Duncan and I headed up to New York City to attend the 2013 Progressive International Motorcycle Show. Here is his event report.
Last Saturday, we headed up to New York City for the International Motorcycle Show, on the annual Bob's BMW charter trip.
First off, kudos to Bob's for doing such an excellent job of setting up the trip. We arrived at about 7:35,and found waiting staff members at the gate who directed us to parking and the waiting area inside. Shortly thereafter (and right on time), there was a headcount, and we boarded a very comfortable motor coach for our trip north.?
The Bob's staffers who accompanied us were well prepared with both snacks and movies. We watched "On Any Sunday" on the trip up, and enjoyed a very nicely prepared Wegman's box lunch as well before we arrived at the Javits Convention Center in New York.
Once we arrived, a brief walk through some blowing snow landed us in a very large display hall with a reasonably thorough representation of international motorcycle brands. In the 'expected' category, there were the Japanese Majors (Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha), and a number of major European brands (BMW, Ducati, KTM, Triumph). There were all the American majors (Harley Davidson, Indian and Victory), and some European boutique brands (Aprilia, Motoguzzi, MV August).
In the missing category were Erik Buell Racing, Hyosung, Royal Enfield, and Ural, which we found to be quite surprising, given the exposure afforded by a show in a major city. Surprisingly, Royal Enfield and Ural have made regular appearances at the smaller Washington DC show.
Both Indian and the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club had some beautifully restored bikes on display from the the 1920s up through the early 1980s.
There were many attractive bikes at the show but what caught my eye first and foremost was the Yamaha's new sport triple (the FZ-09), which looks like it would be a lot of fun on the right stretch of country two lane. Following that, Motoguzzi's, and Triumph's new custom range demonstrated a surprisingly interesting range of possibilities, with scramblers and cafe variants looking most intriguing to my eye.
Ongoing favorites of mine present included Ducati's Diavel, Honda's F6B Goldwing, most of the new Indian range and the ever reliable and unchanging Suzuki DR650. Accessory and parts vendors were plentiful, with a slight bias toward riding gear. One of the more unique accessories on display was a convertible trailer that could convert between being a compact self folding trailer that could act as a ramp for a pickup truck, or for itself, with a remote control that allows for one person operation.
The amount of time we had at the show was just about perfect, allowing enough time to see everything, as well as fit in a quick lunch before it was time to board the bus and head back for Maryland. On the trip back we saw Worlds Fastest Indian, and got back to Bob's right on time, despite a quick rest stop in Delaware and negotiating a snow storm through most of New Jersey.
In summary, I'd say the trip was well worth it, and I will probably go again next year.
My bike is a '92 K100RS which I have owned since new. It's built like a tank and has served me well over the two decades I've owned it.
In recent years, there have been some age related issues that have come up so I have finally gotten to turn some wrenches on it. Prior to that, I just rode the thing.
Interestingly, I've come across more people online recently that have been asking what to look for when buying one of these. I had written out a long email response for the third or fourth time when I realized it'd probably make more sense to just put something up here. For the vast majory of you who couldn't care less about my ancient oil burner, my apologies.
For those twisted few of you who like these bikes, read on.
I am familiar with the 4v K100RSA, but my understanding the K1100RS is essentially the same bike.
I am not a mechanic and this is not an exhaustive list, but based on my experience this is what I would look for if I were buying another one of these:
- Under the front of the motor, which will be difficult to see with the belly pan in place. there is a weep hole on the front of the motor under the oil/water pump. If there's oil or coolant leaking out, the pump needs to be rebuilt. If not, ask if the oil pump has ever been rebuilt.
(this one was leaking ever so slightly)
- Towards the rear of the motor where the transmission mates up, there is another similar looking weep hole. If oil is dripping out of that one the rear main seal or forward transmission seal need to be replaced. If it's bad, the clutch may have gotten oil on it, which may mean that it needs to be replaced.
- Ask if the rear main seal has been done.
- The famous spline problems that later BMW's have rarely plague these bikes unless they are very high mileage. However, it's good to ask, if the final drive and/or transmission input shaft splines were ever lubed.
- The clutch input splines can also be worn in high mileage examples. I have read, but do not have first hand knowledge, that symptoms of worn transmission input shaft splines/clutch input splines are hard shifting and frequent false neutrals.
- Oil around the gear shift lever is usually an indication that synthetic has been used in the transmission. I have been told not to use synthetic oil in the transmission or final drive. YMMV.
- Check for oil around the final drive boot near the rear wheel. That may be an indication of a final drive problem.
- Put the bike on the center stand, and grab the rear wheel at the 12 and 6 o'clock positions and see if you can get it to move laterally. Do the same at the 9 and 3. If there is enough free play to hear a click, the final drive probably needs to be rebuilt (expensive).
- With the bike on the centerstand see if you can get someone to push down or sit on the passenger seat to lift the front wheel off the ground. Move the handlebars side to side and see if there's any clicking or binding. If so the stearing head bearings need to be replaced. Mine tend to go every 25,000mi/40,000km or so.
- Again, with the front wheel lifted spin the front wheel and see if you hear the tell tale sound of warped rotors. Mine warped at about 65,000mi. My rear rotor warped in the first 10,000mi, but I so rarely use the rear brake now that my rear rotor looks new.
- Ask the owner the last time the front wheel bearings were done. Mine tend to go every 25,000mi/40,000km or so.
- Check around the fork tube seals and see if there is any evidence of oil. If so, the fork seals need to be replaced.
- Another common problem, hard to check for without some starting fluid or similar, is vacuum leaks around the throttle body boots.
- ABS faults that don't clear are also a common problem but are often just dirt on one of the sensors.
- Check for cracks around the exhaust system where the headers go into the catalytic converter. This is a known weak point in the earlier bikes (but I'm not sure if that issue was resolved on later models.)
(Even with additional bracing, my exhaust system failed completely at about 60,000mi. I now have a Remus stainless aftermarket exhaust system on mine.)
- Common complaints include that the bikes run hot. A hot running bike may be an indication of a cracked exhaust system which will tend to reduce back pressure and make the bike run leaner. Super high mileage is another symptom. (I got better than 60mpg before realizing that the exhaust had cracked.)
- The rear little stem mount on the frame that the seat pivots on when it lifts can break off.
That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I'll try to dig up some more photos and update the article with some more info. I you see any glaring errors or know of other things to look for, please let me know.
This is a guest post by Miles-By-Motorcycle.com member Mike Leggieri. (a.k.a. mjlfjr)
Mike is a retired Army officer who now serves as a medical research director for the Department of Defense. Hes an avid motorcyclist who loves long-distance riding. Mike lives in Frederick, MD.
I wrote this article in January, 2013, six months after an accident abruptly ended my first cross country motorcycle trip. Writing it was my attempt to close out an unpleasant chapter in my motorcycling life and to share lessons learned that I hoped would be of some benefit to others who share my passion for motorcycling. I am grateful to Yermo and Miles-by-Motorcycle.com for allowing me to share this article with you.
Mike Leggieri, self-proclaimed Master of Motorcycling Madness and Mayhem
The Rest of the Story
I hate doing things, half-assed, as my father was fond of saying, so Ive decided to write a final entry to close out this episode of the great adventures of M4. So, here I am on a cold January day, six months after my long-planned, cross-country motorcycle trip came to an abrupt end on a picture perfect day in Utah, attempting to recollect the events leading up to and immediately following my crash. Ill warn you now that I view the process of writing this closing chapter as therapy and a very important part of my psychological recovery. Picture that great GEICO commercial where retired Marine drill instructor R. Lee Ermey plays a therapist listening to a patient whos describing his fear of the color yellow. Now, imagine that you are the gruff drill instructor and Im the meek patient. If you dont mind taking part in this therapy session, keep reading, but please dont throw a box of tissues at me or call me a crybaby!
The Day Before the End
Day 4: Limon, CO, to Grand Junction, CO (441 miles)
Before I get to the part about the crash on Day 5, Ill fill you in on what happened on Day 4. I actually wrote a detailed entry about Day 4 on the morning of Day 5, but I encountered a hotel internet SNAFU when I tried to upload it from my iPad to my blog, and I ended up losing the whole damned thing. Its too bad really, because it was by far my most brilliant entry to date, at least I think so, and no one will ever be able to prove otherwise. So, what follows is the abbreviated version of Day 4 based on my best recollection from my aging brain.
I left Limon around 8 am and headed southwest to Colorado Springs. The weather was perfect, with clear, blue skies and mild temperatures. However, aside from some beautiful fields of flowers along the way, the scenery between Limon and Colorado Springs wasnt really that great. I was even less impressed with Colorado Springs, mostly because of traffic congestion that reminded me too much of the traffic congestion back home. As soon as I cleared the congestion in Colorado Springs, things started looking up. Rt. 115, southwest of Colorado Springs, near Cheyenne Mountain and Fort Carson, was a perfect motorcycling road, with lots of sweeping turns and beautiful scenery. I worked my way southwest on Rt. 115, then west on Hwy 50, then north on Rt. 24 to I-70, near Vail. This entire segment was beautiful, and certainly worth doing again someday.
(Fields of Flowers near Colorado Springs)
At an elevation of 10,000 feet, near Vail, the temperature dropped and I encountered sleet. I told you earlier that Im a fair weather rider who doesnt like riding in the rain. As you can probably imagine, I hate riding through snow, sleet, or freezing rain even worse! Lucky for me, the sleet didnt last long and it turned out to be a non-issue, although I did experience a few white knuckles. The thing I remember most about the area near Vail, is that it reminded me of the worst tourist areas of the Pocono Mountains where I grew up: very unimpressive.
The most memorable part of this day was a stretch of I-70 northeast of Grand Junction that was truly spectacular. I dont generally use the word spectacular to describe an interstate highway, but this stretch of I-70 was just that. It was a beautiful highway with broad, sweeping curves winding along a river that carved its way through a canyon, and there wasnt much traffic to speak of. It was what Mary Poppins would describe as, practically perfect in every way.
The day ended in Grand Junction with a sense of child-like excitement and anticipation for what I would experience in the days ahead. I couldnt wait to ride my favorite roads in Utah, Nevada, and California. The best was yet to come!
(I-70 West of Vail, CO)
An Abrupt End
Day 5: Grand Junction, CO, to a Highway Construction Zone Somewhere West of Green River, UT (120 miles)
This is the part that gets difficult to write about, so get ready to throw that box of tissues at me. I left Grand Junction around 8 am and headed west on I-70. It was another perfect day, with clear blue skies, clean dry air, and mild temperatures. It was the kind of day that motorcyclists dream about. I felt a tremendous sense of excitement as I crossed the Utah border. Finally, I was riding my own, beloved VFR in a beautiful place where I had ridden rented sportbikes so many times before. I actually had the same sense of excitement that I used to feel when I rode my dirt bike on the endless trails in the Pocono Mountains of my childhood.
Like so much of Utah, the eastern part of the state has spectacular scenery. There were lots of places along I-70 to stop and enjoy the scenery, and I took advantage of every one of them. I wasnt making good time, but I was having the time of my life and enjoying every second of the journey, just as it should be with every motorcycle ride. I remember stopping briefly in Green River to fill my tank and buy some water and snacks for the days ride.
