2010 Cal24 Rally

*2019 Context: This was my first “other” endurance rally. My first rally ever was the 2009 Iron Butt Rally, which is kind of a bass-ackwards way to approach endurance competitions, but hey – I’m not really an fass-orwards kind of girl. During the Iron Butt Rally I’d identified some weaknesses in my route planning approach, decided to make a few changes to my bike, added a 4.5 gallon auxiliary fuel tank, upgraded some of my tech, etc. Apparently I decided to do all of this roughly 8 minutes before the start of the Cal24, which is always a solid plan. As expected, hilarity ensued. This was also originaly written as a ride report for the Cal24 forum, so it assumes some basic knowledge of the bonus locations and people involved, but it’s still a fun read if you like to bear witness to an absolute cavalcade of rally-related errors. Enjoy my suffering!

I set the tone for my inaugural Cal24 rally early. Thursday, to be precise – the night before I was to leave for San Jose. I’d been waiting for a new controller to arrive for my heated gear for over a month, and it finally made its appearance about 16 hours before kickstand-up. Conventional wisdom says that changing your bike in the weeks before a rally is ill advised, say nothing of hours before. But this was a straight-forward install: no cutting, no difficult mounting or routing. The controller was already fused with battery terminal eyelets already installed, so all I had to do was connect it to my battery. What could possibly go wrong?

Over the course of my evening, I installed my controller (yeah!) and found that my Tire Pressure Monitoring System no longer worked (crap). I found that while installing the controller I had accidentally disconnected a wire at the TPMS switch (yeah!) which didn’t fix the problem (crap). I found that the disconnected wire had caused a blown fuse (yeah!) and now my controller and my TPMS both worked (yeah!) but my amp didn’t (crap). A few different fuses serve different parts of my amp circuit, so after checking several wires I found that a wire had been pulled out of the fuse box when I swapped out the other fuse (yeah!) Now my amp switch would light up (yeah!) but still no audio (crap). I eventually tracked down the problem to one of the wires I had previously checked (yeah!); when I’d pulled it out to  check the fuse, I managed to pull the wire out of a connector (crap). I didn’t have any more of the particular connector I needed (crap) but after some impressive MacGuyvering I managed to restore my bike to the same condition it had been in before my easy ten-minute controller installation began five hours earlier (yeah!).

Disaster averted, I set out for San Jose the next morning. My ride was relatively uneventful, although I was surprised that my husband Mike hadn’t called to confirm that my SPOT tracking page was working as we had discussed. With my fuel cell I was able to make the trip non-stop, and I arrived to find about 200 missed calls and texts from Mike. Apparently my SPOT hadn’t been tracking properly, and he began to worry when I didn’t answer my phone for hours. My Zumo showed that my phone was connected, so I couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t alerted me of any incoming calls. Of course, my old Zumo had failed the previous week and this new  replacement Zumo might still need the Bluetooth settings fine-tuned. I set Mike on the task of figuring out what the problem might be so I could go check in and get through tech inspection without having to worry about it too much. I rolled into the hotel around 1pm and my inspection started right away. Everything went fine, but it seemed to me that one of my fuel cell fittings was a little shinier than it should be. It had never leaked before, and when I touched it my finger seemed to come away dry, so I didn’t worry too much about it. I went ahead and did my odo check, and by the time I came back the shiny spot had turned into a full fledged leak. Dagnabbit. I’d deliberately not packed a ton of tools, figuring that anything requiring major tools would be too much for me to recover from on a 24-hour rally  anyhow. Luckily everyone around me chipped in some tools and Alex Harper had the fuel-rated thread tape I needed, so within about 45 minutes I had pulled the tank, re-taped the joint, reinstalled everything and was once again leak free. Thank goodness I got that out of the way!

While I was wrapping up my fuel cell install, Mike called and shed some light on my phone situation. He had discovered that our new phones were not compatible with the Zumo. It was sheer luck that they recognized each other at all, but there would be no way to get everything fully functional unless I got a new phone. That would have been nice to know before I was sitting at the starting line, but since the phone and Zumo both showed a good connection and I was able to make calls, it never occurred to me that I might be missing incoming calls. He had also called SPOT, who swore that sometimes the “tracking” and “on” lights would flash in unison as if  tracking, when it was actually just sending out an “OK” message. For five straight hours. I wasn’t buying it, but hopefully SPOT would see fit to track properly the next day.  

In retrospect, maybe I should have run away when I was assigned rider number 13. I drew a kind of shamrock/snot puddle thing on my flag (I’ve been told that my artistic “ability” leaves something to be desired) hoping that might counteract any bad omens that might accompany my new number. No biggie. I’m not particularly superstitious, so I figured the combination of the shamrock, my lucky underwear, my two worry stones and my lucky necklace would work together to cancel out the 13 and leave me back on level ground. After getting everything sorted out downstairs, I finally checked into the hotel and made my way up to my room. I wanted to make sure my computer was charged and everything was ready to roll for the next morning. I saved a new Streets & Trips file with my custom pushpins, saved an Excel file with appropriately named tabs, and attempted to connect to the internet. After an hour of troubleshooting I still wasn’t connected and it was time to head down to the rider’s meeting. The meeting went fine, meaning I managed not to fall in the pool or break any bones, and when it was done I headed straight for my room and another hour or so of troubleshooting. I finally sorted out the problem and got my browser functioning properly, so around 9:30pm I went to bed knowing I had everything in order for efficient routing the next morning.

The 5:45am riders meeting was quick and to-the-point, so a few minutes later I was running back to my room clutching my bonus pack and a thumb drive harboring my electronic waypoints. I tried to process the text file like I’ve done in the past, but I couldn’t get it to load. It was in a different format than I was used to seeing, so I tried to modify the file a bit so S&T would recognize it, to no avail. I tried opening the other two file types provided on the drive, but neither of them would open either. Time was ticking by and I knew I was getting nowhere fast, but I’d already invested so much time in trying to get the text file right that I just couldn’t give up. I figured once I got that file sorted out it would be smooth sailing, and I knew I must be just a click or two away from getting it right. Twenty-five minutes into our hour of free routing time I finally gave up on the electronic waypoints and started inputting the bonii by hand. I tried to remember to save often, but I got on a roll for a while there and apparently I forgot. I was reminded when my f*%king computer froze up. I’d had about ¾ of the bonii programmed in at the time of the crash, and I lost all but ten. By that time it was about 7:15am, 15 minutes after we were officially allowed to leave, and I was still monkeying around trying to make the waypoints viewable on a map. I had no idea whatsoever what the overview of the base route looked like, let alone the Dog Bone or thread bonii options. I just couldn’t sit around any longer, so I decided to use the .gpx file to load the bonii into my GPSs as POIs. I had to return the thumb drive, so I copied the files to my desktop before wrapping things up and headed for the parking lot. I would aim towards the first bonus in the base route and try to formulate a plan on the way. If worse came to worse, I would get to the first checkpoint early enough to plan a strong second and third legs. It was almost 7:30am, but my rally was finally under way.

A few other guys were in the parking lot when I was gearing up, and they all seemed to have experienced problems similar to mine. Alex Harper was there, and he mentioned that he used MapSource to view the .gpx file. I had tried to open the .gpx file by double-clicking, but I hadn’t tried opening MapSource and then opening the file. He said, “No, I just double-clicked on the file and it opened right up.” Weird. (After the rally I checked out the files I had transferred to my desktop. The gpx file, which my computer had previously claimed could not be opened with any program known to mankind, popped up with a shiny new MapSource logo after it was copied to my desktop. Upon clicking, it happily opened the full bonii list without a moment’s hesitation. Dag. Nab. It. While making a route map for this story, I saved the .gpx file on a thumb drive. Even though I created the file in MapSource, it did not show the MapSource logo and would not open until I jumped through a bunch of hoops to convince it that MapSource was the program for the job. Interesting. Must investigate further.) Well, it was too late to do anything about it at that point. For now, it was off the Bonus One.

*2019 Addendum: Up until recently, most rallies limited the file size of the bonus pictures to nothing bigger than VGA. These pictures may be a little less than top notch, and that it’s not entirely due to my old school digital camera equipment or marginal skills as a photographer. It’s also entertaining to look back at pictures which, at 3am when I originally took them, I though were fantastic and did a great job of capturing the bonus, only to discover that they were barely discernible at the scoring table. I suspect that the entertainment factor of watching riders like me squirm at the scoring table was a big factor behind the VGA size limit.

