Arctic Adventures, Part 3

*2019: This is the last episode of #ThrowBackTravel to be pulled over from our old website. There may be more throwback stories as I have time to compile old ride reports and pictures, but they won’t be coming as fast and furious like they have been. So don’t just wolf it down. Sit back, pour a drink, savor it… And off we go!

Crossing on the Yukon River Ferry. Yes, that’s us in a car. A rental car, to be precise. Three of our four tires were destroyed, beyond repair. The closest tires we found were 8 hours away in Fairbanks, Alaska – a far cry better than the 8 DAYS it would take to have tires shipped to us in the Yukon. The trade off for time was price – this car only came with 100 free kilometers (about 60 miles). When our little trip was complete, 25 1/2 hours and 1,407 kilometers later, they hit us for almost $600. Talk about painful…

Alaska was having a little wildfire problem of their own, although thankfully farther from the road. You’d think that a place that spent half the year covered in snow and the other half of the year slogging around in melted snow would be low on fire danger, but that’s clearly not the case.

The view from the Top of the World Highway was impressive, but not quite as impressive as the Dempster.  This road was also dirt, and better maintained than the Dempster, but we have to admit that if we had to be on it, at least it wasn’t on the bikes. We’ve done enough dirt riding on street bikes to last us a while.

Entering Alaska for the second time. We look happy because we think our troubles are over. We’re so gullible.

OK, the sights WERE pretty, and the faux sunset WAS spectacular, but still… It wasn’t $600 worth of spectacular.

WOW! OK, this was also pretty amazing. We also got a chance to actually talk, which we can’t do on the bikes. I guess it wasn’t so bad, but still…  $600?

We left Dawson City at 5pm and arrived in Fairbanks at 3am. We couldn’t find a campground or a reasonably priced hotel with a vacancy, so we did what any completely insane person would do – we slept in the parking lot of the motorcycle shop. Mike slept in the driver’s seat, and I slept with the rear seat down, half in the trunk and half on the seat. Not a real restful night sleep since it didn’t get dark, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

BUT LOOK! IT’S A MOOSE! A MOOSEY MOOSEY MOOSE AND HER MOOSEY MOOSEY BABY! Now THAT makes it all worth while!!

We finally got a picture of a moosey moosey moose!

I’ll make a long story short. When the motorcycle shop opened and we asked for our tires (which we had ordered and paid for by phone last night), they just shrugged their shoulders. It took over an hour and a half for them to figure out what had happened: They charged us for the three tires we needed, then someone else came in and wanted to buy one of them. Knowing we were driving all night from the Yukon to get these tires, they credited us back for one and sold it to someone else. They didn’t call to inform us, didn’t apologize, and didn’t want to give us our third tire back. Call us if you want all the sordid details, but lets just say that in the end, the cops were called and we left the shop with three tires.

*2019: OK, we’ve dragged this out for 14 years. For those of you who haven’t heard the whole animated, curse-filled tale in person, here’s a little more story. There was a lady working at the parts counter who had some serious attitude. I get it, we’re foreigners, but we came in with a pleasant attitude (or as pleasant as could be expected, considering we’d just slept in their parking lot) and just wanted to retrieve our paid-for tires and hit the road. If I had to guess, having 14 more years of powersports customer service under my belt since that glorious day, she was probably the one who sold our tire out from under us. She probably gambled that we wouldn’t make it, and figured that cash-in-hand from a local buyer was better than a refunded credit card charge a few days down the road. She lost that gamble, and rather than roll it back she decided to double down.

“May we speak with the parts manager?”

“I am the parts manager.”

“Who is your manager?”

“I’m the top of the food chain today. So sad for you.”

The only thing the shop offered was to give us the two tires that were still on our invoice. Fantastic! A $600 rental car later, that would get us fully 2/3 of the way to mobile! Sigh. An hour and a half of nasty looks and snide remarks later, a mechanic innocently walks in from the back and says “I found that other tire you were looking for.” He was immediately incinerated with the vicious laser-gaze from the Parts Manager Lady.

Apparently the sequence of events were as follows: We purchased the three tires over the phone. I called from the road about half way to Fairbanks and confirmed that our tires were there, paid for, and that we would be arriving to pick them up the following morning. A few hours later, a local rode in and asked for one of those tires. Not having any more to sell him, they credited us for one and sold it to him. He left his bike to have the tire installed… And there it sat. The tire had yet to be installed, but when we asked for the tire (which was, by any measure, rightfully ours) so we could be on our merry way, Parts Lady said she couldn’t sell it to us because it was already sold to someone else. Aaaaaahhhhmmmm,…. Okaaaaay,… buuuuuttt,…. I also have a receipt showing that I paid for three tires, including that one right there. Does it need to be resold a certain number of times before it gets locked in to a particular owner or something? Or is that a determination made based on the zip code of the purchaser? What exactly do we need to do to leave here with those three tires?

We did not go to extreme lengths to hide our discontent with the situation, but we never got loud or made threats. We did, however, make it clear that we would not be leaving with fewer than three tires. And why would we? We’d ordered three, paid for three, and needed three to get on with our trip. We weren’t about to pay for the World’s Most Expensive Tire Change ®, only to have to return to Dawson City and wait for over a week in order to arrange for a single additional tire to be flown in. Not happening. Parts Lady, or somebody in the shop, apparently tired of our presence and called in the fuzz. They were pretty cool about the whole thing, just standing by to make sure we didn’t try any funny business. Eventually the tables started to turn and the other shop employees started to more vocally support our position. I think the fact that we were polite(ish) but persistent really helped sway sentiment in our favor. While Parts Lady held firm, other employees started loudly telling her that, basically, she was being a jerk. They got pretty persistent on our behalf, pointing our the obvious fact that the tire was ours to begin with, Number Three hadn’t been installed yet, and that the ride-in was in a better position to wait for another tire to arrive.

I think, ultimately, everyone just grew tired of the “locals back locals” thing when it came to backing up her clearly indefensible position. It was ridiculous and everyone could see that. Everyone – the cops, the other employees, even customers that were lingering around to take in the show – were chatting with Part Lady while giving us the side-eye that said “Yeah, I get it.” We reached a point where the cops were probably tired of hanging out but Parts Lady needed to save face, so she stepped out for some reason and another parts guy thankfully gave us our rightful Number Three. In retrospect, and even really at the time, we weren’t angry with the shop, it was just one person on a power trip who made a series of increasingly poor business decisions. But I’ve said it before: It’s the spectacularly good things and the spectacularly bad things that really stick in your mind after a trip, and no matter how this panned out it was going to be a memorable event.

By the time the bike shop dimwits were done screwing around, it was too late for us to get the rental car back in time. There’s an extra fee for that. The rental place also runs the only taxi service in town, and since they were closed by the time we got back, we had no way to make it the 25km to where we left our bikes. Sigh…

When we finally made it back to the Klondike Lodge, they were closed. We shared our sob story with the mechanic there, trying to sway him into opening up the shop so we could install our new tires. It didn’t work. Instead, he bought us dinner and a night in the lodge. Praise the Lord, there are some good people left in the world!! We were filthy, exhausted, and STARVING – we hadn’t had time to stop for food since we left Fairbanks. We ate like pigs and slept like babies, clean, dry, and happy for the first time in days.

Our Heros! Richard, the mechanic at the Klondike Lodge, and his assistant Brandon. When all was said and done, they didn’t charge us a cent and refused a tip. (We left one anyways.)

We didn’t get good pictures of the slices in the tires, because we intended to cut out the worst chunks and save them as souvenirs. We forgot. You can see how bald the top tire is – that was Mike’s front. The middle one is my rear tire, and it has five big slits in it (the largest was almost 2″ long). The bottom one is Mike’s rear, and if you look at the bottom of the picture just left of center you can see one of the many places where his steel belts were showing through. Believe it or not, these tires were new when we left California, and should have lasted us at least 5,000 more miles.

All this struggle faded into distant memory when we made it to Mukluk Annie’s in time for the all-you-can-eat breakfast a few days later. The whole buffet was good, but those were the best blueberry pancakes we had ever eaten. Look at that – it’s flopping off the edge of the plate!! Judging by the look on Mike’s face, Gnomad picked the wrong place to kick back…

Overlooking Teslin, Yukon. If you look at the far side of the bridge, then nine more miles up the road, you’ll see Mukluk Annies. Mmmmmm…. pancakes….

This was going to just be a short rest stop in Watson Lake, Yukon. A sign forest is a good excuse to take a break, but we figured is would be kind of geeky. Saying so might confirm our geekdome, but it was actually a lot of fun!

We were just going to stretch our legs and pop in for a quick look. With over 60,000 signs, I don’t think there’s such a thing as “a quick look.” These are all thumbnails. Click on a few, and I’m sure you’ll see what we saw – There’s a lot of really funny stuff in here!

We saw lots and lots of wildlife, but this herd of buffalo was probably the closest. We saw caribou today, too, but they cleared out before we could snap a picture. I think they sensed that we had eaten a Caribou Burger a couple days before. (Incidentally, it was VERY tasty, and I highly recommend trying it if you get the chance.) This big herd was standing right next to the road, completely ignoring us. Mike was sitting right next to me, completely ignoring them. (I guess you become immune to the cuteness of big, smelly, hairy animals when you grow up in South Dakota, but not me! I’m married to one!)

Muncho Lake, British Columbia. This lake was just as still as Boya Lake, but the water was a deep turquoise. It also made for beautiful pictures, and I’m sure sunset is truly a sight to behold. Maybe on the next trip…

This big fella was standing right in the middle of the road (which had again turned to dirt, but nowhere near as bad as the Dempster). He and his kin folk like to eat the seeds and things that are easy pickin’s on the road, and they really don’t care how many people honk at them while they do it.

A little bit of rain, but hey – it’s no big thing.
A thousand miles of dirt road tends to toughen you up a little bit.

Look! A bear!

Seriously. Here’s the story: For the second time on our trip, we saw a black bear cruising around next to the road. Another car had also stopped to take pictures, but we weren’t fast enough – he slipped back into the woods before we got the picture. I hollered back to Mike in my best redneck drawl, “Hey, Baby! Ya’ll want me to run into them woods and flush ‘im out sos you can git yer picture?” The guy in the car looked simultaneously disturbed, repulsed, and almost… hopeful. I don’t think I’d laughed as hard since we saw the giant mutant hopping beaver by Boya Lake.

Camping in Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington.

I like these two pictures. The one to the right is me at a stop sign on Mount Rainier on the way back from our honeymoon, and the picture on the left is me at the same intersection in June 2004 as I returned from a solo trip around the U.S. and Canada. Check out all that snow!! What a difference a year and a month makes!

Fellow bikers riding through Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington.

We like to call this little series, “Why throwing your luggage off a third story hotel balcony to someone waiting in the parking lot may not be as good an idea as it first seems.” Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen – he’s a trained professional. He limped away with only minor injuries.

