Two days ago we left the Ozarks to journey out into the god forsaken flat also known as Kansas.
"Ugh", I thought as Yun objected to a plan to take secondary roads across. "But the Interstate is such boring flatness." I tried to explain. "It's going to suck." I commented as I could just imagine how much complaining, I mean 'communicating', I was going to hear in the headset while going across. I had really hoped we could do a more interesting way across. There has to be more to Kansas than I've seen.
But he made a valid point, "There's nothing to see so I'd much rather superslab it across the boring sections to go spend more time in places where there are things to see."
"Ugh". Kansas. The welcome sign to Kansas might as well say "Abandon All Hope, Ye Motorcyclists Who Enter Here." Endless expanses and hours of time waited for us. Honestly, I dreaded the crossing.
I thought back to a conversation he and I had had the day before. "You and Danny talked and I felt like the third wheel. You guys have all this experience and done all these things. You'd say 'Don't do this or that because it's going to suck'. But the fact is you did all of them. I haven't." And with that my perspective changed. "Doh!" I thought. "He's right." I've been riding for years. I've been across the country multiple times. I've had countless Bad Things(tm) happen.
And I've been trying to shield my travel companion from making the mistakes I have so that his trip will be better than my trips have been. I guess it's natural. We want to guide those that follow in our footsteps to avoid the mistakes and pain we have felt. But to his point, the pain and mistakes we've made form us and, in part, make us who we are. How different a rider would I be if I had never ridden in tornado force winds or gotten stuck in all those precarious situations where I, unintentionally, tested my own limits? Yun is much younger than I am and I have a tendency to forget that. Just like with height I don't notice age differences.
"Ok." I relented. We'll do the flat and we'll superslab it. Time to man up and repeat a mistake for the benefit of another so he can understand first had. We decided to head to Pueblo, Colorado. Once there we would decide how to proceed. Google Maps came up with a route which, looking at the map, both of us thought was super slab. With the intention of making it across the flat quickly, we decided to try a 700 mile day.
I began to think about differences in experience and other ways that I might be limiting his.
I tend to lead. The whole point is that when I'm leading I can point out hazards, give guidance and generally "protect" those following me. I don't give it a second thought. My role and duty as lead rider is to those behind me. I take it very seriously. So many how have ridden with me, Yun included, say things like "You make it easy for us." It's so second nature to me that I lead on every ride we take. As a matter of fact, I can't remember the last time I've followed anyone for any significant distance probably in the last couple of decades.
"How will he learn to be a good leader if he never leads?" I thought. Before I could articulate the words, Yun said "Maybe I can lead for a while.".
We got up promptly at 6, but instead of rolling out quickly we got caught up in conversation and two hours passed before we knew it.
So we embarked while my thoughts were dominated by differences.
On this trip, I have not, for the first time, brought paper maps. This time, I'm using a GPS exclusively. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. The last bitch lied to me relentlessly. I thought maybe this time it would be different and it is, sort of.
I picked up a Zumo 550 and she doesn't just lie she maliciously misleads at the worst possible moment. Sitting at a stop light as we came to the bottom of the Ozarks and faced the big and flat, the GPS suddenly indicated that we needed to make a U-Turn. I thought we needed to go right. So we stopped in some shade in I examined the stupid thing in more detail. Now, in a parking lot some hundred yards away, it clearly showed that we should have, in fact, turned right. "Stupid thing. Maybe it's flaking out." I said. Yun replied, "It's probably that you haven't updated the maps." Confused I said, "how can that be, that road has clearly been here since 2009, the last time these maps were updated." "Yes, but maybe the road was widened and it thought you were in the parking lot.".
Interesting. Point taken. Technology must be approached as a augmenting tool, not a definitive resource. Street signs lie less often than a GPS. Using paper maps it's so much easier to get an overview of a route. Even on the Yun's iPad and google maps (or even the M-BY-MC maps) it's not as easy, so I'm practicing coming up with techniques to more effectively use the GPS. I spend more time memorizing routes ahead of time.
