Each time I sit down to write at the end of the day, fatigue takes over. With all the best of intentions, I planned to catch up last night but passed out from fatigue. Too many hours sitting in Seattle rush hour traffic tooks it's toll. Unlike my travelling companion, getting up at 6 to write something doesn't work for meand by the time I'm awake enough, it's time to hit the road as is the case right now.
We're in Seattle about to visit "Origin", the Original Starbucks from which all that is civilized in the world came to be.
"Mount Evans road was seriously scary. It felt like you were riding right into the clouds and there were no guardrails on those switchbacks! You could fall straight down for thousands of feet!" Yun said.
"If I had been by myself, I would never have gone up. I would have seen how crazy this is and I would have just turned around. But to become more than you are, you have to let go everything you think you are. So I just did it and I was not afraid. So is this the real me? The me without fear? If that's true, then who have I been these last years of my life?" he said. "If you describe it to someone it sounds crazy dangerous."
"But it wasn't." I said. "Yea, it's a small road without guardrails, with drops that fall thousands of feet around difficult switchbacks, but it wasn't that bad, was it?" I asked.
"No, it wasn't hard. It was awesome. I can't believe I'm Out Here doing this on a motorcycle." he said.
"What would the chances be that you would have seen these things if you hadn't learn to ride?" I asked.
"Zero." he replied.
Today our target was to reach the Bonneville Salt Flats. Yun wanted to go there and ride his bike on the salt. He seemed pretty excited about the prospect. I was mostly dismissive. "So we're going to ride through the crazy desert heat to go see a bunch of salt? Should I bring some tequila?" I asked giving him a hard time.
We needed to cover some distance and it was going to be a hot ride. We didn't appreciate how hot it was going to be. We headed straight West on state roads hoping to avoid Interstates as much as practical. As we headed further West the temperatures started to rise. The thermometer on my bike consistently read between 100 and 110. It tends to read a bit high because of it's placement, but this was crazy hot.
I'm sorry, I am too tired to write ... I will try again tomorrow ...
It's 11PM central time as I sit in a Day's Inn in Wendover, Utah after a hard days ride through a heat that I do not have words to describe. "Blast Furnace in the face." is the best, albeit sorely lacking, analogy I could come up with. The thermometer on my Oil Burner hovered between 100 and 110. Needless to say, I don't do well in the heat, but I managed to get through it without too much complaint.
Some many weeks ago, the original plan was to ride to Deals Gap for a week . Yun decided that he wanted to do a cross country trip to Seattle after the Gap and asked if I would join him. He thought that having me along would make things a bit easier, safer and would allow him to avoid some of the more common first-timer mistakes. It made sense to me. I had been planning to ride the Trans Am Trail in August but I figured since I'm not doing much constructive with my life that I could afford the time. So I agreed. Since then, I've decided to postpone the Trans Am Trail trip. I may yet do it, but it's likely that it won't be for quite some time.
In the three years since the Great Deadhorse Trip, much has changed, but unfortunately much has stayed the same. I had thought returning Out There, where I seem to do so well, would give me some much needed time to think. Big decisions are looming large in my near term future and I'm either going to make some changes or some changes are going to be forced upon me soon. It's weighing pretty heavily on me. As it's turned out, however, this hasn't been an introspective thinking trip. This is Yun's trip and I'm largely along to help. Not quite tour guide nor really a mentor but maybe as-needed guidance and company. This dominates my focus. On the Deadhorse trip, being alone and spending all those hours thinking about this thing that I do, this motorcycling, enabled me to focus more on those following these words, you. While many have hoped I'd be able to write the way I did before, I fear I'm a disappointment. There's so little time left in the day to write and I am so very tired.
Three weeks isn't enough time to see the country and make it out to Seattle and back and leave much time for anything else. Tonight Yun and I talked about how a two or three week trip would be needed just for Colorado. I've been surprised how quickly he's changing his preconceptions on motorcycle travel. It took me much longer.
We tend to spend more time on the road and when we're not on the road we've been engrossed in involved conversations. Yun is a very intelligent man with perspectives that are so far removed from my own that often I miss the points that he's trying to make. After these many days on the road, I've come to understand that he sees things from a point of view that I've never encountered or at least never understood.
Many say it's important to know yourself. I have often said that's irrelevant. It's important to know how you are different from others so that you can better bridge that gaps between people. It takes time and effort and most shy away from making that effort. I certainly used to do this as Duncan can attest. Most would rather spend their time around those who see the world exactly as they do than put in the time and effort to understand how someone could see the world differently. The difficult thing, the time consuming thing, is to put in the effort to really understand and empathize with those that are radically different. I suspect few do this to any great degree, but I could be wrong.
This trip and it's many conversations has highlighted more along these lines than I would have imagined. I'll return home with more to think about than when I left. This is the kind of thing that long distance motorcycling tends to bring out. To get to know someone much better travel many miles with them on two wheels.
Yun has a short list of must see places. Pikes Peak. Bonneville Salt Flats. The First Starbucks in Seattle. We've joked that we should name this trip the "In Search of Origin" trip since it's likely to culminate in a visit to the very first Starbucks.
We had arrived in Colorado Springs the night before and failed to go up the mountain because it was closed. So we decided to go up it the next day. Our plan had been to take an easy morning to recover. I would write to catch up and we would take care of odds and ends including laundry. There was a bit of a snafu which ended up taking a huge amount of time. There was only one washer in the hotel and I mistakenly completely forgot to move the laundry to the dryer blocking the efforts of this strangely super-fit young woman. She overheard me talking to Yun about how I had completely spaced moving things to the dryer. She walked up and mentioned that she had moved things and gave us a few quarters to make up for it. I thought it was a very nice gesture especially from someone so young. She couldn't have been much more than a teenager. Yun saw this event in a completely different light and that led to an hours long conversation where we carefully compared perspectives and tried to discern what was going on.
It's taken me forever, but I have learned to recognize when someone is reacting strongly to some event that seems minor that more often than not they are not reacting to the present event but instead to some past event that they carrry with them. We all carry our scars forward and let them color our world. As we get older, we have more scars and our world becomes more colored to the point that it becomes black. Being open becomes so much more difficult.
I can feel that I too have become much less open. It troubles me.
After an insightful and long conversation, we decided to get underway and go up this mountain that I have ridden up 3 times before. Familiarity breeds contempt and, I realized, Pikes Peak has become so familiar that it no longer holds that emotional impact that it once had, even just three years ago. Something is different.
The sun was glaring down on us but we knew, because I have seen it before, that it would be pretty cold on the top.Today we would ride into the mountains together for the first time for real.
From Colorado Springs Pikes Peak is no distance. 25 minutes later we had paid our entrance fee and were making our way up the mountain when suddenly my bike started losing power. It would feel like it was stalling and then catch and go for a bit then start feeling like it was stalling again. I had seen this happen before on a different kind of vehicle, my boat. On the boat it had turned out to be a clogged fuel filter. I figured it was probably the same in this circumstance. I thanked my former self for having the foresight to pack a spare filter.
I'd been up the peak 3 times before. There's only one way up and back, so I told Yun he should go ahead. I feared, despite my belief it was just a filter, that maybe my Beloved Blue Oil Burner, had finally developed a serious problem that might leave me stranded. I would hate for that to derail Yun's attempt to go up the mountain. After a few questions, he went on and I turned around and rolled to a rest area near the bottom of the mountain.
At least there were restrooms there but no shade. It was pretty hot and the sun was intense. I pulled off enough gear to get at my tools and proceeded to pull off the filler cap. I had nitrile gloves with me. I once again thanks my former self for being so prepared. The fuel filter is in the gas tank and it's held on by a couple of hose clamps. It was also completely submerged in gasoline.
