Baja Dos: The Full Monty

This is Part Two of my Baja road trip; Part One specifically covers my Asphalt Rats/DiscoverMoto Rally, so feel free to cruise over and check that one out here. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

No rush. We’re on Baja time now.

Ah, great! You’re back! Let us proceed… The pre-ride activities for the Asphalt Rats rally took place in Mexicali on February 21st, so being a paltry 115 miles or so from our temporary SoCal headquarters we decided to meander on down on the morning of the 21st. Mike and Monty accompanied me in the sidecar so as not to miss the excitement of the festivities, but also as not to miss the opportunity to swim in a pool I’d probably never set a toe in and sleep in a bed I’d be lucky to see for a couple hours prior to my 2am rally departure. As I mentioned in Part One, the ride into Mexico is almost always a piece of cake. I’ve never experienced much of a backup, and this time was no different. We breezed through the border crossing, got our tourist visas stamped with little fanfare, and made our way a few miles into Mexicali to the Hotel Araiza Calafia. There were a lot of hugs and handshakes, meeting riders who I’d been chatting with for weeks in our group chats, and reintroducing myself to riders who I’d apparently met immediately post-Iron Butt Rally. In my defense, I was most likely actively asleep on my feet at the time. J But they were quite gracious about my embarrassing face blindness, and we have all now bonded over Baja which is an experience none of us are likely to forget!

After the technicalities were handled – riders meeting, odo check, safety inspection, paperwork, pre-ride swag, the works – we were released into the wild until it was time to reconvene in the parking lot at 1:30am. We did a little interweb sleuthing, as the kids do nowadays, and found a really well reviewed little hole-in-the-wall restaurant just across the street. My first order of business, however, was to figure out why I couldn’t get my hands on some pesos after I’d reported my trip to all my credit card companies like a good little citizen. Phone calls made, problem rectified, and we decided to make the short walk to the nearest bank to see if my luck had changed. Bank one had a busted ATM… I think. My Spanish is… I’m gonna say, a work in progress. But I THINK the other customer was telling me it was busted, so I’m gonna stick with that. No problemo (see, that was Spanish right there!), we just moseyed another couple blocks to the next bank and pulled out a massive wad of cash. It’s easy to feel rich in Mexico, where right now $1US is worth about $20 pesos, especially when, with little effort, you can find a decent hotel, some good grub, and a couple full loads of fuel (including aux tank) all for under $75. Mission Primero accomplished, we couldn’t help but notice that about a block back we’d passed a Honda shop. Not one (or three) to miss a good opportunity to ogle bikes, we made that our next stop. I’d just recently learned about Italika motorcycles (engineered and built in Mexico) but there are just tons and tons of awesome small displacement bikes just crawling all over this country. A 150cc sport bike with a kick start that weighs about 18 kilos? Sign me right the heck up for that!

After we wore out our welcome at Honda (c’mon, it was like an adorable baby Africa Twin! Who WOULDN’T squeal like a little girl?), we made our way back to the restaurant we’d scoped out. They seemed to be mostly about the aguas frescas, but we ordered a mixed grill plate to share as well. A good heaping plate of meat, enough to feed three people with leftovers, plus a couple tasty fruit waters, and we were still out of there for about $10US. At this point it was about 4:40pm and I had a couple of options: I could hit the hay and potentially get a full night sleep before I had to be up at 1am, I could aim for a short nap around my normal bedtime and hope it didn’t leave me worse for the wear, or I could commit to keeping myself up for the duration. I really could have gone either way; I’m not much of a napper and it usually leaves me feeling worse than forgoing sleep all together, but I’m such a light sleeper that trying to grab just a couple hours of sleep often leaves me feeling groggy if I wasn’t feeling super tired to begin with. On paper I’d been leaning towards just staying up; from arising in San Diego to hitting the hay in La Paz, we’d only be talking about 40, maybe 42 hours max. That’s comfortably doable in my book. But with all of the excitement of the day, I was actually feeling like I might be able to grab some zzzzs. Mike & Monty hit the pool while I did some solid dozing. I was awake but relaxing again after a few hours, then down again for a couple more, but all in all I think it actually worked out great because I was able to queue up on the starting line at 1:30am feeling great and carried that with me through the ride. Mike & Monty, on the other hand, happily snoozed the morning away then made their way back to San Diego once they’d squeezed every bit of enjoyment out of the fun night out in a hotel.

Flash Forward: Awesome ride, amazing roads, fantastic people, incredible event. Two solid days of nonstop frivolity and happiness, but then you already know that because you just read Part One. So what happens after such an epic party, when one finds oneself at the distal end of a nearly 1,000 mile peninsula? One plans an epic return trip adventure, obviously. Some of the guys grabbed the ferry from La Paz to mainland Mexico; some rode back to Mexicali or Tijuana and shipped their bikes home from there; some joined Ioram and DiscoverMoto for a guided tour back up the coast. I, along with the rest of the American guys, planned to take our time and enjoy the ride home. We were heading in roughly the same direction post-rally, down towards Cabo San Lucas, but the rest of the guys were hitting the Harley shop down there for some tires and brakes while I intended to push on another hour or so to the village of Todos Santos. I don’t particularly enjoy the Disneyland-esque, sanitized touristy facades one tends to find in cruise ship ports around the world, but I also wanted to ride across the Tropic of Cancer and to the far southern tip of the peninsula. Cabo was a fine spot for a layover, I just planned to keep it brief. There were some really beautiful little communities along the way, ranging from tiny artisan colonies to busy ex-pat enclaves to the modern metropolis of Cabo. There are a few areas which I’d like to revisit, like Los Barriles; I usually like to play it a little more by ear when I travel, but I hadn’t come prepared to camp so the fact that I prefer smaller towns meant that I’d be up a creek if I hit town late and found the inn was full. Next time around I think I’ll feel a little more confident about flying by the seat of my pants.

I hit Cabo in the late afternoon and found it to be chaos. Not like enjoyable chaos, just entitled narcissistic unpleasant chaos. I looped around for maybe an hour or so trying to locate the Harley shop where I was slated to meet up with the other American riders, but it didn’t actually seem to exist in this universe. I finally sussed out that it was in a mall complex with no vehicle access, at which point I decided to pull the plug. Of all the places I traveled in Baja, 98% of it solo, including walking and riding extensively at night, the LEAST safe I felt was in Cabo during the middle of the afternoon. I just felt like I was going to park my bike in BFE and return with a $75 t-shirt to find $750 worth of stuff pilfered off my bike. Meh. Hard pass, thanks. Mind you, I base this feeling on nothing other than my personal preference for fewer people and more space, along with that general level of streets smarts which would make one leery of leaving a bike full of easily pilfered goodies sitting open and unprotected in pretty much any major city anywhere in the world. I sent the guys a message, for all the good that did since my reception seemed to have taken leave as soon as I hit the Cabo region, and I pointed myself north.

Todos Santos was definitely more my speed. I’d found a wonderful little boutique hotel for the equivalent of about $20, so I proceeded to knock the dirt off myself and set out to wander the town. I got a giant serving of incredibly fresh molcajete with all the accoutrements and a few bottles of water for about $6. I’d planned to stay a couple days in Todos Santos, so I actually had time to unload the bike and take a nice hike and check out the community the next day as well. The original plan had me meeting up with a few Asphalt Rats in Todos Santos, but they’d ended up staying in Cabo instead so I wound up riding back down to Cabo on Tuesday night to meet up with the group for dinner. In fact, I had a couple other rally riders message me who had intended to stay in Todos Santos as well, but they’d been unable to find a room and were asking me to check availability at my hotel. So while it was a bit of a bummer to miss the opportunity to more in-depth exploration of some of the little towns as they caught my eye, it was also good that I didn’t find myself a solo adventurer in a somewhat isolated town without a place to bed down.

