As I've mentioned so many times in the past, I'm ill. It's one of the reasons that my bike has so little mileage on it despite me having owned it for so long. There were a number of years where it simply hurt too much to ride. At some point, I discovered that I could manage my condition by modifying my diet. Everything(tm) changed after that. In this modern prepackaged world, it's a fairly difficult diet to follow but I manage and have been doing much better for the last many years.
However, sometimes I will inadvertently eat something that sets my system into chaos and such was the case on Wednesday evening and Thursday. As I warn everyone I travel with, sometimes I'm down for the count and have to not move for a while. Fortunately, in this case, I was alone so wasn't dampening anyone else's enjoyment for which I was grateful.
While bad, I knew from experience that it should pass within 24 hours. I was texting Bruce on Thursday and happened to mention that I had just done Route 191 from Clifton to Springerville. "I've never been there but would kind of like to check it out someday."
"It's just one day from your house." I replied.
Bruce is a man of careful long planning and ponders decisions, especially when it feels like he's shirking his responsibilities, for a very long time. This is the reason that I'm so amazed that he takes 10 days out every year to fly to the East Coast to ride the guest bike downt to Deal's Gap with Duncan and I. (The same goes for Duncan.) I feel very privileged.
I am, however, also the Great Enabler(tm).
"I could hang out here until you get here Friday. Then we ride it Saturday and go home Sunday."
"Why didn't I think of that?" he replied but I knew full well this was something that was far too short notice for Bruce. It must be pondered. Responsibilties and duties must be addressed. He would have to ponder it and then carefully discuss it with his wife, Ha. (Ha rocks like nobody's business, by the way. She, like Bruce, is family to me.) He would have to consider whether he could allow himself to go given that he's already committed to going to Deal's Gap in June.
To do both would be decadence and indulgence on a level unheard of for Bruce, so I knew full well it wasn't something that was going to happen.
Then I got the text some hours later, "I'll be there. What hotel?"
I was floored. This is simply unheard of. In the nearly 3 decades I've known Bruce he has never done anything like this. The weather was supposed to be fantastic and I was already starting to feel a bit better. Even if I wasn't 100% I wasn't going to miss this.
In our lttle group of riders, we all run the Sena SMH10 Blue Tooth communicator. While it has it's down sides if you're traveling with the wrong people, when you have a good group that gets along and isn't too chatty it's a fantastic way of calling out hazards, coordinating stops and being more "together" on a motorcycle trip.
On the last Deal's Gap trip, Audrey, being kindness incarnate, loaned him hers. It completely changed the trip and as a result getting one was on his list, but Bruce is very cautious about spending anything on himself, his life and focus being his family, so I knew it was going to be some time before he would purchase one.
John also has one. So as we headed across country and discussed riding with Bruce we thought it would be awesome if he had one as well. So we hatched a plan to get him one, but unfortunately none of the shops we stopped at had them. Our evil plans were thwarted.
Thinking about 191 and how treacherous it is with all the tar snakes and gravel in many corners and all the hours we would be spending alone in our helmets and how little time we had actually had to talk over the last weekend, I thought "It would be awesome if Bruce had one." as I started searching around for motorcycle shops within 100 miles. Out of character, I even picked up the phone and started calling and talking to people. I hate talking on the phone.
"I can order one but it'll get here next Tuesday." one shop said.
"I need it by tomorrow mid day."
"You're going to be hard pressed to find one that quick."
I knew it was a long shot, so I gave up the search and went in search of coffee. I was starting to feel better, but I was bummed. It would have been so cool if I could have gotten one. I knew it would be something he would really have appreciate and gotten a kick out of.
It was painfully late in the day when I decided to try something, a real serious long shot, which was for me a completely out of character act. I hate last minuting anyone. I hate making special requests. I hate asking. I hate imposing.
It was really late. Way too late to get something overnighted when I wondered, "Could RevZilla get me one?" I looked at the site when I figured, "Well, I guess there's no harm in asking. They'll say no and I'll feel better for having tried."
So I picked up the phone and called. The horror. All the people I've met at Revzilla have been awesome. John, who I had not talked to before, answered the phone and I started explaining my situation and what I wanted to do.
"Well, it's late but we do have a warehouse in Nevada and we /might/, I stress, /might/ be able to get one overnighted but I'm sorry I can't guarrantee it." he replied. I had expected a simple "no". We got off topic when he realized I had met Rania. "She's sitting across from me."
"Hi YERMO!!" I heard faintly through the phone.
John and I chatted a bit about motorcycling and then got back to the matter at hand. "If I order it and it can't get shipped out tonight, I need the order cancelled because I'll no longer be at this hotel."
"I'll be here for another few hours so I'll watch the order myself and if it doesn't get shipped tonight, I'll cancel it for you. You'll have to pay the overnight fee and I'm sorry it's expensive."
"I'm asking you for a favor not the other way around. I'll be grateful to get the thing if I can. I so appreciate all the effort and help. If this works, it's going to make my buddy's day."
He applied some discounts and with the "Revzilla Cash" I had accumulated the final bill wasn't that bad at all. Shortly after we hung up, I got the notification that the order had been placed.
Some hours later, I got the notification that the order had been shipped and I had a tracking number.
"Amazing." I thought. John didn't have to do that. You might be cynical and think it's about money and business. That it's fake. He's just an employee. Maybe he gets a commission, maybe he doesn't but he, the individual person, didn't have to do that. I'm sure he had countless people he had to talk to that day and, as always seems to be the case in customer service, annoyed, angry and otherwise unpleasant people to deal with. And here I was, calling with some ridiculous last minute request because I hadn't planned it out well and I was asking for something that I don't think many others would have done.
He didn't have to do that. Do I expect the next time I call with some ridiculous request, which I seriously will try not to do, that they will do this again? No. It's not kind to people to do that even if they are the customer service person on the other end of the line.
Never lose sight of the human being. The barista, the bartender, the waitress, the person on the other end of the line. Be human. And when someone is kind, when someone treats you like a human being and helps you when they don't have to, be grateful. Even if it is their "job".
The next day on Facebook, Rania, who was the person who originally recommended Route 191 to me and is in a big part the reason I was here in the first place commented on my Route 191 trip report tagging John, "you were talking to Yermo last night about Sena...read the blog brother!"
Then she posted, "John's an awesome guy. Truly one of the most amazing people I've met at work. When you get back we should plan a local ride somewhere."
And we will.
And people ask me why I think Revzilla rocks so much. When was the last time you called to buy something and got invited out for a ride? How cool is that?
I understand they could use some more top tech talent. It's the one place I've seen in the last few decades that I think I'd actually enjoy working with, or even for. But I don't want to move to Philadelphia.
Bruce showed up in the early afternoon having made really good time. It was so good to see him. I still couldn't believe he had come out. I mentioned nothing about the surprise. The UPS tracking said the package was on the truck. We had not been talking for very long when I noticed the UPS truck pulling up, "Oh cool! Wait here!" as I ran out of the room.
You should have seen the expression on his face. He was floored. He did not expect anything like this.
I upgraded the firmware and installed the speakers, microphone and mount onto his helmet. We paired his Sena with mine and everything worked.
We would comment many times over the next three days how much this one device really changed the whole trip and helped make this one of the best weekends in memory.
Thank you, John. This was awesome.
When we went back outside to sit on the "porch". A BMW and a Coucours rolled up. "That's a woman on the BMW." I mentioned. They got the room next to us and we said hello. Their names were Andy and Debbie. It turns out they were heading back to Las Vegas and were going to ride 191 as well. We needed to buy some snacks for the ride and I suggested they take snacks and water on 191 since there are no service. I mentioned the culture shock that was the "Western Drug and General Store." so the four of us decided to walk over.
It happens quite often actually that when traveling by motorcycle you meet people and having just that one simple connection opens many others and a chance meeting can turn into an extended conversation. After being appropriately culture shocked, we all decided to have dinner together so over to the Java Blues bar/grill/breakfast/coffeeshop we went.
I get the impression Debbie may be independently wealthy. She talked about multiple properties, including a condo in Hawaii equipped with a V-Strom, and other bikes spread around the country. "I like to ride, but everyone works so it's hard to find people to ride with." she would say. "So I ride alone a lot and just meet people on the road." She had been to race school and owned quite a number of bikes.
Andy is seriously fit. His appearance, especially with a helmet on remind me a bit of the actor Vin Diesel. Andy takes working out, nutrition and health very seriously. "The guns need to be fed." I joked at dinner. He's a bit more reserved and is thus a bit harder to get to know.
From several stories of triple digit speeds on road, it was clear Andy liked to go fast. At 70mph a modern Concourse feels like it's crawling.
After dinner, Bruce and I stayed up pretty late and consequently got up kind of late. We had wanted to say goodbye to those guys before they left and take some pictures. To our surprise they were still there.
We talked a bit more about the road and they day ahead. They had not had breakfast. I suggested the Java Blues but they mentioned they had gotten tickets for a breakfast included with the room. We walked over but unfortunately there was nothing there I could eat. "Huh, same for me" Debbie said. "The breakfast at Java Blues is pretty good so we walked over there together.
We had a leisurely long breakfast filled with conversation. "I noticed how you ordered last night." Debbie said. She went on to talk about having had cancer and how difficult life had been from a health point of view. Unlike me, there was little in the way of pain in her voice when she talked about it. It was matter of fact without any sense of "woe is me". She had a sense of strength about her that only those who have truly suffered and conquered have. And here she was, riding all over the place.
She mentioned having dietary issues so of course we got into a long conversation about how I eat, what my history was and what results I've had. "Andy has been telling me this for years." she would say as he nodded knowingly. He talked about his approach to life. "But it's genetics" she said.
To which I replied, "It's generally not constructive to see the results of another human being and ask how are they different. It is much more useful to ask 'what have they done differently?'"
Again, Andy nodded knowingly.
After a longer conversation, she said, "You know, it's one thing to hear that I should consider trying to change my diet. It's another thing to hear it from someone who's actually seen such positive benefits. I won't promise it but I think I will give this a try." I hope it does.
You just never know how a motorcycle trip might change you. Sometimes it's just the little meetings. Sometimes you meet people and they redirect your life. Sometimes you redirect someone elses. Sometimes it's a little of both.
"There's something about motorcycle people." she would later say. "I think that's one of the reasons I got divorced. I don't think I can be with someone who isn't passionate about motorcycles. It's such a big part of my life."
To our surprise, they asked if they could follow us since I had ridden this road just a few days before. I'm always nervous about riding with new people but they were both good riders and within 5 minutes it seemed like it was going to work. I ride quite slowly actually, so I tend to be tamer than most people I meet. Some are ok with this, others get impatient. I got the feeling Andy would have liked to go much faster.
We stopped to top up the tanks because it was over 90 miles between services.
Typically when I ride with a group I don't stop often enough to take pictures because I feel self conscious about holding people up, but this ride was different. We would stop every 20 miles or so to look at yet another spectacular vista.
Debbie would say a few times, "If you guys need to go ahead faster just leave us."