We took the right I originally thought we should and rolled onto the state road, which turned out to be a nice fast road when we saw a rock outcropping so we stopped to take a photo
The roads were nice a fast. This was a common scene in my rear view.
We were trying to make miles. We had this general goal of making it all the way to Pueblo, which was still 700 miles away. Even at this point Yun thought we'd likely be able to make it. I already knew we wouldn't and tried to convey that.
It seemed like forward progress would get interrupted. While Google Maps had indicated this was to be superslab that state highway continued for longer than expected. Every few dozen miles little towns would slow us down. "We're never going to make it." I thought as I started getting a bit stressed about it for reasons I didn't entirely understand, but this road is actually pretty good.
But there were times we would come to a stop, like the time we just missed crossing the tracks before a train came.
We were baking in the hot sun.
And after quite some time we were finally able to see the end of the train.
"We don't you lead?" I asked Yun through the intercom. It had been a moderately windy day but the road was clear, the sky blue and it was turning out to be a rather nice, albeit tiring, day.
There were dramatic skies to be seen.
Following Yun was surprising. I noticed there was significantly less wind as I was stagged behind him. Tractor trailers with empty cattle carriers would whizz by causing a tremendous blast of angry air. This tends to hit you front on unsettling the bike a bit. Yun had experienced this from the position I was now in, but what I never realized was how muted it was in comparison to the lead position. "Wow! <screach>" I would hear through the intercom as each truck went by, followed by a long series of exclamations about how uncomfortable and unsettling the experience was.
I never realized this, but when you lead you really get hit much harder by these blasts than your immediate follower. "Yea."
'This is much harder and tiring than I thought." he said. "I now understand why you're always so beat after a ride. There's so much to keep track of and I'm not used to looking in the mirrors."
The terrain started getting flatter as we moved further and further west. While this road was wide and fast, with speeds of 65 and 70 for most of it, it would still suddenly stop in slow towns. I kept thinking the endless expanse of super slab would start any minute now, but I found myself thinking these stretches of 40 and 50 miles punctuated by interesting looking small cattle towns was what I had actually wanted to see. The road wasn't nearly as unpleasant as other routes I've taken across Kansas.
Things started getting flat.
A heat wave had been predicted but so far things had not been terribly hot. There was intermittent cloud cover and the Heat Out base layer I've been wearing, based on Duncan's recommendation, has allowed me to handle significantly more heat than normal. As everyone knows, I don't deal with the heat well.
Eventually, we came upon a monstrous thunderstorm. It was clear that if we continued riding we would run right into it, so we opted to put on the rainsuit. Yun was excited to ride through a real storm. I, of course, was not. Hail can ruin your day.
I had suggested that we could maybe just wait for the storm to pass but it looked like it would take a while, so we finished donning the rain suits but by the time we got them on the storm had passed the road.
The tracks at this spot were pretty cool.
This is my favorite photo of the trip so far.
Unfortunately, due to a host of distractions, I've run out of time, so I will finish this up later.
We are in Colorado Springs heading towards Pikes Peak.
I'm getting too far behind in sharing this story. For the last few days we've ridden too late and been far too tired. Yun has been doing a better job of writing and posting regularly than I have. Watching his use of technology has been interesting. Instead of using a small laptop as I have been, he's been carrying around an iPad. Now, as a developer, I am no fan of Apple consumer stuff but I must admit from the point of view of simply getting content put together and posted he has a much easier time.
While I have to boot my laptop, get out the USB adapter, copy photos over from the camera and then resize them, he simply takes the photos with the iPad and then using a Blogspot app is able to put posts together much quicker than I can. He's gotten adept at typing on the thing.