When I arrived at the first bonus at Petaluma Adobe State Park, I found half a dozen bikes parked in a small cul-de-sac next to a locked fence. It looked like I was in for a little walk, so I decided to go ahead and plan out the rest of my leg before I got off the bike. I wanted to see how much extra time I’d have to stray off the base route, so I started by compiling the base bonii waypoints into a route file. That lasted all of about 12 seconds, until I realized that only around half of the waypoints had survived the transfer into the GPS. How the hell did I screw that up?!? It’s not as if I had to  transfer them one at a time; you select an entire file, and the POI Loader moves the contents of the file, in its entirety, to the GPS. I’ve always thought it was an all-or-nothing type of affair, but clearly I stood corrected. I had to manually enter many of the first leg waypoints, and by the time I was done I was looking at a route that would take me just about to the opening of the first checkpoint. Hmmm. Not a lot of wiggle room there, I’m afraid. I decided I would just stick it out on the base route, knock out some miles, and pull up the MapSource file for some strategizing at the checkpoint.

As I was finishing up my route, a white jeep pulled up next to me. The driver, smartly dressed in his little park ranger get-up, gave me a bit of the stink eye and told me I would have to move out of his way so he could get into the park. I smiled sweetly and rolled off to the side of the drive. He let himself through the fence, chatting with Matt Pflugh for a minute on the way in. When I got off the bike to start my walk, I noticed that the gate had been left open. Matt saw me eyeballing the open road and said, “He told me he wouldn’t let anyone in until 10am.” More than an hour from now. “And to make things worse,” he continued, “I walked all the way in there before I realized I’d forgotten my flag.” Ooh, that hurts. I looked from Matt to the gate and back to Matt. “So he told you not to go in until 10am, right?  I didn’t hear him say that.  I’m going for it.” I hopped on my bike and drove into the park as if I belonged there. There were a few guys walking back out from the park who seemed amused by my attempt to circumvent the ranger, and they pointed me in the direction of the marker I needed to photograph. I quickly found the marker and ran over to grab my picture. The ranger came speeding by as I hot-footed it back to my bike and he slowed down just enough for me to hear that vein throbbing in his forehead before speeding off, presumably to lock the front gate. Matt was making his way back into the park on foot as I made my exit, so I wished him well and hurried to get back on public roads before I found myself trapped in the park for the next hour.

My second bonus at the General Store (established in 1881) was a breeze, so I headed to Stewart’s Point Road and began winding my way to the third bonii of the morning. This road is a bit on the twisty side, and I just couldn’t seem to find my groove. After I’d repaired my fuel cell leak I’d left the tank about half full, just in case the fix didn’t hold. My tank is well baffled, so it was quite possibly just psychosomatic, but all my corners felt just a hair off from fully controlled. And that was before taking the gravel, run-off, and  oncoming traffic into consideration. Matt caught up with me, then passed me, but I just couldn’t get in the zone. By the time I reached the Stewart’s Point General Store, Matt had already obtained the requisite receipt and was getting ready to split. The PCH is familiar territory, so after snagging my receipt I was able to make up a little time. I pulled into the bonus at the Druid’s Hall just behind Matt. 

Back on the road, we were both eyeballing the coast for a place to pick up the Super Mega Secret Bonus. Before long we came across Van Damme State Park and spied all of the necessary elements we would need to pocket a cool 1,000 points. I jogged down to some kind-looking folks in swimming attire and pled my case. The required composition of the picture was fairly specific, so I yanked my boots off and tossed my camera to Matt. He captured me holding my flag, standing knee-deep in the water next to a stranger, with people (and, in my case, two dogs) dressed in such a way as to indicate the intent to swim. Piece of cake. I returned the favor for Matt, and before long we were dryish, virtually sand-free, and back on the road.

With a little sleuth work I found the correct visitor’s center at Point Cabrillo  Historic Park and grabbed my picture. I’d been without cell reception most of the morning, so I gave Mike a call as soon as I picked up some bars outside of Fort Bragg. Luckily my SPOT was seeing fit to track properly, so as long as he could see me moving he wasn’t too worried. We chatted for a few minutes while I fueled up, then I let him go when I pulled back out on the highway. I hadn’t been listening to music or anything on the trip so far, so it took me a while to realize I had lost audio. It happens from time to time, so I flipped my amp off and on, and when that didn’t work I restarted the Zumo. That fixed the problem, so I figured it was just a hiccup. When I lost audio again after my next phone call, I realized that the problem was related to my phone connectivity issue. It seems that my phone wasn’t completely disconnecting when the other person hung up, and since the phone wasn’t properly connected to the Zumo I didn’t have any of the control buttons I needed to end a call from my side. What I had to do to maintain audio for the rest of the trip was navigate through to the Zumo’s Bluetooth controls, drop the phone, then reconnect again.

My slow progress across Stewart’s Point Road, plus my swim break, together with the normal time spent procuring bonii, had steadily chipped away at my time cushion around the first checkpoint. I’d been keeping a faster pace through the redwoods until I got stuck in the slow parade of rental RVs. My original plan had me arriving at the checkpoint shortly before it opened, but by the time I photographed my bike in the Chandelier Drive-Through Tree it was evident that I was going to have to drop some bonii if I was going to make it to the checkpoint before it closed. The points for this drive-through tree were linked to a second tree, so I had to pick up the Meyer’s Flat tree or this stop would just be wasted time.

On the way to Meyer’s I made a quick stop at the Benbow Inn to count windows.  Hundreds of windows. Even considering we only had to count the panes on the second and third stories, it was still a daunting task. Minutes were ticking away. Matt pulled up around the same time and we tried hard to stay focused, but we both kept going cross-eyed after a few hundred. My brain just wouldn’t cooperate, and I had to keep moving or I was seriously risking missing the checkpoint window. I gave it my best guess at 316 panes (which incidentally was under the actual total by more than 100) and hit the road. I picked up the Hobbit Trail bonus and made quick work of the Meyer’s Tree, then gritted my teeth and passed right by several more bonii on my beeline to the checkpoint. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I should have taken a picture of the Inn so I could count the panes later when I wasn’t under such time constraints. Oh, well. Live and learn.

I tried to make a quick phone call on my way into Eureka, but I got their voicemail. I went through the steps to disconnect the Bluetooth, but when I reconnected my phone a minute later it was still connected to the voicemail message. I tried every trick in the book, but I could not get the phone to disconnect. I ended up having to find my way into the checkpoint without any audio instructions. I reached the checkpoint with about 10 minutes to spare, and was finally able to restore audio by restarting my phone. That was a bit more of a pain in the butt than I wanted to deal with, so I kept my phone calls to a minimum for the rest of the rally.

I no longer had time to bring my big Leg Two Rebound Plan to fruition, so I settled for choking down a nutrition bar while I programmed in the basic bonii through the second checkpoint. I was increasingly disappointed in my performance in the rally, but considering how close I’d just come to being time barred I was happy to still be in the game. There were a few bonii in rapid succession – the fishermen’s memorial and the Friend of the Dunes  building – and the World’s Tallest Totem Pole was just a short hop to the north.

On my way to the totem pole I hit reserve, so I opened up my fuel cell to transfer gas to my main tank. I had a little trouble locating the totem pole (it looked more like a telephone pole with a hat on), so by the time I arrived  my fuel gauge should have been showing about half a tank of gas. It wasn’t. I looked in my fuel cell – yep, still full. I opened and closed the transfer valve a few times – yep, I’d had it in the open position. Then I grabbed my  flashlight and peered into my main tank. Gas was happily bubbling up into the tank. Huh. Maybe I was just being impatient. I’d give it some more time before I got too worried. 

The road to the next bonus was a fun ride, but I started getting concerned when I was showing 45 miles on reserve and the fuel gauge still had not come up. This is officially way, way longer than the transfer should take, so I decided I’d better investigate further before I flat ran out of gas. This time I looked into my main tank first. Just as I suspected, no fuel was transferring. Then I took the cap off the fuel cell and gas started happily bubbling into the main tank. Ah-ha – I had a venting problem. A quick inspection uncovered an occluded vent hose, probably pinched when I was in a hurry to reinstall my tank the previous day. My first load of aux fuel had probably transferred better because the tank had only been half full to begin with. Pleased that this was an easy fix, I pushed on to the old bridge bonus. It took me a few tries to find the right pull-out from which to view the bridge, then it took me a few more minutes to come up with a way to get my flag in the picture, but ultimately I got a good picture and pushed on to Weaverville.