I honestly thought nitrile gloves would protect against the gasoline for much longer. 15 to 20 seconds at most. I managed to replace the filter but it took half a dozen gloves and I got pretty good and exposed. Not Good(tm). I found myself wondering how much lifespan I shaved off by effectively dipping my hand in gasoline. But I managed to get the filter replaced and the machine has run perfectly since.
I chuckled as I thought of a comment someone made to a similar post about the boat. "This is the age of getting shit done."
Yes, it is.
Just as I was getting ready to leave this guy walked out of the woods and asked me whether or not this was the Pikes Peak road.
He told me his name but I have, of course, completely forgotten it. He had two gopro cameras on, one facing forward the other back. He had not been to civilization in over a month and a half.
He walked off and as I was putting my jacket on an older gentleman on a BMW R1200RT rolled up. He was trying to take photos so I asked him if he would like me to take a photo for him. He declined and then asked me, "Have you come all the way out here on that antique?". "Why yes, I have." I replied thinking that it's not quite an antique yet. (This is why Rob has given it the name Oil Burner. In this view, at the time my machine was produced, oil powered locomotives were all the rage ...)
I put on my helmet and fearing that I had left Yun to his own devices too long, got on it a bit. I confess, I sinned. It was not a terrible sin, but the 5mph traffic ahead of me was, well, terribly slow and they wouldn't move over. I will atone for my sins.
Yun was waiting for me half way up.
"I saw you come up. That was pretty awesome." he said. I was a bit embarrassed by having my sin witnessed.
We rode to the top. I led the rest of the way up. The switchbacks where all you see are clouds seemed to stress Yun. Because he has learned so much so quickly I often forget that he's only been riding for 2 years. Going up Pikes Peak on a motorcycle for the first time can be challenging and stressful. It seemed to take a lot out of him.
By the time we got to the top I was feeling the effects of having been in the sun too long. The air is thin and we had been doing too much walking around. I started feeling rather poorly, but we continued to look around.
The crowds were too much. "Go outside. I'll take care of this." Yun said. I walked outside and came across this bike, a Honda V65 Sabre. I rode an identical bike, except with red accents, up this very peak in 1991. It was in very good condition.
You just don't see many of these any more. They had some common issues that killed most of them.
We hung out at the top and took more photos. The weather was simply beautiful.
This next photo is more or less straight down.
So Yun suggested that we try to reproduce the shot from the last time I was up here.
We failed miserably.
Yun on top of the mountain. (Sporting an M-BY-MC baseball cap.)
Me on my Beloved Blue Oil Burner.
It came time to leave and we headed back down the mountain. The switchbacks heading back down can be challenging. Then we saw them. Mountain Goats.
The plan had been to make our way up to Mount Evans Road that same day. John St John has strongly suggested the road. It's supposed to be the highest paved road in the US. On our way there were found a road, Route 67 off of 24 that was simply incredible. This is a road that I can highly recommend. It's twisty scenic and just wonderful.
There was remnants of a forest fire.
There were ominous clouds.
In the end the GPS lied to us again. We came across a sign that seemed to indicate that Mount Evans Road was closed. Then it seemed there was a detour so we followed it for some many miles. We decided to try to find lodging but the GPS sent us on another wild goose chase. Along the way we saw these critters. Big Deer? Elk?
We looped back around to the detour sign. There were some locals out for a stroll. Yun talked to them and confirmed the road to Mount Evans was still open.
And with that we departed in search of food and lodging, which has become a daily ritual. We would attempt to check out this Mount Evans the next day and then head to points West. Little did we know what we would find.
We made our way to Idaho Springs, Colorado. The section we ended up in was pretty desolate and everything was closed. We got one of the last rooms available and bought some food at a nearby Safeway. That was dinner.
The next morning we went over the bikes as we always do. We checked the tire pressures, checked the oil. Yun's bike has been burning, IMHO, a fair amount of oil. Strangely, my bike, for the first time ever, is not.
(Oil level after 2000 miles. Strange.)
Idaho Springs does have a redeeming value. There is a Starbucks there.
I have found myself thinking more than once that there is too much familiar in cross country travel now. In the good 'ol days, you would have no choice but to go to local coffee shops, if any were available. You would have no choice but to venture into the unfamiliar.
But the country has become so homogenous. It's so easy to gravitate to the familiar since it's present everywhere but I fear that we lose something in the process. It's nice to be able to go to Starbucks and know what to expect no matter where you are in the country. But it's also nice to be forced to go outside of one's comfort zone to explore new unfamiliar places.
After some time we head to the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, route 103. They are not kidding, it is scenic.
A twisty wonderful little road.
After about 14 miles you come to the entrance of the park proper. The road up to the summit is 14 miles. We've done Pikes Peak, this should be no problem. The map did show some interesting switchbacks ...
Before we knew it we were on a small two lane road. "There were no guardrails!" Yun exclaimed later. "Yea, guardrails are bad for motorcyclists, so they make sure not to put any there, especially not in any of the corners." I said wryly.
Mount Evans road is so much more engrossing, beautiful, expansive, dramatic, and challenging than anything Pikes Peak has to offer.
Two lanes. Pavement ends right at the edge of the dropoff. Crazy inclined switchbacks up literally into the clouds. Simply awesome.
The summit was literally in the clouds. There was a small parking area. Clouds would flow over and around us and occasionally we could see down to the depts below.
There were mountain goats to be seen.
There were the warning signs.
Ignoring all the warnings, we followed the footpath and scrambled our way to the top. On the way up, I met an SV650 rider from Colorado Springs. I, of course, have forgotten his name.
I caught a photo of him as he left that I thought was pretty good.
Yun has so many more photos of this than I do. We took photos and video coming back down the mountain. I hadn't really considered it while we were doing it, but Mount Evans Road is likely the most challenging and arguably dangerous road we've ridden. Multiple thousand foot drop offs right where the pavement ends. Crazy tight inclined switchbacks. Clouds. Cold. Wind.
The photos I have here do not do it justice. I will have to find time to post some more.
There's so much more I wanted to write. Yun talked about how if he had thought about it ahead of time he would never have done this road. "Logically, it's too dangerous, but I wasn't afraid. Is that me, the me that's not afraid, the real me? This road, even though it was so much harder was an easier time for me." he said.
We went back to Idaho Springs for lunch. There was a pinball Bar and Grill that I think Duncan might have enjoyed.
We descended out of the mountains and headed West towards the Bonneville Salt flats, another destination Yun definintely wanted to see. We decided to take route 9 off I70. It was a BMW MOA recommended route. It starts out slow and conjested and turns into a simply beautiful road.
The landscape changed repeatedly.
We rode until sunset.
Two days ago we left the Ozarks to journey out into the god forsaken flat also known as Kansas.
"Ugh", I thought as Yun objected to a plan to take secondary roads across. "But the Interstate is such boring flatness." I tried to explain. "It's going to suck." I commented as I could just imagine how much complaining, I mean 'communicating', I was going to hear in the headset while going across. I had really hoped we could do a more interesting way across. There has to be more to Kansas than I've seen.
But he made a valid point, "There's nothing to see so I'd much rather superslab it across the boring sections to go spend more time in places where there are things to see."
"Ugh". Kansas. The welcome sign to Kansas might as well say "Abandon All Hope, Ye Motorcyclists Who Enter Here." Endless expanses and hours of time waited for us. Honestly, I dreaded the crossing.
I thought back to a conversation he and I had had the day before. "You and Danny talked and I felt like the third wheel. You guys have all this experience and done all these things. You'd say 'Don't do this or that because it's going to suck'. But the fact is you did all of them. I haven't." And with that my perspective changed. "Doh!" I thought. "He's right." I've been riding for years. I've been across the country multiple times. I've had countless Bad Things(tm) happen.
And I've been trying to shield my travel companion from making the mistakes I have so that his trip will be better than my trips have been. I guess it's natural. We want to guide those that follow in our footsteps to avoid the mistakes and pain we have felt. But to his point, the pain and mistakes we've made form us and, in part, make us who we are. How different a rider would I be if I had never ridden in tornado force winds or gotten stuck in all those precarious situations where I, unintentionally, tested my own limits? Yun is much younger than I am and I have a tendency to forget that. Just like with height I don't notice age differences.