"We're riding together as a group now. It's about riding together." I would reply.
Later on at lunch she would say, "I really like how conscientious and considerate you are about your followers by pointing out hazards and making sure not to leave people behind. That's how I am when I lead."
"Yea, as the leader you have to take your followers into account otherwise it just gets stressful and the feeling of being together gets interrupted."
I missed the 25mph for the next 30 miles sign, and the 15mph for the next 6 miles sign but I did finally manage to stop and get a photo of my favorite street signs.
"There's a fantastic overlook with the 270 view with a picnic table I think we should stop at." I told them.
So we did. I failed to remember how deep the gravel in the pull out was. No drama but it was a bit sketchy there for a second.
It was quite hot as we walked out to the magical picnic table on the edge of forever.
We rode on. The ride North to South on 191 is more challenging than the other direction. There are significantly more tar snakes and there was a lot more gravel this time. It was also much hotter so the tar snakes were slippery. This combined with those outside corners where if you slide out you drop a thousand feet conspired to make me feel really tentative. "I could tell you are not yourself." Bruce would later say as we discussed how my off in Virginia was affecting me much more than I realized. "You'll work through it." he would say repeatedly. Bruce is a patient man.
Before the off, I had this calm desire not to fall. "I simply don't want to fall." I would explain as the reason why I rarely push it really hard. It was not that I had any gripping fear of falling. It was simply a desire not to. This, it turns out, let me be fluid. I would see gravel or other obstacles and be able to calmly adjust. There was a low level fear but it was more just a thought.
My off has changed this. It's affected me pretty deeply. For the first time in a very long time, I now actively fear falling. I see a little gravel or a slippery tar snake and it takes everything in my being not to freeze up. In one sharp right hander that I would have been able to make trivially easily, I saw a patch of gravel that wouldn't have even interrupted my traction but I tighened up and went wide just like I tell everyone not to.
"Trust the traction."
There was plenty of traction so once again I found myself realizing that this Fear is actually more dangeous than the gravel or the hazards. I now really Fear falling. And that Fear, that memory of the fall, and the powerlessness I felt to stop it is now affecting my present.
"How do racers do it?" I kept asking only to hear that Jeremy Cook, the Bobs' BMW sponsored racer has had an off and broke his collar bone. He posted that he's likely going to be racing at Summit on the 24th. Amazing. How does he do it? I hope to get a chance to talk to him about it.
Realizing that it's my own Fear that's making this ride more dangerous for me, I kept things really slow, probably too slow for my followers. "I have to take responsibility for my fear and work through it otherwise I'm just going to be more likely to fall. I have to get back to where I merely desire not fall as opposed to being actively afraid of it."
It seems analogous to how I treat goals. I was able to ride the Dalton Highway because I could let the goal of making it go if I needed to. I need to let the Fear of falling go and regain the simple desire not to. Fear that paralyzes is dangerous.
I see a parallel here to other aspects in my life where I have experiened trauma's that I carry with me unresolved. My past traumas are like the gravel. As soon as I sense them, I tense up my mind filled with the memory of the previous event and as a result have the undesirable outcomes.
I've seen other men crash. I've seen some get up, brush themselves off and move on. I've seen others, ruled by self-delusion, pride or arrogance, refuse to even address the off preferring to just avoid the whole subject as if doing so would somehow diminish their being or make them look foolish in the eyes of others. There is a reason pride is a sin. Pride blinds you from seeing what you need to. Pride, a sense of entitlement, status, the opinions of others are all things that blind and prevent you from seeing what you need to to overcome the obstacles you face. See the gravel and think "I don't want to look like a fool here" is simply pride talking and distracting you from doing what you need to. Gravel is now a problem I face.
At some point, regardless of the gravel in the road, I have to take responsibility to control my own fear, to work through it, to address it so that I am no longer afraid of the gravel. I need to accept that I may lose traction again and fall. I desire not to, but I must not be so afraid of it that I end up causing it or worse.
Or I could be a coward and simply give up motorcycling. Yea, that ain't happening.
I am going to ride so I may fall again and I have to accept that.
I think about all the other traumas I carry around. I think about Debbie and cancer. She's Out There(tm) riding around all over the place. Think for a second the kind of fear those words, "You have cancer." brings. Think about how devastating that is. I think about the other cancer survivors I know. I don't know what it is about me that makes the fear run so deep but it does.
And it has to stop. Maybe sliding out has let me see something that I did not see before.
"How is it that you escaped getting married, Yermo?" Debbie asked at one point.
I didn't have a good answer, but I suspect that that simple answer is too much trauma and the unaddressed, unworked through fears that it has created within me. It's just like gravel. I see things that have hurt me in the past and instead of working through it, I either tense up or cowardly avoid it. It's the same in business, in real-estate and in so many other places where I've been hurt.
On the motorcycle, I know I there will be gravel, or oil, or some other thing that interrupts my traction once again. I will ride through it again and so I just have to learn to deal.
I now see that there are other traumas, other Fears, that I will have to treat the same way; to move from Fear to simply not desiring the outcome but if it happens to learn to simply dust myself off, learn from the experience and get back on the bike.
Because there's no way I'm going to give up.
We rode on together as group through to the devastation of the mine.
"The scale in unbelievable." Bruce said. We hung out at this spot for a while letting the sadness get inside us.
We stopped for lunch in Clifton at an empty cafe. We talked for some time there as well and then parted company. Andy and Debbie headed for Las Vegas while Bruce and I made our way around the mountains and headed back towards Los Alamos. They said they would be in touch. I hope that they do.
We rode to route 78 and then on to 180. Bruce and I were concerned that it would be flat and boring but it was not.
The riding was simply incredible. The Sena proved invaluable. It was warm but not too hot. Route 78 from just South of Clifton is an incredible road. Twisty. Clean. Gorgeous. Still tentative, I was starting to get my mojo back.
For sections the road would straighten out but even these sections were not bad.
At about half tank we came across a sketchy gas station that only had 87 octane and looked like it didn't get much use. "Bad fuel." I thought as Bruce and I discussed whether or not to get gas. "It looks like it's another 40 or 50 miles before the next station. "We can make it." Bruce said in a most uncharacteristic fashion. Bruce, being a safety professional, always gets gas at no less than half a tank, because you never know. To bug him, every time I pick him up from the airport I make sure that the reserve light is on, because, you know, what are friends for?
"Who are you and what have you done with Bruce??!" I had said many times.
"I left him at home." Bruce would reply.
We decided that a tank of 87 octane sketchy gas would likely not kill us so we topped off.
It was fortunate because it was many miles before we saw the next station. We would probably not have made it.
There was a stretch of something like 140 miles without services heading up to Grants, NM.
It was a bit farther and the road a bit slower than we expected so the sun ended up setting on us as critters starting coming out on the deserted desert road.
Elk were everywhere and conspired to raise my stress level quite a bit. We slowed way down out of necessity but that caused us to have to ride well past sunset.
In the twilight, elk look just like bushes and there were many along side the road. Fortunately for us, none darted out. They simply calmly walked away.
At one point, as I was making a right hand turn an impossibly fast rabbit ran right in front of my wheel. I didn't see it until it was nearly in front of me and by the time I applied the brake it was well past.
"From that angle at that speed, there's no time to respond. I'm not sure that there's much that can be done." I said.
"There isn't." Bruce replied and we both scanned the sides. "If that were a deer or an elk it would have been bad."
"Yes, it would have."
"Watch out, deer on the right, did you see them?" Bruce would say.
"No. I didn't. Man, my vision must suck because I'm missing these critters. It's a good thing we have the Senas. At least we have double the eyes on the road and can warn each other."
There was a simply fantastic sunset.
Later on after the sun had set, Bruce took the lead since he has the better highbeam.
"Deer on the left!" I said.
"I didn't see it. "Bruce replied. "Being in the lead, I find I have to pay more attention to the road itself."
"Interesting. Being in the trailing position, I can keep you in my peripheral vision and find it much easier to scan the sides for critters."
This was another benefit of the communicators we had not fully appreciated.
It got quite dark and started getting quite cold. As the last light disappeared over the horizon we put on the electric vests.
"Very much more gooder." as Bruce would say. I don't tavel anywhere without a vest but I had let myself get quite cold. At this point, Bruce pointed out that he had had his seat warmer on for some time, because, you know, what are friends for?
"I can't believe we're doing this. This is fantastic!" Bruce said many times. This was one of the best weekend rides I've ever had. Despite tar snakes, gravel, memories of a minor little off that has grown into something much bigger in my head, getting stung on the neck, this was a great weekend.
We made it to Grants, New Mexico around 9PM and to our dismay it's a town filled with hotels but no restaurants. Everything was closed. We found an area of something like 8 motels but there wans't a single restaurant other than McDonalds which doesn't count as food in my book.
We rode around town and eventually asked someone. "There's a diner 5 miles away that's open for a few more hours but that's it."
Avoid Grants. There's no reason to go there.
We went to dinner and then using Expedia, Bruce found a really good deal on a room at the Red Lion, so off we went for another 5 mile journey. We both slept well and were up reasonably early the next morning. We decided to Super Slab it back towards Los Alamos. We stopped in Albuquerque and then headed up along a very scenic route to a lake where Ha and the kids were fishing. Looking for where they were, we did a bit of fairly broken dirt road and a large rocky mud puddle crossing. Unfortunately, like and idiot, I didn't hold the camera right as Bruce crossed it and it's chopped off. It was going to be a nice "who needs a GS" video showing splashing through water, over rocks and through dirt. Bummer.
We did eventually find the family and hung out for a while. From there, we head back to White Rock and home. On the way, yet another bee found it's way onto my neck. Man that hurt! It wasn't quite as bad as a wasp sting but I swear that it hurt a lot more than a bee.
The weekend was ending as we came rolling into White Rock. There had been quite a few police around so we were keeping it to the speed limit. Coming down the hill I saw a tall long legged woman peddling up a storm down the hill. As I came up next to her, I noticed we were doing 40mph, so I looked over and mentioned a "4" "0" with my left hand. I don't think she had a speedometer on the bicycle. Bruce and I rolled on as I was remarking on how fast she was rolling. The speed limit dropped to 35 and we were doing over when I looked in the mirror and her putting the hammer down. She blew by us with a shit eating grin on her face. She was doing well over 45mph. She turned into the street that we were turning into and then onto Bruce's street. I was concerned that she might think we were following her so despite the fact she was doing well in excess of the 25mph speed limit there I suggested to Bruce we pass her. I'm always thinking along those lines. As we did, I waved. She waved back, shit eating grin still plain to see. "I've never been passed by a bicycle before." I laughed. We've been laughing about this moment since.
On Facebook, Kai asked if I had gotten her number or at least bought her a drink. As if. Some moments are best left as moments. Hold on to them for too long and it can color them. This was a wonderful moment and still brings a smile to my face.
We arrived at Bruces house shortly thereafter, the woman no where to be seen in the rear view. I guess she turned off.
It was such a good weekend and over so quickly.