The Tilamook Cheese Factory. This was one of our favorite stops.
We were like kids in a… well,… A Cheese Factory.

I know we’ve said this before, but this time I mean it – this may actually be the absolute best picture we took on our entire trip. I mean, really. It’s hard to go wrong with Sumike vs. Wenzilla.

After a few days unwinding in San Francisco, we finally made the last short hop home to Pismo Beach. It was bittersweet; once you’re that close to home, it’s always nice to sleep in your own bed, scritch your own dog and wear some clean clothes. Especially if you’re Mike. Me, on the other hand – I told Mike I was going to keep on going to Tierra del Fuego. He wished me Godspeed and said he would send me text messages with the weather reports from his Official Command Post on the couch in front of the TV, as long as I didn’t expect updates before 11am. OK, I agreed to pass on Tierra del Fuego for now, but not for long. My goal was to ride to Inuvik before I turned 30. By the time I’m 40, I vow to have Tierra del Fuego securely under my belt.* And between now and then… Who knows? When adventure calls, I listen!

Thank you so much to everyone who supported us through our trip and shared in our adventure with us. Creating this website is very time consuming and we just didn’t have time or space for everything we would have liked to include. Like the huge Hell’s Angels raid in Inuvik. Or when we had to backtrack a hundred miles because Mike left his wallet in Hyder. Or standing up to a bully backwater cop trying to give us unearned citations. Or precise details on the giant mutant hopping beaver. Thanks to everyone who has pumped us for information on these neglected tales, and everyone who has emailed us with their own stories of adventure. Because of all of you, our journey will never really come to an end.

*2019 Post Script: OK, “not for long” actually became “too long”, but I’ve only missed my goal by a couple years. That’s tolerable; the interceding adventures have been beyond all expectations, not the least of which is this adorable little adventure right here. Like I said, I hope to start putting together some new #ThrowBackTravels on adventures like our Nova Scotia trip or the time a stranger broke into a motorcycle shop for me. Long story. Maybe I’ll write about it someday. 😉 In the meantime, follow along with Third Wheel Adventures to see what happens next!

One step forward…

This week’s blog is going to be relatively short because I simply don’t have enough hours in the day. I keep telling myself that I need to relax, that we’re far enough out from kickstands-up that some aspects of the planning might just have to wait. Handle what I reasonably can handle now, and attack some of the finer details later.

Unfortunately there are a few major things that I just can’t let go of. Primarily, I really REALLY feel like I need to firm up some idea of how the bike shipping is going to work, but it just isn’t coming together for me. Plane? Container? RoRo? Give up and just buy down there? I’ve made a dozen phone calls, sent out easily three times that many emails, and still… nothing. I’m getting very few acknowledgments to my inquiries and even fewer shipping quotes. The quotes that I have received are about double what I’d anticipated. And that’s not just some wild number I pulled out of the air; I’m getting quoted double what other people are being quoted for similar travels right now. I just can’t catch the right person on the right day, or I’m not asking the right questions, or… I’m not sure what the problem is. It’s very possible that we’re simply too far out to get a firm quote, or for the shipping agents to be too enthusiastic about helping. I fill out lengthy forms with VINs and dimensions; I supply our desired travel dates, points of departure and arrival, but also include that we’re highly flexible on all of those points. It’s hard to tell if people are interpreting “flexible” as “non-committal”, but honestly I’m hoping to catch that one agent who will reply “Those ports are good, but we can save you $500 and a week of shipping time if you ship through these ports.”

I’ve even been seriously contemplating just buying a bike (or both) in South America. Our requirements are meager – as it is, we’re planning on traveling with bikes whose value will probably be equal to or less than the cost of shipping them down there. We will probably sell the bikes in South America rather than pay to ship them home (unless I can con Mike into crossing the Darien Gap on the northbound part of the journey, in which case we’ll just ride them home).

There are just a few big concerns preventing me from throwing caution to the wind and trying to find bikes when we get there. First, there is potential difficulty with paperwork and border crossings. Some countries are better than others but in most countries, as a tourist, you’re not able to actually put the vehicle into your name. You need to carry what is essentially a power of attorney where the titled owner gives you permission to cross borders with their vehicle. Getting all the paperwork in order can be expensive and time-consuming, and even then there is no guarantee that everything will work smoothly. I often see where travelers are stuck at a border crossing because some “I” is not dotted or a “T” is not crossed. My next concern is the inability to fully mechanically vet the bikes ahead of time, and be prepared with vehicle-appropriate luggage and a reasonable amount of spare/service parts. I don’t need to go too wild on this point, but it’d be nice to know roughly how we’ll be packing the bikes, what size of spare master link and chain adjustment tools we’ll need to carry, and have a couple spare levers or whatever.

The last, and biggest, issue is the ability to find a sidecar rig. I’ve made inquiries and from what I hear, they are even fewer and further between than they are in the States. We would be taking a serious risk by flying down there without having a rig already lined up. We’d be randomly picking a place to fly into and just hoping to find a hack within a reasonable distance, within a reasonable amount of time, for a reasonable price, and in safe, comfortable and mechanically sound condition. Literally the two most important things in my entire world will be on that bike, and the three of us will essentially be living off the bike for a year. I don’t want to be settling for something sub-par simply because the pickings are slim.

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash

I’ve come across some well-reviewed places that specialize in selling bikes to tourists. They handle all the paperwork so the vehicle is actually titled in your name, not just using a power of attorney. They go through the bike thoroughly to make sure it’s safe, serviced, and ready to rock. They install any accessories you want, such as saddlebag racks, taller handlebars, wide footpegs, etc, before you arrive. All you have to do is sign the title, hop on, and go. They’ll even buy the bike back if you want to sell it at the end of your trip. The only hitch is, once again, the sidecar. Everyone I’ve communicated with is pretty confident that they wouldn’t be able to find a sidecar rig for us “in the wild”. We’ve had one shop offer to build us a rig, but they want us to purchase a bike from them ahead of time and we’d be left hoping that the sidecar they built was up to our standards. And that’s not an unreasonable requirement, really, except that the bikes they’re selling that would be suitable for a sidecar are all newer and in the $12,000 range. We’re not looking to invest anywhere near that much, especially because they say there won’t be much resale demand for a sidecar rig down there. Plowing that much money into a custom-built hack with low odds of selling it at the end of the trip? That quite thoroughly defeats the purpose of trying to circumvent the expense and hassle of shipping.

Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

I’m honestly warming to the idea of just shipping the sidecar and buying a second bike down there. There are always other travelers selling their bikes, often from the US. Transferring a US bike into our names would be way less hassle (in theory) but still take some time and effort. Plus if we had the sidecar, it would still be possible for the three of us to get around until we picked up another bike (as awkward though that would be. We’d have to arm wrestle to figure out who’d be the passenger. Monty would probably win, and she doesn’t have a motorcycle license yet.) I’d also be happy to buy a little dual sport from one of the specialty shops, with the benefit of a guaranteed buy-back at the end of the trip. But then the question remains: Who the heck is going to help us get the sidecar to South America?!?

I’ll be writing a separate blog about “information overload” but suffice to say I have reached out to a number of the resources I have at my disposal, and I’m finding that shipping from the US is just plain difficult. It’s expensive, there’s lots of red tape, and many carriers just don’t want to deal with us. We may end up having to find a way across the Darien Gap or buying a bike down there, because I’m just about exhausted with this endeavor already. I put out a few feelers today and got two new leads, so I’m off to compose a few emails. Wish me luck. And in the meantime, please enjoy this picture of the mountains of Peru courtesy of Montessa.

-Wendy

Arctic Adventure, Part 2

Here’s where the real fun begins! We rode for nearly 18  hours on the first day of the Dempster. It sounds impressive, but with the road conditions we only averaged about 25 mph (when we were moving). It was slow and tiring, but amazingly beautiful. We must have stopped for pictures about every 10 minutes! (By the way, that’s not a painted center line in the picture below; that’s the tire ruts worn in the dirt road.)

We thought these were snow-covered mountains when we saw them from a distance, but they’re not. They’re actually light gray, nearly white, perfectly smooth stone mounds. Very cool!

It was 7:30pm before we made it to the Arctic Circle, but since it was still light we kept on riding. Accommodations are VERY limited up here, so when you decide to keep going that usually means at least 4 hours to the next campground…

Did I mention there are only two gas stations on the Dempster? Better plan ahead…

One of my favorite pictures from the trip. A fire was actively burning near the road during our travels, and in this section it had burned one half of the road but not the other.

Milestone: Arctic Circle! KM 405, 12 hours of riding
Milestone: Northwest Territories! KM 465, 13.5 hours of riding
You are getting veeery sleeeepy…

It may look well-groomed, but that is actually about 8″ deep of razor-sharp shale. Take my word for it, it does not make the ol’ tires happy…

Nature’s cruel and beautiful joke:
The sun isn’t actually setting, it’s just hanging out in the trees for a while.
OOooh, look! That must be a sunset, right?

Not quite. This is what it looked like when we stopped for the night (well after midnight) at Nitainlaii Territorial Park. The mosquitoes were so thick here that it actually sounded like it was raining all night as they tried to get in the tent. Note Mike applying 100% DEET – didn’t even phase ’em. It  was kinda like being in an Alfred Hitchcock movie…

Day Two on the Dempster was a much shorter day, thanks to a marathon ride on Day One. We needed it, too, because 736 kilometers of dirt road by motorcycle really takes a lot out of you!

Waiting for the Mackenzie River ferry at the fishing village of Tsiigehtchic (say THAT three times fast!) An exceptional summer thaw left the river banks littered with logs and debris several hundred feet from the river. The Mackenzie River is massive – it drains 1/5 of Canada, and only the  Mississippi and Amazon exceed it’s flow.

Crossing the Mackenzie River. The weather is notoriously unpredictable in  this area, but we had managed to skirt the storm clouds yesterday.  Today we were not so lucky. As soon as we disembarked the ferry, the sky unleashed a cold, pelting rain that would last for the next day and a half.

Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada, KM 736 of the Dempster Highway. Finally, the end of the road! This is the northern-most point in Canada that can be reached by roads* (unless you count ice roads, but we’re saving that for the next road trip). (Just kidding.) We only saw a few dozen other vehicles over the last two days, and only three motorcycles. We only saw five other motorcycle on our entire drive on the Dempster. We are one of a crazy… er,… brave few.

*2019 Addendum: As of November 2017, a new road opened which allows travel north beyong Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. Road trip!

We had heard horror stories about how the road destroys tires, so we came prepared with enough plug kits and CO2 cartridges to repair a couple dozen punctures. We felt lucky to have made it all the way to Inuvik before getting the first flat on Wendy’s rear tire. It took us a few hours to find air (so we didn’t have to waste our cartridges) and repair the tire, but all in all we thought we got off pretty easy…

Windburn, anyone?

