Meanderings and musing by fellow motorcycle travelers.
Last year, I met Tom Seymour on the Cannonball Centennial Ride. He's the founder of Saddlemen Seats. After seeing a number of seats from that company on the ride and being very impressed, I asked Tom if I could get one made for my bike. "Just contact me and I'll hook you up." he said.
When I got home I contacted him to see who in his company I should talk to about having a seat made for my beloved Blue Oil Burner and asked him what the price range would be. "I really don't want to take your money. How about we make you one for review?" he said. I was humbled and honored.
Unfortunately, shortly after I received the seat, a series of Very Bad Things(tm) happened which have conspired to stop me in my tracks for almost a year. Because I was so late in getting anything written, I reached out to Tom to offer to pay full price for the seat on two occasions. To say I dislike disappointing people, especially ones who have been so kind to me, is an understatement. He assured me it wasn't a problem and looked forward to what I had to say when I finally got around to saying it.
So after many thousands of miles in all kinds of different conditions, much internal agonizing, and some key insights I've finally come up with something to say on the subject of Custom Seats By Saddlemen.
Last year as I was traveling across country with the Cannonball Centennial Ride, I metTom Seymourat breakfast one day. Heis the chairman of Saddlemen Seats. Over the next few days, I had the pleasure of talking to him a number of times.
I live in somewhat of an abstract world and details often fail me. I had noticed in passing that the seats on many bikes looked a bit unusual in that they had a channel running down the middle, but I did not initially pay much attention to them. My focus was on the ride. After talking to Tom however I did take a much closer look at the various kinds of Saddlemen made seats present on these bikes. I looked closely at the design and craftsmanship. The quality and design made quite an impression. They certainly seemed better made and "much more serious" than any seats I have encountered before.
I talked to a few of the riders who raved about their Saddlemen seats. It was around this time that I started to become aware of just how much I hated the seat on my bike. It was more pain maximizing torture device than cradle and had quickly gotten to the point where it felt more like brick than cushion. The Airhawk Seat Pad I had picked up before the ride turned out to be a big help but it left a great deal to be desired. With the Airhawk it's hard to lean off or feel all that connected to the bike. Fortunately, for the kind of long distance straight road riding I had mostly been doing on this trip, the pad wasn't that much of a hindrance. However, on twisty back roads I find it often gets in the way and if it's particularly hot out I also find it tends to make the ride a bit hotter.
I approached Tom and asked how I might be able to get a seat for my bike. Since it's such an old and relatively unpopular bike, Saddlemen didn't have an off the shelf seat for it but Tom said I could ship my existing seat in and they would be able to craft something for me. "Just contact me when you're ready and I'll hook you up." he had said.
So when I got back home I did contact Tom, as I mentioned above. I was fully willing to pay for the seat but he suggested I do a review instead. I agreed. Tom mentioned that the April June timeframe was their silly season and wondered if I could wait until July. Of course, I could wait. They were doing me a favor and not the other way around.
July arrived and I contacted him. He said, "I need your seat. Include your address, phone number and a sketch of what you think you would like (higher, lower, wider, narrow at nose, flat seating platform to prevent sliding - that sort of thing.). Our service techs do a verbal interview, but a sketch adds to the process (but not always necessary) - it's the starting point. With a seat and a sketch, or your comments, in front of them it is easy to go through the custom build sheet. We sell 100 "off the shelf" seats for every 1 custom, so most customers select a seat from our customers catalogs (like Parts Unlimited or Drag Specialties who sell to 10,000 dealers in the US) or from our website. We do customs for bikes where we don't offer an off the shelf selection (like your BMW.) "
I did as I was instructed, but the problem I faced is that I had no experience to determine what features I might like in a seat. I focused on the times where I really noticed my current bucket style seat's limitations. It was hard as a board and had these ridges along the edge that always cut into my legs. So I took a photo of my existing seat and a photo of a seat that I saw on the Cannonball Ride. "Clean. Simple. Sport Touring Functional." I wrote along with the photos. I shipped a spare stock BMW K100RS seat I had from a parts bike to them and shortly afterwards received an email from one of their service techs.
"I have your seat here at Saddlemen. We are going to customize it for you and I have a few notes in front of me. But If you could please call me or leave a phone number where you can be reached at, I would like to go into greater detail of what you will like in your seat and give you more options. Im looking forward to hearing from you and getting a custom Saddlemen seat on your bike."
I got in touch with the service tech. He mentioned that most of the seats he builds are for cruisers and wanted to get a much better idea of how I was going to be using the seat. He asked if I wanted to have anything special done with the styling and rattled off a number of options. I replied that I just wanted something in vinyl that was clean and simple, nothing fancy, but that since it was a review if they wanted to plaster a large Saddlemen logo on it that would be fine. We talked for a bit longer and from the conversation I got the impression that he didn't understand the kind of riding I do. "Does that bike of yours lean?" he had asked.
So I showed him this photo.
We talked some more when I mentioned that I also do a tremendous amount of riding with a passenger and showed him this photo.
I heard a bit of conversation on the other end of the phone. "Oh, I just called over the other guys to show them this photo. That's pretty cool!" he said. "Yea, she's the best passenger I've ever had." We chatted some more and after a little while I got the feeling he really understood what I thought I was looking for.
There was a little snafu which caused the build to take a few weeks longer than expected but that was not a problem. The seat arrived almost exactly one year ago today.
The seat was professionally packaged and insulated against damage which was good since the shipper had clearly impacted the box.
When I pulled the seat out I had a "Whoa." moment. The degree to which the service tech nailed the "Simple. Clean. Sport Touring Functional." was immediately apparent.
I don't know what I had expected. When I think 'custom builds' I guess my thoughts go towards 'prototype'. Looking at this seat though I thought, "This doesn't look 'custom' to me at all. This looks like a production seat that's already been through countless revisions." The build quality is simply fantastic. It feels very "solid". It also feels much more like "quality" than even the stock BMW seat did.
I flipped it over and one could see who solidly the vinyl is secured to the seat pan. I suspect this is not going to come loose any time soon.
Clearly the Corbin seat I had, which had quickly turned into a brick, is more oriented towards straight up riding. The edges always cut into my thighs and in general the seat just hurt.
I mounted the Saddlemen seat and I noticed another thing I hadn't expected. Not that I pay a great deal of attention to looks but this seat significantly, at least to my eyes, improves the looks of the bike.
The plan had been to start putting miles on the seat so I could write a review before winter hit in earnest. As I mentioned above, Very Bad Things(tm) happened in succession and then Winter hit the DC area with a vengeance. I draw the line at ice. All this conspired to prevent me from doing any significant riding until spring time. I only put maybe 50 miles two up on the bike before the season was over.
My initial impression riding the bike was that the seat at first feels much firmer than one would expect. I had anticipated a softer "initial feel" but after putting some miles on it I realized that "initial feel" is what sells bikes in a showroom but not what works after extended time on road. The seat material is a multi-layer affair including some gel. It feels to me like it "breaks in" a bit as the miles pile on. It is quite amazingly comfortable.
The pillion position is sloped downward a bit more than I like which causes a passenger, especially if she's wearing textile gear, to slide forward too easily. If I find myself doing significant miles with a passenger again, I'll likely send the seat in to have the pillion leveled out a bit and possibly include a slight ridge to further mitigate the sliding forward issue.
Spring rolled around and the maelstrom that was my life had not settled down much. I did manage to do a two thousand mile Deal's Gap and Smoky Mountains trip where I met Wayne Busch of America Rides Maps. He showed us an endless array of just wickedly twisty roads.
Interestingly, I failed to notice the seat on this trip despite the fact that I was trying to pay attention. A seat is something that is typically, at least after a few hours, first and foremost on my mind. I also failed to notice that I wasn't getting nearly as tired after 90 miles as I normally do. I instituted the "take a break every 90 miles" rule years ago because after about 90 miles everything starts to hurt and if I don't take a break I'll hurt so much that my days get cut short.
I did notice, however, that riding my bike on these twisty roads was easier. Having less of a ridge on the sides of the seat also made it much easier when flatfooting the bike.
It was fairly hot on this ride and one time having left the bike out to bake in the sun I noticed the seat got quite hot. I suspect the gel in the seat soaked up the heat. Having textile gear on allowed alot of that heat to transfer to me and it took some time for it to cool down. I think riding through a desert or in other hot climates, I might keep a towel or something to drape over the seat if I leave it in the sun for long.
One thing I had been concerned about looking at the design of the seat was the water would accumulate in the center channel as I could see no visible drains. To my surprise less water pools in that center channel than would accumulate on my previous seat. If you let it sit for just a little while all the water drains out. Impressive.
While down at the Gap, John came down to meet us on his GSXR 750. I immediately recognized that the seat was also made by Saddlemen.
Compared to the seat on my bike this one has a much more aggressive channel and much more padding. John let me take his bike through the Gap which was tremendous fun. The seat on his bike, at least for the 45 minutes that I was on it is wicked comfortable. (Just last night I was chided on the use of the word "wicked" which from a New Englanders perspective has a specific meaning. I do mean this seat was "wicked comfortable." You may, however, disagree.)
If you look very closely at my seat you'll notice where the padding gets very thin towards the forward edge of the pan. I find that on extended Interstate travel that edge does cut into my legs a little bit. If I were to have the seat tweaked, aside from the passenger modifications I discussed, I'd likely have the profile adjust ever so slightly to more resemble this seat. I fear however that would raise the height a bit. Everything is a tradeoff.
I had intended on writing this post after getting back from the Gap trip but something was nagging at me. I just didn't feel like I had enough insight to write anything meaningful. In July and then again in August, I took the Superslab up to Ontario, Canada. Contrary to how I like to travel, these were trips on a Schedule(tm). I decided to do the 500+ miles in a day but on both trips I got late starts so had to make up time.
It was on these trips that I noticed several things:
On these longish superslab trips, I found myself troubled that this seat that I regarded so highly was not "Ironbutt Ready". As I keep reminding myself, context is key. Change the context ever so slightly and you have to reexamine all your assumptions.
I had only talked about Deal's Gap and cornering with the service tech. I talked about leaning, moving around on the seat, and riding in a spirited fashion. At no point did I think to mention that I only do that for maybe one or two weeks a year and that at times I might sit for endless hours on Superslab. I had described to him the riding that I like to do but not the riding that I actually do.
It was on the second Ontario trip that I realized I had, in fact, gotten exactly what I had asked for. I had asked for a sport touring seat molded for the purpose of carving mountain roads and this is exactly what I received. It was around this time that I also began to understand that a "review" would not be appropriate. A "review" is relevant for a commodity. I buy a thing and review it so that you can read the review and gain some understanding of what you might experience with whatever is being reviewed.