While very knowledgeable about mechanical topics and electrics, Yun is not very technical when it comes to information technology. He's strictly a user of technology as opposed to a practioner. As a developer, I've actually never gotten to spend any significant time watching someone non-techical make use of technology for this long. Usually, it takes the form of just watching someone for a few minutes. But now, after 6 days on the road with him, I have some new insights that may prove to be helpful. More on those hopefully later.
We had hoped to get to Pueblo but after a somewhat stressful search for gas which ended up happening due to a bad call on my part, we rode through a few towns looking for lodging and finding none.
We did however find smells that Yun apparently disliked, given that a few days later he was still complaining about it.
I confess. The smell of the large scale meat processing plants was disturbing. I found myself thinking if I were to venture inside one and see the horrors that unfold there I might make another attempt at becoming a vegetarian.
We continued on as the sun started to set on the horizon. The lack of obstacles lengthened sunset quite a bit and I tried to snap a few photos of the sun as it set.
As this route was prone to do, it went from a fast highway to a small in-town road. This process had repeated itself time and again. In the distance we saw another town and as we rolled into it we realized we had gotten into Dodge City.
"I wonder if this is the Dodge City from which the expression 'getting out of Dodge' comes from?" I thought. Apparently it was.
We got a hotel and then tried to find something to eat. "If you're in Dodge City you have to have a steak." I said. Yun agreed, so off in search of steak we went.
We found a place called the Central Station Bar and Grill. It had the feel of a typical country western bar. There were a few people sitting outside. One theme with Yun that's been ever present as long as I've known him is that he notices when he's the only person of Asian descent in an area. I get the impression too many caucasions make him nervous. "It's likely to be a bit redneck in there." I said checking to see if he was ok, once again, being the only Asian guy around. "Yea, whatever." he said uncharacteristically.
We also got a seat outside. We started talking to the people at the table next to us. It turns out it was the owner of the place, Albert. After a few moments, the question of origin came up. "Where are you from?" Albert asked Yun. "China." Yun replied. "My wife's from Taiwan." Albert said. "I'm actually from Taiwan as well." Yun replied and so began a long conversation between them as photos of Alberts wife and kids were shown. It was a good time and quite amusing to see Yun be the center of attention because of his descent. "Asian rock star." I joked. Yun seemed very amused and later went on to say it was a great experience.
We eventually realized that the superslab we had expected would never materialize and that, in fact, we were doing the trip across Kansas that I had always wanted to. "This is great." Yun would say repeatedly as would I.
If you have to cross Kansas on motorcycle and you are someone tough when it comes to an olfactory onslaught from time to time, route 400 across Kansas is a fantastic road. Clearly I have been taken over by an alien because I thorougly enjoyed the ride.
How do you know you're in Dodge City? The main road is called Wyatt Earp Blvd.
And most who know me know that I adopted, ages and ages ago, the saying "We need to get out of Dodge." So today, for the first time, I was actually getting out of Dodge.
(Yermo getting out of Dodge.)
We both weren't feeling well. We hadn't slept well and were expecting a very hard painful day. We set ourselves up to slog through 75 miles at which point Yun said he wanted coffee. It had been a slow start to the morning. We had checked the map and it seemed Pikes Peak should be easy to make if we push it a bit. So Yun skipped coffee and we rolled out of town.
We started talking about a host of topics, most centering around our differences of perception especially when it comes to people and our interactions with them.
At one point we talked about fear and motorcycling when Yun said something fascinating. "I didn't become really afraid until I got really sick on my visit to China. The food made me so sick I thought I was going to die and after that my stomach wasn't the same and I became afraid. I began to fear travel. I began to try to hold on to the familiar."
I too get very sick depending on what I eat. And once I figured out that I could reduce the amount of pain I feel by eliminating starch, sugar and lactose from my diet, I went from being a very adventurous eater to a very cautious one. When traveling, as it happened yesterday, when I eat something "wrong" Bad Things(tm) happen. My dreams of travel stopped. I actively fear going abroad. I wonder how much of the fear in my life is similarly tied to illness. Does random invisible pain, the kind of pain that others can't see, make people afraid in other ways? I don't know, but it's something I've been thinking about.