Dust, dirt, gravel, and rain combined to make a thick impervious paste on the faceshields of the helmets (and our bikes, and our gear, and every other exposed surface). In order to see, we had to ride with our faceshields up. This meant being buffeted in the face by wind and cold rain for the last 128 kilometers (over 75 miles) of the road. Our faces were chapped like we’d been skiing for a few weeks, but hey – that’s the price you pay for  adventure.

Today was our first – and hard-earned – full day of rest. We stayed in a hotel for only the second time on our trip, and this one was pretty fancy. They didn’t even seem to mind the massive cloud of filth we brought in with us. We had hot showers, a comfy bed, and Internet access! Talk about spoiled! We spent most of the day lounging and staying out of the rain, but we did manage to wander out and snap a few pictures for your enjoyment. Inuvik has a paved road – our first one in two days – but most of them are still dirt. The 
nearly 4,000 residents live in these raised row houses with above-ground sewage lines to prevent freezing in the winter. Yummy! (You can see the lines in the postcard above.)

A little break in the rain convinced us to do a little exploring 
around town. This is the famous Inuvik Igloo Church. It was all hand-built without blueprints. We’ve seen pictures of the inside and it looks gorgeous, but it wasn’t open to visitors when we stopped by.

This is a common “trademark” statue of the native Inuits of the Mackenzie Delta. They were used to mark the coastline of the delta rivers and the Arctic Ocean. Travelers and fisherman used them as reference points and they navigated the surrounding waters.

This is probably tied for our favorite picture from our trip. As you can imagine, Inuvik is a very small town. The main store in town in the NorthMart, which is kind of like a WalMart. Unlike WalMart, the NorthMart is counted on to carry absolutely everything and anything that the townsfolk may need, including off-road vehicles. We were surprised to walk in the door and see three quads – one with an outboard motor on it – but when was the last time you saw a Honda CRF50 on a men’s underwear display? This has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Day Four was off to a great start. We certainly weren’t as apprehensive about the road as we had been on the way up, but we weren’t nearly as excited, either, because we knew what we were in for. We were up and ready for an early departure, and we walked outside to find that my rear tire had gone flat again. Oh, goody. Rather than chance a slow leak, we decided to track down a shop where we could repair the tire properly… Whew! Glad we won’t have to do that again! (Ha Ha) None of the shops in town handled motorcycles tires, but the owner of this shop was kind enough to let me use his machine so I could do the work myself. Nothing wakes you up like a little grease in the morning!

Back on the Mackenzie River Ferry. We hit the road about 5 hours later than we intended, but we were confident we made the right choice. After all, we don’t want to spend the entire rest of our ride dealing with flats, right?

This shot kind of gives you an idea of how slow mike is – I’m that speck waaaay off in the distance. (OK, he’s not usually quite THAT slow…) You if look closely, though, you can see the razor-sharp shale laughing at us from the roadway.

We made it almost to Eagle Lodge, the half-way point of the Dempster Highway, before Flatty reared it’s ugly head once more. All of our plug kits were useless, though, because these weren’t punctures – these were big ol’ slits. We managed to cram enough sticky strips in there to hold a little air, and I made it to the lodge’s tire repair shop just as it officially reached “Completely Flat”. Once again I had to do all the work, but no matter – we want it fixed right so we don’t have to deal with any more flats. Right?

Remember that fire I mentioned earlier? Not only was it still going strong, it was now frighteningly close to Eagle Plains. It was already 9pm so we really should have called it a night, but we were worried about where the fire would go. We decided to push on for Engineer Creek about 100 miles to the south, and it turns out we made the right choice: Just hours after we passed through, the fire overtook the road and it was closed off just south of Eagle Plains.

This is the scene from the road at about 10:30pm. The fire makes it look like a sunset, which it rightfully should have been long before 10:30pm, but it wasn’t because the sun doesn’t set, but it kind of was because it was covered by smoke. See? Or maybe that’s just the extreme exhaustion talking – We didn’t reach the next campground until 1:30am.

Good News! When we reached the campground, it was completely full. On a Tuesday. At 1:30am. The same campground that was completely empty the previous Friday. The next campground is 80 miles south, so that’s not an option.

Now Day Five of the Dempster was off to a bad start, that much was true, but if you had told me that my day would end sleeping in the trunk of a car in Fairbanks, Alaska, I still would have called you nuts. Boy, would I have been eating my words…

Luckily there was this picnic shelter with a potbellied stove, tables, and fully screened to keep the bugs out. This is actually pretty luxurious – why hadn’t we thought of this before? Probably because the rangers are likely to wake you up and make you move out in the middle of the night, but hey – desperate times call for desperate measures.

And what’s this? We woke up to find yet another flat tire! By my count, this makes four flats so far. Are we done yet? Haven’t we paid our dues? To make matters worse, we had used up all our CO2 cartridges on the last flat. We had a backup plan – a hose that screws in to your spark plug hole so your engine acts as a air compressor. It does the job, but it takes a LOT of work to get at our spark plugs. Well, better get started.

…And just look how excited Mike is about it! Boy, by that long face, you’d think HE was the one doing all the work! More than the work, the dirt road was very draining and we were ready to be back on the pavement. (Or, as I was singing, “On A Road Again”) We were about half way to our spark plugs when, from across the camp, we heard the tell-tale droning of an air compressor. We’re saved! They let us borrow it, and it cut our labor in half. That cigarette lighter charger we installed in Mike’s bike really came in handy today!! A few more sticky strips and a quick fill, and we were heading for the highway.

Alas, the excitement did not last. We were less than a third of the way to pavement when Mike caught up and asked how his rear looked. I said “Flat”. He clarified that he meant his rear tire, but unfortunately the answer was still “flat.” Upon inspection we found that my rear tire had also gone flat again, bringing us to a total of six flats.

We started work to remove the spark plugs, and we found that we didn’t have all the tools we needed to get at them.  (Now before you give me a hard time, we had the right SIZE tools, but the bolts were too tight for the tools we had to loosen them.) A few people stopped to help and a tour bus gave us some extra box lunches they had, but no one had the tools we needed. It took quite a while before someone stopped by that had a compressor. Now it was a race against the clock to reach pavement before we were stranded for the night. Where we averaged 25mph on the way up, we averaged over 50mph on the way out. It was do or die time, and we had run out of options. We were flatter than flat and running on the rims by the time we eventually reached the Klondike Lodge, but our day’s adventures were only beginning…

*2019: And that little cliffhanger is where we’ll be leaving off for this week. Tune in next week to find out if we end up in the trunk of a car, jail, or both!

Interview: Adventure Kid!

Montessa is getting really amped up about everything having to do with our trip. She loves looking at pictures of South America, pouring over maps, and working on her Spanish. She also loves pitching in on our blog content. Unfortunately her passion for storytelling surpasses her ability to transcribe those tales in a format that is understandable by… well, pretty much anyone. But she sure does love pulling up a blank Word document and pounding away on the ol’ keyboard. Which, now that I think about it, really describes my creative process as well. Anyhow, Montessa was very clear that she wanted to write her OWN interview, so I let her write her answers on the laptop while I translated for her on the desktop. Here it is: Montessa’s very first Adventure Kid interview!

Wendy: How do you feel about our trip to South America?

Montessa: Happy about seeing new people and being with you and daddy.

W: What are you most excited about?

M: Spending time with you and daddy.

W: Are you looking forward to seeing or doing certain things?

M: Swimming and going to new hotels. And swimming at new swim places. Making sure everyone stays with me that I love, and visiting people in their society. (I have no idea where she picked that up!) There are more things that I want to do than staying in a hotel too.

W: What other kinds of things?

M: Making sure our pets are having a fun time at home, and also swimming in new swim places. (I’m sensing a theme…)

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W: Do you think anything will be weird or scary?

M: No, just weird.

W: What’s going to be weird?

M: Spending time with you. (Can’t argue with that.)

W: What kinds of animals do you think we’ll see down there?

M: Elephants, giraffes, monkeys and little-sized elephants.

W: What about birds?

M: Yes, birds and elephants. (I’ve never mentioned seeing elephants in South America, yet I feel like we’re somehow setting her up for disappointment with regards to our anticipated interactions with animals…)

W: What kinds of birds?

M: Animal birds.

W: Like maybe flamingos?

M: Uh-huh. And giraffes.

So long as we don’t have to battle with Satan’s avians.

W: Are you excited about doing so much sidecar riding?

M: Yes!

W: What do you like most about riding in the sidecar?

M: Being with my family.

W: Do you like it better than riding in the car?

M: Uh-huh.

W: Why?

M: Because it’s so cool!

W: How are your Spanish lessons coming?

M: Good.

W: Can you tell me something in Spanish?

M: Hola! Soy Montessa!

W: Hola Montessa! Soy Wendy.

M: Hola Wendy! Buenos noches!

W: Muy bien mi hija! Do you have anything else to share about South America?

M: I want to ride on an airplane because we can sleep on an airplane (definitely her dad’s kid.)

W: What about camping? Are you excited about camping?

M: Uh-huh, because we can camp any place that’s beautiful.

W: What do you want to say to all the people who are reading your story?

M: Good main and I hope you have a good season!

I did confirm (twice) that she said “Good main.” I don’t know what that means. Let’s just all start using that and make it mean something awesome. So there you have it, folks – Montessa’s first South American interview! Good Main y’all!

Arctic Adventure, Part 1

*2019 Intro: Our 2005 Arctic Circle adventure started with one of the biggest adventures of all – The Big Hitchin’! This is a picture-heavy affair, so for the most part I will forgo my standard long-winded narrations and stick to the original photo-plus-caption arrangement. (You’re welcome.) It’s hard to believe that, way back in the day, we used to compress pictures on purpose so websites wouldn’t take 9,000 hours to load on the ol’ dial-up connection. I dug up the High Res on some of these, but… you know. A girl’s gotta have a life outside blog maintenance and picture procurement. Right? <crickets>

*2019: The last 14 years haven’t all been roses and unicorns, but I will say one thing: I have stayed true to myself and the promise I made that day. This was, in fact, the very last time I’ve worn a dress. As opposed to my promise not to be verbose in the post, which I backpedaled on literally in the third content block. Hey, at least I follow through on the really important stuff.

*2019 Pro Tip: Pick an awesome wedding date. You only get married once, but your anniversary is every year. When you pick a date that has special personal meaning for you as a couple, it makes it easier for you to remember. In our case, we picked 7-11 because Mike likes hotdogs and slushies. Not only have neither of us ever forgotten The Big Date, but pretty much everyone else remembers our anniversary too. Bonus: It just so happened that 7-11 fell on a Tuesday. We could invite 794 people so that no one felt slighted, but only like 50 could make it because Tuesday. Toss in a blessedly brief ceremony and a double dose of BBQ, and that’s how you have the perfect hitchin’. Oh, and cake. Gotta have cake. And motorcycles. Anyways, now it’s time for that honeymoon I promised you!