"There's never enough time." I said. "And the time we do take always seems to go by so quickly." Bruce responded. "but I can't believe I did this. This was awesome!"
There are always reasons not to do a thing. There are always responsibilities, duties and fears that prevent us from taking the time out to do the things we love. Life is short and one can't shirk responsibilities irresponsibly. But there has to be Balance. Every once in a while it pays to venture out and see the world.
It's a good thing I'm an Enabler(tm). It's a good thing, I think.
"I can't go while the kids are in school, but maybe I can go cross country with you after I've retired?" Bruce asked fatefully.
This got me to thinking. It's probably not constructive to talk about what one can't do. Maybe it's better to ask the question, "How can I do it given all these parameters, responsibilities and constraints?"
If you think about it often enough, you may find, there is usually a way. It may not be the way you initially thought of but if you are flexible, if you are open minded, there is almost always a way to make it happen.
I'm now sitting in a Starbucks in White Rock listening to physicists discuss mathematics around me. Bruce joined me for a short while on his lunch break to say goodbye and soon I will get back on the bike and head to Durango to go meet John and Lucy for dinner. Tomorrow the plan is to venture out on the lonely long flat road home and in a few days find out what awaits me there, if anything.
I thought that maybe this would be the last trip in a very long while as my financial situation is getting to be a bit dire, entirely my ke town fault. It will probably take too long for M-BY-MC to generate enough revenue to support me, so I'll end up having to take on some other projects to keep the whole operation afloat. So I thought I'm not going to be able to do this kind of thing again, but I think with some compromises, adjustments, and open mindness, I suspect I will be able to do a trip like this again before too long.
"There are always possibilities." Spock would say.
I woke unusually early, 6:30 AM which might as well be no-man's time, and spent the extra hours writing while listening to yet another wind storm making a ruckus outside. Even after a few hours, the ruckus didn't die down. Venturing out into the light, I noticed the sky was an unusual orange brown color. "Smog?" I wondered but thought that I was too far from any major cities for that to be the case. Sand and silt could be seen blowing along the pavement in the 20mph or so winds. Looking at my bike, I noticed it was covered in dust. "Is this what a dust storm looks like?" I wondered.
I live in an abstract world. Most physical details around me escape my attention. Most things I see I perceive as "someone else's problem", with the appropriate hat tip to Douglas Adams. For instance, the night before I had noticed this neatly sloped pile of sand and silt on the leeward side of a curb. Did I ask myself the question of how it got there? Of course not, that's somebody else's problem. I had more important things to do such as find something to eat and contemplate the intricacies of my navel which provides me endless hours of entertainment.
Now had I actually pondered how the sand and silt came to be so neatly arranged I might have known how often dust storms plague this area.
I have never been in a dust storm before. I couldn't ride with the visor up without silt getting into my eyes. I pondered whether or not I should be wearing some filter as I was breathing this stuff in. Coughing fits later may have been some indication. I tried to snap a number of photos but had the inkling that they really wouldn't capture what it looked like.
"Look, this is what Yermo calls a dust storm. Wuss."
This wasn't bad at all, just a new experience, but one that gave me the sense it could, at a moments notice, become much worse. There were a number of automated signs along the way warning of dust storms and low visibility. Some fixed signs confirmed that it could become much much worse.
Fortunately for me, the level of dust in the air and the visibility stayed pretty much constant. I was feeling pretty good so decided to try to make some time. Typically I take a break every 90 miles regardless of whether I feel I need it or not. The times that I have broken this rule I end up being much more tired at the end of the day, but it was only 200 miles to Clifton, AZ where route 191 starts and then only 140 so miles up to Eager, AZ. So I rode 130 or so miles until I needed to get gas and then rode onto Clifton. Instead of taking an extended break in Clifton, I decided to continue on. Clifton seems like an odd little town hidden in a canyon.
As I approached Clifton from the South I could see some odd formations in the distance. "A mining operation?" I wondered. I was unprepared for what I was about to encounter. Route 191 goes straight through the operation, fences bordering both sides of the road. The scale of the devastation is not to be believed. It's not just that they took the top of a mountain off, it looks like they dug one up and destroyed it.
It goes on for miles. Humanity needs resources and they have to come from somewhere but there's something deep inside the psyche, possibly from the same place that experiences awe in Carlsbad Caverns, that can't help but feel that maybe Agent Smith was right after all, we are a plague on this beautiful planet and it is suffering. How many places in the world look like this? Could it be done another way or if not, could it maybe be healed somehow afterwards? I've been told that in Germany if you cut down a tree you have to plant and manage the growth of several to replace it. Can't we do something similar?
Then I think I am not blameless. Humanity needs to take resources from the planet so that I can ride my motorcycle over it. I am keenly aware of my own culpability in this horrible ugliness before me and all the other ugliness there is in the world. The tarmac that I rely on is itself a scar on the surface of the world. I try to limit my footprint. I try to be consicous. I try not to waste recklessly. But it's all relative. To my friend Ted who lives on Dancing Rabbit my footprint in this world is many factors greater than his and is unconscionable. Others I know have footprints many factors larger than my own.
But my beloved Blue Oil Burner itself, despite getting 58mpg on the last tank, does no good for the planet that I can think of. As I ride across this vast country, I spew hydrocarbons out, leave rubber on the road, kill countless insects and the occasional kamikazee rodent, consume parts and in the end do a net amount of harm to the world, all so that I can think clearly because for whatever reason the motorcycle is the only place I feel at home. I can try to justify to myself that I am doing less than others. There are those driving around bus sized RVs towing huge pickup trucks behind them doing more miles than I am. There are those burning hundreds if not thousands of gallons of fuel per hour to propel megayachts and huge jets. I can console myself by thinking I am doing less harm than they are. There are those riding electric motorcycles thinking the same thing looking at me but are also deluding themselves. Even an electric motorcycle is a net negative for the world unless some positive action is taken to mitigate the effects. The same is true of my own oil burner.
Maybe I will frame a picture of this on my wall as a reminder to do better.
The power of humanity is both awesome and horrifying. We can do so much worse than just bring a mountain down.
The scope of this operation is unbelievable. They even have "scenic view pullouts" so you can marvel at the horror of the devastation.
After some miles the mountains left standing provide a reminder for what it used to look like. The road narrows and then becomes impressively twisty.
There are sections, long sections, of this road that rival the twistiness of Deal's Gap. Rania from Revzilla along with a Super Tenere rider I met a couple of days ago said this road needed to be seen. They did not exaggerate. There are 30+ mile sections where the speed limit is 25mph and most corners are rated at 10 to 15mph. There are switchbacks everywhere.
The road carves its way along the canyon twisting and turning in every conceivable fashion. There is nothing preventing you from falling off the edge of forever if you happen to lose a moments concentration or, more likely, hit some of the hidden gravel that plagues this route.
"Be careful." the pickup driver said, "run off the road and you're likely not to hit solid ground until around breakfast time." He was not kidding.
Did I mention this road is something like 140 miles long?
At one point, after 20, maybe 40 miles, I came across a little picnic area at the crest of a mountain. I regretted not having had lunch before doing this route. I did have some emergency snacks and water with me. I would strongly recommend bring some food and water along. This road is quite tiring. I set up my snacks and water on another Ragnarock picnic table when I noticed a trail leading off to the sky. I followed it and came upon a simply incredible view.
"Yermo on Top of the Mountain"
Some kind soul had deposited a picnic table right there at this incredible view. This is such a German thing to do. I went back, gathered my snacks and water and proceeded to sit in this place for a while. The panorama shot I took of this spot did not turn out, but you could see a view like the one below from 3 sides.
There was a cool breeze but it was warm and sunny. It was quiet and I felt very alone. But this place was beautiful.
There are some moments in a lifetime that should not be spent alone. This was one of them.
Next to the picnic table I noticed a cactus. On my 2010 trip, I had asked a friend of mine, Claudia, what I should bring back for her. She asked for a silly photo of me with a cactus. Unfortunately, I found no cacti on that trip. I always try to keep my promises but I'm not necessarily very punctual about it. So here it is, 4 years later and I finally got the photo.
Clearly, posing with a cactus is serious business.
I rode on continuing along this twisty route climbing up the side of one impressive mountain and down the other for what seemed like hours. Over the entire day, I don't think I saw more than half a dozen cars. For one two hour stretch I didn't see a single person.
Eventually, the road opens up for a short while across this meadowland.
There are signs warning of cattle in the road. They were not lying. The bull on the left eyed me menacingly as I passed.
After some relatively short sections of straight it gets twisty again. I regret not taking a photo of the "25mph curves next 30 miles" sign.
This road is aggressivly twisty with incredible views and menacing dropoffs around every corner. Over all the pavement quality is quite good but there are sections covered in tar snakes and others where the pavement is irregular and cracked. Gravel is a constant threat. I'd say only about 10% of the corners had any significant gravel in them. One advantage of the dark pavement is that it makes gravel, dust and dirt effortless to see.
It wasn't until much later in the day, after texting Bruce about the road, that I realized how much my off in Virginia has affected me. I thought back over my day on this road riding alone. If I had an off here and fell down into the unknown, I doubt anyone would find me for days if not weeks. The gravel made me uncharacteristically nervous. Typically, what I like to do when coming around a blind corner is go to the far side, so for instance in a tight left corner I'll go to the farthest point to the right so that I have the longest view down the road to see if anything is coming or there are any hazards in the road. I call it my "street line". This is in contrast to those who want to go around a corner as fast as possible where you typically go outside inside outside, called a race line. A race line, in my humble opinion, is not appropriate for the street because it prevents you from seeing down the road around the corner.
I was coming around on left hand corner where I saw gravel on the outside of the white line well outside of my path but regardless I stayed towards the center of the lane restricting my view around the corner which caused me to see the truck barreling down towards me later than normal.
It surprised me and that's not a good thing.
My fear of gravel now irrationally overrides my fear of trucks. We have events that hurt us and we then overcompensate for those events even if they are rare. One off in 29 years and suddenly gravel is all I worry about. It's stupid and can be dangerous. I'm reminded of the Carlsbag Ranger telling me I couldn't store my bags because of 9/11. We fear sharks despites ticks and mosquitoes being far more deadly.
Most corners on this road have precipitous dropoffs. Sliding out from one of these corners would likely be fatal. Fortunately, outside corners rarely have any gravel on them and there tends to be enough clean pavement around those inside corners that if you happened to hit gravel the tires would likely grab again before making it into the oncoming lane, as long as you don't highside. A highside is where the tires grab again so violently that the bike flips launching the rider to the outside. That would be Bad(tm). You always want to low-side.
Needless to say, this is a slow road and I was going pretty slowly.
Despite it's beauty and twistiness, I was keenly aware of the risk. I have long wondered about motorcycle racers who suffer incredible injuries only to get back on the bike and go faster. How do they do that? How do they get past the trauma, the fear, and the doubt to go do it again?