This however, is a custom seat created according to my specificiations. Telling you that I have a 4.5 out of 5 star seat is in large part just telling you about how I view my design decisions and where I did not think clearly. So this is more a description of an experience.
Professionally, I write largeish one off custom software systems. There are quite a few parallels between what I do and the buiding of a custom seat. My customers typically are not experienced 'custom software purchasers' so there is an education step. There's a great deal of communication involved where I try to understand not only what they are trying to convey but also what they are not telling me. I have to use imagination and experience to anticipate that unspoken needs my customers have. Inevitably, it's a trial and error process as we get to know one another. As I build versions of software, they get a better understanding of what's possible and their requirements then get adjusted. So we iterate against a moving target. This is how it always is.
So, to view a custom seat as a "product" where a company magically "get's it right the first time" is not a constructive model. It's probably more constructive to think of a custom seat builder as a provider of a professional service. They service tech takes your requirements as you describe them and their experience in an attempt to deliver something that meets your spoken and unspoken needs within the constraints of the stock seat pan you send them.
Given how little experience I have with ordering custom work and how little I described, it's amazing to me how well they hit this target. Is this seat an Iron Butt seat? No. But I did not ask for an Iron Butt ready seat. I think if I had the resulting seat would have compromized on it's sport touring character. Any choice involves a tradeoff between competing requirements, in this case long haul comfort versus sporting usability.
So as I was logging all those Interstate miles wondering why it was not completely pain free I realized that I need to take responsibility for my own choices and understand the tradeoffs I had asked for. I also believe this is where the wisdom of "one free alteration" comes from. Customers, myself included, rarely know what they actually want. You have to give them something that helps them frame what they want. I do it in software. Saddlemen does it with seats.
Towards the end of July Duncan and I restarted our weekend day rides. We had remarked a number of times on these rides that I was able to go much further before complaining that I was tired or hurting too much. While before we used to do 200 miles we were now regularly clicking off 300+ and I was hardly feeling like I had spent any time on the bike. On this last ride, we did 430 miles of hill and mountain roads and by the time I got home I was in no pain. Of course, on these roads I am moving around a fair bit.
"This seat is perfect for the mountain road context." I found myself thinking, and it is.
In conclusion, this is the best seat I've owned. For the purpose I asked it to perform, Saddlemen has executed to near perfection. Just like the myth of the four seasons riding suit, a seat for all purposes is likely also unattainable. Make something sportier it's going to compromise it's long haul use. I may just need to have two seats for my bike and switch them.
If I had it to do over again I would:
In conslusion, do I like the seat? Yes.
Do I think it rocks? Yes.
Do I think it's perfect? It perfectly matches what I asked for.
Would I buy one? Yes.
Will I buy one for my other bikes? Hell Yes.
This spring, I finally bought an Adventure Bike. What ensued was a learning experience about many previously ignored aspects of motorcycling, and a great need to learn how to more fully use the Garmin Zumo 550 GPS, that came with the bike. The following is my meager attempt to explain my personal quest to learn the basics of plotting a course, uploading files to the GPS, and following a pre-planned Route.
Now, to anyone that knows how to do all this already, I say: shame on you, for not sharing this secret knowledge. Internet browsing, I found only snip-its of information and hints as to what others could do. Where is that global sharing of rider insights and information, when the topic is using a GPS? Is it really so obvious to everyone else? Am I really getting that far behind the technology curve? The answers to my questions are a resounding YES, but, still.someone needs to break the silence. This is both a call for help, and my small contribution to the web content on the subject of using a GPS.
Background: The event that created a need.
On a recent charity, Big Bike Rally for Cystic Fibrosis, the sponsors handed out Rally Sheets and had GPS tracks available for uploading the Route to a GPS. We were to follow a course they had carefully planned out for us, which included many scenic back roads, a lot of which were dirt, and some Hero Sections that were truly challenging to ride on a big adventure bike. (Think: Long Way Round, in Mongolia.) The planned route, included a free lunch stop: a real incentive to make at least one check-point.
The Big Bike Rally consisted of about 30 riders that self sorted themselves into smaller, more manageable groups, based upon luck, timing, and a process that reminded me kids picking their softball teams. Now, the guys with GPSs either did not have a cable to upload the files, or wouldnt admit that they didnt know how to do it, anyway. I suspected both to be true when a fellow asked me if I had a BMW Cable. Regardless, no one had the route on their GPS.
Being Big Bike riders on large adventure bikes, no one in our group had any experience with what dirt bike riders use on these sorts of organized events: Rally Sheets. (Think: adding machine roll tapes with tiny fonts, on a tiny roman scroll, mounted to your handlebar.) We could look at the scroll, or look at the roadso we all got hopelessly lost.
We did manage to find the lunch stop, but missed a large portion of what must have been a great ride. We found the lunch stop by imputing the address of the restaurant into the GPS, and subsequently followed its directions through some awful urban blight and congested highway, to reach our Destination. The GPS not only was useless to follow a nice pre-planed route, but it gave terrible advice on how to recover from getting lost. I was so miserable. Here we were, a group of adventure riders in full armor, sitting in downtown traffic. The avoid highways option does not mean find me a nice pleasant twisty route down back roads. I wish it did.
So, the next morning, I awoke with a conviction to figure out how to use my GPS. And in part two, Ill tell the rest of the story. Right now, its time to ride.
Entering the story: Neighbor Dave (as he likes to be called) is an enigma. Hes one of those rare individuals whos hitch hiked all around the world, several times, hiked every trail youve ever heard of, and some you havent, and in general seems to have a depth of knowledge, on any topic, that few possess.
So, you got an Adventure bike?, he says. Then, he proceeds to tell me about all of these adventure bike rides with memorable names like the Puppy Dog Ride in Vermont, http://www.vtbmwmov.org/rides/ the Trans-Mass tail in Mass, and the Hampster Trail that runs the length of New Hampshire, on mostly dirt roads.
More than a little intrigued, I looked up the Hampster Trail on the internet; nothing. Then Hampster Trail adventure ride: Bingo! http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=981534
In this post on the Advrider forum, the author offers several links: the first is to a drop box file. Not having a Dropbox account I shied away from there, besides, I didnt know what I would do with the file if I downloaded it, anyway.
Next: theres a link to a site called Rally Navigator https://www.rallynavigator.com/routes/6153#.U-KRwfldX9k
Here, I could see the route, its way points, and see that the site allowed the user to create his or her own routes. Now, were getting somewhere! Although, I could tell that a major emphasis of the site was to create the Rally scrolls that I hated, I could also see that it might provide the missing link I needed to make my GPS really useful.
So, after creating a free account, I was able to save some pre-made routes to my own personal routes library, and even make and save a route of my own. Now, to get these files onto my GPS. I hit the button to My Routes and was able to see the files I had saved to there (wherever there is).
Not being terribly computer savy, I clicked on the name, which took me back to the map view, with no new functionality. So, back around to My Routes, again. Under the Actions column, you can select the only option that there is for action, which is to download the GPX file. So far, so good.
With the GPX file on my local computer, I plugged in my Garmin Zumo 550, which immediately caused it to prepare for USB mass storage by backing up all my the GPX waypoints, routes and trip log information in GPX format. Files that I didnt even know I had. Next, I downloaded the Garmin Express software, which configured itself to work with the found device. (I must really be boring some of you, but Im trying to be thorough here.) The tools, vehicles and voices features in the Garmin Express software all seemed pretty useless, to me.
Using Windows explorer, I walked down through the file folders on the device and found the GPX folder, and copied the saved GPX files into there. Oddly, as long as the GPS was connected to the computer, or powered by the USB cable, I could not access the menus, but only had this screen.
As luck would have it, when I went out to the bike to use the new routes Id downloaded, the GPS would not load the maps. It tried for a few seconds, then quit; again, and again. After a second attempt to load the files, and a little searching on the internet, I found some chatter about the batteries on these units often go bad. And, when they go bad, the GPS wont work, even when plugged into power on the bike. The test for whether you need a new battery, or if you just need a new GPS, is to take the battery out of the GPS and plug it in. If it powers up, you need a new battery. (Sorry, I digress).
After loosing the battery, I just walked through the menus on the Garmin: Where to; Routes; Selected the Hampster Ride; and hit Go! Whala! And, so I did.
It seems that once I knew enough to start looking for GPX files, and my searches included the term GPX, the subject of mapping and routes with a GPS just started to unfold, easily. Once I understood how the pieces of the GPS puzzle fit together, (so to speak) the Miles-By-Motorcycle mapping function suddenly started working great! (For years, I thought that only Yermo could get it to work;-)
Learning anything new is a lot like riding a motorcycle. Once youve gotten some traction, and enough momentum to keep from stalling, you just start rolling along. Fear and frustration is replaced by excitement, and then matures to a deep and lasting joy.
In Lisa's own words, "I'm a passionate motorcyclist. If I'm not riding I'm reading about riding. I've been riding for over 21 years and have logged over 275,000 miles. I'm getting close to 300,00. My husband and I began riding at the same time and we have loved each and every mile. We've been involved with group riding since 96 and have led thousands of rides and trips. I do all of the ride planning which is really something I enjoy. i get the most satisfaction when people comment on how much they've enjoyed the ride. I've been across the country and to New Foundland and Nova Scotia. I've have had many diffirent motorcycles Hondas Kawasaki BMW Harley. My favorites were the Gold Wing. The K1600 and my current bike A 2013 HD Road Glide."
Read on for her review.
I promised I would give a review of the new Sena 20S Bluetooth headset. I purchased the 2 pack from Revzilla and as usual with Revzilla It was delivered in 2 days. I couldn't wait to start playing. In the box comes two headsets already paired, 2 mounts, 2 boom mics, 2 wired mics, 2 car chargers, 2 usb chargers, 8 mic socks. I was quite impressed with all the goodies that came in the package. Mounting the headsets was easy (I've installed lots of headsets on helmets so it was a snap). The only thing I thought was odd was the screws that secure the mount to the helmet face the inside of the helmet making screwing them in slightly more difficult but no big deal. I mounted my headset to my 3/4 helmet and mounted my husbands headset to his half helmet (I made pockets for the speakers to sit in the half helmet).
Sena has a smartphone app for this unit so I downloaded that and quickly paired my iPhone using the app. The app also allows you to set some basic functions on the headset. Next I paired my GPS and again everyone paired easily
Today was the first time using the headsets. I was so excited this morning but as we were ready to pull out my unit says "battery Low" and shuts off. Well it turns out I had left the unit on after playing with it during the week. No problem my husband has a 12volt charger in his trunk so I got one of the car chargers and plugged it in for our ride to the meeting location today. It got a 40 min charge and that was good enough.
