Following in the tire tracks of the first motorcyclist to cross the US - George A. Wyman


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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.


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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:

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 vacation. I 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 accessible only by a bit of gravel.

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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.



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Thanks for making us aware of and bringing us along on this intriguing journey. Though preparing my FJR for a few IB runs, I must admit to being more of a "Stop and smell the roses" type of rider. I'll be following!

Ah, Rawlins Wyoming. The last hometown of my meandering youth. Currently a shadow of it's former glory.

Though I enjoyed the motorcycling solitude and freedom afforded by the Red Desert adjacent to Rawlins, the beauty of Wyoming lies mostly a few miles north and south of the relatively flat route traversed by the railroad and I-80. But that's fine. When tourists mention what a god-forsaken place this is, I just smile and say, "You are correct. Enjoy your drive through the state."


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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



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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.


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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 :whistle

Just around the corner was the famous Lotta's Fountain, and the start of George A. Wyman's (and my) adventure!


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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