Montessa is getting really amped up about everything having to do with our trip. She loves looking at pictures of South America, pouring over maps, and working on her Spanish. She also loves pitching in on our blog content. Unfortunately her passion for storytelling surpasses her ability to transcribe those tales in a format that is understandable by… well, pretty much anyone. But she sure does love pulling up a blank Word document and pounding away on the ol’ keyboard. Which, now that I think about it, really describes my creative process as well. Anyhow, Montessa was very clear that she wanted to write her OWN interview, so I let her write her answers on the laptop while I translated for her on the desktop. Here it is: Montessa’s very first Adventure Kid interview!
Wendy: How do you feel about our trip to South America?
Montessa: Happy about seeing new people and being with you and daddy.
W: What are you most excited about?
M: Spending time with you and daddy.
W: Are you looking forward to seeing or doing certain things?
M: Swimming and going to new hotels. And swimming at new swim places. Making sure everyone stays with me that I love, and visiting people in their society. (I have no idea where she picked that up!) There are more things that I want to do than staying in a hotel too.
W: What other kinds of things?
M: Making sure our pets are having a fun time at home, and also swimming in new swim places. (I’m sensing a theme…)
W: Do you think anything will be weird or scary?
M: No, just weird.
W: What’s going to be weird?
M: Spending time with you. (Can’t argue with that.)
W: What kinds of animals do you think we’ll see down there?
M: Elephants, giraffes, monkeys and little-sized elephants.
W: What about birds?
M: Yes, birds and elephants. (I’ve never mentioned seeing elephants in South America, yet I feel like we’re somehow setting her up for disappointment with regards to our anticipated interactions with animals…)
W: What kinds of birds?
M: Animal birds.
W: Like maybe flamingos?
M: Uh-huh. And giraffes.
W: Are you excited about doing so much sidecar riding?
W: What do you like most about riding in the sidecar?
M: Being with my family.
W: Do you like it better than riding in the car?
M: Because it’s so cool!
W: How are your Spanish lessons coming?
W: Can you tell me something in Spanish?
M: Hola! Soy Montessa!
W: Hola Montessa! Soy Wendy.
M: Hola Wendy! Buenos noches!
W: Muy bien mi hija! Do you have anything else to share about South America?
M: I want to ride on an airplane because we can sleep on an airplane (definitely her dad’s kid.)
W: What about camping? Are you excited about camping?
M: Uh-huh, because we can camp any place that’s beautiful.
W: What do you want to say to all the people who are reading your story?
M: Good main and I hope you have a good season!
I did confirm (twice) that she said “Good main.” I don’t know what that means. Let’s just all start using that and make it mean something awesome. So there you have it, folks – Montessa’s first South American interview! Good Main y’all!
*2019 Intro: Our 2005 Arctic Circle adventure started with one of the biggest adventures of all – The Big Hitchin’! This is a picture-heavy affair, so for the most part I will forgo my standard long-winded narrations and stick to the original photo-plus-caption arrangement. (You’re welcome.) It’s hard to believe that, way back in the day, we used to compress pictures on purpose so websites wouldn’t take 9,000 hours to load on the ol’ dial-up connection. I dug up the High Res on some of these, but… you know. A girl’s gotta have a life outside blog maintenance and picture procurement. Right? <crickets>
*2019: The last 14 years haven’t all been roses and unicorns, but I will say one thing: I have stayed true to myself and the promise I made that day. This was, in fact, the very last time I’ve worn a dress. As opposed to my promise not to be verbose in the post, which I backpedaled on literally in the third content block. Hey, at least I follow through on the really important stuff.
*2019 Pro Tip: Pick an awesome wedding date. You only get married once, but your anniversary is every year. When you pick a date that has special personal meaning for you as a couple, it makes it easier for you to remember. In our case, we picked 7-11 because Mike likes hotdogs and slushies. Not only have neither of us ever forgotten The Big Date, but pretty much everyone else remembers our anniversary too. Bonus: It just so happened that 7-11 fell on a Tuesday. We could invite 794 people so that no one felt slighted, but only like 50 could make it because Tuesday. Toss in a blessedly brief ceremony and a double dose of BBQ, and that’s how you have the perfect hitchin’. Oh, and cake. Gotta have cake. And motorcycles. Anyways, now it’s time for that honeymoon I promised you!