Now it's finally time to see how these work. I was really impressed with the sound quality and the volume. As I said my husband was using a half helmet and I was worried about wind noise being transmitted, but that was never a problem. I heard him loud and clear. Even on the highway I could hear him well.
I was able to play music through my iPhone and the quality of the music was pretty good for helmet speakers. Probably better than others I have used. The music would play and if either one of us spoke the music would be lowered to a background level that you can adjust.
These units can pair with other non Sena Bluetooth headsets as my friends have the scala g9. I wasn't able to try that out today but will give a report when I do.
Overall I am completely happy with this purchase and grateful to have a decent communication system
Update from 12/6/2014:As an update on the performance of the 20s one of our units kept shutting off randomly throughout the day. I contacted Sena they asked me to try a couple of resets. I did that but still the unit would shut off. Now they are sending me a replacement under warranty and paying for the return of the defective unit.
The other unit works perfectly.
* Please note that Miles By Motorcycle is a RevZilla affiliate.
On July 26, I was invited to give a talk at Bobs BMW Motorcycles in Jessup, Md about my time on the Cannon Ball Centennial Ride which I took part in from Dodge City, Kansas to Battery Park, New York, New York. A long time family friend, Dr. Garret Hyde, offered to record it.
I feel terribly self conscious about this. Now, gritting my teeth with trepidation, I am making the videos of the presentation available.
It's a one hour presentation divided into 5 parts.
I worked on the presentation until nearly 2AM the previous night and as a result did not have a chance to give it a dry run through. So this was done cold-turkey.
After the fact, I realized there were so many themes I wanted to tie together which weren't tied together to the degree I would really have preferred.
During the ride, talking to Gary McKechnie who created a wonderful series of blog entries about the ride along with companion videos (my bike can be seen in a couple), I mentioned that I thought that what actually happens on a ride, during an event, or a time in life, is far less important than what it means. What can we learn from what we are seeing?
I pre-occupied myself with this thought as I rode across the country with a diverse group of people from backgrounds so different than my own.
Of course, any ride involves thoughts of risk. The risk of falling. The risk of injury. But there are other risks and how we respond to those risks will determine if what we have is just another ride or maybe a great adventure.
The focus of the ride for most was the story of Cannon Ball Baker and what he accomplished 100 years ago in taking a 7 hp Indian motorcycle, which at that time was little more than an over-glorified bicycle with a motor, across the country on a record breaking run. It was a great accomplishment if one considers the hardships he had to endure covering so much distance across a largely unimproved country. There's the old saying that, "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." But there is also another perspective that makes history even more personally relevant. As times change and "new normals" arise we have found ourselves in an era where it's often considered "too dangerous" to take any risks let alone ride a motorcycle across the country, even given all the safety equipment and other gear we now have available to us. We live in an age ruled by fear. "Motorcycles are too dangerous." many say. There are those who would like to see the driver removed from cars "for safety". Looking back and hearing these stories of so long ago reminds us of what we were once capable of, of how we used to dream much bigger dreams, and how we did not shy away from those dreams for fear of the risks involved. There was a time when people looked to the moon and dreamed of going there.
There were also the stories of these riders 100 years later, which for me were in many ways more inspiring. Their stories are worthy of a good telling as well. There were champion racers. There were adventurers who had ridden motorcycles on every contintent. There were those from industry. Listening to a few stories, I was amazed to hear the kinds of challenges and adversity these men have endured and overcome. Accidents, pain, or life threatening injuries did not dampen their spirit. At each point, when they fell, they got up again and continued on. After listening to some of these stories, I felt a little self-conscious thinking about the little challenges I've faced and the toll they've taken on me.
There was also the theme of age. At 46 years old, I was one of the youngest members of the ride. Watching these riders, one a grandmother on a GSXR 750 no less, was an inspiration. I have often commented about how old I feel. I've always felt old. I've listened to 21 year olds tell me they feel old. I've even wondered how many more times I would be able to go cross country. Then I join these riders across the country and see what they can do and suddenly I don't feel so old. I feel embarrassed.
Why do we feel old? It dawned on me that we cannot imagine how we are going to feel tomorrow. We only know how we felt yesterday, what we used to be able to do, and compare it to today. Tomorrow is an unknown so of course we feel "older" than we ever have. A big theme for me from this trip was not to fall into the trap that dreams die with age. As long as we are breathing we can still strive and seek as long as we do not yield to the inconvenience of age.
And finally, "There's something about motorcycle people." she said early in the trip and that observation became a theme of its own. Once the helmets are on and the kickstands are up, we are all just motorcyclists and there's something about that regardless of whether you are famous race winner, a titan of motorcycle industry, or just a random stranger, the motorcycle and what it means to us all brings us together in a way that few things in life do.
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There are many ways to travel. Most people like to book reservations and know exactly where they are going to end up when. For me that feels too much like day to day life. I learned a long time ago when I was in a very different place, that being flexible and open on the road can unlock doors that from the start you would not have imagined possible.
I've tried to share this view, but in practice it's harder than in theory.
I had parted company with John and Lucy and headed out from Canon City to the Big and Flat that is the midwest. Despite having started late in the day, I was making good time and by early afternoon I was just outside of Dodge City. I had been second guessing my decision to leave. John and Lucy's kids are flying out on Friday to ride around Colorado. It would have been fun to spend some time with them.
However, I was feeling the pressure to get home. There's much that I need to do and funds are getting low. My plan was to push through another few hundred mles and then have an easy few days to arrive home on Saturday in time for Mothers Day on Sunday.
I ran through nearly a tank of gas breaking my 90 mile rule, and suffering appropriately for it when I stopped at a gas station to fill up. I noticed a couple of bikes. A custom Harley and a bike that I first thought was an old Indian frame with a new engine in it. It looked like something Duncan would like, so I asked the rider if I could snap a photo.
"Sure." he replied so I did. Strangely, this Indian really appealed to me. It was clean and it had dirt on it. I liked the rough and used look.
"Is that an old Beemer?" he asked.
"1992" I replied.
"So not old." he replied. "Where are you headed?"
"Back home to Maryland."
"How far did you go?"
"Out West to Los Alamos to visit a buddy and then tooling around New Mexico. A few thousand miles."
The he said, "Hey, we're meeting a bunch of bikers over at a hotel in Dodge City. You should join us. I'm sure we can get you a room at the hotel."
I guess I must have given him a tentative look as I was pondering what I might encounter. I had visions of feeling really out of place in some rowdy biker bar scene.
"Oh, most of the bikes there are like yours. That and lots of adventure bikes." he said betraying a strange perceptiveness and willingness to put me at ease.
"Oh, ok. I'm in."
I hold on to my wants loosely. I had wanted to do a few hundred more miles that evening but this was an opportunity to meet another group of riders.
"Who knows what might happen?" I thought innocently enough.
So I followed them towards Dodge City.
As we rode along I found myself thinking about taking chances. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what kind of people I might encounter. Was it going to be ok? I've traveled with people who were closed to these kinds of things. "We don't know these guys from Adam, why would we trust them? They're going to trick us. I can feel it." I can remember them saying. don't enjoy traveling with those who are not open on the road.
"There's something about motorcycle people." Debbie had said. Her friend Andy had been concerned about her traveling alone and meeting up with random strangers. "But that's the best part." I think I replied.
So here I was riding behind a custom Harley and in front of some strange Indian. Both riders had clearly been riding for quite some time as we all stayed in a perfect staggered formation without a word having been spoken about it. "These guys have been riding a long long time. They get it." I thought. Normally, you don't see Indians, Harleys (especially custom ones), and BMW's riding in perfect staggered formation. The 17 miles passed quickly.
We rolled up to the hotel they had mentioned and I saw that there were nearly 30 bikes of all makes and models. There were guys about futzing with their bikes.
"This might be ok." I thought.
Someone mentioned something about a centennial ride related to someone named Erwin that had done some cross country trip in 1914. "Ok, so this is a group ride across the country." I thought.
I got off my bike and walked in to see if I could get a room. "If there's no room for you, you can take mine and I'll share one." my new companion said. I thought that was amazingly generous especially for a complete stranger. "By the way, my name is Robert." he said.
As it turned out, there was a room available. The pretty young woman behind the counter asked, "Are you with the riding group?" and before I could respond, Robert said "Yes."
I didn't give it much thought.
I walked back outside to take a look at this strange Indian.
I put my stuff away and then walked back outside. The initial plan had been to go some place else but it was then decided to eat in the hotel Saloon. I wandered in and saw Robert sitting with a group of people chatting away.
Walking into groups of people I don't know always makes me feel awkward and off balance. At first glance, I got the feeling these guys were not at all what I had initially thought. They were professionals of some sort and clearly were into riding. I listened and awkwardly tried to join in the conversation. There was the typical guy banter and storytelling. I didn't have much to contribute. Robert explained the trip he was on. It was to retrace the route of Erwin "Cannonball" Baker who in 1914 smashed the cross country record of 20 days. He did it in 11 on a 7 horse power Indian in an era where the road system was, let's say, challenging.
There's also a website Cannonballproject.com.
I had never heard of Cannonball, but someone mentioned that it's where the "Cannonball Run" comes from. It turns out it's an industry invite-only event that's been in the planning for 3 years.
I asked Robert about his Indian figuring it was some custom.
"It's a prototype that's likely going to be scrapped but I talked them into letting me take it on this trip." I think he called it and "Indian Adventure Bike". I believe he also mentioned that the guy who built the Spirit of Monroe streamliner fabricated the bash plate protecting the engine.
"Really? How is it that you were able to secure yourself an Indian pre-production prototype?" I asked wondering how someone might be able to make that happen.
"I'm the PR Manager for Indian Motorcycles." he replied. "Barry, to your right, shoots and writes for Cycle World and is covering our ride. Ken writes for RoadRunner and Motorcycle Consumer News." He went on to name more people than I could remember, all industry insiders either famous for their racing or movie roles or deeply involved in the media or business side of things. There's Keith Mashburn who was in the movie "On Any Sunday" with Steve McQueen. It's being organized by AMA Hall of Famer Don Emde.
"Holy Sh*t." I thought. You just never know who you are going to meet.
I listened and between jokes and stories were comments about how much press the ride was getting. Apparently, it had made the New York Times.
We sat at dinner and I tried to participate but didn't have much to contribute. I felt terribly awkward. There was "Mucho Bill" who said he owns a Frank Loyd Wright house. There was Ken Freund who talked about riding in places all over the world. (So did Bill.)
I sheepishly raised my hand and said, "My photo is in the Aerostitch catalog. Yea, I got nothing."
