Through the Appalachians: 1000 Miles Vintage Dual-Sport Motorcycling
Story by Drew Perlmutter
Photography by Drew Perlmutter, Matt Best & Jared Erickson
It was mid-afternoon on our last day on the Vintage 1000 and we found ourselves staring at a fallen tree blocking the trail ahead of us. We double checked our odometers only to realize that we had missed our turn some miles back. It’s easy to miss turnoffs if you aren’t paying attention, they blend in amongst the thick brush and dense green forests. That, or maybe we were just going too fast. We pulled out our paper maps and tried to get a sense of direction.
There’s an old saying “you’re never lost on a motorcycle”. And though we had no idea exactly where we were, we sure as hell weren’t lost.
Judging by the map, if we continued on the current trail it would actually lead us to the trail we were supposed to be on, almost a bit of a shortcut. However, that still didn’t take care of the huge tree standing, well laying, in our way. While we could have easily turned around and eventually found our missed turn, we were already low on fuel from a previous missed turn earlier that day. Also, who doesn’t love a good challenge.
We had no way of moving or cutting the tree, so it was either over or under. We began clearing the fallen branches for a path to get the bikes through, barely fitting and having to lean them a good bit as we walked them underneath the tree. I however thought I’d have better luck with a wheelie-bump, so I elected for over. I hit a slow approach, ripped the throttle, dumped the clutch, got the wheels up and over, and soared over the tree, only to come down pretty hard on the other side, quickly dropping the bike. It was not at all graceful, it was barely successful, but it was so much more fun than walking the bike under the tree.
The Vintage 1000 is pure adventure. It spans 5 days and 1000 miles through the mountains and backroads of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina – all on vintage motorcycles. The intention is as much off-road riding as possible as the route twists through the Appalachian Mountains, taking you through some of the most beautiful and exciting riding in the southeast.
It’s a call back to the long since days of vintage enduros and is period correct in every sense. Bikes have to be 1981 or older with no modern modifications. The Vintage 1000 really puts to test the notion that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to”. While that may be true, I much prefer the suspension on my modern dual sport compared to the shocks on my 1971 Honda SL350.
Navigation is done solely by roll chart. Tools, spares, and camping gear must be carried by each rider as well. It’s not at all about who finishes first, it’s just about finishing. 20 riders start, rarely do 20 riders finish. Not only is the riding incredibly scenic, it can also be quite challenging, especially on 50 year old motorcycles. Mountainous hill climbs, mud, river crossings, you name it – the thousand miles cover just about every type of terrain. From trailside engine repairs, changing tires in torrential downpours, even having to navigate through the woods at night after losing power to your headlights – you never know what’s going to happen.
The Vintage 1000 is all about working with what you got and getting creative with roadside repairs. Rocks wrapped in aluminum foil to replace ball bearings, using beer cans and license plates for chain fixes, Hondas towing Harleys on the Blue Ridge Parkway – there’s never a dull moment on the ride. On average, days cover 200 miles with around 8 – 12 hours in the saddle, riders often not making it to camp before dark.
Now in its sixth year, the ride first started after a conversation between two friends. Adam Sheard and Chastin Brand pretty much just came up with the idea to try and ride vintage motorcycles 1000 miles off-road for 5 days. It has a nostalgic feel to it, it conjures images of desert races and the old Paris Dakar Rallies. In a way, it’s their own version of that, getting to experience a glimpse of what those early racers felt. The excitement, the adrenaline, a hard day’s work riding a motorcycle.
Bikes have literally burned to the ground, bones have been broken, and even ambulances have been called. While it may seem intense, everyone is there for the spirit of adventure and to have a good time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it takes a certain kind of person to endure this type of fun. At any moment, even in the pouring rain after realizing you’re lost, you can look amongst the other riders and find that somehow, everyone has a smile on their face.