Mike shows off his slightly scuffed elbow and slightly scuffed bike. We figured one of us would crash at some point, but on the first day? What an over-achiever! (We got stuck in a complete freeway shutdown in Central California after someone lost a boat off a trailer. We were pealing off gear as we languished in triple-digit heat on the blacktop, but after we drank all our water we were just getting cooked. We tried to lane split, which is legal, but angry cagers were deliberately blocking our path. We ended up going down the shoulder, still dodging cars trying to cut us off, and made it to the next freeway exit. As we were turning off the freeway offramp and into a gas station, the heat got the better of Mike and he just tipped over at low speeds. We got his bike up, packed ourselves with ice, and spent some time recovering while actively stink-eyeing every single cage that we saw.)
This evil repugnant goopy spawn of Satan somehow managed to slurp it’s disgusting way into our zipped-shut tent while we slept, and I woke up just as it was preparing to attack by oozing onto my pillow and towards my face. For some reason, Mike didn’t seem to think this brush with death constituted a legitimate reason to wake him up at 6am. Sure, he says that now, but he’d be singing a different tune if this undulating glop ball had gotten to him…
We were having fun on the Hell’s Gate air tram, air sickness aside. (Or would that be tram sickness?) but then disaster stuck. Seriously, I think the guy taking these pictures pulled a muscle while laughing.
Here’s the real tram. Those Philistines wouldn’t let us stage the “Falling Out Of The Air Tram” picture on this one. The nerve of them, to quash our creative freedoms. Well, that’s Canada for you, amirite?
There are dozens of amazing waterfalls along Highway 37A outside of Hyder. The area around Hyder is the world’s largest temperate rain forest. Just look at these pictures – it’s like Hawaii with snow! It rained the whole time, but the lush landscape made it worth it.
Wha..?!? Is that an abandoned ice cream truck?!? In Hyder, Alaska? Why, they only get an average of 48 feet of snow each season (which lasts from September to May). Boy, who ever could have predicted that that little venture would have failed? You just never can tell in business…
Yes, you’re reading that right. We stayed at the Border Bandit Discount Store/Bed & Breakfast. And by “discount store”, they mean “Purveyor of Cigarettes, Ammo, and Radical Right-Wing Bumper Stickers.” It was well worth it, just to say we did.
No, we weren’t lucky enough to see the Northern Lights. We had 24 hours of daylight, which was helpful because it allowed us to see in much greater detail the massive swarms of mosquitoes when they tried to attack us at 3am.
A beautiful mountain lake off Highway 37, immediately before the road disintegrated into a couple hundred miles of poorly grated dirt “roads” and long sections of decades-old construction sites. It is a ton of fun, as long as you’re prepared for it. And not riding an overloaded sport-touring bike.
This picture, and all of the following pictures, are of Boya Lake, British Columbia. It is a glacial lake, and was absolutely stunningly beautiful. We had never seen water so clear. You could see all the way to the bottom of the lake, and see fish swimming 50 feet from the shore.
This mountain lake is just breathtaking, although the water had to be just above freezing. I swear we saw ice cubes bobbing in the distance. I thought I was going to lose fingers when I rinsed my hands off in the lake, yet kids were swimming in it well after midnight! I guess if you’re from Canada, you take summer where you can get it… We asked if it was cold, but we couldn’t understand them over the chattering of teeth. I imagine it’s hard to convince your kids to call it a day when it never gets dark.
The water was so perfectly still, it was like looking at a gradually changing painting. What an incredible place to stop for the night! Our campsite was right on the water. Imagine how hard it was to focus on setting up camp!! Even our much-savored evening meal was punctuated with frequent picture breaks. You can see why!
And with an incredibly fiery sunset (at about midnight), we wrapped up our photo session and hit the hay. I don’t think it ever got dark; every time I woke up, it was still light out. (That light was comforting when the bear went through our camp and brushed up against the tent in the middle of the night.)
We had a lot of fun in Dawson City. We spent several enjoyable days here (some not of our own free will, but more on that later). If you ever make it, have the fish and chips at Sourdough Joes. It was some of the best eats on our whole trip – the fried salmon was yummy, but the fresh local cod was to die for!
