There’s wanderlust in all of us, the urge to pursue scenic highways, off-beaten paths, and otherworldly landscapes. Hitting the road for a new destination rejuvenates the spirit, a grounding experience that doesn’t necessarily wane with age. It’s a big, beautiful country, that’s why Al Skelton and Joyce Bessette - two nomadic souls from Stafford Springs – are racking up the miles.
Many New Englanders spend these warmer days within six small states, enjoying clam shacks, farmers markets, and oceanfront views– but not these two. For most of the summer, Al and Joyce have been on the road, traversing the United States landscape between its two shores. Over the course of a month, they racked up 7,000 miles, exploring vast and varied terrain, small towns and big cities.
While the two have been riding for decades – taking small hiatuses in-between – this was their first long-distance trip together. The two met through the Spinning Wheels – a Stafford motorcycle club – back in the 1980s. They reconnected just two years ago, following the passing of their respective and beloved spouses. Since then, the two have been collecting new experiences as travel companions, predominantly from the open-air comfort of a Can-Am Spyder. The 3-wheel touring motorcycle is noted to be unrivaled for long-distance traveling, Al says, “it’s the perfect form of transportation and is a good comfortable ride.”
When planning a long-distance trip many folks spend weeks – even months – scrutinizing travel itineraries, plotting routes and determining landmarks – not Al and Joyce. At first, they were just “going for a visit,” to Al’s brother in Oklahoma, but they just kept accumulating potential destinations. They made the decision to go cross-country in late May and shortly after Al got to work building a customized tow-behind trailer. Modified from an old pop up trailer he received from a friend, Al re-welded the frame to support the beautiful covered box that would eventually protect their gear. Once the project was complete, they hit the road just a week or so later.
“We didn’t really plan that much in advance,” laughs Joyce.
“We know where we want to go so I just take the atlas and make a rough route; we go day to day,” adds Al. “If you make definite plans or reservations and something happens, the whole trip doesn’t work out. Without reservations, it doesn’t make any difference how many miles you put on.”
“One day at a time,” adds Joyce.
The two covered an average of 300 miles a day, traveling through Pennsylvania, Ohio and onward to Branson, Missouri, where they enjoyed Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, a dinner show featuring trick riders in a 35,000 square foot arena. After, they gazed at Big Brutus – the world’s largest electric shovel still in existence - met their original Oklahoma destination and then traveled westward through Kansas and Colorado. On the other side of the Jordan River, the landscape gave way to steep canyons, hairpin turns, huge natural monuments and amazing red rock. They made stops at prominent National Parks including Moab, Arches, Monument Valley, Four Corners, Mesa Verde and Canyonlands. From there they turned for home by way of Rocky Mountain National Park, Independent Pass.
“We kept track of everything, we knew where we stayed, the names of the hotels – what it cost – everything,” says Joyce smiling as she reminisced through the pages of a pocket-sized notebook. “I didn’t really have any favorite spots, I just loved the whole thing – the whole trip. Going through the valleys and on top of the mountains, it’s just beautiful.”
While the adventure rendered never-been-seen views and incredible experiences, each mile marker was representative of living in the moment. Unconcerned with agendas or clocking a certain amount of miles Al and Joyce were free and present. An unrestrained agenda creates a certain serendipity that comes only from taking a who-knows-what’s-coming attitude. Spontaneous and fun, their only true responsibility was maintaining the bike and periodically checking in with “the kids.” They made just one reservation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a popular destination within Yellowstone National Park.
“I have an atlas and mark all the trips that we’ve been on, every night I map out where we’ve been and where we’re going tomorrow,” says Al. “I would plan the next day the night before, making a general route, but if we met someone who knew of something interesting we would change our plans.”
Joyce says A LOT of people wanted to chat, surely intrigued by New Englanders in bright-yellow matching jackets. There was a lot of inquiries on the trailer, conversations on where they had been and where they intended to go. They ran into people multiple times along the way, building camaraderie across the country.
“A majority of people out there are really good, we met some really nice people,” says Al.
“There are good people out there, that’s for sure,” says Joyce.
Al has been to the West Coast about ten times, by ground and plane. This, however, was a first for Joyce. But prompt either of them about their recent adventure and their faces light up just the same.
When asked if they got on each other’s nerves at any time, Al responded “all the time,” with a joking chuckle. “We hit the road, we wouldn’t even talk much – she’s great to travel with – because I threatened to leave her by the side of the road.”
“I was taking in the scenery and he was busy trying to stay on the road,” says Joyce roaring with laughter. “I just wanted to look at everything – the landscape [out west] is just so different, it’s absolutely beautiful.”
With simple souvenirs of rocks, petrified sticks and red soil contained in water bottles – along with feelings of freedom that only comes from the road – Al and Joyce returned home on August 7. However, they joke they’ll be in town just long enough to mow the lawn and are already making plans for their autumn adventures. The two regularly travel to Jaffrey, New Hampshire for ice cream and enjoy touring the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts. They look forward to meeting up with members of The Retreads – a motorcycle enthusiast group for “mature” riders over 40 – at a September rally in Portland, Maine, traveling to the Eisenhower Locks in New York State and then ride the Lake Champlain ferry and head home through Vermont.
Make no mistake, there’s not a whole lot of grass growing under the feet of Al & Joyce. Next year they plan on going to Sturgis, North Dakota before heading on to Glacier National Park.
As applicable to travel as to life, Al finished, “I like just being out there riding. If you try and crowd too much in, it’s not as enjoyable – just be laid back and do what you can.”