Alex Ciurczak and I pulled into Weaverville at the same time and got to work tracking down the town’s four spiral staircases. We found three right off the bat, and I agreed to model both flags while Alex manned both cameras. Now to find that fourth staircase… We walked up and down the street a little ways, with no luck. A lady had been sitting outside a nearby bar and she appeared to be laughing at us so, speculating that she may know something we didn’t, I headed toward the bar. I poked my head in the swinging doors and asked if anyone knew of a fourth staircase in town. There was quite a bit of laughter and discussion before someone confirmed that we were not the first to be inquiring after the mysterious missing staircase that day. The spokesman for the bunch stepped forward and said that for as long as he’d lived there, more than three decades and counting, \ there had only been two spiral staircases in town. Uh, two? “No, I’ve already found three staircases. One right next to us here, and two straight across the street.” Blank stare. “Huh. OK, three staircases, I guess. But yeah, there aren’t four. For sure.” That did not instill in me a great sense of confidence, so rather than blow this bonii by not turning in the four required pictures Alex and I decided to split up and scope out the town. A few laps later we were still empty handed. I’d even looked for anything sneaky like a sign with a spiral staircase on it, but without success. I wasn’t getting any younger so I decided it was time to move on, fourth staircase or no.

While I chugged towards Redding I took a closer look at rest of the second leg. Zumo was still showing my estimated arrival to be within the checkpoint window, but it was getting dark fast and I knew the deer would be out in force as I began climbing into the Eastern California mountains. I decided the wise choice would be to cut out a couple of the bonii that didn’t offer a very good point-to-mile ratio. They were way up in the twisties and not worth very much, so if I limited myself to the closest two mountain bonii I could book back to the interstate and hopefully hit the checkpoint with enough time to salvage my Leg Three. I quickly found the Sundial Bridge in Redding and snapped my picture with the little bit of remaining  daylight. From there it was off to Lassen Volcanic Park.

When I reached the front gate I found Alex there pondering the specifics of the bonus. We needed to get a picture at the Visitor’s Center, but the only one shown on the park map was on the complete opposite side of the park. Not a big deal, except the road was closed just ten miles into the park. We poured over maps and newspapers, but we couldn’t find anything definitive. The written bonus directions had been pretty accurate so far, so I found it hard to believe that they would send us this way if we couldn’t reach the intended bonus. We decided to go for it, and our leap of faith took us all of about a half mile down the road to a large and well-marked visitors station. After all the hemming and hawing, it took mere moments to get a picture of the seismograph building and get back on the road.

After Lassen I had planned on grabbing one more bonus up the road before heading for the checkpoint. After chatting for a minute, Alex decided he would be heading that way as well and we set off into the dark night. Alex got a bit ahead of me, so I was a little concerned when I came around a corner and saw him stopped in the road. He said he was OK, but he was second guessing his plan to head this way. We compared notes again, and we both decided to turn around and make a beeline for the checkpoint. It seemed like there were deer around every turn, and the best case scenario if we continued through the mountains would put us at the checkpoint around 1:30am, not including time for bonii procurement or venison related delays. With a bit of backtracking and some good, deer-free, high speed roads, I rolled into the checkpoint in Oroville about half way into the window. I had a Clif Bar and some water while I programmed my last leg. It was once again looking like a solid run at the base route was all I had time for, so I focused on getting as many points out of it as I could. I had to cut out a few stops in order to make it to the finish line in time, but at least now I could figure out which ones I wanted to scrap ahead of time rather than just dropping the last bonii on the leg as time ran out. I felt good and alert and had come to terms with my lackluster routing, so after throwing a couple handfuls of trail mix in my pocket I cranked up some tunes and got myself back on the road.

My next bonus was the Colusa Casino, where the bonus listing instructed us to score a chip from inside the casino. At the end of the listing it also said that if we had a gambling problem or just didn’t feel like going into the casino you could opt to pick up the points by taking a picture of your bike in front of the casino entrance. I took full advantage of that option and was in and out of there in under two minutes.

The next stop was an historical marker in Suisun City.  As I gathered my camera and flag, a cop drove by. As I put my stuff away and splashed a little water on my face out of my hydration system, he drove by again. Not wanting to invite trouble, I decided I’d better get moving. I pulled out of the parking lot and the cop appeared from around a corner. I was behaving myself, but I still wasn’t surprised to see his lights flash in my mirror. I pulled over immediately and came to a stop. The cop slowed down, crept past me, then sped around another corner and killed his lights. I’m pretty sure he was just testing to see how I reacted since I was skulking about downtown in the wee, wee hours of the morning. Fine by me – that was about the best kind of LEO interaction one could hope for.

By the time I reached the next bonus at the Livermore fountain, the sun was starting to come up. From there I nabbed the post office in Sunol, then  wrapped things up with one last stop at Corrie Glass. I wasn’t in great  shape to be doing complex mental mathematical calculations at this point,  but as near as I could tell my corrected mileage would be coming in at 20 30 miles under the 1,000 mark. I strongly considered doing a lap around town so I could hit 1k, but it was evident that I wasn’t going to be able to do that and still make it to the finish before penalty points started accruing 7am. If I’d had any intention of putting in for a Saddlesore I would have done it, but in the end I decided that it really wasn’t something I cared about too much.

For better or worse, I rolled across the finish line with time to spare. I  gathered up my fuel log, my pictures and my meager bonus submissions  and dragged myself to the scoring line. Mark was pretty gentle, probably  because I didn’t work him too hard and I was only about the third person to make their way to the scoring table. My laughable attempt at counting the windows at the Benbow Inn was a confirmed failure, but I was pleased to learn that there were actually only three spiral staircases in Weaverville so I would be receiving those points after all. I was disappointed in myself, to say the least, so I didn’t even bother to pay much attention to the value of the bonii I’d visited or my final score or anything. All I wanted was to go up to my room and go to bed, which was probably my first and only good routing decision of the entire rally. What’s done is done; I’d find out how awful I did at the banquet a few hours later.

My husband showed up at some point while I was sleeping, and later that afternoon we headed down to the banquet together. I’d forgotten our banquet tickets, and after retrieving those I realized I’d forgotten my raffle ticket as well. I only remembered that when they started giving away raffle prizes, so it was too late to run up and get it. I do remember my number being called, probably for something totally awesome. Figures. When Tom started awarding plaques, I was honestly surprised that I wasn’t last. I had a loose idea of what my third leg bonii were worth, I knew how much the Super Secret Bonus was worth, and I knew the value of the bonii I had bypassed on the second leg. Basically, I didn’t have any concept of what my score might be. Every time Tom called a name that wasn’t mine, I was happier. Then he got to the top ten and I started thinking I must have been  disqualified. I was floored to hear that I had finished in 6th place with 985 corrected miles and 4,562 points.

A lot of people have made comments about triumphing in the face of adversity and inspirational gook like that; I think of it more like, even a broken clock is right twice a day. I didn’t do anything right, at all. I made about every mistake in the book and I somehow finished in 6th in spite of my efforts, not because of them. This was a great rally for me because virtually every one of my previously unrealized rallying fears came to pass and I still made it through to the finish. I think my rally experience would have been more actively enjoyable if I had felt like I was giving it my best effort, even if I’d finished way down the ranks. I spent the entire day feeling like I was tripping over my own feet and the fact that I probably couldn’t have planned a much more successful route was total, unadulterated, dumb luck. But you know, sometimes you’ve got to take it where you can get it. I’ve learned some valuable lessons for next time, starting with not  changing anything on my bike in the weeks before the rally. The only thing I installed in the last month that didn’t give me any trouble were my new Kevlar shoe laces. (And incidentally, I never did end up using my heated gear.) The Zumo replacement was unavoidable, but I should have given it a more thorough run-through before I declared it rally-ready. The fuel cell leak was kind of a random occurrence after it had been leak free for weeks, but I should have updated my basic tool kit with the right size tools to work on the cell should the need arise.

On that note, I think it’s time to wrap things up and get ready for the Utah 1088 next weekend. All I have to do is install a couple new tires. What? Aw, come on – they’re just tires. What could possibly go wrong?

Why South America? Part 2

In “Why South America: Part One” we looked at whether traveling around South America is a safe thing for a family to do. In a nutshell: Yes. Being self-aware and making smart choices, there is no greater inherent risk than riding around North America. This brings us to the Next Big Question: “Nice try, but you’re not going to convince us that South America is safe. If you just want a nice, long vacation, why don’t you just travel around North America for a year? There are plenty of awesome things to see around this place.”

Well, there are a few reasons. First, I personally have explored North America pretty thoroughly. I’ve been to every state and nearly every state capital. I’ve been to every major landmark people think of when they envision U.S. travel, a great many national and state parks, monuments, historical sites, etc., and innumerable roadside oddities, amusements, and general Americana. I haven’t been absolutely everywhere, of course, but the other day I was listening to a random podcast discussing an event in Newfoundland and I found myself thinking “I know exactly where that is. There is a Tim Hortons right there.” Sure enough, they mentioned that Tim Hortons later in the episode. That happens quite often, which makes me feel like I’ve seen more of North America’s best nooks and crannies than your average traveler.