I've seen others suffer trauma's of various kinds only to get up, brush themselves off, and try again seemingly unaffected. Granted, I fell. I got up, brushed myself off, and continued on, but I fear the event has changed me a bit. I could feel a tentativeness in my riding that was not there before. I was not fluid. I would come across gravel and I could feel myself tighten up. It took several hundred turns before I could begin to approach riding fluidly.
On one turn coming around moderate left hander, the pavement suddenly changed and looked like deep loose gravel to me. I immediately felt my arms lock on the handlebars and as I have said to so many, "When you feel the bike not turning it's you, not the bike."
It was not gravel. It was a section of patched pavement and the traction was fine, but I still went wider than I wanted to because of a exaggerated fear response.
Fear. Fear of a past event manifested itself to make a present event that should have been entirely drama free into something truly frightening. I now fully understand the famous adage "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Fear on a motorcycle is far more dangerous than the hazards in the road. The hazards will be there. It's how we react to those hazards that will dictate our outcomes. If we let the fear of a past event paralyze us so that we exaggerate our reactions to the present event, not thinking, our outcomes will not be the ones that we desire.
For whatever reason, traumas I have experienced whether the off in Virginia or things that happened 40 years ago, become inextricably woven into the fabric of my being. How many relationships, how many opportunties, how many situations have I ruined because present events invoke past traumas causing my internal reaction to be exaggerated?
As I rode past the pavement patch, I paused to think about what I had just felt. Something unexpected happens and you get that lightning strike "oh shit!" feeling and it seems like your mind is overridden. You know what you should do, but are unable to, initially at least, do it. Grabbing the bars tightly on a bike is NEVER a good idea. I know to express my tension through my legs but sometimes, when your senses are overridden, it's like your mind turns off, at least for a second. Pause. Look up and where you want to go. Grab the tank with your knees as hard as you can. Feel yourself loosen on the bars. Feel the bike go where you need it to.
It's been a very long time since I was so cognizant of this feeling, but now that I'm reminded of what it feels like maybe I can remember it and when I find myself in that situation again, I may yet learn to react differently in motorcycling and in other aspects of my life.
There were many signs warning of wildlife in the road. They were not kidding.
There were also many signs like this There was one that marked off a 30 mile section.
I did see two elk gazing quite a ways off the road but was unable to get a photo of them.
And what is it about turkeys wanting to stand around in blind cornes?
I don't remember how many hours it took me to ride the entire length of this road. It was beautiful, twisty, challenging, and in places treacherous. It's definitely a must see route but it is one that must be ridden cautiously.
Temperatures dropped markedly. It was in the 40's by the time I rolled out onto the flatter sections. I thought it might snow but all the clouds did was interrupt the sunset.
I was good and chilled so decided to stop in Spingerville, AZ where i'm staying at a motel. I was going to meet John up in Moab or Mesa Verde but I was saddened to hear that his clutch has failed and his bike is being towed back to Albuqurque for repairs. Poor guy. I feel really bad for him. This leaves me with another redirection in my trip. Initially, I was going to go up to Denver but the weather and wind has conspired to make that unpleasant.
I'm always nervous about using unproven systems when I travel. That's why I've been so nervous about my own bike which I managed to re-assemble only a few days before leaving on this trip. Lately, my bike has been vibrating differently and getting surprising gas mileage. It's jumped from averaging around 48mpg to getting upwards of 58mpg. I thought it might be an exhaust leak so I've carefully inspected the exhaust system and everything else I can think of. I posted to the BMW MOA group and the consensus seems to be it's "summer fuel" combined with the higher altitudes. I'm keeping an eye on it.
Given that I can't meet John and Lucy now, I wasn't sure what I was going to do today. That, it turns out, was decided for me. I ate something last night or this morning that has caused me the kind of problems I talk about. So as always sees to happen at least once on these trips, I'm one hurtin' puppy and am down for the count. I'll spend the day holed up in this motel. Bruce is going to ride out and meet me here tomorrow and we're going to go and ride 191 together on Saturday. It's a road he's wanted to ride. Spending some more time with my friend is going to be good. I'm looking forward to it.
Just start. Don't worry where it ends up, even if you risk it ending up someplace that you're not going to like, like Texas.
What is true for traveling by motorcycle is also true of writing. When I travel with others, regadless of who it is, I never seem to take the time to gather my thoughts and compose them into words. It somehow seems rude to take so many hours away from close friends that mean the world to you when you see them so rarely.
There have been many moments over the last couple of weeks worthy of articles that will likely never get written.
There were the incredible small twisty roads we explored in Virginia and West Virginia, the turn of the century hotel we stayed at where a room with two double beds was actually two complete rooms, the time on Beale Street in Memphis listening to countless Blues Bands and, for an unfortunate and completely unintentional moment over dinner, the screeching sounds of the worst death metal I have ever heard, the predatory women that seemed to be everwhere there, the green gentle beauty of the Ozarks and the cabin we stayed at, the wind, the relentless punishing wind that started pummeling us senseless as soon as we left the hills, the endlessness that was Oklahoma and how surprised we were that route 412 across it was, despite the wind, a nice ride, the views around Los Alamos and the surrounding countryside, and so many others.
Then there are the souls we have encountered along the way. Bob, a pastor of a small church outside of Memphis, who rode his FJR out to meet us on Beale street who we 'enabled' to go for a ride with us towards the Ozarks. A kind and considerate man with many responsibilties and challenges. "You should join us. It's really not that far." A very disciplined rider we introduced him to the Sena SMH10 communicator. We talked for a while. "I'm a motorcyclist, not a biker. There's a difference." He has a tatoo on his arm, "Trust the Journey", which has become one of the recurring themes on this trip. There are some people you meet who you know you can ride with immediately. Bob is such a person.
There was Michael who, when he realized we were about 40 miles away just after leaving the Ozarks, rode his big Harley down to join us for a while over dinner. While we were preparing for this trip, he kindly took the time out to suggest many local roads in the Ozarks. I felt bad that we had so little time there and weren't able to explore any of them. I hope to go back and ride with him at some point.
There was Bruce's friend, Adrian, the 27 year old German Phd Student, who is working on his first Phd in Physics which he is about to finish. In August he goes to Berkelely to start his second Phd in Nuclear Physics. On top of that he has an Electrical Engineering degree. He also rides so we 'enabled' him to shirk his responsibilities to join us for a number of rides around Los Alamos.
There was Sven, Bruce's friend and Adrian's Phd adviser, who is also German. Unfortunately his bike was not running so he couldn't join us. While sitting around in a hot tub we had 6 guys trying to diagnose hsi big chopper in the hopes he could join us, but it was not to be. I did however stay up entirely too late with Sven listening to German Metal and discussing software while he intermittendly pulled out one of his several accordians to play some of the best accordian I have ever heard along with whatever metal video was playing on his custom engineered streaming video player (Rammstein on Accordian? who knew?)
In the presence of Sven and Adrian I feel entirely unaccomplished and uneducated.
There was Bruce and Ha and how well they took care of me while I stayed with them. Not just friends, close family, and they have been that for ages. There was the moment we talked John into bringing his wife Lucy up to Bruces so we all spent some time together. There was so much life in the house for the weekend.
So many stories, but the moving hands writes and those time have past and if I try, as I had intended, to capture those times gone by I will miss the time right now.
Bruce and Ha had wanted me to stay with them. A very big part of me wanted to stay. I feel more at home in their company than I do in my own house, but the road had been calling to me strongly for some days. I think I need some time alone on long roads. Once again I find myself in that place, despite my best efforts, where I need to See, Think, and Feel Differently. Somehow, on this trip so far, that sense of the road getting inside has not happened. I've been closed and disconnected and I don't know why. Maybe it's the familiarity. Having done it too much over the last few years it's losing it's potency.
Or maybe I just need to up the dose like any other addict. Bruce and Ha had suggested that Carlsbad Caverns was a place to see despite it being a long straight boring ride. Interestingly, that appealed to me.
After riding through a dusting of snow to get to Starbucks to meet Bruce, I left Los Alamos late on Monday and rode through some of the most punishing winds I've ridden through in ages. 40+ mph sustained wind with random gusts of over 60 conspired to beat me senseless for 200 some odd miles. It felt like 800.
I stopped and grabbed a hotel in Roswell. Note to self, if possible don't eat at Applebees.
The nice lady behind the counter at the hotel suggested I go down Main Street to see the alien head street lamps. "They glow green at night." she said. I was too beat to get back on the bike. The wind had taken it out of me.
The next day, I got up fairly early. There was a Yamaha Super Tenere rider who I chatted with for a little bit about local roads. He said he was heading out to ride route 191 in Arizona. He's heard about it for years and said it's supposed to be fantastic. Rania from RevZilla also suggested it, so I decided at that moment that I would go take a look see the next day. I slowly made my way towards Carlsbad to take a look at these Caverns. "It's a spiritual experience." Bruce had said. Bruce rarely says things like that.
As I left Roswell, there were, in fact, alien head lamp posts.
It had been suggested to me to go to the Alien Museum but I'm not a fan of kitch so I opted to make some time. I had somehow imagined that Roswell would not look like just another town, but it looks entirely generic to me. Maybe I'm missing something.
There was significantly less wind. The Caverns were only 90 some miles from Roswell so I didn't have to rush. As I neared the mountains on the horizon, I noticed a dirt road that climbed a strangely compelling hill. "I gots to know where it goes." I thought to myself and possibly said out loud for no one to hear. In part, I guess I wanted to confirm that I could still ride in low traction. In part, I just can't seem to avoid a good dirt road.
"Who needs a GS adventure bike?" I thought as I climbed the rocky twisty hill which turned out to be rutted and filled with quite a bit of goldball and larger sized sharp gravel.
Up is always easier than down on a motorcycle. In walking, it's the opposite.
I made it back down the hill without incident or scare and headed off to the state park. The entrance road is 7 miles long and rolls through this little canyon. You find myself wondering how there could be any caverns around here, let alone the largest limestone caverns in the Western Hemisphere.
At the time I rode it, the road was deserted. Upon reaching the parking lot I immediately knew I was going to like this place.
I went inside with helmet, jacket and tank bag in hand hoping to be able to store my stuff somewhere. The nice gentleman behind the counter informed me that since 9/11 they had removed all the lockers and they were not allowed to store anyone's stuff. "We rarely have any problems." he said. "I wish I could guarrantee it for you, but obviously I can't."
This is one of the problems with motorcycle travel. What do you do with all your gear and stuff? I put the tank bag back on the bike and locked my helmet in place. I had hoped to put my jacket somewhere as it's quite heavy, but alas I was going to have to go hiking in my transit suit.
I went to get a ticket and the woman asked which I would like to do, the natural entrance or the elevator. The Natural entrance is something like a mile long walk that descends 800 feet. The main cavern itself is a 1.3 mile loop. Hearing "These boots are not made for walking." in my head, I wisely said "the Natural Trail please."
After a short orientation about the rules I started my stroll. They say that even a normal level voice can travel over a quarter mile in the cavern. You're not allowed to touch anything. The oils from human skin damage the varous formations in the cavern.