"Ok." I relented. We'll do the flat and we'll superslab it. Time to man up and repeat a mistake for the benefit of another so he can understand first had. We decided to head to Pueblo, Colorado. Once there we would decide how to proceed. Google Maps came up with a route which, looking at the map, both of us thought was super slab. With the intention of making it across the flat quickly, we decided to try a 700 mile day.
I began to think about differences in experience and other ways that I might be limiting his.
I tend to lead. The whole point is that when I'm leading I can point out hazards, give guidance and generally "protect" those following me. I don't give it a second thought. My role and duty as lead rider is to those behind me. I take it very seriously. So many how have ridden with me, Yun included, say things like "You make it easy for us." It's so second nature to me that I lead on every ride we take. As a matter of fact, I can't remember the last time I've followed anyone for any significant distance probably in the last couple of decades.
"How will he learn to be a good leader if he never leads?" I thought. Before I could articulate the words, Yun said "Maybe I can lead for a while.".
We got up promptly at 6, but instead of rolling out quickly we got caught up in conversation and two hours passed before we knew it.
So we embarked while my thoughts were dominated by differences.
On this trip, I have not, for the first time, brought paper maps. This time, I'm using a GPS exclusively. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. The last bitch lied to me relentlessly. I thought maybe this time it would be different and it is, sort of.
I picked up a Zumo 550 and she doesn't just lie she maliciously misleads at the worst possible moment. Sitting at a stop light as we came to the bottom of the Ozarks and faced the big and flat, the GPS suddenly indicated that we needed to make a U-Turn. I thought we needed to go right. So we stopped in some shade in I examined the stupid thing in more detail. Now, in a parking lot some hundred yards away, it clearly showed that we should have, in fact, turned right. "Stupid thing. Maybe it's flaking out." I said. Yun replied, "It's probably that you haven't updated the maps." Confused I said, "how can that be, that road has clearly been here since 2009, the last time these maps were updated." "Yes, but maybe the road was widened and it thought you were in the parking lot.".
Interesting. Point taken. Technology must be approached as a augmenting tool, not a definitive resource. Street signs lie less often than a GPS. Using paper maps it's so much easier to get an overview of a route. Even on the Yun's iPad and google maps (or even the M-BY-MC maps) it's not as easy, so I'm practicing coming up with techniques to more effectively use the GPS. I spend more time memorizing routes ahead of time.
We took the right I originally thought we should and rolled onto the state road, which turned out to be a nice fast road when we saw a rock outcropping so we stopped to take a photo
The roads were nice a fast. This was a common scene in my rear view.
We were trying to make miles. We had this general goal of making it all the way to Pueblo, which was still 700 miles away. Even at this point Yun thought we'd likely be able to make it. I already knew we wouldn't and tried to convey that.
It seemed like forward progress would get interrupted. While Google Maps had indicated this was to be superslab that state highway continued for longer than expected. Every few dozen miles little towns would slow us down. "We're never going to make it." I thought as I started getting a bit stressed about it for reasons I didn't entirely understand, but this road is actually pretty good.
But there were times we would come to a stop, like the time we just missed crossing the tracks before a train came.
We were baking in the hot sun.
And after quite some time we were finally able to see the end of the train.
"We don't you lead?" I asked Yun through the intercom. It had been a moderately windy day but the road was clear, the sky blue and it was turning out to be a rather nice, albeit tiring, day.
There were dramatic skies to be seen.
Following Yun was surprising. I noticed there was significantly less wind as I was stagged behind him. Tractor trailers with empty cattle carriers would whizz by causing a tremendous blast of angry air. This tends to hit you front on unsettling the bike a bit. Yun had experienced this from the position I was now in, but what I never realized was how muted it was in comparison to the lead position. "Wow! <screach>" I would hear through the intercom as each truck went by, followed by a long series of exclamations about how uncomfortable and unsettling the experience was.
I never realized this, but when you lead you really get hit much harder by these blasts than your immediate follower. "Yea."
'This is much harder and tiring than I thought." he said. "I now understand why you're always so beat after a ride. There's so much to keep track of and I'm not used to looking in the mirrors."
The terrain started getting flatter as we moved further and further west. While this road was wide and fast, with speeds of 65 and 70 for most of it, it would still suddenly stop in slow towns. I kept thinking the endless expanse of super slab would start any minute now, but I found myself thinking these stretches of 40 and 50 miles punctuated by interesting looking small cattle towns was what I had actually wanted to see. The road wasn't nearly as unpleasant as other routes I've taken across Kansas.
Things started getting flat.
A heat wave had been predicted but so far things had not been terribly hot. There was intermittent cloud cover and the Heat Out base layer I've been wearing, based on Duncan's recommendation, has allowed me to handle significantly more heat than normal. As everyone knows, I don't deal with the heat well.
Eventually, we came upon a monstrous thunderstorm. It was clear that if we continued riding we would run right into it, so we opted to put on the rainsuit. Yun was excited to ride through a real storm. I, of course, was not. Hail can ruin your day.
I had suggested that we could maybe just wait for the storm to pass but it looked like it would take a while, so we finished donning the rain suits but by the time we got them on the storm had passed the road.
The tracks at this spot were pretty cool.
This is my favorite photo of the trip so far.
Unfortunately, due to a host of distractions, I've run out of time, so I will finish this up later.
We are in Colorado Springs heading towards Pikes Peak.
I'm getting too far behind in sharing this story. For the last few days we've ridden too late and been far too tired. Yun has been doing a better job of writing and posting regularly than I have. Watching his use of technology has been interesting. Instead of using a small laptop as I have been, he's been carrying around an iPad. Now, as a developer, I am no fan of Apple consumer stuff but I must admit from the point of view of simply getting content put together and posted he has a much easier time.
While I have to boot my laptop, get out the USB adapter, copy photos over from the camera and then resize them, he simply takes the photos with the iPad and then using a Blogspot app is able to put posts together much quicker than I can. He's gotten adept at typing on the thing.
While very knowledgeable about mechanical topics and electrics, Yun is not very technical when it comes to information technology. He's strictly a user of technology as opposed to a practioner. As a developer, I've actually never gotten to spend any significant time watching someone non-techical make use of technology for this long. Usually, it takes the form of just watching someone for a few minutes. But now, after 6 days on the road with him, I have some new insights that may prove to be helpful. More on those hopefully later.
We had hoped to get to Pueblo but after a somewhat stressful search for gas which ended up happening due to a bad call on my part, we rode through a few towns looking for lodging and finding none.
We did however find smells that Yun apparently disliked, given that a few days later he was still complaining about it.
I confess. The smell of the large scale meat processing plants was disturbing. I found myself thinking if I were to venture inside one and see the horrors that unfold there I might make another attempt at becoming a vegetarian.
We continued on as the sun started to set on the horizon. The lack of obstacles lengthened sunset quite a bit and I tried to snap a few photos of the sun as it set.
As this route was prone to do, it went from a fast highway to a small in-town road. This process had repeated itself time and again. In the distance we saw another town and as we rolled into it we realized we had gotten into Dodge City.
"I wonder if this is the Dodge City from which the expression 'getting out of Dodge' comes from?" I thought. Apparently it was.
We got a hotel and then tried to find something to eat. "If you're in Dodge City you have to have a steak." I said. Yun agreed, so off in search of steak we went.
We found a place called the Central Station Bar and Grill. It had the feel of a typical country western bar. There were a few people sitting outside. One theme with Yun that's been ever present as long as I've known him is that he notices when he's the only person of Asian descent in an area. I get the impression too many caucasions make him nervous. "It's likely to be a bit redneck in there." I said checking to see if he was ok, once again, being the only Asian guy around. "Yea, whatever." he said uncharacteristically.