I’d passed a sign for Tropic of Cancer on my way to Cabo the previous day, but it kind of popped up out of nowhere and didn’t have an immediate area to turn around, so I’d blown it off thinking I’d most likely have another opportunity as I crossed the Tropic again going north. No such luck. I’d mulled over the idea of riding back to the original sign, about two hours ride from my hotel and an hour beyond Cabo, then backtracking into Cabo for dinner, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care that much. I was actually having fun relaxing, checking out art galleries and back roads and local markets, and I just couldn’t be bothered to spend hours backtracking for a single picture. Maybe next time.

When I did make my way back down to Cabo, it had a different feel somehow than it had the previous day. Less frenetic, perhaps. I’d expected there to be worse traffic and general chaos given I’d arrived around what I’d guess to be rush hour, but it was quite light and generally more pleasant. Maybe it was the fact that I’d been hot, or anxious to keep rolling, or without a solid reason why I needed to be there. Maybe the full day of R&R in a sleepy village had calmed my brain. Whatever the case, I was happy to find the atmosphere a little more palatable, if still notably Disney-esque. I met up with a pretty big crew – two of the Americans, Bill and Todd (the other three – Ksolo, Reef, and David – had pushed on up the coast), plus Marco and Ellen from IBA Mexico, rally volunteer Carol, and a few established Rat Riders – for dinner at a lovely restaurant where the tables were literally set right on the sandy beach. It was very touristy, but I’m not going to lie – the food was amazing. And Bill was generous enough to cover the… well, bill, which was an incredible gesture from a cool new friend. We talked late, told lies, and those of us who didn’t have to ride back up the coast had plenty of Coronas to add to the fun. I figured I might cross paths with some of the guys again as we all ping-ponged our way north, but this turned out to be our last time hanging out of the trip. It was great fun & I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again some time soon!

American Asphalt Riders with IBA:MX family

The next day was going to be a fairly big mile ride – not Iron Butt big, but big by the measure of a fairly solid distance over slower speed roads to reach a remote village whose hotel clerk only works until 3pm, after which you need to rouse her from her home. Sounded outstanding to me, so I bid farewell to Cabo and all my friends so I could return to Todos Santos and hit the hay at a semi-reasonable hour. I was up at 5am and moving not long after, aiming to knock out my 1,040km ride by 3pm. Part of my battle plan hinged upon the fact that I would be gaining an hour by crossing time zones as I headed north; alas, it seems that adherence to time zones is as lax as pretty much everything else I’d experienced in Mexico. While Bahia de los Angeles is located quite solidly within the Pacific Time Zone, I arrived to find the town operated on Mountain Time like Baja California Sur. Or at least the hotel operated on MST. No matter; it was a lovely ride in, warm (if a bit windy) weather with stunning views, and the hotel owner was not only present but exceptionally accommodating when I did finally arrive. In fact, he gave me a free room upgrade to an oceanfront villa. I could step out my door and directly onto the sand; a few more steps and I could wiggle my toes in the topaz blue Sea of Cortez. Pretty hard to take, that kind of luck. 😉

The only downer on my ride in was a little close encounter with a very big vulture. Heck, it quite possibly could have been a condor for how big it was. It was one of those moments where I saw him swooping down from my right and I’m moving further and further towards my left, thinking, “He’s not, he’s NOT, HE’S NOT!!” But he did. Right about the same moment where I was doing evasive maneuvers into the thankfully empty oncoming traffic lane, he did a brief touch-and-go directly into my path. I braced myself for impact but we met for only a brief kiss before he presumably pooped himself a little and set off to update his will. I was fine, probably suffering the most pain simply from the act of tensing up in anticipation of impact. My windshield, however, didn’t get off quite so easily. Since the impact was glancing it didn’t break the screen itself, but the windshield had slammed to the full-down position and would no longer raise up. Given my time constraints I hadn’t taken the time to troubleshoot the problem on the road, but once I hit Bahia de los Angeles I gave it a good once over. I have limited ability to assess the windscreen motor components without major, arduous, hateful, soul-wrenching disassembly, so taking into consideration that the only other guests in the hotel complex were about 15 adventure riders from all around the western US, and in the interest of not having a bunch of cool motorcycle guys see me cry, I decided to forgo that route. Instead, I confirmed that the motor itself was operational (which is good, since it costs $750) and there was no visible damage to the brackets. With a little luck, I figured, maybe the shoulder bolts had sheared off; this would still mean an unholy amount of disassembly, but only require about $20 in parts. But in the meantime…

If I was about a foot shorter, having my windshield in the full-down position wouldn’t bother me in the least. Alas, taking a foot off the bottom wouldn’t really help in this situation and taking a foot off the top would render me no longer concerned about taking full wind blast directly in the mug as I would no longer have a mug with which to take wind blast. Having ruled out self-modification, I was left to concoct a Plan B. I still had many miles in my planned ride home, so I needed to come up with some way to wedge my screen against the spring pressure on the retention arms to hold it in the upright position. After trying and eliminating a number of options (I don’t care how uncomfortable I am, I’m not going to risk a SnapOn tool going skittering down the road even it is my only viably sized rigging option) I finally came up with a solution. I was able to wedge a 6mm allen key through the forward brace of my dash panel, then twist it around under the main windscreen bracket. This held the bracket solidly in place without impacting the windscreen material itself. It was about as Trail Fix as trail fixes come, but I tell ya what – it was impressively solid, it lasted the entire rest of my trip, it accomplished exactly what I needed to accomplish, and it was free because everything I used I had on hand. Plus I had several fun conversations with the other riders who wanted to see the crazy solo lady rider disassembling her bike in the dirt, so that’s always a good way to make new friends. I was surprisingly torched by the time the sun went down. It had been a long day of riding, so with the added excitement of the strong winds and wayward vulture, I was ready to relax. Luckily there was a great restaurant not 50 feet down the sand from my door, so I was able to have a fresh caught fish filet with salsa & veggies and make my way back to my room where I fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing right outside my door.

The next morning dawned warm and substantially less windy, and I was well-rested and ready for my day’s paltry 200km jaunt. All of my plans may seem a little haphazard on my return trip, but in addition to the aforementioned desire to have confirmed accommodations, there were a few factors at play: First, as mentioned in Part One, the orchestrator of the rally route is also the Big Queso over at DiscoverMoto Tours. As Ioram and I chatted over the weekend, he kept dropping tidbits like, “Oh, and you HAVE to go to Bahia de los Angeles! Freshest seafood on the peninsula!” Lots of places, like Todos Santos, had already been on my radar as they received glowing reviews from pretty much everyone, everywhere you go. But Ioram also kept dangling more interesting little options out there for me, even after I’d started making hotel reservations for the return trip. There was also the little factor of Leap Day. Obviously. J The Iron Butt Association was offering a special certificate for any ride executed primarily on Leap Day, and although I’d been pondering it for a few weeks I just wasn’t feeling inspired. I’ve done some pretty awesome weird fun unique big mile rides recently, so it was going to require something extra special to goad me into another certificate ride. In the pre-planning stages it had looked like I needed to be out of Baja by 2/27, which would mean an odd day of kicking around home before leaving again. Not exactly a deal killer, but setting out for a run-of-the-mill cert ride doesn’t hold the same appeal as executing something cool while I’m out in the wild. So as my week in Baja progressed and it became evident that while the 7 Day Free Tourist Card is pretty hard-and-fast on the mainland, it’s really more of a very, very lose suggestion in Baja. They actually don’t even make any provisions to get an exit stamp on your tourist card when leaving Baja by land. So this got me thinking, if I squeezed an extra day out of my Baja adventure, I could conceivably execute a really interesting cert ride that would extend into Leap Day and tick all the right boxes. So this became a critical ride planning factor as well: Setting myself up for a nice, relaxing day on 2/27 so I could depart on 2/28 and complete a ride which would take me through the day on Leap Day 2020. As convoluted as it sounds, I finally had a plan.