We stayed up fairly late and I listened to all kinds of motorcycle stories. More than I remember. At the end of the evening, they asked, "So are you going to join us for the ride tomorrow?"
I thought about it for about a half second and said, "Yes."
I can make it a long day Friday and Saturday I thought and still get home.
To my dismay this meant getting up at 5:45AM because the ride started promptly at 7:30. It was far easier to get up than I had imagined.
At breakfast I foundNancy Emde-Steward stamping the leather bound journals given to all the riders. "I'm just some random guy the Indian rider met at a gas station."
She didn't seem to mind.
Eventually, Don Emde, the organizer showed up and asked me who I was. He was concerned that I might expect to tag along for the entire ride. "You can't attend any of the events we have planned. These people have paid in good money and it would be unfair to them. I can't stop you from following us on the road, but you have to pay your own way."
"Of course!" I said explaining how I had ended up there and by no means wanted to be an imposition and was only planning on tagging along for the day today and then I would be off.
Shortly there after, off we went.
I still had no idea what I was getting myself into.
This is the largest group of riders I have ever ridden with.
And these people can ride.
We did about 300 miles that day from Dodge City to Kansas City. I met a number of the riders and the story of the "random gas station k-bike guy" had made the rounds through the group. "So are you joining us all the way to New York?" a number of them had asked. "No, I don't want to impose. I'm just here for the day."
After maybe the 10th person asked, I began to think, "I wonder if I paid my way in would they let me join them? I'm not sure when I'll get an opportunity like this again."
So at the hotel that evening, before going to dinner, I approached Don and asked if I might be allowed to join them if I paid for the half of the trip I was on. I figured the answer would be "no".
"The last thing I want to do is be a freeloader. I see how much work, planning, and effort has gone into making this ride happen. I know that costs money and I'd like to contribute."
"I'm really glad you see that." he said, his demeanor having changed. He went to to talk about the trip some more and then explained I just needed to talk to Nancy.
And with that I was an official member of this ride. I still had no idea quite what I was getting into.
So here I sit, a few days later, in Indianapolis in a swanky hotel not far from the speedway. I have my own leather bound log book. There's a Canonball sticker on my bike. My photo has been taken dozens of times and embarassingly enough people occasionally ask for my autograph. There have been receptions. There was a dinner and drinks the night I joined. There was a police and firetruck escort through the town of Greenville. As we rode into town the whole town was out waving as we went by. A ceremony followed.
I've ridden hundreds of miles with journalists. Watching Barry work has been fascinating. We rode in a small group today. He would stop from time to time to shoot photos of various things along the way using this huge camera he had strung around his neck. There's one shot he staged where five of us rode through a small covered bridge each of us just inches from the other. These people can ride.
There are too many stories, too many insights and there's always something happening. In 45 minutes, I have to be downstairs. It does not look like I'm going to be able to have dinner with them at St. Elmo's because they are booked to capacity. "Of course, I understand." I told them. I'm trying to be as flexible and non-problematic as I can possibly be. I'm not sure, but I get the impression many have asked to have the opportunity that I have but have been told no.
I have no idea why I've been allowed to be included in this event, but I'm "rolling with it."
Because there's been so much going on, I haven't had a chance to write much. I look at my own writing now, with it's typos and half baked thoughts, and I'm self-conscious. There are professionals who are going to see this stuff ... since some of them are friends with me on Facebook now. I'm going to have to step up my game.
I leave you with some photos.
Group photo at Donelson Cycles and Museum
Keith Mashburn eating lunch in the museum. Duncan would have loved this place.
Assembling for the escort through Greenville. Of all the stops, Greenville is the only one that still has the original post office where Erwin Baker got his log book stamped to prove his times. It's a small friendly town.
The police and fire escort. My radiator cooked me pretty good here.
The mayor making a declaration and giving Don the key to the town.
There was a "cruising night" going on that same night with all kinds of old cars and people in the streets. I think Bruce would have liked this GTO.
Breakfast the next day.
The town had given us shirts. Randy, who was on the Harley riding with Robert when we first met at the gas station, wore the shirt the next day as did I.
Barry, shooting a motorcycle mailbox.
Swanky hotel in Indianapolis. Note there is Starbucks right here in the lobby!
My room with a view.
There are so many stories to tell and so much to write. This has been an eye opening experience.
I have to say, one of my favorite moments riding has been following five of these guys around a 25mph off-ramp at speed each of us riding exactly the same line falling into the corner light WWII fighter jets. That's the one moment on this trip that I really wish I had had the gopro camera mounted. This is the best collection of riders I have ever ridden with.
"They're mostly industry people." Tom, the founder of Saddlemen seats said to me as we were pulling away.
Another said, "We're surrounded by living motorcycle legends."
That does seem to be true.
I'm going to be riding with these guys until Thursday. I suspect I will be back home by Friday if all goes well.
This is a guest post by my traveling companion, John St John, that he originallly posted to Facebook and that I am sharing here with permission.
Yesterday, Yermo gave Lucy a day-long course in "passengering".
His methodical approach, taking nothing for granted, was also instructional to me. As a rider who grew up on a motorcycle, as both pilot and passenger from the age of 8 or 9, there is much that I take for granted. Such as: when the bike leans, the passenger leans with it. I could never understand why it was so much harder to pilot the motorcycle when Lucy was on the back. I had told her a few basic concepts, such as: how to get on the bike without flipping me and it on our sides, I told her that she needed to relax and go with the bike, etc, but it wasn't working - Really!
Today, Yermo will head back east. We will both miss his good company. But, Lucy and I will head off into the twisty roads between Canon City and Denver. We are very thankfull for the time we spent with Yermo and for his extensive couseling. Yes, getting us both to understand our roles in two up riding - will go along way towards improving our relationship - on the bike, at least:-)
As I've mentioned so many times in the past, I'm ill. It's one of the reasons that my bike has so little mileage on it despite me having owned it for so long. There were a number of years where it simply hurt too much to ride. At some point, I discovered that I could manage my condition by modifying my diet. Everything(tm) changed after that. In this modern prepackaged world, it's a fairly difficult diet to follow but I manage and have been doing much better for the last many years.
However, sometimes I will inadvertently eat something that sets my system into chaos and such was the case on Wednesday evening and Thursday. As I warn everyone I travel with, sometimes I'm down for the count and have to not move for a while. Fortunately, in this case, I was alone so wasn't dampening anyone else's enjoyment for which I was grateful.
While bad, I knew from experience that it should pass within 24 hours. I was texting Bruce on Thursday and happened to mention that I had just done Route 191 from Clifton to Springerville. "I've never been there but would kind of like to check it out someday."
"It's just one day from your house." I replied.
Bruce is a man of careful long planning and ponders decisions, especially when it feels like he's shirking his responsibilities, for a very long time. This is the reason that I'm so amazed that he takes 10 days out every year to fly to the East Coast to ride the guest bike downt to Deal's Gap with Duncan and I. (The same goes for Duncan.) I feel very privileged.
I am, however, also the Great Enabler(tm).
"I could hang out here until you get here Friday. Then we ride it Saturday and go home Sunday."
"Why didn't I think of that?" he replied but I knew full well this was something that was far too short notice for Bruce. It must be pondered. Responsibilties and duties must be addressed. He would have to ponder it and then carefully discuss it with his wife, Ha. (Ha rocks like nobody's business, by the way. She, like Bruce, is family to me.) He would have to consider whether he could allow himself to go given that he's already committed to going to Deal's Gap in June.
To do both would be decadence and indulgence on a level unheard of for Bruce, so I knew full well it wasn't something that was going to happen.
Then I got the text some hours later, "I'll be there. What hotel?"
I was floored. This is simply unheard of. In the nearly 3 decades I've known Bruce he has never done anything like this. The weather was supposed to be fantastic and I was already starting to feel a bit better. Even if I wasn't 100% I wasn't going to miss this.
In our lttle group of riders, we all run the Sena SMH10 Blue Tooth communicator. While it has it's down sides if you're traveling with the wrong people, when you have a good group that gets along and isn't too chatty it's a fantastic way of calling out hazards, coordinating stops and being more "together" on a motorcycle trip.
On the last Deal's Gap trip, Audrey, being kindness incarnate, loaned him hers. It completely changed the trip and as a result getting one was on his list, but Bruce is very cautious about spending anything on himself, his life and focus being his family, so I knew it was going to be some time before he would purchase one.
John also has one. So as we headed across country and discussed riding with Bruce we thought it would be awesome if he had one as well. So we hatched a plan to get him one, but unfortunately none of the shops we stopped at had them. Our evil plans were thwarted.
Thinking about 191 and how treacherous it is with all the tar snakes and gravel in many corners and all the hours we would be spending alone in our helmets and how little time we had actually had to talk over the last weekend, I thought "It would be awesome if Bruce had one." as I started searching around for motorcycle shops within 100 miles. Out of character, I even picked up the phone and started calling and talking to people. I hate talking on the phone.
"I can order one but it'll get here next Tuesday." one shop said.
"I need it by tomorrow mid day."
"You're going to be hard pressed to find one that quick."
I knew it was a long shot, so I gave up the search and went in search of coffee. I was starting to feel better, but I was bummed. It would have been so cool if I could have gotten one. I knew it would be something he would really have appreciate and gotten a kick out of.
It was painfully late in the day when I decided to try something, a real serious long shot, which was for me a completely out of character act. I hate last minuting anyone. I hate making special requests. I hate asking. I hate imposing.
It was really late. Way too late to get something overnighted when I wondered, "Could RevZilla get me one?" I looked at the site when I figured, "Well, I guess there's no harm in asking. They'll say no and I'll feel better for having tried."
So I picked up the phone and called. The horror. All the people I've met at Revzilla have been awesome. John, who I had not talked to before, answered the phone and I started explaining my situation and what I wanted to do.
"Well, it's late but we do have a warehouse in Nevada and we /might/, I stress, /might/ be able to get one overnighted but I'm sorry I can't guarrantee it." he replied. I had expected a simple "no". We got off topic when he realized I had met Rania. "She's sitting across from me."
"Hi YERMO!!" I heard faintly through the phone.
John and I chatted a bit about motorcycling and then got back to the matter at hand. "If I order it and it can't get shipped out tonight, I need the order cancelled because I'll no longer be at this hotel."
"I'll be here for another few hours so I'll watch the order myself and if it doesn't get shipped tonight, I'll cancel it for you. You'll have to pay the overnight fee and I'm sorry it's expensive."
"I'm asking you for a favor not the other way around. I'll be grateful to get the thing if I can. I so appreciate all the effort and help. If this works, it's going to make my buddy's day."
He applied some discounts and with the "Revzilla Cash" I had accumulated the final bill wasn't that bad at all. Shortly after we hung up, I got the notification that the order had been placed.