We also got a seat outside. We started talking to the people at the table next to us. It turns out it was the owner of the place, Albert. After a few moments, the question of origin came up. "Where are you from?" Albert asked Yun. "China." Yun replied. "My wife's from Taiwan." Albert said. "I'm actually from Taiwan as well." Yun replied and so began a long conversation between them as photos of Alberts wife and kids were shown. It was a good time and quite amusing to see Yun be the center of attention because of his descent. "Asian rock star." I joked. Yun seemed very amused and later went on to say it was a great experience.
We eventually realized that the superslab we had expected would never materialize and that, in fact, we were doing the trip across Kansas that I had always wanted to. "This is great." Yun would say repeatedly as would I.
If you have to cross Kansas on motorcycle and you are someone tough when it comes to an olfactory onslaught from time to time, route 400 across Kansas is a fantastic road. Clearly I have been taken over by an alien because I thorougly enjoyed the ride.
How do you know you're in Dodge City? The main road is called Wyatt Earp Blvd.
And most who know me know that I adopted, ages and ages ago, the saying "We need to get out of Dodge." So today, for the first time, I was actually getting out of Dodge.
(Yermo getting out of Dodge.)
We both weren't feeling well. We hadn't slept well and were expecting a very hard painful day. We set ourselves up to slog through 75 miles at which point Yun said he wanted coffee. It had been a slow start to the morning. We had checked the map and it seemed Pikes Peak should be easy to make if we push it a bit. So Yun skipped coffee and we rolled out of town.
We started talking about a host of topics, most centering around our differences of perception especially when it comes to people and our interactions with them.
At one point we talked about fear and motorcycling when Yun said something fascinating. "I didn't become really afraid until I got really sick on my visit to China. The food made me so sick I thought I was going to die and after that my stomach wasn't the same and I became afraid. I began to fear travel. I began to try to hold on to the familiar."
I too get very sick depending on what I eat. And once I figured out that I could reduce the amount of pain I feel by eliminating starch, sugar and lactose from my diet, I went from being a very adventurous eater to a very cautious one. When traveling, as it happened yesterday, when I eat something "wrong" Bad Things(tm) happen. My dreams of travel stopped. I actively fear going abroad. I wonder how much of the fear in my life is similarly tied to illness. Does random invisible pain, the kind of pain that others can't see, make people afraid in other ways? I don't know, but it's something I've been thinking about.
Before we knew it 150 miles has clicked off and we were in Colorado. How did that happen?
It was flat and starting to look brown.
We realized, despite our fatigue, neither one of us was feeling all that badly. The road continued towards Pueblo and we caught our first glimpse of the mountains.
The Rockies! Always a good sight after crossing the Flat.
We stopped for gas and water in Pueblo. The sunshine was oppressive. I stood under an overhang and let just the tip of my boot sit in the sun to see how long it would take for my big toes to start burning from inside the boot. 120 seconds is the answer. It was the kind of sun that made you feel like you were under a heatlamp, on high while someone was blowing a hairdryer on high in your face while making you stand on a heated floor mat turned on high.
It was hot. It was actually so hot that it seemed to affect the fuel pump on my bike. When I started the beast, the fuel pump made a sound I had no heard before. It sounded like it was starving for fuel but the bike seemed to be running fine. I moved the bike over to the gas pumps to fill up and left it in the shade for a while. After some time, the pump no longer made the sound and we went on to find a Starbucks in Colorado Springs.
After some searching and dealing with a GPS that lied, we did finally find a Starbucks. We weren't there terriby long, just long enough to cool down, drink some water to hydrate and some coffee to wake up. We went back out into the scorching sun to head off to Pikes Peak. Interestingly, I remembered the route and we were there just a few minutes after 6.
Unfortunately, Pikes Peak closes at 6. As Yun would say, epic fail.
On the way up, Yun had asked about the Garden of the Gods sign we had seen. "It's a bunch of rocks. I went there but I didn't think it was all that impressive, but we could go if you want to." I said. I had ridden through there three years ago and that's where I met Mr. Anderson before that trips Pikes Peak ascent.
So we went. As I had done before, we went in and did the little loop and looked at the big rocks. They are a few hundred feet high and jut up out of the landscape as if someone on the underside of the earth had jabbed jagged knives up through the landscape. "I see a path, let's go check it out." Yun said to a path that was bathed in sunlight. "Let's go around to the other side. I seem to remember a place that's easier.".
We went around and found the parking lot I had remembered. It was hot but the sun was setting so it was cooling down. "I never walked down there." I told Yun as we started walking down this paved path.
There were signs.
There were the impressive edge shaped rocks I had seen before.
And by rock I mean many stories high sheer faced cliff, but without the mountain piece that usually accompanies a cliff. Really this is two cliffs, one on each side, missing the middle part.
We continued along the foot path. I was getting a bit winded from the heat. We came upon a few dirt trails that seemed to go up but these were barred for normal foot traffic. If you were an experienced climber with gear and could get a permit you were allowed to go. Yun was disappointed.
Then we came up an open foot path that went up towards some rocks. We paused for a moment, considered it and then ventured up just as the sun was setting towards the far mountain peaks.
This completely changed how I viewed this place. From "ground" level it makes a different, much less impressive, impression than it does from on high. We climed up on a large rock with this incredible view.
The photos do not do it justice.
You just can't describe places or moments like this. There are no words that can replace simply being there at that time. Sometimes you just have to go do it yourself and see it for yourself to truly understand a thing. This would be a theme that would recur.
As we left the sun set behind the edge of one of the cliffs without a middle.
Yun was visibly impressed by this place. "This worked out great. If we hadn't been late to Pikes Peak we wouldn't have seen this place at this time. Sunset, right now, is the best time and we would have missed it." he said.
We went back to the hotel with the intention of getting some writing done and then having an easy day the next morning. We'd get up a little later so we could catch up on sleep, do a bunch of writing and get some laundry done.
Unfortunately, once again events would conspire to thwart me ...
Finding the time to write has been challenging. We did make it up to Pikes Peak and it was fantastic. More on that later.
Keeping to my word, I got up promptly at 6AM without complaint and managed to start moving with a purpose. As expected, there wasn't anything at the complimentary "breakfast" that I could eat but luckily for me Audrey had made me some of my emergency "muffin rations" which served me well enough. (These are muffins made out of nuts, honey, raisins and berries. They are very good albeit a bit messy to eat.)
Yun and Danny were already there when I arrived. Danny likes to talk and his stories are fascinating. "Our conversation yesterday really got me thinking." he said. "We special forces guys are so goal oriented. For me everything has to be a goal and you have to achieve it." He went on to talk about SERE training and about the guys that would quit. "So many guys will try their best not to quit because they don't want to spend the rest of their lives looking in a mirror /knowing/ they are a failure." He talked about the downside of this as one of the guys that was there while he was died from an infection because he didn't want to mention anything for fear they'd force him to quit. "Everything for me is a goal. I have to achieve them. I can't let it go. Even if I were to say that today I won't have any goals, that in turn becomes my goal and at the end of the day I'd check it off telling myself I had achieved it."
"So it becomes an issue of identity." I stated. "Achieving these goals you've set for yourself becomes something that defines you." He replied, "You are defined by what you achieve." He talked about how if he were to let go of this drive to achieve what he set out to do everything would fall apart. Even during this conversation you could see the internal conflict and stress that this kind of thinking was imposing on him.
"... to look in the mirror and know you are a failure ... " stuck with me for the rest of the day. What happens if you are a failure? What does it mean to be a failure, to set a goal and not be able to, no matter how hard you try, achieve it? A failure in the eyes of whom?
My old man drilled it into my head that I was a failure ever since I was little, so growing up failure was a foregone conclusion. Even success feels like failure.
