It’s been a while. It’s been a while since the last time I started a blog post lamenting that it’d been a while. It’s been a while since we took a serious 180 from our travel plans in order to take part in something far more important: Helping my mom go through, and recover from, a kidney transplant. As many of you know, one of my fellow Iron Butt Rally vets was the incredible human being who had a perfectly good kidney lopped out and gave my mom the gift of a whole new life. That’s not an exaggeration; one of my mom’s dialysis nurses confided in me that my mom likely would not have lived to see another Christmas if not for the transplant. After a whole lot of nail biting and hand wringing, the transplant finally went through on December 18, 2019. Within hours my mom had the blood work of a healthy individual, and within a few weeks it was determined that she was progressing far faster than the average transplant recipient. This truly was a stellar organ donated by a stellar individual.
So that’s the recap; what about an update? We’ve been staying in the San Diego area, helping mom make it back and forth to half a dozen doctors appointments each week, a schedule which was quickly pared down due to her incredible rate of recovery. An intensive post-transplant care regimen which typically extends for three month has been scaled back to just over two. Mom is getting stronger every day and is extremely excited about building a whole new future for herself. In our free time, we’ve been working on finding adventure whenever life puts us. Between homeschooling and becoming a regular at the local library, Monty has been enjoying some of the great museums around the area. She is a big fan of Nick, our neighbor’s horse, and makes a point to bring him a carrot or an apple most days. Malarkey (or Mlark for short) has been stuck to Monty’s side like glue; he has been left in the rain, dropped in the mud, been tossed down slides and launched off swings, stuffed in squirrel holes, and generally been loved to within an inch of his precious little life. He did contract a particularly severe case of tail-biting germs a few weeks back, but Monty was extra careful to keep him tucked away so Grandma didn’t catch his germs and she was able to nurse him back to health with plenty of rest and some good power foods. We went to a wonderfully entertaining and informative presentation just down the road focusing on local raptors and reptiles, and she was the first to volunteer to have a falcon snatch a hunk of meat off her arm. That’s my kid!
In keeping with our wish to give her experiences rather than things, we’d been trying to decide how to best allocate Monty’s Christmas funds. In a stroke of inspiration (pun intended) I enrolled her is swim lessons three days per week. She absolutely loves it! She’s practically a fish already and will spend as much time in the water as possible, she has just never slowed down enough for us to impart the important tidbits required to transform wild flapping through liquid into actual swimming. It’s probably a good thing that her lesson is the last of the day because her poor teach inevitably goes away exhausted, but her exuberance is not a necessarily a bad thing. We were told that her first lesson would involve wading in the shallow end and sprinkling a little water on her head to build trust; that approach was abandoned the moment she executed a grand cannonball entrance by launching herself halfway across the pool. She counts the days between classes and has to be physically removed from the pool at the end of each session so that everyone else can go home, so all in all I think this has turned out to be a great application of Experience Over Things.
I’ve been averaging over 115 miles each week on the local hiking trails, making the most of these warm days and sunny skies. I am also super excited to be riding in an upcoming Asphalt Rats Discovermoto endurance event in Mexico in a couple weeks. I’ve been wanting to take part in an AREM ride for the past few years, but it’s tough to plan and execute a mid-winter escape from South Dakota with any level of confidence. This is going to be a 1,000-mile, 24-hour event with set checkpoints, culminating with a great party in La Paz, so if you’ve ever been interested in riding Baja and earning membership into IBA:Mexico, I definitely recommend checking it out!
Speaking of South Dakota in the middle of winter… I began to ponder. The Discovermoto will involve riding across Baja at night, a situation which would really benefit by an almost comically excessive amount of additional lumens. The FZ1s stock headlights are just so… 2001. The route involves mandatory checkpoints at gas stations, but the distance between the gas stations hovers around 250 miles. With the FZ1s fuel range maxing out right around the 200 mile mark, I would definitely be left sourcing fuel at odd intervals all across Baja. What might be better, I thought, would be some auxiliary fuel and a range in the mid-300s. Also heated gear would be great for those high mountain regions. Redundant GPS units. Lots of plush comfort upgrades, as though I were going to be living on the bike for weeks on end. You know. Like my FJR. Alas, my trusty steed was bedded down for the winter up in snowbound SoDak. Not much one could do about that.