In order to ensure a solid computer generated receipt to document my cert ride start time, I actually opted to backtrack 200km to the town of Guerrero Negro, BCS. North of Guerrero Negro I was looking at a vast distance with little to no cell service, with a smattering of tiny towns which maybe might have one or two possible options for a decent receipt. It was too much of a gamble, to set out hoping to find a good receipt in a little town when failure to secure a good receipt would mean having to potentially ride hundreds of miles without being able to properly document them. The safer bet was to backtrack to a good sized town with multiple documentation options and plenty of interesting things for me to do and see while I waited for Go Time. I got a good night sleep in BdlA, lingered around chatting with the other riders well into the morning, and made my way down to Guerrero Negro at an impressively casual pace. I crunched some numbers and decided that my target start time would be between 2pm and 3pm Mountain Standard Time on 2/28. There were several reasons for this: First, the Leap Day ride had to see more than half of the planned ride executed on 2/29. With a 2pm departure time I was assured that no matter how my planned ride panned out, more than half of it would take place on Leap Day. Second, I hoped this would help me avoid serious congestion in the bigger cities I would encounter as I moved north and as I rode along the border back to Mexicali. Third, it would have me crossing the border back into the US close to midnight, which hopefully would mean a shorter wait at customs. I chose to return to Mexicali because it allowed me to maximize my ride distance within Mexico without leaving Baja, and also helped me avoid the perpetually clogged border crossing in Tijuana and, to a slightly lesser extent, Otay Mesa. It all looked good on paper and I had some hours to fill, so I set out on foot to explore the town.

I spent about 10 miles wandering in and out of little shops and shacks, smelling racks full of freshly baked goodies at the panaderias, seeing the whale watching boats come into the port at the end of the day, and enjoying some hiking trails through a local preserve. I was even enticed into a shoe store when I noticed a selection of Vento motorcycles prominently displayed in the middle of the sales floor. A brand new 150cc bike could be purchased for the equivalent of about $900US. I’m pretty sure I need two. I’d scoped out all of my potential dinner options, and while there were many incredible looking places with al pastor beckoning to me from it’s spit or seafood so fresh it was practically still swimming, I just found I wasn’t hungry. I passed on dinner and just enjoyed walking around the community, finally retiring to my room late in the evening.

I had plenty of time to kill the next morning too, even after it was time to relinquish my room, so I made my way to a fish taco truck which every overlander resource said was THE fish taco truck in Baja. They weren’t kidding! A fresh-off-the-boat fish taco with a full spread salsa and toppings bar set me back about $1. I meandered around shops again for a bit, looked at my watch a lot, and generally felt antsy to get on the road. Around 2:45pm local time I decided to put myself out of my misery and get the show on the road. Receipt procured, odo picture snapped, kickstands up.

Here is what my ride vision entailed: If all went perfectly I would be executing a Bun Burner Gold, which is 1500+ miles in under 24 hours. That would require the stars to align just right, because a BBG is a reasonably rigorous ride on the best of days. Add in some random sections of dirt road, half a dozen toll booths, half a dozen military and agricultural checkpoints, plus an international border crossing and things could get real fuzzy real quick. That factored in to my timing: If I had to extend the ride out to a standard Bun Burner (1500+ miles in 36 hours) I could easily do so without upsetting the Leap-Day-to-non-Leap-Day balance, whereas if I’d started my ride on the 29th any serious delays could have spelled the end of my special cert quest. Things started going sideways almost immediately. At the first military checkpoint, I got to do a full luggage teardown. No big deal – all the guys are generally very nice and professional except when they’re laughing at the skirtless hula girl on my dash – it just didn’t bode well for efficiency. Second checkpoint, same procedure (except this time they were laughing at my Zombie Rosie the Riveter). Tick, tock, tick, tock. On cert rides you need to document fuel at least every 350 miles, so I aimed for a gas station in El Rosario which had been a checkpoint in the rally. Alas, the receipt didn’t show an easily identifiable location; it had a mile marker along the Carretera Transpeninsular within the Zona Ensenada. While I was busy trying to document my exact location with GPS pictures and whatnot, I neglected to take a picture of the pump to show my fuel purchase, which was important because the receipt didn’t show the gallons purchased either. Oh, and remember the lax adherence to time zones? The time was an hour off, even if one assumed they were operating on MST in stead of PST. But this type of issue was precisely why I’d opted against planning my ride start in a small town. El Rosario actually was the other town I’d played with for a starting point, so it would have posed a much bigger issue if it was my critical start time receipt that was questionable as opposed to just a fuel receipt.

However, once I was back on the road and my mind needed something entertaining to do, I started crunching numbers again. IF the El Rosario receipt is deemed no good, I need to do something to salvage my ride. My next planned receipt wasn’t for over 300 miles and even just the next available fuel would be a good haul, so the potential was there to lose as much as ¼ of my planned ride due to funky documentation. The obvious course of action, then, would be to extend my ride in such a way that SOMETHING would be documentable regardless of how I ultimately chopped it up. I settled on adding a spur to my planned route which would put my total ride miles at over 1800 which would still allow me to tick all my boxes. As I continued north, I found myself at a long dirt construction zone which had been little more than a blip in my southerly progress. I found myself there after taking the rider’s prerogative of sailing past the eight miles of stopped vehicles and making my way up to the flagger, where I proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. No lie, I probably sat there for a solid half hour while no traffic moved in either direction. Eventually a car zipped up to the front and pulled in next to me, whereupon the passengers engaged in a heated exchange complete with grand gesticulating with the flagger who was impeding our progress. Eventually the flagger literally just threw up his hands, said something which quite clearly translated into “Fine, do whatever the hell you want” and just started waving everyone through. It was nice to be making progress once again until we started encountering oncoming traffic on the washboard marbly one-lane dirt track, but that was really more of a problem for the dual-track vehicles than it was for me. But it really begged the question, why bother delaying 8+ miles of vehicles for an indeterminate period of time if you’re ultimately willing to set us loose with little more than an eye roll and a “Good luck”? It was silly, it was fun and I’m glad I was at the front of the line.

The rest of the ride through Baja was fairly uneventful, although I was truly surprised at just how much congestion I encountered even given the late hour at which I was passing through many of these towns. Time and again I found myself impressed with the timing of the Asphalt Rats rally, where we really didn’t have to deal with any noteworthy areas of congestion. That is a really impressive feat of scheduling over so many towns and such a great distance, especially when you again consider than these mostly aren’t US Interstate type roads, but rather small two-lane highways which slog through the surface streets of big towns and tiny villages alike. My hats off to the organizers once again; 2am may seem like an odd rally start time, but the subsequent timing along the whole route just worked out perfectly. I reached Mexicali just before 1am PST on Leap Day and picked up my final Mexican “exit receipt”. This might be a good time to give you a better overview of my ride plan, because a Bun Burner Gold just isn’t interesting enough for my taste. After hemming and hawing, I’d actually decided against doing a Leap Day ride until a post-rally conversation sparked my interest. You see, as Asphalt Rats we are eligible to receive special recognition for any big mile rides completed outside of Mexico. The fact that I am from the United States doesn’t preclude me from earning this special recognition within the United States. I definitely wanted a solid chunk of my ride to take place within Mexico, but I also wanted this ride to fulfill two other criteria: travel at least 500km into another country (not skirting along the border, but actually into the interior) and travel at least 2000km within another country. With the extended spur added after my first gas receipt hiccup, my route would accomplish both goals. I had to stop just before crossing the border to obtain a receipt verifying my time and location, then again once I crossed the border to mark the start of my ride in the new country.