"You know, interestingly, I grew up really sick and I had to learn that I couldn't have goals the way other people have them. So when I went up to Deadhorse I knew I would probably fail and it was that understanding that I could fail, that I could turn around at any moment, that took away the stress of having to achieve something and freed me to just ride the road according to it's rules and not mine." I explained. What I thought but didn't say was, "... because I am already a failure." Then I ponder all this code I've been writing and how I haven't met a single self imposed deadline and the quality of this stuff is far too poor. "Sometimes not having hard goals that you fight for works against you." I thought as I considered goal oriented thinking. In code it's probably necessary but riding a motorcycle it is likely something that works against you.
We talked about riding through the twisties in the Ozarks and how he had no fear and that was dangerous. "Well, you are talking to a man who is defined by his fear so this should work out." We would find out later that in a moment's misjudgement on my part this would turn out not to be the case.
I walked outside and saw a sight I rarely see, sunrise.
I was feeling better than I had been but was still a little off. It was as if I was fumbling. I wasn't keeping my lines as tight as I usually do and misjudging distances. I was just slightly off. We rode on but soon found ourselves confronted with what looked like it was going to be a significant rain storm.
I could see spray from oncoming traffic so I knew there was a lot of water. There was a bridge. I saw an offramp and thought for a second about taking it but waited too long so I settled in under the bridge, traffic wizzing by. Danny rode up and said, "I had hoped you'd take the offramp. It would have been better up there." He said he had needed a bathroom but could wait for the next stop. Yun and I put on rain gear and we rode on. It started raining fairly hard for about 15 or 20 minutes. We were both glad to have had the suits on but as is the case out here, the rain doesn't last and the sun comes out and then you cook. This process repreated itself as we clicked off 300 miles on I40.
We stopped for lunch looking for a local place, because Danny liked local places but it turned out to be closed so we settled on a Buffalo Wild Wings that happened to be nearby. It was an unpleasant lunch in a room that was unnecessarily loud.
We had walked into the place coming out of a just ending rainstorm. When we walked back out we were confronted with serious heat, the kind that I had feared we would have to deal with daily. It then dawned on me how fortunate we've been so far. At no time has it been oppressively hot. At times it has even been pleasantly cool. The dense cloud cover no doubt has been quite a help in this regard. I'm a bit concerned about the heat we'll encounter going forward. I do not do well in the heat at all.
We quickly clicked off the next 50 miles and took a turn onto Route 7 North which, conveniently, ran straight into the Ozark National Forest. It was a long sweeping road not unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway but not quite on the same level. We eventually came up upon a rest area with an overlook. It was just about 75 miles from our last stop so we decided to take a break there. We drank some water, took a restroom break. Danny went to put his jacket on to which we said we wanted to take a moment He was perfectly pleasant about this but you could tell something was bothering him.
The view was beautiful.
We rode up this way because of a BMW MOA member recommendation for a road the locals apparently call "The Arkansas Dragon" which is Route 123 where it meets near 7. After a few more photo ops, we headed up to check this road out.
Instead of being like the Dragon, Yun accurately observed that it was much more like the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a fast road with slow but sweeping corners. It wasn't all the technical. We were going at a fun but not terribly fast pace. I could see Danny edging up close to Yun which I thought was unusual since he had been riding quite far back. This road is fun and I would gladly ride it again, but it's not anything worth a long trip for. The end, however, becomes spectacular from a scenery point of view. It turns into this wickely twisty very very slow section filled with 15 and 10mph corners with sheer cliff on the right and steep drop-offs to the left. I wanted to stop and take a photo but turn after turn I missed my chance. We came around one bend after having been going at a pretty good clip. The road had been completely empty. I pulled up a small distance, stopped real quick to pull my camera and take a shot of this road. I kept my eye on the rear view as I was pulling the camera out when I got unsettled as Danny passed by and said, "I'm not stopping there." and he was gone. Yun mentioned he was uncomfortable. I snapped the photo quickly and looked back and realized I had stopped on the far side of a blind 10mph right hander with what was likely too little distance.
Off we went. It would be quite some time before we saw a car. The universe has a twisted sense of humor as that sole vehicle we did eventually see was am ambulance.
The road became increasingly technical.
Danny was no where to be seen. "Did he crash?" Yun asked over the intercom. "He must've been going at a pretty good clip but I haven't seen any indications of a slide out so I doubt he's run off the road." I replied. He must've been going at a really good clip through there. I began to feel that we had been going way too slowly for his taste.
The road cluminates in this series of downhill dropping 10mph switchbacks that Yun didn't seem to enjoy. The road became less twisty as we came upon an intersection. I had expected Danny to wait for us but he was no where to be seen. I mentioned how surprised I was at this when I noticed that he was in a pull off a couple hundred yards up. Somehow I figured he would wait.
I rolled up and he looked up from his GPS and said, "It's been nice riding with you but I can't ride with you any more. I'm going to head back now. You showed really bad judgement on two occasions and I just can't ride with people like that. The first was under the bridge when you could have pulled off the off-ramp and the second was on that corner." He talked for a few moments about training, riding your own ride and then with a "maybe I'll send you an email sometime" he was gone.
I felt like I had been hit with a ton of bricks and, of course, had to spend the next few hours replaying those moments in my mind. I completely didn't understand the bridge comment, as we had stopped under several a few at his prompting. Bridges on the side of the interstate are risky but are also a part of motorcycling. You go for cover when you need to sit out from the rain. But for the corner I was certainly guilty as charged. I hate it when I'm coming around some corner and there's some fool stopped in the road taking photos. I was guilty of not being cognizant of the distance between the corner and where I stopped. Caught up in the moment seeing a cool shot, I lost situational awareness. Not from a point of view of trying to make an excuse for myself, but asked myself how bad a lapse was it? In the absolute sense, yes, very bad. In this context, however, there were no driveways and we had not passed any cars or seen any cars at any time on that road. Any car coming up behind us on this tight corners on that small road would be going quite slowly, certainly much slower than we had been going. I would have seen any approaching cars as we had come around a long left hander where I could see back quite a ways. The 10 to 20 second window of taking a quick shot was not by any stretch of the imagination the type of damning judgement lapse that it would be had the situation been different.
But it was still a bad call on my part and one I have been beating myself up about. "Maybe you shouldn't ride with me. I'm clearly dangerous and can't be trusted." I considered telling everyone I ride with. I guess in some ways I'm doing that now.
We err. I erred.
But it seemed to me that this is the kind of error you talk about, deal with and move on. But this was not to be. Yun suggested that maybe our somewhat goalless style had finally gotten to him and he needed to leave for his own sanity. Maybe we were going too slowly. Maybe it was a reminder of the horrible crash he had had. Maybe it was something else. Unfortunately, it seems we will never know. It's too bad. He was an interesting guy and I would have liked get to know him better.
This coupled with other conversations of the day conspired to send my mood tumbling back into the darkness.
Subdued I carried on. Yun and I made our way slowly towards Eureka. On the way we saw an impressive storm cloud.
We eventually made it to Eureka Springs which a number of people recommended as a place to go. We drove into town and it started to look like just another tourist trap with a series of motels. Not realizing that we weren't in the part of town we were supposed to be in we meandered and considered leaving until we saw a sign for a "scenic overlook". It was a crazy little wickedly twisty badly maintained road that weaved it's ways down the valley wall. At the bottom was Eureka Springs proper. A town of precariously built stone buildings. in many ways it reminded me of some of the small mountain towns in Germany.
We ate at this truly great restaurant called Local Taste Cafe (I think). I had a great salad and the coffee was very good.
We planned out routes for the quite a while. The trouble we are faced with is that we have too many places to go and too few days in which to do it. We are on day 3 and are only in Arkansas. Next comes the Big Flat(tm). I had hoped we'd be able to take side roads across and see some of the little towns along the way just to do something different, but Yun is quite correct that if we are going to make the coast in time we need to push it.
We found a ridiculously nice Best Western of all things on the edge of town.