(Beautiful View from I-70 in Eastern Utah)
Just west of Green River, I encountered three, inactive highway construction zones. By inactive, I mean there were no flashing lights and no construction workers in sight. The speed limit on this segment of I-70 is 75, and the posted speed limits in the construction zones was 65. I was very careful to watch my speed, both in and around the construction zones, because I didnt want to ruin a perfectly good day of riding with a speeding ticket. I passed through the first two construction zones without incident. The lane closures and speed limits in both zones were clearly marked. I observed the speed limit and lane closure warning signs, and went on my merry way, enjoying the scenery and the ride.
(Beautiful View Just Minutes from the Crash Site)
I was traveling in the left lane when I approached the third construction zone. Like the first two, this one was also posted with two signs well in advance of the construction area. One sign read, Highway Construction Next 10 MilesLeft Lane Closed, and the other read, Speed Limit 65 in Construction Zone. As I approached this construction zone, I slowed to 65, checked my side mirrors to confirm that no one was behind me, briefly looked over my right shoulder to confirm that no one was approaching me in the right lane, and signaled my intention to move into the right lane. Unlike the previous two construction zones, I didnt encounter any orange barrels gradually channeling traffic from the closed lane into the open lane well in advance of the actual construction area. This proved to be a disaster in the making.
(The Last Photo of My VFR Minutes before the Crash)
As I made my move toward the right lane, I suddenly realized that I was already in the closed lane where the road surface had been removed in preparation for a new layer of asphalt. I slowed a bit more and continued to move toward the right lane. What I didnt realize was that the right lane was covered in new asphalt that was several inches higher than the left lane. I finally realized this a split second after my front tire made contact with the raised surface of the right lane.
In an instant, my bike and I were smashing down on the highway and sliding to a rest about fifty feet away, my bike sliding well ahead of me. My right shoulder took the brunt of the impact, followed by my head. I remember the darkness inside my helmet as I slid face first on the new asphalt. I also remember feelings of being stunned and of shear terror, all the while thinking to myself, this cant be happening to me! My first instinct after I stopped sliding was to jump to my feet and pretend this nasty little event never happened. I didnt bother to look behind me to see if there were any vehicles approaching, which would have been a much wiser first instinct. Fortunately, there were no vehicles anywhere in sight. In fact, the first vehicle to arrive on the scene didnt arrive until several minutes after the crash.
After jumping to my feet and confirming that I was still alive and in one piece, I began to run toward my bike, thinking that I would simply pick it up, hop on, and pretend nothing bad happened. It was much like the time I fell from a step ladder on my front porch, somersaulted over some bushes, and landed on my back in the front yard. My first instinct was to jump to my feet and look to see if any of my neighbors had just seen me play out an episode of the Three Stooges! Never mind that I could have broken my neck, its all about avoiding the embarrassment! As I approached my bike I began to see parts of it scattered along the highway, a mirror here, a foot peg there, and bits of fairing everywhere. Thats when I knew this trip was over. Its also when I first began to feel intense pain in my right shoulder and ribs, and a feeling of being unable to catch my breath.
The first vehicle to arrive on the scene a few minutes later was a road construction truck with two construction workers. The two construction workers led me off the highway, pushed my bike out of the way of oncoming traffic, and called an ambulance. They kept asking me if I was alright, and I kept repeating the mantra, I cant believe this just happened to me!
An ambulance and a Utah state trooper arrived about 20 minutes later. I remember the state trooper kneeling down next to me and reassuring me that I hadnt done anything wrong. He also told me that he was a fellow motorcycle rider and he understood how badly I felt about crashing. The EMTs loaded me into the ambulance and drove me to Castleview Hospital in Price, Utah, an hour and two shots of morphine away.
Protection, Protection, Protection!
(Me and My Riding Gear)
Clearly, my protective gear saved my life. I was wearing an Arai full-face helmet, ballistic nylon jacket and pants with armor, gloves, and sturdy leather riding boots which were all heavily damaged by the impact and slide. My injuries included a complex fracture of my right clavicle, four bruised ribs, a lung contusion, fractured left thumb, and a few abrasions on my right knee and right shoulder. Months later, when the physical therapist was reviewing my medical record with me, he showed me the radiologists notes describing my four, displaced rib fractures, not bruises. I felt vindicated after nearly four months of whining about the agonizing pain near my bruised ribs. Since the accident, Ive had surgery to repair my clavicle and physical therapy to regain the full range of motion and strength in my right arm and shoulder.
Ive never been inclined to ride a motorcycle without wearing appropriate protective gear, but if I had been, I wouldnt be now! Im convinced that without the protective gear I was wearing, I probably wouldnt have survived this easily survivable crash. Did I mention that my VFR was a total loss? Well, it was, but I lived to tell about it!
(My Repaired Right Clavicle)
So, what I have I learned from this ordeal? First, I learned that there may be some truth in the old biker adage that I hate so much: Its not if youre going down, its when youre going down. By the way, I still hate this adage.
(Amtrak Station in Helper, Utah)
I also learned that for the most part, this world is filled with truly good, caring, and decent people. I am forever grateful to everyone I encountered after this accident, including the road construction workers, state trooper, and EMTs who aided me at the scene, the physicians, nurses, and technicians at Castleview Hospital who cared for me in the hours and days after the accident, the extraordinarily kind Director of Emergency Services at Castleview who drove me in his personal vehicle to the Amtrak station in Helper, UT, for my train ride to Salt Lake City and flight back to Maryland, the orthopedic surgeon in Frederick, MD, who repaired my clavicle and prescribed some really great narcotics, and the physical therapy staff of the Barquist Army Health Clinic at Fort Detrick, MD, who helped me fully recover from my physical injuries.
Most important of all, I came to fully appreciate just how much my wonderful wife and kids love and care for me, even when I do something stupid like crashing my motorcycle. I am blessed and truly undeserving of such unconditional love.
(Linda and Me)
In the darkest days, weeks, and months following my accident, I often lamented that I would never experience the joy of motorcycle riding again. Im happy to say that with the help and encouragement of my family and friends, those dark days have passed. I will ride again, and perhaps even complete that cross-country trip that Ive always dreamed of. In fact, plans are already well underway to buy a 2013 Yamaha FJR1300 and all new protective gear.
This Chapter Ends and Another Begins
Finally, after nearly six months I have come to the end of this chapter in the life and times of M4. If you made it to the end with me, I sincerely thank you for enduring my therapy session without throwing a box of tissues at me, or calling me a crybaby! The next chapter promises to be even more exciting, but less painful. I hope you will share the excitement with me.
Happy and Safe Riding to All!
I followed through with my plan to buy a new bike and complete a cross country trip. In February, I bought a 2013 Yamaha FJR1300, and in September, I completed a cross country trip from Frederick, MD, to Lone Pine, CA, covering just under 6,000 miles in 12 days. I plan to write about this trip in the coming weeks. Its great to be back on a bike!
You can read more about Mike's travels at his blog: Master of Motorcycling Madness and Mayhem.
If you know anyone who would enjoy this article, please share it.
There are always things to be afraid of. I remember the man from Buenos Aires that I met in Fairbanks. With honest fear in his voice, he had warned me, like so many others have, never to travel through Central or South America."Don't do it! Buenos Aires and much of South America is just terrible. Terrible! If you are European, Canadian, American they kidnap you. Chop off an ear or a finger and send it to you family. Hundreds. Thousands of people kidnapped in this way! I left. Got out of there.", he had said.
I remember talking to Dani, the real adventure rider, if he had had any problems during his journey from Buenos Aires to Deadhorse. "No, the bike ran fine." he replied. "No, no, I mean with people." I explained. "Oh. Yes. I got robbed three times. Twice with a knife. Once I was camping and three guys broke into the tent while I was sleeping.", he said matter of factly, "but it can happen anywhere. You just have to expect it.""What happened?", I asked with increasing interest. "They took stuff. Money. Once they stole my laptop. It's manageable. You just have to be smart and careful. Keep your money separated".
Allan Karl, who had done the crazy trip from Deadhorse to Tierra Del Fuego then over to South Africa and up to Turkey, had at one point while he was crossing Columbia been confronted by men with machine guns. They marched him, at gun point, into the jungle. It turned out ok for him and he was able to continue on, but nevertheless, being marched off into the jungle at the point of a machine gun is an unsettling event.
These are just the people I have met myself.
Regardless, there's still something about going to this arbitrary spot on the map. Tierra Del Fuego.
It scares me, but it calls to me as well. I've often mused how long I would need to prepare. A year or three maybe? I'd have to relearn Spanish at least to some basic level. I'd have to figure out all the border crossings. I'd have to save up a bunch of money. If only I were independently wealthy. I'd have to plan some careful route and keep up on current events deciding which way to go depending on the politics of the day. What about the Cartels? Bandits? I've heard that roads can be blocked by men with guns and you never know if they police or others. If I managed not to have Bad Things(tm) happen, there's the constant threat of disease. I'm not exactly what one would call "healthy".
What I certainly could never do is pack a bike and just go. Is that even possible?
I don't know Colin well but have talked to him briefly on many occasions over the years at Bob's. Clearly, I needed to attend this event.
I really do feel quite privileged that Bob's goes out of it's way to host these events and that I'm able to attend. If there's one thing I really enjoy, it's seeing into the lives of others that are far removed from my own. You get this feeling that you're so close to a much wider world. Things that are impossible, unreachable and excluded are suddenly accessible. Surprisingly, I've been able to stay in touch with all the presenters I've met there and that has further expanded my world. If you are ever in the DC area when Bob's is hosting one of it's events, I highly recommend taking the time out to attend. They happen sporadically, so check their calendar of events regularly.
I rode the guest bike up on a cool Saturday morning. The parking lot was already full of bikes and there were a few familiar faces. There was a 8 valve Royal Blue K100RS there. (I have a 16 valve Royal Blue K100RS.) You don't see many of these as they were never popular bikes. The ones you do see tend to be ridden far. This one had 155,000 on the clock. If 92K is still a baby, as I'm often reminded by other k-bike riders about my bike, what is 155k? Adolescense?
I came across what I assumed what Colin's bike from the trip.
It's a custom adventure bike that Colin built himself. The gas tank is truly monstrous with an 11 gallon capacity. I would later learn during his presentation that this is exactly how the bike was packed during his 11 month journey. Impressive.
He did some really nice work with the console.
I'm usually not a fan of the old airheads (air cooled carbureted old tech bikes from the early 80's and before), but this thing is gorgeous in it's minimalistic utilitarianism. There is an aesthetic to it that really appeals to me.
The above is a professional photo used with permission.
They set up a small seating area inside the showroom with a few rows of chairs. Interestingly, I was not the only Transit Suit wearer there. I've observed that when women show up to some event wearing the same outfit it's a kind of calamity. When guys show up in identical gear, it's a moment to compare notes. As I was talking to the Transit Suit wearer a man walked up. He mentioned his K-bike. "Oh, you've got that Royal Blue one out there, right?" Yup. More conversation and comparing of notes.
As has been the story of my life, I have much in common with old men.
The presentation began and Colin talked about his trip.
(Colin Busch, photo used with permission.)
He talked about the same stories I had heard; about how everyone says it's dangerous; the horror stories. He talked about fear and risk. He showed photos of conditions and how surprisingly good the roads were. He talked repeatedly about the kindness of strangers; about how overwhelmingly nice people were everywhere he went and how excited they were in each little town about what he was doing and that he was riding through. Interestingly, he mentioned that all this enthusiasm people had became an issue since he found it difficult to make stops as it would take 45 minutes or more just to, politely, get back on the road. Everyone would want photos. Kids were endlessly fascinated.