Unless… Unless one has impressively minimal comfort requirements and an almost comically excessive level of risk acceptance. I started keeping an eye on the 10-day forecasts until it finally looked like I was going to have a solidly tolerable weather window. Finally, on January 28th (which I believe to be the technical date of Deep Dark Winter) I hit the jackpot. I identified The Opportunity at 7am and by noon I was hurtling across the SoCal desert, assured that things would be getting substantially worse before they got any better. The FZ1 has no provisions for powering heated gear, which is just fine because I’d brought no heated gear. Why would I? We were supposed to be enjoying balmy summer days in the Southern Hemisphere. I’d even sent most of my meager cold weather provisions back home to SD before we knew we’d be wintering in California, so my best defense against the elements involved 7 layers up top and 4 layers on the bottom. And my trademark fingerless gloves. Don’t judge me.
The plan was simple: Jam up to South Dakota in one shot, ducking south below one snow storm and dancing east just ahead of another, arriving frozen but dry. Perform a little mid-winter/pre-season service on the FJR, then depart in the anticipated and unseasonably warm mid-60s temps, arriving back in San Diego just ahead of the impressive blizzard conditions projected to be blanketing roughly 2/3 of the country by trips end. I labeled my Spotwalla “SD>SD>SD Insanity”. It wasn’t going to be a pleasure cruise, but with just a little luck I’d be able to pull it off. I was traveling light: I carried only the layers I planned to wear (consisting of nearly every article of clothing I had with me in San Diego, along with a few graciously donated by my mom) and a small bag of things to jettison in SoDak. The sun was far past the horizon by the time I crossed the middle of Arizona, so I stopped to don the few remaining layers I’d packed away. By the time I hit Albuquerque, I was staring down dry roads and plummeting mercury. I finally acquiesced to the siren song of full-fingered gloves ahead of Santa Fe, where I saw temps hovering around 12*F before windchill. I seriously thought about pulling the plug and getting a motel room, but the timing was just too tight. If I stopped for more than a couple hours I would be in the direct path of the oncoming snowstorm. Even if I stopped for only a couple hours, I would be too far outside of the Black Hills before night fell on Wednesday, leaving me mired down in a dangerously icy storm in sub-freezing temps. In other words, stopping for one night would mean I’d be stuck for at least two, possibly more. I would rather deal with cold but dry, I decided, so I soldiered on.
By the time I hit Raton, I was in need of some serious thawing out. I did something I rarely do on a road trip, which is eat a real breakfast. I was the only customer in the Denny’s ahead of sunrise and as I dragged myself into a booth, too cold to remove even my jacket, I was treated to a wall of gaping stares which practically spelled out “W. T. A. F…” I nursed a nice sizzling veggie skillet – enough to warm me up without dragging me down – and more than a few good, hot cups of decaf. Decaf because I saw no sense in condemning myself to hourly bathroom breaks, since my frozen fingers sure as heck weren’t up to the task of rapidly extricating me from many cumbersome layers of gear in any sort of hurry. Warm was good enough for me. Reaching around the table, even after sitting in a warm restaurant for over an hour, I could feel noticeably frigid tendrils of trapped air puffing out of my coat. When the time finally came to saddle up, the FZ1 was sporting a solid layer of heavy frost. Sigh. It was going to get worse before it got better.