Main Street, Dawson City, Almost midnight. We were just leaving Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall and Burlesque Show. It would have been a lot more entertaining if we were the 70-year-old men the shows were geared towards, but it was fun none the less. The hall itself, as with a lot of the town, has been preserved from the gold rush days.
*2019: This seems like a good spot to wrap up for the week. I’m not going to cram a month-long adventure into one post, after all. Start working on your shale-riding skills and pack some DEET, because next week we’ll be heading up the Dempster Highway. We’ll hit the Arctic Circle, but that’s only be part way to our ultimate destination. See you next week!
I was geared up, in the zone, and everything was going great. Perfect weather, fantastic roads, no traffic – in other words, it was a dream ride. I was flawlessly executing my winning rally plan, picking off one bonus stop after another and feeling on top of the world. It had been a long day and now, with the moon as my only company, I was fully relaxed into the zen of the road. I pulled up at another high value bonus location, snapped my picture, noted my time and… was there something else? It seemed like there should be something else. I decided to flip through my rally book and double check the bonus requirements, just to be safe. I nailed the picture, no question there. Time: Done. Mileage: … Mileage? Mileage?!? Oh. Crap. Oh, crap crap crap. I started furiously flipping back through my bonus log. I didn’t have mileage noted for ANY of my bonus stops! How could I be so stupid?!? Could I recreate this information using my current mileage and my starting mileage? How long would that take? Should I just press on to the finish line and try to fix it before I hit the scoring table? Where else had I screwed up? How could I make such an epic rookie mistake?!? Heck, this wasn’t even a rookie mistake; this was a straight up nightmare!
I woke up in a cold sweat to find Monty poking me and asking if I was alright. Apparently I’d woken her up when I was yelling in my sleep. Whoa… Rally nightmares are the things of legend and I’ve certainly had my share, but it’s been a while since I’ve experienced one so visceral. Could it be the cumulative strain of work, family, and Iron Butt Rally planning on top of orchestrating this epic life-altering adventure? Nah, don’t be silly.
When we celebrated the turn of 2019, I felt good. Solid. I had things under control. We had darn near a full year to fine-tune our plans, but honestly we could easily be ready in half that time. All the pieces were really falling into place and, aside from nailing down some details, we could be ready to take off any time.
Flash forward four weeks: FEBRUARY?!?! SWEET MOTHER OF MONKEY MILK, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!? I’m practically down to a double-digit number of days before I have to leave for the Iron Butt Rally! I am NOT ready. I don’t have a heated space to work on my bike, and the -30F with windchill has put a bit of a damper on my rally prep progress. I have literally been waking up in a cold sweat, and not exclusively due to bonus-fail nightmares. I’ve spent many wee hours running through my planned electrical mods, mentally drawing wiring diagrams and cataloging every possible point of glitch, complication, or failure. I’ve spent hours staring at the ceiling, not counting sheep but counting items on my to-do list: Do I really need to rebuild my forks? They’re not THAT sticky… I could probably get away without removing my audio mixer in the spirit of keeping things easy, but then again then more accessories I have on the bike, the greater the potential for something to fail on me. I don’t even want to think about my current waypoint management system – it’s pretty much a complete disaster. By 3am I’ve got myself convinced that all I really need to hit the starting line is a paper map. And an oil change. A paper map, an oil change and a set of tires. All I need is a paper map, an oil change, two sets of tires, one saddlebag full of Justin’s nut butter (preferably Vanilla Almond) and another full of SPORTea. And while this might technically be true, by this point in the night I realize that I’ve become The Jerk and my mental wanderings veer off on a rickety side rail.
I’ll return from the Iron Butt Rally in early July, at which point I’m once again staring down the barrel of a double-digit D-Day for South America. What on earth happened to me mentally in the past month? I went from bobbing happily in the safe, distant port of January to hurling my body into the hyperspeed void of February. Logically I know that I can be rally-ready in under a week of moderately focused work. Why would I suddenly be losing sleep over something that’s well within my ability to handle?