Along the way there was a bit for foreshadowing. I've seen something like this before. I think I made the same decision that I've made before.
On I strolled.
At the right time of year, you can sit in this ampitheatre and watch the bats fly out. I suspect Audrey would really like this.
I still didn't quite understand where this cavern was. Then I saw this hole. "That can't be it." I thought as the path clearly went in that direction.
When I approached the edge of the hole and looked down a let out a "Whoa!" which promptly echoed for some time down into the depths alerting all to my presence. I stopped and listened. Did I hear drums?
I looked to see if "Speak Friend and Enter" was inscribed anywhere. Suspecting that this was not, in fact, Moria, I started my descent into the bowels of the earth.
I have always been strangely drawn to the deep dark places in the world.
The walk down was impressive beyond words. After a short while it became cool and the only illumination was from dim lights. Without these lights it would have been pitch black. Being an awestruck tourist I foolishly attempted to snap hundreds of photos of which only a few turned out. They simply do not capture the magic of this place. I am not sure that any words, any photos, anything other than being physically present in this magical place can convey the feeling. You simply have to go.
I found myself wondering why humans ever evolved the ability to feel 'awe'. One is overtaken by a deeply reverant feeling. Everyone was quiet as even whispers could be heard over great distances and there truly were great distances in this seemly endless cavern.
I talked to one of the park rangers asking about wildlife. He explained that the simple presence of humans in the cave with the hair and skin cells we leave behind just by being there is affecting the cavern. Spiders that are not native to the cave now make there way down along the path and with that other predators including snakes. "But away from the path there isn't much other than bats."
I walked one for some hours. The Transit Suit jacket became quite heavy after a while. By the time I had made the loop all the way around I wisely decided to take the 800 foot elevator up instead of trying to climb back out. "Up is harder than down when walking." I reminded myself.
I will return to this place some day and take their guided 'off path' trails to explore some of the more inaccesible areas. There's an entire lower cavern which is just mind boggling given that the big room can accomodate a 747 and is in places 300 feet high.
All I can say is I would gladly make the ride across the country again just to see this place again. If you are anywhere near New Mexico, simply go. Experience this place. The Park Service has done an exceptional job at preserving it while make it accessible. It's not cheesy like some East Coast caves. It is a place to be quiet and wonder, much like the feeling in the large European Cathedrals. Just go.
By the time I reached the surface, my suit had reprised it's Toxic nature and had, once again, become an extremely effective form of birth control.
I had lunch, bought a card and a DVD. I was pleased to see that my gear had not been touched. I slowly made my way towards Clifton, AZ where this route 191 starts. It was a bit further away than I had anticipated. The GPS routed me down around El Paso. "Texas." I thought. I have not had good times in Texas. The last time I was here, in '92, we had an unfortunate meeting with a number of Texas Rangers. Not nice men.
I was surprised to see the 75mph speed limit. I missed, or more likely, ignored the 55mph speed sign once I entered a section of park land on this deserted road. A trooper came in the other direction in a vehicle I did not immdiately recognize. The lights went on. "Shit." I thought, "I've been in Texas for less than 10 minutes." Given that I was going probably 20+ over, I had visions of court dates and other hassles.
I pulled over immediately, slowly got off the bike and removed my gloves and helmet deliberately and in clear view of the officer. I took off my sunglasses and stood there.
To my surprise the officer was very laid back, professional and courteous. "I need you to slow it down through the park."
After a short while after giving him my info, he came back. "I'm giving you a warning. Tone it down. Have a nice day."
I went on and eventually descended into hills and then serious flat that went on for hours. I came across sketchy towns that I opted not to stop in.
I continued on for some hours well past dark. I arrived feeling a bit differently. Seeing the caverns opened me a bit. Maybe the road can get inside now.
I leave you with a sunset over Texas.
Some too many days ago in a state far far away called Virginia ...
"Do you like them thar curvey roads?" the man behind the counter asked in a thick southern accent.
"Why yes, Sir. We certainly do." I replied wondering what kind of local roads we were about to discover.
"If you take a right down in Tazewell onto Route 16 it goes over three mountains and is real curvey and pretty. I think they call it that thar 'Back of the Dragon'."
We would have ridden right past it had he not mentioned it. The refrain of the day became "Do you like them curvey roads?"
We had been warned by many to watch out for gravel in corners. A couple of years ago my previous traveling companion had had an off on it due to gravel so we took the road fairly cautiously.
As almost everyone knows, Deals Gap, also called The Dragon, is my favorite road in the country followed closely by the Blue Ridge Parkway. This road, however, doesn't rate quite up there. While it's wonderfully twisty in sections as it climbs over the three mountains and is extremely scenic, it's a traveling road that connects the towns of Tazewell and Marion. The time that we rode it the road was clean. It was a good ride and as long as it's clean I would say worth the detour.
As is always the case, photos don't do the views justice.
I have to thank John for the inspiration to travel the way I had always wanted to travel. At this point, it had already been days since we had left but we were still in Virginia. I knew that later on in the trip the roads would not be nearly as good so we were taking our sweet time and checking out every one of "them thar curvey roads" that we could find.
I really should take 10 days some time and simply explore Virginia and West Virginia. I suspect there are many more roads to find.
At the summit of the last mountain we came across some BMW riders.
"Have you ridden route 80 yet?" the man asked. "No, Sir. Not yet."
"It's twistier than this one with a lot less traffic and no shoulders. It's 1 1/2 lanes wide. You should go check it out. It's just 20 miles South of here."
I suggested it to John. "We'll play now and make up mileage later." I told John and he agreed. "The roads in the Ozarks aren't quite as good as these so we should really take our time now."
I really appreciate Johns flexibility. We had to be in New Mexico on Thursday evening but that was still a number of days away so we had some time. It did mean we would have to have some moderately big days but the sacrifice was worth it.
Off to Route 80 we went.
This road is significantly twistier than route 16 and one could clearly see that it was much less traveled. There was significant gravel in every corner but it was easy to see and avoid.
"Roll on the throttle a bit as you're coming through the corner to stay on clean pavement." I told John through the Sena SMH10. There was a thin line of gravel along the center in each corner so staying on one side or the other of the lane kept you in clear pavement. Going from the outside to the inside of the corners meant crossing the line of gravel approaching the apex. It wasn't enough to be a problem but could be disconcerting. We were going pretty slowly. Looking back I noticed John was getting uncomfortable so I slowed it down even more. As we crested the mountain, the pavement changed to a lighter colored surface.
A car came around the corner just before a sharp steep left hander I announced, "Car." over the Sena. My memory of the details that happened next are a bit unclear.
I saw gravel on the outside of the corner so I stayed towards the center of the lane. I started turning in on what looked like clean pavement when suddenly the front wheel stepped out. Traction interrupted, my direction changed abruptly. There was no traction front or rear. I was sliding laterally.
It was like a lightning strike down my spine, my senses overloaded. It wasn't quite abject panic, but close.
"Fuck!" John heard over comms.
I was pretty sure I could save it. I was sliding a bit laterally but I still thought I had clean pavement ahead. I thought the tires would hook up. "I'll save it." I thought.
"Fuck!!" John heard.
The tires just wouldn't hook up. Into the deeper gravel I slid.
Then came that point where I knew that there was no saving it.
I have been riding on pavement for 29.5 years without an off. Today that changed.
I slid a bit further and suddently both wheels slid out from under me as I entered the really deep gravel. I let go of the bike and hit pavement. The wheels dug in and the bike flipped over into a ditch. I slid for some few feet and ended up with my back against the sharp point of a large rock.
"FUCK!!!! Serious gravel, be careful!"
Then there was quiet.
Adrenaline kicked in and I was standing before John arrived around the corner. I had the presence of mind to stop. I stood there and surveyed the scene as John rolled up.
My bike was shiny side down in a ditch. One saddle bag had come off. I looked at the rock that had been behind me. Gasoline was leaking onto the ground. I felt no pain and I was calm. There was no anger but I knew at that moment that now everything would be Different.
I thought the bike was likely beyond repair. John walked over and together we tried to lift it. It's much heavier than I remember. After a first attempt, I removed the tank bag to lighten it and we put the full force of our effort into lifting it as a group of harley riders rode up.
We managed to get the bike upright. To my surprise the handlebars looked more or less straight. I looked down the fork tubes and they seems straight as well.
"Do you need some help pushing it out of the ditch?" the Harley rider asked. I pondered for a second how many harley's I've help lift out of ditches. "I think I can ride it out." I replied as I started the engine. It fired up. "Good." I thought as I put it into gear and rode it out of the ditch and onto the shoulder.
"I've been down a few times. I blame it on stupidity." the Harley rider said. I looked over my poor bike. I had just gotten it all back together again and it had looked so pretty.
Now it's scarred.
I don't remember their names, but we thanked the Harley riders for stopping to lend a hand.
"Suddenly I just heard, 'Fuck' over the comms. I've never heard you curse before." John said. "Once I heard that I knew to go super slow."
"How many fucks did you hear?"
"Four fucks in seven seconds." he replied.
"That's a lot of fucks in seven seconds."
I've seen many offs in my time but I've never experienced one. I've seen offs wreck riders confidence.
I have very often thought about what it would do to me if I ever had an off. What would I feel?
I kept replaying what had happened. "We were going pretty slowly." John had said. Later he would tell me he was very uncomfortable with the road.
I still felt no pain but I knew that it was likely the result of adrenaline so I moved a bit cautiously. After many minutes I still felt no pain.
"It looks like the gear worked." I said to John.
I couldn't figure out how I could have missed gravel deep enough to cause a slide. What did I miss? What I initially remembered was t rhat I had gone a bit wide and maybe hit the gravel on the outside. We reviewed the video later that day and it shows me on what looks like clean pavement towards the center of the lane.
"Was I going too fast?" I would think. I was going slowly, probably not much over 25mph but, in retrospect, I should have been crawling expecting deep gravel.
"Arrogance?" I thought. "Overconfidence in my ability to respond to hazards?"
"Have I become a hazard? Does it now mean that I am not a danger on the bike?"
I chatted with John about it. He suggested vision starts to get worse with age and maybe that's why.
"Maybe I've gotten too old to do this anymore."
I still didn't feel any pain at all. There wasn't much evidenced of hitting pavement on my gear. The Transit Suit is dusty but not badly scuffed. My gloves do show that they did their job.
I suspect if I had not been wearing full gear I would have been moderately to seriously injured. I'm not sure how hard I had hit the rock that stopped my slide but without a decent back protector I would likely have fared much worse.
My poor bike.
I still felt no pain.
I checked over the bike. It seemed ok so we rode on. The instrument cluster is slightly tweaked and the handle bar is a bit more bent than before but otherwise the bike handles perfectly.
Strangely, I didn't feel too terribly tentative. "Let's get off this road." John said so we took the first left we could find and headed to points South West.
I kept going over the event as we were riding along. I just couldn't shake how I could have missed it. I swear it looked like clean pavement.
"It's going to be a while before I take a passenger again." I thought.