Some hours later, I got the notification that the order had been shipped and I had a tracking number.
"Amazing." I thought. John didn't have to do that. You might be cynical and think it's about money and business. That it's fake. He's just an employee. Maybe he gets a commission, maybe he doesn't but he, the individual person, didn't have to do that. I'm sure he had countless people he had to talk to that day and, as always seems to be the case in customer service, annoyed, angry and otherwise unpleasant people to deal with. And here I was, calling with some ridiculous last minute request because I hadn't planned it out well and I was asking for something that I don't think many others would have done.
He didn't have to do that. Do I expect the next time I call with some ridiculous request, which I seriously will try not to do, that they will do this again? No. It's not kind to people to do that even if they are the customer service person on the other end of the line.
Never lose sight of the human being. The barista, the bartender, the waitress, the person on the other end of the line. Be human. And when someone is kind, when someone treats you like a human being and helps you when they don't have to, be grateful. Even if it is their "job".
The next day on Facebook, Rania, who was the person who originally recommended Route 191 to me and is in a big part the reason I was here in the first place commented on my Route 191 trip report tagging John, "you were talking to Yermo last night about Sena...read the blog brother!"
Then she posted, "John's an awesome guy. Truly one of the most amazing people I've met at work. When you get back we should plan a local ride somewhere."
And we will.
And people ask me why I think Revzilla rocks so much. When was the last time you called to buy something and got invited out for a ride? How cool is that?
I understand they could use some more top tech talent. It's the one place I've seen in the last few decades that I think I'd actually enjoy working with, or even for. But I don't want to move to Philadelphia.
Bruce showed up in the early afternoon having made really good time. It was so good to see him. I still couldn't believe he had come out. I mentioned nothing about the surprise. The UPS tracking said the package was on the truck. We had not been talking for very long when I noticed the UPS truck pulling up, "Oh cool! Wait here!" as I ran out of the room.
You should have seen the expression on his face. He was floored. He did not expect anything like this.
I upgraded the firmware and installed the speakers, microphone and mount onto his helmet. We paired his Sena with mine and everything worked.
We would comment many times over the next three days how much this one device really changed the whole trip and helped make this one of the best weekends in memory.
Thank you, John. This was awesome.
When we went back outside to sit on the "porch". A BMW and a Coucours rolled up. "That's a woman on the BMW." I mentioned. They got the room next to us and we said hello. Their names were Andy and Debbie. It turns out they were heading back to Las Vegas and were going to ride 191 as well. We needed to buy some snacks for the ride and I suggested they take snacks and water on 191 since there are no service. I mentioned the culture shock that was the "Western Drug and General Store." so the four of us decided to walk over.
It happens quite often actually that when traveling by motorcycle you meet people and having just that one simple connection opens many others and a chance meeting can turn into an extended conversation. After being appropriately culture shocked, we all decided to have dinner together so over to the Java Blues bar/grill/breakfast/coffeeshop we went.
I get the impression Debbie may be independently wealthy. She talked about multiple properties, including a condo in Hawaii equipped with a V-Strom, and other bikes spread around the country. "I like to ride, but everyone works so it's hard to find people to ride with." she would say. "So I ride alone a lot and just meet people on the road." She had been to race school and owned quite a number of bikes.
Andy is seriously fit. His appearance, especially with a helmet on remind me a bit of the actor Vin Diesel. Andy takes working out, nutrition and health very seriously. "The guns need to be fed." I joked at dinner. He's a bit more reserved and is thus a bit harder to get to know.
From several stories of triple digit speeds on road, it was clear Andy liked to go fast. At 70mph a modern Concourse feels like it's crawling.
After dinner, Bruce and I stayed up pretty late and consequently got up kind of late. We had wanted to say goodbye to those guys before they left and take some pictures. To our surprise they were still there.
We talked a bit more about the road and they day ahead. They had not had breakfast. I suggested the Java Blues but they mentioned they had gotten tickets for a breakfast included with the room. We walked over but unfortunately there was nothing there I could eat. "Huh, same for me" Debbie said. "The breakfast at Java Blues is pretty good so we walked over there together.
We had a leisurely long breakfast filled with conversation. "I noticed how you ordered last night." Debbie said. She went on to talk about having had cancer and how difficult life had been from a health point of view. Unlike me, there was little in the way of pain in her voice when she talked about it. It was matter of fact without any sense of "woe is me". She had a sense of strength about her that only those who have truly suffered and conquered have. And here she was, riding all over the place.
She mentioned having dietary issues so of course we got into a long conversation about how I eat, what my history was and what results I've had. "Andy has been telling me this for years." she would say as he nodded knowingly. He talked about his approach to life. "But it's genetics" she said.
To which I replied, "It's generally not constructive to see the results of another human being and ask how are they different. It is much more useful to ask 'what have they done differently?'"
Again, Andy nodded knowingly.
After a longer conversation, she said, "You know, it's one thing to hear that I should consider trying to change my diet. It's another thing to hear it from someone who's actually seen such positive benefits. I won't promise it but I think I will give this a try." I hope it does.
You just never know how a motorcycle trip might change you. Sometimes it's just the little meetings. Sometimes you meet people and they redirect your life. Sometimes you redirect someone elses. Sometimes it's a little of both.
"There's something about motorcycle people." she would later say. "I think that's one of the reasons I got divorced. I don't think I can be with someone who isn't passionate about motorcycles. It's such a big part of my life."
To our surprise, they asked if they could follow us since I had ridden this road just a few days before. I'm always nervous about riding with new people but they were both good riders and within 5 minutes it seemed like it was going to work. I ride quite slowly actually, so I tend to be tamer than most people I meet. Some are ok with this, others get impatient. I got the feeling Andy would have liked to go much faster.
We stopped to top up the tanks because it was over 90 miles between services.
Typically when I ride with a group I don't stop often enough to take pictures because I feel self conscious about holding people up, but this ride was different. We would stop every 20 miles or so to look at yet another spectacular vista.
Debbie would say a few times, "If you guys need to go ahead faster just leave us."
"We're riding together as a group now. It's about riding together." I would reply.
Later on at lunch she would say, "I really like how conscientious and considerate you are about your followers by pointing out hazards and making sure not to leave people behind. That's how I am when I lead."
"Yea, as the leader you have to take your followers into account otherwise it just gets stressful and the feeling of being together gets interrupted."
I missed the 25mph for the next 30 miles sign, and the 15mph for the next 6 miles sign but I did finally manage to stop and get a photo of my favorite street signs.
"There's a fantastic overlook with the 270 view with a picnic table I think we should stop at." I told them.
So we did. I failed to remember how deep the gravel in the pull out was. No drama but it was a bit sketchy there for a second.
It was quite hot as we walked out to the magical picnic table on the edge of forever.
We rode on. The ride North to South on 191 is more challenging than the other direction. There are significantly more tar snakes and there was a lot more gravel this time. It was also much hotter so the tar snakes were slippery. This combined with those outside corners where if you slide out you drop a thousand feet conspired to make me feel really tentative. "I could tell you are not yourself." Bruce would later say as we discussed how my off in Virginia was affecting me much more than I realized. "You'll work through it." he would say repeatedly. Bruce is a patient man.
Before the off, I had this calm desire not to fall. "I simply don't want to fall." I would explain as the reason why I rarely push it really hard. It was not that I had any gripping fear of falling. It was simply a desire not to. This, it turns out, let me be fluid. I would see gravel or other obstacles and be able to calmly adjust. There was a low level fear but it was more just a thought.
My off has changed this. It's affected me pretty deeply. For the first time in a very long time, I now actively fear falling. I see a little gravel or a slippery tar snake and it takes everything in my being not to freeze up. In one sharp right hander that I would have been able to make trivially easily, I saw a patch of gravel that wouldn't have even interrupted my traction but I tighened up and went wide just like I tell everyone not to.
"Trust the traction."
There was plenty of traction so once again I found myself realizing that this Fear is actually more dangeous than the gravel or the hazards. I now really Fear falling. And that Fear, that memory of the fall, and the powerlessness I felt to stop it is now affecting my present.
"How do racers do it?" I kept asking only to hear that Jeremy Cook, the Bobs' BMW sponsored racer has had an off and broke his collar bone. He posted that he's likely going to be racing at Summit on the 24th. Amazing. How does he do it? I hope to get a chance to talk to him about it.
Realizing that it's my own Fear that's making this ride more dangerous for me, I kept things really slow, probably too slow for my followers. "I have to take responsibility for my fear and work through it otherwise I'm just going to be more likely to fall. I have to get back to where I merely desire not fall as opposed to being actively afraid of it."
It seems analogous to how I treat goals. I was able to ride the Dalton Highway because I could let the goal of making it go if I needed to. I need to let the Fear of falling go and regain the simple desire not to. Fear that paralyzes is dangerous.
I see a parallel here to other aspects in my life where I have experiened trauma's that I carry with me unresolved. My past traumas are like the gravel. As soon as I sense them, I tense up my mind filled with the memory of the previous event and as a result have the undesirable outcomes.
I've seen other men crash. I've seen some get up, brush themselves off and move on. I've seen others, ruled by self-delusion, pride or arrogance, refuse to even address the off preferring to just avoid the whole subject as if doing so would somehow diminish their being or make them look foolish in the eyes of others. There is a reason pride is a sin. Pride blinds you from seeing what you need to. Pride, a sense of entitlement, status, the opinions of others are all things that blind and prevent you from seeing what you need to to overcome the obstacles you face. See the gravel and think "I don't want to look like a fool here" is simply pride talking and distracting you from doing what you need to. Gravel is now a problem I face.
At some point, regardless of the gravel in the road, I have to take responsibility to control my own fear, to work through it, to address it so that I am no longer afraid of the gravel. I need to accept that I may lose traction again and fall. I desire not to, but I must not be so afraid of it that I end up causing it or worse.
Or I could be a coward and simply give up motorcycling. Yea, that ain't happening.
I am going to ride so I may fall again and I have to accept that.
I think about all the other traumas I carry around. I think about Debbie and cancer. She's Out There(tm) riding around all over the place. Think for a second the kind of fear those words, "You have cancer." brings. Think about how devastating that is. I think about the other cancer survivors I know. I don't know what it is about me that makes the fear run so deep but it does.
And it has to stop. Maybe sliding out has let me see something that I did not see before.
"How is it that you escaped getting married, Yermo?" Debbie asked at one point.
I didn't have a good answer, but I suspect that that simple answer is too much trauma and the unaddressed, unworked through fears that it has created within me. It's just like gravel. I see things that have hurt me in the past and instead of working through it, I either tense up or cowardly avoid it. It's the same in business, in real-estate and in so many other places where I've been hurt.