Adventure Awaits! Leaving Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, CA

Mike shows off his slightly scuffed elbow and slightly scuffed bike. We figured one of us would crash at some point, but on the first day? What an over-achiever! (We got stuck in a complete freeway shutdown in Central California after someone lost a boat off a trailer. We were pealing off gear as we languished in triple-digit heat on the blacktop, but after we drank all our water we were just getting cooked. We tried to lane split, which is legal, but angry cagers were deliberately blocking our path. We ended up going down the shoulder, still dodging cars trying to cut us off, and made it to the next freeway exit. As we were turning off the freeway offramp and into a gas station, the heat got the better of Mike and he just tipped over at low speeds. We got his bike up, packed ourselves with ice, and spent some time recovering while actively stink-eyeing every single cage that we saw.)

This evil repugnant goopy spawn of Satan somehow managed to slurp it’s disgusting way into our zipped-shut tent while we slept, and I woke up just as it was preparing to attack by oozing onto my pillow and towards my face. For some reason, Mike didn’t seem to think this brush with death constituted a legitimate reason to wake him up at 6am. Sure, he says that now, but he’d be singing a different tune if this undulating glop ball had gotten to him…

Woo Hoo! We’ve entered The Great White North!
Hope, British Columbia

We were having fun on the Hell’s Gate air tram, air sickness aside. (Or would that be tram sickness?) but then disaster stuck. Seriously, I think the guy taking these pictures pulled a muscle while laughing.

Here’s the real tram. Those Philistines wouldn’t let us stage the “Falling Out Of The Air Tram” picture on this one.  The nerve of them, to quash our creative freedoms. Well, that’s Canada for you, amirite?

Historic Marker: The last spike of the Trans-Canadian Railroad, off Highway 97.
Oooh, look! A tunnel!
Bear Glacier
Highway 37A, British Columbia (Near Hyder, Alaska)
Entering Alaska! That makes 49 states by motorcycle for Wendy, and…   um…
Well, 5 states by motorcycle isn’t a bad start for Mike.

There are dozens of amazing waterfalls along Highway 37A outside of Hyder. The area around Hyder is the world’s largest temperate rain forest. Just look at these pictures – it’s like Hawaii with snow! It rained the whole time, but the lush landscape made it worth it.

Hyder, Alaska. Year-round population: 65 (give or take)
Sealaska Inn, aka The Place to Wash Our Underthings

Wha..?!? Is that an abandoned ice cream truck?!? In Hyder, Alaska? Why, they only get an average of 48 feet of snow each season (which lasts from September to May). Boy, who ever could have predicted that that little venture would have failed? You just never can tell in business…

Yes, you’re reading that right. We stayed at the Border Bandit Discount Store/Bed & Breakfast. And by “discount store”, they mean “Purveyor of Cigarettes, Ammo, and Radical Right-Wing Bumper Stickers.” It was well worth it, just to say we did.

No, we weren’t lucky enough to see the Northern Lights. We had 24 hours of daylight, which was helpful because it allowed us to see in much greater detail the massive swarms of mosquitoes when they tried to attack us at 3am.

A beautiful mountain lake off Highway 37, immediately before the road disintegrated into a couple hundred miles of poorly grated dirt “roads” and  long sections of decades-old construction sites. It is a ton of fun, as long as you’re prepared for it. And not riding an overloaded sport-touring bike.

This picture, and all of the following pictures, are of Boya Lake, British  Columbia. It is a glacial lake, and was absolutely stunningly beautiful. We had never seen water so clear. You could see all the way to the bottom of the lake, and see fish swimming 50 feet from the shore.  

This mountain lake is just breathtaking, although the water had to be just above freezing. I swear we saw ice cubes bobbing in the distance. I thought I was going to lose fingers when I rinsed my hands off in the lake, yet kids were swimming in it well after midnight! I guess if you’re from Canada, you take summer where you can get it… We asked if it was cold, but we couldn’t understand them over the chattering of teeth. I imagine it’s hard to convince your kids to call it a day when it never gets dark.

The water was so perfectly still, it was like looking at a gradually changing painting. What an incredible place to stop for the night! Our campsite was right on the water. Imagine how hard it was to focus on setting up camp!! Even our much-savored evening meal was punctuated with frequent picture breaks. You can see why!

And with an incredibly fiery sunset (at about midnight), we wrapped up our photo session and hit the hay. I don’t think it ever got dark; every time I woke up, it was still light out. (That light was comforting when the bear went through our camp and brushed up against the tent in the middle of the night.)

Yukon: Canada’s True North!
(Not like that other, fake north we hear so much about.)
Dawson City, Yukon. This town was a historic gold rush town and has been maintained in that vein. (Get it? Vein? A little gold rush humor.)
A little sump’n for Ben. We can find BMX Plus at the end of the northermost paved road in Yukon, but not half the places I look in California. (*2019: RIP BMX Plus)

This couple not only rode a SCOOTER two-up all the way from Vancouver, they did it towing that massive homemade trailer contraption the whole way. And they called US crazy for riding the Dempster! Maybe that should have been our first clue…

We had a lot of fun in Dawson City. We spent several enjoyable days here  (some not of our own free will, but more on that later). If you ever make it, have the fish and chips at Sourdough Joes. It was some of the best eats on our whole trip – the fried salmon was yummy, but the fresh local cod was to die for!

Brother Newton E. Webster at the Masonic Temple in Dawson City. Check out those EPIC trucker chops! Way to go Brother Webster!
Walking through Dawson City in the middle of the night

Main Street, Dawson City, Almost midnight. We were just leaving Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall and Burlesque Show. It would have been a lot more entertaining if we were the 70-year-old men the shows were geared towards, but it was fun none the less. The hall itself, as with a lot of the town, has been preserved from the gold rush days.

*2019: This seems like a good spot to wrap up for the week. I’m not going to cram a month-long adventure into one post, after all. Start working on your shale-riding skills and pack some DEET, because next week we’ll be heading up the Dempster Highway. We’ll hit the Arctic Circle, but that’s only be part way to our ultimate destination. See you next week!

Our Origin Story

With our departure slowly approaching and my research and preparation succumbing to my ever present procrastination, I decided that a sweet story about how our lives came together might be a good departure from the norm.

I met Wendy when she was attending Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. She was the lab partner of Eric, my best friend from high school. I was working in Hollywood and would spend long weekends and chunks of time between gigs hanging out in Phoenix with Eric. Wendy, having found that MMIs had a distinct lack of appropriate student housing for female students, pulled together a handful of like-minded roommates and rented a huge house in the ‘burbs. It didn’t take long to turn that once-retirement-home into a world-class biker flophouse. Eric and I would routinely find ourselves at the “bikehouse” for gatherings; early on I found myself infatuated with this woman who could hang with the boys and rebuild a four bank carburetor in the kitchen sink. I repeatedly asked my buddy, “What’s up with your friend Wendy?” I would get a shoulder shrug and a simple “I dunna know.” So being a chubby schlub with a Casanova factor of -3, and less game than the JV basketball team at a STEM magnet school, I never made a move or even tried to get close to this angel.

When graduation came and Wendy and Eric’s class graduated, they went their separate ways I wrote her off as yet another missed opportunity. It was a few years later that our paths would cross again when Eric got married and we all gathered for the joyous events. That week was a whirlwind of chaos that’s best served in another blog, but it led to us writing letters and calling cross country on an increasingly frequent basis. Come to find out that Wendy had been asking Eric the same question I had, “What’s up with your friend Mike?” Captain obvious could have saved us both a bunch of lost time by just putting two and two together, but I digress. A few months later Wendy was planning a trip to California to visit her family and invited me to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. We had a fantastic time and I think we would both attest that it was that event that put our paths on the same course.

(Endearing but Slightly Creepy Note from Wendy: The day after Mike joined us for Thanksgiving, and long before we ever went on our first date, my mom bought a card congratulating us on our engagement. She was right, as it turns out, which is good because it would’ve been extra creepy if she’d been wrong…)

With a few more trips to visit family (and me, of course) Wendy found herself looking to relocate from rural Georgia to somewhere a bit closer to Hollywood. She chose a new gig in the central coast town of Pismo Beach – close enough to Southern California without being too close. I found myself making weekend tips up the coast to visit this amazing lady. Wendy was now working for the largest ATV and motorcycle rental business on the west coast, and one of the negative side affects of a tourist business is having to work weekends. If I wanted to spend time with her, I had to volunteer my weekends in the shop. Wendy and I would spend our days fixing all the damaged vehicles that came back off the beach and would spend our evenings falling in love with each other.

It was about a year before I decided that this wonderful person was the only one I wanted to spend my life with. But how was I to win over such a prize? No simple engagement ring was sufficient for the task, so I set out to find to only ring that was appropriate for such an occasion: The key ring of the elusive 2005 Yamaha FJR1300. You see, at that time the FJR was so new that each dealership was only allotted 2 bikes and they were only available on a pre-order basis. I sat down and called every single Yamaha dealer west of the Rockies looking for just one of the limited edition bikes. I came up against dead ends at every turn. In desperation I called my buddy Eric at work, who was now employed at the Yamaha dealership in our home town of Rapid City, SD. I started to tell him my tale of woe, but he stopped me mid-story and told me to hang on a second; when Eric returned he told me that a customer had put a down payment on both of his employers allotted FJRs, but had just backed out of his deal on both bikes.

I was ecstatic! I had only been trying to find a single bike to present to Wendy, but the prospect of getting a matched pair put me over the moon. I immediately called my home town credit union, arranged the financing, and had the loan officer deliver the check to the dealership that day (those are the perks of small town banking). A few months later the bikes arrived at the dealership in South Dakota. I made arrangements to have them shipped to a movie lot where I was working in California so I would have some time to orchestrate the perfect proposal. As The Big Date approached, I made arrangements with a lovely hotel and restaurant, just blocks from Wendy’s beach house and right on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They allowed me to sneak the bikes in early and, with the help of my friend Other Mike, we staged them near the hotel’s ocean overlook.

As a ruse I told Wendy that we were taking Other Mike and his wife Melinda out to dinner. After a tasty meal I suggested that we go down to the overlook for a view. Unfortunately the fog had started to come in and it was getting chilly. Melinda (who was not in on the ruse) and Other Mike joined us as we walked to the beach. It only took a few minutes before the fog and cold got to Melinda and she started grumbling and complaining; meanwhile, Other Mike was doing his level best to try and put the quiet kibosh on her fussing, knowing she’d probably be pretty excited to witness what was in the works. When we finally got to the overlook I popped the question and presented Wendy with an oversized ring box. In the box was a modest engagement ring; as she pulled out the ring, the box’s insert came out along with it revealing the key ring hanging underneath. I did my best Vanna White hand movement to reveal the two bikes hidden nearby. Wendy was flabbergasted! She knew how rare those bikes were and how hard I must have worked to get them. That sealed it and we’ve been together ever since. Incidentally, Melinda darn near fainted with swoons and both Mikes got to revel in smuggery. 