Seemingly, the people in each country complained about the roads and people in the next country over. At each point, it was supposed to get worse but as Colin tells it it never really did. He did have mechanical problems and challenges along the way; as anyone taking a long motorcycle trip will encounter. But at each point he was able to get through them. He tells the story of the time his alternator failed. A guy he met mentioned he might be able to get it fixed. That gentleman took the alternator, drove 240km to a shop he knew. Had it rewound and then brought it back to Colin but would not accept any money for his efforts.
Colin talked about the other riders he met along the way. He talked of a breast cancer survivor who at 5'1" tall was doing the trip solo. He even crossed paths with Helge Pedersen, one of the most famous motorcycle world travellers, who he had met some years earlier and who inspired him to take a trip like this in the first place.
He talked at some length about border crossings and paperwork. Forms were often forged and there's much that we would call corruption. Colin explained that it's a matter of knowing who to talk to and how. This is the part that I would find really challenging, on a personal level. I'm such a stickler for obeying the rules and doing everything correctly that I suspect I would screw this up. I have a real fear of breaking rules. (Pardon me as my German roots show through.) He described the bribes one pays and how to do things on the cheap.
There's a section, the Darien Gap, that cannot be crossed (well, not easily). You can either fly over it or charter a boat. The boats are not authorized for transport so they are "fishing" boats. As Colin described it, you charter a boat, which I understood to probably be a smuggling vessel. They load your bike precariously onto the boat and then take you to Columbia where they drop you off into the waiting hands of authorities who promptly detain you. The word was that it's typically only for 24 hours and they then let you go. With my luck, they'd decide they didn't like me and leave me there to rot indefinitely, which I have heard sometimes happens. Colin's experience, however, was as advertised. After landing, he spent a day detained by the authorities and was then let go with suggestions where to get a nice hotel. He made it through Columbia without incident.
What really surprised me was how little money he spent. Over the 11 months he rode, he spent only $1000/month and did not feel any lack of luxury along the way. He often stayed in hotels or villas. He certainly did not make it sound like he felt he was roughing it.
The themes of risk, fear, time, flexibility, and openness that Colin described in many ways mirrored my own experiences on my, now seemingly little, Deadhorse trip. "If you're on a schedule and only have a fixed amount time, stay home, or take one of the guided tours." he would say.
I asked him about any troubles he ran into with people along the way. "What I've learned is that overwhelmingly people are nice and friendly. There are always the 2% anywhere that might be a problem. But that's as true here as anywhere else. But no, I didn't have any troubles at all." he said.
You can read more about Colins adventure in his own blog and you can see his photos. Check out the ones of his bike being loaded on the boat. Crazy!
Dr. Werner Bausenhart at the Swiss Embassy
Later in the week, I went to another world traveler event, this one at the Swiss Embassy. In a rare combination of interests, Dr. Werner BausenHart had been travelling the world on a motorcycle over a couple decades and was presenting his trips in German. I have less and less opportunity to use my German these days and hearing about a long trip in German was a rare opportunity not to be missed.
I knew, however, what I was in for. I made sure to be presentable and drove to the embassy instead of riding. As expected, it was a very old school European styled semi-formal event. I was on the younger end of the spectrum and I believe one of the only riders there. I have no pictures of the event since that would not have been appropriate, but the place was fairly packed. It was being hosted by the German Language Society.
Dr. Bausenhart had been a language professor in Canada for some years. At the age of 50 he was offered an early retirement which he accepted. It was around that time that he first got into motorcycling. He quickly outgrew his first BMW and purchased an R100GS (adventure bike). With this started what would turn into a 25 year obsession with very long distance motorcycle travel. He did the Labrador loop and then proceeded up to Deadhorse, Alaska. He went down to Tierra Del Fuego. He visited every country along with it's capital in Central and South America. He circumnavigated Africa. He rode through the Middle East and across Russia only to travel south and back again across China. He's ridden from London to Singapore and jumped across to Australia. It is good to have a Canadian passport and speak with a thick German accent. The world is open to you in ways that it is not when you have an American passport.
And he did all this starting at the age of 50. He's 76 now.
In contrast to Colin's presentation, Dr. Bausenhart's presentation was about landmarks and distances. His audience did not ride so the distances he rattled off in his descriptions were not noticed, but they were astounding. While I spent 77 days on my round trip to Deadhorse, he took 10 days to make it up there. A trip around Russia and through China? I think he said it took him 4 months.
He would mention landmarks in the US and Canada with the obligatory, "That's not far from here.".
When he mentioned people, which was rare, it was usually only in the context of beauracrats at border crossings. They seemed to test his patience. His trips were much more expensive and he spent much more time doing things by the book, as I probably would if I traveled. He described Central and South America as "incredibly corrupt" and said border crossing would cost him a couple hundred bucks in bribes. When faced with the Darien Gap he decided to fly instead of take a boat. "I didn't want to take a smugglers boat and then rot in some Columbian prison for 6 months." he said.
An articulate and incredibly educated man, Dr. Bausenhart seemed to focus on things that were more like a professor looking at a text book reading about an adventure than actually living it. He showed photos of landmarks and the endpoints of his trips. There was no mention of having been changed by his trips or what he had learned. At no point did he mention any families taking him in or anyone along the way touching his soul. He made it seem that he just went, looked at things, and then moved on much like a tourist looking at old buildings. There was a closed and guarded feeling to his presentation.
In typical German professor fashion, no presentation about world travel would be complete without a geography quiz. He showed photos of landmarks from around the planet that I had never even heard of before. He would show the photo and ask the audience what it was and where, and by implication why it was significant. What do I know about some snow covered peak in Iran, or a cannon in a square in Pakistan, monuments in China, buildings in Dubai or temples in India? At each point, multiple people in the audience, demonstrating a depth of geographic and cultural knowledge I simply lack, would compete with the correct answers. Dr. Bausenhart would mention old stories tied to each landmark assuming his audience had read them. It was clear there was a depth of well-rounded education in the room I simply lack. It was humbling and I felt ashamed at my shallowness. "Typical American." I thought as I sat silently thinking about a wide world I obviously know little about.
No one recognized the Dalton Highway. At least I had that one.
All told, Dr. Bausenhart rode over 219,000km on his trips. For each trip he wrote a book. I will probably get the one about his travels through the Americas: 8 Around the Americas on a Motorcycle.
I asked him about any troubles he had had with theft or other unpleasantness. He said he always stayed in good secure hotels and would cover his bike well. "In Muslim countries, they like to touch everything so tell them that it's your wife under the cover, then they'll back off." he mentioned jokingly.
Despite the disconnected from the feeling of the world nature of his presentation, Dr. Bausenhart did share one theme with Colin.
The world is smaller than it once was and you can go around it on a motorcycle. You can spend a lot of money or a little. But it is entirely doable.
I found myself wondering, "How can one travel so far and experience so many things and choose a presentation of just landmarks?" Maybe it was tuned to this audience and in a different setting maybe he gives a different presentation. I don't know.
I left with the thought, "It's not how much you have travelled but how well that's important."
It reminds me of what Dani said now so long ago: "It's only kilometers. I've met people out here who have been riding for years. 5, 10, 15. It's just numbers. What have they learned?".
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Many years ago, I had a recurring dream. I stood alone next to my motorcycle on a desert slope that descended into a great flat valley with tufts of green grass dotting a brown landscape bounded by mountains on either side. The road, shimmering in the distance from the heat, descended to disappear in the expanding flatness. It was silent except for the sound of the ever present wind. There was a profound sense of ending, of loss, as if this scene would be my last moment.
The vision from my dream so long ago continues to haunt me from time to time.
I've always been strangely drawn to places with dark names. At one point, days earlier, along the coast, Yun and I came across a place named Cape Disappointment. Upon seeing the sign, Yun knew this would bekon to me so we had to go take a look.
It was nothing special so, in effect, a disappointment. I was pleased.
There's a place in the Southern Chesapeake Bay called the Great Dismal Swamp. I have always wanted to go. Apparently, there's a canal you can take a sizeable boat through. At some point, I must go.
It's for this reason, I think, that the Badlands have always held a fascination for me. Want me to be interested in going somewhere? Name it appropriately. I hear there's a place called Mordor in New Jersey somewhere. If ever I find out where the Point of No Return is I will go. So clearly, if it's called the Badlands, it's some place I'm going to want to see.
I spent some time mapping out a route to Badlands National Monument that involved as little Superslab as possible. The BMW MOA guys had suggested I ride route 16A south of Sturgis. I believe it's called Needles Highway or some such and includes a 360deg loop through a little tunnel. This was a must see for me. The Badlands were not far from there. I was actually looking forward to the Badlands they've been on my to-see list for years now.
Alas, it was not to be.
I left Red Lodge relatively late in the morning. Aside from an impressive climb out of Red Lodge, the route I had chosen turned out to be much faster and straighter than I had thought it would be. These roads were surprisingly empty as I ventured into the desert. Tufts of grass dotted a brown landscape. Clouds hung low over the mountains the bounded this scene.
There really wasn't much out here. Towns were sparse. Abandoned buildings told the story of the former presence of people long gone.
I came across a little town where the GPS routed me along yet another section of unpaved road.
A tractor trailer could be seen coming from the other direction, so I pulled over. The dust cloud it was kicking up was impressive. To my right there was a helpful sign.
150 yards. I wondered what the range of an average weapon was. To my surprise as the tractor trailer approached he slowed down to a crawl allowing the dust cloud to dissipate before he reached me. Very cool.
That has been something that has really struck me about people in Montana. They pay attention and take others into account in their actions. There's this odd sense of cooperation, of togetherness, even with lives that are completely separate in this vast aloneness. It's nice and something one can get used to very quickly. In many ways, the behavior of people out here seems to match my own values.
I rode out of this town along what amounted to a two lane highway. The mountains on either side of this valley began to part as the road descended into a plain. Looking to the horizon not a single vehicle could be seen.
I didn't notice the scene when suddenly, alone, far away from civilization, it suddenly felt as if I was riding on rumble strips. The bike started vibrating violently. I looked down at the road surface and noticed it was smooth.
Dispassionately, I thought, "Oh, this ain't gonna be good" in my best Gomer Pyle inner voice, as I pulled in the clutch and rolled over to the side, the vibration now turning into a loud klunking sound. I came to a stop and the sound stopped. With the engine still running, I sat there for a moment looking at the descending desert road wondering how far away the nearest town was.
"Now I have a problem." I thought, again completely dispassionately. There was nothing to consider. I was thousands of miles from home and large hard parts inside my motorcycle have failed catastrophically. There was no repairing this Out Here. It was now a matter of getting home.
I thought back to Spokane where I had towed the R1100S out of the desert and that completely preventable mishap happened that had damaged something in my drivetrain. I had mistakenly thought it wasn't going to be catastrophic. I thought about the degree to which I sacrifice myself for others. It's a thing I do repeatedly as if in an insance attempt to justify my own existence; a way to show to myself that I am not like my namesake. It's as my own worth is defined in terms of what I do for others. The very fact that I was on this trip was in response to a request for help. I have spent most of my life for others. I fear that no matter how much I do for others; how many sacrifices I make; how far I push myself, it will never be enough for me to rid myself of this feeling.
Now, my motorcycle was broken and broken badly; the poor thing had broken it's back in the service of another at my request. Almost immediately, I was aware that something inside me had broken badly as well.
My motorcycle is broken and this bothers me much more deeply than I'll even admit to myself.