The two-country twist was a fun one for me, but here is another one: I hit six states and changed time zones six times. I started in Baja California Sur (MST), hit Baja California Norte (PST), crossed back into the United States in California (PST), then off to Arizona (MST), Nevada (PST), Arizona Strip and Utah (MST), the back to Nevada and finally California (PST). Talk about fun record keeping! I’d been playing with keeping certified ride records in Greenwich Mean Time recently just to help simplify complicated scenarios such as this, and I toyed with the idea of doing it on this ride as well. Ultimately though, since I was just repeatedly switching between the same two time zones, I decided to leave my bike clock in PST and note all my times in both MST and PST regardless of which time zone I was in (or in the case of Mexico, whatever random time zone they chose to observe in any given village). By the time I slogged my way across the border, made my triumphant return to the States by way of Calexico, and procured my New Country Receipt it was pushing 2am. I’d been slowly embracing the fact that a BBG would be nearly unachievable my this point; I hadn’t totally thrown in the towel, but by the time I hit Casa Grande I was about 150 miles behind BBG pace. That’s not an entirely insurmountable deficit, especially on the more predictable roads of the States, but it’s not far off. Besides, I have nothing to prove. This was supposed to be a fun ride and an interesting achievement, not a miserable chore requiring an uncomfortably high average speed. I hit Tucson and actually turned back south for about 55 miles; my original plan had me traveling really, really close to the 500km minimum, so I’d planned to head a bit south to document a more southerly point before making my final run north. Even after adding the more northern spur extension, I opted to keep the Tucson jog in place as originally planned as cheap insurance.

I aimed for my pre-selected gas station, only to find a forlorn canopy surrounded by construction fencing in an otherwise empty lot. No problem; there appeared to be another station just across the freeway. Gassed up, receipt…. Receipt?? No receipt. No problem; I’d run inside, take a quick bathroom break and grab my receipt. As an aside, I ponder how many people in the world attempt a potty break at a gas stop only to find that no restroom is available for whatever reason, and think “Well, I guess I’ll try again in 350 miles.” It’s gotta be a pretty small club, I reckon, although that is precisely how my Calexico gas stop played out. Not for the first time, I can assure you, and almost certainly not for the last time. And so I decided to make lemonade… yeah, you see where this is going. J So I made my way inside and the clerk said “That’ll take seven to 10 minutes. That pump is being really slow talking to the computer.” Holy… mother… of… So off I went to make lemonade. No receipt. Fill my snacks. Wash my faceshield. Check my windscreen pseudo-repair. No Receipt. Sigh. A second employee wandered in and had a conversation with the first regarding why this one solitary pump was causing such a ruckus. I mean, god forbid one throw up a sign saying “Use another pump if you want a receipt in a timely fashion” or, I dunno, LOAD PAPER IN THE PUMP?!?! This is truly the cause of such irrational rage across the I’ll-pee-in-350-mile set, but at this point it just became humorous. It really seemed like the cosmos were telling me to slow down and enjoy the ride, so I made the decision to do just that. Finally, eventually, arduously, the receipt was procured, odo pic snapped, kickstand up.

Another day, another 10k

I made my way north back across Tucson with the intention of avoiding rush hour traffic, not remembering that it was Saturday until I was well on my way to Phoenix. Regardless, I staged myself at a truck stop beyond the north edge of Tucson and had myself a lovely little coffee break. Stretch, scratch, warm up & watch the sunrise as I sipped. It was kind of my official release of the BBG plan and embracing of the slower Bun Burner pace. The trip to Kingman, AZ was uneventful, as was the trip through to Las Vegas, NV. I continued beyond my original planned pivot point to visit St. George, UT. This put my total ingress at more than 500 miles, or just over 800km. Confident that this part of the mission had been accomplished, I did a quick gas up and turn around for my final descent into my temporary home. One more quick jog off I-15 out to Kramer Junction, CA would give me a comfortable 32 mile buffer over my successfully executed 1,800 mile ride. It was just after 9pm when I made my final fuel stop. I’d wrapped up another recent cert ride at a local Chevron, but while the receipt was good the station itself was congested and not super motorcycle friendly. I made the last minute decision to pick a newer, bigger gas station in town, which predictably on this hilariously unpredictable ride, resulted in a terrible final receipt. One block away, CVS, new receipt, odo pics snapped, kickstand up for the final time. I received a hero’s welcome, or at least the closest thing to a hero’s welcome that a perpetually wandering soul could hope to receive: a big plate of BBQ lamb from the best local BBQ joint around. (Not as good as JRs Rhodehouse BBQ by a long shot, but still… that’s not a fair comparison, because NOTHING is as good as JRs.) I kept my eyes open long enough to eat about half my dinner before crawling into bed for a good, long, hard-earned rest.

As a post-script, my windshield trail fix was rock solid for the entire ride. If it didn’t look like a glaringly hideous black eye on the bike of a mechanic, I might have kept it. Heck, I seriously considered keeping it anyways. But my good ol’ girl has enough structural gorilla tape at this point, I need to fix the things that can be fixed. The job was no less of a nightmare than indicated above; there is simply an offensive amount of teardown required, with the worst of it being entirely my own doing what with all the farkles and nonsense added to the stock machine. I’d special ordered the windshield mount shoulder bolts with guarded optimism, figuring they’d arrive right around the time I’d returned home and fully assessed the problem. Spoiler Alert: She chose not to break in a cheap and easy way. It was a bracket sub-assembly, available only as part of the complete $750 windscreen motor assembly. So that’s a solid nope, obviously. However, having gone through the indignity of digging into the bowels of my head fairing, and being doomed to suffer the further indignity of reassembly, I refused to admit defeat and reinstall my structural allen key. A dozen phone calls later, I found a shop not far away that was able to weld aluminum and was willing to do it that day. Badda bing, badda boom, I returned home with my previously ordered OEM parts (including all new bushings for all the windshield pivots), one very tidily welded sub-bracket, and $700 that I was not forced to spend on replacing an otherwise functional motor. I replaced all the bushings, rebuilt my motor, and restored everything to fully operational condition. While I was in there, I knocked another handful of things off my Rally Prep To-Do List, which I’d been putting off doing since it is such a miserably hateful nightmare to get in there. Making lemonade, right? Odds & ends ticked off, I got her reassembled an knocked out a good 100 miles just to be sure everything was really and truly working. Goodness knows one can’t fully assess windscreen motor operation in the driveway, right?

What a wonderful ride through a couple beautiful countries! I am ecstatic to finally have earned my IBA: Mexico membership, and had a blast executing my successful-but-not-quite-as-envisioned Leap Day ride. It was such a convoluted ride, I suspect it’s going to be a while before I hear how my bid for certification pans out. In fact, I KNOW it’s going to be a while, because not one hour ago I received an email which basically said “This dumpster fire of a ride submission is going to take a while.” It’s all good; I’m patient, I’m confident I’m good for at least a Bun Burner Silver (1,500 miles in under 30 hours) or standard Bun Burner, but even if it has to get chopped down further than that for some reason, I had a ton of fun doing it. In fact I had such a blast that we’re up here furiously gearing up for our next round: Monty and I will be making a little loop to visit family and friends in CenCal before heading back down to Mexico together in the sidecar. Thanks for following along & stay tuned for more exciting updates in the near future!

