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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
Dust, dirt, gravel, andrain 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!
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…)
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.
W: Are you excited about doing so much sidecar riding?
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: Because it’s so cool!
W: How are your Spanish lessons coming?
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!
*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!
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…
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?
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.
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.)
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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 hereto 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!
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.
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.
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.
*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 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.
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!
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.
*2019 Addendum: We were so young… To quote Jim Gaffigan “I didn’t always look like this… but the wear and tear of parenthood… I used to be muy guapo. No mas.” It’s only going to get worse from here, folks.
I’ve been everywhere!
OK, now before you accuse me of being presumptuous, let me explain:
We had so much fun last year doing to AMA Made In The USA Grand Tour that we decided to do one again this year. When the list of tours came out, there were two that we found especially intriguing. The first one we picked (which, upon reading the description, actually resulted in spontaneous dual happy-dances and a series of high-fives right there in the post office) involved visiting as many places as possible that are named in the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere”.
The second ride we picked would supply us only with a list of GPS coordinates, and our goal was to locate and ride to these specific points around the country. The fact that we did not own a GPS at the time we signed up for these did not deter us in the least. Luckily, I had a Big Ol’ Birthday the day before we left for our trip, and everyone knows that Big Ol’ Birthdays are know classically as GPS Birthdays. Or at least Mike and my parents know that, because by the time we shoved off I had an awesome new Garmin Zumo 550, complete with Bluetooth, MP3s, XM, NavTraffic, Custom POIs, the works. Thanks guys!
We took two and a half weeks off for this trip, so in addition to the two AMA contests, we also spent some time just seeing and doing stuff. You know, “stuff”. (For those of you who just came from the Arctic Circle page*, you may recall that at that time, Mike had only visited 5 states by motorcycle. This trip more than doubled his previous state count, so there was all kinds of new “stuff” he had never seen before.) And we have a lot of stuff to share with you, so sit back, relax and enjoy – I know we sure did!
*2019 Addendum: As of this publishing, our Arctic Circle trip not yet published as a #ThrowBackTravel. Stay tuned!
Luckily, our first two days were almost entirely desert. That meant we were going to get cooked either way, and a half hour here or there really didn’t make no nevermind. Our trip started at 6:30am on Saturday morning, about a half hour later than planned because Mike had a dead battery. We had on our lightest summer gear and Camelbaks full of ice, with our goal being to get 1,500 miles across the desert to San Antonio, Texas by the next night. Piece of cake!
Our first IBE (I’ve Been Everywhere) stop was Vicksburg, Arizona. We could only use each place name once and we get more points for places more than two states from home, so we didn’t stop anyplace in California and only picked up the easiest spots on our way through Arizona. We had to photograph our bikes at the locations, same as last year, except this year they also added the humbling detail of having to hold up these goofy flags to prove the picture was taken after the contest start date. Luckily, we have no pride. Just outside Phoenix was our first GPS point; it turned out to be the Chinese Cultural Center. Not a bad start!
The Cultural Center was where Mike made the first of many tactical errors. In this case, he said “Honey, I’m going to sneak down into that stairway and clean all the road crud out of my nose.” He didn’t specifically ask me to warn him if anyone was coming up behind him to use the stairway, so I didn’t. Instead, when he was startled by the approaching couple and turned around to see if his cover was blown, I seized the opportunity and snapped this oh-so-flattering picture. Hey, it’s not like I didn’t have to suffer for my art; I quite nearly wet my pants laughing while Mike threw the rest of his tepid Camelbak water on me in retribution. That incident pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip…
*2019 Addendum: This picture is just the gift that keeps on giving. I literally choked on my whiskey while re-reading and reminiscing about this incident. Hey, I DID mention the wear and tear of parenting, did I not? That’s where the whiskey comes in… And we only have the one little angel. God bless you people who have survived multiple children.
Our next GPS point was a good one – The Airplane Graveyard outside Tucson. Unfortunately, it seems the coordinates we were provided with were actually inside a restricted area, as the graveyard is located on a military base. No trouble; Mike can put on his sexy Zoolander face outside the fence just as easily as he can inside.