Well, there it is. I’ve been following this amazing woman/certifiable wack-a-doo all over North America perusing adventure. Now we are gearing up to expand horizons to South America and I couldn’t be happier. If you enjoyed this, stay tuned because this Thursday’s #ThrowBackTravel will take you along on our honeymoon ride beyond the Arctic Circle!

-Mike

I’ve Been Everywhere, Part 3

Once the snow had melted a bit, we moseyed the paltry 90 miles southwest to Zion National Park. We continued to dance right along the edge of the storm, and in some places we could actually see it raining just off the north side of the road but still sunny on the south side. Luckily, though, the snow didn’t follow us and the worst of it stayed to the north.

See that little black hole just right of the center of the picture above? That’s a “window” which allows light into the mile long tunnel. (Yes, the tunnel runs right through the cliff.) You can see it better in the close-up on the right.

What a thrill it was for Mike to see Zion for the first time! The landscape across Utah is varied, and he had enjoyed taking in the changing view on our ride so far. But Zion is a world unto itself. For those of you who have never visited Zion I don’t want to spoil the whole experience, but the entry into the park is very sudden and dramatic. My favorite national park is now his favorite national park, and I highly recommend that everyone wander through at least once.

The change in travel plans left us in a bit of a scramble to re-route through enough locations to complete the AMA contests. Instead of going north through Idaho, we went south back into Arizona. (Remember, Idaho is a three-point state for us where as Arizona is only a two-point state.) However…  There were a few bonus words that were not actually location names in “I’ve Been Everywhere”, but were other words spoken in the song. Getting pictures of places including words such as Bud, Sand, Pete’s Sake, and Mountain Air, among others, all count as three-point bonus pics regardless of how far from home you are. So right about now is when things started to get creative…

All Right!  See what happens when you start paying attention?  Bonus words start coming out of the woodwork! Case in point: “Sand” in Sand Hallow State Park was only a few miles away from where we stayed outside of Zion. We’re not out of the game yet!

Dipping back into Arizona, we headed for a GPS point that was right in the middle of Vermillion Cliffs. Easy enough, we figured, since the whole place is beautiful. Except once again Zumo felt that the best way to get there was by following a well-groomed dirt road for 26 miles until we reached the first gnarly inaccessible 4×4 road it could possibly direct us down. We were getting a little bummed out with these bad GPS coordinates, so we took a little break to simmer down and have some water.  More on that stop on the next page…

*2019 Addendum: OK, I know I told you I’d include some hilariously awful “secret link” type goodies without making you dig. I changed my mind. Trust me when I say that I think it’s best for everyone involved. It includes such nightmare-inducing images as this:

Just trust me on this. This is me looking out for you. And also maybe a little bit about me not wanting to blatantly invite an ambush by Mike by reminding him that I blatantly ambushed him 12 years ago. But it’s mostly about you guys.

*2019 Addendum: Before this completely devolves into a 2007 whinefest, I’m just going to go on record as saying the trouble was most probably not an issue of ridiculously uninteresting locations. In retrospect, there were probably several issues. It’s possible that some of these locations were submitted in different lat/lon formats and something got lost in the process of translating all of them into a uniform format. I ended up looking up several of these locations with an online coordinate conversion tool, so several were probably lost in translation there as well. With more than a decade of in-depth Zumo experience under my belt at this point, I think it’s also fair to point out that Zumo does get sadistic pleasure out of deliberately misrouting people. “Oh, did you request NO dirt roads? My bad; I thought you said EXCLUSIVELY dirt roads. Also, this is as close as I’m getting you. You’re going to have to walk 18 miles from here. How bad do you want this?” Then it laughs this deeply unsettling GPS laugh. It will haunt your dreams. Not quite to the same level as Mike’s nudey booty up top there, but still super creepy.

What I’m saying is, I’d love the opportunity to see what all of these waypoints were supposed to be now that I’ve mastered both coordinate conversion and skillfully guessing which of my three active GPSs is least likely to be lying to me at any given moment. I’m going to keep my 2007 commentary intact though because I think my aggravation provides a hilarious backdrop to the story of my riding life going forward from this point. I’d done Iron Butt Association certified rides before this ride, but only using paper maps. My first endurance rally was still two years away, and… well,… I’ll just let the story tell itself.

Maybe it was karmic retribution, but after “The Incident” we had nothing but a long string of bum or just plain lame GPS points. We did dig up a few more bonus IBE points, but sheesh – we won’t be doing the GPS tour next year, that’s for sure!*

*2019: LOLOLOL! Yeah, that was a solid prediction. If there’s one thing I can say for sure, it’s that I’ve definitely avoided all that silly GPS tour nonsense from that day forward.

First we attempted to take another road to the Vermillion Cliffs coordinates. After 30 miles of hideously lumpy, bumpy, sandy road we arrived at: Nothing. In the middle of a beautiful national monument, our GPS locale was a hill, like every other hill we’d passed in the last 30 miles. On the upside, our Chiropractor made a few extra bucks off us when we got home.

Our next GPS point was right by the Navajo Bridge, the Glen Canyon Dam, and a variety of museums. Where do we end up? At Antelope Canyon -certainly a beautiful place, but staring down yet another 4×4 only road! Come on – Clearly the person who submitted this group of coordinates was either unaware that they should be readily accessible, or figured that since he got there easily on his KLR650 that we should be able to lumber on over on our giant beasts just as easily.

We threw in the towel for the day, and started fresh the following day with this incredibly lucky find: A community near Flagstaff called Mountainaire, which netted us a cool three bonus points. Sweet! The day was off to a good start! We followed that up with Buffalo Pointe, Arizona.

OK, maybe this wasn’t spelled out carefully enough in the coordinate  submission instructions, but if the point is to take a picture of your  motorcycle in a particular location, doesn’t that necessarily rule out roads that are closed to all vehicles except for park trams? This time we could get to the coordinates, we just couldn’t get our bikes there. (And we weren’t willing to risk our $24 entrance fee to try!)

Aaaand then it was right about this time that my Zumo crapped out on me. Just wouldn’t turn back on. No more route, no GPS coordinates, no XM, no MP3s, no traffic or weather info – nada. Just up and died. Of course, there is no cell phone reception in the park, and by the time we found a phone Garmin had already closed. And it was Friday, so that meant the last two days and half-dozen GPS points were basically lost to the cosmos. OK, Karma! I’m sorry I ambushed my husband in his most vulnerable moment! Now can’t we catch a little slack?

Oh, Looky! It’s nothing in the middle of nowhere! And it’s too stinkin’ hot to even breathe! Hooray! Now take the stupid picture so we can leave.

Kingman, AZ

Not yet ready to admit defeat (and not wanting to have to ride back through the desert again to re-attempt the coordinates later), I spent hours on our hotel computer digging up maps of the remaining coordinates retrieved from our (slightly damp) hard copy of the list. They all jived with where Zumo had shown them, but it is clear at this point that either Zumo has it out for us, or the person who submitted these points has a twisted sense of humor, or both. Either way, we were giving it one last shot.

On the long, broiling journey back to the highway from the above referenced nothing point in the middle of nowhere near Lake Mead, we decided to take advantage of a little clause that allows for the possibility of rhyming locations. Since only locations within the United States are counted towards the IBE contest, and some places (like Argentina) are not in the US and don’t have a like-named town here, some flexibility is allowed. We figured Kingman is close enough to Kingston to get the job done, and if not, hey – at least we tried to salvage something out of the hour-long wasted side trip to nothing in the middle of nowhere.

Just for the record – our picture of what a REASONABLE GPS locale should look like!*

*Not an actual point-carrying GPS coordinate.
And the insults just keep rolling in! That’s right, boys – pile ’em on! “Hey, I know!  I’ll submit my own house as a GPS waypoint! Then I’ll get one point just for being in my own garage! Duh-hick!”

And the insults just keep rolling in! That’s right, boys – pile ’em on! “Hey, I know!  I’ll submit my own house as a GPS waypoint! Then I’ll get one point just for being in my own garage! Duh-hick!”

Why stop there? How about an empty cul-de-sac in an industrial park! Is this where the place used to be that blew up a decade or so back? Either way, I don’t care! What’s really important is that it’s 195 degrees out and we’re bordering on heat stroke to get pictures of – NOTHING!! Weeeeee!!

YES! YES! And we’ll wrap it up with a difficult-to-access shoulder next to a FREEWAY OFFRAMP! Woo Hoo! Why Not! Heck, seems like a good idea to me! Of all the stuff in Vegas, we’ve got a house, an empty lot, and a freeway offramp, all within about two miles of each other. Three easy points for some wiener in Vegas, and the final straw for us. The last two GPS points were officially scrapped from the travel plans (both Zumo and the computer showed them to be in the middle of Death Valley with no particular road access – thanks anyways).

So how did we spend our wild and crazy night in Vegas?Well, we started out by applying ice packs to the burns we suffered on our legs from sitting over a screaming hot engine and riding all day through a blast furnace. Then, we hit Hot Dog on a Stick for some high-rolling grub. We followed that up with a trip to the arcade, where we didn’t play anything, then we caught two movies. Then we went to sleep around 11pm. OK, OK, I know – but you have to realize we’re old and crusty now.* That, and we both used to live here and we like our money pretty much not just going away, so all of that part of the city has kind of lost it’s luster for us. Plus, we were tired. So there.

*2019: Old and crusty then? Yeah, that pretty much described our ideal dream date now. Sigh. Those were the days; the heady days of reckless double features and Hot Dog on a Stick.

After a leisurely morning staying cool in the hotel, we made the final searing bolt across the desert and arrived safely back home. No crashes this time, no dangerously bad weather, nothing we couldn’t handle. All in all, a very successful trip! Our total trip was 5,682 miles – a good bit shorter than originally planned, but still not too bad for two and half weeks on the road.

The good news is that even with the skipped GPS points and the re-routing of the end of the trip, we still managed to squeeze 54 points out of the I’ve Been Everywhere tour – enough for our Finisher’s Plaques – and 48 points out of the GPS Tour. We’ll still have to hit a few local GPS points to get Finisher’s Plaques for that ride, but we have until November to complete the rides and submit our photos. There are about six more GPS locations within an short day’s ride of home, as well as four or five more easy IBE points. And so, this page remains a work-in-progress until we decide we’ve  accumulated enough points. Thank you for sharing our adventure with us,  and check back often for the continuing updates!