Oh well. It's now midnight. Tomorrow we are shooting for 700 miles and I've promised to get up at 06:00.
It'll give me some time to think.
(Interactive map here)
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"Maybe you should try to sleep in a bit tomorrow. Getting up at 6AM is too much all at once cold turkey like you're doing." Yun said trying to emulate some compassion for his road weary companion who against all odds had managed to arise unprodded promptly at 6AM after having gotten up at 5AM the previous day. He was not looking all that good.
"No, I'm really going to try to get up at 6AM every day on this trip and do it Yun style, full frontal assault, no complaining." I replied stating my intention firmly that I was going to experience morning with a resolve not unlike a vampire who has finally decided end it all by walking out to see the sunrise.
"Yun style?" he asked, "well then, it'll need to include constant complaining!" he replied with a wry smile. "You'll have to complain about everything!"
He has a point. There's never mistaking a moment where Yun is uncomfortable due to one or another thing. And since he is constantly slightly uncomfortable I hear a constant stream of reminders about this over the intercom.
"So this is how it's going to be?" I would ask more often than not. The answer each time is always the same.
"Yes, of course!"
And the stream of "information" (It's too hot. I don't like the road this bumpy. It's raining! Look squirrel!) continues unabated throughout the day.
"I try not to complain." I said with a smile.
We had gone to bed reasonably early. I tried to write but pretty much passed out during the effort. Yesterday had been a hard day. For today we had the best intentions of getting up early, which we did, to go ride the Dragon a few times before needing to check out, which we didn't. We walked to breakfast promptly at 6:30, figuring we could be out by 7, as Yun filled me in on yet another thing that was causing him some discomfort, "My hair is too long so it sticks out from under the helmet when I ride and it's so annoying."
"So this is how it's gonna be?"
We walked to the restaurant and after all that effort to get up, we all have our petty challenges after all, we saw that it was closed. The front desk told us that it wouldn't open until 7:30. We spent the interim planning our route for the day and thought that maybe we could make it out to Russellville, Arkanas until we saw that it was over 600 miles away and, since we were going to spend a good part of the day on the Dragon working on Yun's cornering, there was little chance of making it.
The restaurant eventually opened and we had ourselves a rather excellent breakfast. Fontana Village Resort really is rather nice. Once we had our fill and were ready to go we began to move with a purpose. Sunday morning's, we thought, would prove a good time to run the Gap. But then we noticed to our dismay.
It was raining. It was a steady soacking rain that clearly was not going to stop. It was decided to give up on our goal of running the Dragon and just pack up the bike. Yuns' tires were low so I went out and in the steady rain pumped them up. I was good and wet by the time I was finished. We gathered the rest of our gear, put on our rainsuits and just as we were getting ready to leave, the rain stopped and the sun came out.
"I don't think it's going to rain anymore." Yun said optimistically. I just laughed and said, "It's definitely going to rain again." We kepts the suits on.
I really do hate rain suits, but it's simply too hot in the middle of the summer for my Transit Suit.
Unfortunately, I was feeling nigh on terrible. Something I ate the previous day really disagreed with me and I was truly miserable. So things went slowly.
We made our way to the Gap but there was a long line of very slow moving Harleys so we pulled off. The mist hanging over the water looked like fog yearning to be cloud.
And in some places, it seemed the mist, with the help of the mountain side, might just make it.
Once we arrived at the gap, I got coffee and sat around uselessly for a time while I tried to wait for whatever was ailing me to finally pass. I guess it wasn't too long, maybe 45 minutes, and we were finally able to get underway.
As we started our departure through the Gap to head towards Knoxville, the sun came out and it turned into simply a beautiful day. Because it had been raining all morning we pretty much had the entire road to ourselves. It would have been fantastic to stay longer but our sights were set on points West. I try to hold on to my wants loosely. I have not always been like this.
"It's close now." Yun said meaning riding 550 miles to come down here is not longer as far as it previously seemed. He's right. We can come back any time we want. There are other places to see that neither one of us has seen. "West it is."
The clouds initially looked like they were going to unleash on us but then it cleared. "I guess you were right after all." I told Yun over the intercom. It was starting to get rather hot.
This is the nature of rain suits. It rains. You do the roadside monkey dance to put them on. Then it stops raining, the sun comes out and you cook yourself alive. So you take them off, Then it rains. The process repeats itself.
We eventually made our way to I40 west and had lunch at a Waffle House. The next 550 miles would be nothing other than this superslab but once we got of Knoxville Yun said, "Despite being superslab, this is really nice." And it was. Lush green forest covered rolling hills so dense you could hardly see any man made structures. The sky also continued to be harshly dramatic. We could clearly see storms to our left, our right and ahead of us but where we were was nice and dry.
Eventually we passed a rider on a BMW F650GS. I waved as I passed him and, as is customary, he waved back. Shortly thereafter I noticed that he had formed up in our line staggered the way he should be. Over the intercom I told Yun, "If he follows us for a few hundred miles, don't let it freak you out. This is tradition. Riding alone often sucks and if you can find like minded riders, you'll often ride with them for quite a while never exchanging words." I've had it hapen that I've ridden a few hundred miles with others this way.
And that is exactl how it happened. the GS rider stayed back offset from Yun and just rode with us. At one point we got stuck behind a slow moving tractor trailer and a long line of fast moving cars we zipping by us on the left. I don't pass unless there is a large enough gap to accomodate me and who ever is following me. With this line of cars, there just wasn't space. The GS rider saw a small gap in traffic and pulled into the passing lane, but instead of passing us he slowed down and opened a gap for Yun and I.
Very cool. Duncan, Bruce and I do this kind of thing all the time but we've been riding together for decades. "You can tell a lot about a person by the way they ride." I mentioned to Yun.
We eventually pulled off to stop for a break. I pointed to the gas station sign hoping our folllower might join us and as fate would have it he did. His name is Danny and he's led quite the interesting life.
Danny is a former Special Force Medic, former Marine, former Motorcycle Officer. He's also very big into motorcycle training. Riding with him is a pleasure.
"How many miles have you ridden?" he asked me. "I really don't know, somewhere between 250K and 350K, maybe more. I'm not sure." "You're very smooth and controlled in your riding. I was paying attention" he said.
He had on this interesting neck brace that he showed us. He had apparently been in a very nasty accident 24 after he bought the thing and he attributes his surviving the crash to the gadget.
He did sustain some nasty injuries and he told us his short term memory is affected, but from what I can tell he remembers things a bit better than I do. This probably does not bode well for me. We took an extended break and talked. Chance meetings like this don't often happen. I found it interesting that he's military. All the guys I've enjoyed riding with the most have been military guys. There's something about the ethic, or maybe it's the philosophy, but military guys seem to focus on team. They make it easier to ride with them. They form up and fall in line. They work for the good of the teams. Gross overgeneralization based on too few a sample set? Yea, probably. But this is what I've seen.
Danny was heading to Missouri through the Ozarks. He asked us where we were going and when we mentioned the general area he suggested that we must see Eureka Springs. That's the fourth person that's suggested that. So we are now headed in direction Eureka Springs. We decided to ride together and so we did. We continued our 70 to 80 mile stops. I was still not feeling too great. At one stop, Yun pointed out a giant moth.
Interesting, there were columns of rain to our left and right but rarely where we were. At one point it did start raining pretty hard. I stopped under a bridge to put the tank bag cover on so my electronics wouldn't get wet. "Should be put on the rain suits?" Yun asked. "Nope. It'll stop soon and then we'd cook."
We rode off and it started to rain in earnest for about 10 minutes. "I should've put on the rainsuit!" I hear Yun exclaim over the intercom.
10 minutes later it stopped and we were riding under cool sunshine with impressive clouds.