I checked the GPS looking for anything close by. There was one gas station 14 miles away in a small town called Bridger. "The bitch lies." I thought as I considered the number of times my lying bitch of a GPS has led me astray. "I've got pretty much one chance." I thought. The bike would still go but only slowly and with a tremendous amount of clunking. "I'm going to do more damage to it, but getting a tow truck out here is going to be nigh on impossible." I thought.
"It's already dead, Jim"
So with four ways on, I slowly rode on the shoulder the 14 miles to this gas station hoping that it existed. The noises the bike would make would change. At times the clunking would stop and at other times it felt as if the bike was going to come apart. This went on for almost an hour.
I failed to take a photo of the spot where it all ended, my mind occupied with thoughts of dealing with the task at hand. (Bruce would be proud.) I did try to snap one left handed while riding but failed miserably. (Bruce would not be proud.) I couldn't take my hand off the accelerator and coming to a stop was a very risky proposition.
Eventually, I came up on Bridger.
It's a very small town with a population of 704. There are things we take for granted in the more populated places on the planet. Access to help is one of them. Need food? Call delivery. Need to go somewhere? Call a taxi. Need something delivered? Call Fedex.
What if you find yourself in a place where such things are not readily avialable? "Shit gets real." as they say.
I rolled into a Cenex gas station and thankfully there was a covered picnic table out front. I stopped the bike and turned it off. That would be the last time, on this trip at least, that it moved forward under it's own power. Thankfully, there was cell service which makes a world of difference. "What if this had been in one of the truly remote places such as the middle of Mongolia? How does one handle that?" I pondered thinking about the really Hard Core guys (and women) that are circling the globe right now.
So I had basically two problems. I needed to get the bike back home and I needed to get myself there too. Based on my conversations with the trucker in Spokane, getting the bike picked up and shipped from here would likely involved a multi-day if not multi-week delay. I thought maybe I could find a place to store the bike for a week or two while I try to get a shipper to come out. It looked like there was a community airport close by so maybe I could take a puddle jumper to a larger airport and get a connecting flight or maybe I could take a bus.
Were there even busses available?
I posted on the BMW MOA page on Facebook and got a ton of suggestions. Given that my bike is now Unreliable(tm), I will henceforth be travelling differently, but that's another topic. Yun suggested that I rent a Uhaul and take the bike to Missoula or a similar town. I might have better luck getting it shipped. Some commented that I might be able to get it fixed somewhere but the problem is availability of parts. If something needed to get ordered it could take weeks, then I would have the repair costs plus shipping costs or a return flight to pick it up, etc. No, it would need to get shipped home and I would have to deal with repairs there.
As it turned out there was one Uhaul dealer only about 20 miles away. I thought if I'm going to rent a Uhaul to take the bike to some town several hundred miles away, maybe I should just take it all the way home. It'd probably be about the same cost. After over an hour on the phone with Uhaul, I managed to secure a truck. They won't rent vans one way so it was one of their smaller box trucks. In addition, in order to be allowed to put a bike into the box, all the fluids have to be drained. "No problem. It'll such but I can do that." I told the Uhaul guy on the phone. "Oh, and you have to buy the motorcycle adapter for the truck for $150.".
"Ok, I can do that."
Everything was set, I had gotten the last truck available anywhere in the area when the guy said, "the motorcycle adapter has to be mail ordered. I'm not sure but I can check into express mailing it. You might be able to get it Monday or Tuesday."
"Ummmm, what about a trailer.".
"Yes, there happens to be a trailer at the same location."
Again, I couldn't rent a pickup or a van one way, so my only option was to rent the box truck and the trailer. The trailer, it turned out, was only $100 more than the "motorcycle adapter".
Command decision made. I would spend the cash and tow the thing back myself. This would allow me to get started today and I would avoid the hassle of having to deal with shippers, storage, and a return flight home. I secured everything with a credit card and proceeded to walk into the gas station market to let them know I wasn't abandoning the bike and ask about a taxi as I had no way of getting to the Uhaul place.
"Taxi? We don't have taxi's around here. There might be one up in Billings but I'm not sure they come down this far." the nice woman said. "Just go outside and look for someone with Montana plates. Chances are they're heading to Billings. The Uhaul place is on the way."
"Hitchhike??" I thought and I guess the expression on my face gave my thoughts away. "It's ok." she said. I walked outside. There was a steady flow of traffic in and out of the gas station but I just couldn't bring myself to approach anyone about a lift.
I went back inside and got some water and sat at the tables in the market. While I was trying to get my courage up to go walk up to some complete stranger and ask for help,a couple sat down at the table next to me. We got to talking. I told them about my plight. As it turned out they were heading up to Billings. "We don't take hitch-hikers but we'll give you a lift." they said tentatively. They finished their drinks and we piled into their car. I thanked them profusely and explained that we don't do this kind of thing out East. "I've only been East of the Mississippi once." the man said. He asked me how I liked Montana and about the things I'd seen. Then, abruptly, he turned to me and in a different more direct tone of voice asked, "So did you vote for Obama?"
"Uh oh." I thought as images of my dessicated corpse being found in some far away ditch years from now flashed through my mind. Thinking fast I said, "I've learned one thing as I've travelled across this great nation. It's best never to talk about religion, politics or brands of gasoline."
That got a good laugh out of the both of them and the rest of the ride was pleasant. Shortly thereafter we rolled up to the Uhaul center which was nothing more than an old gas station with a few trucks parked out back amongst some dried weeds. The couple offered to stay while I secure the truck but I told them I didn't know how long it would take and they'd done so much for me already.
I walked into the station and asked who to talk to. "You need to talk to the owner. He's in a lawn chair out back." So out back I walked to find a group of people and one tall thin and very weathered man. He walked and talked slowly and seemed annoyed that I wanted to rent a truck. It was a good thing that I didn't ask the couple to wait. It took well over one and a half hours to get the paper work done and the truck ready to go.
We walked out to the truck. The trailer was much sturdier than I was expecting and I was pleased to see that it had a chock cut out for a motorcycle tire. "This looks like it's going to work just fine." I said. "Do tie downs come with it?" I asked. "Nope." he replied so back into the store I went to buy a set of ratcheting tie downs.
I thought it best not to mention that I have next to no experience pulling a trailer. I pulled away with empty Uhaul box truck and trailer in tow and proceeded to bounce my way down the road back to the gas station hopeful that my bike would still be there.
In retrospect, it was good that I got the trailer as opposed to trying to load the bike into the box. There's simply no way I would have been able to do this by myself. The trailer has the advantage that you don't have to drain the fluids and the ramp is so much lower to the ground I was able to get the bike up the ramp and secured onto the trailer without assistance. It was a pain and took some time, but I was able to do it.
There was a farm type supply store next to the market. I bought a couple of more substantial tie downs and managed to get the bike secured. This bike of mine has never, not once in 21 years, been on a trailer or in the bed of a pickup. This means that I have never tied it down before. To my dismay there aren't any good tie down points and getting a sport bike tie down strap to go over the handlebars was not going to happen.
Sorry Duncan, but I had no choice but to tie the hooks straight to my beloved heated handlebar grips. Duncan had given me those for my birthday before the great Alaska trip and of all the things that had happened, needing to risk those grips to get the bike home truly saddened me. (I haven't yet determined if my heated grips still work. They did get damaged a bit in transit.)
It was a sad moment seeing my poor broken bike on a trailer.
By this point I was pretty exhausted and not looking forward to the drive back. I don't do well behind the wheel of an enclosed vehicle.
A climbed into my new prison cell and slowly pulled out of the gas station, the truck and trailer making all kinds of unsettling noises. As the sun started getting low on the horizon, ended my miles by motorcycle and began my tow of shame.
What you are able to lift today is largely due to what you have purposely lifted repeatedly before.
How far/fast/well you can ride is largely dependent upon how much you have ridden before. Try to go fast on your first ride out and you are almost guaranteed to crash in the first corner. Lacking the relevant experience, you are likely to take actions based on the wrong sources, fear instead of discpline, blind reaction instead of planning. You enter the corner and everything /feels/ wrong. You panic and that panic turns into a set of actions almost beyond your control as you stare straight at the thing you are most afraid of, your arms lock on the bars and you run right into the wall you had so desperately wanted to avoid.
Some would say that it's because you were going too fast. There are few cases I've seen where riders have tried corners that there was no recovering from. Some would say it's a lack of experience. You didn't "do" the right things. I have more and more been coming to conclusion that's it's even deeper than that. You can be told what to do. You can learn the muscle memory but until you learn to control your fear, your panic, even going much more slowly than the bike can you can find yourself in trouble.
I have often said, "You can change how you think, but you cannot change how you feel." I am not so convinced now as I have been riding Out Here and the experience has been completely different than just 3 years ago. It's calmer. Easier. So much more fluid. I ride along the edge of bumpy unkept roads looking down into the abyss with a serene sense of calm. Gravel, dirt, surprises in corners no longer harsh my calm the way they used to. How I feel when riding has changed.
Interestingly, as so many will tell you about most physical activities, "it's 95% mental" and there in lies an interesting thought. We can likely all agree that what I can do today is dependent on what I have done before. But, is what I can think today dependent upon what I have practiced thinking before?
There is a blog called Study Hacks which explores excellence and what people do to become excellent at a given endeavor. It's said it takes 10,000 hours of directed practice, typically over 5 years, to become an expert at something. In essence, to force your brain to change it's form to allow you to think something you previously could not.
But here in lies the basis for a division that separates people.
What you have thought intently about over many hours changes you. It changes the structure of the brain. Practiced artists look at a scene, see things with a complex vocabulary that eludes me. "I see blue. What do you mean there's something there other than blue?" I remember the first time I saw an engine all I saw was one block of metal, the component parts completely invisible. I also remember the interesting sensation of being able to "see" the parts as soon as I understood they were there. (This actually still happens the first time I look at a new assembly.) Talk to a marketeer and there's another completely different lens to the world that's invisible to the rest of us. What we see immediately and is obvious to us can be invisible to someone else. Even when you point it out to them, if they have no experience, they may not be able to see it clearly. It takes time and directed effort, practice, to see.
I think about this in relation to culture. As we grow up, we're immersed in one, or in some of our cases, multiple cultures. There are assumptions about interpersonal interactions, respect, politeness, correctness and a host of other topics. We form in these cultures and what we are able to see in others is, much like the engine assembly that seemed like a block of metal, based on our own cultural background. In other words, how our brain is wired, our experiences, will allow us to see or not see qualities and intentions in others.
It doesn't need to be national cultures, German and American. It can be much finer grained that that. It can even be Biker and Motorcyclist. The biker looks at the motorcyclist and is, I believe, offended. "Why don't you ride a Harley, son? You too good for us? Why do you wear all that silly power ranger stuff?" The biker, unable to see the focus on roads, riding, machine and destination that is the hallmark of the motorcyclist, dismisses the motorcyclist. I've always thought the 'are you too good for us' comment was particularly telling about the value system of the biker. The motorcyclist, on the other hand, looking at the helmetless biker with his patch covered leather costume and shiny trailered bike wonders, "Why on earth would you do that? That can't be any fun and what happens if you crash." The motorcyclist dismisses the biker as delusional. Neither truly sees the other because the gap in experience is too great.
But physics is a cruel mistress. I am reminded of a story about the Vikings. As the winters got colder, the Vikings, holding on to tradition and membership in their own culture, died out because they were unwilling to accept, or possibley unable to see, the ways of the local peoples who were thriving in the cold.