John and I rode on for many hours. My beloved blue oil burner continued to perform flawlessly. Thoughts of my off dominated my thinking and have for most of my trip.
"I should have been going even slower." I would think.
At one point, John suggested that we stop and take a look at a section of pavement that resembled the surface on which I offed.
This turned out to be very valuable. On the upper side of the white line you can clearly see gravel. What's not visible is that on the lower side of the white line which looks like good pavement is covered in a fine dust and a good amount of the aggregate is loose.
"We have good traction on this road but if it were to accumulate at all it would still look like clean pavement. I've never seen this kind of dust be deep enough to cause any drama."
Then again, I've never ridden these mountain roads in mid-April after a brutal winter.
We discussed relative risk for a while. I tell people that when you go to corner you have to scan the surface for hazards and then look to the apex and then up to the exit where you want to be as you leave the turn. What new riders do is they'll focus on the pavement in front of the tire scared about hazards in the road. This is actually vastly more dangerous because it makes riders go wide, which is one of the most common accidents.
"You have to trust that there will be traction. Even if traction is lost and you're looking to the exit leaned over, you'll low side. Compared to running wide and running into something face first, this is a much better option." I would say.
I've lost traction in a corner only twice before. Once as a teenager I hit wet leaves but managed to keep the bike upright. Another time, a few years ago I hit what must have been an oil slick, but again was able to recover. This is the first time I've completely lost traction and was not able to recover. However, there have been quite a number of times where there have been cars coming around blind corners in my lane or other hazards in my path where unquestioned belief in traction allowed me to avoid them with wide margins.
I'm not yet sure what the lesson is. "Go even slower." is not the right answer. Slow can also be dangerous. Maybe the lesson is "Beware the dust that covers them thar less travelled curvey roads in downhill sections in April."
I'm not sure. Maybe the lesson is that sometimes, there's simply no traction and it's not visible. I'm certain, in retrospect, if I had seen the dust and had not thought it was clean pavement that I would have been able to stop easily before my turn-in. I was going pretty slowly. It was a failure of recognition.
After a day or so I noticed that my right thumb was a bit sore. I guess I hyperextended it. I have a few scrape marks on the fingers of my left hand. There's a bruise on my right leg. That's it.
The gear worked and worked well.
I love my blue oil burner. Now it's scarred. Joel, John's son, has a mentioned a number of times that he'd like to find a bike that he loves as much as I love mine.
Looking at my poor scarred bike I found myself thinking, "The things that I love don't seem to fare so well for it ....."
It's serviceable. It just looks ugly now. At some point, before too long, I'll fix it and make it pretty again.
I am remiss. Too tired to write, I've opted to do something insufficient rather than do nothing at all. The last two days of slow twisty Virginia and West Virginia roads have simply been fantastic. Unfortunately, my GPS has failed so I have no tracks to share.
I joked with my traveling companion, John St John who rode down from New Hampshire to join me on the trip across, that we should just spend the new few weeks exploring West Virginia. The roads here are that good.
Roads of note: Smoke Hole Road. WV Route 250. (Banked twisty awesomeness). Route 219, 20, 60, 41.
We've ridden over 500 miles ot travel 300 and taken two days to do it. It's been cool but not too cold. Sunshine.
John bought a 2007 BMW K1200GT for this trip. It's a beast. I felt bad as he rode through a non-trivial cold torrential downpour to make it here on time. His First Gear suit was not entirely waterproof, I'm sorry to report.
We left promptly some time before mid day to ride some hundred of yards on an epic journey to the College Park DIner.
As many know, I had to do a bit of work on the rear half of my bike in that I had to replace it. I bolted it all back together just this last Saturday. I kept being amazed that nothing had broken. Unfortunately, and completely unrelated, my GPS has failed. We stopped at a Radio Shack to get a multi-tester.
This is old route 55 in West Virginia under New Route 55. This is a seriously impressive bridge.
I walked around and found the largest paper wasps nest I've seen in decades.
Travelling with John has been great. He had not been to Seneca Rocks in some decades and wanted to go. "Oh, that's Smoke Hole Road. It rocks." I said. "Let's go." he replied. "But I thought you wanted to go to Seneca Rocks. "It was just a destination to get us here." he said.
John is surprisingly flexible. We've found some incredible roads as a result. I keep saying that I'm going to do a multi-day West Virginia tour. I will.
On the first night, being very hard core motorcycle campers, once the temperature dropped below 45, we stopped in at the Highlnad Inn. This place was fantastic.
I took too few photos. The countryside and vistas were stunning. West Virginia is beautiful.
There's all kinds of craziness to see here.
Ragnarok picnic table. Steel re-inforced 5x8 beams. When your picnic table absolutely needs to be the last thing standing.
Lunch on the second day.
Not happy. Really not happy. Have I mentioned how very not happy I was at this particular moment? This was wasp #2. John dispatched the first one. Pathetically all I managed to do was piss this one off.
Logging trucks were a constant fixture. This was a good corner.
As I mentioned to some, the rear half of my motorcycle was broken. I am still amazed that it works. After 600 miles I had to change the final drive and transmission oil. This was was done in a comfort inn parking lot. (Because we are hard core motorcycle campers.) Being very responsible I'm carrying the used liter of oil to a recycling center.
When traveling with someone else I find it really difficult to find time to write. There were so many thoughts, feelings and insights to share. Too many stories to tell. But because I am exhausted this is all I have in me to share right now. I hope to write more later in this little trip of mine.
This is a guest post by Robert Argento.On most Tuesday nights, I meet Robert over a glass of wine and we talk about subjects ranging from economics to philosophy and many topics in between. Often these conversations get related to motorcycling. This is his first post on M-BY-M.
For more of Robert's writing see his own blog Marginal Returns to Zen.
Most people tend to think of karma as what goes around comes around. Basically, you have a cosmic ledger of deeds good and bad that decide what is coming to you in the future. Eventually the universe will punish you for your bad deeds and reward you for your good to balance the checkbook of the almighty. You could look at motorcycling this way, interpreting your experiences and those of other riders as a sort of morality play. For example, you could believe you suffered an off on a motorcycle because youre a careless person, even when the off resulted from an unpredictable mechanical failure. In this way you could take any success or failure and construct a narrative that places a value judgment on your character. Good things only happen to good riders and bad things only happen to bad riders the same way that good things only happen to good people and bad things only happen to bad people. If a bad thing happened to you, then it must be punishment for some personal failing.
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
There are people who do not see karma that way. Many of the people who originally began using the word karma did not see karma that way. One way of interpreting the teachings around karma of the old Buddhist masters is to think of the past and the future as only existing in your mind. The past is a mental reconstruction from an imperfect memory and the future is a projection created by your imagination. Thinking this way, the past doesnt define you and the future doesnt have to constrain you. All that baggage is in your head and you have the power to manage what is in your head. If you begin from this premise, then you could conclude that you are not entitled to effectively navigate the impossible corner at 90 miles-per-hour because youve been riding for two decades no more than you are doomed to never make a right-handed turn in one lane because you have yet to do so successfully. These things do not define how well you will do. What defines how well you will do is what you choose to do right here, right now. The moment youre living is all that matters; everything else is just rumble strips in your head.
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Now, the past can give you guidance on which choices to make. If you did not like the outcome of a past choice, then make a new choice. If the past is not helping you make a choice, then stop dwelling on the past. The same can be said of your imagination of the future. If the past and the future are constructs of the mind, and the mind is a tool, then it should only be applied when it serves a purpose. A screwdriver, like a past experience, can be useful when a screw needs to betightened or loosened, but most do not hesitate to put the screwdriver down when faced with a nail, unless of course you have a few loose screws yourself.
I think on some level, that is what draws us to riding. In the discipline of motorcycling, how well or poorly you rode yesterday need not affect how you ride today. How well or poorly you ride tomorrow need not concern you. Dwelling on how you rode at other times only takes attention that you need to safely and effectively operate the motorcycle, making your riding worse and placing you in avoidable danger. Dwelling on the stresses of life outside the motorcycle while you are riding isnt exactly doing you any favors, either. Not only that, but much of the enjoyment of riding, at least for me, comes from letting the performance of riding fully consume your consciousness. To perform better on a bike, you must release the stresses and fears that prevent you from enjoying the moments of your life. To learn to let go and engage in the here and now on the bike builds a skill that you can apply whenever you feel overwhelmed with fear of what lies ahead and regret of what came before. There is something therapeutic to this. In this way, to ride is to meditate.
[Source: Stefan Munder on Flickr]
Colin Busch is a dangerous man. His words, imbued with a relentless optimism and bounding energy, somehow wend their way deep into your subconscious past your best defenses, the hell hounds named "I can't", "I shouldn't" and "What If", to enter that space where old dreams long forgotten slumber undisturbed under layers of dust.
"Just go. It's easier than you think." he says infectiously.
A few years ago, Colin got his passport, international drivers license and some innoculations and with virtually no further planning, no plan, and no Spanish language skills, he rode South. He continued to ride for 11 months reaching Ushuaia, Argentina, the Southernmost point in the western hemisphere reachable by road. Some months ago, Colin gave part I of his presentation at Bob's BMW which I wrote about back then.
When I saw that Bob's was hosting Part II, it was clear that I had to go.
They described this presentation as "For this viewing, in addition to giving a stunningphotographic overviewof his incredible ride through Mexico, Central and South America, this installment will focus more on the logistical and technical aspects of the how, what, why, when of not just surviving, but thoroughly enjoying long distance world travel on a shoestring budget."
We went up as a group and unlike the previous presentation, this second one drew in a much bigger crowd. The parking lot was pretty full for an early March day.
Colin's adventure bike was not in the lot. There's a photo of it in the previous article I wrote. I talked to him briefly wondering why his bike wasn't here. "Well, I wanted to change the handlebar and I noticed the master cylinder was leaking, so now the bike is completely disassembled for a rebuild." he joked. It happens.
This bike in the parking lot caught my attention.
I notice that there is a virtually identical bike in Colin's flicker feed so I suspect this may very well be one of his.
Bob's goes out of it's way to host presentations from a wide range of people from professional authors to world travellers and others. In this way, it goes from being just a dealership to becoming a gateway drug to a much wider world, one that one would normally never has any easy access to. Depending on the expected turnout, they set up in the showroom. I've also seen them clear out the shop and host presentations in that space. Coffee and donuts are usually available and there's very little if any sales pressure. The no pressure environment makes it comfortable to attend and much more likely that people will come back. It honestly feels like they are giving something genuine to the community and I consider myself privileged to live so close to them. There are motorcycles and stuff which is easy to get, but having access to and gaining inspiration from those who are truly passionate about the sport is something much less common in my experience.
They had set up a projector where Colin presented a slideshow of beautiful photos from his trip and told stories of his experiences. While the previous presentation of more of an overview of the whole trip, this one focused a bit more on the logistical challenges and border crossings. It was not, however, technical being instead more philosophical and as such was enjoyable for those who had not seen part I.