I did some research into the science of time perception and how that might be impacting my anxiety level. What’s interesting is that the scientific research points to most people experiencing an completely opposite effect to that which I’m experiencing; that is, October would typically feel to the average person like it’s forever away, as opposed to looming right around the bend. Generally speaking, when people become accustomed to a certain routine then a wildcard gets thrown in, their perception of time with regards to that new event is slowed down. Think about how people describe something like a car crash (or, in my case, motorcycle crash): Time became super slow-mo, like I could assess and absorb each little detail as I flew through the air. Yet here I am, hurtling headlong into my impending 18-month riding season with a momentum that only seems to be increasing.
I think maybe I’m not giving enough weight to the joy of that new experience, and instead I’m getting mired down in all the details. Might that be because the minutiae of the mechanical prep is actually a part of my normal workday? As a mechanic, all these little tasks are just more of the same stuff I’m doing day in and day out: Wiring this, fabricating that, testing this, flushing that. Literally 90% of the total prep work is just me trying to schedule in more of the same. Perhaps the key is to take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture. The new, the unexpected, the wildcard.
My nightmares are coming in a different form. In last weekend’s blog Wendy talked about midlife crisis and the desire to get out of the rat race for the betterment of our family and our own lives. That desire lives deep in Wendy, but as you read, its a little bit harder for me. You see, I work in the entertainment industry, specifically making network TV shows. It’s an amazing job and a dream that I have worked very hard to fulfill. However, it its a project based gig so no matter how great a job I do, best case scenario is I’ve got 9 months of employment until I’m looking for the next job. This gig economy has kept me and, by default, our family from ever being able to plan anything in advance or take a advantage of cruises and vacation opportunities that have been presented to us. I’m also very limited on taking any sort of time off during a gig because my position on the crew is a one person operation and deals heavily with continuity, so it’s virtually impossible to take a few days off, much less weeks off, without severely affecting the product we are making. So when Wendy talks about accumulating “stuff” like its a bad thing… well, that’s all I had to gauge any sort of success on. Switching that mindset from stuff to experiences has been a nightmare for me to accept, and I still often have to be dragged kicking and screaming by my girls to embrace this reality. Wendy and I have obviously talked about these things in the past, but not until I read her blog did I see just how much my unwillingness to change or really even compromise affected my wife. Wendy, I am sorry that my obstinance put this adventure off for so long.
As for my actual prep for the adventure, I hate to say that I’ve come against some setbacks. First, we ordered a Smove motion stabilizing gimble that would work with both camera platforms we are intending to use. After much experimentation and practice I made the determination that this device was not going to work for us due to it’s glitchy nature and an app that just didn’t muster up to it’s claims. That put me back to the drawing board. I have been looking at a new micro sized gimble/camera from DJI called the Osmo Pocket, when low and behold Hiro Fukuda, one of the camera operators on my show, brought his to work. The entire device is about the size of a roll and a half of quarters and shoots pretty fantastic video from what I’ve seen and what my camera buddy reported. Some more research, and possibly hands on time, and the Osmo Pocket might be our next purchase. Hiro is also quite an accomplished drone camera operator and has been giving me input on that purchase as well.
Second, we had a hiatus week two weeks ago and my intention was to spend several days of that time doing more hands on research with cameras, audio packages, and drone systems to really be able to determine what was going to be the best option for us. Well, of course, nature determined that that was the best time for me to get good and sick. Together with some other unforeseen circumstances, I wasn’t able to make it to the dealer to start putting together a package. One more thing to add to my next work break. We’ve have gotten some proofs for our adventure logo and with some fine tuning coming we hope to present that to all of you in the near future.
I did have one final thought as I sit here typing. I wonder if the nightmares Wendy and I have had are nothing but our dreams reminding us of the necessities required so make themselves and reality.
And as I (Wendy) sit here reading Mike’s contribution this week, I also am left wondering. Mike and I are each covering the prep tasks that are most familiar to us, because they just happen to coincide with our careers. I wonder how our time perception would be impacted if I took on the film-related research and Mike handled the nuts and bolts? But then again, I think that sounds like a real nightmare. Besides, on my better days, I feel like October can’t get here fast enough.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re going to be eaten by cannibals. Nobody gets eaten by
cannibals in Europe, you know.*
*Very slight paraphrasing of the actual words spoken by our
moms when we told them about our trip plans. Two wonderful women, whose primary
jobs are to think of every possible thing that can go wrong, regardless of how
statistically improbable, then caution us strongly against it out of an
abundance of love and worry. Love you, Moms!