What you practice determines what you can think. What you can think determines what you can see. I had a fascinating conversation with a rider out here who had quite an outsiders insight into motorcycle gang culture. He talked about the rigidly cruel rules of respect, heirarchy, membership, pride and a host of topics too long to mention. He talked about how easy it is to offend these people and the dire consequences possible. It reminded me of very fine grained social interactions in parts of Japanese culture that have been described to me once. I thought about the time and effort it would take to learn, an internalize, all these fine interactions, social cues, rules, etc. How would being immersed in a culture like that affect how you perceive the world? What you can think? What value judgements you make?
Maybe this explains some of the divisions between peoples. Because we formed differently, it's not just that we disagree or have, using a common base of experience, come to different conclusions. Maybe it's that we are physically unable to see and understand the what the other persons sees and values and why.
If that's the case, it means being able to see and understand what someone else sees means, to some degree, rewiring our own brain. This, then, implies that it's going to take much longer, involve much more directed work and be much harder than one would hope. Most are not up for that kind of challenge so the divisions and misunderstandings remain. Maybe much trouble in the political spectrum can be explained this way.
Attempting this work, because I am unkind to myself and never seem to take the easy way out, has been the approach I have been trying since the Big Alaska Trip. It is amazingly difficult and surprisingly painful.
This is a thought in progress and there is quite a bit more to say on the topic ....
When compared to the Alaska trip there have been relative few critters on this trip. There have been, however, quite a number of mountain goats or whatever these critters are. Fortunately, drivers out here are very polite and will stop with four ways on whenever a group of these are near the road.
Hills cut bare can be seen everywhere followed by hills covered in blighted tree skeletons. It's terribly depressing to see. The scale is simply unimaginable. Seemingly more sections of forest look like this than are left standing and green.
I never took much of an interest in American History, my preference was Norse Mythology. Out Here you get much more of a sense that certains short periods in American History are very significant to the people here.
I stayed at a nice hotel on the Salmon river in Salmon, Idaho. A few years ago a woman said I should visit this place, so I did. On the surface, it looks like any other town around here but there's a special character here. I'm not sure how to describe it. I sat outside next to the river drinking bad coffee thinking about the differences in how we form.
There was a dramatic sky.
BMW MOA members had suggested that I ride through Bear Tooth Pass which, on the map, looked to be just North of Yellowstone. I thought I saw what looked like a good road just North of the park that would lead me to it. As has been the case on this trip, I found secondary roads and avoided SuperSlab like the plague. Route 28 out of Salmon proved to be a nice albeit straight ride through this monster ever expanding valley. In a world of sameness, this proved to be truly different. After quite a few miles, I began to consider the wisdom of leaving with only 2/3 of a tank of gas. The GPS showed no gas stations for over 70 miles and I was predicting I would run out in 50. It was then a gas station, rest stop, general store, gun shop appeared. Contrary to it's appearance, this was not a tourist town.
"There are only 278 people who live in this area. We don't see each other often." the friendly man said.
Only one fuel grade. 85 octane. The pump must have been 40 years old. Across the street was the official General Store and Post Office.
This was a little oasis in the middle of NoWhere(tm). I was glad to be here. I sat under a shaded overhang for a while and drank some water while I contemplated the road ahead. Off I went as the valley became wider and dropped down noticeably and turned into a desert.
After an hour and a half, I stopped to get some water and cool off a bit. I talked to a nice couple on a Harley for a bit. They seemed to like the M-BY-MC concept. Shamefully, I have forgetten their names.
Inside the gas station was a little fast food joint. In the store itself, they sold trail mix. Being a bit hungry I got a bottle of water and some trail mix. I thought it was the same kind I had had before. Dried fruit with an assortment of nuts. I was too tired, hungry and thirsty to notice that it was not the same.
The fruit was covered in sugar. I'm not sure why I didn't immediately taste it. My future was spoken for. Interestingly, I didn't start having symptoms immediately. I drank some more coffee, got back on the bike and continued on the route I had laid out for myself.
To my shock it became clear that the road I had chosen actually went through the park and not around it.
"Shit." I thought as I considered my options. I had hoped to get close to Bear Tooth Pass so I could cross it early in the morning, but if this road goes through the park then all the hotels in the town on the far end were likely to be booked solid. I rolled into West Yellowstone, a horrible tourist trap filled with people from all over the planet. The streets were packed and hotel after hotel confirmed my fear.
Hedging my bets, I saw a Best Western that didn't have a prominent No Vacancy sign. As fate would have it, I got the last room. Unfortunately, it was by far the most expensive stay of the trip and, adding insult to injury, for the remainder of my stay there neither the wifi nor the 3g worked. It was as if all bandwidth was being used. I laid down for a bit and uncharacteristically passed out during the late afternoon.
"Sugar." I thought as I woke up. I was going to be in for a rough couple of days.
I had dinner and then tried to go back to bed but was unable to sleep much. The next day involved a slow start. I had hoped to get some writing done but the wifi and 3g were still no joy.
Adding to the traffic and population, there was some huge car show going on.
Personally, I'm a fan of the Willys Jeep, a number of which could be seen driving around. The show was primarily a hot rod show, or so I was told. You saw countless vehicles like these in pristine shape rolling around.
It took a good 25 minutes to get through the gate into the park. I thought, judging by the number of people, that it was going to take much longer. The sign on the other side confirmed what I had feared the previous night. No vacancies.
Rolling along in traffic after the gate, I spent my time looking at the scenery and thinking about divisions. I have often said, "It's not important to know who you are. You know who you are. What's important is to understand how you are different from others so that you can have a starting point with which to bridge those gaps." There are quite a few people on Facebook and in other places who think of me as a "biker" for some reason I don't understand. They send me things on Facebook, such as photos of highly customized Harley's or scantilly glad overly tattooed biker chicks on choppers. I take it as a nice gesture in the sense I believe they are trying to send me things they think I might be interested in. I do appreciate it, but how do I articulate how I am different than what we typically think of as a "biker". "If you want to send me photos of women on motorcycles, send me photos of someone riding in full gear doing something really cool. Don't send me photos of biker chicks, send me photos of motorcyclists." I would think to myself.
So as I was thinking about "biker" vs "motorcyclist" I asked myself what is the difference? A biker doesn't necessarily ride a Harley but they typically do. If there's no law requiring it, they ride helmetless. They typically don't wear gear favoring instead thin decorative leather sporting patch covered vests clearly identifying their allegiances. "Membership." I thought. They seem to value togetherness, group. They often describe their compatriots as "brothers". You think tatooes, scantily clad objectified women, bikes ridden feet forwards hands high in the air.
Motorcyclists, on the other hand, are more about the actual act of riding. A motorcyclist is a more technical creature focusing more on the physics, the handling, the technique of riding. Motorcyclists typically wear full faced helmets and often wear full gear. They are typically more focused on performance, cornering, braking, acceleration and the other technical performance aspects of their bikes. They rarely ride bikes that are feet forward and will more often than not ride bikes "english style" with either feet below them or behind them leaning more forward. A Motorcyclist doesn't ride with Ape Hangers. Motorcyclists typically are more interested it the places they go than how they look getting there. Motorcyclists rarely wear group patches and when they do they are more often then not brand patches as opposed to club patches. A motorcyclist is presently aware of the crash and is not in denial about it.
It's a rough division and requires some debate and refinement, but it makes for a starting point. I am a motorcyclist and not a biker. I will, sometimes, ride with bikers but we understand we are different beasts and our worlds are almost completely separate except for the fact that we ride two wheeled vehicles. But we do wave at each other, well most of us, and when broken down we stop to help.
Traffic cleared up a little bit and I came upon a Harley. "Biker" I thought before I noticed the helmet. Then I noticed his line. He saw me in the rearview and immediately stayed in the left side of the lane and I the right. "Motorcyclist riding a Harley." I thought. "Sneakers though. That's not good."
At one point I rolled up next to him at one of the many stops due to traffic, and shouting over earplugs, we started to talk. He was from Perth, Australia and had rented the bike for a 3 month continent wide ride. It was almost as dirty as my bike. "Props." I thought.
He rolled into a rest stop and I followed.
Chris the Australian.
He was an entertaining chap from down under. I had a bit of trouble understanding his accent and vocabulary at time. "Bloody 'ell! They nicked my boots and kevlar riding trousers so I'm 'avin to ride in these sneakers and jeans." he said uncomfortably. He had been camping and his stuff got ripped off.
"Oh man, that sucks." I said. We talked for a bit. He works in the Oil and Gas industry and may be moving to the states to work TransOcean, a company I know a little bit about. He's ridden through Russian and all over New Zealand. "You need to ride New Zealand, mate. It' s brilliant, simply brilliant."
After a while, he said, "Should we get back to it and do some miles". With that we started riding together. I said I was heading through to Bear Tooth Pass. He was heading to Billings. At first we thought it was going to be along different routes. After a while in traffic, we came to a stop sign. There was a service station. Just as I was about to go he calls over, "'ow about a coffee? I'll buy you one".
We hung out for a while. He had never seen bear spray before. "Bears can be a real problem." I said. "It's their country, I reckon. We're just guests here." he said. "Good man." I thought as I said, "I suspect not many people here see it that way."
We decided to ride together until lunch in Cooke CIty, MT on the other side of the park. Cooke City is at the beginning of Bear Tooth Pass Highway. It was a slower ride filled with many buffalo.
I was tempted to stop more but nothing really caught my eye. There were bison. Many bison. There was also apparently a bear down in a gulley but I didn't stop for it.
There were fantastic vistas as one is likely to see in Yellowstone.
We stopped at this great bistro populated by, I believe they were, french. Chris continued with the stories. We talked about travel. Local wildlife. "I'm not afraid to catch a snake, but I don't know the behavior of these snakes." he said as he described the kinds of snakes he's had to deal with in Australia. "I always take anti-venom with me. If I'm with someone else I take two." he said about going hiking. "Australia seems contrary to life." I said.
He's big in the Harley Owners Group and has taken riding courses and often leads rides, I believe many commecially. He talked about taking people on tours. His philosophy and mine seem to match on many levels.
We parted company. He needed to get to Billings and I wanted to take a slow ride over the pass.
Bear Tooth Pass Highway is simply amazing. It's lower elevation than roads like Mount Evans or Pikes Peak but somehow the landscape is different, more colorful, more alive with vibrant greens, blues, and purples. There are ponds and lakes the shimmer in the sunlight and boulders are strewn across the landscape as if thrown there by passing giants.
The road surface was generally pretty good, but bumpy in places. There was one section of heavy construction. Estimated wait times exceeded thirty minutes.
Every time this loader dropped a boulder into the truck it would shudder. To my surprise, despite having left earlier than I did, Chris rolled up behind me. "After all that coffee I had to stop and take a piss!" he said with a big smile on his face. After about 20 minutes the guide truck took us over the broken gravel and dirt and Chris and I were riding together again. I had told him that I was likely to just stop and take a bunch of photos. True to my word I did.
This road is just nuts. One might be tempted to keep up some speed but the scenery is so spectacular you are more likely to have cars come up behind you.
This road is just crazy.
Photos, words. All inadequate.
I was feeling a bit self conscious about stopping when Chris said, "I can't believe people don't stop to look. This is bloody brilliant."
What the photo doesn't show is that the lake is probably 1000 feet if not more below.
The clouds were equally dramatic.
There wasn't much traffic but the traffic that was there was pretty slow. A group of old time chevy's dating from the early 50's were slowly making their way over the pass. But somehow, because of the simple beauty of the place you just didn't care.
