“Easy riding”: 41 days, 24 national parks and monuments

“From the mountains, / to the prairies, / to the oceans / white with foam”—these words describe Judy and Scott Finnell’s latest adventure, although the sequence differed. Last summer, they rode more than 13,000 miles on motorcycles to the officially designated extremities of the continental United States: Key West, Florida; Madawaska, Maine; Blaine, Washington; and San Ysidro, California.

Scott checked off another “bucket list” goal on the trip as well. He’s now ridden in all the lower 48 and Alaska. He told Judy, as they traversed the boundary between the Dakotas, “If I fall off my bike and die, you must promise to drag me across the state line into North Dakota.” He’s been riding motorcycles since age fourteen, and the “four corners” trip has long resonated with him and Judy as a different way, Scott says, “of seeing this beautiful country.”

Unlike Scott, Judy has been a licensed motorcyclist for only three years. Shortly after retiring, she took a “fun and easy” two-day beginner’s course. She was the only woman in her class but says, “I’ve always been a tomboy, and I can do anything the guys can do.” She jokes that Scott encouraged her to take the course “just to get me off the back.”

Scott rides a 2012 Honda Gold Wing, while Judy’s chariot is a 2008 Honda Gold Wing trike (three-wheeled) conversion that allows her to tow their tiny pop-up trailer, complete with storage space and two extra-length twin bunks. They rode a leisurely 300–350 miles daily as they visited national parks and monuments, camping and occasionally stopping with friends. The Finnells avoided interstates when possible and eschewed a “certified” trip, which must be completed in 21 days.’

Scott says that the biggest problem on a trip like this is “just getting across Texas.” They reached Key West on a hot, crowded Memorial Day weekend, snapped the picture, and kept going. Interesting sites included the Everglades; Congaree, South Carolina, where fireflies flash in unison; and Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered to Grant to end the Civil War.

As they neared Madawaska, Maine, Scott learned that his father needed unexpected back surgery. After reaching Madawaska’s picturesque town park and marker, he and Judy sped westward to leave their bikes in Billings, Montana, at a friend’s home and fly back to Georgetown.

Judy and Scott resumed their trip toward Blaine, Washington, in mid-July, reassured that his dad was recovering satisfactorily. They were rewarded with spectacular scenery over the famous Beartooth Pass in Wyoming and at Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, and Mount St. Helens before they turned south toward San Ysidro. Traversing California meant more urban traffic, more heat, more hotels, and much earlier starts. San Ysidro on the Mexican border meant “goal fulfilled, so homeward bound.”

Despite breaking their trip into two segments, neither Scott nor Judy could name a day that really went awry. They planned well, took care of the bikes, and enjoyed small, serendipitous surprises. Naturally, they’re already planning their next adventure, perhaps in Alaska again or in Nova Scotia.

“This is really doable, one day at a time. It’s like how to eat an elephant.”

—Scott Finnell

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