Am I done exploring North America? Not by a long shot. Monty only has barely a dozen states under her belt, so we’ve just scratched the surface of exploring with her. But North America is just so… accessible. With a few weeks vacation, we can wander at a fairly leisurely pace and still reach the distant corners of the continent. It’s so easy to conquer in little bites at a time; while it certainly would be wonderful fun to spend a year exploring North America, I suppose there just isn’t that sense that we NEED a year to explore North America.

South America, on the other hand, requires a greater time commitment for a number of reasons, so the opportunities to do deep travel there are going to be much harder to come by. There will be many international border crossings, something we rarely have to consider in North America. There is the language barrier: my Spanish is rudimentary and my Portuguese is non-existent. There are the logistical issues and expenses involved in getting our bikes to South America (or purchasing vehicles there). None of these things are insurmountable, but they do take time and/or money. Spending a week dealing with a vehicle shipping problem or full day tackling a border crossing could be a huge, frustrating delay in a two-week vacation, but it’s barely a blip in the scope of a year. And if I’m going to spend a year brushing up on my Spanish, I may as well get the most out of it. We’re at a point in our life where we can take a year off to travel, so it makes sense to take advantage by traveling to somewhere that’s hard to fully experience with a tighter timeline.


Photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash

While there are certainly some expenses involved with getting ourselves and the bikes to South America, the cost of traveling around South America is significantly lower than North America. Budgets are as individual as the travelers themselves, but most overlanders report that one can live fairly comfortably on a budget of $50 a day. Most say that $100 per day would buy a pretty plush existence. Fully self-contained overlanders report overall averages as low as $25 a day. Most campgrounds in North America are going to set you back more than that. Those reported budgets included accommodations, fuel, food, insurance, vehicle maintenance, various entry fees/entertainment expenses, border crossing costs, vehicle purchase/shipping, everything. If we were just looking to subsist on the road in North America, we’d be lucky to keep it under $150 a day. Wanting to have a fun and enriching experience, we could easily spend twice that without ever coming close to “plush”. We do have a loose timeline and budget in mind; the fact of the matter is that within those parameters, we can travel longer and enjoy a greater number of experiences in South America.


Photo by Mariusz Prusaczyk on Unsplash

There is one more reason, possibly the biggest reason, we chose South America over other destinations: We don’t want to spend a year riding around showing Monty people who look pretty much like her, live pretty much like her, with a culture pretty much like hers. We want to expose her to the wider world, help her begin to understand that there is so much more outside her comfortable, familiar life in the good ol’ USA. South America is our southern sibling, easier to access than, say Africa or Asia. As a continent it offers an absolutely stunning array of people, places and history in addition to the natural beauty of the land. We want to introduce her to new foods, animals, languages, customs, smells, sights, and sounds while she’s old enough to enjoy them and young enough to be impacted by them. I don’t necessarily think that overt racism is behind people’s concern about us traveling “down there”, but it is interesting that a lot of people specifically say that North America or Europe are both inherently safer options. I feel like “safer” is sometimes used as a euphemism for “more like us”.

Having a year to travel with no fixed itinerary, we’re free to be fully immersed in the areas we visit as opposed to just passing through. Am I expecting too much, hoping Monty will come home having shed the need to beg for every new bit of plastic crap they’re screaming about on TV? Perhaps. But after living a different life for a year, becoming friends with kids who don’t have TVs, let alone a constantly rotating buffet of toys, might she begin to realize that she doesn’t actually need those things quite as much as the advertising agencies would have her believe? Perhaps. It might seem like I’m hoping for a miracle, but remember that by the time we return, this trip will account for a full 1/6 of her life experience. That has the potential to make a huge impact on her, and us as a family. What if she just returns with an understanding that people are people, all deserving of respect and kindness regardless of our differences? I’m ok with that too.

-Wendy

TBT – Made in America

*Just a little 2019 disclaimer: I’m not publishing Throw Back Travels in chronological order. Or alphabetical order. Or by total miles traveled. It’s actually a very complicated algorithm involving the number of screaming children multiplied by the number of barfing dogs, to a factor of the number of pages… It’s actually very complicated. It would take me a really long time to explain it. I just didn’t want you to think that I was just picking the easiest, most picture-intensive, dialog-light trips just because… OK, that’s exactly what I’m doing. And with that, here’s Made in America!

For our Summer 2006 riding season we decided to try something new. Every year the American Motorcyclist Association sponsors a series of contest rides/do-it-yourself tours. You sign up for the desired contest(s), and they provide you with a list of places, things, clues, names or whatever information that particular ride requires. The goal is to accumulate points by photographing your bike at as many of the locations as possible.  

The great thing about these rides is that we are remodeling our entire house, and the house simply refused to allow us our usual weeks-long sabbatical for a lengthy motorcycle adventure. This trip let us have a summer full of fun little weekend rides, and along the way we found great places we had never been before and beautiful roads we’ll surely ride again.

Sounds straight-forward enough, right? But keep paying attention, because this is the part where we usually lose people. The ride we chose was called “Made In America”, and here’s how it worked:

As you may or may not know, the US has been home to a great many motorcycle manufacturers over the years, most of them pre-WWII and most of them now defunct. Our goal was to find towns (or cities, neighborhoods, counties, municipalities of some sort) whose name is the same as that of any of the dozens of now-expired American motorcycle manufacturers on the list provided to us by the AMA.  

We had to get a picture of the bikes in front of a sign clearly indicating the town’s name, and the minimum needed to complete the challenge was 15. Got it?  Good, ’cause it gets a little weirder.  

As a special challenge, we needed to figure out 15 current motorcycles manufacturers from anywhere in the world that do not have a town in the US with the same name. For example, there is a town called Honda in California, so we could not use Honda.  With this challenge, we could get our picture of our motorcycles with any sign depicting the manufacturers name; it did not have to be a dealership sign or anything directly related to motorcycles. Are you still with me? If not, I’ll try to explain more as I go because now it’s time for pictures…

Apache Junction, Arizona
(Apache, 1907-1911)

Badger, California (Badger, Years Unknown)

Buckeye, California
(Buckeye, Years Unknown)

Buckeye, Arizona
(Buckeye, Years Unknown)


Camden, California (Camden, Years Unknown)

Columbia, California
(Columbia, Years Unknown)

Electra, California (Ghost Town)
(Electra, 1913)

Fowler, California
(Fowler Four, Years Unknown)

Franklin, California
(Franklin, Years Unknown)

Hawthorne, California
(Hawthorne, Years Unknown)

Keystone, California (Ghost Town)
(Keystone, Years Unknown)

Liberty, Arizona
(Liberty, Years Unknown)

Miami, Arizona
(Miami Cycle Co, Early 1900’s)

Paramount, California
(Paramount, Years Unknown)

Pennington, California
(Pennington Mfg, 1895-1900)

Pioneer, California
(Royal Pioneer, Years Unknown)

Wagner, California
(Wagner, 1904-?)

Williams, California
(Williams, 1910’s)

Williams, Arizona

BONUS:
Williams motorcycles 
featured a 3-cylinder 
engine which 
mounted inside the 
wheel!

*2019: I’m going to write something here because this page is openly mocking my attempts to maintain any sort of reasonable formatting.

Wilsonia, California
(Wilson, Years Unknown)

2019 Addendum: Holy Crap. I have made a terrible error in judgement. It is actually WAY less labor-intensive to copy and paste huge amounts of text from our old webpages than it is to save & transfer like 83,000 pictures. Were there 83,000 pictures on this post? Because it FEELS like there were 83,000 pictures on this post. I know it’s easy on you to just scroll past all thes pictures, but you’ve got to cut me some slack here. I’m going to soldier on, in spite of what is sure to be a pretty epic save-and-transfer repetitive stress injury. In the future I may have to break longer trips up into multiple posts, because have you seen how many pages there are from our Arctic Circle trip? My brain hurts just thinking about it. Anyways, here we go with the You Can’t Get There Challenge. 83,001…

We hit the motorcycle shop motherload with that Kymco shop! This shop also has Royal Enfield and Gas Gas, but they don’t count  because there are towns with those words in their names.

In the end, we were two of only four people in the whole country who completed this challenge! Our plaques are proudly stacked up collecting dust with all the rest of our cherished possessions, but when the house is remodeled to the point where we can actually start hanging stuff on the walls, they will be prominently displayed somewhere.*

*2019 Addendum: These plaques went on to spend nearly a decade on the walls of our motorcycle shop, The Cyclesmiths in Kernville, CA. They were recently boxed up for our move to Sturgis and will once again be languishing away, collecting dust, and waiting for us to return from our trip and once again display them a place of honor.