But seriously, outside of our traveler friends, fear for our
safety is the most common response when learning about our trip. Specifically,
fear for Montessa’s safety. And not her safety in the sidecar rig, but her
safety as a cute little kid in a mysterious far-away land. Aside from the
cannibals (?), there are malaria, jaguars, and oddly plentiful and particularly
ruthless bandits to panic about. Suddenly all the people who were wringing
their hands about Monty riding in the sidecar and totally fine with her being in
a sidecar, as long as the sidecar remains on North American soil. Which begs
the questions: IS South
America safe? Why don’t
we just travel around North America?
Statistically speaking, yes – South America is quite safe. And that’s a pretty broad generalization, because South America is an ENTIRE CONTINENT, but several South American countries are actually ranked above the United States according to the Global Peace Index. Regardless, people with no first-hand knowledge just LOVE to say things like, “Oh, I heard about this scary thing that happened in Nicaragua a few decades ago!” Well, that’s in Central America, although I know you’re hoping to impart a sense of dread and are not necessarily looking for a geography lesson, so we’ll just roll past that.
Yes, there has been some unrest in some areas of the planet. But think about this: If there were riots in Washinton DC, would that stop you from visiting British Columbia? We’re talking about totally different countries, with the potential for small, isolated areas of unrest. Heck, if there were riots in Washington DC, it’s very possible that you wouldn’t even be deterred from visiting another part of Washinton DC. When I was in high school, the Los Angeles Riots happened quite near us – only about 20 miles as the crow flies. Other than the news coverage, you wouldn’t have had any indication that anything was amiss in our town, or even towns much closer. We were concerned about the issues behind the riot, but we stayed away from the unrest and as a result we never had any concern for our safety.
As with anywhere else in the world, including our own backyard, we try to make wise choices to have the best chance of staying safe. If you go wandering drunk late at night, flaunting a wad of cash in a bad neighborhood, well… you might just be inviting trouble. If you spend most of your time camping at an isolated spot in the woods, your risk of encountering malicious humans diminishes significantly (although your risk of tangling with a bear or a badger may increase somewhat). The reality, both in travel and your day-to-day life, likely falls somewhere in between those extremes. So we stay aware of our surroundings, make informed decisions about which areas to avoid, and make wise choices about how we handle ourselves.
The interesting thing is, when you talk to people who have actually traveled to these countries, you hear the same things over and over: People as a whole trend towards being wonderful, kind, generous and open all the world over. What you hear on the news is generally a sensationalized account of events that are limited in scope, designed to get views or clicks. Venture just a bit outside the camera’s lens and you’re likely to find good folks who enjoy the opportunity to interact with visitors and welcome your tourism dollars. We’re unlikely to truly convince the people whose job it is to worry about us, but our first priority in the world is to keep Monty safe. That’s true wherever we may roam. OK, so if we assume all things are roughly equal as far as the potential for danger, why not just stay in North America? This installment has run a bit longer than intended, so stay tuned as we delve into that question in Part Two of “Why South America”!
As technology has blasted happily along, we’ve found ourselves going from Polaroids to plastic-paged photo albums, PowerPoint presentations to our own (somewhat primitive) website, to social media and, finally, to our newest and most dynamic blog. In the interest of consolidation, and with a solid nod to our adventuring roots, we’ve decided to start sharing some #ThrowBackTravels. We’ll be compiling many of our classic posts, pictures, and ride reports and sharing them with you here. Some will have little notes and updates added just to bring things current, some pictures will be fabulously remastered to bring out the very best that 2001 digital photography had to offer, but most content will remain hilariously unaltered. So kick back and enjoy our first installment: Wendy’s Solo North America Extravaganza!
Now, there are a few things to keep in mind as I recount this trip:
First, I started the trip out with a 50cc Iron Butt ride (Coast-to-Coast in under 50 hours), so I didn’t take any pictures on that leg. Then I rode for a few weeks for the pure enjoyment of riding, so I didn’t take many pictures on that portion of the ride, either. For that reason, this section will be somewhat shorter that the others with a higher story-to-picture ratio.
Bearing that in mind, the story begins… As I mentioned, my trip began with a 50cc Iron Butt ride. Riding my Yamaha FZ1, I left Pismo Beach on May 26, 2004, and arrived in Savannah, Georgia 47 hours and 36 minutes later (including all stops and about 5 1/2 hours of sleep).