Much of what he spoke about echoed my own experiences heading up to Deadhorse. So many people thought I was going to hurt myself or worse taking a street bike up the Dalton. For some reason, that trip did not scare me. It was the beautiful civilized North filled with Nice People and fierce wild animals.
We've all heard the horror stories of travelling through South America. We hear how dangerous it is. The drug cartels and political unrest are rampant. There are stories of people visiting who just go missing. We've all heard how impassable the roads are and how backwards everything is.
What makes Colin dangerous is that he is proof positive that many of these stories are exaggerated or taken out of context. We here, in the DC area, live next to one of the most dangerous cities in the world and think nothing of it. There have been shootouts on my little street here in College Park, a few blocks down, and I hardly give it any thought. But, thinking about going through Mexico, Central America and South America actively scares me. The Unknown is often scary if you let it be.
He's heard all the same stories that I have. He mentioned that in each country as he approached the border they would tell him, "It's so dangerous on the other side, be careful." And in each case, he found largely the same friendly people where ever he went.
He talked about getting shaken down by police but having it be a non-issue, as long as you have the right attitude. He talked about having to improvise and be creative to get the necessary paperwork to cross various borders. The need for flexibility was a theme that was woven through his presentation. "It was so easy." he said. I remember how I thought the Dalton was easy, but I gave the road the time it needs. Many people I met up there had crashed or had ridden with ones who did. Over time a theme developed that those who were trying to ride by deadline instead of riding the road in front of them were more likely to crash.
"I don't ride at night. If you need to be at place X at a certain time and it's hundreds of miles away, that's when you make mistakes." Deadlines when travelling over unfamiliar terrain can kill you.
The other thing that struck me about how Colin dealt with the various challenges he encountered was how he approached everything with a certain flexibility and open mindedness. I suspect in the same circumstances I would have a much harder time not doing everything by the book. It's a personality trait and one that I will spend some time thinking about. He tells a story of not wanting to spend thousands of dollars to get across Columbia "the right way" so he charters a fishing boat and has his bike loaded up on a little runabout and then hoisted on a moderate sized vessel. The captain dropped him and his bike off in Columbia at which point we was arrested and spent two days confined, but well fed. "They just want to know you're not selling drugs." he explained as if it was no big deal at all. I imagine if the same thing happened to me, I would be traumatized and that trauma itself would cause my captors to react differently to me. All you ever hear is that the Columbians will lock you up indefinitely. He said that after two days, they let him go and pointed him to inexpensive nice hotels he could stay at.
There is a parallel to these stories and what I've spent so much time practicing when riding a motorcycle. Inevitably, when riding there will be these moments where Bad Things(tm) happen. You come into a corner too fast. There's gravel in your path. A deer surprises you. In my experience, it's your stress reaction to these events that's the most likely reason for a crash. If you can remain calm and avoid the tension that will cause you to fixate and crash, you can handle situations that others would be convinced cannot be avoided and you can do so easily. But it's also more than that. There's the background stress of expectations. If you have a deadline, if you feel pressure to make miles, are worried about money, are worried what others think, that stress will also force you out of the calm and prevent you from calmly seeing opportunities in front of you.
I've practiced this so much on the motorcycle, but when it comes to my broader life I fail at this miserably. I can ride a motorcycle present but I make every newbie travellers mistake in the rest of my life. I don't treat it as a journey and I don't simply stop to appreciatively take in the moments and people around me. I hate it that intellectually I know this lesson, I've learned it before, but in practice I keep making the same mistake over and over again and it's cost me so much; lost friendships and ruined relationships. Once again, years later, I find myself saying "I'm sorry." Eventually the words lose their meaning and simply the lesson has to be learned or one is doomed to repeat the mistakes again and again, as I 've been doing.
It's when you have the most to lose, when the bike is sliding out to the corner towards the steep drop off, that is when you have to force yourself to be calm so that you can recover. Stress out, be distracted, be rushed, be not entirely present and you will run wide and crash. This is much easier said than done, obviously. The stress, the panic, it blinds and takes over your consciousness to the point that it's all you can see. Let these stresses invade when you're trying to negotiate a border crossing in some third world country and I suspect the results you get will reflect that. Colin spoke about how he would manage his body language so to put people at ease. "Smile." he said. "Don't be rushed." "Take your time." "Don't be stressed. It's the stressed guy that stresses other people and has problems."
I suspect it's the little things, the little people skills that some have and others lack, that separate a successful journey from an unsuccessful one; just as in life. I believe that it was easy for Colin. So much of what he said rang true for me. I'm not sure I would have as easy a time simply because I'm not sure I could approach these problems as calmly. But maybe I can learn.
The presentation lasted an hour and there were so many other stories. He had a seal break on him dumping his transmission fluid out. Someone stopped and helped him by hauling him and his bike to a shop where it could be repaired. He broke his frame and once again there were people around to help. Everywhere, seemingly, that he needed help there were helping hands available. That was another core message from his presentation. You can't really be self-sufficient. You have to know how to ask for help and trust that there will be some around you. You can endlessly stress over the what-if's that can happen Out There. This is just another kind of stress that causes you to overload your bike. You try to plan for every contingency by taking every spare part and tool that you can for fear of being stuck only to find you've broken your frame because you hit a pothole and you had too much gear. "Take less. If need be be willing to buy stuff on the road." He actually took very little gear with him and relatively few tools. But this is also where experience comes in. After a few trips and some time on the road you get a sense for the kind of problems you are likely to run into and you plan for those.
There were other stories as well. There were moments of incredible beauty. There were places he described which seemed simply alien.
In the end, he simply said that going on the Big Trips is so much easier than people make it out to be. "If you are in the right headspace." I added silently. As I said, Colin is a dangerous man who can inspire you to go do foolish things that you will remember for a lifetime.
After the presentation he hung out and talked for at least another half hour.
His flicker feed has countless stunning photos from his trip.
He also wrote a blog which you can read here.
He's talking about putting together a workshop and possibly another blog about what I guess I would call improvisational travel. If he does offer those workshops, I'll attend and report back.
I get a ridiculous number of "corporate" guest blog requests. What these guys do, under contract with some vendor they never seem to want to disclose, is write generic motorcycle content. The catch is they want to include a link to said vendor despite the fact the vendor is so rarely in any way related to the content of the article. "Writes article about great roads in Europe then ends the article with a blurb about some dealership in Kansas." It's a ploy to increase link popularity and search engine ranking. Before I knew better and had a come one come all approach, I hosted one of these but later regretted the experience.
Most of these corporate bloggers are terrible. Some actually write moderately well but it still feels so contrived and disingenuous to me. In the end they are pretending. It's kind of like the nice guy who's nice to a woman simply because he wants something. It feels dirty.
If you're going to be a corporate blogger on contract at least try to be honest about it and write something compelling that involves your sponsor. If your sponsor is a tire manufacturer, interview some of their experts and write an article about tires! I think we would find that interesting. But don't try to put together generic "compelling content" and then bait and switch something that is unrelated.
So something interesting happened today. Some generic corporate blogger contacted me about hosting a guest post. As I usually do, because you never know if it's a real rider or just some blogger for hire, I asked him for a sample of his writing and, unlike so many others, he actually gave me several. They were much better than most, but he still wanted to do the bait and switch thing at the end.
So I politely declined the request. Unexpectedly, he replied back offering me a wide range of gear options in exchange for the post or even to pay me outright to host his content.
I admit this is something I have not considered. The idea that someone would want to pay money to put some corporate content on this site is not something I thought would happen. It's just a very little site after all with a programmer that desperately needs to be fired.
But it raises some interesting questions. Where do we draw the line? There are companies that I think really add something to our experiences as motorcyclists. For instance, if Lee Parks or Keith Code wanted to write an article here talking about their respective schools the answer would be "HELL YES!".
But what about other companies? I guess it comes down to whether or not someone wants to be involved in what we are doing here in a human way. Aerostich? They link to the review I wrote about the Transit Suit from their Transit Suit product page and have included a number of photos of me in their catalogs. That's pretty cool and in a way gives me some street cred. The people I've talked to up there have always been nice and they were very receptive when I reached out to them. They seem to really get it. They host a rally. I think I should probably go. Revzilla is another company of people that really get it and frankly I owe those guys, especially Chris, a big thank you for exposing this little site to a much wider audience. Because of that post, I've gotten to meet a few compelling souls online; some have even joined the site and post regularly to the forum. There's also Bob's BMW, another company that gets it who I talk about probably too often.
So maybe that's the metric. Maybe, if you represent some company and want to post something here you just have to be someone who gets it and be willing to be involved in some real way. You have to be about motorcycling and motorcyclists first.
So I paused for a very brief moment when the offer of money was forwarded. As many know, I'm hurting for revenue, badly. Before too long, I'm going to have to figure out a way to generate some revenue which may involve having to get this thing they call a "Real Job(tm)". But my pause was not about whether or not to take the cash offer.
It was how to say no, politely.
How much is my integrity worth? Clearly, more than any blogger can pay.
I'm taking this break from life to spend some time trying to build this thing, this Miles By Motorcycle, because I want to do something of high integrity. I want to do something honest. I want to find a way to sleep through the night again. And, frankly, right now for this moment in time there really isn't anything else I want to be doing.
I just don't want to do something evil, which really limits my options.
To add insult to injury, someone reached out to me on Twitter and asked me if I was interested in doing some corporate blogging for them ... yea, no.
But then I think about my buddy, Duncan. He had just started watching Game of Thrones when he walked into the office the other day and said, "I'm only on episode four, but I can tell that it's not going to end very badly for that Ned Stark. He's screwed. Things always end badly for men of principle."
"Ned Stark was the only character I identified with." I replied.
He then looked at me knowingly ...
Over the summer I had written a road report about my last trip to Deal's Gap. In that report, I described a few things I had figured out about how to convey the feel of cornering to someone else. Chris at RevZilla noticed the article and put a link to it on the RevZilla Facebook page with a complimentary introduction. This was a very unexpected surprise. That one act caused 100 new people to like the M-BY-MC Facebook page, our best day up to that point.From this and a bit of reading, I gained a few new insights and have since made quite a bit of progress understanding how to do what I call "ethical social media marketing". I'm a very big fan of being ethical.
A short while later, Chris reached out and suggested I stop by RevZilla. We could have lunch. Life got in the way, as it usually does, so it was quite a number of months before I would make the trip.
In the interim, Chris and some other folks from Revzilla did their own trip down to the Dragon. I believe it was their first time down there. It sounds to me like they had a blast.
Later in the summer, I had my little mechanical mishap in Montana and, after my tow of shame across the country, I needed to have my transmission rebuilt. As it turns out, one of the most renowned BMW mechanics in the country, Tom Cutter, lives not very far from RevZilla. so I figured instead of shipping it to Tom, I could hand deliver it and on the way meet Chris for lunch.
I mentioned to Chris that I would be driving up instead of riding because I had the transmission to carry.
"It's ok. We can still be friends." he responded.
Ok. Challenge accepted.
Tom Cutter would later say, "I've seen someone ride with a spare drive shaft but never a spare transmission."