Why South America? Part 1

We’re going to be eaten by cannibals. Nobody gets eaten by cannibals in Europe, you know.*

*Very slight paraphrasing of the actual words spoken by our moms when we told them about our trip plans. Two wonderful women, whose primary jobs are to think of every possible thing that can go wrong, regardless of how statistically improbable, then caution us strongly against it out of an abundance of love and worry. Love you, Moms!

But seriously, outside of our traveler friends, fear for our safety is the most common response when learning about our trip. Specifically, fear for Montessa’s safety. And not her safety in the sidecar rig, but her safety as a cute little kid in a mysterious far-away land. Aside from the cannibals (?), there are malaria, jaguars, and oddly plentiful and particularly ruthless bandits to panic about. Suddenly all the people who were wringing their hands about Monty riding in the sidecar and totally fine with her being in a sidecar, as long as the sidecar remains on North American soil. Which begs the questions: IS South America safe? Why don’t we just travel around North America?


Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

Statistically speaking, yes – South America is quite safe. And that’s a pretty broad generalization, because South America is an ENTIRE CONTINENT, but several South American countries are actually ranked above the United States according to the Global Peace Index. Regardless, people with no first-hand knowledge just LOVE to say things like, “Oh, I heard about this scary thing that happened in Nicaragua a few decades ago!” Well, that’s in Central America, although I know you’re hoping to impart a sense of dread and are not necessarily looking for a geography lesson, so we’ll just roll past that.

Yes, there has been some unrest in some areas of the planet. But think about this: If there were riots in Washinton DC, would that stop you from visiting British Columbia? We’re talking about totally different countries, with the potential for small, isolated areas of unrest. Heck, if there were riots in Washington DC, it’s very possible that you wouldn’t even be deterred from visiting another part of Washinton DC. When I was in high school, the Los Angeles Riots happened quite near us – only about 20 miles as the crow flies. Other than the news coverage, you wouldn’t have had any indication that anything was amiss in our town, or even towns much closer. We were concerned about the issues behind the riot, but we stayed away from the unrest and as a result we never had any concern for our safety.

As with anywhere else in the world, including our own backyard, we try to make wise choices to have the best chance of staying safe. If you go wandering drunk late at night, flaunting a wad of cash in a bad neighborhood, well… you might just be inviting trouble. If you spend most of your time camping at an isolated spot in the woods, your risk of encountering malicious humans diminishes significantly (although your risk of tangling with a bear or a badger may increase somewhat). The reality, both in travel and your day-to-day life, likely falls somewhere in between those extremes. So we stay aware of our surroundings, make informed decisions about which areas to avoid, and make wise choices about how we handle ourselves.


Photo by Ben Ostrower on Unsplash

The interesting thing is, when you talk to people who have actually traveled to these countries, you hear the same things over and over: People as a whole trend towards being wonderful, kind, generous and open all the world over. What you hear on the news is generally a sensationalized account of events that are limited in scope, designed to get views or clicks. Venture just a bit outside the camera’s lens and you’re likely to find good folks who enjoy the opportunity to interact with visitors and welcome your tourism dollars. We’re unlikely to truly convince the people whose job it is to worry about us, but our first priority in the world is to keep Monty safe. That’s true wherever we may roam. OK, so if we assume all things are roughly equal as far as the potential for danger, why not just stay in North America? This installment has run a bit longer than intended, so stay tuned as we delve into that question in Part Two of “Why South America”!

-Wendy

TBT – Solo North America

As technology has blasted happily along, we’ve found ourselves going from Polaroids to plastic-paged photo albums, PowerPoint presentations to our own (somewhat primitive) website, to social media and, finally, to our newest and most dynamic blog. In the interest of consolidation, and with a solid nod to our adventuring roots, we’ve decided to start sharing some #ThrowBackTravels. We’ll be compiling many of our classic posts, pictures, and ride reports and sharing them with you here. Some will have little notes and updates added just to bring things current, some pictures will be fabulously remastered to bring out the very best that 2001 digital photography had to offer, but most content will remain hilariously unaltered. So kick back and enjoy our first installment: Wendy’s Solo North America Extravaganza!

Now, there are a few things to keep in mind as I recount this trip: 

First, I started the trip out with a 50cc Iron Butt ride (Coast-to-Coast in under 50 hours), so I didn’t take any pictures on that leg. Then I rode for a few weeks for the pure enjoyment of riding, so I didn’t take many pictures on that portion of the ride, either. For that reason, this section will be somewhat shorter that the others with a higher story-to-picture ratio.

Bearing that in mind, the story begins… As I mentioned, my trip began with a 50cc Iron Butt ride. Riding my Yamaha FZ1, I left Pismo Beach on May 26, 2004, and arrived in Savannah, Georgia 47 hours and 36 minutes later (including all stops and about 5 1/2 hours of sleep).

Why Savannah?  It’s not the straightest or the shortest route by any means, but I was going to spend the next few days with friends in Augusta, Georgia, and Savannah is the closest beach town to Augusta. My first two days included three concurrent Iron Butt rides, and upon completion of my 50cc at 2,612 miles, I continued on to Augusta for a total of 2,738 miles in under 50 hours. Then I slept for about two days.  My only photographic memento of the ride is of my now-classic annual fingerless glove tan.

After the Iron Butt and a few days of recovery, I basically just set out to wander. I headed north, taking slow meandering back roads through South Carolina and up the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I took in museums and stopped often at historical sites and generally relaxed and enjoyed myself. There were only a handful of things that I specifically wanted to see, but beyond that I had no plans and no timeline.

I found out pretty quickly that my”Guide to Free Campgrounds” book was actually just a random collection of parks and such around the country, most of which had very large “NO CAMPING” signs posted prominently at their perimeter. The upside is that New England states are so small that even though the next campground is half way across the map page, it’s only really like 8 miles away. Especially when you are in Delaware.

The one place I REALLY wanted to see in Philadelphia was the Mutter Museum. These being pre-Zumo days, I had printed out maps with thorough directions to the museum. Unfortunately, I still managed to get lost (I have a very good internal compass, but I found Philadelphia to be a difficult town to navigate). I found myself in a neighborhood where girls riding solo on motorcycles probably don’t want to be, and I decided to blow all the stops signs on my way back to the interstate after a group of decidedly unfriendly-looking guys descended on me while I was stopped at a traffic light. I finally gave up on finding the museum, although I was very disappointed at having to do so. Now that I have Zumo, I have a good reason to go back to Pennsylvania!

I do have to say that I was very impressed with the generally high level of courtesy that I experienced in Pennsylvania (and not just in the City of Brotherly Love!) I stopped several times to ask people for directions or consult my map, and several times I had folks say “Just follow me; I’ll take you to…” where ever I was headed.  I met tons of nice bikers who shared with me the best local rides and eats. I rode from Philadelphia all the way across Pennsylvania to the Ohio border and back again, all on little roads suggested to me to strangers. I had a great time and really enjoyed the wonderful, friendly atmosphere during my days there.

OK, so far my post-Iron Butt trip has taken me all the way to Pennsylvania. After my PA loop, I meandered north through New Jersey and New York before I cut over into Vermont. And like most people, I found Vermont to be absolutely gorgeous!

This was an evening stop in Lake Saint Catherine, Vermont. The riding was great, the roads were well maintained, and the constant rain kept everything nice and green. (Well, you can’t win ’em all, so sometimes you just have to look on the bright side.)

Leaving Vermont, I headed back south across Massachusetts and through Connecticut.  I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed riding through Connecticut; the roads were exceedingly well maintained, and at every turn there was another beautiful back road beckoning to me. And for the first time on my trip, it seemed, there was no such thing as getting lost – just a consistently thrilling series of random turns and towns until eventually (sadly) I bumped into an interstate and moved on into Rhode Island, through Boston and on to New Hampshire.

Shortly after my return, I wrote a story about this trip for a “Great Rides” contest. The picture to the left is one of several that accompanied the story and assisted in netting me a second-place win. (I was actually really happy that I won second place; first prize was a dual sport adventure tour around Arizona, but I won about $1000 worth of FirstGear riding gear that I still use nearly every day. I think I got the better end of that bargain!)

You know how sometimes there are things that seem like a good idea when you first wake up, and then turn out to be completely goofy and ridiculous later after your brain kicks in? Well, I like to commemorate those moments and share them with the world at the expense of my dignity. (See, I don’t just post pictures that embarrass my husband – I’m right there with him!)

After turning back to the north and riding through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I finished my Eastward ride at the coast of Maine. The first thing I did, of course, was eat a big ol’ lobster. Then I camped at the intersections of Highway 1 and 101 – the East Coast equivalent to my Pismo Beach home, also at Highways 1 and 101.