Why Savannah? It’s not the straightest or the shortest route by any means, but I was going to spend the next few days with friends in Augusta, Georgia, and Savannah is the closest beach town to Augusta. My first two days included three concurrent Iron Butt rides, and upon completion of my 50cc at 2,612 miles, I continued on to Augusta for a total of 2,738 miles in under 50 hours. Then I slept for about two days. My only photographic memento of the ride is of my now-classic annual fingerless glove tan.
After the Iron Butt and a few days of recovery, I basically just set out to wander. I headed north, taking slow meandering back roads through South Carolina and up the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I took in museums and stopped often at historical sites and generally relaxed and enjoyed myself. There were only a handful of things that I specifically wanted to see, but beyond that I had no plans and no timeline.
I found out pretty quickly that my”Guide to Free Campgrounds” book was actually just a random collection of parks and such around the country, most of which had very large “NO CAMPING” signs posted prominently at their perimeter. The upside is that New England states are so small that even though the next campground is half way across the map page, it’s only really like 8 miles away. Especially when you are in Delaware.
The one place I REALLY wanted to see in Philadelphia was the Mutter Museum. These being pre-Zumo days, I had printed out maps with thorough directions to the museum. Unfortunately, I still managed to get lost (I have a very good internal compass, but I found Philadelphia to be a difficult town to navigate). I found myself in a neighborhood where girls riding solo on motorcycles probably don’t want to be, and I decided to blow all the stops signs on my way back to the interstate after a group of decidedly unfriendly-looking guys descended on me while I was stopped at a traffic light. I finally gave up on finding the museum, although I was very disappointed at having to do so. Now that I have Zumo, I have a good reason to go back to Pennsylvania!
I do have to say that I was very impressed with the generally high level of courtesy that I experienced in Pennsylvania (and not just in the City of Brotherly Love!) I stopped several times to ask people for directions or consult my map, and several times I had folks say “Just follow me; I’ll take you to…” where ever I was headed. I met tons of nice bikers who shared with me the best local rides and eats. I rode from Philadelphia all the way across Pennsylvania to the Ohio border and back again, all on little roads suggested to me to strangers. I had a great time and really enjoyed the wonderful, friendly atmosphere during my days there.
OK, so far my post-Iron Butt trip has taken me all the way to Pennsylvania. After my PA loop, I meandered north through New Jersey and New York before I cut over into Vermont. And like most people, I found Vermont to be absolutely gorgeous!
This was an evening stop in Lake Saint Catherine, Vermont. The riding was great, the roads were well maintained, and the constant rain kept everything nice and green. (Well, you can’t win ’em all, so sometimes you just have to look on the bright side.)
Leaving Vermont, I headed back south across Massachusetts and through Connecticut. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed riding through Connecticut; the roads were exceedingly well maintained, and at every turn there was another beautiful back road beckoning to me. And for the first time on my trip, it seemed, there was no such thing as getting lost – just a consistently thrilling series of random turns and towns until eventually (sadly) I bumped into an interstate and moved on into Rhode Island, through Boston and on to New Hampshire.
Shortly after my return, I wrote a story about this trip for a “Great Rides” contest. The picture to the left is one of several that accompanied the story and assisted in netting me a second-place win. (I was actually really happy that I won second place; first prize was a dual sport adventure tour around Arizona, but I won about $1000 worth of FirstGear riding gear that I still use nearly every day. I think I got the better end of that bargain!)
You know how sometimes there are things that seem like a good idea when you first wake up, and then turn out to be completely goofy and ridiculous later after your brain kicks in? Well, I like to commemorate those moments and share them with the world at the expense of my dignity. (See, I don’t just post pictures that embarrass my husband – I’m right there with him!)
After turning back to the north and riding through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I finished my Eastward ride at the coast of Maine. The first thing I did, of course, was eat a big ol’ lobster. Then I camped at the intersections of Highway 1 and 101 – the East Coast equivalent to my Pismo Beach home, also at Highways 1 and 101.