~ Wendy

It’s Been A While…

It’s been a while. It’s been a while since the last time I started a blog post lamenting that it’d been a while. It’s been a while since we took a serious 180 from our travel plans in order to take part in something far more important: Helping my mom go through, and recover from, a kidney transplant. As many of you know, one of my fellow Iron Butt Rally vets was the incredible human being who had a perfectly good kidney lopped out and gave my mom the gift of a whole new life. That’s not an exaggeration; one of my mom’s dialysis nurses confided in me that my mom likely would not have lived to see another Christmas if not for the transplant. After a whole lot of nail biting and hand wringing, the transplant finally went through on December 18, 2019. Within hours my mom had the blood work of a healthy individual, and within a few weeks it was determined that she was progressing far faster than the average transplant recipient. This truly was a stellar organ donated by a stellar individual.

Making new friends wherever we go!

So that’s the recap; what about an update? We’ve been staying in the San Diego area, helping mom make it back and forth to half a dozen doctors appointments each week, a schedule which was quickly pared down due to her incredible rate of recovery. An intensive post-transplant care regimen which typically extends for three month has been scaled back to just over two. Mom is getting stronger every day and is extremely excited about building a whole new future for herself. In our free time, we’ve been working on finding adventure whenever life puts us. Between homeschooling and becoming a regular at the local library, Monty has been enjoying some of the great museums around the area. She is a big fan of Nick, our neighbor’s horse, and makes a point to bring him a carrot or an apple most days. Malarkey (or Mlark for short) has been stuck to Monty’s side like glue; he has been left in the rain, dropped in the mud, been tossed down slides and launched off swings, stuffed in squirrel holes, and generally been loved to within an inch of his precious little life. He did contract a particularly severe case of tail-biting germs a few weeks back, but Monty was extra careful to keep him tucked away so Grandma didn’t catch his germs and she was able to nurse him back to health with plenty of rest and some good power foods. We went to a wonderfully entertaining and informative presentation just down the road focusing on local raptors and reptiles, and she was the first to volunteer to have a falcon snatch a hunk of meat off her arm. That’s my kid!

In keeping with our wish to give her experiences rather than things, we’d been trying to decide how to best allocate Monty’s Christmas funds. In a stroke of inspiration (pun intended) I enrolled her is swim lessons three days per week. She absolutely loves it! She’s practically a fish already and will spend as much time in the water as possible, she has just never slowed down enough for us to impart the important tidbits required to transform wild flapping through liquid into actual swimming. It’s probably a good thing that her lesson is the last of the day because her poor teach inevitably goes away exhausted, but her exuberance is not a necessarily a bad thing. We were told that her first lesson would involve wading in the shallow end and sprinkling a little water on her head to build trust; that approach was abandoned the moment she executed a grand cannonball entrance by launching herself halfway across the pool. She counts the days between classes and has to be physically removed from the pool at the end of each session so that everyone else can go home, so all in all I think this has turned out to be a great application of Experience Over Things.

I’ve been averaging over 115 miles each week on the local hiking trails, making the most of these warm days and sunny skies. I am also super excited to be riding in an upcoming Asphalt Rats Discovermoto endurance event in Mexico in a couple weeks. I’ve been wanting to take part in an AREM ride for the past few years, but it’s tough to plan and execute a mid-winter escape from South Dakota with any level of confidence. This is going to be a 1,000-mile, 24-hour event with set checkpoints, culminating with a great party in La Paz, so if you’ve ever been interested in riding Baja and earning membership into IBA:Mexico, I definitely recommend checking it out!

Speaking of South Dakota in the middle of winter… I began to ponder. The Discovermoto will involve riding across Baja at night, a situation which would really benefit by an almost comically excessive amount of additional lumens. The FZ1s stock headlights are just so… 2001. The route involves mandatory checkpoints at gas stations, but the distance between the gas stations hovers around 250 miles. With the FZ1s fuel range maxing out right around the 200 mile mark, I would definitely be left sourcing fuel at odd intervals all across Baja. What might be better, I thought, would be some auxiliary fuel and a range in the mid-300s. Also heated gear would be great for those high mountain regions. Redundant GPS units. Lots of plush comfort upgrades, as though I were going to be living on the bike for weeks on end. You know. Like my FJR. Alas, my trusty steed was bedded down for the winter up in snowbound SoDak. Not much one could do about that.

Warm SoCal evening from the comfort of our patio.
Who needs to suffer like this when you can be out on the road, freezing your goody bits off?

Unless… Unless one has impressively minimal comfort requirements and an almost comically excessive level of risk acceptance. I started keeping an eye on the 10-day forecasts until it finally looked like I was going to have a solidly tolerable weather window. Finally, on January 28th (which I believe to be the technical date of Deep Dark Winter) I hit the jackpot. I identified The Opportunity at 7am and by noon I was hurtling across the SoCal desert, assured that things would be getting substantially worse before they got any better. The FZ1 has no provisions for powering heated gear, which is just fine because I’d brought no heated gear. Why would I? We were supposed to be enjoying balmy summer days in the Southern Hemisphere. I’d even sent most of my meager cold weather provisions back home to SD before we knew we’d be wintering in California, so my best defense against the elements involved 7 layers up top and 4 layers on the bottom. And my trademark fingerless gloves. Don’t judge me.

Critical road trip elements in place…

The plan was simple: Jam up to South Dakota in one shot, ducking south below one snow storm and dancing east just ahead of another, arriving frozen but dry. Perform a little mid-winter/pre-season service on the FJR, then depart in the anticipated and unseasonably warm mid-60s temps, arriving back in San Diego just ahead of the impressive blizzard conditions projected to be blanketing roughly 2/3 of the country by trips end. I labeled my Spotwalla “SD>SD>SD Insanity”. It wasn’t going to be a pleasure cruise, but with just a little luck I’d be able to pull it off. I was traveling light: I carried only the layers I planned to wear (consisting of nearly every article of clothing I had with me in San Diego, along with a few graciously donated by my mom) and a small bag of things to jettison in SoDak. The sun was far past the horizon by the time I crossed the middle of Arizona, so I stopped to don the few remaining layers I’d packed away. By the time I hit Albuquerque, I was staring down dry roads and plummeting mercury. I finally acquiesced to the siren song of full-fingered gloves ahead of Santa Fe, where I saw temps hovering around 12*F before windchill. I seriously thought about pulling the plug and getting a motel room, but the timing was just too tight. If I stopped for more than a couple hours I would be in the direct path of the oncoming snowstorm. Even if I stopped for only a couple hours, I would be too far outside of the Black Hills before night fell on Wednesday, leaving me mired down in a dangerously icy storm in sub-freezing temps. In other words, stopping for one night would mean I’d be stuck for at least two, possibly more. I would rather deal with cold but dry, I decided, so I soldiered on.

It seemed like a reasonable idea on paper.

By the time I hit Raton, I was in need of some serious thawing out. I did something I rarely do on a road trip, which is eat a real breakfast. I was the only customer in the Denny’s ahead of sunrise and as I dragged myself into a booth, too cold to remove even my jacket, I was treated to a wall of gaping stares which practically spelled out “W. T. A. F…” I nursed a nice sizzling veggie skillet – enough to warm me up without dragging me down – and more than a few good, hot cups of decaf. Decaf because I saw no sense in condemning myself to hourly bathroom breaks, since my frozen fingers sure as heck weren’t up to the task of rapidly extricating me from many cumbersome layers of gear in any sort of hurry. Warm was good enough for me. Reaching around the table, even after sitting in a warm restaurant for over an hour, I could feel noticeably frigid tendrils of trapped air puffing out of my coat. When the time finally came to saddle up, the FZ1 was sporting a solid layer of heavy frost. Sigh. It was going to get worse before it got better.

