, he says he enjoyed talking to the locals. “America is amazingly diverse, with so many things to see and people to meet. Almost everywhere I went, people greeted me warmly and wanted to hear my story about travelling across their country. They were genuinely interested in understanding what an outsider thought about where they lived.”
Gary of course met many bikers on the road. “Bikers the world over are a special bunch of people, who are willing to help you if they can” says Gary. “I recall one meeting in Lake Placid where I huddled together with a group of bikers under a hotel canopy to escape the torrential rain. Thirty minutes after chatting with these guys, one of them offered me his house to stay in when he realised I would be passing through his home town. He wouldn’t be there, but he trusted me enough to let me use his house. Many believe bikers to be an anti-social breed, but in truth, exactly the opposite is true.”
Finding great roads to ride was a must. Gary’s pre-trip research meant he would get to ride some of America’s most stunning roads. “The Million Dollar Highway near Ouray in Colorado is spectacular, but the Beartooth Pass, on the border of Wyoming and Montana, is just breathtaking.” Gary also took his Harley-Davidson to the top of the highest road in America, at Mount Evans on the outskirts of Denver. “Like most bikers, I like to stay away from long straight roads and seek out those that twist and turn, and inevitably this meant I spend a great deal of time in the Rocky Mountain states.” The map of the route that Gary took certainly bears this out and explains why he was able to ride over 21,000 miles crossing a country that is a little over 3,000 miles at its widest point. His route bizarrely snakes through the western half of the country as he sought out the most wonderful roads in the mountains.
Asked what were the most memorable places he visited on the trip and Gary hesitates. “There were so many, but Monument Valley, with its rock buttes sticking out of the red sandy ground was very impressive and moving. Being at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally with half-a-million bikers was a blast.” Gary made many on-board videos of some of the best roads and places he visited.
His Harley-Davidson Road King proved to be an ideal motorcycle for the trip and other than needing the normal servicing and replacement tyres, performed exceptionally well. Before leaving London, Gary had the bike repainted with portraits of 1940’s and 1950’s actresses and the motorcycle became known as ‘The Leading Ladies’. He says after riding the motorcycle on such a memorable journey, he will never be able to part with it.
The road trip was such a huge success that Gary wanted to record it in some way. His coffee-table sized book ‘France In America’ certainly does that well. It is a visually stunning 400-page volume offering a unique mix of Americana, travel, motorcycling and a useful guide to anyone thinking of taking a US road trip. Full of his own photographs, it is a beautifully crafted book that is both entertaining and as a reference point for anyone wishing to discover more about life on the road in America.
The book will resonate with many. Not just those who wish they could make such a once-in-a-lifetime road trip, but also with the many men who have faced the unspoken uncertainties and reassessments of midlife.
This is not only a detailed guide about where to go and what to see in the USA. It is also a personal story of one person seizing the moment – a living testimony to the maxim that travel is not so much about the destination as it is about the journey itself. One man living his dream, and carefully cornering through the opportunities that midlife presents.
For Gary, the trip met and exceeded all of his expectations. “America is a remarkable country and riding its roads on a motorcycle is a fantastic way to see spectacular places and to meet very special people. If you are thinking of making such a journey, I would say take the opportunity to do something extraordinary and just do it. You certainly won’t regret it!”
Gary only wishes he had done one thing differently and that was to see all fifty states. Maybe one day he will come back and ride the states he missed.