On the motorcycle, I know I there will be gravel, or oil, or some other thing that interrupts my traction once again. I will ride through it again and so I just have to learn to deal.
I now see that there are other traumas, other Fears, that I will have to treat the same way; to move from Fear to simply not desiring the outcome but if it happens to learn to simply dust myself off, learn from the experience and get back on the bike.
Because there's no way I'm going to give up.
We rode on together as group through to the devastation of the mine.
"The scale in unbelievable." Bruce said. We hung out at this spot for a while letting the sadness get inside us.
We stopped for lunch in Clifton at an empty cafe. We talked for some time there as well and then parted company. Andy and Debbie headed for Las Vegas while Bruce and I made our way around the mountains and headed back towards Los Alamos. They said they would be in touch. I hope that they do.
We rode to route 78 and then on to 180. Bruce and I were concerned that it would be flat and boring but it was not.
The riding was simply incredible. The Sena proved invaluable. It was warm but not too hot. Route 78 from just South of Clifton is an incredible road. Twisty. Clean. Gorgeous. Still tentative, I was starting to get my mojo back.
For sections the road would straighten out but even these sections were not bad.
At about half tank we came across a sketchy gas station that only had 87 octane and looked like it didn't get much use. "Bad fuel." I thought as Bruce and I discussed whether or not to get gas. "It looks like it's another 40 or 50 miles before the next station. "We can make it." Bruce said in a most uncharacteristic fashion. Bruce, being a safety professional, always gets gas at no less than half a tank, because you never know. To bug him, every time I pick him up from the airport I make sure that the reserve light is on, because, you know, what are friends for?
"Who are you and what have you done with Bruce??!" I had said many times.
"I left him at home." Bruce would reply.
We decided that a tank of 87 octane sketchy gas would likely not kill us so we topped off.
It was fortunate because it was many miles before we saw the next station. We would probably not have made it.
There was a stretch of something like 140 miles without services heading up to Grants, NM.
It was a bit farther and the road a bit slower than we expected so the sun ended up setting on us as critters starting coming out on the deserted desert road.
Elk were everywhere and conspired to raise my stress level quite a bit. We slowed way down out of necessity but that caused us to have to ride well past sunset.
In the twilight, elk look just like bushes and there were many along side the road. Fortunately for us, none darted out. They simply calmly walked away.
At one point, as I was making a right hand turn an impossibly fast rabbit ran right in front of my wheel. I didn't see it until it was nearly in front of me and by the time I applied the brake it was well past.
"From that angle at that speed, there's no time to respond. I'm not sure that there's much that can be done." I said.
"There isn't." Bruce replied and we both scanned the sides. "If that were a deer or an elk it would have been bad."
"Yes, it would have."
"Watch out, deer on the right, did you see them?" Bruce would say.
"No. I didn't. Man, my vision must suck because I'm missing these critters. It's a good thing we have the Senas. At least we have double the eyes on the road and can warn each other."
There was a simply fantastic sunset.
Later on after the sun had set, Bruce took the lead since he has the better highbeam.
"Deer on the left!" I said.
"I didn't see it. "Bruce replied. "Being in the lead, I find I have to pay more attention to the road itself."
"Interesting. Being in the trailing position, I can keep you in my peripheral vision and find it much easier to scan the sides for critters."
This was another benefit of the communicators we had not fully appreciated.
It got quite dark and started getting quite cold. As the last light disappeared over the horizon we put on the electric vests.
"Very much more gooder." as Bruce would say. I don't tavel anywhere without a vest but I had let myself get quite cold. At this point, Bruce pointed out that he had had his seat warmer on for some time, because, you know, what are friends for?
"I can't believe we're doing this. This is fantastic!" Bruce said many times. This was one of the best weekend rides I've ever had. Despite tar snakes, gravel, memories of a minor little off that has grown into something much bigger in my head, getting stung on the neck, this was a great weekend.
We made it to Grants, New Mexico around 9PM and to our dismay it's a town filled with hotels but no restaurants. Everything was closed. We found an area of something like 8 motels but there wans't a single restaurant other than McDonalds which doesn't count as food in my book.
We rode around town and eventually asked someone. "There's a diner 5 miles away that's open for a few more hours but that's it."
Avoid Grants. There's no reason to go there.
We went to dinner and then using Expedia, Bruce found a really good deal on a room at the Red Lion, so off we went for another 5 mile journey. We both slept well and were up reasonably early the next morning. We decided to Super Slab it back towards Los Alamos. We stopped in Albuquerque and then headed up along a very scenic route to a lake where Ha and the kids were fishing. Looking for where they were, we did a bit of fairly broken dirt road and a large rocky mud puddle crossing. Unfortunately, like and idiot, I didn't hold the camera right as Bruce crossed it and it's chopped off. It was going to be a nice "who needs a GS" video showing splashing through water, over rocks and through dirt. Bummer.
We did eventually find the family and hung out for a while. From there, we head back to White Rock and home. On the way, yet another bee found it's way onto my neck. Man that hurt! It wasn't quite as bad as a wasp sting but I swear that it hurt a lot more than a bee.
The weekend was ending as we came rolling into White Rock. There had been quite a few police around so we were keeping it to the speed limit. Coming down the hill I saw a tall long legged woman peddling up a storm down the hill. As I came up next to her, I noticed we were doing 40mph, so I looked over and mentioned a "4" "0" with my left hand. I don't think she had a speedometer on the bicycle. Bruce and I rolled on as I was remarking on how fast she was rolling. The speed limit dropped to 35 and we were doing over when I looked in the mirror and her putting the hammer down. She blew by us with a shit eating grin on her face. She was doing well over 45mph. She turned into the street that we were turning into and then onto Bruce's street. I was concerned that she might think we were following her so despite the fact she was doing well in excess of the 25mph speed limit there I suggested to Bruce we pass her. I'm always thinking along those lines. As we did, I waved. She waved back, shit eating grin still plain to see. "I've never been passed by a bicycle before." I laughed. We've been laughing about this moment since.
On Facebook, Kai asked if I had gotten her number or at least bought her a drink. As if. Some moments are best left as moments. Hold on to them for too long and it can color them. This was a wonderful moment and still brings a smile to my face.
We arrived at Bruces house shortly thereafter, the woman no where to be seen in the rear view. I guess she turned off.
It was such a good weekend and over so quickly.
"There's never enough time." I said. "And the time we do take always seems to go by so quickly." Bruce responded. "but I can't believe I did this. This was awesome!"
There are always reasons not to do a thing. There are always responsibilities, duties and fears that prevent us from taking the time out to do the things we love. Life is short and one can't shirk responsibilities irresponsibly. But there has to be Balance. Every once in a while it pays to venture out and see the world.
It's a good thing I'm an Enabler(tm). It's a good thing, I think.
"I can't go while the kids are in school, but maybe I can go cross country with you after I've retired?" Bruce asked fatefully.
This got me to thinking. It's probably not constructive to talk about what one can't do. Maybe it's better to ask the question, "How can I do it given all these parameters, responsibilities and constraints?"
If you think about it often enough, you may find, there is usually a way. It may not be the way you initially thought of but if you are flexible, if you are open minded, there is almost always a way to make it happen.
I'm now sitting in a Starbucks in White Rock listening to physicists discuss mathematics around me. Bruce joined me for a short while on his lunch break to say goodbye and soon I will get back on the bike and head to Durango to go meet John and Lucy for dinner. Tomorrow the plan is to venture out on the lonely long flat road home and in a few days find out what awaits me there, if anything.
I thought that maybe this would be the last trip in a very long while as my financial situation is getting to be a bit dire, entirely my ke town fault. It will probably take too long for M-BY-MC to generate enough revenue to support me, so I'll end up having to take on some other projects to keep the whole operation afloat. So I thought I'm not going to be able to do this kind of thing again, but I think with some compromises, adjustments, and open mindness, I suspect I will be able to do a trip like this again before too long.
"There are always possibilities." Spock would say.
I woke unusually early, 6:30 AM which might as well be no-man's time, and spent the extra hours writing while listening to yet another wind storm making a ruckus outside. Even after a few hours, the ruckus didn't die down. Venturing out into the light, I noticed the sky was an unusual orange brown color. "Smog?" I wondered but thought that I was too far from any major cities for that to be the case. Sand and silt could be seen blowing along the pavement in the 20mph or so winds. Looking at my bike, I noticed it was covered in dust. "Is this what a dust storm looks like?" I wondered.
I live in an abstract world. Most physical details around me escape my attention. Most things I see I perceive as "someone else's problem", with the appropriate hat tip to Douglas Adams. For instance, the night before I had noticed this neatly sloped pile of sand and silt on the leeward side of a curb. Did I ask myself the question of how it got there? Of course not, that's somebody else's problem. I had more important things to do such as find something to eat and contemplate the intricacies of my navel which provides me endless hours of entertainment.
Now had I actually pondered how the sand and silt came to be so neatly arranged I might have known how often dust storms plague this area.
I have never been in a dust storm before. I couldn't ride with the visor up without silt getting into my eyes. I pondered whether or not I should be wearing some filter as I was breathing this stuff in. Coughing fits later may have been some indication. I tried to snap a number of photos but had the inkling that they really wouldn't capture what it looked like.
"Look, this is what Yermo calls a dust storm. Wuss."
This wasn't bad at all, just a new experience, but one that gave me the sense it could, at a moments notice, become much worse. There were a number of automated signs along the way warning of dust storms and low visibility. Some fixed signs confirmed that it could become much much worse.
Fortunately for me, the level of dust in the air and the visibility stayed pretty much constant. I was feeling pretty good so decided to try to make some time. Typically I take a break every 90 miles regardless of whether I feel I need it or not. The times that I have broken this rule I end up being much more tired at the end of the day, but it was only 200 miles to Clifton, AZ where route 191 starts and then only 140 so miles up to Eager, AZ. So I rode 130 or so miles until I needed to get gas and then rode onto Clifton. Instead of taking an extended break in Clifton, I decided to continue on. Clifton seems like an odd little town hidden in a canyon.
As I approached Clifton from the South I could see some odd formations in the distance. "A mining operation?" I wondered. I was unprepared for what I was about to encounter. Route 191 goes straight through the operation, fences bordering both sides of the road. The scale of the devastation is not to be believed. It's not just that they took the top of a mountain off, it looks like they dug one up and destroyed it.
It goes on for miles. Humanity needs resources and they have to come from somewhere but there's something deep inside the psyche, possibly from the same place that experiences awe in Carlsbad Caverns, that can't help but feel that maybe Agent Smith was right after all, we are a plague on this beautiful planet and it is suffering. How many places in the world look like this? Could it be done another way or if not, could it maybe be healed somehow afterwards? I've been told that in Germany if you cut down a tree you have to plant and manage the growth of several to replace it. Can't we do something similar?