*UPDATE!*

It has been brought to my attention that I forgot to give you the update on the Zumo. The day after we returned from the trip, I contacted Garmin International. After a brief round of troubleshooting, the tech determined that the battery had probably been faulty from the get-go. Luckily, my 12 hour-a-day use over the last two weeks prompted the battery to fail within the Super Duper Warranty Period, where they replace the unit rather than repairing it. I sent the dearly departed Zumo back to Garmin via Priority Mail, and they actually overnighted the replacement Zumo back to me. Within four days of my phone call, I had a brand new Zumo in my possession. I wasn’t too happy about the failure, but I was extremely pleased with the way Garmin handled the situation. In this era of customer service being “Job None”, it’s really exciting to find a company that goes out of their way to provide the highest quality of customer service. Thanks Garmin – Keep up the Good Work!

*UPDATE to the UPDATE!*

My expensive GXM Garmin-XM Receiver Antenna has now also failed. I don’t think I need to go into all the details, but let me just say that exceptionally good customer service can sometimes just be a fluke. I did eventually receive my replacement GXM; the person I spoke with said the item was in stock and would be overnighted to me since I was leaving for a tour that week. Six days later, the day before I was to depart, I called Garmin and asked where my GXM was. The reply? “Oh, that was out of stock.  But it’s in stock now; did you still want that?” Sigh. I guess there was some part of “Urgent Overnight Warranty Claim” that got lost in the translation there. I was able to have the GXM sent on ahead and I intercepted it on the first day of the tour. So in the end, I suppose, it all worked out OK. Now lets just hope I don’t have occasion to test Garmin’s customer service for a third time…*

*2019: LOLOLOLOL… Yeah, I just can’t even craft an eloquent comment beyond “Poor, naive 2007 me.” It just had to be acknowledged.

…And A Few Last Stops…

These are the pictures we submitted for the Best Picture portion of the contest. (We each get to submit one). We once again used the rhyming clause, figuring Jericho was a good rhyme for Jellicoe. Plus, maybe we get bonus points for providing irrefutable proof of having been someplace that doesn’t exist. Will we get three points for this since is clearly says “Kansas”, or will we get one point since we fessed up that it’s really on the set of a television show in California? Only time will tell…*

*2019 Addendum: I still don’t know the answer to this question because we didn’t get a point-by-point breakdown. I still think this was by far our coolest stop though (and by far one of the coolest shows Mike has ever worked on.)

Panama

I actually was accosted by some psycho security guard with a God complex when I was taking the picture to the left. She came roaring over in her little securitymobile and started screeching that I was not allowed to take pictures without the express written consent of the property owners. I held eye contact, raised the camera, and blatantly snapped off several pictures. Then I said something to the effect of, “Neener, neener. What are you going to do, arrest me?”* Then I suggested that she buy a coloring book or something to keep herself occupied as I burned out of the parking lot. Who knew that this quest could be so dangerous?

*2007 Note: Now, before anyone comes lumbering over here to arrest me for taking a picture of a big, clearly visible sign on a public sidewalk, that was kind of the Cliff’s Notes version of events (also with a lot of lying to make it seems like I was a lot less meek and agreeable than I actually was), I would be more than happy to recount the life-altering mental anguish I have suffered as a result of the physical threats and  racially charged sexist slurs I suffered at the hands of this horrible beast if you want to drag me into court. And she made fun of the Japanese bike, too.

Once the weather cooled down some, I made a second attempt at the Nevada GPS points. I was already in Las Vegas  for business, but Mike wasn’t able to join me on account of it was Jericho Gun Club Day. I revisited all the points that we hit after Zumo failed on the last trip. Turns out the actual points were the Rodeo Park, the Ethel M Chocolate Factory, and the Oscar’s Martini sculpture near Freemont Street. Even the point near the Hoover Dam appeared to actually be the place where we took the “What A GPS Point Should Look Like” picture. I take back almost all the nasty things I said about the bum GPS points. Well, the ones in Nevada, at least.

And finally, we picked up a few points in California. The Griffith Park Observatory is only accessible by tram, so we got a picture from the roof of a nearby Home Depot. Now that’s ingenuity! And a day of beautiful riding brought us to the Sherman Tree in the Sequoia National Park. The Grand Total is now 44 GPS points for Mike, 50 GPS points for me, and 58 IBE points for each of us.

*2019 Wrap Up: So that’s pretty much how I wrapped that story up originally. I did a nice summary a ways up there, then I slapped some stuff on the end. Then I just kind of let it dangle. Sooo…. HEY, LOOK OVER THERE!

Time is on My Side

I was geared up, in the zone, and everything was going great. Perfect weather, fantastic roads, no traffic – in other words, it was a dream ride. I was flawlessly executing my winning rally plan, picking off one bonus stop after another and feeling on top of the world. It had been a long day and now, with the moon as my only company, I was fully relaxed into the zen of the road. I pulled up at another high value bonus location, snapped my picture, noted my time and… was there something else? It seemed like there should be something else. I decided to flip through my rally book and double check the bonus requirements, just to be safe. I nailed the picture, no question there. Time: Done. Mileage: … Mileage? Mileage?!? Oh. Crap. Oh, crap crap crap. I started furiously flipping back through my bonus log. I didn’t have mileage noted for ANY of my bonus stops! How could I be so stupid?!? Could I recreate this information using my current mileage and my starting mileage? How long would that take? Should I just press on to the finish line and try to fix it before I hit the scoring table? Where else had I screwed up? How could I make such an epic rookie mistake?!? Heck, this wasn’t even a rookie mistake; this was a straight up nightmare!

I woke up in a cold sweat to find Monty poking me and asking if I was alright. Apparently I’d woken her up when I was yelling in my sleep. Whoa… Rally nightmares are the things of legend and I’ve certainly had my share, but it’s been a while since I’ve experienced one so visceral. Could it be the cumulative strain of work, family, and Iron Butt Rally planning on top of orchestrating this epic life-altering adventure? Nah, don’t be silly.

When we celebrated the turn of 2019, I felt good. Solid. I had things under control. We had darn near a full year to fine-tune our plans, but honestly we could easily be ready in half that time. All the pieces were really falling into place and, aside from nailing down some details, we could be ready to take off any time.

Flash forward four weeks: FEBRUARY?!?! SWEET MOTHER OF MONKEY MILK, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!? I’m practically down to a double-digit number of days before I have to leave for the Iron Butt Rally! I am NOT ready. I don’t have a heated space to work on my bike, and the -30F with windchill has put a bit of a damper on my rally prep progress. I have literally been waking up in a cold sweat, and not exclusively due to bonus-fail nightmares. I’ve spent many wee hours running through my planned electrical mods, mentally drawing wiring diagrams and cataloging every possible point of glitch, complication, or failure. I’ve spent hours staring at the ceiling, not counting sheep but counting items on my to-do list: Do I really need to rebuild my forks? They’re not THAT sticky… I could probably get away without removing my audio mixer in the spirit of keeping things easy, but then again then more accessories I have on the bike, the greater the potential for something to fail on me. I don’t even want to think about my current waypoint management system – it’s pretty much a complete disaster. By 3am I’ve got myself convinced that all I really need to hit the starting line is a paper map. And an oil change. A paper map, an oil change and a set of tires. All I need is a paper map, an oil change, two sets of tires, one saddlebag full of Justin’s nut butter (preferably Vanilla Almond) and another full of SPORTea. And while this might technically be true, by this point in the night I realize that I’ve become The Jerk and my mental wanderings veer off on a rickety side rail.

I’ll return from the Iron Butt Rally in early July, at which point I’m once again staring down the barrel of a double-digit D-Day for South America. What on earth happened to me mentally in the past month? I went from bobbing happily in the safe, distant port of January to hurling my body into the hyperspeed void of February. Logically I know that I can be rally-ready in under a week of moderately focused work. Why would I suddenly be losing sleep over something that’s well within my ability to handle?

I did some research into the science of time perception and how that might be impacting my anxiety level. What’s interesting is that the scientific research points to most people experiencing an completely opposite effect to that which I’m experiencing; that is, October would typically feel to the average person like it’s forever away, as opposed to looming right around the bend. Generally speaking, when people become accustomed to a certain routine then a wildcard gets thrown in, their perception of time with regards to that new event is slowed down. Think about how people describe something like a car crash (or, in my case, motorcycle crash): Time became super slow-mo, like I could assess and absorb each little detail as I flew through the air. Yet here I am, hurtling headlong into my impending 18-month riding season with a momentum that only seems to be increasing.

I think maybe I’m not giving enough weight to the joy of that new experience, and instead I’m getting mired down in all the details. Might that be because the minutiae of the mechanical prep is actually a part of my normal workday? As a mechanic, all these little tasks are just more of the same stuff I’m doing day in and day out: Wiring this, fabricating that, testing this, flushing that. Literally 90% of the total prep work is just me trying to schedule in more of the same. Perhaps the key is to take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture. The new, the unexpected, the wildcard.

-Wendy

From Mike

My nightmares are coming in a different form. In last weekend’s blog Wendy talked about midlife crisis and the desire to get out of the rat race for the betterment of our family and our own lives. That desire lives deep in Wendy, but as you read, its a little bit harder for me. You see, I work in the entertainment industry, specifically making network TV shows. It’s an amazing job and a dream that I have worked very hard to fulfill. However, it its a project based gig so no matter how great a job I do, best case scenario is I’ve got 9 months of employment until I’m looking for the next job. This gig economy has kept me and, by default, our family from ever being able to plan anything in advance or take a advantage of cruises and vacation opportunities that have been presented to us. I’m also very limited on taking any sort of time off during a gig because my position on the crew is a one person operation and deals heavily with continuity, so it’s virtually impossible to take a few days off, much less weeks off, without severely affecting the product we are making. So when Wendy talks about accumulating “stuff” like its a bad thing… well, that’s all I had to gauge any sort of success on. Switching that mindset from stuff to experiences has been a nightmare for me to accept, and I still often have to be dragged kicking and screaming by my girls to embrace this reality. Wendy and I have obviously talked about these things in the past, but not until I read her blog did I see just how much my unwillingness to change or really even compromise affected my wife. Wendy, I am sorry that my obstinance put this adventure off for so long.

As for my actual prep for the adventure, I hate to say that I’ve come against some setbacks. First, we ordered a Smove motion stabilizing gimble that would work with both camera platforms we are intending to use. After much experimentation and practice I made the determination that this device was not going to work for us due to it’s glitchy nature and an app that just didn’t muster up to it’s claims. That put me back to the drawing board. I have been looking at a new micro sized gimble/camera from DJI called the Osmo Pocket, when low and behold Hiro Fukuda, one of the camera operators on my show, brought his to work. The entire device is about the size of a roll and a half of quarters and shoots pretty fantastic video from what I’ve seen and what my camera buddy reported. Some more research, and possibly hands on time, and the Osmo Pocket might be our next purchase. Hiro is also quite an accomplished drone camera operator and has been giving me input on that purchase as well.