At an overlook we met a man who ran KLR off-road tours through the area. He strongly suggested that I stay in Red Lodge saying there were good restaurants and hotels. "I can't. I have to ride to Billings to meet me mate." Chris said.
We rode down the switchbacks of the mountain and into Red Lodge. I thought about riding to Billings but Chris said, "People I've talked to said this is the place to be." He used a different term for 'place to be' but I forget what it was. Australian is an entertaining and colorful dialect.
With that we parted company. "You should go to Sturgis." he said as he left.
I found a hotel, a ridiculously expensive hotel, but thankfully I found it just in time. I hadn't realized how poorly I was feeling. The full onslaught of having had sugar was unleashed on me. I hate when that happens and I hate it even more when it happens on the road. Interestingly, every time I go off diet my mood crashes and I found myself back in that dark worthless angry place where all paths lead to ruin and loneliness. As long as I know what's causing it, I'm ok, but sometimes it sneaks up one me unawares and I don't realize I'm feeling what I'm feeling because of physical reasons and then I make mistakes ...
Sucking it up, I had a dinner at a very nice wine bar. I sipped wine and listened to a guy play classical guiter. The bikers next to me got up and left. "This place is a bit too tame for our taste." they said. I talked to a couple from Minnesota who were asking about scotch.
The town was full of bikers. So I got up and went to one of the biker bars just to take a look. Finding nothing that really kept my attention I meandered back to the hotel and tried to call it an early night.
Feeling down and unmotivated with the sense that I was getting sick I began to consider whether or not I should go through Sturgis. I really don't want to but there's this sense it might an interesting "learning rich", as the Germans say, experience. I just don't know if I'm up for it.
I'm almost out of time. Today, I head South East towards the Mount Rushmore area. There's supposed to be another good road, route 16A Needles Highway I believe. Once again I'll try to avoid superslab to get there. I might head to Sturgis from the backside or maybe I'll just head straight towards the Badlands.
If you like these reports please share them along. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments please feel free to post on the facebook page or join the forum here. Until next time.
For a list of all the maps from the trip check out the maps page.
"Interesting interpretation for the word 'Highway' you have around here." I said to the diner waitress, a not-unattractive woman about my age who had an unfortunate and uncany resemblance to the main actor from the TV series House."Yep. Around here 'Highway' can mean just about anything including something without pavement." she replied. "And with thousand foot dropoffs." I continued. "Yep." was all she needed to say. A day earlier this would have been key intel.
It was supposed to have been an easy 300 or so mile day down to Salmon, Idaho via the Pintler Veterans Memorial Highway. Why Salmon? No particular reason. Someone once mentioned I should go there and since I'm just meandering, I figured, why not? Who knows, maybe there's something interesting along the way.
I headed out relatively late in the morning. The way the mountains around Glacier just jut up out of the ground instantly still fascinates me. The photos, as is always the case, don't do it justice.
This area of Montana seems pretty populated in comparison to sections of Utah and Nevada. Gas is plentiful and there is a steady reminder of human intervention. Traffic was an issue. It wasn't bad but was noticeable. The roads heading south were nice but not great. Swan Highway meandered it's way along Swan lake, which was beautiful. But at this point, I've seen so much beautiful and impressive and awe inspiring that those pathways in my poor overloaded brain were getting tired.
I don't often get bored. After a couple of hours riding along this fast and gently curving road alongside mountains and occasionally under the cover of trees, I thought "Huh, I see dirt roads with names on them. That one said Something Lake Loop. This one says Something Ridge Road. I wonder where it goes?"
I sometimes wonder, does the deer know it needs salt when it goes to lick the rock, or does it just feel like licking the rock? Does a dog know why it wants to chase a stick?
Inevitably, I see some dirt trail and I want to know where it goes. I don't know why. Maybe it fills some unknown need in my soul.
With that I turned onto a road that clearly stated it was "one lane with turnouts". It was somewhere between a dirt road and fire trail. It was hard packed with sharp rocks embedded. The sportier suspension of my Beloved Blue provided me with the expected bumpy ride. My intention had been to only go a little ways but as the road became more challenging and climbed ever higher I kept deciding to press on.
The switchbacks cruelly were rock strewn. I've seen worse but nevertheless it can be disconcerting trying to keep the bike stable while climbing up these things.
After a ways, I noticed that the GPS was actually trying to route me back down to the road. It turns out this little dirt trail was an official named Montana road. Knowing the GPS is a lying bitch, I quickly realized she was maliciously trying to keep me from seeing interesting things. Belligerently, I disregarded her suggestions and took every turn she told me not to.
With this approach, I found Rice Ridge Road and as it's name implies it's a dirt road carved into the side of a ridge.
It seemed that at every turn there were incredible vistas. Rationally, these vistas were no greater than others I had seen but somehow being so far away from anyone else, not seeing another soul for miles, made the moments more personal. More mine.
What the photos really don't reveal is how incredibly steep the dropoffs were. The road surface, if you want to call it that, was also slightly biased towards the abyss. So, riding over the uneven surface allowing the machine to do what it's going to, inevitably produced small momentary slides in the direction of oblivion. In years past, this would have actively scared me. Now, it was a completely relaxing, albeit slightly hot and bumpy, ride through the countryside.
You can see the road cut into the mountain on the other side.
I tried to capture the dropoffs in photos but failed miserably. Even in the photo above, it just looks like it's a slight slope down hill as opposed to the drop off that it actually was.
This place was remote. At this point I was a good 15 miles in. Every time I stopped, I immediately removed my ear plugs and listened. Since I had not seen a single car or other vehicle I started to become concerned about wild life. At one point, I saw a deer running away from me. At another rest break after that, I heard some rustling in the woods not far from me. I'm thankful the horn on my bike is so wickedly loud. Whatever it was left upon hearing it.
"Bears can get aclimated to the sound of vehicles, horns and other noises." I pondered as I considered what I might do if a bear or other large carnivorous critter came my way. I remained hyper alert.
The road continued for over 20 miles. I snapped countless photos trying to capture a sense of this wonder but all my efforts were for naught. It looks like a dirt trail like any other. As has been said before, you just have to see these places, to feel them, to understand. As I bounced along up and down mountains and around switchbacks for these miles, my bike getting truly dirty, I wondered how many people would enjoy moments like this the way I do. Or maybe better said, how many would suffer through the discomfort, take the risk and accept the compromises to have moments like these? While there are others like me out there, some of whom have commented on my facebook posts, I suspect most would sacrifice moments such as these to protect their street oriented machines. The Things being worth more than the Moments. I guess I value Moments more than Things, even my few prized possessions. Things can be repaired, repainted, rebuilt. Moments of wonder are lost forever.
"It's all a compromise." I thought as I continued to ponder the road, the trip, and my bike. For this purpose, riding up these unpaved bouncy, gravelly, sandy, dirty little roads, my bike certainly is not the best choice. It's also not terribly fast. Nor is it terribly light. But it is an excellent machine for the mix of the kind of riding I like to do. I can keep up with many of the sport bike riders through the Gap. I can run with the long haul guys across the open flat. I can enjoy carving canyons. And I can carry enough gear comfortably to go for however long I like. And I can successfully take it on some dirt roads and I've even been known to take it along little dirt trails from time to time.
But it is much like taking your Mercedes 4 door sedan off-roading. I should say your near antique Mercedes. It's not something most people don't do and probably with good reason.
Being somewhat overheated, I eventually made it to the end of the road where the unfortunate pavement began again. There was this sign. I might have considered it a Bad Sign(tm) had I seen it before I ventured up the mountain.
I've seen plenty of bears. Only one has ever taken an interest in me and that was on a road side thus I had an easy escape. I've read that when faced with one one is to talk sternly at it, back away slowly and show no fear. If the beast wasn't afraid of the sound of the motor or the horn, on these rocky roads, I don't think I could ride faster than a bear could run. The thing about the bear is that they have a top speed around 35mph. What they don't tell you, however, is the bear can reach that speed in two bounds. It's a truly impressive sight to see one of these monsters reach full clip from a standing stop. Then there's the whole thing with Mountain Lions. I've talked to a guy who had one jump onto his convertible bronco. He was able to put the vehicle in reverse to knock the thing off. Imagine a mountain lion jumping to take a rider out. I guess it's possible. "I wonder where mountain lions range." I thought.
I turned back onto pavement leaving a cloud of dust behind me and contined on the road next to the lake for some time. Or maybe it was another road and another lake. It all begins to look the same after a while.
I was hurting for Starbucks so I turned onto I90 and headed to Missoula. There I sat for an extended break. I looked at the map and, despite being a bit tired, decided it was too early to stop. Looking at the map there was a place called Phillipsburg that had some hotels. There was a connecting road just after Phillipsburg over to Hamilton, MT which was just 90 miles North of Salmon.
The road down to Phillipsburg, called the Pintler Veterans Memorail Scenic Highway, had been recommended by someone on the BMW MOA group on Facebook. Being in the area, I thought I'd take a look. The plannng map with all it's recommendations has been invaluable.
It turned out to be a nice road that followed a windy blue valley stream for some miles. I wouldn't call it an incredible road, just nice. It's not a destination road but if you happen to be going to places beyond one end or another it's certainly much better than interstate.
Along the way there were signs; ominous signs that reminded me of a scene in the movie Excalibur.
I should have taken a photo of a similar tree next to these covered in painted cutouts of childrens comic book characters. It was a powerful juxtaposition.
I rolled on further and saw these which I assume must be bees ?
I made it to Phillipsburg in less time than I had expected. There were a few bugs along the way. Not sure whether or not the road I had been travelling was the recommended Scenic Byway I asked. The woman in the gas station said she had been told it had been named such a few years earlier.
I decided to push on. There were more motels and services in Hamilton. It looked, based on the map, that Highway 38 would be a nice twisty ride over the mountains.
"Highway" is a word of flexible meaning in Montana.
I rode on for a while when I noticed something disturbing on the horizon, the distinct grey plumes marking a forest fire. The photo doesn't capture it.
The road I was following headed directly for the fire. I saw a sign in the distance which I was expecting to say the road was closed.
I've never seen this before.
Helibase? I had seen a helicopter flying overhead and thought, "I haven't seen any aircraft in quite some time." Over the DC area aircraft are constant, but Out Here you rarely seen them.
I came upon the firefighter camp. I was surprised to see that most are housed in tents. I guess it makes sense but I had always thought that those risking their lives to fight some forest fire would have mobile housing and not just tents pitched on the road side.
I was glad to have seen this.
After a while I came upon this sign. It was not, in fact, kidding.
At first I thought I was spared. I had already done 20+ miles of gravel/dirt roads. The road was paved and it was reasonable, then the pavement ended and I came upon foreshadowing.
It turned to a mix of gravel and dirt. At some points you could see a babbling brook on the left and a fresh field of tumbled bolders on the right. You had the feeling that you were witnessing the decay of a mountain, much like Obelix once said he had never seen a tree grow.
After quite some time on this winding gravel road I began to wonder if there was anything to see along it's sides. A dirt trail headed off towards the stream this road had followed. I decided it was time to take a break and take a look.
What I found was a bend in the stream over some rocks. The sun shone through the trees lighting the area up like some elven enclave. It was enchanting. However, there were what I perceived to be disturbing signs. All the trees here were wounded. Scratch marks could be clearly seen. Bear? I don't know what marks bears leave on trees.