Not being of the Iron Butt persuasion, Mike was really starting to feel itafter about 750 miles. We finally called it a day in Lordsburg, New Mexico, where we found a smoking hot deal on a hotel off the beaten path. We figured since we were going so hard for the first couple days, and it was so hot, we needed a good nights sleep and therefor a hotel room was clearly justified.
…And within a few hours we found out why the hotel room was so cheap! We were directly across the street from the rail yard, so we spent a nice evening listening to the blaring train whistles. Luckily, after 15 hours and 788 miles in the saddle, we were pretty well beat and the noise didn’t affect our sleep that much. (Don’t let the picture fool you; Mike looks like that every morning.)
Our first stop on day two was Bakersfield, Texas. Yes, we live near Bakersfield, California, but it’s worth three points in Texas and only one in California. Plus it gave us an excuse to get off the freeway, and ANYTHING that livens up the drive on I-10 across Texas is welcomed.
Our next set of coordinates delivered us to the historic Hunt Japonica Cemetery near Ingram, Texas. We had ridden into a nasty east-moving storm, so we welcomed the opportunity to putt around on small country roads and give the storm a little time to move on. In fact, this may not have been our intended destination; the GPS said our coordinates were a little farther up the road, but just beyond the cemetery the road was closed due to flooding.
Our plan to dodge the storm did work to some extent, but alas, we caught up with the rain again pretty quick. At this point we were only about an hour out of San Antonio, and luckily we never caught back up to the really heavy rain. We had just enough rain to cool us down and clean the road and our face shields, but not enough to seriously diminish our vision or traction. There was even a beautiful double rainbow, and at one point we passed a really pretty waterfall cascading off a rugged rock cliff. Of course, we were on the interstate in the rain so we didn’t pull over for pictures. (Have you ever driven on the interstate in Texas? Psycho truckers galore!) Luckily I have provided you with an artist’s rendition of what it might have looked like if we had pulled over for pictures and the sky’s green Gel Pen ran out of ink. Enjoy!
We arrived in San Antonio as scheduled around 8pm on Sunday. Mike pulled through two 750+ mile days with flying colors (and only a little crying). As a reward for our hard work, we spent several days playing in the San Antonio area. The weather was perfect, too – cloudy enough to keep the temperature down, but not so cloudy that it was unbearably humid. What a great way to kick off our vacation!
*2019 Addendum: Just a few months back, Mike completed an Iron Butt Association certificate for a Bun Burner Gold. That involves riding over 1,500 miles in under 24 hours. He planned and executed the entire ride solo, without any prodding from me. He often claims he’s not a “real” Iron Butt rider and calls himself my “rally wife” but he has notched out some pretty impressive rides in the last decade!
Being a Crockett and an Honorary Crockett, San Antonio is a fun place to visit. Even though Mike lived in San Antonio for a year when he was in elementary school, he seemed to enjoy seeing it again through the Crockett filter. He really liked one quote in particular from Davy Crockett that was prominently displayed on magnets, T-shirts,coffee mugs, and the like:
“You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”
What can I say – we Crocketts are an historically well-spoken bunch.
We enjoyed strolling around The Alamo grounds and downtown San Antonio, although it was very busy due to the fact that it was Memorial Day. We still had a great time; my only regret is that the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor was all out of adult sized socks that said “Alamooo” on them. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
We did get another shot at a waterfall picture as we strolled along the Riverwalk. I was also quite please with myself that I managed walk for an extended period of time along railingless sections of the path without falling in the river, which is no small feat when you are as prone to humiliating public displays of clumsiness as I am.
We took a riverboat cruise, which wasn’t quite as rich in historical insight as we had hoped. In fact, it was a lot like the riverboat ride at Disneyland except with fewer hippos (and if our guide had a gun I’m pretty confident it wasn’t a prop).
It was a beautiful ride, regardless of the lackluster commentary. This bird probably stood over three feet tall, and here he is just hanging out right in the center of a major metropolitan area.
