Crisis!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Wendy

TBT – I’ve Been Everywhere, Part 1

*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!

The Alamo (in case you forgot)

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. 😉

Riding to Extremes

I’ve been devouring every possible resource on long term overland traveling. I read somewhere that a good rule of thumb is to spend a year planning for every year you want to spend traveling. Obviously there are those who can walk away from their life on a whim and have the most wonderful experience, just like there are those who spend years planning down to the most minute detail and have a miserable time. It just felt like a good ballpark for world traveler noobs who are just getting ready to make the leap.

In our case we didn’t deliberately decide on a year to plan, it just happened to work out that way. (I’m not sure if one would consider the 15 years I’ve spent dreaming and trying to convince Mike to take this trip technically counts as “planning”, but I digress.) Mike just happened to say yes in September; that was far too short on notice to plan, get there, and take advantage of the Southern Hemisphere summer this year. Frankly I think that Mike will benefit from having a full year to work through the details, get more comfortable with the idea of leaving for a while, and allow excitement to start outweighing apprehension. Waiting until October 2019 worked out well for our jobs too: the timing lets me work through the busy summer riding season in the Northern Hemisphere, maximizing our savings before we leave, and lets Mike wrap up the shooting season without having to leave in the middle of a show. We have plenty of time to wean our families onto the idea, and to put our “real” life in suspended animation. I don’t think a year of planning will achieve all these goals flawlessly – I’m pretty sure some family members will remain convinced that we’re going to be eaten by cannibals – but we will have a reasonable amount of time for some due diligence.

All sounds perfect, right? Well, I may have left out one tiny detail: I will be competing in the 2019 Iron Butt Rally in June. Yes, I have done it before – this will be my fifth IBR – but that doesn’t mean it’s a cake walk in either preparation or execution. There are some major maintenance tasks and minor modifications that need to be done, and I don’t have a good warm place to do them this winter. I felt fairly confident in my new waypoint handling technique in the 2017 IBR, until I had several major bungles that cost me time and points. Back to the drawing board with that. Then there is the rally itself: Both the start and finish happen to be a pretty good haul from here (not in Iron Butt terms, but in terms of total non-rally travel time), and then there are the two weeks for the rally itself. This is a pretty labor-intensive undertaking, even for experienced rally riders. There’s a reason they only hold it every two years!

And think about this: I am actively planning and prepping for the two absolute polar opposites of motorcycle travel. I’m fine-tuning one bike for maximum efficiency, essentially living on the bike for 11 straight days. I need to minimize fuel stops and time off the bike, make sure everything is in good mechanical condition, and all accessories are operational and optimally arranged for easy use on the fly. I have auxiliary fuel that allows me to ride upwards of 400 miles between fuel stops, and I often do. I’ll be carrying nearly everything I could conceivably change or repair on the side of the road, up to and including a spare stator.

(It happened once. I ended up doing five separate stator changes in a hotel parking lot. Long story, but it was successful and I happened to take second place in that rally. I won’t be caught unprepared for a stator failure again!) I don’t want to be waylaid by a flat tire, broken lever, or damaged wiring if I can fix it on the side of the road and keep rolling. Time is of the essence, so even something as seemingly minor as waiting around for a restaurant meal can really add up over the course of 11 days. I carry almost all the food I will consume during the event, and only the most basic necessities for clothes and hygiene.

Pro Tip: You don’t want to be one of the two dozen unlucky travelers stuck next to a pack of rally riders on a long, crowded ferry ride after eight solid days of rallying. Trust me, you don’t.

Four of the Newfy Five

Pro Tip #2: Super long line for some rally bonus? Puff out a little bit of that week-old jacket stench and the seas of humanity will part for you. Anyway, you get the idea. I will be living ON the bike, and will do everything I can to eliminate the need for me to be off the bike.

At the other end of the scale is this South American adventure. We will be living off our bikes, but it’s just a small part of the overall trip. The miles will be low and slow, with emphasis on the experience, adventure and community vs. distance, efficiency, and competition. We’ll be carrying our basic personal items and family necessities, but chances are that any one-off needs will be things we can procure on the road. If we have to wait a while to have something shipped in, it’s not going to have the same ramifications as it would in a time-critical rally situation. The idea isn’t to carry everything we could possibly need, just everything we need to be safe and comfortable between bigger cities. We will carry aux fuel, but more to get us across fuel-scarce expanses of Patagonia than to ride from Los Angeles to Mesquite, NV without putting my feet down. While rallying combines my love of motorcycles, puzzles, and competition, this trip will combine my love of motorcycles, family, and expanded horizons. One type of riding is not inherently better than the other; they’re both just very big undertakings with very different parameters. Aside from the motorcycles, they’re different worlds all together.

I’m not going to lie: I’ve been sneaking some peeks at road maps, wondering if I could peel off for an endurance riding certificate while I’m in South America. I’m not a huge certificate collector, but it would be very cool to have certificates from two continents. I already have certificates in the U.S. and Canada; what if I did a certified 1,000 mile day in every country we visit? OK, that might be getting carried away a bit. As much as I’m looking forward to going slow and immersive, I’ll probably have to remind myself more than once that not everything is about endurance riding. Still, though… To find some wonderful little community where my night-owl, late-sleeping family wants to spend a few days relaxing… Mom jams out early to lay down some asphalt… It’ll probably happen at least once. After all, a year is a long time. That is if I can get myself through the next 6 months of brain fry. I’ll be spending that time watching the clock, juggling computer projects, logistical work, and mechanical prep on at least three different vehicles, and generally embracing my love of riding to extremes.

-Wendy

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