Danny found a local place to have dinner on his GPS so we headed to a Mom and Pop style family restaurant. He talked about his military career and the things he had done. "They keep trying to profile the special forces guys. We are so expensive to train and the drop out rate is so high it's just an incredible waste of money. If they can figure out what makes us tick, they'd be able to narrow the search and lessen the drop out rate." He explained.
"What they've found makes guys successful in the Special Forces is being extremely goal driven. I always have a goal and I have to achieve it." he went on. "Once I was taking my wife for a ride down to Georgia. I like to arrive, set up camp, get everything in order and then I relax. I meet my goals. But on the way down we got caught behind this slow moving logging truck and there I was stuck doing 45mph for a long time. It was starting to really irk me but I wasn't about to pass. Too dangerous. So I decided to calm myself down and accept it."
"What's surprising is my wife said that was her favorite ride ever. If I had known that I would have been able to better capitalize on it and make it a better time. We could have stopped."
We talked for some time about goals and how we let achieving self imposed goals have an effect on our identy. "Sometimes I'll decide to ride 300 miles but when i get home I notice I'm a bit under so I'll pass the house just so that I achieve my goal. Now isn't that crazy?"
"When I travel on a motorcycle I try not to have goals. I have 'intentions'. I intend to go to Seattle but if I don't get there for whatever reason, it's not a big deal. I can turn around. I can be open to whatever happens on the road, like meeting you and having this ride together."
You never know who you are going to meet, when or where.
He's decided to join us all the way to Eureka Springs. My two travel companions are out cold and I'm obsessively achieving my goal of getting a post written.
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So Yun said he wanted to go cross country after our Gap trip and he asked me to join him. Thus I find myself in North Carolina at the present moment.
I didn't sleep last night. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I slept for maybe two and a half hours. At the present moment, many hours later, I'm on the verge of collapse.
Today, Yun and I embarked on our mad rush 21 day trip across the US. Day one was dominated by fantastically cool air and ominous troubled clouds. We did more miles than expected topping out at over 620.
There were many thoughts, many insights, many conversations, but unfortunately, I am, I'm afraid, exhausted beyond comprehension. Thus I will leave you, for the moment, with a map. Click on it to get an interactive version where you can click on the camera icons to get at the photos.
Better late and imperfect, than never ... finally I've taken some time to write ....
"I'd like to go and see these places you've talked so much about." she said. So with that one statement a plan was set in motion. Audrey and I would ride two up on the Beloved Blue Oil Burner down the Blue Ridge Parkway and through Deal's Gap. Yun had initially planned to join us on his R1100S but a scheduling snafu prevented that from happening. Since I had promised to ride with him this summer, I told him, "Well, it's not like I'm doing anything constructive with my life at the moment. We can go in July." Three Smokey Mountain trips in one year. Why not?
Riding with passengers used to be so hard on me. With rare exceptions, my shoulders would cramp and my neck would lock up after just a few dozen miles and it would leave me spent. In the past few years, I've taken a few courses which fundamentally changed how I ride. This, in turn, has changed how I ride with passengers and things have gotten so much easier.
Unlike a passenger in a car, a passenger on a motorcycle is a critically active participant. In order to go, stop and especially negotiate corners, both pilot and passenger must move together fluidly so as to not upset the machine. This involves a great deal of communication and trust which takes more time to develop than most people will give it. "Hey, want to go for a ride on my bike? Here, jump on." is the sum total instruction most passengers get. Then pilots wonder why things go poorly and it's so taxing.
Riding with a passenger is an up close, personal, and intimate activity, much like a dance. Both have to trust the other implicitly and move in sync to the rythm of the road. When surprises happen and things get momentarily scary, being in sync and fluid can often mean the difference between a non-issue and a crash. If there is no trust, tension results. I haven't figured out how, but I can feel when a passenger is tense or scared or apprehensive and this negatively affects my ability to ride. In the worst case, this tension can lead to Bad Things.
"I'll scare her so she'll grab on tight." is a common thing you hear people say. Do not do this. All it'll do is scare her and she won't want to ride again or if she does she won't trust and will be tense.
I've always been a super polite pilot. When I take a passenger for a ride, I have for years said that I ride for them. I want them to be comfortable and most importantly not be afraid. I want them to trust. That trust is built slowly on communication and consistentcy. When you can predict what someone else will do, it is easier to trust them. Act in a predictable manner consistently each and every time and then trust follows.
Building that trust starts at the very beginning. I never take a passenger, regardless of how experienced a rider they are, without first establishing a baseline for how the two of us will make this happen together. This includes at the minimum a few minutes covering:
- how to get on and off the bike.
- never put your feet down even when stopped.
- don't get off the bike until I stabilize it and tell you it's ok.
- if I have to accelerate to pass or for any other reason, I'll tap your hands twice. That means hold on. When I'm done accelerating I'll tap your hands again to let you know you don't need to hold on as tightly anymore.
- if I have to stop suddenly, there's nothing you can do about it. Don't fight it, just let yourself slide forward. I'm expecting it and it'll be ok.
- when cornering look over the inside shoulder, always. This means you will lean slightly more than I do.
- if you need me to stop for any reason, just tap me on the shoulder and I will stop.
- if you ever feel uncomfortable either too fast or too slow, I am happy to adjust.
- we will take regular breaks.
The next thing that I do when taking a passenger is to establish a baseline of expectations. I do this by being exceptionally consistent especially early on. If you ride with me and we get underway once, you will know exactly what it feels like to get underway from then on. Once we've done the first stop sign, you know what each stop will feel like afterwards. To build trust, make your passenger comforable and keep them at ease requires consistency. They need to know what to expect.
If they've never been on a bike before, I go through a few start, stop and turn maneuvers in a parking lot at very slow speed. Then once out on the road, if at all possible, I take them through situations of gradually increasing difficulty until I've set up a baseline that represents the majority of the more common situations one finds out there. I try very hard never to do anything abruptly. As we ride together, I stop regularly and talk with them about what they are experiencing. With each passenger, like it is with each student, different things come up and get worked through. Most passengers are afraid of leaning. Throwing them into hard leans just amplifies that fear. So we do it slowly and gradually. I give it time. With most passengers I don't lean the bike over much at all because I, as the pilot, must also have trust in the passenger. If I go into a corner hard and lean the bike way over and they decide to lean in the opposite direction because they are afraid, bad things are likely to happen. The baseline introduction and the extra time is as much for me as it is for the passenger. On a motorcycle with a passenger you do everything together including learning the skill to rider together.
Passengering on a motorcycle takes skill.
I started riding with Audrey a year or so ago and as I do with all passengers, I followed what I outlined above. I remember early on on a hot day we hit a tar snake and the front wheel skipped a little bit. She got unsettled and tensed up and I, in response, did as well. We stopped and talked about it for a moment. It was just a momentary blip. I explained what happened and why to put it into context. It's strange but now we can hit a tar snake together and have the bike skip and there's no drama at all. Trust.
On the last Deal's Gap trip I took Duncan, Bruce and Joel through the Gap. I found myself wondering what it would be like if I could get Audrey down there. We've done enough riding together that I thought we could probably do the Gap pretty well together and learn something in the process. I was a little concerned how she'd react. The Gap is hard and not for the feint of heart. But I had the sense that she'd probably enjoy it.
So the time came for us to leave. There are always things to learn. I am known for being able to pack a bike well. Riders are endlessly asking me how I manage to fit everything I carry with me without having to strap stuff all over the bike. (Well, with the exception of Joel who would ask "What's in the bag?")
So I've been guilty of priding myself on my ability to pack. The photo above clearly shows my Beloved Blue as I had it packed for the previous trip to the Gap where I was the only one on the bike. I would like to point out the large tank bag and the silver tail bag. There are also the saddle bags. I know how to pack a motorcycle.
Well, I thought I did until Audrey got involved in the act. This is what the bike looks like packed with all the gear /two/ people need for a week. I should also point out that because it was June and not May, I was not wearing the Transit Suit meaning I needed to pack an extra bulky rain suit. This is just amazing to me that everything fit. During the entire week we wanted for nothing.