Aw, c’mon… It wasn’t THAT cold…

From Raton things were actually fairly tolerable for a while. The temps crept up into the mid-30s as I peeled off onto smaller back roads, allowing me to relax into the ride a little more. It was just shy of the Nebraska border when the slushy sleet started to fall. The last 300 miles of my 1,700 mile route were all wet, windy, salty and generally less-than-ideal. Three hundred miles of head shakes, double-takes, and looks of mixed astonishment and pity as I made my final decent into Rapid City. I hadn’t seen another motorcycle since western Arizona, and I’m pretty sure nobody else up there had seen a bike on the road in months. The amount of road salt and general mung I uncovered in my MotoJug at the end of this leg of the ride actually made me incredibly grateful that it was just too darn cold to worry about proper hydration.

<shudder>

I had indulged visions of soaking for hours in a near-molten bath, alternately sipping hot soup and a hot tottie until my core temperature once again approached that of the living. Unfortunately I had a to-do list as long as my arm and a very limited amount of time to accomplish it all if I hoped to hit that predicted glorious weather on my way out of town. Stuff to shuffle into and out of our storage facility, not the least of which included every bit of heated gear I own. If you’ll recall, back in October my FJR and I wrapped up a trip to Ohio one afternoon and the FZ1 and I departed for Nevada the next, leaving me no time to properly assess or prep the FJR for this scenario, even if I had anticipated a mid-winter retrieval. This being the case, I’d asked my buddy Eric to lay eyeballs on the FJR for me so I could have any and all required service parts ordered in and awaiting my arrival. I was already aware of a small water pump leak following the Iron Butt Rally, so I’d ordered in everything to do that job back in October so they’d be waiting for me when we returned home. There had been several items on backorder for months, so it was just a stroke of luck that the full parts order had been delivered just a few weeks ago. It was just a minor leak, but with all the parts in hand, smart money was on doing the repair now, at home, while I had resources at my disposal, rather than waiting until Minor inevitably became Major on the side of some desolate highway.

RIP, impeller. You have served me well.

I’d left SoCal mid-day Tuesday and arrived in SoDak on Wednesday evening. The following two days were a flurry of fine mechanical work in an unheated carport with temps stubbornly refusing to leave the 30s; my long-enduring 265,000-mile water pump was rebuilt without incident; engine & final drive oils changed; installation of a new battery and correction of niggling electrical accessory issues; delivering fancy beers to one buddy for bike eyeballing services rendered and introducing another the world’s best smoked short ribs. (Seriously, if you EVER have a chance to hit JR’s Rhodehouse BBQ in Black Hawk, SD, DO IT! And by “a chance” I mean if you’re passing anywhere closer than Chicago, DO IT! If you like meat, trust me when I say you won’t be disappointed.) I also had to source a couple obscure cables which had gone missing from my long-disregarding heated gloves because, although I’m a fingerless kinda girl, I was forced that concede that if kept it up much longer I was going to be a literally fingerless girl. With an incredible stroke of luck, the cable I needed happened to match a style used by Harley Davidson brand gear in 2004. What were the odds? It was with great enthusiasm and a bit of lingering numbness in my phalanges that I purchased the two required cables, cables whose battered packages told the tale of dozens upon dozens of hopeful unstaplings followed by unceremonious returns to their distant corner of the peg wall. Trophies in hand, the chores continued: Tax paperwork gathered, downloaded, copied, collated. Annual physical because, hey – as long as I’m this close to my regular doc, I may as well. Ensuring that tools and service items packed for the FZ1 were exchanged for those required for the FJR. Tires inflated, fresh TPMS batteries installed, test ride, and ready to rock.

World’s Best Meat Lollipop: No sides or utensils required.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, as my slushy synapses began to regain full firepower, I started mulling over how close I was to the Canadian border. I was in a state that is touching a state that is touching Canada. By that standard, I was practically already in the Great White North. I would be returning to my home-away-from-home within spitting distance of Mexico, and with the unseasonably warm weather being predicted… Hmmm… An Iron Butt Border-to-Border ride on an impressively inefficient route in the middle of winter would be an entertainingly absurd way to approach my return trip. Why not? I did some poking around in my free time, but I just couldn’t quite make it work. I would still have to plan around a very tight weather window if I hoped for a clean escape. The nearest Canadian border crossing had very limited operating hours in the winter and the town closest to the border offered very little hope of sourcing the requisite witnesses and computer-generated starting receipt. The nearest 24-hour border crossing was just far enough in the wrong direction to render an already difficult ride attempt into something that would be darn near impossible. I wasn’t on a mission specifically to execute a B2B, after all; I’d just been hoping to shoehorn a B2B somewhere into my existing ride plans. Not to be deterred, a new idea was concocted which was arguably just as silly, twice as fun, and substantially warmer. I’m not quite ready to divulge the details just yet, but it was executed successfully as envisioned and is likely just the start of a series of related endeavors.

Thank you, road-weary FZ1. You have served me well.

Ah, the FJR. Like an old glove, she is just the perfect fit. What an incredible feeling to be reunited with my great old friend. After 1,700 sub-freezing, naked-bike miles, my ginormous V-Stream windscreen was like heaven. After four months with a cable-clutch bike as my only form of transportation, a hydraulic clutch made me feel like She-Ra. Feeling the joy of full stereo audio at a reasonable volume. Wired for heated gear and big miles and maximum comfort. Just… perfect. Ready for anything. I departed Rapid City on Saturday morning, lamenting that the high 60-degree weather had not quite materialized but grateful for the relatively tolerable temps in the low 50s. I was going to be staging my certified ride out of Colorado Springs and I’d looked at a few possible routes for getting from here to there. One path looked compelling simply because I didn’t already know it like the back of my hand, but it included a good $20 in toll roads. Nah, pass. That left I-25 down through Wyoming or essentially retracing the path I’d taken into town three days earlier. Facing the potential for icy, twisty mountain roads and other non-moto-friendly conditions, I opted for the devil I knew and pointed myself due south across Nebraska. I began regretting the choice less than 40 miles out of town when ferocious winds made the ride difficult and dangerous, even on my most faithful steed. It didn’t subside until well into Colorado, but it turned out that the winds along I-25 and I-80 were violent enough to flip quite a few tractor trailers, so all things considered I think I fared pretty well.

Totally worth it.

Sunday in Colorado Springs finally hit the low 70s, the glorious t-shirt weather rendering the ride up an oddly distant memory. I didn’t leave right away though, instead enjoying a relaxing afternoon in the warm sun before finally departing for points south later that evening. Two days later, Colorado Springs was several degrees below zero. Many schools and roads saw closures in my wake. Even El Paso saw 2” of snow just after I passed through. Yet somehow, I arrived back in San Diego after what turned our to be a relatively pleasant ride. My careful choreography allowed me to scoot south and west around the encroaching storm. Even the small but apparently unavoidable patch of rain didn’t amount to any noteworthy discomfort. A bit of a sandstorm around Imperial Dunes, heated gear optimistically removed at 60 degrees only to have temps dip back down to the 30s; really nothing out of the ordinary. A gloriously uneventful end to a ridiculously entertaining 3,700-mile winter bike swap.

Best seat in the house 🙂

With that out of the way, what’s next? My immediate future, now that I’ve regained the requisite dexterity in my fingers, involves a valve inspection on the FJR and, after winding up with a crankcase full of gas, tearing into the carbs on the Bandit. I’m just a couple weeks away from the Asphalt Rats Discovermoto Rally, and you could be too if you head on over to their website and sign up now!

Hands down, the most adorable way to lose tools.