From Raton things were actually fairly tolerable for a while. The temps crept up into the mid-30s as I peeled off onto smaller back roads, allowing me to relax into the ride a little more. It was just shy of the Nebraska border when the slushy sleet started to fall. The last 300 miles of my 1,700 mile route were all wet, windy, salty and generally less-than-ideal. Three hundred miles of head shakes, double-takes, and looks of mixed astonishment and pity as I made my final decent into Rapid City. I hadn’t seen another motorcycle since western Arizona, and I’m pretty sure nobody else up there had seen a bike on the road in months. The amount of road salt and general mung I uncovered in my MotoJug at the end of this leg of the ride actually made me incredibly grateful that it was just too darn cold to worry about proper hydration.
I had indulged visions of soaking for hours in a near-molten bath, alternately sipping hot soup and a hot tottie until my core temperature once again approached that of the living. Unfortunately I had a to-do list as long as my arm and a very limited amount of time to accomplish it all if I hoped to hit that predicted glorious weather on my way out of town. Stuff to shuffle into and out of our storage facility, not the least of which included every bit of heated gear I own. If you’ll recall, back in October my FJR and I wrapped up a trip to Ohio one afternoon and the FZ1 and I departed for Nevada the next, leaving me no time to properly assess or prep the FJR for this scenario, even if I had anticipated a mid-winter retrieval. This being the case, I’d asked my buddy Eric to lay eyeballs on the FJR for me so I could have any and all required service parts ordered in and awaiting my arrival. I was already aware of a small water pump leak following the Iron Butt Rally, so I’d ordered in everything to do that job back in October so they’d be waiting for me when we returned home. There had been several items on backorder for months, so it was just a stroke of luck that the full parts order had been delivered just a few weeks ago. It was just a minor leak, but with all the parts in hand, smart money was on doing the repair now, at home, while I had resources at my disposal, rather than waiting until Minor inevitably became Major on the side of some desolate highway.
I’d left SoCal mid-day Tuesday and arrived in SoDak on Wednesday evening. The following two days were a flurry of fine mechanical work in an unheated carport with temps stubbornly refusing to leave the 30s; my long-enduring 265,000-mile water pump was rebuilt without incident; engine & final drive oils changed; installation of a new battery and correction of niggling electrical accessory issues; delivering fancy beers to one buddy for bike eyeballing services rendered and introducing another the world’s best smoked short ribs. (Seriously, if you EVER have a chance to hit JR’s Rhodehouse BBQ in Black Hawk, SD, DO IT! And by “a chance” I mean if you’re passing anywhere closer than Chicago, DO IT! If you like meat, trust me when I say you won’t be disappointed.) I also had to source a couple obscure cables which had gone missing from my long-disregarding heated gloves because, although I’m a fingerless kinda girl, I was forced that concede that if kept it up much longer I was going to be a literally fingerless girl. With an incredible stroke of luck, the cable I needed happened to match a style used by Harley Davidson brand gear in 2004. What were the odds? It was with great enthusiasm and a bit of lingering numbness in my phalanges that I purchased the two required cables, cables whose battered packages told the tale of dozens upon dozens of hopeful unstaplings followed by unceremonious returns to their distant corner of the peg wall. Trophies in hand, the chores continued: Tax paperwork gathered, downloaded, copied, collated. Annual physical because, hey – as long as I’m this close to my regular doc, I may as well. Ensuring that tools and service items packed for the FZ1 were exchanged for those required for the FJR. Tires inflated, fresh TPMS batteries installed, test ride, and ready to rock.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, as my slushy synapses began to regain full firepower, I started mulling over how close I was to the Canadian border. I was in a state that is touching a state that is touching Canada. By that standard, I was practically already in the Great White North. I would be returning to my home-away-from-home within spitting distance of Mexico, and with the unseasonably warm weather being predicted… Hmmm… An Iron Butt Border-to-Border ride on an impressively inefficient route in the middle of winter would be an entertainingly absurd way to approach my return trip. Why not? I did some poking around in my free time, but I just couldn’t quite make it work. I would still have to plan around a very tight weather window if I hoped for a clean escape. The nearest Canadian border crossing had very limited operating hours in the winter and the town closest to the border offered very little hope of sourcing the requisite witnesses and computer-generated starting receipt. The nearest 24-hour border crossing was just far enough in the wrong direction to render an already difficult ride attempt into something that would be darn near impossible. I wasn’t on a mission specifically to execute a B2B, after all; I’d just been hoping to shoehorn a B2B somewhere into my existing ride plans. Not to be deterred, a new idea was concocted which was arguably just as silly, twice as fun, and substantially warmer. I’m not quite ready to divulge the details just yet, but it was executed successfully as envisioned and is likely just the start of a series of related endeavors.