The photo dilutes the sunshine and the green of this place. Please accept that this photo is a pale and inadequate representation of the sylvan beauty of this place.
A beautiful babbling stream ran through it filled with fish. I tried to photograph the fish, and owing to my exceptional photography skills I managed to take a fantastic photo of a plant instead.
I did a tricky u-turn around the long since dead campfire and continued to follow the "highway".
Then things got interesting.
The road opened up to incredibly steep inclines over deep valleys. The sun started setting on the horizon as I began to realize the slow dirt was taking much longer to traverse than expected.
No guard rails. This "highway" started winding it's way along the sides of mountians. The dropoffs were steep and uninviting.
It behooves one to not ride too fast around the gravel strewn corners.
At points the 20mph turns exposed vistas that seemed more incredible for the effort it took to see them. I kept my speeds reasonable at well under 30mph and often not much over 20. I had no desire to go skidding off the edge of the abyss.
Once again I tried to capture, in photos. just how threatening these dropoffs appeared. Again, I failed. I did pause to consider what might happen if my foot sliped as I came to a stop to take these photos. I was extra cautious.
One thing that I have seen across Montana and other part is these devastating tree die-offs. Ghostly white tree skeletons cover the landscape like a scar that's failed to heal. Unlike other areas, where the ravages of forest fires are clear to see, the cause of this white death is not readily apparent. It's everywhere. If it continues I fear the west will no longer have a problem with forest fires as there will be no forests left to burn.
It feels as if the very planet itself is stricken with some disease.
The "highway" continued for many miles as the sun set. From time to time interesting formations were to be seen.
The switchbacks continued. The bouncing, the gravel, the dust and the sand continued.
At points you could see for miles, thanks to precipitous drops that were there to greet you should you lose a moments concentration.
At one point I came upon a more impressive recent waterfall.
I rode along more switchbacks and down streep rocky bouny grades for some time as the sun set. Then pavement began again and eventually it widened out to what we in the East would say might be a highway. Before long I was at the Hwy 93 intersection confronted by the sun sinking behind the mountains lighting up the smoke laden air producing a beautiful sunset.
I stayed in Hamilton, MT. I didn't sleep much at all and as a result got up very late. I decided to make it an easy day and did just 100 miles down to Salmon, Idaho. Three years ago I met a woman during a much bigger trip who had lived here for some years. She strongly suggested that I should go and I agreed. Cirumstances prevented me but as is usually the case with me, I do everything I say I will, just not in the timespan that I hope.
Salmon has been interesting. On the surface it seems like any other town, but there's an interesting character here. People are not what I expect. The clerk at the hotel I checked into offered me a donut. "I'm sorry, the sugar will kill me." reply I made spawned a 30+ minute conversation. It turns out she has the same disease I do, suffers all the same symptoms and has come to the exact same conclusions and has experienced the same results.
I met a couple of Harley riders slowly making their way to Sturgis. "I've been told not to show my face there 'cause they don't like my kind over there." I said. "20 years ago that might have been the case." the Harley rider said, "It's a lot friendlier now. You should go." He proceeded to talk to me for nearly an hour about possible routes and things to see. It turns out some of the roads the BMW MOA guys have suggested are nicer than I initially thought. We'll see.
Tonight I had a fantastic dinner at a "Fine Dining Biker Friendly Steakhouse Sports Bar" called the Shady Nook. The bartender, a woman who has been coming here for decades but stems from California, was simply wonderful. Another kind, warm and friendly soul the kind of which seems so prevalent out here. I told her my name once and she remembered it using it for the remainder of hte evening. She told me hers once and I failed to remember it as soon as she said it. Names are a failing of mine and I felt the lesser because of it. Upon leaving she said, "I hope to see you in here again." I replied, "It's unlikely as I'm over 2000 miles from home." I hate that feeling of meeting an interesting soul and knowing that I'm not likely to see them again.
Shady Nook. Serious recommendation. Interestingly the style of cooking they do reminds me strongly of the woman who recommended this town to me.
It makes me think of influences and how we are formed by the souls we meet and the places we let get inside.
I was too tired to write last night so, completely out of character, passed out well before 11. At least I managed to sleep solidly for the first time in many days. I had vivid dreams involving mishaps involving a group of black bears. Foreshadowing?
Montana is not what I expected. It doesn't seem to be an angry state the way Wyoming and Nevada seem to be. All the people I've encountered here are friendly, kind and surprisingly polite with open faces. It seems like everytime I have my hands full someone is opening a door for me with a smile. The obesity epidemic plaguing so much of the country is also obviously absent. Humans here seem to look the way one would imagine they should. This place is, however, filled with all kinds of warning signs. "Gravel ahead." and there never seems to be any. "Warning: Bears". Again none.
No rattlesnakes either.
There are no warning signs, however, for the one thing this state does seem to be infested with. Beautiful women. They seem to be everywhere you least expect them such as when you're coming around a blind corner in the middle of NoWhere(tm) and there's one jogging in the road. It is wise to be careful. I'm tempted to try to feed one, but I'm told it'll change their behavior and they'll become more of a hazard. Or is that what they say about bears?
I'm not sure why but the road hasn't gotten inside me the way it has in the past. It's as if I'm travelling over the land instead of through it. I watch the incredible scenery pass by impassionately as I follow one amazing road after another. The Planning Map, on which I marked all the recommendations from the BMW MOA guys and others (Thank you John St John for the Mount Evans road recommendation!), really has added a different character to the trip. At virtually any location in the country, I have recommendations of places to go and roads to ride.
The peaks continue to get higher, the lakes more intense shades of blue and tourquoise, the forests deeper green and the deserts shimmer ever more brightly in the heat. But somehow, despite all this, I feel like I'm just on some extended day ride meandering aimlessly. I feel closed. I sit silently, invisible, the way I prefer it, when I feel like this and the world passes by not knowing I was ever there.
Maybe it's because I have so rarely gotten the feeling of Away(tm) this time. The world is becoming more homogeneous or maybe the path I've taken this time is one of familiarity. Instead of staying in little dive motels in the middle of no where, eating in sketcy out of the way places (that often make me sick but that generate good stories) I've been staying at more mainstream establishments. I tend to eat at the same kind of diners. Starbucks is ever present. In many ways, it's just like home except there's motion inbetween and the external scenery changes. Wifi is more present. There have been only rare cases where I haven't been connected.
The Simon and Garfunkel song, The Boxer, has been in my head. "Seeking out the poorer quarters where the raged people go, looking for the places only they would know". I think about the, apparently homeless, musicians in the alleyway the other night. There are too few moments of Different in this life of Same.
Because I am alone, I now have no schedule. I don't have any pressing need to be back so I'm taking my time going where ever. Sitting in Missoula, Montana, I was shocked to find that Glacier National Monument was just up the road 130 miles or so. (There does seem to be quite some difference between Open Street Maps rendering of the world and Googles. On my OSM based maps, it looks so much further.)
I've always been curious about Glacier so I decided to go. I was not sure what to expect because, as always, I didn't read anything about it before going. The GPS plotted a route up route 93 through a route 38 I think it was then onto 2 where the "Going to the Sun Road" started. I had originally decided not to go because of all the crowds everyone said would be there. "I'll deal." I thought as I headed out.
I thought, "Maybe it's not like Canada, but instead like Germany." as I came across a wildlife bridge.
Route 38 must be avoided. It's this ridiculously slow tourist trap infested long twisty road that is just actively No Fun(tm). The GPS will route you through it. GPS's hate you and they will lie. There are, however, great views of this tremendous lake.
Take route 93 all the way to 2. It's faster and better.
As you get closer to the park the scenery changes. There is this long absolutely dramatic transition from flat plain to towering peaks. It's as if a wall raised right out of the ground to touch the sky.
Because of route 38, it took significantly longer to get to the park than I had expected despite the fact that I left reasonably early. I tried to find a place to eat but failed miserably a few times. There was also no Starbucks to be had.
But there was an espresso shack. This is a great invention.
I did find a place to eat, a grill, once again filled with very polite, friendly people that didn't seem to mind the strange out of towner. I guess they're used to it because of all the tourist traffic.
There was a line to get into the park but it wasn't bad at all. After about 5 minutes I was in.
I had been told by a few of the BMW MOA guys to take the "Going to the Sun Road". So, blindly following directions. I went.
A theme that recurred with regularity while I was riding with Yun was "you just have to see it yourself to understand." This is so much the case with Glacier that I'm tempted to just stop here. Just go.
The road through the park is over 40 miles long. Much of it is down in the lowland forest. The peaks of the mountians hover seemingly directly above you. They are steeper and, relative to the ground, taller than the mountains in Colorado. Near vertical cliffs climb to the sky.
Eventually the road starts winding it's way up one of these cliff faces and the views of snow dotted mountians covered in evergreens etched with white waterfalls cover the horizon.
While not nearly as technical as the Mount Evans road with dropoffs that seemed roughly equivalent I found the Going to the Sun road to be actively scary. I don't know if it was the stone wall that acted as a guard rail or if there was some other quality that make this so much scarier. The cliffs did seem to be significantly vertical or maybe it was just that I feared the stones might catch my foot peg and send me toppling over. It was, in part, an exercise in confronting fear. So I would try to get close to the edge to take photos.
In Montana, beatiful vistas are apparently also overabundant.
My first thought, of course, was to the people who built this thing. I particularly like how it melds into the rock face almost invisibly.
There were also a number of waterfalls next to the road frustratingly located where one could not safely stop.
Interestingly, despite there being quite a bit of traffic, I spent the majority of my time with the road to myself. Everyone was impressively polite and pulled off at the first opportunity to let me and other faster moving traffic by.
I noticed a sign for a sunlit gorge and decided to check it out. I parked the bike and noticed a K12GTL with a Dragon sticker on it. I was tempted to leave my M-BY-MC card but didn't.
Turning the bend up the trail a ways, revealed something straight out of a fantasy novel. The water had cut a deep dark channel into the rock.
I arrived at the far end of the park too soon despite it having taken well over 2 hours.
There's a road that loops around the eastern side of the park, route 89. It's MUCH curvier and impressive than I was imagining. Great vistas of the mountains. Curves.
This is however, one place, where the warning signs should be heeded. Gravel here means serious gravel. Livestock is also prevalent.
This crazy cow just looked up and stared at me as I rode by.
This is also the only place I have ever seen horses grazing in the roadway.
To cut off some distance, I took route 49 to route 2 which wraps around the southern portion of the park. Route 49 is the poorly maintained bouncy, curvey, wildlife laden, livestock laden awesome little road.
At one point, a coyote ran out in front of me at full speed. It was impressive how fast it could move.
This road also yielded some great vistas of the lake and the mountains.
I wound my way back to route 93 and made my way south through one non-descript generic looking travelling town after the other. In each case, I wondered what character, what stories, were hidden behind these facades. These were not tourist towns, but they, at least from the route I was taking, didn't seem all that different from strip mall laden towns you might see back East. Sameness.
I eventually rode into a fairly populated town with a number of strip malls. There's supposed to be a starbucks around here somewhere. I ate dinner at a local bar and steakhouse. Sitting in there, invisibly, listening to the conversations going on all around me, I contemplated the days to come and how long I might be Out Here.
A leisurely 313 miles.
Yun left early this morning for the airport. I was dead to the world. I woke up around 8:30, the latest I have awoken so far on this trip.
