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.


Critical Fuel

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

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

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

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

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

The Perfect Bike for the Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Must-Have Road Nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


These are a few of our favorite things…

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

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

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

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

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

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