Second, we had a hiatus week two weeks ago and my intention was to spend several days of that time doing more hands on research with cameras, audio packages, and drone systems to really be able to determine what was going to be the best option for us. Well, of course, nature determined that that was the best time for me to get good and sick. Together with some other unforeseen circumstances, I wasn’t able to make it to the dealer to start putting together a package. One more thing to add to my next work break. We’ve have gotten some proofs for our adventure logo and with some fine tuning coming we hope to present that to all of you in the near future.

I did have one final thought as I sit here typing. I wonder if the nightmares Wendy and I have had are nothing but our dreams reminding us of the necessities required so make themselves and reality.

-Mike

Courtesy of Kelly Imthestuntgoat Pankey

And as I (Wendy) sit here reading Mike’s contribution this week, I also am left wondering. Mike and I are each covering the prep tasks that are most familiar to us, because they just happen to coincide with our careers. I wonder how our time perception would be impacted if I took on the film-related research and Mike handled the nuts and bolts? But then again, I think that sounds like a real nightmare. Besides, on my better days, I feel like October can’t get here fast enough.

-Wendy

TBT – I’ve Been Everywhere, Part 2

*2019 Addendum: We’ve now had a few days to rehydrate after that uncomfortable Frito Boat/contact buzz camping incident which precipitated the end of last week’s episode of Throw Back Travel. Let us never speak of it again. (At least the beer’s not hopped up!!! Get it?!? Ahhh, that was classic. OK, let us never speak of that again starting… now.) Let us rejoin the adventure-in-progress, where we find our substantially-less-grey nomads exploring the breathtaking beauty of the Rockies.

After our harrowing camping adventure, we were all too happy to hit the road. Our first stop that morning was a GPS point in the mountains of Colorado, and we certainly enjoyed the ride up there. But this time our destination was far more than we anything had expected. We arrived at Bishop Castle (which neither of us had ever heard of before pulling up in front of it), and were immediately awestruck. This entire castle is the work of one man – Jim Bishop – and has been a work in progress since the 60’s.  

The castle’s website, www.bishopcastle.org, seemed to be having difficulties last time I tried to visit, but you can also check out roadsideamerica.com for some great castle history. What more can I say – just enjoy the pictures!

Continuing our journey through Colorado, we made our way to the next GPS waypoint – the grave of Buffalo Bill. We’ve been dodging the worst of the bad weather for most of this trip, but every once in a while it reminded us that it wasn’t too far off. After scooting under a mean-looking storm on the way up, we came out from the museum to find that a little bit of the rain had stuck around for us.

We had hoped to visit some of Mike’s family in the area, but with all the weather-related itinerary modifications, we were running a bit behind schedule and couldn’t catch them while we were passing through. Oh, well – there’s always next time! (And since we LOVE riding in Colorado, there certainly will be a next time.)

Another stop, another GPS point – this time at an Atmospheric Phenomenon Research Facility west of Denver.

Not too far down the road, we picked up Louisville for three more IBE points.

After working our way up past Fort Collins and hitting the back roads once again, we made what was quite possibly the single most important stop on our entire trip: Taco Johns! At the behest of my slightly looney husband, I actually paid $5 to download a set of custom POIs (Points of Interest) to the Zumo; when we were within 30 miles of a Taco Johns, Zumo would let us know. (I even modified it to show a little picture of a dancing taco on the map at the location of the Taco Johns. Hey, I readily admit it – I’m a little looney too.) We had to pass up the first Taco Johns we saw due to poor planning (we had eaten breakfast just outside the 30 mile alert radius), but this time we were on it like… well, like hicks on a taco burger. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

(Mike actually just walked in the room right now while I was creating this portion of the site and said, “Mmmmmmm… Taco Johns. I miss you Taco Burger.” Obsessed, that man is. Completely obsessed.)

Following a hearty breakfast of Taco Burgers and Potatoes Ole, we cruised on to hit another GPS point. The road leading to the point followed a river for about 2 1/2 hours, and we could have easily been right here at home riding along the Kern River. Needless to say, it was just beautiful. The GPS point itself was a little lacking, however – an empty meadow 8 miles up a slippery-slick dirt road, thanks to a full day of intermittent sprinkles. Hmmm… Could have passed on that, but hey – three points is three points. Besides, we’ve ridden worse.

Oh, was I just complaining about a little dirt road just now? Well, Zumo seemed to be on a roll because despite the fact that I had specifically asked it not to route us on dirt roads, it kept insisting that we travel on dirt roads. (I guess it just wanted to test it’s level of impact resistance.) Finally, after a few hours of Zumo calling us pansies and threatening to tell all our friends, we agreed to take one of the dirt roads. Ultimately, we were glad we took to road less travelled; the surface was fairly well maintained, but the views were outstanding. Even the rain looked amazing across the sweeping valleys. There was also quite a bit of wildlife – deer, hawks, voles. I guess it goes to show you, Zumo really does know what he’s talking about.

Back on asphalt, it was only a short ride to reach IBE point Grand Lake, Colorado. With the drizzly day and heavy rains elsewhere in the state, the ride was even graced with several pretty little waterfalls. Boy, not a bad ride for a rainy day!

The next day was one of great extremes. We had planned to visit this GPS point the night before, but we’d spent the latter part of the day being snowed on and were concerned about the fact that the road on the map looked like a broken, slightly stretched spring. Probably best not to undertake that in icy conditions, we thought. It turned out to be a VERY wise choice!

The view off the edge of the world…

The road lead us to a GPS point on Mt. Evans, which as you can see is quite beautiful. However, these GPS coordinates probably should have come with a warning: Only Attempt in July or August! The summit is at an elevation of 14,134 feet, reached through a series of steep, rapid switchbacks. And when I say steep, I mean it – 10 to 15% grades, according to the park’s website. It is touted as “The Highest Paved Road In The World”. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, large portions of the road have no edge whatsoever – just a nice, smooth launching pad off the road, over the cliff and into oblivion.

Oh, and also the ice. Ranging in consistency from “I dropped my Slurpee” to “Bust out the Zamboni”, these floes were so treacherous at points that we actually had to exit the road and ride through the snow to get any traction. The ice seemed to enjoy accumulating in steep corners without shoulders, though, so sometimes all you could do was hang on and hope for the best.

That guy in the background came over and said, “Wow, I didn’t expect to see any motorcycles up here today. You guys are pretty brave.” Actually, “Completely Unhinged” would be the term I would have chosen, but we take it where we can get it.

And the goats, obviously, but did I mention the marmots? Yes, the marmots. They live in holes in the ground, often right in the middle of the asphalt. It was like a real life game of whack-a-mole, with the goal being to try not to hit the marmots and also to not die trying to not hit the marmots. A series of fun challenges, no doubt, to which was added one more little complication:

My bike has been a frustrating bucket of crap ever since I had warranty work performed by a Yamaha shop back home (who couldn’t possibly care less) so my bike was actually surging, bogging, and cutting out completely  while attempting to negotiate this already nerve-wracking terrain. Weeee! On a side note, I ended up having to fix the faulty warranty repair on my own. The time and expense required to track down and repair all of the damage they had caused significantly exceeded what it would have cost me to fix the original problem on my own in the first place. So much for the 5 year factory warranty, right? But then, they did end up going out of business. So there is that.

*2019 Addendum: My FJR now has in excess of 250,000 miles, and that particular warranty job was the last time I let anyone else work on it.

A quick stop at Arches National Park netted us three more GPS points

With a low at the summit in the mid-20’s, we were pleased when we made it back down to the relative warmth at the base of the mountain. The entire round-trip back to our starting point, 54 miles total, took us almost 3 1/2 hours. Still trying to warm up, we headed west towards Utah and a few more GPS locations. By the end of the day, we were sweltering away in construction zones with temps well above 100 and grateful for the micro-bursts of cooling rain we were finding every so often. But then, variety is what makes a trip great, and we enjoyed every minute of it.  

(Well, maybe not the minutes I thought I was going to die because my bike surged across the icy road towards a bottomless frozen abyss, but aside from that minor detail I enjoyed nearly every minute of it.)

…And we wrapped the day up with a GPS point in Canyonlands National Park. Despite Zumo’s insistence and our ultimate enjoyment of our last off road adventure, we did NOT take the trail marked “High Clearance 4X4s Only – Extreme Grades – Road is Not Maintained.” We also resisted it’s attempts to make us ride the motorcycles 110 miles along a narrow, highly technical hiking trail, and opted instead to backtrack the following morning along the actual paved road to another actual paved road and progress from there. I think my Zumo may be trying to kill us.

We were lucky enough to get the very last campsite in the entire park, saving us from having to ride about 60 more miles to the next accommodations. Odd, since at least six other vehicles had been circling and none of them took this spot.

In the morning, we found out why. EVERYTHING was coated with a thick, impervious layer of sap from the trees. Apparently seeing us coming, the tree also dropped heavy deposits on the ground and then covered it up with sand, ensuring that every surface of out tent was evenly coated. All I have to say is… eh. It was after 9pm by the time we set up camp, so it’s not like we would have opted to keep going even if we would have know of the tree’s evil plot. Plus, being coated in sap gave Mike another remotely plausible reason to pronounce that we would be spending the following night in a hotel. (Last campsite AND a night in a hotel? Sounds like a win-win situation if you ask me.)

We had to backtrack 38 miles to the highway, but the upside was that we got to stop at Newspaper Rock. We didn’t stop of the way in because it was raining (I’m sensing a theme here…) and we were worried about making it into the park before the gates closed. Mike had never been off the interstate in Utah before, so everything over the next couple days was new to him.

We spent several days in the Four Corners area without picking up a single IBE or GPS point. I love this whole area and there were a lot of things I really wanted Mike to see, unrelated to the AMA Tours. Also, I am leading several motorcycle tours through the Four Corners region this year, so scouting out any changes that have been made since my last visit here will help me plan a better tour for those guests.

Our wanderings took us through Glen Canyon Recreation Area and around Lake Powell, Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Escalante National Monument and Dixie National Forest on our lush and varied ride to Bryce Canyon National Park. Below is a picture of a previous visit to Lake Powell where the water reached nearly up to the buildings at the base of the cliff (the buildings appear as white specs in this picture.) The second picture is Mike this year; you can’t even see water in the picture.

But the lack of water didn’t mean a lack of enjoyment; Mike was thoroughly awestruck by the majesty of the landscape.

After a beautiful ride from Canyonlands National Park, despite a little rain and a lot of wind, we arrived in Bryce Canyon just in time for sunset. Mike had seen pictures in the other national parks we’d visited, but they do nothing to prepare you for what it’s really like here. Simply Amazing!