We made a little side trip down memory lane and visited the elementary school that Mike attended when he lived there. The house they lived in was right around the corner, so we stopped by there for a couple minutes until leery neighbors gave us the “Can I help you with something” (re: go away) line. After all, we ARE couple of shifty bikers on 2005 Yamaha touring motorcycles. You know how hinkey we Yamaha types are.
That night we made a very tasty stop at Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ. Those of you who watch as much Food Network as we clearly do are probably familiar with Rudy’s, as they have been on numerous “Best Of…” shows. And they weren’t lying! The locals were awesome, and several people stopped to give us tips on the way to order and the best stuff to get – Doc Holliday himself was working the register! It really was as good as they say!
Those of you who watch as much Travel Channel as we clearly do will be familiar with our next stop… SCHLITTERBAHN! WOO HOOO! Number One water park like 9 years running! We had SO MUCH FUN!! The lines were short, the weather was great – all in all it was an outstanding day!
I’m trying something new with my hair in this picture; I like to call it, “Humid”. (But Attack of the Giant Fuzzy Poof Ball works too, if you prefer.)
After several great days of R&R in Texas, it was time to mosey on. The first stop on our northward journey was to be another GPS point; in actuality, our first stop was to put on our rain gear because the sky was once again looking REALLY menacing. Our second stop was here, at this flooded-out road about two miles from our destination coordinates. As we sat sweltering, peeling back out of our rainsuits, a local pulled up to take stock the situation. After some humming and hawing, he determined that it was probably “The Old Stone Church” that we were looking for, and gave us alternate directions. (Yes, I’ve crossed much bigger rivers on my motorcycle, but I was with far less discerning company at the time.)
…And indeed, our target was St. Olaf’s Kirke. Built in 1886 for the Norwegian settlers in the area, this historic church is beautifully maintained inside and out. Oh, and there are lots of turtles on the roads around here. Just so you know.
Our next planned stop was a GPS point in downtown Ft. Worth, but with the St. Olaf Detour we would be getting there smack dab in the middle of rush hour. On top of that, Zumo kept warning me of severe weather alerts in the area which supposedly included hail and high winds. Hmmmm… No thanks*. Instead, we kept west and picked up Reno, Texas for our first IBE point of the day.
*2019 Addendum: LOLOLOL! Hail. Now they call me “Hurricane” Crockett. And by “they” I mean “Mike and like two other people”, but that still counts. Seriously, I’ve ridden in/through/documented rally bonus locations in the eye of three different hurricanes. Irene, Isaac and Ivan. I’m not talking the damp outskirts, I’m talking the literal eye of. That was terrifying. I probably wouldn’t opt to do that again. Probably. Depends on how many points are at stake. But… you know,… probably not.
Our next photo op was at the Oklahoma border for another IBE locale and three more easy points. Oooh – look at that enthusiasm!
We called it a day at the Ardmore, Oklahoma KOA, netting us both a nice place to camp and another IBE pic. A call to our back-up 24-hour weather information source (Mom) confirmed that the weather in Dallas had been extremely dangerous that evening. Looks like that three point sacrifice was a good call!
That evening we dined like kings on left-over Rudy’s BBQ, and awoke the next morning to find that the storm had provided a pretty pleasant layer of coolness. Not quite rain, just really damp air. Hey, as long as it’s not flooding or hail storms, we’ll cool off any way we can!
On our meandering journey through Oklahoma to our first IBE point (Chattanooga) was possibly the most regretted missed photo of the entire trip. We were cruising up this tiny back road in the middle of nowhere when we came upon about a dozen cows standing side by side, all backed right up to the fence giving us the tail-end salute. It’s like they knew we were coming… I was laughing so hard – you couldn’t set up a shot like that but I’m sure by the time we stopped and got the camera ready they would have found more pressing matters to attend to elsewhere. <sigh> At least we’ll always have the memories…
Another zig-zaggity dip southward returned us to Texas, where we picked up IBE point Fargo. Peak Population: 200. Current Population: This sign, plus the guy who wandered by to laugh at us taking pictures in front of this sign.