From there I made a slow coastal trek up to Bar Harbor, where I inquired about taking a ferry to Nova Scotia.  Even  though it was the off-season, the  trip would still set me back $100  each way – $45 for me, $55 for my bike – and I would have to wait until the following day to catch the next boat. After some quick math, I calculated that they were off their gourds and decided to continue my trip sans ocean-crossing. Of course, the same trip today* would cost me about $165 each way, so in retrospect maybe I should have seized the opportunity… In any event, that’s a pretty hefty investment for a boat ride when I’m taking a trip for the joy of motorcycle riding!

*And that was “today” as of the previous, PowerPoint-to-Website remastering of this tale. As of 2019, I’m sure the price tag is nearly twice that. In fact, I’m almost positive, based on the last time I took that ferry. Totally worth it! 😉

Anyhow, the riding along the coast of Maine was so beautiful, I didn’t feel like I had made much of a sacrifice.

Bar Harbor is a quaint little fishing town and a must-see stop if you find that your wardrobe is lacking in items that say “Maine” or display picture lobsters or lighthouses. Finding my supply of those items to be more than sufficient, I turned Northwest and headed into Quebec.

After spending an evening making my way along dirt roads and communing with deer, moose and elk, I arrived in the Canadian Provence of Quebec. I was surprised by the European feel of so many of the little towns, with crooked cobblestone streets and cozy little cottages.

I have to admit, Quebec was also something of a culture shock. I had never been to  Canada before, and I expected there to be multi-lingual signage across the French-Canadian Provinces. There wasn’t. EVERYTHING was in French – No English at all. Not on road signs or billboards, not even at gas stations or restaurants. I had some trouble with my bank card at one of the gas stations, and no one there spoke (or was willing to speak) English to sort out the trouble. Wow! It was a very interesting place to visit, but next time I’ll have to be better prepared!

It was right about the time I crossed into Ontario that I was hit with about the worst weather I’ve ever ridden in*.  The kind of weather where all you want in the world is to pull over, but you don’t because no one else on the road can see anything either and it’s only a matter of time before some wayward big rig takes you out. Amazingly, I caught up to a couple other hapless bikers muscling through the storm, and together we pushed on for several hours until we reached a little town where I could pick up a hotel room and wring myself out.

*Worst weather as of 2004. They don’t call me Hurricane Crockett for nuthin’! And by “they” I mean Mike, and like three other people. But still… Four people counts as “they”, and riding through three hurricanes and a tornado has definitely upped my threshold of “worst weather”.

The following day, with all of my gear still saturated and freezing, I tracked down a place known only as “The Shop”. The Shop is a Harley/Honda/Farm Implement dealer in the bustling little metropolis of Lively, Ontario. They warmed me up with plenty of free coffee and asked all about my trip. Then I purchased a new pair of dry waterproof winter gloves (1/3 off, because only pansies like me wear heavy winter gloves in balmy June weather) and I was getting ready to leave when one of the employees presented me with a gift. It was a Canadian goose, intricately created out of bark and twigs. He said he wanted to make sure that they had made a good impression on behalf of Ontario and Canada, and that the goose would bring me good luck for the remainder of the trip.  

What a great bunch of people!  The goose is still one of my cherished mementos, and it has continued to bring me luck on my many subsequent adventures.

I heard that the Central Canadian Provinces are pretty much the same as the Plains States, so I figured since the ride would be the same either way, I would head back to the US and pick up the last couple states that I had yet to visit by motorcycle. I crossed the border at Sault Ste. Marie and rode around the edge of Lake Michigan for a while. I was amazed at the vastness of the Great Lakes; it was like looking out over the ocean. I also learned that when people talk about “Pasties” in Michigan, they probably aren’t talking about the same thing that we’re talking about when we say “Pasties” in California.  Boy, THAT made for a couple of awkward conversations…

A few nights later I was in Ironwood, Wisconsin, and after partaking of the most mouthwatering cheese curds in the world, I settled in for the night at a local campground. Now granted I wasn’t riding at the time, which was a bonus, but that night I was hit by a storm that made the one in Canada look like a light mist.  My tent was blowing away with me in it, and I had to pull my shoelaces out of my boots in the middle of the night to tie my tent posts together. I didn’t think that would keep them from blowing away, but I figured at least that way I would only have to look for one bunch of things tied together rather than 12 little pieces scattered all over the place. The thunder was so loud and constant that my ears were ringing well into the morning. The power was off for as far as I could see, and if a tornado warning siren had gone off I don’t think I would have even heard it. Having no place to go, all I could do was ride it out and hope for the best.

In the morning, I found that the wind had been so ferocious blowing against my bike that the force actually made a crack right down the middle of my Big Foot. (A Big Foot is a big plastic foot, about 1/4″ thick, placed under your kickstand to keep it from sinking into soft dirt.) I can’t even imagine the amount of force it took to cause that to crack, but I know what I went through that night and was glad that I would at least have an impressive souvenir of the storm.

After wandering across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota (where I passed through Rugby, the geographical center of North America), and the better park of Montana, I found myself once again facing off with the weather.I believe it was right about Cut Bank, Montana – the self-proclaimed “Coldest Spot in the US” – that the slushy snow set it. Since it obviously was not in the cards for me to be warm or dry on any portion of this trip, I just zipped up my rain gear and kept right on going.

Eventually I climbed above the clouds and out of the wet, although a little slush is all it takes to spend the rest of the day freezing. It was worth it, though. Waterfalls just aren’t waterfalls without a little rain to invigorate things. Glacier National Park was an amazing place to visit, and I would do it again in a second – rain, snow or otherwise!

Self portrait in Glacier National Park.  Funny, it doesn’t LOOK freezing…

Glacier National Park is a hard place to leave, but eventually I did have to move on. I crossed a tiny bit of Idaho before picking up the rain again in Washington. At this point I’m soaked, my gear is soaked, my maps are soaked – I basically have stopped deluding myself into believing that I will ever dry out.

No trouble. Pretty is pretty, even when it’s wet, and I continued to have a great time even as I was getting closer to home.

A long road across Eastern Washington. (Another of the pictures  accompanying my Great Rides submission.)

Ooh!  Look at the snow way up there on Mount Rainier!

…And I’m sure you’ve all guessed by now that it wasn’t long before I was IN that snow, way off in the distance. Luckily in was mid-week and there was no other traffic, so I took my time and traveled over the icy road as safely as possible. (I suppose I should count myself lucky; it’s probably about 120 degrees in Tucson right about now.)

As I descended the hill, the iciness was rapidly eliminated and I was left with the quite, solitary beauty that even just a couple inches of snow seems to bring.

Here’s the stuff that makes it all worth while! Remember what I said about needing rain in order to see the truly beautiful waterfalls? Mike and I returned to Mount Rainier together the following August, and there wasn’t a single waterfall to be found. Simply Amazing!

In case you were confused… This sign actually points out Mt. Saint Helens  from a scenic overlook.

After three weeks, I’m back on the Pacific Coast. I followed the Pacific Coast Highway from Astoria, Oregon all the way home to Pismo Beach.

Nothing says “Successful Road Trip” like happening upon something like this! I was riding through Port Orford, Oregon when I saw a tiny sign that read “Antique Motorcycle Museum”. I pulled into the parking lot to find that the museum was already closed for the day. The proprietor was still there, though, and he invited me in to get out of the rain and take a private tour. Sometimes you just get lucky!

And here we are, on the last day of my journey. Notice all that stuff… What’s it called? Oh, yeah – Sunshine. Doesn’t that just figure.

With the usual mixed emotions, I arrived home almost a month after my journey began. 9,317 miles, nearly all of it back roads and bad weather (not counting the Iron Butt). It’s always good to be home, but then again, it’s always good to be on the road. I guess as long as I’m here, I may as well wash my bike…

And with that, I have now ridden my faithful FZ1 in all of the Lower 48 States (plus some bits of Canada here and there). Not too bad, for a girl! (or at least that’s what I hear…)

Here I am celebrating my return at the Pismo Beach Pier, with a particularly vicious case of Helmet Hair. See? See? Mike does it to me, too, when he’s the one holding the camera!

The states I passed through on this trip are, in order: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, (Quebec), (Ontario), Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.  

I have now ridden in every state except Hawaii (I’ve been to Hawaii, I just didn’t ride when I was there since I was only about 11 at the time.)  

As I mentioned, I have a lot more stories than pictures on this ride, but I love to share what I have so feel free to ask! Thank you once again for sharing in my adventures!

-Wendy, circa 2004

Critical Fuel

We’re all aware that fuel is a critical element in travel. ANY kind of travel: Motorcycle, Dog Sled, Hiking. Gasoline, Canines, Food. And really, good food is a critical element regardless of your preferred conveyance. When your mode of transportation offers limited packing space, as with any of the above examples, it’s especially important to prioritize items in order to ensure that your adventures are adequately fueled.