Between being covered in sap and Mike’s sciatica (or tennis elbow or pink eye or bug bite or which ever ailment it was that manifested whenever we had to choose between camping or staying in a hotel), this was definitely going to be another hotel night. As we were checking in, another biker came in and asked about the weather. “Supposed to be a snow storm tonight.” No. Is that possible?  For Pete’s Sake, it’s June! Well, you better believe that was justification enough for Mike for all the hotels we’d slept in so far and all the hotels we certainly would be staying in from here on out. You just never know when it could up and snow on you, right honey?

It’s funny; I can pinpoint the exact moment that we ceased to be a “camping” couple and officially became a “pansy” “indoor” “hotel” couple. It was right about three hours after I took the picture below, when Mike finally woke up and looked outside. “Aw, we’re snowed in.  Can’t ride today.”

That was it. That was effectively the end of Mike’s camping career. But not mine, I tell you! You’d better believe that I’ll be a camping fool on solo trips! (Mike’s pretty sure that “camping” and “fool” are synonymous anyways, so I figured I’d just run with it.)

Our original plan had been to head north out of Zion National Park and travel up into Idaho, then back down through Oregon, Nevada and the Gold Rush Country of California. It turned out, though, that this storm was actually pretty serious and that we were just picking up wisps of the very southern tip of the storm system. It’s not that we don’t like adventure, of course, but we were already a little tight on time due to the weather we’d been skirting on the whole rest of the trip. Being rushed and riding in icy snowy conditions is not the best choice to make, especially since we were on vacation and didn’t have to stick to no stinkin’ itinerary. So, plans changed. We took an extra day to explore around Bryce, and after the snow melted a bit we made the leisurely trip over to Zion.

*2019 Addendum: Well, we’ve made it to what is, in my humble opinion, the closest to heaven anyone is likely to get in the Lower 48. We might as well linger around here for a week, take some time to really enjoy ourselves, and pick up the journey next week. Tune in next Thursday for the finale of the I’ve Been Everywhere Throwback Travel Spectacular!

Crisis!

I’m lucky enough to work with a long-time friend, and since hearing of our plans he’s been peppering me with questions about our trip. The other day he asked, “Would it be fair to call this a midlife crisis? Because it seems like it’s more palatable to other people if I call it a midlife crisis.” My immediate and honest response was, “Does it still count as a midlife crisis if I’ve been cajoling Mike to do it for 15 years? If it’s something I’ve wanted to do since my early 20s, is it more accurate to classify it as a midlife crisis or the fulfillment of a dream?” But it’s really had me thinking: Why is it more palatable for people to think of this trip as a midlife crisis?

Part of it may be that it’s not nearly as common for people in the U.S. to embark on extended journeys as it is in some other countries or in other demographics. We don’t have the same kind of guaranteed vacation time as folks in Europe, for example, or the freedom of a college kid with wealthy parents taking a “gap year” to backpack around Asia. Neither one of those circumstances make people feel particularly uncomfortable, but if your peers with middle-class income and a young kid decide to ditch the rat race and embrace family, adventure, and new experiences, people start scratching their heads. Unpalatable, they say. Convince me you’re not crazy, they implore.

I think a big part of what makes people uncomfortable is when you start acting off-script. Europeans traveling abroad? On-script. College kids taking off with a big backpack and little planning? On-script. Middle-age Americans working their fingers to the bone with very little vacation time, gathering “stuff” until they die? On-script. Leaving steady, comfortable jobs, plopping the kid in a sidecar, and leaving the country for a year? WAY off-script. We’re comfortable. We’re content. We’ve been working hard, building our careers, and gathering “stuff”, as per the script, for many years. We owned our home, business, a few dozen motorcycles. We’re not lacking for any necessities or conveniences. If we want it, we can buy it. We could just coast on in to retirement from here. Why deviate from the script? It just makes people so darn uncomfortable.

Back to my impulsive, honest answer: This trip really has been a long-time dream. I’d been mulling over the idea in a very loose form for years, but I distinctly remember when it really took on a solid shape. It was 2004 and Mike and I were on our way to visit his sister in Scotland. We were on layover in Amsterdam and I thought “I could ride almost the entire world from here. I literally could hop on a bike and see almost the entire world.” Then I realized, I can hop on a bike and see all of the Americas from home and I have yet to take advantage of that opportunity or seriously pursue that dream. I’m a very goal-driven person (and if you’ve followed my endurance riding career, you’ve probably already guessed that). I decided a long time ago that I never wanted to hear myself say “Some day I will…” for too long without actually making that dream a reality. I’ve been saying “Some day I will ride to Tierra del Fuego” for far too long, and I’m eager to make it happen. It only took me a few years to make good on my resolution to ride past the Arctic Circle, and if I’d been a bit more persuasive I might have convinced Mike to ride straight down to Tierra del Fuego from there. Believe me, I tried. But then life happened, we settled into the script, and making my dreams a reality became a little more cumbersome. Flash forward 20 years and my dream has evolved, but never faded away. I suppose at some point I could have carved out a few weeks somewhere, jammed down there and back just to check it off my list, but that wasn’t all I was hoping to get out of my experience.

So what happened? When did “my dream” become “our dream”? When did a nice little vacation morph into tossing all semblance of stability, selling off most outward evidence of financial success, and spending an extended period of time wandering around the world? For me, I think it was the cumulative strain of staying on-script. Mike and I were both working 80-hour weeks. We both love our careers and don’t mind pouring ourselves into our work; you probably wouldn’t be wrong to classify us as workaholics. But then came the plot twist: After nine years, we had all but given up hope of having a family when we got word that our little Third Wheel was on the way. Her due date was one year to the day after our fertility specialist said there was so little chance of success that there was nothing more he could offer us. Surprise! And so our rad adventure kid, Montessa, was added to the crew. The struggle to have her has really made us exceptionally appreciative for the time we have with her. We built a nursery in our motorcycle shop, so when she was just a few weeks old she began spending her days with me at work. Mike, who worked out of the area most weeks, began to feel the strain of being away from her. As she grew, I began to feel the strain of running a business and being a solo parent during the week. I was balancing the demands of the job with the demands of parenting, with the unique added twist of having to figure out where Sweet Baby Tess had hidden all my tools and what she’d done with half our oil filter inventory. (Inside the helmet boxes on the sales floor and in the seat of her ride-on wrecking ball truck, respectively, if you were playing along at home.) Mike tried (tries) to reassure me that everyone struggles to find that balance, but… why?

I started asking Mike, what is our endgame? Well, to pay our mortgage and have a comfortable amount of stuff, he said. No, but what’s our actual endgame? What are we aiming for? Is this it? Struggling to spend time with our daughter, after struggling for so long to bring her into our lives? Watching as every-more desperate bystanders while her life flies by at mach five? Is this the only circumstance in which we can see ourselves being happy? Are we the happiest, most complete versions of ourselves here, in this place, working 80-hour weeks and trying to scratch out time with our little one while she still wants to be seen with us? (Or, in my case, trying not to have a stroke while juggling a rambunctious two-year-old and a busy motorcycle shop?) We have worked so hard to build our careers, buy all this stuff, get comfortable and established, but is that ALL we want out of life? At what point are we no longer working to provide our daughter with a comfortable life, and instead are working to amass more and more useless, unnecessary “stuff” because that’s what the script says to do? Where does it end? When does enough stuff become enough stuff? When we can ease off and actually start enjoying Montessa and each other, before all we have is a surly teenager and a wistful longing for our impressively sarcastic four-year-old?

Stick to the script, they say. Work hard, cover the essentials, and sock away cash so you can retire like royalty. Don’t rock the boat because it makes the rest of us seasick. Except… Except in my case, that’s not something I can count on. I have a genetic condition that will, with almost 100% certainty, prevent me from living my dreams in retirement. I will consider myself lucky if I make it to Montessa’s high school graduation before I become a slave to my condition. Bummer, definitely, but I’ve watched my family members go through the same fight and I’m not going to delude myself with dreams of an exciting, adventure-filled retirement. Right now this is my reality, so if I’m going to stop saying “Someday…” my timeline is a bit more truncated than most. I can still give Monty a pretty good run for her money (most days… to the extent possible from a parent of “advanced maternal age”) and she still seems to like us (most days), so I don’t want to let this opportunity slip away.

In thinking about our “endgame”, I just could not see it revolving around more stuff. I feel so completely uninspired at the idea of working myself to exhaustion, missing out on my daughter’s entire life, to accumulate more, different “stuff”. I felt so utterly liberated shaking off the shackles of “stuff” before our move to South Dakota. With every trip to the dump, with every unneeded thing sold, with every donation to charity, my soul felt just a little bit lighter. For me, the inspiring endgame was to thrive in the now. To be free to enjoy my family in a way that the day-to-day grind doesn’t permit. For me, the freest I feel is after I’m a couple days into a long motorcycle road trip. When the worries and obligations of the day-to-day become a distant memory and I just enjoy now. Why not combine my desire to enjoy this irreplaceable time with my family with the all-encompassing calm of travel? Why not toss the scripted scene of “giving my daughter all the best by way of endless repulsive materialism” and replace it with “giving my daughter all the best by way of life-changing world travel experiences and irreplaceable time with her family”?

Is this sounding like a midlife crisis? Maybe it is. According to Wikipedia I’m not technically classified as “mid-life” just yet, but otherwise it could very well be interpreted as such. Would it have been called a midlife crisis if Montessa had been born eight years earlier? Would my desire to appreciate every moment with her have been somewhat less keen if she wasn’t the result of such a lengthy struggle? Could I be perfectly content in a job I love, knowing Mike is in a job he loves, if I thought I could bank on a boisterous retirement full of excitement and exploration? Would it somehow be less of a midlife crisis if we undertook this same adventure 20 years from now? Is this a wonderful thing to do for Montessa, to expose her to a wider world while she’s young enough to be molded by the experience, or is it a selfish move on our part, uprooting our daughter to gallivant about the globe while we are most able to enjoy it? Some people say we’re brave to toss it all and take off on this huge expedition; but really, is it more difficult to live your dream or to keep up the endless soul-sucking slog of status quo?

The reality is, no matter how we try to package it, it just might be more palatable for people to think of this as a midlife crisis. It’s so easy to grasp that concept; it’s one of those times in life where going off-script is, in fact, part of the script. Buying a crazy new sports car? Ditching the spouse for a younger model? Getting your first tattoo? Onlookers don’t have to work too hard or dig too deeply for understanding if it’s slapped with the big MLC label. I’m starting to realize that doing something huge and off-script probably scares other people way more than it scares us, and people feel a need in this world to label things that are different and scary. This may be our label. The simple fact that I’ve been wanting to take this trip for so long, combined with the fact that I’m not getting any younger, could very well read as a textbook example of a midlife crisis. The idea of a “midlife crisis” hadn’t even entered my consciousness until my friend asked, but I suppose it was a fair question. Upon reflection, I like to think of this trip as a desire to live the best possible life during my allotted laps around the sun, as an individual and as part of an amazing family, and enjoy the fruits of decades of hard work while I’m fully able to do so.

-Wendy