Back in Oklahoma, we found ourselves on a tiny one-lane road passing through a little wisp of a town called Elmer. In admiring this great old building I saw that “Post Office” was painted over the doorway; needing stamps, we decided to stop. On our way in we noticed that the tile work in front of the entryway read “Bank”, and the design of the room with an old brass cage in front of the counter certainly supported that declaration. It turned out to be a Post Office, and I asked the lady working the counter what the story was with the conflicting signage. She said that the building had in fact been a bank, but the post office moved in after the bank closed due to a robbery. She thought the robbery took place in 1902, but her mom was born in the next town over in 1920 and she knew for sure that it was robbed some time before she was born. Isn’t small town history awesome?
Out of the half-dozen or so Eldorado’s we passed through on our trip, we decided to stop in Eldorado, Oklahoma for this three-point IBE photo.
Our next stop was in Amarillo, Texas (we crossed the Texas border 6 times, for those of you keeping count) for another IBE pic and to give Mike a shot at the “Free” 72 oz. steak at The Big Texan. Alas, the idea of everlasting notoriety clashed with the reality of riding with a monumental stomach ache for the next two weeks. Plus, information on how much the meal cost if you were unable to finish it was nowhere to be found. Even though we decided to take a pass, Mike still took a few minutes to bond with the gigantic fiberglass bull.
Our plan had been to stay in Amarillo for the night so we would be close to a hospital when Mike’s stomach exploded, but with the change in meal plans came a change in travel plans. We decided instead to push on 111 miles to Tucumcari, New Mexico to get some boring desert riding out of the way. For the first few miles we rode in a bit of a breeze; for the next few hours, we rode in 40mph sustained winds with frequent gusts up to 60 mph. Mike said he was amazed watching me have to ride at about a 35 degree angle just to stay upright, and wished he could have taken a picture. Of course, he was riding at a similar angle himself and the only time he took his hand of the handlebars was to catch his tank bag as it was flying off.
We finally arrived in Tucumcari, thoroughly exhausted, and Mike ran in to get us a hotel room while I stayed outside to keep the bikes upright. A particularly vicious gust of wind came, causing a hotel light fixture to come crashing down on my head. (Luckily I was still wearing my helmet at the time.) Upon collapsing into our room, we turned on the news to find that most of the towns we had passed through that day, including Amarillo and points west, were being pounded by golf ball-sized hail, torrential rain, and the occasional tornado. Once again, disaster narrowly averted. This isn’t shaping up to be anything like our normal vacations! (*2019: Insert giant pre-emoji eyeroll here. Come to think of it, I can’t believe we don’t have a “sarcasm” font in widespread use by now.)
The next day in Los Alamos, NM, we ran into a bum GPS point. Despite attempts to reach the point from several different directions, we were unfailingly met by big men in guard shacks who were unimpressed by our explanation as to why we were seeking entry to the Los Alamos Nuclear Research Facility. Well, at least we tried!
All was not lost, however. It was a beautiful ride in perfect weather through breathtaking scenery. Plus, we had an incredible lunch at the Hill Diner in Los Alamos. Mike had sweet potato fries that were fried in a super-thin buttermilk batter (kind of a Tempura-like consistency), and the sweet potatoes just melted in your mouth. Served with a dish of whipped cream for dipping, these were definitely the surprise culinary find of the trip!
*2019 Addendum: To this day I have never had sweet potato fries as good as the ones I had at Hill Diner on this trip. I’ve actually been back to Hill Diner at least twice and ordered the sweet potato fries both times; they were good, but not THAT good. I simply can’t rest until I find another plate of sweet potato fries as life-changing as those. It is a cross that is mine to bear.
Sweeping back roads and endless views delivered us to Colorado, and yet another IBE locale ticked off our list. Being on such a tiny road afforded us a better photo op than most state line signs, so we took some time to kick back and enjoy our surroundings.
When Mike says he’s about ready to wrap it up for the day, what he means is he’s open to finding a stopping point anywhere within a roughly 1.25 mile radius. So when he cried Uncle in Walsenburg, Colorado, we hit the closest campground we could find. I saw it as we passed by, laughed, and kept on riding. It was only a glance in my rear view mirror and the look of desperation on Mike’s face that brought me to a halt. I say, “Did you SEE that place! Ha ha ha! Where’s the campground map?” and Mike says, while executing a rapid U-turn and spraying me with gravel, “Looked fine to me -let’s go.”