I was kicking around a motorcycle travel website a while back and I was astonished to see how many long-term travelers said their one big space splurge was spent on coffee. The particulars ran the gamut from super-simple over-the-campfire setups, to extra-fancy top-of-the-line presses complete with grinders for their requisite whole-bean joe. These are the same people who know how to get four wears out of a pair of underwear (no judgement here, the space struggle is real) so the fact that close to 3/4 of respondents said they’d ditch a hairbrush, pillow and spare tube to make room for coffee was a shocker. And not just a few packs of instant coffee to use in a pinch; people want to be able to make a respectable cup of java no matter where the road takes them. We’re talking critical fuel here; it’s simply not optional.

A lot of us need coffee to fuel our day-to-day – trust me, I have a four-year-old, and some days any ol’ caffeine fix will do the job. But if you’re on the road and your one concession to comfort is coffee, you obviously want the best. If you don’t want to gamble your adventure fuel on whatever you happen to scrounge up, you’re going to want to check out Blackout Coffee. Whether you’re a true connoisseur or you’re just looking to power up your morning without feeling like you just licked a dirty shoe, Blackout is worth every precious inch of saddlebag space. I love Covert Op Cold Brew, but Brewtal Awakening might be more your octane. Check out all their offerings; whatever you choose, these small-batch beans really raise the bar.

On top of wicked roasted fun fuel, Blackout Coffee also supports our troops. If you’ve got loved ones in the military, they make it easy for you to donate to their unit. If you’d just love to support our troops overseas, you can choose to donate to a random unit. Either way, Blackout makes sure that their coffee arrives fast and fresh.

One more warm, delicious bit of awesome: If you purchase through our Blackout link or use coupon code WENDC61 at checkout, Blackout will kick down a couple bucks to fuel our South American adventure. How cool is that? So what do you think; Are you ready to power your day the Blackout way?

The Perfect Bike for the Job

We have, and have had, many bikes. MANY bikes. Periodically I hear people string together the oddly incongruent words “I have too many bikes”. Once my brain accepts the fact that those words can legally be strung together, and they do, in fact, sort of translate to a real sentence in English (no matter how bizarre), I point out that all our bikes are uniquely well suited for all different things. We have two FJRs, one for each of us, for all the best touring and combat commuting. The FZ1 held that role before the FJRs came around, but it’s just so dang fun to ride that I haven’t been able to justify parting with it. The Suzuki Bandit with the sidecar: Fun AND practical! The dirt bikes, big and small. Vintage stuff. The rickshaw. Oh, and don’t forget the Cushman. There are just so many cool bikes out there, and I wouldn’t want to make any of them feel self-conscious by giving the impression that one was more worth owning than another. One of our old customers named it best: This is indeed Wendy’s Home for Wayward Bikes. I also point out that when we added our 11th bike to our insurance policy, our premiums actually went DOWN $14 a year. We reached the point where adding bikes began to earn us a return. At that point, how can you afford NOT to have more bikes?

My point is, we have a lot of bikes to choose from. We’re not opposed to buying a new bike if we thought it would fill a need that couldn’t be filled by one of our current herd. If it was just Mike and I making the trip, we’d most likely just buy bikes in South America. Shipping our bikes, especially the sidecar rig, is going to be one of (if not the) biggest single expense of the trip. This is going to be a trip of mellow exploration, not a time-limited attempt to cram as much vacation into as short a short window as possible; that being the case, we could happily settle for a smaller displacement dual sport as opposed to a bigger sport tourer. Additionally, it looks like a lot of smaller ferry services charge higher prices based on motorcycle displacement, so a little dual sport could save us a few bucks in that way as well.


Unfortunately, traveling with a Small One with a short inseem who is still somewhat prone to spontaneous napping (I’m talking about Montessa, not Mike) means that the sidecar is a practical necessity. I haven’t seen a single sidecar rig come up on any of the overlander forums in the months I’ve been frequenting them. I’m sure we could scare one up, but at what expense? How long would it take us to find a safe, reliable rig at a palatable price? How far would we have to travel to buy it, and how much would it cost us to get there? That just seems like way too much of a gamble with our travel time, so the sidecar is going to be locked down ahead of time and shipped from here. We wouldn’t be opposed to an adventure rig with a pulling sidecar wheel or a dual-sport-specific hack rig, but not at the expense of reliability. That really limits the options. We like our Bandit rig; it’s proven reliable, it’s relatively easy to find parts for, and the car is spacious with plenty of storage space and a fully enclosed passenger compartment. Unless something awesome comes along in the meantime, the Bandit is almost certainly making the trip.

That brings us to my ride. We had a Gen 1 Kawasaki KLR 650 that we loved, which we bought specifically for a South America ride. Alas, that bike recently met its demise when someone couldn’t be bothered to look both ways before pulling out of a driveway. After a stuntman-worthy tuck and roll over the top of the offending vehicle, Mike walked away with just a few bumps and buises. RIP KLR. The second bike I considered was my FJR, but I discounted that fairly quickly. Not because I don’t love it but because of how much I love it. I’ve easily put another $12,000 into a bike that cost $12,000 new, and it is my perfect finely-tuned endurance rally machine. It fits me like a glove, it’s comfortable, reliable, and functional, and has every piece of tech I need to pull off an 11-day, 11,000+ mile Iron Butt Rally. I need virtually none of those attributes for a mellow, meandering family adventure. Most importantly, Mike proposed to me with our matching set of FJRs. There’s no way I’m going to part with either FJR willingly, and if something major happened to it in South America it could potentially be very cost prohibitive to get it back home.

9/24/04 – The day our adventure really began!

That brought us around to the Yamaha FZ1. As I mentioned, it was my all-around tourer/adventurer/commuter before the FJRs were added to our stable. I’ve ridden it in all 48 lower states, plus Mexico and most of the Canadian provinces. It’s fun, reliable, and significantly lighter than the FJR. I also recently came into some awesome hard luggage – saddlebags and trunk- that I think I can attach to the FZ1 without too much drama. One of the biggest “pros” for the FZ1 is this: Shipping to South America is expensive. Shipping back to North America is expensive. Our bikes aren’t wildly valuable, and we’re seriously considering just selling one or both of them in South America at the end of our trip as opposed to shipping them back home. As much as I love the FZ1 – I bought it brand new and I’ve put over 130,000 miles on it – it’s value just doesn’t justify shipping it home. I could reasonably spend a year convincing myself to part with it, whereas the FJR will have to be violently pried out of my cold, overfilled garage.

So is this going to be a YamaSuki match made in overlanding heaven? It’s currently the most likely match up. We’re definitely still open to other options; maybe we’ll ship the sidecar and we’ll buy a bike for me when we get down there. Maybe we’ll come across another smaller-displacement dual sport up here and bring that in place of the FZ1; smaller displacement, smaller footprint, lower shipping costs. Maybe some wealthy benefactor will want to buy us a couple R1200s with DMC Expedition sidecars for maximum storage and full-on family-style motorcycle touring awesomeness. Or maybe we’ll be shipping my faithful ol’ FZ1 and Monty’s magnificent Bandit and have an absolute blast.

For our honeymoon, Mike and I rode our bikes beyond the Arctic Circle to the Canadian town of Inuvik. I can’t tell you how many people have said “Why on earth would you take FJRs up there? That’s a terrible choice for that ride! You SHOULD have gone on a…” Except those comments invariably came from people who did little more than commute on their bike. My reply? “We rode the FJRs because we owned FJRs. We could have waited forever to identify, purchase, and outfit the ‘perfect’ bike, or we could go with what we had. At the end of the day, we’ve been to Inuvik and you’re still dreaming of the perfect bike.” Both the FZ1 and Bandit are up to the task, so if they’re the two who make the trip with us, at the end of the day, we will have spent a year enjoying South America together as a family. And in my opinion, that’s what makes them the perfect bikes for the job.

-Wendy

My Must-Have Road Nutrition

 If you’ve been to any of my endurance riding presentations (or even just chatted with me for a few minutes about hydration and nutrition), you know there are two food products I recommend by name: Justin’s Nut Butter and SPORTea. I enjoy them on the bike and off, I bring them with me on all of my motorcycle travels without fail, and I absolutely swear by them.

I found Justin’s single-serve nut butters out of a need for rally food that was portable, easy to eat on the move, and delicious without being packed full of garbage. I’d almost perfected my healthy food packs for rallying, but I wanted to add something with a little more excitement. I tried a few different butters but I was solidly unimpressed. Some were a cocktails of sugar and preservatives; others had odd protein additives that unleashed some pretty unpleasant gastrointestinal demons. Not exactly great for peak rally efficiency.