Then I think I am not blameless. Humanity needs to take resources from the planet so that I can ride my motorcycle over it. I am keenly aware of my own culpability in this horrible ugliness before me and all the other ugliness there is in the world. The tarmac that I rely on is itself a scar on the surface of the world. I try to limit my footprint. I try to be consicous. I try not to waste recklessly. But it's all relative. To my friend Ted who lives on Dancing Rabbit my footprint in this world is many factors greater than his and is unconscionable. Others I know have footprints many factors larger than my own.
But my beloved Blue Oil Burner itself, despite getting 58mpg on the last tank, does no good for the planet that I can think of. As I ride across this vast country, I spew hydrocarbons out, leave rubber on the road, kill countless insects and the occasional kamikazee rodent, consume parts and in the end do a net amount of harm to the world, all so that I can think clearly because for whatever reason the motorcycle is the only place I feel at home. I can try to justify to myself that I am doing less than others. There are those driving around bus sized RVs towing huge pickup trucks behind them doing more miles than I am. There are those burning hundreds if not thousands of gallons of fuel per hour to propel megayachts and huge jets. I can console myself by thinking I am doing less harm than they are. There are those riding electric motorcycles thinking the same thing looking at me but are also deluding themselves. Even an electric motorcycle is a net negative for the world unless some positive action is taken to mitigate the effects. The same is true of my own oil burner.
Maybe I will frame a picture of this on my wall as a reminder to do better.
The power of humanity is both awesome and horrifying. We can do so much worse than just bring a mountain down.
The scope of this operation is unbelievable. They even have "scenic view pullouts" so you can marvel at the horror of the devastation.
After some miles the mountains left standing provide a reminder for what it used to look like. The road narrows and then becomes impressively twisty.
There are sections, long sections, of this road that rival the twistiness of Deal's Gap. Rania from Revzilla along with a Super Tenere rider I met a couple of days ago said this road needed to be seen. They did not exaggerate. There are 30+ mile sections where the speed limit is 25mph and most corners are rated at 10 to 15mph. There are switchbacks everywhere.
The road carves its way along the canyon twisting and turning in every conceivable fashion. There is nothing preventing you from falling off the edge of forever if you happen to lose a moments concentration or, more likely, hit some of the hidden gravel that plagues this route.
"Be careful." the pickup driver said, "run off the road and you're likely not to hit solid ground until around breakfast time." He was not kidding.
Did I mention this road is something like 140 miles long?
At one point, after 20, maybe 40 miles, I came across a little picnic area at the crest of a mountain. I regretted not having had lunch before doing this route. I did have some emergency snacks and water with me. I would strongly recommend bring some food and water along. This road is quite tiring. I set up my snacks and water on another Ragnarock picnic table when I noticed a trail leading off to the sky. I followed it and came upon a simply incredible view.
"Yermo on Top of the Mountain"
Some kind soul had deposited a picnic table right there at this incredible view. This is such a German thing to do. I went back, gathered my snacks and water and proceeded to sit in this place for a while. The panorama shot I took of this spot did not turn out, but you could see a view like the one below from 3 sides.
There was a cool breeze but it was warm and sunny. It was quiet and I felt very alone. But this place was beautiful.
There are some moments in a lifetime that should not be spent alone. This was one of them.
Next to the picnic table I noticed a cactus. On my 2010 trip, I had asked a friend of mine, Claudia, what I should bring back for her. She asked for a silly photo of me with a cactus. Unfortunately, I found no cacti on that trip. I always try to keep my promises but I'm not necessarily very punctual about it. So here it is, 4 years later and I finally got the photo.
Clearly, posing with a cactus is serious business.
I rode on continuing along this twisty route climbing up the side of one impressive mountain and down the other for what seemed like hours. Over the entire day, I don't think I saw more than half a dozen cars. For one two hour stretch I didn't see a single person.
Eventually, the road opens up for a short while across this meadowland.
There are signs warning of cattle in the road. They were not lying. The bull on the left eyed me menacingly as I passed.
After some relatively short sections of straight it gets twisty again. I regret not taking a photo of the "25mph curves next 30 miles" sign.
This road is aggressivly twisty with incredible views and menacing dropoffs around every corner. Over all the pavement quality is quite good but there are sections covered in tar snakes and others where the pavement is irregular and cracked. Gravel is a constant threat. I'd say only about 10% of the corners had any significant gravel in them. One advantage of the dark pavement is that it makes gravel, dust and dirt effortless to see.
It wasn't until much later in the day, after texting Bruce about the road, that I realized how much my off in Virginia has affected me. I thought back over my day on this road riding alone. If I had an off here and fell down into the unknown, I doubt anyone would find me for days if not weeks. The gravel made me uncharacteristically nervous. Typically, what I like to do when coming around a blind corner is go to the far side, so for instance in a tight left corner I'll go to the farthest point to the right so that I have the longest view down the road to see if anything is coming or there are any hazards in the road. I call it my "street line". This is in contrast to those who want to go around a corner as fast as possible where you typically go outside inside outside, called a race line. A race line, in my humble opinion, is not appropriate for the street because it prevents you from seeing down the road around the corner.
I was coming around on left hand corner where I saw gravel on the outside of the white line well outside of my path but regardless I stayed towards the center of the lane restricting my view around the corner which caused me to see the truck barreling down towards me later than normal.
It surprised me and that's not a good thing.
My fear of gravel now irrationally overrides my fear of trucks. We have events that hurt us and we then overcompensate for those events even if they are rare. One off in 29 years and suddenly gravel is all I worry about. It's stupid and can be dangerous. I'm reminded of the Carlsbag Ranger telling me I couldn't store my bags because of 9/11. We fear sharks despites ticks and mosquitoes being far more deadly.
Most corners on this road have precipitous dropoffs. Sliding out from one of these corners would likely be fatal. Fortunately, outside corners rarely have any gravel on them and there tends to be enough clean pavement around those inside corners that if you happened to hit gravel the tires would likely grab again before making it into the oncoming lane, as long as you don't highside. A highside is where the tires grab again so violently that the bike flips launching the rider to the outside. That would be Bad(tm). You always want to low-side.
Needless to say, this is a slow road and I was going pretty slowly.
Despite it's beauty and twistiness, I was keenly aware of the risk. I have long wondered about motorcycle racers who suffer incredible injuries only to get back on the bike and go faster. How do they do that? How do they get past the trauma, the fear, and the doubt to go do it again?
I've seen others suffer trauma's of various kinds only to get up, brush themselves off, and try again seemingly unaffected. Granted, I fell. I got up, brushed myself off, and continued on, but I fear the event has changed me a bit. I could feel a tentativeness in my riding that was not there before. I was not fluid. I would come across gravel and I could feel myself tighten up. It took several hundred turns before I could begin to approach riding fluidly.
On one turn coming around moderate left hander, the pavement suddenly changed and looked like deep loose gravel to me. I immediately felt my arms lock on the handlebars and as I have said to so many, "When you feel the bike not turning it's you, not the bike."
It was not gravel. It was a section of patched pavement and the traction was fine, but I still went wider than I wanted to because of a exaggerated fear response.
Fear. Fear of a past event manifested itself to make a present event that should have been entirely drama free into something truly frightening. I now fully understand the famous adage "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Fear on a motorcycle is far more dangerous than the hazards in the road. The hazards will be there. It's how we react to those hazards that will dictate our outcomes. If we let the fear of a past event paralyze us so that we exaggerate our reactions to the present event, not thinking, our outcomes will not be the ones that we desire.
For whatever reason, traumas I have experienced whether the off in Virginia or things that happened 40 years ago, become inextricably woven into the fabric of my being. How many relationships, how many opportunties, how many situations have I ruined because present events invoke past traumas causing my internal reaction to be exaggerated?
As I rode past the pavement patch, I paused to think about what I had just felt. Something unexpected happens and you get that lightning strike "oh shit!" feeling and it seems like your mind is overridden. You know what you should do, but are unable to, initially at least, do it. Grabbing the bars tightly on a bike is NEVER a good idea. I know to express my tension through my legs but sometimes, when your senses are overridden, it's like your mind turns off, at least for a second. Pause. Look up and where you want to go. Grab the tank with your knees as hard as you can. Feel yourself loosen on the bars. Feel the bike go where you need it to.
It's been a very long time since I was so cognizant of this feeling, but now that I'm reminded of what it feels like maybe I can remember it and when I find myself in that situation again, I may yet learn to react differently in motorcycling and in other aspects of my life.
There were many signs warning of wildlife in the road. They were not kidding.
There were also many signs like this There was one that marked off a 30 mile section.
I did see two elk gazing quite a ways off the road but was unable to get a photo of them.
And what is it about turkeys wanting to stand around in blind cornes?
I don't remember how many hours it took me to ride the entire length of this road. It was beautiful, twisty, challenging, and in places treacherous. It's definitely a must see route but it is one that must be ridden cautiously.
Temperatures dropped markedly. It was in the 40's by the time I rolled out onto the flatter sections. I thought it might snow but all the clouds did was interrupt the sunset.
I was good and chilled so decided to stop in Spingerville, AZ where i'm staying at a motel. I was going to meet John up in Moab or Mesa Verde but I was saddened to hear that his clutch has failed and his bike is being towed back to Albuqurque for repairs. Poor guy. I feel really bad for him. This leaves me with another redirection in my trip. Initially, I was going to go up to Denver but the weather and wind has conspired to make that unpleasant.
I'm always nervous about using unproven systems when I travel. That's why I've been so nervous about my own bike which I managed to re-assemble only a few days before leaving on this trip. Lately, my bike has been vibrating differently and getting surprising gas mileage. It's jumped from averaging around 48mpg to getting upwards of 58mpg. I thought it might be an exhaust leak so I've carefully inspected the exhaust system and everything else I can think of. I posted to the BMW MOA group and the consensus seems to be it's "summer fuel" combined with the higher altitudes. I'm keeping an eye on it.
Given that I can't meet John and Lucy now, I wasn't sure what I was going to do today. That, it turns out, was decided for me. I ate something last night or this morning that has caused me the kind of problems I talk about. So as always sees to happen at least once on these trips, I'm one hurtin' puppy and am down for the count. I'll spend the day holed up in this motel. Bruce is going to ride out and meet me here tomorrow and we're going to go and ride 191 together on Saturday. It's a road he's wanted to ride. Spending some more time with my friend is going to be good. I'm looking forward to it.
Just start. Don't worry where it ends up, even if you risk it ending up someplace that you're not going to like, like Texas.