From there I made a slow coastal trek up to Bar Harbor, where I inquired about taking a ferry to Nova Scotia. Even though it was the off-season, the trip would still set me back $100 each way – $45 for me, $55 for my bike – and I would have to wait until the following day to catch the next boat. After some quick math, I calculated that they were off their gourds and decided to continue my trip sans ocean-crossing. Of course, the same trip today* would cost me about $165 each way, so in retrospect maybe I should have seized the opportunity… In any event, that’s a pretty hefty investment for a boat ride when I’m taking a trip for the joy of motorcycle riding!
*And that was “today” as of the previous, PowerPoint-to-Website remastering of this tale. As of 2019, I’m sure the price tag is nearly twice that. In fact, I’m almost positive, based on the last time I took that ferry. Totally worth it! 😉
Anyhow, the riding along the coast of Maine was so beautiful, I didn’t feel like I had made much of a sacrifice.
Bar Harbor is a quaint little fishing town and a must-see stop if you find that your wardrobe is lacking in items that say “Maine” or display picture lobsters or lighthouses. Finding my supply of those items to be more than sufficient, I turned Northwest and headed into Quebec.
After spending an evening making my way along dirt roads and communing with deer, moose and elk, I arrived in the Canadian Provence of Quebec. I was surprised by the European feel of so many of the little towns, with crooked cobblestone streets and cozy little cottages.
I have to admit, Quebec was also something of a culture shock. I had never been to Canada before, and I expected there to be multi-lingual signage across the French-Canadian Provinces. There wasn’t. EVERYTHING was in French – No English at all. Not on road signs or billboards, not even at gas stations or restaurants. I had some trouble with my bank card at one of the gas stations, and no one there spoke (or was willing to speak) English to sort out the trouble. Wow! It was a very interesting place to visit, but next time I’ll have to be better prepared!
It was right about the time I crossed into Ontario that I was hit with about the worst weather I’ve ever ridden in*. The kind of weather where all you want in the world is to pull over, but you don’t because no one else on the road can see anything either and it’s only a matter of time before some wayward big rig takes you out. Amazingly, I caught up to a couple other hapless bikers muscling through the storm, and together we pushed on for several hours until we reached a little town where I could pick up a hotel room and wring myself out.
*Worst weather as of 2004. They don’t call me Hurricane Crockett for nuthin’! And by “they” I mean Mike, and like three other people. But still… Four people counts as “they”, and riding through three hurricanes and a tornado has definitely upped my threshold of “worst weather”.
The following day, with all of my gear still saturated and freezing, I tracked down a place known only as “The Shop”. The Shop is a Harley/Honda/Farm Implement dealer in the bustling little metropolis of Lively, Ontario. They warmed me up with plenty of free coffee and asked all about my trip. Then I purchased a new pair of dry waterproof winter gloves (1/3 off, because only pansies like me wear heavy winter gloves in balmy June weather) and I was getting ready to leave when one of the employees presented me with a gift. It was a Canadian goose, intricately created out of bark and twigs. He said he wanted to make sure that they had made a good impression on behalf of Ontario and Canada, and that the goose would bring me good luck for the remainder of the trip.
What a great bunch of people! The goose is still one of my cherished mementos, and it has continued to bring me luck on my many subsequent adventures.
I heard that the
Central Canadian Provinces are pretty much the same as the Plains
States, so I figured since the ride would be the same either way, I
would head back to the US and pick up the last couple states that I
had yet to visit by motorcycle. I crossed the border at Sault Ste. Marie and rode
around the edge of Lake Michigan for a
while. I was amazed at the vastness of the Great Lakes;
it was like looking out over the ocean. I also learned that
when people talk about “Pasties” in Michigan,
they probably aren’t talking about the same thing that we’re talking
about when we say “Pasties” in California. Boy, THAT made for a couple
of awkward conversations…
A few nights later I was in Ironwood, Wisconsin, and after partaking of the most mouthwatering cheese curds in the world, I settled in for the night at a local campground. Now granted I wasn’t riding at the time, which was a bonus, but that night I was hit by a storm that made the one in Canada look like a light mist. My tent was blowing away with me in it, and I had to pull my shoelaces out of my boots in the middle of the night to tie my tent posts together. I didn’t think that would keep them from blowing away, but I figured at least that way I would only have to look for one bunch of things tied together rather than 12 little pieces scattered all over the place. The thunder was so loud and constant that my ears were ringing well into the morning. The power was off for as far as I could see, and if a tornado warning siren had gone off I don’t think I would have even heard it. Having no place to go, all I could do was ride it out and hope for the best.