Ah, the FJR. Like an old glove, she is just the perfect fit. What an incredible feeling to be reunited with my great old friend. After 1,700 sub-freezing, naked-bike miles, my ginormous V-Stream windscreen was like heaven. After four months with a cable-clutch bike as my only form of transportation, a hydraulic clutch made me feel like She-Ra. Feeling the joy of full stereo audio at a reasonable volume. Wired for heated gear and big miles and maximum comfort. Just… perfect. Ready for anything. I departed Rapid City on Saturday morning, lamenting that the high 60-degree weather had not quite materialized but grateful for the relatively tolerable temps in the low 50s. I was going to be staging my certified ride out of Colorado Springs and I’d looked at a few possible routes for getting from here to there. One path looked compelling simply because I didn’t already know it like the back of my hand, but it included a good $20 in toll roads. Nah, pass. That left I-25 down through Wyoming or essentially retracing the path I’d taken into town three days earlier. Facing the potential for icy, twisty mountain roads and other non-moto-friendly conditions, I opted for the devil I knew and pointed myself due south across Nebraska. I began regretting the choice less than 40 miles out of town when ferocious winds made the ride difficult and dangerous, even on my most faithful steed. It didn’t subside until well into Colorado, but it turned out that the winds along I-25 and I-80 were violent enough to flip quite a few tractor trailers, so all things considered I think I fared pretty well.
Sunday in Colorado Springs finally hit the low 70s, the glorious t-shirt weather rendering the ride up an oddly distant memory. I didn’t leave right away though, instead enjoying a relaxing afternoon in the warm sun before finally departing for points south later that evening. Two days later, Colorado Springs was several degrees below zero. Many schools and roads saw closures in my wake. Even El Paso saw 2” of snow just after I passed through. Yet somehow, I arrived back in San Diego after what turned our to be a relatively pleasant ride. My careful choreography allowed me to scoot south and west around the encroaching storm. Even the small but apparently unavoidable patch of rain didn’t amount to any noteworthy discomfort. A bit of a sandstorm around Imperial Dunes, heated gear optimistically removed at 60 degrees only to have temps dip back down to the 30s; really nothing out of the ordinary. A gloriously uneventful end to a ridiculously entertaining 3,700-mile winter bike swap.
With that out of the way, what’s next? My immediate future, now that I’ve regained the requisite dexterity in my fingers, involves a valve inspection on the FJR and, after winding up with a crankcase full of gas, tearing into the carbs on the Bandit. I’m just a couple weeks away from the Asphalt Rats Discovermoto Rally, and you could be too if you head on over to their website and sign up now!
The irony is not lost on me that I just rode the FZ1 1,700+ miles through the night with stock headlights, battered by freezing sleet in less-than-appropriate gear, and battling frustratingly lackluster fuel range across large expanses with limited gas, with the express goal of not having to spend 1,000 miles riding through the night with stock headlights, facing cold weather without appropriate winter gear, or struggling with lackluster fuel range. It made perfect sense on paper. We are helping mom come up with a game plan for her new life, likely to involve lots of travel, adventure, catching up with old friends and making new ones. We are still regrouping to see what our post-SoCal ride is going to entail. We’re tossing around the idea of exploring Central America, but we’ll see how our timeline and budget looks by the time all is said and done. In the meantime, no matter what happens, we’ll continue to tackle life’s hurdles and surprises head-on and seek adventure wherever we find ourselves.