Upon arriving at RevZilla, somewhat chilled to the bone, I walked into the showroom and was approached by a very attractive woman. I was already preparing to say "I'm just here to meet Chris for lunch." in response to the inevitable "Can I help you find something?" question when she asked, "Is that a Transit Suit?".
"Yes." I replied a bit surprised. This turned into a 25 minute conversation about the history of waterproof leather gear in the US market. I learned a few things I did not know.
I should have known better. It was RevZilla after all. These people are motorcyclists and they Get It(tm).
A short while later, Chris showed up and gave me a tour of the facility. It's a gorgeous building in an old navy ship yard complex. They've redone it with a vast open plan that is very tastefully designed. What struck me was how relaxed the environment felt. Quiet relaxed efficiency was the feel that day which is in stark contrast to the hurried, stressed and inhumanly mechanized feel of other places I've seen. Even on a day like this which was quite cold, there were a number of bikes in the parking lot. "It's a bit cold so more people than usual drove to work instead of riding." Chris mentioned almost apologetically.
We rode out to a cafeteria run by a nearby famous company whose name I completely forget because my memory is a sieve these days. It was in this old lofty industrial building. You could see a decommissioned aircraft carrier through the window.
We spent lunch talking about riding and technique. One thing Chris said during our conversation that really stuck with me was, paraphrased, "Your article showed a healthy approach to riding. You ride with the road not attacking it." I had not considered "healthy" as an adjective to use in riding but I like his point.
We spoke a bit about RevZilla. They are relentless in their efforts to improve, "chasing the awesome" as they say. I was left with the feeling that they don't fully understand how highly regarded they are Out There. But then again it's hard.
The problem is, with so many things, you can only see the magic from the outside and those on the outside rarely let you know what the magic is.
It's the same with me. I have absolutely no idea what people like about Miles By Motorcycle or not. I'm always so surprised when I get some specific feedback about this project, because it happens much more rarely than you might imagine.
Chris and I rode back to RevZilla. He got back to his work and I headed up to Tom Cutter to drop off my transmission.
Chris later posted a photo on twitter.
Hubris and Magic
Despite being a "software guy" and mostly making a living writing software, something that I do quite often is to spend hours trying to understand various businesses. I try to think through what I would do with a given business if it were mine, or more often why, if I it were mine, would it have failed.
So think about it for a second. Think about that day when you decide you're going to found a company that sells stuff online and ships from warehouses. You know you're going to invest huge sums of money in a capital and labor intensive business. More over you've decided, for whatever insane reason, to go into a space that has dozens upon dozens of deeply entrenched competitors that have been there for years. Aerostich. Competition Accessories. Motorcycle Super Store. And dozens upon dozens others.
But more than those players, there's an 800 lb gorilla in the room. Amazon.
Amazon has done such an incredible awe inspiring job at streamlining it's entire process that there's really not much, absent some disruptive new technology, that anyone is going to be able to do better in a substantive way. The best you can hope for is to be as good as Amazon. It's such a high bar and would involve so much work and risk that I would never entertain it. Compete against Amazon? That's simply hubris. Crazy.
And yet, here they are. Do I buy anything from Amazon that I can buy from RevZilla? No. What is the most popular vendor in the M-BY-MC forums? RevZilla. Who do I hear about on the street more than anyone else? RevZilla.
But the question is why? Yes, when I order something from RevZilla it shows up the next day or the day after. It's similar with Amazon. RevZilla takes the risk out of my purchases. If something doesn't work out, I can typically just send it back and they make it very easy, just like Amazon.
So in the basic processes of finding something, ordering it, receiving it, returning it, etc RevZilla has done the impossible in that they are as good as Amazon in every way that matters to me. But yet, I still prefer interacting with RevZilla.
However, there is a kink in Amazon's armor when it comes to niche markets. Amazon is an inhuman machine. Being a machine, Amazon cares for nothing beyond fulfillment which they have automated to an incredible degree and have done fantastically well. But yet every interaction with Amazon I have makes me feel completely alone. I'm interacting with software. The human behind the software is just an extension of the machine much like those poor souls connected to the Matrix.
This is how RevZilla competes. To my knowledge, everybody there rides. They understand the subject deeply and that's something I have come to value. They love talking about it, all topics around it, and they are very knowledgeable as the attractive woman from the showroom demonstrated. And this may be a false impression, but everyone I met there seemed far more interested in talking about motorcycles than trying to get me to buy something I don't need. Maybe that's because they know they are already too hazardous to my wealth.
They also understand the maxim of the internet which is "you have to give to get." And they give quite a lot. Imagine the crazy number of hours it's taken to put together all those fantastic video reviews from a motorcyclists perspective about most things in their inventory. It's simply nuts. But with that comes a greater advantage. In the motorcycling world, Amazon will always be just a machine. However, RevZilla has become a knowledge resource and seems to be moving towards a lifestyle brand and more importantly a story. In some ways, they are competing like a media company with a fulfillment arm.
As an act of my own Hubris, given that I don't think I could actually improve or contribute anything of substance to such a well run organization, but purely as a mental exercise, if I owned RevZilla what would I do? I think the problem RevZilla and retailers of gear in general have is that they are only in peoples minds when someone needs something. If I need tires, I think of RevZilla. But if I'm going out on a ride, I typically don't. I would find ways of moving beyond the gear to being a resource during the ride.
Bob's BMW does this really well. They host events, sponsor a racer who gives excellent talks, host world travellers, do presentations, do tech sessions, do tours and always encourage people just to ride on by. We often do on our days rides around town. They have coffee. They also are a gateway to a much wider world of motorcycling. Revzilla could do something akin to this on a grander scale.
In addition, I would expand the lifestyle/story/media side. They have a blog which is quite good.
I would also also get a woman to review female oriented gear. There are so many women getting into riding and they don't have much of voice out there yet. RevZilla could get a real foothold into being a resource for the female rider. Women are, from what I understand, the fastest growing segment of the motorcycle market and they are still quite underserved.
Like I said, it's just Hubris on my part. But it's an interesting mental exercise that I do with many businesses. What would you do if you owned Miles By Motorcycle?
The M-BY-MC Problem
So for quite a number of years, a bunch of bad things happened and I emerged not entirely unscathed. I realized I'm still licking my wounds these years later. The business I've run for 14 years is officially shut down as of 2013. I was in such a bad place that I just didn't have it in me to start a new company chasing money, to go back to contract consulting. There's a huge call for me to go back to doing defense contracting. I have a number of skills and a base of experience that the military finds compelling, but I so don't want to go back to that world. I could go join a startup. CTO's are really hard to find and I've had several offers on that front. But I don't know if I could do the 18 hour a day 7 day a week grind the way I used to, at least not for something I didn't believe deeply in.
So against all wisdom, I decided that all I really wanted to do, at least for right now, was to build this idea for a motorcycle travel community. I wanted to build a place that my friends, and possibly others, could get together and dream, plan and ride but also a place that could become a repository of all those things we forget or misplace. I hate Facebook in that I can't look anything up. There's so much knowledge in discussions that I want to be able to find again. Seriously, I want to be able to ask what was that post about jackets that Duncan posted last year. I also wanted it to be a place where we could share our rides on maps, and then search over those maps as suggestions for new rides. I'd love to ask what was that road in Pennsylvania Ian liked so much from last month. As it stands now, the site is just a pale shadow of the vision I have for it, but it's getting better.
I knew the site would have to make some money on its own at some point. But I didn't want to go the route that sites typically take. I want to find ways that the site can generate some revenue that is of benefit to the members of the site, not at their expense. The google ads, for instance, bother me because they are interruption based. I'm looking at a thread about jackets and then see an ad for a refrigerator. That annoys me. Thinking about some of the tactics of Upworthy and other clickbait sites make me cringe. The idea of selling data about individual users to advertisers just feels wrong.
"Riders, first. Those who care about them, second. The site, third." is what I usually said.
I don't want to be evil. I'm a big believer in trust and I want to be trusted; which reminds me of something Duncan said the other day about Game of Thrones. "I'm only into the fourth episode, but I can already tell that Ned Stark is screwed. He's a man of principle. It's alway the men of principle who have unfortunate endings."
In line with being principled, and clearly doomed, I had this thought. Motorcyclists are all about gear. One look at the forum and you see most of the time we're talking about gear, parts, tires, supplies. Motorcycling is a deeply "stuff" oriented affair. I know for a fact that the site has caused over 14 people to buy Sena SMH10's.
What if I could somehow capture the "things" that people talk about, like the Sena SMH10 and create a separate list. A "stuff and gear" list that you could search. Looking up the SMH10 you could go to the Mentions tab under it and there see every single place on the site that that "?thing" is mentioned? In this way, you could see conversations between other people about it and not just reviews. You would see the mentions of when the thing locked up. How to recover it. Conversations about upgrading. Etc. In my mind, it would be better than reviews. It would be a way of seeing into real conversations about the thing. If it works, it would be a great way to research something you want to buy. And then, after you buy it, if you run into questions, you already have a way of finding those conversations to participate in.
Then I thought, "Maybe I could sign up for the Amazon affiliate program and 'somehow' get people to post Amazon links to the products they're talking about." As long as the relationship is declared, it's not evil, right? This appealed to me because it would be 'organic'. The products and stuff that the site would promote would only be the things that members of the site had talked about. This feels nicer to me than many other options.
But then something happened that really deflated my hopes of this thing ever making money in this way.
Nobody links to Amazon.
Everybody links to RevZilla.
This really threw a wrench in the works. There's no way that I'm going to be able to entice people to change their behavior and post to anything they don't want to post to. "Riders, first."
I wished RevZilla had an affiliate program.
I briefly considered investors, but they would have to be true believers and have some strategic reason for getting involved. But, I would have to have a business plan with a clear path to growth and profitability. And frankly, that is not something I really have yet. Have you seen the Underwear Gnomes Southpark episode? If you have, then you understand.
Maybe, I could get sponsors. Maybe I could get enough sponsors to let me keep doing this.
I've considered offering custom development services. Imagine you're a motorcycle association, it'd likely be a compelling benefit to having your own group on M-BY-MC where your members could plan and share rides, host events, etc.
Regardless of what happens moving forward, even if I have to get a fulltime position at some startup, or do fulltime contracting, this site will continue, but improvements to it may slow down considerably.
However, there was an interesting development today that might be part of a path forward to let me do this for longer.
Second, as part of forming Flying Brick Software, LLC, my good friend Duncan Sterling has come on board as a partner in the LLC. He's an avid motorcyclist who has been riding longer than I have, if you can believe that. He rides a 2009 BMW K1300S but also has an affinity for Indians and old Japanese motorcycles. He's a former MSF Rider coach and used to run the MSF program for PG County. And he's been the biggest inspiration and motivation for me to continue working all these long hours on the site.
Third, I was saying above that everyone on the site keeps linking to RevZilla and no one links to Amazon?
RevZilla now has an affiliate program and we were just accepted into the program!
This should prove to be very interesting.