In the morning, I found that the wind had been so ferocious blowing against my bike that the force actually made a crack right down the middle of my Big Foot. (A Big Foot is a big plastic foot, about 1/4″ thick, placed under your kickstand to keep it from sinking into soft dirt.) I can’t even imagine the amount of force it took to cause that to crack, but I know what I went through that night and was glad that I would at least have an impressive souvenir of the storm.
After wandering across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota (where I passed through Rugby, the geographical center of North America), and the better park of Montana, I found myself once again facing off with the weather.I believe it was right about Cut Bank, Montana – the self-proclaimed “Coldest Spot in the US” – that the slushy snow set it. Since it obviously was not in the cards for me to be warm or dry on any portion of this trip, I just zipped up my rain gear and kept right on going.
Eventually I climbed above the clouds and out of the wet, although a little slush is all it takes to spend the rest of the day freezing. It was worth it, though. Waterfalls just aren’t waterfalls without a little rain to invigorate things. Glacier National Park was an amazing place to visit, and I would do it again in a second – rain, snow or otherwise!
Self portrait in Glacier National Park. Funny, it doesn’t LOOK freezing…
Glacier National Park is a hard place to leave, but eventually I did have to move on. I crossed a tiny bit of Idaho before picking up the rain again in Washington. At this point I’m soaked, my gear is soaked, my maps are soaked – I basically have stopped deluding myself into believing that I will ever dry out.
No trouble. Pretty is pretty, even when it’s wet, and I continued to have a great time even as I was getting closer to home.
A long road across Eastern Washington. (Another of the pictures accompanying my Great Rides submission.)
Ooh! Look at the snow way up there on Mount Rainier!
…And I’m sure you’ve all guessed by now that it wasn’t long before I was IN that snow, way off in the distance. Luckily in was mid-week and there was no other traffic, so I took my time and traveled over the icy road as safely as possible. (I suppose I should count myself lucky; it’s probably about 120 degrees in Tucson right about now.)
As I descended the hill, the iciness was rapidly eliminated and I was left with the quite, solitary beauty that even just a couple inches of snow seems to bring.
Here’s the stuff that makes it all worth while! Remember what I said about needing rain in order to see the truly beautiful waterfalls? Mike and I returned to Mount Rainier together the following August, and there wasn’t a single waterfall to be found. Simply Amazing!
In case you were confused… This sign actually points out Mt. Saint Helens from a scenic overlook.
After three weeks, I’m back on the Pacific Coast. I followed the Pacific Coast Highway from Astoria, Oregon all the way home to Pismo Beach.
Nothing says “Successful Road Trip” like happening upon something like this! I was riding through Port Orford, Oregon when I saw a tiny sign that read “Antique Motorcycle Museum”. I pulled into the parking lot to find that the museum was already closed for the day. The proprietor was still there, though, and he invited me in to get out of the rain and take a private tour. Sometimes you just get lucky!
And here we are, on the last day of my journey. Notice all that stuff… What’s it called? Oh, yeah – Sunshine. Doesn’t that just figure.
With the usual mixed emotions, I arrived home almost a month after my journey began. 9,317 miles, nearly all of it back roads and bad weather (not counting the Iron Butt). It’s always good to be home, but then again, it’s always good to be on the road. I guess as long as I’m here, I may as well wash my bike…
And with that, I have now ridden my faithful FZ1 in all of the
Lower 48 States (plus some bits of Canada here and there). Not too
bad, for a girl! (or at least that’s what I hear…)
Here I am celebrating my return at the Pismo Beach Pier, with a particularly vicious case of Helmet Hair. See? See? Mike does it to me, too, when he’s the one holding the camera!
The states I passed through on this trip are, in order: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, (Quebec), (Ontario), Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
I have now ridden in every state except Hawaii (I’ve been to Hawaii, I just didn’t ride when I was there since I was only about 11 at the time.)
As I mentioned, I have a lot more stories than pictures on this ride, but I love to share what I have so feel free to ask! Thank you once again for sharing in my adventures!
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 Coffeealso 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 linkor 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?
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.
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.