Justin’s are made with a handful of wholesome, easy-to-pronounce ingredients. They’re packed full of protein and flavor without being packed full of sugar. It’s a wonderful little treat for my tastebuds without ending up with some sticky mystery mess in my tank bag. I stock up on the full-size jars for home so we can satisfy all of our butter munching needs. Monty loves it, I love it, and I bet you will too.

SPORTea fell into my lap at at time when I was desperately looking for a way to improve my hydration routine on endurance rides. I lost several finishing positions in the 2011 Iron Butt Rally because of dehydration; I was drinking so much water that I felt sick, but still couldn’t manage to overcome my rate of fluid loss through sweating on a sweltering 112 degree Texas day. I had to call it quits and rework the rest of my rally because I knew I was dangerously dehydrated and, as painful as it was to knock my ride out of podium contention, it was the only safe choice. It was almost an exact repeat of the 2009 Iron Butt Rally, which saw competitors slogging across the Mojave desert in blazing August heat nearing 120 degrees. Wetting my clothes, stuffing my jacket with bags of ice, drinking as much as I could stand, I still felt awful. I knew there had to be a better way.

Around that time, some friends of ours opened a restaurant in Kernville, California. Not only did they make the most amazing pizza in the state, they served this amazing, light, refreshing iced tea. I’d never tasted anything like it; not too sweet, not too boring, none of that weird chemically aftertaste. Turns out it was SPORTea. It’s a completely natural herbal tea designed to help athletes rehydrate more efficiently than water alone and without the negative effects of sugary, caffeinated drinks. It has no calories, caffeine sugar, or artificial sweeteners, and it tastes amazing without having to add a thing. It cold brews, so I can toss a pouch in my hydration jug and have wonderfully refreshing tea all day long. Most importantly, it actually refreshes and rehydrates me in a way I wasn’t coming close to achieving with water or other drinks.

When I anticipate an exceptionally hot day, I’ll make sure to start brewing a jug or two first thing in the morning. It is a game-changer on those days where I can drink water till I’m sick and still feel dehydrated; sipping SPORTea through the day not only tastes great, it makes me feel thoroughly refreshed in a way that water alone does not. I drink it at home, I drink it on the road, I give it as a gift. I’ve shared it with people who swear they hate tea, who are pleasantly surprised to find they love SPORTea. I may not drink it every day on the road, but I never leave home without it.

These are my favorite nutritional must-haves, not only for riding but for an active life in general. What are your favorite nutritional tips and tricks? Let me know in the comments!

-Wendy

These are a few of our favorite things…

While we’re new at protracted world travel, we’re not new at extended motorcycle travel. We want to share a few of our favorite tried-and-true goodies that will be making the trip with us. Gear to Grub, Tools to Tracking. First up: What all the intrepid Third Wheel Adventurers will be wearing this season?

In 2004 I entered the FirstGear Great Rides contest. I told the exhilarating tale of my nearly-10,000 mile solo journey around North America. I won second place, which was a complete set of FirstGear riding gear. First place was a motorcycle tour, but I honestly felt like I came out ahead because my FirstGear kept on protecting me well after that trip was a distant memory. In fact, I only parted with that original gear earlier this year!

I’ve been a devoted fan of FirstGear ever since. It fits me right, protects me well, has all the functional features I need and, possibly most importantly, is just plain comfortable to wear. You can have all the greatest armor and a gazillion pockets, but if it’s uncomfortable you’re just way less likely to put it on. FirstGear has been there for the last 15 years of adventures, they’re definitely going along for our biggest adventure yet!

For functional base layers, there is no competition. LDComfort makes the highest quality, purpose-made products on the market. They utilize rapid moisture transfer technology and strategic seam placement to keep you dry, comfortable, and enjoying your ride long after the competition has dissolved into a soggy, stinky, itchy, funky mess. You don’t want to be that kind of rider. Your friends don’t want you to be that kind of rider. Trust me on this.

I love all my LDComfort gear: My riding shorts, mock turtle neck, and riding sleeves are indispensable on all my motorcycle trips, whether I’m on endurance rallies or just meandering around the country. I actually wear one of my Women’s Comfort Tops every single day, riding or not – I haven’t found anything that surpasses it’s fit and function for long hikes. Don’t waste a bunch of money on layers that don’t live up to their claims; I bought the very best and I’ve never looked back.

This doesn’t make up the entirety of our moto-wardrobe, but these are the pieces that make up the unwavering core of our ensembles. Some things I’m willing to compromise on or grab whatever catches my eye – I probably have 57 pairs of gloves – but these are the product lines that I continue to support because they just plain do it right.

-Wendy

The Adventure Begins

No, we’re not leaving yet. We’re a good nine months away from departure at this point, give of take. “Give or take” because deciding on a method and precise dates for shipping vehicles to another continent is not nearly as straightforward as buying airline tickets. I feel like a lot of other elements of our trip planning would benefit from knowing when our travels are going to commence, so I keep circling back around to vehicle transport. But you know how when you were a kid and you’d get the merry-go-round spinning like crazy? You could stop the ride, but your brain would just keep right on circling for a while yet. This is me right now, just circling round and round. This, my friends, is the REAL adventure!

And I really do feel like the planning is the toughest part. It’s the whole mind-twist, running through all the what-ifs, how-tos and might-needs. The first day out on a major trip is always the worst. I frantically run back through all my planning at hyperspeed, hoping to identify anything I may have overlooked before I’m too far from home to rectify it. After that bandaid is ripped off, I’m good. In spite of my propensity for meticulous planning, I’m really more of a seat-of-the-pants traveler. I don’t want or need every minute detail planned out; I just don’t like to be derailed by “surprises” that were totally foreseeable. I don’t want to be blindsided by a big expense that I should have known to budget for. I don’t want to be turned away at a border because I failed to secure the proper paperwork. Those types of things are where I focus my planning. I’m actually pretty solid for dealing with real surprises, expenses, and drama; it’s just a lot easier when I haven’t brought it all on myself. The further I get from home, the more I let myself dissolve into the experience. Gone are the routines, schedules, expectations. I can go with the flow in a way that eludes me in my “real” life. When I feed my need for adventure, I feel like I have powered up my ability solve problems, overcome hurdles, and find silver linings.

Mike, on the other hand… Mike likes to have a home base. He likes to have a home base, he likes for it to be readily accessible, and he likes to visit it fairly often. He loves travel (for a while), freedom (as long as it involves a hotel), and adventure (not to include any unpleasant surprises). His normally relaxed, easy-going demeanor is replaced with a sense of foreboding, a feeling that little hiccups are insurmountable and that California has quite probably fallen off into the ocean in our absence.

OK, that’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration. But it is interesting that the very thing that makes me feel so powerful and free makes him feel powerless and lost. Agreeing to this trip is a HUGE thing for Mike, and I don’t for a second underestimate how violently this has shoved him out of his comfort zone. My asking wasn’t a surprise; I’ve been proposing this trip for nearly 15 years. We came close once, even going to far as to buy a couple dual sports in preparation. Even then, though, it wasn’t “Great, we’ll leave in the fall! We’d better buy some more appropriate bikes!” It was more like, “I guess we can pick up a few bikes, just in case.” We owned a home, had a booming motorcycle shop, our finances were focused elsewhere and the timing just wasn’t quite right.

And then came our BIG surprise: nine years into our marriage, our daughter FINALLY decided to come along. That definitely put the brakes on any major two-wheeled adventure aspirations for a while. But slowly, life brought us back around to where The Big Trip was once again a possibility. And this time it wasn’t just a possibility. We’d been ready to get out of California for a while, and having Montessa only strengthened that desire. For the first time in over a decade, we were both open to the possibility of selling our house and closing our shop. We bought a sidecar rig, which turned out to be one of Monty’s favorite things in the world. We didn’t jump right back into home ownership, so we’re not locked down with a mortgage. The shop is carefully packed away, ready to unfurl at a later date, but we no longer have the worries of managing a business over an extended absence. Monty is old enough to enjoy and benefit from travel, but not yet old enough to start traditional school. From a purely rational standpoint, the time was right. Mike, understanding this, said yes.

And this is where his adventure begins: Working through his anxiety and mentally preparing to fully enjoy this trip. To shift his thinking away from “Terrifyingly devoid of a house to run home to!” and towards “Blissfully unencumbered by the burdens of home ownership!” Yeah, that might be a bit much for me to expect. But hopefully while I’m deeply entrenched in the myriad daunting tasks of a Type-A micro-planner, he’ll be working through his fear of the unknown. And Montessa? Yeah, she’s ready to head to South America tomorrow. She’s got the heart and soul of a true adventurer. If all goes well, come next fall we’ll be prepared both mentally and logistically to embark on this amazing adventure together, as a family.

-Wendy