We got underway despite an epic storm being forecast. "There is always a reason not to do a thing." We had contemplated postponing the trip for a day to let the storm pass but I'm glad we didn't. The first day was spent in rainsuits, but it wasn't too bad. She got to do the time honored Monkey Dance under a bridge.
We made really good time despite the rain and were at the Blue Ridge Parkway at roughly the time we would normally stop for lunch.
What's particularly nice about the run from Washington DC to Deals Gap along the Blue Ridge Parkway is that it increases in difficulty gradually. The Parkway starts out with nice rolling corners and vistas and almost imperceptibly it becomes twistier and more challenging. This is a great way to gradually become comfortable cornering. By the time 469 miles of the Parkway have been clicked off one will have done thousands of corners. Audrey asked, as we had clicked off the first five miles of the Parkway, "Is this what the Gap is like, only twistier?". All I did was laugh.
(For an interactive version of this map, click in the image above. It includes points of interest and photos along the route. This is what I've been working on building for so long.)
In many ways, this was a trip down the Parkway like many others. There were vistas.
But in some ways it was very different. It seemed that every place we arrived the storm had just rolled through missing us. There was a tremendous amount of debris in the road and many downed trees.
Somehow it seemed like there was more time. We managed to get off the beaten path and find places that served surprisingly good food. A "Harley Bar" we came upon had really good burgers and salads.
"It's at least an hour, maybe two, to Yun's rock but it's so worth it." I had told her repeatedly. Last year, when Yun and I went to the Gap we did the same route and stopped at Linn Cove Viaduct. It was tremendously hot and we hiked for what I thought was hours until we came upon a huge rock. We climbed onto it and found an incredible vista which Yun then used as the cover shot for his book.
This time around the weather was perfect. It was cool and the sun was shining thanks to the storm having passed through. We walked for 15 minutes and came upon the rock.
"It was hours, I tell you! Hours! They must've moved the rock." I exclaimed. My inability to count things would prove to be a recuring theme. It truly is a beautiful spot. It's not so easy to get to but the view is spectacular.
The further South you go on the Parkway the twistier it gets. It really is one of the nations most beautiful roads.
"I seem to remember three tunnels." I told her. "Tunnels!" she exclaimed. 15 to 20 tunnels later, I told her "Clearly, they've added a bunch of tunnels since the last time I was here. Oh look, here's another one."
We stopped at Mount Mitchell to take in the view and have dinner. On the way back down we came across one of the most unhurried birds I have ever encountered. It turned out to be some kind of grouse.
Audrey and I ended up riding later into the day than we usually do and were able to catch these incredible sunsets up on the ridge.
There were a distressing number of box turtles dead in the road. I've never seen so many slaughtered before. We came across one that was trying to make it's way across so we stopped and saved it.
There was another one we couldn't save because of following traffic in a corner. He was making a run for it, but I'm still troubled that he probably didn't make it. (Yea, I know. He's so sensitive.)
The roads escalated and after the last section of the Blue Ridge it couldn't get any twistier until, of course, it did. Route 28 coming into Fontana Village gets to be really run and is itself an escalation. "The Gap is much twistier than this." I told her. I don't think she believed me.
We dropped things off at the hotel and then headed to the Gap.
We paused. We drank coffee. We watched the mayhem in the parking lot. We talked about the 318 corners ahead. "I'm a bit nervous." Audrey said. As with every new experience, start out slowly. Take your time. Patience.
We suited up and slowly rolled onto US129 and did our first run through the Gap. Audrey is a fantastic passenger.
We ran the Gap a few times improving each time. Riding with a passenger that trusts you and is actively involved is a true joy.
As is the case with trips of many days, there are so many stories, so many thoughts to share than there is space and time to share them. There were the crazy "fiddy" races.
There were incredible water falls.
There were wonderfully twisty roads.
We ran the Gap back and forth. Each time, she said, "Let's do that again!".
So we did. Trust built up over time in motion ...
The trip back home involved unbelievable rain. When we got back to College Park, Yun asked "So after we go to the Gap in July I want to head cross country. I want you to go with me ... "
Author Bio:Simone is social media enthusiast and writer for Competition Accessories, a leading onlinemotorcycle store. Some of her favorite trails to ride are along the Gulf Coast and in the Smoky Mountains. She rides aDucati Monster 696.
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So I'm leaving with Audrey for a 6 day run down the Blue Ridge to the Gap and back again starting on Thursday. It'll be the first time since the early nineties that I've done any two-up touring. Due to a scheduling snafu, my buddy Yun can't join us as we had originally planned. It's not like I'm doing much with my life, so I said, "eh, I'm not up to much, how about we go down to the Gap together in July." I did feel guilty that I'll be spending yet another week on the road making no progress on the site while the clock continues to tick. But the plan was set. We leave on July 12th. We'll spend a week riding down to the Smokey Mountains again. It'll be the third time for me this year. The fourth will be on the first leg of the Trans Am Trail trip.
Irresponsible. Decadent. The feelings of guilt are mounting.
I'm already feeling terribly questionable about how I'm living my life. In my mind, the Trans Am Trail trip will be the last big trip before I have to descend back into the life that I don't want.
I should be trying to get investors for M-BY-MC or lining up contracting work to tide me over or, god forbid, getting a job. There's a big part of me that fears I'll end up going back to that grind that was government contracting. I shudder to think about what it would do to me to go back to that.
I should be saving money. I should be doing what I'm supposed to. I should be writing the book. I should be looking to the future. I've had more than my fair share of "time off". Sure, I've busted my worthless ass for months on end developing the expanded software for the site but I have so little to show for the effort. It's not at the level it needs to be and I find it so terribly difficult to bring it to that level. Maybe I'm simply trying to do more than one person should. Maybe I'm making it too difficult on myself. Or maybe, I'm simply not good enough for the task. I suspect the former but fear the latter. Maybe I've just gotten too old and my old school values are standing in my way. In the time I've toiled on this stuff, others have built and sold companies. Granted they were really simple, but nevertheless there's a deep sense of inadequacy that I feel about all of this. It's taken too long and involved too much work. I have a particular vision of what I want to build but I confess of late I've been losing a bit of steam. The summer months are always hard on me and I always slow down. So if I can't go quickly, I go slowly. Sometimes I stop for a while. But the clock is ticking and I really do enjoy this work and I really want to use it. I like the idea of a life involved with motorcycles, travels and stories. I like the idea of building a place where I can live vicariously through the trips of others. I see how people use Facebook and others sites to tell their stories and I keep thinking "I can do so much better. Here, use this ..." but I still have to build it and there's so much more left to build and I'm running out of time. And I've been feeling so poorly of late that my progress has slowed.
But then, as if fate is trying to teach me to let even this thing go, Yun says to me this evening, "I'm thinking of heading from the Gap straight to Seattle and it'd be great if you could go ... "
The answer, of course, should simply be no. No way. A cross country trip is something you plan for months in advance, no weeks. "You do not simply go to Seattle."
Of do you?
Can I test the limits of irresponsibility? Can I allow myself to shirk even the modest pretense, the illusion, of doing something meaningful with my life and just go? It's just an additional three weeks. But if I go, I'll be admitting that the app won't get done before the Trans Am Trail trip. Of course, given my lack of progress there's little chance even if I stayed that it would get done. Does it really matter? It's been little more than a hobby project anyways, the big players are doing big things with real money and real teams while I fritter and waste my life in an off-hand way doing things well below what I'm capable of. Yea, the maps are cool and parts of the site show promise, "a good start" many have said, and I'd love to build the app so I can tag things as I ride ... but for what?
A week here. Three weeks there. Six to eight weeks after that. In the expanse of a lifetime, given that I'm single unburdened by debt and with enough money to float myself for a little while longer, why not?
If I go, what will it mean? If I stay, what does it mean?