The irony is not lost on me that I just rode the FZ1 1,700+ miles through the night with stock headlights, battered by freezing sleet in less-than-appropriate gear, and battling frustratingly lackluster fuel range across large expanses with limited gas, with the express goal of not having to spend 1,000 miles riding through the night with stock headlights, facing cold weather without appropriate winter gear, or struggling with lackluster fuel range. It made perfect sense on paper. We are helping mom come up with a game plan for her new life, likely to involve lots of travel, adventure, catching up with old friends and making new ones. We are still regrouping to see what our post-SoCal ride is going to entail. We’re tossing around the idea of exploring Central America, but we’ll see how our timeline and budget looks by the time all is said and done. In the meantime, no matter what happens, we’ll continue to tackle life’s hurdles and surprises head-on and seek adventure wherever we find ourselves.

Yes indeed. What fun is it to do things the easy way?

-Wendy

Where are we now?

It’s been a month since our last update, and it’s been quite the interesting ride. In summary, we’re still in Southern California. It’s interesting, sitting here two months into our projected travel window and nowhere near where we envisioned ourselves being. A year ago I sat writing blog posts pondering how people managed to embark on protracted journeys, how “they” – all these smiling adventurers we see on our computer screens – put their real lives on pause and plan, fund, and execute their meanderings. The more entrenched we are in living The Script, the more difficult it becomes to pry ourselves away and take on something incredible. Sometimes though, it’s not sticking to The Script that throws a wrench in the adventure activation plan, but those wildly unpredictable plot twists that keep you on your toes.

We knew we were going to have a bit of a layover in California for a few reasons. Of course, we had a ton of friends and family to visit back in our old stomping grounds. Mike had some work obligations in Hollywood, and I was finally able to make it to the famous annual NoPolio fundraiser event in Folsom. Montessa turned 5 in October and we’ve been encouraging friends and family to think “experiences” rather than “things” when giving gifts, especially since we have an extremely finite amount of space in the sidecar for things. And what experience is more SoCal for a 5 year old girl than Disneyland? Yes, we did it. We bit the bullet and took our fearless, princess-obsessed daughter, along with her two favorite people in the world – her cousins – to Disneyland for a day. We kept our plans secret from Monty, so right up until we arrived at the front entrance to the park, she thought we were just giving her cousins a ride home. We hit the park on a weekday in the off-season, so it actually was a fairly pleasant experience for everyone. Talk about polar extremes of trip experiences: from bare-bones, basic-necessities-only to the epitome of material excess. Thank you to everyone who pitched in to give Monty an amazing day that will stick with her for years to come.

How to know when you’ve had a successful day at Disneyland

But Disneyland is just a single day out of the six weeks that we’ve been milling about the region. Subtract time for hiking, visiting, speaking, wandering, working, and so on, and we still have a good few weeks of travel time to account for. It’s not especially glamorous, but we have been spending most of that time helping my parents get ready for a big move. They’ve lived in their giant house for 20 years, but life has dictated that it’s time to downsize. They have many years of accumulated things to sort, pack, sell, donate, toss, and otherwise process. We’ve all been there. When we moved from Kernville to South Dakota, we were leaving a house we’d lived in for 14 years as well as paring down and packing up a business we’d operated for nearly as long. We can handle the logistics and manpower of moving, which is especially important because my mom’s health prevents her from contributing significantly in the manpower department.

Cousins: Best kind of manpower, best kind of buddies!

As many of you know, my mom’s kidneys failed a few years ago and she has been struggling to maintain on dialysis. To add injury to insult, a recent fall resulted in three broken vertebrae and even further diminished her ability to even exist comfortably, let alone function normally day-to-day. We don’t have any viable kidney donors in our immediate family, so while she has been on the National Donor Registry our real hope has been to find a living donor. We’ve had an amazing number of selfless individuals come forward for testing – many have reached out to me, and I’m sure there are many who have gone through the process anonymously – all of whom are heroes of the highest order in my book. To be willing to give away an organ for a relative stranger, even to be willing to go through the lengthy and sometimes arduous matching process, knowing the odds of a match are slim; it’s hard to put that kind of selflessness into words. And from one of those indescribably selfless individuals, we have received some unexpectedly incredible news: A match. An “ideal match” according to the test results, a perfect kidney. The gift of life. My mind is swirling, especially having watched my mom suffer and deteriorate over the past few years. Needless to say, Mom is absolutely over the moon. It tentatively looks like mid-December might be the transplant date, the beginning of her road to recovery.

So this brings me back to a year ago, pondering how people manage to release themselves from the “real” lives and take their personal show on the road. The answer I’ve found is, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes “real” life, the people you love and the exceptional situations that present themselves, must take precedent. There are very few things that are important enough to send us on a detour from our planned adventure, but you only have one mom. I feel lucky to be in a position to help, lucky to be able to support her in this life-changing circumstance. And so we put our adventure life on hold temporarily while we navigate this fantastic (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime situation. The great part of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants travel is that we’re not actually giving up anything, we’re not missing anything, we’re just open to life’s road and seeing what happens next. If that means our travels only take us through Central America on this round, so be it. We will make another opportunity to travel further south and when that time comes, with a little luck, my mom will be the first person to warn us that we’re going to be eaten by headhunters. Love you Mom!

-Wendy

Know When to Fold ’em

It would be so easy to undertake this trip in a van. We could easily carry everything we needed to be comfortable and self-sufficient. We would have fewer concerns about safety and security on the road, especially when we’re off on an adventure away from the vehicle. We could easily sleep in a van when we’ve found that amazingly perfect spot, but it’s too cold or wet to bother with a tent. We could charge all of the gadgets and doo-dads we’d need to keep us entertained and on our pre-determined path. Cruising in climate-controlled luxury. Best of all, overlander rigs are a dime a dozen all across South America. We could pick any destination we fancy, and I guarantee that within a week we’d be the proud new owners of an appropriate vehicle that fits our budget. Absolutely no international vehicle shipping required. Maybe… maybe just a nice little van…

Photo by Mikel Ibarluzea on Unsplash

But you know what else comes with a cage? Insulation. Isolation. You don’t really smell the ocean spray or the freshly cut fields. You don’t feel the rain or the warmth of the sun. You pass over the road as a means to an end, instead of really experiencing the road as an integral part of your journey. You close yourself off, intentionally and unintentionally, to interactions with other people. Simply being in an enclosed vehicle, especially as a family unit, makes people less inclined to approach you. As a result, you’re less likely to hear about that incredible road-less-traveled, that little gem that only the locals know about. But possibly the most critical thing missing from a caged journey? The community. There is simply nothing in the world like the motorcycle community. I can’t imagine taking a trip of this magnitude without the motorcycle community being an integral part of it, both because of how important it is to me and because I want Monty to fully experience it for herself. This is truly the best community in the world.

Case in point: My last blog post. I was (am) at my wits end trying to come up with a shipping option for getting the sidecar rig (at bare minimum) to South America. I ran through the full-picture drama in that post, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that nobody really wants to deal with vehicle export from the USA. We make life difficult, apparently, and nobody wants to willingly subject themselves to that. Cue the Amazing Motorcycle Community! Within hours of that blog going live, I had literally dozens of messages from friends and followers offering help and suggestions. Some provided contact information for freight forwarders or transport services that they had used. Others offered to put me in touch with contacts in other regions – friends, business associates, experienced travelers – who might be able to help. Still others offered up ideas for approaches that I might not have thought of. That’s why I love this community! Even though I’m not sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire, riders saw another rider in need of assistance and jumped right in.