What is true for traveling by motorcycle is also true of writing. When I travel with others, regadless of who it is, I never seem to take the time to gather my thoughts and compose them into words. It somehow seems rude to take so many hours away from close friends that mean the world to you when you see them so rarely.
There have been many moments over the last couple of weeks worthy of articles that will likely never get written.
There were the incredible small twisty roads we explored in Virginia and West Virginia, the turn of the century hotel we stayed at where a room with two double beds was actually two complete rooms, the time on Beale Street in Memphis listening to countless Blues Bands and, for an unfortunate and completely unintentional moment over dinner, the screeching sounds of the worst death metal I have ever heard, the predatory women that seemed to be everwhere there, the green gentle beauty of the Ozarks and the cabin we stayed at, the wind, the relentless punishing wind that started pummeling us senseless as soon as we left the hills, the endlessness that was Oklahoma and how surprised we were that route 412 across it was, despite the wind, a nice ride, the views around Los Alamos and the surrounding countryside, and so many others.
Then there are the souls we have encountered along the way. Bob, a pastor of a small church outside of Memphis, who rode his FJR out to meet us on Beale street who we 'enabled' to go for a ride with us towards the Ozarks. A kind and considerate man with many responsibilties and challenges. "You should join us. It's really not that far." A very disciplined rider we introduced him to the Sena SMH10 communicator. We talked for a while. "I'm a motorcyclist, not a biker. There's a difference." He has a tatoo on his arm, "Trust the Journey", which has become one of the recurring themes on this trip. There are some people you meet who you know you can ride with immediately. Bob is such a person.
There was Michael who, when he realized we were about 40 miles away just after leaving the Ozarks, rode his big Harley down to join us for a while over dinner. While we were preparing for this trip, he kindly took the time out to suggest many local roads in the Ozarks. I felt bad that we had so little time there and weren't able to explore any of them. I hope to go back and ride with him at some point.
There was Bruce's friend, Adrian, the 27 year old German Phd Student, who is working on his first Phd in Physics which he is about to finish. In August he goes to Berkelely to start his second Phd in Nuclear Physics. On top of that he has an Electrical Engineering degree. He also rides so we 'enabled' him to shirk his responsibilities to join us for a number of rides around Los Alamos.
There was Sven, Bruce's friend and Adrian's Phd adviser, who is also German. Unfortunately his bike was not running so he couldn't join us. While sitting around in a hot tub we had 6 guys trying to diagnose hsi big chopper in the hopes he could join us, but it was not to be. I did however stay up entirely too late with Sven listening to German Metal and discussing software while he intermittendly pulled out one of his several accordians to play some of the best accordian I have ever heard along with whatever metal video was playing on his custom engineered streaming video player (Rammstein on Accordian? who knew?)
In the presence of Sven and Adrian I feel entirely unaccomplished and uneducated.
There was Bruce and Ha and how well they took care of me while I stayed with them. Not just friends, close family, and they have been that for ages. There was the moment we talked John into bringing his wife Lucy up to Bruces so we all spent some time together. There was so much life in the house for the weekend.
So many stories, but the moving hands writes and those time have past and if I try, as I had intended, to capture those times gone by I will miss the time right now.
Bruce and Ha had wanted me to stay with them. A very big part of me wanted to stay. I feel more at home in their company than I do in my own house, but the road had been calling to me strongly for some days. I think I need some time alone on long roads. Once again I find myself in that place, despite my best efforts, where I need to See, Think, and Feel Differently. Somehow, on this trip so far, that sense of the road getting inside has not happened. I've been closed and disconnected and I don't know why. Maybe it's the familiarity. Having done it too much over the last few years it's losing it's potency.
Or maybe I just need to up the dose like any other addict. Bruce and Ha had suggested that Carlsbad Caverns was a place to see despite it being a long straight boring ride. Interestingly, that appealed to me.
After riding through a dusting of snow to get to Starbucks to meet Bruce, I left Los Alamos late on Monday and rode through some of the most punishing winds I've ridden through in ages. 40+ mph sustained wind with random gusts of over 60 conspired to beat me senseless for 200 some odd miles. It felt like 800.
I stopped and grabbed a hotel in Roswell. Note to self, if possible don't eat at Applebees.
The nice lady behind the counter at the hotel suggested I go down Main Street to see the alien head street lamps. "They glow green at night." she said. I was too beat to get back on the bike. The wind had taken it out of me.
The next day, I got up fairly early. There was a Yamaha Super Tenere rider who I chatted with for a little bit about local roads. He said he was heading out to ride route 191 in Arizona. He's heard about it for years and said it's supposed to be fantastic. Rania from RevZilla also suggested it, so I decided at that moment that I would go take a look see the next day. I slowly made my way towards Carlsbad to take a look at these Caverns. "It's a spiritual experience." Bruce had said. Bruce rarely says things like that.
As I left Roswell, there were, in fact, alien head lamp posts.
It had been suggested to me to go to the Alien Museum but I'm not a fan of kitch so I opted to make some time. I had somehow imagined that Roswell would not look like just another town, but it looks entirely generic to me. Maybe I'm missing something.
There was significantly less wind. The Caverns were only 90 some miles from Roswell so I didn't have to rush. As I neared the mountains on the horizon, I noticed a dirt road that climbed a strangely compelling hill. "I gots to know where it goes." I thought to myself and possibly said out loud for no one to hear. In part, I guess I wanted to confirm that I could still ride in low traction. In part, I just can't seem to avoid a good dirt road.
"Who needs a GS adventure bike?" I thought as I climbed the rocky twisty hill which turned out to be rutted and filled with quite a bit of goldball and larger sized sharp gravel.
Up is always easier than down on a motorcycle. In walking, it's the opposite.
I made it back down the hill without incident or scare and headed off to the state park. The entrance road is 7 miles long and rolls through this little canyon. You find myself wondering how there could be any caverns around here, let alone the largest limestone caverns in the Western Hemisphere.
At the time I rode it, the road was deserted. Upon reaching the parking lot I immediately knew I was going to like this place.
I went inside with helmet, jacket and tank bag in hand hoping to be able to store my stuff somewhere. The nice gentleman behind the counter informed me that since 9/11 they had removed all the lockers and they were not allowed to store anyone's stuff. "We rarely have any problems." he said. "I wish I could guarrantee it for you, but obviously I can't."
This is one of the problems with motorcycle travel. What do you do with all your gear and stuff? I put the tank bag back on the bike and locked my helmet in place. I had hoped to put my jacket somewhere as it's quite heavy, but alas I was going to have to go hiking in my transit suit.
I went to get a ticket and the woman asked which I would like to do, the natural entrance or the elevator. The Natural entrance is something like a mile long walk that descends 800 feet. The main cavern itself is a 1.3 mile loop. Hearing "These boots are not made for walking." in my head, I wisely said "the Natural Trail please."
After a short orientation about the rules I started my stroll. They say that even a normal level voice can travel over a quarter mile in the cavern. You're not allowed to touch anything. The oils from human skin damage the varous formations in the cavern.
Along the way there was a bit for foreshadowing. I've seen something like this before. I think I made the same decision that I've made before.
On I strolled.
At the right time of year, you can sit in this ampitheatre and watch the bats fly out. I suspect Audrey would really like this.
I still didn't quite understand where this cavern was. Then I saw this hole. "That can't be it." I thought as the path clearly went in that direction.
When I approached the edge of the hole and looked down a let out a "Whoa!" which promptly echoed for some time down into the depths alerting all to my presence. I stopped and listened. Did I hear drums?
I looked to see if "Speak Friend and Enter" was inscribed anywhere. Suspecting that this was not, in fact, Moria, I started my descent into the bowels of the earth.
I have always been strangely drawn to the deep dark places in the world.
The walk down was impressive beyond words. After a short while it became cool and the only illumination was from dim lights. Without these lights it would have been pitch black. Being an awestruck tourist I foolishly attempted to snap hundreds of photos of which only a few turned out. They simply do not capture the magic of this place. I am not sure that any words, any photos, anything other than being physically present in this magical place can convey the feeling. You simply have to go.
I found myself wondering why humans ever evolved the ability to feel 'awe'. One is overtaken by a deeply reverant feeling. Everyone was quiet as even whispers could be heard over great distances and there truly were great distances in this seemly endless cavern.
I talked to one of the park rangers asking about wildlife. He explained that the simple presence of humans in the cave with the hair and skin cells we leave behind just by being there is affecting the cavern. Spiders that are not native to the cave now make there way down along the path and with that other predators including snakes. "But away from the path there isn't much other than bats."
I walked one for some hours. The Transit Suit jacket became quite heavy after a while. By the time I had made the loop all the way around I wisely decided to take the 800 foot elevator up instead of trying to climb back out. "Up is harder than down when walking." I reminded myself.
I will return to this place some day and take their guided 'off path' trails to explore some of the more inaccesible areas. There's an entire lower cavern which is just mind boggling given that the big room can accomodate a 747 and is in places 300 feet high.
All I can say is I would gladly make the ride across the country again just to see this place again. If you are anywhere near New Mexico, simply go. Experience this place. The Park Service has done an exceptional job at preserving it while make it accessible. It's not cheesy like some East Coast caves. It is a place to be quiet and wonder, much like the feeling in the large European Cathedrals. Just go.
By the time I reached the surface, my suit had reprised it's Toxic nature and had, once again, become an extremely effective form of birth control.
I had lunch, bought a card and a DVD. I was pleased to see that my gear had not been touched. I slowly made my way towards Clifton, AZ where this route 191 starts. It was a bit further away than I had anticipated. The GPS routed me down around El Paso. "Texas." I thought. I have not had good times in Texas. The last time I was here, in '92, we had an unfortunate meeting with a number of Texas Rangers. Not nice men.
I was surprised to see the 75mph speed limit. I missed, or more likely, ignored the 55mph speed sign once I entered a section of park land on this deserted road. A trooper came in the other direction in a vehicle I did not immdiately recognize. The lights went on. "Shit." I thought, "I've been in Texas for less than 10 minutes." Given that I was going probably 20+ over, I had visions of court dates and other hassles.
I pulled over immediately, slowly got off the bike and removed my gloves and helmet deliberately and in clear view of the officer. I took off my sunglasses and stood there.
To my surprise the officer was very laid back, professional and courteous. "I need you to slow it down through the park."
After a short while after giving him my info, he came back. "I'm giving you a warning. Tone it down. Have a nice day."
I went on and eventually descended into hills and then serious flat that went on for hours. I came across sketchy towns that I opted not to stop in.
I continued on for some hours well past dark. I arrived feeling a bit differently. Seeing the caverns opened me a bit. Maybe the road can get inside now.
I leave you with a sunset over Texas.