The guys in the “office” looked completely shocked when we walked up to the door. It appeared by the looks of the sign that at some point, one of the more functional stoners residing at this ramshackle trailer park said, “Hey y’all, why don’t we throw a sign up there that says ‘Campground’ and see if anyone stops. We could get maybe, like, beer money or something, y’all.” Then ten or twelve years later we actually come rolling in, much to the surprise of the current residents, whose memory of the campground sign is erased daily via alcohol-induced amnesia. They didn’t have any paperwork or anything, and between the two of them they couldn’t figure out when (or if) we were supposed to pay, how much, or who would stagger off to the liquor store to get another 12-pack and change for our $20.
Mike, still whole-heartedly supporting this plan, then blazed a trail through the dilapidated trailers and rotting farm equipment to our home for the night: the illustrious Tent/Picnic Area, situated conveniently in the farthest possible corner away from the bathrooms. Oh, yes – they did actually have bathrooms. We made the unfortunate mistake of having Frito Boats for dinner, otherwise neither of us would have ventured into the abominable pits more than once. I won’t repulse you with the details; suffice to say that even the numerous stray dogs in the area wouldn’t come close. I hope we were up to date on all our shots…
Another big problem came to our attention shortly after setting up camp: It was Friday night. And what do trailer park denizens do on Friday night They drink beer. And where do they drink beer? In the Tent/Picnic Area, of course. We became increasingly nervous as wave after wave of redneck set out towards us carrying cases of beer, only to see the look of angry realization come over their faces as they stomped off to find somewhere else to get liquored up for the night. After a while, though, it appeared that word of our presence had spread and our visitors because fewer and farther between. This gave us time to take in our surroundings: A Pizza Hut to the north, just past the mud pit. A Mini Storage to the east. The trailer park to the south. And to the west, a junk yard housing several of the higher-class residents living in mobile homes on bricks instead of wheels.
As night grew near, we were also treated to the sounds of an honest-to goodness redneck brawl: “Screw you, Walter. You jest git the hell out, you damn dawg.” “Yeah, that’s right woman. An I ain’t comin back naw neither. Jest you git out here an’ push sos I git the car started and I won’t never be back here again.” Ahhh – commonlaw wedded bliss, redneck style. We didn’t hear too many gunshots, so I’m sure things turned out all right.
In the morning as we were packing up to leave, we watched a guy maybe thirty feet from us get into his car, drive over to us, and get out. We got the standard cop-style “Hows it going” that seems to precede trouble of all kinds, and we waited cautiously for the guy to make his move. Turns out he was just checking out the new neighbors, and we chatted with him for a few minutes. He used to live in Bakersfield, California*, but now he’s retired and lives here. Everyday he drives from his place (30 feet south of our present location) to what he called “work” (20 yards west of our location), where he would sit and drink beer for the remainder of the day. We wished him well in his career pursuits, and watched as he got in his car, drove the 20 yards to “work”, and knocked on the door. He then sat down on the lawn chair and began drinking a beer, and was joined shortly thereafter by another man who, without a word, did the same. Mind you, this all took place just a hair past 7am.
*2019 Addendum: Let the record show that I refrained from making any disparaging remarks regarding Bakersfield, Oildale, Bodfish, California in general, or generic brand beer. At least we can assume the beer wasn’t all hopped up. Awww, c’mon! That was a good one!
Well, it was an exhilarating night, but like I told Mike: We only remember the spectacularly good campgrounds and the spectacularly bad ones, and spectacularly good ones are few and far between. And in the end, we left with our lives, our health (pending the test results back from our doctors) and one more good story.
*2019 Post Script: This feels like a good place to pause for now. Maybe go brush our teeth, get that weird Frito Boat/stale beer taste out of our mouths. Any I mean really, this trip is entitled “I’ve Been Everywhere”. You didn’t expect “everywhere” to be encompassed in a single post, did you? In fact, it’s looking like IBE is shaping up to be a solid three-parter. The good news is, this time I won’t make you look for the secret link to see Mike’s butt. Probably. 😉