So through the power of love and brotherhood, we solved our transport troubles and are excitedly planning all the other aspects of our journey, right? Um… not so fast. Turns out I didn’t just have a flat tire, I had a massive blowout with no tire shops in sight. I submitted for a bunch of quotes to fly the bikes between North and South America, based on recommendations of friends and fellow travelers (albeit from transactions that happened a number of years ago); I received a New Record High Quote of $8,000 to fly both bikes from Los Angeles to Chile. No problem; we’re just as happy to ride up to Canada and fly down from there. Canada on the whole is far more amenable to facilitating (or at least not impeding) international vehicle transport, and we do love the heck out of Canada. Air Canada doesn’t have any routes into South America on their Fly Your Bike program, but they can still fly motorcycles as regular cargo. I approached them for information and, not to be outdone, they quickly provided me with a New Record High Quote of $9,600 to fly both bikes from Toronto to Bogota. We’re Number One! (sigh.) It seems the harder I work, the more research I do to make sure I’m providing all the right information in the right way, the higher the price tag is getting.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

It’s time to come at this from a different angle, so we’re mulling over a number of different options. The US is a bust and Canada doesn’t seem to be any cheaper. Or at least, it’s not cheaper to South America. Just for interest sake I also asked Air Canada to quote transport to Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow IS on the Fly Your Bike program and we also have family in Scotland. Turns out we could get both bikes to Europe for under $2,500 out the door. At that rate, it would be substantially cheaper to fly the bikes to Scotland, explore for a while, then ship from Europe back to South America. At least then we’d get some cool adventure for our money rather than just tossing $10k directly down the drain. Another possibility would be to go South to fly South. We could ride down through Mexico and fly out of Mexico City or Merida, or possibly ship out of Cancun. Mike isn’t nearly as apprehensive about riding Baja California (or as he called it, Southern Southern California), and from there it’s an easy ferry ride across the Sea of Cortez then a quick zip across mainland Mexico. Piece of cake, right? Maybe?

Then again, if we’ve already broken that Central America seal, why not just keep going? There are two reasons why we were not planning to ride through Central America: First, Mike didn’t feel like it was safe. It took me so long to talk him into South America that Central America was a concession I was more than willing to make. So what has changed? Believe it or not, Mike was actually the one to suggest riding down through Mexico and shipping from there. I think he’s actually getting pretty enthusiastic about this trip, and doesn’t want to see it derailed before it starts. He’s willing to make some concessions to make it happen. I gently presented to idea of the yacht cruise and he said “Why the heck aren’t we doing that?!?!” Because that option requires us to get ourselves to Panama. “Well,” he replied, “you talked me into South America.” A little glimmer of hope, perhaps? I think maybe the myriad of travelers saying “My only regret about Central America was not having more time to enjoy it” just might be starting to sway his opinion a tiny bit.

The second consideration was that, at the time, it seemed to be nearly the same price to ship from the US to South America as it was to ship around the Darien Gap. Once you’re in Panama, they know they have you over the tourist barrel. There is really no reasonable away around The Gap aside from shipping or flying; you can easily get sucked into a mire of surprise fees, shipping delays, paperwork struggles, bribe attempts, and language barriers. And once again, the sidecar really throws a wrench in the works. It’s definitely a lot harder to just show up and hope to sneak in on a shipment with the sidecar, especially based on the number of “We don’t handle sidecar” replies I’ve received on transport inquiries. It just seemed so much easier to handle everything in the US and arrive in South America ready to roll. But that was before, and this is now.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

To recap, what are some of the options around The Gap? We could fly, which is the fastest and typically has the fewest surprises. We could share a container, which is the cheapest but also the slowest, with the highest probability for delays and added costs. There are any number of countries and ports/airports where we could depart from, depending on how far we wanted to ride. Travelers often report flying their bike and themselves from Central America to Colombia for around $1,000, but then again I’ve heard people say they got an entire container out of the US for $2,600, so I’m taking all these numbers with a big ol’ grain of salt.

And there is another option around the Darien Gap: Yacht cruise. No, I’m not joking. Sailing along with your bike on an island-hopping vacation-within-a-vacation is actually a very popular choice for motorcycle travelers. They load up you and your bike, feed you glorious meals, stop for snorkeling around little desert islands, and deliver you fat, relaxed and happy to the port in Columbia. Depending on which company you select, either all or most of the fees and expenses are included in the price of the trip. It’s not nearly the cheapest option, but at $3,300 for an all-inclusive four-day cruise for three people and two bikes, it’s not nearly our most expensive option either. (That $10k quote for Air Canada is going to be hard to top.) The down side is that our travel schedule had put us in the area of Uruguay in early October. If we’re just hitting Central America in October, we’ll be arriving right in time for hurricane season. A lot of the ships start rolling in their sails at that time, so we’d either have to leave home much earlier than planned or come up with a different option.

So, yeah. We’re still at an impasse. We’re not paying $8,000 to get our bikes to South America. I wouldn’t be thrilled about paying half that. I would sooner pay $2,500 to ship the sidecar, then just buy a second bike down there. I gave a good overview of that option in the last blog too, so if you haven’t read that one yet, head over there to see all the pros and cons of buying down there. What happens if we can’t come up with any palatable options? Then plans need to change. Europe is an possibility that neither of us are opposed to, but the cost of traveling around Europe will definitely shorten the duration of our adventure. Asia is a possibility too; Mike has traveled around Thailand, but I’ve never been to Asia. Or what about… staying a little closer to home?

A big wrench in the works is if we stay anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, with an October departure date, winter will be upon us. This past October we had some solid weeks of freezing rain in South Dakota. We’d have to head south pretty quickly, and that’s assuming that the weather treats us well for our departure plans. If we’re leaving from the US and heading south through Mexico and Central America, we should be in good shape weather-wise (assuming we can dodge any hurricanes.) So what if we were to explore around Central America through spring, then head back north to explore Canada and the US? I know I said that we didn’t need a year to explore North America because it is so more accessible than South America; when I said that, I didn’t realize that South America was virtually impenetrable from here. It is also much more expensive to embark on extended travel around North America, but by avoiding expensive shipping we will have that much more to spend. I would be extremely disappointed to give up on my South American dreams (for the time being) but I don’t want to entirely miss out on the opportunity to travel before Monty starts school. I also don’t want to tank our family financially by plowing ahead with a “nothing money can’t fix” attitude.

Photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash

I sent out some new quote requests today. I still have a few friends putting out feelers for us. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling pretty defeated. Persistence, in this case, only seems to be making things worse for both my stress levels and shipping quotes. Pending receipt of these last few quotes, I’ve pretty well exhausted all my resources. While I was writing this, I received an email from my last yacht-cruise option with the news that they don’t accommodate sidecars. I’d happily buy a couple cheap bikes in South America if finding a sidecar was a reasonable expectation. I’ve done my due diligence and come back with nil. So what does the future hold for Third Wheel Adventures? Only time will tell…

-Wendy

One step forward…

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash

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

Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

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

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

-Wendy

Interview: Adventure Kid!

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

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

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

W: What are you most excited about?

M: Spending time with you and daddy.

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

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

W: What other kinds of things?

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

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

M: No, just weird.

W: What’s going to be weird?

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

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

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

W: What about birds?

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

W: What kinds of birds?

M: Animal birds.

W: Like maybe flamingos?

M: Uh-huh. And giraffes.

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

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

M: Yes!

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

M: Being with my family.

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

M: Uh-huh.

W: Why?

M: Because it’s so cool!

W: How are your Spanish lessons coming?

M: Good.

W: Can you tell me something in Spanish?

M: Hola! Soy Montessa!

W: Hola Montessa! Soy Wendy.

M: Hola Wendy! Buenos noches!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time is on My Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Wendy

From Mike

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

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

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

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

-Mike

Courtesy of Kelly Imthestuntgoat Pankey

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

-Wendy

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

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

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