Before we knew it 150 miles has clicked off and we were in Colorado. How did that happen?
It was flat and starting to look brown.
We realized, despite our fatigue, neither one of us was feeling all that badly. The road continued towards Pueblo and we caught our first glimpse of the mountains.
The Rockies! Always a good sight after crossing the Flat.
We stopped for gas and water in Pueblo. The sunshine was oppressive. I stood under an overhang and let just the tip of my boot sit in the sun to see how long it would take for my big toes to start burning from inside the boot. 120 seconds is the answer. It was the kind of sun that made you feel like you were under a heatlamp, on high while someone was blowing a hairdryer on high in your face while making you stand on a heated floor mat turned on high.
It was hot. It was actually so hot that it seemed to affect the fuel pump on my bike. When I started the beast, the fuel pump made a sound I had no heard before. It sounded like it was starving for fuel but the bike seemed to be running fine. I moved the bike over to the gas pumps to fill up and left it in the shade for a while. After some time, the pump no longer made the sound and we went on to find a Starbucks in Colorado Springs.
After some searching and dealing with a GPS that lied, we did finally find a Starbucks. We weren't there terriby long, just long enough to cool down, drink some water to hydrate and some coffee to wake up. We went back out into the scorching sun to head off to Pikes Peak. Interestingly, I remembered the route and we were there just a few minutes after 6.
Unfortunately, Pikes Peak closes at 6. As Yun would say, epic fail.
On the way up, Yun had asked about the Garden of the Gods sign we had seen. "It's a bunch of rocks. I went there but I didn't think it was all that impressive, but we could go if you want to." I said. I had ridden through there three years ago and that's where I met Mr. Anderson before that trips Pikes Peak ascent.
So we went. As I had done before, we went in and did the little loop and looked at the big rocks. They are a few hundred feet high and jut up out of the landscape as if someone on the underside of the earth had jabbed jagged knives up through the landscape. "I see a path, let's go check it out." Yun said to a path that was bathed in sunlight. "Let's go around to the other side. I seem to remember a place that's easier.".
We went around and found the parking lot I had remembered. It was hot but the sun was setting so it was cooling down. "I never walked down there." I told Yun as we started walking down this paved path.
There were signs.
There were the impressive edge shaped rocks I had seen before.
And by rock I mean many stories high sheer faced cliff, but without the mountain piece that usually accompanies a cliff. Really this is two cliffs, one on each side, missing the middle part.
We continued along the foot path. I was getting a bit winded from the heat. We came upon a few dirt trails that seemed to go up but these were barred for normal foot traffic. If you were an experienced climber with gear and could get a permit you were allowed to go. Yun was disappointed.
Then we came up an open foot path that went up towards some rocks. We paused for a moment, considered it and then ventured up just as the sun was setting towards the far mountain peaks.
This completely changed how I viewed this place. From "ground" level it makes a different, much less impressive, impression than it does from on high. We climed up on a large rock with this incredible view.
The photos do not do it justice.
You just can't describe places or moments like this. There are no words that can replace simply being there at that time. Sometimes you just have to go do it yourself and see it for yourself to truly understand a thing. This would be a theme that would recur.
As we left the sun set behind the edge of one of the cliffs without a middle.
Yun was visibly impressed by this place. "This worked out great. If we hadn't been late to Pikes Peak we wouldn't have seen this place at this time. Sunset, right now, is the best time and we would have missed it." he said.
We went back to the hotel with the intention of getting some writing done and then having an easy day the next morning. We'd get up a little later so we could catch up on sleep, do a bunch of writing and get some laundry done.
Unfortunately, once again events would conspire to thwart me ...
Finding the time to write has been challenging. We did make it up to Pikes Peak and it was fantastic. More on that later.