The morning was slow. With Yun gone this trip is over and a new one begins. I was not sure where to go or what to do. I considered just going home. I considered staying at the Best Western where Megan and the rest of the staff had taken such good care of us.
I did order Megan a bouquet of flowers as a thank you. Does anyone do that any more? "She'll probably think you're a creeper." Yun had said when I mentioned I wanted to do something. "In my generation ..." I started thinking how odd those words sounded, "it was so much easier. You send flowers. It's just what you do and it's understood." But these days things are overly complicated ... a simple thank you never seems enough but doing more always seems ...
I eventually hit the road at 11AM and headed towards Lewiston, ID and US route 12 that so many had recommended. My day was occupied with thoughts of generational differences, how we are formed around our circumstances and how, with accelerating technological changes, there are greater rifts between generations than has been the case "in the good 'ol days".
This was going to be a long and involved post.
I've got 99 miles ....
But all this was derailed this evening by a moment. I made it to Missoula, Montana. The processions of Harleys were clearly visible as they made their way by the hundreds to Sturgis.
I had dinner at the Iron Horse Bar and Grill which sounds like it should be a Harley Bar but it's actually quite a reasonable moderately upscale place. On a whim, I decided to take a different route back to the hotel. As I walked along the unlit blocks of empty storefronts, I was surprised to hear music. At first I thought it was a concert. Then I thought someone was blaring a stereo. But I was mistaken. It sounded like bluegrass music from "Brother Where Art Thou?" I walked a few more yards when I noticed down an alleyway four people. Each was playing an instrument. A banjo, a fiddle, a mandolin and a guitar.
I stopped and listened. There was no audience. There was no amplification. They were just playing for themselves in this deserted section of town under a street lamp in some empty alleyway. The shape of the alleyway created a natural amplication effect. You could clearly hear them over a block away.
I stood in the shadows quietly far away so as not to disturb them and just listened for quite some time. As Angela said, "We remember the moments." It was a wonderful moment listening to people do what they enjoy very well.
This is one I am likely to remember.
I leave you with some photos from today.
Wheat fields hiding the rotating giants.
The frontage road down into Lewiston when coming in from the West on 195. Take it. Curvy as all get out and much longer than it looks. 20mph switchbacks all the way down. Challenging.
The river next to Route 12. Beautiful.
334 miles today.
We were riding along minding our own business heading towards route 12 through Idaho and on to points East, when suddenly over the intercom I hear, "Something's wrong with my bike. It won't engage. Somethings wrong with the clutch."
We stopped on the side of the road and did some investigation hoping that maybe it was something that could be easily addressed. It wouldn't be the first time. Unfortunately, when the clutch is pulled in there is an ugly grinding sound. Letting the clutch lever out produces no forward motion, but more noise. At first we thought it might be the clutch throwout bearing but then realized that much more likely it was the infamous input shaft spline failure that BMW's are somewhat prone to, unfortunately. It was definitely internal and it was definitely a catastrophic failure.
This happened 23 miles outside of Spokane, Washington on a country road in the middle of the gorgeous wheat fields far away from just about nothing as the sun was setting.
On Google Maps we noticed that there was a BMW dealer about 23 miles away. After contemplating other options, we decided our best bet was to try to get there.
A woman on a Harley, Gillian, stopped to see if she could help us. She mentioned there was a hotel right next to the dealer. She also said, if we couldn't find a place to stay she could put us up in her guest room. Very nice!
Another Harley rider also stopped shortly thereafter to see if he could lend a hand.
If we could get to the hotel, we could then get up early and tow the bike over to the dealer and have them take a look at it. If it needed to be shipped, we figured it could be shipped from there.
We thought about attempting to get a flatbed towtruck but I figured it would take quite a few hours before they would show up. Then I remembered, I have been carrying a bike tow strap for some years fearing that it would eventually come in handy. At this particular moment, I was especially grateful to my former self for carrying it all these years. We decided to give it a try. It's only 23 miles after all, not 230.
The buddy-tow is nothing more than a long thin nylon strap in a little carrying bag. There aren't many good places to tie the strap on either bike. We figured if we were very careful, it wouldn't cause too much strain so we tied it to the rear rack on my bike and on the front A-arm on his suspension. This worked reasonably well but I was concerned about the fiberglass/plastic cowling that my rear rack is mounted to breaking from the tension.
Then again, my Beloved Blue Oil Burner has the mass of your basic Mac truck, so I had confidence it would hold."I told you it doubles as a tow-truck." I joked in the intercom.
(Notice the strap between the bikes.)
Getting started was a little iffy but by doing it carefully and coordinating our efforts through the intercom, we got underway with no drama. Flat surfaces and inclines were also no problem, however downhill sections proved to be very challenging since the two bikes roll at different speeds so Yun's bike would start rolling forward causing the strap to become loose. It gets dangerous when the dangling strap starts getting close to the wheels. Modulating the brakes to smoothly compensate for this proved to be very difficult. More than once we didn't match speeds evenly resulting in a destabilizing jerk.
After a few quite stressful near mishaps, we decided that the long steep downhill sections were too risky. We stopped and untied the bikes. Yun rolled his bike down the hill. Then we would reattach the strap and repeat the process.
This took some time but we did safely make it all the way to the the dealer when I noticed the name. WestSide Motorsports. Ian and I had been here. "The Denny's next to the Best Western serves wine. Ian and I were here in 2010." I told Yun on the intercom. Sure enough, it was the same hotel.
We rolled to a stop. I confess, towing was remarkably stressful. I would not want to do it for extended periods. My bike also got quite hot and the fuel pump once again started making some disturbing sounds. "Foreshadowing?" I asked myself as I considered that my bike has just passed the 90,000 mile mark and it's still on the original clutch.
I walked in to see about rooms. I asked the nice woman, whose named turned out to be Megan, about vacancies. "I'm sorry. We're booked solid." she replied. It was again as it had been for most of our time in Washington State. All rooms everywhere were booked. While contemplating my options, I sadly looked her way and jokingly said, "We're broken down. How about a basement? Could we rent a basement? A corner? Maybe a closet? How about that bucket?"
"Maybe I can find you a room." she said laughing.
She then proceeded to call around. It was looking pretty bleak when she apologetically said all she could get us a room at an Econolodge. It was a single but the motel was willing to rollin a cot for us. "Beats a night at Denny's" I said enthusiastically.
I mentioned that we wouldn't have a way of getting Yun and his gear to the econolodge. "No problem. I'll drive you." she said. "I was not looking forward to a long night hanging out at Denny's." I replied.
Success! 24 hour stay over at Denny's avoided.
It was pretty clear that we would be here for another day so Yun suggested that we book a room at the Best Western for the next day before it fills up. So I got the last available room and we were all set to have a place to stay the following day.
And true to her word, she drove Yun over while I followed on my bike being hyper aware of every little noise it was making. I have suddenly become paranoid. My bike has never left me stranded but there is always a first time. Being stranded in some seriously remote place would be a much bigger deal. The Bad Lands come to mind.
"I can pick you up in the morning." she said offering to drive Yun back to the Best Western.
At the hotel there was a lot of discussion, research and exploration of possibilities during the remainder of the evening.
We had a few problems.
- We didn't know exactly what was wrong. We figured it was either the clutch plates, the throwout bearing or the input splines.
- Regardless of what the problem was, it would require disassembly of half the bike. It's an expensive and time consuming job.
- Fixing it, even if we could find a place that we trusted, that had the parts, would likely take days.
- Once we have it opened up we would be committed. What happens if there's more damage and parts need to be ordered from Germany?
- Yun needs to be back at work by August 5th.
- Shipping the bike back was no less problematic since today is a Saturday. Some that Yun called were saying it could be many days before they would be able to come by and pick it up. All were closed until Monday.
- Maybe we could leave it at the dealer for a week or two while waiting for the shipper, but this would likely mean a week or two of storage fees which could become substantial.
Needless to say, we were facing a great deal of uncertainty, but at least we had options. We had a place to stay with food nearby. We had a BMW dealer at our disposal. We had connectivity. It could easily have been so much worse.
I slept poorly once again and morning crept up on me unawares. "I gain power from the Yellow Sun." Yun would often say. "But I have observed that you, you come alive in the darkness." Mornings and I don't get along.
Yun called the Best Western. Megan was not there but they called her. She was on her way to work and stopped by the Econolodge to pick Yun up in her own vehicle. Above and beyond professional well into the realm of the personal.
I followed shortly thereafter on my bike. They allowed us to eat breakfast at the Hotel. Very nice. We rehashed our options and for a moment Yun considered trying to get the bike repaired. "We could have it brought to Seattle." Yun said, "That place is very highly regarded online."
"Yes, but it still doesn't solve the 'what if they get in there and have to order parts that take four weeks to arrive' problem.". He agreed and said, "Let's go over to Westside and see what they say so we have good information." It sounded like something I would say.
So two up we rode the 1/2 mile to Westside. Yun walked in to talk them while I was fumbling with my gear when I noticed a man unloading some motorcycles from a big trailer with "ClassicMotorcycleRides.com BMW Motorcycle Rentals & Tours" written on the side.
"I bet he knows something about shipping bikes." I thought as I walked over and said good morning. His name was RJ and once I mentioned what our problem was he began telling me about the schedule of the trucker that typically picks up his bikes. "He's doing a big shipment out East and I bet he could fit your friends bike on the trailer. He's going to be here later today and I bet he could probably take the bike." he said. RJ gave Yun the number and the wheels were set in motion to solve a host of problems.
Yun talked to the trucker who was a wealth of information and before long we had all the information we needed.
Yun mentioned, "We should ship it. I talked to them here. They can't get to it for 5 days and even then they said they might get in there and find it needs more parts that they don't have."
Decision made. Yun called the trucker back and it was agreed up. The trucker should come to the hotel later today to pick up the bike. Then it gets hauled to a depot in Seattle where it will be crated and then shipped cross country. As it turns out, later we would find out the bike can be delivered straight to Bobs BMW instead of another depot. That simplifies things greatly. "He doesn't have a ramp with him, so we'll have to help him with the bike." Yun informed me. "No problem." I said.
Once the trucker arrives and takes the bike, Yun will buy a plane ticket and I'll take him to the airport which is also nearby tomorrow.
"There's no way we would ever have been able to talk to an actual trucker without his help." I mentioned to Yun. "Yea, apparently they don't do this. The place is closed until Monday."
In the meantime, I noticed on Twitter that Rania, who we met up in Philadelphia, who works at RevZilla, had tweeted out our situation to some friends she knows in the area. Awesome.
We went back to the hotel and were sitting outside. "I wonder what time check-in is?" I asked as I pondered my bags on the bike for all these hours in a busy parking lot. I walked in and talked to the clerk. "Check in is at 3 but we might be able to get you in a little before that." she replied as Megan walked up. "I know these guys. I've been dealing with them since last night." She said feigning annoyance but smiling brightly. "Troublemakers that we are." I replied. "I know, right?" she laughed. "Let me see what I can do. I might already have a room for you." she said. It was 10AM.
She returned and said our room was ready. I'm now sitting in an an executive looking suite sitting in a comfy chair sippy coffee and about to get some lunch while pondering how fortunate I am not to be out in the blaring sun. I thanked her and explained how huge a help she was to us. "If you needed to leave the bike for longer you could have just put it in my garage." she said, meaning her garage at home.
When you are far from home, alone, afraid of what you might have to endure, confronted with problems for which there are no ready or easy answers, the kindness of strangers can touch you in those soft spots in your soul that are rarely left unguarded.